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[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/12/08/obama.shinseki/art.shinseki.gi.jpg caption="Retired Gen. Eric Shinseki was selected by President-Elect Barack Obama to be his Secretary of Veterans Affairs."]Editor's Note: The nomination of retired Army Chief Gen. Eric Shinseki to be secretary of veterans affairs is widely seen as an appointment with a message, since Shinseki ran afoul of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre has the inside story of how Shinseki's reputation as a "truth-teller" has been burnished beyond what the facts support.
CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent
In fairness to Gen. Eric Shinseki, he's never said "I told you so."
But many others have elevated his now-famous February 2003 testimony to the level of Scripture.
Shinseki was right, they say, when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee a month before the invasion that something on the order "several hundred thousand troops" would be necessary to keep order in a post-invasion Iraq.
At the time, that observation drew loud scoffs from then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and from his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who dismissed the prediction as "wildly off the mark."
Still, Shinseki wasn't advocating 300,000 troops be dispatched into Iraq. In fact, he said specifically that the forces mobilized in the region to that point were probably enough, and he made it clear he would have defer to the combatant commander, Gen. Tommy Franks.
"I would have to rely on combatant commanders' exact requirements," he said.
But pressed by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, to make an off-the-cuff guesstimate, Shinseki said "it would take a significant ground force."
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/08/t1home.rally.gi.jpg caption="Autoworkers rally Monday for a bailout. "]Maureen Miller
Should the U.S. government help out America's automakers?
The White House is looking over a congressional proposal to give $15 billion dollars in federal loans as soon as next week to General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
That's less than the $34 billion requested by the industry last week.
You may be asking: Where would the money come from? The answer: Out of funds designated by the Energy Independence and Security Act to help the auto industry produce the next generation of fuel efficient vehicles.
Whew! That's a mouth full, isn't?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admits it's a rough move.
"This is a bad choice," she said on Capitol Hill today. "This money is meant to be used for innovation ... but it is our hope that there will be a viable automotive industry with transparency and accountability to the taxpayer," Pelosi added.
There is some accountability in the proposal. The plan calls for the President to appoint a so-called "Car Czar" by January 1st, who would set up guidelines for the big three automakers to reorganize. Within 45 days, if the "Czar" doesn't see progress, he could recall the government loans
Should there be tougher rules for Detroit's big three automakers?
We'd love to hear your thoughts on the proposal.
We'll have this breaking story and tonight's other headlines staring at 10pm ET on AC360°.
Hope you can join us.
Tom Foreman | BIO
Hang on. That’s what some of the nation’s best economic forecasters are telling consumers. Whether these experts are studying those endless piles of numbers about joblessness and consumer credit, or plumbing the depths of the stock market’s turmoil, or looking into a Magic 8-Ball; the trend is unmistakable. Quietly, cautiously, and yet steadily, more voices are rising to say the economy either is ready to start turning around.
It sounds preposterous, of course, amid all the bleak news about unemployment, businesses closing and that ocean of bad mortgages still flowing through the financial sector. But these prognosticators base their rosy beliefs on three simple ideas.
All this could be wishful thinking. Chaos in global markets, missteps by the new administration, a big natural disaster, or any number of other things could derail all the optimism in a flash. And we should note that plenty of economists are warning that we may yet have to endure months of difficulty before things get better.
But at least they are talking about things getting better. Maybe in January. Maybe in June. But 2009 is already, for some, looking like if not a very good year, at least a much better one.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/CRIME/12/08/von.bulow.obit/art.von.bulow.file.cnn.jpg caption="Sunny von Bulow is pictured during her 1957 wedding to Prince Alfred von Auersperg."]
CNN National Correspondent
When we got word on Saturday that Martha “Sunny” von Bulow had died after nearly 28 years in a coma, many of us reacted the same way. Sadly, we thought she had already passed away long ago.
Sunny von Bulow and her husband Claus were household names back in the 1980’s when he was charged with trying to kill her by slipping her drugs. The alleged motive: money.
She fell into a coma in December, 1982 and never awoke. The wealthy, beautiful heiress was 76 years old when she died after being in a persistent vegetative state in a hospital and then a nursing home all these years. Her husband was tried and convicted of attempted murder, appealed, and then was acquitted after a second trial.
What’s really intriguing is that people are still split over the case.
Maybe the movie “Reversal of Fortune” starring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons has something to do with it. The movie was released in 1990, but it left audiences wondering what really happened.
Ed Lavandera | BIO
“The big rumor in town is where is Cindy Sheehan going to live now?” That’s how my friend, Texas Monthly writer Skip Hollandsworth, joked about President Bush’s plans to live in the most exclusive neighborhood in Dallas. But news of a President with dismal approval ratings hasn’t squashed the excitement of his new neighbors in the Preston Hollow area of Dallas.
Doug Fletcher lives right across the street from the home where George and Laura Bush are expected to live after leaving office next January.
“It’s quiet, very quiet. People tend to mind their own business and help each other out if they need it, so that’s probably where he’d like to live” Fletcher told me as we watched dozens of cars driving by his home.
A steady stream of gawkers have been sneaking a peak of the Bush’s new home. It’s an 8,500 square foot home with 5 bedrooms that sits on a quiet cul-de-sac. The pricetag: $3 million dollars
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President George W. Bush looks at the Union League of Philadelphia's presidential portrait of himself during its unveiling at Lincoln Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 6, 2008.
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[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/08/hajj.jpg caption="Hajj pilgrims at Mercy Mountain."]
Arwa Damon | BIO
CNN International Correspondent
To Muslims, the holiest place on earth is a black-draped, square shrine called the Kaaba in the central courtyard of the vast Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca. According to the Quran, it was built by Prophet Abraham on God’s command. A goal for devout Muslims is to make a pilgrimage here at least once in a lifetime – following the same rituals carried out by Prophet Mohammed centuries years ago. This pilgrimage is known as the Hajj.
I stood staring at the famous al-Haram mosque, seeing it in person for the first time, and mesmerized by the river of pilgrims swirling around the Ka’aba, through the courtyard, into all visible streets, and as far as the eye could see.
As the call to prayer rang out at sunset, the pilgrims formed perfectly straight lines in unison. And prayed.
People from all corners of the globe and all walks of life prayed in perfect harmony, united here for the single purpose of completing the Hajj. It is a breathtaking sight.
The beautiful spirituality of it aside, covering the Hajj as a journalist is challenging to say the least. While in Mecca, we regularly miscalculated timings and found ourselves stuck in corners during prayer time, when literally human walls are formed blocking the streets. Getting anywhere requires extreme navigation and “crowd weaving” skills, not to mention while carrying (or lugging around) heavy TV equipment because, for example, one of us had the ‘brilliant’ idea to go live from Mount Mercy at Arafat.
It is at Mount Mercy that Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon some 1400 years ago, asking God to forgive the sins of his followers. The moments spent at Mount Mercy define the Hajj for Pilgrims, who spend the day from sunrise to sunset praying for the same forgiveness. Those that have performed the Hajj before say that it is there they felt closest to God, and upon completion were given a second chance at life, a chance to be better individuals – spiritually elevated. The pilgrims dot the hillside, covering it in a blanket of white.
As the sun rises we can clearly see them, arms outstretched, some crying, as they pray. The sea of pilgrims spills down and extends as far as the eye can see.
We failed miserably in our attempt to leave before the pilgrims and found ourselves caught up in the masses, schlepping our gear for hours, sweat pouring, abaya (overgarment) itching, and a headscarf that refused to stay put. These moments reminded me of producer Mohammed Tawfeeq’s words: “you have no idea what you’re getting us into”. He has obviously covered the Hajj before.
Still, it’s an experience like no other. Where else can one encounter such a huge crowd of people from all over the world, the vast majority of whom return home with peace of spirit?
The Marquee Night Club in NYC bills itself as a premiere hot spot. It is a place for big stars…and the star-struck.
But just before dawn last Wednesday, this upscale lounge was the setting for an encounter between a convicted sex offender and a young woman – new to New York City- who hasn't been seen since.
The disappearance of Laura Garza, a 25-year-old transplant from Texas, has been splashed across the front pages of New York's local newspapers over speculation that what began as a mystery could in fact turn into a case of murder.
Right now, police are focusing their attention on this sex offender named Michael Mele. He owns a Quiznos franchise in upstate New York. He reportedly may have been trying to destroy evidence connecting him to Ms. Garza. According to the New York Daily News, investigators say large patches of rug were removed from Mele's home when they investigated over the weekend.
But there is more. The Daily News says Mele had scratch marks on his neck and bite marks on his hands. They also recovered a machete and a woman's shoe from a dumpster near his home in Upstate NY.
Mele has not been charged with any crime as of now. The 23-year-old is, however, in custody on an unrelated probation violation.
Security cameras from the Marquee apparently captured Mele and Garza getting cozy inside the club. CCTV cams also captured Mele and Garza leaving together last Wednesday night, the night she was last seen.
Garza lives in Brooklyn. She is described as a bright, beautiful young woman by those who knew her. Question is: Will she ever be seen again?
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/12/06/louisiana.congress/art.jefferson.gi.jpg caption="Louisiana Democratic Rep. William Jefferson has been embroiled in a bribery scandal."]
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The Hutchinson Political Report
The much deserved defeat of scandal plagued Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson by Vietnamese-American immigration attorney Anh “Joseph” Cao was not about race.
Whites did flock to the polls in bigger numbers than usual and the black voter turnout was much less than in the primary. But despite the ramp up in white votes, blacks still make up the majority of voters in Jefferson’s district. While many blacks voted for him out of old loyalty, a significant number didn’t. The lower voter black turnout in essence was a vote against him.
His defeat then was about ethics, interest and just plain common sense. Jefferson was not just an embarrassment. He was hopelessly damaged political goods and by plopping him back into office for a tenth term his black constituents would have been the losers.
If ever there was a case that screamed for scrubbing race from politics it was the Jefferson case. He has been on the legal hot seat for many months. He was indicted, and faces trial on bribery and corruption charges. He was stripped of his seniority on a key House committee. He left a bitter taste in the mouths of many New Orleans residents during the Katrina debacle, when he allegedly commandeered a National Guard truck to check on his personal property and save personal belongings at the same moment nearby residents needed rescue from possible drowning.