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Identity Theft Numbers Released Today Mind-Boggling; Bush Administrations Change To Clean Air Act Attracts Many Critics; NASA Will Release Plans To Get Shuttle Flying Again

Aired September 7, 2003 - 17:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The Federal Trade Commission came out with some mind-boggling numbers this week on the crime of identity theft. Nearly 10 million people were victimized last year alone with out-of-pocket losses, totaling $5 billion. Banks and lending institutions are getting hit hard, too. They lost $48 billion last year.
Joining us now is a man who fights on the front line against identity theft, John Smith, with the Georgia Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs. And from New York, Suzanne Chiaramonte, who has actually had her identity stolen.

Welcome to both of you.



WHITFIELD: All right. Well, let me begin with you, Suzanne -- if you could just describe what happened to you. You were unlucky and both lucky at the same time; unlucky that your identity was stolen but very lucky that they were able to actually get this person. What happened to you?

CHIARAMONTE: My identity was stolen through an unauthorized use of my Social Security number. I had applied for an apartment in northern New Jersey about three years ago, and on the application I was asked to indicate by Social Security number for a credit check. And the superintendent of that building then took it and opened three credit cards in my name. In total, when I found out about it a full year and a half later, there was about $15,000 worth of unpaid debt on my credit report.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And of course none of that sounds lucky. That's all the unlucky stuff. But what was lucky is that this person who actually stole your identity started paying some of the minimums on your credit cards, right, with their own personal check, and that's how investigators were able to find that person?

CHIARAMONTE: Right. I mean, I think that she was pretty dumb in that respect. But when I first got the credit report back, it showed that address of the building that I had applied at. So literally, right away, I knew that she had something to do with it. So they did catch her pretty quickly. I think they arrested her within two months.

WHITFIELD: All right. John, I don't know how unusual or how quite common this situation is, that they were able to actually find the person responsible for stealing someone's identity, but is the bottom line that perhaps we all have to be a little careful about where our Social Security number goes?

SMITH: Oh, I think absolutely. The Social Security number has become -- it's not supposed to be -- but a sort of a national identification number. And what happened to her is typical. It's not the worst that could have happened. And with her Social Security number, they could have actually become her.


SMITH: A lot of people don't find out about it until they try to buy a house and find out they already own a house. And it's not unusual for the people to be making the payments.

WHITFIELD: So what's the best advice, John? Does this mean that all of us now have to get in the habit of getting our credit reports to find out what kind of activity there is, if someone's gotten ahold of our Social Security number, or what would be your best recommendation?

SMITH: Yes. Georgia's lucky, because in Georgia we have two free credit reports a year -- I mean, the credit reporting companies have to give out. The federal government is thinking about doing one free, but people should check them at least once a year, if not every six months. They also should check their credit card statements, their bank statements, and see if anything unusual is popping up.

WHITFIELD: So, Suzanne, what is your best advice now to people? Or perhaps you can tell us what some of your best practices are now to try to avoid something like that from happening to you again.

CHIARAMONTE: Well, I echo what John said. I do think that ordering annual credit reports is a good idea. You could center it around your birthday or tax time, since birthdays and taxes are something we all do every year. It does vary by state whether or not you're entitled to a free one each year, so you might want to check into that. But I think that's a good way to do it.

Also, I really don't give my Social Security number out to anyone, unless I'm applying for a mortgage or a car loan or something that actually needs it. But I'm always very wary when somebody asks me for my Social Security number.

WHITFIELD: And, Suzanne, in your case, did you find that investigators, local police, et cetera, were able to help you quite extensively in trying to find this person? Or did you have to do a lot the legwork yourself?

CHIARAMONTE: I did have to do a lot of the legwork. I did file a police report probably the day after I found out in the town that I believe the crime had started. And the law enforcement officials there were very helpful, and they led me to the Secret Service, who does a lot of work in identity theft. But overall, in terms of clearing your credit rating, that burden of proof is on the victim. So it took a good six months before my credit reports were back to normal.

WHITFIELD: And John, it would seem if you've already been victimized, perhaps you've learned lessons, and that might be some protection against not being victimized again. But, in fact, does that make you a little bit more vulnerable?

SMITH: It may, because your information is already out there. But one of the things that happens -- she's lucky that...

WHITFIELD: Because some of these criminals are passing on this information and getting some money in exchange for it.

SMITH: Well, absolutely. And they're also becoming the person. They're selling homes, they're buying homes. They're getting arrested. And they don't show up for court.

So the victim gets arrested, then has an arrest record that they have to clear off. So it can be very damaging. If you leave your purse in your grocery cart, I can come by and pick up that purse and go to the restroom, and within two minutes I could have scanned your driver's license, I could have scanned a couple of credit cards.

WHITFIELD: Oh my gosh.

SMITH: I can scan your Social Security card. Then I can swipe a couple of those credit cards and I've got all information I need to become you.

WHITFIELD: Wow. OK. So to prevent any of this from happening, or at least to find it early on if it does happen to us, what is some of the -- where are some of the places that we need to go in which to get our credit report, you know, a copy of our credit report? There are three agencies, correct? Equifax being one.

SMITH: Right. And you're putting them up on the screen, I believe. Equifax, Trans Union and Experian are the three agencies. And only carry one credit card with you. Don't carry your Social Security card with you. You don't need it.

Don't have your Social Security number on your driver's license. If it is, get it off tomorrow.

WHITFIELD: All right. John Smith of Georgia's Governor Office of Consumer Affairs, and Suzanne Chiaramonte, thanks very much to both of you for joining us. Appreciate it. And all of us learned some valuable lessons on how to protect ourselves.

SMITH: Thank you.

CHIARAMONT: Thanks for having us.

WHITFIELD: Well, Democrats call it "toxic politics." Republicans say it's common sense. Whatever you think, there's a whirlwind of change and controversy in the way our government deals with the environment.

Here to help us sort out all of this is Elizabeth Shogren, who reports on the environment for the "Los Angeles Times." And Elizabeth, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt is now President Bush's nominee to take over the EPA. Is he walking into a great new career, or is this likely to be a minefield?

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": It will about minefield, and I think no one knows that better than Governor Christie Whitman, who just left that job. And it's not going to take long before Governor Leavitt realizes just how much he's in the center of the bull's eye. We heard just yesterday that Senator Clinton has decided to block his nomination because he's worried -- she's worried that she's not going to get the response she wants from the White House about some confusion over the message that EPA was sending out right after 9/11.

WHITFIELD: Well, most recently, there have been quite a few changes involving the EPA that have gotten an awful lot of press recently, particularly the Clean Air Act. Some companies are saying they have better protection now in which to -- particularly these power plants -- saying to emit cleaner air, but then there are an awful lot of environmentalists who are saying it's only making the air dirtier. So who's right in all of this?

SHOGREN: Well, I think what's clear from the changes is that the Bush administration did change the Clean Air Act and the rules that govern how its implemented to allow big polluters to change their plants in ways they couldn't before, weren't allowed to before, without putting on pollution control devices. Now, this is what the power plants and the other people who pollute a lot say they needed this so that they could update their plants without worrying that every time they made some little change or some little repair that it would require them to put on these incredibly expensive pollution control devices. For power plants, these things can cost tens of millions of dollars.

But the environmentalists say -- and so do the objective observers -- that this goes against the strategy of the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act allowed these old plants to stay dirty at the beginning, but it had this trigger to cause them to clean up when they made major modifications that would increase pollution. And this is exactly the trigger that's been softened by the Bush administration.

WHITFIELD: Well, other critics of President Bush are saying what he's really doing is green washing. Green washing an already bad policy. In fact, Senator Barbara Boxer had this to say. Let listen.


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: This administration, when they call something clear skies, when they call something healthy, watch out. Because it's a con job, period. It's a con job. And the reason we're here and the reason we're upset is, they've been getting away with it.


WHITFIELD: Is this what happens when you're in the middle of an election year?

SHOGREN: Well, I think it is what happens when you're in the middle of this election year. The environment is an issue that the Bush administration cares about a lot, because they think by making the President look like he cares about the environment, he will be able to sway some of those swing voters, people in the middle who maybe worry about the environment but it's not their top issue. And so he wants to make sure that it looks like that he cares about the environment.

But there are -- but environmentalists and people who care about the environment very intensely watched the administration make lots of changes to laws that make it easier to pollute and also easier to use our public lands in a way that some people don't want them to be used, extracting more energy and doing more logging. And so you've got a difficult situation here, where this issue is seen as something that the Democrats think they can win on and that President Bush feels he needs to look positive as an environmentalist in order not to lose.

So it is an issue. It's been amazing to see, because I cover the environment. My e-mail is always full of e-mail -- e-mails from the various campaigns on the Democratic side. They send out e-mails at every different policy change that the Bush administration makes. So it's clearly an issue that they think they can run on.

WHITFIELD: Well, even President Bush admits that he acknowledges there are some resentments out there about his environmental policies. In fact, last month he had this to say, trying to sum things up.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things I've learned about Washington, D.C., there's a lot of experts on the environment there. At least they think they are. They're constantly trying to tell people what to do. My judgment is, those who think they know what they're doing in Washington, D.C. ought to come out and visit with the folks that are actually protecting the environment.


WHITFIELD: Is he winning any real support by that statement?

SHOGREN: Well, I don't know whether he did or not, but he did help to explain a little bit about how the Bush administration's environmental policy is different than other administrations. Interior Secretary Gale Norton is one who's been pushing this different kind of environmental policy from the very beginning. One of the examples of this has to do with Yellowstone National Park.

There was a plan to ban all snowmobiles from Yellowstone National Park. The Clinton administration was the one that formulated that policy. And now the new -- the interior secretary has decided to allow snowmobiles to remain in the park. And one of the reasons that she says she's doing this is because the local business owners around the park want to be able to make money from their snowmobile concessions. And so this is an example of listening to the people at the scene instead of listening to the environmentalists in Washington who might think that the pollution from snowmobiles is a really bad thing.

Now to be sure, Secretary Norton has put some limitations on what kind of snowmobiles can be used. It's not a complete blanket OK. But that's an example of it.

WHITFIELD: All right. Elizabeth Shogren of the "LA TIMES," thanks very much for your reporting and thanks for reporting to us as well.

There is much more this hour, so stay with us. Coming up, following a sting of the Columbia accident report, how soon will the shuttle return to space, and where is NASA headed?

And later, it's a car, it's a boat, it looks like something out of a James Bond film. Doesn't it? We'll be right back to explain.


WHITFIELD: Well, taking a look now at a couple of technology stories making our Next News headlines. Actor Pierce Brosnan is now master of his domain, or at least his domain name. The James Bond star won control of the Internet address after a ruling by the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization. A cyber squatter had been using Brosnan's name to redirect net surfers to a celebrity Web site that had nothing to do with the actor.

Tired of wasting time sitting in traffic? A British company, Gibbs Technologies, has made it possible to take your commute from the motorway to the waterway with a high-speed amphibious car called Aquada. Amphibious cars are not new, but what makes this one different is speed. It can drive up to 100 miles per hour on land and, thanks to a jet in the rear, it can go in excess of 30 miles per hour on water.

On Monday, NASA will release its plan to return the shuttle to space, but after getting the shuttle flying again, where will NASA go? Joining me now is the space editor of the "Orlando Sentinal," Michael Cabbage. Michael, good to see you.


WHITFIELD: Well, has NASA learned enough about the tragedies earlier this year in which to already now start talking about going back into flight?

CABBAGE: I think they've learned a great deal so far about some of the technical problems that led to the Columbia disaster. Things like the foam installation that came off the external tank and the ways that they're going to fix that. What they haven't got a really good handle on yet is some of the cultural and institutional changes they're going to have to make to make sure that the circumstances, the broader circumstances that led to the Columbia accident don't occur again anytime soon.

WHITFIELD: Well, one lingering question, based on what NASA knew, could a rescue attempt have been plausible?

CABBAGE: Well, that's a very good question, Fredricka. And there's a lot of different opinions on that. NASA did a study for the Columbia Accident Investigation Board several months ago that showed that an attempt was hypothetically possible. But most people, most NASA managers don't believe that if you really had made such an attempt, you could have gotten Shuttle Atlantis out to the pad in time to have launched a mission like that without throwing every other safety rule and regulation overboard.

WHITFIELD: Well, it seems like answers to that would be needed in which to start talking about yet another launch.

CABBAGE: Well, they're trying to come up with a way right now to fix the shuttle's thermal protection system, which, of course, was damaged when Columbia launched and led to the accident. And if you have a repair method in place where you can fix the insulating tiles and the reinforced carbon material that protects the leading edges of the shuttle's wings, then it's not quite as important to have a shuttle ready to roll to the pad and perform a rescue mission.

WHITFIELD: All right. If attempts at putting a new manned launcher into orbit failed in the last 10 years or so, then is NASA feeling any bit more comfortable with perhaps going about another launch, or another plan, rather?

CABBAGE: Well, what NASA is doing right now is they're trying to come up with a way to get people back and forth from the International Space Station. Since the accident, NASA and the United States have been relying almost completely on the Russians to take people and to take cargo back and forth to the space station. And there have been all sorts of attempts in the past to develop a new launch vehicle to fly not only to the space station, but to lower with orbit. And for a variety of reasons, technical, financial those never panned out. But NASA right now is trying to redouble its efforts to figure out a way to get a new launch system in place and start phasing the shuttle out sooner rather than later.

WHITFIELD: There have been some criticisms that perhaps the NASA program has not been getting the kind of support it needs, not from the White House and not from Congress. And they haven't seen anything like it since 1969. So if that is the complaint coming, then what kind of commitment does the space program really have?

CABBAGE: Well, that's going to be interesting to see if the next few week, Fredricka. As you mentioned, in the 1960s, the space program, it was very easy. You had total support from the American public. You had a very clear mission. You had a plan which was, of course, beat the Soviet Union to the moon. And it was something that the American public and Washington both signed off on and completely were in lockstep on. Since then, we haven't had a clear mission, we haven't had a clear agenda. And, in fact, NASA is sort of scrambling and has been for the last 30 years to try and figure out how to follow up to the Apollo flights and the missions before that.

So the White House, we're going to find out in the next few week exactly where they do stand on this. There's a move afoot right now to increase funding for the shuttle program and to increase money for the shuttle's return to flight. And it remains to be seen just how willing the White House is going to be with all the other budget priorities out there to give the shuttle and NASA more money.

WHITFIELD: All right. Michael Cabbage of the "Orlando Sentinal," thanks very much for joining us.

CABBAGE: My pleasure.

WHITFIELD: We've got to take a short break for now. We'll be right back.



ANN KELLAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you think birds get divorced, or are they monogamous?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually, I don't think marriage in birds is legal.

KELLAN (voice-over): Legalities aside, Oystercatchers are evidence that birds, just like humans, get dumped. Researchers from the University of Berne in Switzerland spent eight years observing the Swiss version of these American Oystercatchers. They reveal in the journal "Nature" that the bird that flies the coop first, usually the female, ends up better off, with a nest closer to food and 20 percent more chicks. The one that's dumped ends up in the bad part of town and has to travel for food, leaving its chicks vulnerable to predators.

Oystercatchers aren't the only birds that "divorce." How does their divorce rate compare to other birds?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, actually, I'm kind of on the fence on this.

KELLAN: Which birds have the highest divorce rate?




KELLAN: Not pigeons. Flamingos.


KELLAN: Yes, Flamingos. According to Cornell University Ornithologist Andre Dunk (ph), Flamingos have a 100 percent divorce rate. They find new partners every breeding season.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do they bother getting married?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess the birds are just like people. Some are very colorful and flighty and move on, and some are stable and stick together.

KELLAN: Flighty perhaps, but if the study is right, when a birds leaves its mate, it's moving on to greener pastures and a better life. Ann Kellan, CNN.


WHITFIELD: Well, Thursday kicked off the 2003 NFL season. And college and high school football season is also under way. Every year the crunch of the helmets brings countless head and neck injuries for the players, but some new helmet technology can tell coaches and team doctors when a hit was a bit too hard.

Joining us now is Rick Greenwald, president of Simbex, the company that makes the new system. Rick, thanks for joining us.


WHITFIELD: All right. So at Virginia Tech, you've got four players who will be wearing helmets fitted with six sensors ons these helmets, on their heads. How does it work? What will it tell coaches or trainers? Or even the players?

GREENWALD: OK. The hit system, or head impact telemetry system, is the first device to continuously record and monitor a player's head, injury profile, or head impact profile. We're using small -- with funding from the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation at the National Institute of Health, we've developed a miniature head acceleration system using tiny mem (ph) sensors, similar to the ones used in air bags made by analog devices.

WHITFIELD: So what will be learned from this information? You'll be able to tell how many times a player was hit, how hard they were hit. But is this the kind of information that you're hoping will come to the aid of building better helmets or simply being able to -- equipping a coach to be able to say it's time to pull this player out of the game, they're getting hit a little too much?

GREENWALD: Right now there's an excellent and growing understanding of what happens to the brain after an injury. But what -- a missing piece of the puzzle, a critical link that we don't know right now is exactly how hard and in what direction a player gets hit over the course of time. Is it just one big hit that caused the injury, or is it a series of little hits?

And an even simpler question is, how many hits does a player take in a practice, in a game, or over the course of the entire season? And we'll be able to record that now with this system.

WHITFIELD: Well, the numbers are pretty remarkable. Some 300,000 sports-related head injuries take place year. One hundred thousand concussions to football players, and about 40 percent of them occur in high school. So clearly, you know, there are -- there is a lot to be learned from the type of head injuries that are taking place out there.

You're zeroing in on football. So when you have these Virginia Tech players who are going to be wearing these sensors, what are you hoping is going to be learned to help allow these players to play the game and allow the support teams to get better for them?

GREENWALD: Absolutely. I mean, while a lot of attention has been drawn to this problem in recent years due to some career-ending injuries of high-profile professional athletes in several sports, in football, in hockey, and several others, this problem exists across the age boundaries, all the way down to recreational athletes and high school athletes. So we are working with Virginia Tech because it allows us to have a focus group. We're also working with the clinical neuropsychologists at Penn State University to try to add our information to their information about the effects of cognitive changes in the brain following a head impact.

WHITFIELD: Well, it certainly sounds like a win-win situation, because the players can't complain about it weighing too much or impacting their performance on the field, because this is something that only weighs two ounces, right? These sensors, not a helmet, but just the sensors attached to the helmet and the head?

GREENWALD: That's right. There's just a little bit of weight added when we add the accelerometers to the helmet, along with a small micro controller, and a radio transmitter that sends the information from the player in real time...


GREENWALD: ... over to the -- I can actually hit the helmet now, if we'd like to see it.


GREENWALD: So if I hit the helmet on the left side, there it goes. And here we go.

WHITFIELD: And what's actually happening? What are you learning from that?

GREENWALD: The accelerometers are transmitting that information over to the computer on the sideline. This is our side processing unit.


GREENWALD: And it can record the information. The information on the left is the last helmet -- the last impact that occurred, and the information on the right is the cumulative impacts that have occurred over time. And all this information is stored to a database for each player, for all the teams that are participating in our studies.

WHITFIELD: OK. Rick Greenwald, of Simbex, thanks very much for sharing your technology there with us.

GREENWALD: Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: And hopefully it will promote fewer head injuries on the field and off.

GREENWALD: We hope so both for the pros and all the way down to the recreational athletes.

WHITFIELD: All right, very good. Thanks very much, Rick.

GREENWALD: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Well, we've hit the halfway mark and need to take a short break right now. But when we come back, the Energy department is looking into high prices at the pump. Is it price gouging or just a function of the free market? We'll bring you some differing opinions.

Stay with us.


WHITFIELD: Money. It's a gas. The government is investigating the spike in gas prices that had people paying record prices at the pump just before Labor Day. Prices rose a record 12 cents in the week ending August 25th. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham says that price hike seemed rather "unusually large" to him.

Here to talk about what's going on at the gas stations, Rayola Dougher, of the American Petroleum Institute, and Anna Aurilio of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Good see both of you.



WHITFIELD: Well, Rayola, let me begin with you. What's the explanation? Why did gas prices go so high so fast?

DOUGHER: Well, we had a series of things all happening all at once and stacking up at the end of the summer. The blackout, for one, and we also had a pipeline problem out in the West. And these were on top of already higher and rising crude oil prices. And any one of these problems we could have handled, but having them all coming to a head right at the end of the summer, right when demand is right at its highest peak, it caused those prices to go much faster than anyone anticipated.

WHITFIELD: Anna, what's your best explanation?

AURILIO: Well, our best explanation is, first of all, there's way too much consolidation in the oil industry. The top five producers control more than half of the domestic retail gasoline market. That translates into consumers getting hit hard in the pocketbooks and not being able to predict when these kind of price spikes are going to occur.

As far as crude oil prices are concerned, crude oil prices, according to the Energy Information Administration, have been relatively stable. There was no spike that corresponded to this recent spike. So I think we need a careful investigation of what happened.

WHITFIELD: Well, in fact, the Energy Department says it is gong to investigate. In fact, Secretary Abraham said it's something sneaky and something suspicious to him. So do you trust that the Energy Department will do a thorough investigation, Anna?

AURILIO: Well, Fredricka, the Bush administration has a very poor record when it comes to investigating the energy industry. Already, Secretary Abraham is saying he's also investigating the largest blackouts that hit us two weeks ago, but he has already said that for phase one of the investigation, where they collect the actual raw data, they won't release that to the public. And of course we've all heard about their national energy plan and how the vice president still won't release those records as to who crafted it.

WHITFIELD: Rayola, good point. That's an awful lot for the Energy Department to try to handle. The gas prices spiking up, and then the big blackout. Do you think that the agency can handle it all and do a very thorough investigation of both?

DOUGHER: I sure do. And every time the gasoline prices have gone up in the past, we've had investigations. There have been numerous investigations. And every single one of them has found no wrongdoing. They all find it is the market at work.

It's a complex market. And if the Department of Energy can shed some light on this topic, help consumers understand what was going on, then that's all to the better. And this industry is here to help in that investigation, as we have in the past.

WHITFIELD: Well, Anna, how much do you see low inventories of gasoline being a contributing factor to this spike in the prices at the pump?

AURILIO: Well, Fredricka, it's interesting that in 2001, the Federal Trade Commission actually found that there were conscious decisions on the part of a handful of oil refineries in the Midwest that caused a price spike there. In other words, at least one refinery in the Midwest, when they had a big price spike in June of 2000, had adequate inventories on hand but chose to withhold it to drive up the prices. That's according to the Federal Trade Commission. So I wonder what's behind this.

WHITFIELD: Rayola, do you buy that, especially since, coincidentally, the price hike happened when more Americans, more than, you know, the past couple of years are actually going to be hit the road, needing the gas?

DOUGHER: No, but I'd like to address the inventories. That problem this year in inventories had its root back in the winter when we had a strike in Venezuela and an important supplier was off the world market. So refineries naturally went to their inventories, and so did marketers.

And the inventories worked. Everyone received supplies that they needed. But that -- as a consequence, those inventories are lower than average, but not that much lower than average right now. About four or five percent lower, but they're building all the time.

So, no, I don't buy that. And anybody that holds back their inventories at a time of tight supplies, they're going to have 10 others rushing in to the marketplace. So I think that that really is not an accurate characterization of what happens out in the marketplace.

WHITFIELD: All right. Anna, do you see that perhaps this is something that Americans are just going to have to deal with?

AURILIO: Fredricka, to prevent this problem in the future there's a couple things we need to do. First of all, Congress needs to reject the energy bills that are now pending. They would actually increase our consumption of oil and squander scarce taxpayer resources on more subsidies to the oil industry.

Instead, what we need to do is actually reduce our consumption of oil. And we can do this because the auto industry has the technology to make cars to go further on a gallon of gasoline. So to really solve this problem in the long term, that's what we have to do.

WHITFIELD: Anna Aurilio and Rayola Dougher, thanks very much to both of you ladies for joining us.

DOUGHER: Thank you.

AURILIO: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Well, we're not quite out of gas yet. There's much more to come here this hour. Storms are causing rip currents up and down the Atlantic and Gulf Coast this weekend. We'll have some tips on how to deal with the danger.

And it's perhaps one of the only companies whose name has turned into a verb, do you Google? The popular search engine turns five today. Stay tuned.


WHITFIELD: Rip tide warnings flagged the beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast this weekend due to storms Fabian and Henri. The National Weather Service estimates about 100 people die every year in rip currents. Here's CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano.


ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): They're sneaky and their deadly. Each year in the U.S., dozens of beach goers fall victim to their awesome power. No, they're not sharks, but rip currents.

JIM LUSHINE, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: We average about 100 drownings a year in the United States from rip currents.

MARCIANO: Also known as rip tides, they form when strong winds and waves force massive amounts of water toward the coast, where it gets trapped behind the sandbars close to shore. And as the water forces its way back out to sea, it digs a narrow channel through the sand causing a rip current. They are found worldwide and can occur at any time during the year. And although storms make them more powerful, it only taking a strong steady breeze to cause one to develop.

LUSHINE: In Miami and south Florida, we get rip currents here in the wintertime and other times when there's no hurricanes. When the wind blows strongly directly onshore, that's when the rip currents will form.

MARCIANO: Experts warn swimmers that, although rip currents are only about 10 to 30 yards wide, they can flow as fast as three feet per second, making it difficult for even the strongest swimmers to escape.

LUSHINE: If you fight the rip current and go directly against it, you're going to get tired and perhaps drown.

MARCIANO: They urge caution and say that swimmers should check the surf advisories either at the beach or on the Web before they enter the water to avoid being ripped away by this silent killer.


WHITFIELD: And that was Rob Marciano. So would you know what to do if you were caught up in a rip current?

Joining us now is Jim Lushine, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. You saw him in the piece and now we have him live. Good to see you, Jim.

LUSHINE: Good to see you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. What are the five top things that people need to do if they feel like they're being caught in a rip current? LUSHINE: Well, of course, before they actually get caught in the rip current, they need to know, if they can, how to swim. That's number one, regardless of whether they go to the beach or not. Number two is they need to swim at a beach in which there is a lifeguard. Guarded beaches are the places to be.

The third thing you should do, if you get actually caught in the rip current, is to not panic. Now that may be easy to say, but harder to do. You don't want to start thrashing around in the water there.

Fourth of all, if you get caught in the rip current, you want to swim across the path of the rip current. The rip current is only 10 to 30 yards wide. So all you need to do is swim about 10 yards one way or the other and then you'll get there. And, of course, those are the main things that you need do if you come to the beach and want to have a healthy and safe environment there.

WHITFIELD: And, Jim, we saw in Rob's piece a graphic of the rip current, how it looks. But how is that different from what an undertow is? Some folks get kind of caught up with the whole semantics over this whole thing.

LUSHINE: It's important to distinguish between the two. Undertow is a synonym for a rip current, but unfortunately it's the wrong kind of word to use because it implies that people actually are going to be dragged under the water. And that's not what happens.

A rip current is a river of water that goes out horizontally on the top of the ocean out toward the -- away from the shore. And so if you think of being under -- being pulled under, that's not the right response we want. We want people to know that all they need to do is swim across the rip current. And they don't have to worry about being towed under or pulled under by the rip current.

WHITFIELD: Good point. You gave us tips what to do if you're an individual swimmer getting caught up in a rip current. We've heard so many stories about parents or people who want to rescue others who are in trouble, small kids, and they just don't know what to do. How do you try to save someone in a rip current situation?

LUSHINE: Well, it's certainly appropriate here. It's Grandparents Day today, and I'm a grandfather and I have three great grandkids, Alison (ph), Louis (ph), and Samantha (ph). If they're in a rip current, the best thing the parent or grandparent can do is to try to not get in the rip current themselves. Stay on the side of it.

And if they can, help, of course. If a beach patrol person's there, get them. But otherwise, try to throw something to the victim, like a rope, or perhaps a towel, where they can drag the person out of the rip current.

Otherwise, if they want to try to find something like that floats. And they can go floating into the rip current there to help save something, help save their loved one there. If a boogie board is handy, or even a piece of drift wood or something like that, those are things that can be latched on to. But it's really unfortunate that many of the parents or grandparents that go try to save their kids actually drown themselves, rather than the people they're trying to save.

WHITFIELD: All right. Good advice for all of us to try to be a little bit more careful out there. Jim Lushine, thanks very much, of the National Weather Service.

Well, it's a cyberspace milestone. The world has been Googling now for about five years. Millions of times a day, computer users search for everything from facts and figures, for term papers, to receipts, to long-lost loved ones. Well, how did this tech company become a household name anyway?

Joining us now from Mountain View, California, is Susan Wajcicki, director of product management for Google. Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: Well, who would have thought five years ago that two Stanford University students working out of your home would come up with an idea that has caught on that everyone seems to know how to Google, nowadays?

WOJCICKI: Well, when they first started, they certainly had big plans. And I think the world at that time wasn't sure why they needed another search engine. But Sergei and Larry, our two founders, really believed that the Web was going to get bigger and they had algorithms and the technology and the know-how to try to create a better search engine. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) gets bigger, certainly having better ways to search, it becomes more and more important.

WHITFIELD: Did you have a lot of confidence at the time that this was really something that was going to catch on? You actually used it, didn't you, early on, to give it a test drive?

WOJCICKI: Yes. Well, actually, I was the early landlord. So when they first started Google, they worked out of my house. And at the time, there were only three of them, but they had this big sign that said "Google Worldwide Headquarters." And so they certainly had the vision that they were going to have an opportunity to serve the rest of the world in terms of providing great search and the information that people needed.

WHITFIELD: Well, there are a lot of search engines out there. But what is it about Google that stands out?

WOJCICKI: Well, so there are a couple of things. First of all, we're really focused on search. And that means that we have a large number of engineers and Ph.D.s who are specialists in the area. I'm always fine tuning the algorithms to make sure that the results that we return are the right ones.

So when you put in a specific query, we're searching over billions of documents and wanting to make sure that we're returning the exact one that you need. We're also always updating it. So as the Web is changing and people are publishing new things to the Web all the time, we're constantly increasing -- constantly looking at all the changes that have happened to make sure that we have the freshest index.

WHITFIELD: And, in fact, we're looking at some video right now. You see one screen, it says "Google." Another time it says "Frugal." You've got a lot of fun that, you know, this kind of pokes with on the Google search.

The name itself is a lot of fun. How and why did it come up?

WOJCICKI: Why did the name come up?


WOJCICKI: Well, so Google is actually from a math term, and it's a very -- it means 10 to 100, which is a very, very large number, obviously. And so the founders had thought that we were going to search a lot of information. Right now, we don't search a google of information, but at some point if there is that much information on the Web, we'll wind up searching it.

WHITFIELD: And you have a lot of fun on holidays, such as Halloween. You make it a real welcoming site. And this is a site that people from all around the world, over 80 countries, is that right, get involved with Googling?

WOJCICKI: Yes. So we change the logo for different holidays, and that first originated when the founders went away for a day and they went to Burning Man (ph) and they showed a logo of Google with Burning Man (ph) to let people know that they weren't actually there. And we got a lot of positive response.

And so, as a result, on all of the key holidays we change our logo. So on Father's Day, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, and even different artists birthdays, we'll change it. And it's also a way to just show the world who's using Google that there are people behind it, that we have a sense of humor. And it's just a way to bring a smile to people's faces.

WHITFIELD: All right. Susan Wojcicki, director of product management for Google, thanks very much. And congratulations and happy fifth birthday...

WOJCICKI: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: ... for Google.

WHITFIELD: All right.

Just a few hours from now the president will be taking to the airways, talking about the war in Iraq. Our Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House with more details about the content of President Bush's scheduled speech at 8:00 Eastern time this evening -- 8:30, specifically -- Suzanne.

You have more details on President Bush's planned speech this evening? All right. It looks like we're having a problem with our communication with Suzanne Malveaux. We'll have more on that a little bit later, especially at 6:00, beginning a special tonight hosted by Kelli Arena.

We'll be right back.


WHIFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredericka Whitfield at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. In about 2 and a half hours from now, President Bush will be taking to the air waves talking about the war in Iraq. Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House with more of the specifics of his planned speech -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we just got the excerpts from the White House. I'm going to read you a few of them. It's going to be 17 minutes in length. He's first of all, going to outline the objective saying, and I'm quoting here, "the president is going to say our strategy in Iraq has 3 objectives: destroying the terrorists, enlisting the support of other nations for a free Iraq, and helping Iraqis assume responsibility for their own defense of their own future."

He's also, of course, going to talk about the need for broader international support, specifically from the United Nations. He is going to say, and I'm quoting here, "member of the United Nations now have an opportunity and the responsibility to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation."

And finally, Fred, he's going to talk about the sacrifices that Americans and others have to make in order for this effort to be successful. He's going to say, and I'm quoting here, "this will take time and require sacrifice, yet we will do whatever is necessary. We will spend whatever is necessary to achieve this essential victory on the war on terror."

We are told that he is going to put a dollar figure on that, the supplemental before the congress. Republicans say it could be some $65 billion -- Fred.

WHITFILD: All right. Suzanne Malveaux, from the White House, thank you very much.

President Bush's planned speech is scheduled for 8:30. CNN's live coverage begins at 8:00 with Aaron Brown and Paula Zahn.

Now time for CNN's special program, "PRIVACY AND PROTECTION" patriot activates with Kelli Arena.



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