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Storm System Leads to Floods, Mudslides, Record Snowfall in California; Interview With Carl Levin

Aired January 10, 2005 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, washed away in California. Days of rain are causing flash floods and mudslides, and destroying homes throughout Southern California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's 150 homes in here and there's about probably 10, 12, maybe 15 of them that are destroyed.

DOBBS: Why some say all that rain is exactly what California and the west need.

Two more American soldiers killed in Iraq, with less than three weeks before the country's first elections. Senator Carl Levin has just returned from Iraq. He believes Muslim nations must play a role in Iraq's elections.

The Palestinian elections produce a victory for Mahmoud Abbas. An adviser to the Palestinian Authority will be here to tell us why Palestinians say they're ready for peace.

And our special report tonight, "Over Medicated Nation." Another drug approved by the FDA is now considered too dangerous to take.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bar for safety must be raised. Right now the bar is incredibly low.

DOBBS: Why critics of the FDA says it's too much under the influence of drug makers.


ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT for Monday, January 10. Here now for an hour of news, debate and opinion is Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening.

Tonight at least 10 people are dead after several days of severe rain and snow in California. The water has created flash flooding and waves of mud that have closed roads and sent hundreds of people fleeing their homes.

Peter Viles reports from Santa Clara, California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On the fifth day of heavy rains in Southern California, a massive mudslide in La Conchita. Initial estimates from the scene, at least one person is dead, at least 15 homes are damaged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grab the rope. Grab it tight.

VILES: Earlier and further south, a rescue mission. This man was swept along for two miles, lost his car, even lost his pants, but escaped with his life after rescue workers actually followed his through those floodwaters.

CAPT. MIKE YULE, SANTA FE SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA, FIRE DEPARTMENT: We had people running the riverbank and keeping an eye on him. Captain McGauley on Engine 81 and myself on Truck 811 went down one of the main streets and set up at the bridge, and we had visual with him the whole time, and set up the rope systems to get him out of the water.

VILES: The heavy rains caused rock and mudslides throughout the region. At this mobile home park north of Los Angeles, river formed almost overnight and threatened dozens of home.

Workers used heavy equipment to try to dig a trench to channel the floodwaters and save the homes. At least five homes were lost, though, including this man's.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Minutes ago, less than two minutes ago it fell, but yesterday I had two sheds, and a half-pipe. And this is two days ago. This is like two minutes ago.

VILES: Slick roads and mudslides caused hundreds of traffic accidents, stranding cars as far south as Temecula, near San Diego, and proving deadly in Malibu. This vehicle hit a patch of mud and skidded off the Pacific Coast Highway right into the Pacific Ocean. Four passengers were rescued. One was killed.

A mudslide in the Hollywood hills destroyed this home. Amazingly, there were no serious injuries. Two children were rescued from the mud that destroyed the home.

And a two-year-old girl, however, was lost, swept out of her mother's arms and killed, just as rescue workers were trying to save the mother and child at this flooded intersection.


DOBBS: Lou, at this hour, the rain has lightened up a bit, but the forecast calls for a sixth day of very heavy rain tomorrow. Already this year in Los Angeles 21 inches of rain have fallen. In an entire typical year, Los Angeles gets about 15 inches, so we have had more than a year's worth of rain in 10 days -- Lou.

DOBBS: And more to come, unfortunately. Thank you very much. Peter Viles from Santa Clarita, California. As Pete noted, 19 inches of rain produced by this storm system. That same system has dumped up to 19 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Lake Tahoe has had its heaviest snowfall in 88 years, in fact.

Sean Callebs is in Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe and has the report for us -- Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, you're exactly right. You can see it is coming down. It has been coming down here for four solid days now.

As you mentioned, it really depends on where you are in this mountain range. Some of the top areas in these ski resorts have, indeed, had some snow 15, 19, 20-feet deep, unlike anything anyone has seen in this area in quite some time.

The tourism industry, however, says it will not offer any apologies whatsoever for these conditions. They say this is what they live for. They say, with the base that has been provided here in the last four days, they expect to have skiers on this mountain well into April. That is going to be good for the economy.

Also, this is an area, much of California, parts of Nevada, have been hit hard by drought conditions, as well.

But many say it is, indeed, a mixed bag. They believe that this heavy snowfall is going to benefit in the long run, but some shop owners, believe it or not, say they are hurting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the snow pack is going to allow skiing well into the season, and I also feel very strongly that, as low as the lake is, a good snow pack is going to really help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It can be very frustrating, you know, a very frustrating issue because of excessive costs and also lack of business during the snowstorms.


CALLEBS: Now, Mr. Urgay moved here from Turkey about 16 years ago and set up a shop. Now how, do you ask, are businesses hurting? Well, they say that, one, a lot of people couldn't get to this area over the past weekend because the snow was so severe.

And secondly, this is a town that differentiates between snow that falls on public land and private land. Snow that falls on parking lots and private sidewalks, those shop owners are responsible for moving it. It can cost several thousand dollars, Lou, and many shop owners, despite the wealth of snow, say they are already losing money so far this year.

They believe it could hurt the economy in the long term, keeping businesses from wanting to locate in this snow rich area -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Sean Callebs, live from Squaw Valley.

Well, despite the damage, some in California are welcoming all of this snow and rain. That's because, for the first time in almost a decade, drought conditions in the west are now easing.

Casey Wian reports.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's little comfort to those who have lost homes or loved ones to the wild western storms, but the rain and, even more so, the snow are desperately need here.

For seven years, much of the west has been in a severe drought. Vital reservoirs such as Lake Powell have dropped more than a hundred feet and lost more than half their water. Rivers in Arizona have run dry. Cities such as Las Vegas have been rationing water.

Now, Las Vegas is blanketed by snow. In the mountains, snow pack that's already 150 percent of normal should mean plenty of water for farmers and cities this spring. And some Arizona rivers are flowing for the first time in seven years.

CHARLIE ESTER, SALT RIVER PROJECT: We were essentially looking at running out of water in, you know, a couple years, at any time during the drought. So what this rain has done is replenished or water supply enough so that, at least for the coming year, we're not looking at as critical a water supply as we were.

WIAN: Comparing the national drought map from last October to last week shows a significant easing of drought conditioning in many areas, even before the most recent storms.

MARK SVOBODA, NATIONAL DROUGHT MITIGATION CENTER: I think it's safe to say that we're looking at a real strong chink in the armor of the drought, more of drought relief than I would say a total recovery at this point.

WIAN: That's because, by some measures, this has been the worst western drought by some measures in more than 100 years. Snow pack remains low in parts of the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies. And there's still a chance that warmer than expected temperatures this spring could cause the snow to melt too quickly, which is exactly what happened to last year's snow pack.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration urged the public to continue water conservation efforts, despite the ongoing storms.


WIAN: Finally to put the drought into some perspective, it will take 10 to 15 years of normal precipitation to refill Lake Powell. So even though the drought conditions have eased, the drought is far from over -- Lou.

DOBBS: Casey Wian reporting from Los Angeles, thank you.

Heavy rains also hitting the Midwest and flooding the Ohio River. Part of the river is closed in Pennsylvania after a tugboat and six barges sank yesterday. Fifteen mile an hour currents pushed the boat through a gate in the Montgomery Island dam. That's north of Pittsburgh. Three people were killed; another is still missing. Three other members of the tug's crew were rescued.

The Ohio River is almost six feet above flood stage in Portsmouth, Ohio, and more that four feet above flood stage in Cincinnati. The National Weather Service says it should recede beginning tomorrow.

Turning now to the tsunami disaster in South Asia, tonight's stunning new video from Indonesia. This video shows Banda Aceh in the moments just before the tsunami just after the magnitude 9 earthquake struck the region.

People in Banda Aceh were cleaning up from the earthquake when the tsunami rushed ashore.

This video was shot by an amateur photographer who was in Banda Aceh to film a wedding. Nearly all of the 95,000 people killed in Indonesia were in the Banda Asian region.

President Bush today said the area will require the most intense aid as the recovery continues. He said the United States is still considering whether to send more aid than the $350 million already pledged.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're now entering a second phase of providing for rehabilitation to these effected societies, as well as a reconstruction effort, and, as the secretary said yesterday, the government of the United States is committed to helping the people who suffer. We're committed today, and we will be committed tomorrow.


DOBBS: The State Department today said it's narrowed the list of Americans unaccounted for in the region from 6,000 to 812. Eighteen Americans have been confirmed dead. Eighteen more are missing and presumed dead.

A new poll finds an overwhelming majority of Americans, 91 percent in fact, say the U.S. is doing its fair share or more than its fair share to help the victims of the tsunami disaster. Eight percent say the United States is doing less than its fair share

That same poll finds a sharply different view of the United Nations aid to tsunami victims. Only 12 percent said the United Nations is doing more than its fair share, 54 percent saying the United States is doing its fair share, while 24 percent said the United Nations is doing too little.

Still ahead here, two more American troops killed in Iraq, just three weeks before the country is to hold its first elections. Senator Carl Levin has just returned from Iraq. He'll be here to tell us why he says this election is the best hope for security.

And scandal in the United Nations oil-for-food program. Why some are now concerned this widening scandal could effect the United Nations handling of tsunami relief. That's next.


DOBBS: Two American soldiers serving with Task Force Baghdad were killed, four others wounded, when an improvised explosive device struck their patrol in southwestern Baghdad today.

In a separate attack, Baghdad's deputy police chief and his son were assassinated outside their home this morning. This the latest in a string of attacks targeting Iraqi officials as the January 30 election nears.

Jeff Koinange reports from Baghdad.


JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An all-too- familiar scene across Iraq these days, assassinations of government officials, security personal and public figures in broad daylight.

Monday, the victim was a deputy Baghdad police chief, General Amer Nayef. According to eyewitnesses, Nayef and his son, a lieutenant in the police force, were driving to work when unidentified gunmen ambushed their convoy, killing them both instantly. Nayef is the second senior official killed in Baghdad in a week.

Six days ago, the powerful governor of Baghdad province was gunned down in early morning traffic while leaving his home. The country's beleaguered interim prime minister acknowledges the upsurge in attacks, but says his government will not bow to the insurgents.

AYAD ALLAWI, INTERIM IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Despite their increasing efforts lately, we will carry out our mission in achieving peace in Iraq.

KOINANGE: But peace in Iraq seems the furthest thing on the mind of the insurgents, many of whom belong to the Sunni minority, the ruling elite during Saddam Hussein's time, but who now stand to lose their status come January 30.

One Sunni political observer and retired engineer, Ghazwan al- Muktar, agrees with many here who say the violence is only bound to continue in the run-up and beyond the election.

GHAZWAN AL-MUKTAR, ANALYST: If the election is held, it's going to further divide the society and alienate one party against another, so the election, if it is held, is going to intensify and lead to probably a civil war.

KOINANGE: And U.S. troop casualties continue to climb as seen in this video circulated by insurgents.

(on camera): The closer Iraq gets towards election, the more attention being paid to these bloody insurgent attacks, and, as the battle for public attention intensifies, everyone here seems to be asking the one critical question: Will the interim government here be able to get its message out to vote, or will the insurgents succeed in scaring the people away from the polls?

Jeff Koinange, CNN, Baghdad.


DOBBS: Coming up, we'll have much more on the escalating violence in Iraq. Senator Carl Levin will be here. He's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's just returned from Iraq.

The United Nations has now released internal documents, documents that reveal widespread mismanagement within the oil-for-food program in Iraq. Those documents also offer evidence that U.N. auditors missed repeated opportunities to expose corruption and to deal with it.

Now, as billions of dollars in tsunami relief aid is being funneled through the United Nations, many officials are trying to address questions about how those funds will be accounted for.

Kitty Pilgrim reports.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The money is pouring in for victims of the tsunami, and the United Nations has stepped forward to spearhead the relief efforts. It will be one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts the organization has ever undertaken, and keeping track of the money will be a crucial part of the job.

ABRAHAM SOFAER, HOOVER INSTITUTION: I think the world will be watching, and I think the U.N. will be sensitized and try to do a better job. Certainly, the institutional, structural changes have to be made so you do have a first-rate accounting firm watching what happens.

PILGRIM: To that end, the U.N. said accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers is offering its services free.

The United Nations is already under several investigations, both congressional and internal, for the mismanagement of the more than $60 billion oil-for-food program in Iraq. Today, a U.N. spokesman said that scandal had an impact on how tsunami relief will be handled.

STEPHANE DUJARRIC, U.N. SPOKESPERSON: Some lessons are already being applied. For example, on the financial side of the tsunami relief effort, the U.N. is already implementing procedures for greater accountability and transparency.

PILGRIM: Dore Gold, U.N. critic and author of the book "Tower of Babble: How the U.N. Has Fueled Global Chaos," says there are still structural issues. Who is in charge of the relief funding?

DORE GOLD, AUTHOR, "TOWER OF BABBLE": If, again, people in the secretariat say it's the Security Council who's supposed to take care of this or they say it's states that are receiving the aid that is supposed to monitor how the aid is used, then everybody can sort of sit back and say it's not me who has to take responsibility here.


PILGRIM: Now, today, the U.N.'s own oil-for-food investigation released documents, but they're holding off on the final analysis until the end of the month. Senator Norm Coleman, who's a key player in the Senate investigation, said those documents do not even answer a fraction of the questions they have been asking about the oil-for-food scandal -- Lou.

DOBBS: And, presumably, the Volcker investigation will provide some answers to those rather large questions about the management of the United Nations itself or its mismanagement.

PILGRIM: We may have more by the end of the month.

DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Kitty Pilgrim.

That brings us to the subject of our poll question tonight. The question: Do you believe Kofi Annan should resign after the United Nations' audit revealed mismanagement of the oil-for-food program? Yes or no. Cast your vote at We'll have the results coming up later.

The Supreme Court today upheld a lower court ruling that will allow the Ku Klux Klan to take part in Missouri's Adopt-a-Highway program. Missouri officials appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn that earlier decision.

That decision declared the state had violated the Klan's right to free speech by rejecting its request to adopt a portion of the highway. As part of the program, the State of Missouri posts signs at either end of a stretch of highway, thanking the group that is responsible for keeping it clean.

A deadly accident in a nuclear submarine. Something went terribly wrong, and an American sailor lost his life.

Also ahead, an overwhelming victory for the new leader of the Palestinians, but the political adviser to the Palestinian Authority says the hard part begins now. Ed Abington is our guest next.


DOBBS: The nuclear attack submarines USS San Francisco ran aground in the Pacific. A naval investigation tonight is underway into that accident in which one member was killed, 23 others injured.

Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite what appears to be a freak collision with an unchartered undersea mountain, the nuclear submarine USS San Francisco was able to return to its home port of Guam under its own power Monday, its nuclear reactor and inner hull undamaged.

Navy officials say the accident occurred Friday in open ocean about 350 miles southeast of Guam as the submarine was en route from Guam to Brisbane, Australia. Sources say the fast attack submarine was cruising at high speed, 33 knots or 38 miles per hour at a depth of between 400 and 500 feet, where the ocean was thought to be 1,000 feet deep.

Suddenly, violently, the submarine collided with what Navy officials say may have been an uncharted, undersea mountain. The impact brought the submarine to an almost dead stop and tossed the 137 crewmembers around the cramped vessel.

Twenty-four-year-old Machinist Mate Second Class Joseph Ashley was killed when he was slammed against a bulkhead, sources say, and 23 other crewmembers suffered cuts, bruises, sprains and broken bones.

The damage to the submarine was substantial. The section of the bow containing the sonar dome was flooded, but officials say the inner hull was not breached, so no water entered the crew area and the sub's design with two hulls in watertight compartments kept it from sinking.

U.S. submarines normally run silent and deep, blind to objects ahead of them unless they make noise and can be heard on passive sonar. Officials say the ship's avometer looks down, tracking the depth to the ocean floor, but would not provide enough warning to avoid a steep, unexpected, underwater mountain.

Navy officials say they are certain the San Francisco did not hit another submarine, and it was too deep for whales. No action has been taken against the sub's skipper, Commander Kevin Mooney, while an investigation tries to determine exactly what the submarine hit and whether the accident was preventable. Navy officials say they do not believe the recent 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Asia could have changed the ocean floor 3,500 miles away.

In 2002, Navy Commander Scott Waddle was reprimanded, but not relieved of command after his submarine, the USS Greenville, collided with a Japanese vessel off Hawaii, killing nine Japanese boys and men.

(END VIDEOTAPE) While it's a long Navy tradition to hold the captain responsible for whatever happens to his ship, Navy officials say if it turns out that this undersea obstruction was not on the charts and there were no navigational mistakes were made, the skipper could face no disciplinary action -- Lou.

DOBBS: It's been several days, Jamie. Surely the Navy, the Pentagon can look at a chart and say it's -- there is either something there or there isn't.

MCINTYRE: Well, they believe right now that whatever the submarine hit was not on a chart, but they have to make sure that the submarine was where it thought it was, that there wasn't a navigational error, and they've got to go back and check all the facts. So that's exactly what they're looking it.

DOBBS: Jamie, thank you very much. A tragic accident.

Well, coming up here, a new leader and a new outlook perhaps. How the newly elected Palestinian president will effect peace negotiations in the Middle East. I'll be talking with the political adviser to the Palestinian Authority here.

The best government money can buy. Corporations have donated tens of millions for the president's inauguration. Are they expecting something in return? We'll find out.


ANNOUNCER: LOU DOBBS TONIGHT continues. Here now for more news, debate and opinion, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: In just a moment, we'll be talking about the Palestinian election. I'll be talking with the political adviser to the Palestinian Authority.

But, first, let's take a look at these stories.

CBS News has fired four of its employees, three of them executives, for their role in a disputed report on President Bush's military service. An independent investigating panel said a "myopic zeal" led to the report, which was based on allegedly forged documents.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist is still expected to administer the oath of office to President Bush on January 20. That despite his absence today as the Supreme Court reconvened. Rehnquist has been fighting thyroid cancer for the past several months, missing about 25 cases while receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

A tanker crashed in North Carolina today, closed down Interstate 95 in both directions. That tanker overturned, burst into flames. The driver being treated for burns. The northbound lanes of 95 expected to remain closed until tomorrow afternoon.

Turning now to the Middle East. Mahmoud Abbas also known as Abu Mazen is the winner of Sunday's Palestinian presidential election with more than two thirds of the vote. Just one of the problems this new leader of the Palestinian Authority inherits is a four-year-old uprising by armed Palestinian groups fighting their own battle against Israel. Guy Raz reports from Nablus on the West Bank.


GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A man better known for being unknown, Abu Mazen quickly embraced the limelight on the campaign trail and the legacy of Yasser Arafat, even mimicking the scarf-waving smile, but the two men couldn't be more different.

NASSER JUMAA, AL AQSA MARTYRS BRIGADE (through translator): Abu Mazen should pursue Arafat's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in insisting on Palestinian national demands, but we don't want him to follow Arafat's legacy of complete and utter corruption.

RAZ: This is another Abu Mazen, a man with the same nom de guerre as the president, someone Mahmoud Abbas has to contend with. We met him in a safehouse. He's the Nablus leader of the armed Palestinian faction Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. His real name is Nasser Jumaa. Here in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of alley ways in the old city of Nablus, Jumaa is safe and important. Important enough for Mahmoud Abbas to pay a special campaign visit to him last week. Abbas wants these men to end their attacks against Israelis. In return he promises to protect them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As for the honorable wanted men from Al Aqsa and other factions, we will not accept anything less than a dignified, secure, stable life in their society.

RAZ: Nasser Jumaa says his group is prepared to call a cease- fire with Israel, but he doesn't believe Israel will agree to his terms and that ending the violence is a two-way street.

JUMAA: Abu Mazen needs to understand our guns will not be disposed of as long as there's Israeli occupation and this is a subject we won't even discuss.

RAZ: In parts of Nablus, Jumaa's men control the streets, not the official Palestinian police. Mahmoud Abbas wants them all under his control, a major challenge. For the time being Nasser Jumaa is willing to give it a chance. Mahmoud Abbas accepted this role reluctantly. He didn't want the job. Now he can expect to be squeezed from every side -- his own people and Israel. Guy Raz, CNN, Nablus, in the West Bank.


DOBBS: President Bush today welcomed the results of the Palestinian election and called the newly elected Palestinian president promising to help him boost security and the Palestinian economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first I want to offer my congratulations to Mr. Abu Mazen. I look forward to talking with him at the appropriate time, I look forward to welcoming him here to Washington if he chooses to come here.


DOBBS: I'm joined now by Ed Abington, political adviser to the Palestinian Authority, former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, joining us from Ramallah. Ed, this election, it was expected that Abbas would win, are you surprised that he won by such a large margin?

ED ABINGTON, ADVISER, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: I'm not really surprised, but where else in the Arab world did you have a presidential election where you had not just one candidate but seven? The person who came in second Mustafa Barghouti ran a very credible race. He, I think made a strong finish, and he'll be an important political voice in the future. But the elections were transparent, they were well-organized, and I think they were fair.

DOBBS: And they were monitored as well.

ABINGTON: Probably more monitors than just about any election around the world. The United States sent two delegations here, the European Union had a lot of observers, the Japanese, the Chinese, and the Palestinians themselves monitored the election. I went to about 30 polling stations and at every single polling station there were at least three or four monitors.

DOBBS: The question now in the world's mind is how different will Mahmoud Abbas be than Arafat, Ed?

ABINGTON: That's a very good question, Lou. I think if you look at what Abu Mazen has said over the past couple years, you can see a big difference from the late Arafat. Abu Mazen has said that the violence of the Intifada has been a mistake, that it has hurt the Palestinian people tremendously. He's called for an end to violence, has said the path to peace is through negotiations, not through violence. Now, that's a big task, but I think he will try to match his actions to his words.

DOBBS: The Al Aqsa Brigade, the apparent willingness, at least at this point with Abu Mazen to cede control, do you think that's real and lasting?

ABINGTON: I think, it is, Lou. I think the same is probably true with Hamas. Hamas is extremely sensitive to public opinion. I think very clearly the Palestinian people want an end to the violence, they want a better life. It's not going to be easy, but I think Abu Mazen is truly committed to try to end the violence.

DOBBS: And in the campaigns, as he talked about the Zionist enemy, referring obviously to Israel, is that simply election rhetoric? How are we to interpret it?

ABINGTON: Let me explain the context. When he made that statement, there had been earlier that day an incident in which the Israeli army which had been attacked, fired a tank shell at some teenagers who were working, picking strawberries in a field. Seven young teenagers were killed by this Israeli tank fire. From everything I've been told, they were purely innocent, they weren't doing anything, and I think he made the statement out of anger. It really is not consistent with other things he said, including this evening. I was at a reception this evening. He says he looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Sharon. He wants to meet with Israel. He wants to work with Israel, and I think that's the real Abu Mazen.

DOBBS: Obviously the world hopes so, a partner in peace with the Israelis after a half century of violence certainly would be more than welcome. Thank you for joining us late at this hour from Ramallah.

Now to post-election news in this country, there are just ten days until the Washington's biggest party, the Bush inauguration or re-inauguration if you will. The inaugural committee will manage to spend $10 million each day for one of the most expensive inaugurals on record. Special-interest groups? Well, they're picking up the tab. Lisa Sylvester reports from Washington.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Pennsylvania Avenue, crews are finishing the reviewing stand for President Bush's inaugural parade. The four-day celebration will also include three candlelight dinners, a youth concert and nine balls, as a cost of $40 million, paid primary by large corporate donors, many who paid top dollar to keep President Bush in the White House.

FRED WERTHEIMER, DEMOCRACY 21: This is now one of the last places left where you can put up very large sums of money to do a favor for the president of the United States and curry favor and access in return.

SYLVESTER: The list of donors is a who's who in corporate America. And no surprise some of the biggest donors have issues pending in Congress and the White House. Tort reform. Blue Cross Blue Shield donated $100,000, Home Depot gave $250,000. The company's chairman says unrestrained litigation costs end up making consumer goods more expensive. Tax reform -- Goldman Sachs donated $100,000. American Financial, $250,000. Energy policy -- Chevron, Texaco, ExxonMobil, and Occidental Petroleum each gave $250,000.

Critics take issue not only with the special access interest groups can buy, but also with the sheer size of the extravaganza. President Clinton spent $33 million on his first inauguration. He spent less on his second, $29.3 million, and this was when the economy was booming. President Bush spent $40 million the first time around, and is spending the same amount this year, when the country is at war.

LARRY NOBLE, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: To a lot of people they'll look at this and say is it worth $40 million of private money to fund an inauguration when we have all these other obligations around the world and we have people struggling in other places. That's an issue the administration will have to deal with. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: A spokeswoman for the Bush inaugural committee said the corporate underwriters and sponsors make the inauguration affordable and accessible to the general public. But being a contributor seems to pay off. President Bush named his new chief economic adviser today, Alan Hubbard, who also happens to be a major campaign contributor -- Lou.

DOBBS: Lisa Sylvester, thank you.

If you're in the market for a property with an ocean, desert and rain forest all under one roof, we may have just the opportunity for you in Tucson, Arizona. Biosphere 2, the 137,000 square foot glass enclosed building on more than three acres is now up for sale. Decision Investments led by Texas billionaire Ed Bass invested $200 million to build the biosphere as a prototype space colony in the 1980s. Eight people lived inside the giant terrarium for two years. We unfortunately cannot tell you what the price tag is for Biosphere 2. I presume that any offer is welcome.

Now, let's take a look at some of your thoughts. Many of you wrote in about our reports last week on Mexico's guidebook to crossing our border illegally. Jan Herron of Evergreen, Colorado wrote to say: "The comic books sent by the Mexican government need to be dealt with. Perhaps citizens of this country need to send our own comic guide book to Washington, explaining to this president and this Congress that Americans have had enough with the massive invasion of illegal aliens. Our use of words in the past may have assumed too much; perhaps pictures will more effectively communicate our message."

And E. Nanos of Lake Elsinor, California: "To use Congressman Tancredo's words, this is absolutely outrageous. This shows without a doubt the Mexican government has no respect for us as a nation, our sovereignty, or our laws. Mexico constantly pushes for more rights for illegal immigrants in the United States than those rights given to American citizens and legal immigrants who've worked to obtain their citizenship."

Mark Williamson in Richmond, Virginia: "Lou, we shouldn't blame the Mexican government for publishing a how-to manual on illegal immigration. We should blame ourselves. We do little to stop them from coming across the border and we employ them when they get here."

And Tom Vocke of Bloomfield, New Mexico asks: "Could this illegal entry guide become a primer for terrorists to get across the southern borders of America?"

Please send us your thoughts at

We've reported here quite extensively on broken borders and the invasion of illegal aliens into this country. Tonight, a new poll clearly shows Americans are now unhappy with the way President Bush is handling the nation's immigration crisis. In a new CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, only 34 percent of those polled approved the president's immigration policies. And last week we brought you a series of special reports on tort reform, "Jackpot Justice." Another new CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll shows 57 percent of those polled feel the lawsuit system in this country in crisis.

Well, elections in Iraq, how insurgents are putting Iraq's upcoming vote in jeopardy. I'll be joined by the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee who has just returned from Iraq.

And "Overmedicated Nation," our special report on a deadly issue that affects nearly every American every day. Why the Food & Drug Administration is allowing in some cases dangerous drugs to enter your medicine cabinet.


DAVID GRAHAM, FDA: And they're never going to admit that they made a mistake, they're never going to admit that there's a problem.


DOBBS: Calls for reform at the FDA, the nation's drug protection agency, or is it? Just ahead.


DOBBS: Violence in Iraq is escalating ahead of the national elections scheduled to take place at the end of this month. Insurgents are targeting American and Iraqi security forces, trying to disrupt the election. My guest tonight has said this election will not assure stability, but it is the best hope. Senator Carl Levin is the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. He recently returned from Iraq, and joins us tonight from Capitol Hill.

Senator, what do you mean that the elections are really the best hope for security?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Well, the elections have been set. Every country in the world but a very few feel that these elections should proceed. Most countries in the world do not agree with the way in which we went into Iraq. They felt it was too unilateral, and there were a lot of mistakes that were made, but just about every country, including the United Nations, now believes that these elections should proceed. And that's an unusual situation, where you have disagreement over the underlying policy, as you do in this case, and yet you have agreement, almost a consensus, on the next step, the tactic which needs to be taking place, which is the election.

So it should proceed unless the Iraqi Election Commission itself or the Iraqi leadership itself feels that it would be a mistake to proceed. And as of now, they feel we should go ahead with it.

DOBBS: As you're well aware, Senator, the Sunnis have withdrawn from this election, saying they will not participate. I understand negotiations are under way, but there's also a view that those negotiations can't be successfully completed to re-engage the Sunnis before January 30th. Should they go ahead if they cannot bring the Sunnis to the table?

LEVIN: As long as the government in Iraq and the election commission in Iraq and the U.N. representative in Iraq all feel that we should proceed and that there's a greater chance for stability by proceeding than by delaying it, then it seems to me we should proceed. And there's a very important opportunity here for the neighbors of Iraq who say they favor this election going ahead, to put some real pressure on the Sunnis to participate. And that's if the Arab League meeting that is going to take place this Wednesday takes the position that not only should the Sunnis participate, which all Arab countries so far have said they should, with the possible exception of Syria and Iran, but all the other Arab countries, Muslim countries and Sunni countries, have said that the election should proceed.

But if the Arab League this Wednesday in addition says that the countries in the Arab League expect to recognize the results of the election, that would be an important step towards assuring that these elections will take place. It would remove any false hope that the Sunnis have inside of Iraq that they can just simply disrupt the election.

DOBBS: Aside from what seems to me to be at least a bizarre piece of strategic thinking, to suggest that the Sunnis can hold, if you will, these elections hostage by saying they won't participate, it is also -- is it also an opportunity here, are you hopeful, do you believe that the Arab League will take the position you just articulated?

LEVIN: I really hope that they will, and it's important that our diplomacy be focused on that effort, that meeting this Wednesday at the Arab League. We've already had a meeting in Egypt a few weeks ago, where the countries that met, most of the Sunni countries and Arab countries and Muslim countries said the Sunnis should participate, but the next step is important, which is to let the Sunnis know that the countries that will be meeting at the Arab League expect to recognize the results of this meeting. It's a very important step that they could take, and I hope our administration will focus diplomatically on achieving that result.

DOBBS: Let's move to our men and women in uniform, particularly in Iraq, and the number of casualties that we're taking, they're rising, the number of killed and wounded. The violence is escalating, I think, at just an unprecedented rate here over the past 10 days. What are we going to do? You sitting as the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, to better protect our young men and women in uniform? And to what degree should there be accountability for the general staff that is still obviously not in control of the security situation within Iraq?

LEVIN: There's a lot of causes of what's happening now in Iraq. We're paying the price for disbanding the Iraqi army. Why this administration decided to disband that army was a mystery when they disbanded it, it still is a mystery. But right now, our major effort has got to be to get that Iraqi army and police trained.

And one of the initiatives which the prime minister suggested in Iraq, Mr. Allawi, is that instead of just building from the ground up, which is important, the new army, but that we also reconstitute some of the headquarters with former officers of the Iraqi army, not the major Baathist leaders, but some of the former officers, and we're beginning to do just that, to follow that Allawi initiative.

DOBBS: Senator Carl Levin, thank you for being here.

LEVIN: Thank you.

DOBBS: "Overmedicated Nation," another FDA-approved drug linked to a death. Why some say this agency, the FDA, created to protect us all from dangerous drugs, is far too close to the drug industry itself. Stay with us.


DOBBS: A disturbing new study says the death rate from medication errors at the beginning of each month is 25 percent higher than at any other time in the month. Government assistance checks arrive at the beginning of the month, and researchers believe pharmacy workloads surge as patients stock up on their prescription medication. The result, more mistakes, often with fatal consequences. After examining 47 million death certificates, researchers at the University of California San Diego found nearly 132,000 people died because of medication errors over two decades.

Weeks after an FDA whistle-blower released a list of dangerous drugs, there's news of a death from one of those drugs on his list. Drug maker AstraZenica today announced it has linked its cholesterol- lowering drug Crestor to one patient's death. In our special reports this week, we focus on "Overmedicated Nation." We begin with a regulator that is supposed to protect the health and the lives of all Americans, the Food & Drug Administration. The critics say the FDA is protecting drug companies instead. Christine Romans reports.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vioxx, Celebrex, Bextra, all approved by the Food & Drug Administration, all potentially deadly. And now, momentum builds for an FDA overhaul before its seal of approval is worthless. David Graham is the FDA's whistle-blower.

GRAHAM: FDA is responsible for having harmed the American people, for having harmed countless numbers of people, having in a sense contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans, because it has such a low bar on safety, and even to this day won't admit that it could have done things better or that it would have done things differently.

ROMANS: Critics say the FDA sets a low bar on safety, because it's on the drug industry's payroll. Taxpayers foot most of the bill, but the FDA's $1.8 billion budget includes hundreds of millions of funding from the drug companies. They pay huge fees to have new drugs reviewed and approved. Some 1,400 scientists review those applications and bring drugs to market. Fewer than 50 monitor a drug once it's in your medicine cabinet.

DR. MARCIA ANGELL, "THE TRUTH ABOUT DRUG COMPANIES": The FDA is out of balance. They're spitting out more and more drugs, I think too rapidly. And the part of the FDA that oversees safety is not able to keep up with it.

ROMANS: To keep up, Senator Chuck Grassley wants an independent drug safety body, free of drug company influence.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: They should not be at the table. There's only one customer that should be at the table, and that's the American people. The American people should be the number one and only client of the FDA. And that's purely for safety of drugs.

ROMANS: Grassley also wants a national registry of drug study results, both good and bad, so doctors and patients have unbiased information, not just the favorable studies the drug companies want you to know about.


ROMANS: Reform at the FDA won't be easy. The agency doesn't have a permanent leader. The lead commissioner slot has been open for a year now. Current FDA management is reluctant to admit there's a problem. And Lou, the FDA isn't talking about it. Numerous requests for interviews by CNN were refused.

DOBBS: You mean, our requests?

ROMANS: Absolutely.

DOBBS: They won't come and talk about it.

ROMANS: They don't want to talk about it.

DOBBS: That's remarkable, because in all other respects, they seem to be doing such a good job representing the interests of the American people.

Christine Romans, thank you very much.

Still ahead here, the results of tonight's poll and a preview of what's ahead tomorrow. Please stay with us.


DOBBS: The results of tonight's poll -- 55 percent of you say Kofi Annan should resign. Thanks for being with us tonight, and please be with us tomorrow. Senator John Sununu will be among our guests. For all of us here, good night from New York. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is coming up next.


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