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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Bush Holds Wide-Ranging Press Conference; National Assembly Convenes in Baghdad; Homeland Security Releases List of Disaster Scenarios

Aired March 16, 2005 - 18:00   ET

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


KITTY PILGRIM, HOST: Tonight, President Bush stands firm on Iraq and so-called Social Security reform. The president strongly defends his policies.
In the red: shocking new evidence tonight on the country's debts to foreign countries. This crisis affects every American.

And illegal alien crisis. The terrible cost of our broken borders. Criminal illegal aliens on the loose committing serious crimes and evading our laws.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS for news, debate and opinion, tonight. Sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening.

Also tonight, crossing the line. Mexico's outrageous statement. Does the Mexican government realize its authority ends at the U.S. border?

"Assault on the Middle Class." New bankruptcy rules make it harder for Americans to erase their debts.

And "America's Bright Future." Four astonishing young people. They are the winners of one of the country's most prestigious science competitions.

President Bush today said the United States cannot withdraw from Iraq until the Iraqis can defend themselves. The president said he hopes our allies stay in Iraq. Italy will start pulling troops out in September.

President Bush also said he has no intention of backing down from his plan for so-called Social Security reforms.

White House correspondent Dana Bash reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president came before reporters to urge lawmakers to start looking for permanent solutions to keep Social Security out of the red.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's important that we talk about a permanent fix, something that will last forever.

BASH: But Mr. Bush still refused to offer his own ideas to make the system solvent, even as he concedes the crux of his plan doesn't do the trick.

BUSH: Personal accounts do not solve the issue. Personal accounts will make sure that individual workers get a better deal with whatever emerges as a Social Security solution.

BASH: Bush aides admit it's a crucial time for his top domestic goal. Members of Congress will be home meeting with constituents and facing a well-organized opposition, already buoyed by polls showing the president's plan in trouble.

Mr. Bush wants reforming Social Security for his legacy. The Iraq war still defines his presidency. He said he spoke to Italy's prime minister and tried to downplay his ally's decision to start withdrawing troops from Iraq in September.

BUSH: Any withdrawals would be done in consultation with allies and would be done depending upon the ability of the Iraqis to defend themselves.

BASH: The president hailed the first meeting of the Iraqi National Assembly as a bright moment for the region and again pressed for free elections in Lebanon. But walked a fine, even precarious line on the possibility of Hezbollah, which he again called a terrorist group, winning power at the polls.

BUSH: Maybe someone will run for office saying, "Vote for me. I look forward to blowing up America." I don't know. I don't know if that will be their platform or not. But I don't think so. I think people generally run for office and say, "Vote for me. I'm looking forward to fixing your potholes."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And in the wide-ranging 48-minute press conference, the president also defended a controversial post-9/11 policy to allow suspected terrorists in the U.S. to be picked up and sent back to their country of origin. But he said they only do that as long as they get a promise here that they're not going to be tortured -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right, Dana. Another point: the White House has nominated Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who's a prominent neoconservative, to be the head -- next head of the World Bank. Why did the White House choose Wolfowitz for this high-profile job?

BASH: Kitty, that's probably a question being asked in many a European capital as we speak because, of course, Paul Wolfowitz is essentially a lightning rod, somebody who many people think perhaps personifies some of the misguided, from some people's perspective, points of view and misconceptions about Iraq before the war.

But what senior officials here say is that, much like the United Nations, they think that the World Bank is a fine institution that needs reform and that Paul Wolfowitz is somebody with the record in and strong interest in development issues and that the World Bank, they think, is a good place for him to pursue those issues and also pursue promoting democracy.

They understand that some people see this as an in your face appointment, but they say here that he has a strong resume and a keen interest in the issues that he's going to be able to take on at the World Bank if he is, of course, appointed.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Dana Bash.

BASH: Thank you.

PILGRIM: Well, a major step forward for democracy in Iraq today. Iraq's first freely elected parliament in half a century met in Baghdad. Insurgents tried and failed to disrupt the meeting by firing mortars at the convention center.

Aneesh Raman reports from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than six weeks after Iraq's election, members of the national assembly are sworn in, set to soon draft the country's constitution and take over day-to-day affairs, including security, an urgent need highlighted this day by mortar attacks in Baghdad and a car bombing in Baqubah.

But absent from the gathering, any nomination of transitional leaders. Negotiations still ongoing.

ADEL ABDUL MAHDI, IRAQI FINANCE MINISTER: We are ready to start deliberations on the formation of the government. I think by the current of next week we'll have a government in Iraq.

RAMAN: One reason for the delay: the majority parties are seeking a unity government with as many groups as possible, ranging from the Sunnis, who chose to boycott the election, to Ayad Allawi's secular Iraqi list. That means resolution on critical issues must be addressed now, such as how significant a role Islam will play as a source of law for the new government. And is why the likely next prime minister, Shia Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is speaking with moderation.

IBRAHIM AL-JAAFARI, IRAQI DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Respect for human rights. The role of women and everything related to the freedom is relevant (ph).

RAMAN: Emotions are high during this critical stage. Shouts came as a Kurd legislator demanded the oath be read not only in Arabic but in Kurdish, as well.

The irony of the day, not lost on anyone, especially the Kurds. This is a 17th anniversary of the gassing in Halabja, when thousands of Kurds were killed by Saddam. (on camera) But perhaps the most important aspect of today was reminding the Iraqi people, who voted this assembly in at the end of January, that the government is moving forward and that democracy is taking root.

Aneesh Raman, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: There was also progress today in the search for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli troops today pulled out of the West Bank city of Jericho. The soldiers lowered the Israeli flag as they dismantled checkpoints in and around the city. Jericho is the first city to be returned to Palestinian control under an agreement reached last month.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Syria today made another move to comply with demands for a complete withdrawal from Lebanon. Syrian intelligence agents closed their offices in Beirut and other Lebanese cities. That's after 18 years. Syria has promised to withdraw all its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon, but it has not given a firm date.

The threat of a new terrorist attack against this country has prompted the federal government to develop a range of disaster scenarios, and those scenarios include the detonation of a nuclear device and a major poison gas attack. Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bomb is in play.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hollywood has been cooking up disaster scenarios for years. The "Sum of All Fears" involved a nuclear explosion at a Super Bowl.

Now the federal government has put down on paper 15 horrific hypothetical disaster scenarios of its own. In one, terrorists hide a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb in a van and set it off in the middle of a major city, costing an unknown number of lives and billions of dollars in economic losses.

In another, terrorists detonate a storage tank full of chlorine gas. More than 17,000 are killed, 10,000 injured, 100,000 hospitalized.

The secretary of homeland security says the scenarios will be used to help federal, state and local governments prepare for real disasters.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It gives us categories of things to be focused on in terms of prevention, in terms of protection and response, which then can guide people in equipment purchases and training and other kinds of decisions. MESERVE: The scenarios will also help determine how federal homeland security dollars are directed.

The scenarios are considered plausible, but are not based on real intelligence. Officials say there is no indication that the suggested attacks are being planned or that terrorists are in possession of the agents and devices involved.

CHERTOFF: We have deliberately generalized the threats. In fact, we don't even identify a particular terrorist group. We just have a universal terrorist group, because we want people to plan not only for the expected, but for the unexpected.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Some state and local officials characterize the planning scenarios as a good start, but one characterized them as overly catastrophic and not necessarily useful in preparing for real and present dangers -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Jeanne Meserve.

Still to come, one thing President Bush did not talk about today was an issue we've been reporting on extensively here: an escalating overseas threat to the prosperity of middle class Americans.

And shocking new details tonight on how criminal illegal aliens can evade the law in this country and stay out of jail, even when they commit serious crimes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Mexican President Vicente Fox today said Mexico will take legal action to crack down on American citizens who are patrolling the Arizona border. A group of about 1,000 Americans who call themselves minutemen are hunting for illegal aliens, attempting to cross our southern border.

Now, incredibly, President Fox today said those American citizens are operating outside the law, not the illegal aliens. He says he will call on the United States and international courts to stop the minuteman project. Now, Fox also said Mexico, Canada and the United States will talk about it next week when they meet in Texas.

In cities and towns all across this country, local law enforcement refuses to enforce our immigration laws on occasion. Many local officials argue that immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government. Now, some towns actually prohibit the police from asking about immigration status. And as a result, criminal illegal aliens are being set free.

Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet Virginia, known as Ginny (ph). She's the 18-year-old daughter of Humberto Garcia. She was murdered with a butcher knife last year in her family's home. The man who allegedly murdered her is an illegal alien. Prior to the murder, he had been in the custody of the Austin Police Department, under arrest for alleged child molestation.

HUMBERTO GARCIA PIEDRA, VICTIM'S FATHER: This is an abuse of civil rights. Her civil rights were trampled by a fellow who should have been deported. He should have been turned into immigration once he was found with illegal documentation, and he was not.

TUCKER: He was released back on to the street because the Austin City Council has directed its police to not inquire about a person's immigration status and to not hold an individual even if their status is known to be illegal. In Houston, police are only allowed to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they know an arrested person is illegal. But they are not allowed to ask.

In New York, it's known as Executive Order 41. In Los Angeles, Special Order 40. Countless cities and towns have similar policies. They are commonly known as sanctuary laws.

They are illegal. They were outlawed by Congress in 1996, but the law has no punishment provision, so it's widely ignored, confounding critics who argue we are making a mockery of immigration law.

CRAIG NELSON, FRIENDS OF IMMIGRATION LAW ENFORCEMENT: Just like we have a door on our house and a lock on our apartment, we have borders. And we have -- there are those who are outside and those who are inside, and we -- and the people inside have the right and the duty, in fact, to put restrictions and requirements on who is allowed in and who must stay out. And that's just simple -- that's just being an adult about -- about what kind of country we're leaving our children.

TUCKER: Humberto Garcia puts it another way, saying that a country which cannot control its borders is not a country but a territory, where there is no rule of law. And for him, this is not an academic issue.

GARCIA: It's not just my daughter. Who knows how many Ginnys (ph) there have been. Who knows? And who knows how many more there will be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: Now, Congress has tried several times to pass a provision giving teeth to its 1996 law. Last year two bills were proposed that would have withheld homeland security moneys for cities that have sanctuary laws but, Kitty, they were voted down. And there remains no punishment or enforcement provision.

PILGRIM: Fascinating issue. Thanks very much. Bill Tucker. Well, a quiet, upscale community in Scottsdale, Arizona, became the center of a major illegal alien bust. Authorities arrested 71 people, all of them living in one house.

Now, the house was used as a way station for illegal aliens until final payments were made to their smugglers. Now, five of those arrested are believed to be the actual smugglers.

Another troubling new report tonight on the lack of immigration enforcement within our borders. Illegal aliens are using phony Social Security numbers to obtain government loans in order to buy property. Investigative reporter John Ferrugia of KMGH TV in Denver, Colorado, has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN FERRUGIA, REPORTER, KMGH (voice-over): It is the American dream, and more Americans are homeowners than ever before thanks in part to government-backed loans that help young homeowners get into their first house. But with a government system so focused on home sales, is any agency checking to make sure that undocumented immigrants are prevented from getting such loans? Who is verifying identification?

BRYAN CUNNINGHAM, FMR. CIA OFFICER: The Department of Homeland Security doesn't have the authority. They are not doing it.

FERRUGIA: Bryan Cunningham, now a corporate consultant on homeland security, is a former CIA officer and National Security Council lawyer.

CUNNINGHAM: HUD and FHA and the other lenders and mortgage refinancers at the federal level haven't been told to do it in law and they don't have the money to do it. And certainly, you know, FBI and other law enforcement agencies can't possibly be in the business of doing this themselves.

FERRUGIA: Case in point, we found these homes in Thornton were purchased by two women who obtained FHA loans. Their names are listed as the owners and the mortgage holders. But when we checked the credentials of one of the women, Claudia Hernandez, we found she likely had used phony identification to obtain the loans.

We began looking into her background and that of her husband Roberto after he was charged in the hit and run killing of 32-year-old Justin Goodman last July in Thornton. Hernandez and his wife are undocumented, yet they're living in a home backed by an FHA loan.

JEFF COPP, IMMIGRATION & CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: We found a lot of packets that did not contain proper Social Security numbers, the W2s on them have been falsified.

FERRUGIA: Jeff Copp, the regional special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, cannot discuss any specific case. But he says such cases generally involve a broad conspiracy by those who profit from the sale. COPP: To have a false number, Social Security number, and have a realtor be able to take them all the way through the application process, there has to be something that that realtor or the mortgage company is doing to doctor those documents up to show that this is a legitimate Social Security number.

FERRUGIA: Once we began asking questions, ICE arrested Claudia Hernandez and other associates for being in the country illegally. Federal sources now confirm they are investigating how she and another undocumented immigrant were able to get the FHA loans.

We wanted to talk to the people who issued the FHA loan certificates at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD officials were clearly concerned about our findings and refused an on-camera interview. Nor would they answer our questions.

But in a written statement, they said in part, "FHA loans are originated and processed by FHA-approved lenders who certify that the mortgage is eligible for FHA mortgage insurance. If irregularities are revealed, appropriate action is taken."

(on camera): People sitting in their living rooms will say, well, how could that happen? I mean...

COPP: Right. Well, the system itself is designed to facilitate the purchase of property. It's not designed for law enforcement. It's the underwriter and the mortgage banker who are looking at those papers to make sure they are true and correct. Because they are the ones who are responsible for the information they provide to HUD.

FERRUGIA: And so HUD has to take their word for it.

COPP: Exactly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got the Social Security card, then you've got the license. Now suddenly you've got a piece of real estate that's in your name that somebody can go find on the Internet, and it just establishes your legitimate identity. And if it's not legitimate, you're helping the terrorists be able to be here and be asleep and wait for bad things to be done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FERRUGIA: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is now investigating how Claudia Hernandez was able to obtain those FHA loans with phony documentation. And Kitty, her husband, who is also an undocumented immigrant, is scheduled to be tried in July for the hit and run killing of Justin Goodman.

PILGRIM: John, you know, one follow-up question on this. One of the people in your report had a checkered past. Why were they never turned into immigration authorities?

FERRUGIA: You know, in this case, Roberto Martinez Ruiz, the person who was involved in the hit and run, had a very long, extensive record of leaving the scene of accidents, DWIs, driving while intoxicated, et cetera. And there were -- there was no judge, there was no prosecutor, no law enforcement person who ever turned him over to immigration authorities.

And prosecutors say that there is really an unwritten rule, probably all over the country, certainly here in Colorado. If you aren't a violent criminal, there just aren't enough agents, there aren't enough jail cells to hold the illegal immigrants who are here.

So in this case, this person had never committed a violent crime. He was a habitual traffic offender. So he was basically under the radar. And the fact is, ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, simply doesn't have the agents to deal with every person at a traffic stop who might be illegal.

PILGRIM: As you talked to the Housing and Urban Development, did they give you any indication how pervasive they think this might be, how big the problem is?

FERRUGIA: HUD will not speak to us at all. As a matter of fact, we tried continuously to talk with them about what happens and how their process works.

The fact is, Kitty, there is no federal agency that is tasked with looking at and verifying the documents that you or I might use to buy a home. And so they take the third or fourth parties' word for it, and that third or fourth party has a financial interest in getting the deal done.

Now, to be fair, retrospectively, HUD looks at mortgage brokers or underwriters, you know, your past, to say, how many of these loans have been foreclosed on? If the foreclosure rate is very high, then they may take a look at that particular underwriter or mortgage broker. But, still, unless there's a criminal investigation, no one ever checks the IDs.

PILGRIM: Fascinating report. Thanks very much for joining us this evening, John Ferrugia.

FERRUGIA: Thanks, Kitty.

PILGRIM: Well, the issue of fake drivers' licenses has finally been addressed by Congress. The House of Representatives today passed the Real ID Act. It's part of the bill authorizing more spending on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Real ID Act will make it much harder for illegal aliens and terrorists to obtain U.S. drivers' licenses. The act sets national standards for drivers' licenses for the first time, and it will now go on to the Senate.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner is the driving force behind the Real ID Act. And we do salute him for his determination to push the act through Congress.

Coming up next, the controversial new bankruptcy rules moving through Congress. Are they an unfair crackdown on working Americans or long overdue relief for banks and other lenders? Two experts will face off next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: In a moment, two experts face off on the growing controversy over tougher bankruptcy laws that was passed by the Senate.

But now here are some other important stories that we're following tonight.

Less than an hour ago, a California jury acquitted actor Robert Blake. Blake was on trial for the murder of his wife four years ago. The jury also acquitted Blake for hiring someone to kill his wife.

In another high-profile case in California, a judge today formally sentenced Scott Peterson to death. Peterson was ordered to die by lethal injection. He was convicted of murdering his wife Laci and their unborn son more than two years ago. Peterson will be sent to San Quentin State Prison, which overlooks the bay where Laci's body was found.

And authorities in Florida have just released this photograph of convicted sex offender John Evandar Couey. They say he' is "a person of interest" in the case of Jessica Lunsford. She's the 9-year-old girl who's been missing since the end of February.

In the "Face Off" tonight, the growing controversy over new bankruptcy rules just passed by the Senate. Now, critics say they're part of an assault on the middle class, will only make it more difficult for working Americans to manage their debts. And supporters say bankruptcy reform is long overdue, and banks and credit cards have had to pay a very long time for America's rising debt levels.

I'm joined now by two experts, one on either side of the issue. Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren says most Americans who file for bankruptcy have no other choice because of a job loss or rising medical costs. And she is the co-author of "All You're Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan."

The other side is George Mason University law professor Todd Zywicki. And he says most file for bankruptcy because it's simply too easy to do so.

Thanks very much for joining us, both of you. And I'd like to get to all the points.

But I'd like to start with you, Elizabeth, because you have some compelling statistics that you bring out. You say that most bankruptcy comes from -- 66 percent comes from job loss. Medical problems, 50 percent. Family breakup, 20 percent.

These are high percentages. These seem to be pretty dire circumstances. It doesn't seem to be something people do lightly.

Do you think that these new rules are too harsh?

ELIZABETH WARREN, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: Well, you know, you've got exactly the right point. It isn't something people do lightly.

In fact, 61 percent of the families who file for bankruptcy didn't go for medical care because they couldn't afford it. Fifty percent didn't have prescriptions filled that their doctors gave them. Twenty-one percent did without food to try to pay their bills. And seven percent moved their elderly parents to cheaper care facilities all so they could try to pay their bills.

These are people for whom bankruptcy was not only not the first choice, it was not even the hundredth choice. They simply were backed up against it and had no other options.

PILGRIM: Todd, let's get you in on this. Now, there's a means test now to see whether bankruptcy is the right way for a family to proceed. Do you think that levels the playing field a bit?

TODD ZYWICKI, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR: That's right, Kitty. What we're seeing is last year 1.5 million people filed bankruptcy. That's double what the rate was just a decade ago. And we're talking about an era of unprecedented American prosperity, record stock market, record housing values, low interest rates, low unemployment rates.

So what we're seeing out there is that, yes, most of the people who are filing bankruptcy, in fact, are the right people who are using the system. But we also know that there's a lot of people who are filing bankruptcy now that didn't use to file bankruptcy.

They have other options. And this is what this bill is trying to get at. It asks a simple question, which is, if you can -- if you make above the state median income, and you could repay a substantial portion of your debt, $10,000 over five years, we're going to still let you file bankruptcy. You can still file bankruptcy, but we're just going to ask you to repay what you can repay. And that's all it does.

PILGRIM: Now, there are a couple of measures that did not get into this. Elizabeth, let's get into this. One was protection for people 65 years and older not to lose their house, and yet that didn't make it in. What do you think about that?

WARREN: That's exactly right. You know, I think there are loopholes in the bankruptcy bill that should be closed up. For example, I don't think people who own multimillion-dollar mansions ought to be able to file for bankruptcy or people who tuck away their assets in something fancy called an asset protection trust.

But all of those loopholes were carefully preserved. Instead, people who needed real help, for example, elderly homeowners who wanted to try to hang on to their houses. One of the bills before Congress said let's put in a minimum homestead floor -- voted down. How about people who file for bankruptcy in the aftermath of crushing medical problems? Treat them differently. No, that was voted down. How about if we sew up the loopholes for millionaires. That was voted down.

This is a bill about making middle class families pay more while the millionaires get to walk scot-free. I don't think that's reform.

PILGRIM: Todd, let's get you in on this. Is this heartless?

ZYWICKI: Millionaires are not walking scot-free under this bill. Let's be very clear about that.

Under current law, for instance, there's nothing to stop O.J. Simpson to do what he just did, which is getting a judgment against him in California, buying a mansion in Florida. Under the bill, we -- it allows you to go after fraudulent use of the homestead exception and allows you to go after people who --

WARREN: Todd, we must not be reading exactly the same bill because the bill clearly states that if you live in Texas long enough, if you live in Florida long enough, you're permitted to save your home, whether it's worth a million dollars, $15 million or $25 million. And that's true regardless of the reason that you are filing for bankruptcy. That's an abuse pure and simple.

Congress had an opportunity to seal up that abuse, to sew it up, and what Congress said is no. This is about paying off the credit card companies and giving them better revenues. This is about how to protect those poor defenseless credit card companies from middle class families who have lost their jobs, who've gotten sick and who have family breakups. That's what this bill is about.

PILGRIM: Todd, we're going to let you have the last word on this.

ZYWICKI: This bill is about people using the bankruptcy system to evade paying alimony and child support payments. This is a bill that is about people actually stealing Social Security numbers and then using it for -- to get people to file bankruptcy. This is a bill that just -- that -- the FBI says 10 percent of bankruptcies today have some sort of fraud in them. We know that there's holes in the system. This bill targets them. And I think it's a very good bill that's been a long time in the making.

PILGRIM: Thanks for bringing this to our debate tonight. It's a really interesting issue, and one that we hope that most Americans don't actually have to face.

Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth Warren and Todd Zywicki. Thank you.

Tonight's thought is on natural history. A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia.

In Alaska tonight, victory in the famed Iditarod dog-sled race. A Norwegian man won the Iditarod for the second time in three tries. He finished the 1100-mile trek in nine days and almost 19 hours. Unseasonably warm weather this year. That made the route pretty slushy and slow. 79 mushers entered the race from Anchorage to Gnome; that went along the Bering Sea. And this year's winning prize was more than $72,000.

Let's hope they give the dog a steak.

Next, one critically important issue that the White House isn't talking about. It's nothing less than a crisis that will affect every single American.

And steroids in baseball. One of the tragic effects of professional athletes using illegal substances.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: The United States is more indebted to foreign countries than at any time in our nation's history. The widest measure of our deficits with other countries today hit a new all-time high, more than $660 billion.

Casey Wian has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Biblical scholars know what the number 666 means. For the U.S. economy, the $666 billion current account trade deficit may not be a sign of the apocalypse, but some seem to think it's close.

ROBERT SCOTT, ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE: This is another terrifying report. We are importing 5.7 percent more than we're producing. We have to borrow that much money. It amounts to $2 billion every working day in the economy. At some point, this borrowing is going to have to come to a crashing halt, and when that happens, interest rates are going to soar in this country from perhaps 4 or 5 percent today to as much as 10 or 12 percent.

WIAN: The current account deficit shows just how much wealth is being transferred from the United States to foreign countries. Every time an American buys a South Korean car, a Japanese television or a Chinese made shirt at Wal-Mart, the deficit goes up. It also rises when foreigners invest in U.S. dollars or bonds. In recent years, the biggest buyers have been Asian central banks. While that's helping the United States finance its deficit, it also makes the U.S. vulnerable.

PETER MORICI, UNIV. OF MARYLAND: They do it because it creates jobs in their country and moves jobs from the United States. The Chinese are basically buying about $200 billion a year of U.S. currency and other currencies, for the purposes of promoting manufacturing in China and destroying jobs in the United States.

WIAN: Japan, South Korea and India have all spooked financial markets by hinting they may dump dollars. Some economists say there's blatant market manipulation of currency prices by foreign central banks and oil prices by OPEC.

The Bush administration shrugs off fears of rising interest rates or a looming recession saying the growing trade deficit proves the United States is the economic engine for global growth. But pressure on the White House is growing to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, Chinese imports and Asian central banks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota has asked the president to call an emergency summit on the trade deficit. So far, Kitty, he says he has received no response.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Casey Wian.

Well, the Senate today narrowly approved a plan to drill for oil in Alaska's arctic national wildlife refuge. Oil prices very much on the minds of Americans these days. Light sweet crude hit a record high, $56.46 a barrel today. Well, all of that is pretty obvious at the pump. Record oil prices are boosting gas prices all across the country. The national average is $2.05 and that's less than a penny short of the national record. You may be paying even more than that, though, already, in many of the more expensive cities in this country.

The Citizens Against Government Waste is publishing the pig book. It's a look at the most outrageous pork barrel projects in the last 14 years. There are plenty of them, more than 52,000. The cost to the taxpayers is $185 billion. Now, some of the projects you may find the most shocking is $102 million to study screwworms, $2.2 million to renovate the North Pole, and $50,000 for a tattoo removal program in, where else, California.

Coming up next, steroids and subpoenas. Which major league players are going to Capitol Hill tomorrow to tell their story? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Well, 6 current and former Major League Baseball players are expected to testify tomorrow on Capitol Hill about steroid abuse. Lawmakers will also hear testimony from a Texas man who suffered a tragic loss because of steroids. Congressional correspondent Ed Henry reports from Washington.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Kitty, that man is Don Hooten whose family was shattered by steroids. And he's furious at some of the baseball stars who have been trying to avoid testifying tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON HOOTEN, TAYLOR HOOTEN'S FATHER: They've been cowards in cheating, in using shortcuts to set Major League records. And what message are we sending the kids now when we're not prepared to stand up like men and take responsibility for what we've been doing.

HENRY (voice-over): Tough talk, but if anyone has the right to speak out, it's Hooten. His son, Taylor, became hooked on steroids and fell into a depression. 20 months ago, at age 17, he committed suicide.

HOOTEN: There's no words you can put into it. Your whole life is your kids.

HENRY: Taylor was a right-handed pitcher with a nasty fastball. He'd been playing since he was 5 and wanted to make it to the big leagues like his Dad's cousin, Burt Hooten. Taylor was already 175 pounds, but a coach urged him to bulk up. So he started secretly taking steroids. And put on 30 pounds, but soon developed side effects from acne to terrible mood swings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On at least two occasions, he had took -- he's a pitcher now. He would take his fist and drove them through a Sheetrock wall, only to find out 10 minutes later, find him downstairs crying, telling his mom and his dad that he felt sorry for what he did.

HENRY: There were other danger signs, all of them missed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We used to, you know, have to bring him bottle after bottle of mouth wash. We couldn't figure out what are you doing with all this mouth wash. Well as it turned out, one of the symptoms of steroid abuse is bad breath.

HENRY: On a plane ride back from a family vacation, Taylor wrote a long love letter to his high school sweetheart and talked about marriage. The next day, he took his own life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; Here was a kid who was looking about the future, planning his future, and just one day later would take his life. It just doesn't make sense.

HENRY: So Don Hooten is on a mission. Speaking at high schools like this one, where nine teens had just gotten caught using steroids. And Hooten is testifying on Capitol Hill.

HOOTEN: Today's high school student has no fear of getting caught.

HENRY: It's difficult for Hooten to discuss. But a grief counselor told him that every time he talks about his loss, it takes away a little bit of the pain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Don Hooten has gotten his wish. CNN has learned that all of the current and former baseball players who have been subpoenaed, including Mark McGwire, will testify tomorrow -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Ed, are they going to get immunity from prosecution for testifying?

HENRY: No. Actually, committee staffers are telling us that none of the players have been granted immunity from prosecution. That is upsetting to Jose Canseco in particular. His attorney is saying he may now invoke the fifth amendment when he gets some of these questions tomorrow.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Ed Henry. Interesting Well next, "America's Bright Future." How four high school seniors finished at the top of one of the most prestigious science competitions. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Well, our series of special reports on some of this country's most inspiring young people continues. Tonight, we have in "America's Bright Future," the story of one 20-year-old who is not your average college student. This is a junior from Boston University. He's already working on his third business. Christine Romans has his story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN CATHERS, BOSTON UNIVERSITY STUDENT: We're going to combine that with -- what I single going to be the best say guerrilla marketing campaign.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Ben Cathers, spring break is meeting with investment bankers to pitch his newest company, Search Rate Technologies.

CATHERS: I've been a lifelong entrepreneur, which, you know, at the age of 20 is sometimes a fun thing to say.

ROMANS: Fascinated by computers, as a kid he taught himself Java and HTML programming languages. He started his first business at 12, a Web marketing and advertising firm geared toward teens. At 17 he sold it and started a syndicated teen radio talk show. And at 19, he published a book.

Now a junior at Boston University, he juggles his business classes with his business.

CATHERS: I would get a lot of copies of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

CATHERS: I'm always checking my voice mail, because I come out of class with a voice mail or two from a partner or accountant, somebody like that. Usually, the first thing I always make sure I do, is when I wake up, I always check my e-mail. I check my e-mail. I check my e-mail about 15, 20 times a day. That's the most important thing.

ROMANS: That tenacity and confidence have impressed this investment banker.

JAY MACDONALD, DESILVA & PHILLIPS: And Ben's life is fairly interesting, that Ben's juggling a social life, he's juggling school and he's juggling a start-up business.

ROMANS: His parents have watched this juggling act with pride. His mother is a social worker. His father a probation supervisor. This passion for business is foreign to them. But they say, there's more to Ben Cathers than venture capital and search engines.

PATTI CATHERS, BEN'S MOTHER: He's got a very spiritual side to him. He brought us all back to going to church again. He was an altar boy. He's a Eucharistic minister up at the church of BU. I think that -- I don't know, in some ways I think he's really kind of brought us together, I guess a little closer in that way. But what else have I learned from him?

MIKE CATHERS, BEN'S FATHER: I think we've learned that we were pretty good parents.

ROMANS: Christine Romans, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Well, joining me now are four more of this country's most inspiring young people. All finished at the top of Intel Science Competition which wrapped up last night in Washington, D.C.

David Bauer took home top honors and a $100,000 scholarship. He designed a new way to detect toxic agents in the event of a terrorist attack.

Tim Credo came in second. His method of measuring very brief intervals of time.

And also joining me, are finalists Ling Pan and Olga Pikovskaya.

Congratulations and welcome to you all. Thanks for being here.

Let's start with you, David. It must feel like a whirlwind tour. What's been the best thing about it?

DAVID BAUER, WINNER, INTEL SCIENCE COMPETITION: I think really the best thing about it was last night up on stage, and the 39 of my fellow finalists all gathered around. We all exchanged hugs and it was just such a thrilling moment.

PILGRIM: It was 1,600 high school students who competed in this, Tim.

Did you ever think you would be sitting in the last, you know, final four?

TIM CREDO, 2ND PLACE, INTEL SCIENCE COMPETITION: No, I was just as surprised as anyone, I think. I think we had an idea, as we were going through it, that we were doing well, but the end was a surprise to us all.

PILGRIM: I want to know how you came up with your idea, because it's fascinating. Tell us in the shortest period of time, what it is and how did you think that up?

CREDO: Actually, what I did is I worked on a building a detector that can measure the speed of subatomic particles much more accurately. And actually I did this as a summer job, so -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I supposed.

PILGRIM: Well, congratulations on that.

And let's turn over here. Olga, tell me about your project?

OLGA PIKOVSKAYA, FINALIST, INTEL SCIENCE COMPETITION: I discovered the three dimensional structure of a new biological complex.

PILGRIM: And do you want to go into medicine? Is it -- is biology a big driving force in your life?

PIKOVSKAYA: Yes. I like to actually get an M.D. Ph.D.

PILGRIM: That will be great. You are well on your way, I think.

And your project?

LING PAN, FINALIST, INTEL SCIENCE COMPETITION: Yes, I looked at subtypes of the new opiate (ph) receptor, which regulates drugs such as morphine. And my research will be very promising in designing new drugs with decreased side effects in pain management.

PILGRIM: You know, Ling, the pain management issue has been such a big one in the news because some of these drugs are being withdrawn. And it's very rewarding work. Were you influenced by the news at all?

PAN: Definitely. I actually started my work three summers ago, so it wasn't as recent, but definitely pain is a very complex mechanism. And further understanding pain will help to elutriate drug abuse and addiction, as well.

PILGRIM: You know, your all such smart guys and girls. But you had to have just a little bit of an age appropriate thrill in being feted in Washington the way you were. What was the best moment, Olga?

PIKOVSKAYA: One of the best moments in Washington D.C. was going to the White House and meeting President Bush. And also, on a daily basis, we were kind of cheered like celebrities. And it was so much fun. It was one of the best weeks I ever had.

PAN: The best moment for me was at the banquet last night when all 40 of us were standing up on stage and all of the scientists and mentors and parents stood up and clapped for us and that was rewarding.

PILGRIM: Yes. Your all dressed up. It's very exciting. I mean, a prom has to be an anticlimax after this. You know, you three are from New York. but you are not. And so you were in the company of big city kids, and your also from a big city.

How did it feel to be with other people from the country around and meeting your peers?

CREDO: I think it's great to kind of get a chance to meet this group of kids who, I mean, obviously, a very illustrious crowd. And it was certainly very rewarding for me to get to see kind of my counterparts around the nation.

PILGRIM: You all are seniors, so you'll be going on to college soon. Are you going to stay in the fields where you won your award?

BAUER: I really am. I am going to stay with the research I'm doing, actually. I'm going to be staying at the City College of New York in a rather special program called the Honors College. I'm really looking forward to it.

PILGRIM: And where your going?

CREDO: I hope to go to Stanford University and work on the linear accelerator there. So, yes, I'm going to stay in physics.

PILGRIM: It's not really fair to ask you where you're going yet, because, I guess, all the acceptances aren't in or maybe you're the early crowd. Are you?

PAN: Well, I was accepted early to Harvard and I plan on going there in the fall. And I'd like to study neurosciences.

PILGRIM: Neurosciences.

PIKOVSKAYA: I was accepted early to Columbia, and hope to be a biochemistry major there.

PILGRIM: So we're all keeping some of you in New York, at least. Well, thank you very much for joining us. We wish you the best in your work and we do have a series called "America's Bright Future," and you've already qualified for that. But I hope sometime we can come and do a personal profile on all of you, and follow your work as you move through your academic careers.

Thank you very much for joining us, Olga, Ling, Tim and David. Thank you.

PIKOVSKAYA: Thank you.

CREDO: Thank you.

BAUER: Thank you.

PAN: Thank you.

PILGRIM: And still ahead, we'll have a preview of what's ahead tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow. A noted sports writer says it's great that Congress is investigating the steroid scandal. He says Major League Baseball deserves to be embarrassed.

Also, Iran strongly defends its nuclear ambitions. An expert on nuclear proliferation has just returned from Tehran will join us. And one senator's fight to stop rewards for American companies that export American jobs overseas.

For all of here good night form New York. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is next.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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