Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

New Orleans to Reopen Sections This Weekend; EPA Administration Discusses Safety of Returning to New Orleans

Aired September 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: Thanks, Wolf.
Good evening, everybody.

Tonight, engineers say they've reached the halfway point in the operation to drain flood water from New Orleans. But 40 percent of that city is still underwater. At the same time, President Bush today declares he's confident the nation can pay for the rebuilding effort. The president ruled out any tax increases.

We begin our coverage with Mary Snow in New Orleans.

Mary, how are the people in New Orleans reacting to the president's promise to rebuild the city?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, some of the people who have been displaced say they have simply lost their faith in the federal government, that their short-term needs haven't yet been met. Others are praising the president's pledge.

And still others say they hope, like the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, says she hopes that state businesses will get the first dibs on rebuilding. That rebuilding is a massive effort.

Before -- as the city of New Orleans starts to rebuild, it's also battling fires. It continues to. This one about three miles southwest of the airport earlier this afternoon. It appears to have been put out. But these fires still flaring up. This one in an apartment complex.

And then there is the task of rebuilding structures. Earlier today, we went into the Superdome. This is two weeks after more than 20,000 people had been stranded there for days. Still, the cleanup effort continues inside that Superdome. The future of it is still in limbo.

And the convention center also. The mayor of New Orleans says that he wants to change that convention center where thousands had been stranded. He says he wants to change it from a symbol of despair into a symbol of rebuilding. And that he hopes to use that center as part of a retailer for when residents start coming back into New Orleans.

Now, those residents in designated areas are expected to start coming back into the city over a phased period of time on Monday. But over this weekend, Kitty, there will be business owners who will be allowed in throughout the weekend in certain areas, in order to get their businesses back up and running -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks, Mary. Those pictures of the Superdome look absolutely awful. Thanks a lot. Mary Snow reporting from New Orleans.

Well, New Orleans wants its residents to return home. But a new poll finds that many survivors don't want to go back. Now, a survey of hurricane survivors in Houston finds them split between those who do want to return to New Orleans and those who want to settle somewhere else. Of the survivors who plan to relocate, two-thirds said they want to stay permanently in the Houston area.

President Bush today declared the federal government must cut spending to pay for the reconstruction work. The rebuilding of New Orleans and other communities could cost more than $200 billion.

Dana Bash reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reflection on a national day of prayer. The president used the pulpit to try to bridge a racial divide more vivid behind Katrina's path, saying renewal should address poverty, what he called the legacy of inequality.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And one day Americans will back look at the response to Hurricane Katrina and say that our country grew not only in prosperity but in character and justice.

BASH: Mr. Bush's pledge to rebuild the Gulf Coast will have a hefty price tag. What will it be? The president later suggested within reason, it doesn't matter.

BUSH: It's going to cost whatever it costs. And we're going to be wise about the money we spend.

BASH: Bridges, schools, new job training, child care spending, plus small business tax breaks. Some estimates suggest the president's plan could cost some $200 billion.

The president's chief economic adviser, Allan Hubbard, told reporters, quote, "There's no question the recovery will be paid for by the federal taxpayer and it will add to the deficit."

The president insisted he will push to offset the cost elsewhere.

BUSH: It's going to mean that we're going to have to make sure we cut unnecessary spending.

BASH: But neither Mr. Bush nor top aides will offer any specific proposals, raising alarms among some in his own party, conservatives who suggest, for starters, trimming pork barrel highway spending or even delaying the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. REP. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We can cut a lot out of this federal government. And to simply saddle future generations with this debt is not right.

BASH: But in a rare break from an intensely partisan environment, Senate leaders from both parties touring devastated New Orleans echoed Mr. Bush: spend what it takes, but carefully.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: We again, together, will be making sure that further resources are made available.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We need to spend the money wisely and make sure there's not any waste and certainly any corruption.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: But that's where the agreement ends. Democrats want the White House to roll back some tax cuts in order to help pay for Katrina. The president made clear today raising taxes is off the table -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Dana, another one, word tonight that Vice President Dick Cheney needs to have surgery. What can you tell us about that?

BASH: Well, we're told by one of his top aides, Steve Schmidt, that he is going to undergo, next weekend, surgery to remove an aneurysm behind his right knee.

We are told that it is something that will just require local anesthesia. He will certainly stay in the hospital for a short while. We don't know exactly how long. But they say they do expect him back to work soon thereafter. We have little detail at this point.

Of course, when we hear about the vice president and his health, it does raise some alarms because of his heart history, his bad heart history. But at this point, we don't know if there is any particular connection. But they are being very clear in his office tonight, Kitty, that this is something that, as I said, just requires local anesthesia. They're trying to down play it.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much. Dana Bash reporting. Thanks, Dana.

Well, let's turn back to the hurricane crisis. Democratic leaders say President Bush must provide answers, not just comforting words, Democrats saying now is not the time for political opportunism.

Ed Henry has our report -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Kitty.

That's right. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and his counterpart in the House, Nancy Pelosi, putting out some tough statements last night, basically saying that they believe the president taking responsibility does not make up for the initial slow response from the federal government. They're also saying they believe the president's plan to rebuild the Gulf region is not ambitious enough.

He's also taking some flak from more conservative Democrats, like Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi. He lost his own home in Katrina. He's saying he was expecting the president last night to talk a little bit more about the government and their efforts to crack down on insurance companies that are trying not to pay out some damages.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GENE TAYLOR (D), MISSISSIPPI: One of the things the president didn't talk about is for those people who could not have conceived of this 30-foot wall of water being pushed in by the wind. Their policy, they have a wind policy, but not a water policy. And I would think the president would have helped a heck of a lot of people feel a heck of a lot better about their future if he had said that we as a nation are going to somehow try to make you whole again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, lawmakers in both parties are also raising concerns about the rising price tag for taxpayers all around the country for the Katrina relief efforts, as well as the rebuilding in the Gulf region.

As you know, Congress has already laid out over $62 billion. Some saying the price tag will reach over $200 billion or more when all is said and done. But the president today ruling out tax increases to pay for it.

Congressman Taylor, who you heard from a moment ago, is saying he believes that the Bush tax cuts should be rolled back to pay for these relief and rebuilding efforts, whereas some Republican lawmakers like John McCain saying they believe some $25 billion or more should be taken out of the recently passed highway bill.

But as you know, there's a lot of pork barrel spending in that highway bill. With lawmakers in both parties up for election next year, they're not about to give back some of that money. Incumbents obviously like to tout that back home -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Ed Henry. Thanks, Ed.

Well, President Bush has been trying to rebuild his political image after Hurricane Katrina. And polls suggest his approval ratings has been hurt by the federal government's slow response to the disaster. But numbers the show there are other reasons for the president's sliding popularity as well.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins me now.

Bill, take us through some of those numbers, would you?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not just the mishandling of the hurricane, Kitty. In the latest "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, 54 percent of Americans disapproved of the way President Bush has handled Hurricane Katrina; 58 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy; 62 percent disapprove of Iraq; and 72 percent disapprove of the president's performance on gas prices.

The message here: the hurricane is only one of the president's problems. And it's not the biggest problem. A bigger problem, we find, is growing pessimism about the nation's economy. And that is directly tied to increasing gas prices. Most Americans now believe that gas price increase is not temporary, but permanent. No more cheap gas.

PILGRIM: Bill, the growing economic pessimism in the country, do you think that's going to create problems for the hurricane recovery effort?

SCHNEIDER: Well, as we just heard, the big issue with respect to the recovery is the cost. How is the country going to pay for it?

In his speech the president really didn't call for any shared sacrifice. And today the president said there'd be no tax increases. He's not going to cancel any part of the tax cut. The deficit will go up.

Here's what we know. When the economy turns bad, the deficit becomes an issue. Remember, 1992? Remember Ross Perot?

I don't think the spending on the hurricane recovery is an issue. You just saw the picture of Democrats and Republicans in New Orleans joining forces to support the recovery effort.

But the deficit could become a very big political issue, in fact, a political football, if the economy turns sour. That's the key factor in all of this, what happens to the economy.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much. Bill Schneider. Thanks, Bill.

And we'd like to know what you think about this issue. Do you think that it's important for the White House and Congress not to limit what is spent on rebuilding areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina? That's a yes or no answer. Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll bring the results later in the broadcast.

Now more on the hurricane disaster ahead. Real estate speculators are already moving into New Orleans. Many long time residents could lose their homes. We'll have a special report on that.

And nearly 200,000 people are preparing to return to New Orleans. But is the city's water supply safe? The head of the Environmental Protection Agency will join me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: There's a new warning about another possible scam in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Real estate agents are reporting a huge surge in customers looking to buy land on the cheap and take advantage of displaced residents.

Lisa Sylvester reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first glance, it's hard to imagine why this would be a buyer's paradise. But it is.

Within hours after Katrina hit, investors started looking for properties to buy on Craig's List, an online classified ad site. Buyers are looking to scoop up land and homes at bargain basement prices from residents who have had enough.

Lucy D'Angelo, a New Orleans realtor, says investors have been calling and e-mailing, looking for opportunities.

LUCY D'ANGELO, KELLER-WILLIAMS REALITY: They're wanting to build high rises or apartment complexes or condos. And they believe that they would have the land now because we will have to tear down houses in order to rebuild as long as they can be zoned in that -- in that way.

SYLVESTER: Even before Katrina hit, 53 percent of the city was renter occupied, 47 percent owner occupied. The federal government is making it even more appealing for investors to move in with talk of spending $200 billion to rebuild.

But critics are speaking out. On Craig's List, warnings like this one. "Greedy, nasty people will be trying to snatch up your land."

Experts say poor and middle class families are vulnerable because they need quick cash, or may not have had flood insurance or simply don't know how much their property is worth.

JOHN MCILWAIN, URBAN LAND INSTITUTE: Somebody comes along and says you know that home, that worthless home you've got in New Orleans? I'll give you $2,000. Here, sign this quitclaim deed.

It's the same kind of thing that happens after a car accident, when the insurance adjuster comes and says, "I'll settle the claim for $500." And a lot of people are going to take that.

SYLVESTER: Families still reeling from the shock of Hurricane Katrina should be cautious not to sell their homes for pennies on the dollar.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And the speculation is only fueling the seller's market for homes untouched by Katrina. Those owners have seen a considerable increase in their property values in just the last two weeks -- Kitty. PILGRIM: Very interesting story. Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester. Thanks, Lisa.

And more than 2,000 children still missing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is working to reunite them with their families. And so far, the cases of 760 missing children have been solved.

Now, this weekend, CNN will work in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help with these children reunite their families. CNN will run photos of the missing and displaced children continuously for 40 hours. That's over tomorrow and Sunday. And that will be very helpful, we're sure.

Tonight, a tropical storm warning is out for coastal Rhode Island and Massachusetts as Tropical Storm Ophelia heads north. Now Ophelia was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm. It's picking up speed as it moves along the east coast. It's not expected to regain hurricane status.

The storm caused substantial damage along the North Carolina coast where it lingered for two days. Some parts of North Carolina had more than 17 inches of rain. Homes were destroyed. And North Carolina beaches suffered major damage.

Now, on its current course, Ophelia is expected to sweep past coastal New England tomorrow morning and then head north to Canada.

Coming up next, no cash, no credit, people tapped out, credit machines still out of power. So that has given way to a unique bartering system in New Orleans. How businesses are using the honor system, next.

And then state of emergency: it's been days since there were dire warnings about the safety of New Orleans. And now thousands of evacuees are told they can return home? We'll talk to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency about whether New Orleans is really livable once again. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Beginning Monday, thousands of New Orleans residents will be allowed to return to the city and find out what has become of their homes. Now they'll find not only a changed landscape but a whole new way of doing business in a town where cash is anything but king.

Dan Lothian reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In New Orleans, it's anything but business as usual. At St. Claude Used Tires, Ernest Weems and his crew keep the wheels of emergency and police vehicles rolling, fixing flats caused by tons of debris on the road. But few people are paying listed prices up front. ERNEST WEEMS, AUTO MECHANIC: Well, some of them do, and some of them don't. Some of them, you know, they put it on the book.

LOTHIAN: With cash hard to come by, it's a makeshift credit system. Names, badge numbers, or other identifying information are written down. They trust the money for repairs will come in the mail later.

WEEMS: Whatever I can do to help out, man. I'll get -- I'll get my reward a little later, you know?

LOTHIAN (on camera): Others are turning to a barter system. This downtown hotel has given more than 70 rooms to the local phone company in exchange for special services.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have some people that are...

LOTHIAN: Attorney and businessman Robert Fenet was able to get his hands on extra diesel fuel.

ROBERT FENET, ATTORNEY: This is the life blood right here.

LOTHIAN: But now needs propane to help a facility for displaced families.

FENET: I'm trying to swap diesel fuel for propane, because it's all in short supply down here. Bartering is just people trying to get by.

LOTHIAN: A slightly different system is brewing at Johnny White's, a French Quarter tavern that has stayed open throughout the city's crisis. When the bottles get low, the owner taps into his other two bars, which are closed. As a last resort, he goes to competitors, who evacuated.

MARCIE RAMSEY, BAR MANAGER: People who have access to bars here have been selling us stuff when we run out over there.

LOTHIAN: Ride Hamilton sometimes makes deliveries.

RIDE HAMILTON, BUSINESSMEN: We're allowed to go into some of the bars. We leave a note saying what we took and then, you know, pay for it when these bars open up again.

LOTHIAN: If necessity is the mother of invention, Hurricane Katrina has forced some in this city to reinvent the way they do business.

Dan Lothian, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Coming up, we'll have the very latest status alert on the Gulf Coast crisis.

Also, why some officials say it's safe for certain New Orleans residents to return home. That's despite the past warnings of toxic waters. I'll talk to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency about that.

And we'll also talk with the mayor of one Gulf Coast town desperately trying to rebuild with the help of the president's disaster initiative. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Local, state and federal officials are working hard to clean up and rebuild New Orleans and the other areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Officials now say the death toll from the storm has topped 800.

Deborah Feyerick joins us now with the very latest status alert on that -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, status alert on gun shops. Some were leveled, some were looted, some are still standing. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms wants to know what's what. So starting tomorrow, agents are going to go to every gun shop in the affected region.

ATF has received reports that in some places destroyed by Katrina, soldiers are actually finding guns scattered in the rubble or turning up on street corners.

Agents have been working in New Orleans. Acting on a tip, they found 20 firearms wrapped in plastic and hidden in a Dumpster in a graveyard. Only dealers keep records. Trying to help them trace what they have and what they've lost is expected to be a huge undertaking.

Status alert: oil spill. Six big ones in the Louisiana area. So far, teams have scooped up 50,000 barrels of oil. That's about a third of what leaked from tanks and pipelines. A lot evaporated or was blown away by high winds. Birds covered in oil are being taken to Huma, Louisiana (ph), so they can be cleaned up. It's not clear whether people will be able to live in the homes affected by the spill.

That tops the status alerts for today. Anyone with information about a city or parish in the region can e-mail here at StatusAlert@CNN.com -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Deborah. Thanks.

New Orleans Mayor Nagin has given the OK for thousands of evacuees to begin returning to their homes. But with the toxic water flooding much of the city for almost three weeks, is it really safe for anyone to move back to New Orleans?

Well, for that answer, we are joined by the one man who should know, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Johnson. And he joins us from Phoenix.

Thanks for being with us, sir. STEPHEN JOHNSON, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you, Kitty.

PILGRIM: What sort of hazards do they face, and do you think it's safe?

JOHNSON: Well, let me -- let me take a step back. This is the largest natural disaster that our nation has ever faced. And obviously, our hearts and prayers go out to everybody.

I came down to Arizona today to visit with evacuees. And one of the things that I was struck by is that here we are and I am in Arizona, meeting with evacuees, just really gives a sense of the magnitude of the impact of the storm. And also really the compassion of the country of reaching out and helping them.

PILGRIM: We really need to turn to your expertise, sir, and find out what sort of hazards they face. We hear 44 oil spills for the major, the traces of lead, arsenic, E. Coli.

JOHNSON: Yes.

PILGRIM: Where are we here on this?

JOHNSON: We've been doing extensive investigation. We have been providing, getting preliminary results. Our first results last week were on the flood waters. And what we found in the flood waters were very high levels of E. Coli and coliform bacteria and lead, as well as other chemicals. Hence the flood water is contaminated and it's unsafe.

Today -- today I was briefed on our preliminary results on the sediment. It, too, is highly contaminated. It's contaminated with petroleum products and a variety of other chemicals. And so we issued, along with the Centers for Disease Control, a public health advisory to make sure that people avoid contact with this sediment, as well.

PILGRIM: Nevertheless, this sediment can dry out, turn to dust and blow around. Is that safe?

JOHNSON: Well, that's one of the areas we're also concerned about. And we are -- we've been doing a lot of air monitoring, will continue to do air monitoring as we are with flood water sampling and sediment sampling. At this point in time, based upon our preliminary results, we haven't seen any air contamination, but it's an area that we're continuing to monitor because we have concerns, just as you mentioned.

PILGRIM: Obviously, you're working against two forces. One is people really do want to get back to their homes. But the other is you really must watch out for their safety. Are you convinced that it's OK to go back in? I guess I go back to my primary question.

JOHNSON: Well, the decision of whether to reoccupy a city, in this case New Orleans, is really a multiple issue decision. And the decision is generally done by the mayor or by the local and state officials.

The kinds of issues that the mayor and we all face, particularly the mayor faces, is -- includes issues such as power. Is there electricity? Are the drinking water systems working? They're working, but the water, you can't drink. Are the waste water systems working? The two waste water systems there are not operating.

So there's just a multiple number of factors that go into that decision. We at EPA are on the scene to provide advice and information so that the mayor and the state officials can make an informed decision.

PILGRIM: and were you involved in that decision to allow people back in?

JOHNSON: We've been providing information as soon as we get it. Just as soon as we found the flood water information, we issued an advisory, a precautionary advisory today again for the contaminant information, again showing a precautionary advisory.

There are just a number of issues that we're trying to assess. And we're on the scene. We're assessing those, not only in New Orleans and Louisiana. But also in Mississippi as well as Alabama.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

PILGRIM: Stephen Johnson. Thank you, sir.

Well, on the storm damaged Mississippi Gulf Coast tonight, residents are becoming increasingly worried about their chances to rebuild. Now, despite the president's sweeping economic initiatives last night, red tape could destroy the efforts to bounce back.

And Allan Chernoff reports from Biloxi, Mississippi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president last night said the streets of Biloxi and Gulfport once again will be lined with lovely homes. But for the people who lost their homes, lost everything, they're wondering exactly how is that going to happen now?

Especially after their insurance agents have been saying that the damage here may not be covered, because they're saying it was caused by a flood, not a hurricane, and many of these people did not specifically have flood insurance. They may be looking to the federal government for a bail-out and the president did not offer that promise last night.

On the economic front, though, the president did talk about an incentive zone in this area to help businesses and up to $5,000 per person to help find a job. So the president certainly did provide hope to this community that is still facing many questions about the future. Allan Chernoff, CNN, Biloxi, Mississippi. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Today Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr met with Homeland Security secretary Michael Chernoff and, Mayor Warr joins me tonight from Gulfport, Mississippi. Thanks for joining us tonight. We know you have your hands full. How did that meeting go? Are you getting the kind of support you need to reconstruct?

MAYOR BRENT WARR, GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI: Yes, Kitty, we are. He was very forthcoming with information. He definitely told us that everything that is necessary, they will provide. I believe that they are willing to put their shoulder behind the wheel for us and really help us push this task.

I have a lot of confidence, to be honest with you, in what the federal government has committed to us. And I think that, you know, if they work with us, I think that we'll be OK.

PILGRIM: You were really in the eye of the storm. You had pounding, hours of pounding by winds and rain. And yet we're seeing this report that insurers are reluctant to reimburse people if they didn't have flood insurance. How are you reacting to that? And did you bring that up in your meeting today?

WARR: Well, I did. Of everything that's had to do with the aftermath of the storm, I have to be honest with you, myself personally, I'm most frustrated by the lack of concern, it seems like, from the insurance industry. We've not heard enough about what their intentions are from them.

We've had to go to the government to ask them, you know what do they think the insurance industry is going to do? Clearly, this was a wind event, 175 mile an hour sustained winds. I personally sat in my home and dealt with them for six to seven hours. And we had less than ten inches of rain. That does not make a flood. This was not a flood event, this was a wind event.

PILGRIM: More than 68,000 Mississippi residents have lost their homes. The president has proposed a Gulf opportunity zone. Do you think you may benefit largely from that?

WARR: Yes, ma'am, absolutely. Absolutely we will, Kitty. We just need a little bit of a push to get business back going here. We did have several people who I've heard of personally who said, I'm leaving and never coming back. I believe they'll change their mind if they have an opportunity to prosper here.

We've got to get the jobs back. This year we'll probably be OK. Next year is when we're really going to take a hit from property tax revenues. We're very concerned about that. The cities -- none of the cities on the Gulf coast have the financial wherewithal to withstand a major hit like this.

PILGRIM: Mayor Warr, if you had one wish to jump start your region, what would you wish for? WARR: Oh my goodness. I tell you, I would wish that the insurance industry would do the right thing, pay people's homes who are damaged and destroyed by wind, and give us the opportunity to rebuild in the places that we love. If they don't, these people are going to take nothing and live in makeshift structures for a long amount of time because they love this area and they're not going to leave permanently.

PILGRIM: Mayor Warr, we wish you every success. Thank you, sir, for joining us.

WARR: Well thank you, ma'am. Thank you and God bless you.

PILGRIM: Amid death and destruction surrounding Hurricane Katrina, we have an inspiring story tonight of pride and patriotism. Now, Johnny and Joe Russon (ph) of Waveland, Mississippi, made a surprising discovery in what was once the backyard of their beautiful shorefront home.

And there they found an American flag wrapped tightly around a tree. This wasn't just any American flag. They say it once flew over the Waveland Veterans Memorial. Now, as retired army Colonels, the Russons felt a dense of duty and honor in rescuing that symbol of America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I spent 26 years with the Army Infantry and wife spent 24 years with the Adjutant General Corps of the Army, so flags are important to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know how to take care of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we know how to take care of them, and we respect them. Because I think about my friends who didn't come back when I see this thing fly, and it's important to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

The memorial where the flag once flew is located half a mile from the Russon's home. It's an amazing story.

Still ahead, he made it once look easy. Chief justice nominee John Roberts' big week on Capitol Hill. Our news maker panelists are next and we'll talk about it.

Also heroes -- our salute to the men and women in uniform form. And tonight, the story of an army sergeant Edward Kostelnik, who puts his life on the line every day to save the lives of fellow soldiers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Tonight in newsmakers, three of the country's best political journalists join me with their insight. From Washington, we have Karen Tumulty from "Time" magazine, Roger Simon, "U.S. News & World Report," and here in New York, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times." Thanks for being with us. Let's start remote, so let's start with Karen. Speech last night, your reaction? Did he strike the right chord, do you think, Karen?

KAREN TUMULTY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, you know, as speech craft goes, it didn't have a lot of the big, rhetorical flourishes that we're used to from George Bush at moments like this. But there was a lot in that speech. It was a fairly frank, I think, assessment of how the government broke down.

And it was a fairly detailed -- at least in terms of goals -- plan, for dealing with it and for also dealing with some of the underlying social ills that have really become so obvious and visible to all of us in the last couple of weeks. The real question here is how is he going to accomplish this? And particularly, how is he going to get it past his own base?

PILGRIM: Roger, things that needed to be brought to the open, things that needed to be talked about and discussed, do you think it had enough specificity in it?

ROGER SIMON, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Yes, except for one important matter. This is the third great crisis of Bush's presidency, first 9/11, then the Iraq occupation and now Hurricane Katrina. And in each instance, he has failed to ask the American people, or Congress, for any kind of sacrifice.

I mean, today in a speech he said we have to eliminate unnecessary spending. Unnecessary spending in Washington is like unnecessary sex. There's no such thing. He had no program for cutting spending to pay this huge bill for Katrina.

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, in terms of spending, we're already running $300 billion a year plus deficits. And, you know, this is a reminder, I think, Katrina, of why, as a routine policy, the government might not want to be running $300 billion a year deficits because there might be literally a rainy day.

I mean, overall I thought it was a pretty effective speech. It was expansive in its commitment and its generosity. But it was also focused in trying to find responses to the problem that generally fit with his view of what the federal government should and shouldn't be doing.

Two political problems though, as Roger and Karen said. One looking forward, how to pay for it. And in terms of the politics of this, the other one is looking back. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression, and many Americans developed their view of his response to this crisis in those immediate first days. All he can do is try to -- like a pitcher who gives up a grand slam in the first inning, try to make it better the rest of the way.

PILGRIM: Do you think it was too late?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't think it was too late in the sense that, you know, the American people's judgment of him will be ongoing. And in fact, I think people will be impressed that he put together fairly comprehensive. But I think it is too late to completely undo the damage that was done. That was a moment that's kind of seared in time that may have changed the perception of him as a leader and someone who can handle a crisis. I'm not sure he can ever entirely recover from that.

PILGRIM: You know, the reaction to the crisis was fairly politicized. And yet we saw Senate leaders on the site today. And there was a marked lack of politization of the issue. What do you think about that, Karen? Do you think everybody will join forces going forward here for the recovery?

TUMULTY: Probably not. But I do think that anyone who has a political instinct in their body understands right now that the country is really, really rooting for these hurricane victims. And the country is looking for real solutions. And this is one of -- I think it was a former Secretary of Defense William Cohen who says, you know, government's the enemy until you need a friend. I think this is a moment when people in America are really looking for government to do its job.

PILGRIM: And perhaps no tolerance for the sort of infighting that comes with this sort of turf. Let's move on to another big subject in the week. And that's Judge John Roberts' confirmation. Key Democrats are saying they haven't really made up their minds. Where do you think we stand on this? Let's go to you, Roger.

SIMON: John Roberts could put on a ski mask and stick up a 7- Eleven, and he'd still get 65 votes in the U.S. Senate. This is a fight the Democrats don't want. John Roberts was the perfect nominee. A day after he finished speaking you couldn't remember a thing he said except the movies he liked. This is the one great victory, I think, or victory anyway, that the Bush Administration has had in the last couple of months. They've picked a sort of moderate conservative that Democrats really don't want to expend a lot of capital fighting.

PILGRIM: OK. Let's get to you, Karen.

TUMULTY: Well, I think the person, whether this is a 65 vote confirmation or an 80 vote confirmation, there are few Democrats here to watch. And I think that Dianne Feinstein, who yesterday expressed her own mixed feelings about this whole process, and how, if anything, her uncertainty has deepened as a result of these confirmation hearings, is somebody to watch, because, depending on how she votes as the only woman on that committee, I think you'll see a lot of other Democrats taking their cue from her.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, two things really jumped out at me from this week. One was a reminder of the inherent vitality of presidential power. I mean, you talked about with Bill Schneider. President Bush is looking at the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. A higher disapproval rating than Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan ever reached for controversy in their own right. And yet here he is about to place on the Supreme Court a Chief Justice who will affect American life for a quarter century or more. It's just a reminder of how much power there is in the presidency. On the other hand, it's also a reminder of what exactly is the point of these confirmation hearings at this point? I mean, you really wonder after three or four days, do we know much more? We know a little more. We have some kind of Delphic signals from Judge Roberts. But in the end it's not really sure how much this is serving the public the way these are running out in current usage.

PILGRIM: Yes. I'm sure many people were struck with this. Anyway, Roger Simon, Karen Tumulty, Ron Brownstein, thank you so much for being with us. Have a great weekend, guys.

And tonight a Fortune 500 company has become so alarmed at the poor science and math skills of U.S. workers, it's offering to help teach those skills to U.S. students. Now IBM says the U.S. educational system is in urgent need of reform. Christine Romans has that report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): IBM wants its veteran employees to consider becoming math and science teachers. IBM will pay for it, and provide mentoring in the classroom.

STANLEY LITOW, VICE PRESIDENT, IBM: We are all benefited and strengthened, if our schools are more effective. And math and science are critically important. Changes in the workplace require higher levels of skill. American business and others are going to have to step up to the plate. This is a creative and innovative way of solving a very critical problem for America.

ROMANS: It's clear that America needs more teachers, and better educated science and math students. By 2008, a third of American jobs will need high-tech skills. There will be another 6 million job openings for scientists, engineers and technicians. To keep up, that means 260,000 new math and science teachers by the 2008-2009 school year. Those teachers have a lot of work to do. American students rank 28th in the world for math preparedness, after China, Finland, and South Korea. In science, 22nd. After Finland, Japan, and China. Urban schools have dramatically worse math and science performance. And these schools are the fastest-growing in America.

GERRY WHEELER, NAT. SCIENCE TEACHER ASSN.: If we don't get corporate America actively engaging in this challenge, like IBM is doing, then we're in trouble. We do need more good science teachers, good math teachers. We need to come up with creative ideas how to get those people.

ROMANS: One problem, classroom conditions are challenging and better paying jobs lure young teachers to corporate America. Half of all science and technology jobs in this country are filled by foreign graduates. And as Americans lack math and science skills, it could become a defense crisis.

WILLIAM BRODY, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: The number of our science and technology employees in the defense industry are going to be retiring., and we don't have enough coming along to fill them. I think it's a huge issue of national security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (on camera): National security, and of course there is that irony in corporate America trying to solve the education problem. Critics say corporate America is outsourcing technology jobs to lower waged markets and actually helping turn America's labor market into a low skilled service-based workforce.

PILGRIM: Those numbers are shocking. Thanks very much, Christine Romans.

Well still ahead, why are NATO allies are missing in action in Afghanistan? We'll have a Special Report on that.

And heroes, our salute to the men and women in uniform. And tonight the story of one flight medic in Iraq who was the hero of the battlefield and in the air. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Insurgents today launched a third consecutive day of coordinated attacks in Iraq. Those attacks killed at least 17 people. More than 200 people have been killed in the past three days. A bomb killed eight people who were leaving a mosque after Friday prayers in northern Iraq. Iraqi police were also a target today. Three officers were killed in a car bomb attack south of Baghdad.

And now heroes. Our salute to the men and women in uniform. Army Sergeant Edward Kostelnik. He's serving in Iraq, and with every radio call this medic deals with death. Alex Quade has his story. We should warn you, this report does contain graphic images.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SGT. EDWARD KOSTELNIK, U.S. ARMY FLIGHT MEDIC: When we came on the scene, I thought that -- we could tell that, you know, something had just exploded there.

ALEX QUADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This car bombing at a water treatment plant near Baghdad haunts Army Sergeant Edward Kostelnik. Forty-one people died. Thirty-four of them children. Ten U.S. soldiers were hurt. Kostelnik, a former minister known as Father K, was the flight medic who answered their call.

KOSTELNIK: Amputations and some mangled limbs. Was able to get one of the guys onto a litter really quick. Get him in the aircraft. I went back to get the other guy, and noticed that I was the only one there, so I actually had to scoop him up like he was, you know, just like a little baby, and drag him out of the vehicle, and put him on the litter. I took those two patients to the hospital.

I know that I should be tired. You sprint like 100 meters away from the helicopter to go get a patient, you pick up a patient and you're basically running with him all the way back to the helicopter. You're not even out of breath. You're working on the patient. And it finally hits you after you drop the patient off at the cash.

QUADE: The cash is the Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.

KOSTELNIK: While I was in the hospital giving my report to the doctors, they were yelling for me to get back out there. We had a call for some children, and we started to go towards that way and they canceled it, so, you know, you kind of -- when they cancel a mission like that, you know basically that, you know, they didn't make it. So kind of hard when you hear that over the radio.

QUADE: For Kostelnik, or Father K, this was just one call on one day, serving in Iraq.

KOSTELNIK: People are people. And they're just hurt. And I know everybody's been hurt at one time. And all they want is help.

QUADE: Alex Quade, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: When flight medic Sergeant Edward Kostelnik is finished with his service, he plans to go back to medical school in Arizona to become a doctor.

Well, some 18,000 American troops are also stationed in Afghanistan. It's a vitally important mission, but some are calling it the forgotten war. This weekend, the troops will take part in a huge security operation to protect voters as they participate in parliamentary elections. Ryan Chilcote reports from Afghanistan, and his report begins with pictures of a nighttime U.S. raid shot without lights.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They move on a compound, acting on intelligence a Taliban leader, just released from a detention facility, is plotting attacks. The troops don't find their target, but discover four bags of nitrogen, which could be used for a bomb.

(on camera): The goal of these operations is to make Zabul Province safe for Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections in more than 30 years.

(voice-over): Deh Chopan has few roads, and they are frequently mined. So everything for the elections, from ballots to chairs, must be flown in on helicopters. There's no electricity, no phones and no TVs.

Word of mouth is the only way people here learn about the elections. Some told me they're enthusiastic about voting. But getting to know the candidates here isn't easy.

"I don't know who to vote for," this doctor tells me. "Because none of the candidates have been here." Afghan police are sent in from elsewhere, and the U.S. Army's second of the 503rd is aggressively trying to root out Taliban ahead of the vote. Since moving into the Taliban's last stronghold six months about, the unit lost seven men. Another 34 Americans wounded. They estimate killing or capturing around 400 Taliban.

Still, the Americans expect the Taliban to strike and strike hard during the elections.

Sunday's parliamentary elections will be another test for both sides in the ongoing war for Afghanistan.

Ryan Chilcote, CNN, Deh Chopan Valley, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, in Afghanistan, the United States wants its NATO allies to broaden their roles and help American troops in major combat operations. But France, Germany and Spain all say they will not allow their troops to fight radical Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM (voice-over): Afghanistan's political successes are built on strength, largely the 18,000-strong U.S. troops.

FRED STARR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Nine out of 10 coalition troops are from the U.S. The reduction of U.S. troops is only possible with the successful development of the Afghan national army. Now, that's proceeding way ahead of schedule. They've done a wonderful job. But it's not going to be there in a year's time, and it will take another year and a half before I think it will be possible responsibly to start reducing U.S. commitments. Unless someone fills the breach.

PILGRIM: Some countries have stepped forward, such as Germany, to train the Afghan police force. But experts say the pace was going too slowly. U.S. forces had to step in to accelerate the program.

The financial burden is also on the United States. And 10 billion of the $12.5 billion of U.S. financial contributions goes to military and counterterrorism operations.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said this week in Germany, he hoped other countries in the NATO alliance would expand their roles and develop more counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan. Something many countries are resisting.

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: They are doing peacekeeping. They are doing some humanitarian assistance. But basically, we're involved in combating an insurgency and guerrilla warfare. And our European allies have less experience at that than we do. Their forces and their rules of engagement are less flexible than ours. And there's just a limited amount that they can contribute.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PILGRIM: Secretary Rumsfeld said that American troops would continue to do the counter-insurgency operations for a time, but other NATO countries should consider sending troops to Afghanistan's eastern border, where much of the fighting goes on.

Well, now the results of tonight's poll: 36 percent of you think it is important for the White House and Congress not to limit what is spent on rebuilding areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and 64 percent think it is not.

Still ahead, a look at one band's dedication to the great city of New Orleans and their hope to return one day. We'll have that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Finally tonight, New Orleans is famous around the world for its culture, its food, its music, of course its jazz. But for the moment, the city is quiet, and musicians who make their living playing in the bars and restaurants of the French Quarter have been displaced. But one band is determined to go back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were supposed to go home in three days. And there's no home to go to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The musicians are all dislocated. We're all spread out around the country. You know, it's one thing to be on the road, but this is no tour.

CRAIG KLEIN, BONERAMA: Because New Orleans is geographically so small, everybody has to live close to each other.

MARK MULLINS, BONERAMA: You have all these people playing music, you're bound to run into somebody that plays something different than you.

KLEIN: So you absorb other people's cultures, and it just becomes just a whole different thing in itself.

MULLINS: Right now, nobody can record a record in New Orleans. And all that material is sort of like on hold.

KLEIN: The impact is huge, it's huge. And I hope and pray that musicians can survive.

MULLINS: What's it going to sound like next year? What are the records going to sound like? Are they going to have more passion?

It's a real scary thing. We're so used to having that place not change at all. We might need a lot of corporate money to come in and help build the city, you know, just to get us back on our feet. Is that going to affect the soul of New Orleans?

There's something special about playing in New Orleans that you can't get anywhere else. It's an honor to be a horn player in New Orleans.

KLEIN: Yes, it is.

MULLINS: It goes back to Louis Armstrong and the days of when that music was being played. It's -- we have such a lineage down there to live up to. They're going to rebuild that city. And it's going to be better than it ever was. And the people are going to come back. And I'm going to be there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: We wish them luck.

Finally, "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller has now spent 72 days in prison for protecting her confidential sources in the White House CIA leak case.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Have a great weekend. For all of here, good night from New York. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now, and we're joined by Anderson -- Anderson.

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

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines