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LIVE FROM...

Flood Prevention; Leaving Fingerprints; Congressman Pleads Guilty to Taking Bribes

Aired November 28, 2005 - 13:31   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Dutch scientists in New Orleans getting a first and look at the levees right now. Since two-thirds of their country is at or below sea level, so Louisiana officials have asked them for help in building those stronger levees. The scientists also are going to tour some of the areas flooded when the levee broke during Hurricane Katrina. So once again, we ask the question, why the Dutch? Well, they're home to some of the world's leading ideas in flood prevention.
CNN's Richard Quest checks it out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flat, surrounded by water and, like New Orleans, largely below sea level.

Holland lives with the threat of flooding from the North Sea. The country's equivalent of Katrina happened in 1953. A storm surge at high tide destroyed the dukes and killed more than 1800 people.

De Vriend was one of the children rescued, and is now an expert in flood prevention.

HUIB DE VRIEND, PROFESSOR OF HYDRAULICS: After the 1953 flood, we've said never again. But that's an absolute statement, of course. So we had to translate that into an acceptable level of safety.

QUEST: In Holland, that meant raising the flood probability to one in 10,000 years. By comparison, the New Orleans standard was one in 250 years.

For the Dutch, this new higher standard involved huge projects, like building new dams across the river estuaries. Being prepared meant having control rooms waiting, just in case.

The latest project is a flood barrier system with swinging gates towering 70 feet into the air. This structure is absolutely vast, but then, it has to be because, the idea is the two sides come out into the middle of the river, they sink to the bottom and, only then, will they be able to protect Rotterdam, up there, from the storm surge.

Professor De Vriend believes the American authorities will have to go back to the beginning.

DE VRIEND: Decide politically what level of safety you would like to have. Then derive the design conditions belonging to that level of safety and then design a system, a flood defense system that meets those conditions. And that's a bigger scheme than building dikes around the cities.

QUEST: The U.S. Gulf Coast threat is very different than that faced by the North Sea. So what's worked in Holland may not be suitable for New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED DUTCH MALE: Each Dutchman believes that it's important to spend money on flood control. And don't think that they did that very much in New Orleans.

QUEST: Everyone agrees, though, the principles remain the same.

Richard Quest, CNN, along the Dutch coast.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Straight ahead, one of the most avid construction workers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, also just happens to be a beautiful and talented singer and songwriter. Ginny Owens joins me live to talk about her project, Operation Home Delivery, just ahead on LIVE FROM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: When Jackson, Mississippi native Ginny Owens saw the amazing needs in wake of Hurricane Katrina, she picked up the power tools and sprang into action.

Well, she's been blind since of age of two but that never keeps her from hands-on involvement. Through her charity fingerprint initiative is building homes for families hurt by the hurricane. And while she has a big heart, she also has big talent. Just listen...

(SINGING)

PHILLIPS: Beautiful indeed, her voice, her songwriting, her soul. You've probably heard some of Ginny's hits on the radio. She's written four top five singles, but today -- we'll, talk about that, too, but I really want to talk about Habitat for Humanity and Operation Home Delivery. Ginny joins us live.

It's so great to have you.

GINNY OWENS, SINGER/SONGWRITER: Well thanks. It's great to be here.

PHILLIPS: Well, a little biased. You're one of my favorites.

OWENS: Well, thank you very much.

PHILLIPS: Which out great, it's a double whammy.

OWENS: Well, thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, we just heard a little bit of beautiful, and that was your performance in New Orleans and that was, of course, before the hurricane hit, the House of Blues. What an amazing venue to perform in.

OWENS: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Why New Orleans? Why is it special to you?

OWENS: Well, growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, I visited New Orleans quite often. We lived about three hours away, and so New Orleans is probably the first large city that I visited. Jackson's not too small, but New Orleans, you know, you sort of walk around the streets, like the French Quarter. There are people milling around everywhere, and I love the street musicians. You know, there were amazing jazz players, and coffee and beignets obviously make New Orleans a wonderful city.

So I think just between the food, and the crowds and the magic of the city I just was always very enchanted with it. And so when we decided that we wanted to make a DVD somewhere, we started looking at cities and decided that New Orleans would be a great place to kind of go back and feel a little bit like we were at home, but also a little bit like we were, you know, in a new place as well

The funny thing was, though, when we were checking around for a place to make the DVD, the only place that we could find that was available was the House of Blues, so we were like, bummer.

PHILLIPS: I guess we'll have to do it.

OWENS: Yes, so it was a blast and still a city that we love very, very much.

PHILLIPS: Well, and so here you came out with this DVD and you're performing there and -- packed house -- and then the hurricane hits. And so, not only are you from Mississippi, but you've got this tie to New Orleans and the whole music scene. So you said, I've got to do something. Tell me how Operation Home Delivery came about.

OWENS: Well, first of all, let me back up just a little bit. The beginning of this year I really felt like it was time for me to start doing work that was beyond, you know, the everyday comfortable songwriting.

I think especially as a songwriter, somebody that provides a service to people, you know, or something that sort of affects them, hopefully in a positive way, you really kind of think, wow, this is what I'm supposed to do in life. THis is my job.

But I began to feel there was more that needed to be done, that I needed to be hands-on involved in projects that were really, really important, things that people weren't watching, things that were more behind the scenes but things that involved me serving and stepping out of what was comfortable for me.

So that really inspired me just after kind of contemplating it for about a year and a half. I decided at the beginning of the year to start an organization called The Fingerprint Initiative. Basically the whole point of the Fingerprint Initiative is God is so gracious and gives us so many wonderful gifts and how much more should we reach out and touch the world with every bit of love and grace that we've been given.

All of our projects are either community service based around our concerts where we can get involved and serve in a certain area or we can get our fans to come and serve. Or we have three large projects, one with a wonderful organization called International Justice Mission, who seeks to rescue young girls from slavery; another organization called Compassion International that helps to support really, really poor children in Third World countries and to provide education for them; and then another obviously which is Habitat.

The crazy thing, though, is that we began working on raising support for our Habitat House in February of this year. And it just so happened that our house was for a family with three kids and two special needs parents, and --

PHILLIPS: What type of special needs?

OWENS: The mom has, I think, she has had a stroke but she's been in the hospital several times. The father has also has several disabilities that have caused him to not be able to work so they're always in a wheelchair or a walker most of the time and they live in project housing so it's just very, very small and virtually impossible for them to take care of themselves without, you know, without assistance.

They have three teenagers, which, you know, I mean to be a parent and to be able to do things then all of a sudden to lose the use of your motor skills and need help. It was so important to me that we would be able to help support them and give them hope.

And it just happened that they were from New Orleans and so, or, well, from Covington, which is just outside of New Orleans. So when we were actually supposed to build our house about three or four weeks after Katrina hit. So we ended up, you know, sort of having to put that on the back burner but in the meantime, our friends at Habitat said, we know you've been thinking about building one house but we need you to build ten.

PHILLIPS: Or more.

OWENS: Yes, I was like, OK, let's see, Fingerprint Initiative robs the bank. We have been trying to sort of figure out how to face that challenge and how to support what they're doing, how to support every relief effort that we can that's gone on in the Gulf, but particularly with our partnership with Habitat.

But we did finally get to raise the walls on our house a few weeks ago and get the roof on, so we'll continue to work on that as well as other houses that are Operation Home Delivery houses.

PHILLIPS: You can go on your Web site. We'll show it and you can go on Fingerprint Initiative and find out whether it's Operation Home Delivery and helping hurricane victims rebuild. You have the other groups that you're involved with.

My final question, and I just think this is so neat. You spend all your spare time -- I love that you say you're such a homebody and that if it's not performing you're writing music. Tell me about this person -- this is not the braille personal note taker, right?

OWENS: No, I have about -- I also like toys, technology toys.

PHILLIPS: You actually write your music -- this is one of the ways you do it as you're sitting on the bus. Tell me about it. How does it work?

OWENS: It basically is just a regular like a PDA, and a company takes these and adapts them by putting like a screen overlay on them so you basically just type in the different characters, kind of like you would send text messages on a telephone.

So you basically just use the different numbers to type in letters and I don't know, it's pretty cool. It's pretty convenient little piece of equipment to have.

PHILLIPS: Why Christian music?

OWENS: Wow. how much time do we have?

PHILLIPS: I'm actually getting the wrap but I had to ask you that.

PHILLIPS: I think this is where God has placed me. Wherever -- I always think I'm an artist who loves music and loves to write music and I happen to be a Christian. So a lot of my music is about my faith as well as about my relationships with other people and all kinds of other things.

It just kind of happened that that was the door that got opened and so, you know, but I love to play music for anybody so -- and my Christian music for anybody.

PHILLIPS: I have a piano at the house. Maybe you could stick around a couple more hours. Ginny Owens, wow, go on the Web site, check out the charities, buy the album. Get the DVD. She is a beautiful singer, a beautiful person. Thank you so much for being with us.

OWENS: Thank you for having me.

PHILLIPS: Absolute pleasure. We'll see you again, OK?

OWENS: All right.

PHILLIPS: Good.

She's no Barbie but getting an American Girl is a dream come true for girls across the country. Straight ahead, why are so many moms and daughters boycotting this business? The politics behind the picket line straight ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Congressman pleads guilty. Soups like a story for out Tony Harris. He's working it in the newsroom. Hey, Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Good to see you. Just a couple of minutes ago, Congressman Randy Duke Cunningham, he is Republican from California, entered a guilty plea -- this was just a short time ago -- to federal charges of tax evasion, but there is a whole lot more to this story than that.

He also entered a guilty plea to conspiracy charges. And we're waiting to make a connection with our congressional correspondent Ed Henry. Do we have him yet? Oh, there is.

Ed, good to see you.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon.

HARRIS: There was a lot more to this. I think we were all aware he was being investigated for tax evasion, but the conspiracy plea is a bit new. What can you tell us about that?

HENRY: Absolutely. Now the Congressman is facing up to ten years in prison, also up to a $350,000 fine. The prosecutor in the case just a short while ago basically said, in terms of the conspiracy -- flat out said that the congressman allegedly received millions of dollars, over $2 million, in bribes. She called this a case of quote, "unprecedented magnitude and extraordinary audacity" in terms of what the Congressman did here.

This stems from the fact that two years ago, Congressman Cunningham sold his house in San Diego for $1.6 million. He sold it to a defense contractor. That defense contractor then tried to sell the house on his own and sold it at a loss of $700,000.

That sparked allegations that, in fact, the defense contractor had bought the house in San Diego, a very hot real estate market, at an inflated price as payback for the fact that Congressman Cunningham had fought to get this contractor defense contracts in Congress, had pressured the Pentagon to get big-time, big contracts, big money to this defense contractor.

In turn, the congressman and his wife then bought a much bigger mansion in California, some $2.5 million. Keep in mind, this is a congressman who is only making about $160,000 a year. So now pleading guilty to these two counts, tax evasion as well as conspiracy.

Our viewers would probably know Randy "Duke" Cunningham as somebody who, as a Navy fighter pilot, shot down five MiGs in the Vietnam War. In fact, his exploits basically inspired the movie "Top Gun." Obviously now no longer riding high. And I think the broader issue here is allegations that many Republicans in Congress are now facing various ethics charges.

Democrats in the 2006 election will be making the case. They've called it a culture of corruption. Republicans obviously reject that, say the Cunningham case, the Tom DeLay case and others, are individual cases. But you're going to see Democrats jumping on this and saying there's a broader problem with the way Republicans are acting and conducting their affairs on Capitol Hill -- Kyra and Tony?

HARRIS: Well, Ed, I got to tell you -- let's see if we can just spend another moment on this. The contractor that you've been mentioning is Mitchell Wade and his company is MZM Incorporated. Is that correct?

HENRY: That's right. Based here in the D.C. area in Virginia. But he's the person who bought the home out in California.

HARRIS: And, Ed, my understanding is that this company was barely on the map, and then during the course of the year 2004, just sort of exploded.

HENRY: Absolutely. And it's important to note that Congressman Cunningham is basically on a very powerful defense appropriations committee, basically holds the purse strings for a lot of these defense contracts. That's why he was in a powerful post. It enabled him to put Mitchell Wade's company on the map -- Tony.

HARRIS: OK. Congressional correspondent Ed Henry for us. Appreciate it, as always. Thank you.

HENRY: Thank you.

HARRIS: Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: All right, Tony. Thank you so much.

Well, also coming up on LIVE FROM, Saddam sounds off. The former Iraqi leader returns to court with a former U.S. cabinet official helping his defense team. We'll have the details just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: From the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips. Here are the stories that we're working on for you right now.

Securing the border. A hot topic for President Bush today. Will his plans work?

Tornadoes strike. An ugly weather systems hit the Midwest. We're on that story.

And another try for the Saddam Hussein trial and another delay.

This hour of CNN's LIVE FROM starts right now.

The American dream. Is it only for Americans? Americans and immigrants with visas? Or Americans, immigrants with visas and anybody else who can manage to sneak across the borders. It's a long simmering issue that Congress, at least for now, is happy to leave on the back burner.

Not so President Bush. Almost two years after he first proposed his controversial guest worker program, he's revisiting the border debate in Tuscon. He's going to talk about tougher security, including a thousand new border control agents and next year's Homeland Security budget and what it all means for the war on terror.

Well, there's also the economic front. His so-called guest worker program would allow undocumented migrants who have jobs already to get three-year visas, which could be renewed once for a total of six years' legal employment and residency. After that, workers would have to go back home for at least a year before they applied to immigrate legally.

So it's not -- well, so it's not just a border, but politically for the president, it's a tight rope with danger lurking on both sides.

Here's CNN's Casey Wian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The last time President Bush proposed new measures to solve the nation's illegal immigration crisis the result was disastrous.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Out of common sense and fairness our laws should allow willing workers to enter our country and fill jobs that Americans are not filling.

WIAN: Even more illegal aliens rushed across the border, hoping to take advantage of the president's proposed amnesty program. It went nowhere, and after nearly two years of pressure from border security advocates and the public, the president is finally beginning to talk about controlling the border.

BUSH: Step one is to secure the border. Step two is to have reasonable immigration policies.

WIAN: Next week will be the first presidential visit to the border since 2002. We asked border security advocates what they want President Bush to say.

IRA MEHLMAN, FEDERATION FOR AMERICAN IMMIGRATION REFORM: I think what most Americans would like to hear from the president is that he is serious about border control. He's serious about dealing with illegal immigration. And he's not going to deal with it by simply re- labeling all the people who are here as guest workers.

WIAN: Jim Gilchrist helped found the Minuteman Project and is now running for Congress.

JIM GILCHRIST, MINUTEMAN PROJECT: I would like to hear the president say, "Ladies and gentlemen, Americans, I have -- I have increased the funding for the United States border patrol by 500 percent effective this morning. I have also increased the funding for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, effective this morning, by 500 percent. I want these two law enforcement agencies to be able to simply carry out the enforcement of the laws for which they are charged and to bring this nation back under the rule of law and preserve us as a secure and safe America."

WIAN: There's a growing movement led by WeNeedAFence.com to build a fence along the entire border with Mexico.

COLIN HANNA, WENEEDAFENCE.COM: I'd like to see him propose at least a three element immigration reform package. One of which would be real border security including a physical barrier. We like to call it a fence. A second element would be serious interior enforcement and the third element would be employer sanctions. I think then you'd have a balanced approach which would really make a major impact on what is a growing problem.

WIAN: Hanna says any proposal by the president that doesn't include a fence will have a 2,000-mile hole.

(on camera): It's unlikely that border security advocates will hear everything they want from the president, but it's clear the White House has heard their concerns and may, for a change, propose solutions that don't make the illegal immigration crisis worse.

Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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