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CNN NEWSROOM

Fidel Castro Resigns; McCain Campaign Looking Ahead; Falling Satellite: Up to $60 Million to Shoot it Down

Aired February 19, 2008 - 10:59   ET

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


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you are with CNN and you are informed.
Hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Betty Nguyen.

Tony and Heidi are off today.

HOLMES: And developments coming in to the CNN NEWSROOM on this Tuesday, February 19th.

This is what we have on the rundown.

Fidel Castro gets off the world stage after a half century. What they're saying about his resignation in Washington, as well as Miami.

NGUYEN: Dueling for delegates in Wisconsin today. Hillary Clinton hopes to derail Barack Obama.

HOLMES: And the military takes aim at a falling satellite. The Pentagon signals it's a go for tomorrow night.

Shot in the dark -- in the NEWSROOM.

And developing this hour, Cuba's Fidel Castro stepping down, and the world wondering, what now? We're covering all the latest developments. CNN Havana Bureau Chief Morgan Neill is in Cuba, and Susan Candiotti has the reaction of Cuban exiles in south Florida.

And we do want to begin with Susan.

Susan, good morning to you again.

She's in the section of Miami known as Little Havana.

And what is the reaction there today?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm sorry, T.J., I thought you went to Cuba first. All right.

Here in Little Havana, I want to give you a scene. I think most -- for the most part here, people are skeptical about what this transition is going to mean, or the change in title is going to mean.

They're in a wait and see mode right now. But a lot of people are gathering here at the Versailles restaurant, you can see over my shoulder, having their morning coffee, discussing this over a sweet pastry. And they have a lot to say.

Across the street, this is the main drag through Miami's Little Havana. Obviously, you can hear the reaction of the people as they drive by.

And across the way you see some people have strung a huge Cuban flag between two palm trees, and they've got signs saying, "Down with Castro," "Castro, we want him to die, we want him to leave."

But here, a couple of gentlemen whose responses are fairly typical. Starting with Eddie Krespo (ph).

Eddie (ph), what do you think this change in title means? Is it a meaningful change?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be a meaningful change, but at the same time I think that we have to wait until the brother dies. And then maybe it will be a different change of government in the island.

Otherwise, I think that the revolution is going to continue the same. And until the brother dies, it's just going to be -- you know, it's going to be the same thing. He's not going to throw his revolution out because he just resigned. Everybody -- it's a communist regime, and they have (INAUDIBLE), and it will be the same thing, just continuing.

CANDIOTTI: Now, Dr. Raul Reyes (ph), you came here back in 1960.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1962.

CANDIOTTI: 1962. You've seen American presidents come and go, policies virtually the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.

CANDIOTTI: Do you think that this change in title is a meaningful one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is a great day for all of us if we take advantage of it, because today, with his resignation, he's accepting he's out of power. And according to Judge Garzon, who has become the judge of the world (ph) -- he was the one who tried Pinochet -- he said that he couldn't get him into trial unless he was out of power. Now he's out of power.

We have to go to the embassy and force the Spanish consulate to report to Garzon. If it's fair, he should try him for all the deaths and all the crimes committed by the revolution for 50 years. So I think this is a great day for all of us.

CANDIOTTI: But you remain skeptical, Mr. Krespo (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remain skeptical until his brother dies. And then it will be a close proximity to the states, and maybe things will change. But I don't see any change so far.

CANDIOTTI: Well, thank you both very much for joining us.

We also have this reaction from Florida Congressman Lincoln Diaz- Balart. He says, in his words, "Fidel Castro's absolute power is not based on titles. What we need to be concentrating on," the congressman says, "is the urgent need for a Democratic transition in Cuba."

Again, typical of the response that we are hearing this day.

Back to you, T.J.

HOLMES: All right. Susan Candiotti for us in Little Havana today.

We certainly appreciate you.

NGUYEN: Let's take a closer look at Fidel Castro.

In 1953, he began assembling a group of fighters to oust pro-U.S. leader Fulgencio Batista. Now, Fidel Castro overthrew that government in 1959.

As president, he ruled with an iron hand, imprisoning political opponents and those who dared criticize his government. Well, Washington's economic sanctions failed to oust him. And in July of 2006, the Cuban leader temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul. Since then, Fidel Castro has been seen only in photos and videotape.

HOLMES: And what has seemed to be the norm this year, every Tuesday somebody's voting. Well, today somebody is voting. We have primaries in Wisconsin, as well as Washington State. And Hawaii holding a Democratic caucus.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been in Wisconsin the past few days. Obama looking to add to a streak of eight primary and caucus wins in a row.

Meanwhile, Chelsea Clinton happily accepted the assignment to go stump for her mother in Hawaii. But that may be an uphill battle there since Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and spent most of his childhood there.

Turn to Washington State now. And only the Republicans have delegates on the line. It's actually the second half of the contest there. John McCain won the Washington caucuses 10 days ago.

NGUYEN: John McCain's campaign is looking ahead, past today's contests, to bigger prizes.

CNN's Dana Bash is in Columbus, Ohio, this morning.

And we hear that McCain is already planning an election night party where you are. DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's where he is going to be tonight. He'll be here where I am, in Columbus, Ohio.

He's actually going to be here this afternoon. He'll have a press conference, and then spend the evening, as you said, you know, celebrating, he hopes, some victories tonight. But also looking ahead to the big states coming forward, including Ohio on March 4th.

But as we are talking about that, John McCain actually just took the stage in the state of Wisconsin. As you just mentioned, the state that is holding its primary today.

He campaigned last night and is campaigning again today. He is actually having what his campaign is calling a "Get Out the Vote" rally, something that he hasn't done very much on campaign days. And you might wonder why he is doing something like that now, when you look at the mathematics of it and the statistics of it, he pretty much has sealed up the nomination.

But he's not quite there yet. And what his campaign is concerned about, Betty, is the fact that his supporters might not be motivated to vote since the McCain campaign is trying to send a signal that the Republican race is over.

So that's why you see him on the stage. Probably, he's not doing it now. At least at some point he will be encouraging voters to actually get out and vote today in Wisconsin so he can try to inch closer to that 1,191 delegates he needs to officially become the nominee.

Now, the reason why he has to keep campaigning is because there is, of course, another Republican still in the race. And that's Mike Huckabee. And what Mike Huckabee is telling voters and has been in the state of Wisconsin over the past several days is that there is no reason not to have what he calls drama in this race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We see the last stand only when somebody has 1,191 delegates. Other than that, we may go all the way to Minneapolis, St. Paul, to the convention. It could be a brokered convention. It wouldn't be the first time.

People are, for the most part, spoiled by the last few election cycles when it was sort of a done deal before we ever got to the convention. But I remember even in my lifetime, all the early elections I can remember as a kid were decided with a great deal of drama at the convention itself.

It might actually boost enthusiasm for the party if we got to the convention and then decided who the nominee was going to be. And there's still a possibility that that's what could happen. And if it does, there's a good chance I could be that nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: So given what Mike Huckabee just said, what the McCain campaign is trying to do right now is just make sure that they don't get embarrassed, that they don't have a vote where Mike Huckabee does overwhelmingly well, as he did a couple of weeks ago in the state of Kansas. So that's why you see John McCain campaigning in Wisconsin today. You're going to see him here in the state of Ohio.

You know, it's interesting, Betty. In some ways Huckabee, the fact that Huckabee is still in the race, certainly gives -- is a bit of distraction to the McCain campaign, but it also does something interesting. It makes it so that we're still talking about John McCain and Mike Huckabee in the Republican race at a time when the Democrats have such a dramatic, fascinating story.

So, it definitely does keep things interesting and keeps John McCain in the news, if you will, as he's trying to turn more towards Democrats -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Yes. And he is talking today. In fact, Dana, we're going go live to him in Wisconsin, where he is speaking at a rally there. Brookfield, Wisconsin, to be exact.

Let's take a listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... family before we begin this event. And it reminds me -- it reminds me that as we speak, there are brave young Americans serving in the military today, inspired by Lan Si Jan (ph) and so many others who are serving with courage and bravery, with distinction and honor. And thank you for your support of these brave young Americans who are serving our country in the military today.

(APPLAUSE)

They're doing a great job.

Now, my friends, I just want to talk about a couple of issues with you. And I want to talk to you about why I think it's important that we put this nation in the right direction, especially as far as our economy is concerned.

My friends, we have some economic challenges. We all know that. We all know that.

The first thing we need to do is make the Bush tax cuts permanent so that the American people will not experience a tax increase. We need to do that. We need to do that.

(APPLAUSE)

My friends, it will mean thousands of dollars of increase in taxes for every middle-income and low-income and medium-income American family in America. And we've got to make those tax cuts permanent so that in these difficult economic times, we don't lay a tax increase. That's the worst thing you can do to an American family or business today, is give them a tax increase.

We need to get rid of this thing that a lot of Americans are not even aware of. It's called the Alternative Minimum Tax. It was designed for the wealthiest of Americans. It now can affect 25 million American families.

We can't do that to American families today. We've got to abolish that.

My friends, we have the highest -- the highest corporate taxes, save one country, in the world today for corporations and businesses. That's not good. It makes them leave the country and take jobs with them.

We have to reduce the corporate income tax. And we have to do some other things.

We have to allow people who are investing in new equipment depreciate that in a year. We have to do a lot of things.

We have to implement this stimulus package. And there may be need for further lower interest rates and further tax cuts.

But, my friends, the first thing we've got to do that I'm committing to you to do is stop the wasteful, out-of-control earmark pork barrel spending in Washington. I will stop it. I will stop it.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, I think that you know about earmark and pork barrel spending. It got famous. It got famous with the bridge to nowhere.

I bet you that half the people in this room at least know about the bridge to nowhere, the $233 million we decided to spend on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it. My friends, not acceptable. Not acceptable.

The president of the United States, in the last couple of years, has signed into law two massive appropriations, money bills. And they had a total of $35 billion worth of earmark and pork barrel projects on them. Thirty-five billion dollars.

My friends, for that $35 billion in earmark projects, we could have had a thousand-dollar tax credit for every child in America. For every single child in America. Instead, we spend money on bridges to nowhere.

We spent $3 million of your tax dollars to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know if that was a paternity issue or criminal issue, but they did it.

My friends, I use a lot of lines of Ronald Reagan's, and one of them I took from him was, he said, "Congress spends money like a drunken sailor, only you never knew a sailor drunk or sober with the imagination of Congress." And that's a pretty good line, and I use it all the time. I've used it so much, about six months ago -- I'm not making this up when I tell you -- I received an e-mail from a guy that said, "As a former drunken sailor, I resent being compared to members of Congress." So we can't do it.

So, I'm very proud to stand before you and tell you that in 24 years in the Congress, I have never asked for nor received an earmark or pork barrel project for my state of Arizona.

(APPLAUSE)

And there's a lot of -- there's a lot of talk about change in Washington. And I would be glad to talk more about that with you and the changes that I have already been able to work on, and that I can have much more effect as president of the United States than I can in the United States Senate.

But there's one change that Senator Clinton and Senator Obama didn't quite get, and that is that Senator Clinton in the last year got $340 million worth of earmark projects for the state of New York. Senator Obama got some $92 million worth of pork for the state of Illinois. And Senator Obama refuses to reveal what his earmark projects were for the two years before that.

I don't think that's transparency in government, my friends. And I think you ought to know where that pork barrel money went and where those earmarks went.

And again, I'm proud. And I'll tell you right now, I will veto every single pork barrel earmark bill that comes across my desk. You will know their names and I will make them famous.

I want to assure you of that. I want to assure you of that.

(APPLAUSE)

NGUYEN: And you've been listening to John McCain there in Wisconsin. In Brookfield, Wisconsin, to be exact. He's speaking at a rally right now and preparing for tonight's primary in that state.

As you know, you'll want to stay with CNN, because we have much more on the candidates as they crisscross the country. Watch "Ballot Bowl." That is today at noon Eastern. And remember, CNN equals politics.

HOLMES: And of course, we've actually heard from John McCain today. We've heard from Barack Obama. The presidential candidates commenting about the situation in Cuba, where Fidel Castro has decided to step down as president there.

Well, Hillary Clinton now making some comments that are coming in to us here about the situation in Cuba as well. I will summarize here.

In part, she says that this provides a great opportunity for the people of Cuba, and that she's hoping that the new leadership will take steps to move Cuba toward democracy, release political prisoners, lift a lot of the oppressive burdens that have prevented the Cuban people from really having the kind of future they deserve. She goes on to say that we need a president who will work with countries around the world, in Europe and the Western Hemisphere, to push Cuba to join the community of nations and to become a democracy.

Those comments coming in to us from Hillary Clinton. Of course she and Barack Obama, all eyes on Wisconsin and Hawaii today for those voters that are voting in the caucuses in Hawaii, as well as the primaries in Washington -- excuse me, in Wisconsin. But also, they're commenting out there on the major story, major story happening just 90 miles from the shores of the United States. Fidel Castro stepping down as president of Cuba.

Now, also a story we're keep an eye on, folks are taking aim at an out-of-control satellite, but is the U.S. spending too much to shoot it down?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: A satellite falling to Earth. Even the experts say it's not much of a threat. So is it worth $60 million to shoot it down?

CNN senior pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the target, an experimental spy satellite that failed upon launch over a year ago. And this is what will try to take it down -- a Navy standard missile.

The price tag for the misses alone is $10 million. Figure at least $40 million for the whole shebang.

So why not just let the satellite fall? Chances are it won't hit anyone. But if it does, its full tank of hydrazine fuel could be a deadly hazard.

GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT, JOINT CHIEFS VICE CHAIRMAN: So, the regret factor of not acting clearly outweighed the regret factors of acting.

MCINTYRE: There's not much real downside of a miss except the cost, which could go from $40 million to $60 million if the Navy has to fire a second $10 million missile. There's no rainy day fund for falling satellites, so the money will come out of the general Pentagon budget.

The only other risk is of embarrassment if America's $100 billion missile shield can't hit a satellite the size of a bus. Still, the smart money is on a direct hit.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: The interceptors they've tested a number of times before have generally been successful. They've been testing them against much smaller targets. And this large satellite, I think the odds of success are pretty good.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: And our Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon this morning.

Jamie, I like how you put that, no rainy day fund for falling satellites. But tell us when exactly -- when this attempted shootdown will happen and what areas of the planet are going to be effected, really.

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, T.J., it's kind of funny, because here at the Pentagon they're acting like it's a big secret when exactly this is going to take place. Meanwhile, they've got to notify people in the area to stay clear as they fire this missile and perhaps some debris rains down, and they've already notified airmen and ships -- planes and ships -- to stay clear of a large swathe of the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii beginning Wednesday night Eastern Time from about 9:30 to midnight, about 4:30 in the afternoon Hawaii time, because that's apparently when they're going to have the first window to take a shot at this missile.

So, while they're pretending it's all classified here, they do have to notify people. And those notifications have gone out.

Now, there's no guarantee they will shoot in that first window. But they want to take a shot at it as soon as possible, because if it doesn't work, if they miss and it doesn't work out, they want to have a little more time to be able to recalibrate, watch the satellite go around the Earth a few more times, and perhaps plot another chance at shooting it down.

HOLMES: Yes. Need a minute to reload another $10 million bullet, if you will.

Jamie, also, will folks -- I mean, will there be kind of a show for people here on Earth? Will you be able to see them take this shot and see this thing bust up and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere?

MCINTYRE: Not unless you're out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean...

HOLMES: Yes.

MCINTYRE: ... and maybe on the USS Lake Erie. And even then it's going to be a little hard because this shot will be in the daytime.

But you know, as for the cost of this, it's roughly about what it costs to conduct one of these missile tests. The last missile test, missile defenses, cost about $40 million. This will cost a little more if they have to fire a second missile.

And, you know, the national missile defense test costs between $85 million and $100 million a piece. So this is right in the area of what it costs every time the U.S. tests its missile defenses.

HOLMES: Well, we hope they get it right on the first shot.

Jamie McIntyre for us at the Pentagon.

We appreciate you.

NGUYEN: Well, this just in to CNN, crossing the wires right now. A federal judge says he will hold a former "USA Today" reporter in contempt if she refuses to identify the sources for stories about a former Army scientist under scrutiny in the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The district judge says that reporter Toni Locy must cooperate with Steven Hatfield and his lawsuit against the government. We'll tell you a little bit about that.

Hatfield is suing the Justice Department, saying the agency violated the Federal Privacy Act by giving the media information about the FBI's investigation of him. And the judge in this case is also considering whether to fine a former CBS reporter also in contempt of a court order requiring that reporter's cooperation in this lawsuit.

So again, a federal judge could hold a former "USA Today" and a former CBS reporter in contempt for refusing to identify sources related to a case dealing with a 2001 anthrax attack.

Of course, we'll continue to follow this story for you.

And this coming in. Delta, Northwest Airlines may be close to a deal, but would you get any deals after a merger? Sky watcher ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: OK. There is word that Delta and Northwest Airlines may be close to a merger agreement. So what's in it for you, the passenger? Well, USA Today's Ben Mutzabaugh is here with his take on this.

Thanks for being with us today.

BEN MUTZABAUGH, "USA TODAY": My pleasure.

NGUYEN: All right. So, if this thing goes through, which a lot of people think it might, what does it mean for us?

MUTZABAUGH: Well, you know, this is going to be something that will play out over time. It's not like they're going announce the merger today and then tomorrow we'll see this big impact. But what -- it could kick off a whole range of things that could really affect passengers.

First of all, let's stick with Delta/Northwest. I think what you'll see there is, if we do have a merger, you're going to have certain routes where maybe the airline -- maybe where Northwest flies nine flights a day out of a certain city, and Delta flies seven, instead of flying 16 flights on a particular route, they might reduce it to 13 seats. So there will still be more flights on a single airline than there were before, but it will be less than the two that flew that previously.

NGUYEN: But does it mean higher prices?

MUTZABAUGH: Probably, but not necessarily. Let's look at it this way -- there are two airlines now that are trying to sell you something. There will only be one after this.

Obviously, the more people trying to sell you something, the better deal you're going to get. So, in the short run, prices could creep up a little bit.

But they have to be careful. And especially if this merger kicks off consolidation where United and Continental merge, and maybe American gets in on it to keep up with the bigger airlines.

What's going to happen then is if they get too aggressive in cutting flights and boosting fares, that's a gold-plated invitation to Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran to come in and expand. And that's the other thing. These mergers will allow these big airlines to get a little bit smaller, definitely more efficient -- or at least that's the goal.

They'll get a little bit smaller, but we also have -- domestically. we have airlines like JetBlue and Southwest. They have a lot of new planes on order, and they're struggling right now to find places to put these. Well, if Delta and Northwest merge and get a little smaller, you can bet your bottom dollar that AirTran, JetBlue, Southwest might be -- start looking at some of these markets where a merged Delta and Northwest cut back some flights.

NGUYEN: Got you. OK.

So, you know, if this thing does happen, it would create, what, the world's largest airline? And I want to put up a graphic so we can see where these hubs are for both Delta and Northwest. You can see them there.

When we're looking a this, do we understand that some of these will go away and we're going to see a loss of jobs?

MUTZABAUGH: You know, that is a huge point of interest right now. There is a report that came out a few weeks -- or about a week ago in "The Cincinnati Inquirer" where they apparently talked to someone who says that the airlines merger plan will keep all of these hubs in place. And that goes against a lot of the logic of a merger.

Obviously, a merger is supposed to create synergies, benefits, allow you to cut the fat, so to speak. A lot of people think that, especially Memphis and maybe Cincinnati, could be at risk in a merger. But the flip side is, if you start cutting, say, a job or a hub, and all of the jobs in Memphis, you're going to have a hard time getting your Tennessee Congress members to back your merger when it hits the antitrust (INAUDIBLE).

NGUYEN: Well, yes. MUTZABAUGH: So, it will be -- I think it will be cut. And now the question is, would they agree not to make any cuts, but then once the ink on the agreement dries...

NGUYEN: Then you'll see them happen, yes.

MUTZABAUGH: Right. So there will be cuts. It's just when and how big.

NGUYEN: When you talk about getting Congress to back this, you're talking about getting the regulations in place so this thing could go through. Will it happen when you see those kind of cuts, when you see an airline grow so big when these two merge that it does become the world's largest airline? And as you talked about just a minute or so ago, we're going to see some other airlines maybe follow suit.

I mean, do you think the powers that be would approve something like this?

MUTZABAUGH: It's my sense -- and, of course, there's no way to know for sure. It's my sense that a Delta/Northwest merger would get approval by the federal government on antitrust grounds. The reason being is that these airlines actually overlap on very few routes. They fly on very few competing non-stop routes.

So it's not like all of a sudden you're going to have a few big cities or all of a sudden this new carrier would have a tremendous stakes in. The routes are very complementary to each other so it'll make the carrier may be bigger but there are only a few markets where it really concentrate this airline's market share.

So my gut feeling, though a lot of people in the industry really -- who observed the industry, I really think this merger would probably not be held up on anti-trust concerns.

NGUYEN: All right. Bottom line, bigger airline, higher prices.

MUTZABAUGH: That's most likely.

NGUYEN: How does that add up?

All right. Ben Mutzabaugh, thanks for join us today. We do appreciate it.

HOLMES: And we've been keeping an eye on Senator John McCain, presidential candidate who has been giving a speech in Wisconsin, talking to a crowd there. Well, several of the presidential candidates, as we mentioned, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have made comments about the situation in Cuba and Fidel Castro stepping down as president there.

McCain just moments ago made these comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: Well, I think that we should make it very clear that once free elections are held, that the political prisoners are released and human rights organizations are functioning in Cuba, that we would be willing to provide whatever aid and assistance that's necessary. I fear that anything short of that, that any assistance that came in earlier than that might serve to prop up a new regime or a -- or Raul or whoever it is that wants to take Castro's place.

So we have to be absolutely confident that the transition to a free and open democracy is being made before we provide that additional aid and assistance. Once that happens, I'm sure the American people will do whatever is necessary to help the people of Cuba.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: And again, Senator John McCain making comments as several of the other presidential candidates have, talking about Fidel Castro and the situation there, where he stepped down as president of Cuba and where the U.S. and where Cuba now goes from here.

Questions this morning, of course, about Fidel Castro's health. He is stepping down, as we know, from power. And recent pictures show him looking fairly frail.

And now our chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This all started, T.J., this most recent crisis in July of 2006. But we're now pretty sure that he had what something known as diverticulitis, basically an inflammation of the large intestine that required surgery. The surgery didn't go so well. The sort of the connection between one part of the intestine to the other broke down. He needed to have another operation and he had a third operation after that.

And we'll tell you, T.J., for anybody of any age, that's a big deal. For one someone who's in their late 70s, early 80s, much bigger deal. And I think that's why people were so worried at that point that he may not survive all that. Doesn't sound like he had cancer, though, at the time.

HOLMES: OK. Now, that's -- is he past that, if you will? I know you said that that's serious for anybody. But after a couple of surgeries, was that problem corrected and he goes through a recovery time or...

GUPTA: It sounds like it. Now we're talking about 19 months ago. So it's been some time. And usually if there was going to be more problems they probably would have already happened by now.

HOLMES: OK.

GUPTA: We know that he had problems with his gallbladder as well. He had to have a stint placed into his gallbladder. You know, it's one of those things, T.J., where I think he's past this episode. But that has a significant impact on the body and in his digestion, his ability to sort of maintain and gain weight, which is probably why he looks so frail.

HOLMES: Cuba's National Assembly will meet Sunday to nominate the next president. Most analysts expect Castro's brother Raul to be his successor. Raul is 76 years old.

NGUYEN: Some more politics for you now. Candidate John McCain takes the pledge, no new taxes. Is it's a perilous promises though? We're searching for answers in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Wisconsin and Hawaii voting today, and in two weeks, it's Texas. The state is seen as a must-win for the Clinton campaign.

New Texas poll numbers now from CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, he, of course, part of the best political team on television.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): Two weeks to high noon. The big face-off in Texas, of course. Ma Clinton...

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Meet me in Texas. We're ready.

SCHNEIDER: Faces the Illinois kid.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we'll do well in states like Texas and Ohio and Pennsylvania which I know Senator Clinton has suggested somehow she's got a built-in edge.

SCHNEIDER: Does she? The new CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation shows the Democratic race in Texas just about tied. Democratic voters are picking sides. Women for her, men for him. She's got Latinos, he's got African-Americans. Whites, closely divided. Older Democrats for Clinton, younger Democrats for Obama. Didn't go to college? Clinton. Went to college? Obama.

And since it's an open primary, you've got Democrats for Clinton, independents for Obama. Evenly divided, yes. Bitterly divided, no. Seventy-nine percent of Texas Democratic voters say they'd be satisfied if Clinton wins. And, 79 percent say they'd be satisfied if Obama wins. But who did they think will win? Seventy-nine percent say Clinton is likely to be the Democratic nominee. Yet, 82 percent think it's just as likely to be Obama. He may have a slight edge in momentum.

What's at stake in Texas? Everything, her people say.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The truth is, is that Senator Clinton has to win Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania. If she wins those three, she's probably the nominee. If she loses one of those three, then Senator Obama is going to probably be the nominee.

SCHNEIDER: This race ain't big enough for the both of them.

(On camera): McCain, the maverick, and preacher man Huckabee will also be facing off in Texas. Looks good for McCain. He's leading Huckabee 55-32 percent. And McCain might wish to emit a yee- haw because fours first time he's carrying conservative voters in a southern state.

Bill Schneider, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: All right. These three words: no new taxes. Yes, John McCain's pledge may be won some voters want to hear now. But what about the future?

CNN's Brian Todd reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On taxes, John McCain now sounds like his latest big-name endorser.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Read my lips, no new taxes.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, "THIS WEEK": Are you a read-my-lips candidate, no new taxes no matter what?

MCCAIN: No new taxes.

TODD: McCain wants to cut taxes for individuals, businesses and make President Bush's tax cuts permanent, even though he once voted against them, believing they didn't curb spending enough. He says raising taxes would choke the nation's economic growth.

MCCAIN: I could see an argument if our economy continues to deteriorate for lower interest rates, lower tax rates, and certainly decreasing corporate tax rates.

TODD: But what about America's growing budget deficits projected to be crushing in the decades ahead, shattering all records?

McCain's aides say his plans for keeping taxes low and attacking big government spending are the way to keep deficits in check. We asked an economist with a nonpartisan budget think tank.

ROBERT GREENSTEIN, CTR. ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES: The problems in the future are so large it's pretty unthinkable we could close those deficits either by just cutting programs or just raising taxes. We're going to have to do both sooner or later.

TODD: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama favor cutting taxes for the middle class. But unlike McCain, they want to end President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, those making $250,000 a year or more. On cutting the deficit, Clinton and Obama want to draw down the cost of the Iraq war, end some entitlements, have the government to account for the money it spends on new programs.

Would that be enough?

GREENSTEIN: I don't think anything that any candidate has suggested will be enough to deal with long-term deficits. We are going to really need sheer sacrifice.

TODD (on camera): When we asked the major campaigns, including McCain's, if they would make a hard pledge to never raise taxes, none of them would be pinned down. And Robert Greenstein says they shouldn't say never. He says the deficits projected for the coming decades may be so bad that even middle class tax increases may have to be on the table in the years ahead.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: And you can be the first to know the results in tonight's primaries and caucus. All you have to do is sign up for CNN breaking news e-mail alerts and you'll know when we know so sign up at CNN.com.

HOLMES: Let's turn overseas now and Kosovo's declaration of independence is causing quite a stir around the world. Serbs set off sporadic explosions at ports checkpoints today along the border. They're protesting Kosovo's break from Serbia.

The declaration has also led to diplomatic strain. The U.S. and France and Britain recognize Kosovo's independence while China and Russia have joined Serbia in opposing that move. Serbia's president called the declaration illegal.

NGUYEN: Critical documents uncovered and they could provide a new opening for the U.S. and Iraq. The findings ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: With Fidel Castro stepping side, many are curious about what's next for Cuba's economy.

Susan Lisovicz at the New York Stock Exchange to help break this down for us.

Hello there, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, T.J. Well, many are hoping for a brighter future for our neighbor that is just 90 miles south of Key West. The U.S., of course, has had an embargo in place since the early 1960s. So there's plenty of room for growth if there are indeed changes there.

Here's Cuba by the numbers. Its GDP was $45 million last year, less than half of 1 percent of the U.S. economy. It's an island, of course, with about 11 million people. Because it is a socialist country, unemployment there less than 2 percent. But annual per capita income only about $10,000, although living standards may still even be lower than that because the Bookings Institution says it's difficult to gauge buying power in a socialist country.

After the Soviet Union collapsed Cuba opened itself up to tourism and that accounts for much of its growth. Main exports, nickel, sugar, and, of course, tobacco, its world famous Cuban cigars which, of course, are illegal here -- T.J.?

HOLMES: They are. We know. And a lot of people still upset about that. But we -- I know Baby steps here still for Cuba. But will we, looking down the road, ever see full-on free market system like we have here in the U.S.?

LISOVICZ: Well, we spoke to an expert from the Brookings Institution. He says there are two paths that Cuba can take. It can move gradually the way China has been recently with gradual reforms, incremental liberalization or it can take an approach similar to Eastern Europe did. Eastern Europe had many more bumps along the road but Cuba's economy is much more similar to those countries than it is to China, which is 80 percent agriculture based.

Don't pick any trips to Havana just yet. Of course, the State Department says the U.S. embargo will remain in place. Besides, the Cuban government is focused on becoming an industrial economy, not another Bahamas. That according Raj Desai from the Brookings Institution.

It is a story that is one that is closely watched and closer to home, a strong early rally. We'll it's faded a bit. It's telecom stocks weigh on the Dow Industrials on a report that there is a temporary shortage of high-definition equipment. AT&T and Verizon, down about 3 percent. That's limiting the Dow's advance.

Checking the numbers. Dow still on the plus side, though, up right now, 72 points or about half a percent. NASDAQ is up about half a percent. Unfortunately, oil is up, too. It's up $2.50 at $98 a barrel. That's an advance we don't like to see.

T.J. back to you.

HOLMES: We do not but we're used to seeing it.

LISOVICZ: That's right.

HOLMES: Of course, Susan Lisovicz for us. We appreciate it.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

NGUYEN: Well, turning on each other. Important documents uncovered showing divisions between U.S. opponents in Iraq. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the story and we do want to let you know some of the images in this report are graphic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): CNN obtained this graphic video from coalition military officials. We will not show the execution of these men that coalition analysts believe to be opponents of al Qaeda in Iraq. The video was recovered late last year at a raid on a compound near Samarra that the coalition says was used for murder and torture.

But it is these documents some found in the same raid that have gained the attention of intelligence analysts. Coalition analysts believe the documents which they also made available to CNN, show that al Qaeda in Iraq has embarked on a campaign of murder against many of their one-time allies, Iraqi Sunni extremist groups, which also oppose the U.S. presence here. Coalition officials say it confirms deep splintering among the groups they are fighting.

REAR ADMIRAL GREGORY SMITH, COALITION SPOKESMAN: Al Qaeda Iraq which is foreign led and foreign dominated here inside Iraq is killing off other Iraqi Sunni groups that are certainly not supportive of the government of Iraq currently or the foreign occupation but are not sharing the same ideology as al Qaeda has.

STARR: In one document there are details of the gruesome murder of a woman believed to be helping Iraqi police. Another details the death of 12 men, not deemed loyal enough to al Qaeda in Iraq. The documents are detailed, showing al Qaeda's continuing emphasis on writing down everything about their actions.

In another, al Qaeda criticizes other jihadist groups they say are following, quote, "a false path." But this document, analysts say, is the manifesto of the Sunni splinter groups being targeted by al Qaeda in Iraq. It is signed by half a dozen groups, a document opposing the U.S. presence but pledging not to attack Iraqi civilians. Military officials say the U.S. has already spent $148 million paying Sunnis and some Shia to stop such attacks in what's called the Awakening movement.

The question now is whether these latest documents may show an opening for the coalition to expand that effort.

(On camera): Coalition officials say while all of this reflects the vicious nature of al Qaeda in Iraq, they also hope it may signal a new era of Sunni reconciliation.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Balad, Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Well, blinded by war, now held up by courage and hope. Veterans taking a leap of faith on the slopes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOLMES: Just want to bring you this picture -- word we're just getting in. Excuse me, you see this small plane that appears to have crash-landed here. Not where it's supposed to be. This is in Dekalb County here in the Atlanta area. We don't have any indication of injuries or how many people might have been on board this airplane. But this happened somewhere close, nearby the Peachtree Dekalb Airport. But just a live picture here.

You can tell the plane not busted up too bad. But any time you land somewhere other than a runway, not a good thing exactly. So we'll keep an eye on this, try to find out if there are any injuries associated with it.

NGUYEN: In the meantime, courage and hope, blind Iraq war veterans hit the slopes of an Idaho ski resort.

CNN's Rusty Dornin has that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand up. Hands up in front of you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): His first time on skis, Ivan Castro had ambitious goals.

TOM ISELIN, SUN VALLEY ADAPTIVE SPORTS: Step down on the right one a little bit.

IVAN CASTRO, BLIND IRAQ VETERAN: And making it all of the way to the bottom without falling.

DORNIN: No big deal, right?

ISELIN: Stay on it.

DORNIN: This photo was taken in Iraq just minutes before a mortar exploded five feet from the former army ranger, crushing his jaw, collapsing a lung and blinding him. It killed two fellow soldiers. That was a year and a half ago.

Castro and nine other Iraqi vets blinded in the war are in Idaho for the Sun Valley Adaptive Sports program. It's offered to anyone with disabilities but there is a special program for veterans wounded in Iraq. Many lost limbs or suffered head injuries. Now for the first time a group of blinded vets are hitting the slopes.

ISELIN: We want them to try things that they've never tried before or try things again that they used to do. It's not only about really that physical skill but also to give them courage and hope so they can take that back, those skills, back to their home community to improve their relationships.

DORNIN: This is a group of guys used to getting pushed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. Now the left one again.

DORNIN (on camera): While the program teaches sports to other vets who have been injured in war-related injuries, there's a very unique aspect to teaching blind people how to ski.

(Voice over): Or to ice skate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have to remember you're on a tiny, tiny blade though. So you're doing pretty good.

DORNIN: It's a leap of faith, says John Crabtree.

JOHN CRABTREE, BLIND IRAQ VETERAN: Faith you put into those helping you and instructing you. That's already taken care of. So the challenge is to concentrate more on what they're telling me. I just don't know if I miss.

DORNIN: Crabtree, a Naval Petty Officer, was blinded by shrapnel from an IED. A fellow sailor was killed.

CRABTREE: Now at this point we want to be independent again and on top of that I think I can speak for everyone else, we're glad to be alive.

I have one of these to do.

DORNIN: Learning to cope with a newly blinded spouse can be tough for the wives who are part of the program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just really excited watching him.

DORNIN: Back on the slopes, Ivan Castro works on his technique. Not without his pitfall.

(On camera) Did you think that you'd ever be out here doing this kind of stuff again?

CASTRO: After the accident, no, of course not. I never thought about it. You know, when you're blind, you don't know what life is. You don't know what's out there.

DORNIN: Blinded by war and guided to a new life.

CRABTREE: I'm feeling good. I'm having a blast.

DORNING: Rusty Dornin, CNN, Sun Valley, Idaho.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: It's a great program.

Well, the CNN NEWSROOM continues one hour from now.

HOLMES: But "BALLOT BOWL" is up next.

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