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CNN NEWSROOM

VP Announcements Expected Soon; McCain's Strategy: Lifted From Clinton Playbook?; Plane off Runway at Madrid Airport

Aired August 20, 2008 - 11:00   ET

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


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN. I'm Heidi Collins. Tony Harris is off today.
Developments keep coming into the CNN NEWSROOM on this Wednesday, August 20th.

Here's what's on the rundown.

A plane off a runway at Madrid airport this morning. Unconfirmed reports say there are many deaths.

Waiting for number two. Vice presidential announcements expected soon. Live to Denver, five days before the Democratic Convention.

A group of college presidents wants to lower the drinking age to fight binge boozing. What do Mothers Against Drunk Driving think? Both sides -- in the NEWSROOM.

Who's number two? The buzz is building. An announcement expected any day now from Barack Obama on his choice for a running mate. Among the names thought to be on his short list, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.

Here's what Biden told news crews outside his home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I promise you, I don't know anything. Have no idea. I've spoken to no one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you spoken with the campaign at all?

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: I have not spoken with anyone. I have not spoken with anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not ruling out that you're still being considered though?

BIDEN: I have no idea. You guys know as well as I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider live from Denver now, where the Democratic Convention, of course, is just a few days away.

All right, Bill, what's the buzz?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if Joe Biden has no idea, I'm not sure anybody else around here does. Probably only Barack Obama and some people very close to him.

We are expecting a decision, possibly as early as tomorrow afternoon, maybe as late as Friday morning. He is going to be campaigning in Springfield, Illinois, where he launched his campaign some time ago, and we think that his running mate, whoever of that may be, will be with him at that big campaign rally on Saturday. So everybody is waiting to get that famous instant message with the real answer, who's going to be the running mate?

COLLINS: Yes, sure are waiting.

Well, we've also gotten an updated CNN Poll of Polls now just in. Take us through that, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, the CNN Poll of Polls show what a lot of the polls had been showing. It's an average of all of them; namely, that the race is becoming deadlocked going into the two conventions, one week after the other.

The latest Poll of Polls shows Obama at 45 percent, McCain 44. Much too close to call. A dead heat going into these conventions.

That's got Democrats a little bit frustrated because they're wondering, why is Barack Obama underperforming what a Democrat should be doing in this race? One of the polls, a Quinnipiac poll that was released yesterday, showed that if people were asked, would you prefer to see a Democrat or a Republican elected, people said they prefer a Democrat by 12 points. Yet, in the Poll of Polls, Obama is just one point ahead.

You've got 4,000 delegates coming to this convention. Every one of them has some kind of recipe for what Obama has to do to turn this around.

COLLINS: Yes. And also, we just got a little bit of news about Joe Lieberman. People probably wondered which convention he'd actually be going to this year.

SCHNEIDER: Well, he was on the ticket with Al Gore in 2000. He was the Democrats' nominee for vice president. And here, eight years later, he's going to give a speech at the Republican convention. That is certainly a very rare experience.

This could also be a play to get more Jewish voters. Lieberman is, of course, an Orthodox Jewish senator, and this could be an appeal by McCain to get more Jewish support.

There are some Jewish voters who still have questions about Barack Obama, wonder about how staunch an ally and supporter he is of Israel, even though he's said many, many times that he's fully in support of Israel. But with Lieberman on the dance, on the podium, giving a speech at the Republican Convention, that could be a way of drawing some Jewish voters over to the Republican ticket, and that could affect the race in some key states like Florida and Pennsylvania.

COLLINS: Absolutely. All right.

Our Bill Schneider standing by there in Denver.

Thank you, Bill.

So, is team McCain taking tips from the Clinton playbook? Our Joe Johns takes a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's "Groundhog Day" in Obama country. The presumptive Democratic nominee is still fending off those nagging questions from the primaries. Take, for example, McCain questioning whether Obama is ready to lead.

NARRATOR: It's 3:00 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep.

JOHNS: Sounds a lot like the days when Hillary Clinton was running those ads about the 3:00 a.m. call into the White House. There are few accidents in politics, and this isn't one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like right now the Clinton campaign not only gave the McCain people a road map, but they actually started them down the road.

JOHNS: McCain hasn't just lifted a few pages from Senator Clinton's playbook. It looks more like he's lifted whole chapters from it, like when McCain talks about Obama giving great speeches, but not having a lot of substance.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If there's one thing he always delivers, it is a great speech. But I hope you will listen carefully, because his ideas are not always as impressive as his rhetoric.

JOHNS: It's deja vu all over again from just a few months ago.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: There's a big difference between us: speeches vs. solution, talk vs. action. You know, some people may think words are change, but you and I know better.

JOHNS (on camera): If you take a closer look, the McCain campaign is actually doing Hillary Clinton one better. As tough as she got with Obama, she was never as consistently negative as McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the Clinton campaign demonstrated is that, if you bring him down to earth, it becomes a much more direct and a much more even battle. JOHNS (voice-over): But there is a danger for McCain. When Clinton threw these punches, Obama often came out looking like the grownup, rising above the attacks.

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, I think there was some sharp elbows during the primary campaign, but I don't think there was anything that really did any serious damage. And I think it's a lot like Machiavelli. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger.

JOHNS: That said, McCain is still pressing for votes in the very states where Obama performed worst. And the concern among Democrats is that he will get more traction than Clinton did. The Obama camp, for its part, dismisses the Hillary comparison. One insider said, the only playbook McCain is using is the one written by George W. Bush and Karl Rove in the last presidential race.

Joe Johns, CNN, Denver, Colorado.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: On CNN tonight, back-to-back documentaries to tell you who the presidential candidates really are. At 8:00 p.m., "Revealed," John McCain. And at 9:30 Eastern, "Revealed," Barack Obama, only on CNN, your home for politics.

Breaking news once again out of Spain this morning. An airliner goes off the runway in Madrid. Spain's two leading newspapers are now reporting at least 45 people were killed, but CNN cannot independently confirm those figures. We are scrambling to gather details, of course.

Our Madrid bureau chief, Al Goodman, is joining us by phone now with the very latest.

Al, good morning once again.

AL GOODMAN, CNN MADRID BUREAU CHIEF: Hello, Heidi.

Well, the Spanish prime minister's office has told us there are fatalities. In a subsequent call to the prime minister's office, they said that another central government agency is reporting 40 dead. So we have not been able to talk to that other agency in Madrid, but from the prime minister's compound they are hearing 40 dead from another government agency that is involved in providing information.

Also, we've heard reports from media here that the Spanish Red Cross is also using a similar figure. You just mentioned 45. The number is changing constantly here in the major vacation period.

Information flow is very slow on this day, whereas emergency aid is moving very quickly. We just heard a Red Cross worker saying 19 people have been taken to the hospital with varying degrees of burns and other injuries. A field hospital was set up at the scene to take care of the immediate needs before moving some people out -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Al, I know that the NTSB is sending their go team to Madrid, obviously going to be helping in the investigation as to what may have happened here. But just curious what you have heard on that note at this point. We're hearing, of course -- we talked about a minute ago, engine fire on takeoff.

GOODMAN: Right. Well, our colleagues at CNN International talked to a newspaper reporter here who managed to get to somebody who was coming off the plane. That witness on the plane telling this "ABC" newspaper reporter -- the newspaper "ABC" in Spain, not the ABC of the United States -- that the passengers seemed to hear kind of an explosion as the plane was about to take off. This PAN Air flight taking off from Madrid, going down to Spain's Canary Island, off the coast of Africa. Hearing an explosion and then a fire, and then chaos ensued -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Well, we know you're working the details for us. Let us know when you learn anything else.

Our Madrid bureau chief, Al Goodman, on the line with us from Madrid.

Thanks so much, Al.

Tropical Storm Fay back over open water. Florida residents once again on edge. Right now, the storm is lurking along central Florida's Atlantic coast. It could make its third Florida landfall probably tomorrow in north Florida.

So far, Fay has kicked up damaging winds and spun off at least seven tornadoes. Outside Orlando, dozens of homes were damaged. Some parts of Florida have seen 10 inches of rain now. Georgia could face even more if Fay comes back to shore as expected.

Rains in the Plains. Both Oklahoma and Texas are dealing with floodwaters today. On the Texas side of the border, rising waters have forced evacuations. On the southern end of the state, floodwaters are falling.

Hundreds of people are returning home to find widespread damage, though. Some 1,400 homes flooded in Star County, near the Mexico border.

In Oklahoma, some parts some parts of the state got pounded by nearly nine inches of rain in less than 24 hours. Even more rain is on the way. This morning, nearly two dozen counties are under a flash flood watch.

Boy, an awful lot of rain, a lot of people really trying to do the best that they can with all of this. Rob Marciano in the weather center now to tell us the very latest.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COLLINS: A plane in trouble. Rescuers scrambling to save lives at Madrid's airport this morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COLLINS: This morning, 10 young French troops killed in Afghanistan. French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, today. He cut short a vacation after hearing about the deaths of his troops.

Mr. Sarkozy met with President Hamid Karzai, and he visited a chapel where he viewed the bodies of the dead soldiers. He also visited some of the wounded troops.

The troops were on a reconnaissance mission when they were ambushed by Taliban fighters Monday. The firefight took place in the mountains just outside of Kabul. It was the deadliest attack on international forces in Afghanistan in three years.

Now to the world's latest flashpoint. Three U.S. ships getting ready to take humanitarian supplies to Georgia.

Live now to CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, the latest on this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, Heidi.

Getting prepared to go, the final dotted line. No signature on it yet, but officials here at the Pentagon tell us two U.S. Navy warships and a Coast Guard cutter indeed are making preparations today, pending final approval from Turkey, final U.S. approval, to make their way to the Black Sea to deliver humanitarian relief to Georgia.

The picture you see, the USS McFall (ph), a U.S. Navy destroyer, it will be accompanied by a Coast Guard ship and be followed up several days later, according to the plan, to the USS Mt. Whitney, a large Navy warship as well. But this will all be humanitarian relief.

They're loading up in Greece and in Italy with humanitarian supplies, and expect to make their way into the Black Sea in the coming days. But what will wait for them on the receiving end?

They want to unload those supplies in Georgia. Russia's Black Sea fleet is in that area. And we will see, I suppose, if the Russians cause no interference to try and get this aid to the refugees in Georgia. The U.S. says that they plan to deliver it and they hope that there will be no interference. This all could be coming to fruition in the next several days -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Thank you for that.

Taking U.S. missile defense to Russia's doorstep. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this morning signed a formal agreement with Poland. It calls for the installation of 10 American interceptor missiles near Russia's border. That's got Moscow angry. It says the missile defense system is aimed at blunting Russia's nuclear deterrent, but Rice insists the system is for defense only.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: It will help both the alliance and Poland and the United States respond to the coming threats. Missile defense, of course, is aimed at no one. It is in our defense that we do this. But I am very pleased that we have been able to achieve this accomplishment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Washington plans to start deploying the Patriot air and missile defense system next year.

Is your hospital killing you? Find out for the first time hospital death rates online.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Death rates at U.S. hospitals. For the first time, you can go online yourself to find these numbers.

CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here now with more on this story.

So is this something that a lot of people have been wanting to find out, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. And actually, this data has been on the Internet for quite a while, Heidi, but it hasn't been very easy to use, to put it mildly. And "USA Today" did everyone a great favor by making it a lot more accessible.

So let's take a look at this. This is "USA Today"'s Web site.

They have three conditions: heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. I'm picking heart attack.

What if I have a heart attack, I live in the state of Georgia? What hospital has the lowest death rate for that particular problem? And here's my answer. The hospital with the lowest death rates from heart attacks, Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick. And that's how easy it is. You can find out which hospitals are basically least likely to kill you.

COLLINS: Now wait a minute. If I'm having a heart attack, how much of a choice do I really have time to make?

COHEN: Well, if you have a heart condition, you know that that unfortunately might be in your future. So this is something that you would do before you clutch your chest and fall to the floor.

COLLINS: Oh, my goodness.

All right. Well, what about other diseases? COHEN: Right. There are lots of other diseases that are not covered by this "USA Today" Web site. So what you want to do is go to CNN.com/empoweredpatient. And right here we have all the Web sites you need. Picking the right hospital can save your life. Again, CNN.com/empoweredpatient.

COLLINS: All right. So, in general, choosing a hospital, what are some of the good tips that you can give us on this? What are we looking for?

COHEN: Right. We have all these tips in our column. Here is the first one.

First of all, go to the Internet, as we've discussed. And also, everything is not going to be on the Internet, so you're going to want to learn how to ask the right questions of hospital personnel.

And also, expect the unexpected. Like we said before, you're going to have an emergency. And let's say you've got little kids -- you're going to want to know before an emergency strikes, what is the best emergency room to take a kid to?

COLLINS: All right. Well, we also know that unfortunately sometimes hospitals can make you sick or sicker because of -- I'm thinking of staph infections and other types of infections.

COHEN: Right.

COLLINS: What can you do for yourself regarding that?

COHEN: Right. Heidi, 99,000 Americans die every year because of infections they get in the hospital. They didn't have them coming in, but they died from infections they got in the hospital.

So what you want to do, again, CNN.com/empoweredpatient. We have all the information that you need in order to find out.

Don't let a hospital kill you. It killed this young man right here. We tell you how to make sure that doesn't happen to you or someone you love.

COLLINS: Very important information. All right.

Our Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Thank you, Elizabeth.

COHEN: Thanks.

COLLINS: If you'd like to check out Elizabeth's "Empowered Patient" column and to get your "Daily Dose" of health news online, just log on to our Web site. You'll find the latest medical news, a health library and information on diet and fitness. That address, CNN.com/health.

Braving the wind and rain, our iReporters have been capturing images from Tropical Storm Fay.

Our Veronica De La Cruz is joining me now with some of these pictures.

Hi there, Veronica.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Heidi. Yes, some amazing images coming in from our iReporters that I want to go and share with you.

Head to CNN.com right now and take a look at a map. Click on the red dot on the map that we're going to bring up in a second. And that's going to show you what the storm is looking like in different locations.

As you know, the storm came ashore in the Florida Keys Monday, made landfall again Tuesday, further north. And Shawn Messimer sent us photos from the Keys.

You can really see how bad the flooding has been there. He says he does think everyone was prepared, but is dealing now with all the water that's been left behind.

And then moving north, Heidi, you can see how much rain came down in Islamorada. Brian Bellino captured some footage of the wind and the rain, which he said had been falling steadily since Sunday.

And then 16-year-old Kevin Paffrath documented how prepared residents were in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Take a look. Store shelves virtually empty as residents stocked up on groceries and gas ahead of the storm.

So, as you know, Heidi, they're calling Fay the boomerang storm.

If you do have pictures and video, you can log on to ireport.com. We're going to work to get those on throughout the day -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Very good. Appreciate that.

Veronica De La Cruz.

Thanks.

Eighteen-year-olds can buy a house, serve on a jury, vote and fight a war. Should they be able to buy beer?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Anticipation ramping up in the VP watch. Barack Obama's campaign says he could pick a running mate anytime now. We expect a decision possibly as early as tomorrow, or as late as Friday.

Obama plans a big rally in Springfield, Illinois, though, this Saturday, presumably with his newly nominated running mate. Some names thought to be on Obama's short list, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and Indiana Senator -- the one not speaking right there, which makes me laugh -- Evan Bayh.

Just in now this morning, numbers showing the race for the White House almost dead even. Look at that, the new poll of polls gives Barack Obama just a 1 percentage point lead over John McCain, 45 to 44 percent. The poll is an average of five different national surveys. Obviously you can see that 11 percent are undecided still, too.

CNN bringing you more of what the presidential candidates are saying in their own words. It is part of our effort to help you make an informed choice come Election Day. Here is John McCain on an oil rig in the Gulf calling for more offshore drilling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to start drilling offshore at advanced oil rigs like this one. This rig survived a hurricane, they have been here for nine years, and they have produced a whole lot of oil and natural gas. As we speak, they are producing 10,000 barrels of oil a day and 15 million cubic feet of natural gas.

Senator Obama opposed this new drilling. He said it won't solve our problem and that it's -- quote -- "not real." He's wrong, and the American people know it. I hope he'll seize the opportunity to come out and pay a visit like this one. I think it will probably change his mind.

We all want to conserve, but we all know that conservation will not put us -- will not be sufficient to put us on the road to energy independence. The nation is sending $700 billion every year overseas to countries that don't like us very much. And when I'm president that's going to stop.

We're going to achieve energy independence, and we're going to do it by using every resource at our disposal to get the job done, including new offshore drilling. New drilling has got to be part of our energy solution. It won't solve this problem alone, alternative energy will not solve this problem alone, and conservation alone will not. It will require aggressive development of alternative energies like wind, solar, tide, biofuels, natural gas, and it also requires expanding traditional sources of energy like clean coal, nuclear power, and offshore drilling like that done on this rig.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Senator John McCain will be speaking in the noon hour. Coming up, he's going to be holding a town hall meeting in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Meanwhile, we are waiting to hear from Barack Obama as well. We see a live shot there. He'll be talking the economy in Martinsville, Virginia, a little bit later on this hour.

On CNN tonight, back to back documentaries that tell you who the presidential candidates really are. At 8:00 p.m., "Revealed: John McCain." At 9:30 p.m. Eastern, "Revealed: Barack Obama." Only on CNN, your home for politics.

Tropical Storm Fay back over the Atlantic and on track for yet another likely landfall in Florida. Right now, the storm is lurking along central Florida's Atlantic coast. Forecasters say it will probably make its third Florida landfall by tomorrow. The likely target -- somewhere in north Florida.

Across south and central Florida, Fay kicked up damaging winds. You see some of the destruction there, spun off at least seven tornadoes. Outside Orlando dozens of homes were damaged. Some parts of Florida have seen 10 inches of rain. In Highlands County, one person died from carbon monoxide poisoning. He had taken two gas generators inside his home. Awful outcome there.

Our Rob Marciano is standing by now in the weather center for the latest on Fay.

Boy, we always talk about how unpredictable these things are, but this one seems even more so than others we've covered.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, yes. When they're weak and have a broad circulation like this they're often hard to get our arms around. Plus, the interaction with islands and mountains of Cuba and Hispaniola kind of threw things off.

Just getting -- I'm looking at pictures now -- check these out -- from Port St. Lucie. There's been reports of flooding here. And these are shots now coming into the CNN Weather Center. KPTV, thanks for these shots. These are just north of West Palm, around the Port St. Lucie area, Vero Beach is close by as well.

I'm just trying to figure out -- I'm trying to recall my geography as far as what kind of rivers may be aiding in this situation here. But we've got crews on the way to kind get a heads-up onto what's shaking there. Looks like a trailer parked there that's mostly under water, probably about two feet of water, submerging some cars up to the wheel wells. And certainly some of that water is getting into some of the homes. And that one looks to be more than a trailer.

So this is not done by any means. Looks like the southern part of this storm has had the most amount of rain and on the east side as well. These are some of the rainfall tallies as of this morning. So Vero Beach, that is right by Port St. Lucie, over six inches, so a half a foot of rain there. And the winds also creating some problems. Cocoa Beach had 62-mile-an-hour winds. That is pretty close to where the center is right now. Melbourne -- and there's Ft. Pierce, 49- mile-an-hour winds. So you know, you had some winds to boot with this system, and it's not quite done yet.

Here is the center of it. It's actually kind of straddling the coastline. It's really right around Cape Canaveral, about 15 miles to the north of Cape Canaveral. But the west side of it obviously not as much convection, the east side of it tapping some moisture from the Atlantic Ocean. And that's where you're seeing most of the convection. And again, the southern part of the storm is where we're seeing more of the rainfall, so that would make sense that Port St. Lucie has been seeing a lot of rainfall. That should be coming to an end. The forecast track (INAUDIBLE) to the north and then dive inland, likely remaining a tropical storm. It really is going to have to get 20, 30, 40 miles offshore to tap into the Gulf stream to get any stronger than that. Right now the forecast is for that not to happen.

So later tonight, tomorrow, straddling the coastline, maybe getting a few miles offshore and then diving westward into the northern part of Florida. Kind of a cooky, crazy path for sure, but in many ways Fay has written her own story across the state of Florida --

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: Cooky and crazy, it's a perfect one for you to be covering. Thank you, Rob.

MARCIANO: All right.

COLLINS: We'll stay on track with you. Appreciate it.

College students may love it, their parents not so much. We're talking about an online push to lower the drinking age. Lawmakers in three states are considering it and now a group of college presidents say it might be a good idea. Here's what students say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it would be a good idea. I think it's better that young people, if they're allowed to drink in, say, a bar or an open area, they'll be more controlled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of students wouldn't be urged to actually drink as much if the drinking age was lower.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Joining us now to talk about this idea, John McCardel Jr. He is the founder and director of Choose Responsibility and Laura Dean-Mooney, the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Welcome to both of you.

My notes here say this is 100 schools that are actually in support of this idea.

John, I want to begin with you. Why would lowering the drinking age make campuses better and safer?

JOHN MCCARDELL JR., CHOOSE RESPONSIBILITY: Well, it's up to 110 signatories now with more coming in every day. These presidents have not taken a position, necessarily, that the age should be lowered. What they do say is that 21 has had unintended consequences which have played themselves out on their campuses in increasingly dangerous and life threatening ways. And they're calling for an open and unfettered public debate about how well 21 has worked across the board.

COLLINS: So let me make sure I understand. You are not saying that the drinking age should be lowered, this proposal is more about discussion of how to enforce it?

MCCARDELL: The presidential statement says that 21 is not working well, that we need to consider whether the 10 percent Highway Fund Penalty imposed upon a state that considers lowering the drinking age is an impediment to the debate, and that we call on our elected officials to encourage a public debate about how well 21 is working.

COLLINS: OK, well, Laura, I know that you have a daughter who is a senior in high school. I also know that, tragically, your husband was killed by a drunk driver. What is your response to this initiative?

LAURA DEAN-MOONEY, MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING: Well it's alarming to me as a parent of a high school senior who is thinking about colleges to choose. These college presidents, this very small minority of college presidents, only 110 out of 3,500 college and university presidents across the country, have basically created an environment now on their campus where the 21 drinking age will not be enforced. So I certainly will be thinking, as will many, many other parents, my daughters' friends parents, about whether or not they would want to send their child, their teenager, to a university or college that has a president who has signed onto an initiative that we think is quite irresponsible.

The 21 drinking age law has worked. It's saved many, many thousands of lives -- approximately 25,000 since it was implemented. We don't stand alone. The American Medical Association stands with us, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Governor's Highway Association, smart people that say these college presidents need to rethink, there need to look at the facts, do their scholarly homework.

COLLINS: So John, I wonder, regarding those statistics that Laura has just laid out for us, I do have it in my notes as well, is this more about how difficult it is for colleges to enforce and so, therefore, if we change the law the job is easier?

MCCARDELL: Not at all. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities reached a 10-year high in 2006. Over of the last 10 years they've been going up. Secondly, in Puerto Rico, where the age is 18, alcohol-related traffic fatalities declined by 11 percent last year. Most importantly, colleges and universities do a remarkably effective job of enforcing the law on their campuses. They card underage drinkers, they bracelet those of legal age, they limited quantities. What happens is that the more effective they are in enforcing the law, the more they force drinking out of public view and often beyond the bounds of their authority. And that's where binge drinking, risk taking drinking, life threatening drinking takes place.

More than 1,000 lives a year are lost by 18 to 24-year-olds each year to alcohol off the roadways. That is a very disturbing statistic and that's a consequence of legal age 21. COLLINS: Laura, what are some of the alternatives that MADD, your organization, talks about by way of sort of heading off alcohol abuses on college campuses?

DEAN-MOONEY: Well, enforcement is certainly a high point of that. There are some colleges and universities that are doing a terrific job. The University of Miami, for example, Donna Shalala, the former Secretary of HHS is the president there. She says this would be a terrible idea to go backwards. Been there, done that in the '70s. It didn't work. We did see that alcohol-related fatalities increased tremendously when the drinking age was 18. So why would we consider going back? Let's have enforcement on campuses, let's have working with community coalitions that make sure that bars are not selling to underage, make sure that bars are not overserving those who are legal to drink, make sure that alcohol policies are tight on campuses. Let's do our job on these college campuses.

COLLINS: To the both of you, it certainly is a discussion that I imagine will be ongoing for quite some time. I appreciate your time here.

Laura Dean-Mooney, the president of MADD, and John McCardell Jr., the founder and director of Choose Responsibility. Thanks to you both.

DEAN-MOONEY: Thank you.

MCCARDELL: Thank you.

COLLINS: It's happened 34 days in a row, just more proof that what goes up does come down. The latest, gas prices in business news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Quickly back to this breaking news we've been telling you about this morning regarding that plane accident that happened in Madrid, Spain. We do look at this video now, new video coming in to us of some of the survivors, some of the injured going into the hospital there. We are learning that, although we have not been able to independently confirm this number, according to several media outlets in Spain, at least 45 people were killed and at least 19 being hospitalized. Some of them obviously with more serious injuries than others.

But we are also learning that this plane may have caught on fire shortly after takeoff, or attempting a takeoff, obviously. McConnell Douglas 82 (ph) is the aircraft. About 162 people on board. The plane was making its way on a two hour flight, a little bit more than two hours, to Las Palmas, which is in the Canary Islands from Madrid.

So, again, Spanair Flight 5022 is what we're talking about. And usually we try to learn a little bit about the weather conditions there, but as you can see, even from that video, we are learning that it was hot and clear before the accident.

NTSB has sent a Go-team there to help with the investigation. We will stay on top of that for you with our Al Goodman, our Madrid Bureau Chief.

We are on a gas price watch, looking to see how low prices can go. Stephanie Elam is at the New York Stock Exchange now with a look at where we stand.

Hi there, Stephanie.

The lower the better obviously.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're not complaining. Get out that limbo stick and see how low the gas prices can go. Right now, we are 34 days and counting, that is how many days in a row gas prices have fallen. AAA says the national average is now just under $3.72 a gallon. Now despite the prolonged declined prices, no one is going to deny they are still high. So if you live in Alaska, Hawaii, California and Utah, the average price remained above 4 bucks a gallon. On the flip side, in case you want to get some cheap gas and you're close to Missouri, or South Carolina, have at it, it is less than $3.50 a gallon there -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Nice, 34 straight days of decline seems almost too good to be true. How long can it last?

ELAM: I guess a lot of it actually depends on oil prices, right?

COLLINS: Right.

ELAM: Let's consider this -- gas prices are down more than 9 percent, or nearly 40 cents, from last month's record high. Meanwhile, oil prices are down 22 percent from their record. And we've had these big storms that haven't even pushed oil up in recent weeks. And meanwhile, we got this new government report showing crude stockpiles jumped more than expected last week. So with crude supplies running high and gas demand falling, prices should stay low.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

ELAM: Heidi, back to you.

COLLINS: All right. CNN's Stephanie Elam. Thank you, Stephanie.

ELAM: Thanks.

COLLINS: Anybody can play a political pundit on TV now. Choosing a vice president, CNN i-Reporters advise the candidates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Quickly, we have our eye on three different events there. You see President George Bush spending some time with veterans at the VFW convention there in Orlando. We saw Senator John McCain there on Monday and Senator Barack Obama there yesterday.

We are also watching some other political events where we have Barack Obama, you see him sitting in the chair there, getting ready to take to the podium. Going to be talking the economy in Martinsville, Virginia.

And finally we're also watching Senator McCain. Las Crusas, New Mexico, holding a town hall there. That'll be coming up in the noon hour.

For now, though, let's go ahead and listen into the president.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe that combat injured and severely disabled veterans deserve to receive both their military retired pay and their VA disability compensation. I was the first president in more than 100 years to sign concurrent receipt legislation.

(APPLAUSE)

We have worked effectively and diligently to provide for those returning home from the front lines today. Administration implemented recommendations from Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala, to help our wounded warriors build lives of hope and promise and dignity.

We're investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop new treatments for conditions like traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder. Earlier this year, I was pleased to sign a piece of legislation that the VFW has long championed. A GI Bill for the 21st century.

(APPLAUSE)

COLLINS: There you have just a small portion of President George Bush talking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars -- their national convention being held in Orlando. We are also waiting once again, Senator Barack Obama from Martinsville, Virginia. And also Senator John McCain coming up as you see on your left. And then Las Crusas, New Mexico is the site of the town hall meeting that John McCain will be holding coming up in the noon hour. Watching all of it for you, right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: A nice refreshing swim. We all need that in these dog days of summer. Even our canine companions want to take a little dip and they'll get there any way they can.

Todd Dunn from our national affiliate WKRA has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD DUNN, WKRA REPORTER: Jeff Heathcock (ph) runs the Red River Valley Canoe Rental in Adams, Tennessee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't think of a better way to spend my day. DUNN: Jeff is not along in his love for the river. Several local dogs have learned they can catch a bus ride to the river bank.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They was waiting right there by the road. And normally our bus drivers -- they see them so they open the door and there's a tassel full of them. They jump in the boat and then they greet everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they do it all the time. They get on, they ride the bus up to the farm. And when they get to the farm, they'll pick out somebody they like and they'll float down the river, ride a while, swim a while, eat a few good groceries, you know, whatever they can beg.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, pretty cool.

DUNN: Denise Loser (ph) doesn't mind giving a ride to the dogs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last time I came, they had told me about the dogs. And then there he was following us. We were in the bus and he was just chasing us down the road in the bus. And they had told me they'd come and he always rides with him.

DUNN: But once on the water, the dog called Roscoe, usually catches a ride on the canoe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He just jumped in. I didn't even notice when he got in, actually. I just turned around and he was there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're just free entities. I don't claim ownership of anything. I want them to feel like they're having their own life.

DUNN: Heathcock says the dogs just found their way to his farm and he feeds them, but they do pull their weight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They earn their keep. You know, they keep the coyotes out of the field and the raccoons out of the garden. And you know, they do their purpose. They earn their food.

DUNN: And they know how to relax and have a good time on the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's their life, it's a good life, it's a river dog's life.

DUNN: On the Red River, Todd Dunn, News 2.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: I love that story.

CNN NEWSROOM continues one hour from now.

"ISSUE #1" with Gerri Willis starts right now.