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CNN NEWSROOM

The Final Presidential Debate to Take Place at Hofstra University Tonight; Retail Numbers Continue to Decline

Aired October 15, 2008 - 10:00   ET

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


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
A final face-off for the presidential candidates. That's right, it is debate night tonight. The third and final debate between Barack Obama and John McCain ending a long debate season that started early last year, more than 40 debates ago.

Our Jessica Yellin and Ed Henry are both at the debate site at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. With more on the candidate's plan of attack for this final debate, let's go ahead and start with Jessica now on the Obama campaign. It has been a very long road, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can't believe it's been 40 debates. That surprised me when you said that. It has been a very long road with that epic primary season and all of this, Barack Obama knows tonight it's the final chance for both him and John McCain to make their case before the American people with enough time for folks to change their mind.

So what Barack Obama wants to do tonight is focus in on his economic message which he says he's going to continue selling. He's saying that he's targeting the middle class while John McCain wants to help the richest Americans and also bat back what he expects to be aggressive attacks on him both about his connection to Bill Ayers, the former weather underground bomber and other you know attacks that he's going to raise taxes, et cetera.

They say they're ready for this. They know John McCain wants to attack and they just want to point out that they think it's "erratic." That is the buzzword the Obama campaign keeps using. I'm sure Ed Henry will have a different take on whether or not -

COLLINS: Yes. Ed, how is the McCain camp going to handle those claims that they really just want to or John McCain in particular just really just wants to help the rich?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously they're going to be pushing back hard. They're insisting that their tax cuts will trickle down. You hear the Obama camp saying essentially that their tax cuts will trickle up, they want to focus more on the middle class. As Jessica said, there's buzzwords on both sides.

I think the key challenge for John McCain is to try to strike that balance in terms of going negative, but also staying somewhat positive in terms of explaining what he would do as president specifically to fix the economy, deal with issue number one. And frankly, that's a tough balancing act.

When we're out on the campaign trail with John McCain, we literally hear people in the crowd, like we did in Wisconsin last week. There was one gentleman who stood up and said I'm begging you, I'm begging you, take it to Obama in this third debate. And essentially, you know, go harder, be more aggressive. But then you pick up the "New York Times" this morning, their latest poll suggesting that some of the attacks that are perceived to be negative by some voters end up back firing on John McCain and may actually be contributing to him slipping behind in these battleground states.

So John McCain sort of darned if he does, darned if he doesn't. If he doesn't push hard enough, he's going to have his supporters saying you're not really taking it to Obama. But if he crosses that line and is perceived to be angry, erratic as Jessica said, it could really backfire with independent voters. It's a very, very delicate balancing act, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. CNN's Ed Henry and Jessica Yellin both outside Hofstra University. We will all be watching. You see the debate countdown clock there in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. So we are now just a few hours away guys.

In fact, here is a quick look now at the rules for tonight's debate. You might find this interesting. The focus of course is domestic policy. So they will be spending a lot of time on the economy. John McCain will be getting the first question and then each candidate gets two minutes to answer the moderator's question and then there will be about five minutes set aside for further discussion. The candidates are then encouraged to talk directly to each other. This is the same format as the first debate. Bob Schieffer will be moderating tonight.

Again, that final face off for John McCain and Barack Obama tonight in Hempstead, New York. The debate gets underway, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. So be sure to join the best political team on television for expert analysis and opinion both before and after the debate.

Another note now, we have some new numbers to share with you on what's happening in those key battleground states that we talked so much about. The new CNN opinion research polls look at how voters are leaning in Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Georgia and Missouri. We're going to have those coming up for you next hour.

And while the presidential candidates prepare for tonight's debate, the second fiddles are taking center stage. Democrat Joe Biden has events today in Ohio. Ohio, of course, one of the key swing states. That's where Obama has been the last couple of days preparing for the debate tonight.

Then on the Republican side Sarah Palin is in New Hampshire today. In early September John McCain led in New Hampshire by five points. The latest CNN poll from last week shows Obama now holds an eight-point lead there.

COLLINS: Your money, issue number one. Wall Street likely one of your top concerns. Looking at the markets now, Dow Jones industrial averages are down about 238 points at the current moment. We, of course, will be watching how things sort of filter out throughout the day here.

Meanwhile, Americans holding on to their wallets in this very uncertain economy. Dismal new numbers this morning. Retail sales plunge by 1.2 percent last month. What's that mean? Well, nearly double the figure that was expected. And at the White House President Bush meeting with his cabinet on the nation's financial crisis. Today's focus, the government's plan to buy an ownership stake in troubled banks. And while you were sleeping, overseas markets, mostly sink and end a two-day rally. One key reason for that, rising doubt that international efforts can actually head off a global recession.

Let's step back for just a moment and take a look at the bigger picture. And to walk us all through all of that, CNN's Christine Romans in New York. Hi there, once again, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Heidi. Let's talk about the retail sales numbers first because this is, as one economist said this morning a hideous number. And a lot of people are expecting more like it down the road. A 1.2 percent decline in retail sales for September. This is a number that's usually measured in a few tenths of a percent. It was the largest drop in two years but maybe even more significant, Heidi, is three months in a row now of declines. We haven't seen that in 15 years.

Make no mistake, the American consumer no matter digs into his or her pocket and spends. We almost see spending increases. To see three declines in a row shows you that Americans are feeling falling home values, the financial crisis and the jobs market that's starting to get soft. I made a map for you to show you sort of the economic conditions around the country rather. And you can see green is good but those red states are showing that they are suffering on jobs, on foreclosures, on GDP, on personal income.

2.5 million American households likely to fall into foreclosure this year. Maybe half of them will actually lose their house and already 750,000 jobs have been lost. So is it any wonder people I think the people aren't going to the car dealerships. They aren't going to the mall. They aren't going to the casino. They are pulling in. And in some cases, Heidi, because they can't spend anymore because they're defaulting on their credit cards and nobody is lending them the money to spend more. So this will be very important to watch.

Now Jessica, Janet rather, Yellen, sorry I've been trying to make it. Jessica Yellin works for us.

COLLINS: Yes, understood.

ROMANS: Janet Yellen is a regional Fed president and she last night in a speech used the word recession. She said it appears the economy is in a recession. She said this isn't controversial.

This is something that a lot of economists have already said that they think is happening, and we can see from some of these numbers that it looks like the American people are already feeling it. The Fed doesn't declare a recession. And this is one regional president. But they're very careful about using their words. So it shows you that policymakers are quite aware of what's happening here -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, no doubt about that. People though may not quite be aware of one of the major things, you already mentioned it. And that is the credit freeze. We're seeing a little thaw there. Are we likely to see more of that?

ROMANS: Seeing a little bit of a thaw. It's been a couple days now. You know, there's still some concerns that banks are holding on to their money. And that's one of the things we're trying to figure out, how to gauge whether the administration's actions have been working. Will the banks start to loan money or even with the recapitalization, there's no guarantee they're going to go out and do what the government wants. After all, the government didn't take board seats or anything. They are passive investors. So there's a big hope that these banks are going to do what the government wants them to do and get them out there and start loaning the money so that we can get the credit market working again. Some of the very near- term indicators that we're watching. This is the second day now we've been able to report, they are showing some signs that borrowing costs are coming down as banks are lending to each other overnight. And that's just the very beginning of the crack of that problem.

COLLINS: It's going to take some time.

ROMANS: It's going to take some time and patience. There's not a lot of patience on Wall Street. And people are really looking for some concrete signs that things are turning around but we can say - I mean, we can we are still in the beginning of all these, Heidi.

COLLINS: Absolutely. All right. CNN's Christine Romans from New York this morning. Christine, thanks for that.

ROMANS: Four months after three-year-old Caylee Anthony went missing, her mother is charged with murder. A teary-eyed Casey Anthony was in an Orange County, Florida court today for an arraignment hearing. She was first considered a person of interest, then a suspect in the case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWSON LAMAR, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: An experienced Orange County grand jury has heard sworn testimony, and they returned a seven-count indictment against Casey Anthony.

SHERIFF KEVIN BEARY: And despite the charges filed against Mrs. Anthony today, I want to remind everyone that we have not achieved our primary objective in this investigation. We have not recovered little Caylee Anthony.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Caylee Anthony disappeared in mid June. But it was about a month before Casey Anthony reported her that daughter was missing.

An A.C.O.R.N. not falling from the candidate's tree. Barack Obama and John McCain's connections to a group being investigated for possible voter registration fraud.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Ohio under pressure to verify newly registered voters. A federal appeals court has given Ohio's secretary of state until Friday to put a system into place to do just that. It also requires Ohio to use other government records to double check the names. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Ohio Republicans concerned about possible voter fraud.

In recent days allegations has surfaced about one group in particular. Some of the voters it as registered. The McCain campaign is charging fraud. The Obama campaign calls the group's efforts unneeded. CNN's Brian Todd with a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In northern Indiana more than 2,000 bogus voter registration forms, some in the names of dead people. In Las Vegas, an office raid turns up registration forms with names of Dallas Cowboys players.

Incidents tied to the group ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform now. The group faces investigations in several states for voter registration fraud. Its officials say they turn in all the bogus registrations to election officials. And they say temporary workers they hired defrauded them.

KEVIN WHELAN, ACORN SPOKESMAN: When we catch them, we fire them. But it's also important to us to prosecute them.

TODD: ACORN was established in 1970 as a grassroots movement to bring lower income people into the political process. It claims its voter registration efforts are nonpartisan. But ACORN's political wing has officially endorsed Barack Obama. The democratic nominee has ties to ACORN dating back more than a decade. He conducted two training sessions for ACORN leaders in the late 1990s, was on a team of lawyers that represented ACORN and other groups including the Justice Department in a 1995 voter related lawsuit.

And during the primaries, Obama's campaign paid $800,000 to a group that sub contracted out to ACORN But Obama's campaign now denies close affiliations to the group, says the allegations of fraud should be investigated.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As an elected official, I've had interactions with them, but they're not advising our campaign.

TODD: John McCain has been relentless in recent attacks on ACORN

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Someone keeps yelling ACORN, ACORN. Now let me just say to you there are serious allegations of voter fraud in the battleground states across America. They must be investigated.

TODD: But McCain has himself stood on the same podium with ACORN leaders.

WHELAN: On the issue of immigration reform and coming up with a safe and legal and fair path to citizenship, Senator McCain had appeared with us at rallies. He seemed friendly enough to our members.

TODD: He's referring to a 2006 immigration rally in Miami sponsored by ACORN, People for the American Way and others.

TODD (on-camera): McCain's aides say he was only there to address people who supported his immigration reform bill and they say he never endorsed ACORN's agenda. A McCain aide says "we have nothing to do with those guys." Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: McCain or Obama? Irma Schmidt is keeping mum about who she supports. At 110 years of age, she hopes to make it to the polls on election day. After all she's voted in every election for the past 88 years. The first time, 1920, right after women were given the right to vote. Her choice that year, Warren Harding.

Their homes gone, their hearts broken. What victims of the California wildfires are saying as they sift through the rubble.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Lighter winds spell some relief for firefighters battling deadly wildfires in southern California. The fires in several communities in San Fernando Valley burned more than 13,000 acres now. The blaze has been fueled by hot, dry, Santa Ana winds. But calmer winds today should help firefighters gain some ground on this. At least two people died in the fires. Thousands have had to evacuate.

Seeing your home reduced to rubble by fire was an awful thing to experience. And some people in one California community are just breaking down. Reporter Stacy Butler of affiliate KCAL has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARILYN WALLS, FIRE VICTIM: I don't know where to go anymore.

STACY BUTLER, REPORTER, KCAL: When Marilyn Walls moved from Illinois with her brother and sister-in-law, she hoped for a fresh start.

WALLS: I came out here to try to start again.

BUTLER: Instead, her new beginning turned to ash when early Sunday morning she was evacuated from her Lopez Canyon mobile home. She and her family returned to their home for the first time to see what they could salvage.

KATHY CHELLY, FIRE VICTIM: All our wedding pictures and all of the things that I lost. It's not replaceable.

BUTLER: Kathy Chelly had just started a cake baking business out of her home. Display cases are now twisted metal and cake toppers of happy families and Halloween ghouls are haunting reminders of how much they lost in the fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were literally on top of the world, and now we're gone with the wind.

BUTLER: Just down the road -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was the living room right here. It was a two-bedroom, two-bath.

BUTLER: David Bixler had few words to describe how in a matter of minutes he lost everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terrible.

BUTLER: Until he returned, he says, it didn't seem real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to see if there's any jewelry or anything, or anything - I did have some coins. There's one right there.

BUTLER: It's not what he was hoping was still intact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's more things I wish I could have gotten you know out of here, like pictures of my two daughters, my granddaughter, stuff like that.

BUTLER: For everything the fire consumed, these mobile homeowners say it only managed to fan their faith.

CHELLY: I feel that some reason, something is going to come good out of it, and I don't know what yet. It's not up to me to ask questions. But we're hoping.

BUTLER: The manager says of these 16 mobile homes in this park, more than half burned to the ground. No word yet on when all the residents will be allowed to return to their homes.

In Lopez Canyon, Stacey Butler, KCAL 9 News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Really tough to watch some of those stories, always so devastating for people who lose their homes and their belongings. Some of those evacuation orders we do know have been lifted in particular areas. Rob Marciano here now with the very latest on the fire situation.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Well, good news Heidi. Today, the winds are going to be less. We still have very low levels of humidity. We still have a bit of an offshore breeze. And but the numbers today as far as peak wind gusts will be less than what we saw yesterday. Fremont Canyon, 74-mile-an-hour wind gusts.

So that was a little bit less than the day before but certainly a battle was going on yesterday. So the winds will be lighter today, but relative humidities will be low and because of that critical fire danger still posted. And there will be locally gusty winds in the favored areas near those canyons, at the higher elevations. So tomorrow should be a better day. Obviously looking to get more of an on-shore push. But we don't really expect that to happen.

A quick shot of the chopper showing LAX. Looks like the chopper showing something right now. A lot of fog, a lot of smoke being reported in and around the L.A. area, as you can imagine. Most of the fires are north of L.A. but the winds have been blowing out of the north-northeast. So a lot of that smoke heading towards the city itself. KCLA, our affiliate, giving us that live chopper shot. And a quick peak at LAX itself, closer to the coastline. So the visibility there OK. Temps right now in the lower 60s. You may very well touch upper 80s to near 90s. So that offshore wind certainly helps cook things.

Speaking of cooking, the Caribbean is doing just that. Late in the hurricane season we got a hurricane, Omar, category one storm with winds of 80 miles an hour. We'll get an update in about 20 minutes to how strong this thing is.. You can see the clouds going from the southwest up towards the northeast. That's where the upper level winds are. Those where the steering currents are. So that's the direction that's moving in. We'll continue to move. Northeasterly movement now about seven miles an hour. That will bring the center of it just to the east of Puerto Rico.

So the Virgin Islands and northern Leeward Islands will be getting hit with this late tonight, through early tomorrow, likely as a category 2 storm. So there will be some rough weather here for about a 12-hour period and then it will increase in a forward speed beginning tomorrow morning. This is tropical depression number 16, just hugging the coast of Honduras. It could very well become our next tropical storm. The good news with this storm, at least as far as the U.S. is concerned, it will continue to head west across Belize and across into parts of Central America, into Guatemala.

If you're traveling by plane, be it the Caribbean or elsewhere, Newark, you got some delays. Houston, Intercontinental, 30 minute delays, and LaGuardia has 30 minute delays as well on the departure side. And they will be on the increase.

Warm air across much of the eastern third of the country. In some cases it's been record breaking the past couple of days and a block in all the weather that wants to come from the west. This is where the cool air. This is what's been forcing those cool winds which heat up as they go down to the valleys into the southern California area. That will begin to moderate as well as we go into tomorrow. Rains today, Heidi, from the midsection of the country through the northern Great Lakes. But 80 degrees in D.C., mid October.

COLLINS: Maybe that's where we should be.

MARCIANO: Pretty nice.

COLLINS: Not so bad here either.

MARCIANO: Every American should go to D.C. at least once every other year.

COLLINS: That's right. Learn their history. All right, Rob. Thanks for the recommendation.

MARCIANO: All right. See you.

COLLINS: Atlantic City, you can bet the house, but you better not light up, at least not on the floor of any of the city's 11 casinos. For the first time in 30 years, gamblers will not be allowed to smoke at the tables or slots. They can though retreat to enclosed smoking lounges. The smoking ban is due to last 12 days. Casino officials say the sour economy and plunging revenues make this a terrible time to offend any customers. Wolf Blitzer in fact, talked to casino owner, Donald Trump about the whole situation. You can check that out. The interview will happen today on "The Situation Room."

Formula for financial success, the government pumping $250 billion of your money into banks. How the plan is supposed to work?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: All right. Countdown to the final presidential debate. That is our countdown clock. We are at about 10 hours, 31 minutes or so. Make sure you catch all the action right here on CNN, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

One of the issues that will be discussed tonight is certainly going to be the economy, as you imagine. There are many stories to talk about. There are many plans to talk about there, of course. And most of them deal in the billions of dollars. Our CNN's senior business correspondent Allan Chernoff is joining us now to talk a little more about that.

What can we expect to hear, Allan, regarding these plans? I mean, do you think the candidates are actually going to talk detail about how all of this is going to work and how it will affect the American people?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I think they have to acknowledge - that is the number one issue right now without a question. I mean, the candidates are going to have to have some plan to really address this. And we have heard something from the candidates along those lines. I mean, certainly the candidates want to deal with this clear economic crisis that we're confronting right now, and we've had solid steps, certainly a lot from the Obama camp in terms of stimulus plans and trying to reinvigorate the economy, trying to create some tax incentives over here.

This would all compliment the plan that the administration announced only yesterday. The leading step over there is injecting capital into banks, $250 billion into the banking system. This is absolutely historic. It's not what the Treasury secretary originally wanted to do. But the economic crisis is so severe that his hand was basically forced.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): The continuing freezing of the lending market threatens to bring the economy to a standstill. So Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had to revise his crisis playbook. Because his original plan to buy toxic investments from banks failed to inspire confidence. He needed more.

BERT ELY, BANKING ANALYST, ELY & COMPANY: This is seen as not only a compliment to the troubled asset program, but also something that might be able to be implemented faster.

CHERNOFF: Step one, taxpayers will become part owners of private banks. An exceptional move rarely taken in American history and never done on this large a scale. Washington will invest $250 billion into banks in the coming days by buying special shares that will pay a 5 percent dividend. The intent is for bankers to take the money and lend it.

HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY: The needs of our economy require that our financial institutions not take this new capital to hoard it, but to deploy it.

CHERNOFF: Step two, effective immediately, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will help banks borrow money by guaranteeing bonds they issue through next summer.

Step three, also effective immediately, the FDIC is insuring business deposits at banks in non-interest bearing accounts. Both FDIC programs are free for the next month. Then banks will be charged a fee.

SHEILA BAIR, FDIC CHAIRWOMAN: The lack of confidence is driving the current turmoil. And it is the lack of confidence that these guarantees are designed to address.

CHERNOFF: Step four, the Federal Reserve will help major companies borrow by buying three month corporate I-O-U's, known as commercial paper.

And step five, the core of Paulson's original plan, buying toxic investments from banks through complex auctions that are still at least four weeks away from implementation, according to the Treasury. The government hopes to eventually make money by reselling the securities.

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: We will not stand down until we have achieved our goals of repairing and reforming our financial system and thereby restoring prosperity to our economy.

CHERNOFF: The hope is that gradually all five steps together will thaw the credit freeze to rescue the U.S. from a severe recession.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Will it work? Well, the lending freeze is showing signs of thawing. We've seen some key interest rates beginning to creep lower. But they remain at historically high levels.

The bottom line is that restarting the financial system is a process. And experts say the U.S. has now laid a foundation upon which to rebuild confidence -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. And we hope that happens obviously, as we look at the Dow Jones Industrial averages right there below you, Allan. Down now, 276 points. Still obviously talking about credit here. So, we want to keep our eye on that, as well.

And now to another story to tell you about. A potential hijacking foiled. It happened this morning aboard a Turkish airlines flight on the way to St. Petersburg, Russia. Turkey's Aviation Authority says a drunk man tried to take over the flight. Other officials say the man handed a note to a flight at the attendant claiming he had a bomb. They say he was overpowered though by other passengers. No explosives were found.

Another pirate attack off the coast of Somalia, this morning. A cargo ship heading from the Middle East to Asia, was captured in the Gulf of Aden. There are 21 crew members on board. The latest act comes as NATO ships start their move to the area and U.S. Military leaders examine long-term solutions to the growing piracy problem. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joining us now live to explain.

Yes, I mean clearly, this is not the first time we've seen this happen in this area.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Not the first time, Heidi. But CNN has learned that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen now considers the piracy situation so serious that he has asked his senior staff to try and come up with some potential solutions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Nearly a dozen cargo ships held by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The Fiena is surrounded by U.S. Navy war ships. It's carrying Russian tanks, rockets and other weapons.

The Pentagon says pirates won't be allowed to unload the deadly cargo into Somalia. Nearby, a reported $200 million ransom just paid to free a ship carrying tons of minerals and other industrial products. Analysts worry the cargo included dangerous chemicals. In the vital shipping lanes of the horn of Africa, pirate attacks a have become intolerable says one U.S. Military official. There are growing worries some of the estimated $20 to $30 million paid in ransom by ship owners so far this year, is finding its way into terrorist hands.

ROGER MIDDLETON, ROYAL INSTITUTE OF INT'L AFFAIRS: This may potentially become an area where terrorists see a very lucrative and potentially high profile target.

STARR: Roger Middleton authored a piracy analysis now widely circulated in the U.S. Military. He warns terrorists trying to get ransom money, also could trigger an environmental disaster.

MIDDLETON: I think that this really is a major concern. That an oil tanker, I suppose is the most likely target, is attacked and forced to run aground or set on fire.

STARR: Pirates know ship owners will pay ransom. 16,000 ships a year pass through the region carrying not just oil, but also goods from Asia and India.

NATO is sending war ships to help patrol the region. But U.S. Navy officials say there will never be enough ships to stop pirates completely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So what are the solutions? Well, Heidi, you see they are huge economic and security implications in the region. U.S. Military officials say they have very little jurisdiction to get involved in this activity as long as it's criminal activity. And so far there is no proven link to terrorism. But it's what they are worried about -- Heidi?

COLLINS: So, are we talking about -- because it's international waters here?

STARR: Indeed. You know, they can't just go around they say, on U.S. Navy war ships and stop commercial cargo shipping, board it and say you know, are there criminal pirates on board. And if there is terrorism, there is international legal jurisdiction to do that.

But most of this right now is just massive criminal activity. But big bucks, up to $30 million now being paid in ransom. And the question is, is that $30 million finding its way into terrorist hands in the region -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. Clearly that is the question and big concern.

All right. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, thank you.

STARR: Sure. COLLINS: Boy, there's a full menu of financial news to digest today whether you're hungry or not. Are investors feeling queasy though? We're going to check Wall Street in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BUSINESS HEADLINES)

COLLINS: A new school is proving Kermit the Frog wrong. It's much easier to be green than you may think, and apparently much cheaper, too. CNNMoney.com's Poppy Harlow visited the school where "Energy Fix" is being taught brick by brick.

But, Poppy, are the kids not happy that Kermy could have been wrong?

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: They're totally psyched because they have a really cool looking new school. We visited it a few weeks ago. And with the economy, Heidi, in a tailspin, it is pretty tough to get new projects approved, let alone bills, especially when they cost just a bit more to be environmentally friendly or green. One school, though, is learning the paybacks are coming quickly and the benefits are many.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW (voice-over): In St. Joseph, Minnesota, the new Kennedy Elementary School may look fairly typical, except, of course, for the wind turbine out front and the solar panel on the roof. But it's what you can't see that makes this school unique. Beneath this tennis court lies 240 geothermal loops that sink 20 feet into the ground. The result -- heat and air conditioning from the earth. Window panels designed to bring more sunlight in so the lights can stay off even late in the day.

DAVID LEAPALDT, PRESIDENT, GLT ARCHITECTS: We actually have lighting on sensors. And the sensors turn the lights on or off depending on how much daylight there is in the classroom.

HARLOW: Some experts claim daylight can improve test scores and mental health. Anther benefit, the architect says the school is designed to be 49 percent more energy efficient than conventional schools.

But that efficiency comes at a cost. School officials say it was approximately 3 percent more expensive to build than conventional schools, but the energy savings should help the school return its investment in just five years. And the added bonus?

DIANE MOELLER, PRINCIPAL, KENNEDY ELEMENTARY: It started out to be more of a money saving and energy saving measure, and as soon as we started planning it, we realized it could be a teaching tool for our students.

LEAPALDT: We put a building up that is teaching the kids. And our goal is to raise a generation of environmental learners. HARLOW: And they hope the kids will watch the energy conservation at work.

MOELLER: We're hoping that the students will be able to go to any computer, logon and decide which type of energy source do we have today that would be the most efficient.

HARLOW: These things that look like lights aren't lights at all. They're solar tubes bringing sunlight to even windowless hallways.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: And you know, Heidi, we visited the school at about 6:00 in the evening and they really had no lights on at all, not using much energy at all. They hope it's going to be a model for schools around the country. Pretty cool.

COLLINS: Yes, very cool.

All right, Poppy, appreciate that.

HARLOW: Sure.

COLLINS: Quickly want to get this news out to you because it is just now coming into us here in the CNN NEWSROOM. One of vice president Dick Cheney's campaign events has been canceled today. This was for Congressman Marty Ozinga, in Homer Glen, Illinois, because apparently he went to the doctor this morning and they found that he is experiencing a recurrence of that atrial fibrillation.

We told you about this a while back. And just as a reminder, it's an abnormal rhythm in the upper chambers of the heart. So, later on today the vice president is going to go to George Washington University Hospital and get that rhythm restored back to normal. So again, Vice President Dick Cheney will not be attending the campaign event that was scheduled for Congressman Marty Ozinga in Homer Glen, Illinois today.

Millions of Americans out of work, as you well know. And some states running out of cash. So if you lose your job, will there be money for your unemployment benefits?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Tonight is the night for the final presidential debate, and there is the countdown clock, just over 10 hours away. Of course, you can see that debate happening right here on CNN at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. In fact, as we said, the last one between John McCain and Barack Obama before Americans head to the polls. So there is a live shot for you. Hofstra University, in New York is the site, issue #1, the economy, likely to be the main topic of debate.

Both men still trying to sway undecided voters. And wouldn't you know new polls from key battleground states are coming out right before the debate. So, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is at Hofstra University just waiting to crunch some of those numbers. I wish you could crunch some of the numbers that are right below you, the Dow now down about 340 points, just pointing that out for everyone who is watching those numbers as well. Bill, tell us a little about what these polls are saying?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well what's happening is we're releasing five polls in -- most of them in battleground states, the heavily contested states. These are the polls that really matter because, given the electoral college system, of course, there is no national election. There are 51 separate elections in 50 states and the District of Columbia. At noon today, just a little over an hour from now, we will be releasing the latest standings between Obama and McCain in Colorado, Florida, Missouri and Virginia, all of which are hotly contested battleground states, and the state of Georgia where you are now.

That's not supposed to be a battleground state, but the candidates more recently have been paying attention to Georgia, in part because there are two minor party candidates, Bob Barr and Cynthia McKinney, on the ballot who are from Georgia. So no one knows exactly how this is going to turn out even in the state of Georgia, which ought to be a reliable Republican state.

So those five states, we'll have the numbers for you a little over an hour from now.

COLLINS: OK. Well let's talk for a moment, if we could, before we let you go, Bill, about how important these states are. When it comes down to, you already mentioned, that electoral map.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. The electoral map is crucial. You need 270 electoral votes to win this election. Right now, on the CNN electoral map, we have McCain with a total of 200 -- I'm sorry -- Obama with a total of 264 electoral votes. That's just six shy of a majority.

The states that I just mentioned, except for Georgia, four of the states I just mentioned, Colorado, Virginia, Missouri, are all battleground states. They're in the toss-up -- Florida -- they're all in the toss-up category. And I think -- yes, all of them have more than six electoral votes. So if any one of those states goes to Obama, he'll be over the top, at least by our count, in the number of electoral votes he needs to win the election.

COLLINS: Which is 20 days to go now. All right. We appreciate it.

Thank you -- senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

COLLINS: Again, just a quick reminder, final face-off for John McCain, Barack Obama tonight -- Hempstead, New York. Join the best political team on television for debate night in America, live from that scene right there -- 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Millions of Americans out of work. For many, their only safety net is the government check for unemployment benefits. But the nation's struggling economy has put many states at risk of running out of money.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester explains what it could mean to you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Out of work and out of luck, workers have been crushed by job layoffs. In the Ohio, the unemployment rate is 7.4 percent. In the last year, the number of people seeking unemployment checks from the state has surged 63 percent. Helen Jones-Kelley, director of the state's job and family services, says the state is paying out $34 million a week for unemployment benefits.

HELEN JONES-KELLEY, OHIO DEPT. OF JOB AND FAMILY SERVICES: This is really critical for people who are transitioning from jobs, who are finding themselves, through no fault of their own, down sized or outsized and needing to call upon the government to assist them.

SYLVESTER: Ohio's unemployment picture is key. It is a battleground state in the presidential election, struggling to keep up with massive layoffs. Ohio, Missouri, Michigan and New York could see their unemployment benefit funds tapped out by the end of this year. Six other states have less than six months reserves, according to analysis by the National Employment Law Project.

The impacted states fall across the political spectrum, those that lean Republican and Democratic. States that run out of money will likely have to turn to the federal government.

ANDREW STETTNER, NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT LAW PROJECT: It means they're going to have to borrow from the federal government. So they're going to have to repay that debt and potentially pay interest, or the employers in their state may face federal tax penalties.

SYLVESTER: One option that is not on the table, cutting off benefits to workers. The states will continue to make sure workers receive their unemployment compensation.

(on camera): Ohio is a state that will likely to borrow from the federal government. State officials anticipate the interest alone could be $300 million. State officials would prefer Congress provide an infusion of money as an alternative to a loan.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: OK, now here is some good news about money. Somebody is going door-to-door handing out checks. It's happening in Nebraska. State treasure, Shane Osborn, is on a mission to return unclaimed funds to rightful family members. Madonna Hollander got a check for 23,000 bucks from bonds her late sister left behind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADONNA HOLLANDER, RECEIVED A CHECK: I don't know whether she just plain forgot it, or they thought it was no good. I have no idea. I have no idea, but it's fine with me.

SHANE OSBORN, NEBRASKA STATE TREASURER: We want to make sure that everybody gets their money coming to them and then we want to make sure that it's not some type of a scam, it's really us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Wow. Osborn says Hollander is one of a quarter million Nebraskans who have unclaimed property being held by the state. He says one man is due as much as $160,000.

Little dog, big mystery. What's coming out of Frankie's ears has everybody scratching their heads.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Well that faint screeching you hear is actually coming from the ears of this pooch near Cleveland, Ohio. His owner says she first noticed the high pitched squeal when Frankie nuzzled up close to her face. Her vet is baffled. She says the mystery is really nagging at her. But Frankie, well as you can see, doesn't even seem to notice it.

I'm Heidi Collins. Join me again tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

For now, CNN NEWSROOM continues with Tony Harris.

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