Return to Transcripts main page


Reforming Health Care; Health Care Battle; GOP In-Fighting; Driven to Distraction; California in Crisis

Aired May 11, 2009 - 19:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening everybody.

President Obama pushes a $2 trillion plan trying to slow the rapid growth of health care spending over the next decade, this as the White House struggles to control the skyrocketing federal budget deficit. Also, former Vice President Dick Cheney escalating the showdown over the Republican Party's future with a verbal assault on Colin Powell -- Cheney in effect aligning himself with Limbaugh in what is increasingly a very nasty battle. No obvious winners.

And America's obsession with technology is having now dangerous and sometimes fatal consequences. We'll have a special report tonight for you on the rising number of accidents being blamed on texting while driving.

And the state of California spiraling out of control -- we'll have what I'm sure will be a lively discussion and debate in our face- off tonight.

We begin with the president's new effort trying to sell his health care agenda. The president today declared that health care costs are out of control and that we are traveling down what he called a dangerous road. President Obama praised the health care industry for its promise to cut $2 trillion in health care costs over the next decade.

That would be a reduction of 1.5 percent in the annual growth rate of higher health care spending. Critics of the plan, however, say it's long on rhetoric and very short, indeed, on specifics. Jill Dougherty reports from the White House.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president stood side by side with leaders from six major health care trade organizations.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's brought us all together today is a recognition that we can't continue down the same dangerous road we've been traveling for so many years. The costs are out of control and the reform is not a luxury that can be postponed but a necessity that cannot wait.

DOUGHERTY: Fifteen years ago, some of those leaders helped kill the Clinton administration's attempts at reform with the so-called Harry and Louise ads. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coverage we can keep even if we change or lose our jobs. Coverage we can afford.

DOUGHERTY: Their pledge now, reduce the growth in health care spending and save $2 trillion over 10 years. It's all voluntary and House Republican Leader John Boehner says there's no enforcement mechanism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen to those who already have government- run health care.

DOUGHERTY: And there's a new group called Conservatives for Patient's Rights that plans to spend 15 to $20 million on TV and Internet ads.

RICK SCOTT, CONSERVATIVES FOR PATIENT'S RIGHTS: We have a system that works. It doesn't work perfectly. Let's solve those -- fix those problems, not change the whole system.

DOUGHERTY: This time Democrats control Capitol Hill. But the president says there is work to do.

OBAMA: The only way these steps will have an enduring impact is if they are taken not in isolation but as part of a broader effort to reform our entire health care system.


DOUGHERTY: Now those potential savings are contingent upon getting health care reform passed by the end of this year. And that is what the president says he wants. But details of the plan, that is the question. He's laid out general principles but details are still a big question mark, Lou.

DOBBS: So how in the world can anyone say it's a $2 trillion plan when it's talking about 1.5 percent reduction from the rate of growth in the cost of escalating cost of health care over the next decade?

DOUGHERTY: It's not savings, Lou, in the sense of direct savings. It's savings because of the increase going up. And it would save potentially what Americans would spend. But it's not as if you are getting -- they are talking about $2,500 off. It's not that. It is potentially slowing the rate of increase.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much, Jill -- Jill Dougherty from the White House.

The health care industry's promise to cut $2 trillion in the reduction in the rate of growth in spending over the next decade well sounds impressive to some. But despite those promised reductions in the rate of growth and higher health care costs, those costs will not only continue to rise. They will rise rapidly.

This year, the United States is likely to spend $2.5 trillion alone on health care, private and government. Ten years from now, the White House is forecasting health care spending will be about $3.5 trillion, even with the savings announced today. That spending in 2019 would represent just about 18 percent of our total economy compared with the almost 17 percent we spend now on health care.

Critics of today's health care announcement say the president is being overly optimistic about what can be achieved. They say the health care industry is giving few details of how it could slow the rate of cost increases. Those same critics say previous efforts to limit health care spending have failed. Kitty Pilgrim has our report.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A coalition of doctors, drug-makers and other health care providers lined up with the president to make a public pledge to lower health care costs. Most sides agree the plan is better than taking no action at all, but even if those cost savings are realized, there are 46 million uninsured Americans who will need coverage of some kind. That will be expensive. Paul Howard studies medical care with the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute.

PAUL HOWARD, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: Even if providers are saying we're going to lower costs over the next 10 years, the money for a coverage expansion, about the same amount is going to be coming out of taxpayer dollars.

PILGRIM: President Obama's plan anticipates savings could come from standardizing insurance forms and increasing information technology like electronic medical records. That could take time. And even under this plan, health care costs will continue to rise, points out the public advocacy group Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

PETER PITTS, CENTER FOR MEDICINE IN PUBLIC INTEREST: Taking $2 trillion and somehow, you know, magically moving the numbers around to make it look like costs aren't going up as fast. Again it may be a political victory, but at the end of the day, will it really in essence change the paradigm of the health care crisis in this country?

PILGRIM: Health care groups like the American Medical Association and Medical Technology Association advocate preventative care, such as obesity prevention programs. A low-cost solution they endorse in a letter to the president. Billions in savings can be achieved through a large-scale national effort of health promotion and disease prevention to reduce the prevalence of chronic disease and poor health status, which leads to unnecessary sickness and higher health costs, but it relies on a theoretical assumption that the American public will moderate its unhealthy lifestyle.


PILGRIM: All the different parts of this plan lack specific details on exactly how the savings would be achieved. So while the health care industry appears to be on board, it's an open question how they will react to specific pieces of legislation when they are proposed. Lou? DOBBS: And proposed they likely will be very quickly. All right -- thanks very much, Kitty -- Kitty Pilgrim.

Skyrocketing health care costs are one of the principal underlying causes of a rising federal budget deficit, but only one, the financial and economic crisis also leading to massive spending on government bailouts and declining tax revenues and the impact monstrous. Today the White House reported the budget deficit this year will reach $1.8 trillion.

That's an increase in the federal budget deficit of $89 billion over previous estimates and may rise again. To put the deficit in historical perspective and mathematical perspective, it's four times the record deficit. That record was set just last year by the Bush administration.

Turning now to the swine flu outbreak, there's been a sharp increase in the number of confirmed cases in this country. The Centers for Disease Control today reporting the number of cases in the United States has risen to 2,532. That compares to the figure of 1,639 cases -- 1,639 cases reported just Saturday.

The United States has now more confirmed cases than any other country. So far three swine flu patients have died in this country -- the latest a man in the state of Washington who had pre-existing heart problems. He died last week.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today announced a major shake-up in our military command in Afghanistan. Secretary Gates fired the current top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. Lieutenant General Stanley McCrystol (ph) will be the new commander. He's a former commander of the U.S. Special Operations forces. Gates said it's time for what he called new thinking in Afghanistan.


ROBERT GATES, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Today we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed.


DOBBS: The military shake-up comes amid escalating violence in Afghanistan and on the return of Secretary Gates from Afghanistan. The United States will be sending an additional 21,000 of our troops to Afghanistan. The total there will rise to almost 70,000.

Iran today released an American journalist, Roxana Saberi (ph) who was sentenced to eight years in prison for so-called spying last month. An Iranian appellate court reduced her sentence to a two-year suspended term. The United States said the espionage charges against Saberi (ph) were baseless. Her release comes just after the president called for what he called on Iran to start new beginnings in relations between the United States and Iran. The battle over the future of the Republican Party, well, it goes on and one does not know what the stakes are quite yet, but they are rising. Vice President Dick Cheney launched a new attack and our national obsession with staying connected 24/7 well consequences of that connectivity can be dangerous indeed.


DOBBS: Former Vice President Dick Cheney says President Obama is endangering the country. On CBS "Face The Nation" yesterday, Cheney spoke out about the president's policies on, quote, "harsh interrogations techniques and the closure of Guantanamo Bay".


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we've seen happen with respect to the Obama administration is they came to power, is they have moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe for nearly eight years.


DOBBS: The president responded to those remarks last night. Mr. Obama saying he, quote, "fundamentally disagrees with Dick Cheney".

In that same "Face The Nation," the former vice president fielded some potent in-fighting within the Republican Party. He blasted former Secretary of State Colin Powell and supported radio host Rush Limbaugh. Candy Crowley reports tonight on the growing divide within the Republican Party.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Who speaks for the Republican Party -- apparently everybody. And over the past week that has made for a trifecta of trouble for a party in search of itself. Colin Powell said Rush Limbaugh hurts the Republican Party. Rush Limbaugh said Colin Powell ought to leave the Republican Party. And Sunday, Dick Cheney went back on TV.

CHENEY: Well, if I had to choose, in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh, I think. I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican.

CROWLEY: At the White House that was must-see TV.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Essentially going forward by looking backward. And if the vice president believes that's a way of growing and expanding the Republican Party, then we're happy to leave them to those devices.

CROWLEY: Which is to say Democrats love it when two of the most unpopular Republican figures take on one of the most popular, but lost in that political equation is the fact that Cheney was and remains a favorite of conservative Republicans. His defense of the Bush/Cheney war on terror and his criticism that the Obama administration is making the U.S. less safe have resonance at the heart of the party, which often tunes in to, guess who?

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Dick Cheney is one lone voice in the Republican Party. What motivates Dick Cheney? He is not hot for interns. He has all the money he needs. He's not a torture freak. He doesn't want to run for political office. Dick Cheney is motivated by love for his country.

CROWLEY: Clearly the former vice president is ill suited to the role of retiree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you surprised, sir, you are the one who has to defend the administration that much?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what vice presidents do.

CROWLEY: He is on the political front lines now on defense and on offense because somebody has to do it.

CHENEY: If I don't speak out, then where do we find ourselves, Bob? Then the critics have free run and there isn't anybody there on the other side to tell the truth.


CROWLEY: There is some quiet cringing going on among some Republicans who see the Limbaugh/Powell/Cheney repartee as a damaging destruction, reinforcing criticism that the GOP does not tolerate dissent. Others see the dispute as a necessary part of putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again. Lou?

DOBBS: Well thank you very much, Candy -- Candy Crowley and Humpty-Dumpty going in several directions in the nation's capital over the weekend.

Here's more Washington partisanship tonight. Startling response to the so-called joke delivered at the White House correspondent's dinner this weekend. It wasn't just one joke. And it revealed where loyalties in Washington truly lie.

The annual event brings journalists and the politicians they cover together for a night of, well, comedy and botame (ph). Comedienne Wanda Sykes delivering a joke barbed speech. She, however, then compared Rush Limbaugh to Osama bin Laden and that was just the beginning of the fireworks -- all the while, the president and the audience, for the most part, laughing.


WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: Rush Limbaugh, one of your big critics. Boy, Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails. You know so you are saying I hope America fails. You're like I don't care about people losing their homes or jobs, our soldiers in Iraq. He just wants the country to fail. To me that's treason. He's not saying anything different than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, because I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker but he was just so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight.


SYKES: Too much? OK, OK. Rush Limbaugh -- I hope the country fails. I hope his kidneys fail. How about that?



DOBBS: Funny, huh? Wanda Sykes got laughs from that audience against Limbaugh, even though some of those jokes certainly crossed the line by any definition. But wait, the national media didn't have much of a response today. They seemed to be rather content in their reporting.

Meanwhile, golf commentator David Feherty wrote a joke in "Dallas" (ph) magazine aimed at Democrat Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. He wrote, if you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden, there's a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death.

Feherty since apologized for those comments after the national media harshly criticized him. There's been hardly any criticism, harsh or otherwise, of Wanda Sykes in the national media. And, yes, no apology either.

We'd like to go know what you think. Here's our poll question tonight. Do you believe the national media's reaction Saturday at the White House correspondent's dinner to Wanda Sykes' jokes demonstrated a little bias? Yes or no. Cast your vote at We'll have the results here later in the broadcast.

New developments tonight in the Miss California controversy -- a decision on whether she will keep her title at least for now -- you will have the answers forthcoming.

Also tonight, you'll never believe what one bus driver in Texas was doing while he was driving.


DOBBS: Disturbing new information tonight about that Buffalo to New York aircraft crash in February that killed 50 people. Colgan Air (ph) now says its chief pilot, Captain Marvin Rinslow (ph), had failed five -- five flight tests before the fatal accident. Colgan (ph) admits it was not aware of two of those failed tests.

Only three apparently, because it says Rinslow (ph) did not disclose them on his job application. It also appears that Rinslow (ph) did not have hands-on training with a critical warning system that could have prevented the aircraft from stalling. A National Transportation Safety Board hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.

Another crash last week in Boston apparently caused by a distracted driver -- the operator of a trolley that rammed into another trolley in which dozens of people were injured says he was texting his girlfriend at the time of the crash. This is simply the latest in a series of accidents caused by a worsening obsession with technology and instant gratification. Bill Tucker has our report.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twenty-five people died, 135 were injured in this crash. Investigators say the engineer of the Los Angeles commuter train was texting moments before it happened last September. In Boston last week, 49 people were injured when the driver of this trolley rear-ended a stopped trolley. The driver was texting his girlfriend. This San Antonio bus driver is texting as he drives into the rear of an SUV. There were no deaths, but the driver, two passengers and the driver of the SUV were injured. All of these accidents were easily preventable.

DAVID TEATER, NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL: Thirty-eight thousand people die every year on a roadway. Virginia Tech and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA (ph), have estimated that about 80 percent of accidents and near accidents are caused by driver inattention. And the number one driver inattention is mobile device use.

TUCKER: One trillion text messages were sent just in the United States last year. Text messaging is part of our supposedly multitasking way of living. Even under the best of circumstances, though, researchers at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research say our brains don't deal well with more than one thing at once. Texting behind the wheel of a couple of tons of steel moving down the road is a bad idea.

ROBERT DESIMONE, MIT, MCGOVERN INST. FOR BRAIN RESEARCH: Texting while driving would be sort of the perfect storm of attentional (ph) problems. You are using your visual system for two things at once, so this is the worst situation to be in, texting while driving.

TUCKER: Twenty-six states this year have considered and are still considering laws to ban texting while driving. Eleven states already have laws banning texting -- Alaska, California, Washington, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Minnesota, Utah, Virginia, Arkansas and the District of Columbia.


TUCKER: And don't think hand-free devices offer any relief from any of the dangers. Researchers at MIT, the University of Utah and Carnegie Mellon (ph) say the problem isn't the use or lack of use of hands, Lou. It's the fact that your brain is distracted so you're distracted.

DOBBS: Now what university was it that they made that intelligent, brilliant conclusion? TUCKER: Oh, MIT.

DOBBS: MIT, they did a lot of research on that?

TUCKER: They did some work on that, yes...

DOBBS: And they came up with distraction. Is that right?

TUCKER: Well they came up with much bigger words, but I can't use those words.

DOBBS: Well you know I've got to say lots of people are guilty of texting, using their cell phones and so forth. But it is -- it's -- there's nothing -- this is getting worse and worse, so...

TUCKER: We can laugh about it, but it is a very serious issue, yes.

DOBBS: Well it's a serious issue, but you know at the same time, laws probably won't be the solution here, will they?


DOBBS: All right, Bill, thank you very much -- Bill Tucker.

Some other stories we're following tonight all across the country -- Miss California, we want to bring you right up-to-date. Carrie Prejean will be allowed to keep her crown. Well, at least for another day. Miss California pageant officials criticized Prejean in a news conference today. They were not nice to her. But they said any decision to take away her crown would have to come from a much higher power, namely pageant owner Donald Trump.

Oh, man. Trump will be holding a news conference tomorrow. Now if any of you are beginning to suspect there's any search in all of this for publicity, I just say shame on you and your skeptical nature. Prejean was criticized for her involvement with anti-gay marriage organizations and for not telling the truth about either the existence or the number of photos that some describe as seminude and others describe as lingerie modeling.

And a well-known Catholic priest has admitted to just a two-year affair with a divorced mother from Miami. Father Alberto Cutie -- Cutie known to many as Father Oprah is now considering leaving the priesthood we're told and is apparently thinking now about marrying the woman that he was on the beach cavorting with when the pictures were taken.

The controversy started when photographs were released of him kissing and hugging the woman on the beach, sometimes also known as cavorting. He told the "CBS Early Show" he doesn't want to be the anti-celibacy priest, and he says celibacy is good.

Well, many say the state of California has become something of a symbol of everything that is wrong with the United States. And scientists say that a solar storm could bring a new meaning to what is wrong with this planet.


ANNOUNCER: Here again, Mr. Independent, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Fires, drought, job losses, potential bankruptcy just some of the problems now facing Californians. All of this just days before voters go to the polls to vote on a series of new propositions. Casey Wian has our report.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The news hasn't been good in California. Nearly week-long wildfire has destroyed 80 homes near Santa Barbara, 28 firefighters hurt, 30,000 people evacuated last week. The state is in its third year of droughts, 21 local water districts have ordered mandatory rationing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need water. We need water.

WIAN: Central Valley Farm losses alone could exceed 20,000 jobs and $500 billion.


WIAN: The kidnapping of a 3-year-old boy in San Bernardino remains unsolved. Authorities are looking at whether organized crime from nearby Mexico could be a motive. Mexican drug cartels now operate in 28 California cities, according to the Justice Department. Illegal immigration now costs Los Angeles County taxpayers $1 billion a year in social services, reports one county supervisor.

MIKE ANTONOVICH, LOS ANGELES CO. SUPERVISOR: There is no funds in the bank and yet we're having to make cuts in other areas to support the hundreds of thousands or millions of illegals that are within California.

WIAN: About 1 in 4 California students never finish high school. In Los Angeles, it's 1 in 3. More than 600,000 Californians have lost their jobs in the past year, pushing the unemployment rate above 11 percent. Manny Ramirez, arguably the state's biggest sports star is serving a 50-game suspension for using a performance enhancing drug. Even Miss California may soon be stripped of her title for stripping too far for a camera. And we haven't even mentioned that California is again on the brink of bankruptcy with a wildly unpopular state legislature and governor desperately promoting a recovery plan, voters seem likely to reject.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now at this point, I don't trust any politician.

WIAN: If the budget reform measures fail next week, lawmakers threaten drastic spending cuts.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Our Department of Finance has been drafting options now in case this initiatives fail. If they fail, none of those options are pleasant.

WIAN: Under consideration, layoffs of thousands of teachers and firefighters. The early release of 40,000 prisoners and cuts in health care services.


WIAN: If all that's not enough, there's still that quintessential California threat of a major earthquake. According to the U.S. geological survey, the chance of a quake with a magnitude of 6.7 or above hitting San Francisco or Los Angeles in the next 30 years is about 60 percent, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, I mean, that's a terrific possibility to contemplate. It's too easy to joke about it saying what's next for California. Locusts. But it really does appear that just about anything can go haywire in that state is going haywire.

WIAN: Yes, certainly reminiscent of the early 1990s where we saw natural disasters, a deep recession, the loss of aerospace industry jobs. The riots. California has gone through these boom and bust cycles before. Those of White House live out here are getting used to it, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, let's hope this is a cycle then. Casey, thank you very much; Case Wian.

One of the propositions up for vote in California is proposition 1-A. It's also known as the budget stabilizing act. Joining me now to face off on the issue is state Senator Darrell Steinberg. He is for proposition 1-A saying it will help put California back on fiscal track. And state Senator Tom Harman who opposes proposition 1-A saying it is, in effect, a huge tax burden.

Thank you both for being here. Let me start, if I may. Senator Harman, you oppose the proposition. Why?

TOM HARMAN (R), CALIFORNIA STATE SENATE: Well, first of all, Lou, it's a huge tax increase for California taxpayers. Nearly $16 billion in additional taxes will be pushed on to the taxpayers if this bill initiative passed. California would have the distinction of being the highest taxed state in the country, and middle of a recession with unemployment figures that we're seeing here in California, it's the wrong thing to do.

DOBBS: And why Senator Steinberg, do you think it's the right thing to do given that?


California, unlike the federal government, does not have a printing plant. We have a constitutional obligation to balance our budget. There are only two ways to do that. Make deep cuts and raise new revenues to avoid cuts that no one, not even Mr. Harman, not the Republicans in the legislature, would, frankly, stand behind.

California has lost over $30 billion in revenue as a result of the national and international economic crisis. So we stitched together a $42 billion deficit reduction plan that does include new taxes. And then says that if the voters pass the spending restraint known as proposition 1-A, the taxes will go on for another two years.

I support 1-A because even as a progressive Democrat, I think our system of revenue is far too volatile. It does no good to say to people we're going to expand programs in one year only to have to cut dramatically in another year because we haven't kept enough money in the proverbial rainy day fund. So I think it's good, solid policy, and we need the revenue.

DOBBS: Well, Senator Harman, what's your solution then if you aren't going to pass proposition 1-A?

HARMAN: Well, first of all if 1-A passed, we would still have a huge deficit in multiple billions, and it doesn't really address the need for true structural reform. It's just kind of like kicking the can down the road another mile or two and it will just come back to haunt us again. So we need to address this problem and we can't do it with tax increases. Tax increases should be off the table. It's just not the right thing to do in California today.

DOBBS: So you want to cut services? I mean, that's really the only other option then, right?

HARMAN: That's correct. We need to --

DOBBS: You've already got one of the lousiest education systems in the country. I mean, what in the world are you going to cut?

HARMAN: Well, what we need to do, Lou is send this back to our budget committees and let them prioritize what these cuts will be. I'm not prepared to say cut this or don't cut this. I think we need to have a full transparent out in the open public hearing which, by the way, we did not have when proposition 1-A was brought to us in the middle of the night back in February.

STEINBERG: Well, you know, I think Senator Harman actually voted forward prop 1-A on the floor of the state Senate.

DOBBS: And I'll bet you know, senator. I bet you are just kidding when you say you think he did.

STEINBERG: I know he did. He's a good man and a good friend. But let me tell you this. There's a big difference between the rhetoric of cut, cut, cut and the reality. I would ask Senator Harman and his constituents; do you want to see billions of dollars cut from your public schools? Do you want to see your road projects delayed endlessly? Do you want to see the early release of prisoners in your particular district? I mean, the problem here, frankly, in California is that we have had a minority party that has governed by orthodoxy as opposed to governing for the best interest of the people. The two leaders, the two Republican leaders who voted with the Democrats on this plan both lost their seats. Both lost their leadership positions. And I am sorry; we do not print money in this state. We have to either cut or raise revenue and it may be imperfect, but prop 1-A at least represents the avoidance of catastrophe. Think of where we would be today in California.

DOBBS: No one, senator, watching from outside your state, as I am, I mean, to watch what you all are doing, whether it be the Republican or Democratic party, the state legislature, whether it be the governor. I mean, people around the country are scratching their heads thinking, this is what California thinks of as government? I mean, it's -- it is becoming a -- frankly, to be straight forward about it, gentlemen, your government is a laughing stock around the nation.

STEINBERG: Well, first of all, California is --

DOBBS: Quickly.

STEINBERG: I mean, we're in the midst of a national and international economic recession. We've dropped over $30 billion.

DOBBS: Let me turn to Senator Tom Harman to get his last word, senator.

You get the last word quickly, sir.

HARMAN: Thank you. We just need to learn to spend no more than we take in. We have a spending problem. Let's just decide, here's how much money we have. Now what are we going to spend it on? That's what needs to be done. We don't need a tax increase. That's for sure.

DOBBS: Gentlemen, I'm glad we could help advance the cause of reason in the state of California tonight. We thank you both for being with us.

STEINBERG: Thank you.

DOBBS: Appreciate it.

The government project that is over budget and behind schedule wins an award for, of course, it's America 2009. They won an award for excellence. And officials are scrambling to avoid and then perhaps explain yet another fly-over almost blunder in Manhattan. It just gets better. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Just two weeks after the Air Force One flying over Manhattan sent some people fleeing for cover, the U.S. navy did almost the same thing today. A navy reconnaissance aircraft was set to fly up and down the Hudson River this morning celebrating the retirement of one of its aviators. Shortly before that flight, the Federal Aviation Administration canceled it. The unannounced Air Force One flyover two weeks ago was for publicity photos. That turned into a public relations disaster terrifying office and construction workers in lower Manhattan. Director of the White House military office, Louis Caldera resigned Friday over the incident.

Caldera, by the way, was at some sort of low-level person who simply got in the way. He had extensive experience in the military. He was the captain in the army. He served as Secretary of the army during the Clinton administration for almost three years. That flyover was the latest in a series of problems, however, for Caldera. He once served on the California -- in the California assembly on the Banking and Finance Committee where California now faces a huge economic crisis. Caldera served on the board of subprime lender Indymac Bank, which also went bankrupt. It's been a bad year for Louis Caldera.

Another sobering example tonight of our government at work, the Department of Energy giving the Nuclear Security Administration an award for excellence. The only problem is the honored project ran 600 percent over budget and just eight years behind schedule. Excellence. That should be the middle name in federal government. Lisa Sylvester will have that report for us here later in the broadcast. I love that, an award for excellence.

Well, we've been reporting on how political correctness seems to be taking hold and strongly so in the Obama administration. For example, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano proudly replacing the word terrorism with the phrase man caused disaster, the Pentagon's use of overseas contingency operations to replace war against terror, and now aides in the president's -- the council on environmental quality have been meeting with a marketing group that is pushing for an alternative to global warming. Apparently the idea is that there might be a more effective phrase than global warming that would help the administration persuade and shape public opinion and push its energy policies. We'll keep you posted on the progress. I can't wait to see what they come up with.

A reminder now to vote in our poll. The question is do you believe the national media's reaction to the Wanda Sykes jokes at the White House correspondents' dinner demonstrated any kind of slight bias? Yes or no. Cast your vote at We'll have the results in just a few minutes.

Up at the top of the hour, "NO BIAS, NO BULL." Roland Martin in for Campbell Brown -- Roland?


A U.S. soldier allegedly guns down five fellow troops on a base in Iraq. Tonight the killings are raising new concerns about combat stress and what is being done to help those on the front lines.

Also, we're following the sudden and mysterious death of an American woman on a dream vacation in Thailand. New details are coming out.

Plus, former Vice President Dick Cheney's new round of attacks on the Obama administration and even some fellow Republicans, the comments are widening the division in the GOP. Also, Lou, real life version of the movie "Footloose." An Ohio teen suspended from a Christian school for taking his Christian girlfriend to a prom. We'll talk to her and get your take at the top of the hour.

DOBBS: Look forward to it. Thank you, Roland.

Let's go back to a sobering example of our government at work. The Department of Energy giving the Nuclear Security Administration an award for excellence, even though the project ran over budget and behind schedule but by only eight years. Lisa Sylvester has the story.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The National Nuclear Security Administration says it has built something that has never been built before, 192 laser beams that are capable of converging on a tiny target creating nuclear fusion in a lab. The project is at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility or NIF and is aimed at safeguarding the reliability of the country's nuclear arsenal.

But it is not without controversy. It was originally pegged at $700 million in 1993. The forecast costs climbed to $2.24 billion in 1997 with a forecast completion date 2004. Then in 2000, the government accountability office forecast the cost at $3.26 billion with a 2008 finish date. The project has just been completed. The GAO, which has issued critical reports on the National Ignition Facility, says the cost is now more than $4 billion. Yet, the Department of Energy has singled out NIF for an award for, of all things, project management excellence. One watchdog group finds that outrageous.

INGRID DRAKE, PROJECT ON GOVT. OVERSIGHT: The NIF project should not have received an excellence award. The NIF project should have been singled out by the Secretary as an example of how not to manage a project for the Department of Energy, and that the days of being 600 times over budget are over.

SYLVESTER: We asked the Department of Energy for comment. They referred us to the National Nuclear Security Administration that's overseeing the project. A spokesman told CNN that the project was, "Rebaselined in 2000." In other words, new completion dates were given with new cost estimates. "In almost a decade since, the program has been kept on budget and was completed on time."

But an award for project management? As recently as 2007, the GAO said the NIF's cost increases and delays were caused by poor management and inadequate oversight.


SYLVESTER: And this was a program that then Secretary Bill Richardson, when he was heading up the Department of Energy, first came out and praised based on information he was given. Days later he was told about the cost overruns and the budget problems and he was so furious, he ordered a top to bottom review of project manager was put in place and now they have finally, finally completed the project -- Lou?

DOBBS: Well, you can see why they gave them an award. I mean, who made the decision to give -- do we know who made the decision to give them an award for this?

SYLVESTER: It was the Department of Energy and it was the new Secretary's office. But they would not comment on this, and they directed us to the other agency.

DOBBS: Oh, the new boss is like the old boss, only still over budget, still can't run a project. Unreal. Unreal. Great job. Thank you, Lisa. Great story. Lisa Sylvester from Washington.

Well, NASA is still trying after all these years. The "Atlantis" shuttle blasted off for what will be a final trip to the Hubble space telescope and a new warning about the possibility of a major solar storm and its potential impact on all our lives.


DOBBS: The "Atlantis" space shuttle blasted off today successfully. It will be the final trip to the Hubble space telescope. That shuttle, seven astronauts aboard, carrying 22,000 pounds of cargo to fix, to upgrade the telescope, the Hubble one of the greatest successes in the entire shuttle program. Sometime over the next decade, however, the Hubble will be decommissioned and then possibly make a controlled crash into the ocean.

Scientists tonight are warning the earth is susceptible to a major solar storm. It is a storm that could make global warming seem absolutely irrelevant. It is also a storm that could raise absolute havoc with telecommunications systems, transportation and much, much more. Ines Ferre with our report.


INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you think New York City in a blackout is bad, imagine a similar scenario across the nation or other parts of the world all because of a solar storm. Roughly every 11 years, the sun goes through a cycle of peak solar activity and sun spots. The next one is due by May 2013. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that cycle could produce fewer than average solar storms but warns the earth is vulnerable to a single devastating storm.

DOUG BIESECKER, NOAA SPACE WEATHER PREDICTION CTR.: Just because a solar storm season is below average doesn't mean that the intensity of the storms will be any less than what we would get during an extreme cycle. It takes only one solar storm of extreme proportions to cause a lot of damage.

FERRE: In 1989, a solar storm left 6 million Canadians in the dark and in 1859, solar activity lit up the night sky and shorted out telegraph wires. With our dependence on modern technology for everything from commerce to communications to defense, we're more vulnerable than ever according to physicist Michio Kaku.

MICHIO KAKU, AUTHOR, "PHYSICS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE: We're talking about wiping out all satellite communications, all weather satellites, spy satellites, internet, GPS and blackening out most cities. Every 11 years we are playing Russian roulette with the sun. So sooner or later we are going to lose that bet.

FERRE: The National Academy of Sciences says a severe solar storm scenario today could cost $1 trillion to $2 trillion in damages and take up to 10 years to recover. Astrophysicist Willie Soon says this scenario is avoidable.

WILLIE SOON, HARVARD-SMITHSONIAN CTR. FOR ASTROPHYSICS: If we do have some kind of warning well ahead of time, even hours, then we can sort of temporary shut down the operation of the satellite and very, very minimize the damage of potential damages that could be done to the satellite system.


FERRE: And next week, scientists and technology experts will gather in Washington, D.C. to talk about the possibility of a major space weather event and if we're prepared for it, Lou.

DOBBS: Let's find out if we can be prepared for it. Ines, fascinating story. Thanks, Ines Ferre.

Joining me with more on the possibility of a major solar storm, Charles Liu. He's astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, professor of astrophysics at the College of Staten Island. Charles, it is great to have you here.


DOBBS: That is a frightening chance given the inner dependence of society now, really globally. We are immensely vulnerable to precisely the storm that Ines was reporting on.

LIU: Yes. We can think of it in a way of people that live on the gulf coast of America. Should we prepare for hurricanes? Absolutely. Most of the time it might seem like it's not necessary but when the big one comes, we need to be prepared for we'll all be in big trouble.

DOBBS: Let me ask you, before we go into some of the details, is there a point of which preparation means nothing? That this -- I mean, one of these ejections from the surface of the sun could it wipe out our planet?

LIU: Well, I think here on earth life is generally safe. The strongest such mass ejection that's ever been recorded was probably the one of 1859 which was mentioned in the piece where even telegraph wires had problems but even something that strong didn't kill any people on earth. So in terms of civilization, I don't think we would be in any sort of mortal damage but definitely the way of life could be substantial effects.

DOBBS: Just our civilization. We are seeing a deep lull in sun spot activity.

LIU: Yes.

DOBBS: Most astrophysicists, most had expressed the doubt that this lull would last this long. They're expected as to be seeing this pick up. We are not. What is -- do you have a sense of why? What should we expect?

LIU: The basic answer really is, we still know so little about the sun and the basic way it works. The 11-year sun spot cycle is something observed for two centuries now but it sometimes varies, shorter like ten years or longer like 12 or 13. We appear to be in a longer cycle. It is not unprecedented. The lull this long and this deep has occurred in the past, 1913, 1901. But we don't know when the next big one will hit.

DOBBS: And the more we stay in this lull, the likely impact because we saw meteorological changes and climate changes as a result 100 years ago.

LIU: I wish we knew. The bottom line is we just don't have enough basic understanding. People are working hard to try to find out but just like predicting weather and storms in the old days, it takes time and basic research to understand how storms on the sun develop just as the hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean development.

DOBBS: Well, I expect you to be with us all along the way until we find our way out of this lull and we appreciate it as always.

LIU: Thank you so much.

DOBBS: Good to have you with us.

Still ahead here, tonight's poll results. Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Our poll results tonight, 70 percent of you say the national media's reaction to the Wanda Sykes jokes at the White House correspondents' dinner demonstrated bias.

Thanks for being with us. "NO BIAS, NO BULL" starts right now. Here's Roland Martin.

MARTIN: Thanks, Lou. Folks, a lot of stories to talk about tonight.

With me to break me all down, national political correspondent Jessica Yellin, Drew Griffin of the special investigations unit and Lisa Bloom, in session anchor and CNN legal analyst. Folks, we begin tonight with new details just coming in about the U.S. soldier in custody accused of gunning down his own comrades today in Iraq. In all, five U.S. soldiers were killed. The deadliest such attack since the war began.