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Amanda Knox Murder Conviction Appeal; Dick Cheney Backs al- Awlaki Killing, Defends Bush Policies; Predictions of Another Recession; Checking the Truth-O-Meter; Elmo Teaches Math; Major Industrial Fire In Texas

Aired October 3, 2011 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Want to get you up to speed.

Amanda Knox summed up her plea to an appeals court in Italy today with four words, I did not kill. Jurors are now deciding whether or not they should overturn her murder conviction from 2009. Now lawyers for Knox and her boyfriend argue that DNA evidence used to convict was contaminated.


AMANDA KNOX, DEFENDANT (through translator): I am not what they say I am -- perverse, violent. I respect life and people, and I haven't done the things that they are suggesting I've done.

I haven't murdered. I haven't raped. I haven't stolen. I wasn't there. I wasn't present at the crime.


MALVEAUX: A jury found Knox and her boyfriend guilty of the slashing murder of her roommate. Now, prosecutors portray the crime as part satanic ritual, part orgy.

A Massachusetts man will be in court this afternoon on terror charges. Federal prosecutors say Rezwan Ferdaus planned to fly model planes filled with explosives into the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. Now, prosecutors want the judge to hold the 26-year-old physics grad without bail.

The Nobel committee awarded the prize for medicine today. It went to three scientists who made strides in our understanding of the immune system. Well, one of them, Ralph Steinman, died Friday from cancer.

Apparently, the Nobel committee did not know, and the rules say a prize cannot be awarded posthumously. So, it's not clear how this committee is going to handle this delicate situation.

Dr. Conrad Murray's trial in the death of Michael Jackson entered its fifth day. It happened just a few minutes ago.

Now, the emergency room doctor who tried to revive Jackson is now back on the stand. The jury may also hear today from Murray's three -- yes, that's right -- three girlfriends. Phone records show that the doctor spoke with all three women in the minutes before and after Jackson went into cardiac arrest.

Eighteen passengers from two separate planes are nursing some bruises today. There was extreme turbulence that rocked Lufthansa and JetBlue flights. It happened last night. Both landed safely, however, in Boston after some pretty scary dips in the air.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it was so scary. I thought, my God, this could be it. But it didn't last that long. It was quite a surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had the coffee jump everywhere. We started screaming. Oh, my God. So scared.


MALVEAUX: The flying coffee that the lady's referring to actually burned one of those passengers.

Protests by the group Occupy Wall Street have spread from New York to at least three other major cities. Police arrested more than 700 protesters on Saturday when they marched on the Brooklyn Bridge. Occupy Wall Street says it wants to draw attention to corporate greed and immorality, among many other issues.

For the first time since 1996, Tiger Woods is not ranked in professional golf's top 50. He started this year at number two. Well, Woods has won 14 majors, but he hasn't won a tournament since November, 2009. Coincidentally, or not, that was about the same time that he had problems in his marriage. It fell apart.

Sunday nights are not going to be the same without at least one complaint from Andy Rooney. The "60 Minutes" commentator signed off last night after 33 years and 1,097 essays.


ANDY ROONEY, "60 MINUTES": A lot of you have sent me wonderful letters and said good things to me when you meet me in the street. I wasn't always gracious about it. It's hard to accept being liked.

I don't say this often, but thank you. Although, if you do see me in a restaurant, please, just let me eat my dinner.


MALVEAUX: All right. We'll leave you alone.

He leaves his job. He is 92 years old. His "60 Minutes" colleague, Morley Safer, who is just three years younger, calls Rooney America's "Grump-in-Chief." He was a little grumpy, I'd say.

More details now on our lead story. It is an illegal and emotional cliffhanger. It's playing out in a courthouse in Italy.

Now, right now, a jury is deciding the fate of American exchange student Amanda Knox. Knox was convicted of murder and is appealing her conviction.

Now, earlier today, she made an emotional plea to the jury and talked to them about the time that she spent in prison.


KNOX (through translator): I am the same person that I was four years ago. Exactly the same person. The only thing that has progressed now from four years ago is my suffering. In four years, I've lost my friends in the most terrible and unexplainable way.


MALVEAUX: CNN's Becky Anderson, she's joining us live from Italy.

Becky, paint a picture for us, if you will. What was it like inside the courtroom when Knox made that statement?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, quite the most highly-charged 40, 45 minutes this morning, around about 9:30 local time. And it's just after 6:00 now, Suzanne.

This was Knox's last chance to convince a jury at this appeal of her innocence. And she effectively said -- and I paraphrase here -- but she said, I didn't do it. I didn't kill her. I didn't rape her. I didn't steal. I didn't do it.

Those, effectively the words that she used today.

The jury have been out now for some time, about eight hours. We were told not to expect a verdict before 8:00 local time.

Let me tell you, they are in this building here. They've been out for about eight hours. Local time 8:00 is two hours from now, so we are expecting a verdict any time.

It seems at least to those who have visited Knox, who is back in prison, which is about 40 minutes away today, that she is confident that this verdict will be overturned on appeal. My colleague Paula Newton spoke to an Italian MP, a member of parliament who's been in to see Knox today, and he reported that she was extremely confident and that she'd been singing religious songs.

She may think that she's free. We will not find out until this jury and the presiding judge comes out in a couple of hours' time.

MALVEAUX: And Becky, do we have any sense of how she's spending her time? It must be rather agonizing here, but you said she's singing religious songs. Do we know how she is spending these hours just waiting? ANDERSON: Yes, just waiting, as is Sollecito. He's also in prison. That was, of course, her former boyfriend, who also made an impassioned speech today, a plea, trying to convince this jury that he is also innocent.

It's a very difficult situation for everybody included in this, and that includes, of course, Meredith Kercher's family, who are also here. Lest we forget, Suzanne, that there is a victim in all of this.

In the beginning of November, 2007, Meredith Kercher was brutally sexually assaulted and murdered. There is one man already inside for that, doing 16 years, a man called Rudy Guede. But the other two, Knox and Sollecito, of course, were convicted of murder in 2009.

What are they doing? They are simply waiting.

Let's remember what happens if indeed this verdict is overturned. There is a possibility that Amanda Knox, who has been inside now for some time -- she was 20 when Meredith was murdered, she's 24 now. She could be back on a plane, on the way to Seattle, hours after this jury decides tonight.

She'll have to pick up her stuff, do the paperwork. She could be out of there and back state side before you know it.

MALVEAUX: This could be a very dramatic turn of events.

We know that there is a jury, that basically her fate is in their hands. There are eight of them -- two judges, six civilians, five women, three men.

Their decision doesn't even have to be unanimous. Is that right? It's majority rules? I guess as many decide that she gets to go home, that's the way it goes?


Effectively, even-even she's out of here. They're looking for a majority, but even-even, she's out of here.

Interesting, isn't it, the way the Italian justice system works?

First of all, they haven't been sequestered so they've been exposed to all media, be it social media or media across the tele and the papers, for example. So they could easily have been manipulated by what the media has been saying.

There are eight of them, as you say. Five are women and three are men.

Two of them are judges in this case. One of them is the presiding judge, a guy called Helmand (ph). He is there to help the jury decide. Not to tell them what to say, but to help them. That wouldn't happen anywhere else in the world. And he will be out here, outside this building, just hours from now to tell us what the verdict is. MALVEAUX: Very interesting system that they have there in Italy. OK, Becky. Thank you.

We'll be standing by, obviously, to await any kind of decisions that are coming out of the jury.

Thank you, Becky.

Stay with CNN for the very latest on the Amanda Knox appeal. Our correspondents are following every development. We're going to bring you the jury's decision as soon as we get it.



MALVEAUX: Former Vice President Dick Cheney has a message for the Obama administration following the killing of a top terrorist. He says, good job. But Cheney is also asking for an apology.

Our CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley explains.


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION" (voice-over): No weekend qualms about a U.S. drone strike into Yemen that killed a top al Qaeda operative who was also an American. Thumbs up from the former vice president.

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the president ought to have that authority to order that kind of strike, even when it involves an American citizen. And there's clear evidence that he's part of al Qaeda, of planning and cooperating and supporting attacks against the United States.

CROWLEY: OK by the former head of the CIA.

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: We are a nation at war. And as a belligerent (ph) have a right to kill or capture enemy combatants, trumps the fact that one or another of those combatants might have U.S. personhood wrapped around them.

CROWLEY: And the former ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is in, too, but she wants the Obama Administration to be transparent about its legal justification for killing an American without due process.

JANE HARMAN, CEO, WILSON CENTER: I believe there is a good case, imminent threat beyond our ability to arrest him, the authorization to use military force against al Qaeda. He was complicit with al Qaeda. But I think the Justice Department should release that memo.

CROWLEY: In fact, two Americans were killed in the U.S. attack. The target, Anwar al-Awlaki, a master recruiter linked to several plots against the U.S., including the Fort Hood shootings, and Samir Khan, an al Qaeda propagandist. Despite his approval of the U.S. strikes, something eats at the Dick Cheney, something President Obama said in Cairo in 2009 about the U.S. reaction to the 9/11 attacks.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable. But in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States.

CROWLEY: Cheney says now that the Obama Administration, trying to protect the country, approved the killing of an American citizen, the President should rethink his suggestion that the Bush Administration's tactics were un-American.

CHENEY: They, in effect, said that we had walked away from our ideals or taken policy contrary to our ideals when we had enhanced interrogation techniques. Now, they clearly have moved in the direction of taking robust action when they feel it's justified.

CROWLEY (on camera): You'd like an apology, it sounds like.

CHENEY: Well, I would. I think it would be not for me, but I think for the Bush Administration.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Still, the larger picture is worth noting again. Asked if the Obama administration is waging a successful war against terror, Cheney says yes.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


MALVEAUX: And tonight on CNN, the premiere of "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT." Erin discusses the drone attack in Yemen with her first guest, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

"OUTFRONT" begins at 7:00 Eastern. All the best to her.

Well, here's your chance to "Choose the News." Text "22360" for the story that you'd like to see.

Text "1" for "Mandela Reality Show." Some of Nelson Mandela's grandchildren star in a new TV reality show about their lives. We're going to have a sneak peek behind the scenes and ask them what they think of the criticism, that they could be ruining their grandfather's image.

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Or text "3" for "Bartering is Hot." With the economy is such bad shape, more and more people are bartering for the goods that they need and want. And it's not always in person. We're going to show you some of the Web sites that are being used.

So, you can vote by texting "22360." Text "1" for "Mandela Reality Show"; "2" for "Baby-Saving Device"; or "3" for "Bartering is Hot."

The winning story will air later this hour.

Well, the recession officially ended two years ago. Right? But a growing number of economists say we could be headed for another one.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange with details of a new report.

Alison, for a lot of folks it does not feel like the recession ended two years ago. What are the economists saying about the outlook of the economy?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, you know, if you ask the Economic Cycle Research Institute, they'll tell you we're in a recession now, or it's inevitable that we're going to go into one, especially when you look at all the negative factors weighing on the economy.

Home prices are extremely low. No jobs were created in August. Manufacturing is slowing. And economists expect Greece to run out of money this month.

Lakshman Achuthan, he's from the ECRI. He was on "AMERICAN MORNING" today. Listen to his take.


LAKSHMAN ACHUTHAN, ECRI: In this case we have a conceptual underpinning of how recessions and recoveries take place in this country. In a market economy, recessions are part and parcel of a market economy, so we're not going to get away from them.

And looking at the facts, we see that the forward-looking indicators -- not one, not two -- dozens of leading indexes are falling. There's contagion among those indexes. They are falling in a way that we only see when a recession is under way.


KOSIK: But the jury is still out. Not everybody agrees that we're in a recession now.

Case in point, Fitch Ratings coming out today saying it does not expect a double-dip recession for the U.S. But one thing that most economists can agree on here, Suzanne, is that the likelihood it's increased of having a recession, because the global economy is undeniably slowing down -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Alison, do they see this as a repeat of 2008, when you had all these bailouts, you had the market that was very volatile, the bankruptcies that were happening in corporate America? KOSIK: No, no. Most economists, including Achuthan, say, you know what? This would not be a repeat of 2008.

If we are in a recession, or we're going into one, it would be more mild, because what's different now is that the credit markets aren't frozen like they were back in 2008. Companies are making money. They've got loads of money on the sidelines. But keep in mind, because our economy right now is so fragile, if we get any big negative shock, all bets are off.

You know, you have to also remember what happened in 2008, in the early part of the year. Pretty much everybody thought the recession would be mild. Obviously, it didn't turn out to be that way because we got that big shock from Lehman. So you really can't predict what's going to happen -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Alison, thank you.

Till death do us part. Well, not if some lawmakers get their way in Mexico City. They're offering an opportunity to bail out of the marriage after just two years. It's an option to renew.

You can't make it up. That story next.


MALVEAUX: Some Mexico City lawmakers want to offer couples who are planning on getting married the ultimate exit strategy. Yes, that's right, disposable marriages, couples who would sign a two-year marriage contract with the option to renew.

Our Senior Latin American Affairs Editor Rafael Romo joins us with this unusual story.

This is something we've been laughing, we've been talking about it, our whole team. But you're happily married. Right?


MALVEAUX: Five years, you said?

ROMO: Five years, yes.

MALVEAUX: She renewed the contract?

ROMO: And I've been renewed, yes.


MALVEAUX: Tell us why this came up. How did this come about?

ROMO: Well, the sponsor of the bill says that it's a matter of public policy. He says we have, just like in America, 50 percent of couples end up being divorced within 10 years.

MALVEAUX: Mexico City, right?

ROMO: In Mexico City, that's correct. It only applies to Mexico City.

And what he says is that it costs a lot of money to the legal system. It costs a lot of money, it clogs the courts. And so what they want to do is just limit it to two years, and if at the end of two years they're not happy, it's basically a no-fault divorce, and they can do that.

As you can imagine, people are not very happy. On the one side, some people like it, some people don't. But opinions basically in Mexico City are split right down the middle. Let's take a listen to what people are saying.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's like renewing your vows after two years if you want. If there's a fight, they can plan what to do from the beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): If you're making a commitment to share your life with someone, it better be for more than two years. It has to be for the rest of your life.


ROMO: And this is expected to be voted on some time this week. Whether it will pass or not this week, we don't really know.

MALVEAUX: Do you think it's going to pass?

ROMO: Well, the PRD, which is the party sponsoring this, has majority in Mexico City at the local legislature. So back in 2009, they approved a law approving gay marriage in Mexico City. It wouldn't happen in the rest of Mexico, because the rest of the country tends to be more conservative, but in Mexico City it happened.

MALVEAUX: And that's a good point, because aside from Brazil, Mexico, the most Catholic really in the world. So this is just Mexico City. It would not really fly outside of Mexico City?

ROMO: That's right. And back in 2009, the Catholic Church voiced strong opposition to the bill legalizing gay marriage. And as you can imagine, this time around they're also doing the same thing.

Let's take a listen to what they said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Mexico is suffering very serious problems, precisely because we're losing family values. I think that instead of creating all kinds of comfortable rules for political purposes, legislators should focus on promoting strong marriages and family values.


ROMO: And that opinion, Suzanne, basically reflects a good portion of Mexico as a country, not necessarily just Mexico City, because Mexico City tends to be a lot more liberal than the rest of the country.

MALVEAUX: OK. And you certainly hope that in those two years, if they're married, there are not kids involved and they get caught up in all that, because that would only complicates things, I imagine.

ROMO: Well, according to the bill, everything will be predetermined, who gets custody of the children, who keeps what property, bank accounts. Everything will be written down at the time they marry, so if at end of two years they decide to call it quits, no need to argue, everything is on paper. You just say bye-bye, or in this case, adios, and it's over.

MALVEAUX: OK. Well, I can't tell you how many people quietly, not publicly, are saying, hey, that's not a bad idea. But it's generating a lot of discussion.

Thank you so much, Rafael. Very interesting story. Appreciate it.

ROMO: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: So, what happened the day that Michael Jackson died? Testifying today, those who tried to revive Jackson and some who were quite close to his doctor.


MALVEAUX: Well, day five of the Michael Jackson death trial is just getting under way in Los Angeles. The focus is on the day he died and what Dr. Conrad Murray, who was at his side, what he was doing.

Holly Hughes is with us now. She's a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor.

And Holly, you and I were talking about the significance here, but what is the purpose of having this string of doctors, these emergency workers, testify today about Jackson -- trying to revive Jackson?

HOLLY HUGHES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, what they're going to tell you that is the most important, Suzanne, is that when they asked Dr. Murray, what is Michael Jackson on, what have you given this patient, he never mentions Propofol. And that goes to consciousness of guilt.

If you honestly think I just gave him a small amount, and it's not responsible, you're going to include that because you want your patient to get the very best care. They are trying to revive this man, save his life, essentially. When you don't include that, everybody's got to stop and wonder why. The second thing is, they're going to ask all these doctors, what else did Conrad Murray say in your presence? What was his attitude? What was his affect like? Was he nervous, was he scared, was he on the phone?

All of that plays in to his mindset, and that's what we're talking about, the standard of care. Where was his head? What was he thinking?

MALVEAUX: Well, and the other thing about the phone calls, he was making phone calls. We know he was on the phone because we're talking about not just one, not two, but three girlfriends -- that he was on the phone with apparently before and after Michael Jackson's death. What is the significance of these women coming forward?

HUGHES: Well, what it's going to do is it is going to nail down the time line. In every case, the time line is essential because it is going to show once again what's his mindset? He is on the telephone speaking with one of his girlfriends at about 11:57 a.m. She said all of a sudden, "I don't hear him anymore. and I can't get him to respond to me on that phone call."

So we can assume from that, that's about the time that Dr. Conrad Murray has discovered Michael Jackson either already deceased or in some kind of medical distress because she says, "He just stops. There's just deadness. I can't get him to respond to me."

But we know that 911 is not called until much later. So, when all these ladies start taking the stand, you better believe the prosecution is going to write down what time was that and what time was that? To establish the pattern.

We're also hearing rumblings that Conrad Murray was on the phone with another girlfriend while in the ambulance transporting -- racing -- Michael Jackson to the emergency room.

MALVEUAX: Why would he be on the phone with her?

HUGHES: Precisely the point, Suzanne. Which is why the prosecution wants these witnesses to testify. If you know he's already deceased, then I guess you feel like, well, there's nothing else I can do, I might as well just call one of my honeys. I mean, I don't know, but that's what the prosecution is going to argue.

MALVEAUX: And you said that the cell phone guy is going to be important, too. Because he's going to be able to tell very precisely who called whom at what point.

HUGHES: That's exactly right. And the second thing he is going to be able to do is give us what we call subscriber information. So, he's going to be able to tell you who that phone belongs to, not just that he was on the phone. Conrad Murray can't now get up there and say, I was talking to a doctor friend of mine for advice. That cell phone person is not only going to nail the time line, which is corroborated by the girlfriend's testimony -- girlfriends, plural -- but then he is also going to be able to say, and that phone is assigned to -- and he'll start listing out these names. And that just ties all that evidence in to a neat little package.

MALVEUAX: All right. You wonder if the girlfriends are all going to show up together or come in separate times.

HUGHES: You wonder if they knew about each other before this trial!

MALVEAUX: Well, they know now.

HUGHES: They sure do!

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, very much, Holly. We'll be following the story.

Reminder to vote for today's Choose the News winner. Text 22360 for the story you'd like to see. Text 1 for "Mandela Reality Show." A behind-the-scenes look at Nelson Mandela's grandchildren filming their own reality TV show.

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The Lockerbie bomber is speaking out just weeks after his family said he was in a coma. Hear what he is saying about the bombing.


MALVEAUX: The man convicted of bombing Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 people back in 1988 is now speaking out from his bedroom in Tripoli.


ABDEL BASSET AL-MEGRAHI (through translator): Please leave me alone. I only have a few more days, weeks or months. I want to die in my house, among my family. I wish from God that I will see my country unite with no fighting or war. I hope the bloodshed will stop in Libya.


MALVEAUX: CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins me from London. And Nic, you went to Megrahi's home just a few weeks ago. First of all, when you listen to him -- right -- and you hear this and he says, oh, I have days, weeks, months left. Before when you visited the family said he was in a coma. He was on his deathbed there. Do you believe anything that they say now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think the evidence is still there that this is a very sick man, but the type of cancer that he has is one where people do recover. When I saw him, his family told me that he hadn't had medication, hadn't been seen by a doctor, wasn't eating properly. And this is why he was slipping in and out of a coma.

I think we have to take what he says with a grain of salt -- probably a pinch of salt, probably a large pinch of salt. But what he is doing here is essentially what his family did when I met them a month ago which is to say that he's innocent.

What's interesting here is he says this information will be revealed in the coming months perhaps, but he's not saying what it is. And really, if he can defend himself and is well enough to speak, the question really remains - and he hasn't laid it to rest with this interview in any way -- if he's not to blame, then who is? He says he won't say at this time.

MALVEAUX: Nic, do you think he has any valuable information to offer?

ROBERTSON: It would seem that he would. He claims that he's been unfairly treated by the justice system, that he is innocent, that he is not the guilty person, and therefore he must, as an operative within Libya's intelligence organization -- let's not forget when he got off the plane and came back to Libya two years ago, he was met at the foot of the steps of the aircraft by the head of Libya's intelligence system who's still on the run, wanted by Interpol, wanted by the International Criminal Court.

So, the implication is Megrahi, if he is not guilty by his own admission, then he must have some information about who else might be. He must be able to point the finger in a better direction. There are also others in the government -- former government of Gadhafi who would also have that information. But he must have something if he is to prove his innocence.

MALVEAUX: Nic, just finally to kind of button this up, if I can, do you think that Megrahi and his family -- do you think they are essentially playing with people? That this is a game here in terms of -- we can see that he's sick, but whether or not he's going to die tomorrow or the next day or the next month here? I mean, this comes up over and over and over again. What do you think is the point of that?

ROBERTSON: I think the point is that they want to be left alone, that he doesn't want to be a political pawn in all of this. This is his view and he certainly knows that there is a movement to bring him to the United States, to answer some of those key questions in the United States. The Scottish First minister a month ago said he had seen the pictures of Megrahi, and he looked too ill to be brought back to jail in Scotland.

So, I think this is the family trying to head off in any way possible, and also the interim government, National Transitional Council has said they won't send him back out of the country. I think this is, again, an effort by him and by his family to head off the possibility that he could be sent out of the country to face questioning. They say he wants it die in peace at home.

MALVEAUX: All right, Nic Robertson, thank you very much. We appreciate - as always -- your excellent reporting.

Calling out the politicians. We put their statements to the test with the Truth-o-Meter.

And can we solve our children's math and science problems by taking them to Sesame Street? Elmo thinks so. Stick around. He's going to tell us why.


MALVEAUX: Want to bring you some live pictures here that we are getting in just now from our affiliate WFAA. This is -- pictures that we're looking at. Emergency crews at a chemical plant at Magna Blend, Inc. This is Waxahachie -- I believe we are saying it correctly - Waxahachie, Texas. This is unbelievable. Look at that smoke. Just billowing out. Black smoke and a tremendous fire.

This fire broke out around 11:00 this morning, we are told. And his black smoke is coming from this chemical plant. It is on the 1600 block of West 287 in Waxahachie. This is an industrial area, and we are told that this chemical company houses a blend of chemicals that are hazardous to the environment. You just see those flames whipping through that industrial complex there.

Now because of the potential danger from this fire, from the smoke and from the chemicals, if you just take a look at -- it's fierce, it is just getting bigger and bigger. Black smoke, unbelievable.

Because they believe there is potentially hazardous materials and the kinds of chemicals that are going into the air, Wedgeworth Elementary School, which is nearby, is keeping the students inside. The administrators and the students are inside of the elementary school. They do not want to be exposed to what we are seeing here, which is just an unbelievably big fire and some of those chemicals in that industrial complex there.

We're going to keep an eye on this story as this develops and bring you more information as we get it. But you can see there, really very dramatic pictures and potentially a very dangerous situation on the ground for folks who are there outside of the Magna Blend chemical plant in Waxahachie, Texas.

Prisoner executions, the nation's rising debt and disaster declarations. Politicians have been talking about all that lately. But the question is, can we believe what they're saying?

Angie Holan is with us from "The St. Petersburg Times" and, which has been feeding some comments to their Truth-o- Meter.

Angie, good to see you. Let's start with this one from Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson. He said, "It costs more money to put a person on death row than it does to lock them up for the rest of their lives because of attorney fees." What do you make of that? ANGIE HOLAN, POLITIFACT.COM: We rated this one half-true. It got complicated quickly because we have 50 states. They have 50 different sets of rules for legal costs and appeals processes. So, it's true in some states. In other cases, it's a much closer call. So half-true.

MALVEAUX: All right. And New Jersey governor Chris Christie says "President Barack Obama failed to stand up for the bipartisan debt solutions of the Simpson-Bowles commission." What do we know about that, true or false?

HOLAN: We gave this one a mostly false. Now you may recall that this commission released very specific proposals back in December and the president did not immediately endorse all these specifics. But we talked to some fiscal experts who told us that since then Obama has been much more supportive of a kind of bipartisan compromise, much like the commission suggested, where both sides have to do something they don't like, basically. So we gave this statement a mostly false.

MALVEAUX: OK. And this comment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He said "President Obama has declared disasters in 48 of 50 states this year." What does the Truth-O-Meter show?

HOLAN: We've rated this one mostly true. We went and counted the declarations and we found 42 of 50, which supports his general point that there have been a lot. There was Hurricane Irene. And we've also seen wildfires, tornadoes and flooding in many states. So a mostly true on this one.

MALVEAUX: All right. Angie, thanks. Good to see you.

Kids in the U.S. are struggling, to say the least, with math and science. "Sesame Street" -- you know "Sesame Street." We love "Sesame Street" -- determined to get them back up to speed. So they recruited Elmo as an assistant teacher. Here's "Smart Is The New Rich" Author Christine Romans.



ELMO: Oh, that's -- that's hard. What does STEM mean?


ELMO: Science.

PARENTE: Technology.

ELMO: Yes.

PARENTE: Engineering and the "m" is the easy one.

ELMO: Math!

PARENTE: There you go.

ROMANS: Elmo, do you like math?

ELMO: Yes, Elmo like math.

ROMANS: You like math?

ELMO: Yes, because Elmo likes to count.

ROMANS: Well, can you count for me a little?

ELMO: Yes, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.

ROMANS: Is math fun?

ELMO: Yes, math is a lot of fun because you add things. You can you use it when you're cooking. If you're going to use two eggs or three eggs. Stuff like that.

ROMANS: Why is it important to get kids excited about STEM, about science, technology, engineering, and math? And why is "Sesame Street" trying to make this part of the season this year?

PARENTE: Well, as a nation, we recognize we're falling behind in these areas and it's always been "Sesame Street's" tradition to sort of give kids a head start, a leg up. And when you actually boil down the STEM curriculum, right, Elmo, it's perfect for preschoolers because it's about asking questions and investigating and experimenting.

ELMO: And experimenting.

PARENTE: Right. And that's how you learn.

ELMO: Experimenting.

PARENTE: It's a big word, Elmo.

ROMANS: You've learned some words like -- I've been told you've learned about amphibians.

ELMO: Um-huh.

ROMANS: And balance.

ELMO: Yes. And ingredient.

ROMANS: Ingredient.

ELMO: And liquid. Yes.

ROMANS: Why are you learning these words?

ELMO: Because they're really cool words and it's really fun to learn what they mean. ROMANS: You also learned engineer. What's an engineer?

ELMO: Well, that's when you build something. You're an engineer.

ROMANS: So it's creative. It's not --

ELMO: Yes, creative. That's a good word, creative!

ROMANS: Yes. And (INAUDIBLE) static numbers and math and tables, but something that you're trying to show kids is part of learning and part of life.

PARENTE: It is. It's very physical. STEM is fun. It's physical fun. It's about testing out things. And any question kids have, we encourage parents not to answer the questions that kids have, but explore the answers with their kids together.


MALVEAUX: This generation of preschoolers may thank Elmo and his friends as they grow older because demand for these types of jobs involving math and science is expected to grow 17 percent by 2018. So, for more information about those jobs and other high-tech growth jobs in the sector, you can check out Christine's book "Smart Is The New Rich."

We are also keeping a very close eye on a developing story here. This is out of Texas. You're looking at affiliate pictures WFAA. This is a fire that is growing. This is at a chemical plant. This is out of Waxahachie, Texas. A fire that broke out about 11:00 this morning, we are told. And you can just see what kind of condition the billowing smoke, the black billowing smoke and the fire that is spreading. There's an elementary school that is nearby. They're keeping those kids inside because of what looks like a very ominous and dangerous situation. We're going to have more about this chemical fire, talk to our own Chad Myers about it after the break.


MALVEAUX: Want to bring you back to this chemical fire that we are watching. This is a dangerous situation here. I want to bring in our own Chad Myers.

This is a chemical plant here. There's an elementary school that's next to it. But if you take a look at the pictures and the black smoke and the fire that seems to be rapidly spreading, what does this say to you? I mean what does -- it looks like it's actually -- just traveling right down -- is that water?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is. And, well, what really concerns me now is getting toward these tanker cars and the tanker cars don't seem to be getting out of the way. And so you never know what's in the tanker cars itself. There's a look at it. Right -- that is the -- that's the dangerous picture for me. It's kind of an oil services company. They make things that you put in your engine. They treat engine oil, like a restore engine oil product. They will take and they'll use products that will take regular crude and make it into more things that your car and people around can use.

Now this -- those products, obviously, made of petroleum themselves. That's why this is such a black smoke. I mean this is really probably a choking smoke even for the firefighters. They would have to be in there with respirators just to get to this.

MALVEAUX: Is this a highly flammable type of material that we're talking about where this chemical plant --

MYERS: I haven't seen anything that isn't burning. I think everything in the entire place is flammable at this point in time. And this is near 35E (ph). And if you live around Dallas, you may look in the sky. Look towards the south. You'll see this thick, thick black smoke. It's actually on radar. This smoke is so thick, I can see it on the radar. The smoke is so thick that the radar believes it's raining. That's how much stuff is in the air.

So a very -- if you're smelling this anywhere around Waxahachie, and the wind is blowing from south to north, not so much into Dallas- Ft. Worth. You see it does have a little bit of a lift to the smoke. But you need to be out of there. This is dangerous, toxic smoke that's burning at this point.

MALVEAUX: And I'm looking at the highway that you mentioned there, which is not far at all. I'm imaging that if you're in one of those cars, I mean you need to get out of there.

MYERS: I believe that highway --

MALVEAUX: You need to roll up those windows and get out of there, but you're just to close.

MYERS: Yes, that highway is going to be shut down. Yes, 35E -- and 35 splits from where you go to Oklahoma, all the way down toward Waco. It splits around Dallas-Ft. Worth. 35W goes to Ft. Worth, 35E will go to Dallas. So this is the Dallas side, the Dallas wing of that 35E and W. And as soon as this starts to heat up, this is going to be the next thing. You're going to see this fire along those tanker cars. And who knows what possibly can be in those tanker cars there.

MALVEAUX: And when you take a look at the color of this smoke, the fact that that is -- I mean that it's so thick and it's so black, I would assume that that is really not a good sign. That that means that that is even more harmful than just a regular smoke as you'd see from wood burning, for instance.

MYERS: Right. Well, and you wouldn't put wood or water or things that are non-toxic into a diesel fuel additive, right? It has to be almost a petroleum distillate already or some other byproduct of petroleum to add to regular diesel fuel to make it maybe flow better, add to your engine oil to make it flow better or maybe make it -- just makes your engine a little bit smoother running. That's the kind of products that they're making. Kind of this no-smoke oil additive, this restore engine oil additive.

Once you get an old car and your rings start to wear out, you'll put these oil additives in your engine to make them -- to make the car smoke a little bit less. But this is -- you can clearly see the toxicity of this.

MALVEAUX: And it might be a little bit too early to say, but, I mean, look at that fire. It's just -- I mean it's so powerful right there.

MYERS: Well, we see firefighters, but they're nowhere near it. They're not even going near this thing at this point. There's nothing (ph) there.

MALVEAUX: Do we have a sense of how big this is? I mean you said you could see it from the radar because of the color and the thickness of the smoke. I mean it looks like this is really getting out of hand very quickly.

MYERS: It's hard to say, but I would say we're at least at three acres now and it is spreading along the grass lines and along the highway. It will get all the way, obviously, to 35E. That's why it's shut down. It will burn along the railroad tracks. The creosotic (ph) in the railroad tracks. Those railroad ties will burn instantly. And you've got to get those cars out of there because who knows how explosive that stuff could be.

MALVEAUX: I'm being told it's Waxahachie, Texas. That's the way they say it from there. And, Chad, appreciate your help and really taking a look at this developing story.

We're going to definitely get back to this. And these pictures -- just very dramatic pictures and potentially a very dangerous situation where those folks are.

Chad, thanks again.

MYERS: You're welcome.

MALVEAUX: We're going to post the "Choose The News" winners on my FaceBook page. That's

CNN NEWSROOM continues after this with Randi Kaye, who's in L.A.