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THE SITUATION ROOM
Raging Wildfires Devastating Western U.S.; Washington State Wildfire Scorches 22,000 Plus Acres; "I've Paid Taxes Every Single Year"; Louisiana Deputies Killed In Shooting; Seven Americans Killed In Helicopter Crash; Arizona Undermines Obama Immigration Order; South African Police Fire on Miners; Mourning Family's Insurance Fight
Aired August 16, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE JOHNS, HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, much of the Western U.S. engulfed in flames, leaving some victims with nothing. Just ahead, one woman's heartbreaking loss, which she says feels like her life has come to an end.
Plus, Mitt Romney revives the ongoing debate over his taxes, revealing new information about just how much he says he paid. The Obama campaign's response -- "prove it."
And it's the headline that went viral after a deadly accident -- "My sister paid Progressive Insurance to defend her killer in court."
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Joe Johns.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
First to the wa -- raging wildfires devastating huge portions of the Western United States right now. At least 70 large fires are burning across 13 states, some in blistering hot weather conditions. And the National Weather Service is warning conditions could become explosive in the days ahead.
CNN's Dan Simon is in Washington State with a gut-wrenching story of loss, which for this victim, goes way beyond just her home -- Dan.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- fire here east of Seattle. Authorities say that it was a manmade fire, that it came from a bridge construction project. Right now, it's all under investigation.
For now, the focus is entirely on the victims, like the woman we spoke with earlier today.
ELAINE WISE, FIRE VICTIM: And it's just worse than I mean I could possibly -- possibly imagine. SIMON: Elaine Wise lived by herself on her 14 acres of property in Ellensburg, Washington, a retired caregiver to the elderly and foster children. She had a small farm to help pay the bills. Along with losing her home, she also lost most of her animals -- dozens of pigs and dogs. Their burned carcasses could be seen everywhere.
SIMON (on camera): What's the hardest thing about coming back?
WISE: The animals. I mean, the home, you know, that's gone. And I can get another home, but they -- they had to have suffered.
SIMON (voice-over): Some of the pigs survived. Elaine's family is trying to take care of them, as well as combing through the rubble to see what can be found.
WISE: What I feel like saying is the end of my life -- I mean, I'm alive, but that's what it feels like.
SIMON: The fire, about 90 miles east of Seattle, has so far destroyed at least 60 homes and forced hundreds to evacuate. Authorities say dry terrain and wind quickly caused the fire to spread. Ed Tassevigen and his wife barely escaped. He described the intense heat as he was fleeing. His home didn't make it.
ED TAASEVIGEN, FIRE VICTIM: It burns fast. It burns hot. And when the flames fan it like that, there's -- it was 15, 20 feet high. It looked like a tidal wave coming.
WISE: And they said I'm sorry, ma'am, but you can't stay.
SIMON (on camera): So you weren't able to gather up anything?
WISE: No. Nothing. Just the clothes on my back. Absolutely nothing.
SIMON (voice-over): Many victims like Elaine Wise say they had virtually no warning. She'd come back from an afternoon shopping trip on Monday when authorities refused to let her go inside.
WISE: I have nothing to -- to start a home or, you know, just absolutely nothing now.
SIMON (on camera): No insurance or anything like that?
WISE: No. No.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SIMON: Well, we are at a middle school which has been turned into a command center. You can see all this stuff behind me. All of this stuff has been donated by volunteers.
And we should tell you about the -- the resources out there, those on the firefighting line. Despite all the fires that we're seeing on the West Coast, they do have a large number of firefighters battling this blaze. Nine hundred folks on the scene and a lot of aircraft trying to -- trying to put out that fire -- Joe.
JOHNS: Dan Simon on the ground there for us in Cal Allen, Washington.
The governor has already declared states of emergency in two Washington counties and hundreds of firefighters are battling the state's Taylor Bridge fire. That blaze has already scorched more than 22,000 acres and destroyed at least 60 homes. Authorities have evacuated 900 people. And, as of earlier today, the fire was only 25 percent contained. No injuries are reported. So that's the good thing.
Joining us now to talk a little bit more about this particular fire and the efforts that they've been taking to try to get it under control is the incident commander, Rex Reed.
Thanks so much for joining us.
I -- can you give us any updates, especially on whether this thing is expected to spread or how long it's going to take to really get under control?
REX REED, INCIDENT COMMANDER: Well, we're currently at 25 percent containment. We -- you heard earlier, 900 folks suppressing this fire on the ground. We have substantial aviation assets. We are the priority fire here in the Northwest between Washington and Oregon.
We're making good progress today. Our northern flank, in the very northwest corner, in the area around Highway 97, 970, so -- is our biggest concern today. We have lots of resources working that, very cautiously optimistic we'll be successful in there establishing our perimeter lines.
We are actually on the very eastern end of the fire, have done well and have reduced some of the evacuation levels in there effective noon today.
On our south flank we are doing the same. We've actually allowed some folks back into areas that were previously evacuated.
JOHNS: Those pictures are really incredible and certainly disturbing. And one of the things you pick up from looking at them is that the wind seems to be blowing ferociously.
Can you give us some idea of how much of a factor the wind is?
REED: It was a huge factor. In the Snoqualmie Pass Corridor, as we come down from the west to east, very calm in the Naquititas Valley Allen) to get winds in excess of 30 miles an hour combined with very high temperatures and low relative humidity. It created a perfect storm as the fire started.
We had reports of rates of spread that covered 14 miles in two to three hours.
JOHNS: Do you have an estimate of how many homes have been lost? And how many more do you think you have to save before the crisis is over?
REED: Well, we -- a lot of homes were saved. But for every one saved, there was probably one lost. Some heroic fire suppression efforts, which started early Monday afternoon and has continued on to right now.
Folks come together in this community -- rural fire protection district, state and federal agencies, and really worked together to work their best (INAUDIBLE). First, get people out from in front of the fire and then also to establish containment as quickly as possible.
Right now, our assessment is about 60 homes confirmed lost. We anticipate that number to increase. But so far today, we believe we have not had any additional structural loss today.
JOHNS: Talk for a minute about the emotional toll. We just saw Dan Simon's piece. This must be just a tremendously emotional moment for the community.
REED: Yes. It's a huge community. I actually work in this part of Washington State. These are my friends and neighbors. It's emotional for all of us. It's just a tragedy.
But one thing about this group of folks is they come in and to support and help folks. So as we transition from suppression to recovery, everybody will be right there to help people along through that.
JOHNS: Any idea on the number of people who have been evacuated so far?
REED: We are in the neighborhood of just under 500 folks evacuating. And again today, effective noon today, we're starting to let some folks get back into their homes and also assess some of the homes that have been lost.
JOHNS: Rex Reed, the incident commander there in Cal Allen, Washington, our hopes and prayers are with you.
REED: Thank you.
JOHNS: Turning to the battle for the White House now and what appears to have turned into a day of distractions. Mitt Romney now reviving the debate about his taxes and revealing new information about just how much he says he paid.
The White House response -- "prove it."
Let's bring in CNN national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, with details.
A lot to talk about here. JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Joe. And the day's distractions were of the candidate's own making. Just as the Romney campaign had Vice President Joe Biden on the ropes, the GOP challenger left himself vulnerable to a few new counterpunches.
ACOSTA (voice-over): This was supposed to be a down day for Mitt Romney to raise some money and do some local TV interviews. And then the GOP contender went and made some news.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fascination with taxes I paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face.
ACOSTA: He revealed for the first time his effective tax rate. It was a response to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who claimed, without presenting any evidence, that Romney had paid nothing in taxes for 10 years.
ROMNEY: But I did go back and look at my taxes. And over the past 10 years, I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 percent or something like that. So I've paid taxes every single year. Harry Reid's charge is totally false.
ACOSTA: Word that Romney had paid a smaller percentage of his income in taxes than many middle class families was too much to resist for the Obama campaign, which challenged Romney to release more than two years of tax returns, something he says he won't do. "Since there is substantial reason to doubt his claims, an Obama spokesperson said, we have a simple message for him -- prove it."
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is great to be here in North Canton, or as Joe Biden might say, it's great to be here in Nevada.
ACOSTA: The distraction came just as Republicans were getting some mileage out of Vice President Joe Biden's gaffe-filled speech to a largely African-American crowd on Tuesday.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're going to put you back in chains.
ACOSTA: And ginning up speculation the president might find a new running mate in Hillary Clinton.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think he might be -- he might be wise to do that. But it's not going to happen, obviously, for a whole variety of reasons, include -- including the fact, I'm not sure if I were Hillary Clinton, I'd want to be -- be on...
MCCAIN: -- on that team.
ACOSTA: The White House accused Republicans of looking for a distraction.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I have great admiration for and respect for and a long relationship with Senator John McCain. But one place I would not go for advice on vice presidential running mates is to Senator McCain.
ACOSTA: Also frustrated that his own message wasn't breaking through all of the campaign noise, Romney whipped out a white board to show why he feels his Medicare plan is better than the president's.
ROMNEY: Which of these two do you think is better, going bankrupt or being solvent?
Well, obviously -- obviously, being solvent.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ACOSTA: Soon after Romney wrapped up his second news conference of this week, Republicans were calling attention to the fact that President Obama has not held one of his own in nearly two months.
The Obama campaign responded, the president is taking questions from reporters across a number of platforms, including "Entertainment Tonight" -- Joe.
JOHNS: So we sort of saw the low tech audio visual aids today, huh?
ACOSTA: That's right.
JOHNS: But -- but he hasn't pulled out a PowerPoint so far.
ACOSTA: No, that's right. And they've been called the PowerPoint ticket.
No, today was definitely low tech. He brought out the white board today, Joe. It's something that we haven't seen him do out on the campaign trail. And I think it's something that aides -- his aides want him to do, is get a little more hands-on in terms of explaining things to the -- to the voters out there.
But, Joe, I have to tell you, it was -- it was striking to watch that news conference because they had gone into this wanting to talk about Medicare. That's why he had the white board. And then at the very end, he's asked about the taxes. That end up driving a lot of the day's news. Not what they wanted.
JOHNS: Well, it sort of hijacked the message there for him.
ACOSTA: It definitely did.
JOHNS: Thanks so much, Jim Acosta.
ACOSTA: You bet.
JOHNS: A bold swipe at President Obama's biggest immigration policy change since taking office. Just ahead, what Arizona's governor is now planning for some undocumented immigrants in her state.
Plus, politics is going wireless. New information on how the presidential campaigns are using technology to reach voters.
And police aren't talking after they gunned down striking workers while cameras were rolling. You'll see the shocking video coming up.
JOHNS: Bit of breaking news now. We have a statement from the Southern Poverty Law Center responding to charges by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council that the Southern Poverty Law Center was, somehow, complicit in the shooting that occurred there at the offices of the Family Research Council.
Here's the statement, "Perkins' accusation is outrageous. The SPLC has listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010, because it is knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people, not as some claim because it opposes same sex marriage.
The FRC and its allies in the religious right are saying, in fact, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence."
So, there you have it. A back and forth between these two groups that are very well-known in Washington, D.C. Jack Cafferty's here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There you go. More politics. President Obama's got some serious issues when it comes to the economy, and it could translate to some serious issues come Election Day. A new Gallup poll shows Americans continue to give the president failing grades on the economy, on jobs, and on the deficit.
The president gets high marks for his handling of terrorism, 58 percent and fair marks on education, 49 percent, foreign affairs, 48 percent. But that's pretty much where the good news ends for him. On immigration, Mr. Obama gets just a 38 percent approval rating, and it's all downhill from there. His worst marks come on creating jobs, 37 percent, the economy, 36 percent, the federal budget deficit, 30 percent.
It's not hard to see why a lot of Americans feel this way with unemployment above eight percent for 42 consecutive months now and the annual deficits topping $1 trillion. The poll also shows the president's ratings on the economy are much worse than those of prior two-term presidents. President Obama's 36 percent approval on the economy compares to 46 percent for George W. Bush, 54 percent for Bill Clinton and 50 percent for Ronald Reagan.
The bottom line here is millions of Americans continue to suffer under a weak economy. And if they don't get the idea that President Obama is improving their economic lives, it could be a tough sell for him come November 6th.
Here's the question, should failing grades on the deficit, jobs, and the economy cost President Obama a second term? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Was it James Carville told President Clinton, it's the economy, stupid.
JOHNS: Yes. That's a very famous one there. We heard it so many times over the years. Thanks for that, Jack.
JOHNS: Is presidential politics gone wireless? "Time" has a whole issue devoted to the topic looking at ten ways your phone is changing the world. Joining us to talk about it, "Time" managing editor, Rick Stengel. "Time" is the sister publication of CNN.
So, Rick, one thing I found interesting in this wireless issue is the article about how elections are affected by mobile technology. How are the campaigns affecting the election using mobile technology, particularly, wireless?
RICK STENGEL, TIME MANAGING EDITOR: Well, Joe, as you know, Tip O'Neill famously said that all politics is local. And what mobile technology is doing along with social media is allowing politics to become hyper local. You can target individuals. The Obama campaign has an app which allows you to know whether people on your block are Democrats or Republicans.
In that story by Michael Sharon (ph), this wireless issue, he talks about how a Republican organization called Crossroads Generation was able to target young people at a concert to send them a text message saying that Obama has failed. So, it's really taking this to a new level of isolating politics in a way that really has never been done before.
JOHNS: That's fascinating. Was that an outside group or was it actually a campaign that sent that message?
STENGEL: No. That's one of the outside groups. It's affiliated with Karl Roves Crossroads GPS group.
JOHNS: So, a lot of outside groups are very involved. And, do we necessarily know who's doing all this stuff?
STENGEL: Yes. I mean, I think -- yes. I mean, you know that provenance of where you get a text message from. And, one difference between what's going on in the Obama/Romney fight is that the Obama campaign has centralized a very, very sophisticated use of mobile technology to target voters.
I mean, they have an app that you can download. On the Republican side, most of the sophisticated stuff is being used by group Super PACs, by supporting groups that are working with the Romney campaign rather than the Romney campaign itself. JOHNS: You have to wonder, so many people have mobile devices. Do you think there's a point where we reach saturation when it just becomes a nuisance?
STENGEL: You know, we did this great worldwide poll in this issue with Qualcomm about mobile technology around the world. And people, for the most part, are incredibly attached to their mobile devices. You know, 84 percent of people around the world say that they couldn't live a day without their mobile devices.
And I'm an optimist about the benefit of them and the future of them. And I think that the benefits certainly outweigh the costs, but there are costs.
JOHNS: That's for sure. And that cost of being in touch all the time is pretty remarkable. Thanks so much for that, Rick. Good seeing you.
STENGEL: Great to see you, Joe.
JOHNS: A shooting stuns a small Louisiana town. Losing one deputy would be tough to take for a small sheriff's department. Two is an overwhelming tragedy.
And, U.S. forces suffer another huge loss in Afghanistan. What's less clear is how a helicopter crashed while on patrol. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
JOHNS: Kate Bolduan is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now, including a series of linked shootings in Louisiana. Kate, what do you have?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Joe. Five people are in police custody now after those shootings in LaPlace, Louisiana. The bloodshed began when an officer was shot in the parking lot at a steel mill. Deputies who went to find the suspect were then ambushed by someone with an assault rifle.
Two sheriff's deputies are dead and two more are in the hospitals. The deputies killed in the shooting have been identified as Brandon Nielsen (ph) and Jeremy Triche (ph). Louisiana State Police have taken over that investigation.
Also, seven American service members are among the 11 victims of a helicopter crash in Southern Afghanistan. The Blackhawk chopper was on patrol in Kandahar province when it went down. Officials say the cause of the crash is under investigation. They're looking into the possibility that the helicopter was shot down or suffered mechanical failure.
And raising a child can be painful when it comes to your wallet. Parents you probably already know this without me telling you. A new report suggests center-based child care like day care costs more than rent in almost half of all states, add in a second child, and it costs more in every state.
The Child Care Aware of America Program studied the problem or the issue. We don't call it a problem. The research also showed that in 35 states, the cost of center-based care for infant is higher than in-state tuition and fees for one year at a public college.
And gone but far from forgotten. Elvis Presley fans are marking the king's death 35 years ago today. He died at the age of 42. Thousands are expected to visit Memphis, Tennessee, home of Presley's Graceland mansion to celebrate his life. His daughter, Lisa Marie and ex-wife, Priscilla, will host a concert tonight in Memphis featuring film footage from his concert. That should be a very fun time for all to mark his life -- Joe.
JOHNS: Certainly should. I'd like to be there.
BOLDUAN: But you're working.
JOHNS: But we got to work.
JOHNS: All right. Thanks, Kate.
Arizona is at the very front of the fight against illegal immigration. But did the governor go too far with her latest order targeting undocumented immigrants?
And, imagine your own insurance company helping to defend a driver responsible for your death? A family says that's what happened when progressive tried to avoid paying a claim.
JOHNS: Turning to Arizona now, and a bold swipe at President Obama's biggest immigration policy change since taking office. Republican Governor Jan Brewer now directing the state to deny benefits to any undocumented immigrant applying for deportation relief under President Obama's new executive order.
Supporters of immigration are blasting the move as a direct attack on children and young immigrants.
CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Los Angeles with the latest -- Miguel.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Joe, here in Los Angeles it's -- you know, everything is normal here at the busiest immigration rights center in the -- in the state. They did about 700 applications, processed 700 people today. They're just about done today. By the same amount yesterday. But just one state over in Arizona it's a much different story.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Today, a defiant march to the office of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Immigrants now eligible for legal status here boldly went to the governor's front door demanding answers.
MATTHEW BENSON, OFFICE OF GOVERNOR JAN BREWER: I understand what you're saying and I will certainly pass along the information provided to the governor. She's unavailable right now.
MARQUEZ: They did get an impromptu audience with a member of Brewer's staff who did his best to explain the governor's position.
BENSON: The governor, again, has taken an oath to uphold those laws. That's what she's done with the executive order to clarify that that remains the law.
MARQUEZ: Joshua Montano, now 23, brought here from Mexico when he was 1 year old was one of those demanding answers.
JOSHUA MONTANO, DEFERRED ACTION APPLICANT: For Jan Brewer to say that our work permit -- that our public benefits and that our driver licenses will be denied is a blatant attack on our community.
MARQUEZ: Montano, who graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in meteorology and wants to work for the National Weather Service, says he loves this country, has worked hard and deserves fair treatment.
MONTANO: I'm American. I've been in this country since I was -- since I was like a year old. And I've been here, I grew up with the ideals, I grew up with the education system. I know what is required of me to succeed.
MARQUEZ: When Governor Brewer issued her decision, protests were angry and immediate.
Daniel Ortega, an immigrant rights attorney in Phoenix, says Brewer's decision in the end may mean very little.
DANIEL ORTEGA, ARIZONA IMMIGRANT RIGHTS ATTORNEY: What she said has actually no bearing whatsoever on the process for applying for deferred action and I encourage everybody who believes they qualify to get moving and get those applications in.
MARQUEZ: Today the lines in Phoenix and across the country were as long as ever. Immigrants brought here as kids who consider themselves Americans and want that recognized by law.
MARQUEZ: Now the people gathered here today, they believe that -- they get that there's a lot of politics surrounding what they are doing in signing up for this process here. But they believe that another round of immigration talks will come. And they hope it will lead to something more permanent than this two-year program they have now. They believe and they hope for now that they have won this round -- Joe.
JOHNS: Miguel Marquez there in Los Angeles. Thanks for that. We're going to dig a little bit deeper now. Joining us to talk more about the legal implications of Governor Jan Brewer's order is CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who's just finished his new book, "The Oath: The Obama White House Versus the Supreme Court," which is coming out next month.
And, Jeff, it's good to see you again. I guess we should just start with the basics here among other things, denying state driver's licenses and public benefits. Obviously a lot of our viewers are going to be asking, can the state of Arizona actually do that?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Joe, I wish I could give you a categorical answer. But as the Supreme Court illustrated, just earlier this year this is a very fraught and complicated subject. You'll recall they struck down three of the four provisions of the famous bill 1080. And they split over which -- you know, different justices saw it different ways. I suspect you'd have different judges seeing this differently.
Just to put this in a little bit of perspective. What President Obama did was he said for this group of young people who had been brought to this country illegally when they were children and had good records ever since, they got deferred action. They can stay in the country.
What Governor Brewer said is, well, maybe the president can say they can stay in the country, but we're not going to give them any benefits. We're not going to give them driver's licenses, we're not going to give them in-state tuition. And it's not clear to me, and I don't think it's clear under the law, whether she has the right to do that. And that's what the controversy's about.
JOHNS: Well, generally speaking, though, who gets the final say? The federal government or the state?
TOOBIN: Well, usually it's the federal government when it comes to immigration matters. But of course there's a but. And the but is if something relates to purely state-related matters, not really immigration related, the question then, the state has the power.
Driver's license, you could say that's a state -- that's a state function. You could also say the federal government has the right to say, look, if someone's legally in the country, they have the right to enjoy the benefits of being in the country legally. If someone has a green card, they can get a driver's license. If someone has a green card, they can get a -- in-state tuition.
And just to illustrate some of the chaos around this, one of the local colleges in Arizona when the president's order came out well, said, you're eligible for in-state tuition. The next day they said, well, maybe not. So they don't know what the rules are. This is going to wind up in court. I think that's the one thing that's for sure.
JOHNS: Well, the other thing, too, is I expect we're going to hear talk about unfunded mandates, the federal government, for example, ordering states to do things but not paying for it. But at the end of the day, is this more of a legal issue or is it more of a political issue?
TOOBIN: Well, it's funny. You know, usually, Joe, when you ask me that question my answer is almost always it's a political question, because that's where most issues are resolved. But here I think it's somewhat different. Because here the question is really very simple. Does Governor Brewer have the right to deny various state benefits, driver's licenses and the like? That's a question that is going to be -- that's going to wind up in court. And sooner rather than later.
So I think in this case it really is a legal question. I just don't know how that legal question is going to be resolved.
JOHNS: If you had to take a bet, what would you say?
TOOBIN: Well, I think what the Supreme Court told us is it's going to be on a -- on a case-by-case basis. So I think driver's licenses, in-state tuition, treatment in hospitals, all those things might be decided differently. It's not going to be a categorical decision. And I am going to stick with my "I don't know" answer about how it's going to be resolved because I just don't know.
JOHNS: Right. All right. Thanks so much for that, Jeff Toobin. Also good to see you.
TOOBIN: You, too.
JOHNS: A fight for higher pay turns deadly. Up next, we're live with a look at what caused police to open fire on a group of protesters.
And accused Aurora, Colorado, shooter, he's back in court. Lots of people wondering what does he look like now? We'll answer that question in our next hour.
JOHNS: A clash between striking miners and police in South Africa turned into a blood bath today. Police opened fire on the miners, killing several. For some South Africans, images like these are reminiscent of the grim era of apartheid. And we must warn you, some of these pictures are very graphic and disturbing.
CNN's Errol Barnett joins me now from Johannesburg with the latest -- Errol.
ERROL BARNETT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe, what makes this even more disturbing is that the graphic pictures of striking mine workers being shot at by riot police aired on national television here in South Africa just a few hours ago. So let me warn you and viewers that what you're about to see is horrific, but it's the only way really to illustrate how violent things became here today.
JOHNS: Errol, now, give us the background on how we got here including the hacking death of two individuals. And I understand from your colleague who was on the ground there was at least one report that police thought they had been fired upon, but no police officers were shot. Anything on that?
BARNETT: Yes, well, basically there's been tension at this mine northwest of Johannesburg for a week since last Friday. The mineworkers were striking because they want higher wages. They make $500 a month and they want to triple that to $1500 a month. The mine, the platinum mine, which is called Lonmin, says they can't increase wages because their cost of operating this business has increased. Meanwhile the price of platinum this year has decreased.
So there's been quite a bit of a stalemate. Meanwhile two of the major unions that represent these mineworkers are also having what's described here as a bit of a turf war. That's the background.
Earlier this week, though, negotiations were ongoing while the mineworkers were just sitting on a major hillside near the mine negotiating for higher wages. And there was an incident -- because the police aren't confirming a lot of this information we can just go by what's in reports and what's being said by witnesses, but the witnesses are saying that today and earlier this week the mineworkers were armed with machetes, blunt objects, and some even saying they had weapons. That being the flashpoint for both incidents.
Now earlier this week, as you mentioned, two police officers were hacked to death. So that may lead us to believe that the police officers are feeling much more anxious today. They called today D- day. The day that workers would have to disarm and disperse away from this mine and the violence that's happened towards the end of today. Tomorrow we're expecting maybe the police to have a press conference and confirm the number of deaths, to confirm details surrounding how the incident unfolded.
Because even with all these deaths, it's still unresolved this wage-raising issue. The mine itself needs to get back into operation. They've been closed now for six days. Their share prices also dropping. So it's a very serious situation that we're watching closely. And as of this hour there's not very many answers but very many questions.
JOHNS: So since the shooting, as far as we know, the police have not broken their silence and have said very little if anything?
BARNETT: No. In fact our affiliate, E Television, which shot the footage that you're seeing and also Reuters footage as well available, they were pushed back away from the area because police cordoned off as a crime scene. And even now we have one of our correspondents heading to the location to get as close as possible. It's very difficult to get close. And the police is staying very tight-lipped. So it's challenging getting answers at this point.
It's also worth noting that South Africa president Jacob Zuma has been out of the country this week. Next door in Zimbabwe helping with its political crisis. He's also in Mozambique today. We're not sure when he will return. But the expectation is Friday morning, South Africa time -- we're about six hours ahead of you there on the East Coast -- the police will issue a statement and try and answer some of the questions that we have about how this labor dispute became so violent.
JOHNS: Thank you for that, Errol Barnett reporting from Johannesburg.
A group of veterans accuses President Obama of taking too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden. Coming up on our next hour, what a CNN investigation is now revealing about them.
JOHNS: Jack joins us again with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Joe, the question is, should failing grades on the deficit jobs and the economy cost President Obama a second term? Gallup is out with a brand new poll. He gets very low marks in all three of those categories.
Dale writes, "Obama was a community organizer, he has no common sense about the economy and is completely disconnected from the real world. Yes, he needs to go."
Dee in Pennsylvania, "People need to wake up to the fact the situation we are in will not be fixed overnight. The economy is doing better than it was four years ago. Our society expects everything to be resolved immediately and that's unrealistic. I would rather see it slowly get better than take a chance at Romney throwing us right back into the black hole with his policies."
Eric in Ohio writes, "I think most informed put the majority of the blame for the faltering economy on Congress."
Gary in Arizona, "Yes, Jack, the deficit, jobs and the economy are in terrible shape and frankly they're getting worse. This administration talks a good game, but didn't produce results. A mountain of debt, millions unemployed and a generally weak economy add up to some very unhappy voters. America needs a businessman in the White House, not a community organizer."
Rich in Texas. "Tough call, Jack. Obama didn't create the failing economy, he inherited it from the Republicans along with two wars. When you're dealt a bad hand you have two choices, you can either fold or you can bluff. So far all Obama has done is bluff. Unfortunately the economy has called his bluff. That's what this election is all about. Do you gamble on the Republicans once again or do you continue on the same failing course?"
And Eric writes, "Are you kidding? Of course they should. Being a nice guy is not reasonable criteria for re-election."
If you want to read more on this, you can find it on the blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile or to our posts on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.
And always a pleasure, Joe Johns, working this lemonade stand with you.
JOHNS: Absolutely. Real good to see you again today, Jack. And I'm going to have to check the blog because that's some interesting stuff. It's like a poll with people writing what they think.
CAFFERTY: Yes, it's good. So we got a lot of mail today, too. It's good stuff.
JOHNS: You bet.
CAFFERTY: All right, partner.
It's the headline that went viral after a deadly accident. "My sister paid Progressive insurance to defend her killer in court." We'll tell you why the insurance company fought against her grief stricken family.
And Joe Biden has made his share of gaffes. Now Paul Ryan is poking fun at the vice president. That's coming up on our next hour.
JOHNS: Insurance companies are supposed to help us in times of need, not fight us over every nickel and dime. But that's what's happened to one family after they lost a loved one in a tragic car accident. As CNN's Alina Cho explains, online outrage over the case began with a stunning headline.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the headline that went viral. "My sister paid Progressive Insurance to defend her killer in court."
MATT FISHER, KATIE FISHER'S BROTHER: My Tumblr is not an especially large soapbox. So I -- you know, I was speaking out of a sense of obligation to my sister and my parents.
CHO: Matt Fisher posted the blog on Monday, but the story begins in June of 2010 when his Matt's sister Katie was killed in a car crash in Baltimore, Maryland. The SUV that hit her had run a red light. The 24-year-old was killed instantly.
FISHER: The day she died she had just run a 10-mile road race.
CHO: Her brother says Katie had a $100,000 insurance policy with Progressive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, Slow-Bot (ph), great job.
CHO: The family says Katie's policy also stated Progressive would make up the difference if she was killed by an underinsured driver like the one that hit her, so the Fisher family was paid $25,000, and thought Progressive would pay the rest, $75,000. They were wrong.
FISHER: Progressive took the position that my sister was at fault in the accident that killed her, which under Maryland law would free them of the obligation to pay.
CHO (on camera): Out of a sense of honor and because Katie Fisher had student loans that still had to be paid, the family decided to go after the money. But in Maryland, it's against the law to sue an insurance company that refuses payment. So the family had to sue the man who killed Katie, establish negligence, and then armed with that decision force Progressive to pay.
(Voice-over): But in court --
FISHER: Progressive, my sister's insurer, sat across the -- across the room. They -- their lawyer argued for the defendant in the case, argued that he was not negligent in my sister's death.
CHO: So outraged he wrote on his blog, "If you are insured by Progressive and they owe you money, they will defend your killer in court in order to not pay you your policy, and when the chips are down, your money will have bought you nothing but a kick in the face."
After a whirlwind of criticism on Facebook and Twitter, Progressive responded with the same tweet over and over saying in part, "We properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations," and that in the eyes of some made matters worse.
ERIC DEZENHALL, CRITICS MANAGEMENT EXPERT: When you respond to a very emotional issue using a mechanical technology like Twitter, it doesn't work. It's very difficult to tweet compassion.
CHO: The tweet has since been taken down and Progressive released a statement saying it did not serve as the attorney for the defendant in the case. He was defended by his insurance company, Nationwide.
"There was a question as to who was at fault, and a jury decided in the Fisher family's favor just last week. We respect the verdict and now can continue to work with the Fisher family to reach a resolution."
But Matt Fisher says his family has not yet seen a check.
(On camera): What's your message to Progressive if they're watching?
FISHER: When there's an -- when there's adjustor or someone who sits in a room and says this policy will have to pay X amount, should we pay or should we drag this out, add this, add this to the calculus.
CHO (voice-over): Alina Cho, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: And we actually have an update on this story, one that reinforces the power of social media. Progressive says it settled with the Fisher family this morning. The company says, quote, "This was a tragic accident and our sympathies go out to the Fisher family."