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Crisis in Ukraine; Mystery of Flight 370; Rancher Defies Federal Orders; What Should 911 Perpetrators Be Called?; Climbing Mount Everest

Aired April 26, 2014 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Michael Smerconish.

The crisis in Ukraine is approaching critical levels with Russian aircraft entering into Ukrainian air space seven times overnight.

Are we on the brink of a new Cold War? And are we even prepared?

Russia has tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine's border. We have 600.

Congressman Jim Gerlach has just returned from Ukraine. He joins us this morning. And Gary Berntsen is a former CIA officer who has worked with the US brigade in the region. He'll also join us.

Today marks the 50 days since Malaysia Flight 370 disappeared. 50 days of searching and we could conceivably be no closer to finding the plane than we were weeks ago. 50 days of frustration, grief, and anger for family members and loved ones. Loved ones like Steven Wang whose mother was on that flight. And Sarah Bajc, who's partner is also among the hundreds who have vanished.

Bajc and Wang will join us live this morning from Beijing.

Also, has the GOP brand been injured by support some party members lent to a Nevada rancher now perceived as a racist?

And a semantic debate has embroiled the new 9/11 museum in New York City, raising the question of what to call the 19 who perpetrated that violence.

Plus, have we seen the last climb to the world's tallest peak?

And should police be able to scan license plates at random and then store the information? Wait until you hear what that technology just did.

So let's get started.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SMERCONISH: We begin with breaking news out of Ukraine this morning. Ukraine's security services says international military observers seized by pro-Russian militants are being held in "inhumane conditions." One of them needs urgent medical care but Ukrainian anti-terror agents say the pro-Russian militants aren't allowing any assistance in.

Meantime, it was 48 hours ago when Ukraine issued a 48-hour deadline for Russia to explain its military drills but did not say what it would do if Russia didn't comply. President Obama has said more punitive international actions targeting Russia's economy are ready to go if Moscow continues to escalate the situation.

So are we looking at civil war, a Cold War, or World War III? Each is a potential outcome for the burgeoning crisis in Ukraine.

Russia is warning about civil war now that Ukrainian government troops have moved in to move out pro-Russian separatists. Ukraine counter that Russia's meddling is pushing all of us closer to World War III. But when it comes to the United States and Russia, there's talk of a new Cold War. That means a lot of posturing on both sides where diplomacy and behind-the-scene talks are ineffective, well, now, cue the military exercises.

Russia has 40,000 troops near Ukraine's border and so they're conducting military drills as a response to the crackdown by Ukrainian government troops. On the other side is the U.S. army's 173rd Airborne Brigs. As many as 600 troops are in Poland and the Baltics or on their way there. They'll also be doing drills in response to Russia's possible involvement in Ukraine.

My next guests will break down the options both military and diplomatic.

First, Congressman Jim Gerlach. He's the co-chair of the Ukraine caucus in the House, just got back from a trip to Kiev this week. And Gary Berntsen, former CIA officer, has worked with the brigade that was sent to Poland.

Congressman, let me begin with you. You just came home. What's the latest from Kiev and where do you see this going?

REP. JIM GERLACH, (R-PA): Well, it's a very difficult time and tense time as you can imagine. You have government leaders in Kiev that really want to move forward with the number of reforms that'll move their country forward but they have hanging over them this sword of Russian military presence right along the border and certainly separatists' activity in the eastern part of the country. And so while they want to move forward with how they make their country a better place to live and how they become more involved economically with the rest of the world, they have this military situation right next door that has them very, very concerned, as you can imagine.

SMERCONISH: And how would you articulate the U.S. obligation, if any, to Ukraine? And I mean both emotionally, I mean, legally, I mean in a supportive capacity, what is it we owe Ukraine, Congressman?

GERLACH: Well, we certainly owe them our friendship. We certainly owe them all of our support. The question is how far does that go - certainly economically, diplomatically? Even in my opinion, militarily in terms of at least some support and assistance relative to non-lethal defensive military assistance. I'm not sure we owe them any boots on the ground. In fact, I don't think we do and I would not like to see that happen. But I do think militarily, as this situation continues to worsen, if the Ukrainian government asks for our support for non-lethal and perhaps even lethal military assistance by way of anti-aircraft, anti-tank resources, then we should consider supporting them in that regard. But again, I want to emphasize, it's not a situation where I see American troops being directly involved, but we do certainly want to help them in their efforts to try to push back on Putin's military push against them.

SMERCONISH: And Gary Berntsen, let me follow-up on the Congressman's point and ask you, do you see the best hope for resolution as coming by virtue of money or might? And when I say money, I mean sanctions. There's a story on the front page of the Times today talking about difficulties we might have in getting some of our European allies to toe a hard line in that regard or is a military posture one that will best resolve this situation?

GARY BERNTSEN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Of course - good morning, Michael - it's going to be a combination of both. We need to recognize that President Putin's pushing on an open door. He doesn't believe the west will stand against him. He's evaluated our response. I think that we should be providing lethal to the Ukrainians if they want it, in terms of anti-tank and anti-air. But also, in a larger sense, we have to recognize, we have a new relationship with Russia - an aggressive Russia. We should be looking at the Baltic states now. We should be looking at maybe positioning combat brigades, not 600 men which is a token force. 3,500 in each of the three Baltic state and maybe even getting our NATO allies to position themselves as well there. Putin is looking to break NATO in the end. The Warsaw Pact, the Allied forces that supported the Soviet Union is gone. We've assumed control of many of those countries in that alliance. He would like to take back the Baltic states and we need to put down markers right now because we don't want to have a conflict. We need to demonstrate strength now and quickly. The Russians are not taking us seriously. They're violating every agreement that they sign.

SMERCONISH: But where the Congressman says that he wants to be clear that he's not advocating for boots on the ground, why would we then engage in an uptick? In fact, why would we even send 600 there to begin with if, frankly, we really don't mean that we're about to pursue a military option? Gary?

BERNTSEN: Well, though the point here is I'm not saying a military option inside the Ukraine. I'm talking about NATO. I'm talking about Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania which will be Mr. Putin's next target and we have an obligation to defend all NATO nations. We have a treaty with them. An attack on one is an attack on all. We want to demonstrate our commitment to NATO right now. The Ukraine is one piece of this. The other piece is NATO. Putin and his leadership - their number one goal would be breaking NATO and that treaty, that agreement.

SMERCONISH: But Congressman, how do you take the temperature of your constituents on a matter like this? My sense of it is that the nation is exhausted from involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan after a decade. It would be very hard to draw support for any type of a military response to the situation we're discussing.

GERLACH: Well, that's right. And I - first of all, I agree with everything Gary just said. I think he's spot on. But the tone, sure, people are focused on jobs. People are focused on the economy generally, education, health care. They're not focused specifically on what's happening in Ukraine. And yet at the same time, I think if Putin did make a military incursion into the eastern part of Ukraine, that would get the attention of a lot of people here in the United States and I think they would see the world much the way Gary described that this certainly is an effort by Putin sort of become Peter the Great again and try to expand the borders of Russia in a way that really puts pressure on NATO and tries to break NATO, as Gary just said. I think that would get the attention of a lot of my constituents at that point in time. And bottom line is I think we need to be there for the Ukrainians. They're not asking for boots on the ground from the United States either. They want to defend their country but they do want to have the material to be able to do that and I think that's the role - if they ask - that the United States can play.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you for your expertise. Gary Berntsen. Congressman Jim Gerlach. We appreciate both of you.

The search for Malaysia Flight 370 is shifting this morning and family members of those who vanished with the plane are at their wits' end. Two of those demanding answers join me live next.

And New Jersey officials just told a woman that she cannot have the license plate that she wanted. Wait until you hear what her request was.


SMERCONISH: Take a look at this picture. This is the moment more than a month ago when Malaysia's prime minister announced that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean. However, earlier this week, the Prime Minister struck a different tone in an exclusive interview with our Richard Quest. Take a listen.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN: So I ask you again, Prime Minister, are you prepared to say that the plane and its passengers are lost?

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: At some point in time, I would be. But right now, I think I need to take into account the feelings of next-of-kin. And some of them have said publicly that they're not willing to accept it until they find hard evidence.


SMERCONISH: Just this morning, President Obama landed in Kuala Lumpur promising continued support and assistance in the search for the missing flight. But that's doing little to satisfy family members of the missing - many of whom showed up outraged this week outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing.

Two people who know that outrage all too well join me now from Beijing. Sarah Bajc, the partner of American Philip Wood who was on Flight 370. Also, Steven Wang, whose mother was aboard the flight.

Sarah, let me begin with you. The Malaysian Prime Minister told Richard Quest that there will be a release this week of some kind of a preliminary report. What is it you're looking to learn in that document and how much faith do you have that it will bring about some closure in your mind?

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF AMERICAN PASSENGER ON FLIGHT 370: Well, we are all looking forward to seeing that document and being able to identify pieces of evidence that we've been asking for since the beginning. Our hope is that there will actually be factual information in the document and not just another series of observations and analysis which so far have not been accurate.

SMERCONISH: I know that you participated in the development of these 26 questions that family members would like resolved. Give our audience an example of the type of thing you need to know.

BAJC: Mostly what we're asking for the Malaysian government to do is to release all of the preliminary raw data that came out of the radar systems and the air traffic control so that we can bring in outside experts and have them take a look at the direction that that plane went in because all the confidence in the world that the Malaysian government and the Australian government had that the plane is in the water where they've been searching have clearly not come to bear. So if they were wrong about that, we'd like to go back to square one and start over with seeing if we can figure out a different path.

SMERCONISH: Steven Wang, how are you coping with the uncertainty pertaining to your mother?

STEVEN WANG, MOTHER WAS ON FLIGHT 370: Well, it is very hard, not only for the missing of our loved ones, but also the uncertainty about I don't know what happens to her, where are - where is her. And really, I want to do whatever I can and whatever all the relatives can to help to find the plane, help to find her.

SMERCONISH: Do either of you have a concern that financial considerations will cut short this search before there's closure?

WANG: Well, I think what they should do first is still finding the plane and let out all the raw data and let other third party independents search institutions to help find the plane. That is the most important thing we want. Financial help is required but not the first.

SMERCONISH: Sarah Bajc, I know that you're looking for some answers from Boeing. Boeing's shareholders will be meeting this week. What is it that you're requesting of the American airplane manufacturer? BAJC: Well, all of the family members - both in China and Malaysia and other countries - are contributing to a new set of questions. We don't mean that to become a running joke. But we don't have a lot of mechanism to communicate in any formal way other than putting things in writing. So we've all gotten together to draft some requests directed to really the shareholders of Boeing and the kinds of commitments they believe Boeing should be making on behalf of solving this mystery.

SMERCONISH: We're having this conversation at a time when the American president, President Obama, coincidently, not by virtue of these events, is in Malaysia. Is there a political response that you have requested? Is there something that can be done by President Obama or the American government to try and light a fire under these investigators?

BAJC: Well, the one thing that we would like him to speak with the Malaysian prime minister about is this idea of allowing a third-party independent group such as the NTSB to come in and take over the investigation. It is something that has happened in a large number of crashes in the past or in this case, we don't even know if it's a crash yet. But the NTSB could come in and relieve Malaysia of some of its burden and work together with Malaysia and the other countries to perhaps shed some new light on what has happened.

Sarah Bajc, Steven Wang, God speed and thank you.

Which political party do you identify with? Republican? Democratic? How about none of the above? If that's your answer, you can now count yourself amongst the majority.

And a debate swirls around the 9/11 memorial in New York City. This one is about the 19 people who attacked America. We look at why some are upset with how they're about to be portrayed.


SMERCONISH: Hey, time for headlines redefined. The headlines that got the story half right.

From the New York Times. The American middle class is no longer the world's richest. And indeed, while the wealthiest of Americans continue to outpace their global peers, our middle class is no longer the wealthiest. And as a matter of fact, the poor in the United State are now lagging behind - by way of example - the poor in Europe on an earnings basis.

What drives this? Well, earlier this week, I chatted on radio with Janet Gornick. She's the director of this survey and of course, she pointed to globalization and technology, but there are other factors that she suggested and others have been suggesting about what explains the diminished value of our middle class. And they include educational considerations - we lag behind in terms of science and mathematics. Executive salaries in this country far outpacing other nations around the globe. Our minimum wage with unions. The tax code. Hey, it occurred to me, a lot of these factors are determined by government policy. And so you remember that original headline, the headline that said the American middle class is no longer the world's richest? Here's how I would have written it: "You get what you vote for."

Next one, Rasmussen Reports. 53 percent think neither political party represents the American people. And that's true - that the American party as symbolized by members of congress, the American parties - Rs and Ds - now out of sync with the remainder of the nation.

And this comports with other data that comes to a similar conclusion. For Gallup in January said 42 percent of Americans now regard themselves as independent, not as Republicans or Democrats.

I think I can explain what's going on here. A number of words come to mind that symbolize how we perceive the Republican and Democratic Party and those words would be "polarization", "gridlock", "extremism", and "lack of compromise".

You remember the headline? The headline which said 53 percent think neither political party represents the American people? Here's how I would have written it: "We didn't leave the parties. The parties left us."

Finally, here's my favorite. It comes from my own Philadelphia Inquirer. New Jersey denies woman license plate that reads "8thiest." And it's true. A New Jersey woman is now saying that the DMV rejected her request for a vanity plate that would have said with a number eight "8thiest". Interestingly, she said she was told that it was objectionable. So she then attempted to get a license plate that said "Baptist." "Baptist" was cool but "8thiest" wasn't.

Now, if that's true, I think she's got a legitimate first amendment beef. But you know, so much of this is so subjective. In my home state of Pennsylvania, I'm told that there are 10,000 combinations of words and letters that are objectionable. In my next life, I want to be on the committee that makes the decision as to whether you can have the vanity plate that you'd like to have.

You remember that original headline? New Jersey denies woman license plate that reads "8thiest." You're going to have to study this one. Here's how I would have rewritten it: "The guy who didurx is a fgators."

Conservatives are backtracking this morning. It seems they may have been a little too quick to endorse the man who just said some appalling things.

Also, the grand opening of the new 9/11 memorial museum is coming up next month. But one part of the exhibit is starting an angry debate. I'll get to the heart of that controversy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: So how long do you think you can get away with not paying your taxes? A year, maybe two before the feds show up at your door demanding payment?

Then what do you think of the case of the Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy. He hasn't paid his federal grazing fees for more than 20 years. That's around a million dollars. But he says that he shouldn't pay because he doesn't recognize laws governing the federal lands that his cattle are grazing on. And because of this, he has become a darling of some conservatives who believe that the government is overreaching in trying to collect on its debt. At least he was their darling until he got caught uttering a few choice words about African Americans, wondering aloud if they were better off as slaves.


CLIVEN BUNDY, RANCHER: And I said I'm wondering if they are better off under government subsidy and young women are having abortions and their young men are in jail and their older women and their children are -- sitting out on the cement porch without nothing to do. You know, I'm wondering, are they happier now under this government subsidy system than they were when they were slaves and they was able to have family structure together.


SMERCONISH: Later on CNN, Bundy offered up his boot saying that he was prepared to stick his foot in his mouth. Some conservatives have been doing the same.

I want to bring in Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, and David Nather, senior policy reporter at Politico.

David, you've covered this and you point out that most Republicans and anti-government groups didn't take the bait, but some did. Who are those that now have egg on their face and have had to backtrack?

DAVID NATHER, SENIOR POLICY REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, you've potential 2016 candidates like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and maybe Rick Perry again. You know, all kind of, you know, didn't say Bundy is a great guy. They didn't say that specifically, but they expressed sympathy with the cause. And you've got people like Nevada Senator Dean Heller who called Bundy and his supporters patriots.

So they're all having to run away from that now. You've also got media figures like Sean Hannity who really embraced them and are having to run away from that now but it's really the politicians that are the interesting story here because most Republicans did stay away from this. Most Tea Party groups did stay away from this. These are the candidates who didn't and they got burned.

SMERCONISH: So, Larry, what's the damage to the GOP brand?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, it doesn't help them obviously because we tend to choose up sides very quickly in this Twitterized world of ours. You know, these stories hit the news or hit Twitter literally within minutes. All of the liberals line up on one side. Then the conservatives line up on another.

SMERCONISH: It's true.

SABATO: It is a media circus. It's a feeding frenzy. And then finally we get to the facts of the case and as you noted earlier, Michael, this guy hasn't paid essentially his taxes, his grazing fees in years and years and years. That's not the way our system works. You know, you go through the courts. You lobby your elected officials, maybe you run for office. But in the meantime, you obey the law or if you choose civil disobedience, you take the penalty.

SMERCONISH: You know, David, I addressed this subject a week ago here and this guy lost me, not that he ever had me. But he lost me before he uttered these racially-tinged statements when he said he doesn't recognize the existence of the United States government. That should have been the alarm bell a week before Adam Nagourney's piece in "The New York Times" when the Rand Pauls would have said, wait a minute, I'm cutting ties now.

NATHER: Yes, even before this. You know, again, most Republicans and conservative groups were staying away from him because, you know, if they did their homework at all, they knew that there were alarms like that way before he ever opened his mouth on racial issues. You know, it was attractive to some people because it really did seem like the Bureau of Land Management overreacted. Like, you know, really, is that -- you know, is that the way to handle it? Go straight to gathering up the guy's cattle.

You know, people were looking at this as government overreach, but then if they just looked a little deeper, they would see that this is not the guy that they wanted for their messenger. And then he opened his mouth again and boy, that really is the guy they don't want for their messenger.

SMERCONISH: Larry Sabato, you've got that famous crystal ball. You have a gift of prognostication. All politics is local in the end. I know that this is good cat nip for those of us who are in the media. But in the end, does it matter? When we go out in our local congressional race, is this guy going to be on the brain or in the deep recesses of the brain?

SABATO: No, I think it hurts some Republican attempts to reach out to minorities. David mentioned Senator Rand Paul who admirably has been trying to broaden the Republican coalition with the young and some minorities. Well, you know, he's got something to explain and it just all brings us back to that old line, look before you leap. And it's amazing how few people do.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, great to have you here.

Dr. Larry Sabato and David Nather from Politico, we thank you both.

Islamist, Muslim, terrorist. The use and meaning of those words in a 9/11 memorial museum exhibit has angered some. Can it be resolved before the doors open next month?

Also closing Mt. Everest. A deadly avalanche stopped the push to the summit but it's also led to a split among the sharpest. I'll talk with a man who have summited Mt. Everest.


SMERCONISH: We are less than a month away from the official opening of the National September 11th Memorial Museum here in New York City. But as the date draws near, so does the microscope on what's included. And there's now a controversy swirling around a short documentary film that will be shown to visitors. A semantic debate has arisen over how to refer to the 19 from September 11th.

I was in Central Park last night and asked that very question of a couple of people.


SMERCONISH: There's now controversy as to how they should refer to the 19 I will say terrorists on September 11th? What's the proper word choice?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My choice would be jihadists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The acts are those of terrorists. I would call them terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it certainly shouldn't be related to religion whatsoever.

SMERCONISH: Should not?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should not. Most certainly. Because we don't know the intentions for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't want to automatically, you know, assume or associate terrorism with all of the people who follow -- part of the Muslim faith.

SMERCONISH: What would be the word choice that you would think appropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Terrorist. It doesn't matter if they are white, black, jihadist, it doesn't matter. They were terrorists.

SMERCONISH: What should the word choice be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a really tough question. I don't know what the proper term is.


SMERCONISH: There was a wonderful story in Thursday's "The New York Times" on this. It's my must-read of the morning. And joining me now is "New York Times" religion reporter, Sharon Otterman, who wrote the story.

So what is the word choice that will be used in this seven-minute long documentary?

SHARON OTTERMAN, RELIGION REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, they definitely used the word terrorist. And everybody is fine with the word terrorists because that's what they were. The question is, when you use religious terminology like jihadist or Islamist, if those words can just hang out there independently or if they should be explained somewhat because of the audience that's going to be at the museum.

SMERCONISH: Islamic is not on the table. It is such a parsing issue.


SMERCONISH: But Islamist is something that they are using at present.

OTTERMAN: That's right. There was a group of clergy that saw this film that was concerned that at the word Islamist which just sounds to most lay people like the word Islam. And if they want to say Islamic or Islamic terrorist, they want to make sure that people understand that that is not what most Muslims believe. And it's a tiny segment of people that are using Islam to justify their actions.

SMERCONISH: So fair to say, what they're trying to so is somehow come up with the means of conveying that we certainly don't wish to cast dispersions on an entire faith, but we do want to be historically accurate and reflect the fact that these 19 and their enablers were motivated by their perverted notion of their religion. Is that a fair way to encapsulate it?

OTTERMAN: That's correct. They would -- they would like the film to have that level of sophistication. But it's a short film and they felt it didn't have that level of sophistication. The museum responded that when you watch the film in the context of the rest of the museum, which includes a lot of text, that you will get a full understanding, but they're concerned that people won't read the text, that they'll just watch the short film and that's what they'll come away with.

SMERCONISH: So when I read your great story, you can see my version is all marked up.

OTTERMAN: Very impressive.

SMERCONISH: I of course went to the "Times" Web site. And I want to watch the video. OK, I want to read the transcript. Of course I could do neither. Why is that the case?

OTTERMAN: I asked for several weeks to see this film. They are -- two reasons they told me. One, they want to hold off on showing anybody this information until the museum opening and all the media embargo that they have. And the other I think they were concerned that if not viewed in the context of the rest of the museum that you wouldn't get a full understanding of the sophistication of what they're trying to say.

SMERCONISH: Can we also use this as a exhibit A for how nasty people can be in the blogosphere? And I think the "Times'" commentators, and I'm kind of addicted to see what's the most popular story and what are people saying about it. Man, they were nasty about this particular piece.

OTTERMAN: Exactly. And this is the concern of the clergy which included rabbi, priests, many Christian clergy of various types. They're concerned. They know, you know, the idea that Islam is somehow responsible for 9/11 is alive and well in this country and you could see it right on "The New York Times" Web site. And those are our "New York Times" readers. So they want to make sure that people don't come away angry at the whole faith after this deeply emotional experience they're going to have at -- at this museum.

SMERCONISH: Sharon, your piece and this issue brought back to me the fact that about a decade ago, I was at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and I was taking a private tour with the representative of what is left of the camp. And when we got to a particular inscription on the plaque near the remnants of a crematorium, she was objecting to my group, the fact that it referred to Nazis and not German Nazis. She thought that to be -- to be accurate to the history that both should be included.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this is one of those issues that the people who present historical facts have to deal with that usually fly below the radar screen and we never stop to think about them.

OTTERMAN: That's right. And, you know, if you are sitting in a classroom at Princeton with people who are setting this issue, you can use these terms and everyone understands what you mean. But if you're with the public at the 9/11 Museum where a lot of people won't know about Islam, the interfaith clergy group want to say, what responsibility does a museum have to really make sure that people understand that they're only talking about a sliver of people who use this faith to justify their actions.

SMERCONISH: Final questions. So are we finished on this issue at Islamist and jihadists? Is that the way it's going to be or do you think that now by virtue of the attention it's receiving there might be a change made?

OTTERMAN: No, I don't think there's a change made. They have removed the term Islamic terrorists which they felt was too closely associated to Islam and terrorism. But they said they're not going to change the terms any further. They stand by it from a historical perspective. And as you can see, many people are happy that they're standing by and not watering down the language or, you know, trying to --

SMERCONISH: My walk in Central Park.

OTTERMAN: Yes. Exactly.

SMERCONISH: You can see the reaction.

Thank you so much for being here. It's a really interesting issue.

OTTERMAN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: We appreciate Sharon Otterman for joining us.

Looking up to the world's tallest peak, all you might be able to get from now is a view from the bottom following the tragic deaths of 13 people with more still missing. Should we continue to push to the top?

And license plates scanners collect and store data constantly. Not everybody is happy about that but something just happened that might change their minds.


SMERCONISH: It's the ultimate achievement for adventurers. A climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. It's not a cheap undertaking either with some packages costing upwards of 100,000 grand for the opportunity. But this year, a tragedy on the mountain has stopped the ascent.

Let me explain. A week ago there was an avalanche on the mountain and 16 Sherpas were killed. You can't climb without a Sherpa. The legendary guides know the terrain better than anyone. It's a life's work for many of them and the decision to cancel the climbing season has split their ranks.

My next guest summited Everest on May 21, 2011 with (INAUDIBLE) Sherpa. He also runs a Web site for climbers. Alan Arnette joins me from Orlando.

Alan, you're uniquely qualified to tell us a little bit about the relationship between a climber and the Sherpa.

ALAN ARNETTE, MOUNTAINEER: That's exactly right, Michael. And the word is relationship. The Sherpas work incredibly hard, had are unselfish people. They carry the loads up to establish the high camps, they also carry oxygen for the climbers. My estimation is 99.9 percent of the people that are on Everest these modern times would not be able to summit without the help of the Sherpa.

SMERCONISH: I want to put up on the screen, if we can, a map of what Everest looks like from a climbing perspective and I know that you supplied this to the "New York Times."

What is the most treacherous part? Not the hardest part but what's the most dangerous aspect of making that track?

ARNETTE: Well, as you can see in the graphic, the line goes up through what's called a Khumbu Icefall. That's 2,000 feet of moving ice. It can move up to three feet a day. It's very unstable. And off to the left of that route is the west shoulder of Everest. And that's where the ice rack released. It came down and split into car- sized pieces. And that's what unfortunately killed 16 Sherpa and there are still three more missing. Beyond that, once you get above the high point in that saddle, that's called the South Cull. And from there you go up the southeast ridge. At that point, it shifts from being objective danger to really being an altitude issue. You're at 29,000 feet. You know, that's where airplanes fly and you're on the ground. And it's treacherous to the body.

SMERCONISH: Alan, have the sums that climbers are now paying for this experience contributed in any way to the danger? And by that, what I mean to ask is, if I'm paying $100,000 maybe I have a certain expectation and I'm going to be more apt to be demanding of Sherpas. Hey, I paid all this money for this, of course we're making the climb today. That sort of thing.

ARNETTE: Well, I think there's an e eliminate of it. In 2014 the average price that people pay was $42,000. That ranges from $30,000 to $100,000. You know, I think that Everest has been marketed and advertised as somewhat of an easy climb. This year's tragedy is the worst in the history of Everest with close to 19 lives potentially lost. It really illustrates that the danger is real.

As far as the expectations go, you know, the technology has advanced over the years. There's much better oxygen systems. Weather forecasting is a known route. So a lot of the -- a lot of the perceived dangers have been mitigated, but still it's a very dangerous mountain and it does attract people, I think, that underestimate the dangers.

SMERCONISH: Well, does the fact that it's become so popular on bucketlists mean that there are inexperienced people who are putting themselves in harm's way? Not the Sherpas, but the climbers.

ARNETTE: Michael, my experience is that it's kind of the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the people that go there, they know what they're getting into but you certainly have the peak baggers, the people who just want to go there to have the bragging rights. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they don't. And if you don't go in prepared, then certainly you can -- you can have a tragedy.

Every year, eight to 12 people are killed on Everest. That includes Westerners, you know, as well as Sherpa.

SMERCONISH: What's the protocol? Pardon my naivete, but if you should be successful in summiting Everest, are you high-fiving up there? What goes on?

ARNETTE: You know, a lot of hugs and down suits. I can tell you when you finally reach the summit -- you know, you don't actually stay on the true summit because the mountain is sacred so you stand just one step or two steps below the summit. But I'll tell you, you hug your Sherpa. You thank everybody that's been there. If I was fortunate to have a cell phone or a sat phone with me then I was able to call back home, I was able to dedicate my summit to Alzheimer's that took my mom. And it's just a -- it's a joyous moment.

There's also a moment where the reality of where you are and that you have to get back down the mountain safely. So it's a time of mixed emotions.

SMERCONISH: And we're just limited on time to 30 seconds, but I was going to say you really haven't summited unless you make it down safely, right?

ARNETTE: That's correct. Ed Viesturs, the American who had to climb all of the 14,000 -- 14 8,000-meter mountains without oxygen, is fond of saying the summit is optional, the return is mandatory. And that's --


ARNETTE: That's the mode you live by.

SMERCONISH: Alan Arnette, congratulations. That's quite an achievement. We really appreciate you having been here.

ARNETTE: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Should license plate readers constantly be snapping pictures and storing data? Some folks are outraged about this but we just found out how the technology can make a real difference between life and death.


SMERCONISH: Hey, one last thing. This past week what had been a privacy debate that was suitable for first-year law students became very real with life-and-death consequences.

Here's the background. Two years ago, the "Kansas City Star" reported that police in that city were using automatic license plate readers mounted on patrol cars to collect information on public roadways. The readers have the ability to scan license plates and then compare them to police databases. It could be used for instance during an Amber Alert.

According to the newspaper at the time, the plate numbers are stored in a data base along with the time, date and exact location that each vehicle was scanned by one of the readers. The database can be a gold mine for investigators looking to solve crimes. Well, the ACLU wasn't happy. The civil liberties group worried that the technology would be used to track the movement of law-abiding motorists. But Missouri didn't limit its use.

Now fast-forward nearly two years. For much of the last month, Kansas City has been terrorized by a motorist who was randomly shooting other drivers. Thank God he didn't kill anybody, but this one man is believed to have perpetrated a dozen attacks. Three people were shot. And others found bullet holes in their cars.

A 27-year-old has now been arrested in connection with the attacks. And wait until you hear how they caught him. The Affidavit of Probable Cause says that a female motorist reported to law enforcement that she thought she'd been followed on the highway by the shooter. By jamming on her brakes, she managed to get behind him and then she wrote down his Illinois license plate and she phoned it in.

Police then turned to the license plate scanner technology and they immediately got several hits from their database showing that that plate had been used on multiple cars and was seen parked in front of a particular address.

Now they had their suspect. Owing to the technology, a warrant was issued that allowed installation of a GPS tracking device on his car and with a little old-fashioned gum shoeing, authorities now think they cracked the case.

The investigation isn't over but so far the suspect faces 18 felony charges in connection with nine separate shootings. He's being held on a million-dollar cash bond.

And here's my takeaway. To paraphrase David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, while it's wonderful to philosophize about a perfect world of peace and justice, it's first important that we ensure we're in it.

Thank you for joining me. Join me Monday through Friday next week when I host this program in prime time at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Until then, have a great weekend.