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Aleppo Demolished in Civil War; How Obama's Planned Student Loan Change Will Impact Students; Obama Announces Change to Student Loans.

Aired June 9, 2014 - 13:30   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Up next, once considered to be the most culturally rich in the Middle East, we'll take you inside a city that now sits in total ruin.

Later, we're expecting to hear from President Obama as he unveils new plans to try to change the rules on student loans. We'll bring it to you live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN.

BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

We're waiting for a live news conference from Las Vegas. Police there getting ready to brief us on the horrible shooting, two police officers and a third person, yesterday, by a couple who then apparently killed themselves. We'll have the latest on what's going on. We'll have live coverage. Stand by for that.

Other news we're following, in just the past few hours, the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, once again opened, following an attack by Pakistan's Taliban that began last night. The Pakistani military says 28 people were killed in the attack. According to the Pakistani government, terrorists entered the airport with the intension of destroying as many planes as it possibly could. The Taliban said this was revenge for a U.S. drone strike that killed a Taliban leader last year.

A remarkable meeting between the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli President Shimon Peres. They joined with Pope Francis at the Vatican this weekend and they all prayed together for peace in the Middle East. The pope said the meeting was not a political meeting, but instead is a response to people who want to live as brothers and sisters and not as enemies. Less than a week after he was re-elected, Syrian president, Bashar al

Assad, announced what he called a general amnesty today. It includes foreigners who entered the country to join rebel groups, but only if they surrender within a month. The amnesty also covers army deserters. But a serious civil war rages on.

The city of Aleppo, once the country's crown jewel, its cultural heart and soul, that city is now all but been demolished.

Our Nick Paton Walsh takes a look at the survival among those who are still left.

I want to caution viewers, some of these images are disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Head to Aleppo and the scale of its catastrophe quickly dawns. The future purged from it. Today, something you just survive.

This is what the edge of humanity looks like -- ground, dust, the smell of burning plastic at every turn.

The Syrian regime is trying to encircle those remaining area of Aleppo still held by the rebels, but months of pounding by heavy artillery and barrel bombs mean that in streets like this, life has already been extinguished.

Here's how. This building was hit in the dead of night by a barrel bomb. Huge, crudely made, with scrap metal and TNT, randomly dropped from a helicopter. Survivors look up, fearing them, and look through what they have done. When there is so little left to live from, even the remains of murder are prized. Seven died here, we're told.

Hours can pass before rescuers arrived. Because over the months, the regime has learned to bomb twice, as this footage of an attack on a hospital shows. The second time, to catch those who come to help.

(SHOUTING)

PATON WALSH: Here, the helicopter again.

(EXPLOSION)

PATON WALSH: Aleppo is dying. A city of two million, now in rebel areas, down to mere thousands.

We meet a British doctor, working in Syria for two years. Now with severe burns to his leg from being bombed six weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED PHYSICIAN: The plane came. We ducked down, and it just hit us with a bomb. I didn't feel anything. Next thing, I was waking up. And I couldn't feel my leg. Everything was burning around me. They took me to a hospital. And next thing I realized that I lost the whole skin, the whole leg.

PATON WALSH (on camera): Can you describe the pain?

UNIDENTIFIED PHYSICIAN: It's unbearable. I can't sleep, I can't do anything. The attack, we cannot bear it anymore. There's no people anymore.

If you go around the city, you find there's no people, no cats, no insects, there's nothing left.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): Some are so young, this will be among their first memories. Why a sniper shot 5-year-old Mohammed, he will never know. He was

sitting, watching cartoons on TV in his home at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

PATON WALSH: What can his mother say?

"What's wrong with the sniper's eyes," she says. "Is he blind? Could he not see this is my child? The bullets went in here and out here."

On the outskirts, trash burns. The smoke of a city rising, leaving behind those who cannot leave, who must find life in its embers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Nick is joining us now live from Beirut.

Amazing report, Nick. I think you're the first reporter to get in there, see what was going on. This sham election they had a few days ago in Syria, now the so-called amnesty that the government of Bashar al Assad is putting out, is that really going to change anything, especially in a city like Aleppo, which at one point was such a beautiful historic city?

PATON WALSH: Well, it won't change the immediate prospect of those people you saw trapped in rubble hell barriers, which could soon be encircled by the regime if they cut off the main road into there. But that electoral victory, if you call it an election at all, and this amnesty are part of a broader narrative. Damascus, clearly, on the ground, doing militarily a lot better. They've shunned peace negotiations internationally and it seems they're trying to impose their own negotiation. That's basically a policy called starve and surrender. Isolate an area. Make sure the people inside it leave. The rebels have nothing to eat. They will eventually yield. That's what many fear is happening soon to Aleppo if they cut it off finally. And to boost that whole thing, to speed it up, is that campaign of barrel bombing.

Wolf, hard to understand what it must be like to be beneath helicopters as they pass and just randomly push huge amounts of explosives and shrapnel out into civilian areas, purely targeting crowds of people if they see them gathering below. And then, once the first bomb has landed, dropping another one to kill those on the scene to rescue. A simply horrifying life for those people, in what's really a ground-to-dust parts of the city held by rebels -- Wolf?

It's a shocking, shocking scene.

Thanks for sharing it, getting in there.

One of our courageous reporters, Nick Paton Walsh. He is now back in Beirut.

We'll have much more on Syria coming up throughout the day.

I want to alert our viewers, we're standing by for a news conference in Las Vegas. There's live pictures. Police getting ready to brief us on a horrible shooting incident there over the weekend. Two police officers brutally shot down in cold blood. Third person killed as well. We'll have an update on what is going on. Stand by for that.

We're also waiting to bring you President Obama, live. He's getting ready to announce a new executive order designed to save people thousands of dollars on their student loans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at "This Day in History." Senator Joe McCarthy meets his match during the anti-Communist hysteria in America. The focus is whether Communism had infiltrated the U.S. armed forces. Army special counsel, Joseph Welch, had countered every one of McCarthy's charges during weeks of hearings. This confrontation was the beginning of the end of McCarthy's power. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH WELCH, ARMY SPECIAL COUNSEL: Let us not assassinate this land further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: "Have you no sense of decency, sir"? Famous, famous words.

Let's take a quick look at the markets. The Dow up by 12 points, a modest little gain. The Dow Jones, S&P finished last week at record- high levels. Today, most of the attention appears to be focused on merger activity on Wall Street. We're watching it.

President Obama announcing a new initiative on student loans today in an executive order to lessen the burden on borrowers.

Let's bring in our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans.

Christine, how will this impact students now, graduates who are still paying off their student loans?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: So this is for people who took out loans, 2007 to 2011, for example, and it will be another five million people, student borrowers, who will be able to limit the amount of payments they make every month, something called income-based repayment or pay as you earn. So, Wolf, 10 percent your take home pay essentially is what your student loan bills would be. Wouldn't be allowed to gobble half your income, so you could actually have money to, you know, get a lease on a car, to buy an apartment or to rent an apartment. You would have a little more breathing space, a little more financial freedom.

We've had income-based repayment plans for a long, long time. This is the president and the White House trying to make sure they're available to more students, to more graduates, rather, and help really get some flexibility for families who are suffering from these big student loan debts.

BLITZER: Christine, the president wants new legislation on the interest rates for those student loans. What would that look like?

ROMANS: That's interesting. Democrats are pushing for this in Congress. And Republicans are against it because it would be paid for in part by raising taxes on wealthier Americans. But that would allow people to refinance both their private and federal student loans at lower interest rates. Senator Elizabeth Warren has said many, many times, why can the banks borrow money for next to nothing but students have to borrow for more than the banks have to, that isn't fair. So they'd like to lower those student loan interest rate, essentially let people refinance those student loans to those lower rates.

BLITZER: The president is getting ready to speak. He's being introduced right now, Christine. I'm sure he's going to thank a lot of people before he gets to the substance of his remarks.

But this is potentially, Christine -- let's talk about what this potentially could to, because there are so many students out there taking this -- these enormous loans because college isn't cheap, as all of us know.

ROMANS: And college tuition is up 540 percent since 1985 to today. 540 percent. There's pretty much nothing in your life that has increased at the rate of college tuition at a time, Wolf, when we all know college is worth it, in fact, more important than ever. The unemployment rate for somebody with a bachelor's degree is 3.3 percent. You want to be in the group with the lower unemployment and higher lifetime earnings. But the amount of money you have to borrow to do that is crippling.

Now, about a third of families, Wolf, they don't borrow any money. They save their money. They live below their means and they send their kid to a state school or some people who are wealthier and they can send their kids to private expensive colleges.

But two-thirds of people are borrowing money for college. Two-thirds. They're graduating with on average $29,000, more than $29,000, in student loan debt. So we have to figure out how to keep the debt to a minimum in the first place and then, secondarily, figure out how to help people cope with the big bills once they graduate. That's what this piece is that the president is announcing today.

BLITZER: Christine, quickly, stay with us.

We'll take a quick break, listen to the president on the other side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For 51 months in a row, our businesses have created 9.4 million new jobs in total. We have averaged over 200,000 new jobs every month. That's the good news. But while those at the top are doing better than ever, average wages have barely budged. And there are too many Americans out there that are working harder and harder just to get by. Everything I do is aimed towards reversing those trends that put a greater burden on the middle class and are diminishing the number of ladders to get into the middle class. Because the central tenant of my presidency, party because of the story of my life and Michelle's life, is this is a country where opportunities should be available for anybody. The idea that no matter where you are or what you look like, where you come from, how you were raised, who you love, if you're willing to work hard and live up to your responsibilities, you can make it here in America.

And in America, higher education opens the doors of opportunity for all. It doesn't have to be a four-year education. We have got community colleges, technical schools, but we know that some higher education and additional skills are going to be your surest path to the middle class. The typical American with a bachelor degree or higher earns over $28,000 more per year than somebody with just a high school education. 28 grand a year. And right now, the unemployment rate for workers with a bachelor's degree is about half of those with just a high school education. So you know that this is a smart investment. Your parents know that this is a smart investment. That's why so many of them made such big sacrifices to make sure that you could get in college and nagged you throughout your high school years.

Here's the problem. At a time when higher education has never been more important, it has also never been more expensive. Over the last three decades, the average tuition at a public university has more than tripled. At the same time, the typical family's income has gone up just 16 percent.

And Michelle and I both went to college because of loans, grants, and the work that we did. But I'll be honest with you, I'm old, I have got to admit.

(LAUGHTER)

But when I got out of school, it took me about a year to pay off my entire undergraduate education. That was it. And I went to a private school. I didn't go to a public school. So as recently as the '70s and '80s, when you made a commitment to college, you weren't anticipating that you would have this massive debt on the back end. Now, when I went to law school, it was a different story. That made sense because the idea was, if you got a professional degree like a law degree, you would probably be able to pay it off. I didn't feel sorry for myself or any lawyers who took on law school debt.

But compare that experience, just half a generation, a generation ago, to what kids are going through now. These rising costs have left middle class families feeling trapped. Let's be honest. Families at the top, they can easily save more than enough money to pay for school out of pocket. Families at the bottom face a lot of obstacles but they can turn to federal programs that can help them handle costs. But you have got a lot of middle class families who can't build up enough savings, don't qualify for support, feel like nobody's looking out for them. As Andy just described vividly, heaven forbid that the equity in their home gets used up for some other family emergency or, as we saw in 2008, suddenly home values sink.

BLITZER: All right. There you hear the president. He's making case for some major changes in how student loans are administered here in the United States.

Christine, this is a huge, huge problem for so many graduates.

ROMANS: It is. Wolf, if you're paying all of this money to your student loan debt you're not starting a small business, not able to buy a house, not able to move to a better part of the country for a different job opportunity because you don't have the cash on hand. You are really stuck in that student debt. This whole plan -- the government has this planned income-based repayment for these federal student loans to limit how much you're spending out of pocket to about 10 percent of your discretionary income. There different ways to calculate depending on how big your family is but the idea is to give you a little financial flexibility.

We've had these programs for some time but what the president is announcing expansion of that for about five million more American graduates who have student loan debt.

BLITZER: A lot of those graduates will be grateful for this new initiative.

Christine, thanks very much.

We will continue to monitor the president.

But that's it for me. I will be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM with Deb Feyerick starts right after a quick break.

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