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California Wildfires; Essence Festival; Colombia Hostage Drama; Brinkley/Cook Divorce; Georgia Gun Law

Aired July 05, 2008 - 12:00   ET


LUI: All right, straight to the wildfires now in California, which also Reynolds was tell about us (sic) today, on the move this holiday weekend unfortunately chasing thousands from this homes in California. Now the biggest concern right now the fires at Big Sur. And wildfires near the town of Goleta, California, not far from Santa Barbara. Let's go now to CNN's Kara Finnstrom in Goleta with more of that.
Hi, Kara.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Well, you can see the fire smoldering in the hillsides just behind me here. It looks pretty calm out here right now, but firefighters tell us the big concern is what will happen later this afternoon when those winds picked up as they did late yesterday.

We have some video to show you these same hillside, very different picture as those winds whipped up some walls of flames yesterday. That forced some new evacuations, about 2,800 homes in this area still concerned threatened. Fifteen air tankers moved in yesterday, dropping dome fire retardant. That is the largest air response they've ever had in this area to a wildfire.

Now back here live on the ground, we're told that this will be ground zero in the ground response. And if you take a look over this way, you can see the fire truck's starting to line up. They have been quite a few firefighters out here, just trying to organize, and get prepared for the day ahead, lots of shovels, lines being pulled out there to get ready for what may happen later today. This is the point where they don't want the fire to travel any further east from.

And I want to show you also just down here, and this is one of the communities, about 30 homes down there that is considered right in the line of fire. We spoke with one of the gentleman who lives down there, a little bit earlier, he says his home was burned 18 years ago and he and his wife simply can't go through that again.


JAN ROHBACK, HOMEOWNER: We have hose lines and if we have enough water pressure and stuff to deal with it, we'll do what we can. You can see all of the other jurisdictions are up on the road, just like they were last time. So if you want to save your house you got to be here.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FINNSTROM: Jan Rohback is actually a retired firefighter himself. And he's down there with a number of volunteer firefighters from this area who have been hosing down the rooftops down there, spraying on foam, hoping to keep those flames away from their homes if that fire does progress up this way -- Richard.

LUI: And, Kara, after two week, still being very resourceful and staying in town, not wanting to leave this. The fight still growing, huh?

FINNSTROM: Yeah, you know, they have been. Once you get down to Goleta, the fire hasn't reached down there, yet. You know, there are shops opened and it is business as usual, but up in these communities a lot of fear. It's kind of, you know, a little bit misleading. You see how it looks right now and it seems very calm, but these firefighters say these communities still need to be very concerned.

LUI: Yeah, the picture's (INAUDIBLE) the danger down there. Thank you so much, Kara finnstrom telling us the latest out of Goleta.

Hey, let's talk about the weather, right now. We got a sense it was pretty clear up in the air. Reynolds Wolf, when we take a look we're concerned about moisture as well as winds what you are seeing right now?

WOLF: Well, today we're looking at the winds not being quite as strong as they have been, say over the past week or so, but the problem is Richard, when you have fires as big as these fires have been, it's really not going to make much of a difference if the winds are a little bit weaker or stronger, today. There's still plenty of (INAUDIBLE) to burn in places like Big Sur, south of Soleanus (ph). We're going to take you there, then we're going to head further down south into places like Goleta.

Here's Santa Barbara, Goleta to the west/northwest of that area, right along parts of Highway 154. They curve right back into these mountains. You're going to have a lot of dry foliage. You've got a lot of Chaparral you have a lot of grass back there. Plenty of bristlecone and with that you imagine a little bit of debris can actually cause these fires to spread very quickly and that's big fear they will have. And it's not just a fear that is limited to the west coast.

If you look out wider in scope, you will notice that we have a few spots, say in parts of Utah and back into Colurado, near parts of the I-15 and the I-70 corridor, we have a red flag warning. Those are areas where we have low humidity and where the wind is stronger so that if there is the possibility of say more fires they could spread rapidly.

Now, you're also seeing real-time lightning detection in parts of northern Arizona. Now, where those lightning strikes have been occurring, if they hit any of that vegetation, just like they did this California that could be another big catalyst to more fires. That's the latest we've got for you. More updates throughout the day.

LUI: I know you'll be watching that for us, Reynolds, and you were telling me a little bit earlier that actually California is built to fend fires, or at least historic has had a lot of them.

WOLF: Historically, absolutely. Longer than the state was even given the name California, longer then we were even here as a country. This is a Mediterranean-style climate, which means, for all intents and purposes, it's going to be very dry, say from March until about, say, the December. The rainy season is in January, February and March. But usually this time of the year you've got a big area of high pressure, compressing air over this part of the country and when that occurs you have very limited possibilities in terms of rainfall, so it's very dry. The grasses dry out very quickly and then you have those winds that do tend to come in and when they do right through those mountain passes, they accelerate, they go on faster and a lot of times the winds drop down in the hillside, the compressing in effect warms air which helps dry out the vegetation much faster and of course spreads the flames. This is an area that is no stranger to fires.

LUI: A record year last year and WILL hopefully stay underneath half a million this year. Thanks a lot, Reynolds Wolf -- in terms of acres being burnt, there.

You know that we told you about those 15 hostages that were rescued from the Colombian jungle in a daring operation. Now you can see it as it happens.

Well, this new video shows the reactions that the hostages learn they're being freed after years of captivity. The hostages had no idea until this moment that they were being rescued. The rebels unwittingly turned them over to Colombia agents who were pretending to be humanitarian workers who were sent to move the captives to another rebel camp. Once the helicopter lifted off, the hostages found out the truth. They had been freed.

Well, three of those rescued hostages are U.S. contractors who had been kidnapped more than five years ago. They are being treated right now in San Antonio, Texas and that's where CNN correspondent Susan Roesgen is there with the very latest on their recovery, there.

Hey, Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Richard, do you know, they have missed so much. They are like Rip Van Winkle, they've missed so much this what has happened in this country in the last five, almost 5-1/2 years, but here at Brooke Army Medical Center, they're being reacquainted with their families and their normal life. These guys were captured in February of 2003. That means they missed Hurricane Katrina, they even missed the whole Iraq War. They were taken before the Iraq War started, because basically they were trapped in a time warp in the Colombian jungle.


(voice over): As their small plane lost power over the Colombian jungle, American Keith Stansell made the mayday call for help.

KEITH STANSELL, AMERICAN: Mutt Zero-One is declaring mayday. We have lost engine. ROESGEN: Those were Stansell's last words as a free man. His captors made this video released a few months later.

STANSELL: I heard gunshots and the FARC were on the ground, they were shooting into the air.

ROESGEN: This is exclusive CNN video obtained from the Colombian recovery team. Near the plane wreckage a Colombian intelligence officer and the American pilot, Tom Janice, were found shot to death.

Keith Stansell and two other Americans: Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves, civilian workers for a defense contractor on U.S. surveillance mission, were taken hostage. The rebels are leftist guerrilla fighters who have been trying for 40 years to over through Colombia's government. They are believed to have more than 700 hostages right now hidden away in makeshift camps like this one. Hostages who've escaped describe being chained at the neck, kept in the most primitive and cruel conditions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): These chains were placed under lock and key. They put them on at 6:00 p.m. we had to sleep this them. There were months when we had to wear them for 24 hours.

ROESGEN: Although the world knew what was happening the tough U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists meant the three Americans seemed to have little chance of ever getting out and only rarely were they able to record messages for their families back home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you too and I want you to know that I am being strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I miss my family more than anything else. When I feel like sometimes not going on, I think in my mind of my 11-year-old son.

ROESGEN: Imagine that you're a son or daughter, wife or parent and these images are all that you've seen. The hostages had even less to keep them going.

After an amazing rescue by the Colombian government, the Americans are home. What we can tell them about what they've missed these last five years and what they can tell us about what they've endured should be an incredible story.


Now right, now and probably for the next few day, Richard, the men here at Brooke Army Medical Center are going to be evaluated psychologically and emotionally and physically and they're also going to be debriefed by the military to try to find out what they might know about the logistics and the tactics of the Colombian rebels where they were held. Also they released this morning a statement, all three of them released a statement that was written on behalf of them by the general here in charge of their reclamation into society. Basically they thank everyone for helping then in their rescue. They are so grateful for their release and they are asking for some time, some time to get reunited with their families, some time before they come out and talk publicly about what they've been through -- Richard.

LUI: What a story that is. Susan Roesgen in San Antonio, thank you for that.

You know what's built as a party way purpose, the Essence Festival is underway right now in New Orleans. The star-studded event has plenty of music, but in a post-Katrina era, it has certainly a lot more than that. Our Fredricka Whitfield is in New Orleans this week for that festival.

And Fred, "Issue No. 1", still down there, is it housing, and good day to you, by the way?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, "Issue No. 1" is very prominent here. There are a number of discussions that take place. As you know, the Essence Music Festival to be about their music, lots of entertainment, yes, but they want to talk about thought-provoking topics.

Last hour we talked about a host of issues with a number of people from AIDS and HIV, prisons in the black community and we also talked about politics in this election season. Well, let's get down to business on "Issue No. 1," the mortgage crisis.

Just a few days ago, we went to an area which is designed specifically for first-time homeowners. Why? Because particularly in the black community, they've seen a decline of black homeownership of two percent and according to the National Urban League, black ownership is 50 percent when white ownership is 75 percent.

So, when we went to this neighborhood, keeping all of that in mind a first-time homeowners, we ran into a young woman by the name of Brigida Reid (ph), and she was peeling her shrimp for her pot of jambalaya that she was about to make and she was talking about how, thanks to a non-profit organization she learned how to budget her money, stretch her income, learn how to save and get a piece of the American dream.


BRIGIDA REID, HOMEOWNER: I was able to pay my bills, all of my bills off and then get my credit up to where -- you know, they felt would be to an advantage in order to qualify for the program. I attended the neighborhood classes, which was like, I think it was like two nights out of the week and I think it was like a five-week program. We went to the classes, they taught you how to budget your money, how to spend money wisely.

Being a homeowner I think it's to your advantage because this is your home, you can fix it the way that you want it. For me it was a struggle, I had to get a part-time job to make my house notes, but this is something that I wanted so I made that sacrifice and I knew that this is what I wanted to do.


WHITFIELD: It was a struggle, but Brigida Reid will tell you that every bit of it was worth it.

Now, listen to this, Richard, so, here she is in her home before Hurricane Katrina, excited and thrilled about being a first-time homeowner, then Katrina comes in. She evacuates like everyone else does, comes home to find four feet of water in her new home. Very worried that she had now lost everything, when she was able to get her insurance, recovery money, she put it back into her home immediately and that is the difference between she and a number of people who lost a lot -- to their properties, here in New Orleans, and then perhaps they got recovery aid, insurance money and they held onto it. Well, what happened, Richard, is the cost of construction, labor, all of that skyrocketed. So, a lot of money that they may have gotten, recovery money, didn't quite cover all of the damage. And that is why a number of people, not everyone, but a number of people still haven't been able to bet into their homes here because they just simply don't have enough money to keep up with the rate of inflation on labor costs and materials to recover -- Richard.

LUI: But when a story of perseverance there, as you had there in Brigida. The businesses down there, as well, Fredricka, have you seen them come back alongside these homeowners?

WHITFIELD: Well, it's a come and go on that. Certainly -- well the mayor, when I spoke to him yesterday, said about 75 percent of business is back. It is glaring to see how many businesses are no longer in business. This is a city that I have come to for years and I have a few favorite stores and restaurants that I go to and I was heartbroken when I found out the other day that one of my favorite lunch spots, which right in downtown New Orleans, was gone. It didn't make it.

And as a walked down Decatur Street, before you get to the French corridor, couple of my favorite record stores, no longer. Couple of my favorite book stores, they're not there any longer. And I talked to a number of people that I know here who have lived here for years, well they have made the investment to come back to New Orleans, you know they've done that because they're just hoping, they're hoping that others can afford to come back as well. But, it's a struggle for too many to make ends meet because everything is much more expensive. Rent is higher, property taxes are higher. I mean it really is a tough struggle to make the investment to want to come back to New Orleans, but the mayor assures me and everyone else that this city may be closer to being back to normal come two years from now.

LUI: All right.

WHITFIELD: Some folks might think that's a little ambitious.

LUI: Yeah. Fredricka Wheatfield (ph), down live in New Orleans and be down there all day today and tomorrow with more special reports, of course 4:30 is going to have that 30-minute special for us.

All right, stay with CNN for more on the Essence Festival as we were mentioning, she'll be back as 4:30. She'll host a special in-depth report: "New Orleans Resurrection." Stay with us for that.

Slow down, save a few MPGs, a rumbling in Congress about a 55-mile-an- hour speed limit. Is there a grumbling behind the wheel?

And a nasty celebrity divorce. A supermodel's fourth marriage on public display. Plus this:


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a rare neurological condition called spinal cerebellar degeneration.


LUI: A cruel disease launches a young man's writing career. Meet the inspiring author in the NEWSROOM.


LUI: Yeah, gas prices bubble up overnight again, setting a new record for the sixth day if a row, unfortunately. AAA now saying, you are paying an average just over $4.10 for a gallon for regular. That's up $1.15 over last year if you were counting, there.

So how would you feel about a federal law forcing you to slow down? Well, if one lawmaker has its way for that you'll pay nar gas in time as well as money. Our Rusty Dornin reports.


RUSTY DORNEN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Driving slower conserves gas. But with everybody slowed down, would prices drop due to less demand.

SEN JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: Good afternoon, all.

DORNIN: Questions Senator John Warner asked energy secretary, Samuel Bodman. Warner wants the administration to consider backing a slower nationwide speed limit. Warner refers to the 1974 law that forced drivers to drive 55 during the gas shortage. Now the senator's asking if Americans drove slower, "how many fewer barrels of petroleum a day would Americans consume? Is it reasonable to believe that there would be a reduction at the price at the pump?" For some drivers, it makes sense.

BENNET ALLEN, DRIVER: We get a chance to save gas and energy, it would be a great idea.

DAN DUTTON, DRIVER: Yeah, I would try it. I would slow down.

DORNIN (on camera): But do you think that other people would?


DORNIN (voice over): That's the problem. Most drivers don't want to take their foot off of the gas pedal.

(on camera): Would you slow down if it goes down to 55?

TONY LOSADA, DRIVER: I don't think I will. I don't think most of the traffic on the interstate would slow down as low.

DORNIN: So we thought we would try our own experiment on the freeways of Atlanta where the speed limit is already 55. Granted it's a holiday, there's not much traffic, but cars are still whizzing by.

(voice over): Some students in this YouTube video did an experiment on another freeway in Atlanta and drove 55 straight across all lanes. It backed track up for miles.

But, if Congress decides to force drivers to slow down across the board, chances are state troopers nationwide will be doing a brisk business.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Atlanta.


LUI: Well, cover the kid's ear, Christie Brinkley's sordid divorce drama turns into a tabloid spectacle. Our legal team is standing by to discuss that one. And is the musical festival also a chance to dock the arrival? More from our Fredricka Whitfield live from New Orleans in the NEWSROOM.


LUI: And a great Saturday to you. Some hot topics to cover in today's legal segment. Supermodel, Christie Brinkley's divorce from husband Peter Cook, it is getting ugly. In a New York court Brinkley testified her world was shattered when she learned Cook was having an affair with an 18-year-old.

Cook himself testified to having spent thousands of dollars on Internet porn during the marriage as well.

And a new gun law went into effect in Georgia this week. It allows Georgians with gun permits to carry firearms in restaurant, state parks and aboard public transportation, that set up a duel between officials in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and a state lawmaker. He says he should be allowed to carry his gun inside of the airport.

All right, we're going to take a closer look at these issues with our legal experts, right now. Civil rights attorney, Avery Friedman first joins us from Cleveland. As well as New York criminal defense attorney, Richard Herman, he is in Las Vegas.

Good morning to both of you guys.

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTY: Hey, good morning, nice to see you, Richard.


LUI: I'm doing very well, guys. Let's start with the Cook/Brinkley divorce. And we talking about going too far, the judge is letting out a lot of details, some say sordid. What do you think, Avery? FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I'm looking for something principled in this, Richard, and I gave up. I think it's the uptown girl wanting to talk about download porn and I think that these self-absorbed adults forgot about the children. I see nothing of value that's going to here.

LUI: Hey so, Richard, thought, is this is way that the function of the way that New York courts operate, though?

HERMAN: Well look, this the judge made a decision that this is going to serve some great interest to let this go public, but it's outrageous. This judge needs to recheck himself. The entire matrimonial system in New York is broken, it's outreached the guardian said to keep it closed, it's irreverent. Raul failed to comment that this is really a divorce trial about nothing, because there was a prenuptial agreement, the issue was minimal with respect to finances. This is a chance of Christie Brinkley, the uptown girl, she should have stayed with the piano man, not the porno man, she made a big mistake here, and you know, she wants to air it out.


FRIEDMAN: Peter, in all fairness, Peter's trying to fight for a piece of the pie. I think what he's going to wind up with is that used equipment that Christie used with Chuck Norris, that's what he will wind up with. This case is going nowhere and actually Monday's the final showdown, I think.

HERMAN: So, Richard, she invited her kids to the court to watch this. It's outrageous. She doesn't care about the best interest of the kids. She doesn't care, the judge doesn't care, the system is broken. It's an abomination in New York.

LUI: All right guys, let's turn to guns, right now. I can see you definitely have opinions about the Brinkley/Cook case at this moment. What's going to happen right now at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta with that law being passed and the airport saying we're not going to let the guns in, but the state law saying yes you can?

FRIEDMAN: I mean, the bottom line in this case is that Tim Bearden who wrote the legislation actually thought he was Gary Cooper, Richard. He wanted to show up with the airport with the gun. And now his gun freak pals said, you know what, take a step back. let's get this resolve through federal district court and understand what the Supreme Court had in mind. The law is, frankly, unconstitutional. It's never going to hold water.

LUI: So, Richard, are we going to see this pop up in other parts of the country?

HERMAN: Yeah, we're going to see it pop up, but Avery respectfully wrong here. This law in Atlanta is going to stay. It's firm. We discussed the Supreme Court case last week. You can't abolish the use of handguns or the right to carry handguns...

FRIEDMAN: In public places? In public places? HERMAN: Yes. You can.


HERMAN: You can legislate it. They're not going allow -- you can't bring it to political rallies, you can't bring it to churches. They've limited where you can bring it and you can't bring it to an airport with hijack...

FRIEDMAN: (INAUDIBLE) they're not going to turn into the OK Corral; it's never going to happen.

LUI: All right, Avery, for you, what if that state legislator who says he was going to walk into the airport with a gun, if he does do that, what will happen?

FRIEDMAN: Well, actually he was going to, but cooler minds prevailed.

LUI: Right, but if he were to do that, what would happen?


FRIEDMAN: I think there would have been a real problem. He was going to bump into the Feds. Until a decision is made on this, let's take a look at second amendment, how far it goes. This will be the test case, Richard.

LUI: All right, thank you both.

HERMAN: I had these cases in New York. They take them, you go into an airport with a gun, they arrest you, they book you. That person...

FRIEDMAN: As they should, Richard.

HERMAN: And 20 years in prison.

FRIEDMAN: And that's the way it should number Atlanta.

LUI: Thank you, both, very much. Avery Friedman, Richard Herman you guys have a great discussion going on there, we have to leave it there. Have a good Saturday.

HERMAN: Take care.

FRIEDMAN: Have a good weekend.

LUI: All right, Fredricka Whitfield usually sits in this chair as you probably know on Saturdays, well, today she's in New Orleans updating you on the city's comeback. Fred and her guests, live, coming up in the NEWSROOM.



VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sounds, the beauty, the things you can expect to experience during a trip to Europe. Because the dollar is coming up short against the euro and pound, you may be thinking about putting that vacation on hold. But there may still be ways to do Europe.

CHRIS MCGINNIS, EXPEDIA.COM: If you really want to go to France or you really want to go to the UK this year, you just have to plan on staying in smaller hotels. Choose a hostel instead of a hotel. Plan on traveling to smaller towns.

DE LA CRUZ: So, Chris McGinnis of says instead of visiting Paris, you may want to try Lyon or maybe Marseilles. An alternative to your London stay could be cities like Glasgow or Manchester.

And to get the most bank for your buck --

MCGINNIS: Try to pay for as much as you can up front in U.S. dollars. That means buying a package deal here in the States before you head over there.

DE LA CRUZ: Expedia says booking a European cruise is another option. Packages are typically all-inclusive, covering your room and meals.



LUI: OK, stories happening right now for you in the NEWSROOM. New pictures telling the inside story on that dramatic hostage rescue in Colombia. Look at those tears of joy. You can see it right there. This is the scene inside of the helicopter moments after the 15 hostages learned that they were free. Now, three Americans held by Colombian rebels for more than five years say they are overwhelmed with emotion and thrilled to be back on U.S. soil.

And in California, firefighters now waging an air war against two wind-driven fires bearing down on homes near Malibu. 5,000 families have been evacuated. More could be ordered to leave.

So, from the fires now we go to the tropics. Reynolds Wolf, you've been watching a lot of stuff for us on this Saturday. Bertha is what you have to talk about now.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right, Big Bertha is on the Atlantic now leaving the Cape Verde Islands, beginning to gain a little bit of strength and kind of coming together so to speak. It was sheered apart by quite a bit of wind, now it's starting to form and get a bit stronger.

And the latest forecast we have shows this storm, according to National Hurricane Center, by Sunday with maximum sustained winds of 60 miles an hour, we fast forward into Tuesday with winds going to 75, that'll make it a Category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale that it is expected, or at least forecasted to mantain that power as we get into Thursday, still with winds right at 75. The forecast to go north will be leeward and Windward Islands and Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic.

However, what we really need to remember is these storms do wobble quite a bit, they do tend to veer off course. So, there's a chance that we could give you, during the next update that this could be -- maybe take more of a northerly pass, it could weaken a bit, it could strengthen significantly. There's a lot that could happen between now and by the time we get into Thursday.

However, that being said, if it is to hold onto this forecast path, if this remains true, it would appear that it's getting very close to North America as we get into next weekend. So, if you happen to live say in the Florida coast, the Georgia coast, the Carolinas, anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard, this is the time you really need to prepare for the hurricane season. Make those plans, get those hurricane preparedness kits together. Even though we don't see much in the Gulf of Mexico at this time, same story for you. It's well under hurricane season. So, these are times you make those plans.

That's the latest we've got for you with Bertha. Let's send it back to you at the news desk.

LUI: All right, good points there. Thanks, Reynolds.

WOLF: You bet.

LUI: It's a major sign of the ongoing resurgence of New Orleans: upwards of 200,000 people have descended on the Big Easy this weekend for the Essence Music Festival. This event features some of the most popular recording artists in the country, but it's much more than just music.

Our Fredricka Whitfield and -- Fred, I'm apologizing for having a little bit of trouble saying your name this morning. How are you doing, Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: It's always -- it always gets folks tongue-tied. It's really OK. Good to see you, Richard.

LUI: You as well.

WHITFIELD: Well, yes, 200,000 people descending on this city, not just for music but they're here to talk about the economy, about health, about recovery. Not just for this city, but for a nation as a whole.

Louisiana's Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu is with me here now. He, too, is enjoying Essence Music Festival and we're here to talk about a host of issues because that is what's phenomenal about this festival. Yes, it's about entertainment, all the feel-good stuff, but feel-good mentally, too, because when you leave here, you get an opportunity I understand from a lot of people to start thinking about replanning, reshaping your life, your city, this nation. How do you see it?

LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU, LOUISIANA: Well, Fred, I mean, the festival's fabulous for us. It's our largest event and as you know, culture and business and music are very important to us, but the more important point is to use New Orleans as an international focal point for discussions that affect people all over America and all over the world.

And so, folks come here and we really get into some difficult discussions that are really plaguing every major city in America, whether it's health care, whether it's education, emergency operation response, infrastructure, all of those issues are being dealt with today ...


LANDRIEU: ...which gives us a critical jumping offpoint for curing some of the nation's ills.

WHITFIELD: And all of those issues are very pronounced here, especially post-Katrina.


WHITFIELD: They are just magnified, magnified.

LANDRIEU: It's quite an amazing thing. You know, what happened was Katrina and Rita I think focused the nation's attention on all of the problems that for many, many years were ignored, but what's happening in New Orleans which is unique is that they're all being dealt with at the same time by the same people all at once.

And so, what I like to say is that we're the nation's most immediate laboratory of democracy, where we can come here and try different solutions to problems that we have not been able to solve and if we could solve the problem of New Orleans, more likely than not, we can solve the same problems all over America.

WHITFIELD: And sometimes dealt with and in some cases not being dealt with.

LANDRIEU: Well, one of the issues --

WHITFIELD: They're casing holds (ph).

LANDRIEU: There's no question about that. One of the issues is what doesn't work? And I think that one of the messages that we want to kind of spread out to the rest of the nation besides thank you for helping us is that this is just as much about rebuilding the rest of America. And if we can find the things that work and those that don't work and then go back and try and try again, we might be able to find solutions to difficult problems.

WHITFIELD: Is there a particular issue that you feel like if we really get it right here, then we can use this as model success for the rest of the country? Is there a particular issue you think you're close to that on?

LANDIEU: Well -- I do -- but first of all, there a lot of them.


LANDRIEU: But education is the most compelling one. You know, we've had over a million volunteers, many of those have been young men and women that have come down here to try to ...


LANDRIEU: ...rebuild our school system. And of course, education is the way out of poverty. Education is the best way to prosperity.

WHITFIELD: And it really has been -- Louisiana's education has been at the bottom of the stack, coping with (ph) education.

LANDRIEU: We have had very difficult times before Katrina and Rita, so they --


LANDRIEU: Katrina and Rita didn't cause what it is that we have, it just ...


LANDRIEU: ...magnified it and made it more evident and we're asking the nation to recommit themselves to the rebuilding of New Orleans. The next president of the United States is going to have to refocus the nation's willpower and resolve to help stand this community back up because as you could see a couple weeks ago in the Midwest with Iowa and the storms where the levees broke, or a couple of months ago where the roads and the bridges broke. Or if you're talking about coastal wetland restoration ...


LANDRIEU: the Everglades, we have all of those problems here and if we could figure out a way to fix them here, we could really just scale those things across America.

WHITFIELD: Do you worry that three years after Katrina that there is such a Katrina fatigue, that perhaps it's not high priority on a federal or a national platform? And the same going down --

LANDRIEU: I do worry about it very much and I think it's very wrong. You know, people said they spent a lot of money down here. But we spent, you know, $7 billion a month in Iraq.


LANDRIEU: Which may be a justifiable expense, it may not, but if we have the willpower and the resolve to continue that mission, we certainly can rebuild one of America's great cities because it has some relationship to our stature nationally and internationally. If we can't fix our own soil, it's hard for us to transmit the tenants of democracy worldwide.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Leiutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, thanks so much for your time.

LANDRIEU: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: I appreciate it.

LANDRIEU: I appreciate it.

WHITFIELD: And enjoy the rest of the festival, right?

LANDRIEU: Oh, it's going to be great, it's going to be a lot of fun.

WHITFIELD: And I know you're saying that to me, too, because ...

LANDRIEU: I am, it is.

WHITFIELD: ...he's been encouraging me, Richard.

LANDRIEU: It's a lot of fun.

WHITFIELD: You got to take advantage of all the fun stuff that's happening. (INAUDIBLE).

LANDRIEU: You got to take the good with the bad.

WHITFIELD: Yes, we will. We'll find the balance I promise you -- Richard.

LUI: And the good food, too. I can't wait to hear about that. Good stuff. Thank you, Fred.

Stay with CNN for more on the Essence Festival. Fredricka will be updating us from the festival all day and then at 4:30 Eastern, she'll host a special in-depth report, "New Orleans Resurrection."

Are the presidential candidates pandering or just being pragmatic or both? And how many Democrats still want Hillary Clinton for their president? Coming up.


LUI: CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno is taking a closer look at the shifting winds in this year's presidential campaign. Are they pandering or just being pragmatic?


FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What if the maverick who drove now flies the straight-talk express? And the guy who says he's all about a different kind of politics --


SESNO: -- really are all about change, changing their own positions, that is. Obama's flipped on public financing for his campaign. He was all for it 'til he wasn't. On meeting with Iran's president, would he sit down without preconditions, he was asked. OBAMA: I would.

SESNO: Simple enough, 'til it got complicated.

OBAMA: If and and only if it can advance the interests of the United States.

SESNO: On Iraq, first it was simple, out in 16 months. And now?

OBAMA: We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.

SESNO: Small changes, too, the lapel pin. Now, you don't see it, now you do. Jeremiah Wright, like a grandmother, 'til he wasn't.

McCain's flipped a bunch, too. He supported the Congressional ban on more offshore drilling, but now opposes it. He opposed ethanol, but now supports it, both for energy security, he explains. McCain famously voted against President Bush's tax cuts, now extending those tax cuts is part of his platform.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE: I want to keep it in the wallets and purses of the American people.

SESNO: His positions have changed on immigration, repeal of Roe Vs. Wade. Not to mention a reverend or two along the way.

What if these candidates keep doing this? They'll be judged accordingly. Is it pragmatism or pandering? Political expediency or evolution? It matters because both are staking their political claims on being a different kind of politician. It matters because that's how they say they'll fix healthcare reform, Iraq, the economy, energy.


LUI: That was CNN's Frank Sesno reporting for us.

You know, two new CNN polls out this week for you. First off, Barack Obama leading John McCain by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent with 10 percent still undecided. And then, when it comes to the issue of Obama and Hillary Clinton, 40 percent of registered Democrats would still rather have Clinton as their nominee. The good news for the Democratic Party, the number of Clinton supporters who are planning to defect to John McCain. That is down.

Well, joining us now with his take on our new polls, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. Bill, you having a good fifth so far?


LUI: All right, fantastic. Thanks for dropping in and talking with us today.

Let's first of all talk about that number of Clinton supporters still out there. Should Barack Obama be concerned about this?

SCHNEIDER: Well, yes, he should be. About a third of them, 32 percent now tell us that not that they're going to vote for McCain as you indicated, that number is down, but they may not vote. They say they're going to stay home. They don't want to vote for either Obama or McCain.

This could be a bargaining position. Maybe they're waiting to see who Obama puts on the ticket as his running mate. They're holding out for Hillary and hoping that she'll be on the ticket. If she's not, well, then it's going to take some work by both Obama and Hillary Clinton, but she's working hard to convince her supporters that the stakes in this election are very high and they should end up in the -- four months from now, voting for Obama.

LUI: Let's stay on polls for just a little bit. John McCain, should the senator be concerned about the approval ratings of President Bush? Because those still remain at historical lows.

SCHNEIDER: Oh yes, he should be concerned. The record shows that the president's job rating usually has a tremendous impact on how the candidate of his party does. Right now, you just showed McCain is getting 42 percent of the vote. President Bush's approval rating is 30. That's a very big difference. The question is will Bush start dragging that 42 percent down to where he is?

McCain is trying to argue, he's independent of Bush, he wasn't part of the Bush administration. He's not the vice president or anything else in the Bush administration. The big test is going to be how they handle the convention. How close will McCain get to Bush? How much of a role will Bush play at that Republican convention? Will they be seen together, shaking hands, lifting arms?

LUI: Right.

SCHNEIDER: That could be very risky.

LUI: And President Bush, still though, being very good at fundraising. So, that might be something ...


LUI: consider going forward for the GOP and Senator McCain.


LUI: Hey, let's move over to the flops, the flips, the flip-flop and all that. We've heard a lot about that this week and we're also looking at that from Frank Sesno's piece. Does it really matter right now?

SCHNEIDER: Less I believe than in the past. It really destroyed John Kerry because President Bush wanted to convey the impression that he was a man of resolve in the face of a threat and John Kerry was wishy- washy and flip-flopped all the time. This year, look, we've had eight years of President Bush whose resolve has begun to look a little bit like stubbornness. There's a thin line between those two qualities. He may have crossed it, so this year, voters may be looking for a little bit more flexibility, a little more pragmatism in their politicians. And clearly, both McCain ...

LUI: Right.

SCHNEIDER: ...and Obama are trying to make that charge. I'm not sure it's that damaging.

LUI: Hey, real quick one for you here. Jesse Helms, 86, he passed away this week. Very well loved by the right. What can you tell us about him? What does this mean to the GOP?

SCHNEIDER: He is very -- was a very, very divisive figure. He won very narrowly in North Carolina, often by exploiting racial grievances and racial issues among white voters. His style of politics was the style that brought the South into the Republican Party. Republicans are trying to distance themselves from that style.

President Bush used it in 2004 to rally the conservative base, but it doesn't look like it may work anymore and I think a lot of Republicans are saying you know, this is alienating too many voters. We can't survive much long on this divisive style of politics.

LUI: Bill my friend, you have a good weekend and thank you for all of that really great stuff. Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst on this Saturday.

Remembering the flight crews of 9/11 Texas-style.


LUI: If you could save a child's life, would you? Every single day, 26,000 children die from preventable diseases and this weekend on CNN, we're doing something about that.

CNN's Fredricka Whitfield sat down with our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta and UNICEF ambassador Lucy Lui to talk about some important work they've been doing around the world and about what they've seen that surprised them.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the biggest surprise, and maybe not that much of a surprise in retrospect is that you can do so much with so little. I think in the United States, we're used to having all these resources available to us, you know, hospitals with lots of supplies, equipment.

Clean water is a birthright essentially here. You turn on the tap and you expect to be able to drink that water. It's just not the case in so many places, but small amounts of money, small amounts of resources can make a huge difference.

WHITFIELD: And Lucy, what were you observing and how do you use your celebrity to make a difference?

LUCY LIU, ACTRESS/AMBASSADOR TO UNICEF: I think what I observe is how -- what Sanjay said, basically is how children really don't need a lot. If you give them a little bit, they can go so far with that and that's the amazing thing. They bounce back so quickly.

WHITFIELD: Well, it's one thing to witness it then it is to stark reality. It's another to actually get the need there. How is it that we're able to supplement what many of these villages and small towns already have?

LIU: Well, oh, I don't think they have a lot. Water is something that is very, very important. It is a source of life for them. If you have water, they're able to have agriculture which will help with nutrition and it'll also give the children the ability to go to school. If they don't have water that's close by, they have to go miles and miles away to get this water, which then in turn gives them the inability to go to school.

WHITFIELD: Well Sanjay, are you surprised that we're not further along globally to help stamp out many of these preventable -- preventable illnesses?

GUPTA: Yes, I am surprised. I mean, I think that -- one thing I've learned is that I think people are inherently compassionate. I really do believe that. And I think that's -- Lucy and I have traveled to some of the worst places I think in the world. I mean, Lucy and I saw, right when she got back from Congo last year, it dramatically affects you but you see a lot of hope over there as well and you see a lot people wanting to do the right thing.

So, I think that, you know if that energy and that positive sort of thinking, I think a lot more can be done.


LUI: Well, "The Survival Project, One Child at a Time," that airs Sunday at 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. Eastern. It's a chance for you to get a firsthand look at children struggling to survive and to learn what you can do to help.


LUI: And welcome back. A story of hope from Minnesota for you, budding author and screenwriter in Burnsville is anything but your regular guy. He's legally blind, he's deaf, he can't speak and he cannot walk. But he can teach us all a lesson on overcoming limitations.

Boyd Hooper of affiliate KARE reports.


CHRISTOPHER HARMON, BURNSVILLE, MINNESOTA (through translator): I have a rare neurological condition called spinocerebellar degeneration. BOYD HOOPER, KARE REPORTER (voice-over): It is easy to look at Christopher Harmon and see only his limitations.

HARMON (through translator): I'm deaf, legally blind.

HOOPER: Not the promising boy he was. But the dependent adult he's become.

HARMON (through translator): They diagnosed me --

HOOPER: Unable to hear, speak, or see past a few inches. Quadriplegic, unable to eat or breathe on his own.

HARMON (through translator): I became very depressed.

HOOPER: Feeling more machine than man, nine years ago, Christopher asked his doctor to remove his life support.

HARMON (through translator): At some point in our lives, we all start to wonder why am I here? What is my purpose and value?

HOOPER: With the help of interpreters, friends, and a voice inside him, Christopher found his purpose when he started writing.

HARMON (through translator): Happy Fourth of July. Don't burn down your house.

HOOPER: By mouthing the words to his interpreters, Christopher has completed four children's books. One he self-published last year and also ...


HOOPER: ...a screenplay.

HARMON (through translator): Why did you stop?

I forgot to stay young.

HOOPER: "Sparkle, Serena!" is the story of a nine-year-old girl who overcomes great odds to accomplish her dreams.

HARMON (through translator): "Sparkle, Serena!" is a parallel of my own life story.

HOOPER: Christopher's dream is now to see his story, not just on paper, but up on a screen.

HARMON (through translator): This was going to happen.

HOOPER: It is easy to look at Christopher Harmon and say, no way. But he already has a New York director and next month, nationally known comedian Emo Philips will headline a twin cities fundraiser to help pay for Christopher's production.

HARMON (through translator): Challenge and I have been best friends since I was six. I'm used to having to work on -- uphill for my dreams.

HOOPER: Deaf, blind, mute, quadriplegic and look what he's already done.

HARMON (through translator): Until after the holidays --

HOOPER: It is hard to look at Christopher Harmon and envision the word can't.

Boyd Hooper, KARE 11 News, Burnsville.


LUI: Well, "YOUR MONEY" is next, but first, this check of our top stories for you.