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CNN Live Today

A Call to Kill; Chavez and Castro; Pain at the Pump

Aired August 23, 2005 - 10:59   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go ahead and take a look at what's happening "Now in the News."
The federal government is tightening fuel efficiency standards for some big gas guzzlers. Under a new plan, sport utility vehicles, minivans and light trucks will have to get just over 23 miles to a gallon of gas six years from now. Right now the standard is 21 miles to a gallon.

Take a look at those gas prices. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta saying the new rules will conserve energy and save American drivers billions of dollars.

Al Qaeda in Iraq says it's responsible for the attempted rocket attack on the American warships in the port of Aqaba, Jordan. It was an incident on Friday. Rockets were fired at two American ships, but they missed. Today's claim came just hours after Jordan announced the arrest of the prime suspect in the attack. Authorities say three other suspects have escaped into Iraq.

In Englewood, California, an apparent murder-suicide case has left five people dead. Police say a man who was despondent over financial problems apparently shot to death his sister-in-law, her husband, and their two children before killing himself.

The man suspected of kidnapping two children after killing three people at a home in Idaho is getting ready to appear in public for the first time since his arrest. Joseph Duncan is a registered sex offender. He is scheduled to be arraigned later today.

He's accused of killing a mother, her son, and her boyfriend, and abducting the woman's two other children. One of those kidnapped children was later killed.

Good morning. Welcome back to CNN LIVE TODAY.

Just past 11:00 a.m. in Havana; just past 4:00 in Lisbon, Portugal; and just past 7:00 in Baghdad.

We're at CNN Center in Atlanta. I'm Daryn Kagan.

We begin -- we're going to begin this hour with a religious broadcaster's call for a world leader's assassination. Televangelist Pat Robertson said the U.S. should assassinate the president of Venezuela. On his program, "The 700 Club," Robertson described President Hugo Chavez as a terrific danger to the U.S.


PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN COALITION FOUNDER: That he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.


KAGAN: This is just the latest controversial comment from the founder of the Christian Coalition.

Kimberly Osias joins us from Washington with more on Robertson's statement.

Kimberly, good morning.

KIMBERLY OSIAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Daryn.

Well, Pat Robertson is certainly no stranger to controversy. As founder of the Christian Coalition, this man has an enormous following. He even made a run for the White House back in 1988. When Robertson speaks, people listen.


ROBERTSON: Well, welcome to "The 700 Club."


OSIAS: And now he's talking about assassinating a sitting leader of a foreign nation, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Such an act would be illegal. Here's exactly how he put it...


ROBERTSON: He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent. You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.

And I don't think any oil shipments will stop, but this man is a terrific danger. And this is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen.

We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil that could hurt us very badly.

We have the ability to take him out. And I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-armed dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

(END VIDEO CLIP) OSIAS: Robertson has made controversial comments in the past, saying Islam is anything but peaceful, and characterizing activist judges as being more damaging to America than terrorists. So far, no comment from the Bush administration.

But Daryn, here's a little bit of food for thought. Something I wasn't familiar with, but the U.S. imports 10 percent of its oil from Venezuela.

KAGAN: And that's a big threat coming from that president, saying he would cut that off. All right. Thank you.

OSIAS: Exactly.

KAGAN: Well, this Venezuelan president is a left-wing populist leader with close ties to Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Our Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman has some background on Hugo Chavez and his alliance with Cuba.


LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF (voice over): Like father and son wearing their favorite military olive greens, Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez drove into a remote town in western Cuba to broadcast the Venezuelan president's weekly radio and TV talk show. Chavez and Castro don't just dress alike, they talk alike, both tirelessly promoting their goal of a United Latin America free of U.S. influence.

PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA (through translator): Solidarity is the motive for our integration, our liberation, for the struggle against imperialist domination and so many other capitalist vices.

NEWMAN: The leader of oil-rich Venezuela, like Castro, seems to view the White House as the root of all evil. Chavez came to Cuba to attend this weekend's graduation of 1,600 medical students from Latin America and the Caribbean. For the new doctors, a dream come true.

"There's no way I could have studied medicine in my country. It's too expensive," says Rosie Velandez (ph) from Nicaragua. They're the first of 12,000 students of humble origins studying medicine for free in Cuba, courtesy of Fidel Castro, which today attempts to spread his revolution by exporting goodwill rather than guerrilla warfare.

PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO, CUBA (through translator): Today these are the weapons. The battle is won with knowledge, talent, generosity. Liberty (ph) is conquered with solidarity.

NEWMAN: This year alone, more than 50,000 Venezuelans have come to Cuba to have eye surgery.

(on camera): But it's not just solidarity. Hospitals, schools, even tourist hotels like this one are full of Venezuelans here to undergo all types of medical treatment. In exchange, Cuba gets 90,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil a day at preferential prices.

(voice over): And Castro also gets something he lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union: an unconditional and rich ally. Under the Cubans' influence, Chavez has now declared his country, too, will soon be socialists. Poison to the ears of the Bush administration, which views the Chavez-Castro alliance as a threat to regional stability.

The growing hostility doesn't seem to bother either one. Both Castro and Chavez convinced, it seems, that in unity lies their strength.


KAGAN: And our Lucia Newman with us live now from Havana.

Lucia, President Chavez is still there in Cuba.

NEWMAN: Yes, Daryn. In fact, he should be heading towards the airport right now with President Castro. He's going to go to Jamaica now to sign a preferential petrol deal with the Caribbean nations, too -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. Lucia Newman, live from Cuba. Thank you.

As gas prices climb into the stratosphere, the Bush administration taking aim at some big gas guzzlers. A short time ago, right here in Atlanta, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta unveiled a plan that reshapes fuel efficiency standards. By 2011, SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks will have to get just over 23 miles to a gallon of gas. Right now, that standard is 21 miles per gallon.


NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Our plan will require light trucks to be more fuel efficient, regardless of size. Now, this plan is good news for American consumers, because it will ensure that the vehicles that they will buy get more miles to the gallon and ultimately save them money.


KAGAN: Mineta says that fuel efficiency standards have not changed since the late 1970s.

With gas prices so high, many Americans are not hitting the highways as often as before. We have this new ABC News poll for you.

Almost one-third of the respondents say they are now driving less. Half say they are still driving the same amount. And those high prices are making many Americans mad.

Forty-four percent of the respondents say they're angry about the price of gas. More women than men and more Democrats than Republicans say they feel that way. And the oil and gas industry is getting some bad PR over the record-setting prices. A new CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll finds just one in five Americans with a positive view of the industry. Sixty-two percent have a negative view.

Today's announcement on fuel economy standards has been expected for some time. Environmentalists have been calling for stricter standards for many years. Many people believe improving fuel efficiency would reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. But let's check the facts on that.


KAGAN (voice over): Fuel economy standards made great stride from the 1970s and '80s. But since then, very little has changed.

The oil crisis of the early '70s prompted the government to first institute the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standards, in 1975. The goal was to force automakers to more than double the fuel efficiency of cars sold in the U.S. from an average of about 13 miles per gallon in 1974. They were to aim for more than 27 by the model year 1985.

If automakers did make progress every year, they had to pay penalties. More often than not, automakers complied, and the goal was nearly achieved.

Fuel efficiency peaked in 1987 at just more than 26 miles to the gallon. Since then, though, the increasing popularity of larger vehicles has pulled the average down. Federal standards have hardly changed. In 2007, the required average fuel economy will be 27.5 for new passenger cars and 22.2 miles to the gallon for light trucks, minivans and SUVs.


KAGAN: So forget the gas guzzlers and go with the environmentally friendly. That is the message that is being pushed at the world expo in Japan.

More now from CNN's Atika Shubert.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Think environmentally friendly means boring? Well, think again.

This is the appropriately named Fetish, the world's first sports car run on electricity. It goes from zero to 100 kilometers in just 4.5 seconds. Not bad for 100 lithium ion batteries under the hood.

Gildo Pastor is owner and president of Venturi, the Monaco-based manufacturer that created the Fetish. He says he wanted to prove a car could be both powerful and good for the environment. Not to mention stylish.

GILDO PASTOR, VENTURI: What's special about the car is really performance, because this car can run, like, even better than most sports cars. The car gives you a lot of adrenaline. It's really -- it's really sporty. It's really fun.

SHUBERT: The Fetish is also for sale, for a cool $500,000. It is just one of dozens that took part in the world's largest eco car rally for the 2005 world expo in Japan.

French fashion designer Coqueline Courreges has been campaigning for electric cars for decades, with a fashionable twist. The Bubble Car is based on a nickel cadmium prototype vehicle she created in 1969, while the EXE runs on lithium ion batteries encased in clear plastic so that the public can literally see how eco cars work. But Courreges says it's not just car buyers that need convincing.

"It's not the public who has to make the decision. The decision needs to be made first by politicians, then manufacturers," she says. "They have to understand they can make as much money with this car as they can make with regular cars. That's the problem."

With stylish options like these, the public could well be clamoring for more.

Atika Shubert, CNN, at the world expo in Japan.


KAGAN: Have rising gas prices forced you to cut back spending? Have you suffered long lines in filling up? We'd like to hear your story. Tell us how the prices are at your pump and how they're affecting your life at

And now to the fight for Iraq and the loss of more U.S. troops. We learned from the U.S. military today that a Marine was killed by a roadside bomb near Falluja. It happened during combat operations yesterday. Also, a task force Baghdad soldier was killed by a rocket attack in the Iraqi capital.

1,869 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the start of the war.

The draft is done, but some details are still not resolved in the effort to write a new Iraqi constitution. Lawmakers have given themselves a deadline of Thursday to work out their remaining differences. The White House is applauding the Iraqis for their effort while stressing the importance of keeping to a time frame.


DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: This is critical to build confidence with the Iraqi people. If you don't have a deadline, then it can just slip and slide, and you can you have excuses for not getting it done. So we know the issues. More importantly, the Iraqis know the issues that have to be reconciled. They're going to use this time wisely to try and reconcile the differences and gain as much consensus as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KAGAN: Bartlett says the draft constitution is not a perfect document, but neither was the U.S. Constitution when it was first approved.

You've heard the health reports about the United States being an obese nation. With all this awareness, has this country's weight problem seen any changes?

Plus, we'll go live to the West Bank. Not everyone is leaving peacefully.

And people say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, that was before they found this dog. We're going to introduce you to one frightful canine. Look at those teeth.




KAGAN: Israel is wrapping up its pullout from four West Bank settlements today. Like Gaza, those evacuations were not without protest or emotion.

Correspondent Guy Raz filed this report last hour from the settlement of Sanur.


GUY RAZ, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The settlement of Sanur is now a ghost town, completely evacuated after nine hours in which police and soldiers entered this fortress community to begin the process of removing those who remain from this area. This is one of the four West Bank settlements that was slated for evacuation under Israeli Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

Now, about 7,000 police and soldiers were involved in this operation. Initially, they had feared that there could be violence. They knew that some of the people inside of the settlement were armed and perhaps prepared to use those arms. That never materialized. And in the end, many of those who remained left by persuasion.

But there were problems here. The main community center in this settlement, one time an Ottoman fortress, became the scene of a standoff for several hours as dozens of young men, mainly hard-liners, climbed on top of the roof and vowed to remain there until they were forcibly removed.

Police then brought in large metal containers, attached them to cranes. Those cranes were hoisted on to the top of that roof filled with police officers, who then stormed the roof and began to round up those remaining activists inside those containers. They were brought down, and those activists were placed on buses and sent out of the Sanur settlement.

Guy Raz, CNN, Sanur settlement, in the northern West Bank.


KAGAN: And now let's take a look at other stories making news around the world this morning.

In Portugal, thousands of firefighters are battling more than 20 wildfires. The fires are blamed for the deaths of some 15 people and have burned more than 300,000 acres. A record drought, high temperatures and strong winds have helped flame the fires. France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands are helping to fight those fires.

In Mumbai, India, rescue workers are searching for at least 25 people trapped in the rubble of a collapsed apartment building. Authorities say 11 people died early this morning when the four-story building came tumbling down. At least 31 were injured. Local media reporting the building was more than a century old, and that older buildings in Mumbai give way during monsoon season.

And we also have dramatic rescue video out of Kyrgyzstan. An overloaded helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff earlier this month. No one was killed. Three passengers were severely injured, and up to a dozen suffered injuries. Kyrgyzstan authorities are investigating that accident.

Has the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act left kids behind? The state of Connecticut says yes. And they're doing something about that now. Might other states follow Connecticut's lead?

Plus, the country's most famous political vegan says, "I do." Who he married still ahead.


KAGAN: Let's go ahead and check in on weather. Jacqui Jeras has that for us.


KAGAN: President Bush on the road today. He is in Idaho, making some very strong comments about critics of his war policy in Iraq.

Our Dana Bash is in Boise, Idaho, and she brings us the latest on that, joining us on the phone.

Hey, Dana.


And we do expect to see the tape of the president speaking to reporters in Donnelly, Idaho. But we understand from the pool of reporters who are with him that he said that he -- on the Cindy Sheehan question -- he still essentially indicated he has no intention to meet with her, and suggested that Cindy Sheehan and the people that support her advocate a policy that would weaken the United States.

This is the second time he has specifically spoken to the question of Cindy Sheehan and why he won't meet with her. Of course, we all know he met with her once in June of '04. But he said that he understands, again, her grief. But he believes that there are plenty of people in the United States who don't agree with her and think it is important to keep the troops in Iraq.

KAGAN: And so, Dana, this is actually supposed to be kind of a day off for President Bush, and tomorrow he gives another pro-war speech?

BASH: Correct. And, you know, today is a day that he is -- as you said, it's a day off. He's going to have some recreation in Donnelly. He's going to go biking and hiking.

But the White House understands that it is important right now for the president to stay out there, to stay on the bully pulpit, if you will. So this was a chance for him to come and talk to reporters and continue to, essentially, answer critics who have been so vocal, starting about two weeks ago, just outside his ranch.

As you said, he had a formal speech yesterday, he has a formal speech tomorrow. But it is noteworthy that the White House wanted to make sure that he was out there, so to speak, and his voice was out there, continuing to talk about Iraq, to answer critics.

And also, he did talk about the Iraqi constitution, trying to say that he does believe, although there are still a ton of questions that are not answered, he believes that this is working towards democracy. And, as he has done before, talked about this in terms of America's own Constitution and how long it take -- took to write that.

KAGAN: Dana Bash joining us on the phone from Boise, Idaho.

Dana, thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

KAGAN: Coming up, choosing a college can be a tough decision. How do you decide which college is best for you? From biggest party school, to best dorms, we're going to show you a ranking of several colleges. You know, the stuff that's really important.

A little more serious topics as well, too.