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The Situation Room
Relatives of Kentucky Crash Victims Attend Private Service; New Immigration Route for Cubans; Effects of Anti-Drug Campaign
Aired August 30, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you Kitty. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, nuclear defiance, 2:30 a.m. in Tehran where the United Nations deadline is just hours away. Sanctions or no sanctions President Ahmadinejad says he's not backing down. What are President Bush's options?
Plus, bloody bombings, increasing violence, and escalating rhetoric as the body counts in Baghdad multiplies, Democrats take aim at the defense secretary.
And it's 7:00 p.m. in Washington, a sobering report on and ad blitz to keep Americans off drugs. Find out if it's actually working.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with this developing story, it is only hours away, a United Nations deadline for Iran to halt its nuclear activity including the enrichment of uranium. But in face of that deadline Iran is offering defiance, it all but dared the world community to move ahead with sanctions.
CNN's Aneesh Raman is live for us in Tehran -- Aneesh.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good evening. Iran has made it abundantly clear it will not meet tomorrow's U.N. deadline. The wait now begins to see how the world will respond.
RAMAN (voice-over): The deadline is looming. But Iran shows no sign it plans to bow to the United Nations demands and stop enriching uranium. In fact, the U.N. Watchdog Agency says there's evidence the country was continuing enrichment as recently as Tuesday. The U.N. has given Iran until tomorrow to halt the program or possibly face sanctions but on the eve of the deadline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still refusing to back down.
He was quoted by state-run media as saying sanctions cannot dissuade the Iranian nation from achieving our lofty goals of progress. In the face of Iran's defiance the U.S. State Department says it'll start talks on sanctions with European allies and Russia as early as next week. But why defy the West? Iranian officials believe it gives their country more influence in the Muslim world.
They're already riding high from what they portray as Hezbollah's victory over Israel, Iran being a primary supporter of Hezbollah. But Iranians themselves are divided by the prospect of sanctions. Most people feel immense pride in the nuclear program especially among those in blue collar southern Tehran. Here it's all about making your daily wage and showing no weakness to the West.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
RAMAN: We're not afraid of economic sanctions, says Majeeb (ph) because this is not the first time they want to impose them and in the eight years of war, we fought the entire world.
But head to northern Tehran, home to the more affluent, more moderate and confidence gives way to concern.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
RAMAN: Ordinary people, says 29-year-old Teschman (ph), are very worried in the university and homes and at workplaces people are very concerned. I can see that. They are very afraid.
RAMAN: But there's something even worse than sanctions that has people worried. It is the prospect of a military conflict over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Last week the government launched a massive military exercise, war games, to demonstrate Iran's ability to defend itself in part against potential attacks on its nuclear sites, something that could drag this country into a broader military conflict. That remains the worst case scenario.
RAMAN: And John, on the ground talking to Iranian officials you get the sense that a big factor in all of this is that Iran wants to be seen as the biggest super power in the Middle East and it desperately wants direct engagement from the United States -- John.
KING: A test of wills and Aneesh Raman for us in Tehran. As this deadline approaches, Aneesh, thank you very much. And what if Iran goes too far in its nuclear showdown with the United States? A short time ago I put that question to the under secretary of state, Nicholas Burns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You've seen all these military exercises in recent days, essentially they're saying we're here and if you have sanctions against us there are things we have things we can do in the world as well. They obviously have the capability to turn the Persian Gulf into hostile waters, to disrupt the world economy and the oil trade, is that where this is headed?
NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: You know I think we're not going to be intimidated by anything the Iranians do. And they've got to understand one thing. They are fairly isolated on this issue. They now have the entire Security Council, all the permanent members including Russia and China saying they have got to cease and desist and you have countries like India and Egypt also vote against them in the International Atomic Energy Agency. So the Iranians have to sit back and they'll have to calculate the cost of isolation, the increased pressure that is going to come their way. And this is not going to be a pleasant time for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The blood keeps flowing in the streets of Iraq. More than 200 people have been killed since the start of the week in bombings and in gun battles, dozens died today, many of them in a Baghdad market. But amid rising demands for U.S. troop pullout, the Bush Administration is launching a new campaign to sell the war as part what it calls a wider conflict against a global enemy. And war critics aren't taking this quietly.
Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is standing by with that part of the story, but we begin with our White House correspondent Ed Henry who is with the president tonight in Nashville, Tennessee -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, call it Bush 3.0. This is at least the third attempt by the president to launch a series of speeches to shore up support for the mission in Iraq, seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that the first two versions didn't get the job done.
HENRY (voice-over): With violence in Iraq getting worse, President Bush can hardly tout progress on the ground anymore, so he's rolling out a new and improved P.R. strategy, at least his third crack at a series of speeches on the stakes in the war on terror.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And this speech is to make it clear that if we retreat before the job is done, this nation will become, even more in jeopardy. These are important times. And I was -- seriously hope people wouldn't politicize these issues that I'm going to talk about.
HENRY: The new message got a test run Tuesday when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke to the American Legion and took the gloves off suggesting current White House critics support the type of appeasement that sparked the rise of Nazism.
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: A sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be accommodated then the carnage and the destruction of then recent memory of World War I could be avoided. It was a time when a certain mount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among western democracies.
HENRY: This is a White House trying to stem the political pressure to withdraw troops from Iraq, an election year call now coming not just from Democrats, but from Republicans like Chris Shays in Connecticut. White House aides say when the president addresses the American Legion on Thursday he will acknowledge these are unsettling times.
HENRY: The White House seems to be employing a good cop-bad cop strategy, try to keep the president above the fray by casting this as a broader ideological struggle while others like Secretary Rumsfeld really take the gloves off and play some hardball -- John.
KING: Fascinating to watch and we'll continue as the president moves on to that big speech tomorrow. Ed Henry, thank you very much in Nashville. And tonight some top Democrats are firing back at Donald Rumsfeld sensing new ammunition in the battle for Congress. Let's get more now from our congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well John, the White House may be launching a pre-election push to shore up support for the war, but Democrats think they have Republicans back on their heels when it comes to Iraq and are determined not to let them back up.
BASH (voice-over): Democrats pounced on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comments suggesting their criticism of the White House was the same type of appeasement that led to Nazism some 70 years ago.
HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NAT'L COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: He's trying to do what the Republicans always do, if you don't have a good idea, then you call your opponents names.
BASH: They responded to the defense secretary with a slue of press releases, documents and conference calls, accusing Rumsfeld of trying to paper over what they call Iraq missteps and miscalculations.
VOICE OF SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: And what Donald Rumsfeld should have done is told the American Legion what the administration's plans are in Iraq, things seem to be getting worse and worse and worse.
RUMSFELD: Can we truly afford to believe that somehow some way vicious extremists can be appeased?
BASH: Rumsfeld's comments weren't that different from other administration criticism of Democrats on national security. But the response did appear more robust. Democrats say they're determined not to make the same mistake they've made in the last two elections since September 11, letting Republicans beat them on national security. DEAN: To be honest with you I think the Democrats used to run and hide when this kind of stuff used to come up. And hopefully we've learned that you don't run and hide from people who don't tell the truth.
BASH: Democrats were also seizing on a chance to go after the man they think is the Republicans' most flawed messenger when it comes to Iraq...
BASH: ... and it symbolizes what has emerged as the major Democratic theme in the final stretch of the campaign, what they call Bush Administration incompetence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're incompetent in dealing with Katrina. They're incompetent in dealing with the budget of the United States, and they're incompetent in defending America.
BASH: Some Republican strategists those trying to get GOP candidates elected say they were not happy to see Donald Rumsfeld taking part in their political push on Iraq. They're well aware the defense secretary serves as the Democrats best boogey-man on the unpopular war. One Republican operative told CNN I wish he would just keep his mouth shut until after Election Day -- John.
KING: A little more than two months to go until Election Day. Dana Bash -- thank you very much, Dana. And Jack Cafferty joins us now from New York with "The Cafferty File". Hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John, who says there's no good news? We may have a little good news here. Looks like gas prices are coming down, maybe quite a bit. Traditionally they do drop after Labor Day, that's the end of the summer driving season. Also federal pollution requirements change then making it cheaper to refine, but there are some other things that are going on as well.
Crude oil prices are coming down. They closed below 70 bucks a barrel this week for the first time since June. One reason for that is we haven't had any big hurricanes yet like we did last year. And the recent high price of gasoline had that possibility already built in, right now the national average for gasoline, 2.80 a gallon.
According to one survey, that's the lowest it's been since April 20 and some experts are predicting after September the 15th the price could head farther south in a hurry, perhaps as low as $2 a gallon by Thanksgiving. That's a big drop from the recent average of $3.03 a gallon as recently as August 20.
So the question is this. What will a sharp drop in gasoline prices mean to you? You can e-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. And of course, John, only a cynic would suggest that there might be a relation between the sharp drop in gasoline prices and the upcoming midterm elections. And we don't have cynics here in THE SITUATION ROOM, do we?
KING: We'll look around. I haven't found one at the moment.
CAFFERTY: There you go.
KING: We'll keep looking, thank you Jack.
Coming up, secret senator revealed. Find out who is blocking you from finding out the truth on backdoor deals.
Plus, Arnold Schwarzenegger breaks with President Bush to stop global warming, a landmark deal just reached in California.
And just say no, this is your brain on drugs. Will those ads actually entice people into using? Jeanne Moos takes a hit on that story, so to speak.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: Tonight on Capitol Hill, a secret revealed. After days of digging and guessing we now know who blocked the bill to expose hidden facts about federal spending. Here's our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, maybe because it is August, or maybe because it's a subject that had liberals and conservatives alike up in arms, either way it was a mystery that kept bloggers and plenty of others guessing for days.
KOPPEL (voice-over): This political who done it captivated bloggers for days and brought together an unusual alliance on both sides of the aisle. One liberal blogger noted the bill seemed to be speeding on its way to full Senate passage when in the dark of the night an unknown senator placed a secret hold on the bill. Another conservative leaning blogger asked, who is the secret holder, we want to know, and we want your help finding out.
Finally after days of speculation the mystery was solved, a spokesperson for Senator Ted Stevens confirming to CNN it was the seven-term Alaska Republican explaining that Senator Stevens has a series of concerns and questions about the bill and he wants a cost/benefit analysis to make sure it doesn't create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and not meet its purpose. But Stevens' office disputes bloggers claims that it was a secret, saying when Stevens placed the hold before the August recess, he notified Senator Coburn and his staff and identified several questions we had with the bill.
The bill which would require the government to create a Google- like search engine to track all government spending was introduced by Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn and Illinois Democrat Barack Obama earlier this year. And if it passes, congressional watchdog groups say, it would bring much needed transparency. ELLEN MILLER, SUNLIGHT FOUNDATION: The key thing about this piece of legislation is the public will be able to know who gets contracts and for how much and be able to hold lawmakers accountable and hold corporations accountable for their execution of their activities.
KOPPEL: A spokesman for one of the bill's chief sponsors, Republican Senator Tom Coburn told CNN Senator Stevens sits on the committee where this bill was considered and never raised any objections because he skipped the hearings. His specific concerns were addressed at the hearings he skipped and his office has yet to meet with us to discuss his concerns despite repeated requests. While the mystery may have been solved, the controversy over the legislation, John, clearly is not.
KING: And Andrea, we trust you to keep an eye on it when the Congress come backs and gets to work. Andrea Koppel, thank you very much.
Now the search for Senator Stevens was propelled forward thanks to the Web. Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton who is standing by with all the details -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, Senator Stevens in the last 24 hours also had become the odds on favorite online as blogs on the left and on the right called Senate offices and urged their readers to do the same to find out who this secret senator was. And sites were even listening, those people, those senators that they said were in the clear, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist even blogged about this online, this effort urging senators to tell their staff to answer the questions of the blog community when they called.
Well Senator Stevens is now unmasked and this is a face that's not an unfamiliar one on some of these Web sites that pursued him. Earlier on this year Courtbusters (ph), the anti-government waste site gave Senator Stevens a special award for a bridge project in Alaska they said was wasteful. Senator Stevens has defended as necessary. And also we would be remiss if he we did not mention the real fame for Senator Stevens in the online community. That was when he described the Internet earlier this year as quote, "a series of tubes", the online community having a lot of fun with that one. Senator Stevens today once more front and center online on the left and on the right -- John.
KING: Abbi Tatton, (INAUDIBLE) to come. Abbi, thank you very much. And still to come here In THE SITUATION ROOM, eyes on the sky but not the runway. Tonight accusations that air-traffic controllers are spread thin. Find out who's watching and who's not.
And making friends with America's enemies -- Venezuela's president cozies up with Syria. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is taking new verbal swipes at the United States. A long-time thorn in Washington's side is increasingly a hero in the Arab world. CNN's Zain Verjee is here with the details -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, John. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Venezuela's president appears to be executing that strategy, becoming buddies with Cuba and Iran. He's a rock star now in Syria.
VERJEE (voice-over): A bear hug and a 21-gun salute.
VERJEE: Syria rolls out the red carpet for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
VERJEE: A crowd of thousands cheer and chant, line the streets at his arrival, the first stop, a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Chavez takes aim at his favorite target, the United States. In a pack with Syria, he vows to confront American imperialism and imperial aggression.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
VERJEE: Chavez insists the U.S. is doomed as a super power, saying this age will witness the end of American imperialism. The U.S. State Department shrugged off Chavez's trip to Syria.
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: He's the head of state. He's free to travel and meet with whomever he wants to meet with.
VERJEE: Chavez lashed out at Israel, denouncing what he calls Nazi crimes during its war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. He's also recalled Venezuela's ambassador to Israel, scoring big points among Arabs. Using Israel and the United States as punching bags, Chavez has become the darling of Arabia, winning hearts and minds.
HISHAM MELHEM, ARAB ANALYST: Hugo Chavez is tapping into the deep reservoir of resentment and anger that exists in the Arab world vis-a-vis the United States and Europe and Israel.
VERJEE: And so Chavez is fast becoming an unlikely poster boy for the Arab resistance. Thank you for supporting the resistance and the Arab people this poster in Damascus says. And look at what the Arab people are saying on Web sites like (INAUDIBLE). If I wasn't Egyptian, I would want to be a Venezuelan or North Korean. From this day forward I am Venezuelan. Chavez is a symbol and we are ready to sacrifice our souls for you. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a yearning and a psyche for leadership, for a place under the sun. The Arabs in general feel that they've been marginalized by the (INAUDIBLE). They've been humiliated or pitted by the Israelis. They've been humiliated or pitted by (INAUDIBLE) leadership.
VERJEE: Many Arabs have nicknamed Chavez (INAUDIBLE), an Arab hero -- John.
KING: Fascinating piece, Zain Verjee, thank you very much. And just ahead, Iran thumbs its nose at the West nuclear demands. What should the United States do now? I'll ask the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra. And Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a different path than President Bush again. We'll tell you about a landmark deal struck by the California governor.
Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, Iran's nuclear defiance in the face of United Nations deadline now just hours away. The U.N. Security Council is demanding Tehran stop enriching uranium, but Iran's president says the threat of sanctions won't stop his country from its nuclear goals.
A powerful category four hurricane storms up Mexico's Pacific Coast, lashing tourist resorts with heavy winds and rains. Forecasters predict Hurricane John's center will brush close to land, nick the southern tip of California and then head out to sea.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reaches a landmark deal aimed at reducing global warming. California will become the first state to impose a cap on all greenhouse gas emissions. It's a break with Bush administration policy and an environmental queue for Governor Schwarzenegger in his reelection campaign.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In Iraq sadly no letup to the slaughter in the streets, a dozen more died in Baghdad today. And the top U.S. commander in Iraq is making clear that American troops can't leave until Iraqi forces are ready to replace them. Let's go live for the latest now to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And John that continues to be the big question, how soon will Iraqi forces be up to snuff so U.S. forces can come home. Today the top commander indicated it will be a year or more.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): The top U.S. commander in Iraq says Iraqi security forces are basically trained and equipped in assuming a lead roll about 75 percent of the time. But he says they are not yet ready to be left on their own.
GEN. GEORGE CASEY, CMDR. MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: I can see over the next 12 to 18 months. I can see the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country with very little coalition support.
MCINTYRE: But even as Iraqi forces stand up, General George Casey did not say U.S. troops could stand down, even though that is the stated exit strategy. Casey may be a little gun-shy after this overly optimistic prediction from last year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do believe we'll still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer next year.
MCINTYRE: That didn't happen, because the violence got worse instead of better. Pressed for a fresh prediction of U.S. troop cuts, Casey was understandably cagey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure yet and we'll adjust that as we go, but a lot of that, in fact that future coalition presence 12 to 18 months from now is going to be decided by the Iraqi government.
MCINTYRE: Casey notes in a few days Iraqi generals will take over direct control of some Iraqi troops that up until now have all been under his command, the first step to putting all 10 Iraqi divisions under Iraqi command. But he concedes there have been some troubling events recently, with what he called a small percentage of Iraqi troops.
This week, some members of the Iraqi Eighth Division were killed when they ran out of ammunition in a fierce battle with Shiite militiamen. About 100 members of Iraq's 10th Division refused to go to Baghdad when order. And Iraqi troops failed to protect a base near Basra from looters after British troops turned it over to them.
MCINTYRE: Now, if it turns out a year, or a year-and-a-half from now Iraqi troops are in control of much of the country then, obviously, it would enable a significant number of U.S. troops to come home. But, having been burned by even cautious optimism in the past, General Casey is going to be very careful before making any public pronouncements about U.S. troop withdrawals -- John.
KING: And as you put it, understandable caution. Jamie McIntyre for us at the Pentagon. Jamie, thank you very much.
Now back to the nuclear showdown with Iran. Just hours before a United Nations deadline for Tehran to stop enriching uranium, here in the United States top officials are weighing Iran's defiance and just what to do next.
KING: Joining us now, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Peter Hoekstra.
Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for joining us today. This is a very important deadline looming tomorrow.
As you know, in the run-up to this, Iran has essentially thumbed its nose at the world, not only saying it won't meet this deadline, it won't stop enriching uranium and stop its nuclear program, but also showing off its military fire power, some tests recently of submarines and a missile firing.
What can the United States -- what should be the United States do here at a time when Iran is essentially saying no? And not only no, if we want to, look what we have. We could shut down oil shipments to most of the world if our military decided to be a bit more provocative.
REP. PETER HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: Well, I think the first thing that we need to do on this, John, is we need to go back to the other folks on the U.N. Security Council.
One of the reasons that Iran is going to thumb their nose at us again tonight or tomorrow morning is because the Russians and the Chinese are not going to hold Iran accountable for its activities.
And Iran, as long as it knows that the Russians and Chinese are going to support it in the U.N. Security Council, Iran is not going to feel any pressure to do anything.
KING: And, Mr. Chairman, if there is no pressure on Iran from the U.N. Security Council, then, does the president of the United States have to go to the American people and say, we might have to do something unilaterally or with one or two allies outside of the United Nations? And should that be economic sanctions or should there be a clear military option?
HOEKSTRA: But again, John, economic sanctions are not going to work against Iran if you're going to have a great big sieve, big holes in it because of Russia and China, and perhaps some of our allies are going to be, you know, providing economic support to Iran.
It's the same thing that we saw with Iraq. Economic sanctions, the oil or the embargo against Iraq did not work because there were so many countries willing to ship materials into Iraq and to support Saddam's regime.
KING: So the president needs to put a military option on the table if economic sanctions don't work?
HOEKSTRA: I think it's going to be very, very difficult to put a military option on the table. What we need to do is, we need to really push hard the diplomatic efforts. We need to present the case to the Russians, the Chinese, and the Europeans that a nuclear Iran is problematic.
I think the people in the Middle East, the people in Jordan, the leadership in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, they are starting to sense that a nuclear Iran is a problem in the region. I think they're actually closer to us than perhaps what the Russians and the Chinese are.
But I think we really need to move forward, continue to move forward, and try to get this diplomatic solution. But it has to be a unified global effort.
KING: Another reason many think Iran feels that it has no pressure, not just maybe that Russia and China won't support the United States in the Security Council, but that it has effectively hidden or buried much of its nuclear program, to make it protected from any military strikes.
You know all the intelligence, sir. What can you tell us, within the limits that you're willing to discuss publicly, about how much we know about the program, and how good they have been at protecting it?
HOEKSTRA: Well, let's put it this way. There's a whole lot more that we don't know that we would like to know.
There's gaps in our intelligence capabilities when we go at Iran. Iran has been a very, very difficult target. We have had difficulty in penetrating it. They have had denial and deception programs in place.
The other thing that they have done, we believe, is, they have dispersed their capabilities. They haven't put them in one place. So, it would be very, very difficult and say, you know, we're going to target this specific nuclear research facility, or enrichment facility, because it's spread across the country. And you might get a few of the targets correct. But you would probably miss a number of them.
You know, they have learned from what happened in Iraq. They have learned as to what other countries are able to do to them, from an intelligence standpoint. And they have adapted.
KING: I want to move on to Iraq, but I want to ask you one more quick question here.
KING: The best intelligence, how far away is Iran from a nuclear weapon?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I mean, the intelligence community, our intelligence community, we're on the record, as are other folks around the world, saying that it's probably in the neighborhood of five to 10 years. A lot of that will differ. You know, things can happen over the next couple of years. You know, North Korea enhances their programs, gets more weapons, they might be a whole lot closer, because, guess what, they could maybe just write a check for one.
KING: I want to ask you about the political debate, the policy debate about Iraq in this country.
You're the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats are hoping you're not the chairman come January. A swing of only about 15 seats would give them the majority.
And they're making a pinata today of the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who gave a speech yesterday talking about those who are appeasing, in his view, the new fascism, if you will, by not aggressively supporting the war, aggressively supporting this administration's efforts around the world.
A, do you think those comments are appropriate? And, B, as a Republican who wants to remain a chairman, would you prefer maybe that Secretary Rumsfeld might not be out so much two months before the election?
HOEKSTRA: You know, I think what we need to focus on is, we don't need to focus on the personalities out there.
I will tell you, I'm more than willing to engage in the debate as to whether radical Islam is a threat to the United States or is not. If there are folks out there that say radical Islam is not a threat to the United States, let them make their case, and let them make their case that the United States should step back militarily.
Let's have the debate about whether Iraq is a distraction or whether it is a central part of the war on terror. Let's have these debates and discussions. I welcome them.
KING: Republican Peter Hoekstra, congressman from Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, sir, thank you for joining us today.
HOEKSTRA: Hey, John, thank you very much.
KING: Take care, sir. Thank you.
KING: Up ahead tonight, an update on that commuter jet crash in Kentucky. Could understaffing at the airport have played a role? Our Brian Todd takes a look.
And sneaking into the United States -- can Cubans who illegally escape their country wind up with asylum in the United States simply because they swam or sailed far enough?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Flags and flowers, prayers and praise. Relatives of those 49 people killed in a plane crash in Kentucky are remembering the dead. Today, they attended a private service at the site of Sunday's disaster. Investigators are trying to figure out why the plane crashed and whether or not under staffing at the airport might have played a role. More now from CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, investigators say the lone controller in the tower at Lexington turned his attention elsewhere after clearing Comair flight 5191 for takeoff. But at this point, no one is blaming the controller for the plane heading down the wrong runway. And new questions are being raised about whether that controller and many others are getting adequate support.
TODD (voice-over): Could another set of eyes in the control tower at Lexington have made a difference? We spoke to a former controller and a former FAA chief of staff who say a shortage of controllers in that tower and beyond is a big problem.
MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FMR. FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: We've been fighting a year's long battle to have enough controllers, but the warning signs now are right in front of us.
TODD: Another expert who did a study for the controllers union says of the 43 major airports he's surveyed there are shortages of controllers at most of them. Former FAA chief of staff Michael Goldfarb says it's a problem at mid-sized airports, too.
GOLDFARB: We have a situation where many of the medium-sized airports around the country that have witnessed remarkable growth with the advent of the regional jets, as you know, carrying people from cities that never before were direct flights have seen this growth, and air traffic control staffing has not kept pace.
TODD: The FAA flatly disputes that, saying staffing levels in control towers are very good right now and the agency is planning to hire 12,000 more controllers over the next decade.
As for Lexington, an FAA official tells CNN the controller's management there thought it had the flexibility to schedule one controller during the period when the Comair jet took off because traffic is so light then, but the FAA says its guidelines call for two controllers to be in the tower during that period. And since the accident, a second controller has been added. The FAA says one control is supposed to watch radar while one keeps an eye on the tarmac.
TODD: But one former air traffic controller tells us tower managers across the manager are under a lot of pressure from the FAA to save money and that includes bare bones staffing of towers. The FAA disputes that as well, saying they've asked their managers to perform efficiently, to staff towers according to the air traffic, without compromising safety -- John?
KING: And interesting look. Brian Todd, thank you very much.
And now a unique wrinkle in the immigration debate and perhaps a back door to get into the United States. Here's CNN national correspondent Bob Franken.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, behind me, you can see a very small piece of land and that is one of the places where refugees will sometimes come here on the western side of Puerto Rico. But quite a ways out, another piece of real estate which has become a preferred choice for entry into the U.S. by Cubans.
FRANKEN (voice-over): Mona Island is a tiny spec on the map, a wildlife refuge. Even though it is less than 40 miles from the Dominican Republic it is part of Puerto Rico, USA. It has become the destination of choice for Cubans who are allowed to travel to the Dominican Republic and be smuggled a shorter distance to United States territory.
(on camera): Under the so-called wet foot dry foot policy once the Cuban refugees are able to escape past the controls and the surveillance and set their feet here, they're allowed to stay in the United States and seek asylum.
MIGUEL NIEVES, BIOLOGIST: Usually they come early in the morning, and the first house is my house, and they knock on my door, good morning, sir, we're Cubans. We are asking for political asylum. That's what most of the time they say.
FRANKEN (voice-over): The U.S. government says that since 2002, the number of Cubans coming this way has more than doubled each year. Thousands have made it, and now Coast Guard cutters and as well as boats and planes from several homeland security agencies are scouring the waters. In fact, Tuesday morning, they caught up with a boat carrying 11 refugees. But it is a game of cat and mouse.
LT. ADAM CHAMIE, U.S. COAST GUARD: They use methods to conceal themselves, such as a blue tarp. You put a blue tarp on top of a small boat out here in a million square miles of water, it is very, very difficult to see.
FRANKEN: And the smugglers often pile 70 or 80 into one of these small boats. No one has an accurate account of the drowning, but in but in December 2004, at least eight died in spite of rescue efforts by the Coast Guard.
But when refugees are captured or rescued, U.S. authorities routinely destroy their vessels, one less boat to take them to Mona Island.
FRANKEN: We watched that interdiction from one of the helicopters on the scene, a Blackhawk. And it was dramatic. But just about everybody involved in this operation, John, says that there's a big problem. It's actually a million and a half square miles of area that they have to control in this so-called Mona passage and they have very few resources -- John?
KING: Bob Franken, thank you very much, Bob.
And up ahead, your brain on drugs. Our Jeanne Moos will tell you why some say anti-drug ads like these really don't work. And it may seem like an illusion, but those cheaper prices you see at your gas station are in fact reel. Gas prices are much lower and the experts say they'll go down even more, so Jack Cafferty wants to know what you think of that. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: Jack is in New York with "The Cafferty File." Hey, Jack.
CAFFERTY: John, good news for drivers. According to a national survey, a gallon of gas on average is the cheapest its been since April 20th and some experts are saying gas could drop to $2 a gallon by Thanksgiving. The question is, what will a sharp drop in gasoline prices mean to you? Besides the fact that the midterm elections are coming.
Fred in Michigan writes: "Not a thing because of the high natural gas prices that are right around the corner here in the Midwest. You just exchange one 500-pound gorilla on your back for another one. Is it November yet?"
Ken in New York: Falling gas prices mean I have more money to donate to the Democrats."
Karen in New Mexico: "Cheaper gasoline? It means having the freedom to troll in my tiny town in search of bread, milk and veggies without getting a second mortgage. It means being able to go to the doctor or dentist without getting sick over the cost of getting there."
Phil in Philadelphia: "Look no further than here for your cynic, Jack. Here I am. To me, it means only that there will be a sharp rise in prices after November 3rd, election day."
Wing writes from Oxford, Mississippi: "Jack, if the price of gasoline never comes down to $2 a gallon, I'll eat my underwear."
I'm not sure I wanted to know that, Wing.
Chris writes: "Now I'll be able to take my wife to dinner. She's given me a November deadline to saving our marriage."
And Bobby. This is for you, John. In Stockton, California: "Hopefully it means the Boston Red Sox nation can afford a fill-up. We have completely run out of gas.
KING: I'm with Bobby. CAFFERTY: You're from Boston, aren't you?
KING: Yes. Proudly most weeks, months and years but the last week or so, I'm not so sure.
CAFFERTY: Ever since they got swept those five games by the Yankees, they've gone right down the porcelain facility.
KING: We've got them right where we want them, Jack. It's all part of the plan. Thank you, Jack.
CAFFERTY: See you later.
KING: And now let's find out now what is coming up at the top of the hour. John Roberts is in for Paula Zahn. Hi, John.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, all part of the plan. At the top of the hour, we're going to cover today's important developments in Iran and Iraq. Our top story coverage also looks at emergency efforts to stop a shocking upsurge of murder and violence, not in Iraq but in major cities all across the United States.
Plus, an eye opening look at how far some parents will go and how much they'll pay to make sure that their children can compete in the issue of height. See you at the top of the hour, John.
KING: John, thank you so much. We'll be with you in just a few minutes. And still ahead here, just say no. This is your brain on drugs. Do all those ads actually entice people into using? Jeanne Moos takes a hit -- well, a look at that issue. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: A look now at some of the hot shots coming in from the "Associated Press," pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow. Fresno, California: a federal agent stands guard beside a marijuana plant after a major drug bust.
Spain: Excited residents thrown truckloads of tomatoes at one another, part of the annual celebration.
In Harrisonburg, Virginia, 19-year-old undergrad Vanessa Druant (ph) plays Frisbee, despite the stormy weather. And in southwestern Thailand, two orangutans peer out through the bars of their cage at a wildlife sanctuary.
That's today's Hot Shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.
Our Zain Verjee joins us now with a look at other stories making news. Hi, Zain.
VERJEE: Hi, John. CNN has confirmed that polygamist leader Warren Jeffs will be extradited to Utah first. He's facing charges there and in Arizona, including rape and forcing underage girls into marriages with older men in his polygamist sect. The former fugitive is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow in Las Vegas. That's where he was arrested on Monday during a routine traffic stop.
The federal judge is throwing out a giant damage award in a Vioxx lawsuit. A jury awarded $50 million to a man who blamed the recalled painkiller for his heart attack. The judge calls that award excessive by any standard. He's ordering the jury to come up with a new figure.
Northwest Airlines may be one step closer to a strike by flight attendants. The representative is safe, but there is little hope for negotiations. Now a federal judge may have to decide whether the flight attendants can go on strike. Northwest's warning that could put the airline out of business for good.
In southern California, more than 500 firefighters are facing steep terrain and triple digit temperatures as they battle this, a wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest. The so-called Emerald Fire has burned about 2,000 acres, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. It's only about 10 percent contained. Small towns in the area have been evacuated and part of the main mountain highway is closed.
KING: Those pictures are stunning. Zain Verjee, thank you very much.
Now if the war on drugs has been lost, as some critics say, the decisive battle may have been on television. Did commercials discouraging drug use actually have the opposite effect. CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want to get high?
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not after you see this story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marijuana.
MOOS: Or will you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This week is definitely gross.
MOOS: Do anti-drug commercials work?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is your brain. This is heroin. This is what happens to your brain after snorting heroin.
NANCY KINGSBURY, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE: There's no evidence it translates into actual behavior change on the part of teens.
MOOS: The Government Accountability Office has jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what your family goes through.
MOOS: By confirming the findings of a study that showed anti- drug commercials don't really work.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think they're that effective.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, actually they do. I mean, I totally abhor drugs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think people blow them off.
MOOS: Yes, but look at the T-shirt he's wearing. Very cute. I'm not as think as you drunk I am. Very cute.
But seriously folks, a four-year study by a highly respected social science research firm showed that in some cases, certain groups were more likely to use drugs after seeing anti-drug commercials because they give kids the impression that more of their peers do drugs than actually do.
(on camera): And they thought it was more socially acceptable after they saw the commercials. What do you think of that theory?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I definitely don't believe in that. I mean, the commercials make you feel scared. They don't want to make you do pot.
MOOS (voice-over): Likewise in disbelief, is the White House Drug Policy Office that commissioned the study. A spokesman says, "the anti-drug media campaign is enormously successful. Teen drug use has dropped sharply -- 20 percent over just the past four years."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is wrong with you? Tonsillitis?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Appendicitis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MOOS: The question is whether to perform surgery on the proposed increase in the budget for the anti-drug campaign. The classic spot that everyone remembers came before the study, back in 1987.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is drugs, this is your brain on drugs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was admittedly a marijuana user at the time and we just had a barrel of laughs off that.
MOOS: That and "Reefer Madness." The frying egg spot was endlessly spoofed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is your brain on drugs.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any questions?
MOOS: Yes, an irate egg association asked how could you make the eggs look so bad? Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
KING: As always, an interesting look from Jeanne Moos.
We are right here weekdays from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern and against 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for joining us, I'm John King. Up next, "PAULA ZAHN NOW." John Roberts in tonight for Paula.
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