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The Situation Room
State of Emergency in Ohio; Bush Cites Lessons of Vietnam as Reason to Stay in Iraq
Aired August 22, 2007 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much.
Happening now, a state of emergency in Ohio, swamped by floodwaters, tonight there is breaking news, a river cresting right now and fears rising.
Also this hour -- President Bush's risky new tactics citing the Vietnam War as reason to stay in Iraq. Are U.S. generals in Baghdad revolting against the president's vision of a democratic Iraq?
And allegations of unsafe toys made in unsafe factories. A new twist tonight to the China recall crisis, workers allegedly abused.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up first tonight, the breaking news out of Ohio, a river is cresting in Findlay where the downtown area already is underwater and ravaged by the worst flooding in almost 100 years -- a state of emergency in effect right now.
Our Carol Costello is following this crisis right in the heartland, right in your home state of Ohio, Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I know. My in-laws don't live far from Findlay, Ohio, that river you're talking about is already seven feet over the flood stage, it has crested, which means it's ready to spill its banks. Findlay, Ohio is already underwater as is much of the Midwest with more to come.
COSTELLO (voice-over): From Iowa, to Minnesota, to Ohio, the rain came and it didn't stop. Many homes are under water. Many roads washed away, one of the worst hit, Findlay, Ohio, near Toledo. In some parts of town nearly every road, home and business is flooded. Take a look. Cemeteries are under water loosening grave markers. Gas stations are soaked. Our I-Reporter Donna Saul (ph) is stuck in her home; she sent us these pictures of her sun room.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That water came up last night as well. We were concerned with the front, with the street and I happened to look out back, outside the sun room and saw just a river of water coming our way, and I knew that we were in trouble when I saw that.
COSTELLO: At least 100 people have been rescued by boat. The city is busing people to shelters and it's not over. The Blanchard River is nearly seven feet above flood stage and is expected to rise more with new rain. In Minnesota, more of the same, Main Street in Rushford, every business here is damaged, but that's not the worst of it. Just down the road, Jim Campbell, a newspaper delivery man was driving his Ford Escort when the road collapsed under his car.
JIM CAMPBELL, NEWSPAPER DELIVERYMAN: No warning at all hardly, just as soon as I come around the corner, it seemed like within 20 feet the road was gone, maybe.
COSTELLO: He found himself in a sink hole grabbing onto tree roots to pull himself up and out. A passing motorist stopped and took him to the hospital; he now sports a 15-inch gash on his face. Others in the state are watching their backyards disappear. In Minnesota City, homes are now hanging precariously over a new cliff. Large chunks of wet earth are falling into a nearby creek.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know where we're going to go, what we're going to do. This is not just our house, our home.
COSTELLO: We're just praying for the best. Back to Ohio, there are still bands of moisture, Wolf, it's drizzling in Findlay. They're hoping that's all they get.
BLITZER: Our heart goes out to all those people. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.
Morgan Greeno is a senior at the University of Findlay. She's been able to give us some unique perspective on the rising floodwaters that turned the city into a giant lake.
MORGAN GREENO, CNN I-REPORTER (via phone): It started yesterday about 7:00; we were walking around downtown at the bridge. You could see the water visibly rising right there. Then at about 9:00, the bridge was just covered. We went back out at about 1:00 and it was just creeping towards the south end of town. It's just -- it's crazy. And it doesn't make it any better that like people are in the water and it's just dirty. It's a very scary situation.
BLITZER: We see these still photos coming in from CNN I-Reports. And I know you've been helping us with this. But it looks like, is this part of the campus? I don't know if you can see what we're reporting now on CNN.
GREENO: Yeah, that's actually the courthouse in Findlay.
BLITZER: That's the courthouse...
BLITZER: So you see it looks like a river right outside the courthouse. What about this current picture that we're seeing? GREENO: This is Marathon Petroleum's offices on the left-hand side. And I know that a lot of their offices were closed this morning.
BLITZER: And this goes on, I take it, for blocks and blocks and blocks.
GREENO: Correct, correct.
GREENO: And this is what you see -- have been seeing all day. You see the fire truck going down the street, people just standing everywhere, not knowing what else to do but watch.
BLITZER: So what people doing? Trying to cope with this kind of problem? Because I assume a lot of basements, a lot of homes have simply been flooded.
GREENO: Correct. Right now it's just a watch and wait. There's nothing we can do. There's nowhere for the water to go. But I did hear recently that the river has crested. But I don't know if that's going to continue with the rain that we're supposed to get tonight.
BLITZER: Because they're saying it could get worse before it eventually starts to dry up a little bit.
GREENO: Correct, correct.
BLITZER: The rain is there. You've never seen anything like this before, have you?
GREENO: Oh, no. I just heard about the 1981 flood and this compares like -- this is -- I don't know. It's unbelievable compared to pictures that I've seen of the 1981 flood.
BLITZER: And this a record now, that river cresting right now. We're staying on top of this story for you.
Other important news we're following. President Bush now doing something he's previously urged others not to do. Make comparisons between the Iraq war and the war in Vietnam. In a major speech today he became sort of historian in chief saying Vietnam's disturbing deadly lessons prove it will cost the United States dearly if it pulls out of Iraq too soon.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for years the military has tried to avoid any comparison between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Today, the commander in chief changed all of that.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STARR (voice-over): President Bush turned back the clock more than 30 years invoking the long shadow of the Vietnam War and the U.S. withdrawal to make the case now for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like boat people, reeducation camps, and killing fields.
STARR: But the president may be walking into a political mine field.
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: By invoking Vietnam, you raise the automatic question, well, if you've learned so much from history, Mr. President, how did you ever get us involved in another quagmire.
STARR: Retired Lieutenant General Daniel Christman fought with the 101st Airborne in South Vietnam as a young officer. He sees some trends perhaps the president would rather not highlight.
LT. GEN. DANIEL CHRISTMAN (RET.), VIETNAM VETERAN: What hurts him is the question about have we applied the right tactics and strategy to the fundamental nature of the conflict that's taking place. I think in the Vietnam case, if we start to go back there, people realize, we totally misjudged the nature of the conflict in Vietnam.
STARR: And as President Bush tries to maybe the case to stay in Iraq, it may only serve to remind Americans that the military and the administration misjudged what was needed for long-term success.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly had insufficient forces to do it and with respect to our own tactics, applied those incompetently.
STARR: One more similarity, U.S. troops found themselves fighting an insurgency in Vietnam and now in Iraq. And many analysts say that has made enemy body counts and individual victories on the battlefield largely irrelevant.
BLITZER: Barbara, thanks for that. Barbara Starr reporting.
For the U.S. military in Iraq on this day, it's the deadliest helicopter crash since 2005. Fourteen American troops dead after their helicopter crashed near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Officials say it apparently went down for mechanical malfunction, not enemy fire. Before today's crash, the Brookings Institution here in Washington noted that 67 U.S. military helicopters went down in Iraq since May of 2005.
At least 36 downed by enemy fire, Blackhawks in particular. A very dangerous helicopter, they were first deployed back in 1979. They've been used very effectively over the years for many army missions, but in combat, obviously, there is danger. I've been aboard a Blackhawk on several occasions. Here's one, one time I was in Kuwait in March of 2005 on the way to Iraq. There's always, I can personally attest, always some worry when flying in a Blackhawk, especially over enemy territory.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File". Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you. While Congress is on vacation for a month, the country's needs go wanting. The country's needs are many. And the Congress' indifference to those needs is staggering. But they're really not fooling anybody.
Congress' approval rating is now at an all-time low. A new Gallup poll finds only 18 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. Seventy-six percent of us disapprove. And that's the lowest since Gallup started tracking the public's approval of Congress way back in 1974.
What's really worth pointing out here is the Democratic led 110th Congress, this one, now has a lower rating than at any time during the 12 years the Republicans had control of the House and Republicans also controlled the Senate for most of those 12 years. The Democrats have had the ball for less than a year and so far, according to the public, they are falling on their collective butts.
The American people put the Democrats in charge at the midterm elections because they are sick of the war in Iraq. That war goes on. Congress also just handed President Bush expanded powers he didn't even ask for, to spy on Americans without a warrant. This was done hurriedly so they could go on their month long vacation and of course taking impeachment off the table didn't sit too well with a lot of people either.
So here's the question. Does the current Democratic Congress deserve a lower approval rating than the Republican one that preceded it? E-mail CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. You know an 18 percent approval rating begins to conjure up thoughts of just throwing this whole thing out and starting over, Wolf.
BLITZER: I think a lot of our viewers probably will agree with that notion, Jack. We'll see what they say when you tell us later today.
CAFFERTY: All right.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.
Failing government in Iraq, you're going to find out why some exasperated U.S. generals on the scene, on the ground in Iraq are now speaking openly with our Michael Ware about giving up on the notion of democracy in that country. This an important report, stay tuned for that.
Also Sponge Bob recalled. Another "made in China" product pulled from the shelves, plus accusations of labor abuse at toy factories in China.
And Texas execution, the state tells Europe to mind its own business as it moves to put his 400th person to death.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Might the U.S. plan for democracy in Iraq fail? The price of that grand plan can be measured in huge sums of money, most importantly though of course lives. And yet the payoff for this tremendous sacrifice may not be what the United States had hoped for.
CNN's Michael Ware reports from Baghdad.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two years after the euphoria of historic elections, America's plan to bring democracy to Iraq is in crisis. For the first time exasperated frontline U.S. generals talk openly of non-democratic alternatives.
BRIG. GEN JOHN BEDNAREK, U.S. ARMY: The democratic institutions are not necessarily the way ahead in the long-term future.
WARE: Iraq's institutions are simply not working. It's hard to dispute that Iraq is a failing state. Seventeen of the 37 Iraqi cabinet ministers either boycott the government or don't attend cabinet meetings. The government is unable to supply regular electricity and at times not even providing running water in the capital.
And thousands of innocents are dying every month. The government failures are forcing the Bush administration to curb its vision for a democratic model for the region, the cornerstone of its rationale for the war.
WARE: U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Commanding General David Petraeus declined to be interviewed but issued a joint statement to CNN. In it, they reiterate Iraq's fundamental democratic framework is in place and development of democratic institutions is being encouraged. But Crocker and Petraeus concede they are now engaged in pursuing less lofty and ambitious goals than was the case at the outset. And now in the war's fifth year, democracy no longer features in some U.S. commanders' definitions of American victory.
MAJ. GEN. BEN MIXON, U.S. ARMY: I would describe it as leaving an effective government behind that can provide services to its people and security. There needs to be a functioning and effective government that is really a partner with the United States of America and the rest of the world in this fight against these terrorists.
WARE: This two-star general is not perturbed if those goals are reached without democracy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We see that all over the Middle East.
WARE: Democracy he says is an option. The Iraqis free to choose it or reject it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is the $50,000 question is what will this government look like? Will it be a democracy? Will it not?
WARE: But Iraqi government officials say the democratic government could work better if it was actually allowed to run things.
HADI AL-AMRI, DEFENSE AND SECURITY COMMITTEE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
WARE: We don't have sovereignty over our troops. We don't have sovereignty over our provinces, we admitted, says the head of the Iraqi parliament's military oversight committee. We don't say we have full sovereignty.
For example, while the Iraqi government commands these army troops...
WARE: ... you cannot even send them into battle without U.S. agreement.
ABDUL QARIM AL-ENZI, DIRECTOR, PARLIAMENTARY ETHICS COMMITTEE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
WARE: We think sovereignty means the ability of a government to be elected and make its own decisions.
WARE: He may not be wrong. But a senior U.S. official in Baghdad told CNN, any country with 160,000 foreigners fighting for it sacrifices some sovereignty. The U.S. has long cautioned the fully functioning democracy would be slow to emerge. But with U.S. senators calling for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ouster, some senior U.S. officers suggest the entire Iraqi government must be removed by constitutional or non-constitutional means and they're not sure a democracy need replace it.
Michael Ware, CNN, Baghdad.
BLITZER: Tonight here in Washington, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is taking a tough new stand against the Iraqi prime minister and in turn against President Bush's support for him.
Our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin is up on Capitol Hill. What is Senator Clinton, Jessica, saying tonight? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Clinton is saying that it is time for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki to go. In a statement, she said that the Maliki government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders. She encouraged the Iraqi government to replace him with a more unifying figure.
Now this is just the latest sign of Democratic discontent with the political situation in Iraq. Recently some Democrats have acknowledged that the surge has led to some military gains, but they insist that it has failed in its larger purpose, which was to create breathing space for a political solution in Iraq. Now the president today reiterated his own support for al-Maliki calling him a good man with a difficult job, but Senator Clinton becomes the second Democrat to call for al-Maliki's removal this week and it's only Wednesday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens tomorrow. Thanks, Jessica, for that.
Is your money paying for brutal treatment of toymakers in China? There are claims tonight some workers are being abused. We're going to go behind the scenes to take a closer look at what's going on.
And murder epidemic, one big city here in the United States seeing about one murder every day. And in a surprising twist, its mayor is now asking a convicted felon for help to fight the crime.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In stories from around the world, 300,000 more toys recalled today, once again, made in China. Among the toys, about a quarter million Sponge Bob Square Pants address books and journals for lead paint in the metal binder. On top of the ongoing recall, the labor advocacy group in New York is now saying the Chinese factories that supply major U.S. toy companies are abusing their workers.
Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She is in New York. She's watching this story for us. What is the group actually saying?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this group is saying from underage workers to overtime that's forced and mandatory, Chinese workers the group says are exposed to a host of illegal labor conditions.
SNOW (voice-over): A startling look behind some of the biggest toy brands sold in the U.S., China Labor Watch describes conditions that often do not meet even rudimentary Chinese safety standards for factory workers. The U.S. based advocacy group investigated and photographed eight factories inside China where it says it found, quote, "brutal labor abuses", including one where 1,000 junior high school students were working. Some of the factories failing to meet standards supplied toys to companies in Japan, Europe and the U.S. including Disney and Hasbro. One China trade expert not involved in the report says even when buyers hire inspectors it's not difficult for factory owners to hide shady practices.
TED FISHMAN, AUTHOR, "CHINA, INC.": What happens often in China is that there's a kind of front door factory where these inspections can take place, but there are whole mazes of back door factories where the conditions are quite, quite different.
SNOW: In those so-called back factories China Labor Watch finds wages are low, benefits are nonexistent, work environments are dangerous and living conditions are humiliating. It says workers often live in squalid dormitories and cites one case where more than 100 workers share one bathroom.
The report also sites many factories verbally or even physically abuse employees. It accuses corporations including Hasbro of turning a blind eye to safety to pursue lower prices. Contacted by CNN, Hasbro said in a statement it takes the report from China Labor Watch seriously and we will conduct a thorough investigation into the areas of non-compliance cited in the report.
Disney, the other U.S. company cited, says it investigates all reports of infringement and takes immediate actions to remediate. Both companies say they take the safety and well being of their manufacturing workers seriously.
SNOW: Now this all comes on the heels of toymaker Mattel recalling millions of toys for fear they were tainted with lead. Today a Chinese official was quoted in a state-run newspaper saying Mattel must share the blame with Chinese manufacturers. He pointed the finger at the company for not carrying out quality inspections. Mattel responded, saying the safety of children is of utmost importance and says quote, "we have been working around the clock to improve our system and have already instituted changes in our required procedures" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us. Thanks, Mary.
Tonight the mine boss Bob Murray choking up about the second deadly disaster on his watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I had had my hands on all the bodies, dead and alive, three and a half miles under where we pulled them out. It traumatized me for a couple of days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what happens to the trapped miners now that the rescue attempt has failed? Our Carol Costello speaks with Bob Murray tonight.
And President Bush has been to every state in the United States except for one. You're going to find out which state is getting snubbed by the president and why.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Hurricane Dean now a tropical storm, after making landfall a second time, it slammed into Mexico's eastern coast this afternoon. Dean could trigger flooding and landslides in central Mexico. We're watching this story.
Two new studies show gastric bypass surgery for obese people works. Those who underwent the surgery lost significant weight, are living much longer and cases of diabetes, cancer and heart disease are greatly reduced.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In Utah, crews get two more shots at finding six miners trapped in the mine since it collapsed 16 days ago. CNN's Carol Costello is joining us now. She spoke with the mine owner Bob Murray just little while ago. So what did he tell you about what happens next?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really - well, it's unclear. Because Bob Murray, emotional in tears, told me he wants to seal the mine. This likely means those six missing miners will never be found.
COSTELLO (voice-over): You said that the mine will be closed down?
BOB MURRAY, CEO, MURRAY ENERGY CORPORATION: Yes, Carol. The day after I helped rescue the trapped miners on Thursday August 16th, I told the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration that we would be sending them the paperwork to seal that mine, and that it would not be reopened.
COSTELLO: The day the rescue workers died, tell me about that.
MURRAY: Carol, when the seismic activity happened, I was one of the first underground. And I had my hands on all the bodies dead and alive, three and a half miles under, where we pulled them out. It traumatized me for a couple of days. I've got a job to do. Carol, they're the heroes. They went in there, risked their lives to save these trapped miners.
COSTELLO: I want to stop you for a second because you were inside that mine and you participated in that rescue effort of those brave men. Tell me more about that. What exactly did you do personally?
MURRAY: I sat on top of the coal pile and mining machine where the men were trapped. Gave some orders. Looked after the ventilation because the oxygen was dipping. Looked carefully at the administration of everybody. And I touched everyone but one before they were pulled out of there. I assessed their injuries, I wrote them down. And so we could get them outside quickly. And their names.
And I was one of the last to come out, but this is not about me. This about those nine heroes and their families. Dale Black, whose funeral I attended yesterday, one of the best mining men that Utah will ever see, one of our foremen. I've got to go to Mr. Kimber's wake tonight. Little babies, four and five. They gave their lives. They gave their lives. And so did those guys that went in there to rescue them, too.
But three or four days ago, we had a report in conjunction with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, we had the best experts in the country come out and give us their opinion, can we continue the rescue efforts underground? And the answer was no. And I have said to the families of the trapped miners, and I met with them every three hours in the beginning, and virtually every day since or somebody of my staff has lately, because I haven't been doing as well as I should with them, that there was only one way to rescue these miners and that was through the mine. I've said that from day one, August 6. We can drill holes down, Carol, and we can keep them alive but we can't rescue them from the surface.
Unless we come in with some kind of new technology now, we're not going to risk anymore lives to recover dead miners. If we find somebody alive, we'll look at what we do at that point. And I'll be right here, Carol, as I have been to the end. It's my responsibility totally.
COSTELLO: Mr. Murray, I see what emotional distress you're in. I mean how are you coping?
MURRAY: I'm doing fine, Carol. I'm doing fine.
COSTELLO: I asked that because there have been a lot of questions about Bob Murray's health. Now, Murray said he wants to seal the mine. And I know many of you are wondering whether that means investigators won't be able to get in to find out what happened. Well, according to mine safety expert Davitt McAteer, the answer to that is they will be able to get in, but since conditions are so very dangerous inside that mine, it will be difficult to conduct any kind of investigation. They'll have to rely more on interviews with workers and of course with Bob Murray. McAteer says he doesn't understand why Murray is moving to seal the mine so fast while the families still have hope their loved ones are still alive.
BLITZER: Does Murray feel they're dead? COSTELLO: I think he does. He has very little hope. Although he did say he'll continue to drill from the top of the mine for any signs of life, but it appeared to me he really thought those miners were dead.
BLITZER: Our heart goes out to those families. Carol, thanks very much.
Murder epidemic, a person killed almost every single day in one city. See why the mayor is now turning to a convicted felon for help.
And snubbed by the White House. President Bush has visited 49 states of the union, he's avoided one state. You're about to find out which state that is, why he's avoiding visiting it. John King is standing by with that.
BLITZER: Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery, the last state to get a Wal-Mart. It's the only state, get this, not visited yet by President Bush. Is it a snub? Is it oversight? Here's CNN's chief national correspondent John King.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is picture perfect. Its covered bridges, rivers and mountains, a draw to some 10 million visitors year. Yet Vermont is the forgotten place in the crowded travelogue of George W. Bush, the only state he has failed to visit in his presidency.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VT: He comes up in the fall, he can see the changing of the leaves, have a good visit.
KING: Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist all but dares Mr. Bush to visit, saying he would benefit from sitting down with his critics, whether the issue be Iraq, the economy or climate change.
SANDERS: You might be able to learn something. This president will probably go down in history as being the least popular president in the modern history of this country. He should go forward and find out why that is so.
KING: But University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson sees no upside for the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a photo opportunity he does not need. I cannot imagine any assemblage in the state of Vermont that would give him an unalloyed positive reception.
KING: Montpelier is a state capital, Governor Jim Douglas, a throwback to the moderate breed of Republicanism that once thrived across New England.
GOV. JIM DOUGLAS, (R) VT: He is more than welcome, I've extend that invitation to him.
KING: Douglas notes the first President Bush visited Vermont last among the 50 states and predicts the son will do the same despite his low popularity.
DOUGLAS: He can take it. He's taken a lot of hostility and tough questions, I'm sure he can do that here.
REGINA GILBERT, MOTHER OF KYLE GILBERT: He asked something that surprised me, does it ever get easier? I just looked at him and I looked at my husband. And I said absolutely not. This a hole in my heart and it's always going to be there.
DOUGLAS: Regina Gilbert traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to meet the president. Her only child Kyle was killed in Iraq four years ago. Vermont has lost 18 soldiers in Iraq. Forty one states have lost more but because it is so tiny Vermont has the highest per capita death toll, more than reason enough, Regina Gilbert says, for the president to visit.
GILBERT: Hopefully we're making strides, but I want to hear something good about it, so my son can look down and say, see, mom, I told you. But I'm still waiting for that day. So I hope he does come to our little state. Because I think that like I said, we stepped up and I'm hoping he will. Reflect and step up as well.
KING: John King, CNN, Brattleboro, Vermont.
BLITZER: Tonight, Hillary Clinton and rival John Edwards are escalating a war of words over Iraq. Edwards took aim at the presidential frontrunner for noting the troop buildup in Iraq has been somewhat successful. The Clinton camp then fired back accusing Edwards of distorting the senator's position. Now the Edwards camp is returning fire once again.
In a statement, the Edwards camp asked this. "Does Senator Clinton have a specific timetable for withdrawing troops or not? Does Senator Clinton have a specific plan for ending the war in Iraq or not? The American people deserve specific answers, not more rhetoric and surely not more personal Washington-style attacks."
Just minutes ago, the State of Texas carried out its 400th execution since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty back in the mid 1970s. According to the Associated Press, Johnny Ray Conner was put to death for murdering a convenience store worker. No other state has executed more criminals and Texas officials keep ignoring, even ridiculing, calls to stop. Let's go Deborah Feyerick. She is watching the story for us, including a pretty tough new exchange.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely. Well, very strong words, Wolf, with Texas is telling the European Union basically to mind its own business. The E.U. was asking Governor Rick Perry to do everything he could to stop the execution of Johnny Ray Conner and to consider a moratorium in the State of Texas. But instead, the governor, a spokesman for the governor fired back saying, quote, "Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens. While respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas."
Now, the E.U. which has banned capital punishment calls executions cruel and inhumane and there's no evidence to suggest it deters violent crime. Johnny Ray Conner is the 400th prisoner put to death since capital punishment resumed there some 30 years ago. And just to give you an idea, this year alone, Texas has executed 21 convicts, three more are scheduled to die next week. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Deb, thank you.
From executing prisoners to criminals killing people. Baltimore is earning itself a distinction nobody wants. Let's bring back Carol Costello once again. The city has some real problems and a controversial way of dealing with it.
COSTELLO: It's called pretty much desperation, Wolf. I mean, it isn't often a mayor who running for office asks for help from a convicted felon but that's what Mayor Sheila Dixon has done. That's how desperate she is to stop the killing.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Baltimore, a citizen so numb to blood one the streets, its citizens barely flinch at a wailing police car. One hundred ninety six killed so far this year, that's a murder almost every day.
JEROME MCARTHUR, MURDER VICTIM'S BROTHER: This is where he got shot and got hit.
COSTELLO: That numbness is painful for Deborah Wilson and son Jerome. They lost a son and brother to gunfire.
MCARTHUR: It's happening every day. Every day it's different murder. Baltimore is just going down the drain.
COSTELLO: Baltimore isn't the only big city struggling with a rising murder rate. America's biggest cities have seen 100,000 killed since 9/11 for the same tired reasons, drugs, gangs, guns.
Hollywood is noticing. Producers have capitalized on Baltimore's crime woes with TV shows like "Homicide," the "The Corner," and "The Wire." The mayor who is running for reelection is so desperate to stop the bloodshed, she took a step that would normally mean political suicide. She's turned to a convicted felon for advice.
MAYOR SHEILA DIXON, (D) BALTIMORE: What I'm willing to do is talk to people who live and breathe this.
COSTELLO: Like Ed Norris, a disgraced former Baltimore police commissioner turned actor. That's him playing a Baltimore police detective in "The Wire." he's also a radio talk show host who fights crime on the day.
ED NORRIS, FORMER BALTIMORE POLICE COMMISSIONER: It's Murder Inc. day. We're going to recount every murder in city today.
COSTELLO: Norris served six months in prison for conspiring to steal money from the city he was protecting and lying about it on his tax returns, but also while he was its protector, Baltimore's crime rate dropped for the first time in a decade. He told the mayor it's time to adopt a zero tolerance policy.
NORRIS: I just told her the things that worked, gave her some real straight up and down advice.
COSTELLO: And Mayor Dixon says she is mayor is listening, but as Deborah Wilson mourns her murdered son, she's heard enough and plans to flee the city.
DEBORAH WILSON, MURDER VICTIM'S MOTHER: Now I just want to fold up completely and get rid of the home, the family home, and just go away.
COSTELLO: That's sad. Since going to Baltimore to work on this story last week, four more have died. Take a look, 200. Two hundred now murdered in the city with roughly a population of 630,000.
BLITZER: That's a terrible, terrible number indeed.
COSTELLO: It's only August.
BLITZER: Let's hope they can fix that, that's awful. Thanks very much, Carol Costello.
CNN's Christiane Amanpour covers up to interview a man who, get this, won't even look at her. Stay with us for a preview of her special report. "God's Warriors."
BLITZER: Tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, a little bit more than an hour from now, a major CNN event "God's Warriors." our senior international correspondent Christiane Amanpour looks deep inside Islam.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To find out more about the mysterious Hidden Imam, I traveled to the holy city of Qom, Iran's center of religious power.
(on camera): Before going in to interview these conservative clerics, I had been warned to make sure I wore the strictly traditional head scarf, head covering, so I'm going to remove the one I traditionally have to wear here and I'm going to add here in the car quickly put this very tight fitting covering over my head. I can't do it.
(voice-over): So I went to this Islamic dress shop pour some professional advice. So this lady is helping me because it is actually rather difficult to organize. There's an elastic band around the back of my head holding all of this in place.
(on camera): Can you believe women have to do this every day?
(voice-over): By the time, I was deemed sufficiently covered -- the head of the Bright Future Institute studying the Hidden Imam wouldn't look at me anyway, nor would he shake my hand because I'm a woman.
(on camera): My name is Christiane Amanpour from CNN. We've come to find out about the Bright Future and how you see it?
H.I. ALI LARI, THE BRIGHT FUTURE INSTITUTE (through translator): You are welcome here and we are at your disposal.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): I discovered that the Hidden Imam mysteriously disappeared centuries ago and that God has kept him alive since then so that he can return one day and usher in a new era of peace and Islamic justice.
This center is waiting to welcome him and it's abuzz with activity. Clerics pore over religious texts and people even call in to ask exactly when the Hidden Imam is coming back.
Right now, clerics tell me the imam is hiding like the sun on a cloudy day. That's the message they're sending even to children all over the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go to a faraway land and I want us to go on the journey together to ride on the clouds and go to the land of dreams, to the land of wishes, to the end of the world.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): What are the conditions, what has there to be in the world for the Hidden Imam to come?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the world ideologies will falter. Communism came and went and liberal democracy will also fail. And when nobody can provide a solution, that's when the Hidden Imam will appear saying, "I'm the answer" and he'll save the world.
BLITZER: Her special airs at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, "God's Warriors" on Islam. Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, does the current Democratic Congress deserve a lower approval rating than the Republican one that preceded it? Latest AP poll shows an 18 percent approval rating of the current Congress, that's the lowest ever since they started tracking this stuff 1974.
Steve writes from Virginia, "We elected a Democratic Congress because we wanted a change. And we wanted Congress to stand up to the bully pulpit president. I voted Democratic my entire life but I am ashamed to say this Congress falls below the line on guts and spine.
"With the polls backing America's dissatisfaction with Iraq, immigration, outsourced jobs an health care, why is this Congress acting like the cowardly lion? If we wanted the status quo, we wouldn't have turned Congress upside-down last November."
Lois in California. "How do you differentiate between idiotic and moronic? That's about the difference between the current Democratic Congress and the previous Republican one. I think members of Congress ought to be chosen the same way we pick people for jury duty. If you're a citizen, work, drive and vote, you're eligible to serve. Think of it as a form of the draft."
Sharon in Arizona. "Absolutely not. Took six years for the Republicans to screw things up beyond repair. Now everyone expects the Democrats to undo the damage in seven months."
Fred in Indiana. "Jack, I want to know what kind of drugs the 18 percent who approve of these idiots are taking."
Todd in New York, "I've had it will all of them. I'm a lifelong registered Democrat but have vowed that I will not vote for any Democrat in 2008 and I certainly won't be voting Republican. So unless Bloomberg gets in the race, I'll be taking Election Day off."
Lee in Arizona. "Not possible. Nothing in my life time has been as arrogant, as uncaring, as greedy and demeaning to us and themselves as the dreadful Republican Congress we finally got rid of."
Bob in Texas. "No. Both parties suck. Until term limits are set in stone, nothing will change."
And Pamela in Wisconsin, "How low can we go? If you didn't see your e mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, we post more of them online along with video clips of "The Cafferty File."
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. See you tomorrow.
Animal politics, pet owners find new ways to show who they want to be president.
BLITZER: The presidential election may be ages away, but dogs can already express their presidential preference. CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Think of the presidential race as a dogfight. There you are.
And now your pet can take sides. "I bark for Hillary," says this guy. But not this girl. She says "I bark for Barack."
SHARON FELDMAN, DOGS4DEMS.COM: This is just a fun and fresh way to advertise your candidates' name, I'm an urbanite, I can't put a lawn sign up.
MOOS: Who needs a lawn sign when you've got an "I love Edwards" collar or an "I love Hillary" leash? University administrator Sharon Feldman dreamed up dogs4dems, a Web site where sally the spokesdog complains about the Bush-Cheney administration lasting 56 dog years. Republicans are out of luck.
FELDMAN: I was not considering doing "Canines for conservative," this is about promoting Democrats.
MOOS: And dissing the president.
FELDMAN: This is the "Mission Accomplished" Bush dog poop pickup bag.
MOOS: It pictures President Bush on one side.
FELDMAN: And there's our vice president.
MOOS: And at a Manhattan dog run full of liberals, well, they were used liberally.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mission accomplished.
MOOS: It's one thing for a candidate to pose with his dog, but try posing a dog in a candidate's clothes. Not only did Dylan (ph) not bark for Hillary, he tried to squirm out of his t-shirt.
(on camera): Good boy. There is one other political novelty product that we don't recommend you use on your dog.
(voice-over): Run for your life, Dylan! Yes, the Hillary Clinton nutcracker exists with spring loaded stainless steel thighs. The nutcracker sure cracked up the gang in our break room.
The Hillary nutcracker sells for 20 bucks on line at a Manhattan novelty store called Labrilla (ph) it's displayed on the same shelf as the Jesus action figure. The man behind the nutcracker says he sold 10,000 of them.
(on camera): The Hillary nutcracker seems of pretty good quality.
GIBSON CAROTHERS, HILLARYNUTCRACKER.COM: It's lab tested to 500 cracks.
MOOS (voice-over): He says it's the rare political novelty that those both for and against the candidate like. Do you think it's a compliment or an insult? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's an insult.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a compliment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's offensive. Seeing how you're obviously a two-handed cracker.
MOOS: No comments from the Hillary campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it works?
MOOS (on camera): Oh, yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just ask bill, huh.
MOOS (voice-over): Forget the nutcracker, if Bill ever has to be put on 0 short leash again, at least it could say Hillary. Jeanne Moos, CNN New York.
BLITZER: "Moost Unusual" story indeed. Up next, LARRY KING LIVE.
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