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Hurricane Bill Stalks Bermuda; Add $2 Trillion To Deficit; What's Right with the Economy?; Four Soldiers Facing Cruelty Charges; In Afghanistan for the Long Haul; Brutal Cartel Kidnappings in U.S.

Aired August 21, 2009 - 17:00   ET


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And Bermuda is going to be on the wrong side of this storm. They've got to realize that they're going to get some really big waves from the south smashing right on their shore. And so that could get a little ugly later on tonight. And you heard the reporter talking about like a 4:00 hour for an arrival of the storm.

It's still going to be a category two tonight. It may turn back into a three because of that warmer water, but it is still not going to hit the U.S. East Coast. And now the Hurricane Center is saying that there may not even be tropical storm force winds on the Cape Cod area.

Look at this. North Myrtle Beach, people are still enjoying it. I don't think it's going to look anything like that tomorrow because of the rip currents. The rip currents are the big problem here, Wolf. And let me tell you how this happens.

There are sandbars out here in the middle of the ocean. Those sandbars allow water to come over and then the water piles up right here on the land, in this little area here where the beach ends and the water starts. And then, all of a sudden, that sandbar erodes in just one spot. And that one spot is where all that water runs out. And that's where the rip currents happen. You have to swim along the shore to get away from those currents. Do not try to swim back toward the current -- toward the shore. You just won't make it. That water is way too powerful. Look at these waves. They're going to be 10 to 15 feet. Some of these beaches may be over washed with the size of those waves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks, Chad, like the whole Eastern coast is going to at least feel some effect from this hurricane.

MYERS: No question about it, the entire East Coast. I think Florida -- because the storm is far away from Florida, those waves will lose a little energy. But as you get closer to North Carolina and on up into Cape Cod -- and look it, those waves could be 15, 20 feet.

BLITZER: It's going to be intense.

All right, thanks very much, Chad.

We're also getting new video sent in from an iReporter in Bermuda showing some of the waves that are already hitting that island. Let's go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, what's it like over there?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we just had Chad talking about the south shore of Bermuda, that could get hit quite hard. We've just got video in just from the last hour exactly of what that looks like right now.

This is the South shore of Bermuda, sent in by 15-year-old iReporter Cheresa Lemair, who's been really updating us as the day goes on about how things are happening.

She -- she makes the point that this is the south shore. And it's a very different picture on the north shore, away from the water, where things are not so rough.

But when you get close to the beaches here, she says, the tides are really rough, the wind is picking up and the camera and windshield are getting covered with salt spray.

In town, she says, people are taking precautions and stocking up. She took photos of people in the hardware store, stocking up on batteries, flashlights. We heard from a report just a little bit earlier. We've still got about 10 hours before the storm gets its closest point to Bermuda -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we, as I like to say, good luck to everyone in Bermuda.

Be careful over there.

Thanks to those iReporters, as well.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right. This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The Obama administration about to hike its estimate for the nation's budget deficit over the next decade.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is here -- Ed, these numbers are pretty staggering.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Awful, Wolf. Next week, the Obama administration will be putting out this new budget projection. We have the numbers today, though. They're just coming in from administration officials. They're basically going to say that the deficit over the next 10 years will be $9 trillion from $7 trillion. It had been projected at the beginning of the year to be $7 trillion. So it's gotten $2 trillion worse in the last few months alone.

Republicans are going to jump on this right away. You can guarantee they're going to say that, in part, this shows why the president can't get a vast health reform plan, because he's just been spending too much money in the first few months of his administration and he can't afford to spend more. But already, administration officials are saying this is making the opposite case -- that we're so much in debt that if you do not reform the health care system and you do not bend that cost curve, as the president says all the time, we're just going to be consumed by debt over the next 10, 20 years.

BLITZER: Basically, what I hear you saying with this projection is that the national debt, which has been accumulated all of these hundreds of years of the U.S. is going to nearly double over the next decade alone.

HENRY: Absolutely. And as far as -- budget deficits as far as the eye can see.

Now, what Obama officials are saying is it's mostly because of the bleak economic picture. The government is just not taking as much tax revenue in, while it's spending all of this money.

But the spending side is what Republicans will focus on. It's going to make this health care debate even more robust than it is right now.

BLITZER: Yes, because if the national debt -- we're not talking about the deficit -- the national debt is around $10 trillion, if they increase it by another $9 trillion over the next decade, that -- that's almost doubling of the national debt.

HENRY: It's a pretty bleak picture.

BLITZER: Very bleak.

All right. Thanks very much.

Worrying numbers, indeed.

Meanwhile, home sales are jumping a bit. Stock indices hit some new highs for the year. And the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, says a recovery is right around the corner.

Let's turn to CNN's Susan Lisovicz.

She's over at the New York Stock Exchange working with story for us -- all right, so there are some things, Susan, going right for the economy right now.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf. And in terms of the housing market, prices are cheap. Sales of pre- owned homes -- the broadest part of the housing market -- jumped more than 7 percent last month. That's the biggest monthly gain in 10 years. Prices, Wolf, are down 15 percent year over year and down more than 30 percent from the peak of the housing bubble.

What's also helping the housing market, that $8,000 credit for first time homebuyers. The National Association of Realtors said about a third of all the purchases last month were from first timers. Ben Bernanke, of course, is looking very closely at the housing market. And today, the chairman of the Federal Reserve finally told us what we want to hear -- that the U.S. economy is on the verge of recovery. That's an improvement from just a week ago, when Bernanke said the economy was leveling out. He also said recovery will be slow because unemployment will decline gradually from its high levels.

Bernanke made these comments in a speech today titled "Reflections on A Year in Crisis".

And all this, of course, music to the ears of investors. Stocks opened modestly higher, took off on the release of the housing numbers and Bernanke's comments for a fourth straight day of gains. The Dow closed at 9506. That's its high for the year. And the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 also closed at their highs for the year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The Dow up 155 points today.

All right. Susan, thanks very much for that.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: You ready to pay higher taxes, Wolf?

BLITZER: I -- I'm ready. Yes. I am.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, I don't -- we're not going to have any choice. Those deficit numbers that they tried to slip under the radar at 5:05 on a Friday afternoon, I mean they're going to have to raise taxes. They're not going to be able to sell foreign debt. The dollar is going to continue to erode with those kinds of deficits. The cost of -- of paying interest on that kind of national debt is in the hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

It's getting ugly out there, Wolf.


CAFFERTY: Former secretary...

BLITZER: I believe you.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Former secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, is taking his turn talking about his time in the George Bush White House. That would be Bush 43.

In his new book, "The Test of Our Times," Ridge says he successfully quashed a plan to raise the nation's terror alert level to orange or high on the eve of the 2004 election. He says the push from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft was based on a pre-election message on tape from Osama bin Laden. Remember that tape?

It conveniently came out a couple days before the election.

Ridge writes that he felt the message alone didn't warrant an increased threat level. He said there was no additional intelligence information indicating an increased likelihood of a terrorist attack. He also says that increased security measures were already in place for the election.

He writes, according to the book now: "I wondered, is this about security or politics?"

During the 2004 election, one in five American voters said that terrorism was the most important issue to them, according to the exit polls.

Ridge was able to help convince a group of other officials that there was no reason to cause what he called "undue public alarm" and, in the end, the threat level was not raised. But he said the incident was one of the major reasons that he eventually decided to step down from public service.

The question is -- tongue in cheek -- do you think the government would try to manipulate the public's fear of terrorism for political gain?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me know, Jack, if anybody says no.

CAFFERTY: Yes, right.

BLITZER: Please.

CAFFERTY: We'll get them for treatment right away.

BLITZER: Yes. All right.

Thanks very much.

A U.S. soldier is charged with cruelty against their own subordinates in Iraq.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has the story.

And does forensic science make or break criminal cases like on the popular TV show "CSI?"

We're going to take you inside a real life crime lab.

And can you help someone who may be choking to death -- why the Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, is now starting a new campaign to get you ready to perform the Heimlich Maneuver and other emergency measures.


BLITZER: Four U.S. soldiers are now facing serious charges stemming from their alleged mistreatment of four subordinates in Iraq.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

He's got the details -- Chris, what happened?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're accused of cruelty and maltreatment. Right now, all four soldiers have been removed from their unit in Iraq and investigators are asking a lot of questions.

These soldiers are accused of ridiculing and verbally abusing their subordinates and physically punishing them. Now, we're not talking kidding. A senior official described the physical punishment as "undue calisthenics."

The key here is how the Army found out about this, which may point to a bigger story. A young soldier named Private Keiffer Wilhelm died in Iraq about two weeks ago. And he was a young kid, about 19 years old. And he'd only been in Iraq about two weeks when he died.

He did not die from a combat injury. And the Army was investigating it as a possible suicide.

In the course of that investigation, the officials found out that these four soldiers may have mistreated Private Wilhelm and four other subordinates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One of the -- what is the military, Chris, doing about these allegations?

LAWRENCE: Well, the Army is offering to help the other four subordinates with whatever they need. And the deputy commanding general says: "Accusations of cruelty and maltreatment are taken very seriously and we will investigate this isolated incident thoroughly."

The key word there is isolated, because right now, the Army, at least, does not believe this mistreatment went beyond this particular unit.

BLITZER: What kind of punishment, potentially, are these soldiers facing?

LAWRENCE: It's very serious, anywhere from eight to 25 years of confinement, forfeiting their pay, a reduction in rank and, of course, a dishonorable discharge. Right now, the Army is saying there is no confirmed evidence that the alleged mistreatment had anything contributing to Private Wilhelm's death. But, again, that is going to be a question that needs to be answered by the investigation.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Chris Lawrence over at the Pentagon. Ballot counting continuing in Afghanistan, a day after the nation's second presidential election. No matter who wins, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, or the leading challenger, the former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, President Obama says Americans shouldn't expect to see the 62,000 U.S. troops there come home anytime soon.

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was in Afghanistan to monitor the voting. And he told me today he was impressed by what he saw. I asked if he was impressed enough to come home convinced that things are moving either in the right or wrong direction in Afghanistan.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Well, overall, Wolf, I think, you know, Stanley McChrystal, the general in charge, is doing this 60 day assessment. I was successful in getting some benchmark language in this last supplemental appropriation. And I do think that the broader issues there have not been articulated fully. I think there's a lot of work to do. We're going to be in Afghanistan, I think, for a very, very long time.

And so the overall picture, certainly we're adding more forces. We're adding more money. There's no question. But I do think that there's no question -- part of my reason to be here is to make sure that I understand fully what it means to be successful in Afghanistan.

So on those questions, I still think there's a lot of discussion to take place.

BLITZER: You're a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Do -- do you believe that more troops, beyond, what, 68,000 already deployed or on their way to Afghanistan -- more U.S. troops are necessary?

CORKER: Well, you know, General McChrystal, again, is going to be making that assessment in the next few days. Actually, his 60-day assessment was due three or four days ago. He wanted to see what happened during this election process.

I would not be surprised if he asked for more troops. There's no question that without security, there's really no way for the country to move ahead.

But I will tell you, you know, eating dinner, being with people here, talking with them, the fact that security was more of a concern during this election than the 2004 election obviously says a lot about what's occurred here over the last five years.


BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about this with our chief national correspondent, John King, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" -- John, how worried is Congress right now about the possibility -- it's only a possibility, but maybe a likely possibility -- that more troops will be needed in Afghanistan?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a great deal of worry. There's a lot of anxiety among Democrats, because they know their constituents back home don't support this. A "Washington Post" poll this past week, Wolf, said 70 percent of Democrats across the -- across the country do not support more troops in Afghanistan, even the continuing U.S. troop presence there now. You heard Senator Corker there. A Congressional delegation was just over there, other members, as well, Senator John McCain; Susan Collins of Maine; Joe Lieberman of Connecticut; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Here's what Senator Collins wrote on her blog of -- about their meeting with General McChrystal: "He begins with his chilling assessment that the situation in Afghanistan is serious and deteriorating."

Unlike Senator Corker, she says he did not commit on the question of whether he would ask the president for more troops. But she says after his assessment, "It seems, however, pretty clear to me that he will be asking for more troops." Some say maybe 15,000 or 20,000 more.

A key question in the next few weeks, some NATO allies sent in a very modest number of troops during the elections to monitor -- to try to prevent violence during the elections. The administration wants those NATO allies to leave those troops for six or eight months.

The question is, can it convince them?

Right now, it appears the answer will be no.

BLITZER: The elections, very historic yesterday -- the second presidential election. Millions of people showed up in defiance of the Taliban threats -- Al Qaeda threats. Hamid Karzai, the president, seeking re-election.

Does the administration, based on everything you're hearing, have a favorite?

Would they -- would they like to see him get re-elected, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, someone else?

There were about 20 candidates running.

KING: The administration insists it wants democracy to play out and that it has no favorite. There is no question they are profoundly dissatisfied with President Karzai. They believe corruption is rampant. They believe he has not done enough institution building, whether those are political institutions or societal institutions, particularly economic institutions.

That's one of the reasons, in your interview there with Senator Corker, he talks about benchmarks, because billions of U.S. dollars in aid, thousands of troops, more and more money and more bloodshed are coming in the months ahead. And members of Congress, from a bipartisan level, want to lay out clear benchmarks for progress.

And if they don't get progress, what this president, Obama, might see very soon, Wolf, is a debate very much like we saw in 2005, 2006, when the Iraq debate shifted, when members of Congress started asking the White House, what are the benchmarks, what are the standards for progress and what is the exit strategy?

BLITZER: Good questions and not -- no simple answers.

Tell us what's coming up Sunday morning on "STATE OF THE UNION."

KING: Well, we're going to put these questions to Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and to Karl Eikenberry, the ambassador -- the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, who is a former general. He knows both the military and the diplomatic perspective.

Three U.S. senators, including Senator Lieberman and Senator Lugar, the top Republican voice on the Foreign Relations Committee, to talk about Afghanistan and the increasing violence this week in Iraq.

And, Wolf, we also went out to Fort Riley, Kansas. I think we might have some video we can show our viewers. You see these troops here. These troops are going not to Afghanistan, but back to Iraq; for many of them, the third or fourth deployment.

So even as we begin to draw down U.S. troops level in Iraq, these troops are going back over, rotating in, the 1st Infantry Division. And many of them expect, when they come back from Iraq in a year, they'll get maybe 12, 15 months off, then they'll be heading to Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Yes. There's a good chance of that given what's going on.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Sunday morning, "STATE OF THE UNION." We'll see the show. It looks like you've got a good lineup there.

Thanks very much.

KING: OK. Thank you.

BLITZER: Our viewers, by the way, can see my full interview with Senator Bob Corker tomorrow at 600 p.m. Eastern. The Saturday SITUATION ROOM, 600 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.

Be prepared -- that's Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's message to Americans. We're going to tell you about the government's campaign to help you be able to perform CPR and other emergency measures.

And the Chicago River gets an unexpected visitor -- guess what, an alligator. Yes, an alligator.

Stick around.



BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?

WHITFIELD: Thank you again, Wolf.

Well, five people are dead after -- and four others are injured after a landslide at a Seaside resort in Portugal -- part of a cliff collapsed and buried bathers at the Maria Louisa Beach on Portugal's southern coast. A Portuguese official says a section of the beach under the cliff actually collapsed. And that had been cordoned off with warning signs indicating the danger of such a possible landslide.

Well, China is facing a pair of public safety scandals that has left at least 1,300 children sick with lead poisoning. The children became ill after being exposed to pollution from two lead processing plants. One of the plants has been shut down and two of its executives have been detained on what the Chinese government says is suspicion of causing severe environmental pollution.

And Michael Jackson will not be buried on what would have been his 51st birthday. Instead of August 29th, a private funeral and burial for the superstar singer will take place on September 3rd. No reason was given for the date change. Michael Jackson died on June 25th.

And it took several hours, but animal control officers retrieved an alligator -- not from the Everglades, but from the Chicago River. No kidding. The fee three foot gator was not harmed, nor were its captors. Since alligators aren't regularly seen in the Chicago River, there is speculation that this one was someone's pet and its owner decided to simply get rid of it.

But similar, Wolf, to stories you always hear about the Everglades -- people with exotic animals actually often release them in the Everglades and think it's OK. But the Chicago River, not OK either.

BLITZER: No. Not a good place for an alligator.


BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Fred.

Federal drug agents and Tucson, Arizona, police disrupt a kidnapping by one of the world's most powerful and violent drug cartels. CNN's Brian Todd is digging into the story.

And how reliable is science is real life crime scene investigations?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta goes inside a crime lab for answers.

And as the government winds down the Cash for Clunkers program, it may start selling -- shelling out some big money for appliances in your home.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a nightmare flight -- passengers forced to stay on a plane in Minnesota for hours. You know about that story. But right now, we have some new audiotapes coming into THE SITUATION ROOM of exactly what happened during their ordeal. I think you're going to want to hear the conversation.

An Egyptian immigrant once accused of being a terrorist finally freed from jail, but only after U.S. authorities try to keep him locked up on charges he was cleared up.

And a major department store chain targeted by thieves and the brazen robbery all caught on videotape.

Those stories and a lot more coming up for you in our next hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Mexico's drug cartels are reaching across the border to wreak havoc in American cities. Arizona has been hit especially hard, with hundreds of kidnappings.

Our Brian Todd has the story of one brutal crime broken up just in time by federal agents.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, law enforcement sources are telling us of a big break they and two kidnap victims got earlier this week. The case offers rare insight into the operations of one of the world's most notorious and violent drug cartels.


TODD: (voice-over): In a seemingly peaceful neighborhood in Tucson, a chilling and violent crime disrupted. Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration get a tip that drugs are stashed inside one of these houses.

When they knock on the door...

DOUG COLEMAN, DEA SPECIAL AGENT: A couple people ran out the back side of the house. My agents gave chase. We detained the people who attempted to escape and they were very nervous.

TODD: Nervous because of what's inside the house -- not a big stash of drugs, but two kidnap victims -- one unconscious on a bedroom floor, chained to a bed frame; the other also shackled by the wrists and ankles, inside a closet; both gagged and blindfolded with duct tape. A shotgun is propped against a wall.

DEA agents and Tucson police tell CNN when the victims were discovered on Tuesday, they'd been beaten and held for several days in rooms without running water or air conditioning.

COLEMAN: If we hadn't have been there, who knows what would have happened to them?

People get killed for owing drug cartels money. There's no question about that. It happens all the time. And the -- it appears that these men may have owed a drug cartel some money.

TODD: Law enforcement officials tell us the suspects, now charged with kidnapping and robbery, were foot soldiers of the Sinaloa Cartel. DEA agents say it's one of the most powerful trafficking organization in the world and one of the most violent. They say it's based south of Arizona's border with Mexico and uses Arizona as its primary corridor into the U.S. in the Tucson neighborhood, residents are shake than the cartel has operated in their midst.

JENNIFER HAYES, NEIGHBOR: It's like your next-door neighbor. You never think that kind of thing is happening just a few feet from where you walk every day.

TODD: But it's happening more and more in neighborhoods like this. DEA agents tell us they know of about 350 kidnappings in the Phoenix area alone this year, and those are just the ones reported. Many are not.

COLEMAN: The drug trafficker will contact the victim's family and say you need to pay us so much money and not call the cops.

TODD: Law enforcement sources tell CNN these victims' families had been negotiating with the kidnapper who is say had demanded about $300,000.


TODD: DEA officials tell us most of these crimes involve traffickers kidnapping other traffickers although it's not clear if that was the case in this incident. The DEA and Tucson police are not releasing the identities of the victims. Officials tell us those two young men could still be in danger. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

With hundreds of drug kidnappings in Arizona alone, have we already lost this war on drugs? Let's talk about this and more with our CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist James Carville and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey, the editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

You know, our whole lives, I think, James and Terry, I'll go to James first, we've been hearing about the war on drugs, but it seems to be getting worse and worse. JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yeah, I mean, look, I have a nephew in law enforcement who works on one of these drug forces and the stories he tells me are unbelievable. If we win or lose, we have no choice but to keep fighting. You can't just turn the world over to these criminals and, you know, maybe we need a strategy and maybe we need to do some things differently, but I don't think we can abandon this, you know, quote war on drugs.

BLITZER: Are you ready to through many the towel on this war, Terry?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: It's not clear to me we've even started to fight. The National Drug Intelligence Center, which an element of the justice department, that tracks these things, they said the Mexican drug cartels are now the number-one organized crime threat inside the United States, not just in Arizona where they operate, they operate in communities all across the United States, and at the root of this, Wolf, is the fact that our political elite here in Washington, D.C., does not want to control our southern border. Same group at the justice department has said these cartels actually are gatekeepers at our border that charge taxes to smugglers coming north. They have more control of our border than we do.

BLITZER: But, you know, for eight years the Republicans were in charge. You're not just blaming Democrats, I take it.

JEFFREY: Absolutely not, Wolf. George W. Bush did not do what was necessary to control our border. Par of the problem is you have financial interest in the United States about illegal aliens come across our border to exploit their cheap labor and the drug cartels are exploiting that bringing drugs across the border as well as illegal aliens committing crime across the United States.

BLITZER: James, does Terry have a good point?

CARVILLE: I'm not sure that there's a grand conspiracy here. They have drugs coming into Florida and a lot of other places like Arizona.

JEFFREY: I'm not saying it's conspiracy. I'm saying they have an interest in things coming illegally across our border. If you want illegal aliens in the United States because you want to exploit their labor, drugs are going to come across the border, too. And according to the National Drug Intelligence Center, the same people bringing the drugs are bringing the illegal aliens. It's the same criminal syndicate.

BLITZER: Let me move on to health care. I want to read you what Joe Klein of "Time" magazine writes in the new issue just coming out. He's really going after Republicans who oppose the president's plan. "The larger issue," he says, "That has clouded this summer: how can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists? There are conservative who is make their arguments based on facts but they have been overwhelmed by nihilists and hypocrites more interested in destroying the opposition and gaining power than in the public weal." What do you think, James, about Joe Klein's basic assertion that a lot of these conservatives and Republicans are about to destroy whatever President Obama has in mind when it comes to health care reform?

CARVILLE: I've known Joe Klein for a long time and like him and respect him. He's always believed people from both parties can come together and be reasonable. He's devastated by what he's seeing on the Republican side that no one wants to be reasonable and people just make stuff up. That's just a fact of life. I think the administration has come to realize that. We'll deal with that from this time forward. But I -- Joe just really wanted to believe the best in people, he really did.

BLITZER: Is there still some hope that maybe the nihilists, Terry, won't win, that there will be some bipartisan legislation?

JEFFREY: Well, you know, Wolf it's an interesting use of words there, nihilism. I got online to Merriam Webster dictionary to see what the word means. It means don't believe traditional morality or views or objective truth or objective morality. I think at the core of the conflict politically in the United States, especially over health care, that we have conservatives who believe, for example, in right to life, they believe in traditional marriage, they believe in politicians willing to sell out to right to life to an unborn child will not look out for their interests and their right to life if they have control over the health care industry. So, I would say Joe Klein's position is closer to the nihilistic position than the conservative position is.

BLITZER: Let me get both of you before I -- you want to make another point, James?

CARVILLE: I just -- Joe is a very smart guy who knows words very well, and I'm sure that he picked that word very carefully.

BLITZER: I'm sure he did, as well. We all know Joe Klein and he is --

JEFFREY: I looked up the meaning in the dictionary and I think he's closer to nihilists than conservatives.

BLITZER: There is a popular definition which suggests someone who just says "no" all the time and that may have been the definition he was striving for but we'll ask him at the next occasion. I'm going to change gears completely. The president is heading off to campaign, going to Martha's Vineyard with his family for a little vacation. James, give me some advice that you could share with the president right now as he gets ready to head to Martha's Vineyard.

CARVILLE: You know, it's hard to say a guy is not entitled to vacation and his wife and kids are getting ready to go back to school. I know I took a vacation this summer. But there's some sort of trepidation out there that we've got a lot of stuff going on. But I suspect it's going to be pretty much a working vacation for this president. I don't think it will be a lot of relaxation, honestly.

BLITZER: They always are working vacations. What advice, Terry, would you give the president?

JEFFREY: Wolf, I would say he should go back and look at what James' old boss, Bill Clinton, did, after his health care plan went down. Before he came up for re-election in 1996, bill Clinton came out and said the era of big government is over. In august of 1996, he signed a potentially conservative reform bill. Bill Clinton had a sense of the center of American politics. I think Barack Obama is losing his approval because people are seeing him lurch far to the left.

BLITZER: Good advice, James, for president?

CARVILLE: I think the president's going to get a health care bill. I think he's utterly dissatisfied with the 16 percent, 17 percent of GDP going to this, but Republicans are happy with that because a lot of contributors are making a lot of money. Good advice.

BLITZER: My advice for the president is get some rest and relaxation, spend a lot of quality time with your two daughters and your wife and don't take phone calls from David Axelrod or Rahm Emanuel. That would be my advice. Guys, thanks very much.

Homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano and her team are learning how to perform CPR, and she wants you to do the same thing. We'll it will you about the federal government's upcoming emergency preparedness campaign.

And thieves targeting JC Penney, the department store chain. They're hauling away merchandise totaling near a million dollars. What's going on? We have the pictures right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The government cuts down the clash for clunkers program deadline 8 p.m. Monday night, it's done, gearing up to pay you for getting rid of those of your old appliances in your home. Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She is in New York taking a closer look at the story.

Mary, what are you seeing?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the same concept as the cash for clunkers program, but it doesn't involve as much money.


SNOW: Out, cars, in, the potential for some cash for retiring that refrigerator, or some federal dollars for that dishwasher. Stimulus money will pay for rebates to encourage people to get rid of older appliances and replace them with ones like this, more energy efficient. Ken Khanani, appliance store owner, who's seen business drop 30 percent this year, is hoping it will spur sales. You feel like you need help?

KEN KHANANI, OWNER, RCI DISCOUNT APPLIANCES: Badly. Real help. SNOW: The Department of Energy is working with states to dole out $300 million, and details are still being worked out. Its estimated rebates could range between $50 and $200 per appliance. States are being encouraged to build in a recycling program. But Bob Markovich of consumer reports says refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines are the biggest energy guzzlers, saying in order to get a rebate, the new appliance would have to have an energy star seal.

BOB MARKOVICH, CONSUMER REPORTS: You're looking at something that should be using roughly 10 percent to as much as 25 percent or so less energy than the maximum allowed for that particular category.

SNOW: Markovich says on the plus side energy bills are cut but there could be drawbacks. Take dishwashers.

MARKOVICH: As much as energy efficiency is important, don't put it above actual washing performance. That's still the more important. You don't want dirty dishes.

SNOW: With $300 million being divvied up, it means states like New York expect roughly $19 million, but the state's energy department thinks it will help.

MARKOVICH: You're able to give them $100, $200 back, it will make the difference between choosing to purchase or not.

SNOW: Compared to the billions for cash for clunkers, ken is spectacle this program will make a dent.

KHANANI: $300 million is nothing, not at all. It's not -- I mean, it's not going to be that helpful.


SNOW: Now, the Department of Energy says all 50 states applied for the program, and details are still being worked out. At this point, though, Wolf, it's expected the program could start as early as November. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary thanks very much for that.

If disaster strikes or a threat to the nation becomes a reality, the government wants you to be able to look after your friends and your loved ones. Top officials are already learning how to do that. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has details.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at the department of homeland security today a little preparing for preparedness month, which starts September 1st.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay. Let me get my --

MESERVE: As homeland security Secretary Janet Napolitano is used to wrestling with issues but not like this. Friday, she and 25 or so top staffers took a Red Cross first aid and CPR course. One of her employees got a different kind of hands-on experience.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Okay. That was good. The thing I was choking on was definitely dislodged.

MESERVE: But for Napolitano, this really isn't a laughing matter. She believes Americans need to take care of their families and neighbors in an emergency for their own good and the nation.

NAPOLITANO: If we're dealing with a massive disaster, like a big hurricane, a lot of injuries and fatalities, the ability of individuals to deal with individual situations will free up the rest of the responders to deal with others.

MESERVE: But Napolitano believes if the message is to get through to the public, the people delivering it can't just be full of hot air.

NAPOLITANO: Before we start preaching that lesson, we ought to do it our own selves.

MESERVE: So she and top managers did. Be prepared. It's a message DHS plans to pound into the public's consciousness throughout September.


MESERVE: And this preparedness month message of personal responsibility isn't just going to apply to national disasters and terrorism. Expect to hear a lot more about how individuals can lessen the spread of H1N1 swine flu by washing hands, covering cough, and staying home when sick. Wolf?

BLITZER: Already, Jeanne. Thanks very much.

Butting forensic evidence to the test. Does what you see on the popular show CSI really square with a real-life crime lab investigation? CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta finds out.

Plus, passengers forced to sit on a plane in Minnesota for hours without food or water. You remember that story. Guess what? We now have new audiotape of their ordeal. What was going on?


BLITZER: You see it all the time on "CSI." Investigators using physical evidence to try to solve crimes. But just how reliable is forensic science? Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta went to a top crime lab to get some answers.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Here is where forensic investigation begins. Investigators cobble together a theory based on evidence. A swath of hair torn out during an assault. Blood splatters, fingerprints, gun residue. If this were "CSI," that's a mother lode of forensic evidence. The case as good as solved. But is it really that foolproof?

I really wanted to see for myself. So we got some special access here to the Georgia bureau of investigation. Pretty nondescript building but inside some of the most powerful tools to investigate a crime scene. High powered microscopes and also DNA technology. We're trying to answer a question that's been plaguing forensics for some time. Is all of this really rooted in science? Let's take a look.

DR. GEORGE HERRIN, DEPUTY DIR., GBI: We're in the trace evidence section of the GBI crime lab. This is the section that examines hairs and fibers, paint chips, gunshot residue, glass chips that are found at crime scenes.

GUPTA: This hair was found at a crime scene. It's compared to hair on the right taken from the victim. They seem to match. The techs next show up fiber analysis. In this case, they compare a fiber from a different crime scene to one that comes from a suspect's sweatshirt.

Can you say that it's the same --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can say it came from -- either came from the same store or it came from another store possessing fibers of the same characteristics.

GUPTA: Imagine people want to know, did that fiber come from the same sweatshirt that came from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can never give that exact answer.

GUPTA: People want that answer, though.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want it, but that's not -- that's beyond the realm of this particular science.

GUPTA: But what about ballistics? On TV, it sounds infallible. We're in the shooting room with George. This is a tank. It's filled with water. This is how they test the bullets to try to find out if there's potentially a match.

GEORGE STANLEY, FIREARMS EXAMINER, GBI: I magnify these items and get them to a certain magnification and look for the similarity or dissimilarity.

GUPTA: Can you reliable with 100 percent confidence say this bullet came from this barrel?

STANLEY: I can tell you based on my experience, training and background that a certain bullet was fired by a certain gun, yes.

GUPTA: But, remember, this is the Georgia bureau of investigation. Its lab, among the best in the country. But outside of labs like this, that kind of certainty about forensic science is rare. In fact, the National Academy of Science released a scathing report saying reform was needed. New research. What is irrefutable? Some say it's DNA. Let's take a look.

DNA is the gold standard nowadays. Fair to say?

HERRIN: It certainly is a very specific and accurate test.

GUPTA: Everybody wants it. That's all you hear about.

HERRIN: It is the one that everybody wants in homicide, sexual assaults. That's the test that everybody wants.

GUPTA: Is it possible for you to say at the end of this process, we have irrefutable DNA evidence?

HERRIN: In a lot of cases, yes. I mean, there are certain cases in DNA, just like in any other science where the answer is inconclusive.

GUPTA: Such as where the sample is old, tainted or too small. But in most cases, Dr. Herrin insists conclusive forensic testing is possible.

HERRIN: The answers that we give, they could be used in a court of law to have a jury convict someone who could go to jail for the rest of their life or be put to death.

That's a huge amount of responsibility.

GUPTA: What is the science that may be an imperfect science?

HERRIN: I wouldn't call it an imperfect science. I would call it a science that has limitations.

BLITZER: Limitations in a field that many have come to believe should have none.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


BLITZER: The swine flu explosion. The world held organization warning that it's coming and urging the speed-up and preparations around the world. Are America's schools getting ready? We'll have the education secretary. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Jack Cafferty is asking if you think the government would try to manipulate the public's fear of terrorism for political gain. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty with "the Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you think the government would try to manipulate the public's fear of terrorism for political gain? Nah. Gilbert writes, "Fear is the main tool of manipulation. Read Machiavelli's "The Prince." That's why it's necessary to keep the population ignorant and stupid. Feed them a steady diet of lies and BS and you can scare them any time you want. The Bush administration did it all the time."

Mary in Wisconsin writes, "What do you mean would the government do it? The Bush administration did it all the time. My question would be to Mr. Ridge, Tom Ridge, who said that this actually was done during his time as homeland security secretary, if you are such a patriot and a great public servant and a good citizen, why did you save the story for your book? Why weren't you out the door screaming from the rooftops about this as soon as it happened so that these criminals didn't get re-elected?" That's a very valid question.

Scott in Oklahoma writes, "The last administration did it, the Obama administration has done it, too. How many times have the Obama folks tried to scare us about the economy, the banking system, the auto industry, health care and global warming? That's how administrations get things done. Scare the people with some great evil and then pass laws to remove the fear. What a great gig."

Tom writes from Delaware, "I think our leaders are too honest to pull that stunt. I don't think the government would ever be so low as to claim Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in order to manipulate the public's fear of terrorism for political gain to justify going to war unless they knew for sure the weapons were actually there."

Ken writes, "Of course the government uses fear as a political tactic. Not to compare our system to the Nazi regime, but that's how Hitler and his cronies did it. However, I worry we're at a point where we treat a question like this as a pun or a laugh when in reality it's sad and dangerous for our elected officials to treat us in such a manner."

And finally, John writes, "Did that just occur to you, Jack? I never understood where there should be color coded systems for how scared I should be. You're either under threat or you're not. Why categorize it?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others. No one I saw said the government wouldn't do that.

BLITZER: I'm not surprised, Jack.

And happening now -- we know who is to blame for a nightmare flight, dozens of passengers stuck on a plane on the tarmac overnight. The government, though, has just released audio recordings of desperate pleas to escape. We're going to play them for you. That's coming up.

A swine flu explosion. New warnings the virus will spread faster than ever. We're going to be questioning the education secretary on what he's doing to protect America's children as the new school year begins. And new this hour, a million dollar robbery caught on tape. A brazen gang of thieves is on the loose targeting the same department store at locations across the country. Is it an inside job?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.