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The Situation Room

Drastic Plan To Cut U.S. Deficit; 1 in 5 American Women Childless

Aired November 10, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: Social Security, taxes, thousands of government jobs and much more, all in the crosshairs, as a bipipartisan commission weighs dramatic action to slash trillions of dollars from the U.S. deficit. Stand by.

Also, chilling new details of that cargo bomb plot. We're learning right now that one device was timed to blow a part of plane right over the United States.

And appalling conditions of the crippled cruise ship now being towed to shore. We've managed to reach passengers who tell us more than anything else, it's the stench. We have exclusive new images of the rescue effort this hour.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitze. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Drastic fiscal measures for desperate fiscal times in a move that caught everyone off guard today. The co-chairman of President Obama's bipartisan deficit commission released their preliminary proposals to help cut the spiraling U.S. debt. Among the recommendations, $200 billion in domestic and defense spending cuts in 2015. Social Security changes including gradually raising the retirement age to 69 and reducing benefits to wealthy retirees, and major overhaul of the tax code all designed to cut $4 trillion from the U.S. deficit by the year 2022.

These proposals and more will be put to a vote by the 18-member panel next month. Fourteen votes are needed to send the recommendations on to Congress which would also need to approve them. The White House says it will let the commission finish its work before commenting, but the outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not waiting. She's just released a statement calling the proposals, and I'm quoting her now, "simply unacceptable."

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, a lot of reaction immediately. Why does the speaker, the outgoing speaker, say it's simply unacceptable?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Democrats are saying that. They're saying it's draconian, and then on the other hand, you have Republicans who very interestingly are a lot more circumspect and cautious, because, they, of course, campaigned on the idea for the most part of reducing the deficit. But you know, the mixed reviews also came from inside this commission. And that is significant, because, as you mentioned, the proposal is guaranteed a House and Senate vote only, only if 14 out of 18 members approve it.

But, you know, the commission co-chairs who put this proposal out today, they said -- they knew it will be controversial. And they wanted to put something down on paper that is in their words serious and significant and said it really is much about starting a national debate, about how to reduce the deficit with than anything else.


ALAN SIMPSON, DEFICIT COMMISSION CO-CHAIRMAN: This is the first time in my memory of Washington that either active or whatever this situation is now that it's all there. We have harpooned every whale in the ocean, and some of the minnows. And no one has ever done that before. No one in this body or any body or any committee has ever laid it all out.


BASH: Now, let me give you some more examples of some of the cuts in this proposal, and they really do range from big to small. The commission calls for lowering rates on most tax brackets, but it also would eliminate $1 trillion in tax breaks and subsidies and that could include part or some of the home mortgage deduction which one source had talked to, Wolf, called radioactive. Here are some ideas.

Cut a third of U.S. overseas military bases, cutting the federal workforce 10 percent by 2015, and even forcing the Smithsonian which is now free to people going in force them to charge people. So, that gives you a sense, and there's much, much more of what they're talking about to get to where they want to get which is $4 trillion to take away from the deficit, I should say.

BLITZER: Some are suggesting, Dana, that these proposals on Social Security are particularly explosive. Tell our viewers why.

BASH: That's right. You know, you, first of all, have a new proposal out there to effectively means test which would mean that those who are the wealthiest Americans wouldn't get as much in terms of benefits when they get Social Security, but there's also raising the retirement age, changing the cost of living adjustment, increase in the amount of income that is subject to Social Security taxes. Democrats are blasting this, Wolf.

They say that increases the gap between rich and the poor and does it on the backs of seniors. I think the AFL-CIO was probably the most blunt, and the message that they sent was that this commission is telling working families, drop dead.

BLITZER: Wow. All right. Dana, thanks very much. Let's dig deeper right now in these new proposals to try to cut the deficit and deal with the national debt. We're joined by Democratic congresswoman, Jan Schakowsky, of Illinois, along with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger and David Gergen. Congresswoman, let me start with you. You hate these proposals, and you're a member of this commission, why?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY, (D) ILLINOIS: Well, I'm a member of the commission. We were told from the beginning that nothing would be done to Social Security that would affect current beneficiaries. And, of course, the proposal does exactly that. It changes the cost of living adjustment, the way we calculate it. That would affect current beneficiaries. And of course, in addition, does raise the age of retirement that will effect future beneficiaries as well.

That's a non-starter. It's just not going to happen. And in terms of Medicare, which takes an increasing bite (ph) out of Social Security, we see that the proposal increased cost sharing for seniors who are already spending about 30 percent of their income on health care. So, you're going to see absolutely a firestorm of opposition from older and near-older Americans against this proposal.

BLITZER: Why did they release these recommendations publicly today because it caught all of us by surprise, congresswoman?

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, you're not the only one. We went into the meeting today thinking that this was going to be the co-chair's proposal, and that's what we got. And until the very end, about an hour and a half into the meeting, we thought that it was going to be just a closed meeting and that we would reconvene next week to talk about those proposals.

All of a sudden, it was suggested that why don't they release it publicly, and sure enough, at 1:00 press conference was called, and that was that. I objected to that, but here we are. So, we were surprised as well.

BLITZER: Let me bring in David Gergen and Gloria to this conversation as well. David, you know these two co-chairman, Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming and Erskine Bowles of North Carolina. He was Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff at the White House. If you're going to deal with the national debt and cutting that national debt, you're going to have to bite the bullet and make difficult decisions on Social Security, Medicare entitlements, national security spending, and taxes. There's no other way, isn't it?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no other way. And I must say, our political leaders, whether supported (ph) American people, put us on a road of bankruptcy. And now is going to take acts of leadership and courage to get us all and to get us through in much better place. In my judgment, the proposals have been put forward or sensibly, you can disagree with the aspects of them, but there's no other way you're going to get there without a package like this.

And it was an act of political courage for Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chair, to put this forward this set of proposals today. And for those who are (INAUDIBLE) out of hand, I think it's an act of political irresponsibility and the political forwardness.


BLITZER: Hold on. Gloria, hold on. I just want the congresswoman to respond and then I want to bring you in. Go ahead, congressman.

SCHAKOWSKY: All of us agree that we're on an unsustainable path fiscally, but we also, there are certain aspects of this that are just not acceptable. When Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson announced the proposal, they said that about 70 percent to 75 percent is coming from cuts and about 25 percent to 30 percent come from revenue. Well, some of us think that is not a good balance.

And in terms of Social Security, they claim that 57 percent comes from cuts, but the Social Security Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee says, actually, it's closer to 76 percent of the changes in Social Security come from cuts.

BORGER: But congresswoman, with all due respect, don't you have to start somewhere? The American people just had an election. They said they want the deficit taken care of. They wanted fix. This is not a proposal to privatize Social Security in any way. It's a very gradual raising of the retirement age. So, why not say, instead of being reflectively negative, why not say, OK, let's talk about this if we also talk about X, Y and Z.

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, first of all, let's talk about $700 billion if we do extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, the same people who seem amendable to the cuts in Social Security want to see us extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. We are concerned that for older Americans who have an average income of about $18,000 a year, and by the way --

BORGER: But there's a safety net in this for the poorest on Social Security in the chairman's mark.

SCHAKOWSKY: Again, the committee staff of the Social Security Subcommittee says that, in fact, it will increase poverty, not decrease poverty, because the qualifications for getting the benefit that increased benefit -- look, of course, we need to discuss this, and of course, we need to make cuts there.

There are cuts that we agree on. And I think that we may come up with an agreement, maybe not a totally comprehensive one by December 1st. I agree with that. We should go with that.

GERGEN: Congresswoman, can I just ask you this? Gloria points out, there is a safety net here, and there are also tax increases on the affluent in this package. And the real question is going to be, are you willing to say if the Republicans will agree to raise taxes which, so far, they've been resisting, are you willing to do a serious entitlement reform?

If both sides, if the Democrats refuse to do, to cut Social Security and Medicare and Republicans refuse to raise taxes, why are we and the rest of the country is to conclude anything but that you all can't govern?

SCHAKOWSKY: We can fix Social Security in a very simple way. Look, the proposal --

BORGER: We can?

SCHAKOWSKY: Yes, we can. The proposal was not, by the way, to use Social Security as deficit reduction. That's a good thing.

BORGER: But it's not. They're not. The money is going back into Social Security.

SCHAKOWSKY: I just said that. I just said that. It was not.

BORGER: Right.

SCHAKOWSKY: That is a good thing. It is for the long-term solvency of Social Security, but to do it 76 percent from benefit cuts, no. That is not acceptable. And we need to take a different look at it.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, you know these 18 commissioners. You're one of them. You need 14 in order to send these recommendations to the House and the Senate as legislation. Do you think 14 members, a super majority, will agree on a package to send to Congress?

SCHAKOWSKY: The question is how comprehensive that package will be. I think there are number of things t we can agree on. For example, there is a large consensus around the defense cuts. There is a consensus around some of the tax expenditures which are just the same thing. Those are tax breaks that are the same things as spending.

GERGEN: What tax expenditures are you willing to agree on?

BORGER: Right.

SCHAKOWSKY: I think that we could agree on taking a look at how much value of the home that gets exempted from any kind of taxes we could look at.

BLITZER: Mortgage interest and deductions.

SCHAKOWSKY: But not to eliminate the mortgage interest and deductions. I think that is a non-starter for the committee.

BLITZER: But congresswoman, most of these Republicans and a lot of the Democrats say no new taxes. They will resist anything that feels like taxes are going up.

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I'll tell you what, if they talk to the Republicans about that, and that includes, by the way, their resistance to the top 2 percent getting taxed right now. And they want to extend the Bush tax cuts.

BORGER: But you know, the Republicans have not come out and said we don't like X, Y, and Z. They have held their fire. So, I guess, my question is, why not hold your fire until you meet as a committee and perhaps can try a commission and try and present something to the United States Congress? SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I think, certainly, we're going to come up with a proposal and I believe that we can come up with a proposal that reaches the $250 billion mark by 2015. But I think it is important to lay some ground rules that Social Security and Medicare certainly as proposed by the two co-chairmen is just not going to hold. That it's a non-starter for many of us.

BLITZER: Jan Schakowsky is the congresswoman from Illinois. Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in. We'll continue this conversation.

SCHAKOWSKY: I look forward to it.

BLITZER: And thanks to Gloria and David as usual as well.

Having babies or not having babies? That's on Jack Cafferty's mind right now. He's here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's not entirely accurate. My babies are all grown, and I have no babies as far as I'm concerned on my mind at the present time. However, the number of American women without children is at an all-time high. The recent report by the Pugh Research Center shows 1 in 5 women between the ages of 40 and 44 were childless in 2008. That is an 80 percent increase from the 1970s.

It's a phenomenon that's being seen all across all racial and ethnic groups and most education levels. White women are the most likely not to have children, but childless rates are growing more quickly for blacks, Hispanics and Asians over the last decade. Researchers say part of the reason behind all of this, people are waiting longer to get married and have kids. Experts tell AOL Help that people are freer and enjoying their lives more doing things like traveling, shopping and eating out, all of which are much easier to do without a baby in the picture.

Oh, yes. They also say that many women are delaying getting pregnant because they can't find someone they want to have a child with. They're either very picky or very educated. Also, in the last 30 years, contraception has gotten better and there are improved job opportunities for women. Research shows there is less pressure from society now to be a mom. And the decision to have a child is seen more as an individual choice.

And don't forget about money, especially in tough economic times like this with high unemployment, lot of people may feel like they're not in the financial position to have children and then pay the cost of raising them.

So, here's the question, why do you think the number of childless women is at an all-time high in this country? Go to and post comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question, jack. I'm anxious to hear what our viewers think. Thanks you. A thwarted terror plot and may have been more sinister than anyone realize. We're now learning one of those cargo bombs from Yemen was timed to blow up on a plane over the United States East Coast. We have new information.

And we also have new developments in that closely watched Alaska Senate race where the ballot count is continuing right now. We're just getting some brand new numbers. We'll take you live to Juneau, Alaska.

And exclusive new images of that cruise cargo -- cruise ship, I should say. The rescue that's happening right now in the pacific. We'll hear from passengers describing conditions that are literally making people sick.


BLITZER: We're just getting an update on that closely-watched Alaska Senate race that's still undecided. It pits Republican incumbent, the write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski against the tea party-backed Republican candidate, Joe Miller. Our political producer, Shannon Travis is over at the state capital in Juneau. He's joining us now. New numbers are just coming in, Shannon. Update our viewers.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: That's right, Wolf. Lots of activity behind me as this write-in vote ballot count continues, but we just got our first release of numbers, and these are unofficial. I want to stress that. These are not adding to any candidate's official tally, which is just basically presorting. Ballots being put in box A, putting box B, box C. But here are the numbers and their significant. Out of the total number of votes write-in ballots that they counted for today, 7,638. Of those, ballots that are deemed clearly for senator Lisa Murkowski, they've counted 6, 804.

In terms of ballots that were counted or sorted for Senator Murkowski,but are being challenged likely by the Miller campaign, they have 678. In terms of ballots that were not counted for Senator Murkowski, but are being challenged probably by her campaign, 89 and only one for Joe Miller. Now, here's why this is significant. Even though these are unofficial results, Wolf, this basically says, this trend says that she's getting about 98 percent of the ballot so far.

Again, they're unofficial, but if the trend continues this way, this could be very, very encouraging for the senator.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we'll watch it closely together with you, Shannon. Shannon is on the scene for us in Alaska. It's the last senate race that is still undecided.

The federal government wants to make sure that you know cigarettes can kill you. They don't want to leave any doubt about it. We're going to tell you what they're now doing to make sure you get the message.

And the Pentagon weighs in on the mysterious streaks in the sky over Southern California. New information coming in. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Police locked down schools and government facilities in Broward County, Florida. That's where Fort Lauderdale is. Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What's going on, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that lockdown was put in to effect this morning and that's after a caller from a local radio station said that her husband intended to go to a school and fire a gun. The radio station also reportedly received an e-mail warning about a possible threat at government buildings. The lockdown has now been lifted, and authorities say the threat has been diminished.

Germany's former leader says George W. Bush is, quote, "not telling the truth" in his just-released memoir. Gerhard Schroder takes issue with the former president the account of their 2002 conversation about the possible use of force in Iraq. Bush claims that Schroder offered to (INAUDIBLE) for quick and decisive military action, but Schroder says he told Bush there had to be a clear link between Iraq and the September 11th, 2001 attack.

And take a look at these streaks which lit up the evening sky over Southern California earlier this week. We've been talking about this a lot. The sight caused a bit of a stir as some witnesses thought they were looking at a missile, a rocket, or something even crazier like a UFO, who knows, but the Pentagon now says the streaks were merely part of the condensation trail from an airplane. Conspiracy theorists must be bummed, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, the conspiracies are going to be, you know, widely going on no matter what the Pentagon --

BOLDUAN: It's a cover-up.

BLITZER: That's right. That's what they're going to suggest, but we'll take the Pentagon at its word at least for now. Thank you.

A terror plot twist. We're now learning a package bomb was actually designed to blow up a cargo plane right over the United States. Stand by for details.

Also, exclusive new images of that crippled cruise ship where passengers are now telling us the stench is so bad it's making passengers sick.

And the U.S. government weighs a controversial new method to get out a blunt message, smoking cigarette kills. We're going to show you the startling images that could soon appear on all cigarette packages in the United States.


BLITZER: A chilling new twist in that thwarted cargo bomb plot involving explosive packages sent from Yemen to the United States. British authorities are now saying the device discovered in England last month was actually timed to detonate somewhere over the Eastern United States, likely ripping apart the cargo plane, and sending deadly debris, raining down possibly on a populated area along the Eastern Coast of the United States.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, has been working the story for us. What else do we know, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know, Wolf, two unsettling pieces of information are being revealed today. First, a U.S. counterterrorism official tells CNN the printer bomb intercepted in the UK stuffed with a powerful explosive PETN would have gone off in about six hours if it had not been detected. And Scotland yard puts an even more bluntly quoting here, "activation could have occurred over the eastern seaboard of the U.S."

German intelligence officials tell CNN the U.S. cargo flight that was supposed to carry that bomb 12 days ago took off north of London, flew across the Atlantic over rural parts of Canada, turning south over upstate New York and continuing across Pennsylvania Farm Country and on into Philadelphia. Had the bomb not been found, there could have been casualties in the air and on the ground.

Had it not been for that crucial intelligence tip passed on from the Saudis, officials say the explosives would not have been found. Homeland Security chief, Janet Napolitano, says security is constantly being tested by al Qaeda and others.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Terrorist groups are intent on acting in invasion environment and on attacking Americans and attacking our country. So, that has meant that we have increased some of our screening requirements on cargo.


CANDIOTTI: Now the FBI and homeland security today released a bulletin confirming that claims of responsibility by al Qaeda in the Saudi Arabian Peninsula are -- are credible.

But investigators are ruling out a claim by the same group that it blew up a UPS cargo plane that went down in Dubai last September. Officials do think plotters made a dry run by sending dummy packages to the U.S. in September. And Wolf, the bottom line is this: both printer bombs got past security, and officials say the suspected terrorists consider that a success, along with making the west spend more money on new security measures -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very, very disturbing stuff. All right. Susan, thank you.

Let's dig deeper with CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. He's also joining us from New York.

Paul, based on everything you're hearing, what was the goal of having this cargo plane explode over the United States? Was it the -- the loss of life? Something else? What do they want? PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think that they were trying to kill as many people as possible hoping it would explode over a city like New York or Boston on the way to Philadelphia, kill as many people on the ground. You could be talking about dozens, maybe even hundreds of people being killed on the ground.

In Lockerbie, we saw up to around 10 people being killed on the ground there, and that was in a rural area of Scotland. So great concern, counterterrorism officials, of the trajectory of this plot, Wolf. Certainly, the optics, as well, of a plane exploding over land; much more impact than over ocean.

BLITZER: The suspected bomb maker, by all accounts, still very much at large in Yemen some place. Presumably, he and his associates, they can go ahead and build some more of these bombs.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula last Friday said exactly that: more plots are under way, and they're going to share this idea with other al Qaeda affiliates around the world. So they're saying they're going to launch more attacks.

You've got a bomb maker in Yemen still at large, skilled at making PETN, which is pretty impossible to detect. The Brits, when they were trying to find this, took hours to actually find this substance within the printer cartridge. So very difficult to detect. The bomb maker still at large. Concern there could be following attempts in the weeks ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you accept this notion that it's strictly a coincidence that that UPS Cargo plane, a 747 that blew up in Dubai, that had some packages that we know came from Yemen, was simply unrelated to terrorism, as U.S. authorities seem to be suggesting right now?

CRUICKSHANK: Yes, yesterday the Department of Homeland Security issued and advisory saying they thought that claim by al Qaeda for that attack was false, and we do know that consignment did have a lot of lithium batteries, and it's possible those lithium batteries on September 3 in Dubai caught fire and brought that plane down, so it may be unrelated, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch that, as well. A lot of people don't believe in those kinds of coincidences, but we will see what the final investigation shows. Paul, thanks very much.

Thousands of passengers thought they were going on a luxury cruise. Now they're stuck eating Spam and Pop Tarts dropped from helicopters. We're going to update you on that massive cruise ship that's without power, hot water, or hot food.

And graphic new warnings on cigarettes packages in the United States. We're going to give you the details. You'll want to see this. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Passengers on board that crippled cruise ship are now describing appalling conditions so bad that the stench is actually making some people sick. The rescue is under way right now. CNN's Brian Todd is standing by with more, but first let's go to CNN's Paul Vercammen. He's been on the USS Ronald Reagan, which has been delivering supplies to the Carnival Splendor.

Paul, I understand you got some exclusive images?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we did, Wolf. We were out there when the Ronald Reagan steamed into the rescue, and basically what happened was the Reagan began circling the Splendor about 1,500 yards away, and it then used helicopters to shuttle in some of the vital supplies that were needed.

The Reagan by the way, was on maneuvers when suddenly the mission changed. And imagine what was that was like for the pilots and crew members who woke up and hear, "You're going to help a cruise ship in distress." Now, this was quite a different mission, as you can imagine, for some of these Navy pilots who in the past had been supporting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Wolf.


COMMANDER TAMARA GRAHAM, U.S. NAVY: It's very rewarding. What we do, obviously, there's goods and bads in the middle of warfare and doing your job, but this is all an upside. We're helping out people that are in distress. It's an opportunity to actually improve the lives of a lot of folks who were in dire straits, so it's great. It's a great opportunity.


VERCAMMEN: Now, those helicopter pilots and the crew members say that they could see the passengers aboard the Carnival cruise ship and said they were greeted with waves and support. And they said that many of the passengers were taking pictures and using video to go ahead and show what happened to their families.

If you can believe this, Wolf, when we were on the ship, it just was a steady stream of supplies being moved off it by the helicopters, 60 pallets in all, and the Navy estimates there could between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds.

And in watching all this, we wondered aloud, who is paying for all this? Well, Carnival says that it's going to take care of the cost of the supplies and that means the water and the granola, the Pop Tarts, the bread, the cold cuts and the rest. And most importantly, as I reiterate the water, because that was important to all of this.

Now, the Navy is going to pick up the cost of the fuel and the aircraft and all that. One Navy spokesman says that, you know, assistance is at the core of the Navy's mission, and it gives the crews good training.

In the hall this morning, we had one other spokeswoman say, "Listen, this is basically military muscle, and it's in the hall that this is military muscle at the best." You have 4,500 members aboard the Ronald Reagan, all of them lending a hand in some way, shape or form, and as they would say, it's one fight and one team.

And as I stand here on Coronado across the way, you might just be able to see where they're going to bring the cruise ship in tomorrow. And they're predicting sometime around midday. It's currently being towed by two tugboats at a very slow pace. And that's going to occur over there, and that's where the folks who have been on this ship for days adrift will get to be reunited with their loved ones.

And of course, Carnival is promising a full refund. They will be able to go on another cruise at some other time. They are going to shuttle some people up to Long Beach who had parked their cars there, and then the other people who were stranded and came in from other parts of the United States will stay overnight here in hotels and be flown throughout the country.

They also said that instead of going to Ensenada, which was at one time being discussed, they decided that San Diego would be just as fast and that they had many more opportunities to put these 3,300 passengers and in hotels and the like in San Diego.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Nice place, San Diego. These folks will be really happy to disembark. All right. Thanks, Paul, for the good work.

Let's bring in Brian Todd right now. He's also working this story for us.

What are you picking up, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this issue raises broader concerns about the safety of the cruise. Even as passengers gave first-hand accounts of what is going on aboard that stranded vessel.


TODD (voice-over): Just a couple of days ago they were enjoying lavish buffets. Now it's Spam and Pop Tarts airlifted in from the Navy. Some, according to passenger Lenora Chavez, don't have water. The Carnival ship Splendor isn't so splendid.

LENORA CHAVEZ, PASSENGER: Well, you know, it's like a lot of people are throwing up. I can smell that a lot. And they have a lot of bags hanging in the corridors, vomit bags. And I think the toilets are getting full, so the plumbing is, you know -- all of those things aren't so great.

TODD: Contacted by CNN, officials at Carnival Cruise Lines say most of the plumbing on the disabled ship is fine, and they say the doctor on board reports very few people are getting sick. But the massive vessel is without the main power and passengers don't have hot water or hot food.

The Splendor, with nearly 4,500 passengers and crew aboard, got stranded on Monday after an engine room fire. It's being towed to San Diego. We spoke with a former assistant cruise director on a Carnival ship. Micha Berman hasn't worked cruises since the mid-'90s but has written a book on the industry and says he notices a trend.

MICHA BERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT CRUISE DIRECTOR, CARNIVAL: The last couple of years, you're seeing people that are disappearing on the ships. You're seeing more accidents, health concerns.

TODD: Berman says he thinks cruises are still very safe, but he says the sheer volume of passengers, which has exploded in recent years, increases the odds for trouble.

The cruise industry is the fastest growing travel sector in the world. The main trade group for Cruise Lines says nearly 13.5 million people took cruises last year, and the industry generated more than $45 billion just to the U.S. economy in 2009. Berman says the sheer size of these ships is an issue. There's so much going on in these floating cities, he says, that passengers never see.

BERMAN: The ship might stop. You don't even know what it's about, but as a person who worked on the cruise ship, I saw tons of stuff happen on the cruise ship, from crew members getting in fights to people being thrown in the local brig, which is basically the prison, to people being airlifted.

TODD: Other analysts say, relative to the size of the industry, it's very safe and very tightly regulated.

BERMAN: There are a lot of people and organizations keeping an eye on the cruise industry. First, you have the IMO, which is under the United Nations. You have U.S. Public Health, who does surprise inspections on all the ships. The same thing with the U.S. Coast Guard. You have the FBI. It goes on and on.


TODD: We contacted the trade group for the cruise industry to respond to what Micha Berman said about some of the problems. A spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Association said, quote, "We flatly disagree with the premise of these assertions. Cruising is safe. Problems like this are rare, and we take them seriously when they do happen, as is the case here with Carnival."

She also cites customer satisfaction ratings of about 95 percent and says the sheer growth in numbers of passengers speaks for itself. If people didn't feel safe, she said, they just wouldn't book cruises -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, the U.S. government still felt compelled to pass a new law this year on cruise ship safety. Tell us about it.

TODD: They did. President Obama signed it at the end of July, and it applies to ships that embark and debark from U.S. ports. And a lot of it focuses on security, mandating that crews be trained on how to prevent crimes on board; to better document crimes, help with investigations. It even requires ships to have a trained forensic sexual assault specialist on board.

The crimes committed in international waters fall under the jurisdiction of the country where the ship is registered, and most cruise ships are not registered in the U.S.

BLITZER: A lot of them are registered in Liberia and places like that. All right. Thanks very much for that, Brian.

Grim images of the consequences of smoking. We're going to show you the controversial warnings that could soon start appearing on U.S. cigarette packages.


BLITZER: The federal government is taking new steps that Americans get the message that smoking is bad for you and others around you. Let's bring back Kate Bolduan. She's covering the story for us.

Kate, the FDA is proposing new warnings about cigarettes, very dramatic warnings. Tell us about them.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the federal government calls it the most significant change in more than a quarter century in the packaging and marketing of cigarettes.

Today, announcing new requirements of bigger and bolder and definitely more graphic warnings on all cigarette packs and cigarette advertisements sold in the U.S.

Here are some of the proposed images that we're talking about, and the messages that the FDA is unveiling. They include much more colorful, shall we say, warnings that cigarettes are addictive, that they are harmful to your children. And they also have warnings and images that say that smoking can lead to cancer and very plainly saying smoking can kill you.

The goal here is clear: grab your attention and make you think twice, to get people to stop smoking or never start.

And I spoke with the FDA commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, a short time ago and asked her, why now?


MARGARET HAMBURG, FDA COMMISSIONER: For many years we were seeing steady declines, but over the last five years or so, the numbers have really stayed steady, and we're seeing, you know, more than 20 percent still smoking. And we need to bring those numbers down to save lives and to save costs to the health care system. And there's a lot that needs to be done, but these graphic warning labels really can make a difference.


BOLDUAN: Now moving forward, the FDA will select the nine most effective warnings that they find by the summer of 2011. And then the new rule will take effect, and messaging will start showing up on cigarette packs nationwide in 2012.

And if you even need reminding about how bad smoking is for you, according to federal stats, tobacco is responsible for 443,000 deaths each year, and it remains the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the U.S., and 30 percent of all cancer deaths are due to tobacco use.

Wolf, you're not going to be able to miss these -- these new ads -- these new warnings, I should say. Dr. Hamburg tells me that they're going to take up 50 percent on the front and the back of the packs when they start putting them on there.

BLITZER: And I hope they have the desired effect. When I see young people, especially, smoking, it makes me -- makes me really crazy.

BOLDUAN: She says that's the real target, the young kids.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

So why is the number of childless women at an all-time high? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mails.

And he's spent most of the last two years lying low. Now the former president, George W. Bush, is back in the spotlight, big time. CNN's Jeanne Moos will take a "Most Unusual" look.


BLITZER: Let's get back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "Why is the number of childless women at an all-time high?"

Chris writes from Ohio, "Well, Jack, a lot of things have changed since you were a kid during the Hoover administration." That's just lovely. "Women actually have careers of their own now. They can't wait for immature 30-year-old men who play video games all day and think 'Jackass 3-D' was awesome to help them raise kids. Why raise a child and a husband at the same time? More power to them. 'Leave it to Beaver' was a long time ago."

Joseph in California: "I know a number of women who have decided not to have children because they believe this country is no longer a good place to raise children. A collapsed economy, endless wars, the disappearing middle class as the upper two percent get wealthier. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to see their point."

Sharon writes, "Women are realizing the power within us, and due to the insanity in society today, we're beginning to use it and teach it to our girls. When my mother grew up, they were told, find a good man, settle down. When I was growing up, we were told, go to school, then find a good man. Now I'm telling my daughter as she grows up, go to school, start a business, buy a home, and then let a good man find you."

Melissa writes, "I'm 34. I don't see my husband and I ever having children unless it's an accident. We're both too selfish, love our freedom too much for kids. I like the ability to come and go as I please, do what I want when I want to do it, and you can't do that with kids."

Tom writes, "Because the educational levels of women are at an all- time high."

Dick writes, "Four years of Carter, eight years of Reagan. Four years of Bush one, eight years of Clinton. Eight years of Bush two and two years of Obama. That would be more than enough to scare any women out of starting a next generation."

And Jeff writes from Bishop, Georgia -- Bishop, Georgia, is where you'll find Jeff. "They're probably all depressed that I'm married and unavailable to be the father of their rug rats." Bishop, Georgia. Jeff.

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog,

BLITZER: Will do, Jack, thank you.

President Bush, he's out on the talk show circuit right now, getting lots of laughs. Jeanne Moos is next.


BLITZER: Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remember those "Miss me yet" billboards? Well, now you can't miss him. He's everywhere. Driving around with Sean Hannity.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You didn't elect me because I was Shakespeare.

MOOS: Smooching with Oprah. Getting playfully slapped. Holding hands again and again.


MOOS: Valiantly helping up Oprah. Suddenly, he's "president lovable," telling self-deprecating stories about life with his wife after the White House.

BUSH: I said, "Free at last."

And she says, "Yes, you're free all right. You're free to do the dishes."

MOOS: Hey, these are the guys who are supposed to be making the jokes.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC'S "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": I miss having a funny president, I'm sorry, but...

MOOS: Funny days are here again.

CRAIG KILBURN, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE LATE SHOW": Has President Bush started drinking again?

BUSH: ... Bush's brain and Dick Cheney knew full well that one wasn't my brain and the other wasn't running...

MOOS: Letterman did "Great Moments in Presidential Memoirs." From Ulysses S. Grant to...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Memoirs by Harry S. Truman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Decision Points" by George W. Bush.

BUSH: I'm drunk at the dinner table.

MOOS: But who needs drinking jokes when former President Bush is telling his own jaw-dropping stories about being drunk at a dinner with his parents and saying this to a lovely 50-year-old woman...

BUSH: And I'd had too much to drink. And I said to her, out loud, "What is sex like after 50?"

MOOS: Inducing gasps and then laughs.

BUSH: I was governor of Texas. I turned 50, and I got a note from the lady and it said, "Well, what's the answer?"

MOOS: Comedian in chief.

(on camera) Some comedians got laughs without even making jokes, just by reading the president's words...

(voice-over) ... about cleaning up after his dog Barney.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE COLBERT REPORT": There I was, the former president of the United States, with a plastic bag on my hand, picking up that which I had been dodging for the past eight years.

MOOS (voice-over): We're only a couple of days into the book tour, and already the former president has been credited with creating a new Bushism.

BUSH: We were inundated with threats.

MOOS: Oh, for the days when we were inundated with Bushisms. Is it the president's conscience, or his conscious that's clear?

BUSH: So my conscious is clear.

MOOS: Maybe the media should be more conscientious.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

BUSH: I poisoned Dorothy's goldfish by pouring vodka in the fish bowl.

MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.