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THE SITUATION ROOM
Deadly Airport Disaster; Russia's Missile Defense Shield Warning; Moore Wants Caroline Kennedy for V.P.
Aired August 20, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, an airliner goes down in flames shortly after taking off for a popular tourist destination. There's a heavy loss of life. In fact, the Associated Press now reporting 153 people are dead. Stand by for more details.
With tensions still high over Russian tanks in Georgia, Moscow fires off a new warning about a U.S. missile shield. The secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, warns things could get a whole lot worse. We have a CNN exclusive.
And eager investors allegedly bilked out of millions at a major U.S. university. The FBI now looking into an international quick buck scheme. Our Special Investigations Unit is on the case.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Disaster at a major European airport at the height of the summer tourist season. A Spanish airliner with 172 people onboard crashed and burned on takeoff from Madrid's main airport. But there are some survivors.
Let's to go Brian Todd.
He's getting the latest on what we know -- Brian, what do we know?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the cause of the crash is not yet clear. It was taking off in good weather on an extra long runway. The NTSB in Washington has already dispatched a team of investigators, since the plane and the engines were made in America.
TODD (voice-over): Clouds of smoke rise from a deadly plane crash in Madrid. A Spanair jetliner went down in flames shortly after takeoff. The fuselage came to a rest in a hollow to the right of the runway and was doused by helicopters.
Roughly two dozen survivors have been transported to hospitals and they may be the only survivors on a flight that carried 172 people. One eyewitness told a Spanish reporter that he thought there was a fire in the left engine. Another said the American-built plane briefly left the ground before trying to land again.
But investigators will have to review the flight data recorders before the cause of the crash is known. Any problem in a plane on takeoff requires split second decision making by the pilot.
ROBERT FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: That's a tough time. I mean, and the pilots have to make a decision on the spot, depending on what happened, as to -- as to whether they go or whether they don't go.
TODD: One MD-80 pilot tells us Madrid airport has long runways, giving pilots more time. But still, for a pilot who tries to abort a takeoff...
JOHN WILEY, FORMER AIRLINE PILOT: It's all a problem of arresting that mass of a machine that weighs 100,000, 150,000 pounds and trying to get it stopped on the runway.
TODD: More than a thousand MD-80s were built in the 1980s and '90s, and U.S. carriers American and Delta still have a number of them in service.
KIERAN DALY, AIR TRANSPORT INTELLIGENCE: It is fair to say it's of the previous design generation of aircraft to what are being built these days. And it is quite -- quite an elderly design and the airplane itself is relatively old.
However, it is safe and it's used -- it's used all the time.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: Still, you might remember back in...
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news...
TODD: Still, you might remember back in March, American Airlines had to ground several hundred MD-80s to make sure wires were properly bundled in the wheel wells. That caused the cancellation of more than a thousands flights. But so far, Wolf, no way to know if something like that could have been a factor in the Madrid crash. That involved an MD-82 operated by a different airline.
BLITZER: What about the notion of terrorism?
A lot of us remember the Madrid terror attacks on the railroads a few years back.
What are they saying about that?
TODD: Not been ruled out yet. Now, remember, this airport did have a bombing a few years ago in its parking lot. But at the moment, no officials are pointing to terrorism in this particular case.
BLITZER: Stand by, Brian, because we're working this story and if we get more we'll share it with our viewers. The White House sees early signs of a Russian troop withdrawal from Georgia, but says the pace needs to be stepped up. The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, telling the A.P.: "Russian military forces are merely thinning out their presence in some towns, but seizing new territory."
President Bush says the U.S. will work to assure Georgia's independence and territorial integrity.
But there may be a new flash point. Russia is now warning it will go beyond diplomacy in responding to a planned U.S. missile shield in Poland. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a deal today in Warsaw and then she spoke exclusively with our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insists the United States is not in a cold war with Russia. She did acknowledge, though, in an exclusive interview with CNN that ties between the two countries have become strained since Russia invaded Georgia. But after she signed a missile defense deal here in Warsaw, that strain could get worse.
VERJEE (voice-over): Her signature on a missile defense deal with Poland, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it like this.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Missile defense, of course, is aimed at no one.
VERJEE: But the idea of a U.S. missile defense shield in its backyard has Russia seeing red. Now the Kremlin is threatening its former satellite, Poland, with a nuclear attack. In an interview with CNN, Rice warned Moscow -- don't even think about it.
RICE: The Russians must know that we have an Article Five guarantee to Poland as a member of NATO. They must know that the United States would never permit an attack on the territory of an ally.
VERJEE: The U.S. says the 10 interceptor missiles to be based in Poland are to ward off threats from Iran or North Korea. Rice called the timing of the deal coincidental, but her visit, a poke in the eye to Moscow at time the world wants Russian troops out of Georgia.
RICE: The Russian president is beginning to sound like a broken record. First, his troops were going to be out on Monday. Then his troops were going to be out on Wednesday. Now his troops are going to be out on Friday. I'm beginning to wonder if the Russian president is ever going to keep his word.
VERJEE: And Secretary Rice says reports of permanent Russian checkpoints in the Georgian town of Gori violate the cease-fire it signed.
So far, threats of a diplomatic deep freeze have failed to get Russia out. In fact, Russia is now threatening to suspend ties with NATO.
RICE: Sometimes it takes a little time for diplomatic isolation to set in as a fact. Sometimes it takes a little time for a state to weigh the costs of what it's done.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
VERJEE: Secretary Rice says the Russian president is only embarrassing himself by not keeping his word and by not withdrawing Russian troops from Georgia. Secretary Rice also says that in the end, the only thing Russia has gained is isolation and a bad reputation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Zain.
Zain is in Warsaw, Poland for us.
Let's go to New York.
Jack Cafferty has The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: So Michael Phelps got his eight gold medals.
What's left to talk about?
Here we are in vice president speculation overdrive. There are the candidates, who will help the candidates the most, garner the votes, augment experience, not outshine him.
On the Democratic side, there's Biden -- a Capitol Hill insider, big foreign policy chops. There are the picks who could help Obama in key states -- Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius; Evan Bayh of Indiana; Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.
There are long shots. Another foreign policy heavyweight, defense expert Sam Nunn, former senator from Georgia. Obama named him one of the top three people he'd go to for advice.
Of course, the pumas are still holding out a chance that old what's her name will be the nominee -- Hillary.
And how about Caroline Kennedy?
She's helping the manage the vice president selection committee. And now there are people that suggest that she could pull a Cheney and maybe nominate herself to be vice president.
On the Republican side, the veep stakes include Tom Ridge, former homeland security secretary, Pennsylvania governor. He's pro-choice, though, and that would not make the conservative Republicans very happy.
Democrat turned Independent turned identity crisis Senator Joe Lieberman another wildcard nominee being bandied about. He was on the other party's vice presidential ticket a couple of elections back. The safer Republicans include Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor; Minnesota Governor Tom Pawlenty. And then we have, of course, the announcement of when will it be, where will it be, what time will it be?
It's -- we really need to get a life here.
The Obama campaign promises its supporters will know first via message or e-mail. It could come any day now. There is a big campaign event planned for Obama's people in Illinois on Saturday.
All this to eventually do a job that consists of breaking tie votes in the Senate, attending ceremonial events and trying to stay awake for four years -- unless, of course, you're Dick Cheney -- in which case you run the country for eight years.
Here's the question -- how much do you really care who the vice presidential candidates are?
You have to be honest here now.
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.
Thanks very much.
A huge investment scam allegedly operating out of a major U.S. university.
Our Special Investigations Unit revealing a con game that bilked investors out of millions of dollars.
Also, windmills on the Brooklyn Bridge -- details of the green energy plan that could change the face -- or at least the skyline of New York.
Plus, the government reveals its tracking more of our travels than we know. And some warn it's information that could come back to haunt us.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: She's heir to one of the country's richest political legacies. But Caroline Kennedy has largely stayed out of politics -- until now. She's playing a key role in Barack Obama's campaign and some are even suggesting a bigger role if he's elected president.
Mary Snow is working this story for us.
All right, Mary, what exactly is Caroline Kennedy up to? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, she's been discreetly vetting vice presidential choices for Barack Obama. And some say for Caroline Kennedy, it's a sort of coming out on the political scene.
SNOW (voice-over): Caroline Kennedy is one of a few people to have Barack Obama's ear when it comes to choosing a vice president. She is tight-lipped about being a member of Obama's search committee, but she's been very vocal about her support for Obama. It's a new role for President Kennedy's only surviving child, who's known for shunning the spotlight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM FEBRUARY 3)
CAROLINE KENNEDY, OBAMA SUPPORTER: I'm here today because I have never had a candidate who inspires me the way people say that my father inspired them. But I do now.
SNOW: But filmmaker Michael Moore says he is inspired by her and wants her to be Obama's V.P. In an open letter, he calls on her to, in his words, "pull a Cheney" -- referring to Dick Cheney, who vetted V.P. choices for George Bush but then wound up as vice president.
TED SORENSEN, FORMER JOHN F. KENNEDY ADVISER: There's no chance that Caroline is going to pick herself.
SNOW: Ted Sorenson, former adviser to President Kennedy and an early Obama supporter, says he helped introduce Caroline Kennedy to Obama. He says the fact she is even involved in this campaign is significant.
SORENSEN: Now, Caroline, Caroline, who prefers family life, who guards her privacy was willing to step out and endorse a candidate after all these years. That had impact.
SNOW: Kennedy has campaigned before. She's also been active in the New York City school system, heads the Kennedy library, has authored books and is a lawyer. But long-time friend, Greg Craig, who also works for the Obama campaign, says Kennedy's January endorsement of Obama opened a new chapter.
GREG CRAIG, KENNEDY FAMILY FRIEND: I think her coming out as a political person was when she endorsed Senator Obama and went on the stump for him.
SNOW: Some observers are watching to see how much of a political person Caroline Kennedy will be.
WILLIAM KEYLOR, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: I think the big question will be whether, if he wins, she will actually join the administration or whether she will, perhaps, seek out a political career of her own.
(END VIDEO TAPE) SNOW: And Caroline Kennedy declined a request for an interview. Expect to see her Monday night, when she's slated to speak at the Democratic Convention. And a campaign spokeswoman says after that, Kennedy will be back out campaigning for Obama -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary, for that.
Barack Obama today addressed voters' concerns that things are going wrong with America. He also said flatly where he thinks John McCain is wrong.
The Democratic candidate spoke in Martinsville, Virginia.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: And 80 percent of the country says the country is going in the wrong direction. Eighty percent. So I think -- I think people are shaken out of their apathy.
The problem goes back to what I said before. I think people have gotten so cynical that they're not sure the Democrats are going to fix it anymore than the Republicans. And, look, I mean John McCain, let's face it, he's got a compelling biography. He's a POW. And so that's what people kind of think about, instead of focusing on the fact that he wants to continue the same economic policies that George Bush has been doing for the last eight years.
So my job in this election is to say I honor his service, but I don't honor his policies and I don't honor his politics. And we need a change.
Now my second job is to is to give people confidence that we, as Democrats, that we're going to do the job. So we've got to, you know, we've got to do a better job of listening to the American people and working on behalf of the American people.
Not everybody in Washington who's tied up with special interests are Republicans. Heaven forbid, but it turns out that Democrats are getting big campaign contributions, too, and sometimes aren't looking out for the interests of ordinary Americans.
And so that's why we've got to change the culture in Washington. And change is hard. But part of what this campaign has been about is convincing people -- you know what, I don't make promises I can't keep. I'm not going to say that every job is going to come back to Martinsville just because I'm elected president. I'm not saying that suddenly all of the schools will be fixed.
But what I can do is I can say I'm going to wake up every day thinking about you and thinking about how to make your life a little bit better. And if you can trust me to do that and I'm and I'm organizing a bunch of smart people like Mark Warner to come up with innovative ideas, that will give you a little bit of a fighting chance, that will make your life a little bit better. You're still going to have to work hard. You're still going to have to sacrifice. We're still going to have some struggles. But if I can make things a little bit easier for you and you can trust me to do that, that that's the reason I'm in politics, that's my orientation, I think we can convince enough people to win this election and then we can convince even more people to start doing the work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're also going to be hearing what John McCain has been saying today. That's coming up just ahead, as well.
It's an area in the Gulf of Mexico and it's called the dead zone. Nothing can live there. No fish can survive.
What caused it?
Why are scientists so worried?
Plus, disaster of a different kind -- thousands of homes in Florida flooded as a drenching storm stalls out.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?
COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, Fay turns flood maker. Forecasters say Central Florida is in for a lot of rain as Tropical Storm -- as the tropical storm stalls on the East Coast near Cape Canaveral. Officials say thousands of homes have been flooded in St. Lucie County. Boats are being sent to pick up dozens of stranded residents. Up to 30 inches of rain is possible in some areas. Fay is still expected to curve toward Florida's northwest in the next 12 to 24 hours.
The Amish are thriving. A new study finds their population has doubled in the past decade-and-a-half and their numbers are growing in states beyond Pennsylvania, such as Missouri, Kentucky and Minnesota, where farmland is more affordable. The study by Elizabethtown College says the Amish now number some 227,000 nationwide. The Amish are Christians who reject most modern conveniences.
The Roman Catholic mass is changing for the first time since the 1960s. U.S. bishops have signed off on a new translation which changes some of the most familiar parts of the mass, including the words spoken by Catholics during worship and communion. The changes are aimed at satisfying Vatican calls for a translation that's closer to the Latin version and more expressive.
And, you know, Wolf, for hundreds of years Catholic mass was celebrated in Latin. But that changed in the mid- '60s with Vatican II -- a three year meeting of Catholic bishops that reformed the church. The two biggest changes -- reforming the mass by allowing casual language instead of formal Latin and the "universal call to holiness," making individuals responsible for living a spiritual life -- back to you.
BLITZER: I'm old enough to remember when they actually taught Latin in high school. I had a lot of Catholic friends who were studying Latin and then all of a sudden, they stopped.
COSTELLO: I know. I remember being at mass because I'm Catholic and hearing they -- at least part of the mass in Latin. It was beautiful.
BLITZER: Yes, I remember. All right, thanks very much, Carol, for that.
John McCain was grilled today about his potential running mate and where that person should stand on the issue of abortion rights for women. The Republican candidate spoke at a town hall in New Mexico.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard a rumor that you're going to pick a pro-life V.P.
Is that true?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: Thank you. We're going through the process. I said on Saturday night that I have a proud pro- life record in Congress. And I am proud of that.
MCCAIN: I respect the views of others. But I also happen to believe that the noblest words ever written in history were those that said: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all of us are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain rights. Among those are life" -- I think -- "liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
I believe that life applies to those that are not born, as well as those that are born. And so...
MCCAIN: So we're not talking about the process of the vice presidential situation, except that I would remind you that the vice president of the United States really only has two duties, when you think about it. One is in case there's a tie vote in the Senate. He comes to the floor -- he or she comes to the floor of the Senate and casts the tie breaking vote. That's the constitutional duty. The other duty of the vice president of the United States is to inquire daily as to the health of the president. So that will obviously make -- make my pick very important.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to pick a vice president that conservatives can actually rally around in the future or are you going to give us someone who will cause us to want to stay home perhaps?
MCCAIN: Well, sir, may I say, at least according to the polling data we have, we are doing very well with our base. We have a lot more work to do to energize our base. We also have to energize our base who cares a lot about our lack of fiscal responsibility, who are very angry. We're also...
MCCAIN: We're also going to have to energize our base that cares about this nation's security, which is probably -- and when we look at the many challenges we face, probably very significant.
I will choose a pres -- a nom -- I will nominate a person to be vice president, my running mate, who shares my principals, my values and my priorities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: One of the country's top research universities swept up in a scandal right now. A CNN special investigation reveals a multimillion dollar scam operating right in its midst.
Also, broadcast television about to change forever. It could also change how you get the Internet. Details of the battle with Google at the forefront.
Plus, windmills. Yes, windmills. They soon could be another landmark on the New York City skyline. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's latest idea.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a multi-million dollar scam allegedly operating out of a well-known university. CNN's Special Investigation Unit uncovering the scandal rocking one of the country's top research schools.
Also, the federal government tracking your travels to Canada and Mexico -- information it plans to keep for more than a decade. Privacy advocates are warning your data could be abused.
Plus, the bold move that started Barack Obama's career -- political hardball and a difficult choice.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It was a way to make a lot of money with big returns promised. But CNN has now confirmed that if FBI is investigating an international investment scheme that allegedly scammed investors out of more than $30 million. That investigation has led to an unlikely place, a major American university. Our special investigations unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau is here with the details. She's watching this developing story.
Abbie, what are you discovering?
ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've learned this whole thing started a few years back. A huge Ponzi scheme where investors say they got paid for new money coming into the operation. Investigators say one of the alleged schemes was run using facilities and computers at the University of Miami.
BOUDREAU: This is the University of Miami, one of the nation's leading research schools. But investigators and alleged victims say that computers, employees, and offices on campus were used in a massive fraud scheme that lost investors tens of millions of dollars.
WAYNE BLACK, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: Accountants, lawyers, retired law enforcement officers, business people; it's a shame. Some dipped into their 401k for the quick turn-around.
BOUDREAU: Those investors say the scheme complete with detailed flow charts and fake invoices was master-minded by this man, Andres Pimstein, a University of Miami business school graduate.
These court papers from lawsuits filed against Pimstein outline how it allegedly worked. Pimstein told investors he was running a company called the Bottom Line of South Florida, selling perfumes and electronics to a big department store chain in South America called Ripley. There's no indication the chain knew anything about the scam. Instead, investigators say the Ponzi scheme was paying off early investors with late investor's money.
How much more did you put in?
VICTOR GONZALEZ, INVESTOR: $2 million.
BOUDREAU: $2 million?
BOUDREAU: That hurts, huh?
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hurts a lot.
BOUDREAU: Victor Gonzalez is a real estate investor. When he heard Pimstein was offering an 18 percent return, he bought in.
And you think you'll never see that money again?
GONZALEZ: Probably not. You know, probably not.
BOUDREAU: And other investors likely won't either. Overall, investigators tell CNN investors lost some $30 million.
BLACK: This Ponzi grew like a virus.
BOUDREAU: Gonzalez hired Wayne Black, a former public corruption supervisor in Miami, who now owns a private investigation firm. Black found the links between the investment scheme and the University of Miami.
BLACK: Pimstein was able to convince a couple of people there to use their computers to control bank accounts that he laundered the money through.
BOUDREAU: Black says several university computers were used to monitor the bank accounts and as many as three dozen investors worked for U.M., including two former senior officials of the school. This building on campus is where some of the alleged victims told us the investment meetings took place. CNN learned Pimstein even had a joint bank account with the University's director of contract administration, a man named Allen Weber.
GONZALEZ: One time we met just me, Pimstein and Weber at the University of Miami in the conference room. It was specifics about what the interest rate was going to be. They wanted me to be on the board of directors of this company.
BOUDREAU: But Weber's wife told us her husband was also a victim. And no longer works for U.M.
ALLEN WEBER'S WIFE: No, I can't comment on that.
BOUDREAU: The University told CNN it's "Aware that authorities are investigating an investment program involving a few current or former employees." It went on to say "University funds are not involved." And "will cooperate fully with the investigation."
BOUDREAU: Wolf, we tried to ask Andres Pimstein about what happened, but he says his attorney told him not to comment. When we asked who his attorney is, he declined to tell us. I did talk to an FBI spokeswoman earlier today who confirmed the agency is investigating this entire scheme. But beyond that, she gave no other details. Now, Miami-Dade police told us Pimstein confessed on tape to the entire Ponzi scheme and that confession is now in the hands of the FBI.
BLITZER: All right. Abbie, stay on top of this story and update us when we get more information. Good work. Abbie Boudreau reporting.
Say good-bye to a little bit more of your privacy. Federal authorities revealing that they're gathering and storing data about you every time you enter the country by land. Brian Todd has been looking into this story and he's here.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, privacy advocates these new tighter rules that were disclosed by the Department of Homeland Security are yet another instance of the government acting like big brother. But Homeland Security officials say with nearly 820,000 people crossing into the U.S. by land each day, there are security gaps that need to be closed.
TODD: You're crossing the border to shop or take a quick vacation. When you cross back from Mexico or Canada, the government knows when and where. And will know it for more than a decade. The Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed it's now collecting information on all American citizens crossing into the U.S. by land, entering it into a database and storing it for 15 years. Homeland Security officials say this is to tighten gaps and more effectively track criminals and potential terrorists. Privacy advocates say too many innocent people are caught up in this and information on their travel patterns could later be abuse abused.
GREG NOJEIM, CTR. FOR DEMOCRACY & TECHNOLOGY: The broad collection of personal information about Americans who are doing nothing wrong creates an enormous temptation to use it for new purposes that are dreamed up later.
TODD: Homeland Security officials say land border crossings have been recorded and kept for several years. A small percentage of Americans coming through land border checkpoints were allowed to just orally declare their citizenship and be waved through. As of this year, all Americans will have to provide I.D. A Homeland Security spokesman says, "In a post 9/11 world, we can't have an honor system at our borders." Supporters of the tighter rules say security is paramount and privacy at the border is relative.
JAMES CARAFANO, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Your expectation of privacy at the border, which is where government exercises their sovereignty, is different. So governments have been collecting information since, you know, our grandparents came over and went to Ellis Island.
TODD: But our ancestors at Ellis Island may never have had their records used in civil litigation like a divorce case. Those records could now be used for that if an attorney wants to subpoena the information. So civil liberties groups will be monitoring this closely.
BLITZER: What about folks into the country by plane?
TODD: That data, the international passengers from air, has been kept for a long time. That's for decades that's been recorded and kept in a database. So the only thing new is that the small percentage of people coming in by land, about one percent, who previously could just be waved through, they now have to present documentation.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.
New York has been a city of skyscrapers, but something else could join the skyline under a new proposal by the mayor. We're taking a closer look at Mayor Bloomberg's energy plan.
Plus, a look back at the beginning. What Barack Obama's early political career says about his will to win.
Plus this --
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This part of the Gulf of Mexico is called the dead zone. A region where life can't exist deep under sea. I'm Allan Chernoff and I'll tell you why coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It may not be the windy city, but New York could soon be the windmill city if Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way. He's proposing a very ambitious green energy plan that could drastically change the city's skyline.
Carol Costello is working the story for us.
All right. What are we talking about here?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're going to make Mayor Bloomberg's idea -- we're going to take it to the extreme. This is sort of what he's talking about. How about giant windmills changing the city skyline of New York City? He certainly stirred the pot when he brought up the idea that there could be a big windmill upon the Empire State Building. He's determined to reduce New York's energy use.
COSTELLO: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dreams big and bold and green.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: It would be a thing of beauty if when Lady Liberty looks out on the horizon, she not only welcomes new immigrants to our shores, but lights their way with a torch powered by an ocean wind farm.
COSTELLO: Imagine a massive wind farm offshore in the Atlantic lighting up the lady. That's not all. How about windmills that top the Brooklyn Bridge? Heck, why not put them on top of the Empire State Building. OK, the mayor said today that's overkill, but it's an idea to create renewable energy in New York.
BLOOMBERG: We're not saying not in my backyard. We're saying it's our problem and if nobody else wants to do it, we want to do it.
COSTELLO: And that means creative problem-solving, giant wind turbines marring the city's skyline atop historic landmarks, big problems. What if the turbines were the size of an egg beater? It is possible.
DALE JAMIESON, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: This idea of putting windmills on top of skyscrapers and on top of bridges and so on and so forth, yes, that's a reasonable idea. It's plausible. It's something we should think about. But the big benefits are really going to come from thinking about putting wind farms offshore.
COSTELLO: That costly endeavor would entail the same level of difficulty as drilling an oil rig. Still supporters say, the mayor is on the right track.
JAMIESON: He stirs the pot. He gets the discussion going. He gets people talking about the kinds of problems that we're going to have to face in the next decade.
COSTELLO: There are people who think Mayor Bloomberg is mostly bluster. But he's already realized more than one green dream. City cabbies, they're required to drive hybrid cabs by 2012.
COSTELLO: And Mayor Bloomberg's ultimate goal to reduce energy output in New York City by 10 percent in ten years.
BLITZER: That's a great idea, if they could do it. It's clean and it would be a pretty cool thing.
COSTELLO: At least he came up with the plan and they're talking about it.
BLITZER: Good for him. We're going to be talking to him about this. Thanks very much.
The summer's flooding across the Midwest is creating devastating consequences hundreds of miles down the Mississippi River. The flood waters are expanding in an area in the Gulf of Mexico where life cannot exist. It's called the dead zone. That's where we find our Allan Chernoff.
CHERNOFF: Wolf, when Iowa was flooded earlier this year, fishermen along the coast of Louisiana knew that trouble was headed their way. They knew the flooding would expand the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone.
CHERNOFF: Louisiana fisherman Terry looks across the water with a sense of loss. What used to be the best fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico, he says, are barren. TERRY, FISHERMAN: You don't see nothing. Usually you see bait fish on the water. You don't see no bait fish or nothing. Nothing is there. I don't have no kind of testing material to test the water, but I know something is wrong.
CHERNOFF: This is the test. 35 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, oceanographers sample water deep below. This censor measures the oxygen level in the water. The deeper it goes, the less oxygen it finds. And in this part of the Gulf of Mexico, there's virtually none at the bottom.
LORA PRIDE, MARINE CONSORTIUM: We're not finding enough oxygen to support life, aquatic life.
CHERNOFF: The dead zone, a vast portion of the Gulf of Mexico sea bed that loses most of its oxygen. It forms every summer, but this year it's especially large; 8,000 square miles, nearly as big as New Jersey. Scientists say the cause is hundreds of miles up the Mississippi. Farmers across the Midwest use tons of nitrogen and phosphorus to fertilize corn, allowing them to satisfy growing demand from ethanol factories and developing countries. This summer's flooding caused much of the fertilizer to run off into rivers that flow into the Mississippi.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The size of the low oxygen zone has increased in proportion to these nutrients reaching the gulf.
CHERNOFF: The fertilizing flowing into the Gulf triggers an overgrowth of microscopic algae.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These things will fall to the bottom. And as they decompose, they consume oxygen.
CHERNOFF: The lack of oxygen causes bottom dwellers, fish and shrimp, to swim away in search of oxygen. Clams, crabs, starfish and other slow-moving sea life suffocate. To find lots of shrimp, fishermen like Terry now have to travel far, to the edge of the dead zone, an expensive proposition with the cost of fuel still high. Many boats are idle. Others are staying away from their home port in Crandall, Louisiana, a disaster for sea food processor Dean Blanchard who buys food from fishermen.
DEAN BLANCHARD, SEA FOOD PROCESSOR: All of my boats have to go anywhere else to try to make a living. It's a shame. This is the prime shrimping ground in the country right here. And it shut us down. It just shut us down. It's unreal.
CHERNOFF: With demand for corn growing, experts say the dead zone is likely to expand in coming years, an environmental hazard that threatens Louisiana's sea food industry.
BLITZER: Allan Chernoff, thank you very much. The bold move that launched Barack Obama's political career. Our special investigations unit has been looking into this. How the young Barack Obama played tough in his first election campaign.
Plus, as television prepares to go digital, Google is eying that soon to be abandoned analog signal. What's in it for the Internet giant and what's in it for you?
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Critics take Barack Obama at a political newcomer, but he's no stranger to the hard no stranger to the hard tactics politics requires. His career began with a bold move and a difficult decision.
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux shows us Barack Obama's dramatic beginnings.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He returned to Chicago more focused and ready to make his move into politics. When State Senator Alice Palmer tapped Obama to run for her seat, he jumped at the chance. State Senator Rickey Hendon was Palmer's friend.
RICKEY HENDON (D), ILLINOIS STATE SENATE: Her and Barack had a discussion about him replacing her for the senate when she went to Congress. So there was an agreement between them.
MALVEAUX: But then something unexpected happened.
HENDON: She lost the race and decided that she wanted to come back. She said, well, I'm going to run for re-election.
MALVEAUX: Palmer asked Obama to withdraw.
HENDON: He refused to step down. There is no way Barack could beat Alice Palmer in that seat. It wasn't going to happen. Alice was extremely popular.
MALVEAUX: Obama played hardball. He challenged Palmer's right to be on the bat.
DAVID MENDELL, OBAMA'S BIOGRAPHER: He looked at her nominating petitions that she had to submit to the board of elections and could see they were put together in a real hurry.
HENDON: The people she depended on to do her petitions did not do a good job.
WILL BURNS, FORMER CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: The rules are there for a reason.
MALVEAUX: Will Burns was part of an Obama team that found that a number of Palmer's signatures were not valid. BURN: One of the first things you do when you're in the middle of a primary race or any race especially in primaries in Chicago, you look at the signatures.
MALVEAUX: Successfully challenging her signatures, Obama knocked Alice , a revered political figure, off the ballot, as well as all three other candidates. While Obama's campaign today promotes him as a different kind of politician, back then he was an avid student of Chicago-style politics.
MENDELL: Morally, he had complications with whether he should knock this woman out of the way.
MALVEAUX: David Mendell is a Chicago reporter who wrote Obama's biography.
MENDELL: In the end, what happened is we saw the first real example of Barack Obama's cut throat nature when it came to advancing his own career in politics.
MALVEAUX: Well Wolf, while Mendell calls it cut throat, there are many other who saw Obama's move as pragmatic and smart. One of the first lessons in politics is to challenge your opponent's validity to run. It was a controversial move because it angered Palmer's supporters but Wolf what I've learned is that once Obama found his place, his identity as a young man, he had a real passion and search to bring about change, particularly fighting injustice. Many of those coming up tonight in Obama Revealed tonight.
BLITZER: And we'll be watching. Suzanne, thanks very much. Obama Revealed premieres tonight at 9:30 p.m. eastern. You'll want to see Suzanne's documentary on who this man really is. Tune in earlier at 8 p.m. eastern and you can catch McCain Revealed, John King's special profile of Senator John McCain.
Check back with Jack for the Cafferty File.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is how much do you really care who the VP candidates are?
John says, "It's only important because of Dick Cheney. We don't need another dictator as vice president. We need an open, transparent vice president who doesn't make secret energy policies with oil companies. We need a vice president who will be a sounding board for the president, not a father figure."
Marie in New York City writes, "I hope Obama chooses a VP who will adhere to the Hippocratic Oath which says first, do no harm. Beyond that, it would be fantastic if the VP choice could bring him a swing state or influence some undecided voters. As for McCain, I hope he chooses a pro choice guy. That would really make my day." Ty writes from Florida, "I could not possibly care any less about the choices for VP and disdain the constant speculation of the news networks regarding it. The VP has become nothing more than a prop to acquire additional votes in states or areas where a candidate is polling weakly. Obama picking Biden doesn't give him any more foreign policy credibility than he had before which is nil and Romney will not make McCain an economic wizard."
Jan writes, "The VP choices are important. You'll see one of the candidates shoot up in the polls when the choices are announced. Ever since Clinton, the vice presidents have played an important role in their administrations. I'm positive Obama will really partner with his VP while McCain will need someone to whisper corrections in his ear, like Joe Lieberman had to several months ago."
Leevaughn writes, "I just watched CNN. I think Carolyn Kennedy would be a great choice for Obama's VP. I think he should pick her. It would solve all his problems." Never mind. I don't know how that got in there.
If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile and you can look for yours there among hundreds of others. I apologize.
BLITZER: No need. Thanks Jack very much.
New details emerging right now about the airline disaster. The death toll climbs. The latest number, 153 people killed. We're learning more about the survivors of the fiery crash as well.
Plus, the house speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Will she allow a straight up and down vote on offshore drilling? Stay with us. She's about to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Brian Todd told us about a government plan to gather information every time we cross the border from Mexico and Canada.
Lou Dobbs has been keeping his eye on the story as well.
What do you think?
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: It's good to see that we actually are still concerned about our borders and actually are tracking someone entering the country and exiting the country, don't you think?
I mean Wolf the thing about this story that is peculiar to me, the State Department has been tracking what's happening with our passports for years and years and years. There seems to be some dust- up here. The real story to me it seems, Wolf, is that all of this concern about tracking citizens, going about their lawful activities and entering and exiting this country, while they have done nothing at the Department of Homeland Security to shut down the flow of illegal aliens, potential terrorists. Still, Mexico, is the primary source of methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine and marijuana into this country. This isn't being stopped.
Everybody gets excited about this privacy thing. Folks, this has been going on for decades. It's a little fancier now because we have better technology. But the real issue is our borders are wide open to terrorists, to drug dealers, to illegal aliens. Our ports are wide open. 95 percent of the cargo entering this country since September 11th, almost seven years, 95 percent of the cargo still isn't being inspected. And people are getting upset about a lousy program to track U.S. citizens' exit and entry through ports of entry? That isn't even close to the issue!
BLITZER: And Lou's only getting started. He's going to have a lot more on this coming up in one hour on his show.
DOBBS: You bet.
BLITZER: Lou, thank you.
DOBBS: Thanks, Wolf.