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Military Finds Itself Short of Certain Specialties; Obama New Mexico Town Hall Meeting; Miss California Situation

Aired May 14, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And shuttle astronauts walk on the wild side. The pictures and the danger as the Hubbell Telescope starts getting its first tune-up in seven years. I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Republicans have put a bull's eye on her back as they dispute allegations that terror suspects were tortured during the Bush administration. Today, Pelosi is scrambling to set the record straight about a briefing she got from the CIA on the use simulated drowning or waterboarding, but the House Republican leader says Pelosi is raising more questions than answering.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She watched all of it unfold. A lot of drama today up on the Hill, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The only reason this issue of whether, what Democrats like Speaker Pelosi knew and when they knew it is an issue because Democrats started to call for investigations of Bush officials on things like waterboarding and Republicans said wait a minute, what do you know about it?

Well, over the past month or so, the speaker has given some differing answers to those questions and that is why today, she came out with a prepared statement and tried to address it.


BASH (voice-over): Under fire over whether she's been up front about knowing harsh tactics like waterboarding were being used, the House speaker tried to turn the tables, accusing the CIA of lying to her.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: We are not using water boarding. That's the only mention, that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were, so yes, I am saying that they are misleading, that the CIA was misleading the Congress.

BASH: Pelosi was referring to a September 2002 meeting, here only one with CIA officials, but the speaker also admitted for the first time that five months later in February 2003, one of her aides attended a briefing and was told interrogators were using harsh tactics. The aide informed Pelosi. PELOSI: He said that the committee chair and ranking member and appropriate staff had been briefed that these techniques were now being used.

BASH: Jane Harman, then top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee wrote a letter objecting. Why didn't Pelosi?

PELOSI: No letter could change the policy. It was clear we had to change the leadership in Congress and in the White House. That is my job.

BASH: This fiery Pelosi press conference was about damage control, but she started to walk away before addressing her apparent contradictions.

QUESTION: May I ask one last question?

BASH: If she was told in February 2003 that waterboarding was being used, why didn't she admit that in a press conference on the subject last month?

QUESTION: The idea we got was that you were never told waterboarding was being used, but now, we know later in February you were told. It wasn't in that briefing but you were told.

PELOSI: By the time we were told, we finding out that it's been used before. In other words, that was beyond the point.

QUESTION: Why didn't you tell us at that press conference ...

PELOSI: I told you what my briefing was and my briefing was ...

QUESTION: You said at the press conference you had been told but not at that particular briefing. You seemed very adamant that you didn't know waterboarding was used.

PELOSI: That is right.

The point is that I wasn't briefed. I was informed that someone else had been briefed about it.


BASH (on camera): Now, a CIA spokesman stood by the fact that their records do indicate that the speaker was specifically briefed, that harsh techniques were used. And Wolf, as for Republicans, they hammered the speaker after this press conference, not only because they say she is still changing her story but also for suggesting that the CIA was actually lying to Congress. In fact she said that they lied to Congress on several occasions. One Republican, Wolf, said it is outrageous for a member of Congress to call our terror fighters liars. Wolf?

BLITZER: Dana, stand by for a moment because I want to show our viewers an example of this outrage over what the speaker said today. Senator Kit Bond of Missouri said that if Pelosi knew the CIA was doing something wrong, she had the power to try to stop it.


SEN. KIT BOND, (R) MO: There are many things that could have been done. Bringing in the leadership, either going to the floor of the House, using the protection of the speech and debate clause, to raise questions about it and to raise objections. There are efforts that you can make in the appropriations process to stop that. There are a whole range of actions and she did not take them.


BLITZER: Senator Bond, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Now to another major player in the dispute over alleged torture. The former Vice President Dick Cheney, today, the CIA rejected Cheney's request to declassify some interrogation records. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry. All right, Ed, what happened?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, very interesting development because the vice president and former vice president had been claiming that these two CIA memos could essentially vindicate the Bush administration on alleged tortures that you were just talking about. That the memos could lay out essentially that the enhanced interrogation yielded good intelligence and helped prevent terror attacks. The former vice president at one point in recent days claiming today that hundreds of thousands of American lives were saved. He officially wants these memos for his memoirs as he tries to write history about the Bush administration, what happened.

Today, the CIA basically said no. There is an executive order that lays out, you cannot declassify memos like that when they're still part of ongoing litigation. Obviously a lot of litigation out there about terror suspects about alleged torture, etc. So they're not releasing these documents. I spoke to an aide to the former vice president, however. She said he's already preparing an appeal to the CIA. He's determined to get these memos one way or the other. It's very clear this is not the last of this. Obviously the former vice president is not shy about speaking out, Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly isn't. He has been doing a lot of TV lately. On another matter, yesterday, the president angered some within his own party as you know by reversing his own decision and saying that the photos of alleged abuses of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan should not be released. But now, you're getting word on another potential change of position that that could once again anger liberals in the Democratic Party?

That's right. Senior administration officials now saying the president is leaning toward bringing back those military commissions to try terror suspects. You'll remember on the first week of this new administration, he suspended those military commissions, was very critical of how the Bush administration used them to try terror suspects, that the suspects, detainees did not have enough rights. I'm being told there was a big meeting last Thursday night here at the White House, the White House Situation Room, kept very quiet, but basically, they're realizing there's no easy way to try these suspects, so they're likely to bring back the military commissions but with new rights for the terror suspects. As you mentioned, liberals could be upset but the administration is going to try to sell this by saying it's a new and improved version of these military commissions. Very interesting how it's going to play out, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. All right. Thanks very much, Ed Henry at the White House.

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He has "The Cafferty File". Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, remember that promise no taxes on anybody making less than $250,000 a year. Keep that in mind while we do this.

Health care reform will not be cheap and that's why lawmakers are considering higher taxes on everything from alcohol and cigarettes to junk food and soda as a way to pay for it. The Senate Finance Committee is looking into how to pay for the massive health care overhaul which could wind up costing $1.1 trillion over 10 years. Several experts are suggesting taxes on bad behavior including a $2 tax on a pack of cigarettes and a higher excise tax on alcohol. It's easy to see why so called sin taxes are appealing, taxing cigarettes, junk food and alcohol could raise $600 billion over those 10 years.

A recent poll found support among Americans for imposing such taxes in order to help pay for health care reform. The Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows 61 percent of those polled say they are in favor of raising taxes on items that are thought to be unhealthy, like cigarettes, alcohol, junk food and soda. Thirty-seven percent are opposed.

When asked about specific items, there's more support for taxing cigarettes and alcohol than snack foods and soda. No surprise there, I guess.

But before you start hoarding your beer and chips, Congress is also looking at other ways to pay for health care reform like eliminating the tax-free status of company health benefits, along with non-health related options like capping the deduction on charitable donations.

So here's the question. Is taxing cigarettes, alcohol and junk food as well as soda a good way to pay for health care reform? Go to and post a comment on my blog. You've got to just sew your pockets closed to keep their hands out of your jeans.

BLITZER: All this is not going to be cheap. They're looking for money wherever they can find it.

CAFFERTY: Yeah, I know.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

If you've lost your job, you don't have to lose out on your health or your love life. A drug maker's bold new offer. That's coming up.

And Bill Clinton is out on the campaign trail, forgiving and forgetting.

And President Obama may, repeat, may be on the brink of a make or break moment in the Middle East peace process. I'll speak with the former British prime minister and special Middle East envoy Tony Blair about the high level talks in the days ahead.


BLITZER: President Obama set to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over at the White House on Monday. Mr. Netanyahu may find himself on the defensive over his unwillingness to see the Palestinians carve out a separate Palestinian state.

Joining us now is the special Middle East envoy, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Prime Minister, thanks very much for coming in. Is this a make or break moment in the Israeli- Palestinian peace process that is coming up in the next few days?

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think it's a very important moment. It's a moment of opportunity because you've now got a new Israeli government, a new administration in the U.S. The new U.S. administration is determined to press forward so, yeah, I think it's a pretty important moment.

BLITZER: You've met with Prime Minister Netanyahu on many occasions over the years. Do you believe he will be ready to commit to what the U.S. want, the British want, the United Nations, the so- called road map, a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine?

BLAIR: Well, it's for him to say. I mean, I hope so. I think the crucial thing is this, really. There are people in Israel who will say we're against the Palestinian sate altogether. But there are also people who say provided we can be sure that this Palestinian state is going to be a stable and secure neighbor, then we can be in favor of it. Now, I think and hope that Bibi Netanyahu is in the second category. In other words, what he will say is yes, I can envisage a Palestinian state as the end game, but we need to make sure that Palestinian state is secure and stable as a partner for Israel.

Now I think the international community will say, well that's fine, now let's under that heading put the substance of what's going to happen on issues to do with economic development, things like settlements and obviously of course building the Palestinian security capacity.

BLITZER: Because you've heard them and others, really, say, you know what? They withdrew completely from Gaza, the Palestinians took over and what did the Israelis get? They got rockets coming in sometimes on a daily bases from Gaza into Israel and their fear is if they withdraw from the West Bank and Palestinians take over completely there and the Israeli military pulls out. You would even have rockets closer to Tel Aviv or Ben Gurion Airport or Jerusalem for that matter. That is their argument.

BLAIR: Yeah. And that's why it's unacceptable for Israel to have a Palestinian state on the West Bank as well as Gaza in which extremists or people who are likely to try and target Israeli civilians are in control.

BLITZER: How do you guarantee that because Hamas is very popular in Gaza and certainly at least among some of the West Bank?

BLAIR: My view of this is provided there is a clear momentum for a negotiated two-state solution, provided we take then the action on the ground that reinforces that momentum, my view is the overwhelmingly majority of Palestinians are prepared to live side by side with Israel in peace. The question is, how do we restore now and this is why this is such an important moment, how do we restore, reinvigorate credibility into the whole process?

BLITZER: Because the Palestinians are deeply divided, as the president of the United States gets ready to meet with the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, he comes to Washington with a divided Palestinian community, between Fatah, his faction, and Hamas, his opposition.

BLAIR: It's true, but he also comes to Washington I think with the knowledge that for the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, and remember, the majority, two thirds of them live in the West Bank, it's the vast majority of the territory, even in Gaza, Hamas may have a military grip, but politically, provided President Abbas can show this thing is going to move forward, that the Palestinians can actually see this vision, tangibly, touch the vision of the two-state solution, then I think he will have them with him.

BLITZER: Is it realistic, and you study this issue, to believe that economic sanctions or diplomatic pressure short of military action can stop the Iranian from going forward with a nuclear plan to try to build a bomb?

BLAIR: Here's what I think is important. It's got to be made clear to Iran that nuclear weapons capability is unacceptable. I think it is possible for their to be a diplomatic solution and it is possible for sanctions to work, but it is only possible in circumstances where the international community is completely united and completely resolved.

BLITZER: Because right now there seems to be some split. The U.S. and Britain for example on the one side, Russia and China, not so strong necessarily.

BLAIR: Well, I think first of all we've got to agree to the goal and that should be that Iran does not acquire that nuclear weapons capability. If they did so, I think it would destabilize the whole of that region. I think it's a question of saying look, we're going to try a new approach. We're going to try to engage with Iran. We're going to try to persuade them that there is a way that they can be full part of the community of nations as it were. We recognize Iran's potential contributions, but there is a bottom line and the bottom line is that is that they've got to stop supporting terrorism around the region and they cannot acquire nuclear weapons capability in defiance of international convention.

BLITZER: There's a story in an Israeli newspaper "Haaretz" that says the president of the United States has basically and let me read to you from the story, "President Obama has sent a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel not surprise the U.S. with an Israeli military operation against Iran."

What, if anything can you tell us about that?

BLAIR: I don't know what messages are being passed back, but I think one thing's for clear. We're in a moment that is one of enormous opportunity. It's also a moment for important decisions to be taken. In a sense, also a moment of truth, if you like. Where are we going to go from here now?

And I think over the next few months, we will see more clearly the relationship with how we can move forward the Palestinian-Israeli question and how that affects this issue of Iran and the threat that it poses.

BLITZER: How much time do you think there is before the Israelis have to make a decision, they say an existential decision, as far as whether to use military force?

BLAIR: It's difficult to judge, but I think all these issues are pretty urgent.

BLITZER: So you think a year, two years?

BLAIR: I don't think you can put a precise time on it, but I think one thing is for sure. This region either moves into a different place where people can see the prospects of negotiated solutions to problems. Nations previously hostile reaching out to one another, or it will slip back.

BLITZER: Speaking of nukes, the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. A subject very sensitive. You've studied. Should the world feel confident right now that none of those nuclear bombs in Pakistan or related equipment could get into the hands of Taliban, al Qaeda or terrorists?

BLAIR: Well, I think the very fact we talk about that and how serious it would be underscores the need to take urgent action now. I think there is - there is a sense and King Abdullah of Jordan when he came here and saw the president, was really a way offering, not just of a Arab, but in a sense the Muslim World, the possibility for modern minded and moderate and serious, sensible people within the world of Islam to join hands in partnership with people in the West and say look, how do we make sense of the conflicts we've got, how do we bring justice to the situation of the Middle East and how do we make sure that we in alliance can stop those extremists and reactionaries who want to take the world backwards?

That's why this is all important at the moment. And Pakistan, you have another aspect if you like, of what is basically in my view, the same picture.

BLITZER: Mr. Blair, thanks for dropping by.

BLAIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: And pick up your free prescription drugs. The world's largest drug maker has a deal for many of you. You won't have to pay a dime for a long time for your many medications, even Viagra.

And real life imitates art, a child star from the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" sees his house torn down and now, he's homeless.


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

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Wolf. Well, we knew it was coming, but today, the ax the falling. Bailed out automaker, Chrysler, named 789 dealerships that will close by June 9th. That's about a quarter of the company's U.S. dealerships. Chrysler, which filed for bankruptcy protection last month, wants to eliminate stores with weak sales. Coming up, how the dealerships found out they were on the list and why some towns will now suffer.

And people who have lost their jobs may not have to go without their prescription medicine, including Viagra and Lipitor. The world's biggest drug maker, Pfizer announced today it will provide more than 70 commonly prescribed medications free for a year to unemployed and uninsured Americans, people who have lost their jobs since January 1 and who have been using a Pfizer medicine for three months are eligible.

And think your job was tough today? Well, try working 350 miles above the earth on one of the riskiest space repair missions ever. Astronauts replaced the camera on the Hubbell Telescope today, working in a dangerous debris filled orbit, the new piano-sized camera will help the telescope look deeper into the universe within 500 to 600 years of creation. This is the first of five space walks to repair Hubbell. Wolf?

BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much. Amazing pictures from space.

WHITFIELD: Pretty impressive stuff.

BLITZER: Very amazing.

All right. An urgent cry for help and it's coming from top military leaders. What the Joint Chiefs chairman says troops in Afghanistan need right now and why it could mean making sacrifices back in the United States. And President Obama says it has to stop. Why he wants Congress to take a close look at your credit card bills and what he's urging Americans to quit doing.


BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: It's good to be back in New Mexico.


BLITZER: Happening now, the former president of the United States, George W. Bush, has been out of the public eye, but his quiet behind the scene dealings are impressing a lot of people. There's a remarkable milestone on the way to building the Bush legacy.

A common drug is getting more potent. Its high its coming more quickly. The government's discovery and what you don't know about today's marijuana.

And he's one of the richest men in the world. His services and products are used are all over. The businesses Sir Richard Branson says are doing well even during the global recession. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, the House of Representatives has passed a war funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a $97 billion measure to pay for military and diplomatic efforts. The bill passed on broad bipartisan support just moments ago.

Meanwhile, the president, politicians and many every day Americans are pondering what it will take to win completely in Afghanistan. The highest ranking military officer is laying out items U.S. troops desperately need right now. Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence. What's he saying, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what the top military officials are saying, there's literally no time to buy success in Afghanistan. They say the needs are so urgent the weapons to win that war are going to have to come from what the U.S. already has.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): American commanders say they don't have enough helicopters flying over Afghanistan's rough mountains, but it's a problem money can't solve.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIR: I can't buy a lot more helicopters over the next 12 to 18 months, I need them in the fight now.

LAWRENCE: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs says that means taking more assets from Iraq. MULLEN: We've actually had to make some pretty difficult decisions about things that General Odierno has and move them to Afghanistan. That pressure is going to continue.

LAWRENCE: And so will the pressure on the Navy and National Guard. Admiral Mike Mullen says there are some 6,000 helicopters sitting stateside on domestic bases. He says it's time for each branch and each state to mark hard choices about Hollywood it can give up.

MULLEN: Take some risks in some areas back here in the services, so that we can support the fight.

LAWRENCE: Commanders say they're also short on engineers and other critical skills. Senators suggested digging even deeper into other branches of the military, moving sailors, like Navy Seabees, into untraditional missions.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: We have got a window that will close. And it's not indefinite. It is a month. And we have to move very quickly.


LAWRENCE: Admiral Mullen described some of the conversations with the service as intense, and says the pressure is only going to continue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You talk about the need for helicopters. What about drones, the pilotless vehicles that have been apparently so useful going after al Qaeda or Taliban targets in Pakistan?

LAWRENCE: Well, Secretary Gates says that will be one of the prime responsibilities of the new commanders taking charge in Afghanistan, to continue to use airpower, but to figure out a way that limits the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and when those deaths do occur, to get out ahead of the Taliban, in terms of presenting the American version of what happened to the Afghan people.

BLITZER: All right, Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, thank you.

Enough is enough, that's what President Obama says regarding your struggle to pay your credit card bills. He's railing against those high fees and sudden interest rate hikes.

Today, at a town hall meeting in New Mexico, the president called on Congress to act to protect you from credit card company abuse.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, has more from New Mexico -- Suzanne.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president's here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, obviously to push forward what he is calling a credit card bill of rights that he wants to sign on his desk by Memorial Day.

And obviously the push here is to get these credit card companies to give consumers a break. There was about 2,000-plus in the audience, but 50 or so hand-collected, because they sent e-mails or letters to the president expressing their own frustration about their credit card debt, so the president obviously using this occasion to push that forward and to make the case here that credit card debt has increased by 25 percent over the last 10 years.

We're talking about a whopping $963 billion in credit card debt, the latest figures showing that 78 percent of families actually own credit cards and about 44 percent of them carry some sort of debt.

Two weeks ago, the president hosted credit card executives, asking them to voluntarily cooperate to make sure that they do not jack up interest rates or add unexpected fees or impose unreasonable penalties, all of these points that he made today to say, look, this is something that consumers have to deal with, credit card companies have to deal with, in these tough economic times.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Enough's enough. It's time for strong, reliable protections for our consumers. It's time for reform.


OBAMA: It's time for reform...


OBAMA: It's time for reform that's built on transparency and accountability and mutual responsibility, values fundamental to the new foundation we seek to build for our economy.

MALVEAUX: Some of those companies, Discover, Bank of America, getting billions and billions of taxpayer dollars, bailout money. The feeling is here is that consumers want these companies to be held to account -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux reporting for us from New Mexico.

Bill Clinton is out campaigning for an old friend, but there may be a bigger message behind the former president's busy political schedule. Stand by.

And if you're interested in protecting the environment, what -- what -- we will take you to a high school that may make you green with envy.

And George W. Bush, he is working pretty hard to build his presidential library. We're going to tell you what is going on. He's raising a ton of money.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Bill Clinton ran for president twice and has campaigned for several Democrats running for various offices, especially, as you remember, for his wife. It seems he loves the back-and-forth of political contests, and he's back at it once again.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us right now.

All right, he's out there campaigning for a Democratic candidate who also happens to be a good friend.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And the message is, let bygones be bygones.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Virginia never voted for Bill Clinton, but it did go for Barack Obama last year, twice, once in the Democratic primaries, then again in November. So, look who is in Virginia this week campaigning for his friend and longtime political ally, Terry McAuliffe.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hillary and I love him. And now that President Obama's given her a job that requires that she not ever participate in politics as long as she's secretary of state, I'm the only one who can say that we love him.


SCHNEIDER: McAuliffe is competing in Virginia's Democratic primary for governor next month.

CLINTON: He was born to lead at this moment. And I want you to elect him.

SCHNEIDER: Bill Clinton has been out there campaigning for McAuliffe three times so far. That can only mean one thing. All is forgiven.

You can see it in the polls. Positive opinion of Mr. Clinton dropped last spring, when he was campaigning for his wife, sometimes awkwardly, like when he challenged Obama's claim to be more anti-Iraq war than his wife.


CLINTON: Give me a break.


CLINTON: This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I have ever seen.


SCHNEIDER: Some Obama supporters called that comment racist. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 23, 2009)

CLINTON: Once you accuse somebody of racism, or bigotry or something, the facts become irrelevant. There are facts here.

SCHNEIDER: After losing the nomination, Bill and Hillary Clinton were good soldiers. And his positive ratings went up. The old Bill Clinton is back.

Asked about Dick Cheney's comment that the country is less safe under the Obama administration, Mr. Clinton couldn't resist.

CLINTON: I wish him well. It's over. But I do hope he gets some more target practice before he goes out again.



SCHNEIDER: This year, Bill Clinton has participated in fund- raisers and campaign events in Florida, Ohio, New York, Nevada, Arkansas, and North Carolina, as well as Virginia.

Yes, Wolf, he's back.

BLITZER: He certainly is. He's not -- he's -- I don't know if he ever left, but he's certainly back right now. All right, thanks very much.

President Obama has pushed going green as a way to create jobs. Now Congress is ready to do just that. The House of Representatives approved $6.4 billion to turn schools across the country into more energy-efficient green buildings.

CNN's Elaine Quijano, gives us a closer look at one school that's already leading the way.


ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sinks with sensors, what's nicknamed a nuclear hand-dryer, even a waterless urinal. Students go with the eco-friendly flow at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

PATRICK EARLE, TEACHER, T.C. WILLIAMS HIGH SCHOOL: This yogurt right here, this couple actually, if it had been washed out, could have been recycled.

QUIJANO: Measuring their trash to see if they can reduce it, a so-called rain garden, a giant earthen storm drain designed to sop up pollutants from runoff.

MARK BURKE, ALEXANDRIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Antifreeze, oils, things like that, that normally are introduced on streets.

QUIJANO: Rainwater gets recycled. Solar panels and a vinyl-like cover keeps the roof 10 degrees cooler.

(on camera): Another design feature, these specially glazed windows. They cut down on the heat from the sunlight streaming in, providing natural light to interior hallways, light that's both energy-efficient and has educational benefits.

(voice-over): School officials believe daylight improves student performance, test scores, and attitudes.

BILL CLENDANIEL, PRINCIPAL, T.C. WILLIAMS HIGH SCHOOL: They really do respect the facility. And it -- and it has really made a difference in student academic achievement.

QUIJANO: But going green takes green, 2 percent to 5 percent more than conventional buildings, in this case, about $2 million. Still, supporters say it pays off.

RACHEL GUTTER, SENIOR MANAGER OF THE EDUCATION SECTOR, U.S. GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL: The typical green school saves $100,000 a year in direct operating expenses. In school terms, that's enough to hire two new teachers, purchase 200 new computers, or 5,000 textbooks.

SCHNEIDER: Schools using science to save the environment.

Elaine Quijano, CNN, Alexandria, Virginia.


BLITZER: The crew of a doomed plane went -- and we're quoting now -- "from complacency to catastrophe in 20 seconds." That's what an official from the National Transportation Safety Board said today.

It's the third and final day of hearings into what caused a plane to plunge a house near Buffalo, New York, three months ago, one disturbing question emerging. Are pilots sometimes simply too tired to fly?

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is joining us. He was watching this final day of testimony.

All right, what's the answer?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, in some cases, it appears so. The investigation has raised questions about the training and especially the alertness of the crew of Flight 3407. It has also made clear that the issue of pilots getting a good night's rest is not isolated to Colgan Air. It may affect pilots at many airlines.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): The National Transportation Safety Board made clear, conditions that may have been contributed to the fatal crash of Buffalo-bound Flight 3407 are a continuing problem in the airline industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have had a long period of time where fatigue has been on our most-wanted list.

CHERNOFF: Pilot Marvin Renslow stayed overnight in the crew room at Newark Airport, having logged on to a computer there at 3:00 a.m. on the day of the crash. First officer Rebecca Shaw flew a red-eye route from Seattle, taking two FedEx flights to arrive for duty at Newark.

Minimal sleep, testified a NASA researcher, can cause a pilot to be confused during an emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see any evidence that he ever understood the situation he was in.

CHERNOFF: That criticism, says the co-pilot's mother, is unfair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I truly felt that both she and the captain had been used as a scapegoat.

CHERNOFF: The idea that Renslow and Shaw may have entered the cockpit tired, and that other pilots with long commutes to their base of operations may be doing the same, infuriates the parents of Elly Kausner, who was on the doomed flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My daughter died in this. It's very personal. It's very important, and, as said in every venue, that -- that I believe it was foreseeable and preventable.

CHERNOFF: The issue is enough of a threat to air safety that the Airline Pilots Association is calling for tougher government regulation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the FAA has got to get on board, and we have got to work collaboratively to deliver a new set of operating rules.

CHERNOFF: To which FAA officials agreed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fatigue is a hazard in aviation operations and needs to be dealt with.


CHERNOFF: Part of the issue may be the cost of a good night's sleep away from home. Regional airlines, like Colgan, pay far less than the major airlines. First officer Rebecca Shaw earned less than $24,000 a year.

And, on that salary, there is real motivation to travel to work without paying for a night at a hotel. Wolf, the FAA is quite serious about this issue. In fact, last year, they held a convention on it, a hearing on it. And, so, they do want to move forward on this very issue.

BLITZER: All right. Let's hope they find a solution to it, because a lot of us who fly a lot are pretty worried.

All right, thanks very much for that, Allan Chernoff.

A former beauty-pageant-contestant-turned-governor is defending the beauty queen. Sarah Palin is defending miss California. Sarah Palin stands up for Miss California. Palin says she knows what it's like to be the victim of liberal attacks.

And he may have been unpopular leaving office, but apparently George W. Bush is a hit fund-raiser. He's raising millions and millions of dollars for his presidential library. We will tell you what is going on -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and our senior political contributor the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

There's a story out there -- Alex, I will start with you -- that Republicans should look to Rahm Emanuel's playbook on how to get members elected, how to get people elected to the House and Senate, and forget about ideology, focus strictly on who can win a district or a state.

What do you think about that strategy?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Rahm Emanuel has certainly been successful, but America doesn't need Republicans to be Democrat-lite. You need to draw a difference.

And Republicans have principles. We don't need to be lite beer. We just need to be a better beer. The way to moderate for Republicans is that you don't moderate. The way the win the middle is to say, look, we have got our principles, but here how -- here's how they work better. And we will lead the country to a better place.

I actually was looking at some election data. And it -- from the American National Election survey, 2008, a very respected survey -- it said that John McCain was closer to the ideological center than Barack Obama was, and that Republicans were closer to the center than Democrats were.

BLITZER: You know...

CASTELLANOS: What -- what -- the reason we lost is, we couldn't take the next step, which is, hey, do you -- how will those principles work?

BLITZER: When...


CASTELLANOS: Democrats had a can-opener. We had none.

BLITZER: But Rahm Emanuel, when he was in the Congress, Donna, as you well remember, and he was raising money to get Democrats elected to the House of Representatives, he said it was less important if they -- if they opposed abortion rights, for example, or supported gun rights, for example, stances not necessarily in line with most of the Democrats. What was most important was to get Democrats elected in various congressional districts, and, if it meant going out with a rifle, so be it.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what the White House chief of staff was trying to do, Wolf, was to basically recruit Democrats that could really articulate a vision and a message for the country that, at a time when the American people were exhausted with the cultural wars, would bring the country together.

And let me just say, in due respect to Alex, I don't think voters wanted a beer, lite beer or regular beer. What they wanted, because they saw the hangover from the -- the failure and misguided policies of the Bush administration, they wanted a clear path to the future. And they wanted a new direction. And that's why there was a wave of support for the Democrats in both 2006 and 2008.

CASTELLANOS: But, Wolf, without any kind of principle, we're just talking about elections, power for power's sake, not power for -- for any reason. And that's the worst kind of politics.

BLITZER: But what I hear you saying, Alex, is that they have to be lockstep in line with all the positions...

CASTELLANOS: No, no, no, no.

BLITZER: ... the social social -- the issues, the economic issues.

CASTELLANOS: No, no, no.

BLITZER: You can't deviate from that?

CASTELLANOS: No, issues are one thing, but principles are another.

And, you know, generally, Republicans lost -- we didn't -- we have said we're supposed to be the party of smaller government in Washington and more bottom-up things that work, government out in the real world. We didn't do that. We said we were supposed to control spending. We didn't do that.

Those are principles that the American people still want. As a matter of fact, right now, they're telling Barack Obama, slow down, you're spending too much, you're going too fast. Those principles still obtain.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about something else.

I'm curious, Donna, to hear what you think, on the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. She's speaking out now and defending Miss California, all of us familiar with the story out there. She says that she's the victim of liberal -- a liberal onslaught of malicious attacks, Governor Palin saying this: "The liberal onslaught of malicious attacks against Miss California, Carrie Prejean, for expressing her opinion is despicable. What I find so remarkable is that these politically-motivated attacks fail to show that what Carrie and I believe is also what President Obama and Secretary Clinton believe. Marriage is between a man and a woman."

All right, what do you think about this latest development, Governor Palin coming to the defense of Carrie Prejean -- Prejean?

BRAZILE: Honestly, Wolf, I don't care.

I care more about the -- the -- the people who are losing their jobs, the Chrysler workers and those dealers, than I care about some beauty queen who has a difference of opinion that I have. I respect her views. I respect the right for her to have her own views, but I disagree with her profoundly. And I don't think it's all liberals.

And, once again, Sarah Palin is painting every liberal as if we care about Miss USA -- Miss California. We simply don't.

CASTELLANOS: Well, it's -- it's not caring about Miss California that's important here.

The important thing here is that the left in this country preaches tolerance, until a conservative disagrees with them. And, then, all of a sudden, they become scathingly intolerant. And that's one of the things that may have cost...

BRAZILE: Alex, I disagree with you. Once again, you're painting a -- you're painting a broad brush, Alex.

CASTELLANOS: It may have cost Miss California her opportunity.

No, we're talking about in this case specifically and also...

BRAZILE: It's not everyone, Alex.

CASTELLANOS: But look at college campuses. Conservatives are -- in many college campuses, are prohibited from speaking.

BRAZILE: Stop whining.


BRAZILE: Stop whining, Alex.

This is all about you guys feel that you're victims. Victims of what? Victims of not practicing what you preach? Victims of not understanding morality and equality?

CASTELLANOS: Donna, Donna, you don't think Miss...

BRAZILE: That's what you're practicing?


CASTELLANOS: You don't this may have cost Miss California a shot at the crown, because she disagreed?

BRAZILE: No. No, absolutely not.

CASTELLANOS: I think a lot of people do.


BRAZILE: But let me just be honest. I did not watch it, Alex.


BLITZER: All right, guys, we will continue this down the road. But we have got to leave it right there.

BRAZILE: I know why you watch it, Alex.


BLITZER: All right.

CASTELLANOS: I was hoping Miss Alaska would wear a fur bikini.

BRAZILE: Oh, stop it.

BLITZER: She was Miss Congeniality when she was running for Miss Alaska.



BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Attention, all you fans of Bo, the first dog. You can own your own mini-version of the Obama family's pet.

Also ahead, hard lessons in the war on terror -- is President Obama embracing some of the Bush era policies he campaigned against?

And a new warning to young people about the super-strength of the marijuana they may be smoking.


BLITZER: Bo the dog has been immortalized as Beanie Baby. We're told the new bean-filled version of the first family's dog is selling fast. The company that makes Beanie Babies had released dolls named after first daughter Sasha and Malia, but renamed them after a complaint from Mrs. Obama.

A portion of the profits of the $4.99 Bo doll will go to animal shelters.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File."

I don't know what portion of that $5 will go to animal shelters, but maybe we will find out.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: But the -- the company was not allowed to name their toys after the two kids, but they can name it after the White House dog?


BLITZER: As far as I -- as far as I can tell, the White House hasn't complained yet.

CAFFERTY: That's a double standard from where I sit.

BLITZER: Yes. All right.

CAFFERTY: I don't know.

Big seller, though, I will bet you, at Christmastime.

The question this hour is, is taxing, cigarettes, alcohol and junk food a good way to pay for health care reform?

S. in St. Louis writes: "Every time they want to raise taxes, they stick it to little guy. Lower-income people at the poverty level are the ones who will feel the brunt of this taxation."

Scott in Illinois says: "I'm a smoker, and I agree that we ought to enforce higher taxes on cigarettes, junk food and soda. These are things that are not good for us and maybe it will keep us healthier in the long run by thinking twice about buying these items. Health care is essential for all Americans. And if this will allow us to pay for and afford health care reform, then why not?"

Gail in Minnesota: "Smokers are already taxed to the max. My husband and I became addicted to cigarettes when we were teenagers in the '60s. Cigarettes were cheap. The government was generally subsidizing -- generously subsidizing the tobacco growers. We have tried repeatedly to quit. But, as you know, addiction is a disease. Anybody who says he or she quit easily was not addicted. So I guess we have become the chosen scapegoats."

Tom in Virginia: "Ethical behavior by the health care and pharmaceutical industries is the real problem. As long as the industry is allowed to push pills and medical advice through advertising, people will take treatments and drugs they probably don't really need because of the fear created by the propaganda that the industry puts out. The industry's goal is to make profits, not help people."

Joseph writes: "I will tell you whether I favor taxing junk food as soon as you give me an exact definition of what junk food is. Too tough to define? Then we shouldn't tax it."

And Mark says: "What is the controversy? Those who persist in creating a health care crisis by ingesting crap into their bodies should pay for their vices. Why should I, as a non-smoker, non- drinker, gym-goer, pay higher health care costs for the indulgences of the mindless?"

Because you're annoying, Mark, that's why.


If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

Some folks do get self-righteous -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Some folks certainly do. Jack, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: From handling detainees to photos of detainees and management of the war in Afghanistan, when it comes to national security, the Obama administration is getting quite a reality check.

Install a piano-sized camera in a telescope the size of a bus while looking out for speeding space debris -- shuttle astronauts check off one of their to-do -- items on their to-do list.

And tourists in space? Billionaire Sir Richard Branson wants to put you there, if you can afford it. I will go one-on-one with the activist and adventurer.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.