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Bloody Fight To Secure Election; Guilty Verdict in "Fight Club" Case; Public Outrage Over "Public Option"; Wind-Driven Wildfire Threatens Homes; Pilot's Miracle Rescue; Who Pays for Illegal Immigrants' Health Care?

Aired August 13, 2009 - 17:00   ET



Allied troops are paying a growing price in Afghanistan as they try to secure some of the upcoming elections there. A U.S. service member was killed today in a direct-fire attack, according to NATO, and three British soldiers died in a roadside bombing.

U.S. Marines are leading an offensive in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province, where Taliban fighters are trying to intimidate voters.

Let's go live to CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's watching this test of wills.

What's going on, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there is a real race against time going on right now to open more polling places and convince the Afghan voters it's safe enough to cast their ballots.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): On one side, 17 million registered voters (AUDIO GAP) American troops, Afghan police and their allies.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They are obviously holding an election in adverse circumstances.

LAWRENCE: Security rehearsals are under way for next week's vote. Afghan police will take up positions closest to the polls. American troops will hang back, ready to respond if there's trouble.

GATES: There is a tiered security arrangement. And, so, I think that the potential is there for -- for a quite credible -- quite credible election.

LAWRENCE: The Taliban control much of Helmand Province and through intimidation or outright violence could exert huge influence over who votes there. One analyst who supports the administration's strategy says the Taliban are now being continue fronted.

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: For too long we ignored it and now we're trying to get the situation back under control.

LAWRENCE: U.S. Marines have been in fierce battles this week, trying to secure villages in Helmand and convince Afghans it's safe to vote. American military officials say the political activity is greater than it's ever been.

GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT, JOINT CHIEFS VICE CHAIRMAN: The other thing that you see now is one candidate's making speeches, having rallies, posters all over the place.

LAWRENCE: But a United Nations report finds violence has severely limiting freedom of movement for candidates and supporters -- hampering their ability to campaign. And the UN's top envoy says security threats will keep some Afghans from voting. How many, we won't know until election day. And as for an actual winner, that may be a longer wait.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, SPECIAL ENVOY, PAKISTAN & AFGHANISTAN: We aren't going to know on the evening of August 20th who won. CNN is not going to call this election.


LAWRENCE: If none of the four candidates get at least 50 percent of the vote, there could be a runoff election in the fall. And that could mean several more months of American troops and Afghan forces diverted from their normal security operations.

We'll have to see about a CNN prediction -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll see what happens on that front.

Thanks very much, Chris Lawrence.

And we're just getting word that a jury has returned a verdict in the case of a Texas school official charged with organizing late night fights between mentally disabled students. This is a story that shocked a lot of folks.

Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera.

He's joining us now with more on what they're calling this fight club case.

What happened -- Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just to kind of refresh everyone's memory about this, back in March, a cell phone in Corpus Christi, Texas, was discovered with about 20 videos. Prosecutors say that video essentially showed students at this living center for mentally disabled young people essentially forced into what they describe as a fight club.

They say that employees at this school had essentially forced these students to fight themselves and it was done as entertainment for them, in the words of one of the prosecutors. One of the employees at the school has been found guilty this afternoon of causing injury to a disabled person. Jesse Salazar, at the age of 26, he faces up to 10 years in prison. And we understand the penalty phase of that trial is now underway.

He is one of six employees at the school, Wolf, who have been charged in -- in the fallout of this case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the other five defendants?

LAVANDERA: Well, so far, two others have pleaded guilty in the weeks leading up to this. This is the first case that has actually gone to trial. We're still awaiting the trials or to see if the other four will plead out, as well. And officials in Corpus Christi say that other indictments could come down against other employees at the school, as well.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Ed Lavandera, joining us from our bureau in Dallas.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, medical care for the terminally ill is a controversial aspect of health care reform that hasn't gotten a lot of attention yet. President Obama raised the issue in an interview last April when he was talking about his grandmother's final days. He said that his 86-year-old grandmother wound up having a hip replacement done during the final weeks of her life after already being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The president didn't say -- and he said he didn't know how much the surgery costs. He said he would have paid for it out of his pocket because it was his grandmother. He also said that if someone had told him that he couldn't have that hip replacement and had to suffer even more during the last days of her life, "That would be pretty upsetting."

But the president added, "That's where you just get into some very difficult moral issues" -- his words -- "when deciding what medical treatment to give to terminally ill patients."

The president suggested that chronically ill and elderly account for as much as 80 percent of our national health care costs. It's certainly a tricky moral question, to say the least, on an intellectual level. It might be one thing to say that it doesn't make sense for the country to spend so much on people who are dying. But on a personal level, if it's your loved one who's suffering, well, that's a whole different issue, isn't it?

Here's the question: Should there be a limit on health care for elderly and terminally ill people?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

Eighty percent, Wolf.


CAFFERTY: That's a lot of money.


Already, Jack, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: (AUDIO GAP) ago, all seven suspects charged with murdering a couple who adopted 13 special needs children pleaded not guilty. Grand jury indictments in the killings of Byrd and Melanie Billings were handed down earlier this week and all seven defendants could face the death penalty. Surveillance cameras captured the July 9th heist, showing men dressed as ninjas and wearing masks entering then leaving the sprawling house in less than four minutes.

And 18 years after being shot down on the first night of the 1991 Gulf War, the remains of Navy Michael Scott Speicher are back home in Florida. Just a short time ago, Speicher's casket arrived at a naval air base in Jacksonville. Defense officials originally declared Speicher killed in action. But 10 years later, his status was changed to missing in action. Early this month, the Pentagon disclosed that bones and skeletal fragments recovered at the crash site had been positively identified as belonging to Speicher.

And the glittery glove that inspired countless copies after Michael Jackson wore it during a 1983 TV appearance is hitting the auction block. The glove was first worn by the pop star when he unveiled his moonwalk during the broadcast of Motown's 25th anniversary special. Everyone remembers that. It will be sold to the highest bidder at the November 21st auction at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York's Times Square.

And finally, talk about in-flight entertainment, the popular Mexican band, Los Tigres del Norte, performed live during a Volaris Airline flight from Toluca, Mexico to Los Angeles. The passengers included 33 contest winners and their guests. The concert ended, however, when the flight entered U.S. air space because American authorities do not allow concerts on airplanes -- Wolf?

BLITZER: You've got to listen to...

WHITFIELD: That looked like a lot of fun.

BLITZER: You've got to listen to them on your headsets.

WHITFIELD: That's right. BLITZER: But it certainly does look like a lot of fun.

WHITFIELD: Memorex, not live.

BLITZER: That's right.

Thanks very much, Fred.

Senators say they'll put an end to the end of life counseling provision -- can a controversial proposal survive the harsh debate over health care reform?

I'll speak about that and more with a key member of the Obama team.

And word that Dick Cheney is putting together a tell-all book in which he'll take on former President George W. Bush.

Paul Begala and Mary Matalin are standing by live.

Plus, a woman banned from a public pool for wearing too much clothing. A bikini would have been accepted, but a burkini -- that's another matter entirely.


BLITZER: Many of the angry outbursts at those health care town hall meetings are triggered by concerns over a proposed government run-insurance plan -- the so-called public option. This public option would presumably allow the government run-insurance agency to compete with the private insurance companies.

Could the Obama administration, though, be having some second thoughts about this?

Joining us now is Linda Douglas, the communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform.

Linda, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Is the president ready to accept a compromise that would remove this so-called public option from the agenda?

DOUGLASS: Well, we're certainly not going to negotiate this right here, Wolf. I mean what the president has said clearly and consistently is that he wants to make a -- make it possible for people to have choices, to have lower costs, to produce competition in the insurance market. That's the reason he talks about the public option.

That would be an option available to people who don't have insurance or who are underinsured. They could go out into the marketplace, where there are some private plans, and there would also be a low cost public plan that would help, you know, increase competition, provide choices that are simply not available today.

BLITZER: But if there's no desire in the Senate -- no opportunity to support that public option, there's a compromise proposal that's being offered, that would be cooperatives that would be created around the country.

Let me repeat the question, would that be OK with the White House?

DOUGLASS: Well, as I said, I'm not going to negotiate this with you, Wolf. I mean, as we've seen, the House has produced a bill that has a public option. One of the Senate committees has produced a bill with a public option. We understand that the Senate Finance Committee is looking at the co-op proposal that you described, which is an idea which they say would increase competition and lower costs. We haven't seen the details of what they're actually proposing. So we have to take a look at it and see what it is.

BLITZER: But you are open to that co-op proposal?

DOUGLASS: Well, you know, we have to see what it is. The president's goals are very, very clear -- it's got to lower costs, it's got to increase competition, it's got to keep the insurance companies honest, get the private insurance companies to get in there and compete for your business. That's the goal. And we'll see if this does that.

BLITZER: Our CNN contributor, Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, wrote a piece in "The Washington Post" in which he made the case to the left, to the liberal part of the Democratic Party, you know what, don't hold this up because you want perfection. He said this. He said: "We cannot achieve perfection in this life and if that is our goal, we will always be frustrated. The question is not whether I or other progressives will support a health reform bill that includes everything we want, but rather whether we will support a bill that doesn't."

Is that goods advice from Paul Begala?

DOUGLASS: Well, Paul Begala is always a very smart fellow. But right now, what's going on is a very robust discussion about what kind of health reform legislation the Congress will produce, that is built upon the president's principles, that would lower costs, not add a penny to the deficit, protect every American from unfair insurance regulations that deny you coverage if you get sick. All of the bills that are emerging right now -- four out of five of the bills are built upon those principles. And the final bill that you're talking about appears to be going in exactly that direction.

There's agreement, Wolf, on 80 percent of the provisions between all of these bills right now. We are absolutely closer than we've ever been. And we're confident that we're going to have success when Congress returns and finishes working out the differences over the final provisions.

BLITZER: Did the White House make a secret deal with pharma, the pharmaceutical lobby here in Washington, that would limit how much cost reductions they would have going forward over the next 10 years?

DOUGLASS: Here is what -- what happened. The White House, the pharmaceutical industry, the Senate Finance Committee agreed that the pharmaceutical industry would contribute $80 billion over 10 years -- a very, very substantial sum of money that would lower the high cost of prescription drugs for seniors, who are paying exorbitant costs for prescription drugs. That was a crucial piece of this deal, as well as other steps that they would take to lower costs.

It's an $80 billion agreement. That's what the White House, the Senate Finance Committee and pharma have agreed to. And the final details are being worked out with the -- with the Senate Finance Committee.

BLITZER: Did pharma, in exchange, make a promise of $150 million to pay for advertising to help the president's plan go forward?

What -- what you have, Wolf, is this deal that is $80 billion. And we are very pleased, obviously, that -- that the pharmaceutical industry agrees with us, that there's an urgent need for comprehensive health insurance reform that's going to protect Americans from unfair rules, from rising costs. They agree with that. They've agreed with it from the beginning. That's why they came to us and we worked out this agreement with the pharmaceutical industry. And they're supporting health reform legislation. And that is good for the country.

BLITZER: So is part of the deal that they would support this legislation, go forward with $150 million in advertising?

DOUGLASS: You know, Wolf, part of the agreement here is that we're all going to work together to bring comprehensive health reform. I mean, clearly, the pharmaceutical industry said we are going to support comprehensive health reform. And that's what they're doing.

BLITZER: What about the concern that some, like Henry Waxman, on the House side, have raised that this would restrict the ability, for example, to import cheaper drugs from Canada, for example?

Is that part of the deal?

DOUGLASS: You know, there was -- there was a discussion about many of the proposals that have to do with the need to re-import drugs from other countries because our drug costs are so high. And one of the discussions was -- and this is (INAUDIBLE) particular part of the agreement -- but one of the discussions was well, maybe this won't be necessary, because drug prices are going to be lower under comprehensive health reform.

So drug prices are going to go down. And if drug prices are going to go down, maybe some of these olds debates that we've had in the past over how to solve the prices -- the rising price of pharmaceuticals -- won't be necessary anymore.

BLITZER: The Senate, at least some members of the Senate Finance Committee are saying they're going to remove what's in the House language, the end of life provisions to provide counseling for living wills and for hospices, stuff like that.

Is that OK If that revision, which is -- some of the critics call them death panels -- if that's removed from the final version?

Is that OK with you?

DOUGLASS: You know, first of all, the notion of death panels is such a shocking phrase to be used in the context of health insurance reform. It is so cruel to seniors to be talking in these terms when what the House of Representatives has in their bill is a provision that would make it possible for seniors to seek voluntary, professional advice about end of life decisions, such as a living will.

We've heard what you've -- seen reported what you've said about the Senate Finance Committee -- don't have any information on how they're going to proceed along those lines yet. That's something that we've seen in the media.

So, you know, the most important thing now is that people have the truth about the provision that is in the House bill, which, again, would just be strictly voluntary and make it possible for seniors to get information about very, very -- a very difficult time in life, when it's hard to talk to your family, when you want to think these things through and you might want some professional advice.

BLITZER: Tell us about David Axelrod's e-mail that was sent out, because some -- some of your critics are saying this is inappropriate for a senior adviser to the president to be sending out what he hopes will emerge as viral e-mail.

DOUGLASS: Well, you know, the White House has been getting tens of thousands of e-mails from citizens. They have questions about everything that their government does. But they're certainly looking for information about health reform legislation, as they're struggling with high costs, as they're struggling with unfair insurance regulations.

And what this e-mail does is, first of all, tell them what kinds of changes will be in the law to protect them from these unfair regulations. And it also talks about some of these myths that are out there -- some of these completely untrue stories that people are receiving in viral e-mails. And one of the best ways to communicate with people out in the country with questions is to send an e-mail. And that's what we did.

BLITZER: Linda Douglass is the communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform.

You've got a tough job, Linda.

Thanks very much for joining us.

DOUGLASS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: A plane ditches off the coast of Ireland and the pilot stands on the plane as it sinks. And you might not believe what happened next.

Also, firefighters are struggling to slow down a very fast-moving wildfire threatening hundreds of homes in Northern California. We'll give you an update and tell you why the weather is making their job a lot harder.


BLITZER: Firefighters are battling a fast-moving wildfire that's threatening some 250 homes near Santa Cruz, California. Some 600 people have been forced to evacuate and authorities say high winds have tripled the size of the fire in just a few hours.

Let's go to the CNN Weather Center.

Our meteorologist, Chad Myers, is watching this.

How bad is it -- Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know what, it's just growing now, because the firefighters are having a very hard time getting into this difficult terrain that is just south of San Francisco. There's San Jose. I'll make this a lot bigger for you.

This is Monterey Bay here. And this is the fire. In fact, satellites can pick up hot spots on the Earth. And that's what this satellite right here is seeing.

So what kind of conditions are we seeing, basically, at this point?

The winds are still gusting. They were gusting yesterday afternoon. They died off last night. They were good this morning, like five miles per hour. But now, they are coming back. So there you go. There's Mets at Harlem, at about 12 miles per hour; Bakersfield and Topman (ph) at four miles per hour. You can deal with that.

When you get winds that are really much too strong, what happens is we that begin to take this fire and roll it up mountains.

When you roll the fire up the mountain, it will grow -- it will be just like turning a match upside down. It burns a lot faster. It burns up the hill, Wolf. And then all of a sudden, the sparks can actually fly off the top of the mountain and into the residential areas here that are just south of where this fire is.

Winds have been blowing out of the north for most of the day.

Here's a live shot from our affiliate -- I'm trying to read that -- affiliate KRON, KRON-TV. Just smoke everywhere.

What I have noticed about this smoke, Wolf, is that it's been white smoke, not black smoke. When you burn a structure, when you burn a car, that's when the smoke turns black. This has been a wild land fire for most of its lifetime. But there are still structures close and there are obviously people out of their homes tonight.

BLITZER: We're going to stay in close touch with you, Chad, on this story.

Thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Things were looking grim for the pilot of a small plane forced to ditch off the coast of Ireland. But what seemed a hopeless situation suddenly turned around.

Bill Ray Smith (ph) has the story.


Phil RAY SMITH: When Will Homer (ph) saw a plane ditch in the Irish Sea, he could barely believe his eyes.

WILL HOMER, ROWER: We saw a plane crash. It was a vertical.


SMITH: But the rowers abandoned a record attempt to investigate and found not only a plane, but the pilot, who had survived.

HOMER: You all right?


HOMER: I know, I saw you. I saw you. I'm amazed you're still alive.

SMITH: After making a mayday call to the Coast Guard, they tried their own rescue attempt, which failed. Fortunately a helicopter was on its way, and just in time.

HOMER: The helicopter's two minutes.

SMITH: As it arrived, the Avid Speed Wing aircraft, which pilots John O'Shaughnessy had been flying from Wales to Wexford, was disappearing under his feet. Thanks to the relatively calm conditions, the winch man was able to pluck him from the wreckage. The pilot escaped with a few scratches to his head.

If the rowers hadn't seen the crash, it could have been a very different story.

HOMER: Amazing. (INAUDIBLE) tears when I first saw (INAUDIBLE).

SMITH: The rowers' hopes of breaking the Round-Britain record have now been dashed, but they say they didn't give it a second thought when it came to saving a man's life.

Phil Ray Smith, News at 10.


BLITZER: What a lucky guy that is.

What a story that is.

Thanks to Phil for reporting it.

Will taxpayers pick up the health care tab for illegal immigrants -- a hot button issue at those angry town hall meetings. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is standing by live.

And is Dick Cheney ready to publicly criticize his former boss, the former president, George W. Bush?

Paul Begala and Mary Matalin -- they're standing by to discuss that and a lot more.

And President Obama's pick for surgeon general of the United States, the nation's top health adviser. She the -- she has been an adviser to a fast food chain. Our Brian Todd has been digging into the story.



Happening now, terrorism wounds reopened -- authorities in Scotland are considering releasing the only person convicted of the PanAm 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland back in 1988. Relatives of some of the 270 dead -- the 270 people who died are outraged.

Also, foreclosure nightmare -- we've got the story of one family ordered out of their home, but later left on the hook for property taxes and other expenses when the bank simply walked away from the foreclosure.

What happened?

Is it legal?

It's apparently a lot more common than you think.

And surviving a plane crash -- a team of investigators are now looking into how you could walk away from even the most horrific air disaster.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


From Kansas to New Jersey and from Wisconsin to Oklahoma, they're holding town hall meetings today for lawmakers. It's a make or break month for health care reform.

One hot button issue -- who will pay for illegal immigrants' health care? Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: let's get the illegal immigrants who are taking our insurance and get them out. I'm paying for those who are not legal.


SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: The illegal aliens will not be in this bill -- period at the end.


BLITZER: All right. I want to talk to Candy Crowley.

She's our senior political correspondent.

Ben Cardin, the Democratic Senator from Maryland, he was firm -- no -- no assistance for illegal immigrants in the United States, about 12 million of them.

What are you learning?

CROWLEY: Senator Grassley also very firm, a Republican, this will not be in the bill. And, in fact, it's not in any of the bills now.

Now, here's the question, when -- when the president says he wants to cover everyone and recites that 40 to 50 million people unemployed, about 10 to 12 million are non-U.S. citizens, so the question is when they go to an emergency room somewhere, they're going to get treated. What I'm hearing out there is people saying, well, right, we don't want to pay for people who aren't citizens. On the other hand, don't we end up paying for it after all? So, it's a very hot issue out there. But there is no bill at this point that covers non-U.S. citizens.

BLITZER: You've been speaking to doctors out there. A lot of us have. But what are you hearing?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, whether it's here in Iowa where they approach you, as you know, anyone who's got a vested interest in health care reform, and that's pretty much everybody, the doctors in particular seem split. You know, there's this organization called, a sort of website for doctors to discuss the hard cases, talk to each other, dismissed by the American medical association as not really representing that many doctors. But when you look on their website, there are plenty of doctors writing in who do not like this bill, who feel that the AMA has sold out, that the AMA endorsement of the Obama administration doesn't keep in mind what doctors face daily.

Chief among their complaints, that there is nothing in any of these bills that deals with malpractice insurance. They say, you know, here's the president, he's out there, talks at a news conference and says well, you know, if you charge by service, then maybe you have a surgeon who gives someone a tonsillectomy because it pays. They say, you know, no, we do many of these tests because of malpractice, because they want to make sure that there's nothing in that record that says they didn't do everything. So, they think malpractice tort reform has to go with health care reform and there's nothing in any of these bills.

BLITZER: Can still be added. Still plenty of time to add that. Don't go away. I want to bring in our two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and the Republican strategist, Mary Matalin.

Paul, you had a piece in "The Washington Post" today among other things on the op-ed page, you wrote, "I carry a heavy burden of regret from my role in setting the bar too high the last time we fried fundamental health reform. I helped set the bar at 100 percent, guarantee every American, and after our failure it's taken us 15 years to start all over again." You were referring to the failure the first year of the Clinton administration to get health care reform because you wanted it to be perfect.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. That was one of the many reasons it collapsed. Fundamentally it collapsed because Democrats didn't stick together, didn't come on board. The American people gave us the keys to the kingdom, the House, the Senate, the White House. We were unable to deliver. And guess what? The wrath of the voters was vied upon my party in 199 this 4 in an electoral debacle for my party. I think Democrats today are a whole lot wiser for that experience, and the progressive community, of which I am a part, we're really quite insistent on a public option, on covering people, but most importantly these insurance reforms that will protect us from getting dumped if -- the insurance companies can't dump us anymore if we get sick. But there's a level of pragmatism in the progressive community that is lacking in the conservative movement where they're off the rails and calling people Nazis and racists and crazy stuff. I'm impressed that the left has been so responsible in this debate, and I'm part of the left.

BLITZER: I know you're impressed. Also how responsible the left has been, Mary?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. Okay. Do you ever get through any analysis without taking a zing at the right?

BEGALA: No, no.

MATALIN: They're real people like they're real people at the tea parties and you've taken too much of a burden on yourself. The reason that universal health care and the expansive government it would require has failed not just in the Clinton White House but for 60 year, it's always been at the heart of the utopian socialist movement, it's because American people don't want it. They don't want that much government. They want targeted reform that speaks to affordability and choice and quality and cost but they don't want, certainly not your fault for setting the bar so high any more than it was Bismarck's fault that we don't like it over here and haven't been able to pass it for 60 years. But it's not being stopped by the Republicans.

CROWLEY: To the core of what you're saying, I think the art of politics is wanting what you want not getting what you want. He's going to want what he gets. He will get something. It may be incremental. It's not going to look like what he wants. It's pretty clear, what Mary is saying, in the polls that you are not talking about 5 percent of crazy people out there, not at the town hall meetings, not anywhere, because we are seeing split after split in the polls saying we don't want this. So, that has to be taken seriously by the sheer numbers of it and it means that I think the president has to take less. And I think they understand that. That's -- no president gets everything he wants.

BEGALA: Here's the difference. The president is moving on this, the House and Senate Democrats are moving on it. I'm optimistic. One analyst got access to a strategy call from these tea party activists, American citizens, great patriots. You know what they said on their own call? They don't want any reform at all. They want insurance companies to be able to continue to dump people for the crime of getting sick, discriminate on Asian gender. Apparently behind closed doors.

MATALIN: This is why polls today shows ed independents are 2 to 1 in favor because these are not wild-eyed, crazy people going to this. They're not extremists. If there are any people that are organized and they're organizing on the right and the left but it's the main sort of independents that are against this.

BLITZER: Let me make a turn because I think there's two other subjects I really want to get to and pick your brain. On Dick Cheney, the former vice president of United States, the man, Mary, you once worked for. You saw that front-page story in "The Washington Post" today saying he's ready to go public in disagreements with his former boss, George W. Bush. I'll read a line from the article. "The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney's advice. He'd showed an independence that Cheney didn't see coming. It was clear that Cheney's doctrine was cast iron strength at all times, never apologize, never explain and Bush moved toward the conciliatory." This was a participant in a recent meeting with the former vice president who said that he felt that Bush during the second term was basically ignoring his advice.

MATALIN: By way of full disclosure and accuracy, Simon Shuster bought the book, I'm with Simon Shuster, I was in the meeting, I'm working on the book. None of that happened. Whoever this participant was is some figment of Bart Gelman's imagination. None of us spoke to him for that kind of story. Secondly, we've known Dick Cheney for 30 years. Does he ever imply anything? The reason you all like to interview him is because he flat out says what he says. He's not going to from what I've seen in the book and heard in the book meetings and know what's taking place now, the man was in public service 40 years, worked for five presidents. He's going to talk about the career, what advice he gave and what wasn't taken, he now can explain what that was. That is not why that advice is rendered. It's not ipso facto maligning whatever president he worked for to give his own opinion. BLITZER: Nothing's wrong with the former vice president of the United States writing his memoirs and trying to explain his side of the story for the historic record.

BEGALA: If you put it that way. But if he trashes George W. Bush, that would be --

BLITZER: You think he's going to trash George W. Bush?

BEGALA: By the way, I don't know Bart Gelman from boo, but he did win a Pulitzer Prize. He's quite a good journalist. I don't know the guy, but --

MATALIN: This is complete BS. Cheney went on a left-wing assault or whatever, it's a cut-and-paste job. I know who he didn't talk to who are the only people who know that what's going on. This is not about Gelman, who has a Cheney book that didn't sell as well as the Steven Hayes book, but this book is going to sell. It is one that people want for historical archives including a lot of liberals. It's going to be -

BEGALA: I'll go to the library and --

MATALIN: I'll buy you a copy.

BEGALA: This is important. Royalty matters. Dick Cheney will be another grumpy retiree fishing in Wyoming if not for George W. Bush. I didn't support Bush but I don't like these trash talk books after the fact.

MATALIN: You're attacking a book before it's out, Paul.

BEGALA: I don't -- I hope you're right.

MATALIN: I know I'm right.

BEGALA: I'll read it in the library.

BLITZER: Mary makes a fair point. Dick Cheney has been attacked a lot in recent years. If he wants to sit down and defend himself, you got a problem with that?

CROWLEY: No. That's exactly what he's been doing. We already know he disagreed with the president on whether or not Scooter Libby as chief of staff should be pardoned. We know some of this.

BLITZER: It will be out in 2011. Is that right?

MATALIN: Can't wait.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

A ban from a public swimming pool for wearing, guess what, too much clothing. A women's battle whoever they call a Burquini.

And as the U.S. military tries to win the war in Afghanistan, it's also trying to win the hearts and minds of young Muslims with books. A special report coming up from CNN's Chistiane Amanpour.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A French woman has been banned from a public pool because of her attire. A bikini would have been acceptable but her Burquini, as they call it, is another matter entirely. CNN's Jim Bittermann has the story from Paris where the battle may be just beginning.


JIM BITTERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It may be a bit surprising one French woman has been stopped from swimming at a municipal pool because she tried to jump in with too much clothing. But a Muslim woman known only as Carole told a Paris newspaper she was banned from swimming with her children because she was wearing a head to ankle outfit known as a Burquini. She told reporters she had no problems swimming in lakes and leisure camps pool in a Paris suburb, which also bans extra long shorts for hygienic reasons, said her costume did not conform to the rules. In an interview with a newspaper, she said she just wanted to go for a swim.

CAROLE, SWIMMER (through translator): Very happy to be at last able to swim with their mother. That's all. That's all I fight for. This is not a political fight or a religious fight. Nothing to do with that. It's just about being able to swim in a swimming pool with my children, simply.

BITTERMAN: Still, one of the officials connected with a local swimming pool said rules are rules.

DANIEL GUILLAUME, SPORTS OFFICIAL (through translator): You can see the regulations on the poster. Swim in this pool like others with a swimming suits and a swimming cap after taking a shower. This woman purchased a ticket and showed up fully dressed and for a question of hygiene regulations, all the pools say you don't have the right to swim like this.

BITTERMAN: The newspaper reporting the story the story of carol has received hundreds of e-mails about the issue, most in favor of the ban. Said one, as western women must sometimes wear veils in Islamic countries, there should be no problems of restrictions here. But dress codes are sensitive in France, that has the highest percentage of Muslim population in the European Union. After a ban on scarves in public schools, President Sarkozy said full-length face-covering Burqas worn by a tiny minority of Muslim women here are not welcome in France because they have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with subservience of women.


BITTERMAN: If anything, Wolf, the Burquini episode is prelude to a debate almost certain to unfold when a parliamentary commission returns with a report for President Sarkozy about possible ways to ban the Burqa in France -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jim Bittermann in Paris for us. Thank you.

As the U.S. military tries to win the war in Afghanistan, it's also trying to win the hearts and minds of young Muslims with books. But even that is still a very dangerous mission. Our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, spent some time with U.S. troops building a new school just days after their unit was attacked by insurgents.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right here in the middle of nowhere. It's an incredible sight. Row upon row of school children organized into neat outdoor classes.


AMANPOUR: Several thousand students diligently counting in English. Even at this age, they know that they want to communicate with the rest of the world. I've never seen anything like this, all these children outside, almost like classes, open air.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's difficult for them to study when their brains are boiling.

AMANPOUR: The education director says that in his district alone 33,000 students are now studying outside in the sun. One is an afghan interpreter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American students much like themselves.

AMANPOUR: Doling out pens and pencils, dressed in full combat gear, Major Gary Claw is trying his best to meet the needs here. He believes the children are the key to winning over their parents and eventually this war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we can sway the civilian population and show them that we're here to support their children, then they are going to in turn not support the bad guys that are coming in here.


BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour reporting.

By the way, she reveals the struggle for hearts and minds of the next generation of Muslims and shows what happens in places from Afghanistan to Gaza and how it impacts all of us. Christiane Amanpour reports "Generation Islam," a two-hour CNN special event tonight 9:00 p.m. eastern.

Can she have it her way? President Obama's pick for surgeon general, the nation's top health adviser an adviser to a burger chain? And they lost their loved one ins in the bombing of pan am flight 103. The Libyan agent sentenced for that crime could be freed from prison.


BLITZER: She's the president's pick for surgeon general, the nation's top health adviser. Right now, she is an adviser to Burger King. CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this story for us. Is there a conflict of interest here Brian? What's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Same people are openly asking about that right now Wolf. Questions about Dr. Regina Benjamin's connection to the fast food giant is diverting attention from what the Obama teams wants us to focus on, her background of service and sacrifice.


TODD: Her passion for better health traces back to a mother who died of lung cancer, a brother who died of AIDS related illness, a father who had diabetes. Her impressive resume includes starting up a clinic for low income people in rural Alabama. Dr. Regina Benjamin is President Obama's nominee for surgeon general.

DR. REGINA BENJAMIN, SURGEON GENERAL NOMINEE: I can be a voice in the movement to improve our nation's health care in the nation's health for the future.

TODD: Some observers are now doubting that because Dr. Benjamin has also worked for Burger King. That's right, the home of the whopper. Dr. Benjamin is part of a nutritional advisory panel for the fast food chain. Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services say she used that position to advocate for lower sodium items on the menu and more calorie and fat information on packaging but one nutritionist isn't convinced that Benjamin's influence at Burger King will change the culture there.

PROF. MARION NESTLE, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: In my experiences the bottom line, that is the amount of food that gets sold, is what counts. Public health really doesn't matter. It is considerably secondary, if not even lower on the agenda of food corporations.

TODD: Burger King says it has introduced several nutritional items to its menus since that advisory board fast formed last year. What about conflict of interest? Benjamin's has gotten more than $20,000 to serve on a scientific advisory board for the giant food packaging company Conagra, sales this year, $12.5 billion a year. In addition to the $10,000 she has gotten for serving on that Burger King board since last year. One medical ethicist says this.

PROF. JOHN BANJA, EMORY UNIVERSITY: If she was being paid a penny for every Whopper Burger King sold and she was sent out on a lecture tour where she would encourage patients to eat as many whoppers as possible, I would say she would have a heck of a conflict of interest. I don't think that she is going to have a problem at all.


TODD: Health and human services officials tell us Dr. Benjamin will resign from those boards of Burger King and Conagra as soon as she is confirmed by the Senate. They say, she will recuse herself from any matters involving those companies for two years as part of her ethics agreement with the Obama administration.

BLITZER: Burger King's nutrition record, that was the subject of recent litigation.

TODD: They were sued two years ago for putting trans fat in their foot. It was thrown out. Burger king has told us since that time, it has stopped using trans fat in its cooking.

BLITZER: They still serve Whoppers?

TODD: They do.

BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much Brian for that.

Some banks are now walking away from homes they foreclosed on, guess what, leaving the families who are forced to move out on the hook for property taxes and other expenses. This is a shocking story you will see only here on CNN.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question hour is: Should there be a limit on health care for elderly and terminally ill people?

Paul writes: "I'm 48 years old, HIV positive and healthy but I've given this a good deal of thought. My answer is, yes. I don't understand all the money spent on the terminally ill. It appears to be primarily based on a fear of death. I have made my decision on this issue. My instructions for myself and my loved ones are, provide the necessary pain management, say good-bye and allow me to die naturally preferably at home."

Christine writes: "My mother had a hip replacement 13 months before she died of cancer. My father's insurance covered it fortunately. Because of this, my mother was able to have a higher quality of life during her last year. She regained her driver's license, was able to play on the floor with her infant granddaughter. It was a tremendous benefit to her. While on paper, it makes no sense to do this, it needs to be done because it is the compassionate thing to do."

Jasmine says: "I'm a registered intensive care unit nurse. Far too many times I have seen the useless invasive procedures and tests we do on patients that make no difference on the outcomes. All of us see the suffering and the staggering cost. There has to be a better way of letting patients die in dignity and peace. As human beings, one thing we are certain of is death. Letting your doctor talk to you and your family about your choices is a good way to start."

Mary says: "Less than six weeks before my father died, six weeks, doctors replaced a pacemaker in his heart. The cost of that, $60,000. When he died, the expensive device had to be thrown away. His heart beat was irregular. It was an undiagnosed cancer that killed him within one week of diagnosis. He was 87 years old. These decisions are tough but they should be made in consultation with the patients and the families and doctors that are motivated by common sense and care and not the fear of lawsuits or access to health insurance dollars."

Finally: R.K. says: "Life is a terminal condition. At what point do we say enough is enough? When a doctor says you only have ten years left or five years or just a few months."

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

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

Happening now, an overload of anger over health care reform. We will tell you why Congress can't handle the massive response from constituents right now.

Plus, a SITUATION ROOM investigation, the secret to surviving an airplane crash. Brian Todd goes behind the scenes with an elite team of crash detectives. What they have learned could save your life, information you need to know.

Only on CNN, they were booted from their homes. Then, came a worse nightmare that could land them in jail. Alina Cho reports on a growing problem across the country. Banks refusing to follow through on foreclosure.

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