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Freed Terrorist Angers President Obama; Swine Flu Explosion Predicted

Aired August 21, 2009 - 18:00   ET



This hour, the federal government is blaming a regional airline for an almost six-hour ordeal that left passengers trapped, hungry and angry. It happened on a tarmac in Minnesota this month. Now we have the recordings that reveal who tried to end the nightmare and who did simply nothing.

For the first time, you're going to hear these audiotapes.

Let's go to Mary Snow. She's working the story for us.

All right, Mary, what happened?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, audiotapes, as you just said, have been released of the conversation between the pilot of that stranded Continental regional plane and dispatchers inside the terminal in Rochester, Minnesota, on the night of August 8.

The Transportation Department says Continental was not at fault. And a different regional airline, Mesaba, is to blame. And the transportation secretary, today in a statement, says, there was a complete lack of common sense here, saying it's no longer the flying public is so angry and frustrated.

Let's take a listen at those audiotapes.



CAPTAIN: Hey, yes, I got your message.

Well, the weather is (INAUDIBLE) now. So, I mean, this is getting to be ridiculous. We can see lightning off -- I mean, the weather is headed southeast. It's sitting right down here on top of us. So, we still can't take off.

And what (INAUDIBLE) coordinator saying, because this is -- the people are not -- they are getting really upset (INAUDIBLE) plane. So, we just need to work out some way to get them off.

DISPATCHER: Right. OK. Well,

CAPTAIN: We can't keep them here any longer. They don't understand, because the terminal isn't open. There's no -- Northwest is trying to do the same thing. They're trying to get their people off, and there's just no place right now.

But I need to tell them something. I mean, I just can't sit here any longer. There's no food and they are just getting really unhappy. And the problem, too, is that the terminal is closed here, so we can't even get to the terminal. The people -- if they get off into the terminal and just mill around, but they -- they can't.

DISPATCHER: Yes. Yes, I understand.


DISPATCHER: The only solution I can even think of is, we talked to Minneapolis and trying to get buses down to you guys, but the bus company there aren't willing to travel through there because there's flash floods going on between Minneapolis and Rochester. Roads are flooded out there.

CAPTAIN: Let's hope that it clears because I don't have any option either. I just want to get people off the plane, if we can, if we can't fly. So...


DISPATCHER: Yes, I just spoke to -- and she said there's nothing she can do to help us out. She is not going to let them off the airplane.

CAPTAIN: That's ridiculous.


SNOW: So, what was happening inside the terminal, Mesaba Airlines, owned by Delta, was the only carrier still open at the airport and said that because no one from the Transportation Security Administration was available to screen passengers, the passengers couldn't enter the airport.

But the passengers actually could have been kept in a separate area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What does the regional airline, Mesaba, actually say about all of this?

SNOW: Well, Mesaba says in a statement that it respectfully disagrees, its words, with the Department of Transportation's preliminary findings. And parent company Delta says it's working with all involved to determine exactly what happened.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, what a nightmare that flight was. Thanks very much.

Today, President Obama is venting his anger about this, the hero's welcome given to the Pan Am Flight 103 bomber. Libyans cheered his return after Scottish officials released him yesterday sending him home to die of prostate cancer. That's what they are saying. President Obama was asked about this today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What about the hero's welcome in Libya?

QUESTION: Do you consider Libya a terrorist state, sir?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it was highly objectionable.


BLITZER: The president's spokesperson, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, went even further, calling the celebration in Libya -- and I'm quoting him now -- "outrageous and disgusting."

The Libyans are keeping the freed terrorist under wraps today. We will see what happens tomorrow.

Here's another source of international outrage right now. The man named to be Iran's new defense minister is wanted -- wanted -- in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center. Eighty-people were killed in the attack in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A number of senior Iranian officials are wanted by Argentina in connection with the bombing.

The United States says it would be disturbing if he's confirmed as the next defense minister, but Iran's president is dismissing all the criticism. Interpol has a warrant out for his arrest.

Closer to home, the recession is taking a massive toll on the federal budget. We're learning that the Obama administration is trying -- is about to increase, I should say, its 10-year deficit project -- deficit projection by about $2 trillion.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He is going to give some context for us.

A trillion here, a trillion there, what is going on?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Everett Dirksen used to say in the 1960s, a billion here, a billion there. You're right. Now it's a trillion there, a trillion here, trillion there.

Next week the Obama administration will have their new projections for the budget, the mid-session review. It's going to be awful. You can see the number in the wall right there, $9 trillion. Back at the beginning of the year, the projection had been $7 trillion. If you take a look at $9 trillion and you add the $11.7 trillion national debt that we have already piled up, add that to the $9 trillion over the next 10 years, you're over $20 trillion in national debt.

It gives you an idea of all the red ink. Now, obviously, a lot can change in the next 10 years, but we are taking on so much debt as a nation, it's pretty scary.

BLITZER: It means our children and grandchildren and great- grandchildren are going to be paying the interest on these trillions of dollars of national debt. It's ridiculous.

But let's talk a little bit about the immediate impact of this new number on the health care reform debate.

HENRY: Well, look, Republicans right away are saying, look, this shows that the president has spent far too much money in the first six, seven months of the year, and he's taking on too much debt and we can't afford health reform right now.

What administration officials are immediately saying is, no, it's just the opposite, that the long-term picture is all about controlling health care costs, and, if anything, this is an argument for health reform, because if you don't control those health care costs over the next 10 years, the numbers could get even worse.

BLITZER: Yes. And that's a great fear. All right, thanks very much, Ed Henry, with that.

There's significant improvement to report in the troubled U.S. housing market. The existing home sales rose 7.2 percent in July. It's the highest level in two years. The unemployment picture also is looking a little bit better right now. The jobless rate went down. It's down in 17 states and the District of Columbia last month.

Only six states saw a dip in unemployment the month before. So, does this mean we're in recovery right now?

The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, says almost. He told a group in Wyoming today that the economy is about to start growing again, but at a slow pace. We're watching the economy.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Those numbers are terrifying that Ed Henry was talking about.

BLITZER: Terrifying. I agree.

CAFFERTY: Twenty trillion dollars. If you got a mortgage at 5 percent, the interest on $20 trillion would be $1 trillion a year.

We are constantly being told what a great health care system other countries have, places like Canada, France, Britain. But guess what? There are some Canadians who cross the border to Michigan in order to get health care. And we're talking about more than just coming over for a quick appointment or a lab test or to get a second opinion.

According to an article in "The Detroit Free Press," Canadian health care agencies are creating formal partnerships with hospitals in Michigan to provide services that are not quickly available at home through their national health care system.

For example, the Ontario Ministry of Health has agreements with some Detroit hospitals for MRIs, imaging tests, bariatric, heart, and other services that have long waiting lists in Ontario. Rather than paying out of pocket for crossing the border, the bill is paid by the Canadian health plan, sort of like staying within a network doctor if you have private insurance here in the United States.

Here's an example. Michael Vujovich of Windsor, Ontario, came to Henry Ford Hospital to Detroit and had an angioplasty done. The bill was $38,000. It was paid in full by the Ministry of Health in Ontario, Canada. Canada sees this approach as better than spending the money to build additional facilities in Canada in order to meet the demand for care.

Critics of national health care systems like Canada's are quick to point out the system is not working if they have to send their patients to the United States. So, it gets more and more complicated, doesn't it?

Here's the question. What does it mean that Canadians are crossing the border to get health care here in the United States?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

One clarification, Wolf. This -- a lot of this has to -- the waiting time has to do with elective procedures. Emergency stuff, they take care of right now in Canada. But if it's an elective procedure, then you can hear for sometimes quite awhile.

BLITZER: Angioplasty, I don't think, isn't elective. You need it...

CAFFERTY: Well, it depends, I guess, on what your cardiologist says, right?


CAFFERTY: You, yes, I would think, if you need an angioplasty, you probably want to get it pretty soon.

BLITZER: Yes, I would do that, too.


BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

A Florida college student accused, tried and acquitted on terror charges, only to have to go through it all again. Now what may be the final chapter in one immigrant's long-running nightmare, we have details.

And a dire prediction by a top health expert, predicting that back-to-school will mean an explosion -- his word -- explosion of swine flu. Are the nation's schools ready? I will ask the education secretary, Arne Duncan. He's here live this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, a major department store chain hit by a rash of robberies -- why some investigators say someone on the inside may be involved. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New this hour, it's a crime story that sounds like a movie plot, a gang of thieves targeting the same department chain at different locations across the country. An investigation is now under way after a series of heist. In the most recent, burglars walked away with over a million dollars worth of merchandise.

CNN's Sean Callebs is following the story for us in New Orleans.

All right, Sean, explain what's going on.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, how about that? J.C. Penney stores are on alert this evening after a couple pretty bold break-ins that happened here in the state this week. Now, that makes five break-ins this summer alone. And authorities are not ruling out the possibility these brazen criminals could be get some assistance from folks on the inside.


CALLEBS (voice-over): Two masked men caught on surveillance video brazenly breaking into a department store. They are holding two-by-fours they used to smash open the jewelry counters and garbage bags that are filled with loot.

Then they escape out fire doors and into the night. Police say the burglars got into the store by climbing on to the roof, cutting a hole in the ceiling and roping down inside, "Mission: Impossible" style.

JACK STRAIN, ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LOUISIANA, SHERIFF: It was incredibly sophisticated.

CALLEBS: Investigators say they knew where they were going and they knew how to disable the alarm.

STRAIN: Over $1.5 million in retail items in our parish alone, multiple stores hit in the same fashion.

CALLEBS: Five stores have been hit this summer, all with the same M.O. In June it was a store in Indianapolis. In July, there were two in Texas, Sunday, Covington, Louisiana, and Wednesday, in Lafayette, Louisiana.

STRAIN: A pretty brazen attempt by a group of guys that are not bounded by jurisdictional borders.

CALLEBS: One possibility is that the burglary ring is getting help from a former employee or someone on the inside.

LT. BOBBY JUDGE, ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LOUISIANA: Well, we're looking at the security. We're looking at just management. We're looking at the salespeople and outside. We're not leaving anything unturned.


CALLEBS: And police say they do have one lead, and it comes from that break-in that happened back in Indianapolis. They were able to get some DNA evidence off a flashlight that one of the criminals apparently kept in his mouth. And, secondly, Wolf, that Indianapolis operation didn't go that smoothly. The first hole they cut in the ceiling was off-center. They had to cut a second one and they apparently bolted so quickly, they left behind a bag of loot.

BLITZER: All right, interesting stuff. Thanks very much, Sean.

Meanwhile, in Miami, a Florida college student who says he was wrongly labeled as a terrorist is now going free. He was cleared of federal explosives charges. But the feds tried to keep him locked up anyway.

CNN's John Zarrella first brought us this story and has this follow-up report.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The federal government tried painting Youssef Megahed as a terrorist or a man likely to engage in terrorism. In a major setback, an immigration judge has dismissed the case, saying prosecutors didn't prove it.

No surprise to Gary Meringer.

GARY MERINGER, JURY FOREMAN: Proved today that, whatever he did, there's no evidence of it. So, thank God in this country you have got to prove somebody guilty before you can incarcerate them.

ZARRELLA: Meringer was the jury foreman in the first federal case brought against Megahed. Megahed, who came to the U.S. from Egypt in 1998, and had been charged with possessing and transporting explosives. After a three-week trial and three days of deliberations, Meringer and 11 other jurors circled not guilty on the verdict form.


ZARRELLA: For Megahed, freedom, right? Wrong. Megahed was re- arrested.

(on camera): Now they are flat-out saying that you're a terrorist and they are going to deport you. How does that -- how do you react to that?

MEGAHED: I would say this is a false allegation, like baseless. And I will go to court and fight those allegations again.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): We talked by phone with Youssef Megahed because for -- quote -- "national security implications," we were not allowed to bring recording devices into the detention facility.

So, how did all this unfold? Two years ago, Megahed, a student at University of South Florida, went on a road trip with a friend, Ahmed Mohamed. Pulled over for speeding in South Carolina, police found a pipe with potassium nitrate inside, along with detonator cord -- for model rockets, Mohamed claimed. But it wasn't what authorities found in the car, it was a video posted on YouTube that made the case against Mohamed.

In Arabic, he demonstrates how to outfit a model car with explosives. Mohamed pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists and is serving 15 years. Megahed claimed he had no idea what was in the car. On the family's home computer, authorities say they found videos, documents and an Internet search history that supports -- quote -- "jihad against the United States."

The jurors believed Megahed, not the government. He was free for all of three days.

(on camera): This time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is accusing him of being -- quote -- "engaged in or likely to engage in any terrorist activity."

(voice-over): Megahed says he's been profiled and that this is contrary to President Obama's call to end the -- quote -- "cycle of suspicion."

MEGAHED: First, it's double jeopardy. Second, they keep talking about change and change. And if President Obama was to think about change, he should look first inside -- inside the U.S., before talking about change worldwide.

ZARRELLA: A senior administration official told CNN the White House would have no comment on this case. But jury foreman Gary Meringer has had plenty to say. On a dreary Saturday, he got in his car for a two-hour drive to visit Megahed at the Florida detention facility.

MERINGER: I told him that I wanted him to know there were people out here that cared about him, that were praying for him. I want this kid to get a fair shake.

BLITZER: John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


BLITZER: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say it's preserving its right -- their right to appeal Megahed's release until it has a chance to review the judge's ruling.

An explosion of swine flu cases, health officials warning that it's on the way. Are America's schools doing all they can to protect your kids? The education secretary, Arne Duncan, he's standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM to answer your questions.

And Hurricane Bill roaring toward Bermuda, but it's raising danger signs in vacation spots all along the U.S. East Coast.

Plus, Michael Jackson won't be buried on his next -- what would have been his next birthday. We have details on a change in plans. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: A trip to the beach could be dangerous this weekend. Stand by for the latest on Hurricane Bill and the problems it's causing along the East Coast of the United States.

Plus, a second wave of swine flu could soon spread like wildfire. Should the federal government force schools to close? We will speak about that and more with the education secretary, Arne Duncan. He's here live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And does President Obama deserve a break? The political pros and cons of his summer vacation.


BLITZER: Hurricane Bill is bearing down on the island of Bermuda, still powerful, with winds at 105 miles per hour. And the storm still poses a danger along the U.S. East Coast on one of the summer's last weekends.

Let's go to our severe weather expert, our meteorologist Chad Myers, for the latest.

What is the forecast?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The forecast, Wolf, is it still misses the U.S. It absolutely does not approach the Northeast coast. In fact, we are not even in the cone, Cape Cod not in the cone. Nova Scotia, you are in the cone.

Forecast to go to a Category 3 tonight, which means we're going to see winds maybe up to 115. Right now, we're 105. So, what does that mean for us? I'm going to take you to a live shot. This is actually North Myrtle Beach. And what it means for us along the East Coast will be rip currents. And here's how they happen.

Offshore, out here -- this is actually live. This guy is actually surfing in it there. Offshore, there are sandbars. They make the waves crash off the shore. All weekend long, these waves are going to get bigger and bigger and bigger and crash this water onshore.

Then there's going to be one break, one break in the sandbar right here where all of the water goes out. It's all going out here. Now it's still coming in here, but it's going out in that one spot. If you are stuck in that one spot, that is called a rip current, and that rip current activity will be dangerous all the way from the Florida coast all the way up to Maine. Not like you are in the beach in Maine anyway. But 15- to 20-foot waves up there, even on Cape Cod, could really mean some danger, could mean coastal flooding, could mean coastal erosion, and could mean some very deadly water out there. So, stay on shore.

BLITZER: Good advice, indeed. Chad, thank you.

A disturbing warning today from a top official of the World Health Organization. He predicts there soon will be -- and I'm quoting now -- "a global explosion of swine flu." He warns that most countries could see the number of cases double every three to four days, this crisis potentially playing out at the start of the new school year as well.

We're joined now by the education secretary, Arne Duncan.

Tom Foreman is here as well.

Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

But, Tom, set this up, because a lot of parents and grandparents, they're nervous about kids going back to school right now, as the flu season gets going.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, a very difficult time for this to be happening. We have an awful lot of people across this country.

And let's look at some of the areas down here. Alabama has been hit by cases already. Now, you have different headlines coming out there about the degree to which they'll be able to get vaccines to people, how people will handle those vaccines as they take them on throughout this process.

Up further this way, we can go toward Delaware. We've got people talking about using hand sanitizers, that sort of thing, throughout the schools.

I guess the fundamental question we start with, Mr. Secretary, is this doesn't represent a particularly unified approach, but a state by state, district by district approach. And there are a lot of districts in this country.

How do you handle this?

ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Well, we're -- we're trying to provide guidance to everyone. I really come at this as a parent first. I have two young children. Whether you're five and seven like mine and whether you're sending your child to college for the first thing, I think every parent wants what I want -- you want your children to be safe and you want them to keep them learning.

So we're trying to put out very clear guidance, making sure we practice prevention first, we have close machine monitoring and that going forward, we want schools and universities to be sites where you can get the vaccination once they become available in October.

BLITZER: If -- if you're a parent out there and swine flu starts creeping into your kid's school, is there a specific percentage of how many cases there are before the school shuts down?

Is this just a local or state decision or does the federal government have a role in this?

FOREMAN: Now, he's a percentage for that.


FOREMAN: Zero to 100 percent, where would you put the line on here?

DUNCAN: Well, there is not one specific percentage. The big thing first is if your child is sick, don't send them to school. So, again, this is really about prevention on the front end. And we want to keep -- we want to keep schools open as much as possible. We want to keep students learning.

Keep the children home. We're asking employers to be, you know, compassionate about this. If parents have to take a day off of work, if a college student misses a midterm exam, be thoughtful about that.

So the biggest thing is, as much as we can, we want to keep colleges, you know, elementary schools, high schools open.

BLITZER: Are there federal guidelines -- 25 percent, 10 percent?


FOREMAN: If my kid is in school and I get down here, if I end up with, let's say, down here, 12 percent...

DUNCAN: There isn't a...

FOREMAN: -- 25 percent...

DUNCAN: There isn't a specific percent yet. But again, as much as we can, we want to keep schools open. As long as teachers can teach and as long as students can attend, we want to try and keep those schools open, particularly on the elementary side. We have many students who get their only good food of the day during the school day.

BLITZER: But what I hear you saying is that there are federal guidelines, if you will, but it's really up to the local school districts to make these decisions, is that right?

DUNCAN: Absolutely, local school districts working with their local health officials. And there is going to be very much based at the local level. Absolutely. We want to empower them with great facts to make the right decision for their community.

BLITZER: Tom wants to switch gears and pick your brain on another important subject involving education.

FOREMAN: I wanted to ask you about another subject. It's the question of charter schools. You talk about this idea of local decisions. One of the complaints you're facing right now, particularly when it comes to funding, is that some of the stimulus money is being keyed to the willingness of states to take on more charter schools.

Why do you believe in these so much?

BLITZER: And before you answer it, explain what a charter school is, because some of our viewers don't know.

DUNCAN: I think it's very, very important to explain. It's good. Charter schools are public schools. They're our schools. They're accountable to us. They're our tax dollars. They serve our children.

What we want is more good charters. I'm not a fan of charters, I'm a fan of good charters. And the more we're creating options and new opportunities for parents, particularly in historically underserved communities, we think that's very, very important.

FOREMAN: And let's look at exactly what you're talking about with charters here. When you look at a charter school in this country right now, a charter school, by and large, for people at home, it's funded by taxes just like a public school. It often has somewhat specialized rules. It's not the same rules that everybody else is playing by and often for a targeted population.

You know the complaint -- the people who are in the regular public schools say, yes, no matter how you do it, this siphons off money, it gets specialized results and it makes the public schools look worse. A lot of teachers don't like this.

DUNCAN: Right. Right.

FOREMAN: Some parents don't like it.

DUNCAN: And again, where I fundamentally disagree is when it comes to -- keep this up here.

FOREMAN: Sure. Yes, sure.

DUNCAN: What many of them do is they are open longer days -- longer days, longer weeks, longer years. Our children desperately need more time. When we see very, very high performing schools, the common denominator often is much longer days, longer weeks, longer years. I think we can learn a lot from that.

Target populations are often very much schools, communities, children at risk. And when I was a C.O. Of the Chicago public schools, we put almost all the charters into historically under served communities.

Let me begin really clear.

How do you get good charter schools?

Three things have to happen. This is not let a thousand flowers bloom. We only let the best of the best open schools. It should be a very rigorous, competitive process. The chance to educate our children is really a sacred obligation. FOREMAN: Let's make a note of this. He said that, first of all, it should be just the best.

DUNCAN: High bar.


DUNCAN: Not a thousand flowers bloom. And in many places, charters haven't worked because there wasn't a high bar.


DUNCAN: Secondly, once you pick the best of the best, two things have to happen. You have to give these charter school operators real autonomy. These are, by definition, educated -- educated entrepreneurs, education entrepreneurs and innovators. You have to free them from the bureaucracy.

And, third, you have to couple that autonomy with real accountability. And we need to...


DUNCAN: ...we need to replicate and learn from the good charters. The bad charters, we have to close them down. I challenged a -- I challenged the charter school community, saying we have too many third rate charters out there. Let's close them down.

BLITZER: Is it true in the charter schools, the parents are much more involved in the kids' education than in the regular public schools?

DUNCAN: I -- no, I don't think that's true. You have phenomenal parental participation in traditional schools and in charters. And you have both in charters and in traditional schools not enough parents engaged.

One thing, Wolf, I think we have to do as a country and as the president has been so forthright and powerful on this -- everyone has to step up and do more. Parents have to turn those TVs off. And I'm sorry to say that on a TV show. Parents have to be reading to their children. As we go back to school now, they need to be meeting their teachers, exchanging home phone numbers. We need more parental engagement at every level.

FOREMAN: But how do you feel, when you see headlines like this on the Web from people out there who are criticizing you, parent groups, some teacher groups. Some are very much in your corner. There's no question. But there are others who are saying no, what you're doing is an extension of No Child Left Behind, you're just not calling it that.

DUNCAN: Right. Well, this has nothing to do with No Child Left Behind. What I think is to interesting, Tom, is that the wealthy of our country have had multiple options for education for decades, you could argue for centuries. Poor families and poor communities have often had no choices -- no options. And something is really wrong with that.

The more we can empower parents -- give them two, three, four, five good schools to choose from, let them figure out where they want to go, we can't do enough of that.

The final thing I'll say on charters is the high performing schools have long waiting lists. And I think our job is to listen to children, to listen to parents, that if something is working, let's replicate it, let's learn from it and let's give more children those kinds of options.

BLITZER: All right. We've got to go, but I just want to very quickly -- very quickly, for parents who are worried about the swine flu and kids going back to school, how worried should they be, looking ahead to the fall semester?

DUNCAN: We need to take this very seriously. We're hoping for the best, but we're absolutely preparing for the worst.

So three things -- prevention, close monitoring and long-term, let's look for that vaccination coming in October.

BLITZER: Let's hope for the best...


BLITZER: ...and prepare for the worst.

Thanks very much, Mr. Secretary, for coming in.

DUNCAN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much to you, as well.

The number of poor and uninsured Americans are growing.

What is the cost to the government and are they being ignored in an increasingly heated health care debate?

And President Obama and his family -- they're heading toward Martha's Vineyard for a vacation.

But should the president be taking a break while his health care reform efforts are taking some major hits from critics?

We'll discuss that and more. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're back with David Frum, the former speechwriter for then President George W. Bush; Nia-Malika Henderson from; and our own Dana Bash, our senior Congressional correspondent.

Let's discuss. Let's go to Jessica Yellin first for some background.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here's some trouble news. An additional 1.5 million people could be uninsured this year. Now, according to the Department of Commerce, that's the number of people who have fallen into poverty since the downturn began. And you'll remember, the uninsured were at the heart of the health care debate back in the Clinton years.

But this time around, you just don't hear much about these folks. And maybe that's because spinmeisters assume we're all too worried about ourselves to care about the uninsured or maybe they think most folks believe the uninsured are just waiting for a handout.

Well, we do know this. Uninsured Americans cost you and me money. There are the unnecessary emergency room visits. There are folks spreading illnesses because they're not getting treatment.

The bottom line -- we all benefit when more people have easy access to medical care.

So we're asking this -- in this rowdy health care debate, we hear everything -- you hear about everything from death panels to Nazis, why aren't more people talking about the uninsured -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Good question.

David Frum, what's the answer?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: It's a great question and a very haunting question. I think there are two differences between now and 1993.

The first is the spread of a program called SCHIP, the state Children's Health Insurance Program. What that means is that under 18s have much more access to health care than they did back in 1993. And not just poor children or poor under 18s, but people up to 250 percent and more of the poverty rate. Because there's more coverage for the young, I think that -- that has always been the most explosive part of the uninsured.

The second is the spread of -- the importance of the foreign born people among the uninsured. About 25 percent of the uninsured are immigrants and their children. And I think many Americans...

BLITZER: You're talking about illegal immigrants?

FRUM: No, no, just immigrants of all kinds, legal and illegal. And I think a lot of people who are not yet citizens of the United States, people who migrated to the United States basically knowing the deal.

And I think a lot of Americans may feel that's a less urgent national problem than people who had no choice about the deal.

BLITZER: And, so, as a result, that's why we're not talking so much about these uninsured?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, I mean, I think, in part. And, I mean, if you look at all of Obama's speeches, I mean he does mention the 46 million people who are uninsured. It's kind of a sliver of the debate so far.

This week, we did see him talk about kind of the moral imperative of insuring everybody and insurance reform. I mean I think he's taken the lesson of the Clinton years to say, essentially, that this is an argument that works. And they've crafted an argument to really kind of tailor it to the 85 percent of Americans who are insured.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. I was talking to a Democratic strategist, somebody involved in this, just before coming on, and they did learn a lesson from the Clinton years.

But the other thing is, Jessica asked the question of whether or not, you know, people think that it's too much about us, that's why the spinmeisters have changed the message.

That is, in large part, exactly what this is. There was a concerted effort to have a rhetorical strategy at the beginning of this debate at the White House. Peter Orszag, the OMB director is -- was behind this, to talk about this through the prism of the economy. Because people, A, were worried about the economy and think that that would be a better sales job; and, B, because it was going to be very hard to sell a trillion -- another trillion dollar plan. And that's why they had to do it through -- through the perspective of the economy. That's the rhetoric.

In terms of the policy, they are talking about actually working -- the programs and proposals they're talking about in Congress, they do cover roughly 95 percent, 96 percent of Americans and that includes many of the uninsured. So they're working on it, they're just not talking about it.

BLITZER: You see the -- what they're -- they're not talking, really, that much about the uninsured 46, 47 million uninsured. They are talking a lot about the millions who have insurance, but aren't happy with their insurance. They're worried they could lose it if they get really sick. They're worried that their insurance companies are not going to be able to pay for their illness, for their treatment if they really get sick. And so there are millions and millions of people who have insurance, but aren't very happy or are just very nervous about it.

All right, guys, stand by. We have more to discuss.

President Obama right now getting ready to go away -- or is he?

While on vacation in Massachusetts, opponents of his health care plans are figuring out a way to try to reach him with their message.

And sloppy kisses from a pit bull.

Jeanne Moos finds a news anchor who gets a bath on the air.

Guess what?

It's Moost Unusual.


BLITZER: We're back with David, Nia and Dana and Jessica Yellin.

YELLIN: Wolf, you know, Washington in August -- it's hot, humid and empty, except for working bees like us. You know, Congress is already on vacation. And now the first family is heading off to Camp David and then to Martha's Vineyard.

Now, for anyone who doesn't know, the Vineyard is a swanky escape for folks who have money to spend or who have friends with money to spend. The Clintons vacation there; the Kennedys, too. One reason -- not many people can handle -- or not many places can handle the security surrounding a presidential visit.

Now, the Obamas will reportedly relax at a sprawling hideaway complete with pool, basketball court, even a private beach.

And the price tag?

Perhaps up to $50,000, some say $30,000. Either way, it's a big price tag. And the first family, they're footing the bill themselves.

Now, Wolf, the president still can't escape the health care debate. He will be followed metaphorically by his health care opponents. A group opposed to the president's health care reform plans tells CNN they're spending $150,000 airing an ad on local TV stations that makes reference to the fact that the president is vacationing. It is supposed to air -- get this -- during the Red Sox/White Sox game, which we know the president is almost certain to watch.

Now, you'll remember, President Bush famously vacationed frequently, even during a war. And he took some heat for it.

So the question is, should this president get a break or should he forgo this year's vacation to focus on health care -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I'd say let him -- let him enjoy it and relax.

But, David, what do you think?

FRUM: Presidents need vacations. Performance (INAUDIBLE) -- well, everybody does. Performance degrades. President Bush, I think, got himself a lot of ill will, though, because he vacationed in Crawford, Texas, where the press hated to go. And so by dragging them down there...


FRUM: ...they would complain and moan and be hostile. And Barack Obama is shrewdly taking the press some place where it will like to go.

BASH: And as a member of the press corps that went several times with George Bush to Crawford, I will tell you that it was unpleasant in August when it was 115 degrees. But we did get used to when it was not so hot, actually. The people were very nice.

But, yes, I can tell you, I did a little reconnaissance mission, because our family was up in Martha's Vineyard a couple of weeks ago. And this is what you're going to see. I think we have a couple of pictures. Every store front -- t-shirts, hats, you name it, you know, any kind of -- probably food is named after the president. That is what you're going to...

HENDERSON: And the drinks, I think, too.

BASH: And also the drinks. That's what you're going to -- that's what. You're going to see there.

BLITZER: Nia, I want to point out, is going to be there...


BLITZER: -- on a working assignment for Politico.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes. And my editor says I'm not allowed to have any fun, but, you know, my bathing suit might make its way into the luggage. Yes, I'm leaving out on Sunday. Hurricane Bill is, you know, tracking its way and making its way up there, but we hope it doesn't, you know, ruin the president's vacation.

BLITZER: As someone who covered a former president, President Clinton, at Martha's Vineyard, on several vacations, you will enjoy. It will be a working assignment, but it will be a lot of fun, as well. It's a great place to go.

Guys, thanks very much.

Enjoy the weekend.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's getting ready for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Martha's Vineyard is a very cool place.


CAFFERTY: I -- we rented a house there one summer and I had a great time.

The question this hour is what does it mean that Canadians are crossing the border into the United States for health care?

Ruie in Michigan writes: "You just have to look at the end of the article to shows that it's working. A man who came to Michigan to have an angioplasty done -- it cost $38,000 -- he received his care, the Canadian health system paid for it and he's alive and well today. Had he been a citizen of Detroit, he would owe the hospital that 38 grand plus interest. He'd have had to sell his house and declare bankruptcy."

Richard in Texas writes: "It means the Canadian people can't get adequate care in their country under their own fabulous, free, government-run health care plan. The same thing will happen in America under Obama Care, the exception being we have nowhere to go for better care, unless we want to stand in line in Mexico."

Terry writes: "It means Ontario officials are making smart use of available resources and Canadian tax dollars. Bravo. I've been covered by the Canadian health care system since its inception in the 1960s. I wouldn't trade it for the U.S. system, no way, no how, no, sir."

Barrett writes from Toronto: "I'm a Canadian who frequents Florida. I've had exposure to both systems. I've seen the difference between public health care and private. The difference is created because Canada cannot afford the standard of immediate care that some Americans can pay for nor are we given the choice. It's not a perfect world and the future of your health care cannot be decided over the summer. Be careful what you wish for."

Paul, also in Canada: "As Canadian, I've never known anyone who has done this, but I can state this has nothing to do with the quality of our care or doctors, only that we border on a country with a radically different system of health care, that rewards doctors and others in the industry lavishly. Therefore, there are more doctors available and people can see them more quickly."

And Ryan in Galesberg, Illinois: "They must be lost."

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

Somebody told me you're going to take a little vacation your own self. Have a good one.

BLITZER: Hey, Jack, thanks very much. I hope you get some R&R yourself.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty with The Cafferty File.

Wet kisses from a pit bull -- dogs do tend to slobber, but Jeanne Moos finds it can sometimes get, shall we say, Moost Unusual.

And in Japan, a sumo champion wears a mask to protect against swine flu -- just one of our Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK). BLITZER: All right. This just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. The government of Britain is now rejecting a claim that the release of the Lockerbie bomber was directly linked to trade deals between Libya and Britain. The son of the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, made that claim in a TV interview conducted while he was flying from Scotland to Libya with the freed terrorist.

The British Foreign Office has just released an official statement saying no deal has been made between the U.K. and Libya. The State Department also blasted the Libyan leader's son's claims, calling it disgusting and that this will have a profound impact on U.S.-Libyan ties.

We'll stay on top of this story.

Meantime, here's a look at some Hot Shots.

In Pennsylvania, a team prepares for a game in the Little League World Series.

In Indonesia, Muslim women gather and pray to mark the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.

In Japan, this sumo champion wears a mask to protect against swine flu.

And in Russia, the Italian Air Force performed acrobatic maneuvers during an air show.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

What do you get when you pair a dog who's looking for a good home with a TV spotlight?

A Moost Unusual TV moment.

But did the canine's very affectionate ways make a lick of difference to the viewers?

CNN's Jeanne Moos has the answer.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Freeball -- taking our licks, some at a very young age.


RANDENE NEILL, ANCHOR: Her hair is standing on end. (INAUDIBLE).


MOOS: But licked to death on live television?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM) NEILL: Oh, get off. Get off this is crazy.

Now, this is Ginger.


MOOS: Ginger the up for adoption pit bull. Make that kiss bull.


NEILL: Ginger just loves people.

I love Ginger.

I love you, Ginger. Ginger.


MOOS: But licked to death on live television?


NEILL: Oh, get off. Get off. This is crazy. Now, this is Ginger.


MOOS: Ginger the up for adoption pit bull -- make that kiss bull.


NEILL: Ginger just loves people.

I love Ginger.

I love you, Ginger. Oh, Ginger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't have any makeup left.



MOOS: Ginger is removing the makeup from Randy Neill, who co- anchors Global B.C. Noon News in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They need a wee bit of training.

NEILL: Yes, really?

Do you think?

I know she's (INAUDIBLE) because she's (INAUDIBLE) ouch. Be nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm really tired.

NEILL: Stop that. She's not listening. That is so not good. No. Sit down. Oh, no. No. Oh (INAUDIBLE). OK, down, Ginger, down.


MOOS: It's better to be kissed by a pit bull than clawed by a cat, as this Fox Eight news reporter in Cleveland was.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A couple of points (INAUDIBLE), right?


MOOS: The cat didn't get Ginger's tongue, the anchor did.


NEILL: OK, Ginger. Oh, Ginger.

They kill for a 1709 (ph).


MOOS: All that licking didn't deter folks. The show got hundreds of calls from people interested in adopting Ginger. An adoption was actually arranged, but later fell through, so Ginger is still available, if you like your kisses wet.

But getting a shower like this, no wonder the anchor called for the weatherwoman.


NEILL: Oh, stop it. Stop it. OK, Wesler (ph)? Wesler?


MOOS: Rear-ended to boot.




MOOS: The sports anchor wondered if Randene's husband got as much face time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does your husband even get that much face time? NEILL: Really. Really.


MOOS (on camera): You know, it's hard to watch Anchor Randene Neill without thinking of a watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.


NEILL: I've been loved by Ginger. Ginger loves me.


MOOS: And none too gingerly.


NEILL: I love you, Ginger.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.




BLITZER: Don't forget THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll speak with the only U.S. lawmaker to monitor the elections in Afghanistan.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.


Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.