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Massive Wildfires Rage in California; Hurricane Targets Tropical Paradise
Aired September 1, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with breaking news this hour, the worst wildfire of the year in southern California, now up to 122,000 acres, with officials now saying it will take at least two weeks to contain this massive inferno, the battle against the flames is being waged not only on the ground, but also from the air. Our CNN's Ted Rowlands has that part of the story -- Ted.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the firefight continues here in Southern California.
And what we're going to show you right now is an extraordinary view at how these water-dropping helicopters work. This is what's called an Erickson Air-Crane, and it's coming in to pick up water at this small reservoir, which is basically in a neighborhood just outside of Los Angeles.
This helicopter can take up to 2,000 gallons of water. You see they put the hose down in here. It's really maneuvering in a very, very small area, where there's just enough room for the helicopter to come down and fill up and then it will go out and drop this water on the main fire.
Now, behind the hillside here, you see flames. This is a back- burn fire. This was intentionally set by firefighters. And the reason for it is much of this debris -- or this brush hasn't burned in excess of 60 years and it is very close to a number of homes. There's a couple homes up on the hillside. Those ones have fire trucks actually in the driveways, but then you look down here and you see the neighborhood where dozens of homes are located.
All of these people are under mandatory evacuation. Some of them have chosen to ride it out. Most of them have gathered their personal belongings and are ready to leave at a moment's notice. The main fire is just over this hillside. There you see some of the smoke. But, for the most part, the firefight here is concentrated on the water drops and these back-burns -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you.
Our CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers, he is monitoring the conditions for us as well.
Chad, what are the fire crews dealing with at this very moment? CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: They're dealing with lower temperatures today and that is a good thing really for them, a little bit higher humidity, and no wind, basically, whatsoever.
And I was really -- I'm so glad Ted mentioned the fact that they were setting these backfires, because all day, I'm watching the live feeds here of these helicopter shots from KCAL and KABC and I'm thinking, where are all these new fires coming from? There's no sparks flying around.
So that's what we have been seeing when we have been saying all day, look, a new fire, look, a new fire. Those are the intentionally set ones.
Now, our Brian Todd is right up here -- we're going to show them your live shot in just a little bit -- in a canyon where people are refusing to leave and some won't get out of the way even if they could because there's a wildlife refuge right up the canyon, right through here, 400 animals that get taken there if they're sick or ill, or whatever they might need to be, taken care of there.
And we also know, Suzanne, that there are new fires, new smoke from the Mount Wilson area. We care about that because not only are the TV towers there you could rebuild, but there's the observatory. You will see it right in the shot right there, and smoke was coming out of these trees.
And on the ground here, I don't know whether that smoke could have been a backfire, but I doubt it because it was so very close to the observatory. And there's the shot from KCAL. What do you see there? Boy, not very much, the smoke just everywhere across those canyons.
We will talk about a couple more things while we can. Jimena -- Jimena is still a Category 3 hurricane, 125-mile-per-hour hurricane brushing Cabo San Lucas. But it will hit the west coast there of Baja California.
A brand-new -- boy, I'm glad my board has so many boxes here. A brand-new storm to talk about, Tropical Storm Erika. Now, that's the J because it's in the Pacific. This is E. It's in the Atlantic. Remember we just had Danny. There's Erika right there. There's San Juan. There's Puerto Rico, the U.S. still back out here behind me. But in the five-day forecast cone, getting very close to the Turks and Caicos here, notice though, Suzanne, never turning into a hurricane, at least the official forecast, not yet.
We will see. If it runs into less sheer, warmer water, Erika could be a little bit stronger.
MALVEAUX: And, Chad, are any of these hurricanes, are they going to provide any kind of relief whatsoever for California, for those fires?
MYERS: That's a really great question. A couple of the fingers, a couple of the arms I believe of Jimena may have pushed a little bit of humidity up into L.A. today.
And we had a couple of showers, literally just showers. But let me show you why that's not always a good thing. The showers that came down were very, very light. A lot of them dried up on the way down, never getting all the way to the ground.
Well, just like you getting out of the pool in the summer, you cool off. When the rain evaporates in the sky, it cools off the air. What does air do that's cold? Just like opening your freezer, that air goes down. And so this air came down, hit the fires and then blew out with more wind than it was worth with the rain never really getting to the ground to help out the firefighting effort at all -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Wow. OK. Thank you very much, Chad.
MALVEAUX: Well, the flames are threatening thousands of homes, but not everyone is obeying the mandatory evacuation orders.
Our CNN's Brian Todd, he is there. Brian, tell us about this so- called Station fire. What is that like? What are you seeing on the ground?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, it is the middle of the massive power keg here in Tujunga Canyon, California. It is bone-dry terrain. It is searing heat, and it is the perfect mixture for fires to move very, very fast.
You can see this terrain. You just move your hand a little bit, dust kicks up, and ash kicks up all over the place, perfect ignition points for this fire. Our photojournalist, Dave Rust (ph), is going to show us behind me this canyon was completely charred out. We mentioned earlier about 122,000 acres have been charred. More than 50 structures have been destroyed by this fire.
Still some people around here have chosen to stay and try to ride out this very fast-moving fire.
TODD (voice-over): The raging fire invades Tujunga Canyon, just north of Los Angeles. This area is as dry as a tinderbox and the flames are racing through these hills.
(on camera): We got permission from the people who live here to come as close as we can to this fire. This is the Station fire creeping down Tujunga Canyon right here, really coming down fast toward us, flames lipping the side of the ridge and a lot of heavy smoke. It is moving very, very fast, but believe it or not some residents very close to here have not evacuated yet.
(voice-over): Two men who have lived in this canyon more than a decade and the 13-year-old grandson of one of them are among some 4,000 people who were told to evacuate. As they sit and watch the flames move closer, they're still not ready to leave.
(on camera): Why are you still here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, our family is out. They're sitting at (INAUDIBLE) park, which is a couple of miles south of here. And they're fine. We're in communication continually. The problem here, an old property like this, as you can see, this is the old tree, the leaves. You can't -- you can never really make it completely safe.
TODD (voice-over): He says he's prepared to fight the fire with water and hoses he has on his property, but says he will leave if it gets too bad.
Still, it's a stubbornness that exasperates firefighters to no end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They take their lives in their own hands when people choose to stay. And we will take -- as the sheriff said, they will take their next of kin and ask where their dental records are stored.
TODD: Up the mountain, staffers at the Little Tujunga Canyon Wildlife Way Station are scrambling. They have evacuated about 200 animals, are desperately trying to get the biggest ones out.
(on camera): Part of the challenge here is that they have about 150 to 200 more animals to evacuate, including this massive tiger behind me and others like it that are getting increasingly irritated. And another part of the challenge is, they need cages that are big enough to fit these animals. They don't have enough of them yet.
(voice-over): And even when they get those cages, getting the animals to cooperate on the timetable of a massive fire is daunting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't say, hey, guys, this is a fire, you have got to really move fast. They don't understand that. And so, we have got to coax them, we have go to bribe them, we have got to tranquilize them, we have got to do whatever we need to do to get them loaded.
TODD: Now, those animals are being moved to local zoos and other compounds, but officials at that wildlife preserve are very worried that they're not going to be able to get all of those animals out ahead of this fire -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Brian, why are some of these people refusing to evacuate? What are the reasons that they're giving you?
TODD: Well, one of the reasons, aside from the one that we heard in the piece was, this one gentleman who was going to ride it out said, he looks down his road essentially and if he's still got a point of egress, meaning a way out, he's OK with staying. He's got everything packed up I his car. He's ready to go at a moment's notice. He just keeps watching the fire coming toward him, and he's watches his road. If he's got a way out, he will stay.
But the problem is, fire officials say people here, even the ones who have been here for a while, don't quite realize how quickly this fire can skip across a road, can just engulf a house. They say it really is dangerous to stay.
MALVEAUX: All right, Brian Todd, in the middle of all of it, thank you so much, excellent reporting.
The massive cost of fighting these fires couldn't come at a worse time for cash-strapped California. State financial say they have already spent $106 million of their $182 million emergency firefighting fund. They are just two months into the fiscal year. The state is seeking help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which could reimburse up to 75 percent of the cost.
Well, pictures that are so shocking it would not be appropriate to broadcast all of them, Americans hired to protect the American Embassy in Afghanistan half-naked in sexually suggestive poses, allegedly participating in hazing and humiliation. Is embassy security at risk?
He was previously convicted for rape, but served a fraction of his prison sentence. Could more time in jail, could it have prevented his alleged kidnapping and keeping of a young girl for 18 years?
And fears of hell in a tropical paradise. A dangerous hurricane eyes a popular vacation getaway and could strike any moment.
MALVEAUX: It's a dangerous Category 3 hurricane. And right now Jimena is churning toward one of Mexico's most popular tourist destinations, Cabo San Lucas, with 125-mile-an-hour winds.
Now, our CNN's Betty Nguyen is actually there live.
Betty, set the scene for us.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, is a Category 3, but we're understanding that by the time it makes landfall, it might be a Category 4. But just take a look around.
We're at a resort here in Cabo. And as you can see the winds are picking up, and looking around, there's not a single soul in sight. You know why? Because they all have been taken out of their hotel rooms and put into a shelter. This is a certified hurricane shelter as well.
People are sleeping on cots tonight. There are some 205 tourists that have been evacuated from their rooms to this place. And that gives you an idea, just 205 tourists, that's not a whole lot, especially for Cabo, since it is a tourist destination, but that does give you an idea how many people have left, fearful of Hurricane Jimena. But the problem is, as we take a look around here at this resort, not everyone is here for the fun in the sun. There are a lot of people who do live here, in fact many in shantytowns. And the government is very worried about them because some 10,000 people have been asked to evacuate, but many are refusing to do so. They want to ride out this storm.
Well, the problem is this is a Category 3, possibly a Category 4 when it comes ashore. Now, we are hearing that Cabo San Lucas, the resort area, will feel the brunt of it in about two to three hours. And we are bracing for that as well, because, again, the surf out there is really churning. There's not a single soul on the beaches. The red flags are up. Everyone understands the danger involved, so it's just a wait and see mode at this point -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: All right, thank you, Betty. Be safe.
U.S. investigators say that they have cracked a sophisticated and wide-ranging identity theft ring. Almost two dozen people are in custody for preying on countless victims. Now, no one was immune, not even the wife of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Our CNN homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, she is joining us now.
How did the feds close in on this operation?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, it's an interesting case and one that illustrates how even low-tech identity fraud can impact high-level individuals.
MESERVE (voice-over): As chairman of the Federal Reserve, it's Ben Bernanke's job to protect our money supply, but his own money was put at risk when his wife, Anna, became a victim of identity fraud.
After her purse was snatched at this Washington, D.C., Starbucks last summer, her identity and checking account were among those used by a crime ring to scam 10 or more banks out of more than $2 million.
Shonya Michelle Young, arrested Monday in Miami, allegedly used wigs and fake identity documents to impersonate legitimate account holders at banks. She and other members of the ring allegedly wrote counterfeit checks from one compromised account to another. But, when depositing, they would ask for some cash back. They often got it.
MARK RASCH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The idea behind that is to make people feel comfortable. Why would you be breaking into somebody's bank account to put money in? So, these are all forms of what we call social engineering, ways to convince the bank that these transactions are ordinary and normal transactions.
MESERVE: Ten individuals have been charged in the case. Of those, three have pled guilty and three are still at large. In a statement, the Fed chairman called identity theft "a serious crime that affects millions of Americans each year. Our family was But one of 500 separate instances traced to one crime ring."
MESERVE: Now, court documents allege that the ring obtained information about some checking accounts from the Combined Federal Campaign for the National Capital Area, which federal workers use to make charitable contributions.
The group says a very limited number of checks were involved, account holders were notified, and they have taken new steps to ensure the security of their system -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: OK, thank you, Jeanne Meserve.
Well, drinking, nudity, deviant hazing, and humiliation -- details of a new report that says wild partying by guards at the American Embassy in Afghanistan is compromising security.
Also, one of the world's most popular e-mail programs crashes, leaving millions of users without mail.
And a convicted kidnapper and rapist freed after only 11 years now accused of striking again, holding Jaycee Dugard for 18 years. Victims advocates are now blaming her ordeal on a broken system.
MALVEAUX: Check you e-mail lately? If you're among the 37 million people who use Google's Gmail every month, it may have been down today for several hours today.
Let's go straight other our Internet correspondent, Abbi Tatton.
And, Abbi, how were these accounts affected?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Suzanne, so many people affected that Google put up a blog post apologizing and saying, we definitely feel your pain. Gmail is back up now for users, back up within the last hour, but the country's third biggest Web mail service was spewing out error messages earlier this afternoon, if you tried to get on online, although if you were accessing e-mail through another e-mail account, through your BlackBerry or through Outlook, you were unaffected earlier today.
The root cause of the problem, still unknown. The blog posts keep coming from Gmail, from the Gmail blog here, saying: "We're still investigating the root cause of this outage. Thanks for bearing with us."
This is the second time a large-scale outage has happened like this on Gmail. Google was apologizing again back in February -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Abbi.
Victims advocates say the system is partly to blame for Jaycee Dugard's 18-year kidnapping ordeal. Why did her accused abductor serve only 11 years of a 50-year sentence for a previous assault?
Plus, parties so wild that some say they're compromising security at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan -- a scathing new report detailing drinking, debauchery and more.
MALVEAUX: Wild, naked parties by the men guarding the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.
In our "Broken Government" report, a watchdog group's disturbing new study raises serious allegations and U.S. lawmakers are looking for answers.
Our CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, has been digging into this.
And, Jill, what are we learning about this?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the issue of contractors in war zones simply won't go away. Remember Blackwater in Iraq. Now questions about a security company in Afghanistan.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): The American Embassy in Kabul Afghanistan, in August, the target of rocket attacks and suicide bombings, now allegations that the contractor hired by the State Department to protect that embassy, for years, has created conditions that threaten its security.
The report by the independent Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, cites complaints from nearly 10 percent of the guards working for the ArmorGroup North America, now owned by Wackenhut Services Inc, the most explosive, charges of what POGO calls deviant hazing and humiliation.
POGO says it obtained these photos showing superiors and other guards off-duty hazing some new recruits, including images of half- naked men in compromising sexual positions with what appears to be alcohol, all highly offensive in a Muslim country.
Guards who objected, they say, were ridiculed, demoted, and even fired. CNN communicated with one guard who confirmed the authenticity of the photos.
DANIELLE BRIAN, Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight: The impact for the job, though, is a total breakdown in the chain of command, a total lack of respect on the part of the guard force for the supervisors because of this kind of behavior.
DOUGHERTY: POGO also says other problems undermined morale, including hiring an insufficient number of guards. The ones on duty were sleep-deprived, lacked proper training and adequate armored vehicles. There was constant personnel turnover. Nearly two-thirds of the guards, they say, couldn't adequately speak English. And it charges Afghan nationals for the embassy were mistreated.
It's just the latest in a long history of complaints against the company that started under the Bush administration.
IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: The secretary and the department have made it clear that we will have zero tolerance of type of conduct that is alleged in these documents.
DOUGHERTY: For the past two years, the State Department repeatedly criticized the company for its poor performance. In this letter from June 2007, it warned, "The security of U.S. Embassy Kabul is in jeopardy."
Yet, in July, the Obama administration renewed the contract for another year, with the option to extend until 2012.
BRIAN: They said, you know, we are now convinced everything's fine. And then they reissued the contract for another year. So, I think the State Department is an equal partner in the problem here.
DOUGHERTY: A Senate subcommittee criticized the State Department for publicly defending the company, calling the Department's handling of the contractor "a case study of how mismanagement and lack of oversight can result in poor performance." At times," it said, "the security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul may have been placed at risk."
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DOUGHERTY: And the head of that subcommittee, Senator Claire McCaskill, says the testimony by the State Department appears to be misleading at best. And she is demanding all relevant documents.
The State Department, meanwhile, says that its inspector general has launched an investigation. And CNN did contact that contractor, Wackenhut Services, Inc. But so far they have not responded to these allegations -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jill.
In Northern California, forensics experts are examining a bone fragment found near the home where Phillip Garrido was accused of holding Jaycee Dugard for 18 years. Investigators are looking for possible links to other cases involving missing women and children. At the same time, there is growing outrage over the fact that Garrido served only a fraction of a previous conviction for kidnapping and rape.
Our CNN's Kara Finnstrom is outside Garrido's home in the San Francisco Bay area -- Kara, what are we learning today? KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you mentioned, Suzanne, police now looking into whether Garrido may be linked to other unsolved crimes. This, as more details continue to emerge about his past, including a transcript from the 1976 trial where he was convicted of rape. That was 15 years before Jaycee Dugard was abducted.
And in that transcript, he admits to having sexual deviancies, including being attracted to children as young as seven and exposing himself to children.
Now, victims rights advocates are speaking out, saying the sexual offender convicted should not have had the chance to strike again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "AMERICAN MORNING")
ANDY KAHAN, HOUSTON CRIME VICTIMS ADVOCATE: And I think our criminal justice system also shares in -- shares the responsibility of what happened with Jaycee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FINNSTROM: As new details emerge of Jaycee Dugard's 18 year ordeal in this Northern California backyard, new questions are being raised about why the man charged with kidnapping her -- a convicted rapist -- was free to allegedly strike again.
Phillip Garrido, sentenced to 50 years in prison in 1977, became eligible for parole and served only 11 years.
KAHAN: He served about 20 percent of his sentence. And it doesn't make a mathematician to figure out if he served only one third of his sentence, Jaycee Dugard doesn't end up in the predicament that she's in.
FINNSTROM: Garrido kidnapped Katharine Callaway in November, 1976, in South Lake Tahoe, California -- the same city where he allegedly abducted Jaycee Dugard 15 years later. He talked Callaway into giving him a ride from a grocery store -- something she now calls the worst decision she ever made.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE")
KATHERINE CALLAWAY HALL, VICTIM OF PHILIP GARRIDO: Philip knocked on my window and said, you know, I can't seem to get my car to start, it's cold, do you think you could give me a ride?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FINNSTROM: Callaway pulled over just before the state line to let Garrido out. Instead, he grabbed her keys, handcuffed and hogtied her, then drove to Reno, Nevada, where he assaulted Callaway repeatedly in a storage locker. A policeman on patrol outside sensed something amiss and banged on the door, possibly saving Callaway's life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE")
CALLAWAY: And I had sat there for a minute and I thought if there's a policeman out there, I have to try. I went crashing through over -- under the rugs, over the boxes, right out into the parking area where the policeman was, completely naked.
FINNSTROM: For crossing state lines, Garrido was given a 50 year federal sentence, for which he served time at Leavenworth, as well as a five year to life sentence in Nevada for the rape. But his 11 years in federal prison counted as time served in Nevada. And by the time he arrived there in 1988, he was eligible for release, which the Nevada Parole Board voted to approve 3-2.
Legal experts say that would not happen now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "AMERICAN MORNING")
STEPHEN KOMIE, ATTORNEY: But we had a different scheme of sentencing in 1977. When he was sentenced in 1977, there was a parole board. Right now, a federal sentence doesn't have a parole board, so people in the federal system, if he got 50 years -- say he would have 600 months -- he would only get 50 months off. He'd do five -- 550 months. So this would not be repeated in the federal system again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO TAPE)
FINNSTROM: And Garrido and his wife have pleaded not guilty to charges of false imprisonment, kidnapping and the rape of Jaycee Dugard -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Kara.
Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.
She has more on the investigation and to links to other missing girls and women -- Abbi, tell us about these open cases.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Right now, Suzanne, people who are searching the backyard here, they're looking for clues in unsolved cases that were happening in the miles around the Garrido home.
I want to start off in Pittsburgh. This is Pittsburgh, California. It's just 10 miles down the road from Antioch, where the Garridos' house is currently being searched.
Now, if you looked at newspaper headlines back in January of 1999, they would read: "Pittsburgh In Shock Over Recent Killings." This is a string of murders in close succession in this industrial area, kind of a lonely part of town, that happened around December '98, January '99. One, a 15-year-old girl, Lisa Norrell, who was found along one road. But there were other cases, as well. Police say three women that worked to prosti -- as prostitutes also found in this area. Their bodies all found -- all unsolved all these years on.
Now, there have been reports that Garrido had worked in this industrial area around here. He was certainly close by, just 10 miles down the road.
We also know that he knew the area well because recent blog posts in the blog he maintained in the last two or three years mentioned some of the roads in that industrial area just down the road.
MALVEAUX: And, Abbi, I understand that there are also unsolved kidnappings, as well, in the area, some with some striking similarities.
TATTON: Absolutely. Yes. Let's start with the kidnapping we know the most about, Jaycee Dugard, which happened in 1991. This is in South Lake Tahoe. It was about 150 miles from the Garrido home. But police are now looking at a couple of unsolved kidnappings, also of young girls, that happened closer to Antioch, to the Garrido home.
We're going first to Hayward, California. This is about an hour south of where Garrido lived here. And this is a case in 1988. This is Mikalea Garrett, who was abducted at age nine at that point; also a similar age, similar appearance, also abducted in daylight; also dragged into a car. Hayward police looking at that case very carefully right now.
The following year, this time a 13-year-old girl in Dublin, California, Ilene Mischeloff, also disappeared; also unsolved.
So as they're looking, as they're searching, investigating the backyard of this house, there are so many open cases that they're bearing in mind with this grisly past.
MALVEAUX: And this could produce on that -- produce a lot of results for other cases.
Thank you, Abbi.
Well, the president's approval ratings sliding downhill -- our latest poll showing that for the first time, which critical block of voters is behind the big drop in popularity.
And the war on terror is back -- why the Obama White House is now using a Bush administration phrase.
The best political team on television standing by.
MALVEAUX: Now, it's time for our political Time Out. We'll get to our panel in a moment.
But first, we want to bring in CNN national correspondent, Jessica Yellin, to kick it all off -- hey, Jessica.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Suzanne.
Summer has not been particularly easy on this president. His support has been eroding. And from a man who ran on bipartisanship, he is losing it from an important block -- Independents.
OK, first, let's look at his overall approval numbers. You can see that a new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that the president's approval rating is now at 53 percent. That's down 3 points in the last month. Since July, down 13 points -- since April. We have a June figure there. It's dropped since June, too.
But driving the slide -- it's those Independents. CNN's polling shows that for the first time, a majority of Independents 53 percent -- do not approve of the way the president is doing his job. Forty- three percent approve.
Now, President Obama can take comfort in another number there. He is holding his own among one group. In recent weeks, the president has actually gained some support among Democrats.
Now, it's worth knowing that the issue that is hurting the president the most -- the deficit, taxes, health care. These are all the issues Republicans have targeted. And on those issues, he is doing worse among Independents than with voters overall.
So, this could be a sign that the Republicans' P.R. messages are working or it could be the inevitable -- most presidents do see their poll numbers fall further in their first year in office as it goes along.
So it does leave us asking one question, Suzanne, how much does President Obama need those Independents?
How can he win them back?
MALVEAUX: All right, I want to start off with you first, Gloria.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he needs them tremendously. They're always the key in any election. He won the presidential campaign with 52 percent of Independent voters. As Jessica was just saying, he's now down considerably, to 43 percent.
And what's happening with Independent voters is they're seeing Barack Obama, who's somebody more aligned with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. They're worried about these rising deficits.
And so if somehow he can convince Independent voters, particularly on health care reform, that he's going to come somewhere down in the middle, that would be good. The good news for him is that these Independent voters are not exactly flocking to Republicans.
MALVEAUX: How does he win them back, David? DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, he stops being a hyper ideological liberal president. I mean the reason he is perceived as a hyper ideological liberal president is because that's how he's governing.
He's allowed the House plan -- the House health plan to become his plan. He's accepted that. He should not have done that.
BORGER: He hasn't accepted that.
FRUM: He's -- well, he's campaigning for a plan. The only plan that anybody -- that exists is the House plan. If he's campaigning for something and that's the only thing, he must be campaigning for that.
His stimulus package of spending the money over many years, well beyond the end of the recession, and taking on this enormous amount of debt; his increase in the budget. I mean these are -- these are shifting him way to the left. And I think it's a big surprise for a lot of voters how far to the left he turned out to be.
MALVEAUX: E.J., do you agree?
E.J. DIONNE, "WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: I think -- no, I don't agree. I don't think that anybody can argue that Barack Obama is a hyper ideological liberal president. I think he's in trouble, partly because health care -- the health care issue is caught up in a Congressional swamp. The Senate Finance Committee failed to report a bill. People just look at Washington right now and say they haven't delivered this yet.
I think if you deliver a decent health care bill, nothing succeeds like success.
I think the other problem he has is that the economy is in exactly the wrong place for him. On the one hand, we're not falling off a cliff so that people are yearning for active government to really pull us back.
On the other hand, the unemployment rate is still over 9 percent. People aren't happy with where it is. So I think it's not surprising. Ronald Reagan fell very badly when unemployment hit 10 percent. And I think it's much more about circumstances than it is about ideology.
MALVEAUX: The Democrats still support him, Gloria.
I mean are they the next to drop here?
BORGER: Well, he's got...
MALVEAUX: Is there any risk that he's going to start to lose his... BORGER: He's got to get...
MALVEAUX: ...his base?
BORGER: Well, he's got divisions within his own party. And that's another problem for him. I think overall, though, the problem is that there is confusion. People aren't quite sure what President Obama's health care message is.
What is health care reform about?
Is it about the insurance companies?
Is it about getting the deficit down?
Is it about universal access to insurance?
And they're not quite sure, to your point, what exactly is in a health care bill because there isn't any particular health care bill.
FRUM: His solution -- his solution -- his question and his answer don't line up. He's told the country the health care question is how expensive this is and how it's going to break the budget...
FRUM: ...and the economy. And his answer is spend even more. As I said, he's saying I'm going to bankrupt Medicare even faster. And they don't...
FRUM: They don't align.
DIONNE: But the question on the mind of most of the undecided voters is, I could lose it because of preexisting conditions.
DIONNE: I can go bankrupt. It's too expensive for me. Those are the questions he has to ask and answer.
FRUM: Those are not the questions he identified.
MALVEAUX: Let's get back on the next, the break here.
The war on terror grinds on, but the name went without -- went out with the Bush administration.
Is the Obama White House bringing that back?
The best political team on television standing by. And ever wonder what life looks like through an armadillo's eyes or an alligator's?
Critter Cam lets you get up close and personal. Jeanne Meserve finds it Moost Unusual.
MALVEAUX: We are back with the best political team on television.
Let's go straight to CNN national correspondent, Jessica Yellin, to kick it all off -- Jessica?
YELLIN: Suzanne, think of all the new phrases that came from the war on terror. President Bush called GITMO detainees enemy combatants. There is enhanced interrogation techniques. That's for certain kinds of techniques. Donald Rumsfeld called dead-enders the leftover Saddam loyalists in Iraq. And then, of course, Mitt Romney liked to use the phrase "war against jihad."
Now, when President Obama got into office, the Bush administration's lingo really fell out of favor, especially when it came to using the phrase "war on terror".
Do you remember at one point the Obama team called it an overseas contingency operation?
Doesn't that just roll off the tongue?
Well, yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reverted back to the Bush administration's label when talking about Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not going to see the entire thing turn around in a few months after years and years of neglect. You can't under resource the most important part of our war on terror.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Whoops. It was probably just a slip-up -- probably. But we all know words can matter.
And the question is, could changing a phrase or changing the way they sell the war help the Obama administration gain more support for their efforts in Afghanistan -- Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: E.J., what do you think?
DIONNE: I think it's a slip, not a strategy. But I think that Afghanistan is the most difficult issue he faces. It's much harder, politically, than health care. He inherited a real mess. There were seven years of neglect there. A lot of Democrats don't want to stay there. The only people who support it are Republicans who won't support Obama. But it's -- it's central to both fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and to the situation in Pakistan.
And so he's going to act for 12 to 18 months to try to make this work. And it's -- he's going to have to try to ride that out.
MALVEAUX: Gloria, what's so bad about using war on terror?
Isn't it just about branding something that people are familiar with...
BORGER: Yes. I -- I think it's...
BORGER: I think it's a slip of the tongue and I don't think it really matters. I think President Obama's real problem, too, with Afghanistan is that people in this country are worried about the economy right now. And they're looking at a war in Afghanistan and they're looking at the fact that you're going to probably need more troops. And they're looking at the fact that it's very expensive. And they're saying, wait a minute, we've got economic problems here. And I think that accounts for a lot of the drop in the popularity of -- of the war. They don't want to send more troops in. You might end up some kind of conservative liberal coalition. I know you don't feel that way.
FRUM: A week ago, there was released the person convicted of committing the worst international attack against Americans before 9/11, the Lockerbie bomber. He was released by the government of Scotland. More and more, we're learning, it's with the connivance and acceptance of the U.K. government.
And the United States, the president of the United States murmured only that this was a mistake.
So since they don't seem to be fighting a war on terror, probably it's just as well that they don't use the phrase.
BORGER: Come on. That's not...
BORGER: That's not...
DIONNE: The fact is Obama is taking a big risk by saying we've got to stay in Afghanistan. And he's got -- he made that promise. He made a big distinction in the campaign between the mistake in the war in Iraq, which took attention away from Afghanistan, and the importance of continuing in Afghanistan. He's going to get a lot of resistance... FRUM: A man...
DIONNE: ...from his own party.
FRUM: A man who killed 180 Americans, served eight years in a Scottish prison and has been released back into the public.
BORGER: And that's not Afghanistan.
FRUM: Right. That's not Afghanistan, but it sure is terrorism.
BORGER: But -- but I don't think there's any doubt, to E.J.'s point, that this becomes Barack Obama's war. And that's a problem for him. Just as Iraq was George Bush's war, Afghanistan becomes Barack Obama's war. And he's going to be tied to it very closely, just the way George W. Bush was. And that is a big risk.
DIONNE: And wars aren't good for Democrats. The only war that really helped the Democrat was World War II. World War I was -- became very unpopular after the fact. Korea did not help Harry Truman. Vietnam certainly did not help Lyndon Johnson. And that's a big problem for Barack Obama.
MALVEAUX: We've got to leave it there.
E.J., David, thank you very much.
FRUM: Thank you.
MALVEAUX: Appreciate it, Gloria.
If you have ever contemplated the world through the eyes of an animal, well, now you can. There is actually a Web site that will take you to just about anywhere a critter can go.
And womping in the river -- just one of the images ahead in today's Hot Shots.
MALVEAUX: Here's a look at today's Hot Shots.
In Bangladesh, a fruit vendor waits for customers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In Taiwan, Buddhist nuns pray during a ceremony led by the Dalai Lama.
In Afghanistan, a supporter listens to Abdullah Abdullah, Hamid Karzai's top challenger, during a meeting in the nation's capital city.
And in Nepal, a holy man participates in a festival celebrating the rain god.
Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words. Well, if you've ever wondered what it really means to live a dog's life or a cow's or a wolf's, well, now you can. All you need is a critter cam.
Our CNN's Jeanne Moos found out what it can do on a Moost Unusual Web site.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): It's an armadillo scurrying from Web site to Web site.
MOOS: A mole burrowing it way through the Internet.
MOOS: An alligator worth surfing the net for, as it surfs the marsh land.
MOOS: They're all making the rounds. But the place they call home -- or at least home page -- is the Museum of Animal Perspectives. From chick cams to lamb cams, the animal borne cameras let you get up close and personal, entering their habitat.
MOOS: Leaving the viewer happier than a pig in mud. But not to be out done.
(on camera): With these, we can examine the habitat of the urban reporter.
OK, I'm going to go to makeup now.
(voice-over): Camera mounted on glasses, partially obscured by hair.
(on camera): Now, I'm going to go cut through the control room.
Are you going up?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, down.
MOOS: Where did you get these glasses, Steve?
STEVE: We found them.
MOOS (voice-over): We also found the creator of the Museum of Animal Perspectives. Sam Easterson was happy to chat on the phone.
(on camera): A video naturalist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's how he describes himself. But he wouldn't do an on camera interview.
(on camera): I can't believe you won't go on with me. But, anyway, I get it.
(voice-over): For almost a decade, Easterson has been compiling animal videos like this one featuring a rhino.
(on camera): He's not exactly rushing. He's sort of -- oh, sniffing.
(voice-over): He considers what's now going viral on the Web to be his old stuff. These days, he's into dwelling cams located in a prairie dog's tunnel or the nest of a laughing kookaburra.
MOOS (on camera): It also seems to me that you have a sense of humor about this. I mean, if you're putting on like, you know, cows licking each other.
(voice-over): You can't get any closer to a cow or a wolf than this -- digging furiously, snarling at another wolf. There are similarities between a camera mounted on a bison as it chows down on grass and a camera mounted on a reporter grazing the salad bar. The difference is...
(on camera): I'm taking them off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
MOOS: I can't stand it anymore.
(voice-over): The sheep stuck with it. No wonder the flock won't let him join.
Candid camera is enough to make anybody sheepish.
Jeanne Moos, CNN. New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MALVEAUX: I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT".
Lisa Sylvester is in for Lou -- Lisa.