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Ten Americans Charged; Toyota's Growing Headache; Government on Unemployment Numbers; Air Marshals; New Republican Senator

Aired February 4, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, 10 Americans now formally charged with child kidnapping in Haiti. The missionaries say they were on a rescue mission but a judge sees it as possible -- sees possible evidence of a crime. We're going to Port-au-Prince.

Senate Republicans have their filibuster power back now that Scott Brown is the newest member. This hour Brown's oath and his first promises after taking over Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.

And is the Obama administration making good on its promise to put more air marshals on planes -- the surprising findings of a CNN investigation.

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

Ten Americans now stand formally accused of exploiting children and a natural disaster. A judge in Haiti ruled today that there is enough evidence to charge the missionaries with child kidnapping. CNN's Dan Simon is in Idaho where the missionaries are based. CNN's Karl Penhaul is in Port-au-Prince.

Let's go to Dan Simon first. Dan, give us some of the reaction that you're getting in Meridian, Idaho. These missionaries are based in the church where you are right now, and now the charges have formally been leveled.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've been wanting to talk to family members who have assembled here at the church, but at this point no reaction from anybody here at the Central Valley Baptist Church. In fact, they've locked their doors here. We've got a couple e-mails from Pastor Drew Hamm (ph) basically saying, at this point we need our privacy, and when we're ready to release a statement, we'll let you know.

Through it all, though, we should point out that they've been pretty friendly to us here at the church. They've been leaving water and donuts for us every single day since we've been here. In the meantime, Wolf, I want to talk to you about Laura Silsby (ph). She's the director in all this who we've (ph) been spending the last couple of days looking into her background.

She is the one who put together all this trip and we can tell you that before she went to Haiti, her world was literally closing in on her here in Idaho. Her home was just foreclosed. Her business once a thriving online retailer was facing deep financial trouble. We can tell you that her business was the target of numerous lawsuits.

We actually spoke to one guy today at the courthouse who filed a lawsuit against Laura Silsby (ph) and her company, basically saying that this whole trip to Haiti she was unqualified to run that orphanage in Haiti. Meantime, what's happening here at the church, when we've been talking to these family members, they've voiced total support for Silsby (ph) and of course when we get a reaction Wolf, we'll let you know -- back to you.

BLITZER: All right Dan, stand by. Let's go to Port-au-Prince right now, a dramatic day in the saga and you've been covering it, Karl Penhaul, from day one. Tell our viewers what happened today.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think even though we were following it from day one, I think we still saw it as a bombshell decision. And the 10 Americans were taken this morning before a panel of prosecutors who were hearing the evidence against them. That process lasted about two hours. Once that process was over, very quickly we got word of the decision. We now know that 10 Americans have been formally charged with kidnapping children and also criminal association.

That confirmed to us both by the attorney general and by the information minister. The news does seem to get worse. A, there is no bail for that kind of crime because the crime -- the charge is seen as so serious that there is no option for bail on those charges. And then we talked to Gabby Lazard (ph). Now he is the former justice minister and he says that Haitian law three years ago was changed. The penalty now or the maximum penalty for kidnapping in Haiti is life sentence.

The penalty, the maximum penalty for criminal association is between three and nine years. So potentially, depending when a judge considers this, when he investigates further and looks into circumstances, hears all the evidence, potentially some of these 10 Americans or all the 10 Americans could be looking at life sentences in Haiti for these charges -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do they have lawyers, Haitian lawyers, American lawyers? What's their legal representation, Karl?

PENHAUL: There is a Haitian lawyer. We've seen him come and go over the last couple of days. First to the judicial police headquarters where the Americans were being heard by an investigative judge, and then today also we understand that the Haitian lawyer was there at the prosecutor's office as well to help out.

We also understand that the American consulate has become involved, at least facilitating the basic things that the Americans need. But we do know from the Americans themselves in two jailhouse interviews we did with them over the weekend that they say that they did not fully understand the processes that were going on here. They did not understand the legal process that was going on.

That said, Wolf, all along the Americans have claimed that they've been confused. The Americans have claimed that they didn't know what was going on even when we asked them why were you taking 33 Haitian babies and children out of the country and to the Dominican Republic, their answers were well, there was so much confusion.

We didn't know what paperwork was required. Well in CNN's investigation it has become clear that they knew full well what paperwork was required because they're told by the Dominican consulate himself that he warned Laura Silsby (ph) four hours before she was arrested at the border that if she tried to travel without the local documents she did face arrest and if arrested she would face the charges.

She and the rest of the group chose to disregard that advice. So there was no confusion. Haitian and Dominican officials have spelled out all the advice, now the consequences, the formal charges against them of kidnapping 33 Haitian children and babies, the youngest of which just two months old and also charges in criminal association -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Serious charges indeed and they're in jail, at least for the time being, apparently no bail allowed. All right Karl Penhaul will stay on top of this story for us in Port-au-Prince; Dan Simon in Meridian, Idaho.

Another hugely important story we're following right now -- Toyota, mired (ph) in a costly and embarrassing public relations nightmare, a new headache for Toyota today. The U.S. government is opening a formal investigation into problems with the braking system in the 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid that's made in Japan. That car was not part of the previous recall over sticking brake pedals, gas pedals, the acceleration that was going on.

Toyota has yet to recall the 2010 Prius, the company admits a software glitch is causing problems with braking in this Prius. Toyota says it's looking into the problem and will fully cooperate with the investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Japanese government previously ordered a probe of brake problems in this particular Prius. Toyota says it changed the Prius software in January for new cars, for new cars.

Meanwhile, CNN's Jessica Yellin actually owns a Prius with those troubling braking systems.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I love my Prius except for this braking problem. Here's what happens. Sometimes when you're driving slowly over an uneven surface or a slippery road, and you hit a grate or a pothole, you step on the brakes and they don't respond for a moment. It's as if the brakes aren't getting traction with the ground and you just slip, which obviously can be really scary.

The brakes respond just fine when you're moving at a high speed or if somebody were to jump in front of the car, I'm sure it would stop. It's just a problem at slow speeds over those really bumpy surfaces. I've been calling and e-mailing with Toyota about this problem since last October, with no resolution. So I decided to try again today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Due to the high call volume we are experiencing at this time we are unable to take your call.

YELLIN: It wasn't easy, but I eventually got a real person on the line. When I first reported this with you guys I was told that you hadn't heard any complaints of this before and now I'm reading in the newspaper that there are a lot of complaints about this. Nobody contacted me even to say, hey, we realize this is a problem. It's being looked into.

So they say that Toyota doesn't know that there any kind of braking problem. There is no solution because they don't know -- there wouldn't be a solution because they're not acknowledging a problem, and they're cooperating with the government's investigation.

And I was told that there aren't other people with this program. And now I read in the newspaper that there are ton of other people having this problem. It's being investigated and I got no notification from Toyota that that's the case, and I'd just like to know was my case referred to the government and I brought it in and I have -- they don't have -- they didn't have a loaner vehicle for me to use. They didn't have any way to help me get transportation, so I brought my car back to the dealership yet again, left it there. I came back and picked it up.

When I picked it up I was told that they couldn't replicate (ph) the problem like we said, even though they didn't try to replicate (ph) the right problem, so why if -- if the government is investigating, why wouldn't you have shared the fact with them that I am one of the people who claims to have a problem? I mean you guys aren't sharing that info.

I'll tell NHTSA (ph) myself now but anyway the bottom line is you're just claiming the burden is back on me. I have to bring my car back in. I have to leave it there. I have to get a rental on my own and leave with you guys until you guys decide that yes, you are experiencing what I'm complaining about.


BLITZER: Jessica Yellin with her problems with her Prius. If you want to know if your Toyota has been recalled or what to do if it's a gas pedal sticks, visit There is a wealth of information for you to find there. Toyota, by the way, is not the only automaker experiencing some brake problems with its cars. Now Ford is talking about some problems. The company says it will fix 17,600 of its Mercury Milan (ph) and Ford Fusion hybrids for the 2010 model year. Ford says the problem can cause drivers to think they're experiencing brake failure. The company says at no time are the brakes actually failing.

Federal air marshals, their jobs may be more important than ever, but a CNN special investigation paints a picture of an agency in total disarray. How many terror attempts have been foiled -- how many have been foiled? The answer may shock you.

And his party can start filibustering again, the newest senator is sworn in, CNN's Dana Bash has been on Scott Brown's trail all day, asking some of the tough questions.

And Bank of America and its former CEO facing fraud charges, we're going to tell you how the financial giant is responding. Stay with us -- lots of news happening right now, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack, he's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It turns out the national jobs picture may be a whole lot worse than we thought it was. The government may have under estimated jobs losses during this recession by close to one million jobs. That means instead of employers cutting about seven million jobs since December of 2007, that number could actually be eight million.

One expert said this is quote, "an enormous understatement of the severity of the crisis", which would qualify as an enormous understatement itself. Here's what the Labor Department say happened. They release a revision of U.S. payrolls every year using data that wasn't available when they calculated the job losses month to month.

Typically the revisions don't amount to much, a fraction of a percent of the total number of jobs one way or the other. But the year ended last March was a particularly brutal one on the economy. The U.S. came very close to another depression. Economists say that during a time of such volatility, it's not a big surprise that there could be such a large discrepancy in the total number of jobs lost.

And it's not getting much better, at least not yet. This morning, first time jobless claims coming in much higher than expected, climbing to their highest level since mid-December. And economists are pessimistic about the January jobs report, which is due out at 8:30 tomorrow morning. The national unemployment rate is expected to remain at 10 percent.

So here's the question. How much do you trust the government's reporting of things like the employment numbers? Go to, post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm anxious to hear what our viewers think, Jack. Thank you. Good question.

Part of the government's job keeping flyers safe from terror, part of the way they do it secretly deploying law enforcement personnel on planes who can then act fast should anything happen, but are our safety efforts being bogged down by agency politics or even more trivial matters. What Drew Griffin of CNN Special Investigations Unit reports may -- repeat -- may -- shock you.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Federal Air Marshal's mission, protect America's commercial aircraft from future terrorist attacks.


GRIFFIN: With a nearly $1 billion budget, how many attempted terrorist attacks have the federal air marshals foiled -- none that we've been told about. They did shoot and kill one man, a person at Miami's airport with mental health issues who claimed to have a bomb in a backpack, as far as arresting terrorists or anyone else?

REP. JOHN J. DUNCAN JR. (R), TENNESSEE: I have the statistics for last year. They've made four arrests for an appropriation of over $800 million. It came out to more than $200 million per arrest. It's just ridiculous.

GRIFFIN: So what's going wrong? Air marshals CNN talked to for this story describe a federal aviation in chaos where bored and frustrated air marshals focus more on internal squabbles than watching for bad guys. The marshals asked we not show their faces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have managers that provide training or provide leadership or do anything other than produce conflict.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you say you're protecting the public when you're playing games?

GRIFFIN: Look at this dry erase board in an air marshal's office in Orlando, Florida. CNN was told managers use the board to keep track of how many minority air marshals had been disciplined. Employees told CNN managers were awarding each other scores for their harassment activities.

The Transportation Security Administration says it's investigating and that all employees are entitled to be treated in a fair and lawful manner. But Orlando is not the only example. All over the country from Las Vegas to Seattle to Cincinnati, air marshals have filed official complaints, claiming age, gender and racial discrimination.

In Cincinnati alone, 20 percent of the office filed complaints, according to their lawyer. Six marshals say they were then retaliated against in the workplace with undesirable assignments. Managers allegedly spent nine months at an unknown cost to taxpayers investigating whether one female air marshal had her car registered in the proper state.

SHANE SIDEBOTTOM, ATTORNEY REPRESENTS AIR MARSHALS: At the conclusion of that, she was notified that the car in question belonged to a different air marshal so they were dropping the inquiry. My one- month -- almost one-year-old child would probably be better at picking up the phone and dialing the Driver's License Bureau than these guys are.

GRIFFIN: Then there is the story of this woman, a girlfriend, now wife of an air marshal, who complained to the Department of Homeland Security she was followed, photographed and investigated by the air marshals, all because, she says, her then-boyfriend had a Workman's Comp claim.

MEGAN, WIFE OF FEDERAL AIR MARSHAL: America's safety is being put, you know, on the back burner because, you know, we're 40 miles away from the airport investigating private citizens.

GRIFFIN: Despite repeated requests, the Federal Air Marshal Service and TSA declined to give CNN an interview. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee believes the air marshal's program put together hastily after 9/11 now needs to be reinvented.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: If we've got those kinds of problems, we need to get a ready broom and sweep it out. The only way we're going to ensure the security and safety of the American people is that we have staff par (ph) excellence and I know they're out there.


BLITZER: Let's bring in Drew Griffin of CNN Special Investigations Unit. Drew, this is pretty shocking stuff. The congresswoman, I think she wants a clean sweep of this agency. You've been covering air marshals for a long time. Why so many problems?

GRIFFIN: You know this group was hastily put together after 9/11. It was kind of a knee-jerk reaction to get this group together. Many of the air marshals point to a -- really a group of former Secret Service agents who have taken over this department, Wolf, and they say have run it basically into the ground from the ground up.

As we have been reporting for -- for three years now, the odds of an air marshal actually on your flight are embarrassingly low. Add to that this kind of disarray, this discrimination, this retaliation and even assignments being assigned based on perks or retaliation, and it's just a mess. There is a call in to Congress now for an investigation, and as you heard from the congresswoman, a sweep of the management there.

BLITZER: And that racism we saw in your report was shocking, indeed. It's hard to believe that kind of stuff goes on.

GRIFFIN: It is -- it is hard to believe. We kind of toned it down for your broadcast, but online we described exactly what those different categories were and they're describing gay men, lesbians, blacks. In derogatory terms, this was a board that was hanging in one of the field office -- marshal's field offices in Orlando.

BLITZER: I know you are going to continue investigating for us, appreciate, good work. Drew thanks very much -- critically important subject.

It's loud, it's influential, and now the tea party movement is holding its first national convention. We're going there live. Stand by, Mary Snow is on the scene.

President Obama hammering home a new message, but is it making a difference?





BLITZER: Let's check in with Lisa Sylvester. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf. Well Bank of America says the bank and its former CEO Ken Lewis will vigorously fight fraud charges brought by the New York Attorney General's Office today. The lawsuit centers around the banks purchase of Merrill Lynch at the height of the nation's financial meltdown. The lawsuit says Bank of America's management team, including Lewis, underreported Merrill's losses and billions in employee bonuses to close the deal.

President Obama's African aunt will have to wait to learn the results of her second immigration hearing. Fifty-seven-year-old Zeituni Onyango testified today about her asylum request. She's been living in the United States illegally since 2004 when her original request was denied. Both sides in today's hearing have been ordered to submit written briefs within 30 days. The White House says Mr. Obama will let the law play out.

And thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets today shouting anti-American slogans and burning the U.S. flag. They were protesting yesterday's conviction in New York from a Pakistani woman for trying to kill Americans while she was in U.S. custody in Afghanistan. Thirty-seven-year-old Athia Sadiki (ph) is accused of shooting at American interrogators after her arrest in 2008. Many Pakistanis say the U.S. fabricated the charges. The United States is denying it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Lisa. Stand by. Thank you.

He was sworn in only two hours ago, but the newly minted Republican senator from Massachusetts -- yes, a Republican senator from Massachusetts -- is already stirring up controversy. We're going to hear what Scott Brown said in his own words.

And we're seeing a lot of President Obama over the past few days -- what's the mission? Our senior political analyst Gloria Gorger is standing by. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Republican Scott Brown raised his hand today and took the oath of a United States senator and gave his party renewed power to filibuster. Brown was sworn in as the 41st Republican member of the Senate. He took over the seat long held by Ted Kennedy, and he deprived Democrats of their 60-seat supermajority needed to beat filibusters. Let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's been following Senator Brown all today -- all day today asking some tough questions. How did he do, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well you know Senator Brown swearing in today was actually a week earlier than was originally planned, and now, Wolf, he will likely cast one of his first votes on Monday to -- it will be on one of the president's nominees for a labor board, and this is something that Republicans have been trying very hard to hold up, and Scott Brown's vote could actually give the Republicans the last vote to block it. So that is one of the things that I asked Scott Brown when he arrived here first thing today in a scrum of reporters.


BASH: So Mr. Brown, we were told by some Republicans who were talking to your folks that they made it pretty clear that they wanted you to come down because some of the president's nominees who they're opposed to were coming up pretty fast and they wanted your 60th vote -- or 40th vote against it.

SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: All I can tell you is that I've had no contact with the leader's office or anyone else. I've spoken to Senator McCain a few times only because he's somewhat of a mentor and been helpful getting the office set up. You know I'm an independent voter and thinker, I always have been. I'm going to spend some time this weekend looking at everybody's qualifications and I'll make my decision known when I vote.

BASH: You're going to be in the office of Senator Kennedy. Those are pretty plush digs that you're going to have there.


BASH: Can you describe just how you feel about -- being somebody who's going to be the most junior senator having "A", a pretty nice office suite, and B, the symbolism of being Senator Kennedy's office?

BROWN: I have great respect for Senate Kennedy. Everybody in Massachusetts did whether you agree with him on his politics or not. He was somebody we all had great respect for.

He was -- had a super sense of humor. I always laughed whether I had a better singing voice than my daughter and that we worked on many things together.

Obviously it's temporary housing. I understand that, being the junior senator. I'm just looking forward to -- you know, when the cameras go away, I'll be able to settle down and get to work.


BASH: I'm showing you exactly what Scott Brown will have because I'm standing in front of the suite of offices I was talking about. Ted Kennedy had this for many, many years and now Scott Brown will be moving in here very shortly, not just taking Senator Kennedy's seat, but at least temporarily taking this office suite that Senator Kennedy got after many, many years of seniority -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And given the fact he's the most junior senator now, it's a pretty good office.

Dana, you were at the news conference that he had after he was sworn in, and he made this statement. Listen to this.


BROWN: The stimulus bill didn't create one new job and a lot -- in some states the money that was actually released hasn't even been used yet.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It didn't you create one new job?

BROWN: That's correct. We lost, what, another 85,000 jobs again, give or take, last month?


BLITZER: He's referring to the $800 billion stimulus package that the president and the Democrats pushed through, saying it didn't create one new job. That's causing a stir already.

BASH: That's right. I've been e-mailing with the office of Vice President Joe Biden, of course, that is his purview that the Recovery Act, that the stimulus hasn't. His spokesman Jay Carney has been sending me a slew of facts and figures to try to dispute that, saying that in Scott Brown's state of Massachusetts they've spent $8.4 billion in funds that went to almost 9,000 jobs.

Now unclear if those were saved or created, but is that, that is something that Democrats are saying, huh-uh, that's not exactly right.

But beyond that, what was very interesting about this press conference is that was just about the only detailed response that we got from Scott Brown. He was very careful to give general answers about the kind of senator he is going to be and the kind of votes he is going to cast. We're just going to have to wait and see -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Probably pretty smart for him to be very, very careful on this, his first day as a United States senator.

Dana, thanks very much.

Lots of talk of bipartisanship since Democrats lost their super majority, the filibuster-proof Senate majority, but are the parties on the same page at all? Listen to what the House Republican leader and the president both said today.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: It's kind of hard to figure out that there is some kind of shell game going on here. I know bipartisanship when I see it. And it's not seeing one thing and doing another.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a sense that something is different now, that something is broken. And those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should.

At times it seems like we're unable to listen to one another, to have at once a serious and civil debate.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. Seeing -- hearing a lot from the president over these past few days. What's he trying to achieve?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He's trying to channel the public's frustration, the public anger that we saw manifest itself in the state of Massachusetts that got Scott Brown elected.

He said he's trying to change the tone in Washington because he understands that the public doesn't like it. He's going back to his roots, Wolf, as a reformer. He's going back to his roots as an outsider.

I spoke with a senior White House adviser who said that he's going to look for more opportunities to publicly engage Republicans.

BLITZER: Publicly engage Republicans.

BORGER: Yes. We'll see.

BLITZER: With cameras inside?

BORGER: Well, the interesting thing is, when you ask then, are you going to go to the sort of parliamentary Q&A, they say no. They say they're looking for more spontaneity. They say that this is a president -- let me give you a quote here from the senior adviser.

He's pretty good at operating without a net, as they say, but they don't want what they call political theater, which is that, you know, people plan their questions and then the president answers.

You know we know what happens, Wolf, when a TV camera comes into a room. Sometimes people perform, wouldn't you say?

BLITZER: Sometimes we've seen that happen.

BORGER: Yes, we have. BLITZER: Although he did make some news, I think, at that Democratic fundraiser that we had. We were watching it here live in THE SITUATION ROOM when he acknowledged, I think, for the first time, that even though they're close, close, very close, maybe closer than ever to getting health care reform, he acknowledged, you know what, it might not happen this year, they may fail the Democrats.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And as a result the lawmakers will have to go before the voters in November and let the voters react to that.

BORGER: And you know, he also said, though, that he was willing to sit down with Republicans at some point and engage them.

BLITZER: In the next several weeks he said.

BORGER: And so the question will be, if he wants to bring in the cameras, the question will be when they have those negotiations, will they actually open that, lift the veil for us and let us into those serious policy negotiations so everyone can see how they work?

BLITZER: The fact that he conceded it might not pass, it might not go through health care reform. I thought that was significant.

BORGER: Very interesting.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria, thanks very much.

Up on Wall Street in New York, fear causes a fall. The Dow closed at its lowest point in three months.

And they're mad as ever and they're protesting big government. We're talking about tea party activists. They are organized, they're ready to act. What are they really up to at a gathering in Nashville? Mary Snow is there. We're going there live.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lisa Sylvester. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What do you have, Lisa?


We'll see drops on Wall Street today with the major indexes closing at or near three-month lows. The Dow plunged 270 or about 2.5 percent, closing just above the 10,000 mark. And the NASDAQ and the S&P 500 fell 3 percent each.

Analysts say a rise in the weekly jobless rate, along with debt woes in Europe, are contributing to investor nervousness about the economic recovery.

And the White House says President Obama will meet with the Dalai Llama this month. Press Secretary Robert Gates -- rather, Robert Gibbs announced the president's plans today. He did give a specific date for the meeting with Tibet's spiritual leader. This week trying to warn against the meeting, saying it would put a strain on relations. Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama for advocating for Tibetan independence from China.

And what's the Super Bowl without, you know, the Budweiser Clydesdales, the supersized horses? Well, they were originally not scheduled to appear during Sunday's game on CBS, but Anheuser-Busch says they will appear after all.

That'll be on a 60-second ad that you see there in the fourth quarter. It's called "Fences" and it tells the story about a friendship between a young Clydesdale and a young steer.

We'll have to check that one out.

And they've long been the bane of the fast food diners existence. Those messy, hard to open ketchup packets. Well, they may soon go the way of the Styrofoam hamburger carton.

Heinz is announcing the first major packaging change for the ketchup package in more than 40 years, and the aim is to let you dip as well as squeeze. The new packets will hold three times as much as ketchup. And they're expected to roll out nationwide in the fall.

That actually does look like an improvement, because you know let's face it, those little packets are a little messy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The other packets stink. I hate those packets. And this will be a great improvement. I'm shocked it took 40 years for somebody to figure that out, but I welcome the change.

Lisa, thanks very much.

Raising the debt limit by $1.9 trillion. We're taking a closer look at why some are so fired up about government spending. The figures may fire you up.

And the tea partiers are leading that charge. We're going live to their first ever national convention. It's underway right now in Nashville.


BLITZER: Members of the tea party movement are gathering in Nashville, Tennessee right now for their first national convention. It's a new show the group's political strength and influence and the way it's challenging the status quo.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in Nashville. She's talking to activists there, movement activists. They've come in from all over the country.

What's going on, Mary? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're just kind of coming in now, checking in. There's going to be a kickoff reception later on this evening, and they're also visiting booths like this one.

This is a documentary about the tea party movement and this is actually going to be shown later here tonight. Some of the organizers are saying this is kind of like a maturing of the movement, unlike some of the rallies we've seen over the past year, that people are here to learn.

They've come from all over the country. What are they hoping to accomplish here? They are from all walks of life. We've caught up with one, Patti Phaneuf. She is a small business owner from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here's what she had to say.


SNOW (on camera): What brought you here?

PATTY PHANEUF, TEA PARTY MEMBER: Well, I just really wanted to get involved. I have never really been involved in politics before, and I'm a little concerned about the amount of money that our government is committing our future generations to.

SNOW: And what do you hope to accomplish at this convention?

PHANEUF: I hope to have a better understanding and a way to organize, to get more conservative people together so that maybe we can get our country back to where it should be, just like a business. Running -- you know, running our business within a budget.


SNOW: Wolf, I asked a couple of people that we met today, you know, what do you want to see happen with this convention? Do you want a tea party candidate? And the people I spoke with said, no, they don't want to do that. They feel that they don't want to add another party, but what they do say they want is to create momentum at this convention, and they say they want to go back to their communities and put pressure on Republican candidates -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary is going to continue to watch this convention for us. Thank you.

The House may have added some fuel to the tea party fire with its vote today to raise the national debt limit. A party line vote authorized raising it to $14,294,000,000,000 in order to keep the government from defaulting on its obligations.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, this is one of the tea partier's biggest beefs with the government, isn't it?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, government spending, and this kind of number, Wolf, is not going to help with any voter angst over spending.

I mean $1.9 trillion. It's really hard to wrap your head around. So here's how we broke it down. If you look at how much it would mean for each person living in the U.S., $6,100 in very real terms, here's what it means.

Food for a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and we're talking about groceries. We're also talking about eating out. And this is my personal favorite. Each one of us, Wolf, could rent our very own private island for a week and we'd still have a whole lot of money left over for pina coladas.

BLITZER: It's an enormous amount of money for us to digest.

All right, thanks, Brianna. Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is asking, how much do you trust the government's reporting of things like employment numbers? Your e-mail and Jack. That's coming up.

And why has America's newest senator inspired a nude action figure? Jeanne Moos finds most all of this "Most Unusual."


BLITZER: When the president spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington this morning, he said this. Listen carefully.


OBAMA: Now I am the first to confess I'm not always right. Michelle will testify to that. But surely you can trust in my policies without questioning my faith. Or for that matter, my citizenship.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." I guess he's responding to the birthers out there who are questioning his citizenship, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I am sure there are things that he would much rather talk about than the current state of affairs. Perhaps that old birthers controversy being one of them.

The question is: How much do you trust the government's reporting of things like employment numbers? There are reasons to believe now that the government in adjusting the figures for the year ending last March may have missed the number of jobs lost by one million. Could be eight million jobs gone instead of seven.

Layne in Illinois writes: "My dad who was a high school political science teacher taught me in the early '60s how the government would play around with figures to their benefit. Especially unemployment. This country has been spooked since the Great Depression about advertising unemployment numbers. We now know that they were lying way back then. The only outfit I listen to with a grain of salt these days is the General Accounting Office."

Nicolas in Wisconsin writes: "You have to clearly put the seed of doubt into my mind. I don't believe the government wants us to know how bad the employment situation really is. Would it cause panic to know things are only getting worse? I think so. If the government's being nourished by the breast milk of our tax dollars, we deserve the truth."

John writes: "I have studied the Department of Labor processes for many months and I am convinced that the data they collect is accurate, subject to sampling uncertainty of any survey process. I've written a number of articles with analysis of how the numbers could be better used in reporting the status of unemployment."

We'll read those to you tomorrow.

Ken in Dover, Delaware: "It appears most voters believe anything the government tells them. That's why K Street and Wall Street continue to get everything they want at the expense of Main Street. The only things that have changed are the numbers on the debt clock and the numbers in the unemployment line."

And Curtis in Kansas writes: "Jack, I'm impressed. Not many people can use the words trust and government in the same sentence with a straight face."

If you want to read more on this stuff, you will find it on my blog at -- Wolf?

BLITZER: It's hard to believe when you think about it, that budget deficit, $1.5 trillion in one year, you know, Jack, it's -- these numbers are -- you know, you can't even comprehend these numbers.

CAFFERTY: We're going to take a look tomorrow on "The Cafferty File" at the status of Social Security. That will make you lose your appetite for lunch, too. They're going to -- the Social Security is going to need a taxpayer bailout soon and that's criminal.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, we'll talk to you tomorrow. Thanks very much.

Some fans of the new senator for Massachusetts, Scott Brown, admire him for more than just his politics. Jeanne Moos reports he's getting a lot of attention for some most -- for some "Most Unusual" reasons. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Campbell to see what's coming up at the top of the hour.

Campbell, what are you working on? CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, there, Wolf, federal air marshals coming to CNN right now with a warning that despite talk of beefed up security because of the Christmas day bomb plot, nothing has changed. We're going to have the result of the CNN special investigation into this.

And also, Wolf, as you know, members of the tea party gathering tonight for their convention in Nashville. A couple of them are going to join us live and talk about the issues that are most concern of them right now as well.

Wolf, we'll see you in a few.

BLITZER: See you in a few minutes, Campbell. Thanks very much.

Campbell Brown coming up at the top of the hour.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the top stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. Well, the Los Angeles County coroner concludes that actress Brittany Murphy dies of pneumonia but that iron deficiency and drug intoxication played a role in her death.

The 32-year-old actress was found dead in her Hollywood Hills home in December. According to an assistant coroner no illegal drugs were involved, though. Murphy's husband tells "People" magazine she was using a pain reliever for menstrual cramps along with an antibiotic and cough medicine.

And Florida officials say a man was killed by a shark attack off South Florida's Atlantic coast. They say 38-year-old Steven Howard Schaffer was kite-boarding yesterday when a lifeguard spotted him in trouble about 500 feet offshore. He paddled out on a large surfboard and found Schaffer surrounded by sharks.

Schaffer died at a hospital. Experts say he's the first person killed in a shark attack in Florida in five years.

And Dubai's government is reporting the discovery of its first new offshore oil field in decades. A statement from the city state's ruler gives no details on the size or the potential of the fine but promises it will, quote, "boost the economic capabilities of Dubai."

A multi-year building boom and bust coupled with shrinking reserves has left Dubai with more than $80 billion in debt -- Wolf?

BLITZER: They could really use some of that oil. Abu Dhabi has a lot of oil and are they're doing just fine. Dubai is still in some economic trouble. We'll see how they'll do with this find.

Lisa, thanks very much. Lisa will be back with us, of course, tomorrow. So what is it about America's newest senator that's inspired -- get this -- a nude action figure, not to mention kangaroo comparisons? Jeanne Moos has a "Most Unusual" report on Scott Brown's so-called hunk factor.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's just barely become a senator but already he's been anointed "Senator Hunk Daddy," "Sexy Hunk."

SALLY QUINN, STAFF WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: First of all, Scott Brown is a hunk.

MOOS: "Washington Post" writer Sally Quinn is just saying what others are thinking. "The hunk factor." "Anatomy is destiny." And Scott Brown's anatomy is already fodder for "Saturday Night Live" with Brown played by the star of "Mad Men."

JON HAMM, ACTOR: I'm looking forward to working closely with you.

MOOS: Seducing Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

HAMM: I want to introduce something to the floor. It's called your panties.

MOOS: But Senator Brown didn't get his panties in a twist over "SNL." It was great, he told the "Boston Herald. I think he's a little bit better dancer than I am. That "Cosmo" centerfold from his law school days is what turned him into a hunk of burning senator.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: Are you worried that this could make you a little bit of a joke?

BROWN: No. I was 22 years old. Do I regret doing that? No. Because if I hadn't done that, I never would have been sitting here with you.

MOOS: Would he have been sitting on "Jay Leno Show" impersonating the guy in one of his favorite movies?

BROWN: Adrian, Adrian, we did it, I did it.

MOOS: He did it, all right. Made it into Congressman Barney Frank's imagination on "SNL."

HAMM: You worried about a filibuster? Because I'm about to fill a bust out of these jeans.

MOOS: He even got into the head of the Senate's oldest member. Admirers have put his image to music.

(On camera): What's next? A nude action figure of the guy?

(Voice-over): Well, actually, yes. has rushed out the anatomically correct "Cosmo" man and the real Scott Brown will be happy to hear that for $34.95 it comes with fig leaf included.

(On camera): And talk about a politician with animal magnetism.

(Voice-over): The Web site Urlesque found an uncanny resemblance between the senator and a come hither kangaroo.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: All right, let's take a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

Let's go to London. The British home secretary shows off some new shatter proof glasses aimed at curving beer-related violence.

In Baghdad, a bomb-sniffing dog jumps over an obstacle during police training. Check it out.

In Bangkok, Thailand, a young monk plays with pigeons in front of the royal palace. Authorities plan on relocating the pigeons during renovation.

And look at this. In Scotland, cute, a baby rhino at the safari park weighed by her zookeepers.

"Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words. Love those hot shots.

Remember you can follow what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, behind the scenes. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at WolfblitzerCNN, all one word.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "CAMPBELL BROWN."

ANNOUNCER: CNN Primetime begins right now.