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Israel Facing Firestorm of Criticism; Gulf Disaster Criminal Probe Announced

Aired June 1, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, blistering condemnation of that deadly commando raid on a humanitarian flotilla. How much pressure is President Obama under to stand by Israel? And what if he doesn't?

Plus, a mysterious string of suicides at a factory that makes high-tech products for Apple, Dell, HP and others. Critics call it a dehumanizing environment where workers are little more than machines. We will go inside to find out the truth.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A major new development in the probe into the Gulf oil disaster -- the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, now saying he's launched a criminal investigation in to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. This comes as BP begins a new effort to try to stem the flow of crude oil, but this one, even if it works, won't stop the leak entirely, and could even make matters worse.

CNN's Brian Todd is following all of this for us.

Brian, what's happening right now some 5,000 feet below the waters of the Gulf?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the containment cap option we're told is under way as BP prepares its latest attempt to bring this spill under control. Now, we know they cannot stop the flow at this point, and things are getting more dire.

These are some of the latest pictures that we have showing the damage spreading. Residents on Dauphin Island, Alabama, reported oil washing ashore on their beaches in tar balls and small puddles.

Now, as far as the containment cap attempt called the lower marine riser package cap, that has begun, and this is how it's going to work. They first have to cut the riser that is hanging off the blowout preventer. They're going to make two cuts in that riser pipe. One of them is downstream of the blowout preventer, another one in a vertical section just above it. They have -- they have to use two types of cutters to do this.

For the lower cut, they have to lose a shear cutter that looks like a claw. We have video of this from today. It has already started to clamp down on the end of that riser pipe. Then it let go a little bit later. And we're told that's because they had to cut away extraneous lines around the riser.

Now, the claw cutters are huge. They're about the size of a car. This is a still picture of them on land. They're about the size of a car, two of them together about the size of a pickup truck. They weigh 46,000 pounds each.

Now, for the location just above the blowout preventer -- there's this one right here -- they need another type of cutting device that can get into a tighter space here. We have video of that as well. It's called a diamond wire cutter. The device clamps onto the riser pipe, then spins a wire blade with industrial diamonds embedded in it.

It will spin from four sprockets, cut through the pipe, similar to a chain saw cutting through a tree. The challenges here? These cutters have to function under a mile of water and they have to cut through a pipe that's 21 inches in diameter with one-inch-thick steel walls.

There's also a drill pipe inside that riser pipe that has to be cut through. Now, we're told by PP -- by BP -- excuse me -- that the cutting should be completed within the next couple of days. Then the riser pipe will be moved out of the way, as it is shown here, by a crane.

Then the small containment box will be placed on top. But during this process, before the cap is fixed, we could see a 20 percent increase in oil flow. Also, once the riser pipe is cut, BP officials say visibility in this area will dissipate because more hydrocarbons will be released.

A BP official just told me the containment cap will hopefully be in place later this week. And they hope that it will then be able to start siphoning oil to tankers waiting at the surface.

Wolf, this is video of that containment cap sitting at the bottom of the seafloor right now.

BLITZER: We can only hope this operation is success.

But, Brian, what more do we know about the criminal investigation that Attorney General Eric Holder just announced?

TODD: Well, Holder said the investigation actually began some weeks ago. He said that Justice Department lawyers are examining possible violations of the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act. He also said prosecutors looking into potential violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty and Endangered Species Acts.

Those dole out penalties for injuries to wildlife. He didn't say specifically who might be a target of this probe. BP officials, when they were asked about it, said they will fully cooperate with it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian Todd, with that good explanation.

Meanwhile, there's been a new development that could make this situation -- get this -- even worse, much worse. Today is the start of the hurricane season in the Gulf. President Obama was briefed in the White House Situation Room on preparations.

CNN's John Zarrella reports a major storm in the spill -- spill zone could take this disaster to an entirely different level -- John.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, behind me, you see a generator, an airboat, some sandbags, the kind of things parish officials here in Louisiana hope they don't have to use this summer. But with the start of hurricane season, it is just another worry for the people along the Gulf Coast.

Put them together, oil in the water and hurricane season. It's a potentially bad mix. And there's no way around it. The potential for that storm-driven mix coming inland is very real.

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: Worst-case scenario is a Katrina-type storm would lift that oil up and blanket all of South Louisiana, not only killing the marsh, but contaminating where we are sitting right here, the football field, the high school. So it wouldn't be just the clean up from water. It would be -- I don't know if we would ever clean it up.

ZARRELLA: Billy Nungesser, the Plaquemines Parish president, hosted a workshop for the start of the hurricane season. A few residents showed up to hear what they didn't want to hear, just how bad it could be and what the parish would try to do to hold back an approaching toxic mix.

NUNGESSER: We fill them with water and put them on top of the levee, it gives us an extra 18 inches of height.

ZARRELLA: The giant tubes would help. Sand berms the parish wants to build would help more, but none of this would hold up, experts say, to the power of a major storm. Just look at the Texas coast a couple years ago, says Hurricane Center director Bill Read.

BILL READ, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: All you to have do is look at a picture of the Bolivar Peninsula after Ike and you will have your answer as to anything man is putting in the way temporarily to stop the motion of water. Once you get a powerful storm surge, those things disappear.

ZARRELLA: Researchers are working overtime to better understand the interaction of all that oil and hurricanes. There are so many questions. Could there be a wind-driven rain of oil and water? Would the violent churning of the Gulf like a blender pull up oil from below the surface? Would it wash back out when the water recedes?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Look, we got the Saints to win. I mean, we are into divine intervention

ZARRELLA: That says, Retired Army General Russel Honore, will be the prayer all summer. HONORE: Any tropical system could create a black wave that will be remembered for several generations.

ZARRELLA: You just have to hope, the people here say, that nature decides to spare the Gulf Coast from yet another misery.

(on camera): Climatology shows that a lot of times early in the season, June and July, you will get things that spring up, where else, the worst place, in or near the Gulf of Mexico -- Wolf.


BLITZER: John Zarrella, thanks very much.

The gushing oil, by the way, threatens the fishing industry as well. This hour, federal officials will close another 1,200 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico to recreational and commercial fishing. That makes more than 31 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf off- limits, as forecasts show the oil spreading toward the Alabama and Mississippi coasts right now as well.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

Then, BP trying again to slow the flow of oil into the Gulf with a risky new maneuver. We will get the latest from the Obama administration's point man on the scene, the Coast Guard admiral, Thad Allen.

Also, the man described as al Qaeda's CEO is dead. What impact, if any, will that have on the world's most feared terrorist organization?

Plus: shocking conditions inside a factory some say is driving its workers to kill themselves. You will see what's going on for yourself.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, with the midterm elections now only a few months away, Americans are fed up with both major political parties, and rightfully so.

A new Gallup poll shows near-record low favorable ratings for both Democrats and Republicans. GOP has a measly 36 percent favorable rating. That's only five points above their all-time low in 1998, when the Republican-led Congress voted to impeach President Clinton. The Democrats' are not much better. Their favorable rating is only 43 percent, just a couple points higher than their record low, which came just recently during the health care debate.

Now, these are ratings for the parties, not the Congress. Congress' ratings are much lower than that. Gallup says that low ratings don't usually occur for both parties simultaneously. Typically, when one is down, the other one is up. And this just goes to show you how disgusted Americans are with politicians of all stripes these days.

Meanwhile, in an interesting piece entitled "Stories That Could Rock the Summer," Politico looks at a some of the issues that could shake up the elections over the next couple of months -- at top of the list, no surprise, the Gulf oil spill, which could continue into August. Then there's hurricane season, which is expected to be very aggressive this year and could once again put the focus on the government's preparedness, or lack thereof, for a natural disaster.

Plus, don't forget all those other oil wells operating out there in the Gulf, where the hurricanes blow. There's also the possibility of a summertime terror attack. That could certainly affect the midterms. And, of course, there's the economy.

History suggests if unemployment is in double digits, that is bad news for the party in power. Right now, we're hovering just below 10 percent. And we get a big jobs report this coming Friday.

Here's the question: What stories do you think will shape the debate going into the fall's midterm elections? Go to Post a comment on my blog.

Didn't even mention all the stuff going on between North and South Korea, the thing in Israel. Our foreign policy could be put to the test as well, Wolf, and I didn't even get around to that part.

BLITZER: Yes, a picture earlier I saw of the president in the White House speaking, and you can really see the gray hair coming in.


BLITZER: We're going to show our viewers in a little bit the -- what he looked like a year-and-a-half ago and what he looks like now, the aging process very, very visible.

CAFFERTY: The one thing he's got going for him, though, he's not as gray as you are...


CAFFERTY: ... and he's not as bald as I am.


BLITZER: Not yet.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.


BLITZER: Thad Allen, who is the -- the commanding officer on the scene watching the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, he's standing by. We're going to speak with him in a moment, get an update on what's going on, what's not going on. Could this latest operation even make matters worse? Stand by -- my interview with Admiral Allen coming up next.

Also, news of the probable death of a key al Qaeda leader, welcome news in Washington, to be sure. If the man called al Qaeda's CEO was successfully neutralized, as officials say he was, could Osama bin Laden be close at hand? We will ask our national security contributor, Fran Townsend.


BLITZER: You're looking live at BP's risky new attempt to at least slow the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico by cutting the leaking riser pipe and putting a custom cap on it. BP says the initial cut will actually increase the flow of oil by as much as 20 percent. But even if it works, it will capture most of the leaking oil, but not all of it.

Let's see how it's going with the national incident commander, the Coast Guard admiral, Thad Allen. He's joining us now.

Admiral, how long will this cutting process take?

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD COMMANDANT: Well, it's supposed to happen today, Wolf. But if you look at the riser pipe they're trying to cut, there are some small lines that run down the side of it, choking the kill lines that we've talked so much about regarding the top kill exercise.

So then the process of cutting the smaller pipes so they can get a clean cut on the riser pipe, and that has been going on throughout the day. That will be followed by what they hope will be a much finer cut with a diamond wire saw right down close to the top of the lower marine riser package where the cap can be put on then.

BLITZER: And how long will the whole cutting process, both phases, take?

ALLEN: Well, I think they're about four to six hours into the current one. I have been in a meeting, so I'm not exactly sure when they started the shear cut, but they're not through with the first cut, the shear cut, once that is done then they will go to the diamond wire cut. And I think that will take place through the night.

BLITZER: Assuming that both cuts work successfully, there will be a 20 percent increase in the oil flow going out. For how many days will that continue until they can start to contain it by putting that cap on?

ALLEN: Wolf, my guess is, on the near side, 24 to 36 hours and maybe beyond that. I don't think they're going to know until they find the condition of that cut after the diamond wire cut is made. What they have is two different devices that are stored on the seabed.

One, if they get a very fine cut, they can actually seal it with a rubber seal, will catch much more of the oil, and if that one is not possible, a little wider one that will not collect so much oil but will cap it and it will contain more than we are right now. So it will have to be based on the inspection of the second cut.

BLITZER: If it doesn't work, this process, and the cap simply doesn't work, will the oil continue to spill, not at necessarily even at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, which has been the case up to now, according to the U.S. government estimates, but if it's a 20 percent increase, will that increase continue until August when those relief wells are finally in place?

ALLEN: Well, the estimate of 20 percent increase was when we cut the marine riser pipe. And that's based on our flow rate technical group that we established several weeks ago under Marcia McNutt, the head of the U.S. Geological Survey. That is our government estimate. We would -- hopefully it will be less than that, but we are trying to be realistic and make sure that the American people understand what it is we're dealing with.

It should only be for the time period between the cut and the riser pipe and the -- either the top cap or the top hat being put on it. But in any event, we're not going to be completely clear of this danger, Wolf, until we get the relief well dug in August.

BLITZER: And do we know for sure that will work, those two relief wells that are supposed to be completed by August? What guarantee is there that even these relief wells will work?

ALLEN: Well, nothing is guaranteed to a virtual certainty. I think we all know that after watching what has been transpiring, Wolf. But we actually directed the second well be drilled as a risk mitigator against the first, and that's exactly the reason we did it.

BLITZER: So, right now, we assume that the final solution, if you will, the complete success, won't come until early, mid, or late August, is that what you're saying?

ALLEN: That's correct, Wolf.

But in the meantime we're focusing on containing the spill, getting that oil to the surface, and producing it. In the absence of the success of the top kill, which would have capped the well, we don't want to put pressure on the well because we don't know the condition of the well bore and the casing.

So we're going to have to evacuate that oil and actually bring it to the top, flare off the gas, and produce it. And that's what the top cap or the top hat, depending on which one they use, is intended to do.

BLITZER: Why did you decide to end the joint news conferences between the government, which is you, and BP?

ALLEN: Well, a couple of reasons, Wolf. I move around a lot, as you know. It's my job to be out here and understand what is going on, whether it's at our command post or down on the beaches where the clean-up is going on, or on the offshore oil rigs.

I think it's more important for the people of the United States to know where I'm at and what I'm doing. And we thought this was a much more effective way to explain that and show what I'm all about in lieu of a standardized briefing at a certain day in a command center.

It really doesn't explain the breadth of the scope of what is going on here and the demands that are being placed on all of us to get this thing right. So that's the message, Wolf.

BLITZER: Admiral Allen, good luck. Thanks very much.

ALLEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you. Obviously, this story is not going away.

Another major story we're following: Israel's deadly commando raid on humanitarian ships reverberating from the Middle East to the United Nations, also over at the White House. John King and Gloria Borger, they are both standing by with their insights on what the U.S. might we doing next.

Also, the death of al Qaeda's operations commander believed killed by a U.S. missile, what does it tell us about the hunt for bin Laden?


BLITZER: Israel has begun releasing some of the activists detained in the deadly raid on a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza. The office of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says all the foreign activists will be released within 48 hours.

Israel is facing blistering international criticism for the commando raid on the six ships, in which Israeli forces killed at least nine people. Israel says its soldiers were being attacked and acted in self-defense.

The United Nations Security Council is calling for an investigation, a move the U.S. is backing.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We support, in the strongest terms, the Security Council's call for a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation.

We support an Israeli investigation that meets those criteria. We are open to different ways of assuring a credible investigation, including international participation. And we will continue to discuss these ideas with the Israelis and our international partners in the days ahead.


BLITZER: For more now, we're joined now -- we're joined now by CNN's John King -- he's the host of "JOHN KING, USA," which starts right at the top of the hour -- and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.,

Gloria, you know, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, was supposed to be here at the White House today.


BLITZER: But that went away as a result of this -- this operation, this incident. It comes about as bad a time...


BLITZER: ... in U.S./Israeli relations as you can imagine.

BORGER: Right.

And this event comes at a really bad time. As you point out, they were supposed to be meeting today to mend U.S./Israeli relationships, which have been frayed, to say the least. Instead, Netanyahu had to go home. President Obama didn't want to meet with him in the middle of -- in the middle of all of this.

And so you have a situation for the United States, it's very, very touchy, because, on the one hand, we want to mend our relationship with Israel. On the other hand, we don't want to alienate the Arab world with this event. So, we have to kind of walk a fine line.

And what you just saw with Hillary Clinton was her walking that really fine line, saying, look, we want an investigation into this, but it has to be fair. So, to say that this complicates things is an understatement.

BLITZER: And you know, John, the White House is going to be under enormous pressure, not only from the Israelis, but from Israel's supporters in Congress, to -- to make sure that the Obama administration protects Israel from international condemnation.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": And there's the rub, because the Israeli lobby in the United States is saying, do not condemn Israel. Stand by Israel in this moment of crisis for the Netanyahu government.

Others around the world are saying, you need to specifically criticize Israel. Don't just call for an investigation.

They want the United States to say the action was over the line. The president this afternoon just had a conversation with the Turkish Prime Minister. And again, in the president's read-out -- the White House read-out of that call there's no condemnation of Israel.

Actually there's a statement saying the world needs to recognize Israel can take steps to protect its national interests. So those are the kind of statements that will help at home with the pro-Israel lobby, but it will make president's international diplomacy more complicated. BLITZER: Is there a temporary solution to this whole issue of the blockade that Israel and to a certain extent Egypt also has undertaken of Gaza?

BORGER: You know, I was talking to some Mideast experts and a couple suggested to me some kind of international monitoring system that would essentially be instead of the blockade, but make sure that you don't send in a bunch of Jihadists with weapons.

But instead sort of monitor who can get in, whether it's doctors or whatever you need in there while monitoring it. Again, though, Wolf, this would just be temporary because you have to deal with Gaza.

KING: The solution is to try to get some conversations going.

BORGER: Right.

KING: There's no peace process. Everyone says start the peace process again. There is no peace process. First you have to get them at the table and decide who speaks for the Palestinians, is it Mr. Abbas? Is it the Hamas from Gaza?

There's that problem. And Wolf, this will complicate the Iranian diplomacy. The administration wanted to have a tough line at the United Nations and a new set of sanctions. As you know, the United Nations often has a hard time agreeing that you know, Tuesday comes after Monday.

And so when they're focused on one thing, it will be hard for the administration to move on something else especially when it involves Israel.

BLITZER: Good point. John will have a lot more coming on this coming up at the top of the hour. Guys, thanks very much.

At the center of the controversy is the Gaza Strip. It's home to an estimated 1.6 million people in an area roughly twice the size of Washington, D.C. The United Nations estimates 40 percent of the workforce is unemployed. 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty level, 80 percent rely on some form of humanitarian aid.

The U.N. also says Israel bans building supplies, among other things, for Gaza. Israel says it's relaxing that ban and allows 100 truckloads of aid each day into Gaza. Israel has also promised to deliver the humanitarian supplies it seized from those aid ships across land.

Up next, the iPhone touched off a new wave of personal communication. Now there's a terrible connection. Workers at a factory are taking their own lives at an alarming rate. Stay with us. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."


BLITZER: The White House is welcoming news of the death of a top Al Qaeda leader, Mustafa Abu Al Yazid was the operations commander, Al Qaeda's number three man. He's believed to have been killed by a U.S. missile strike.

For more we're joined by our National Security Contributor, Fran Townsend. She was the Homeland Security Adviser to President Bush, currently a member of the CIA's external advisory board. How important of a killing was this, Fran?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's very important. Wolf, there's been a string of these. Really this is number eight, approximately eight, since last August.

BLITZER: In Pakistan, Afghanistan, or in Iraq?

TOWNSEND: Around the world, actually. It includes Iraq. There were two in Iraq, there was one in Somalia -- around the world taking out these key operational leaders really undermines and degrades Al Qaeda's capability for launching what they call external operations.

BLITZER: It seems every few months we hear that the number three guy in al Qaeda has been killed.

TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf, I used to say that was the shortest lifespan job that al Qaeda had, and why is that? Because that's the communications node. He's at the hub of communications, operations, planning, both internal and external to the region. And also money. And recruiting, so this is a key --

BLITZER: So, when you worked in the White House for President Bush, did you focus on this guy?

TOWNSEND: We focused on this guy, and we always focused on the number three. I can remember targeting Abu Faraj Al-Libbi when he was the number three.

That's a key position because also that tends to be the node that moves messages between the leadership and the rest of the organizations. Bin Laden, Zawahiri and the rest of the organization rely on this individual in the number three position to move messages.

BLITZER: I can hear viewers around the world asking the obvious question. If the U.S. can keep killing a number three al Qaeda leader, why can't they kill a number one or two?

TOWNSEND: Well, you got to keep after the number three and hope you get the opportunity, Wolf, to follow the communications trail back. It's not so easy.

Obviously Bin Laden and Zawahiri understand very well how the U.S. does their targeting. They understand to stay off methods of communication. They use couriers. It's very difficult.

And so what you look for is your ability to target the number three and then trace his movements, his associations, his affiliates and see if you can't pull that string that will lead you up the food chain.

BLITZER: So, there's a new number three now, you assume, this guy will be targeted as soon as possible.

TOWNSEND: I'm sure he's on that target list right now.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch and see what happens. See what happens to the number one and number two as well, Fran.

TOWNSEND: That's right.

BLITZER: Thank you. Factory workers allegedly treated like machines as they make computer parts that could wind up in your home or office. Is the stress driving some of them to take their own lives? We went inside and found some shocking conditions.


BLITZER: When you make a call on your iPhone or fire up your iPad there's a good chance it came from an electronics factory in China. Hundreds of thousands of people work at the Foxconn Complex which builds products for Apple, Sony, Dell, and other companies. But an alarming number of workers are now killing themselves. Here's CNN's John Vause.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, behind this security checkpoint is Foxconn. Also known as the forbidden city of the I.T. world.


VAUSE: Rarely does the world's biggest supplier of electronic and computer parts open up to the outside world. Foxconn, best known as the maker of Apple's iPhone and iPad is obsessive about secrecy and security.

This complex is spread over less than a square mile, and 300,000 mostly young workers from the countryside live, sleep, and work here. And this could be their first job away from home, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of them. Most of them, their first job.

VAUSE: And a growing number of these workers are either killing themselves or trying to. And Foxconn doesn't know why.

VAUSE: We've never seen anything like this before says the company spokesman. Workers spend long hours on the assembly line, not only supplying parts for Apple, but also for tech giants Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Nokia, earning less than 300 U.S. dollars a month. Under the watchful eye of Mr. Lieu we talked to this young woman. So, a model, happy employee.


VAUSE: But critics say that's not the whole story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wake up. They have breakfast. They go to work. They work a solid shift. They come back to their dormitory. They sleep. It's a very dehumanizing place and the workers are little more than machines there.

VAUSE: Employees live in dormitories eight to a room, common to factories in China. Often roommates, though, will not know each other's names. Do you know these guys? Do you know their names? Do you know where they're from and all that kind of stuff? She arrived three days ago. I don't know her name, she says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no real sense of community there, and I think that is one of the significant factors behind this alarming number of suicides.

VAUSE: And Foxconn admits managers have been known to abuse workers if they make mistakes or miss deadlines. "What we can and must change is the rude attitudes our managers have towards our workers," he says. And while this complex is like a city within a city, with three hospitals, fire station, restaurants and supermarkets, recreational facilities are few. Five pools, libraries, and 400 computers, that's 1 for every 750 workers. The company has set up a hotline. How many suicides have you prevented in recent weeks here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over one month?

VAUSE: One month, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually maybe over 30.

VAUSE: More than 30? Counselors have been called in. And in this stress room, employees can work out their frustration. Even so, Mr. Lieu says another suicide is a matter of when, not if. "I don't think our prevention is enough to stop the suicide trend."

So, what could be happening here, according to some experts, has all the hallmarks of what's known as a suicide cluster, when the idea of suicide quickly spreads amongst a group of people, often teenagers or young adults. Still, none of that is putting off the hundreds who line up every day hoping for a job.

Have you heard about people who have been dying in Foxconn, some people have committed suicide? "Some people might find it stressful and difficult work," he says. "but it's not a problem for me," because for many young workers moving to the city, a job at Foxconn is still a much better option than staying at home on the farm."

And management has recently announced a pay increase for workers. They've even installed nets around buildings to try and catch jumpers -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, they got to do something. Thanks very much, good report, John Vause, in China for us. Jack Cafferty is in New York, he's coming up with your e-mail. Also, neighbors at war. We're going to show you who moved in next door to Sarah Palin.

And look who's turning 30? Us. That's CNN, not me. I'm going to take you back to the beginning. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hard to believe but today is the 30th anniversary of the cable news network that's better known as CNN. On June 1st, 1980, at this hour, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, Ted Turner launched the world's first-ever 24-hour news channel and changed the face of news coverage forever.


TED TURNER, CEO, TURNER BROADCAST NETWORK: I think the people of America need this in-depth news service, and I'm willing and have been willing all along to risk everything that I have to provide that service, and we're going to provide it come heck or high water.

We intend to cover all the news all the time. That's -- and since we're going to be on for such a long period, continuously, we sign on on June 1, and barring satellite problems in the future, we won't be signing off until the world ends.

We'll be on. We will cover it live, you know, that will be our last -- last event.


BLITZER: Based in Atlanta, CNN struggled at first to find enough content to fill its 24-hour, 7 day a week news hole. Our people were young. We learned by doing it. We did it without a lot of the bells and whistles we have right now. By the way, check out our very first newscast 30 years ago this hour.


DAVID WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm David Walker.

LOIS HART, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Lois Hart, now here's the news. President Carter has arrived in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, for a brief visit with civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. Jordan is in serious but stable condition now at Parkview Hospital. He is recuperating from the gunshot wound suffered early Thursday morning. Police still have no solid lead on who attempted to murder Jordan.


BLITZER: She didn't have a teleprompter at that time. I had the pleasure of spending time with Ted Turner a couple weeks ago when he paid a visit to CNN's Washington Bureau. We sat down to reminisce.

What was your favorite one memory of CNN when you were in charge?

TED TURNER, CEO, TURNER BROADCAST NETWORK: Oh, the Gulf War. The first Gulf War.

BLITZER: Talk about it.

TURNER: Okay. Well, I was out in L.A., I knew it was coming. We all did. We didn't know exactly when. But I was at Jane Fonda's house, I was -- had just started dating her.

And I flipped on the TV in the afternoon when I came in from my bike ride. And I flipped over to CBS. And there Dan Rather was talking about the war. And I flipped over to ABC and Peter Jennings was talking about the war. And I flipped over to NBC, and Tom Brokaw was talking about the war and I switched over to CNN and there was the war. And I said, we're rocking and socking.


BLITZER: Turner certainly changed the world. Let's go to Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty File. No doubt about it, Jack, who would have thought, 30 years later, there would be a lot of cable news channels?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, but we're the oldest and arguably the best. You sort of made your reputation in this business with your coverage of that first Gulf War. Correct-amundo?

BLITZER: Correct-amundo. I was the Pentagon correspondent 20 years ago. We're getting ready August 1st when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

CAFFERTY: I remember that and had the pleasure of meeting and working with you a whole bunch of years later. You've been here 20 years. I've actually been here 10 years and the company's still up and running. You know? Go figure.

The question this hour, what stories will shape the debate going into the fall's midterm elections. Carol writes from Massachusetts, to coin a cliche, it's the economy. Anger and even fear have a way of disappearing when your pockets are full.

Joe in North Carolina, I'm of a mind, like most, that we ought to throw out all the incumbents. While I don't trust them any better, I'm also in favor of having the republicans control the Congress since history has shown us that when one party has full control, things just tend to go from bad to worse.

Richard in Washington writes, the Gulf Spill is the big story. I'm a big Obama fan, but I'm not feeling too good about how he's dealing with this. He needs to plant the White House in Louisiana until the crisis is over instead of vacationing in Chicago. The governor needs him there 24/7. I'm disappointed. I don't understand why presidents continue to fail when they're most needed.

Nancy in Michigan. I hope that the debate will be over substantive issues like the ones you mentioned, it is far more likely that they will find some trivial issue to argue twist and lie about. Neither party has a food to stand on when it comes to the important issues. There are no easy answers and no one has the guts to give us the hard truth.

Ken in Pennsylvania, being unemployed for the last year only serves to bring Bill Clinton's prophetic words into focus, it's the economy, stupid. The midterm elections will start to clean out the greedy, spineless poll watchers in Congress. I'm from Pennsylvania and I'm proud as hell to see Arlen Specter riding his rocking chair.

Lucy in New York, the disaster will be number one, even if they cap it next week. But healthcare, which was forced down our throats will make a huge difference in who's elected.

Tom in California says, I finished eating my apple pie. I think the stories that will shape the debate of the midterm elections will be the health care bill, the Arizona immigration bill, the oil disaster and the national debt. At work, I'm the boss. So I can get on the Cafferty file blog whenever I want to.

If you want to read more on this, you'll find it on my blog, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, very quickly look at this. I was watching President Obama today speaking about the oil spill. This is what he looked like today. Look at the gray hair there. Back in 2008, there was no gray hair. This guy, like all presidents, he's aging quickly.

CAFFERTY: But he's still got that million dollar smile. You notice that hasn't gone away.

BLITZER: He's got a good smile. Thanks very much for that. Jack, see you back here tomorrow.

BP crossed a milestone today in its ongoing battle to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The cost, $1 billion and counting. John King talks to BP's Doug Suttles on "John King, USA" that's coming up right at the top of the next hour. And Sarah Palin has a new neighbor, and she doesn't like him one bit. He's a best-selling author and his next book is about her. Stick around. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."


BLITZER: In Alaska, Sarah Palin's family has installed a tall fence. It seems they don't like their new neighbor. He's writing a book about her. CNN's Jeanne Moos has a most unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It may not be as great as the Great Wall or as infamous as the Berlin Wall, but Palin's fence isn't leaving anyone on the fence when it comes to its purpose, to block out the best-selling author writing a book about Palin, who's rented the house next door.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's kinds of stalkerish.


MOOS: And they're not even fans of Sarah Palin. But now, author Joe McGinniss is firing back in a "Today Show" interview.

JOE MCGINNISS, AUTHOR: Sarah hysterically puts up this Facebook page with all sorts of ugly innuendo, which, frankly, is revolting. MOOS: Palin made McGinniss sound creepy, writing, wonder what kind of material he'll gather while overlooking Piper's bedroom, my little garden and the family's swimming hole? But McGinniss told the "Today Show," she posted his picture.

MCGINNISS: Surreptitiously they photographed me standing on my own porch.

MOOS: Conservatives like Glenn Beck call McGinniss --

GLENN BECK: A peeping tom.

MOOS: Greta Van Susteren posted Palin's fence with the caption to protect against the Wasilla stalker.

SARAH PALIN: You know, as they say, fences make for good neighbors and Todd and his buddies started the fence yesterday and it's looking good. It's about 14 feet high.

MOOS: Palin's now famous fence --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this blocks his view.

MOOS: -- started to sound like a knock-knock joke. When "Good Morning America" came to call.

MCGINNISS: I don't want to call the Wasilla police. Get off my property now.

MOOS: McGinniss has even gotten threats. Palin counterattacked on Twitter after McGinniss accused her of inciting hatred, acting like a Nazi.

MCGINNISS: She has pushed a button and unleashed the hounds of hell.

PALIN: They say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.

MOOS: What with the Palin brouhaha, good fences don't just make good neighbor, they make good marketing ploys. An Ohio company is now selling the Palin fence, pressure treated, as Sarah Palin herself has been. Palin captioned her photo of Joe McGinniss, hi neighbor, may I call you Joe? Remember the last time she said that to a guy named Biden. A McCain aide said she wanted to call him Joe to avoid a habit she had of adding an "o."

PALIN: Senator O'Biden.

MOOS: At least with a fence between them, she won't be tempted to call this Joe O'McGinniss. Jeanne Moos, CNN.

PALIN: A real pain in the butt.

MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. That's all the time we have. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITAUTION ROOM." "John King, USA" starts right now.