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THE SITUATION ROOM
BP Lowers Gasoline Prices; Second American Revolution Coming?
Aired August 4, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And it's President Obama's birthday, but a latest poll shows that an astonishing, astonishing percentage of Americans still denying he's even born in the United States. That has some significant political implications.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in the SITUATION ROOM.
107 days after an oil rig exploded and sunk and a ruptured well spread disaster along the Gulf of Mexico coast. A decisive blow has now been struck in the battle to kill that well once and for all. The well has been packed with heavy drilling mud, more than 2,000 barrels of it, and officials now say there is high confidence no more oil will leak out. In the days ahead, relief wells should totally eliminate any further threat.
Meantime, the government scientists say that remarkably, 3/4 of the oil that leaked from the well has either been collected, dispersed, or has simply vanished.
BLITZER: And joining us now the president's energy adviser, Carol Browner. Carol, thanks very much for coming in.
CAROL BROWNER, WHITE HOUSE ENERGY & CLIMATE ADVISER: Thank you.
BLITZER: So, is it over? Mission accomplished?
BROWNER: It is not mission accomplished. It's obviously an important day. We know the static kill work. We know we're not going to have more oil leaking. We still have the relief well to complete. That's probably another two weeks away. And we also have a long-term restoration. So, we're just beginning a new phase as we end one phase. We're going to be with the people of the Gulf for a very long time to come.
BLITZER: But no more oil is going to be seeping out of this well, is that right?
BROWNER: That's absolutely right. No more oil will be seeping out onto the beaches.
BLITZER: Are you putting in cement in that well right now in addition to the mud that you've been placing into it? BROWNER: So, our scientists are in Houston. Dr. Chew and others are in Houston looking at whether or not putting cement down the top of the well makes sense and anticipation of putting cement at the bottom of the well. We will absolutely putting cement at the bottom. We may also put it at the top. They're trying to sort that through right now.
BLITZER: When you say at the bottom, those are the relief wells that you're still working on. It's going to take, what, another week or two to get that done?
BROWNER: Right. The relief well is probably about somewhere between 7, 10, 14 days away from being completed.
BLITZER: And once that's done, this well is dead?
BROWNER: It is dead, dead, dead.
BLITZER: When are you going to allow this moratorium to be lifted on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico?
BROWNER: Well, there are three issues the president wanted to make sure we look at. One was what are all the safety requirements so an accident doesn't happen again. What do you need on the rig? What do you need on the blowout preventers? Secondly, what would be a containment strategy in the event of a bad accident? Obviously, we've learned a lot about containment. And finally, how would you actually clean it up? There, again, we've learned a lot.
You know, so Department of Interior will be looking at all of this as they're able to answer these questions and get the requirements in place. They will move forward appropriately with the temporary pause in drilling.
BLITZER: Some suggestions earlier was going to go on at least until the end of the year, you're now thinking that it can be accelerated lifting the moratorium?
BROWNER: Well, I'm going to leave that to interior in terms of the actual time frame, but certainly, we have a lot of information that we didn't have even a few weeks ago. We understand a static kill. We understand a top hat. They're going to be looking at all of that in making the appropriate decisions.
BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong that the president in the oval office today told you and your colleagues he still supports deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico?
BROWNER: We all support deepwater drilling. Nothing has changed in that. What the president said when this horrible accident began is we need to take a pause. We need to understand what happened, and we need to understand how to make sure it doesn't happen again, and if it does, contain it and clean it up. So, nothing has changed in the president's position on this.
BLITZER: This new report from NOAA says what? A quarter of the oil, and we're talking about 4 or 5 million barrels of oil that seeped into the Gulf of Mexico, about a quarter was skimmed off, a quarter was destroyed by these dispersants and a quarter was basically removed through the environment or whatever, but there's still a quarter that's still out there or missing or whatever. What are you going do about a still, a million barrels that are unaccounted for?
BROWNER: Well, what this report actually did is it looked at what was happening throughout the spill. So, it's not that there are still not a million barrels unaccounted for. There is some that have not yet washed up in tar balls, but as you note, 33 percent was removed because of the actions of the government, the containment, the skimming, the burning, the dispersants. Mother Nature played a really important role about 25 percent.
And then there was this residual which some of it has already come ashore. It's been cleaned up and the sand and the marshes, others may continue to come ashore, other may dissolve. It may degrade in the ocean, but we wanted to make sure we gave the American people a clear picture of what our scientists thought is happening to the oil.
BLITZER: How worried are you about the long-term effects of these dispersants?
BROWNER: We're going to be studying dispersants for a long time. Look, it's a tricky decision. Oil is a very toxic chemical, toxic in the environment. Obviously, keeping it out of the environment was a priority. We used all of the tools available. EPA was a part of this. EPA thought it was important to reduce the dispersants that were being used. We did reduce them by 72 percent.
But clearly, this is something we're going to have to study. We're going to have to study what is the effect of the oil in this environment for a long time to come. Yes, we're cleaning it up. Yes, we've been able to skim it, burn it, capture it, but still, we need to understand precisely what happened, and we will. We will be studying it.
BLITZER: How much is BP going to have to pay the federal government in fines for the four or five million barrels that were allowed to seep out from this well?
BROWNER: Well, the law does allow or require that a fine be paid. I'm going to leave that to the justice department in terms of what the size of that fine will be, but I suspect it will be significant. This was the largest leak, the largest oil accident in the history of our country, and I'm sure there will be a commensurate fine.
BLITZER: Are we talking about another $20 billion or so? Is that ballpark figure?
BROWNER: You know, there are different calculations, different ways to do the calculations. It will be a very significant amount of money. BLITZER: And this is in addition to the $20 billion money they put in an escrow account that Ken Feinberg will distribute through the claims process.
BROWNER: That's exactly right. And then there's a third part of money, Wolf, which is the natural resource damages. They have to pay for the natural resources that were damaged, and then that money is used to restore those damages, to restore the environment.
BLITZER: Carol Browner is the energy adviser to the president. Good luck and thanks.
BROWNER: Thank you.
BLITZER: And (INAUDIBLE) to eight struggling gas stations that have (inaudible) angry consumers, BP is now lowering its gasoline prices. Most BP stations are independent businesses, and the oil giant does not set gas station price, but BP is offering incentives to distributors that could trim two cents off of the price of the pump. One oil industry analyst is calling it and I'm quoting right now, "an anger management allowance."
We're following the breaking news out of California right now where a federal judge has thrown out proposition 8, the measure that repealed gay marriage in California. This ruling finds it unconstitutional and violating both the due process and equal protection clauses, but he also stayed this ruling, meaning same sex couples will remain unable to marry for the time being in California while the case is being appealed before the ninth circuit court of appeals. Eventually, it will go up to the U.S. Supreme Court. More on the story coming up. Jack Cafferty is coming up next with the "Cafferty File."
Also, we're looking into reports of an assassination attempt on Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We got some new details coming in.
And the man behind the controversial plan to build an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero in New York is speaking out as the project moves one step closer to reality.
We're also going to look at some truly surprising poll numbers just coming into the SITUATION ROOM. We're trying to figure out why so many Americans still believe President Obama was not born in the United States.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here. He got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First one started with the Boston tea party and now more than 230 years later, some people think the time is right for a second American revolution. An editorial in "Investors Business Daily" suggests people are now asking if our government does more harm than good, and if we ought to change, what it does and the way it does it. Much of the blame is laid on what it calls the imperial presidency. The editorial says that through his policies like record spending and deficits, taxes, health care, et cetera, President Obama is quote "diminishing America from within."
There are growing signs that a lot of Americans have had a belly full of President Obama's policy. Start with health care, 71 percent of Missouri voters supported a measure just yesterday that would forbid the federal government from penalizing people who refused to buy health insurance as mandated under President Obama's health care law, and it's no just Missouri. Five other states have passed similar bills; two other states have constitutional amendments on their November ballots this fall to opt out of all or part of the new federal health care law. There is immigration which one day might be seen as the turning point in the struggle.
While the federal government refuses to enforce our laws on immigration and refuses to secure the borders, it's going after Arizona in court for trying to protect its own citizens from an invasion of illegal aliens. One Arizona sheriff says the federal government quote "has become our enemy and is taking us to court at a time when we need help." A Mexican drug cartel has reportedly offered $1 million for someone to kill another Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio. Things are getting very ugly, and it's no surprise the president's approval ratings continue to decline. In some of the major polls now, it's approaching 40 percent.
Here's the question, is a second American Revolution coming, do you think? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thanks very much. We're going to get back to you in a moment.
Let's get some more now on the breaking news we've been following out of California where a federal judge has thrown out proposition 8. That's the measure that repealed gay marriage in the state. We earlier heard -- we got some reaction from some folks who support the repeal of proposition 8. Let's get some reaction now from Tony Perkins. He is the president of the Family Research Council. He's joining us on the phone. Not a good day for what you stand for, Tony. Tell us your immediate reaction and what happens now?
VOICE OF TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, Wolf, it takes the debate to a new level. This is not just about California's marriage amendment. The California marriage amendment was tried in state court and found to be perfectly legal. The voters of that state overwhelmingly decided to defend the traditional definition of marriage. This is different. This takes it to the federal level with the challenge being under the U.S. constitution in a federal court. So, this really sets the stage for potentially overturning the laws and nearly 45 states that have defined marriage as according to the historic definition of man and woman.
BLITZER: So, obviously, you're going to see what happens in the ninth circuit court of appeals that's considered as you well know a pretty liberal court of appeals, so eventually though, it will get up to the Supreme Court. I guess you agree with that?
PERKINS: Yes. I don't think there's any question that it's going to end up in the Supreme Court. Look, Ted Olson is a very smart guy, probably one of the best constitutional lawyers in the country.
BLITZER: And he's a conservative Republican?
PERKINS: Well, he's a republican. And I think that what he did is -- I mean, he knows what he's doing. This was the venue in which they could shop for a very favorable court. He made the arguments under the 14th amendment that would most likely have been received by this court, and sure enough, they were. You know, the due process issue was one of the issues as well as equal protection that this judge brought out in his ruling. But, really, the bottom line here, Wolf, is that no one argues that there's a fundamental right to marry.
That's clear. But, what is at question here and what this judge really asserts by his decision is that fundamental right to marry also includes a fundamental right to redefine marriage, and that's where I think this decision is going to run into problems, probably at the Supreme Court level.
BLITZER: But you assume the ninth circuit court of appeals will uphold the district court's decision today?
PERKINS: Well, there are some -- judges on the ninth circuit that have been appointed by conservative presidents, but they're more libertarian in the orientation. And so, you know, look, the ninth circuit is the most overturned circuit in the country. They have some of the most outlandish rulings in the country. You know, they're the same court that overturned the pledge of allegiance, that advanced other notions about the motto and so on and so forth. So, you know, nothing surprises me out of the ninth circuit. I think, really, ultimately, this will be decided by the United States Supreme Court.
BLITZER: We're just getting in, Tony, a statement from the White House. The spokesman there issuing this statement on behalf of the White House. I'll read it to you and to our viewers. The president has spoken out in opposition to proposition 8, because it is divisive and discriminatory. He will continue to promote equality for LGBT Americans, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender Americans. You got a problem with that White House reaction?
PERKINS: Well, no surprise there. I mean, he's been doing everything he can to overturn the defense of marriage act, to promote key aspects of the agenda of the homosexual community, so nothing surprising there. I do think that this clearly will be on the minds of some senators tomorrow when or Thursday, or tomorrow or Friday or hopefully tomorrow, they'll probably be in the height of the vote on Elena Kagan, so I think this factors into that very significantly, and it think it's one of the reasons that this president put her forward. Her past positions and statements should make clear that, you know, she would be a vote in overturning historical marriage in this country.
BLITZER: But unless the Republicans and the conservatives decide to do a last-minute filibuster, she is going to be approved. She's going to be confirmed. You have no doubt about that, right?
PERKINS: Well, it's not just the Republicans. I mean, you've had five Republicans who have caved on this, but you do have some Democrats, especially those who are in a cycle, and I think of Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas, a state where clearly would not be lined up with this judge's ruling. She is up for re-election in a very tough re-election, and so I think you got her, you got Senator Nelson from Nebraska in a similar position, so I think you don't rely just on republicans, you have Democrats as well that are going to be more tuned to what the American people are thinking on this issue, and still, regardless of the propaganda and what's been done, even the courts weighing in, the majority of the Americans still believe marriage should be as historically been defined in this country, a union of a man and a woman.
BLITZER: Tony Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council. Tony, thanks for joining us.
PERKINS: All right, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a divisive issue, but the man behind the plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero in New York says he believes it eventually will build bridges. He'll explain.
And some critically wounded American warrior returning home from Afghanistan. CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is the first reporter to make this entire journey with them. This is an exclusive report you'll see only here on CNN.
BLITZER: There are reports out of Iran coming out right that a grenade was thrown out earlier in day at a motorcade involving the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A denial has been issued of those reports, but a lot of questions certainly remain, some sparked by the Iranian leader, himself. CNN's Ivan Watson is monitoring the latest developments from Istanbul -- Ivan?
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, conflicting reports out of the western Iranian city of Hamidan on Wednesday. According to a number of pro government Iranian web sites including a news agency which is closely tied to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard core, somebody threw a home-made hand grenade at the convoy of Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he was travelling through that city. At least one person was reportedly detained with connection with the incident. Within the matter of hours, a spokesman for President Ahmadinejad was denying that any attack had taken place.
(INAUDIBLE) told CNN that this was in fact a toy firecracker, the kind that children play with that nobody had been injured in the incident, and he said that the western media was blowing this out of proportion. It's tough for us to know what exactly happened, because foreign media almost by and large have been barred from operating freely inside Iran, and dozens of Iranian journalists have been arrested over the course of the past year in connection with a government crackdown on opposition activists and critics of the Iranian government.
Some of the confusion may also stem from comments that the Iranian president has, himself, made in recent days. He was quoted, accusing Israel of plotting to assassinate him. He said earlier in the "Week," quote "stupid Zionists are hiring mercenaries to try to assassinate me -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ivan, thanks very much. Ivan is monitoring the story for us.
Meanwhile, a controversial Islamic center and mosque planned near ground zero in New York cleared a hurdle the New York's Landmark Preservation Commission yesterday declined to declare the existing site of landmark. That means that the new owner can raise the building. Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff spoke with the project's developer today. Allan, a lot of controversy. He's now explaining precisely to you what he has in mind?
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There has been so much controversy, but the developer saying he's confident eventually this project will achieve just the opposite effect, build bridges to opponents and people who may know little about Muslim- Americans.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): This is a prime inspiration for the man behind the controversial mosque at ground zero. It's the Jewish community center in Manhattan, yes, Jewish community center where Sharif El-Gamal is a member.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL CEO, SOHO PROPERTIES: I love it. It's one of the best facilities in New York. I mean, that's where a lot of this thinking came from. I love how they're inclusive.
CHERNOFF: Which El-Gamal says is exactly what he plans for the controversial project that now carries a most uncontroversial sounding name, Park 51 derived from its address on Park Place.
EL-GAMAL: This center is open to all New Yorkers. It's open to people of religion and people of no religion.
CHERNOFF: There will be a mosque at Park 51. Since late last year, New Yorkers have been using the existing building for prayer, but plans also call for a swimming pool, gym, basketball court, restaurant and culinary school, library and art studios. In spite of highly publicized protests, El-Gamal says he's inspired by an outpouring of support from people of all faiths.
EL-GAMAL: It's overwhelmed us on every aspect.
CHERNOFF: The anti-defamation league which fights anti-Semitism and other bigotry had questioned whether the location might be hurtful to 9/11 families, but it now says that the debate is over.
ABRAHAM FOXMAN, NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ADL: We raised the question, and at this point, there's no need to raise the question anymore because it's moving forward, finished.
CHERNOFF: Now the project really begins. This is just one rendering. El-Gamal needs to hire an architect, make a budget, and raise funds.
EL-GAMAL: What is happening here is a community center, a community center that's going to be opened to all. That's going to provide dialogue. That's going to provide bridges.
CHERNOFF: If what you have in mind is building bridges and interfaith dialogue, then why not have this center a little further away from the World Trade Center instead of just two blocks right there. There probably wouldn't be much opposition if you were further away.
EL-GAMAL: This is not about the World Trade Center. This is not about a particular location. This is about a need that exists within the lower Manhattan community, and it's pretty hard finding real estate in New York.
CHERNOFF: So, you have the building, therefore, do it there?
EL-GAMAL: We have the building, and we're doing it there, God willing.
CHERNOFF: Sharif El-Gamal says he hopes the project's opponents will eventually embrace Park 51, even benefit from it. Just as people of all faiths are welcomed to enjoy Jewish community centers and YMCAs around the country.
CHERNOFF (on-camera): El-Gamal does not have a blueprint. He says the design, the number of floors, and the cost are yet to be determined -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Allan, thanks very much. The story is not going away.
It's President Obama's birthday today, and he concedes that he's getting a little grayer. We're taking a closer look at how he's aged since taking office. And we'll also take a closer look at our latest poll which shows a stunning percentage of Americans still doubt or deny the president was born in the United States.
BLITZER: It's President Obama's 49th birthday today, but despite overwhelming proof, our latest poll shows, get this, an extraordinary percentage of Americans still doubt or deny he was born in the United States. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. It's significant political ramifications from this poll.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They really are, Wolf, especially when you consider the sheer percentage of people who believe either that the president was not born in the U.S. or that he probably wasn't. It's a sizable enough percentage to raise questions about the president's overall support for re-election even though the theory itself has been shut down.
TODD (voice-over): There's no credible dispute. Officials in Hawaii released a copy of President Obama's birth certificate. It was authenticated by the state's Republican governor. A Honolulu hospital posted newspaper announcements of his birth. CNN and other news outlets have thoroughly debunked the rumors, and the White House has squarely addressed those who doubt Mr. Obama was born in the U.S.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have news for them and for all of us. The president was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
TODD: But despite the overwhelmingly evidence, a quarter of Americans remain skeptical. An new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 11 percent saying President Obama was definitely not born in the U.S. Another 16 percent saying he probably wasn't. Does that mean a significant new core group of Americans believes he is not eligible to be president? CNN polling director Keating Holland does not think so. He says that those who say Mr. Obama probably was not born in America are not so committed.
KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: They are probably not Obama fans. It's conceivable that they might wind up voting for Obama. It's conceivable that they might wind up voting for other Democrats as well.
TODD: But Holland says that those on the fence are listening to right wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh who fuelled the fire just this week on his radio show.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: They tell us that August 4th is the birthday, but we haven't seen any proof of it.
TODD: And I asked political analyst Stew Rothenberg, what happens if those tepid doubters stay tilted against believing in the president's American birth? What do they do to his chances of re- election? What does it mean for him from 30,000 feet?
STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Well look, his re-election bid is still a number of years. These people didn't support him before. They're not going to support him again. But he just needs the majority and I think much depends on the dynamic over the next couple of years if Republicans take over the house.
TODD: In their quest for that, some GOP candidates are playing political footsies with the so-called birthers and often getting slapped down by fellow Republicans. This John McCain ad targets comments made by his primary opponent J.D. Hayworth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And until President Obama signs his name, and in fact, has the records revealed, the questions will remain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only difference between these people? Only one is running for the U.S. Senate.
TODD: Now, Hayworth has backtracked on that as have Senator David Vitter and other Republican politicians who have voiced solidarity with the birthers. Republican Committee Chairman Michael Steele has called for the birthers to just drop all of this. Analyst Stewart Rothenberg says most mainstream Republicans understand that the birthers are a little bit dangerous politically to play ball with, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: For some Republicans though, it is a balancing act.
TODD: That is right. Rothenberg says in this election cycle some Republicans for the mid terms see alignment with the birthers as a possible way to a primary victory, but the balancing act, he says, while they want the support of them, because it is a core Republican constituency, they certainly don't want to be identified as part of the movement and that is where they run into trouble some times.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.
Like his predecessors, President Obama is visibly aging on the job. As a he turns a still relatively youthful 49, the president is now showing a little bit more gray. Our white house correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is joining us from Chicago where the president is traveling today. Suzanne, like all presidents, they get older and older.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it is a youthful 49. They all want to remind us of that, but yes, he is going to be spending his birthday here in Chicago. Had a couple of phone calls. His wife Michelle, his daughters Sasha and Malia all wishing him a happy birthday, and had a chance to talk to a good friend of his who is actually going to be having dinner, a small group to celebrate his birthday here. I also, Wolf, had a chance to talk to president's barber of Chicago, and he knows firsthand all about the graying president.
MALVEAUX: Happy birthday, Mr. President, you are getting older, and we think that you have noticed.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I have a lot more gray hair than I did last year.
MALVEAUX: The graying president. Less than two years into office, signs of the most stressful job in the world are showing. But don't tell that to President Obama's barber Zarif in Chicago who has been cutting his hair for more than 17 years.
ZARIF: Pretty much medium cut.
MALVEAUX: He is not giving up the goods on the gray.
ZARIF: He's looking pretty good. For 49, he looks very good. MALVEAUX: With the stress of a financial meltdown, two wars and a massive oil spill, can you blame Mr. Obama for the salt and pepper top? Folks at Obama's old barbershop in Hyde Park weighed in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We get older and we do get wiser and especially a lot of things going on and I look at it as really a good thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at Bill Clinton and George Bush and it happened to them, so you know it will happen with this president, too.
MALVEAUX: They are right. President Obama is not alone. Some doctors claim that the presidents age two years for every one year they are in office. When President Bush left office he said he had only one regret.
FMR. PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: When I get home tonight, and look in the mirror, I'm not going to regret what I see. Except maybe some gray hair.
MALVEAUX: President Clinton started with at least half a head of brown hair, but two years in unlike his buddy Tony Blair, he is pure silver.
FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON: He is seven years younger than I am and he has no gray hair, so I resent it but there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it.
MALVEAUX: Clinton couldn't seem to do anything about his slowing metabolism and growing waistline either which President Obama is also now discovering.
OBAMA: I wanted everybody to know that when I was 20, I could order a 12 inch, but when I turn 49 next week, that means I need just the half. All right.
MALVEAUX: Okay, Wolf. Middle age can be pretty tough, but the truth is that Obama started turning gray before he became president. In covering him over the course of the campaign, 18 months running for most stressful job, that stress was starting to show, Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly is, but that is what happens to all presidents. All right. Thank you, Suzanne. Thanks. Happy birthday, Mr. President, and we should say that as well.
We have an exclusive report coming up you will see only here on CNN. Our pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is the only reporter to accompany wounded soldiers in Afghanistan to treatment in Germany and finally, the last leg home.
BLITZER: During the World War II and as recently as Vietnam, wounded warriors could wait months to be returned to the United States, but now, thanks to airborne hospitals, troops can be brought home within two or three days of being wounded. No journalist has ever taken this journey of pain and heroism before, but CNN got an exclusive opportunity to join a U.S. evacuation mission as it flew into Afghanistan and picked up the wounded and took them out of harm's way and got them back home. Here is the third part in a series of this extraordinary report by our pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This is what it is really all about in the world of the air medical evacuation community. You can see the plane now is full of the combat wounded from Afghanistan. These troops have all suffered injuries from IED, roadside bomb explosions, mortars, artillery, small arms fire, gunshot wounds -- they have gotten their initial treatment here in Germany, and now, we are about to make a nine-hour flight back to the United States, finally, they are getting back home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remember that other guy that we took the antibiotics on --
STARR: The air force medical teams tend to every need on the final leg of the journey home. Captain Chris Watkins, a nurse, has worked evac flights for seven years. He sees the rising number of wounded firsthand.
CAPT. CHRIS WATKINS, U.S. AIR FORCE: Unfortunately, it is a lot of blast injuries. We have a lot of amputations, a lot of significant trauma patients that require some sort of a continuous monitoring care or obviously surgical treatment. IEDs are probably the number one player followed by small arms and indirect fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to see a drop.
STARR: Private First Class James Darlington hit by a rocket- propelled grenade in the arm a few days ago now hours away from seeing his family. Doctors have eased initial worries that he may lose his arm.
PFC. JAMES DARLINGTON, U.S. ARMY: I didn't think I was going to have an arm because the way it was just skin attaching to it. But I was actually really amazed when I woke up and seen an arm there, and I had feeling in it and everything, so, yeah.
STARR: So the medical care is pretty amazing.
DARLINGTON: It is really amazing. I was really surprised.
STARR: 22 wounded on stretchers and some just hours off of the battlefield. There is constant worry about infection, many still on morphine for pain, and some in extremely critical condition on ventilators.
WATKINS: We have not sat down since about 8:00 this morning Germany time, and that was almost 11 hours ago. It is hard seeing these catastrophic injuries. STARR: On some flights the most critically wounded are kept alive long enough to be brought home so their families can say good- bye. Sometimes the best cure just being together. On this flight, three young soldiers from the 101st airborne division hit in the same attack just a few days earlier. Specialist Aaron Knuckols and his buddies were on patrol in the eastern Afghanistan when their vehicle hit a 300-pound roadside bomb.
SPEC. AARON KNUCKOLS, U.S. ARMY: Everything got red and we went upside down.
STARR: After a near-death experience like that, Specialist Knuckols says he could not imagine going home without his friends.
KNUCKOLS: We have been together the whole trip, ma'am.
STARR: That is good.
KNUCKOLS: That is awesome.
STARR: Yeah. You keep an eye on each other.
KNUCKOLS: Yes, ma'am. I know my two guys back there, and I can't see, but I know they are getting the same care I am getting, and it is a very good feeling. I can't see them, but I know they are getting taken care of.
STARR: Fellow soldier private first class Mike Garcia broke two vertebrae in the back and the knee and the ankle in the attack, but his priority, his brothers in arms.
PFC. MIKE GARCIA, U.S. ARMY: Well, ma'am, that is what makes it personal, because we go over there, and we are such a small group to begin w and we see pretty much nobody else for the year we are over there, and we just bond. A lot of bonding pretty much. And especially when you get hit.
STARR: The third man, staff sergeant Benjamin McGuire's broken jaw is wired shut, but he doesn't need to talk for us to understand how grateful he is that they are all together. It means a lot to you. Do you think that it actually helps? Yes, ma'am without a doubt in my mind, it made my injuries seem not so bad. You went to Afghanistan together, and you fought together and you got hit together. Now, you are coming home together?
STAFF SGT. BENJAMIN MCGUIRE, U.S. ARMY: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tower reaching 612 --
STARR: For many of the soldiers the journey home is almost complete. Many we have spoken to have already reenlisted and anxious to get back to Afghanistan to stand beside their fellow soldiers, even as the cycle of war wounded continues.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And Barbara is joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. Barbara nearly 600 American troops are wounded in Afghanistan every month, and this must be an enormous drain, an enormous burden on the U.S. military and the hospitals and the air lift capabilities.
STARR: It really is, because it is only going up as you say every week, every month. Consider this Wolf, we went on a 41-hour journey with the wounded out of the battlefield. By the time we got back to Andrews Air Force Base here in Washington, another plane was already loading up with more wounded back in the war zone. I want to make sure I give credit to the fabulous CNN producer Brian Vitaliano who shot this three-part series by himself with I joining him as the correspondent. It was really incredible to see these young faces and the medical teams that do extraordinary work taking care of them.
BLITZER: Excellent three-part series and I'm glad you brought it to the viewers here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thank, Barbara. Thank you very much.
Will the hip-hop star Wyclef Jean run for president in his native Haiti? Stand by. New information is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, a milestone for New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez who hit his 600th career home run today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Center field deep, and going back, and looking up -- see ya! There it is. Number 600. Alex Rodriguez.
SYLVESTER: Well, not too shabby, because he is only the seventh major league player to make that mark, and at 35 years old, he is also the youngest, and he had the longest drought between 599 and 600 and this would be 46 at-bats without a home run.
Aretha Franklin had to cancel two free concerts she was scheduled to give in Brooklyn as well as a planned appearance at the 80th birthday party of Congressman Charles Rangel. The singer fractured two ribs in a fall and has been suffering abdominal pain. Doctors are ordering her to undergo more tests.
And look for hip hop star Wyclef Jean to make major news on "LARRY KING LIVE" tomorrow night. That's is when he is expected to officially announce he is running for president of Haiti. Jean was born and raised there until he was 9 years old when he moved to a housing project in New York, and he has been active in the relief project in the wake of the deadly January earthquake. Wolf?.
BLITZER: I am going to be filling in for Larry tomorrow night. He is on vacation this week. I am looking forward to that interview with Wyclef Jean, and others involved as well. That is going to be a great show. I will be anchoring that show. SYLVESTER: Great, Wolf.
BLITZER: 9:00 p.m. eastern on CNN and CNN International, and we will do the interview tomorrow night. Thanks very much.
Is a second American revolution coming? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.
And plus a dog bites off the owner's toe and the owner calls him a hero. Jeanne Moos is ready to take a most unusual look.
BLITZER: Check back with Jack for the Cafferty file. Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour, is a second American revolution coming?
Frank writes, "A revolution against the government only makes sense if that government is a static one. Even if the public is displeased with the Obama administration's policies what would be the point of revolting against it when it simply can be voted out at the end of his first term? I don't mean to insult you or anyone else but thinking people should not and I hope will not take questions such as this one seriously."
Ray writes, "I'd suggest the odds are better than 50/50 for just such a revolution. To those who read and understood atlas shrugged, we certainly have a collectivist president at this moment in history. Once interest rates begin to rise the pinch that even the CBO has said is ahead of us begins to take effect, you can bet that the motors of our society will begin to strike. That will predicate the final act of the new revolution if I read the tea leaves correctly."
C. writes, "In a word, no. Contrary to the tea party's fantasies this country is too diverse demographically, economically, culturally and politically for that type of movement to take an actionable hold. Everybody seems to forget that for every tea party devotee, there are exponentially more of us who are not. Revolution, no. Ideological separation, always."
Joe writes, "Are you nuts? Two years ago, we were talking about the Bush imperial presidency and how right wing deregulation had ruined the country and helped dissolve our trust in government. Now, as we start to swing back the other way, you've lost faith so quickly? Would you rather go back to Bush? Was the financial situation better in '98 under Clinton or 2008 under Bush? No elected official can effect that much change in two years."
And Riley says, "No revolution coming. The new TV season starts soon. Then we have the winter reruns. There's just too much to do to take time to make things better."
If you want to read more on this, go to my blog, CNN.com/Caffertyfile.
BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack, thank you.
A federal judge rules California's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. They'll be following the breaking news on "JOHN KING USA" at the top of the hour.
Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, you're going to meet the man who says a dog bite saved his life. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots." In Cyprus, a couple kiss and a woman dances on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. In New Delhi, artists perform at an event for the launch of a new car. In Kabul, Afghanistan, a man looks out the window of a restaurant. And look at this, in Hanover, Germany, two polar bears wrestle over at the zoo. "Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.
It's a most unusual case of dog bites man. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remember when Michelle Obama said this about first dog Bo?
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: He loves to chew on people's feet.
MOOS: Well, this is the story of a dog that didn't toe the line. He ate the toe.
JERRY: My toe's gone. I couldn't believe it. It was gone.
MOOS: Jerry, of Rockford, Michigan had stubbornly refused to see a doctor for his badly infected big toe. Do you think it had an odor or something that attracted the dog?
JERRY: Oh, yeah. Because I went to my buddy's house and his dog came and paid attention to it too.
MOOS: Jerry and his wife Rosie had been out celebrating after at least six beers and two gigantic margaritas. He came home and passed out in bed. When he woke up, his dog, Kiko, was along side his foot with blood on his face.
JERRY: I started screaming for help, for Rosie. I went to the bathroom. I rinsed my foot off and the toe was gone.
MOOS: But just the bad part, up to the toenail.
JERRY: He ate the bone too.
MOOS: Sort of reminds us of the episode of "Weeds."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's the good little watchdog? You are. MOOS: But Jerry wasn't mad at his dog. After being hospitalized, Jerry found out he was severely diabetic.
JERRY: He's a national hero right now as far as I'm concerned because I would have never went in.
MOOS: There are studies that suggest dogs may be able to detect chemicals emitted by cancer cells. But a veterinary behaviorist says Kiko was probably just exhibiting normal exploratory behavior eating just the infected part of the toe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's possible that by the time he got to the normal part, the dog realized this isn't interesting anymore.
MOOS: They can detect cancer?
JERRY: That's what I'm afraid of next, he's going to look at my midsection.
MOOS: We wonder if Jerry's been sleeping with his tootsies covered since he lost his toe.
JERRY: Yeah, I wear shoes.
MOOS: In bed?
JERRY: Yeah, I'm wearing shoes because I just ain't going to take a chance.
MOOS: Kiko the toe eating dog was quarantined at home for a week and a half under observation to make sure he's not a menace. He's no devil dog.
JERRY: He's a good dog.
MOOS: Who seems to love hot dogs but wieners aren't his favorite.
JERRY: His favorite food is Vaseline.
MOOS: Whatever you do, Jerry, don't put Vaseline on your toes. Jeanne Moos, CNN --
JERRY: What a great dog.
MOOS: New York.
BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at twitter.com/WolfBlitzerCNN, WolfBlitzerCNN all one word. You can also follow THE SITUATION ROOM on Facebook. Go to Facebook.com/CNNsituationroom to become a fan.
That's all the time I have today. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.