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20 Million Affected in Pakistan Floods; Interview With Plane Crash Survivor; Interview With Sen. Sherrod Brown; Sea Turtles Return to Open Waters in Gulf of Mexico

Aired August 18, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jack, thank you.

You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, memorials to fallen state troopers and giant crosses are now declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. The decision is already sparking controversy and fuelling a heated debate.

Also, the crash landing that tore a passenger plane apart. One of the people on board will tell us about his living nightmare and how he survived.

And a CNN exclusive, refugees from the gulf oil disaster, many rescued for possible death are now healthy and going home. We're talking about sea turtles returning to the open water.

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

The images are wrenching, the numbers are staggering, and in the words of one relief official, the flood now soaking Pakistan, it's a mega disaster. 20 percent of the country is now underwater, an area larger than all of New England, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland combined. Look at these before and after satellite images. You can see the extent of the flooding in Pakistan's northwest frontier province.

According to the Pakistan government and The United Nations, 20 million people are affected, more than the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the January earthquake in Haiti combined. Two million people are homeless, 6 million face a life threatening need for food, and 3.5 million children, children are at risk of serious disease like cholera.

But only 500,000 have been reached by aid agencies so far, and the United Nations has received less than half of the $460 million it's requested for humanitarian relief. With the situation so dire, where is the help ? CNN's Reza Sayah is investigating.


REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The U.N. calls Pakistan's floods the worst natural disaster in recent memory, but despite urgent appeals for the world to help the 20 million victims, relief groups say aid has been painfully slow. Aid workers and analysts say it's impossible to figure out why government and individual donors are not giving to Pakistan the way they've done with other disasters, but they say there could be at least four reasons, and they say none is a good excuse.

Reason one, the death toll is relatively low for a natural disaster. That creates the impression that Pakistan's floods may not be such a big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is misleading when we're not able to quantify it in our heads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The needs here are quite clear enough that there are many millions of people relying on the international community to step forward.

SAYAH: Reason two, donor fatigue. For years now, Pakistan has been on a seemingly constant campaign to ask for money, to save its economy, to fight the Taliban, for the 2005 earthquake, the 2009 refugee crisis and now the floods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A donor never gets fatigued. I mean, giving as just as an idea is not about, you know, sort of I'm fresh and so I'll give. You don't give because you're fresh or because you're flush with cash. You give because of a sense of humanity.

SAYAH: Reason three, the perception that Pakistan is run by corrupt politicians, and the aid won't get to those who need it. This week, Prime Minister Ghailani insisted all aid would be transparent, and relief groups say if you don't want to give to the government, then give to an aid agency you trust.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are different ways that people can actually give that doesn't have to route through the government if that was a concern that people are really feeling.

SAYAH: Finally reason four, what aid groups call the worst excuse of all, the perception in the west that Pakistan is just not a good place. A country filled with extremists and militants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, there is militancy within the country, but, you know, when you take into proportion, I think that's very small.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the only time you see the word Pakistan is sandwiched between two evil words, words that make you feel bad, make you feel insecure, make you worry about your children and their future, how are people supposed to feel, you know, energetic about wanting to help this country?

SAYAH (on-camera): Analysts say the consequences of not helping Pakistan could be costly. In the short-run, more people will go hungry, get sick and maybe lose their lives. In the long run, a nation that's critical in the fight against extremism may face another political crisis that could further destabilize the region.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Islamabad.


BLITZER: All right. To find out how you can help, how you can impact your world, help Pakistan's flood victims, go to A lot of useful information there to help.

It was a routine flight until the final seconds. That's when a living nightmare began for passengers aboard a Colombian airliner that crashed on landing on a resort island. The plane was torn into sections. One person was killed. Injured passengers had to scramble for safety in the dark and the rain. Among those on board, an American, Don Henderson. He's joining us on the phone right now. What was the first sign of trouble on that flight, Don?

DON HENDERSON, PLANE CRASH SURVIVOR: Wolf, the first sign of trouble was when we hit the ground. We were flying over, and I pointed out the island to my wife, and we looked at it. It was clear. The lights were on, and we had to make an approach to the island so we had to fly around and come from the other end, because the airstrip is sort of diagonal.

And when they turned on the landing lights, I could see that it was, had started to rain really, really hard, and I mentioned that to my wife. And as we set down within five seconds, it was the plane had broken apart and stopped, and we didn't have any time to do any special preparations at all.

BLITZER: You were, I take it in row three, but originally, you were in row eight which is right where that plane split, is that right?

HENDERSON: Well, actually, I was across the aisle from, I wasn't in row eight, I was across the aisle in row four, and there was a lady with a baby there, and there was a seat empty next to my wife. She was sitting across the aisle, and the flight attendant said that if that seat wasn't filled, that she would allow me to move, which she did.

And so, I was able to sit next to my wife, which was a lucky thing, because after the crash, she couldn't see well, because of her glasses being broken and the blood in her eyes and that sort of thing. So, I kind of had to lead her out. So, that was a fortunate incident that happened along the way.

BLITZER: Did you have any indication that lightning struck the plane?

HENDERSON: We -- not really. We had seen lightning. The flight from Bogota was fairly uneventful, a little bit late originating from Bogota, but we had seen some lightning, and the distance and we had experienced a little bit of turbulence but nothing out of the ordinary. There was some lightning on the island as we approached, but like I said, we had the landing lights on and so you really couldn't tell that much. The rain which what I noticed mostly.

BLITZER: And how are you and your wife doing?

HENDERSON: Well, we're not pretty. I'm glad that this doesn't have a video feed to it because we look pretty rough. We both lost some teeth, and we got cuts and bruises and contusions, and my wife has some broken ribs, and so we're moving awfully slow and sounding like really, really old people.

BLITZER: Good luck to you and your wife and all of the other survivors. At least, you survived. We look at those pictures, Don, and we can only imagine what the other outcome could have been, but thank God you're OK.

HENDERSON: Thank you for your thought, Wolf.

BLITZER: Don Henderson was a passenger on that flight.

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

Then, debate over the separation of church and state reignites with a federal appeals court decision calling roadside crosses honoring fallen officers unconstitutional.

And President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both are speaking out on the controversy over an Islamic center in mosque near ground zero. Are they on the same page?

Plus, President Obama in Ohio defending his efforts to turn around the economy with Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown at his side. Senator Brown will be joining us live.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: South Carolina is going to spend $2.4 million to pay for 100 obese state employees to have weight loss surgery. The state has approved a pilot program where to would put the money, taxpayers' money, toward gastric bypass and Lap-Band surgeries which can cost up to $24,000 a pop. The state health plan is going to then monitor the state workers who will be chosen first come, first serve for 18 months to see if the plan is worth it.

The idea is South Carolina will ultimately save money in the long run by paying for these surgeries now. If these fat people will lose a lot of weight after the surgeries, it should then alleviate other health issues later on often related to obesity things like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and sleep apnea, et cetera. And that in turn will hopefully drive down long-term health care costs, prescription costs, et cetera.

Critics say special interest groups want out here over the taxpayers. They suggest this money would be better spent elsewhere considering some people are being furloughed or losing their jobs, but one South Carolina surgeon says that several other south eastern states including North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia cover weight loss surgeries for state workers, and he says in the long run, South Carolina stands to save a boatload of money. They better hope so.

You should pardon the expression, but in South Carolina obesity is huge. Nearly 63 percent of adults and 34 percent of the kids are overweight or obese. And both those numbers are above the national averages.

So, here's the question. Is it a good idea for South Carolina to spend $2.4 million on weight loss surgeries for state workers? Go to and post a comment on my blog. What a lovely picture that is.

BLITZER: That is a handsome man. You're a very handsome man, Jack.

CAFFERTY: And you're attractive yourself, Wolf. I've always thought so.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Jack Cafferty will be back with the "Cafferty File."

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court has ruled that crosses along Utah highways honoring fallen state troopers are unconstitutional because they suggest a state-endorsed religion. Let's get some analysis from our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Explain this ruling to our viewers who might be perplexed, Jeff.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, this is an area, religious expression on public property that the court just struggle with all the time whether it's displace of a 10 commandments or prayers of high school football games (ph). You always have 5-4 rulings here, and the decision here was because these crosses are so big, 12 feet high by 6 feet wide, and because it's hard to tell from a distance as you're driving by on the highway what they're for.

It looks like government is abandoning its neutrality when it comes to religion, so it was unconstitutional. That's what the ruling was today.

BLITZER: A lower federal court had a different opinion. They overturned that decision. I suspect this could go all the way to the Supreme Court, a case like this. Is that right?

TOOBIN: It certainly could. They usually take one case a year about this. And they usually come out 5-4. The court is more conservative than the last time they struck down one of these religious displays in a Kentucky courthouse where a ten commandments display was shut down and prohibited.

So, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the United States Supreme Court reverse this ruling, but in fairness, these were three Republican-appointed judges on the 10th circuit panel. So, these weren't a bunch of crazy liberals. They just thought it was unconstitutional.

BLITZER: Crazy liberals referring to the 9th circuit court of appeals.

TOOBIN: Sometimes.

BLITZER: Sometimes. All right. Let's talk about the specifics. If the crosses were smaller, for example, weren't 12 feet high, but let's say 2 or 3 feet high, would that have been OK?

TOOBIN: Perhaps. The question that occurred to me, I think it occurred to you, a lot of people probably is what about the crosses we're all so familiar with at Arlington National Cemetery. That's government property. Those are crosses. Those are stars of David for the Jewish soldiers who died there. Why is that okay, as it clearly is, and why are these crosses not permissible? And the court addressed that.

The court said, when you go to a cemetery, you are voluntarily exposing yourself to religious expressions of the individuals who are buried there. That's very different from just driving along the highway not knowing that these crosses are coming along. Anyway, that's what the court said, whether it's a persuasive distinction, I don't know, but the court did try to address that issue.

BLITZER: All right. I'm sure this is going to generate a lot of controversy, and like you, we, of course, were kidding talking about those crazy liberals on the 9th circuit court of appeals.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. We are such kidders here.

BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey, thanks very much.

American Airlines is putting a price on its popular seats. Passengers who want to sit near the front are now being charged a fee. We're going to tell you how much. Stay with us.

Plus, CNN's Mary Snow examines a national crisis in education and for our economy. Far too many African-American boys are failing to graduate from high school. An in depth look at the alarming statistics, that's coming up.


BLITZER: There are some very, very troubling new figures out about the state of education in the United States and young African- American men. A new study finds fewer than half of them graduate from high school on time. CNN's Mary Snow has been looking into this for us -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, behind the startling finding in this report that less than half of black males in the U.S. are graduating high school on time, there are also wide gaps in graduation rates between blacks and whites.


SNOW (voice-over): Taking a look inside America's classrooms, a new report finds some of the lowest graduation rates for black males in districts with a large black male student population. Only 28 percent of black males graduate on time in New York City. The same is true in Philadelphia and Detroit. John Jackson is the president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, an advocacy group working to level the playing field in education.

JOHN JACKSON, PRES., SCHOTT FOUNDATION: When you look at states with 10, 15, 20, 30 percentage point gaps between the graduation rates for black males and white males, what it says is we know how to educate our children. We just don't extend those conditions and resources to this certain population.

SNOW: Jackson notes exceptions with Newark, New Jersey at the top of the list after officials more effectively targeted resources, and Newark now has a 76 percent graduation rate among black males with Fort Bend, Texas and Baltimore not far behind. One key to success, Jackson says, early education.

JACKSON: We have to ensure that students, not just black males, but all students are literate by third grade. You will begin to see some of the factors that are really the result of their inability to read coming to place, whether they're behavior factors or whether it's having them get behind in other subjects.

SNOW: And there are lessons learned from schools like the Frederick Douglass Academy, a public school in Harlem where the motto is "without struggle, there is no progress." Principal Gregory Hodge says, nearly 75 percent of his students are black. All 225 students in the class of 2010 are going to college.

GREGORY HODGE, PRINCIPAL, FREDERICK DOUGLASS ACADEMY: The student here was accepted to almost every Ivy League in the country.

SNOW: Besides starting college prep in the sixth grade, Hodge says he keeps the school open seven days a week with clubs for everything from sports to robotics.

HODGE: What happens is when you open up the school, and you know every child is different, you got to find something that the child is interested in so that you can hook them in and keep them off of the streets.

SNOW: And while this school and others are considered beacons of light, the Schott Foundation says the problem is they are exceptions.


SNOW (on-camera): The Schott Foundation says while it focussed its findings on black males that this report is really call of action (ph) for all students. It shows graduation rates among whites alarmingly low in some areas and that the U.S. is falling behind other countries when it comes to education -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much. Very worrisome statistics.

Alina Cho is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Alina, what do you have?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. You had it with airline fees? Well, guess what, sitting in the first few rows of coach class on American Airlines will now cost you a little bit more money. The airline has started charging a fee for the privilege, if you can believe it. Prices range from $19 to $39 with longer flights costing even more.

Now, people who pay the fee will get to board the plane before other coach passengers. Elite frequent fliers, full fare ticket holders, and the disabled will not be charged the fee.

Bedbugs are taking an even bigger bite out of New York City. It's been an ongoing problem this summer. An AMC Movie Theater in Times Square is the latest business. It's temporarily shutdown to exterminate the pests. They were apparently found on the theater's seats. Another movie theater in the city was temporarily closed for bed bugs just last month. Stores, office buildings, and homes across the city are reporting infestations.

And hate fighting traffic? Get a load of this, a mass transit vehicle that actually moves over cars. It's a futuristic looking 3D fast bus, and it's about to be built in China. Now, the electric bus will apparently run on stilt-like legs and will glide over traffic, listen to this, Wolf, 14 feet above the road. Construction on a test road is set to begin later this year. Sounds pretty cool. It'd be great if we had cars like that.

BLITZER: Be careful that the other cars underneath, they don't go wild a little bit. That's amazing. All right. Thanks, Alina, thanks very much.

CHO: You bet.

BLITZER: Democrats on the economic defense. President Obama in Ohio today with Senator Sherrod Brown. He is standing by to join us live.

And new details of the religious leader of that proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero. We're learning more about his work with the FBI.

Plus, survivors of the oil disaster go home. We're talking about sea turtles returning to the Gulf. We're about to get an exclusive look.


BLITZER: President Obama today told reporters he's standing by his remarks supporting the right of Muslims to build an Islamic center and mosque near New York's ground zero. He was asked about that, and he was peppered with questions about the economy as he visited Ohio. He was at a town hall meeting.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown was with the president. He's joining us now from Columbus, Ohio. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN, (D) OHIO: good to be back, thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you make of this whole controversy over this Islamic center and mosque that's been proposed for near ground zero?

BROWN: What I make of it is first of all, it's a local decision, but what I make of it is Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove and Sarah Palin are looking for another way to distract the public. They tried the 14th amendment for a while and worked for three or four days. Now, they're trying this issue.

What matters to people in Chillicothe and Lima, Ohio, what are we going to do to help mall business, partner a small business to create jobs, and particularly manufacturing how do we get people back to work. And people like Gingrich and Palin are masters at changing the subject and trying to distract people.

BLITZER: Is it -- but it's not a popular issue at least according to the polls with the American public, the construction of this mosque at that site. So, I guess, the Republicans if you think they're behind this, they have a point in terms of politics?

BROWN: Well, yes, it's not a popular issue, but it's a local issue. And it's going to be decided by Mayor Blumenthal (ph) in part. I guess, he's an independent now, but was elected as Republican mayor --

BLITZER: Bloomberg.

BROWN: Yes, Bloomberg, I'm sorry. Sure, if you say, should they build the mosque or not, the public may have, you know, be overwhelmingly one way or another, but it's not on people's top list of thinks. Ask five people in Portsmouth, Ohio or Dayton, Ohio, what matters in your life, and they're going to talk about jobs. They're going to talk about health care. They're going to talk about the consumer protection on their credit cards.

You're going to talk about things that matter in their lives in Huber Heights and in Evandale, Ohio, they're not going to talk about some building in New York that they don't think about very much except that it's on the national news, and it kind of gets in their consciousness.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about jobs, because that is the top issue right now, and the president and the Democrats, they got a stimulus package through Congress. They -- but it really hasn't done the job in turning the economy completely around.

Still 9.5 percent unemployment, the African-American unemployment rate is doubled what the white unemployment rate is, and people are saying, you know what, the president and the Democrats have not delivered. How do you respond to that?

BROWN: Well, people are deservedly very understandably very unhappy with what's happened in this country in the last five years, but people also understand that when President Obama took office, we were losing 700 to 800,000 jobs a month. We had lost several millions in the last months in the Bush administration. The president's economic plan began to take effect in the spring and summer of 2009. We're now seeing private sector economic growth, job growth, every month. It is not as good as we'd like. Too many people of the millions that were laid off in the Bush years can't find jobs. People coming home from the army, coming home from college are not finding work. We all understand that. That is why there is a focus with president and others of how do we help small business create jobs. Two of three new jobs in this country are small business in the country. We need to focus especially on manufacturing. That is what we will do when we come back in September.

But people are unhappy for good reason and the Democrats are in control, so let's throw them all out, but I think that when people make the contrast, what did the Republicans do to get us in this mess, and what are the Democrats trying to do? If you ask it that way, there is a very different answer and people will look to the future with what we trying to do rather than what the Republicans have done and will do again given the chance.

BLITZER: Today's daily Gallup tracking poll had the president's job approval number 41 percent, that's the lowest it has been since he took office, so certainly, in terms of the personal approval numbers, they are going down.

BROWN: Well, of course, they are, because people are unhappy with the economic situation, and he's the president. But I think that though at voting time when people stand back and think, well, let's see, we got these candidates who voted tax cuts for the rich, and didn't pay for them, two wars and didn't pay for them, privatization of Medicare and by giving a huge bailout to the drug and insurance companies, and deregulated wall street, and do we want more of that or do we want to try to stay on course with these small business incentives to create jobs. That is the contrast that people are going to make, and frankly, Wolf, Republicans don't look very good in that contrast, because they did all of those things the last ten years, and they will do it again if we give them back the car keys as President Obama said.

BLITZER: So why are they poised to do well, if you believe the polls in November, November 2nd and the Democrats in the Senate and the house not so well?

BROWN: Yeah. Well, in large part because Democrats are in control now and you vote out whoever's in but I think it is a reflection. It's up to Democrats. It is up to Ted Strickland and Lee Fisher in Ohio and the president nationally and it's up to candidates in other states to make that case. Do you want to go back to what they were? Do you want to move forward with what we are trying to do? I think that voters, enough voters will look and think, wait a minute, we don't want to go back to these tax cuts for the rich, and deregulation of wall street and give away to the drug companies. I don't think that makes sense for the country, so I think you will see a more moderating trend there and the voters are going to look forward rather than backwards. BLITZER: We will speak November 3rd and see if the assessment is right. Maybe we will speak before then as well. Senator Brown, thank you for coming in.

BROWN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: New York's governor is trying to schedule a sit-down meeting with the developer of that planned Islamic center and mosque near ground zero, but will the developer agree to change the location of his project? His answer is straight ahead.


BLITZER: New developments of the controversy over a proposed Islamic center and mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York, including possible talks to move the politically charged project. Our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff is working the story for us in New York. What are you hearing, and what is going on?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what is happening is that the New York governor David Paterson is expected to schedule a meeting in the near future with the developer of this Islamic community center. The governor has said he would be willing to help find an alternative location in lower Manhattan, but so far, there have been no discussions between the governor and those behind the project. The developer, Sharif El-Gamal says he is open to meeting with the governor, but he has absolutely no plan to move the project. He told CNN and yesterday repeated the same to our affiliate New York station that this is an issue of his group's constitutional right to do what it wishes with property that it owns.

SHARIF EL-GAMAL, DEVELOPER: It is a really sad day for America when our politicians choose to look at a constitutional right and use that as basis for their elections.

CHERNOFF: The man who would lead the mosque within the community center, Imam Feisal will travel later this week to the Middle East later on behalf of a state department outreach program. That trip will cost to taxpayers $16,000 and for his work the imam will receive an honorarium of $200 a day.

P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: This is his fourth trip, and we value his participation as a religious figure here in the United States who can help people overseas understand the role that religion plays in our society.

CHERNOFF: Imam Feisal is one of about 50 clerics that help the state department promote religious tolerance and freedom. The imam has also helped the FBI in the past. The FBI says that in 2003, the imam participated in a seminar in the New York office giving the basics of Islam, although he has not always given his assistance to the federal government. During the planning of post 9/11 terrorism prosecution, a source familiar with the situation tells CNN Imam Feisal was asked to provide expert testimony about the culture of Islam and he declined to do so. CNN has tried to reach the imam, and he has yet to return our calls and e-mails. BLITZER: How do New Yorkers, Allan, view the proposed mosque and center?

CHERNOFF: Well, it is controversial, Wolf, and there is a new poll out from Sienna College showing that 63 percent of New Yorkers oppose that Islamic center downtown, 27 percent in favor. At the same time a majority of those polled also believe that the organization behind it has a constitutional right to build the community center. Wolf, we had a CNN poll, not long ago, and that was a nationwide poll and there 68 percent opposed this Islamic center.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Allan Chernoff, with that report.

Both President Obama and the house speaker, Nancy Pelosi weighed in on the controversy today, the president standing by his previous remarks that the Muslims had the right to build the center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any more comments on the Islamic center?

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: The answer is no regrets.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this with John King who is the host of "JOHN KING USA" at the top of the hour and our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley who hosts "STATE OF THE UNION" which airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 a.m. The president says Candy he has no regrets. Some are saying maybe he should have some regrets about what he's been saying.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And most of those are Democrats. Look, I don't know whether he has any regrets or not, but I do know that there are Democrats that I have spoken to today and spoken to over the weekend who really wish he had not gotten into it, and say, listen, it is a local issue, and local issue and then all of the sudden Friday night, it is a national issue, so they want to be out there getting the message out.

I have to disagree with Senator Brown a little earlier, Sherrod Brown who said it is a distraction and the Republicans are throwing it out there. Republicans want to talk about the economy, too, and they feel they have a great issue there, so this is the president kind of opening the door for every Congressman everywhere to ask, what do you think about that? And they don't want to do it.

BLITZER: You know I've been speaking to sources at the white house. They really wanted this to go away. They were hoping it would be away by today, but all of the sudden, Nancy Pelosi says she wants an investigation not only of those putting the mosque up, but those who are critical of the mosque, and she wants two investigations.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Her allies and her aides are trying to back that off a little bit and saying she does not want an investigation. What she wants is full transparency and they say perhaps she did not choose the words perfectly, but what she wants is if there is any money going into say supporting any advertisements criticizing the mosque, she wants to know where the money is coming from, and she says some people who have said where does the imam and this Islamic cultural center and where is the funding? Some of questioned that in the New York community. She says that is legitimate question. She says it would be legitimate to question any building project, religious or not, but in terms of an investigation, her staff is backing away saying that is not what she meant, investigation with law enforcement or anything, but she just wants full transparency, but at the same point, the speaker saying anything to this, adds a day to the conversation and squeamishness of the Democrats that this is a tough enough year to begin with, and can we talk about something else?

BLITZER: Is the story going to stay with us a while or it is almost over?

CROWLEY: Unless the mosque can be built by tomorrow, it will go on. But a headline story forever, no. As it goes on, it will go away. Let's just say I do think this is about the economy and people are not going to go to the polls and vote on a some sort of, you know, structure for Muslims in downtown Manhattan and they are going to go to vote their pocketbooks.

BLITZER: See you at the top of the hour very much. And see you Sunday, if not earlier, and probably earlier. Thank you very much.

We will have more on the controversy later tonight on CNN. The New York governor David Paterson will talk about this issue exclusively on Larry King live airing at 9:00 p.m. eastern.

You are about to get an exclusive look at an oil disaster success story. Turtles rescued, nursed back to health and now released in the open sea.

And Jack Cafferty's question this hour, is it a good idea for South Carolinians to spend $2.4 million on weight loss surgeries for state workers? Jack is standing by with your e-mail.


BLITZER: Sea turtles covered in oil from the BP spill are now clean, healthy and back where they belong. They are swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. CNN's John Zarrella got an exclusive look at the happy homecoming. John is joining us from Cedar Key. Good news coming out of there, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question, Wolf. Great news. There are 350 sea turtles in various stages of recovery that will be released over the course of the next few weeks and months. These were the very first of the oiled sea turtles to be released and they took them out today from Cedar Key.


ZARRELLA: You have to wonder, did these sea turtles know where they were? Do you think that when you bring them out here they have some sort of, and somehow they know they are home, finally?

MEGHAN KOPERSKI, SEA TURTLE BIOLOGIST: I'd like to think that they do, but it just depends on the individual animal. Some are excited to be out here by flapping the flippers and others are sedate.

ZARRELLA: He is sedate.

KOPERSKI: He is behaving well about now.

ZARRELLA: Meghan Koperski is a Florida wildlife commissioned biologist along with the oceanic and atmospheric scientist brought 23 endangered Kemp's ridley turtles to a release point out in the Gulf of Mexico. During the past three months, these turtles were rescued from the gulf, covered in oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill. How bad did they look? They look great now, but how bad did they look when they were first rescued?

KOPERSKI: When they were first rescued, there was a varying degree of oil, and those coming into the Audubon Nature Institute were heavily oiled and those come into the gulf world out of Orange Beach, and Destin captures were moderately to lightly oiled.

ZARRELLA: Nursed back to health, these are the first of the rehabilitated turtles to go home. They are the lucky ones. More than 1,000 sea turtles were pulled from the gulf and less than half of them survived. Retired admiral Thad Allen who leads the spill response helped with the release. This was a long awaited moment.

THAD ALLEN, NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: I think it is emblematic for us to look at recovery and we have a lot of work to do, but as far as I am concerned, there is no better place to be than here today.

ZARRELLA: The release site was off of Cedar Key on Florida's west coast. Of the 23 turtles released, one was found on shore, 11 of them Destin, Florida, and the other 11 off of Venice, Louisiana. Two at a time the Kemp's ridleys were carefully lowered to the water and the flippers going a mile a minute. They are young turtles, juveniles and no more than 13 years old, but they say they know that the oil is still out there, and that worries them some, but they believe here in this part of the gulf, the turtles will be just fine. As they hit the water, the Kemp's ridleys scoot across the surface. It is home, and they are back.


ZARRELLA: Now, you know, Wolf, what they have done also is these turtles are implanted with microchips up here in the shoulder area like a veterinarian would put a microchip in a dog or cat so, if for whatever reason in the future these turtles are captured or caught, they will be tell whether they were turtles that survive and rehabilitated. So a great story here today, Wolf and the first of many ending up back in the gulf waters. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Excellent. Good news, and thank you, John Zarrella for reporting.

It is a good idea for South Carolina to spend $2.4 million for weight loss surgeries for state workers? Jack Cafferty has the e- mails. And bugged by journalists. One man takes a most unusual action. CNN's Jeanne Moos is on the story.


BLITZER: Let's check with Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour, is it a good idea for South Carolina to spend $2.4 million of the taxpayers' money on weight loss surgeries for state workers?

W. in South Carolina, "As a South Carolina native, I've seen and lived the South Carolina diets. Fortunately, I never thought Mountain Dew was a food group. Perhaps they should outlaw potato chips, soft drinks, tobacco products and alcohol for state employees instead of spending money on surgery for a temporary solution. I love my home state and all of the people but I promise a large majority of state workers are among the U.S. most unhealthy and laziest."

Anna in North Carolina writes, "Speaking from personal experience here, I had weight loss surgery almost two years ago. I'm a healthy 34-year-old female. After struggling with my weight my whole life, taking every drug that has come out, been on every doctor-approved plan out there, every crack diet, surgery was my best option. I wasn't super morbidly obese but I was very active and still tipped the scales 280. I now weigh 145. I had severe acid reflux. It's gone. I had back problems that required therapy, gone. My asthma and migraines have both improved. And the weight loss -- I go to the doctor twice a year now for physicals. Before I used to go once a month. I take one medication a day instead of four. Heck yes, it's going to save the state a lot of money."

Pat in Michigan writes, "No, spend the money on lunch programs for the poor kids in school. Tell the state workers to walk to work."

Jerry in Florida, "Just give them an option, lose weight or look for another job. You're causing our insurance rates to go through the roof."

Rhonda in New York writes, "It would be better if South Carolina spent a lot less than 2.4 million on educating state workers to put down the fried chicken with biscuits and gravy and instead pick up a veggie salad and some yogurt and it wouldn't hurt if they took brisk walks on their breaks and lunch hours. That's how I lost almost 60 pounds when I was a New York state worker. I bet it would work in South Carolina."

Phil in Florida says, "Why not? They pay for the governor's trips to South America."

If you want to read more -- you want to read more on this go to my blog at

BLITZER: Something is always going on in South Carolina.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yeah, it's a great place.

BLITZER: I love South Carolina.

CAFFERTY: Darwin's waiting room. I'm just -- I didn't mean that.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

A man tries to repel the press with a can of bug spray. We're going to show you the most unusual reaction right after the break.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some hot shots. In Sri Lanka, police and commandos perform a drill. In Pakistan, people left homeless from the flood receive food at an air force relief camp. In Nepal, Chinese acrobats mark the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Nepal and China. In Melbourne, Australia, a musician Frank Stallone, Sylvester Stallone's brother, plays the guitar with his teeth during a concert. Hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

In Connecticut, a man is caught on tape treating two journalists like a couple of pests during a most unusual confrontation. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You may think we in the press are obnoxious pests, that's no excuse to aim a can of wasp and hornet spray at us.


MOOS: Cameraman got it, all right. Next thing you know, the insecticide was being sprayed all over the web.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got to go up there and get these firemen to hose me down.

MOOS: The WTIC cameraman did get first aid at the nearby fire station. The guy who was later arrested for doing the spraying outside a Connecticut courthouse was Shawn Quail. Media were chasing Quail and his wife because they were already charged with allegedly receiving stolen beer from none other than the man who went on a shooting rampage at that beer distributorship two weeks ago. Now, normally when people want to get rid of us, they use the "cover the lens and shove" technique, a technique demonstrated by model Naomi Campbell on an ABC crew. Usually, the press is pelted with things like tear gas canisters. Occasionally someone throws water at a reporter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get the camera [ bleep ] --

MOOS: -- and uses the empty bottle to battle the press. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not appropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't give a [ bleep ].

MOOS: There was a Florida grandmother --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't put that camera in my [ bleep ] face, man.

MOOS: -- chased away the media wielding a hoe. And though camera crews are sometimes subjected to tear gas at protests, we protest when hit by bug spray.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Find out what it is before I have to go to the hospital.

MOOS: A poster on gawker quibbled with the choice of insecticide. I think you're supposed to use roach spray on Fox cameramen. Wasp and hornet spray is for CBS. The sprayer was arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and third degree assault. But at least he followed instructions and shook the can. And I guess I'd rather be sprayed than hoed. We sure do bug people. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Remember, I'm on twitter -- @WolfBlitzerCNN -- all one word. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.