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Cost of Health Care Rising; Michael Jackson Death Trial Begins

Aired September 27, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: the shocking cost of health insurance for those lucky enough to afford it. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by to tell all of us what it means.

Plus, opening statements in the Michael Jackson death trial. Prosecutors accuse Dr. Conrad Murray of gross negligence, while the defense says the pop star gave himself a lethal dose of deadly drugs.

And a precarious perch at the top of the Washington Monument. That's on the outside of the monument we're talking about. We will tell you what this worker is doing.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As the economy limps along and millions of people try to figure out how to make ends meet, there are stunning new figures that show just how much Americans are paying for health insurance right now. A survey out today says the cost to cover an insured worker's family of four topped, get this, $15,000 this year. That's a 9 percent jump over last year.

The good news for these workers is that employers tend to pick up most of the tab. The worker pays a bit over $4,000. The company pays the rest, but the premiums for health coverage are still rising much faster than wages and inflation. And don't forget many must fend for themselves and the Census Department says almost 50 million Americans have no health insurance at all.

Joining us now is our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, first of all, what do you make of the latest numbers?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there's obviously a sharp spike as compared to years past. I think it was about 3 percent in the last couple of years.

You got to see is this a one-time spike or is this something that is the beginning of a new trend? Insurance companies when asked about this are saying the health care costs continue to rise, that's the problem. Nothing has been done to control health care costs. And they also say that with a sluggish economy fewer people are buying health care insurance, especially young healthy people. They're not as likely to buy health care insurance and that makes it difficult for insurance companies to rein in costs as well.

There's one other point to this, Wolf. When you talk about the Affordable Care Act overall starting next year, if there's ever an increase of premiums of over 10 percent, insurance companies will have to justify that increase and some analysts say this is bit of a proactive move. Let's increase the premiums more now so that we don't have to come underneath this increased scrutiny in the years to come -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Effectively, these people at least blaming President Obama and the Democrats' health care reform law -- it is now the law of the land -- for this dramatic spike this year? Is that what you're hearing?

GUPTA: That's what some analysts are suggesting that when there's a bunch of things that will sort of place next year. One is that you have to justify increases in premiums of 10 percent or more, but they will also have to show as part of this that more of their health care dollars they're taking in are being spent on health care.

I think 80 cents on the dollar has to be shown proven to be spent on health care. And what's not being spent on health care or matching that equation has to be given back. One other thing, Wolf, you mentioned that there's about roughly $4,000 that individuals will pay or families will pay, even though the premium is $15,000. So employers are covering a lot of that.

But there's something else happening as well, the sort of cost shifting going on. While your premium may not have gone up, you notice higher deductibles, you notice higher co-pays. And this is because employers are saying we don't want to cancel insurance outright, but we're going to cost shift more and more to the consumer and especially to those consumers who are using more health care.

There's all sorts of different dynamics going on here, Wolf, but an increase in premiums overall as you said at the core of all of it.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what a lot of Republicans point out, this is discouraging big companies from hiring more people because of the costs of health care that are going up and up and up.

GUPTA: That's right.

BLITZER: Sanjay, thanks very much.

After conflicting lower court rulings on the constitutionality of the president's health care law, the Obama administration is skipping a step in the appeals process and is apparently ready to have the United States Supreme Court take up the matter. And that could mean a decision right at the peak of the president's reelection campaign.

Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is joining us now.

Jeff, you know a lot about the Supreme Court. Is this a smart strategy on the part of the Obama administration?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think it is, because first of all the agencies which are preparing to implement this law have to know whether it's constitutional or not and there really is no point for waiting another year.

Also, I think if the law is approved, Obama can say, I passed a constitutional law. If it's not approved, he can run against the Supreme Court, as presidents have done in the past, but the uncertainty can't help anyone and it seems like a very wise choice for all concerned just to move ahead and get this thing resolved.

BLITZER: Well, do you have a sense, do you think, who is going to win before the United States Supreme Court? No one knows the nine -- and that's the name of your bestseller -- no one knows these nine justices better than you. Based on what you know, how does it look?

TOOBIN: I think there are four certain justices, the four Democrats, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, who will certainly vote to uphold the law. Justice Thomas will certainly vote to overturn it, based on their prior records.

Can the liberals get one more vote? Anthony Kennedy is probably their best hope. If I had to bet today, I would say the law would be upheld, but this is a very close question and it will be the most important case since Bush v. Gore at the court.

BLITZER: And it has to be resolved before next June? Is that right?

TOOBIN: It will be resolved by the end of June, the end of the next term. It will be the biggest case. I can't wait.

BLITZER: Yes. Let me turn the corner for a moment to the Dr. Conrad Murray trial that's under way in Los Angeles now for the death of Michael Jackson.

Let's listen to what the prosecutor and the defense attorney said today in part at least in their opening comments.


DAVID WALGREN, PROSECUTOR: What we expect the evidence to show is that Conrad Murray repeatedly acted with gross negligence, repeatedly denied care, appropriate care, to his patient, Michael Jackson, and that it was Dr. Murray's repeated incompetent and unskilled acts that led to Mr. Jackson's death on June 25, 2009.

ED CHERNOFF, ATTORNEY FOR CONRAD MURRAY: The scientific evidence will show you that when Dr. Murray left the room, Michael Jackson self-administered a dose of propofol that, with the lorazepam, created a perfect storm in his body that killed him instantly.


BLITZER: All right, those are the opening statements, but what do you think? Is this a slam dunk for the prosecution or is it uncertain what's going to happen?

TOOBIN: I think it's uncertain. You know, the prosecution wants to make this a simple case. Conrad Murray injected him with propofol and he died, end of story. The defense wants to make it a lot more complicated. No, Michael Jackson had a history of drug abuse. Michael Jackson had a financial incentive to keep performing, even though he was very sick.

And he had the ability to inject himself. And it's going to be very difficult to disprove that Michael Jackson injected himself. If I had to guess, I think the key fact will be that Conrad Murray, when the EMTs came for Michael Jackson, he didn't tell them the truth about which drugs had been administered. I think that's a very bad fact for the defense.

I didn't hear a good refutation of it today. But I don't think this case is a slam dunk. And California being California, it's going to take a long time to resolve it.

BLITZER: And you never know what the jury is going to decide, any jury. They can surprise all of us, as you well know. You covered the O.J. Simpson trial.

TOOBIN: In that same courthouse.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say you were surprised by the verdict in that trial as well.

TOOBIN: I certainly was. You can see on YouTube the expression on my face from the verdict. I look younger, though.


BLITZER: After the show, I will check it out.


BLITZER: Jeffrey, thanks very, very much.

Meanwhile, President Obama is heading on to Air Force One, only moments again, he started that, and he's about to take off from Colorado, the last stop on his West Coast swing to pitch his American Jobs Act.

Speaking at a high school, he highlighted the need to modernize schools across the nation, create jobs and reform the tax code.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now live in Denver.

Jessica, he's pushing this jobs bill. How aggressive was his sales pitch today?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today he really put on the pressure for Congress to take up and pass the American Jobs Act. He said that members of Congress are calling this class warfare, saying that he's engaging in some class warfare. He said, hey, he will take it. If they want to call him a warrior for the working class, that's a badge of honor he's willing to wear. Listen to the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been two weeks since I sent it to Congress. Now I want it back. I want it back, passed, so I can sign this bill and start putting people back to work. I have already got the pens all ready, all lined up on my desk.


YELLIN: Now, that's what he's saying out here, but we all know, Wolf, that Congress isn't even in session right now, and we don't know when either the House or the Senate will take up this bill, and then even if both houses will take it up in its entirety or break it up into pieces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Colorado went for the president last time. How important is it this time around, this important swing state?

YELLIN: Crucial, Wolf. This is one of a handful of swing states the president has to retain in order to hold the White House.

As you will recall, of course, this is where we all were for the Democratic Convention where he accepted the nomination in that big speech. He won the state by more than 8.5 points and since that time unemployment though has remained high. Latinos, who are an important voting bloc for him, have become angry because immigration reform is stalled.

And I have spent some time in the state especially covering the 2010 Senate race. I will tell you that the tone, the mood among independents has changed here especially for President Obama. He cannot take them for granted. He will have to fight for Colorado in 2012 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's got a lot of work ahead of him in Colorado and a lot of other states as well. Jessica, thanks very, very much.

BLITZER: Huge numbers of shoulder-fired missiles have gone missing in Libya. So how big a threat could they pose to commercial airliners all over the world? What can the U.S. do about it? Stand by.

Plus, a College Republican group's bake sale is called inherently racist, and the sponsors say that's exactly the point. So what's behind the uproar? We will share what we know with you.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The Republican presidential debates are turning into lively affairs, maybe too lively.

For the third time in as many debates, crowd members have either booed or cheered at what some say are highly inappropriate moments. Most recently, former Senator Rick Santorum was asked about the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. When an openly gay soldier asked what the candidates' intentions were for gays in the military, members of the crowd booed loudly.

After the fact, Santorum said he condemned those who booed the gay soldier and he said he didn't hear the boos in the debate hall.

In another debate, Rick Perry was asked about the death penalty and the more than 200 executions that have happened on his watch as Texas governor. The crowd cheered that question. At another GOP debate, the crowd got worked up when Ron Paul was asked a hypothetical question about a 30-year-old uninsured man who gets cancer. The crowd cheered when Paul was asked if that man should be allowed to die.

President Obama has criticized the reaction of some of these audience members at the GOP debates and Vice President Joe Biden called the booing of the gay soldier reprehensible. Politico asks in an online conversation if the GOP debate crowds are bloodthirsty. Critics say the debates promote extremism within the Republican Party and show that the mean season is upon us.

They fault the candidates themselves for not stamping out the behavior when it happens. And they should. Also, some suggest that the booing or cheering could turn off moderate and swing voters in the general election. And it should.

Here's the question. Are Republican debate crowds bloodthirsty? Go to, post a comment on the blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

It's bad enough for these morons that interrupt these proceedings with this kind of stupidity. What's worse is, the candidates don't, at the time, say, you know what? You don't speak for anybody in this room, and just sit down and shut up or get out of the hall. But nobody says a word.

BLITZER: It's a good point, Jack. Thanks very much. We will see what our viewers think as well.

We have told you about the shoulder-fired missiles that have simply gone missing in Libya, possibly, get this, thousands, thousands of these missiles. And that concern is now prompting Senator Barbara Boxer of California to ask that commercial airliners be equipped with anti-missile defenses.

Let's go live to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what kind of technology are we talking about?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what Senator Boxer is talking about is today she issued a call for the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a program, a technology program to protect commercial airliners from shoulder-fired missiles.

Let's walk through a couple of points here. As you say, the question -- the issue on the table, frankly, is Libya. You remember the pictures from CNN's Ben Wedeman several weeks ago when he was taken through facilities in Libya that showed these shoulder-fired missiles, open boxes, empty boxes, all kinds of missile paraphernalia in disarray.

There had been an estimate up to 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles in Libya and frankly officials tell us they're not sure what's there, what's not there, what's under control, what may have even left the country. That is what is prompting Boxer's call.

What is the technology solution? Interestingly, some aerospace companies like Northrop Grumman -- we want to show you one of their videos simulation in animation -- have come up with a technology where the aircraft, commercial aircraft would have a laser underneath it. That laser would focus on a missile coming at it, and basically electronically trick the missile into going off into the distance, keeping the commercial aircraft safe.

You remember, Wolf, in 2002 there was an attempt to shoot down an Israeli aircraft over Mombasa, Kenya. This type of threat is certainly out there and Libya is the current concern -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How likely is this that it could happen, that some of these thousands of shoulder-fired missiles could wind up in the hands of terrorists who have some money and use them to try to shoot down a commercial airliner?

STARR: Well, this is the concern, because as a top Pentagon official told me this afternoon, the problem is they don't know where these missiles are. What's the commercial aviation industry's reaction? So far they don't really want this technology on their planes. It costs $1 million per plane, so they at least want the federal government to pay for it.

They believe that the threat is fairly minimal, that it's mainly when planes takeoff and land at airports. But, look, the threat is only growing, and Libya remains a very critical concern right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much, a very disturbing report.

Scaling the Washington Monument under the watchful eye of the U.S. Park Service, and it's allowed. We are going to tell you why this man is dangling from the top of a landmark right here in Washington, D.C.

And cupcakes and cookies aren't usually controversial, but one college group is hosting a bake sale that organizers know is inherently racist. We are going to tell you why.



BLITZER: This programming reminder for our viewers. Beginning Monday for our North American viewers, THE SITUATION ROOM moves up an hour. Please be sure to join us from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern on weekdays. "JOHN KING, USA" will follow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. The new "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" show airs at 7:00 p.m.

For all of our international viewers, THE SITUATION ROOM will air at the same time it does right now.

A Syrian American plays a protest song here in Washington, D.C. In retaliation, his parents are brutally beaten at home.


DR. MAMOUN JANDALI, FATHER: Here, you can see the blood of my wife on the floor, on the carpet. My wife.


BLITZER: Can the regime of the Syrian president, Bashar al- Assad, be stopped? The Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami, he is standing by live.


BLITZER: Syrian security forces have stormed a city known for its calm during the month-long uprising. An opposition group says they targeted a neighborhood in Aleppo, the country's economic center.

This comes as schoolchildren have taken to the streets there and elsewhere calling for the fall of the president, Bashar al-Assad. A new poll taken in Syria shows eight out of 10 want the al-Assad regime to simply leave and more than seven out of 10 are hoping for reforms.

The survey done with the help of an American group was carried out in secret due to a ban on opinion gathering in Syria. Even when Syrians openly express their views right here in the United States, though, the regime back in Damascus can react with horrific brutality.

CNN's Gena Somra looks at the shocking cruelty visited upon the family of a Syrian American.


GENA SOMRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirty-eight-year- old musician Malek Jandali says the message of his song "Watani Ana," Arabic for "My Homeland Is Me," is simple.

MALEK JANDALI, PIANIST AND COMPOSER: What does it say? "I am my homeland. And my homeland is me. My love is fire in my heart for you. When am I going to see you free?"

SOMRA: Just days after he played the song at this July 23 anti- Assad protest rally in Washington, the reaction in his homeland, he says, was swift and brutal. DR. MAMOUN JANDALI, FATHER: Here you can see the blood of my wife on the floor, on the carpet. My wife.

SOMRA: Malek's father, a 72-year-old surgeon, says these images taken just moments after he and his wife were beaten at their home in Syria show just how far that government is willing to go to silence dissent, even if the voices being raised are thousands of miles away.

MAMOUN JANDALI: As I came back from work evening, from my hospital, came two men inside and closed the door and start hitting me, handcuffed me back, put tape on my mouth and nose, pushed me upstairs, where -- where -- my wife -- they came up and start hitting her, mostly on her face, in front of me.

And they said to us, "This is a lesson to you to know how to behave your son, who is demonstrating and making fun of us."

SOMRA: CNN was unable to independently confirm the attack in homes, and the government would not respond to our question but in the past it has blamed armed gangs for attacks on civilians.

When Malek learned of what happened to his parents, he says he was saddened but not surprised.

MALEK JANDALI: It's the regime that is possible of doing any crime, any atrocities, to terrorize people and to sustain them.

SOMRA: as he sits in his son's home in the United States nearly two months after the attack, Dr. Jandali's wounds may have healed but not the pain.

MAMOUN JANDALI: I was very, very, very shocked, and the most what hurts was to watch -- to watch my wife being beaten, and I can do nothing.

SOMRA: Far from silencing a song of protest, the attack against the composer's parents may have instead made it a rallying cry for the Syrian opposition.

Gena Somra, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: Just yesterday we showed you Arwa Damon's powerful report on the horrible torture and dismemberment of a young Syrian woman. And now this, the regime is beating elderly people because their kids are speaking out far away.

Joining us now to discuss what's going on the noted Middle East scholar, Dr. Fouad Ajami. He's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Fouad, does this violence surprise you at all?

DR. FOUAD AJAMI, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, you know what's really painful about the stories, in fact, it's almost difficult to comment on them. They need no comment. They make us all seem so weak.

And I think there is nothing surprising. There is a race there, if you will. The regime feeling its own eminent economic collapse, perhaps, is now just going for broke. And the people, the stubborn crowd people are just persisting. And when you see this professional couple, a man in his 70s, a physician, a wife who I believe is a psychiatrist also, very educated woman and their son, and you see the treatment of the Syrian people are receiving at the hands of the government, it is absolutely appalling.

BLITZER: You know, I've spoken with Syrians who live here in the United States. Over these past several months, they've whispered in my ears that they're so scared to say anything, to go to even a little demonstration here in Washington, because they fear their relatives, their parents or their grandparents will be brutally attacked in Syria. I assume you've -- you've heard this from Syrians living outside of Syria, as well.

AJAMI: Absolutely. There is no one really safe from the reach of this regime. I mean, this regime, I think, when we watch what was going on in Tunisia, and Egypt, we had an idea that perhaps the fall of these dictators could be easy. And then we watched the luck of the Libyans. We now understand how lucky the Libyans were, because NATO came to the rescue.

And the poor Syrians, they are now in month seven, in month seven of this ordeal. And when you listen to the Syrian rulers themselves, they truly believe and they want the world to believe it's a conspiracy, that this is all the work of the Americans. It's all the work of al Jazeera. It's all the work of CNN. It's agitation. It's fundamentalists. And what you see is a gangster regime, a cruel, monstrous regime at war with its own population.

BLITZER: Is there a recipe? Is there a formula to stop this? What do you think, Fouad?

AJAMI: Well, you know, I really don't know. Even at the United Nations when you see what's happening there, you have the Russians and the Chinese and the Indians and the South Africans and the Brazilians persisting in giving cover to this regime.

And then there is the pressure, admittedly good, admittedly important, admittedly I think the only honorable thing to do, that the Europeans and the United States have now put against the regime economically, but I don't see any exit. I really don't. I wish one can look into the future and see deliverance for this proud and good and decent people, but it doesn't seem to be in the offing for the moment.

BLITZER: One thing that some U.S. officials have suggested to me that could perhaps, perhaps dissuade those surrounding Bashar al-Assad is to really go forward with war crimes, crimes against humanity, bring these people, at least raise the possibility they're going to be brought before the criminal, international criminal court in the Netherlands.

Do you think that the top military brass, the security brass surrounding Bashar al-Assad would be intimidated by that threat?

AJAMI: Well, I don't know about this, but I think what's clear, in fact, if the Allawi brigade commanders, intelligence there, if they stick around Bashar and rally to him, I don't know how one would break out of this -- the sectarian, if you will, truth of the Syrian regime. But we must try all things, and we must take away from this regime whatever cover and whatever legitimacy it still possesses.

And when you listened to the foreign minister of Syria a couple of days ago, yesterday at the United Nations, it was amazing the world they live in. And it's amazing, the self-delusion and the hypocrisy. And then you see the terror unleashed on these decent people, and you just wonder about the ways of man, I think.

BLITZER: What about the Arab League?


BLITZER: Yesterday I spoke here in THE SITUATION ROOM with Nasser Judeh, the foreign minister of Jordan, a very decent guy. I've known him for 25 years. We have a long history there. But I asked him what Jordan, right to the south of Syria, what his government is doing about all of this, and he basically referred to a recent Arab League statement which was nebulous, where it really didn't say that Bashar al-Assad must step down or anything along those lines, a very weak kind of statement.

Is that the best we can expect from the Arab League?

AJAMI: I don't think the Arab League will do much. I mean, I happen to have talked also to Nabil Arami (ph), the secretary-general of the Arab League, and he's a decent man, a decent diplomat and lawyer of long -- of long experience and deep education. He has no military divisions, and what the Syrians have told the Arab League is stay out of the affairs and the sovereign affairs of Syria.

Syria trades off on this legend of being in the front line state in the struggle against Israel, and it's kind of this, and it trades off the neighborhood it lives in. It trades off the strategic position of Syria. This is not Libya, which is somewhat isolated from the heartland of the Arab world. And I don't think the Arab League will do much, and I don't think the Arab League will give the kind of cover that the Arab League gave for the intervention in Libya.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe these thugs could undertake these kinds of acts against, as you point out, an elderly family in their 70s, distinguished surgeon and his wife. It's shocking to see these reports, and they're coming out with great intensity.

Fouad Ajami, thanks very much for coming in.

AJAMI: Thank you, Wolf, for doing the story and continuing to do it.

BLITZER: Thank you. Workers at the Washington Monument here in the nation's capital, they are preparing to assess the damage from the August earthquake from a new angle, several hundred feet up. We're going live to the National Mall in Washington.

And he's not a candidate in the Republican field running for president, but some are certainly hoping he will be. The push to put Chris Christie in the race for the White House, that's coming up.


BLITZER: Take a look at this. This is the Washington Monument here in Washington, D.C. You're looking at live pictures. Some are watching this unfold more than 100 feet above the ground of the Washington, D.C., monument.

I'm inside here. My feet are firmly on the floor. But check out this guy over at the Washington Monument. Workers there spent part of the day dangling more than 500 feet up to inspect damage from the August earthquake that rattled the East Coast. There he is looking at what's going on.

Our own Brian Todd is joining us now live from the National Mall.

Brian, what have they done so far?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They've just done an initial assessment, Wolf, and tethered some of the anchors that are going to hold some of the people who are going t o rappel down the monument in the coming days.

You know, officials here say that the monument is structurally sound, but what they want to do is make sure there are no loose pieces of mortar that might fall and hit people in the future. So they've undertaken a very eye-catching damage assessment mission.


TODD (voice-over): A lone figure pops out of a hatch and makes history. David Meggerley (ph), rigging specialist from an Illinois engineering firm works 555 feet above the ground, securing anchors around the top pyramid of the Washington Monument. From those positions, other engineers from the firm will rappel down for a damage assessment from last month's earthquake.

The monuments had scaffolding around it, been power washed, but never before has anyone scaled its daunting exterior. No one can avert their eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a job I wouldn't do.

TODD: Gordy Kito of the National Park Service worked with search and rescue teams in the peaks of Alaska's Denali National Park, and he's helping to oversee the situation.

(on camera) Do you guys get a little nervous knowing that you're going to have tourists constantly watching this operation and if something happens?

GORDY KITO, NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE: They're very focused on what they're doing. You find yourself shutting out a lot of stuff that's going on around you and you're focused on the task at hand, and that's something that farmers do all the time.

TODD: These engineers are going to have to inspect every stone. It will take at least a few days.

Park officials say they can work through heavy rain, but if there's any threat of lightning they'll have to stop. The monument's been hit by lightning several times in its history.

(voice-over) Officials already know that mortar dropped near the base during the quake, and they know the shaking opened a significant track on the west facade near the top, about four feet long, at least half an inch wide. From the internal damage assessment, they know other cracks are letting in rainwater and sunlight.

Damage from a violent tremor captured on surveillance video. It shows streams of debris falling, a woman getting knocked off her feet. Another woman in the picture, Nikolette Williams, was the only park ranger in the observation level, 500 feet up, when the quake struck.

(on camera) What were you going through?

NIKOLETTE WILLIAMS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE: I was absolutely terrified. I felt like I had no control over my own body. It was absolutely terrifying, and I thought maybe we had been under attack.


TODD: Williams admits that her first thought was to try to take off down the stairs by herself, but she quickly realized that she had about 20 tourists who were on that observation deck who she had to evacuate. She says there was a little bit of panic at first and screaming, but she managed to get them out without serious injuries -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, when do park officials believe tourists will be able to get back inside?

TODD: Well, one park service official said we're not even close to that point yet. They won't even have a damage assessment report, he says, until probably mid-October and then that engineering firm is going to have to assess all the data. They have to do the actual repairs. And then they have to come back and kind of recertify all of those repairs. You're talking probably at least a couple of months before people are allowed back in.

BLITZER: Brian Todd is on the National Mall for us. All right, Brian, thanks very much.

His life story reads like an international crime novel right up until the moment he was arrested after more than 40 years on the run. After he escaped from prison and hijacked a plane, the manhunt to find him is now over.

And one U.S. ally has decided to allow its military women to serve in combat on the front lines. We're going to tell you where.


BLITZER: A notorious international fugitive nabbed after 40 years on the run. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What's going on here?


Well, the FBI has announced the arrest of George Wright in Portugal. Wright was serving a 15 to 30-year jail sentence in New Jersey for the 1962 murder of a World War II veteran before escaping in 1970. Authorities then tied him to an infamous 1972 hijacking involving a $1 million ransom. They're seeking his extradition now from Portugal.

Egypt's first election since the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak's government are now scheduled to begin in late November. The country's supreme council says voters will choose a parliament then, and elections for president will come after that. The country's interim rulers have been under intense scrutiny since Mubarak was thrown from power in February.

Australia is about to become one of only a few countries in the developed world with no restrictions for women in combat. Under a new plan to be phased in over a five-year period, Australian women will be able to serve alongside men in front-line combat roles. That's according to the Australian defense ministry. The United States formally excludes women from direct combat units.

And there is speculation swirling that the iPhone 5 is just around the corner. Apple has confirmed a press event next Tuesday where the much-anticipated device is scheduled to be unveiled. The phone could feature upgrades like longer battery life and more memory.

And there is new scientific evidence that a morning cup of coffee may help brighten the day, at least for a few women. According to a new study, women drinking caffeinated coffee were less likely to become depressed. And the more they consumed, the more that risk of depression goes down. But researchers say there's no indication that drinking cup after cup of coffee will prevent depression altogether.

So another good reason for all us to drink coffee in the morning.

BLITZER: One day it is good for you. The next day it's bad for you. Wait a week. We'll get another opinion. No doubt about that. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Let's go back to Jack. He's back with "The Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Quick clarification: when Ron Paul was asked a hypothetical question, hypothetical at the CNN debate about a 30-year-old uninsured man getting ill, the man did not have cancer. Why that matters, I don't know. As much as it was a hypothetical question, but apparently, it mattered to someone.

The question this hour is: "Are Republican debate crowds bloodthirsty?"

Cory in Fort Lauderdale writes, "Blood thirsty? I think they're viciously cold-hearted. I mandate we change their moniker to the Ice Tea Party. The behavior of these debate audiences and the lack of some sort of acknowledgement of inappropriateness by any of the candidates have shocked a lot of us. The booing of the gay soldier was just the icing on the cake. Please stay away from our White House."

Fay in Texas writes, "It seems so. And many of them call themselves conservative Christians, too. There appears to be a serious disconnect between those Sunday sermons and everyday living."

E.J. in Houston writes, "There's been quite a spotlight put on this and rightly so. But the candidates on the stage are the ones that have to be called out, Jack. Are they all so afraid to upset their base that they would allow them to boo a soldier because of his sexuality or cheer allowing an uninsured man to die? After it was all over, you hear that, quote, 'I didn't hear the booing,' or they condemn that type of a behavior. It's like back when Sarah Palin claims she didn't hear all the racial names that then-candidate Obama was called at her rallies. It really shows the GOP in a negative light, but the problem is they don't seem to care as long as they win."

Richard on Facebook writes, "These are the types of people that would have watched the lions eat the Christians in Rome. The candidates don't say anything because they're afraid of alienating their base, which are these extremists."

And James in North Carolina: "Jack, you have found out our secret. Yes, we're a bloodthirsty lot. Sometimes we go to KISS concerts when there's not a radical Republican holding a rally. Once we win the election, we're going to move right on to cannibalism, but right now we have to content ourselves with a rare roast beef. Got to go now. Just saw another UFO fly by."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog,, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Very popular page indeed. All right, Jack, thanks very much.

This programming reminder for our viewers: beginning this coming Monday, for our North American viewers, THE SITUATION ROOM moves up one hour. Please be sure to join us from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern on weekdays. "JOHN KING USA" will follow at 6 p.m. Eastern, and the new "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" show airs at 7 p.m. Eastern.

For our international viewers, THE SITUATION ROOM, all of your out there in Europe, elsewhere, THE SITUATION ROOM will air at the same time it's airing right now. Not to worry, 11 p.m. in London, midnight in Paris. You get the point. It airs at the same time.

Having chest pains is no joking matter unless it is Ellen DeGeneres having them. Jeanne Moos has the comedienne's take on her health scare. That's next.


BLITZER: Chest pains woke Ellen DeGeneres up Monday morning, but she got the last laugh. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ellen DeGeneres may have called paramedics for chest pains. But that didn't stop her from dancing. She described how she felt in the middle of the night.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: A tightness, like on my chest and all the scary things like something was heavy on my chest. And it was a cat, so I moved it.

MOOS: She joked about her heart. She joked about the firemen who came to the Warner Bros. lot where she tapes her show.

DEGENERES: And then they come in with an ax, break the door down, which was open. I don't know why they do that.

MOOS: And thus did Ellen join the ranks of comediennes who take heart by using heart trouble for material.

ROBIN WILLIAMS, COMEDIAN: Normally a heart is like "pip pip." Mine is like "pip-pip, pip-pip."

MOOS: Robin Williams had a heart valve replaced with a cow valve.

WILLIAMS: And I can't eat meat now because obviously, I'm going, "It's one of us."

MOOS: There he was with letterman showing his scar.

WILLIAMS: Already it's started to grow back. That was five minutes after the surgery.

MOOS: Remember Dave, the first day back from his own surgery?

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": While I was gone, I had quintuple bypass surgery on my heart! Oh!

Plus, I got a haircut.

MOOS: There's a lot of show and tell after celebrities have heart surgery. Regis and Letterman, for instance, compared legs.

REGIS PHILBIN, CO-HOST, ABC'S "LIVE WITH REGIS AND KELLY": They take the arteries out, you know, the stuff that you bypass your clog...

LETTERMAN: Do you think they're going to go to Home Depot?

PHILBIN: This thing will not heal. It's all the way up my leg.

LETTERMAN: Look at that. It's gone.

MOOS (on camera): And Dick Cheney has practically been giving people heart attacks with his show and tell.

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": Mr. Vice President, I want to talk about this little bulge here.

JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW": I'm guessing that line was specially unsettling on "The View's" radio broadcast.

MOOS (voice-over): The former V.P. has an implanted pump that helps his own heart.

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Battery operated. This is the control element.

MOOS: He's been setting the thing off...

CHENEY: It will beep in a moment.

And that means you better put it back.

MOOS: ... in interview after interview.

CHENEY: When you take it out, it beeps...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please put it back in.

MOOS: ... like some heartfelt practical joke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does that mean?

CHENEY: It means...

LYNNE CHENEY, DICK CHENEY'S WIFE: Put the battery back.

MOOS (on camera): Robin Williams talks about how emotional he got after his heart attack. Wait a minute. Are those palpitations or is that a punch line I hear?

WILLIAMS: I thought instead of a valve they gave me a tiny vagina.

MOOS (voice-over): Anatomically correct jokes.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

WILLIAMS: Mine is like "pip-pip, pip-pip."

MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: Very funny stuff. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. In North America, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.