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Is the Syrian Regime About To Crack?; Air France Pilots Blamed For Disaster; A Lifeguard was Fired for Saving Someone's Life; Captain Francesco Schettino has been Released from House Arrest

Aired July 5, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a stunning new sign that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, may, may be in serious jeopardy right now. A key military general closely tied to the regime has reportedly fled the country.

A horrible plunge from seven miles high. 228 lives lost over the Atlantic. The final report from investigators largely blames pilot error for that Air France crash. We're taking a closer look at whether it could happen again.

And a Florida lifeguard is fired for saving, saving the life of a drowning man. But that's just the start of the story that stirred up a lot of outrage around the country.

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



BLITZER: If the Syrian regime is about to crack, this is almost certainly how it will start. An important general with close family ties to Bashar al-Assad has now reportedly fled to Turkey. Manaf Tlass is a friend of the Syrian leader, and his father served as the defense minister to Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad for three decades. A powerful, powerful man.

Just recently, the Israeli deputy prime minister, Shaul Mofaz, told me here in the SITUATION ROOM that Bashar al-Assad can't hang on for much longer if he starts losing his senior officer core. Mofaz, himself, formerly Israel's top general says when the military starts to desert in large numbers, it will be and I'm quoting Mofaz here, the end of Bashar al-Assad.

Las year's mass uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya led to the ouster of their leaders. We saw Libya's Moammar Gadhafi dragged through the streets. We saw Egypt's Hosni Mubarak caged in a courtroom. After a brutal and bloody conflict, could Bashar al-Assad now be next? Joining us now from Beirut is CNNs Arwa Damon. She's been watching all of this unfold. Arwa, if it's true that Manaf Tlass has fled to Turkey, that is a huge development, a huge crack in that wall that's been protecting Bashar al-Assad. ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It potentially could be, Wolf. And it could potentially -- this is what opposition activists would be hoping, encourage other senior members of the military to defect as well. Manf Tlass was reportedly, according to a source close to the family, very, very close with Bashar al-Assad.

He was very friendly with Bashar's brother who was killed, Basil. The two reportedly attended the military academy together after Basil died in that car accident. Remember, he was being groomed to take over the presidency. That was then when Bashar al-Assad came on to the scene and the two carried on that close tie.

However, it would seem that since the beginning of the this uprising, there was, perhaps, some suspicion surrounding Tlass when it came to his loyalty towards Bashar al-Assad because for months, he had been given a desk job. So, it seems the regime was trying to keep something of a close eye on him.

But most certainly, we are waiting for video to emerge to confirm this defection. It would be a significant gain for the opposition, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you've had a chance to sit down in Beirut with Senator John McCain who's been a very, very vocal critic of the Obama administration's handling of the crisis in Syria. What's the basic point that Senator McCain is now making?

DAMON: Well, he's trying to hit home a few points that he has been making for quite some time now. The cost of inaction, and that is the growing radicalization of the revolution potentially causing Syria to become a very fruitful ground for organizations like al Qaeda. The gains that certain powers would see if the Assad regime would fall because that would greatly weaken Iran's hand.

And then, of course, at the core of all of this is ending the daily price that the civilians are paying time and time again. Senator McCain continuing to push forward this idea of trying to establish a safe area potentially along the border with turkey or Jordan creating a no-fly zone that would then allow the opposition to really gain and move forward, but he says that there needs to be drastic international action.

That the U.S. needs to really start leading the effort instead of trying to maintain something of a behind-the-scenes approach to all of this, because at the end of the day, this is something that everyone has been following Syria is very well-aware, the consequences are not going to be confined to Syria. They are going to be regional. And it is going to lead to a significantly higher degree of bloodshed.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon reporting for us in Beirut. Thank you, Arwa.

I want to update you right now on another important story we've been following closely here in the SITUATION ROOM. For the first time in seven months, trucks carrying vital supplies for U.S. and NATO troops have crossed from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Pakistan had shut down the crucial route back in November after coalition forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan had demanded an apology. And on Tuesday, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, complied saying the United States is sorry for Pakistan's losses. The U.S. had been paying an extra $100 million a month to use alternative ground routes and air routes, if you will, to bring supplies into Afghanistan.

Here in United States, a new list of America's most disliked companies is now out. And given that hundreds of thousands of people still, still are without power after that devastating east coast storm, certainly, no surprise that two utility companies top the list. In first place, Long Island Power Authority. In second place, Northeast Utility.

CNN regulation correspondent, Lizzie O'Leary is joining us now. She's got more on this. The difficulties of turning the power back on, and the folks are really pretty angry still.

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: They are. And there's an understanding that this is hard, but after a while, the frustration with being hot, being without power, in some cases without water, really reaches a boiling point and people say, all right, it's time for these companies to just do better.


O'LEARY (voice-over): Take a look across the country where this storm knocked out power. When the lights go out, patience does, too.

DIANA COMBS, RESIDENT: So, really, after the third or fourth day, it's like, OK, we're done.

O'LEARY: They have sympathy for the workers, but not much for the power companies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is ridiculous! I wish we could find another -- electric company. Pepco is just no good. I bet the man who owns the place --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's not that. Pepco is trying the best they can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, they're not either. We haven't seen one Pepco truck all week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we have now. I mean --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, but big deal.

O'LEARY: That company, last year, voted the most hated in the U.S. even inspired a YouTube video we can only play you a slice of.


O'LEARY: The bill is the catch. Storm damage is expensive.

And if they say we've had a lot of damage from this storm, we've got to pay for it somehow, we're going to raise your rates?

STEVEN COMBS, RESIDENT: I don't know why we should bear the brunt of this cost. We're bearing quite a cost as it is from this storm. I don't see where raising the rates would, you know, help us any.

O'LEARY (on-camera): One key change in the past couple of years, regulators have gotten more aggressive saying damage like this isn't just unfortunate, but actually, irresponsible on the part of the utility companies.

(voice-over) Many states forbid companies from charging customers for preventable storm damage. Connecticut's attorney general is pushing utilities to pay for their bad storm plan in last year's hurricane and nor'easter.

GEORGE JEPSEN, CONNECTICUT ATTORNEY GENERAL: In an era of climate change and global warming, these kinds of severe weather events are going to be much more frequent. They already are taking place on a more frequent basis. And that means that the utilities themselves, the regulators, and the policymakers, legislators, need to step up our game collectively to protect the public. We all have to perform better.


O'LEARY (on-camera): That could mean fines, but it's a pretty long timetable for that. And it's also important to understand that changing face of utility companies and how this works. We're not talking about one collectively owned company here anymore. We went through all the companies that are affected here.

And we talked to some -- you know, looked at some 25 different companies. Most of these are investor-owned. They're public companies. So, they have pressures to the people who pay for electricity and their services, but they also have pressures to shareholders. And so, some of this is because they're caught between trying to satisfy multiple masters, Wolf.

BLITZER: Frustration, meanwhile, is intense.


BLITZER: To put it mildly. Lizzie, thank you.

Just reminder for our North American viewers, don't forget there's an extra hour of the SITUATION ROOM coming up at the top of the hour with a new report on terror arrests in London just ahead of the Olympic games. An extra hour of the SITUATION ROOM right at the top of the hour.

But first, this hour, he's blamed for running his cruise ship on to the rocks. And at least 30 people died when it capsized. But now, the captain of the Costa Concordia is free from house arrest.

And he's a sprinter known as "Blade Runner." And he's about to become the first double amputee in Olympic history. Plus, investigators blame pilot error in the crash of Air France flight 447 which plunged into the Atlantic three years ago. Could it happen again?


BLITZER: It was horrible, horrible plunge from seven miles high that ended at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Now, investigators have released their final report detailing why 228 people aboard an Air France jet plummeted to their deaths. That shocking crash took place just over three years ago. CNN's Richard Quest takes us back.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It all began on May 31st, 2009. Shortly after, 22:00 hours UTC, universal time, the time standard used in aviation, Air France flight 447 took off from Rio de Janeiro heading for Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was an airbus A-330, 200 series carrying 228 people or souls as they say in the industry, 216 passengers, 12 crew members.

Four hours into its 11-hour journey, things started to go wrong. At 02:00, the plane entered a thunderstorm with strong turbulence. And the pilots made a short course correction to avoid the bad weather. Then, a problem with the plane's pitot tubes, the small probes that they used to measure the speed of the airplane.

It's believed they got clogged with super cooled ice. The speed sensors iced over. In the cockpit, the computers behaved as they were supposed to. The auto pilot disengaged. The plane's co-pilot, who was the pilot flying, reacted by pulling back on the side stick. And the plane started to climb. Within a minute, the plane had climbed to 38,000 feet and was outside its certified parameters.

There was a stall warning as the plane's air speed dropped dramatically, and the plane fell out of the sky, falling at nearly 11,000 feet a minute. As the earlier reports made clear, over the next three and a half minutes, there was confusion in the cockpit as the pilots tried and failed to regain control of the aircraft.

So far, in the early reports, the accident investigators from France have been focusing on a series of sustained mistakes by at least one of the pilots. Finally, after falling 38,000 feet unable to regain control, the plane plunged into the sea and sank to the ocean floor. Days later, crews found wreckage in the equatorial waters between Brazil and Africa, 570 miles northeast of Natal, Brazil.

It would be two years and several searches later before the so-called black box, a flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorders would be recovered.


BLITZER: And Richard Quest is joining us from London right now. Richard, what's the bottom line in all of this? What's your bottom line conclusion? QUEST: My bottom line is basically that today's modern airliners have to be designed with technology and protections and computers for an entire range of experienced pilots, from the lesser to the greater. And what this incident has shown is that there needs to be a return to basic airmanship skills in many cases.

A culture where you fly the plane first, where you understand what the plane is going to do in all its different extremities. And most crucially, Wolf, that you can no longer be complacent about the technology. Understanding the aircraft first is what really comes out of this report.

BLITZER: What surprised you the most, if anything?

QUEST: What surprised me was the lack of what's called CRM, Crew Results Management, with the relationship between the three members of the crew. And for 54 seconds, there was a stall warning, stall, stall, stall, stall. This thing blares out in the cabin. And yet, not once do the two co-pilots or the captain refer to this.

Time and again you hear them wondering what's happened, what's gone wrong. And yet, the captain doesn't take control and the most senior first officer doesn't take control. So, those come back to this big picture that this is about piloting. It's about airmanship. It's about a culture in the cockpit.

And that's what this has been about, not whether there's this bit of technology or this bit of protection or this bit of fly by wire.

BLITZER: Good report. Richard, thanks very much. Richard Quest reporting from London.

So, what's being done now to avoid human errors aboard passenger jets? Brian Todd has been investigating this part of the story. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a compelling part of this new report deals with how the crew responded emotionally to what was happening. It alludes to breakdowns in communication, highly charged interaction in the cockpit after those speed sensors malfunctioned and the autopilot disengaged.


TODD (voice-over): As Air France flight 447 was stalling over the Atlantic before it plunged from the sky, the crew was in a state of almost total loss of control, according to the chief investigator. First, the plane's speed sensors malfunctioned. That should not have caused the catastrophe.

But, quote, "poor management" of what's called the startle effect generated a highly charged emotional factor, according to a new report.

Are commercial pilots trained on the so-called startle effect? What to do when something suddenly happens like that? MARK WEISS, FORMER COMMERCIAL AIRLINE PILOT: What I was trained to do is take a deep breath, get control of yourself, and then control of the situation because it's startling.

TODD: Mark Weiss, a pilot for more than 20 years with the major American carrier, says there are things pilots have to have memorized for startling events. Red box items, he calls them. Events like a stall which occurred on the Air France flight or engine fires. The new report says the crew progressively becoming destructured, never understood that they were faced with a simple loss of information.

Weiss says that shouldn't happen. The cockpit is carefully orchestrated, he says, like a ballet. Everyone knows their roles.

(on-camera) I'm a co-pilot here, you're a co-pilot here, we get the signal that something's wrong, we take a deep breath, and then, what do we do? How do I communicate with you?

WEISS: Typically, the person who was in the left seat is going to be flying the airplane. Doesn't make a difference if the co-pilot or the captain. They will generally say, I've got the airplane, you work with the problem.

TODD: That may have happened, but other communication broke down. The report says the crew never understood they were in a stall despite repeated warnings from the control panel. A key question now, are commercial pilots being retrained to make sure these breakdowns don't happen again?

WEISS: This is going to be a textbook case now for when pilots go back through training. You'll either train for it in a simulator, or, they'll at least talk about it. They're going to talk about high altitude stalls. They're going to talk about loss of certain instrumentation, multiple signals, how do you deal with that?


TODD: Weiss says airlines will also talk about crew resource management. You heard Richard Quest refer to that a minute ago. How to work together and communicate better? This new report recommends that specifically saying airlines should review training in behavioral responses to surprising events, Wolf.

BLITZER: There was one very important piece of training, technical training, this crew didn't have.

TODD: That's right. The report says that the co-pilots had not gotten training for flying the plane manually at high altitude. They needed that for when that autopilot disengaged in that moment, you know, Mark Weiss says the pilots have a saying, quote, "You sink to the level of your training."

If there's any flaw in your training, it comes out in a moment like that. They didn't have that training in the manually flying high altitude. That was a big part of what happened. And as Richard was talking about it as well, it was the emotional response, the communication breakdowns were just awful.

BLITZER: I suspect they're going to have that training from now on.

TODD: Probably.

BLITZER: They better. Thanks, Brian.

A girl falls face first into a sinkhole. What's especially scary, it was hidden in the corner of her own backyard.

And if you're looking to buy a house or thinking about refinancing, why now may be the time?


BLITZER: -- watch fireworks turns deadly. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Wolf, three children sadly are dead after a boat capsized off Long Island. It's not yet known what caused the boat to turn over. Twenty-seven people were on board. And officials are looking into whether it was overcrowded. Children under 12 are required to have life jackets on, but not when inside the cabin, which is where the children appear to have been trapped.

And the time to buy a house appears to be right now. Mortgage rates are at an all-time low. The tenth time in the past 11 weeks they set or tied a record. Mortgage giant, Freddie Mac, says a 30-year fixed rate is now just 3.62 percent. A mortgage information provider says he expects rates to stay low for a while.

And a girl in Florida is lucky to be alive after falling head-first into a sinkhole in her backyard. She says she was in pain because she slammed into the side of the hole on her way down but knew no one else was nearby. So, she managed to climb up the roots to escape using light from a handheld video game.

And sprinter, Oscar Pistorius, will be the first double amputee in Olympic history. He was elected to run for South Africa's 4 by 400- meter relay team and the individual 400-meter race. CNNs Robyn Curnow takes a closer look at the man called "The Blade Runner."


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's a self-confessed speed freak. He's loved motorbikes and action sports since he was a child.

OSCAR PISTORIUS, SOUTH AFRICAN SPRINTER: Yes. I've got these ones that we just use for sports for running.

CURNOW: But South African sprint champion, Oscar Pistorius, is also a double amputee because of a birth defect. He's been wearing prosthetic legs since he was just one year old. So, before practice, he doesn't just change his shoes, Pistorius changes his legs. Taking off his everyday walking prosthetics and putting on his running blades, a man who refuses to see himself as someone who needs a helping hand. Pistorius is now looking ahead to London 2012.

Obviously, a longer term plan is the Olympics.

PISTORIUS: You know, I've set a qualification time, a qualification time. My goal is just to be consistent where I am. And if you look at what I'm going to have to do to be consistent, there's a lot of hard work in the next year ahead of us.

CURNOW: But the sprinter's journey, his coach believes, is not yet over.

AMPIE LOUW, COACH: He is special. He is a champion. Champions are born. I know it. I'm almost going for 40 years in training, and I can see it. He's got all the abilities as a champion. And we did it gradually.

CURNOW: He's become a bit of a hero. Fans and sponsors lining up to meet the man known as "The Blade Runner." Oscar Pistorius is South African sprinter who defines the Olympic spirit.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, Victoria (ph), South Africa.


SYLVESTER: Yes. I just love that story. And I have a feeling he's going to have a lot of folks out there rooting for him worldwide when he competes in a few weeks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We wish him only, only the best of luck at the games. Thanks, Lisa. Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, outrage over the firing of a Florida lifeguard. He gets terminated. Guess why? He gets terminated for saving the life of a drowning man, but guess what? Doesn't end there. All the media attention leads to an unexpected twist of events.

And more disturbing details emerging about a cruise ship nightmare. A passenger says the crew told him to skip the safety instructions and instead go gamble at the casino.


BLITZER: Outrage over the firing of a Florida life guard. He saved the life of a drowning man then was promptly fired for doing it.

CNN John Zarrella is following this story for us.

John, I understand he's now been offered his old job back, I assume because of all of the uproar, but why was he fired in the first place for saving someone's life?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, this story of the fired life guard is one of those cases where an apparent hasty decision by a local manager has led to the absolutely kind of publicity that no company ever wants.


ZARELLA (voice-over): Tomas Lopez gave the news to his friends and fellow lifeguards. He had just spoken with the company president. After tumultuous three days, they could have their job back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope you guys just make decision you want to and best for you guys, alright?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think you'll go back?

ZARELLA: Lopez had already made up his mind.

TOMAS LOPEZ, LIFEGUARD: I said I humbly decline the invitation to get the job back. It's another chapter in my life closed and I'm going to continue to get my schooling finished and get on with my career.

ZARELLA: On Monday, Lopez had no clue he would soon be the central figure in a "you've got to be kidding" kind of story that literally went viral. Lopez was working a lifeguard stand in Hallandale Beach, Florida. A beach goer runs over asking for help telling Lopez someone is drowning.

SZILARD JANIKO, LIFEGUARD: He was guarding his zone to make sure his post is safe while he was off tower performing the rescue. And when he gets back a few minutes later we were informed he was fired. They let him go after he performed the rescue.

ZARELLA: That quickly?

JANIKO: Just a few minutes later, yes. They fired him basically on the spot.

ZARELLA: Why? Lopez says because he left his zone. And he didn't call 911 instead of running to help with the rescue in an area of the beach that as the sign reads is swim at your own risk. The Orlando Company, Jeff Ellis management, that provides under contract the lifeguard services for the Hallandale beach told a local newspaper there are liability issues if lifeguards go out of their zone. City officials say it appears the company's decision was a bit hasty.

ALEXANDER LWEY, HALLANDALE BEACH FLORIDA COMMISSIONER: The company made a knee-jerk reaction, the local management. That's why the president is coming down to make sure a full investigation is done.

ZARELLA: Three lifeguards quit after the incident. Two others were fired. How come? Because they say they told company officials they too would leave their zones breaking company policy if they had to.

TRAVIS MADRID, LIFEGUARD: So, they told us we were liabilities and had to be let go.

ZARELLA: We have not been able to reach the company for comment on any of this. Lopez says he'd do it again every time. No regrets.

LOPEZ: I ended up going to bed knowing that I did the right thing and I could sleep sound at night that I tried to help.

ZARELLA: The man he helped is alive and recovering at a nearby hospital. And Thursday the company was training new lifeguards on the beach.


ZARELLA: City officials told us the contractor with Ellis runs until the end of September. They'll take a look at that point whether they're going to renew or open it up to bid. At the very least, if they sign a new contract with Ellie, city officials in Hallandale Beach told us, Wolf, they expect that all lifeguards will be retrained and that there will be some new policies in place.

BLITZER: I guess the company is going to review its entire structure, its policy in the aftermath of this huge, huge blunder.

ZARELLA: Yes, absolutely. The company in fact told Tomas when they offered him his job back that, look, we're going to take a look at this policy to see if it makes any sense to not allow lifeguards to leave their zone because of liability issues.

So, yet to see what actually happens with that policy, but I sure, it's a tough position to be in certainly for this company, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. At least a life has been saved in the process.


BLITZER: John Zarrella reporting.

Let's dig deeper now. Erin Burnett is joining us.

Erin, you spoke to the lifeguard, Tomas Lopez, and his boss for your show tonight. Give us a few of the details. What did they say?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, OUTFRONT: What is interesting, you know, talking -- it's not so the story of what happened how he was sitting there and what they call guests. I mean, it was an interesting term to use. I mean, obviously very, very professional here, the company and the lifeguards. He said two guests came running over and said someone is drowning, someone is drowning. So he immediately ran over. He said he didn't even think twice about it. That he wanted to do something to save someone's life. The question is now will there be a review of the policies, as John was saying. And will he get his job back?

Let me play a little clip of the conversation that I had with Tomas and how I told him that his boss was with us.


LOPEZ: I've made it very clear beforehand that we will lose our job if we did violate this rule. But I wasn't going to let that stop me, you know, a stupid rule over someone's life. BURNETT: I wanted to bring in Jeff Ellis, we have him with us, Tomas. He is of course --


BURNETT: -- the man who runs the company. There he is.


BURNETT: And, Wolf, very interesting reaction between the two of them. I can tell you there was a conversation about whether Tomas would come back and take his job. Joe had a very specific question for him. And I can also tell you Joe said he's going to completely revamp those policies.

They said they're going to do that in conjunction with the city there and try to make some changes in exactly whether you know, you should be allowed to go outside your zone or not. But what I found most interesting was Tomas getting offered his job back, which happens on our show and his response to whether he's going to go back and work as a lifeguard on that beach.

BLITZER: Yes. You know what, a lifeguard is supposed to save lives, the first rule not necessarily to go through the guidelines and all of that. First rule is to save someone's life if you can.

BURNETT: That's what he did.

BLITZER: Absolutely. We'll be watching 7:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight.

BURNETT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Right here on CNN.

President Obama calls for help. Is he worried that campaign weary voters are losing interest or losing heart? "Time" magazine's editor Rick Stengel is standing by.

And an extra eye watching, the line. Soccer gets some new rules and some new technology.


BLITZER: President Obama kicked off a bus tour today. And he's urging supporters to keep fighting in that key battleground state. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's easy sometimes, I think, to lose interest and lose heart when you hear what's going on in Washington. And I'll be honest with you. I think there are some folks who are betting that you will lose interest. I'm betting you're not going to lose heart. I still believe in you. I'm betting on you. And the country is betting on you, Ohio. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Critical battleground state, Ohio.

Joining us now is "Time" magazine editor Rick Stengel.

Rick, you heard the president just there, in Ohio, saying people are losing interest when they hear what's going on in Washington.

Here's the question, do you think the Obama campaign is deeply, deeply worried about what's called voter fatigue? That they've lost the glimmer, shall we say, of the 2008 campaign?

RICK STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, Wolf, you can only be the first African-American candidate for president one time. Now he's the president. He's campaigning as an incumbent. And I think he does need to get his groove back. But it can't be the same glimmer as you put it as 2008. He's now campaigning on his record. And he has to point people towards the future, what he plans on doing. So he needs a whole different type of campaign than he had in 2008.

BLITZER: He's got a really get that spark, that interest, he's got to get huge voter turnout like he had in 2008 if he's going to win some of those battleground states. He won North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, the last time states that don't necessarily always go to the democrat because of that huge voter turnout. Now, look at this, the few research that out with new numbers today.

They asked this question, do you expect this year's presidential campaign to be exhausting or annoying? Among Democrats, 66 percent said exhausting, 53 percent said annoying. Republicans, 67 percent exhausting, 66 percent annoying. Independent, 69 percent exhausting, 70 percent annoying.

That doesn't necessarily translate into a lot of voter enthusiasm on the democratic or Republican side.

STENGEL: Well, Wolf, let's be honest about it. The campaign does go on too long. It is exhausting. I mean, we lead the world in exhausting campaigns. I mean, there was just an election in France. I think they did it in three weeks. The British elections take four weeks.

I mean, it's not the kind of thing that we want to lead the world in. I think people are exhausted. They are exhausted by the Republican primaries. So there definitely is an enthusiasm gap between 2008 and 2012 particularly for Obama. And part of that is that people are fatigued from the campaign. And by the way, neither candidate is articulating or enunciating anything that's very exciting.

BLITZER: Yes. You're absolutely right. But I do remember, I'm sure you agree, four years ago at least on the Democratic side it was thrilling for so many people to see this campaign go on. They were just so excited. Originally Hillary Clinton was potentially going to be the Democratic nominee, then Barack Obama. For a lot of these Democrats, it was just a thrilling, thrilling campaign. And that thrill seems to be gone right now.

STENGEL: Well, as I said, it was an historic campaign because we elected the first African-American president. Now, we are voting on the re-election of the first African-American president. It isn't the same. I mean, and he's running on his record. He's running as an incumbent. And the thrill is gone in that respect.

BLITZER: What about Ohio? They've been to Ohio so many times. The president I think has been there 20 times since he's become president of the United States, what, in the last few weeks Romney has been there six times in the last few weeks alone. No Republican has ever been elected president without carrying Ohio. This is going to be tough for both of them.

STENGEL: I think it is. I mean, there's that amazing persistence, as you were suggesting, Wolf, with Ohio being the ultimate battleground state. Romney needs it to get to 270. And right now, I mean, Ohio is an anomaly. Their unemployment rate is lower than the national rate. They bailed out at Detroit, helped it among Ohio workers. And it actually looks pretty good for Obama. He still struggles with the same group he has always struggle with, white working class voters in Ohio.

BLITZER: Rick Stengel, the managing editor of out sister publication, "Time" magazine.

Rick, thanks for coming in.

STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You may see a lot of different commercials at the Olympics this summer. A group in London wants to ban, yes, ban two huge American companies including one that sponsored every Olympic game since 1928. For our North American viewers, don't forget we have a lot more news coming up at the top of the hour.

Our new third hour of the SITUATION ROOM including some new storms hitting West Virginia where many have been without power since Friday.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots this hour. Look at this.

In China rescue workers bravely evacuate residents from massive floods.

In Iraq, a policeman guards the shrine of a revered Islamic leader during citywide celebrations.

In Moscow, a unique flower plant in the hood of a car is displayed at an international flower show.

In England, Prince Charles holds a rare tree frog, I should say, the species was named in the Prince's honor because of his environmental work. Those are some of the hot shot pictures coming in from around the world.

Some very well-known companies may be banned from advertising during the Olympics.

Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. A powerful governing "the situation room."

Well, a powerful governing body in London is calling for a ban on sponsors that produce high calorie foods and beverages saying it sends the wrong message to kids. That would include coca-cola which has sponsored every Olympic games since 1928 and McDonald's, a partner since 1976.

The international Olympic committee still has to approve the measure, which seems very up likely considering the hundreds of millions of dollars that would be lost.

And big news for soccer fans, especially if you've ever felt your team got robbed by a bad goal call. The sport's lawmakers have unanimously approved goal line technology. This is a historic step for a sport that's been resistant to that technology for years. It will help referees determine whether questionable goals actually crossed the line and will start being used at the end of the year.

And archaeologists are calling is an exciting find. An ancient synagogue dating back to the fourth and fifth accept trees has been discovered in Israel. It has an intricately crafted mosaic floor defecting the biblical figure, Samson., a rare image for Synagogues of that period. An expert in the field calls the find significant and the floor is very high-quality artwork.

And you never know what might pop up when you're picking up trash. A group in Maine found a message in a bottle. Yes, a message in a bottle 12 years after a girl set it afloat in Canada. It had her name, date and a brief message about where she launched that bottle. Unfortunately, the girl was only 3-years-old at the time and she says she doesn't remember floating the bottle with her parents' help. Her brother wrote a note too. That bottle, however, hasn't turned up as far as we know -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Maybe it will one of these days, you never know.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, judges are now releasing the captain of the infamous Costa Concordia from house arrest which he's been under since January. That's when the cruise ship wrecked off the coast of Italy, killing at least 30 people on board. CNN senior international correspondent Dan Rivers is looking at the captain's involvement in that crash and what's being done to protect people now.


DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Immediately after the Concordia disaster, the captain Francesco Schettino became a target for media around the world, especially when a caustic call between the captain and the coast guard was released showing the coast guard ordering the captain back on ship.

FRANCESCO SCHETTINO, CAPTAIN, COSTA CONCORDIA (through text): I'm going because now there is the other motorboat that has stopped now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE COAST GUARD (through text): You go on board. It is an order! You cannot make any other evaluation. You have declared abandoning ship. Now, I'm in charge. You get on board. Is that clear?

RIVERS: Coastal executives like Norbert Stiekema, the vice president of marketing, insist the company was blameless action given the captain Schettino's actions.

NORBERT STIEKEMA, VICE PRESIDENT, COSTA CROCIERE: Just like an airline captain, you know, who was going to land at Charles De Gaulle in Paris going over the Eiffel tower. It is essential to know about you can do it but nobody expecting a captain to be so irresponsible.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: The chances of something happening to somebody are so much greater simply because of the compaction.

RIVERS: But U.S. senator Jay Rockefeller, who chaired a hearing into the cruise industry weeks after the disaster, says the company bears responsibility.

ROCKEFELLER: The cruise ship is the captain, right? I mean he's not -- he didn't wonder in on his own and start turning the wheel or pushing buttons. The company is the captain. The captain is the company.

RIVERS: Costa and some other lines have made changes since the Concordia disaster. Current regulations say there must be an assembly drill within 24 hours of embarkation. Now, those drills are held before a ship leaves port.

That wasn't the case with the Costa Concordia. Hector Perez said safety officers went so far as to encourage passengers to ignore the lecture altogether.

HECTOR PEREZ, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: He told everybody that we're all adults here, that we came here to have fun and to go spend your money at the casinos, there's nice restaurants, to go to the restaurants and to basically just place your red emergency drill cards in front of the table and he will scan them on the way out. RIVERS: Just last week, Clia, the largest lobbying group and its European counterpart, announced changes in the way ships will handle emergencies. Passengers will be given 12 specific instructions that included how to done a life jacket, where to gather in an emergency and what to expect if an evacuation is ordered.

Some cruise lines are also beginning to look at the way the bridge is managed. As cruise ships have taken on more passengers and more size, the captain's responsibilities have grown proportionately.

Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi says other officers need to be given more authority on board.

PIER LUIGI FOSCHI, CEO, COSTA CROCIERE: We need to learn from this tragic accident and we have to move more towards a collective management of the bridge, through training.

RIVERS: But European officials tell CNN they are deeply concerned by a shortage of qualified junior officers throughout the industry. There are concerns about the support staff as well. Many of the service crew members are contract workers. They have little job security, often less than $1,000 and many don't speak English. Costa insists on its ships there is rigorous training for every member of the crew, and they generally have a higher pay scale.

STIEKEMA: The crew members are well trained for sure. Furthermore, we are checked by inspection from the Italian coast guard.

RIVERS: But many of the passengers who fought for their lives say the company was as much to blame as its captain.

DEAN ANANIAS, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: There was no real emergency plan on ship or on shore.


BLITZER: That report from Dan Rivers.

The captain may be able to leave his home now, but he's been ordered to remain in his hometown while the case against him continues.

To our international viewers, the news continues next but there's much more for our viewers here in North America, just ahead here in the SITUATION ROOM including a new and huge record for Mitt Romney. What it means for his campaign going forward.

And a scary day in London. Police arrest six people on terrorism charges. What's even scarier, the Olympic games are only three weeks away.