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Dangerous, Deadly And More On The Way; Three Children Die After Boat Capsizes; Additional Air Tankers are needed to Support the Fight over Wildfire; Katie Holmes and Tome Cruise Break-up still unknown; President Barack Obama Signed Money for Roads and Bridges

Aired July 6, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, more than 4,000 heat records already shattered across the country. And the triple-digit misery and danger is about to get worse.

An outing to watch. The fireworks turn disaster when a pleasure boat flipped over killing three children. Now, new details from the man behind the wheel.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: THE next thing I know we were turning. And we just kept turning. And everybody was in the water and chaos.


BLITZER: And former President George W. Bush celebrates his birthday by giving a gift to countries in Africa a multi-million dollar effort to fight cervical cancer.

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: A 102 degrees in the shade. This picture, take a look at it, taken here in Washington, sums up what much of the nation is feeling today, yet, another day of blistering heat. Triple digits in many places shattering records all over the map. The heat is dangerous, potentially deadly. It's almost impossible to escape. And for the hundreds of thousands still without power, without access to air-conditioning, it verges on the unbearable.

The heat is also devastating to the economy. A drought in parts of the Midwest may be the worst in decades and prospects for the corn crop right now, they are dimming every day. We have the latest on all the weather conditions, what you need to know to stay safe.

But let's begin with Lisa Sylvester right now. She's here in Washington, D.C. Lisa, just how hot is it outside of the nation's capital?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, I can tell you, it's a pretty hot day today. In fact, Washington actually hit a new record. The ninth straight day of temperatures over 95 degrees. And I have here, this is a thermometer. It's a laser thermometer. And it tells you exactly how hot it is. So, you can see here I'm in the shade right now. And even in the shade, you're right, it's hitting over about 100 degrees or so, 99, 100 degrees. That is in the shade.

We're going to walk on over now and take a look in the sun and see what happens. And you can see those temperatures automatically they start going up. You can see 104, 105, it's already starting to climb. and that is just the start of it, Wolf.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): In Chicago, it's been hot enough to buckle the pavement. A record-breaking heat wave hitting the middle of the country with merciless triple digits. In Rockford, Illinois, another road buckled, and that can put lives at risk. This damaged highway in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, sent one driver airborne earlier this week captured on video by Teresa Reich (ph). Across the country, the weather map is bright red.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We got two dozen states again that are under heat advisories and heat warnings. And you look at this as far as the scope of the U.S., about a quarter of the country is involved in these heat advisories and heat warnings. About a third of the nation's population, some of this is going to be dangerous heat once again.

SYLVESTER: Some people getting emergency relief like ice by the truckload in Topeka, Kansas or beating the heat by hitting the pool. Nationwide, more than 4,000 heat records have been broken.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just going to work and I'm dying.

SYLVESTER: Drought conditions in much of the country and tough times for animals as well. The heat is being blamed for several fish kills this week from St. Louis to Delaware. And power outages due to recent storms still have several hundred thousand without power or air-conditioning.

The best some DC residents can do is pray for breeze. But some people are determined to carry on, like these Minneapolis runners and these volunteers preparing for a weekend block party there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I'm melting. Just melting today.

SYLVESTER (on-camera): Well, everyone knows it's a hot day, but just how hot? Well, we have this laser thermometer. And here at this bus stop in Washington, you can see the heat coming off of this pavement is registering about 127 degrees.

(voice-over) In New York City, we took a thermometer to the subway platforms. The result, 92 degrees underground in the shade. And in DC --

How hot is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're saying it's in the close to 100 degrees.

SYLVESTER: Yes, we actually have a way of measuring it. Take a look here. What's coming up here, this is what it feels like, 127 degrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd say bring on, three, 30, 23 more degrees, and we'll OK for today. Let's make it even 150 degrees.


SYLVESTER: Anyone whose work requires them to be outdoors, take an example from these Chicago firefighters. Know your limits, take breaks, and stay hydrated, so you don't end up like these folks earlier this week in Indiana who were at a sweltering Fourth of July parade. How do you stay cool?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lots of water, Gatorade, ice.

SYLVESTER: Experts say wear loose clothes and sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and watch for signs of exhaustion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feeling weak, feeling dizzy.


SYLVESTER (on-camera): Yes, clearly good advice there that we were hearing. I've got my loose clothing on. You've got your water bottle, got the sunglasses. But of course, the best advice is if you don't have to be outside, then head inside -- wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Vsery good advice indeed. Drink a lot a lot of water in this heat, especially obviously if you're outside. Lisa, thanks.

The heat wave is due to get worse before it gets better. Let's turn to our meteorologist, Alexandra Steele over at the CNN Severe Weather Center. What's going on out there, Alexandria?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You're right, Wolf. It is going to get worse. All right. We're talking about 25 states, 115 million people, one in three of us dealing with some type of heat advisory, heat watch, or heat warning. Hey, just 30 second ago, this Cairo, Illinois number was out 109, just dropped to 106.

So, you can see the breadth and depth at 100. So, in the last 30 days, we've had 4,500 daily records. But, what number is even more staggering, 240 in the last two weeks all-time record highs, not just a high for a day or the month, but places like Atlanta hit a number. They've never ever hit any day any month ever, 106, Denver hit 105, Nashville 109. Just to give you a little perspective on this heat, this is the same heat that two weeks ago began in the west. It actually exacerbated those wildfires including the Waldo Canyon fire. Then, move to the Midwest, and of course, Friday night's derecho around St. Louis. That triggered that because of all the heat there.

And now, it's moving, of course, to the mid-Atlantic. And so, many places in this quadroon of the country are seeing heat indices between 100 and 115. And they still don't have power because of that derecho. Just to show you, it's really all connected. And unfortunately there's another heat wave beginning in the west that will make its way east.

But before we get there, here's today. You can see 101 in Kansas City, 106 St. Louis, 98 in Washington. As we head toward tomorrow in the mid-Atlantic, that's kind of the pinnacle of the heat, 105. Now, if DC hits 106, it will be the warmest number. They'll get that records, right, that we were just talking about in Atlanta.

They'll hit a number they've never hit before. Columbus, 105, 106 in St. Louis. But, here's the good news. This is the cold front -- cool front, let's call it. It will bring a little bit of relief. You can see it dropping on Sunday. Chicago on Sunday 20 degrees cooler than where they were today at 100.

Still, 100 degrees, though, in Washington, D.C., but the cool air, it's on its way, Wolf. But, again, there's another heat wave kind of re-racking itself in the west that will find its way east some time soon.

BLITZER: Looks like it's going to be a hot, hot, hot summer, indeed. All right. Thanks, Alexandra for that.

STEELE: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Despite the defection of a key Syrian general, the relentless crackdown on the opposition grinds on. Now, the United States is putting new on Russia and China to join efforts to tighten the screws on the Damascus regime. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's working the story for us.

Pretty tough language today from the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Secretary Clinton has never been anyone to mince her words. And today, she let Russia and China have it.


STARR: In the beleaguered city of Homs, opposition troops protect demonstrators even as in another part of town --


STARR: The shelling continues. At a Paris conference on Syria, secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, tore into Russia and China.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I will tell you very frankly, I don't think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all, nothing at all, for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime. The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price.

STARR: Is change likely?

ANDREW TABLER, WASHINGTON INST. FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: The idea is that if you get Russia and China on board, that the Russians, particularly, can use their leverage inside of Syria with the regime, get the generals or get other people in the upper part of the regime to oust the ruling family.

STARR: But Russia isn't likely to move until it sees Assad losing power. And China will wait to follow Moscow's lead. Clinton is making the case Syria matters to everyone.

CLINTON: Countries that are not implementing sanctions need to be implementing the sanctions. No travel, no trade, no comfort for this regime, because if Syria spirals further into civil war, not only will more civilians die, more refugees will stream across the borders, but instability will spread far beyond Syria.

STARR: U.S. officials say a hopeful sign, the defection of this man, Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a one-time Assad confidant. The U.S. believes Tlass, a Sunni, could reach out to other Sunnis, but Assad shows no sign of going

TABLER: When you're making billions of dollars a year and you're used to ruling a country that you inherited from your father, you know, you don't want to leave and you think you're actually a leader of your people.


STARR: So, what would be a tipping point? Well, many say Assad has to be convinced he is in the ultimate dilemma, that he either stays and dies or he leaves Syria -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they speculating over there where he might go? I mean, I've heard word. He can obviously go to Iran, which has been a close ally or maybe even Russia for that matter. Are you hearing anything at all at the pentagon if he decides he wants to save his own life and get out of Syria?

STARR: At this point, I have to tell you, no. There's not any discussion with any specificity about any of that. The discussion you do hear, Wolf, is they want a controlled transition. The big fear is that somehow the regime implodes, and that there would be really mass confusion, mass uncertainty and instability in Syria. That's not good for the Middle East. That's not good for anybody, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. As I've said, I've heard Russia and Iran as two possible, possible destinations if he decides to make that decision and bolt. But let's see if he does or he wants to hang on in Damascus. Barbara Starr reporting for us at the Pentagon.

The July 4th holiday turned into a nightmare when a boat capsized during a trip to see fireworks. Three children died. Now, the man who says he was driving the boat is speaking out.

We also have an important alert. Your computer may be about to have some major problems, but there's a way to avoid it. We'll tell you how.

An outrage in Colorado. Planes that could have made a major difference during the killer wildfires never got off the ground.


BLITZER: All right. This just coming into the SITUATION ROOM. In the last hour, I interviewed the U.S. war veteran, Tammy Duckworth on a rather nasty Illinois Congressional race against the incumbent congressman, Republican Joe Walsh. I asked her if she'd be willing to debate him right here in the SITUATION ROOM. She said she was open to it.

She didn't want to make a definite commitment saying that she'd already agreed to a few other debates back in Illinois. Just a few moments ago, I received a tweet from Congressman Joe Walsh saying this, we'll put it up on the screen. We'll show you what he said. It was directed to @WolfBlitzer, which is my Twitter name, obviously. It is my name.

"I'd be happy to come on your show to do a live debate with #TammyforCongress, referring to Tammy Duckworth." We're looking forward to hosting such a debate if it happens. Walsh agrees and let's hope that Tammy Duckworth will as well.

Monday, you may have been one of hundreds of thousands of computer users expected to be knocked off -- you maybe one of them expected to be knocked off the internet. It's all because of a computer virus you've probably never even been warned about. CNN's Tom Foreman has some information you need to know.

Tom, what's going on, because there's a virus out there that's supposed to go into effect what, on Monday?


BLITZER: It could affect a lot of people?

FOREMAN: Well, it may already be in effect. This is a malicious spirit of lingering out there that could really hit you hard on Monday. It may have already done so. Let's take a look at it. It's called the DNS changer. It's actually been out there for quite some time. The FBI helped identify who was doing it.

This was done by some Eastern European criminals, basically. It was targeted at four million computer users worldwide. A half million in the U.S. were infected along the way. And what did this thing do? Well, essentially, if you were on your computer and you're looking for something, what it would do is redirect you to some other site.

Like you go to iTunes looking to buy music, it might take you to a site that kind of look like iTunes, and there, it might steal information from you. Might make payments to products who don't exist. Might sell you ads from companies that didn't buy the ads, all that sort of things basically rip off a lot of money.

About $14 million was stolen in this fashion. All of that's bad enough, Wolf. This is a big deal. The FBI was very concerned about it. They called this "Operation Ghost Click," breaking this ring and getting inside and figuring out how when you clicked, you weren't going to what you were going to. You were going to some kind of ghost of it.

But here's the real danger. On Monday, this virus floating out there is going to simply make a lot of people not be able to get on the internet at all. You'll go on, you'll get one of these messages, and essentially, the bottom line is you will be locked out unless you do something about it, Wolf.

BLITZER: What can these folks do about it?

FOREMAN: Well, that's a good, good question. The FBI's trying to help. The simple truth is some of the biggest players out there have been involved here. Facebook got involved sending notes to people, if you went to Facebook and it looked like you had this virus, you would have gotten this notice that said you might be infected.

Other people got involved. Apple got involved, because they were being affected. Google got involved with messages like this saying your computer appears to be infected. The bottom line is, if you think that this may be the case with you, go to this website, write it downright now if you have any doubts about it go to WWW.DNS-OK.US.

When you go there, when you sign on, if this is what comes up, and it basically gives you a green symbol and says your computer appears to be looking up IPO addresses correctly, then you're probably OK. But if you go to that site and instead it comes up red, then you've got a problem. So, if you didn't get that address right now, just look up DNS changer online and see if you can find this link to the FBI.

The bottom line is, this is a key to tell you if your computer is infected or not. If you get red and it is infected, you need to go through all the steps to remove this. Bottom line is you probably should update all your securities this weekend, anyway, whatever system you have out there to watch malware and Trojan horse viruses, things like that, update it, be safe so that Monday, you're not locked out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. WWW.DNS-OK.US, right?

FOREMAN: Absolutely. Yes. Wolf. BLITZER: All right. i'm Going to do it after the show as well. Thanks very much. And good advice, Tom. I just want to bring you back for one second. Never go to any links unless you're 100 -- 1000 percent sure it's legitimate, right?

FOREMAN: Yes -- well, I mean, the truth is we're all exploring out on the internet, but the simple truth is, yes, you get a link in the mail. You get hooked to something. If it looks the least bit suspicious, just don't do it. You can do search things up your own and get there properly. Be careful about those links. That's how people lure you into the dark alleys of the internet where bad things happen.

BLITZER: They certainly do. All right. Thanks, Tom.

The man charged with killing the teenager, Trayvon Martin, is released from jail. We're going to tell you how much George Zimmerman paid to get out of jail and the steps being taken to make sure he doesn't flee the country.

And a tragedy on the president's bus tour. A woman dies just an hour and a half after the president eats at her restaurant.


BLITZER: Authorities in New York are working on plans to raise a boat that capsized off Long Island. They're hoping to determine why it flipped over killing three children during an outing to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. The driver of the boat is telling his side of the story to CNN affiliate, News 12 Long Island.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you on the boat?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were the driver of the boat? Can you tell us what happened?

AURELIANO: We went to see the fireworks, and then we're coming home and a wave got us. And it turned the boat around. It just turned the boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it from weather or from other boats?

AURELIANO: We got a wave -- there was a wave that got us. I couldn't right the boat. I didn't think a 34-footer would turn. It just bellied up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was like a rogue wave of to the side or something?

AURELIANO: Yes. I didn't see it. You know, it was dark. It just happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow! Was the weather starting to turn?

AURELIANO: Yes. The first thing they said was there was two lightning bolts -- my nephew was in front, Rocco, did you see that? He goes yes, Uncle Sal. And then, the next thing I know we were turning. And we just kept turning. Everybody was in the water and chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The boat just kind of rolled?

AURELIANO: Rolled right over. Right over. There was nothing wrong with the boat. A wave. I didn't see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happened superfast?

AURELIANO: Yes. Looks like slow motion, but it didn't. It just came. It just turned itself upside down.


BLITZER: Josh Einiger of affiliate, WABC, is in Oyster Bay, Long Island with the latest.

JOSH EINIGER, WABC REPORTER: Wolf, the search for answers continue on this picturesque stretch of Long Island north shore. Now, more for the beauty of its water waste that where Fourth of July trip to watch fireworks, quickly turned into chaos and tragedy.

That 34-foot yacht is still sitting right now at the bottom of the Long Island sound in 70 feet of water as police try to figure out the best way to haul it out in one piece. They're trying to preserve that boat as best as they can so they can determine if some sort of mechanical problem contributed to this calamity just after that fireworks show ended Wednesday night.

Investigators say 27 people, many of them extended members of one family were on that boat when it went down. Passing boaters were able to rescue 24 of them, many of them clinging to the hull at a pieces of furniture that had fallen into the water. But three children, ages 12, 11, and eight had been in that boat's downstairs cabin and never made it out.

Right now, their families are planning their funerals. The boat is owned by a man named Kevin Treanor (ph). His brother-in-law, Sal Aureliano was at the controls when the boat went down. And he has blamed this accident on a rogue wave from a summer squall that was passing through at the time.

Authorities right now trying to confirm if that was possible. But it's unquestionable the boat was overloaded on Wednesday night. In fact, the owner's manual for this particular boat a Silverton 34 convertible lists the maximum recommended capacity at just ten people. Remember, there were 27 onboard when all of this happened.

Law enforcement sources tell me they have not ruled out criminal charges in this case. In fact, the local district attorney has been researching possible statutes that might apply. But first, investigators have to lay their eyes on that boat. And I'm told it won't be pulled from the bottom of the bay until tomorrow at the earliest -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Josh Einiger reporting for us from our affiliate, WABC.

George Zimmerman is released from jail. Lisa Sylvester is back. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's happening?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. Well, he paid $100,000 of his $1 million bail to be released. The judge set bail yesterday saying Zimmerman's deceit over his cash holdings at his first bond hearing weren't enough to hold him without bail.

But the judge says Zimmerman might try to flee the country to avoid prosecution for the killing of Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin. So, he set new restrictions on him like barring him from setting foot on airport property.

And a sad story out of Akron, Ohio. Just an hour and a half after hosting President Obama at her restaurant, Ann's Place, Josephine Harris (ph) died at the age of 70. No official cause of death is known at this time.

And the White House says the president expressed his condolences in a conversation with Mrs. Harris' daughter. President Obama visited that diner just this morning on his bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania.

And check out this incredible rescue in Oregon where firefighters pulled a horse out of a well. Only its head, shoulder, and one hoof were sticking out of the 4x4 foot opening. And because it had been abused by a previous owner, well, this horse is afraid of men like those firefighters that you see there.

But with patience and by covering the horse's head, fire crews managed to pull her to safety. Everybody loves a good animal rescue story. And that is a great one, Wolf.

BLITZER: That was very good. It was hot there before, right?

SYLVESTER: I was. I was outside there for a little bit. Pretty hot.

BLITZER: A 110 degrees.

SYLVESTER: I know. You know what, it's the heat that's radiating off of the pavement. I mean, that's what you really get. But, you know, again, cars, very important people should not leave their children, obviously, their pets. They should not leave them in the cars because those cars get so -- that heat just immediately starts to rise and that temperature starts to rise, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester.

Over at the White House, by the way, the president of the United States is speaking at a signing ceremony. He's signing the transportation bill, a bipartisan, yes, bipartisan piece of legislation, $100 billion. Eighty percent of it will go for federal highway programs, 20 percent for mass transit.

In this legislation, also, continuation of low loans, 3. -- low interest loans for students 3.4 percent for another year. You know what, let's listen in a little bit to the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- the financial aid that's offered to students. And I've been asking them to help us give two million Americans the opportunity to learn the skills that businesses in their areas are looking for right now through partnerships between community colleges and employers.

In today's economy, a higher education is the surest path to finding a good job and earning a good salary and making it into the middle class. So, it can't be a luxury reserved for just a privileged few. It's an economic necessity that every American family should be able to afford. So, this is an outstanding piece of business. And I'm very appreciative of the hard work that Congress has done on it.

My hope is is that this bipartisan spirit spills over into the next phase. That we can start putting more construction workers back to work, not just those that are already on existing projects who were threatened to be laid off, but also getting some new projects done that are vitally important to communities all across the nation and that will improve our economy.

As well as making sure that now that we've prevented a doubling of student loan rates, we actually start doing more to reduce the debt burden that our young people are experiencing. I want to thank all the Americans, the young or the young at heart who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an e-mail or make a phone call or send a tweet hoping that your voice would be heard on these issues. I promise you; your voices have been heard. Any of you who believed your voice could make a difference; I want to re-affirm your belief. You made this happen.

So I'm very pleased that Congress got this done. I'm grateful to members of both parties who came together and put the interests of the American people first. And my message to Congress is what I've been saying for months now. Let's keep going. Let's keep moving forward. Let's keep finding ways to work together to grow the economy and to help put more folks back to work. There's no excuse for inaction when there's so many Americans still trying to get back on their feet.

With that, let me sign this bill. And let's make sure that we are keeping folks on the job and keeping our students in school. All right. Thank you very much everybody.


BLITZER: The votes by the way, this is truly a bipartisan piece of legislation the president is signing into law right now. One hundred eighty six Republicans in the house voted in favor of it, 187 Democrats voted in favor of it in the House of Representatives overwhelming bipartisan support. In the Senate, 50 Democrats voted in favor, 24 Republicans voted in favor also lopsided.

So, this is one of those rare moments real bipartisan cooperation in Washington producing this transportation bill that among other things will also keep student loans at a relatively low interest rate at least for another year. You see the president using multiple pens. He's going to give those out to some of those who have been invited over to the White House for this signing ceremony, Democrats and Republicans are there.

The president of the United States signing this bill, into law.

New economic numbers released today as well. I'll talk to a leading economist who says there may be some reason to be optimistic despite the bad numbers of today. Tells us why the economy might still turn around.

Also, if you read anything about tom cruise in the last ten years, you know how devoted he is to Scientology. Is that what led him to his divorce from Katie Holmes? Stand by.


BLITZER: The job numbers are in for June. Once again hiring was sluggish. The economy added only 80,000 jobs. That's certainly not enough to move the unemployment rate, which remains at 8.2 percent. The underemployment rate rose to 14.9 percent. That includes the jobless, those who could only find part-time work, and those who no longer actively are even looking for a job. 12.7 million Americans are now officially unemployed, 5.4 million have been unemployed for longer than six months.

And Mark Zandi, the chief economist from Moody's analytics, is joining us right now.

Mark, 80,000 jobs created last month. You thought it would be higher. What happened?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Well, it was a disappointing number. Certainly not enough to get unemployment moving lower. In fact, if we stay at 80k, unemployment will move higher.

You know, I think fundamentally businesses are just extremely nervous. The memory, the nightmare of the great recession is still in their minds. And if there is anything that goes a little off script, a little uncertainly, it sounds like a lay off workers; that would be recession but they stop hiring. And that's the weak job numbers that we're getting.

So, it's a lethal combination or bad combination of uncertainty mixed with plain fear.

BLITZER: 8.2 percent unemployment for all of America. But look at -- we go deeper a little bit among whites, 7.4 percent, among Hispanics, 11 percent, among blacks, 14.4 percent. That's a significant increase for African-Americans. Why is that?

ZANDI: Well, workers that have skills that have higher levels of educational attainment are doing better. They always do better, but in times like these in tough economic times they do measurably better.

And so, that's being born out in the data. And so, people that have gone to college, get higher degrees, that have some work experience, that have skills, you know can manage a high-tech laid in the manufacturing facility, they're doing pretty well. And it's reflected in the low unemployment statistics for that group and higher wages. And if you don't have those things, you're in big trouble. And that's why those groups have higher rates of unemployment and wages are very depressed.

BLITZER: Put on your forecasting cap for a moment. We're exactly four months away from the presidential election. Do you expect over these next four months any significant changes in the economic environment?

ZANDI: Well, I think the job numbers will improve. You know, to some degree there's measurement issues. You know, earlier in the year, we were getting, it's hard to remember back then, but we are getting 250,000 jobs per month in December, January, February. That overstated strength in the economy.

And last several three or four months we've been getting less than 100k. That overstates the weakness in the economy. The reality is somewhere in between the two. And I think that was starting born out in the data.

So, I expect job gains 125, 150, 175 between now and the Election Day. And if that's the numbers we do get, then I think unemployment will probably be around eight percent when we go to the polls.

BLITZER: And if it starts moving up in that direction; that would be good political news for the president and potentially for his re- election.

You've studied both of these candidates and their economic strategies, their policies in trying to strengthen the economy. Is there one thing that jumps out at you? The biggest difference in what the president would do in a second term on the economic front as opposed to what Mitt Romney might do if he were elected?

ZANDI: Well, you know what's striking to me is how similar they are. I mean, at the top of the list they've got to address the coming fiscal cliff. You know if there's no change in policy, tax rates are going up on everybody and we've got some really large spending cuts that are in train. So, both of them need to focus on that.

And both of them are focused on achieving fiscal sustainability. That is future budget cuts that will result in deficits that are small enough that are debt-to-GDP ratio stabilizes. That's what we need to do and both of them are focused on it.

So, there is difference. You know, there are some very clear differences. What strike me most is their similarities in terms of focusing on our fiscal situations. And I think they're right. We have to focus on those things if we're going to be able to grow more strongly in the future.

BLITZER: Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, she's in Tokyo. And she said this today. Let me play the little clip.


CHRISTINE LAGARDE, HEAD, THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND: Are we safer today than at the time of the Lehman crisis? I would say not quite yet.


BLITZER: She's referring to the collapse of Lehman brothers back in 2008. That was pretty sobering when I heard that. What do you think?

ZANDI: Yes, it is sobering. Of course she's dealing firsthand with the European debt crisis. And that is a very significant threat. In fact, at the moment that's the most significant threat to our economy. And it's one of those things that is keeping business people from going out and hiring more aggressively.

But having said that, I think here in the United States our economy is in a measurably better place. I think businesses have reduced debt. They've gotten their cost structures down. They're very competitive globally. Households have reduced debt. Banks are in much better shape. So, I think the American economy is in a measurably better place than where it was certainly compare today where we were when Lehman brothers collapsed in late 2008.

BLITZER: Mark Zandi joining us. Mark, thanks very much.

ZANDI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We barely heard from him since leaving office, but now the former president, George W. Bush, is talking about his passion while in Africa.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're always a former president but I wanted to come here as a laborer, kind of sneak into the country. I didn't do a very good job of it.



BLITZER: George W. Bush is not out of the public eye, not in the public eye I should say much since leaving the presidency. Today though is his birthday. And he's just back from a trip to Africa where he and the former first lady, Laura Bush, were on a humanitarian mission. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I wanted to come here. You're always a former president, but I wanted to come here as a laborer, try to sneak in the country. I didn't do a very good job of it. But I do want to be able to say that on this particular trip that myself and friends have left behind the cliff in hopes to inspire others to come and refurbish clinics as well and encourage as any government to make sure there are health care workers necessary to make sure the clinic here doesn't just sit there empty. And then we're off to the capital. I'm looking forward to seeing the president. I'll be wearing a coat and tie tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's being very modest. I'm a gynecologic cancer specialist. My particular interest is cervical cancer. What he's doing today and people is in red, blue, the initiative is the most important thing that has ever happened on this continent as it relates to the prevention of surviving cancer, which is the number one cancer- killer of women in Southern Africa. It is by far the most important single event that has ever occurred. And I know that. I've been coming here for 30 years. So he's being modest. I'm telling you the facts.

BUSH: Anyway, we're off to work. Listen, we've got some extra paint brushes. Thank you all for coming.


BLITZER: Good work. Thanks to that, Mr. President.

But the way, President Bush is 66 years old. Happy birthday, Mr. President.

Massive fires out in the west. Why are some air tankers just sitting on the ground? Stand by. We'll explore.


BLITZER: As firefighters battle western wildfires, they've been able to call in air strikes from tanker planes. But is the U.S. forest service using all the air support that might be available?

Here's CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, the fire storm that engulfed parts of Colorado Springs may have been more than any piece of firefighting equipment could handle. But while crews scramble to save homes, fire fighting planes perfectly capable of flying sat parked at the tarmac.


MARCIANO (voice-over): Stopping big wildfires before they reach big cities like Colorado Springs is getting increasingly difficult. While the bulk of the firefighting effort is made on the ground, attacking the flames from the air is crucial to getting the fire under control. First over the fire are often heavy tankers, modified war planes that can drop thousands of gallons of water or retardant on or ahead of an advancing fire line. The U.S. forest chief says air tankers are key to fighting the big fighting the big battles.

TOM TIDWELL, CHIEF, U.S. FOREST SERVICE CHIEF: We need large air tankers that can carry a minimum of 3,000 gallons to be able to actually penetrate the canopy to get that retardant down on the ground where it can actually slow down the fire.

MARCIANO: But the number of tankers has shrunk in the last decade from 44 in 2002 to just nine today. Tankers contracted by the forest service now have to meet higher safety standards. A more rigid, proactive maintenance schedule than both the FAA and Navy require. The result is parked planes.

These p-3 tankers, former Navy sub hunters owned by a company called aero union, have met FAA standards, but sit idle because they don't comply with new forest service requirements. Fully compliant, ready to fly, but also parked is the biggest of all tankers. And they call it the big Kahuna.

If you were a passenger on a 747, this is where you'd be sitting. Instead, on this plane they've got ten tanks carrying 20,000 gallons of fire retardant and/or foam, 90 tons of firefighting artillery.

But the U.S. forest service says it's too big and too expensive to keep continually ready on a standby basis. The service says it gets more use out of smaller tankers. But big tankers are especially effective when trying to stop a fire on a ridgeline, which is what didn't happen the night the Waldo Canyon fire ran down the mountains into Colorado Springs, ultimately burning 346 homes.

RICH HARVEY, WALDO FIRE INCIDENT COMMANDER: That was a good place to use big planes, and we were using big planes.

MARCIANO: Rich Harvey is the fire's incident commander. So I asked him if he could have used an even bigger plane.

HARVEY: It would have been nice to have the jumbo jet dropping 20,000 gallons? We had what we had. We did what we could do with it.

MARCIANO: You're really toeing the company line here. I mean, in an ideal world, you know, 747 comes flying over that ridge with 20,000 gallons to dump on that fire before it hits the ridge. You know, just between me and you.

HARVEY: Me and you and the camera, you know, I like -- we used what we got. We try to do the best things we can with the tools we have in the tool chest.

MARCIANO: The air force reserve has helped the cause by supplying eight modified c-130s, tragically losing one plane and its crew in a crash earlier this week. Military-owned planes don't have to comply with forest service safety standards. The cause of the crash is under investigation, but it highlights an undeniable fact. Aerial firefighting is dangerous business. It doesn't always guarantee success.

TIDWELL: I know it's hard for folks to understand, and I know it can be frustrating. But we can have all the resources that are available, all the retardant planes, al the helicopters, but when you get the right set of fuel conditions, the right weather, and you get strong winds like we had there, you're going to get a fire that's going to move like that no matter how many resources that we've had.

MARCIANO: As our cities spread into the forest, Mother Nature may ultimately have the upper hand.


BLITZER: Rob Marciano reporting for us. Thank you, Rob.

So did Scientology have something to do with their split? The Internet is buzzing about the Katie Holmes-Tom Cruise break-up.


BLITZER: A lot of buzz out there over Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise's divorce. There's speculation Cruise's religion had something to do with it.

CNN's Tom Foreman has more.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When it comes to Scientology, Tom Cruise may well be the faith's most combative celebrity defender, famously tearing into NBC's Matt Lauer over the church's repudiation of psychiatry.

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: Do you know what Addroll is? Do you know Ritalin? Do you know now that Ritalin is a street drug? Do you understand that?


CRUISE: No, Matt, I'm asking --

LAUER: But this wasn't against --

CRUISE: Matt, I'm asking you a question.

LAUER: I understand there's abuse of all of these things.

CRUISE: No, you see, here's the problem. You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do.

FOREMAN: Although cruise joined Scientology in the 1980s, over the past decade his public identification with the group has been much more pronounced. He's explained his beliefs on talk shows, in the press, and Scientology meetings featuring Cruise with his "Mission: Impossible" theme playing in the background and the star giving a military salute to a Scientology leader. CRUISE: I think it's a privilege to call yourself a scientologist and it's something you have to earn and because a scientologist does. He or she has the ability to create new and better realities and improve conditions.

FOREMAN: Many of Cruise's statements underscore a central lesson of the faith, that its followers can accomplish great things.

CRUISE: When you drive past maximum it's not like anything else. As you drive past you know you have to do something about it because you know you're the only one they can really help. And I won't hesitate to put ethics on someone else because I put it ruthlessly on myself.

FOREMAN: Such talk echoes teachings laid out in the 1950s by the faith's founder, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. He created an outline for conduct and advancement. For example, through counseling sessions referred to as audits followers are supposed to be led toward positive thinking and achieving their goals no matter how ambitious.

Listen again as Cruise talks to fellow devotees about world leaders.

CRUISE: They want help. And they are depending on people who know and who can be effective and do it. And that's us.

FOREMAN: That was 2004. By 2005, Cruise was expressing even more enthusiasm over actress Katie Holmes, most notably by jumping around on Oprah's sofa.

OPRAH WINFREY, TV SHOW HOST: Have you ever felt this way before?

FOREMAN: So what happened? Holmes who was raised catholic is believed to have converted to Scientology as her relationship with Cruise grew. But in the wake of their split, there are reports that she is concerned over their daughter, Suri, being raised in the faith. But for now neither is addressing those reports.

Holmes' attorney called the divorce a private matter and said her primary concern is her daughter's best interest. Cruise's attorney did not respond to CNN inquiries but told the "Los Angeles Times" his client hoped the divorce would not be contentious.

Cruise has spoken dismissively of what scientologists call SPs, suppressive persons, a term used for people who try to impede the mission of scientology.

CRUISE: They said, so have you met an S.P.?


CRUISE: I looked at them. You know, and I thought, what a beautiful thing because maybe one day it'll be like that. You know what I'm saying? Maybe one day it will be that. Wow, SPs, like they'll just read about those in the history books.

FOREMAN: Whether any of this plays into the split with Holmes is yet unknown. But when Cruise and his second wife, actress Nicole Kidman, divorced, similar speculation appeared. Kidman, who was also raised catholic, never seemed to fully embrace Scientology, and after the break-up she was described as enjoying a homecoming in the Catholic Church. As for cruise --

CRUISE: And I do it the way I do everything. There's nothing part of the way.


FOREMAN: There was no sign he has any intention of backing away from his controversial faith.