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Syria's Largest City Under Siege; President Obama's Health Care Law; Underground Cult; Attack Ads; Amazing Mars Photos

Aired August 9, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The CEO of Papa John's Pizza says Obamacare may end up costing customers up to 14 cents more a pie. Is he right?

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: Syria's largest city under siege in an intense days long battle neither side can afford to lose. Government forces are reviving their brutal assault on Aleppo forcing rebels to temporarily retreat under very, very heavy shelling. The death toll has reportedly climbed to more than 90 people across the country just today, over 20 of them believed to be in Aleppo alone.

CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is joining us. Ben, give us the latest, tell us where you are, first of all.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK. We're in Northern Syria outside of Aleppo. The latest, Wolf, is that we just got of the phone with someone we spent some time with in Aleppo. He's in sort of a high building overlooking the city. And he says he's watching as Syrian jets fly over the city bombing multiple neighborhoods all evening long, this, at the same time, while other parts of the city are under intense artillery bombardment.

Now, because of the intensity of the bombing at the moment, we have no idea of how many people killed. You mentioned the number of 20, but that's a number from earlier in the day. And according to our sources in Aleppo, the number is probably much higher. Now, earlier in the day, much of the fighting was going on in this Salahuddin neighborhood which is right next to the main highway between Aleppo and Damascus.

There, it's really been a fight, a bloody violent fight, back and forth between the Syrian army, which is trying to gain ground in that area and the fighters of the free Syrian army who are much lighter -- have much lighter weapons, but they're familiar with the territory like no one else. And of course, they are fighting in their neighborhood. They're fighting with their backs against the wall. And they insist that they are not going to give anymore ground despite the intensity of the Syrian government assault on that part of the city.

BLITZER: it looks like a battle to the death in Aleppo. Hold on for a moment, Ben, because I want to show our viewers some of what you and your crew experienced inside Syria's largest city, Aleppo.



WEDEMAN: We've made it in to Salahuddin. We drove from a Government-controlled area but made it around the checkpoint. Now, we're inside. There are very few people actually here. There are some civilians walking around, but the biggest danger is snipers that are on buildings this direction firing like this. So, we've had to sort of make a very roundabout route into this area.

WEDEMAN: Now, we're out of Aleppo. We're heading northwest direction. (INAUDIBLE). It's been a rather interesting ride. Apparently, the most of the FSA from which we took this truck got hit by a mig shortly after we left. We're told of serious injuries, but, anyways, good to be out of Aleppo. Maybe we'll be going back soon.


BLITZER: And Ben's back with us live from Northern Syria right now. Ben, you've covered a lot of wars for CNN, recently, in Libya, in Egypt. Yesterday, you told me what you're seeing in Syria right now makes all of that look rather pale. But give us a little flavor of what's going on in Aleppo right now, because it looks awful and obviously so dangerous not only to you and your fellow journalists out there, but to everyone.

WEDEMAN: Yes. The conditions really are awful. I mean, when we spent the night in Aleppo, we really could not sleep, because of the bombardment that went on all night long and intensified when you would be in your deepest sleep at about three o'clock in the morning. Several rounds, artillery rounds, fell just about 400 meters from where we were staying.

But we're lucky. We were in and out. Most of the people in the rebel-controlled parts of the city cannot leave. They're huddling, for instance, in their stairwells, which are the safest place to hide when there's a bombardment. They're scrounging around for things like firewood to cook their meals if they have enough food to eat. They're lining up for hours to get the little bread that's available.

Doctors are desperate. They say they're running short on all medical supplies and medicine as well, as well as staff people just simply don't want to go into those areas controlled by the rebels at the moment. And the situation is only getting worse. We left during a brief lull in the fighting. It's gotten only worse since we left.

And of course, there's always that looming possibility with the people in Aleppo have to deal with that the government forces will, indeed, breakthrough the rebel defenses and regain control of the city. And when they do, obviously there's going to be a high price to pay for the residents of Aleppo who decided to revolt against the regime of Bashar al-Assad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We saw you in that video in that truck lying down as you were leaving Aleppo. What was going through your mind then? Why were you down on the bottom of that van?

WEDEMAN: I have to say, Wolf, it was because I was tired. Actually, this was a vegetable truck. And it was very hot. But I mean, I was relieved to get out. But what was going on -- my mind was really just, you know, we made it out safely, because, of course, when we went in, it was a completely different picture.

We literally drove through sniper alley where we were shot at. And just moments later, once we got through one of those streets that was exposed to snipers, another taxi showed up with a man who had just been shot in the head by one of the snipers. He was covered with blood and slumped over.

He was sitting in the front passenger seat. And the back windows of the taxi were blown out. So, honestly, compared to our entrance, our exit from Aleppo was relatively easy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman, one of our courageous journalists on the scene for us. Ben, thanks for that report. Amazing, amazing what's going on right now.

Let's turn to the battle for the White House here in United States where veepstakes suspense is building as we all await to see who Mitt Romney selects to be his Republican vice presidential running mate. Our brand new CNN/ORC poll is revealing who Republican voters out there would like.

Joining us now to talk about it is "Time" Magazine's White House correspondent, Michael Scherer. Michael, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: By the way, this is the cover of the new issue of "Time" magazine. Mars cover. Nothing to do with politics right there.

SCHERER: Little bit of politics.

BLITZER: Yes, a little bit of politics with Mars. Let's talk about veepstakes as we like to call it. Here are the numbers, our brand new poll. These are republicans who were asked who would you like to see as Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate.

You see, Marco Rubio up with 28percent, Chris Christie 16 percent, like Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor, eight percent, Bob McDonnell of Virginia six percent, Rob Portman, the Ohio senator, six percent, Tim Pawlenty only 4 percent.

Should we be at all surprised that Marco Rubio, among Republicans, these are just Republicans tops the list?

SCHERER: Well, he's the closest on the list to the sort of Tea Party star. He came in in 2010. He also gets a lot of appeal from Hispanics -- conservative Hispanics who want to see someone who speaks Spanish on the ticket, but there are a big -- a bunch of qualifications (INAUDIBLE). Generally speaking, candidates don't pick their veep based on popularity.

This is the first rule of picking a vice president is do no harm. You're trying to find somebody who can do the job, who can represent you in the debates, who can be a governing partner for you, who can take over if something happens to the president, but not necessarily someone who's going to be bringing big numbers to the polls.

The exception was last time with Sarah Palin and John McCain and the results there were probably mixed.

BLITZER: And didn't exactly work out that great for John McCain. And you make a good point because Barack Obama could have picked Hillary Clinton who was very popular as his vice presidential running mate. Instead, he went with Joe Biden, who was way, way, way down that list.

SCHERER: And he would tell you today he made the right choice. I mean, he's very happy with the choice of Biden despite some --

BLITZER: They make a good team together governing over at the White House. A lot of folks think Rob Portman, the Ohio senator, is atop the list even though he's near the bottom of this list. We asked favorability opinion of Rob Portman. Seventeen percent, these are republicans, thought they had a favorable attitude, 11 percent unfavorable.

But 72 percent were unsure. Meaning, they basically never heard of this guy. So, does that help or hurt him in the race for the vice presidential running mate slot?

SCHERER: All that matters with Rob Partman is what he does in Ohio. I mean, the reason you pick Rob Portman other than being a very solid guy with a ton of Washington experience is that in Ohio, he can give you a couple crucial points. And so, the national numbers probably don't matter as much.

But it's definitely true that if Portman or anybody else is selected, those first couple weeks when the Obama campaign will come out hard to try and define basically an unknown person and the Romney campaign will have the task of defining Portman will be crucial. We already know what the Obama campaign attack against Portman will be, which is that he's taking us back to the Bush years.

He is experienced (ph) U.S. trade representative. He's OMB director for Bush, that he's taking back to the policies that have failed before. The Romney campaign will be faced with the task of overcoming that initial attack.

BLITZER: You know, there's a lot of push on Romney right now to pick Paul Ryan.

SCHERER: That's right.

BLITZER: The popular young congressman from Wisconsin. "The Wall Street Journal," in a lead editorial today among other things saying "The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election. More than any other politician, the House Budget chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline."

How much pressure is Romney under right now to select Congressman Paul Ryan?

SCHERER: He's definitely the choice of the movement, conservative -- fiscal conservative policy people. I think the problem for Romney is he doesn't really want this election to be a debate over the Ryan budget over these sort of policies because they don't always poll very well for him. He wants this to be an election about what Obama has done over the last three years and whether his policies have failed or not and whether the economy is.

And so, I think for Romney, you're dealing with -- clearly, you can please the base, especially editorial writers, "The Wall Street Journal," "The Weekly Standard," "The National Review." Those are movement conservatives by making this pick. But right now, you're going to have to start playing towards the center.

And you're going to have to start moving undecided voters who don't really care about these policies that much who aren't attracted to these conservative policies and convince them that you should come your way.

BLITZER: Though, Republicans, as we say, has won the White House without carrying Ohio. If it's close in Ohio, Rob Portman might be able to deliver some votes if there's 20,000 or 30,000 vote difference, he could presumably help. So, a lot of folks are still betting on him even though he's not well-known and even though he's at the bottom of this list.

SCHERER: And Wisconsin is not that close a swing state. It's not clear Ryan would have the same impact if you put him on the ticket.

BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much. We should know soon enough. Maybe as soon as this weekend.

SCHERER: I'm looking forward to it.

BLITZER: OK. Michael Scherer of "Time" magazine, thank you.

The alleged Colorado theater gunman's case back in court today as a battle unfolds with the news media that could unseal some sensitive personal information. CNN was inside the courtroom. We're going there live.

Plus, pizza and politics. Why the Papa John's CEO now says Obamacare could drive up the price of your next pie?

And dozens of children and adults forced to live much of their lives underground. Ahead, the massive eight-level prison many didn't know even existed until now.


BLITZER: Let's get to Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it turns out the golden years are not so golden anymore for a lot of Americans. New study finds many Americans die with virtually no financial assets. Forty-six percent of us, that translates to less than $10,000 at death. The study put out by a group called the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that many Americans spend their golden years dependent on the government.

Researchers say many older Americans have no housing wealth and rely almost entirely on Social Security. And since many seniors have so little in the way of financial assets, they are, of course, unprepared to deal with unanticipated financial needs, things like major health expenses and things like entertainment and travel are simply out of the question.

All of this raises more questions about the future of Social Security. If the government were to decide to reduce benefits for seniors, it could directly effect the day-to-day lives of millions of older Americans who rely almost exclusively on these payments just to get by.

The study highlights a connection between health and wealth finding that healthier seniors are likely to have more assets than those who aren't as healthy. That makes sense. No surprise here, wealthier seniors are likely to live longer than poorer seniors. One more thing to remember, marriage might help you out in old age.

According to this study, single seniors had a significantly lower median wealth than continuously married senior citizens. For some of us, that would seem to be counterintuitive.

Here's the question, what does it mean if almost half of Americans die with less than $10,000 in assets? Go to and post a comment on the blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty depressing number, I must say, indeed. I didn't know that. Jack, thank you.

It was back to court today for the man accused of killing a dozen people and injuring almost 60 others inside a crowded Colorado movie theater. Cameras were not allowed inside, but our Kyung Lah was inside. Kyung is joining us now. Kyung, what happened there?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we can tell you is that the judge hasn't ruled yet, Wolf. It's a little unclear as to when the judge is going to decide whether these case filings, what the media lawyer's trying to argue for it to become public when he's going to have a decision about that. But here's what the argument is.

The media attorney is saying that this sort of gag order is overreaching, that this sort of information, the University of Colorado documents, the criminal investigations, some of this needs to be in the public sphere. What we heard from Holmes' attorney is that this is the early part of the investigation. So far, the attorney says he has 2,677 pages in this discovery process.

And at this point, they still can't assess the depth of mental illness that James Holmes' has. And as far as the prosecution arguing on the same side as the defense to keep the records sealed saying that this is a large-scale investigation. There are still hundreds of people to be interviewed. And that, at this point, there are still some victims who have not been interviewed yet.

As far as the victims, Wolf, they were present in the courtroom. There was a young man who I had interviewed in the hospital, Pierce O'Farrell (ph), he was there with his arm in a sling, paying very close attention as James Holmes sat there listening to the entire proceedings -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is the third time, Kyung, that we've seen James Holmes in court. Have you noticed any major changes in his demeanor?

LAH: At first blush, he looks exactly the same as the video now that has become very familiar to us. He had that unusual colored hair, orange-pink hair. He was in shackles. He was wearing a maroon prison jump suit. The difference is is that he appears more lucid now. He did follow things in the courtroom with his eyes, but at times, he looked bored, at times, he looked tired.

But he did appear more lucid this time. And one thing I would like to mention, Wolf, there was a rather unusual moment in the courtroom. Nothing alarming, but a bit of an unusual moment when someone in the public stood up and said that she had information for his defense attorney, and she wasn't being heard.

She was escorted out. There was not a security problem, but it was a rather unusual moment in this hearing.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah on the scene for us. Thank you very much for that update.

You could be risking a fire every time you do the dishes. It's a major company with a massive recall on more than a million appliances in need of immediate repair. Is there a threat to your kitchen?

And a pop-up appears on your computer screen and demands you pay before it will go away. Do you know what to do? We'll tell you. That's coming up next. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, I really enjoy the design and the creative process and like, you know, pulling little levers there and tweaking little details from a design perspective. But what really gets me excited is when I literally when I hand an inventor their product for the first time. A product that they conceived on a napkin and posted on the internet.

And here I am, some random dude, handing it to them. And it's a real life physical thing that they're going to be able to buy at target next week. That, to me, is the most special part of the project.



BLITZER: It's a story that could have been ripped from a crime novel. The wife of a top political figure accused of murder by poison. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, Wolf. This is actually involving the wife of a former top Chinese politician. And court officials say she's not objecting to charges she poisoned a British businessman. She is asking for leniency. Authorities say she and an aide drank with the man at his hotel and poisoned him to protect her son.

Until earlier this year, her husband had appeared destined to join the elite committee of leaders at the top of China's ruling party.

And GE is recalling more than a million dishwashers because they could catch fire. They were sold under the GE and hot point brands between 2006 and 2009. GE says there have been 15 reports of the heating element failing, including seven fires. Three caused extensive damage. The dishwashers have front controls and a plastic tub. GE will repair them for free.

And when you board an airplane, well, you generally expect it to land where your ticket says it will. But that's not what happened for 11 passengers aboard a regional flight Tuesday. And now, the FAA is investigating. The flight was supposed to go from Morgantown, West Virginia to Clarksburg, but instead, it landed in Fairmount. That's about ten miles from where it was supposed to be.

And a new Internet virus is locking up computer screens saying you broke the law and demanding money for you to get control back. This virus installs itself if you click on a compromised website. You don't even have to open a file or an attachment. If you do fall victim to the virus, do not, do not pay any money or provide personal information.

A professional will, however, have to remove it. So, that's going to be a pain for anybody who gets caught up with that, Wolf.

BLITZER: It will help those professionals make a few extra dollars, no doubt about that. All right. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that report.

Papa John's says President Obama's healthcare law will cost the company millions of dollars, and it will pass that cost onto you with each pizza you order. But does the claim really ad up? We're doing the math for you.

And the candidates are starting to get creative. Romney hood, Obamaloney, what's going on over here? Standby.


BLITZER: It's the latest in a string of powerful businesses whose political views have gone public and created some backlash in the process. The CEO of Papa John's pizza chain now saying he's going to have to raise the price of his pizzas because of President Obama's health care law. Lisa Sylvester is here in THE SITUATION ROOM working the story for us. Give us the details, Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Well Wolf, there used to be a time when company leaders could say things, even controversial things and it would fly under the radar, but that's no longer the case largely because of social media and bloggers. The latest CEO's political comments making headlines, the CEO of Papa John's.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): The CEO of Papa John's Pizza is getting his slice of politics. On a conference call with analysts John Snodder (ph) was asked about the impact of the federal health care law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not supportive of Obamacare, like most businesses in our industry. But our business model and (INAUDIBLE) economics are about as ideal as you can get for a food company to absorb Obamacare.

SYLVESTER: Snodder (ph) says Obamacare will likely cost 11 to 14 cents per pizza, a cost likely to be passed on to customers. Campaign contribution records reviewed by show that Snodder (ph) has donated about $40,000 to Republicans in recent years. In April Snodder (ph) held a fundraiser for Mitt Romney at his home outside Louisville, Kentucky. He declined to comment to CNN.

But the company in a statement said quote "we certainly understand the importance of health care to our customers, our employees, small business owners and their employees. When certain business costs increase such as fuel, ingredients or employee health care, there is an impact to the price of products and services."

Snodder (ph) may not have realized his comments would be picked up by the political blogs, but what corporate bosses say even to a small audience can quickly go viral. That's what happened to the executive Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A after comments to a Baptist publication that he supports the biblical definition of the family unit.

PETER MORICI, ECONOMIST: CEOs can no longer act stealthily in their participation in politics. Folks are going to know where they stand. But if they take strong views on hot button issues, like abortion, gay rights, things of that nature it becomes problematic.

SYLVESTER: Risky it may be, but that hasn't stopped other corporate executives from dipping their toes in politics. Other recent examples, Amazon CEO Jeff Besos (ph) pledging $2.5 million to defend gay marriage, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (ph) ripping Washington and pledging not to donate to political campaigns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's always a risk when you put yourself out there politically. You're going to maybe make some friends and you're going to maybe make some enemies. So it's always a political risk for a company to do that. I think that's -- but this is America. They can choose to do that if they want.


SYLVESTER: OK. As for those Papa John's customers, at least the ones that we talk to, they say an 11-cent, four-cent -- 14-cent difference, that isn't going to stop them from buying a pizza. And a number of them added, Wolf, especially if that means actually that more people will have access to health care 11 cents to 14 cents, not a lot of money when you're talking a pizza pie --

BLITZER: That's not per slice. That's for the whole pizza.

SYLVESTER: Yes, that's for the whole pizza --

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much. I want to dig a little bit deeper into this pizza story. Tom Foreman is joining us right now. He's got a little fact checking of Papa John's claims. What are you finding out, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, like restaurant chains all over the country, Papa John's does not want to pick up this extra cost to cover Obamacare. Unlike others Papa is putting a price tag on that extra pepperoni. Our best estimate he says is that Obamacare will cost 11 to 14 cents per pizza. That's the quote. How did Pap come up with that number? Let's open the pizza oven and we'll pull out the math here.

And this is complicated. It's a lot of you know carry the two, move this around. But suffice to say we did it and if Papa John's ran up against the worst case scenario, having to pay a penalty for not providing medical coverage for all 14,000 of its restaurant employees that could add up to $28 million. Now, taking the company's own estimate that Obamacare would cost at least 11 cents a pizza, Pap would have to sell about 250,000 billion pizzas a year to reach that $28 million total.

Now we calculated all of this based on SEC filings and public information because Papa John would not tell us how many pizzas they sell or explain their math or tell us how many of their employees are part-time or how much they're providing in health care currently for their employees and how much that costs the company -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Tom, if we don't know that, how can we judge if the statement is actually true or false?

FOREMAN: Because, Wolf, you're going to hear me say something I almost never say. In this case, the math does not matter. That's why. A Treasury official came and talked to us about this. And basically what he said was that on background in the worst-case scenario that we're talking about here that just can't happen for Papa John's. Employers have no obligation to provide health care for part time workers, those working fewer than 30 hours a week.

Papa John's certainly has plenty of those even if they won't tell us how many, so that would reduce their burden. The great bulk of Papa John's operations are through franchise operators, not the parent company. And many of them would be too small to be penalized. Remember, those exemptions for businesses with fewer than 50 workers that would happen to many of the franchises. And the regulations about how and when and who will pay these penalties under the Obamacare changes are still being sorted out.

We received a statement from Papa John's last night that said in part, the vast majority of Papa John's restaurants are owned by small business people, each of whom will be impacted in different ways by costs associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But our bottom line is this. This estimate that Papa John's threw out there came out of the oven a little bit too soon. It's not fully cooked and since Papa won't deliver the documents to support the claim, we're going to have to say that this claim is false -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bottom line false, all right thanks very much for that, Tom Foreman. I actually understood what you were saying, pretty good, good explanation.

CNN has just received exclusive access inside the Sikh temple where that deadly massacre went down. You're going to see it just ahead. That's coming up at the top of the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM and it's being called an eight-level ant hill. Up next, the massive underground bunker where dozens of children and adults were forced to live their entire lives.


BLITZER: It's a startling discovery. More than a dozen children living underground for their entire lives. Russian police have discovered a cult that had been living underground for years. CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance has more.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an astonishing discovery in Russia where an obscure Islamist (ph) religious sect has been found to have forced its members including children to live underground for more than a decade. The authorities in Russia have charged the sect leaders and taken the children described as dirty but in good health into care.



CHANCE (voice-over): Russian police say 27 children along with more than 30 adults lived in catacomb-like (ph) cells in what is described as an eight-level underground bunker. Some of the children have never left the compound or even seen the light of day.

IRINA PETROVA, KAZAN PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE (through translator): The premises consist of cells without natural light and ventilation located in the basement and foundation and dug into the ground as it was said in the official report. It is an eight-level ant hill. Not only adults were living on these premises but also children.

CHANCE: At least 19 of the children age between 1 and 17 years old were removed by the authorities. Some placed in care. Others in hospital.

TATIANA MOROZ, HEALTH WORKER (through translator): The children were in satisfactory condition. The children were all fed although they were dirty. Upon receiving them we washed them. They have undergone a full examination. All the Russian specialists have examined them and taken all the analysis. Tomorrow the full analysis will be finished and we will give our final conclusion about the condition of their health.

CHANCE: The Islamist sect was unearthed last week in a suburb of the city of Kazan in Russia's mainly Muslim Tartastan (ph) region during an investigation into militant groups.



CHANCE: Amid (ph) chats of defiance police detained some of its members including its reclusive 83-year-old leader (INAUDIBLE). They're facing charges. Russian media reports say his followers lived in isolation, refusing to recognize Russian laws or the authority of mainstream Muslim leaders in Tartastan (ph). Isolation that allowed them to keep their activities literally underground.


CHANCE: Well, the raid on the sect has come amid a wider investigation to militant groups in areas (ph) as I mentioned. Following a number of high profile attacks against leading Muslim figures in the region, there's no suggestion though that this bizarre sect is in any way connected -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting for us. What a story. Thank you.

We're seeing more negative ads in new lines of attack between Democrats and Republicans every day. But it's the creative slams that are catching our attention. We're going inside the name-calling political style. And it's harrowing video, the view from inside the cockpit as a plane goes down. We have the story behind the dramatic video. That's coming up in our next hour.


BLITZER: There are 89 days left until Election Day and as the candidates head into the final stretch of the campaign, the attacks are clearly getting uglier. Let's bring in CNN's John Berman. He is looking at this story for us. It gets pretty interesting, John, when candidates get rather creative, shall we say, with their choice of words.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know there's been so much attention this week to the negativity of the campaign, the attack ads, the finger pointing. But now the candidates seem to have discovered the cherished political art of name calling, you know because there's nothing in politics apparently more threatening than actually using a candidate's name.


BERMAN (voice-over): It's practically the worst thing you can utter about a politician. His actual name.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's like Robin Hood in reverse. It's Romney Hood.


BERMAN: Combine that name with anything, anything at all, including lunch meat, you have a vicious attack.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if I were to coin a term, it would be Oba-baloney (ph).

BERMAN: Because apparently campaigns are like "Harry Potter" --


BERMAN: There is some sort of mystical cosmic brutal threat with using someone's name. Who can forget --


BERMAN: Or how about --


BERMAN: And --


BERMAN: Or their illicit love child courtesy of Tim Pawlenty --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- made it Obamney-care (ph). BERMAN: Which is second cousins once removed from Michele Bachmann's creation of --


BERMAN: Names weren't always such a dicey situation or I guess mituation (ph). No one complains about Jeffersonian (ph) democracy or Lincoln-Douglas style debates, but by the time the shacks and shanky (ph) towns started showing up in the 1930's let's just say Hooverville was not meant as a compliment. Imagine if it was located in "Taxachusetts". Reaganomics, not friendly and Clintonian (ph), a language (INAUDIBLE). The only thing you can do in politics worse than using someone's name is slap a gate on the end of it.



BERMAN: Imagine if Mitt Romney could find a scandal associated with the president's rhetoric. Would we actually have "Obamaloneygate" or how about malfeasance in the individual mandate "Obamney-Care-Gate". Truthfully with the number of degrees these candidates have, the name calling seems lazy, almost off the wall. You could say it's the definition of "Linsanity" or "Barack-Tually" a load of Mitt.


BERMAN: I suppose you say -- you could say the problem here, Wolf, is that they could be more creative. You on the other hand are always creative. I missed your anniversary yesterday. Happy seventh anniversary of THE SITUATION ROOM. You can say you've been "Blitzering" things up for seven years now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We have a situation going on as well as you know here in THE SITUATION ROOM every single day.

BERMAN: Absolutely. No question about that.

BLITZER: So, yes, seven years yesterday, so we're now in our eighth year of THE SITUATION ROOM. It's very, very exciting. You know one thing we don't do here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We never cry wolf.

BERMAN: You're getting the hang of it. You're as good as they are.

BLITZER: I'm beginning to feel -- I'm beginning to feel some of that but there is a blitz going on, as you point out.

BERMAN: Sign up for a campaign right away. They need your help.

BLITZER: OK. John. Be sure to join John (INAUDIBLE) every weekday morning right here on CNN. They are at the helm of "EARLY START". That starts at 5 a.m. Eastern. It goes until 7 a.m. Eastern. I want to you watch "EARLY START" every weekday. John Berman, good to have him here at CNN. Also good to have Jack Cafferty here at CNN as well -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: You're very kind. The question this hour, what does it mean if almost half of Americans die with less than $10,000 in assets?

Jim writes "it means most people are completely unprepared for their retirement. This is the result of the switch to 401(k) accounts from the pensions that people used to get. There is much sadness for seniors now."

Jack writes "actually, as the last few decades have gone by, there is not too much incentive to acquire assets since housing, retirement plans, savings and others have all been robbed in one fashion or another. Going out so that the cash curve and the end of life curve both meet at zero sounds like a fair plan."

Johnny writes "I believe this is a function of individuals living to the extent of their means. And what's wrong with that? Why save hundreds of thousands of dollars and not have the best of what you can afford?"

David writes "read 'Die Broke' for all the answers. The problem is timing, isn't it?"

Liz in Florida writes "my husband and I are retired, life is sweet. We travel when we want, see a medical professional when necessary. We never made lots of money but we started saving for retirement in our 20's. For all those seniors who chose not to save, all I can say is I bet they wish they had."

Steve writes "it means my kids are going to have to find a job."

And Roy says "the goal in life is when you have your funeral, the check bounces."

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

CNN getting exclusive access inside the Sikh temple in Wisconsin where that deadly shooting massacre happened. You are going to go see it. Just ahead that's coming up in our next hour.

Also, the Curiosity rover tweeting out amazing photos of itself from Mars. Up next, we are going to tell you why they are more than just glamour shots.


BLITZER: Here is a look at this hour's "Hotshots". Check them out. In the Philippines, flood victims use a truck as temporary shelter. In Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers stand guard near a road. In Japan, a child adds the last piece to a Lego mosaic and in Germany -- look at this -- two circus elephants walk through a park on their break. "Hotshots", pictures coming in from around the world.

NASA's Curiosity rover is a Twitter sensation right now, raking in about 1,000 new followers an hour since landing on Mars and it's not surprising with all the new photos being tweeted out from the red planet. These pictures are more than just glamour shots. CNN's John Zarrella is joining us once again from NASA's jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, California, with the latest details. John, what's going on?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, all the attention that Curiosity is getting, it is certainly no doubt because of the tremendous pictures. In fact, more tremendous pictures came out today from these cameras up here, the navigation cameras, two on either side, the round ones, and those mass cams, the square cameras. And they showed us pictures of the deck of Curiosity taken from above, looking down, showing all kinds of little pebbles and rocks on there.

Also, a panorama shot, a color panorama that came back in thumbnail of the whole surroundings around the rover. And of course, we hope to get full resolution pictures, perhaps as early as tomorrow. You know what, through all of this Curiosity is taking on a personality of its own.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): It may seem like the Curiosity rover is your worst friend on Twitter. Just sending brag pictures from exotic places, me and my shadow and mount sharp, its operators tweeted on day one. Now, it's begging for more attention. Head's up, no, really, my head's up as it beamed another shadow pic back to earth. Then it sent the first 360-degree photo from Mars of, you guessed it, itself. But Curiosity's operators say it's all for good reason.

JUSTIN MAKI, IMAGING SCIENTIST: We also took panorama of the deck, we call that the deck pan, and we took this to document the state of the deck after landing.

ZARRELLA: The team is just giving the rover a good look before it starts on the science of the mission, making sure it functions just as you see in this animation.


ZARRELLA: And so far, so good.

JENNIFER TROSPER, JPL MISSION MANAGER: You can see the shadow of the arm in the image and you can also see that the mast is deployed, which is excellent. That's what we are looking for.

ZARRELLA: New photos also show a wide field of gravel and pebbles around the rover. That is the lip of the gale (ph) crater off in the distance. Dark spots dug out during landing revealed underlying bedrock, a relatively smooth road trip is ahead.

MIKE MALIN, IMAGING SCIENTIST: There's some question about can we move the rover? Is it safe to move the rover? There is nothing around it, so we can -- it is safe to move the rover. There is nothing under it because we do have an image closer in as well.

ZARRELLA: Mission managers say with the spacecraft being as healthy as it is, and with the capability that it has, all of their options are open for science.


ZARRELLA: You know, the science team in talking to them, are saying they are just amazed at how absolutely perfectly everything is going to this point. And some of them said that has us a little bit worried what's coming down the pike. But they are going to take it for now, Wolf. They could not be happier with the way Curiosity is performing.

BLITZER: When are they going to start the experiments, John?

ZARRELLA: Going to be another couple to three weeks, Wolf, before they finally finished the checkouts, then they will take off and start moving Curiosity and begin some of that science. And you know, it is going to be a two-year mission on the surface, at least two years. The ultimate goal, to find signs, the building blocks of life that may once have existed on Mars and perhaps, Wolf, still do.

BLITZER: John Zarrella reporting for us. John, thanks very much.

Happening now, playing the VP game. Why this man is getting so much attention as a potential Romney running mate. A former skinhead opens up about hate and how it messes with your mind. And remarkable video from inside the cockpit of a plane as it is crashing.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.