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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Launches New Shame Offensive On Gun Control; Ted Olson and David Boies Join Against Proposition 8; U.S. Officials Spending Billions Of Tax Dollars To Attempt High-Speed Rail System
Aired March 30, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama launches a new shame offensive on gun control. Will his emotional appeal persuade Congress to act?
Plus, North Korea's war threats. We are taking you to an island that may be in Kim Jung-un's cross hairs right now.
And real-life claims of flying saucers and other UFOs, straight from the FBI's vault.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in the SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Shame on us if we forgotten. I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we forgotten.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: An emotional appeal to honor the memory of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting victims. President Obama trying to rebuild momentum for tougher gun laws 100 after the school massacre. It is one of the toughest challenges facing this president in the days and weeks ahead.
Let's bring in out chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
All right, Jessica. What's the president doing to get his vision of gun control pass?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, You head it there. President is trying to shame Congress into passing legislation, in part, by surrounding himself with the mothers of shooting victims.
The White House cease the polling that shows national momentum for stricter gun laws is falling, falling ten points since the Newtown shootings that decrease in support for stricter gun laws across the board.
So, the president holding a series of events, calling on Congress for swift action, as the Senate repairs to take up some anti-gun legislation, as soon as they come back from recess, Wolf, in early April.
BLITZER: What can we expect? What is the president's immediate agenda in the days ahead?
YELLIN: Well, first of all, this upcoming week, he will hold another event, pushing for anti-gun violence legislation in Denver, Colorado. But as part of that west coast swing, it won't be just official business. He will be on political business, holding fund raisers in San Francisco's big-dollar fund-raisers that have Republicans up in arms, screaming partisanship and some Democrats very happy he is bringing in the coin for campaign coffers, looking ahead to the midterm elections.
And then, Wolf, it will be his second dinner in town for, as part of his charm offensive that talks place another week away. He will be having a second dinner with Republican senators. I should point out that happens the very same day the president releases his budget -- Wolf.
BLITZER: See what the reaction is from those 12 Republicans invited to dinner with the president here in Washington.
Let's dig deeper on what's going on in Washington. Our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, host of "State Of The Union" is joining us now.
Candy, look at the latest poll numbers when it comes to tougher gun laws. And I'm putting it out on the screen. Do you favor major restrictions on guns or making all guns illegal? Back in December, 52 percent said yes. Now it's down to 43 percent. Immediately after Newtown, it was 52 percent. Now it's gone down significantly. What's going on here?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, the internals of that poll show that rural folks answering this question are now back to thinking no, we don't need major gun legislation and older people.
So what's happening is, there has been some distance how the president frames it, as we have forgotten the children. Others say in the height of that horrible tragedy, people's emotions were on high and said yes, we have to get rid of all guns. We have to do this and now, 100 days later, it's -- you know, they're saying let's do something that works.
So, whichever way you look at it, certainly when you look at an assault weapons ban, will there be a vote on it in the senate, but no one thinks it will pass.
BLITZER: As an amendment.
CROWLEY: As an amendment, but no one thinks it is going to pass. The question right now is these background checks, and including gun shows where about 40 percent of guns are purchased, including background checks for purchases at gun shows. And they are stuck now on Capitol Hill, because a lot of folks look at these background checks and say, we don't want the paperwork to be kept as it is in gun shops. So the paperwork, this person purchased this on this day, and lots of, you know, pro gun rights supporters say listen, this just becomes a place for the government to come and look at who has what guns. That's the sticking point.
BLITZER: I think politically, realistically, what has the best chance is the expansion of the background checks, I don't know of the universal background checks, but an expansion of the current federal law. As far as limiting the number of bullets and magazines, that's probably not going to pass. And as you pointed out, the assault type restrictions, the ban, that's probably not going to pass. So whatever is passed, will be relatively, relatively modest.
CROWLEY: There will be a school safety element to it. But we also have the straw purchasers, you know, they can't buy a gun for someone for someone that can't buy a gun on their own because of whatever the law is that prohibits something doing it.
So, there will be something in it, but what the president is pushing for, he has to push for what he wants for assault weapons ban and limits on these ammo magazines. But realistically speaking, what they want is an expanded background check. That's what they think they can get.
BLITZER: The New York city mayor, Michael Bloomberg, he is putting in what, $12 million of his own money, trying to find out some of these ads, a group called mayors against illegal guns, they have put an ad out to fight the NRA. Listen to this little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe in the second amendment, and I'll fight to protect it. But with rights come responsibilities. That's why I support co comprehensive background checks so criminals and the dangerously mentally ill can't buy guns. That protects my rights and myself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I mean, it's been a long time since we have seen the anti-NRA ads come up with some serious cash.
CROWLEY: Yes. And what's interesting, and of course mayor Bloomberg heading this, and he has his own personal wealth and some of which he is putting into this, and you know, what's interesting here is what they're talking about. It's the background checks, they're not talking about bans on 30-round clips. They are not talking about bans on assault weapons. So, they are going for the door there. They are putting these ads in 13 states including where senators are up for reelection, including where some Democrats in southern states in particular where the gun culture is very strong.
So, it remains to be seen whether some of this might backfire. There's talk that, you know, that he is undermining some Democrats in some of these states in Louisiana, North Carolina, are Arkansas are three Democrats that are looking at these ads.
BLITZER: Because they want to be re-elected and they're nervous if they vote in favor of tougher gun restriction. That could hurt them significantly.
CROWLEY: Well, or senator, you know, prior, I don't listen to the mayor of New York for my advise on gun control. I listen to the people of Arkansas. So, you know, there's always that fear of somebody coming in and trying to shape a race.
And so yes, they are very cautious about it, but they are trying to reflect their constituents.
BLITZER: Tell us about "STATE OF THE UNION," Sunday morning. What is coming up?
CROWLEY: We are going to talk about guns, immigration, and take a look at actually at some - what the economy is doing. We have Senator Lindsey Graham. He is going to on with us, as well as Senator Blumenthal from Connecticut to talk a little bit about where gun legislation going.
BLITZER: Excellent guests that you got. As usual, 9:00 a.m. eastern and noon eastern as well, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley.
CROWLEY: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: We now know that it took less than five minutes, about 300 seconds, for Adam Lanza to slaughter 26 children and staff at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. Documents from the Newtown massacre investigation were released this week, and it's more clear than ever that Lanza had an enormous stockpile of weapons and ammunition in his home.
CNN national correspondent, Susan Candiotti has the chilling details.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Impressive on the outside. Inside, the home 20-year-old Adam Lanza shared with his mother, Nancy, more like an arsenal. Court documents reveal investigators found at least 1,600 unspent rounds of ammunition, two rifles, three samurai swords, a bayonet, and a seven- foot pole with a blade on one end and a smear on the other. GREG MCCRARY, FBI PROFILER: There's always a mix in every case, and I don't think this is going to be any different, a mix of depression and paranoia. They are so sad and depressed they are willing to die. And the paranoia really creates this need to surround yourself with weapons.
CANDIOTTI: Lying in her bed, Adam Lanza's first victim, his mother Nancy, a bullet hole in her forehead, a rifle on the floor. Elsewhere in the house, her to do-list starting with the day she was killed. Adam Lanza's massacre begun at home, but the worst was yet to come.
JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: This was someone who was living in a world of violence, and somehow either planned on crossing over or at some point was motivated to cross over and be the killer.
CANDIOTTI: One hundred fifty four bullet casings found at Sandy Hook elementary, shot from 30-round magazines. Three found empty. Another three with a handful of rounds left. And three more 30-round magazines discovered on his body, fully loaded.
Inside Lanza's Honda parked outside the school, a shotgun with two 70-round magazines. Right after the shooting, an unnamed witness told investigators Lanza rarely left his home, calling him a "shut- in."
The witness described Adam as an avid gamer who liked the gory shoot them up "call of duty." Inside the home, more creepy clues of what sources described as Lanza's obsession with serial killers. Several journals, three photos of what appear to be dead bodies in plastic covered in blood. And newspaper clippings about a 2008 Northern Illinois University shooting spree that killed five and injured 21.
Authorities also found books, including "look me in my question, my life with Asperger's," "born on a blue day," "inside the mind of an autistic savant," and "train your brain to get happy." Experts say Asperger's and autism are not associated with violence.
GARDERE: Certainly a young man, if he was getting treatment for whatever his psychological issues may have been, that it just was not working.
CANDIOTTI: Also found, two NRA certificates, one each for Nancy and Adam. Unclear what they were for, the NRA says neither was a member, and a sign more firearms were on the way. A holiday card with a check signed by Nancy Lanza, naming a gun model she had in mind.
That same unidentified witness tells police Sandy Hook elementary was Adam Lanza's life. It also became his killing field. What was his motive? Police have yet to settle on a single theory. Their final report is expected in June.
Susan Candiotti, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: When we come back, making the trains run faster in the United States. CNN investigates a $12 billion investment and whether your money has been wasted.
Plus, an historic week over at the United States Supreme Court for the battle over same-sex marriage, we will take you behind the scenes of one landmark case that is being argued right now.
BLITZER: U.S. officials are spending billions of your tax dollars to try to develop a high-speed rail system. But an investigation by CNN finds the Obama administration is falling short of the president's goals, and Americans are not getting much out of their investment.
Drew Griffin of CNN's special investigations unit filed this report.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the plan all along was to build high-speed rail for the future of transportation across America. But despite what this administration keeps saying, in speech after speech; that is not what the U.S. taxpayer is getting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So now for one of his last speeches in his position, the secretary of transportation Ray LaHood.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): In a half-filled conference room, transportation secretary Ray LaHood tried to rally hope that his dream and the president's dream of high-speed rail would become a reality. But that dream, shared by those here who stand to make money from high-speed rail, is turning into a pipe dream.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has been an extraordinary four years for high-speed rail.
GRIFFIN: What is extraordinary is just how much money federal taxpayers have dumped into high-speed rail while the trains are still slow. Four years and $12 billion after that pledge to bring high- speed rail across America, the slow trains are just moving a little faster.
And one of the greater examples of that is what happened in Washington state.
PAULA HAMMOND, FORMER SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION, WASHINGTON STATE: Yes, we received in our state $800 million.
GRIFFIN: Paula Hammond was the state's transportation secretary until recently retiring. Washington state got $800 million from the federal government. That's your tax money, mainly for improving the track between Seattle and Portland. And what did you get for it? Over a three hour and 40 minute ride, the trip has been reduced by ten minutes.
HAMMOND: Ten minutes doesn't sound like a lot of time. But, when you think about the fact that you have more options for more round trips, that you know that the trip will come and go reliably and on time, that to us, is what our passengers tell us is the most important thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All aboard!
GRIFFIN: In fact, ten minutes isn't a lot of time. And Paula Hammond says, despite promises of high speed rail from Washington, D.C., it was never Washington state's intention of bringing high-speed rail like the bullet trains of Japan and Europe to this section of the country.
The top speed here is now 79 miles per hour. Average speed is in the low 50s.
HAMMOND: I don't know whether we'll ever want high speed-rail, high, high-speed rail. What we want in our state and in our west coast region between Oregon and Washington, we want the ability of our communities to be connected so that we can provide good travel, a daily business trip between Seattle and Portland, and the opportunity to not have to fight traffic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
GRIFFIN: That is a far cry from the vision of high-speed rail announced by the president, the vice president, and the secretary of transportation back in 2009, when Americans were told Japanese and European-style trains would connect our cities.
OBAMA: What we are talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America.
GRIFFIN: $12 billion later, that vision has churned out 134 scattered projects across the country that have made slow trains a little faster. Keeping them honest, we wanted to know why, and after his speech to the high-speed rail association, we were given a brief interview with outgoing secretary of transportation, Ray LaHood.
I'm wondering after four years and $12 billion if you're disappointed where high-speed rail is. Where is the high-speed rail?
RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: The high-speed rail, in four years we invested $12 billion. That's just the federal money.
GRIFFIN: But so much has been spent really making the old trains go a little faster. Seattle to Portland --
LAHOOD: Well, I mean, I know it tends pretty fast.
GRIFFIN: But Seattle to Portland, you have spent $800 million and the trip time has been reduced by ten minutes. LAHOOD: Well, I think people like the investments we are making. There's so much enthusiasm in America for high-speed rail. We have been added four years. We have invested $12 billion. We have seen these investments get trains to higher speeds. We have seen these investments improved service. We have seen these investments improve on-time service to the point where now Amtrak is at an all-time ridership high.
Without these investments, I don't think that would have happen.
GRIFFIN: But you want true high-speed rail, right? You don't want --
LAHOOD: In some parts of the country.
GRIFFIN: -- diesel trains gong a little bit faster.
LAHOOD: In some parts of the country, we are going to have trains going 200 miles an hour.
LAHOOD: As soon as we can get the kind of work that needs to be done started.
GRIFFIN: What that is exactly is unclear.
There is only one true high-speed rail line actually envisioned in the entire United States. It's the California plan to bring a 200- mile-an-hour train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It's been in the planning stages for nearly ten years and not a single piece of rail has been laid.
Back in Seattle, one day they do hope to reach speeds of perhaps 110 miles an hour in some sections of the track, but at what price? What we do know, this year federal taxpayers will send out another $1 billion for high-speed rail.
GRIFFIN: Wolf, secretary LaHood tried to explain to us that this is just like the building of the interstate highway system back in the '50s. You know, bits and pieces build here and there, eventually connected after decades of work. But, what critics are saying is that is not a good analogy, because we are not getting bits and pieces of high-speed rail. We are not getting any high speed rail. All, we are getting is individual projects that are making old, slow rail a little faster and at a tremendous cost - Wolf.
BLITZER: Drew Griffin, with a special investigations piece for us. Excellent work as he always does. Thank you.
As the U.S. Supreme Court takes up same-sex marriage, a strange legal alliance is arguing against the law that says marriage is between a man and a woman. It's the subject of a new CNN documentary. We have a preview coming up. Gloria Borger is standing by. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Emotions ran high outside the United States Supreme Court this week, and there was drama inside as the justices held landmark hearings on same-sex marriage. Now, two lawyers who went head to head in the case that decided a presidential election are now actually teaming up on something that could be even more far-reaching. And that would be the former Bush solicitor general Ted Olson and liberal lawyer David Boies. It's the subject of a new documentary by our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. It airs later tonight here on CNN. Here's an excerpt.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: If anybody had told me in the year 2000 after Bush versus Gore that I would be sitting with you both today on the same side of a case about gay marriage, I would have said, are you nuts?
TED OLSON, ATTORNEY AGAINST PROPOSITION 8: Well, in the first place, I think we both came to the conclusion that we could be unbeatable if we were on the same side. But if we were on the opposite side, one of us would lose.
DAVID BOIES, ATTORNEY AGAINST PROPOSITION 8: Neither one of us likes to lose.
BORGER: With the election over, they became friends, really good friends, even though they still square off in court as recently as last month.
BOIES: It was really great.
BORGER: Who won?
BOIES: Well, the judge will call. But, I will tell you one thing, and that is I like it a lot better when he's on my side than when he's against me.
BORGER: They are now teaming up in what they both say is the biggest case of their distinguished careers.
BOIES: I think this is the defining civil rights issue of this time.
OLSON: It wasn't a Republican issue or a Democratic or a conservative oar a liberal issue. It was an American issue that we could go to the courts and to the American public and say, listen to us. This is about human rights, and human dignity and respect for all of our citizens.
BLITZER: And Gloria Borger is joining us right now.
Excellent work, Gloria. You really got inside the room and learned how Ted Olson prepares.
BORGER: Yes, it was extraordinary access, because Ted Olson spends a lot of time studying alone in his war room, Wolf. And it's this big room, kind of off of his office in which he sits with a legal pad and a pen, the old fashioned way, and makes notes to himself.
Then we got a view inside the mock court, in which he is grilled by a team of lawyers, including David Boies, because Ted Olson was the one arguing in this case. He's grilled by a team of lawyers about every potential question that could have been asked at the Supreme Court and guess what, Wolf? They asked most of the questions that the justices did.
BLITZER: The fact that public opinion has dramatically changed over the years when it comes to same-sex marriage, how does that play out?
BORGER: Well, ironically, I think it could hurt their case.
BLITZER: Hurt whose case?
BORGER: It could hurt Ted Olson's and David Boies' case. And the reason s this -
BLITZER: Because more people support now than used to support ten years ago.
BORGER: That's right. If you're making the case that this is a law that needs to be changed under the equal protection clause of the constitution, the other side will argue, wait a minute, these people have political power and they also are succeeding at the state level, and you see public opinion shifting in favor of same-sex marriage.
So, the argument on the other side is, let it proceed at the state level, now that they're starting to have success, and why have the Supreme Court intervene at this point when things seem to be moving along in the country? So it's sort of an ironic point there.
BORGER: Counterintuitive, but it may not help them.
BLITZER: It is an excellent documentary, Gloria.
BORGER: Thanks you.
BLITZER: Don't go too far. We have more to discuss this hour.
And to our viewers, don't forget Gloria's documentary airs later tonight. She gets exclusive access in the marriage warriors, showdown at the Supreme Court. It airs shortly after we're done here in the SITUATION ROOM for our North American viewers, 7:30 p.m. eastern, only here on CNN.
Coming up, as North Korea puts its rockets on standby and warns of attacks, we will take you to a South Korean island where they are fearing the worst.
And what if, your airfare was based on your weight. Should you have to step on a stale before boarding a plane?
BLITZER: The push for immigration reform here in the United States is heating up in Washington. Our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein is here. He's the editorial director of "The National Journal." Gloria is still with us to talk about what's going on.
Let's talk about immigration reform. The president was pretty upbeat in that interview he gave this past week to Univision. I'll pay a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're paying attention to border security. They're creating a pathway for people to earn their citizenship. My expectation is that we'll actually see a bill on the floor of the Senate next month.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's pretty upbeat. It doesn't necessarily mean it's going to necessarily pass. But a bill would be impressive.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a different President Obama than the one we know who criticized his Republicans over the budget, has done so on gun control issues. I think he's really taking a very different approach here, because he understands they're in a very delicate time in negotiations. This could fall apart at any moment. And there's no reason for the president to go after Republicans on his differences with him, say, on guest worker programs or path to citizenship right.
RON BROWNSTEIN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": What he's describing is actually exactly how it unfolded in 2006, the last time the Senate passed a comprehensive bill. Then, there were bipartisan negotiations between Ted Kennedy and John McCain. They introduced the bill in late March, it went quickly through the judiciary committee, was on the floor by May and passed after a nationwide address by President Bush.
I think in this case, he's hoping for something similar. And I would also say that I think the president sees this as a win-win issue for him. Either he gets the big legislative accomplishment of comprehensive immigration reform or ultimately, either in the Senate or more likely the House, Republicans are positioned as those blocking it, which impounds the process.
BLITZER: They can say it passed the Senate but then it didn't go anywhere else. And it never became the law of the land.
BROWNSTEIN: That is the challenge again. BORGER: But I also think he believes, and with good reason, that Republicans are serious about wanting to get this done. He didn't feel that way on deficit issues. Didn't feel that way on tax issues. You know, they had their -- he thinks they're playing games. On this particular issue, he understands that it's in their self-interest to get it done as well, so -
BROWNSTEIN: There's a lot of reason for optimism about the Senate in terms of passing.
BLITZER: What about the House?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, the House - look. The real question there, I think more Republicans are probably more comfortable with a comprehensive approach that includes a pathway to citizenship than certainly in 2006. But again, it's not likely that the majority of House Republicans would vote for that kind of bill. And I still think, as I said several time, the critical question in this whole dynamic, will John Boehner bring a bill to the floor that has a majority of support in the House overall but not majority Republican support?
BLITZER: He did do that to avert the fiscal cliff. He let that happen.
BORGER: That's right. But will he do it again? And the big sticking point, Wolf, is going to be this question of guest workers. That pits unions against the Chamber of Commerce. It's a very hot- button political issue. Can you bring in these guest workers for low wages? And Republicans on one side of that, Democrats on the other side of that, and they're going to have to thread that needle.
BROWNSTEIN: And in the House, pathway to citizenship will also be obviously an issue. In the Senate, they do seem to be making progress toward resolving that question. That was one of the thorniest questions --
BLITZER: The pathway to citizenship, which the opponents call amnesty. That's a sensitive word, especially among Republicans in the House of Representatives.
BROWNSTEIN: There were focus groups put out this week by a resurgent Republican, conservative group of Republican primary voters in Des Moines and Greenville, South Carolina that found surprising support for allowing people to become citizens. They found the idea of deportation, the self-deportation that Mitt Romney talked about, implausible. And it does suggest there's more political space opening for more Republicans than we may have thought to move toward something like this.
BORGER: They just don't want people who have been here illegally to get in front of the line. They don't think that's fair. They want to secure the borders first. This is very, very important, particularly if you're a Republican. They believe that when Ronald Reagan passed immigration reform, that was not done back in the '80s, and they need to do it.
BROWNSTEIN: And the bipartisan Senate bill, excuse me, is talking about a 13-year pathway before someone who ask here illegally now could become a citizen. So, I think that, when those details are presented, even in these focus groups, people were more responsive.
BLITZER: The 22-term Republican Congressman from Alaska, Don Young, he caused some heartburn for a lot of Republicans this week when he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DON YOUNG (R), ALASKA: My father had a ranch. We used to have 50 to 60 wetbacks, and -- to pick tomatoes. You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, The use of the word wetbacks, that was awkward. He said he meant no disrespect. The House speaker, John Boehner, said Congressman Young's remarks were offensive, beneath the dignity of the office he holds.
BROWNSTEIN: Look, understandable for John Boehner to condemn it, something that should be condemned. But there is an underlying reality here. If you look at polling, both polling that we've done, the Heartland (INAUDIBLE) polling, Pew polling, among white voters who are upset about or find this level of racial change in the country too fast, that is - you know, those voters tend to lean strongly toward Republicans. And sentiments like Don Young's have turned up at other times in the immigration debate from other Republicans. It is a problem for them.
There is a constituency in the Republican Party that believes the country is changing too fast. People sometimes give voice to it. And that is a challenge as they face this almost existential problem of improving their performance along minority voters.
BORGER: Right. The chairman of the RNC came out and said this is awful. I mean, they're backing away from it as quickly as they can. But the truth of the matter is, when Republicans go home to conservative districts, immigration reform and this question dogs them everywhere they go.
BLITZER: Gloria, Ron, guys, thank you very much.
Coming up, a huge week of threats from North Korea with tensions in the region on the rise. When we come back, our reporter, Matthew Chance, he visits an island that is caught up right in the middle of this tension.
BLITZER: A week of war threats by North Korea. The strongman Kim Jong-un putting rockets on standby and warning of possible strikes on Hawaii, Guam and the U.S. mainland. The United States responding to the threats by flying stealth bombers in a practice mission over South Korea. An island near the Korean border also is a target of the communist regime's fiery threats. Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance went there. This is a story you'll see only on CNN.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Across the Yellow Sea, the island flashpoints of this Korean standoff. We traveled by high-speed boat within sight of North Korean waters where tensions are making waves once more.
(on camera): We're on this ferry heading off the South Korean coast towards the island of Yeonpyeong, about two hours' boat ride away. It's very close, indeed, to the tense maritime border with the north.
In the past few weeks North Korea has been threatening to attack the island, urging its inhabitants to evacuate. The kind of threats that for many South Koreans may just be dismissed as bluster. But for the people of Yeonpyeong, they take it very seriously.
(voice-over): And this is why. Back in 2010, Yeonpyeong was attacked by North Korean artillery. There was no warning. Shells just rained down on the small island, causing widespread panic and destruction. At least four South Koreans were killed. Memories of the attack are still fresh.
(on camera): We finally arrived on dry land and come straight to the spot where the attacks took place. You can see a few of the destroyed houses have been preserved as a reminder. There are scorched walls here, some of them pock marked with shrapnel and broken glass. Family rooms have been burned out and left empty. It's all quite a poignant monument to the people who were killed here. And of course, to the danger to this island that North Korea continues to pose.
(voice-over): Islanders say renewed North Korean threats are bringing anxieties flooding back.
KANG IN-GU, ISLAND RESIDENT (through translator): It's been almost three years, and I remember how my heart sank when I witnessed the attacks. Now we are hearing more threats, and I'm having this feeling in my chest all over again.
CHANCE: Made worse by recent images like these, of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, being feted by the same artillery units that carried out the strike. Their attack is portrayed as a military victory that could be repeated, adding to pressure on South Korea to respond with tough action next time.
IN-GU (through translator): If the North were to carry out another provocation like in 2010, I personally hope that my government will respond very strongly. By doing this, the North will not see South Korea as an easy target, but as a strong country instead.
CHANCE: But a strong response over these tiny islands risks plunging the Korean Peninsula into all-out war. These Yellow Sea tensions could prove dangerous indeed.
Matthew Chance, CNN, Yongpyong Island in South Korea.
BLITZER: Very tense situation there.
When we come back, a provocative new idea to make airline passengers pay more based on based on what they weigh. Could it really take off?
Plus, of all the FBI's most notorious cases, the one that by far grabs the most attention from the American public has to do with flying saucers. That's coming up.
BLITZER: As if flying already isn't expensive, people keep thinking up new ways airlines can make you pay extra. Among the latest ideas, basing your fare - get this -- on how much you weigh.
Lisa Sylvester's been looking into this story for us. Explain how this would work.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this is an idea that's not going over very well. The question, though, should passengers have to step on a scale in order to step on an airplane? Well, there is already one airline that's doing this.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): The price of an airline ticket varies, depending on how far in advance you buy your ticket; the time of day you want to fly; and the day itself. But what if airlines also factored in something else, how much you weigh? A study by a Norwegian professor suggests airlines set prices based on a passenger's weight.
BHARAT BHATTA, ECONOMIST: Some would say, that is discriminatory. But because I am talking about economics, it's not discriminatory at all.
SYLVESTER: Professor Bharat Bhatta, in a paper in the "Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management," argues reducing the weight on a plane by a little more than two pounds is a fuel savings of $3,000 a year. He proposes passengers self-declare their weight when they book a ticket.
On a flight between D.C. and Chicago, at $2 per pound, Sally, who weighs 120 pounds, her ticket would be $240. Paul on the same flight is 180 pounds. His ticket price is $360. And Steve, who weighs 270 pounds, would pay $540.
(on camera): So you might think that this is a strange idea, but believe it or not, there is actually an airline already doing this. Samoa Air, operating out of the Pacific, charges passengers by the pound. (voice-over): Southwest Airlines sometimes requires oversized passengers to book two seats. And when commercial air travel first began, that's the way it was done. See that man standing on the scale?
One group that's calling this idea ridiculous? The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.
PEGGY HOWELL, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION TO ADVANCE FAT ACCEPTANCE: Treating people like freight is not -- is not a good alternative. It's a PR nightmare for the airlines to even consider such a thing.
SYLVESTER: At the airport, parents thought it was a good idea to charge by the pound.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, I guess for kids it might be a good idea because then you don't have to pay full fare for children.
SYLVESTER: But on the whole...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Men are larger than women. So are they going to have to pay more to fly? That part doesn't quite make sense to me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see how they could do that. That, I would think, would be discriminatory.
SYLVESTER: It's an idea that didn't seem to fly.
SYLVESTER: Now, the economists also suggested charging by the combined weight of the passenger and their luggage. Now, the group representing the airline industry says it's up to individual airlines to price and sell products as they choose according to the market. But that said, right now, there are no plans for any airline other than Samoa Air that wants to weigh you before you can get on the airplane, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, fascinating story. I don't think it's going to go anywhere. Just imagine pregnant women, for example, would they have to pay more because they are pregnant?
SYLVESTER: That is one of the questions out there. You know, Samoa Air doesn't make any exceptions and they are the only airline doing this. But could you imagine, Wolf, the outrage of people having to stepping on the scale and then tell the truth of how much they weigh? That's another component too, Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, good report. Thank you.
When we come back, of all the FBI's most notorious cases, the one by far that grabs the attention of the public has to do with flying saucers.
BLITZER: Here's a look at this week's Hot Shots. Check them out. In Indonesia, a fisherman casts his nets in the local river. In Utah, an iReporter explores the soaring walls of (INAUDIBLE) national park's spectacular gorgeous. In El Salvador, eco tourists watches a baby sea turtle crawl towards the sea. And in India, boys have some fun celebrating the festival of colors. Hot Shots, pictures coming in from around the world.
Forget about gangsters, bank robbers. The most popular documents in old FBI case files have to do with UFOs. Our Brian Todd has the story.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's called the Vault, the FBI's digital reading room where any of us can go online and view the bureau's most notorious cases. Guess which is the most popular file? John Dillinger's, Jimmy Hoffa's? No.
JOHN FOX, HISTORIAN, FBI: Since we opened the Vault, it has been this memo about flying discs or flying saucers. It relates to an allegation that we heard from that a third hand, you know, saying that the Air Force had found a couple of saucers out in the New Mexico desert.
TODD: No, no, can't be. I mean, most people want to read about Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone, right?
FOX: You would think so. But this memo itself has gotten over a million page views since we put it up. Al Capone doesn't make our top 50.
TODD: The memo's all of two paragraphs. Agent Guy Hottle, then head of the FBI's Washington field office writes that an Air Force investigator stated that three so-called flying saucers had been recovered from New Mexico. They were described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50-feet in diameter. Not only that, each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only three feet tall dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture. Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suits used by speed fliers and test pilots. John Fox is the FBI's historian.
(on camera): This was never followed up on, right?
FOX: No. In fact, it says right here, no further evaluation was attempted concerning the above.
TODD: Why not?
FOX: From what's written here, from what we can read, it certainly looks like they thought that this was, you know, third-hand information. That this was not necessarily a hoax, which it could well have been, but, you know, someone was simply promoting hearsay.
TODD (voice-over): And it was more for the Air Force to look into along with countless other reports of UFOs in Roswell, New Mexico and elsewhere, reports that were never substantiated. One reason the memo from agent Hottle went viral is because when the FBI Vault was set up online two years ago, tabloids seized on that memo saying it appeared to back up theories that aliens exist.
(on camera): And it's not just the Guy Hottle memo that's the favorite, there are hundreds of other pages of memos and files in the FBI Vault in the unexplained phenomenon section all about alien and UFO sightings that are more popular online than the FBI's files on Bonnie and Clyde, serial killer Ted Bundy and other famous cases.
(voice-over): Cases involving Osama Bin Laden, investigations into the murders of civil rights leaders, all part of FBI lure. Fox says, out of all the strange cases he's come across --
FOX: The descriptions here of, you know, 50-foot diameter saucers and human-shape three-foot tall metallic clothed aliens, that's unique.
TODD: And we can say a little frustrating for FBI officials who tell us it diverts attention from all the work they have done, all the dangers they have faced through the years to capture fugitives and solve the nation's most difficult crimes. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: You remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter, just tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can also tweet the show, @CNNsitroom. And you can like us on Facebook if you want.
Thanks very much for watching. I am Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.