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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Keeping Them Honest on the West Coast; Bilingual Battle; Catch and Return; War and Politics; Bush Unscripted; Reporter's Notebook; Wife Killed Minister?; Car Crash Scams; Easing L.A.'s Traffic; Celebrity Causes
Aired June 14, 2006 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Plus, the latest insurance scam that could cost you your life.
This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "Keeping them Honest on the West Coast." Live from Los Angeles, here's Anderson Cooper.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us. Perhaps nowhere are the stakes as high in the immigration debate as here in California, home to so many immigrants, both legal and illegal.
This hour we're going to look at two places -- two pieces of the immigration puzzle. We begin with a battle that's been playing out in California classrooms and on ballots for years. The question is simple, what is the best way to teach English to kids who don't speak it? The answer? Well, that is anything but simple.
Here's CNN's Rick Sanchez.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They're called English learners, students who arrive in a school system speaking only their native language. And nowhere in the country are there more of them than in California. Fully, one-third of the nation's English learners now live here.
The cost and complications in trying to educate these students is so emotionally charged that in 1998, California passed a law that all but outlawed bilingual education.
Bilingual education means schools have to hire teachers to teach in many languages. Spanish teacher for Spanish students. Chinese teacher for Chinese students, costing taxpayers millions.
Also English learners are separated, a sort of school within a school, one for them and one for students who speak English.
The cost of educating these 1.7 million students with special needs in California was enormous. So what's the alternative? Many point to so-called immersion, which is more of a sink or swim, really.
Purists of this system want no special teachers, no special classes. English only, regardless of a child's language. But under this system, studies show many English learners become confused and drop out.
STEVEN KENNEDY, PRINCIPAL, MENIFEE ELEMENTARY: I've had experience with total immersion, also with a bilingual program in my past life.
SANCHEZ (on camera): Steven Kennedy is the principal here at Menifee Elementary. Half his students are English learners and live below the poverty level. He has found that neither bilingual, nor immersion really works.
Your program is not immersion and it's not bilingual education?
SANCHEZ: It's something in the middle.
KENNEDY: It is right smack dab in the middle and it's all about kids.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): One of his students is Monsora Gonzalez (ph). Speaks no English. In fact, arrived in the U.S. just five days ago. She's being immersed because her teachers only talk to her and her classmates in English.
SANCHEZ (on camera): Do you like learning English in this class?
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Yes.
SANCHEZ: Yes? Only in English? You like learning in English only?
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Yes.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Although they're being immersed in English, the students are taught in a setting similar to the bilingual model. For two hours a day, they meet here in the Mrs. Sanchez's class with other students who are also English learners, for a full year. Their parents seem delighted.
MARIA HERNANDEZ, PARENT: It not only help the kids, it helps the parents too.
SANCHEZ (on camera): That's because there's even a weekly session for newly arrived parents. But it's the school's administrators who are really delighted. They've seen costs go down and test scores up -- way up. Menifee Elementary is now beating the state academic average by more than 50 points. And it's not just for Hispanic students.
Kate O'Neil came from Russia less than a year ago, speaking not a word of English. Listen to her now.
KATE O'NEIL, STUDENT: Yes, well, I'm trying to learn as fast as I can. I really like speaking English. It's fun.
SANCHEZ: Kate's story is reminiscent of another student who arrived in the U.S. speaking no English. Because there were no special programs at the time, he was immersed, you might say, by being placed in regular classes, but became confused and he was held back or given a time to learn English. He did OK.
The immigrant went on to become an honors student and even won a journalism scholarship. I share that story because being in Menifee made me think of my own past. That student is me.
Rick Sanchez, CNN. Back to you, Anderson.
COOPER: Well, certainly this debate has not gone away. It likely won't any time soon. Joining me now is Ron Unz, chairman of the English for the Children.
Also joining me Shelley Spiegel-Coleman of the California Association for Bilingual Education.
Both of you, I appreciate you being on.
Ron, let me start off with you. You're the organizer of Proposition 227, which required all public instruction in California to be only in English. Why do you think that English immersion is more effective than bilingual education?
RON UNZ, ENGLISH FOR THE CHILDREN: Well, bilingual education is a bit of a misnomer. Traditional bilingual education involved nearly all Spanish language instruction.
Now, if a child grows up in a family where everybody at home speaks Spanish, they listen to Spanish radio, they watch Spanish TV, the people in their neighborhood speak Spanish, and then they go to school and get eight hours a day of Spanish and just a little bit of English, it's very hard for them to learn English.
On the other hand, if the schools teach them English from the first day, if they're a young child, they'll learn it very quickly, just as shown in the setup piece.
COOPER: Shelley, what about that? I mean, critics say, look, that there was an improvement in test scores after bilingual programs were discontinued. What's the argument in support of bilingual education?
SHELLEY SPIEGEL-COLEMAN, CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION FOR BILINGUAL EDUCATION: Well, you know, it's absolutely not true. There were no improvement in the test scores. What's happened in California is that the gap between children who don't speak English and the children who are fluent English speakers has grown every single year.
And in fact, for our third graders last year, the scores went down. And they went down even more dramatic for kids who don't speak English.
COOPER: Ron, are you -- sorry... SPIEGEL-COLEMAN: The state just released a five-year study on the effectiveness of Prop 227, comparing the English-only classrooms with classrooms that are doing a different approach for children. And what they found out is not one program, nor the other was more effective.
And so we've had five years of this Prop 227 experiment, and what we found out is that nothing is different in terms of student achievement.
COOPER: Ron, what about that finding? I mean, they said it really boil downs to the teacher and the education?
UNZ: The whole thing is very funny. I mean, in other words, look at it. Before the initiative passed in California, you could make an argument there were a lot of studies that alleged that bilingual education worked; a few studies on the other side.
What happened in California is that the education system changed immediately for about 1 million immigrant students and the results were dramatic.
According to California's only official statewide tests, the academic tests used for everything, the test scores of over a million immigrant students doubled in three or four year after the passage of the initiative.
Furthermore, what's really interesting...
COOPER: Now, wait, wait, hold on one second. Just on that -- Shelley, you seem to be shaking your head. Are you saying that's not true?
SPIEGEL-COLEMAN: It's just not true. It's just absolutely not true. I mean, as I said, the scores -- it's true, the scores have gone up for all children in California.
UNZ: No, not quite.
SPEIGEL-COLEMAN: Not as much as Mr. Unz quotes. It's gone up for all children. But what's happening is, the gap between children who don't speak English and children who speak English has grown every single year since the passage of 227.
COOPER: OK, Ron...
SPEIGEL-COLEMAN: 227 was supposed to help.
COOPER: Ron do you agree with that, that the gap has grown?
UNZ: No, of course not. That's complete nonsense. I mean, the point is this, some of the school districts in California -- California has 1,000 school districts. Some of them were such strong believers in bilingual education and felt that they had such good programs, they actually kept their bilingual programs in place, despite the change in law. The result was that probably about 10 percent or 15 percent of the million immigrant students in California were kept in bilingual programs. Those students showed no improvement whatsoever four years after the passage of the initiative.
UNZ: On the other hand, the 85 percent of the students placed in the English immersion programs doubled their test scores during the same period.
COOPER: Shelley, I've got to give you the final thought...
UNZ: ...tremendously dramatic.
COOPER: Shelley, your final thought?
SPIEGEL-COLEMAN: Here's the point. There are multiple ways for children to reach English academic proficiency in California, to do well in listening, speaking, reading and writing and English. There are multiple ways. And our feeling is that we ought not to have a one size fits all, that parents ought to be able to make the choice as to how best they see their children achieving in our schools.
And what's happening now with the law is, it's foreclosing that kind of opportunity, and we have a one size fits al program, a gap that's ever increasing. A study that says nothing has changed. One program, nor the other has increased academic achievement.
COOPER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there.
Shelley, I appreciate your perspective, and Ron as well.
SPIEGEL-COLEMAN: Thank you.
COOPER: I want to show you another piece of this immigration story. And this is a story we're going to continue to cover.
Federal officials said that today they've arrested more than 2,000 illegal immigrants and other fugitives in a nationwide sweep that began last month. About half of those arrested had criminal records. Hundreds were gang members.
More than 800 arrested on immigration violations have been deported. The sweep, code name, "Operation Return to Sender," is part of a broader crackdown under a new policy called, "Catch and Return." They used to call it, "Catch and Release." Now they're trying to return as many illegal immigrants as possible, removing them from the U.S by the tens of thousands.
Here again is CNN's Rick Sanchez.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shackles scrape against the tarmac at Williams International Airport in Mesa, Arizona. These are the first close-up images of the U.S. government's new initiative to get rid of undocumented immigrants not within months or years anymore, but rather, within days. From this airport alone, three full flights now leave each week bound for Central America.
(on camera): It's now 7:30 in the morning. We're about a half hour from wheels up on this MD83 that's going to literally remove 110 immigrants from the United States.
(voice-over): The expedited removal program began last September, but because there are so many undocumented immigrants, the number of flights not just from here in Arizona, but nationally, have already been increased to 12 a week. On board, one of the men who handles the new program for the Bush administration.
GARY MEAD, ICE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: It's our hope that these people, when they get back, will explain that there is no safe haven anymore, that when people are apprehended, they are processed quickly and they're returned quickly.
SANCHEZ: But is the message getting through? On board we find immigrants separated by two classifications -- criminal aliens whose crimes range from heroin smuggling, murder and petty offenses, to those whose only crime is being in the country illegally.
An hour into the flight we find Marlin Vargas a 23-year-old with a boyish grin who says he came to the U.S. because he was hungry.
(on camera): Is this the first time you tried to come to the United States?
MARLON VARGAS, UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT: No.
SANCHEZ: No? How many times?
VARGAS: Seven times.
SANCHEZ: Seven times?
(voice-over): Then there's Jose Membrero (ph), a criminal alien who admits to a rap sheet that dates back to 1991, with crimes that include selling drugs, domestic violence, parole violations, and finally a DUI arrest that's now getting him deported. Although not a citizen, Membrero (ph) was in the U.S. legally. He's lived in Colorado for 19 years and speaks English with hardly a trace of a Spanish accent.
(on camera): You feel like you blew it?
JOSE MEMBRERO (ph), IMMIGRANT: Yes.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): It's now about noon. And the flight dubbed Con-Air, is maneuvering the tricky approach through the mountains into the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
Once on the ground, they're welcomed by Honduran immigration officials, using the plane's P.A. to tell them they're happy to have them back.
At the refugee return and welcome center, Membrero (ph) -- remember he's the one with the long rap sheet -- clears immigration and Interpol almost immediately.
However, Marlon Vargas has a problem. Honduran officials spot his tattoos and question him about gang activity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MS-13 is a very dangerous gang.
SANCHEZ: Here as well, says the police official, who decides Vargas' tattoo is not a gang logo after all. He is free to go, as is Membrero (ph), who tells us he won't return to the U.S. because now, as a deported ex-con, he would face a federal sentence of 20 years if caught. However, Honduras is a country he hardly knows.
MEMBRERO (ph): I'm lost.
SANCHEZ (on camera): You're lost?
MEMBRERO (ph): Yes, I'm lost.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Vargas knows where he's going. It's now 3:00 p.m., and we follow him back to his village, a two-hour ride through the Honduran countryside. Santa Rosa is poor, but the greeting he gets from his mom is rich.
One look inside Vargas' home and you immediately understand why half the boys here have left for America, leaving behind fathers like Vargas' dad.
(on camera): Does it bother you when he leaves?
(voice-over): I need him, says Tomas Vargas, who tells me he only makes $3 a day, shows me his empty cupboards, the holes in his roof and his next meal, and every meal -- beans and corn.
(on camera): To say that life is hard here in Santa Rosa would be an understatement. For running water, for example, you have to go outside. That's if it works.
(voice-over): Like this squeaky faucet, everyone seems to agree, U.S. immigration policy is in disrepair. Will this newest initiative fix it? That's up to Marlon Vargas and tens of thousands like him.
(on camera): If it was easier to get in, would you go back?
SANCHEZ: But they're making it harder now?
VARGAS: It's harder now.
SANCHEZ: Vargas plans instead, to join the Honduran military. But his is just one story, a snapshot of one family, one village, where America's immigration dilemma begins.
Rick Sanchez, CNN, Santa Rosa, Honduras.
COOPER: Well, sending illegals back is by no means easy, since they've come from all over the world.
Here's the raw data. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, an estimated 57 percent of illegal immigrants come from Mexico; 24 percent are from other Latin-American countries; 9 percent, Asia; 6 percent are from Europe and from Canada.
Straight ahead tonight, the president, home from Iraq, proclaiming new hope and taking shots at the Democrats. We'll have the latest on war and the politics of the war, coming up.
Also ahead, the preacher's wife accused in his murder, Mary Winkler, enters as plea today in court. We'll take you there.
And later, making the best of some of the worst traffic on earth. Can anything be done when just about any hour is rush hour? We'll have it from L.A.
This is a special edition of 360.
COOPER: Just back from his surprise visit to Iraq, President Bush spoke of new hope fro that country. And as we speak, about 75,000 Iraqi and coalition forces are heading to Baghdad, trying to get the city back under control. Mr. Bush calls the crackdown a sign of progress.
He made the case with reporters just this morning, and with lawmakers later in the day. He also managed to score a few political shots on the opposition.
All the angles tonight from CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than three years since the Iraq war began, President Bush is still trying to convince the American people the U.S. invasion was worth it.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's the right thing to get rid of Saddam Hussein. The al Qaeda is real. Also, to understand the stakes of this war.
MALVEAUX: The mantra is the same, but the administration insists this moment is different. BUSH: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for this opportunity to visit with your cabinet.
MALVEAUX: Fresh from his surprise trip to Baghdad, President Bush says he's looked Iraq's new prime minister in the eye and now has a partner he can support.
BUSH: I saw firsthand the strength of his character, and his deep determination to succeed, to build a country that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself.
MALVEAUX: The White House strategy to recapture support for Iraq is threefold. First, seizing the moment, introducing new initiatives, such as...
BUSH: Operation Together Forward started this morning.
MALVEAUX: A joint effort involving Iraqi and coalition forces, aimed at bolstering Baghdad security.
Also, a new plan to drum up international aid for the Iraqis through the U.N. And a pledge by President Bush to send his own secretaries of commerce, agriculture, energy and treasury to Baghdad, to help the Iraqis revitalize their economy.
The second part of the White House strategy, acknowledging mistakes and missteps.
Bush: I was asked in a press conference in the east room with Tony Blair, you know, mistakes. Abu Ghraib was a terrible mistake.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush also conceded Iraqi troops need to be better equipped and rebuilding projects better planned.
The third part of the White House strategy, inviting new voices.
BUSH: But I appreciate people's advice and I appreciate their candor.
MALVEAUX: To demonstrate that point, today the president briefed a group of bipartisan advisers, as well as the House and Senate leadership about his Iraq trip. Lawmakers are embroiled in a debate over how soon U.S. troops should come home.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENNEDY: This is a particularly bad time to be sending the message to the terrorists in Iraq that we might be thinking of running just when they're running.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: What we did not hear was a new direction for Iraq, and I believe that we need a new direction.
MALVEAUX (on camera): Clearly, there's a change in tone at the White House, but not in policy. The hope of the White House strategy to win over Americans, while at the same time, reassure Republicans that they won't pay the price for Americans' frustrations over Iraq, come midterm elections. Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, the White House.
COOPER: Adjourning that Rose Garden news conference, the president took questions from a reporter from the "Los Angeles Times." His name, Peter Wallsten. Take a look.
BUSH: Peter, are you going to ask that question with shades on?
PETER WALLSTEN, LOS ANGELES TIMES REPORTER: I can take them off.
BUSH: No, I'm interested in the shade look, seriously here.
WALLSTEN: All right. I'll keep it then.
BUSH: For the viewers, there's no sun.
WALLSTEN: I guess that depends on your perspective.
COOPER: Well, it turns out Wallsten wears the glasses because he has a rare genetic sight disorder. He's legally blind. The president, of course, did not know that. The gas spread across the Internet. We're told that later on today, the president personally called Wallsten to apologize. The reporter told the president that he was not offended.
More now on the president's whirlwind trip to Iraq. In a rare look from inside that whirlwind, CNN's John King was there.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was Sunday afternoon, about 4:15. I got an email from Dan Bartlett, counsel to the president, asking me if I was reachable. He said the president's going to Baghdad and we need to arrange a secret pool and we want you to be the correspondent who goes.
(voice-over): They drove us to Andrews Air Force Base. We went up onto Air Force One, and we were there waiting about an hour. And at 8:58, p.m., Eastern Time, we hear these feet coming up the stairs. And it's a guy in a baseball cap carrying a gym bag, and he just announces, Potus is aboard. That was the president.
About six, seven minutes after he got on the plane, off we went.
(on camera): It banked sharply and then at one point it sort of, almost coasting for a second and then -- a very quick descent and down on the ground. The idea is to minimize it as a target. And they were hypersensitive about the security. (voice-over): So they ran us onto these helicopters and everybody straps in. It was pretty crowded -- 20 to 25 people. Dan Bartlett was sitting just to my right. Tony Snow, just to his right. There's a gunner in the back, who's strapped onto the helicopter. So you land on the helicopters, you get in the motorcade, they scoot you, two minute drive, and then you're inside the compound and you step out and there's this majestic old palace that pre-dates Saddam Hussein, but used to be one of the palaces in his government. Now it's this temporary U.S. embassy.
He told aides almost a month ago, as soon as this government is in place I want to go. I want to meet this guy.
BUSH: Thanks for having me.
KING: I spoke briefly to a couple of the aides, to the Iraqi government, just asked them what do you think about the surprise? What did Prime Minister Maliki think? It was all about that, that they were surprised. They viewed it as an important sign of support that the president was there.
And he told us on the way back he also wanted to get a sense of watching the prime minister in the room with the deputy prime minister and with the defense minister and the interior minister and other key ministers, so that you have Sunni, Shia, Kurd sitting around the table interacting in a meeting in which you're discussing their future.
(on camera): Will this Iraqi government finally after so many fits and starts provide stability?
(voice-over): Pool is you're the collective. Once John King steps onto Air Force One, John King is not a CNN correspondent. He's the correspondent for all of the members of the pool.
(on camera): There's a satellite feed book through the London tower. And so the international does need to get in touch with London bureaus.
One of the frustrating things about these trips any type, and maybe especially this one, given the gravity of it for the president, is that no, you're very isolated and you don't get much contact at all.
(voice-over): The only other thing that struck me, is that -- having covered the White House for so long, I mean, this is the Bush presidency, and this is the Bush legacy.
BUSH: The mission that you're accomplishing here in Iraq will go down in the history books as an incredibly important moment.
KING (on camera): It was clear from the conversation that he just -- he believes he's right. It's three years and three months after the beginning of the war, and the president is still trying to sell it to the American people. And it's quite interesting. He is the leader of the free world, the president of the world's greatest superpower, and yet his political fate is largely in the hands of a man he just met.
COOPER: Hmm. Interesting. Much more ahead tonight, including one the year's high profile murders. A Tennessee minister's wife charged with his murder faced a judge today. You'll find out how she pled. We talked to her attorney, ahead.
Plus, insurance fraud, California style. Unsuspecting drivers tricked into rear-ending other cars, make some phony claims and mighty big pay offs when this special edition of 360 from Los Angeles continues.
COOPER: Well, when a Tennessee minister, shown there, was found shot to death last month it quickly became a national story. It wasn't just the way that Matthew Winkler died, a shotgun blast to his back. It was also that his family was nowhere to be found. An Amber Alert went out for his children. Today, the minister's widow was charged with first-degree murder.
CNN's Susan Candiotti was there.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Now indicted by a grand jury, accused murderer Mary Winkler pleaded not guilty through her attorneys.
JUDGE: You're Ms. Winkler, ma'am?
MARY WINKLER, ACCUSED OF MURDERING HER HUSBAND: Yes, sir.
JUDGE: And you have counsel representing you. Is that correct?
WINKLER: Yes, sir.
CANDIOTTI: Winkler spoke only briefly in court. But since her arrest in March, the minister's wife has apparently opened up to her attorneys.
Winkler's lawyers say she admits to shooting her husband in the back, but insisted it wasn't premeditated.
Police say Winkler confessed to planning the whole thing.
STEVE FARESE, WINKLER ATTORNEY: Just because they interpret a statement as being one thing, we don't necessarily interpret it as being the same thing.
LESLIE BALLIN, WINKLER ATTORNEY: Confession, to me, denotes an indication of guilt. As Steve has referenced, we've seen a copy of the statement. Not a confession to me.
CANDIOTTI: But why, remain as mystery. Winkler's attorneys will only tell CNN it wasn't one thing that pushed their client over the edge, but a series of troubles that led to a tragic set of circumstances. And infidelity wasn't one of them.
In late March, the seemingly picture perfect minister's family unraveled in quiet Selmer, Tennessee.
After allegedly shooting her husband, Winkler fled with her children. They were found the next day in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Every day Winkler writes her three daughters from jail and sends them stationer to answer her.
FARESE: The hardest thing that's been on her has been the fact that she's been separated from her children, her family, her friends and her church.
CANDIOTTI: Just before this hearing, Winkler received the first letters from her two eldest daughters since she was jailed in March. They told her, we love you, and we miss you.
But so far, their grandparents won't let Winkler see them.
Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.
COOPER: Well, there are a lot of unanswered questions here. Earlier I talked about the case with Winkler's attorney, Leslie Ballin, part of Mary Winkler's defense team.
COOPER: Mr. Ballin, today your client pled not guilt to murdering her husband, but she apparently did admit shooting him in a statement to police. How does your defense get around this?
BALLIN: Well, the question is not only what happened, but when you've got a homicide involved, the question is, if there is a crime, what degree of homicide there is? In Tennessee -- murder one, murder two, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide -- all having different elements.
COOPER: Are you planning on using her mental condition at the time of the murder as part your defense?
BALLIN: Any time you have a specific intent crime and homicide is one of those types of crimes, a person's mental state is an issue.
I don't want you to confuse that with the concept of an insanity plea. I don't believe we're going there, but we're going to what her mental condition was at the time.
COOPER: Why did she kill her husband?
BALLIN: Well, a situation that presents us at this point is that we are not at liberty to go into why things happen, motive, things of that nature. We're going to have to save that for trial. That's the right thing for us to do.
BALLIN: Do you feel you know, though, why? I mean, you may not say it publicly, but I mean as her lawyer, do you feel like you know why? Do you know what your defense is going to be?
BALLIN: My co-counsel, Steve Farese, and I know. Our defenses have been identified.
COOPER: The Winklers, you know, you talk to people in the community, they have this image of being sort of the perfect couple. Do you have information -- and I know you can't say what it is -- but do you have information that will change that perception?
BALLIN: March 22 of this year is the date of the event. This situation did not occur in a vacuum of that day. The Winklers were married for 10 years. There was a history. Our client is now a good historian to us.
At the beginning, she was not talking to us. She was clammed up, shut up, just not willing to participate, if you will, in her defense. That's changed now.
COOPER: How has it changed? In what way? I mean, I know -- think you said before that, you know, she would just say, oh, whatever you guys want to do is fine. How is she now participating?
BALLIN: She is opening up to us. She is relaying information to us that we have needed. We need. And we can use.
COOPER: How are her kids doing?
BALLIN: We wish we knew more. Today Co-Counsel Steve Farese and I went to Selmer a little early before court so we could have an opportunity to meet with Mary Carol in the jail.
We did meet with her, and when she walked in, she was clutching two envelopes like it was the most precious material in the world. These were letters that she had received from her two older children, ages 8 and 6, I believe. They offered those letters. It was a situation that Mary Carol received the letters in the mail at the jail, and that's really the first contact that she's had with the kids.
COOPER: Can -- do you know what was in the letters? I know the contents of the letters. They were as you can imagine, an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old writing to their mother. It was words to the effect of, we love you, we miss you, we want to see you.
COOPER: Leslie Ballin, appreciate you joining us, telling us what you what you can. Thanks.
BALLIN: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Coming up tonight, the latest traffic scam now on the road. Staged crashes. What are they? And advice on how you can avoid getting caught up in one.
Also, Daryl Hannah (ph) sitting in a tree, getting arrested, too. Famous names, personal crusades, coming up.
COOPER: Well, there are a lot of addictions in Los Angeles. Driving is definitely one of them. Not everyone follows the rules of the road.
Now, every year thousands of collisions are reported, including those that weren't accidents at all. They were actually staged. An estimated $14 billion a year scam, with doctors and lawyers cashing in.
Peter Viles investigates.
PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Miguel Perez works hard for a living. He sometimes drives a truck. Almost two years ago on an L.A. freeway he did something he thought would get him fired. It started when the car ahead of him suddenly stopped.
MIGUEL PEREZ, STAGED CRASH VICTIM: He slammed on his brake and I tried swerving to the right to miss him, but I clipped him in the back.
VILES: Next, Perez did what anyone would do.
PEREZ: I asked the guy, why did you stop? And his answer was that he didn't want to hit the car in front of him.
VILES: And then Perez realized he would probably lose his job over the accident.
PEREZ: Usually, when you hit somebody from behind you're always as fault.
VILES: What authorities later told him was that he'd been set up, victimized by a staged crash technique so common there's a name for it.
MARTIN GONZALEZ, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE: What we call what we call the swoop and squat. And that's probably the most dangerous because those are typically orchestrated on the freeway or your busier surface streets.
VILES: There's a swoop and squat demonstration, staged by the insurance industry in which the green car is the victim. Now let's watch in slow motion. The gray car is the swoop car. It swoops in, causing the black car, the squat car, to slam on the brakes, causing the green car, the victim car to rear-end it.
ELEANOR BIGOLSKI, AUTO INSURANCE FRAUD DIVISION: I've seen men targeted, women being targeted. Truck drivers being targeted. Female truck drives, male truck drivers -- I've seen it all.
VILES: Then come the false insurance claims, usually for back and neck injuries from several passengers in the squat car.
GONZALEZ: It's all money. There's a lot of money to be made. In California alone, it's billions of dollars every year going to fraudulent claims.
VILES: The numbers are staggering. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates $14 billion a year in auto insurance fraud, much of it from staged crashes. And they can be deadly.
Authorities say these were staged crashes -- Long Beach, California, 1997, an innocent family of three burned to death.
Queens, New York, 2003, a 71-year-old grandmother, crushed to death.
And Lawrence, Massachusetts, 2003, this time the victim, a 64- year-old woman was allegedly part of the fraud ring, but didn't survive the wreck.
Now, Miguel Perez was lucky. He wasn't injured and whistle- blower spotted the fraud in time to save his job.
PEREZ: I was stunned when she told me that it was staged.
VILES: So what can do you to avoid becoming a victim? Well, first of all, don't tailgate. Keep a safe distance.
(on camera): If you feel like you are being watched too closely by another driver or followed by another driver, you need to pull back and change lanes, even if that means getting off the freeway.
Peter Viles for CNN, Los Angeles.
COOPER: Well, avoiding staged or real accident in L.A. is not easy. After all, this is a city built along freeways.
More often than not, those roads grind to a halt, creating miles of traffic and endless aggravation. Some see a simple solution, however, to the problem.
CNN's Tom Foreman has that angle of the story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if you're right there at about San Fernando and Mission, it's and injury crash...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the right shoulder...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's starting to slow here at... TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rush hour in Los Angeles lasts from 5:00 until 9:00 -- that's 5:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. And this is coming your way. Especially if you live in a large city, where studies show delays already devour 47 hours of your life every year.
But not if Mark Pisano can help it.
MARK PISANO, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION: We need to think differently how we grow and develop.
FOREMAN: He runs a southern California association, working to make bad traffic better.
PISANO: Each city cannot be an island unto themselves. They're now impacting on their neighbors. And furthermore, within large cities, the communities are impacting one another.
FOREMAN: At first glance, solving L.A.'s problem of too many people, about 18 million, and too little highway, would seem to be simple.
Solution one -- add more lanes. But experience has shown when highways expand, businesses and neighborhoods expand right along with them, eating the extra roadway as fast as it's built.
Solution two -- encourage carpools. Good idea. Problem is, carpool lanes are faster. So drivers think they can live further from their jobs. That promotes sprawl and ultimately more cars coming from afar.
Solution three -- more public transit. Another nice idea, but in most cities, the number of new buses and trains it would take to make a difference is staggering.
Just ask Planning Director Hasan Egrata (ph).
HASAN EGARTA (ph), PLANNING DIRECTOR: Out of 48 million daily trips...
FOREMAN (on camera): 48 million daily trips?
EGARTA (ph): ...we have in this region, we have about 2 percent in the public transportation.
FOREMAN (voice-over): So what can work? Well, traffic planning experts say, maybe this -- more planned communities built around jobs. Houses, shopping and recreation, all in one relatively small place.
Maybe this -- more driver education.
(on camera): This allows people to test things that previously they could never test. Right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct. FOREMAN (voice-over): They want commuters to see what computer models now show so well. How even one car stopped by an accident or a poor maintenance can have an enormous impact.
PISANO: About 50 percent of our congestion could be solved if we had drivers doing everything perfectly.
FOREMAN: That's right, 50 percent of congestion could be ended, not with better roads, but with better drivers.
And maybe this -- they want you -- business people, commuters, casual drivers -- to pay more for the congestion you cause through toll roads, fees on new housing developments or shopping areas. They hope this, along with soaring gas prices and tedious traffic jams will finally convince you to change the way you live.
EGARTA (ph): They have to live in more dense areas around transit stations. They have to use transit.
FOREMAN (on camera): Yes, but I don't want to do that. Nobody wants to do that.
EGARTA (ph): And I contend that if people try, they might like it.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Or maybe not. As it is, over the next 20 year, L.A.'s highways are expected to pick up another 6 million drivers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...will start to slow here just south of the 134 and from that point stay slow...
FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Los Angeles.
COOPER: But traffic isn't the only problem in L.A. and across country. There are many other issues going on. And well, celebrities aren't afraid to tell you about them again and again. That story coming up.
Plus, Mentos and Diet Coke, an explosive combination. We've seen the Internet video. It is sweeping the country right now. I'll try the experiment myself.
Live from Los Angeles, you're watching 360.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DARYL HANNAH, CELEBRITY PROTESTOR: It was definitely a roller coaster ride, but, in fact when you're taking a principle stand, there's a sort of calm that comes over you, and that sort of overrides any kind of trepidation or fear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Daryl Hannah, speaking with CNN's Larry King earlier tonight about her latest wild adventure, up in a tree, in fact.
Hannah was protesting the planned bulldozing of an urban community garden in Los Angeles. The property's owner wants to build a warehouse there.
Of course, Hannah is not the first celebrity to use her star power to fight for something, and out here, she certainly will not be the last.
COOPER (voice-over): Before Daryl Hannah was climbing trees, Pamela Anderson was fighting for chickens.
PAMELA ANDERSON, CELEBRITY PROTESTOR: You probably have heard of the colonel's secret recipe, but you probably have no idea what goes into making a bucket of KFC chicken.
COOPER: It seems like if there is an issue and cameras recording, there's a celebrity willing to fight.
And what beats climbing up a tree or bearing all to save animals? Perhaps going to Africa. Africa has become a magnet for all kinds of celebrities, Matt Damon, Mia Farrow, and of course, Bono. They're just some of the celebrities who have been pushing the numerous causes there.
And celebrities want you to be aware of issues here in America as well. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, so did the stars.
There was also the 2004 presidential election. Remember P. Diddy's vote or die?
P. DIDDY, CELEBRITY: Hey, you all, hit the polls, OK? What's up, pal? We the wild card.
COOPER: And then there's always the environment. Leonardo DiCaprio is quick to point out he drives a Prius and has a "save the earth" Web site.
And former TV start Ed Begley, Jr., has been promoting electric and natural gas cars for years.
ED BEGLEY, JR., CELEBRITY: I just won't play the petroleum game anymore. I'm sick of it.
COOPER: There are other causes as well. Martin Sheen was arrested, protesting military space technology. Paul McCartney has fought to protect seals in Canada. Ted Danson is raising awareness about mercury and seafood. And when two hawks were booted from their nest in New York's posh Precede (ph), Mary Tyler Moore was there to stand up for them. MARY TYLER MOORE, ACTRESS: I am outraged and sad, yes, that such an act was committed in a world where we are all longing for some softness, for some humanity.
COOPER: Not every celebrity has a cause, of course. Many just haven't found one yet.
COOPER (on camera): Well, sheriff's deputies pulled Daryl Hannah and others from the tree yesterday. As we told you, tonight she talks about her experience with CNN's Larry King.
Here now is Daryl Hannah, "in her own words."
DARYL HANNAH, CELEBRITY PROTESTOR: It was like being in an enchanted garden. It was like amazing oasis, Garden of Eden.
LARRY KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There was no worst part?
HANNAH: The worst part just seeing the destruction that happened after we were evicted. We haven't given up. I think that there's a strong feeling amongst the community and amongst the wide range of supporters that the farm has. At this point it's reached a sort of global stage, that we are still standing strong and not giving up the call to stand and protect these 14 acres, as a model for sustainable urban agriculture.
I've always just tried to live by my beliefs, I've never really spoken out very much.
After 9/11, I started speaking out a little bit more publicly about our energy alternatives, because I wanted people to know there are alternatives that are available to us now, that we don't have to be dependent on foreign oil.
L. KING: You spent overnight in the tree?
HANNAH: Yes, I did. Yes.
L. KING: How did you sleep?
HANNAH: I slept OK. I was a little nervous about falling off it, the platform, but I slept well.
And I thought that it would be a lot more nerve wracking than it was. I mean, it was definitely a roller coaster ride. But in fact, when you're taking a principle stand, there's a sort calm that comes over you and that sort of overrides any kind of trepidation or fear.
COOPER: Well, you can of course, watch "LARRY KING LIVE" every night at 9:00 p.m., Eastern, on CNN. He'll be on in about 10 minutes from now with more of Daryl Hannah.
We'll have my Mentos propelled rocket experiment in a moment but first Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS," has some of the business stories -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a nice change to tell about, Wall Street finishing the day in an upbeat fashion. Stocks soared, jumping more than 110 points. The Dow closed at 10,816. The NASDAQ gained 13, the S&P rose six points. Now the rebound ends a two-week slide and came as a bit of a surprise, considering the Fed may be planning another interest rate hike in the near future.
The good news out of Wall Street may not last, though, after a new report showed signs the nation's economy is slowing.
According to a Federal Reserve survey, rising energy costs and weaker than expected retail sales could signal an economic downturn and rising inflation.
And it turns out all that talking could get a little more expensive. Wireless and Internet phone users may soon see their bills going up. That is if a plan from the FCC takes place. The government says a fund used to subsidize telephone services in rural and poor areas is short $7.3 billion. So it wants Internet-based phone company to help bridge the gap. And that could mean larger fees for consumers -- Anderson.
COOPER: Well a special programming note. Now, today, only four days after she returned from Namibia with Brad Pitt and their new baby, I sat down for an hour-long conversation with Angelina Jolie. We spoke about her passions for helping refugees around the world, her role as a UNHCR special ambassador, goodwill ambassador, and about the places and terrible problems we both witnessed in Africa and also in Asia and here in this country. And, of course, we spoke about her new baby. We'll be airing all of our interview and much more on World Refugee Day. That's next Tuesday, on a very special edition of 360.
And it is the experiment that is taking the Internet by storm. Mentos and Diet Coke. Have you seen this video? Put them together, you get a serious blastoff. That's right. That's what happens. I wanted to test it out myself. So, why not? We're here in L.A., why not. I'll put the explosive combo to the test when we come back from the break.
COOPER: OK. So that's this video which is basically circling the world right now on the Internet. It's what happens when you put Mentos into bottles of Diet Coke. That's a rather large-scale version of what happened.
So we decided to test out because frankly, it's just about the end of the program. We're leaving L.A. today, so what's the worst that can happen?
So here we have a bottle of Diet Coke and we also have a whole string of Mentos, which Tommy Evans, our producer, put on string.
So I'm going to just test it out to see what happens. I'm going to put on the hood here. I don't have one of those fancy CNN rain jackets, but, all right. So we're going to -- it's opened up. This is just Diet Coke and Mentos, the fresh smacker, all right. Wait.
Whoah! There you go. Oh, all right. That was a little small. We've got one more version of it. Let's see how it goes. All right, quickly, all right.
Woop. All right, one more. This is absurd. OK, hold on. Got one more Mentos.
All right. Stupid human tricks right here on CNN. We'll be right back.
COOPER: So in case you missed the dramatic Mentos experiment, let's take another quick look at it. We have my Mentos experiment there on the left. And their Mentos Internet experiment. Clearly, they have like some sort of directional spray on their Mentos experiment, I think.
We got to work on ours a little bit. Not quite as tall, not quite as dramatic.
Well, anyway, we tried. That's the important thing.
Tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," fraud, waste and abuse. The government response to charges it may have been defrauded out of more than a billion dollars from victims of Hurricane Katrina and Rita. Top FEMA Official Donna O'Donnels (ph) testifies before Congress today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONNA O'DONNELS (ph), FEMA OFFICIAL: We just made the calculated decision that we were going to help as many people as we could and that we would have to go back and identify those people who we either paid in error or that defrauded us and deal with them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, tomorrow, O'Donnels (ph) sits down with Soledad and Miles on "AMERICAN MORNING." That starts at 6:00 a.m., Eastern.
That's it for L.A., our West Coast tour moves to San Francisco.
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