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U.S. Tourists Reported Held in Iran; Refueling Cash for Clunkers; Economy "Better Than Expected"; Patient Dumping or Better Care?; Iran's President v. Ayatollah; Happy Hour at the White House

Aired July 31, 2009 - 17:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We begin this hour with breaking news.

Three American tourists are reported to be in Iranian custody, apparently after straying across the border from the Kurdish area in Iraq.

Let's go straight to Arwa Damon. She is in Baghdad.

Arwa, what do we know?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is what we have confirmed from a number of senior officials in Northern Iraq. Four Americans traveled from Syria to Turkey. From Turkey, they then crossed into the northern Kurdish run part of Iraq. The three -- the four stayed in Irbil and then traveled to Sulaimaniya. One of them stayed behind and three went in a taxi to an area known as Ahmed Awa. It's a tourist destination -- lots of natural beauty, waterfalls there, as well. The one who stayed behind did so because he was sick.

According to security sources, they called him. They stayed in regular contact, said they were having a wonderful time. And then, at 1:30 p.m. local time here in Iraq, they called him saying we are surrounded by the Iranian military.

Now, the tourist police in this area did also report that they saw these three Americans, that they went up to speak to them, to tell them to be careful, not to stray too close to the border, saying you're American, you're not Iraqi, these are very sensitive times.

We also spoke to the owner of the hotel where the four were staying, who said that the one sick American who stayed behind left the hotel at 4:30 p.m. local time. At 6:30 p.m., security officials came and took all of their belongings away.

The three Americans are believed, by Kurdish officials, to be in Iranian custody, possibly even held in Iran. This incident, though, very much still under investigation. There are currently, as we are speaking, senior officials are meeting in the Kurdish north to try to figure out exactly what happened to these three and how to get them back home safely -- John. KING: And, Arwa, as we wait for more information in these sensitive talks, tell us a bit more about the area, why tourists would go there.

Is it a common place for tourists, especially American tourists?

DAMON: Well, you know, John, Iraq's Kurdish north has really been very different than the rest of the country. It is a semiautonomous region. It hasn't been plagued by levels of sectarian violence that we saw ravage Iraq. It has not been the target of as many car bombings, that type of violence.

It is fairly secure, truth be told. And you do see a number of tourists in that area -- European tourists coming in as well. The specific area along the border is very well-known for its natural beauty. And these three are believed to have been backpackers.

And so this is something of a very disturbing event to have happen, because this area of Iraq has really been thriving. And so security officials are very much scrambling now to make sure that these three are found, brought home safely, so as not to tarnish that image -- John.

KING: Arwa Damon tracking this troubling, developing breaking story for us.

Arwa, we'll check back in as you get more information.

Thank you very much.

You've heard the ads on the radio wherever you go -- retire your old gas guzzler and get a big subsidy on a new, more environmentally friendly vehicle. The government's Cash for Clunkers program is so popular it's running out of cash. So the House today voted to refuel it by adding another $2 billion.

CNN's Kate Bolduan has been looking into this and joins us now.

So what's the impact?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, some say it has already had a huge impact, John. It really was a wild day for a new federal program. Cash for Clunkers may have become a victim of its own success.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you can run the CARFAX and a side by side. I need both of them on that vehicle.

BOLDUAN: (voice-over): Auto dealers saw it as the deal they couldn't and wouldn't pass up.

(on camera): What was the reaction amongst you and your employees when this program really started moving? ALEX PERDIKIS, V.P. KOONS AUTOMOTIVE: Well, when we saw the influx of business, the people coming in that were actually ready to buy, it was very exciting. I mean we had a huge weekend.

BOLDUAN: (voice-over): Alex Perdikis of Koons Automotive says they have sold 290 cars at their 16 locations thanks to the Cash for Clunkers program. And they've seen a 40 percent jump in sales compared to the same time last year.

But then reports the $1 billion program was already running out of cash -- leaving dealers, as well as members of Congress, scrambling.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: To help our auto industry, to help consumers, to grow our economy, to do it in an environmentally sound way, I think it's a perfect message for us to take home for August.

REP. DAN MAFFEI (D), NEW YORK: This is a Godsend for the auto dealers in my district. Don't stall what's working. Give it a fill- up and let's get Cash for Clunkers back on the road.

BOLDUAN: The House, this afternoon, quickly passed a $2 billion extension of the Clunkers program. Happy with its success, the White House is also piling on the pressure.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So we're now working with Congress on a bipartisan solution to ensure that the program can continue for everyone out there who's still looking to make a trade.

BOLDUAN: But the back and forth, the threats of stop and go, have some dealers nervous and searching for direction.

BILL ASCHENBACH, GENERAL MANAGER, KING PONTIAC BUICK: It affects us right now, because like you're still sort of scared. You're not sure exactly to do or what's going to happen.


BOLDUAN: Now, the bill to extend more cash to the program has to make it through the Senate and it's not a slam dunk. On the right, fiscal conservatives don't want to spend more taxpayer money. And on the left, some senators don't think the program goes far enough to increase fuel-efficiency. Senate aides tell CNN it's too soon to tell if the Senate will take up -- will act next week, or, John, if they'll have to wait until September.

KING: I was getting a coffee today and the guy who had just taken advantage of the program was laughing, actually. He bought a foreign car. He said why did Congress spend tax dollars letting me do that?

So this debate will continue.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. KING: All right, Kate Bolduan.

Kate, thank you very much.

A surprisingly strong showing in the latest government economic figures, suggesting the recession is easing. The economy sank at a pace of just 1 percent for the second quarter. Now, that's still down, but it was a number the president wanted to play up.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: The gross domestic product, or GDP, is the measure of our overall economic growth as a nation. This morning, the GDP revealed that the recession we faced when I took office was even deeper than anyone thought at the time. It told us how close we were to the edge.

But the GDP also revealed that in the last few months, the economy has done measurably better than we had thought -- better than expected. And as many economists will tell you, that part of the progress is directly attributable to the Recovery Act. This and other difficult but important steps that we've taken over the last six months have helped us put the brakes on the recession.


KING: Joining me now, CNN's senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Clearly, the president happy there.

I guess less bad is now good when it comes to the economy?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very good. Look, he's -- he's walking this fine line here, because he's trying to take credit for the good news. But he also understands that there's more bad news coming. And so he doesn't want to seem too optimistic. And so he said he was guardedly optimistic.

I mean, he -- he wanted to take credit, saying I know the stimulus package was really a big part of this. There's a sense that maybe the housing bust has stopped. They don't know for sure.

So he wants to get out there. But he also understands that he can't be cheering and saying this is over.

KING: And you want to connect those dots, because one of the reasons he's come down some in the polls is that people wonder where is all this money?

It's all this money being spent...

BORGER: Right.

KING: Where's the proof it's working? So what else is out there?

You mentioned he was cautious. I mean, the unemployment rate is clearly up.

What else is out there that would make any politician cautious about this?

BORGER: It's the unemployment rate. I mean, you just hit on it, because we have 9.3 million Americans receiving unemployment right now. We know that unemployment is a lagging indicator. He doesn't want to have a jobless recovery. And -- and if you also look at political history, 1982, Ronald Reagan, a very popular president, the first midterm election, unemployment above 10 percent. He lost 26 seats in the House.

They're worried about that.

KING: I was in California and Oregon this week. It's 12 percent or higher in both of those states, so tough politics ahead.

BORGER: That's right. It's not good.

Gloria Borger.

Gloria, thank you.

And Jack Cafferty is in New York with The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: John, it might be a long time, if ever, before the public finds out what really happened to Michael Jackson.

The Los Angeles coroner's office has now indefinitely delayed releasing the results of Jackson's autopsy. After meeting with police, they say further investigation is necessary.


Initially, the coroner said they might release the results next week. And it really is nonsense. The toxicology tests were completed probably weeks ago.

Jackson died June 25th, more than a month ago, and officials still can't say what killed him?

I don't believe that.

Investigators are trying to find out what substances he had in his body and if a powerful anesthetic that's only supposed to be used in hospitals played a role.

Meanwhile, search warrants filed in a Nevada court suggest Jackson was a drug addict. Investigators think searches of Dr. Conrad Murray's home and office will turn up evidence of excessive prescribing, prescribing to an addict, unprofessional conduct and, finally, manslaughter.

A source tells CNN's Dr. Murray allegedly gave Jackson the anesthetic Propofol in the 24 hours before he died. Murray continues to deny that he prescribed or administered anything that could have killed Michael Jackson.

It seems the events surrounding Jackson's death will drag on forever, as those close to him play the blame game and probably more than a few of them hope to get their hooks on his estate, which is estimated to be worth at least $200 million.

So here's the question -- will the truth about Michael Jackson's death ever come out?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- John.

KING: Another spicy question this Friday, Jack.


KING: You're succeeding today.

We'll check back with you in a little bit.

Thank you.

Out of the emergency room and into community clinics -- is there a problem with the program for low income patients that Michelle Obama helped to create in Chicago?

We're digging into that.

Plus, could that happy hour beer chat at the White House leave the president with a political hangover?

Paul Begala and Tony Blankley are standing by.

And a successful shuttle flight, but only a handful of missions remain.

Should America's astronauts start hitching rides with the Russians or keep the shuttle fleet flying a bit longer than planned?


KING: Not long ago, the president had lofty ambitions for a quick health care reform bill and pushed the Congress to get it done before the summer recess. That won't happen.

The House goes on vacation tonight. And while a key committee has now reached a compromise on what they're calling a unity package, the full House won't be able to take up a final until the fall.

In the Senate, one key Republican says a health reform blueprint is not ready for prime time. And that outline may not even make it out of the committee before the Senate goes on vacation next Friday. Michelle Obama is one person who happens to know quite a bit about health care reform. She was a top executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she started a now controversial program. The Urban Health Initiative redirects low income patients from the crowded emergency room to neighborhood clinics. But some critics call that patient dumping.

CNN's Samantha Hayes has been digging into this and joins us now.

SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the hospital strongly denies those accusations. Instead, they say that they have started a unique program that not only lowers costs, but also provides better and more consistent care for the poor.



How are you?

HAYES (voice-over): Barbara Hunter is getting a regular checkup at this community care clinic -- something she never used to do. Without insurance, she knew of only one place to go in her Southside Chicago neighborhood.

BARBARA HUNTER, PATIENT: If I had a pain that I -- that I wasn't familiar with, I would go to the emergency room, because I didn't know what it was or what it was coming from.

HAYES: Like many uninsured residents, she'd wait in the E.R. for treatment of even minor medical problems -- a huge expense for the University of Chicago Medical Center. So the hospital started the Urban Health Care Initiative, which moved patients like Hunter to community clinics for primary care.

DR. ERIC WHITAKER, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, COMMUNITY BASED RESEARCH: Through the Urban Health Initiative, we're trying to get patients to the right place for the right sort of care at the right platform that makes sense for their particular disease.

HAYES: Dr. Eric Whitaker runs the program. He also is a longtime friend of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who initiated an earlier version of the program when she was a vice president at the hospital.

But the program is not without its critics, who say it's merely driving away poor patients -- the uninsured. In February, two high- ranking doctors resigned their administrative posts to protest a plan to eliminate 30 inpatient beds. That proposal was not implemented.

DR. QUENTIN ADAMS, HEALTH ADVOCATE: So we're very concerned. We want very much for the University to take what I would call a larger public interest responsibility before they reduce services to the poor.

HAYES: The American College of Emergency Physicians also criticized the initiative and accused the hospital of cherry picking patients with procedures that make the hospital more money.

But Dr. Whitaker says they are helping the poor, by getting them to facilities more suited for routine care.

WHITAKER: We're trying to do something that's unprecedented. And I think this is the challenge of change, in general. You're going to have people who really are comfortable where they are and don't want to change and others who -- who want to do something different.

HAYES: The hospital estimates at least 50 patients a month are now referred to 25 clinics and two other hospitals, instead of being admitted to the E.R. Officials say insurance is not a factor.

Dr. Leah Durst runs a community clinic that accepts referred patients.

DR. LEAH MOOSHIL DURST, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO HOSPITALS: It just really kind of ruffles my feathers. It's actually not patient dumping at all.

HAYES: She says patients like Barbara Hunter are her measure of success.

HUNTER: I like the care, the time that she spent, the way she listened to what you have to tell her and the way that she go about whatever it -- whatever it takes to find out what the problem is.


HAYES: A hospital spokesman says that they have invested millions of dollars to date in the Urban Health Initiative. And they also share physicians with some of those surrounding community clinics.

KING: And so sometimes the controversy puts the brakes on things.

What's the future for this program?

HAYES: The University of Chicago Medical Center is very committed to this program and they're going to continue to do this, despite calls from critics that maybe they should take a look and see, you know, how exactly is this working.

You know, one of the sticking points is that the hospital gets a lot of money in tax breaks from the federal government, from the city, from the state. And some of the surrounding, you know, community clinics mostly get reimbursed through Medicare payments. And sometimes, as we know, they don't get full payment for that.

And so some of the criticism is that, you know, they're taking more of the burden, perhaps, than they should from the hospital.

KING: An interesting look.

Samantha Hayes, thanks very much. Inside, Chicago's growing gang problem -- his identity concealed, a gang member talks to CNN about his violent life on the streets and why he won't get out.

And a massive vault recall by Honda -- the company says more of its cars are affected by a potential air bag safety defect.

Stay with us.



KING: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Hello again, John.

Hello, everyone.

Honda is expanding a vehicle recall over air bag safety. The company today announced the recall of 440,000 vehicles. A Honda spokesman says the potential defect has resulted in one known death and six injuries. The recall covers certain 2001 and 2002 Accords, as well as 2001 Civics and some Acuras. Honda originally announced it was recalling a number of 2001 Accord and Civic sedans for the defects last November.

Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against a Muslim convert accused of shooting and killing a soldier outside an Arkansas Army recruiting center last month. Abdul Hakim Mohammed, born Carlos Bledsoe, pleaded not guilty. But after his arrest, he told the Associated Press that he considered the shooting justified because it was in retaliation for U.S. military action in the Middle East.

And officials believe a welding job may have sparked a massive fire at a Central Texas chemical plant. Thousands were evacuated from the town north of Texas and Texas A&M University's main campus was closed. Thirty-four people were treated for inhalation of fumes. The blaze had threatened to ignite explosive ammonium nitrate used as a fertilizer ingredient.

And Cuba has postponed a meeting expected to address the Communist Party's political future, including whether former president, Fidel Castro, will remain its head. According to state media, President Raul Castro says Cuban leaders are focusing on the country's severe economic crisis. It would be the first Communist Party since 1997 -- John.


Fred, thank you very much.

The White House happy hour -- by all accounts, it went well.

Was it really worth it?

Also, the U.S. Postal Service faces a major cash crunch -- why you could be receiving fewer mail deliveries.

And a sight so rare...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a miracle. I mean there's no other way to explain it.


KING: An elusive albino dolphin makes a splash in a Louisiana shipping channel.

Stay right here.




Happening now, mounting civilian and troop casualties in the war Afghanistan -- what's happening on the ground and what might troops face if more are ordered in?

Faced with a multi-billion dollar loss this year, the Postal Service may have to deliver drastic measures. We'll tell you what those might be and how they would affect you.

And power lunch at the White House -- you might want to bring your credit card. In these tight times, a meal with the president just might cost you. We'll explain.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King.


Iran's hard-line president faces his biggest challenge since last month's controversial election and the bitter protests that have followed. But now, there are fresh indications he may be facing a split with his country's supreme leader.

Let's go live to Reza Sayah at the CNN Desk in Atlanta -- Reza.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, never in the 30 year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran has there been a major rift between the supreme leader and the president.

Now, President Ahmadinejad trying to quash talks of a rift. Also on Friday, more opposition supporters behind bars after taking part in the latest protests. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAYAH (voice-over): New amateur pictures from the demonstrations in Iran show what appear to be security officials detaining protesters. Fifty protesters arrested on Thursday, according to state-run TV. Hundreds of people already picked up during previous protests. The first set of detainees scheduled to go on trial on Saturday.

Keeping a close eye, opposition and human rights groups, who have accused the government of torturing and sometimes killing the detainees.

Meantime, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on Friday, rejected talks of a rift between him and the supreme leader, comparing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to his father.

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): Some have tried to cast doubt on our relationship through propaganda and imply that there's a rift and distance between us. They do not understand that our relationship is based on affection, based on faith and is a father/son type of relationship.

SAYAH: But analysts say that relationship is strained. The newly re-elected president's loyalty came into question when he made a controversial V.P. pick. When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered him to change the pick, Ahmadinejad waited for days before accepting the order. Even hard-liners criticized Ahmadinejad, but the president calls talks of a rift "a plot by foreign governments."


SAYAH: John, the countdown now is on until Monday. That's when President Ahmadinejad is going to stand next to Ayatollah Khamenei as he approves his presidency with a ceremony. Two days later, the president is going to be sworn in with an unprecedented backdrop in Iran, where hundreds of thousands of people still believe his re- election was rigged -- John.

KING: Reza Sayah tracking all this at our Iran Desk.

Reza, thanks very much.

Could that happy hour beer chat at the White House leave the president with, you know, a political hangover?

Joining me, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, Paul Begala; along with Republican strategist, Tony Blankley.

I want some analysis from you first. But first, I want to give you a little bit of a treat, how the late night -- some call them comics, some call them political analysts -- how they view this.

Let's take a listen.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: Obama really cut loose at the kegger. He was...


LETTERMAN: ...he was...


LETTERMAN: ...he was wearing baggy dad jeans and sipping...


LETTERMAN: ...sipping a Bud Light. So he was just...



CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST: President Obama had a beer with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and the policeman who arrested him. They did that today. Yes. Yes, the -- you know, the meeting got off to a rough start when a neighbor called the police to say Gates was breaking into the White House. That's the (INAUDIBLE)...


O'BRIEN: There's a man going in there.


KING: Laughing matter?

Much about nothing?

Case closed?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you know, the president raised the temperature on this by commenting on -- on this matter. And now he's lowered the temperature on it. Maybe a little more coverage I think, then he'd wanted, and the opportunity cost is real. It distracted all of us. And some of it's our fault in the media, but it distracted some of us off health care.

I mean we grandiosely called it a beer summit. You know, when I was in college, we called it breakfast.


BEGALA: We'd just start every day with a couple of pops.

But it's -- I think it's now -- history will no longer remember what Barack Obama said about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

KING: Do you agree with that?

Let's -- the episode, the whole thing gone or did we see something?


KING: There -- do we have a page peeled back here?

BLANKLEY: Yes, I mean, first of all, only 30 percent of the public approved of the way the president talked about the topic at his press conference.

So, now -- I don't think the president's men wanted it, but they ended up having this huge reprieve of that issue where 70 percent, who are people who were watching, didn't like what they heard the first time.

So, they remembered and so it's a bad sequence. I think he got sucked into it because the sergeant talked about having beer and the president couldn't say no and then all the media went crazy and up late. There was a bad cycle. If it's only a matter of a bad transactional interlude, then it will go away.

If, on the other hand, the public thinks -- or some part of the public thinks they've learned something new about him that they don't like, then it could stick.

And the question, obviously, since he ran in part on being a post racial politician and since he sort of sounded when he said, I don't know the facts but the white cop is wrong, that suggested as part of the old way of thinking about it.

If that sticks with some percentage, he could lose up to a point or two in the sort of structural approval of the electorate.

KING: You know these guys who work with him pretty well. I mean, what was their sense? The last thing of a news conference and to Tony's point, he's the President of the United States, he's a very smart man and he did say I don't know all the facts and then went on two sentences later to say the police acted stupidly, which is sort of hard to connect those dots. Why do they think it happened?

BEGALA: Right, I suspect it's because Dr. Gates is his friend. Barack Obama is I think maybe the most controlled, careful calculating politician with words that I've ever seen. And yet, this time he used a word that he himself says he regrets. And it's one of the few times he's done that that he wasn't like trying for laughs.

He's had a couple of minor gaffes about jokes; he made an unfortunate joke about Nancy Reagan once and so forth. But he hasn't very often done that. And I think and I think a lot of his friends think -- a lot of it was because the guy is his friend.

When you see a picture of your friend, a 58-year-old guy who walks with a cane who had done nothing wrong, arrested, that's going to chafe (ph) you a little.

KING: So was something like this...

BEGALA: I think -- but the enduring image of this I think is that image of healing, of the president bringing everybody together, as Prophet Isaiah said, "Thou shalt be called healer of the breach," and there he was sitting down with both the cop and the guy who I think very wrongly was arrested.

KING: There are events and then there are reactions to them.

I want you to listen to Jan Larimer, she's the co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and she is trying to talk about this episode. Clearly if Republicans didn't think it was helping them they wouldn't talk about it. Let's listen.


JAN LARIMER, CO-CHAIRWOMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We are at war and Barack Obama is talking about beer in the White House and it's wrong. It's not what our country is about.


BLANKLEY: We've been in this business a long time. You can overplay a good hand. And I think that getting so arched about it, beer in the White House at a time of war, I don't think that's calibrated to be plausible.

There is a criticism. The criticism is this moment revealed something about the way the guy actually thinks. That would have been true because that's what a lot of Americans are trying to figure out in their minds. But no beer in the White House is a bit too far.

BEGALA: Let me defend the Republicans. She -- I think the better -- the good attack is what she said, which is the opportunity cost, right? Not was the cop or rather the guy right and there's arguments on both sides. I clearly think the cop was wrong to arrest Dr. Gates, but the better argument is why is our president spending time on this?

That's the better attack and I think actually she was smart. I mean, people I think just count -- well, she's a partisan Republican, but you know, I think that's probably a smart attack...

KING: Let's move on, on the biggest issue in the country which is the economy and the subplot has been you can't turn your car radio and not hear an ad for this cash for clunker program. Come in by a car trading, they're all going to give you a new one -- ran out of money, the first installment. Pretty much ran out of money quickly.

the House has voted to put $2 billion more into the program. The president wants more money in the program, but we're hearing some grumblings from fiscal conservatives and not all Republicans.

I want you to listen, this is Claire McCaskill she's on Twitter today, she says, "We simply cannot afford any more taxpayer dollars to extend cash for clunkers. The idea was to prime the pump, not subsidize auto purchases forever."

Does Claire McCaskill have a point, Democrat?

BEGALA: No. No, the idea was to prime with that its $1 billion. We have already spent $180 billion to prop-up AIG. I have no idea what we got for that. I don't know if that was wise.

For $1 billion, we have -- it's good energy policy because it's helping wean us off of foreign oil. It's good environmental policy because these are cleaner cars. It's good economic policy and it's actually very cheap.

So I think it's a great idea -- only in Washington could you have a program that's so wildly successful that people are clamoring to get into it and have people say well maybe we shouldn't do that.

KING: Tony, is it good economic policy?

BLANKLEY: Well, the economic policy is debatable. Because the question is how many new -- how many cars were bought that wouldn't -- anyway? I mean, even in a recession, 9 million cars get bought in America.

So people who are kind of thinking may -- going to get to buy a car this year at some point, this may have gotten them into a show room. And there's no doubt the politics of this is great because every congressman and every senator has a lot of car dealers in their district and obviously the dealers love this -- it is getting people in there.

I would predict the senate will join in despite the grumbling and vote for the extra $2 billion. But whether this money is well spent, we spent only a few million dollars on Alzheimer's research. I mean, all money we spend pittances on and we're going to spend $3 billion more on a program that's probably of marginal economic value but is very popular at the moment.

So, it's a winner politically, probably a draw economically.

KING: Popular at the moment works sometimes in Washington. Tony Blankley, Paul Begala, gentlemen, thank you very much.

Now have the second one hundred days of the Obama administration been days of change or days of frustration? Let your voice be heard.

Starting Sunday, cast your vote at then get the results from CNN's National Report Card, Thursday night at 8:00 Eastern.

Inside the violent life of a Chicago gang member.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you have any idea how many people you've shot in your lifetime?

BOB: No.

BALDWIN: Did you ever feel remorse for anything you've done?


KING: His identity concealed, a gang member talks to CNN about Chicago's deadly gang wars.

Also the First Lady's, message for Americans as she welcomes home the troops out a naval base in Norfolk, Virginia today.

And the Pentagon releases photos from that Air Force One photo-op blunder over New York City. Stand by we're going to show them to you. Stay right with us.

You're on the SITUATION ROOM.


KING: First lady Michelle Obama was at Virginia's Norfolk Naval Station today welcoming home sailors from the USS Eisenhower carrier strike crew and the hospital ship "Comfort." Mrs. Obama urged Americans to show more support for military families, calling them the quiet heroes.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We must all remember that when our troops are deployed, their families are left behind and faced with an entirely different set of duties.

Mothers who tuck their kids in at night and struggle to answer the question, "When's daddy coming home?" Fathers who wonder how they'll keep their families together while they juggle ballet recitals and homework and mowing the lawn all while their wives are serving our country abroad. Children who have to tell their dad about their home run via teleconference because he missed yet another softball game. Spouses and parents caring for a wounded warrior or struggling to move forward after losing a loved one.

They have American flags waving on their front porch. They have yellow ribbons on their cars and blue and gold stars in their windows. These people are our neighbors. They live right down the block. They're our colleagues that sit right down the hall. They're our kids' playmates and the people we see every day on the train to work or in the line at the grocery store.

They are all around us. And I've seen the sacrifices of our military families up close. They are the quiet heroes who represent the best in our country.


KING: Whatever your politics, that's a message worth listening to.

In a gang since the age of 13, he narrowly survived the latest attempt on his life.

Our Brooke Baldwin takes us inside the life of a young gang member and inside Chicago's growing gang problem.


BALDWIN (on camera): We're in a crew car headed from downtown Chicago to the city's Southwest Side; it's an area with known pockets of basically gang activity. And we're going to this interview.

We're talking to a current gang member who's willing to share his story about the violence in Chicago, but he's only willing to do it as long as we keep him in the car, we don't show his face and we don't drive into any other neighborhoods, any other gang turf just to keep him and our crews safe.

Do you have any idea how many people you've shot in your lifetime?

BOB: Nope.

BALDWIN: Did you ever feel a remorse for anything you've done?

BOB: No. I can't say I have.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Born and raised on Chicago's streets, this man, who insists we call him "Bob," says he joined a gang when he was just 13.

BOB: (INAUDIBLE) To be honest with you, I thought at that point, the rush you get from what you're doing. It's like a drug. You can't get enough of it.

BALDWIN: Shootings in Chicago have set grim records this summer. According to police, even though homicides are down, shootings are up more than 6 percent. This week, 15 people were shot in a single night.

Midday. Broad daylight. What are they doing?

BOB: Making money. Dirty money.

BALDWIN: Heroin. That is the drug of choice on these streets according to Bob. A corner dealer can bring in up to several thousand dollars on a good day. But if someone doesn't pay up, Bob says that's when the shooting starts.

BOB: It's either by gang or money, that's it. It's never going to stop. I don't care who you lock up or anything. It's never going to stop.

BALDWIN: Bob says he's been locked up three times, most recently serving six years for attempted murder. One of the reasons we can't show you his face is because he has some very specific markings of a gang member, tattoos, facial tattoos all up and down his arms and marks of this recent, horrific beating.

He's been shot, stabbed, and this month bludgeoned with baseball bats, left on the streets to die.

DR. MICHELLE GITTLER, SINAI HOSPITAL: It was more of an issue of brain damage.

BALDWIN: Dr. Michelle was part of the team at Chicago's Mt. Sinai Hospital that helped save Bob's life. While doctors have to alert police about shooting victims, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians there is no federal law requiring doctors to track the number of gunshot wounds.

Dr. Gittler says it's an epidemic that goes underreported.

DR. MICHELLE GITTLER, SINAI HOSPITAL: To put it in perspective, for the H1N1 or swine flu, alerts go out through all the hospitals on how to recognize it, how to treat it, how to report it. So that's 20. And this is 2,000.

So, I'm a little bit confused about why this isn't as emergent a public health issue.

BALDWIN: Dr. Gittler is the only reason bob agreed to do this interview. He made her a promise to teach kids that they have a choice.

BOB: They don't have to turn into gangs if they don't want. They just -- feel like they're doing something. I never know how hard is my life but the whole (INAUDIBLE).

BALDWIN: Despite that tough talk, Bob says his love for the gang remains. He is not getting out. Still, he survived the streets to see his 31st birthday.

BOB: Technically, you're not meant to be here forever regardless, so, I mean, it's bound to happen. It would be nice to end the right way, though.

BALDWIN: but there's always a chance he may not make it to 32. Brook Baldwin, CNN, Chicago.


KING: Troubling report.

The space shuttle fleet soon to be retired. Should its service life be extended or should U.S. astronauts start hitching rides with the Russians?

And Jack Cafferty is asking will the truth about Michael Jackson's death ever come out?


KING: Time now to check back with Jack Cafferty. Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CO-ANCHOR: The question, John, this hour is will the truth about Michael Jackson's death ever come out? The coroner in L.A. now says the results of the autopsy will be postponed indefinitely.

Here is some of what you wrote.

Karen in California: "They want to time the release of the autopsy to coincide with the announcement of charges against Dr. Murray. They don't want his attorneys to get their hands on the autopsy report before the prosecutor has his case lined up. Jackson being an obvious addict does not absolve Dr. Murray from charges of recklessness in a voluntary manslaughter case.

Frank writes: "Relax Jack. This type of story gives the fringes of society like the birthers and the people throwing tea parties fodder for more irrational rantings and ravings. It won't be long before some of these wackos start declaring that Michael is still alive.

Ken writes from California: "My name is Ken. I'm an alcoholic who has been sober for 30. If I hadn't stopped drinking, I wouldn't be 80 years old. There are millions of dead drunks and users and Jackson has joined them. The only truth is he did it to himself.

Gregory in Miami, Florida writes: "No one person will ever know the truth of his death because so many people played a role in it by enabling his vices nor will we ever learn the truth of his life for some of the same reasons. Between the complexities and the secrecy of his life the idea of ever learning the truth about the life of Michael Jackson is a myth."

Michelle writes: "The truth about Jackson's death is coming out even now and will be revealed. Excellent reporting on several networks and newspapers are rooting out the facts. I watch new developments on CNN every night. His death's exposing abuse of prescription drugs and corruption on the part of physicians in prescribing dangerously high dosages to make money."

And David in San Diego writes: "Finally, an important question."

If you didn't see your e-mail here -- I think you're jerking me around, David -- if you didn't see your e-mail here you can go to file and find many, many more there.

An important question at long last -- John.

KING: I like almost all of them. That was a shock.

CAFFERTY: Well, there is a cynic or two out there.

KING: Or two. All right, Jack. See you a bit later. Thank you. The space shuttle "Endeavour" back on earth. Only a few more missions remain before the fleet is scheduled to be retired. But as CNN's Brian Todd tells us, a presidential panel is considering whether to keep the shuttles flying while the next generation spacecraft is being built.

Brian, what can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, this shuttle program is scheduled to end in two years or less which means that manned missions like the ones we saw today may be out of America's reach for several years.


TODD (voice-over): A flawless landing for the space shuttle "Endeavour." But only seven more shuttle flights are slated before the fleet is retired. And NASA scientists say the next generation of manned space flight is still years away.

Sally Ride, America's first woman astronaut is now on a presidential panel reviewing the future of manned space flight. This week Ride said the program to replace the shuttle, called "Constellation," is likely to be two years late, its first launch coming at the earliest in 2017. That would mean roughly six years with no American manned space program.

Sally Ride says the space shuttle program could be extended to cover part of that gap, but that means more risk. The program has had two deadly accidents out of 137 flights. NASA has contracts with the Russians to take American astronauts to the space station, but relying on another country for space travel especially for a number of years is politically unpopular.

ROGER LAUNUS, AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM: All of it has to do at some level with the sense that we are the leading nation of the world. And the United States should not have to rely upon another country, especially one that we defeated in the Cold War, for space access for our astronauts.

TODD: More popular with Americans? NASA's plan to go back to the moon; those missions will come in that Constellation program replacing the shuttle.

LAUNUS: Generally speaking the public is in favor of these things. They like this. They like space flight. They want to go back to the moon. They just don't want to expend a lot of money to do this.


TODD: Roger Launus says the way it's budgeted now man's flight to the moon is about a decade away but he says that's with some short cuts. He says realistically they may have to build two launch vehicles in that Constellation program and one of them, the Aries I has had problems in the test. It shakes violently at lift off and it drifts into the launch tower.

John, other than that, it's got no problems.

KING: If you're having problems there, political and technical when it comes to going back to the moon, what about the other frontier people talk about, maybe a manned mission to Mars?

TODD: Everybody kind of fantasizes about that. Roger Launus says not within the next quarter century. He says there is just too much we don't know about how to get there like protecting astronauts from radiation for a long period. He says it takes nine to ten months just to get to Mars, nine to ten months back and the astronaut to stay there at least for six weeks -- that's a very long mission.

KING: Long way to go. Brian Todd.

TODD: That's right.

KING: Interesting. Thank you very much.

A scene that threw many more New Yorkers into panic; now we have dozens -- dozens more images of the day an Air Force jumbo jet buzzed Manhattan.

And in search for a very rare pink and white dolphin; we'll take you to the waters of Louisiana.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not a myth. It exists and it's here. But at the same time -- like I said, the mother is doing a great job. Let it be.


KING: Dolphins are always beautiful to look at, but imagine a pink one. CNN's Sean Callebs travels the waters near Louisiana's Lake Charles in search of a rare albino dolphin.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First hour on the water and lots of dolphins.

(on camera): Why are they coming near us, Michelle?

MICHELL KELLY, MARINE MAMMAL AND SEA TURTLE RESCUE PROGRAM: Just to have a look, check it out. Shrimp boat or not, to play.

CALLEBS (voice-over): Michelle Kelly is with Louisiana's Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program.

We are looking for this, an albino gray dolphin, no natural camouflage and plenty of predators.

KELLY: It's a miracle. I mean, there's no other way to explain it. The mortality rate for just a normal gray calf is like 29 percent chance of survival.

CALLEBS: It's so rare, wildlife officials have been monitoring the albino since it was first spotted more than two years ago in the shipping channel near Lake (INAUDIBLE) in Louisiana. They're trying to keep it safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Y'all haven't seen that white dolphin anywhere have you?



CALLEBS: Scores of fishermen have seen it over time. We looked and looked. Every time we see a pod of dolphins, we think, maybe this is it. Just like albino humans, albino dolphins need to avoid the sun.

KELLY: That's one of the concerns and one of the worries. That's why we want to keep observations on the animal to see if it starts showing signs of skin problems.

CALLEBS: Skin problems like tumors. Hour 5 temperature in the upper 90s, no shade.

(on camera): No pink dolphin but a big pink, sweaty man.

(voice-over): Where is it? If anyone can find it, it's this guy.

Mike Harbison in charge of fisheries in this region and has probably seen the albino dolphin more than anyone. And he took all these pictures.

MIKE HARBISON, LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE & FISHERIES: Depending on which view you get it's either white or pink. If the sun's on the back side, it's pink. But if it's on the front side, it's white.

CALLEBS: Catching it and keeping the albino dolphin in captivity is not an option.

KELLY: You're going to shorten its life even more by bringing it into captivity; the stress of capturing the animal and separating it from its mother. Its mother has quite obviously done a wonderful job.

CALLEBS: Mom still nurses the 3-year-old.

We are now in hour seven on the water.

KELLY: It's not a myth. It exists and it's here, but at the same time, like I said, the mother is doing a great job. Let it be.

CALLEBS: Hour nine, sweaty and beaten. Time to call it a day.

KELLY: Yes, I would like to see it but also in a way I think it's a good thing. It means the mother's keeping it very well protected. That's our number one goal.

CALLEBS: OK, pink dolphin, we'll be back.

Sean Callebs, CNN, near the Gulf of Mexico.


KING: Happening now, breaking news. Three American tourists reported in custody in Iran. Will a mountain hike near the border turn into a dangerous international incident? We're digging on this story right now.

Plus, cash for clunkers on the verge of breaking down. The feds scramble to find more money for the popular program. If you want to trade in your car, will there be any cash left?

And the U.S. Postal Service is delivering debt. As the amount of mail we send keeps shrinking and shrinking postal workers' jobs and six-day service could be history. Brian Todd goes in depth.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.

You're in the SITUATION ROOM.