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THE SITUATION ROOM

Vick Gets Second Chance in NFL; President: Don't Start from Scratch; Twitter Fight over "Death Panels"

Aired August 14, 2009 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama holds a town hall in a small Montana town. I'll speak with the governor of Montana, who worries states may get stuck with the tab for health care reform.

And Newt Gingrich has some advice for Sarah Palin -- write a book, get a condo in New York or Washington, and work really, really hard.

Could they run together in 2012?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He spent nearly two years in federal prison, convicted of bankrolling a gruesome dog fighting operation. Now, former pro- quarterback Michael Vick is back in the National Football League. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, vowing to do all the right things.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL VICK, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES QUARTERBACK: You know, it's a surreal feeling right now. I never -- I couldn't envision it two years ago. I was optimistic that it would happen one day, but I knew it was going to be a long process. And, you know, we, as a people, we fear the unknown. And I'm just happy that I had -- I have the opportunity now. I'm glad that Coach Reid and the rest of the organization has stepped forward. Donovan was very instrumental in that. And I'm glad that I got the opportunity to have a second chance. And, you know, I won't disappoint.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's turn to Larry Smith of CNN Sports -- Larry, how is this playing out?

LARRY SMITH, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the man, Wolf, that really need convincing was Jeffrey Lurie, the Philadelphia Eagles' owner. He is a life-long dog owner and dog lover and got -- was -- didn't mince any words at all when talking about his disdain for Vick's actions that got him in trouble. In fact, he said Vick must continue his anti-dog fighting campaign outside his actions here with the Eagles for this partnership to work. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFREY LURIE, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES OWNER: His legend and whether we are giving him a second chance will be successful if he can diminish the level of animal cruelty. And that's it. And if he is not proactive -- if he's not proactive, he won't be on the team, because that's part of the agreement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: Now, Lurie credited three men for really helping get him to the point where he can sit down face-to-face and talk with Michael Vick while he's making this, what he said was one of the toughest decisions he's ever had to make -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Eagles head Coach Andy Reid and former Super Bowl winning Coach Tony Dungy, who has been a mentor to Vick for the last couple months. And when I talked to him earlier today on CNN, he talked about his role in Vick's life in getting him from prison to this point now, about to return to the NFL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY DUNGY, FORMER NFL COACH: Well, I talked to Andy Reid a lot. I talked to the Eagles organization. And I just talked about a lot of young men who make mistakes, who go down the wrong path. And what you've got to try to figure out is if they've changed, if they're different, are they going to be a good teammate, a good person in the locker-room, in the community.

And I told the Eagles I thought he would be, I thought he'd would be very positive. And I hope that bears out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: Well, a couple of things to keep in mind, Wolf. First, the $1.6 million he will earn in 2009 -- none of that money is guaranteed. And on top of that, he may not play a regular season game until week six. Commissioner Goodell still has to sign off on exactly when he will return to play for these Philadelphia Eagles -- let's back to you.

BLITZER: And he's got Donovan McNabb, the starting quarterback for the Eagles, too -- not too shabby a quarterback, either.

All right, we'll continue to watch the story, Larry.

Thanks very much.

The president picked a small town in Montana for his latest town hall meeting. He said Americans are being held hostage by health insurance companies that deny or cancel coverage when people get sick. But the president also said there's no clear model to follow when it comes to fixing the system.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without going into too much detail, can you tell us what you -- if you've kind of looked at Canada, the -- England's system and sort of can you pick and choose from those systems that work, that we see there's some success rate and apply that to what you're trying to push through right now?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, let me tell you what happens in other industrialized countries. First of all, I think it's important for everybody to understand that Americans spend $5,000 to $6,000 per person more than any other advanced nation on Earth -- $5,000 or $6,000 than any other person -- any other country on Earth.

Now, if you think that, how can that be, well, you probably don't notice it, because what's happening is if you've got health insurance through your job, more and more of what would be your salary and wages is going to health insurance. But you don't notice it. You just notice that you're not getting a raise.

But a bigger and bigger portion of compensation is going to health care here in the United States. Now, that's point number one. So clearly, we've got a system that isn't as efficient as it should be because we're not healthier than these people in these other countries.

Having said that, most other countries have some form of single payer system. There are differences. Canada and England have more of what's called -- what people, I guess, would call a socialized system, in the sense that government owns the hospitals and directly hires doctors.

But there are a whole bunch of countries like the Netherlands, where what they do is -- it's a single payer system only in the sense that the government pays the bill, but it's all private people -- private folks out there, private doctors, private facilities.

So there are a bunch of different ways of doing it. Now, what we need to do is come up with a uniquely American way of providing care. So I'm not in favor of a Canadian system. I'm not in favor of a British system. I'm not in favor of a French system. That's not what Max is working on.

Every -- every one of us, what we've said is let's find a uniquely American solution because historically here in the United States, the majority of people get their health insurance on the job. So let's build on that system that already exists, because for us to completely change that, it would be too disruptive. That's where suddenly people would lose what they have and they'd have to adjust to an entirely new system. And Max and I agree that's not the right way to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The reference to Max being Max Baucus, the Democratic senator from Montana, who's the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He's working hard to try to find some sort of compromise.

Let's go to Montana right now.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by -- Ed, you've been there now for a while. You're trying to get a sense of what the folks out there think about this president and his plan.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You saw a lot of friendly questions at that town hall meeting. But all you have to do is go about 23 miles away from that airport hangar to find even Obama supporters raising some tough questions about health care.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: (voice-over): Spend a day in the tiny town of Livingston, Montana and you quickly see why the president's health care push is facing big problems in big sky country, even from those he's trying to help.

SANDRA MCDONALD: We've got two kids and then my husband is the only one working.

HENRY: Sandra McDonald (ph) is uninsured, so she gets discounted dental work at a local clinic. She voted for the president and agrees there needs to be reform, but is worried about the details.

MCDONALD: I believe that -- that there is a health care crisis. I really do.

Do I believe that the government needs to be more involved?

No, because I think that they just -- whenever they get their fingers in the pot, it kind of just turns black.

HENRY: A common sentiment here, where a second Obama voter told us government is too big.

DAVID LEWIS, PUBLISHER, "THE MONTANA PIONEER": We have just spent so much money on the stimulus and -- and the TARP. Then we're going to add another huge entitlement in the form of the -- the public option.

HENRY: The movie "A River Runs Through It" was filmed near here, so people love their fly fishing -- all a part of their rugged individualism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the West is all about independence and do it my way. And I don't need any -- anyone to tell me what and how to do. And -- and I think when government gets too involved in our lives, there's some -- sure, some discomfort.

HENRY: But they're comfortable with the federal government at that local clinic, known as Community Health Partners. Taxpayers pick up 50 percent of the $4 million annual budget.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're able to provide health care to someone who walks in the door regardless of their ability of paying.

HENRY: which brings us back to Sandra McDonald, who wants more of these clinics around the country, even when we told her the Feds pick up much of the tab.

MCDONALD: The government being involved is -- is fine. It's just that when they try and overstep -- when they try and say, no, this is what needs to be done.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: And this points up one of the many challenges for this president. A lot of people say they want government out of health care -- unless, of course, the government is picking up the tab -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's right.

All right, Ed, stand by.

We're coming back to you.

We're not going far away from Montana.

To keep track of the town halls and the health care debate and to learn what reform efforts might mean for you, go to our new Health Care in America Web site. And can check facts, statistics, read blogs, see videos. It's all at CNN.com/healthcare. A lot of good stuff at that Web site.

Let's check in with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: I saw in a report from Ed out in Montana, I think it was this morning. He was sporting a stylish white Stetson.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: Looking very much like one of the local ranch hands out there -- or not.

President Obama has been promising the American people transparency ever since he was on the campaign trail. When it comes to the $700 billion bank and auto bailouts known as TARP and the $787 billion economic stimulus package, the president vowed an unprecedented level of openness. A lot of information has been made public through Web sites like Recovery.gov and FinancialStability.gov. The administration calls these sites pioneering compared to how government worked in the past.

But we're talking about almost $1.5 trillion here and there is key information the public still does not know about how and where this money is being spent.

For example, the Treasury Department doesn't require banks that have gotten TARP funds to show how they're using the money or who the bailed out banks are lending to, if, in fact, they're lending at all. Also, taxpayers won't have any idea if they've lost or made money on these government investments in companies like G.M. and AIG, Citigroup and the Bank of America, until such time as the government sells its stakes.

As for the spending of stimulus dollars, the government accounting only goes as far as the first tier recipients from the states. So it's not known which and how many companies on down the line are getting work and how much.

It's not enough. We deserve the transparency that was promised to us. Otherwise, it's just another example of government lying to us in order to get us to go along with something they want.

Does the Iraq War ring a bell?

Here's the question -- when it comes to stimulus and bailout money, has President Obama kept his promise of transparency?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks.

Good question, Jack.

Some governors are worried right now that their states will have to pick up at least some of the bill for health care reform.

I'll ask the Montana governor, Brian Schweitzer, what's behind those concerns. He was with the president at that town hall.

And why two air traffic controllers have been suspended following that collision between a small plane and a sightseeing helicopter in New York.

Plus, he scooped the rest of us by getting an interview with President Obama. Now that 11-year-old reporter asks me the tough questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Go ahead and interview me.

DAMON WEAVER, STUDENT WHO INTERVIEWED PRESIDENT OBAMA: Why do they call you Wolf?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president took his case for health care reform out West today and was peppered with questions at a town hall meeting in Montana.

Let's talk with the Democratic governor of Montana, Governor Brian Schweitzer. He's joining us right now.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

GOV. BRIAN SCHWEITZER (D), MONTANA: Good to be back.

BLITZER: Do you have any problems with what the president wants to do?

SCHWEITZER: No, not at all. What the president has said is that we need to extend health care to all of America. And we've demonstrated that we pay about twice as much as the other industrialized countries. And we've got about 16 or 18 percent of the people who don't have health insurance.

So if we can squeeze some savings out of our health care system, there's easily enough money to pay for that last 16 to 20 percent.

BLITZER: He says he wants what's called a public option -- a government run-insurance agency, in effect, to compete with the private insurance companies.

Are you OK with that?

SCHWEITZER: Well, I think, you know, that 47 percent of America gets their health care from some kind of a government health care system, whether it be Medicare or Veterans Administration, Indian Health Services and Medicaid. So 47 percent are already on some kind of a government plan.

All he's suggesting is that we ought to have the opportunity to choose. If you like one of those 400 or 500 insurance companies that are for-profit out there, that's fine. If you'd like to buy into a public system like, I don't know, like call it buying into Medicare, you would have to pay the going rate. And if they could offer you that service for less money than one of those insurance companies, why the heck would we be against that?

BLITZER: I guess you support the president on that point, as well.

The critics, though, you know, say they -- that they fear that the government would drive these private insurance companies out of business. They claim you can't really compete with the federal government.

You disagree.

SCHWEITZER: Well, I'm telling you what the -- when the -- when the world ends, the coyotes, the cockroaches and I'm sure the insurance companies will still be in business. Don't cry for them, Argentina. They're going to be in business. They know how to adapt.

They've adapted when all these people joined Medicare and veterans health. They said that they'd go out of business then, too. So, of course, that's what they've got to say. They're in a business and they would like to keep the monopoly in it.

BLITZER: What about the president's proposal today -- and you heard him reiterate it at -- at your town hall in Montana -- that if you lower the deductible rate for the richest Americans, those making more than $250,000 a year, how much they could deduct from their charitable contributions, for example, that would help pay for the health care reform.

Is that OK with you?

SCHWEITZER: Look, there's a lot of ways of skinning this cat. And one of the ways would be to raise money from other sources. But the fastest way of getting there is through cost containment. We spend 30 to 50 percent more than all the other countries. If you squeeze out a little bit, we can get everybody covered.

BLITZER: Some other governors, and probably you, as well, are afraid some of the costs may be thrown to the states and that you may have to foot the bill for some of these new expenditures.

Are you worried about that?

SCHWEITZER: Well, one of the proposals out there would extend the Medicaid benefits to everybody in your state that is up to 133 percent of federal poverty. Effectively in Montana, that would increase the number from about 90,000 that are covered in this federal and state partnership to almost 200,000. So naturally, that would cost some more money.

But the folks in Washington, D.C. have recognized that states are pretty good penny pinchers. In Montana, we'll pinch -- we'll pinch that penny until it's a copper wire a mile long. We -- we negotiate. We use science-based medicine so that we're getting the best results for the dollars we spend. And we're -- we're sharing this with the federal government.

So if they're going to move more people into the Medicaid program, I'm sure that they're going to have the -- the dollars to go with those people that are coming into our system.

BLITZER: And you guys know how to pinch pennies there. I know that for sure.

One final question with a quick answer, if you can. The end of life counseling that's become a big debate out there; the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, calling these death panels and all of that.

Do you have a problem with the government paying doctors to give some advice -- voluntary advice to people who are getting older about living wills or hospice care, this kind of information?

SCHWEITZER: It's happening all over America right now. It's just that these health care professionals are not being compensated. I think that that should be a part of our health care system. Give people advice. Give them the options about their health care system. Let them know what's available to them.

How could you be against that?

BLITZER: All right.

We're going to leave it right there, Governor.

But just remind me, the health insurance companies will be there, the coyotes and what else -- the cockroaches -- when -- when all the world ends?

SCHWEITZER: When the world ends, the coyotes and the cockroaches and you can bet the insurance companies will still be in business.

BLITZER: I just wanted to make sure I got that right.

Governor, as usual, thanks for coming in.

SCHWEITZER: Thank you.

BLITZER: I love Air Force One behind you, as well. That's a nice sight.

Appreciate it.

This was the scene at Baltimore last night after an SUV being driven by Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps was involved in a crash. We're going to update you on his condition and tell you what the police are now saying.

Also, the hunt for a cargo ship that vanished in the Atlantic last month may be over.

But what about the crew?

And the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, he has some advice for Sarah Palin. We'll discuss that and more with Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Don Lemon is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Don, what's going on?

LEMON: Hello, Wolf.

Baltimore police say a car crash last night involving Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps was not his fault. Phelps and two passengers in his SUV were unhurt. But the driver of the other vehicle was reportedly taken to the hospital complaining of neck and arm pain. Police say that driver ran a red light before colliding with Phelps' vehicle. The hunt for a Russian crew cargo ship that vanished last month in the Atlantic seems to be over. But the mystery surrounding the ship and the fate of its crew remains. Russia's state news agency is reporting that the ship, which was earlier reported hijacked, is now being tracked off the coast of Africa. But a top Russian official in the region is refusing to confirm that report.

In Jacksonville, Florida, thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to the first American casualty of the 1991 Gulf War. Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher was buried in a private cemetery after a funeral procession and memorial ceremony. Speicher was shot down over Iraq on the first night of the war, but his remains were not located and identified until earlier this month.

Finally, a bit of closure for his family. Still, very sad, but at least now they know.

BLITZER: I was covering that first night of the Gulf War back in 1991, January. I remember vividly when we got that report. It was heartbreaking at the time. If somebody had said it would take all these years to get to the bottom...

LEMON: You wouldn't have believed it.

BLITZER: I wouldn't have believed it at the time. But it caused a lot of heartburn and anguish and grief for a lot of folks.

All right, thanks very much, Don.

LEMON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by.

"Write a book and work really, really hard" -- Newt Gingrich's advice to Sarah Palin.

Could they run together in 2012?

And two senators battling it out on Twitter over those so-called health care death panels -- we're following the situation online.

And he got the big scoop by interviewing President Obama. Now, get this, this 11-year-old reporter is interviewing me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEAVER: Do you like working for CNN?

BLITZER: I love working for CNN.

WEAVER: Will you give me an internship?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Taiwanese officials say the death toll from the flooding and the mudslides could top 500. CNN's John Vause traveled with rescuers to a village cut off by the devastation and we're going to show you his dramatic report.

Michael Vick's second chance -- the disgraced former NFL star signs a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles and acknowledges that his dog fighting activities were, "unethical and inhumane."

Is it enough for animal rights activists?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Two senators are battling it out on Twitter over those so-called health care death panels. We're talking about Democratic Senator Arlen Specter and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. They're in a public fight in front of their thousands of followers.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, to tell us who started it -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this has been going on all afternoon -- two U.S. senators going at it right here on Twitter.

First up, Senator Arlen Specter, who wrote a couple of hours ago: "Called Senator Grassley to tell him to stop spreading myths about health care reform and imaginary death panels."

Well, it seems like Senator Grassley saw that. Within the hour, he Tweeted: "Specter got it all wrong, that I have ever used words 'death boards.' Even liberal press never accused me of that. So change your last Tweet, Arlen."

The background to this is comments that Senator Grassley made at an Iowa town hall this week. He didn't use the word death boards, but he did say said this, which made news: "We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma. It seems that Senator Specter still wants to talk about that. He just wrote on Twitter that he was not able to get through on the phone to Senator Grassley, but I will talk to him as soon as possible to clarify" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi.

Thanks very much.

Let's clarify a little more with our CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, along with the conservative commentator, Terry Jeffrey. He's editor-in-chief of the Cybercast News Service.

What do you think about this little battle over Twitter going on over the death panels between Grassley and Specter? They're both very influential.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I actually have a friend who calls Senator Grassley Grandpa Twitter because they need to take those devices away from those guys.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: You know, it's -- the founding fathers were not Tweeting. It is -- I -- and I'm pro-technology, OK. But it's inherently limiting -- 140 characters. Frankly, Specter has the better of the argument, though. Senator Grassley did -- he didn't use the phrase death panel, but maybe Specter couldn't fit that in 140 characters. I mean, Abbi quoted him accurately. What's worse, Grassley voted in 2003 to be specific, November 25th, 2003, at 9:23 a.m. for almost the exact same provision. It was in the Bush prescription drug plan. And so, Senator Grassley has been for advanced medical directives, helping people prepare a living will.

BLITZER: Which what's wrong with it?

JEFFREY: I agree with Paul on this part, Twitter is idiotic. You can't have an intelligent discussion on Twitter. Here is the deal. Everything in this health care plan is about increasing government control over health care. And the way they're going to do that is through money. People at 400% of the poverty are going to be financed by the government, subsidized by the government for health care. Everybody knows the adage who pays the piper calls the tune. If the government is paying for part of health care, they'll run your health care. If the government's going to run your healthcare, they'll save money by rationing, and that will especially include people at the end of life.

BLITZER: This is the house version, more than 1,000 pages. I've been reading this thing and it's not easy reading for anybody who tries to get through this. Why do we need legislation so complex and so difficult to understand? If you try reading this thing, most of these pages are gobbledygook.

BEGALA: It's a complex issue, though. Try reading your private insurance policy. Who's in charge there are corporate bureaucrats who are going to make profit by turning down people for care. Today the president in Montana, I was so impressed by this, he told the story of a woman who had paid all her premiums, got aggressive breast cancer and was cut off from her health care because they said she'd been to a dermatologist for acne, a pre-existing condition. This is what corporate insurance companies are doing today. Using fine print in their contracts to do that.

BLITZER: Terry, as tough as the government bureaucrats can be, the private health insurance bureaucrats can be tough on folk who is get sick, as well.

JEFFREY: Well it may be but it's still the private sector. CNN has done an excellent thing. You can look at that bill on the website, which I did today. I suggest people look at the provision that says national networks of community-based organizations -- who are they? National networks of community-based organizations are going to get money to monitor people's health behavior on a community level, including their weight, whether they're smoking, what's being said to kids at the school. What's going on here? This is a level of government control of people's lives that is fundamentally un- American.

BEGALA: As opposed to corporate control of people's lives is what we have.

JEFFREY: Government controlling people's lives is un-American, period.

BEGALA: The government won't control anybody's life.

JEFFREY: They will with health care.

BEGALA: There was sworn testimony before the House of Representatives where insurance company bureaucrats had to admit they canceled insurance policies of 20,000 premium payers and they --

JEFFREY: That 1,000 pages is not about the government controlling your health care?

BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on.

BEGALA: They gave bonuses to people who kicked Americans off health care.

BLITZER: I know you'll disagree on this because I want to move on because we don't have a lot of time. Newt Gingrich, former house speaker, giving advice to Sarah Palin, what to do in the coming months, weeks, years -- write a book, become a regular commentator on TV, create a national project or center, work really, really hard. Good advice for Sarah Palin from Newt Gingrich? Give us the back story.

JEFFREY: The idea of residents in Washington, D.C., and New York is not credible. She should remember the first residence Ronald Reagan had in Washington, D.C., was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

BLITZER: No condo in D.C. or New York.

BEGALA: Absolutely right. Newt is a brilliant political strategist. Speaker Gingrich. I don't mean to be disrespectful. Frankly she would do well to listen to him. I would change D.C. and New York to Iowa. But he's trying to treat her like she's a serious person. She's not. She's about a half a whack job and does not have the intellectual heft of a Newt Gingrich or almost anybody else in the Republican Party and I think she's proven that. I admire Newt Gingrich for pretending she's a serious but she's proven herself to be an intellectual whack.

JEFFREY: She has rock-solid principles and is ready to fight for those principles.

BEGALA: Not her job.

JEFFREY: I do believe she has to get out and debate national issues like this health care bill now and prove she's able to get nose to nose -- I think it's not proven. She ought to get more in the face of President Obama, less on this issue. This is an excellent issue for her. She should keep fighting.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, guys. Have a great weekend.

What were air-traffic controllers doing when that light plane collided with the helicopter over the Hudson River in New York? Why have two been suspended?

Plus, a black candidate facing racial hatred and admitting he's scared. You might be surprised where this election is taking place.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Two air-traffic controllers have been suspended after that midair crash of a small plane and a helicopter that killed nine people near New York last weekend. Let's go to our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti. She's in New York with more.

Susan, why were they suspended?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they were suspended because the air-traffic controller handling the plane allegedly was making a personal call when he shouldn't have been and the supervisor wasn't in the building as required. However, more than that, some startling other details from the NTSB's investigation just released this afternoon.

The NTSB says that 54 seconds before the collision several aircraft, including the sightseeing helicopter, were detected by radar in front of the small plane, but the Teterboro controller who was on that personal call did not advise the pilot of those potential traffic issues. Now, Newark's controller stepped in and asked Teterboro to get in touch with the pilot, and the controller tried, but the NTSB said the pilot didn't respond. The agency's timetable says that 20 seconds before the crash audio conflict alarms did sound on radar at both towers, but controllers told investigators they didn't recall hearing them. The NTSB is trying to sort all this out and says it's premature to speculate about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: As investigators study this amateur video to find out what led to the terrifying midair crash over the Hudson, in Italy, a family mourns. Among the five Italian tourists killed aboard the sightseeing helicopter was a father and son, Michele and Filippo Norelli. They share a bar with the Ultmans outside Philadelphia. Steven, his brother Daniel and his teenaged son Douglas were killed in the small plane that collided with the helicopter. Both families are searching for answers among new disturbing allegations opinion an air- traffic controller who was handling the piper airplane was on the phone with his girlfriend at the time of the crash. According to a source with knowledge of the investigation. What the FAA in a statement calls, quote, inappropriate conversations.

And there's more. The FAA says the air-traffic controller's supervisor was not in the building at the time as required. Our source says the air-traffic controller had already cleared the plane for takeoff from Teterboro airport in New Jersey before talking with his girlfriend. The NTSB says the plane had been handed off electronically to the next tower down the line in Newark, and then the plane disappeared from radar. The FAA calls the conduct of the controller and his boss unacceptable but says, quote, we have no reason to believe at this time that these actions contributed to the accident.

JUSTIN GREENE: We have somebody missing in action. We have someone else who's not doing their job. So, the negligence is there. The only question is whether that negligence had a role in this accident.

CANDIOTTI: The FAA says the two employees are now on administrative leave. The investigation's not over. Ultimately, the two could be fired.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: While the FAA says all this had no direct role in the collision, the NTSB says it is far too early to draw any conclusions.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti reporting for us. Thanks very much for that report.

Before the last election, many questioned whether America was ready for a black president. We now know the answer to that. But Germany finds itself doing some similar soul searching right now and the answer there is far from clear. CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports on a black candidate in the state election who is facing some very serious right-wing hatred. Fred?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, politicians here are calling this an embarrassment for Germany. Of course, especially considering this country's past. A far-right party here is trying to drive a black politician not only out of politics but out of the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: Don't let these smiles fool you. Zeca Schall is a man under threat, the victim of abuse from the far right. Because he's black and campaigning in an upcoming election in Germany. "I'm scared," he says. "I'm under police protection. They're on patrol day and night at my house and some even stay there overnight."

Schall is a German citizen who came here more than 20 years ago from Angola. He's a member of the center right Christian Democrats, the CDU, the party led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I'm not just a member of the CDU," he says. "I'm also a volunteer firefighter at the local department." But now the ultraright wing national Democratic Party wants him out of Germany. On their website, they call him the CDU's quota Negro and they go on. The CDU seems to be realizing that even after years of re-education, Negroes cannot be accepted as permanent guests in our state.

The NPD denies accusations it has ties to neo-Nazi groups and when asked by CNN, an NPD representative tried to play down the campaign. "We don't mind having foreigners in Germany, "he says. "We just don't want them to have political influence."

Schall says he's filed a lawsuit against the extremists who have shown up at his house. The CDU says he has their full support. Politicians call the hate campaign unprecedented in postwar Germany, and in his hometown, people say they're shocked. "It's a disaster. He's such a nice man and has been living here for so many years." "I was totally shocked," Schall says. "I just cannot believe that people would do this to fellow humans."

Schall is the local expert for integration of minorities but this may be his final public appearance. Party officials tell us after several death threats against him it has simply become too dangerous for Schall to play a part in Germany's Democratic process.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: Wolf, what we have to know about these neo-Nazi groups here in Germany is they have a broader base in what used to be the communist east. But a campaign like this one is certainly something that not many Germans have seen before. Wolf?

BLITZER: A shocking story indeed, Fred. Thanks very much for that report.

A New Hampshire woman who was once pulled over by police claims that when she stepped out of her car to talk to the sheriff he tasered her twice. We have the details for you. This is a shocking report.

And I sit down with the 11-year-old reporter who interviewed President Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A sixth-grader has scooped a lot of veteran journalists by getting an interview with President Obama. After that, 11-year-old Damon weaver sat down with me. Here's some of our conversation and his session with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I've got another clip from the interview which I'm going to play for all of our viewers right now. Watch this.

DAMON: What can make our country better?

OBAMA: I think the thing that kids can do best is just to work really hard in school and succeed. You know, it's young people like yourself if they're reading at the high levels and doing their math and doing their homework and science and ending up going to college and being successful, that makes everybody better off. And so, the most important thing young people can do I think is to do well in school. But also when they've got some spare time, try to help out other people, maybe through your church or through, you know, your religious community or out in the neighborhood, helping an elderly person carry their grocery bags in or, you know, being -- you know, helping out a younger person on their schoolwork. Those kinds of things, that kind of service, that's also really helpful to the country.

DAMON: Everybody knows that you love basketball. I think it would be cool to have a president that can dunk. Can you dunk?

OBAMA: Not anymore. I used to when I was young, but I'm almost 50 now, so, you know, your legs are the first thing to go.

DAMON: My buddy promised me if you gave me the interview he would play in a one-on-one basketball game. But he's buddy, Dwayne would play in a one on one basketball game. Would you be willing to play Dwayne Wade?

OBAMA: He was here. I am sorry to hear he was trash talking. He is a little bit better than I am. I might rather have him on my team playing against somebody else than playing against him.

DAMON: What is it like being the president of the United States?

OBAMA: Well, it is very exciting. It is a lot of work. There are times where you get a little worn down. Every day, you have the possibility, the ability of helping other people. If you can do that, then that's a great, great thing.

DAMON: What are you going to do about violence and to keep me safe?

OBAMA: I think we have to make sure that all schools have the resources to keep kids safe but it's also important that parents and community members participate in training their young people to resolve arguments and disagreements without resort to violence. Too many of our young people, when they get frustrated or angry at each other, they start acting out in violence and we need to make sure we are teaching young people to deal with the issues they may have in a better and more constructive way.

DAMON: I know that you are busy being the president but I would like to invite you to my school KECP Elementary School, because there are a lot of good things going on there that I would like you to see.

OBAMA: I hope that at some point I get a chance to come visit your school because you did a great job on this interview, so somebody must be doing something right down at that school.

DAMON: When I interviewed Vice President Joe Biden, he became my home boy. Now that I interviewed you, would you like to become my home boy?

OBAMA: Absolutely. Thanks, great job.

DAMON: Thanks for making my dream come true.

OBAMA: I appreciate it. You did an outstanding job. I look forward to seeing you in the future.

BLITZER: I think he really liked you, the president.

He is your home boy?

DAMON: Yep.

BLITZER: Do you think he will come to your school someday and show up?

DAMON: Someday.

BLITZER: You liked him a lot, didn't you?

DAMON: Yeah.

BLITZER: How did you think of all those questions? They were very good questions. Who helped you?

DAMON: My teacher, Mr. Zimmerman.

BLITZER: He gave you some good advice.

DAMON: Yes.

BLITZER: You thought of some of those questions, yourself, right?

DAMON: A little.

BLITZER: Together. You came up with the question about the school lunches and the bullying and all that stuff is really important, right?

DAMON: Uh-huh.

BLITZER: Do you want to be a journalist when you grow up?

DAMON: A journalist and an astronaut.

BLITZER: And an astronaut?

DAMON: And more.

BLITZER: If you want to be a journalist, you have got to practice. That's what you are doing right now, right? You're going to practice being a journalist. Going to keep on doing some interviews? I am going to let you practice with me right now. Go ahead and interview me.

DAMON: Why do they call you Wolf?

BLITZER: That's my name, my real name. I didn't make it up.

DAMON: Is that because you have a lot of hair on your face?

BLITZER: No, but maybe that's a good example but that's not why they call me Wolf. That is my real name. I didn't make it up. Go ahead. Ask me another question.

DAMON: Then how did you get the name Wolf?

BLITZER: It was my grandfather's name on my mother's side. His name was Wolf. I was named after him.

DAMON: Do you like working for CNN?

BLITZER: I love working for CNN.

DAMON: Will you give me an internship?

BLITZER: I will when you finish your sophomore year in college if you work really hard. You'll come and you'll be an intern here at CNN.

DAMON: Why is your last name Blitzer?

BLITZER: That's my last name, Blitzer. That was my dad's last name, Blitzer. We didn't make that name up either. That's my real name.

DAMON: You must play linebacker?

BLITZER: It's funny you say that because when I was in high school, I did play linebacker. But that was before they had the blitzing linebackers. I was one of the original Blitzers. I did play linebackers. That's very good. Now, they call you dynamite "d." Why?

DAMON: Because I'm a dynamite. I just explode.

BLITZER: In what sport?

DAMON: Football.

BLITZER: What position?

DAMON: Tight end and defensive end.

BLITZER: Wow, that's pretty good. Dynamite "d." We're going to tall you dynamite "d." Damon, go back to sixth grade, do a lot of your homework. Practice being a journalist. Maybe you will be a journalist, an astronaut, a doctor. The whole world is out there for you. Thanks for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM?

It was cool but not as cool as the White House? The White House is cooler?

DAMON: Yes.

BLITZER: You are a good man. Thank you.

DAMON: You are welcome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: What a sweet guy. So smart. I hate to think what I was doing when I was 11 years old going into sixth grade. Damon, dynamite "D."

Michael Vick says he is on a mission not just to revive his football career but also to crusade for animal rights. We are going to tell you how animal rights groups are responding.

A first-hand look at the devastation in Taiwan. CNN's John Vause travels with the rescuers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Get right back to Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty File.

Jack?

CAFFERTY: Wolf, this hour the question, when it comes to stimulus and bailout money, has President Obama kept his promise of transparency?

Tom writes from Illinois, "Once again, campaign rhetoric, same old B.S. I am not surprised the results differ from the promises of this crew."

Peggy writes, "Hey, Jack, are you taking a page from the Fox News Channel now? This president has shown more transparency in his first six months in office than his predecessor did in his entire term. Cut him some slack for crying out loud. He is actually out there working. Pick on someone else about transparency."

Martin in Pittsburgh, "I voted for Obama. I still have faith in his success but I'm disappointed that there has been a lack of transparency. When he promised he was going to change Washington and make transparency one of his main goals, it made me and other voters feel like we would have more control over our government. Now, I feel like it is all the same."

Jim writes, "Perception is everything. If I was to give a trillion dollars away, how long would it take for me to figure out how the money was being spent? Yes, President Obama is doing what he promised. Maybe not at the speed we would like but progress that counts is seldom fast."

Alex in Atlanta says, "Not a question of transparency. Anyone with a computer can easily access the information he needs. The issues are the abject laziness of most people and the muddy, fuzzy filters through which special interest groups pass the facts." Jillian writes from Orleans, California, "Transparent? More like opaque. I am highly disappointed in the administration because things are more obscure than ever. At least when Bush was president, we knew he was screwing us over because it was so overt."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, check out the blog site, CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post hundreds of them there. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Happening now, blunt questions for President Obama about the cost and scope of health care reform. Skeptics and supporters make their voices heard in Montana. One questioner reveals to me whether he got an honest answer.

Plus, he did prison time for dogfighting. Now, Michael Vick is getting a second chance in the NFL. Animal rights activists are furious. At least some of them are. Mary Snow in Philadelphia with reaction to Vick's signing with the eagles.

Typhoon survivors trapped in mud and rushing water. Danger and the death toll rising right now. A CNN exclusive this hour, John Vause, takes us on a dramatic rescue mission in Taiwan.

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