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Obama Touts Connected Program at MD Middle School; CNN Poll -- Christie Fades, Clinton Rises; Syrian Military Drops Barrel Bombs on Aleppo; Volcano Victims; Cancer Cases Surge; Saudi Man Loses Weight

Aired February 4, 2014 - 12:30   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CO-ANCHOR: President Barack Obama is getting out of the White House today. He's out and about, trying to push the domestic agenda.

He's been at a Maryland middle school, talking up the new Connected program, designed to expand Internet access in schools.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Some of America's leading tech companies are pledging about $750 million towards that effort, which includes expanding bandwidth and providing tablets and laptop computers.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Technology can help. It's a tool. It's just one more tool.

So today the average school has about the same Internet bandwidth as the average American home, but it serves 200 times as many people.

Think about it. So you've got the same bandwidth, but it's a school. It's not your house.

Only around 30 percent of our students have true high-speed Internet in the classroom.


MALVEAUX: And this afternoon, the Senate is expected to pass the long- awaited farm bill. It is nearly $1 trillion -- that's with a T -- dollars.

While called the Farm Bill, it's more like a food bill. It sets eating and farming policy, including what we grow and what you know about your food.

HOLMES: Yeah, it's controversial in some areas.

Some key provisions of this bill include the $80 billion food-stamp program. It continues, but will be cut by one percent. That's going to impact some families.

Farmers are going to get cheaper government crop insurance and meat and chicken sold in the U.S. will now include details on where it is from, where it's slaughtered and processed.

MALVEAUX: And in politics, what a difference actually two months can make, although it's changing constantly here, let's face it.

A new CNN poll says that New Jersey's governor Chris Christie's numbers now have faded. Hillary Clinton have increased. So in a possible 2016 match-up, and we are talking about 2016 already.

HOLMES: I know.

MALVEAUX: A couple years away.

Christie trails by 16 points, Clinton at 55 percent, Christie at 39 percent, among registered voters, nationwide.

It was two months ago that Christie led by two points.

HOLMES: Now for the GOP nomination, former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, familiar name there, he was a 2008 candidate. He is on top of the list.

Fourteen percent of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say they would likely support Huckabee if he runs, Senator Rand Paul, second at 13 percent, Christie tied with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, with 10 percent.

MALVEAUX: All right.

So we've got to bring in Wolf to talk about all of this, to make sense of all of these poll numbers.

And Wolf, you know, it's a little ways away from the election. But what do you think of this?

Do you think that the numbers indicate that Christie is being hurt more by the scandal than Clinton is with her problems with the fallout of Benghazi?

What do we make of all of this back and forth?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Among the Republican base, certainly among independents, and potential Democrats who might switch and vote for Christie, his numbers have really gone south over these past few weeks since the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal erupted.

He's in trouble if he wants to run for the Republican presidential nomination. He was pretty good shape a couple months ago, now not so much.

We'll see how he does in the course of the next several months as this investigation, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey looking into this scandal. See what evolves. Last night, as you know, he was firm in insisting he knew nothing about it, unequivocal, kept referring to that word.

As far as Hillary Clinton is concerned, among the Democratic base, some of those other so-called scandals, whether Benghazi, some of these other issues, don't seem to be hurting her at all.

By far, she is the front-runner, certainly hers to lose if, and still a big if, if she decides to run once again for president of the United States. She is way ahead of the field right now.

Look at those numbers right now, 70 percent among Democrats' choice.

And remember, we're two years away from the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary in January and February of 2016, so there is still a ways to go.

But she's in pretty good shape.

HOLMES: I suppose if a week is a long time in politics, goodness knows what could happen over the next two years as this all shakes out.

When you look at a number like that, Wolf, 70 percent, that is extraordinary.

What message does that send to the other potential Democratic candidates? You know, Biden, Martin O'Malley, Cuomo, those sorts of names? What is the message to them?

BLITZER: It gives them serious pause if they are thinking of running for the Democratic presidential nomination, because it would be a huge challenge they would face.

Having said that, at this point, in the 2007-2008 cycle, the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, he wasn't even up there.


He wasn't registering at all, because nobody was focusing in on him as a potential Democratic -- it was only later in the year, in 2006, that he started to make some moves and formally begin to move towards an announcement.

Look, there is it still a long way to go. Politics is a crazy business, as all of us know, so let's see what happens.

And one of the wild cards -- I keep referring to this, because it's something we should pay attention. She is in great shape right now, Hillary Clinton, but she did have a health scare a year or so ago when she had a blood clot in her brain.

Let's just see how her health is. If she is healthy and strong, she will run. She still would like to be, I have no doubt, the first woman president of the United States.

HOLMES: Yeah. And great point, too, Wolf, on Barack Obama not even on the radar at this point when he was about to run.

So, good context, as always, Wolf Blitzer. Thanks so much.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Wolf.

We are watching this, as well, horror scenes from neighborhoods that are on the front lines of the civil war in Syria.

Activists say that barrels packed with explosives have been raining down from military aircraft.

We've got a live report on the devastation, straight ahead.


HOLMES: Just some horrible images coming out of Syria, this after the government's latest air raid. This is happening in Aleppo.

We've talked about these things before, but they are particularly nasty weaponry, barrel bombs, packed with explosives and dropping down on a major city.

MALVEAUX: On rebel-held areas of Aleppo, human rights groups now say more than 150 people have been killed in that northern city, just in the past three days alone.


Mohammed Jamjoom has the details. We've got to warn you that some of the pictures are hard to watch.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dread and helplessness in the terrifying aftermath of a bombing, a little girl's body is pulled from the rubble.

Scenes like this too shocking to comprehend, too agonizing to process, have become almost common in Aleppo, the results of barrel bombs, activists and medics tell CNN, though there is no way to independently verify their claims.

In the video here, traumatized residents scramble to find survivors. One young girl's leg sticks out from the rubble. No one knows if she is alive or dead. Then, a sign of hope, she moves her feet. They dig her out alive.

Tragically, activists say, she died later at the hospital. They say this sickening documentation proves yet again how war crimes are committed by the regime of al-Assad and barrel bombs one of his cruelest weapons.

Drums packed with explosives and shrapnel, delivering death and destruction from above, they can level entire buildings with one hit, as activists say they did here. The regime maintains it is only targeting terrorists and rejects war crime allegations.

In Aleppo, since Saturday, activists and medics say the bombardment has been constant.

Amid the chaos of this scene, the panic, as thick of the smoke, alarms and explosions continue to go off. Flames engulf a building as rage engulfs the crowd.

Let that son of a bitch come over here and see what he did, screams this man about Syria's foreign minister. Let him come see how women and children are being killed.

And then this man, so overcome with anger, he is shaking. Is this your political solution, he asks? Is this the political solution you talk about while Syria is being destroyed?

With death all around him, he references a deadlock in diplomacy, peace talks that yielded nothing for his people.

As delegations met in Geneva, condemning the use of barrel bombs, activists say the killings continued.

Here the lifeless body of one child is being carried off as another child watches. Women wail in agony, armed only with the knowledge that nothing here can shield them from the hell raining down upon them.


HOLMES: And Mohammed joins us now from neighboring Lebanon.

Mohammed, when you look at weaponry, these things being dumped out of helicopters and the size of the explosion, just horrible, and this death toll continues to rise.

As you point out in your story, the Geneva talks achieving nothing. Is there any chance that this will be raised if there are more talks and if so, is that likely to achieve anything?

JAMJOOM: Well, if and when there are more talks, Michael, certainly this will be one of the priorities on the agenda, trying to stop these barrel bombings from taking place.

I say if, because it's still very unclear if there will be another round of peace talks. The last round, it took months of wrangling before the opposition and the regime agreed to actually go.

Now, after the second round of peace talks ended, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has still not definitively agreed to attend a third round of peace talks.

So first we have to consider if they will happen, and even if they do happen, the fact of the matter is, the expectation that anything coming out of these talks are set very low.

The last time out, we reported several days there was enormous pressure being put on both sides to come to some sort of an agreement to get aid to one of the most besieged areas of Syria, yet no aid was ever delivered. They couldn't ever come to an agreement.

So prospects for this actually making an impact on the ground in Syria very low. And that's what's really the most disturbing thing of all.

MALVEAUX: And Mohammed, it's so -- it's just so disturbing to see these images and the people there screaming. It's hard it to get a sense of whether or not there is any kind of hope that is still in the community.

Has this destroyed people's hope? I mean, does this change the equation here, when you've got barrel bombs just indiscriminately, you know, released on neighborhoods and children and people suffering and killed like this?

JAMJOOM: It's a very good question, Suzanne. And, yes, it has destroyed hope.

The people that I speak with, whether they be in Aleppo, where these barrel bombs have been dropping constantly for the last four days, or in places like Homs, they don't see any resolution. They don't have any hope things will be better.

They are urging the international community to come up with some sort of a solution to their suffering.


But really, they feel this terror from the sky, this death and destruction that rains down upon them, all day long -- to give you one example, on Saturday, when there were so many barrel bombs dropped in Aleppo, we were told by a medic that in the course of four hours in one neighborhood, 17 of these devastating bombs dropped.


Ninety people were killed that day, most of them women and children. It's been over 100 since then. And it seems to only be getting worse.


HOLMES: It's just amazing, that volume of that sort of explosion.

MALVEAUX: I can't imagine.

HOLMES: It's like having a 500-pound bomb come in.

Mohammed, thanks for bringing this our attention. A horrible, horrible situation.

If you want to help the millions of Syrians who are now living as refugees in neighboring countries, or displaced within their own country, log on to

MALVEAUX: I mean we are certainly hoping that everyone can make a difference in the lives of these people who are just -- it's devastating. Years -- three years now Syria's civil war. Just do what you can.

HOLMES: Yes. And you've got an opposition that can't agree amongst themselves and rebels fighting amongst themselves.

MALVEAUX: Fighting amongst themselves.

HOLMES: Just no hope at the moment.

All right, meanwhile, here's more of what we've got to come here on AROUND THE WORLD.

The deadly volcano that erupted, claimed at least 15 lives, left a community in ruins.

MALVEAUX: We're going to take you to Indonesia's ground zero up next.

Plus, an alarming report on the future of cancer rates around the world, up next.



MALVEAUX: Search teams are back on the scene of Indonesia's deadly volcanic eruption. They are risking their lives right now to try to find more victims and potentially survivors because 15 people are now confirmed dead.

HOLMES: Yes, this is after plumes of ash -- and as we mentioned yesterday, this ash can be hundreds of degrees hot -- spewed a mile into the sky and then rained down on the people below. And this all happened in a matter of minutes on Saturday. It's in North Sumatra province in Indonesia. Saima Mohsin takes us there.


SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Search and rescue teams are patrolling the three mile radius around Mount Sinabung searching for any survivors or people who might have come back to the dangerous exclusion zone where, right on the outskirts of it, this whole village completely deserted, a ghost village. It's eerily quiet and absolutely everywhere there is ash all over everything.

Take a look at this. There's a crop of tomatoes here completely caked in the ash. And everywhere, when a breeze blows or there's a gust of wind, it lifts up. I can taste the ash in my mouth. I can feel it all over my skin.

This group of houses completely collapsed under the weight of the ash when it fell. And if you take a look at it, it's incredibly thick. Really dense on top of this structure. Thirty thousand people have been forced to flee their homes. It's not known when they'll be able to come back because this volcano is still active.

With 129 active volcanoes across Indonesia, the Indonesian people and government have had to learn to cope with and prepare for disasters like this. The National Disaster Mitigation Authority has now added 19 more volcanoes, upped the threat level from normal to alert. Add that to three others last year on high alert and this, Mount Sinabung, an active volcano on the highest threat level of all under dangerous.

Saima Mohsin, CNN, Mount Sinabung, Indonesia.


HOLMES: Now to an alarming new report by the World Health Organization that says cancer cases are expected to surge around the world in the next 20 years.

MALVEAUX: Our own Doctor Sanjay Gupta takes a look at why this is happening and what the report says about what can be done about it.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the prediction is pretty dire from the WHO overall if you look at the numbers. They say over the next two decades they expect to see an increase, a surge really, of 57 percent in terms of new cancer cases. Take a look here at the most recent numbers. 2012, there were 14 million new cancer cases. That's new cancer cases per year. They think by the year 2030 that number will go up to 22 million. Again, new cases per year.

Part of this is expected. The population of the world is growing. We're getting older, as well. But I think what has surprised a lot of people, just how much of an impact this has been on the developed world as opposed to the developing world.

There's a lot of recommendations in this paper from the WHO about what we can all do to prevent cancer. And they point out that about half of these cancer cases are preventable. Very, very important. Half are preventable. Cutting down on smoking, controlling the alcohol use and weight overall. But also things like vaccines and early detection. Again, both in the developing world and the developed world.

The WHO was also uncharacteristic in recommending certain laws, such as taxes, for example, on products such as tobacco and even sugary products and also taxes potentially on industry. If they're polluting the environment, which could be a cause of cancer.

But again, the take-away I think for a lot of people was the impact on the developed world almost twice the burden in terms of new cancer cases will be there over the next several years, up to 2025, and how to control that is going to be a real focus. Maybe it's more of an investment in early detection screenings and things to prevent cancer in the first place.

Michael, Suzanne, back to you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Sanjay. Half the cases, if you can believe that, preventable.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes.

MALVEAUX: Preventable. We can do something about it. HOLMES: Twelve million to 22 million in a matter of 20 years.

MALVEAUX: Unbelievable.

We are just getting some news here. This is out of West Virginia. This is about that chemical spill last month where you had 300,000 people who actually could not use their water. Well, this case has now become a criminal case.

HOLMES: Yes, CNN has just learned that there is a federal grand jury investigation into that spill and we're going to have a lot more on that story, still developing, in a few minutes at the top of the hour.

MALVEAUX: And just last summer, he weighed more than 1,300 pounds. He couldn't actually even move on his own. Well, now, he is -- we're going to see how he's actually doing. This is after Saudi Arabia's king ordered him to lose weight. So we'll see what happens, up next.



MALVEAUX: Of course, many of us struggle to lose weight, even if it's just 10 pounds. But you can't imagine if you had to lose several hundred pounds. But this is a young Saudi man who has had to do just that.

HOLMES: Yes, with a little --

MALVEAUX: Just to survive.

HOLMES: A little royal encouragement. There he is there. He weighed - now, check this out, 1,345 pounds -- 1,345 pounds back in August. And that's when his story drew international attention. He -- well, obviously, couldn't even move by himself. Leone Lakhani updates us on his progress.


LEONE LAKHANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's been dubbed "the smiling man," and with reason. Obese Saudi teenager Khaled Chairi (ph) is under an intense medical weight loss plan, and it's paying off. He's lost more than 700 pounds since August. That's when he was hospitalized by order of the king himself. He weighed more than 1,300 pounds then. He hadn't been able to leave his bed for three years and had to be taken out of his house with a forklift. Now doctors say his health is steadily improving.


MALVEAUX: That is good news. We hope he continues with his health.

HOLMES: Yes. An extraordinary story.

MALVEAUX: That's a tough road to go.

And down this goes.


MALVEAUX: This is Frankfurt University. Destroyed the 1970s building in a controlled detonation - well, there it goes.

HOLMES: They're always so cool to watch. This was Europe's highest building ever to be demolished in this way, with explosives, 380 feet high.

MALVEAUX: Wow. Tens of thousands of people, they gathered to watch this. It's really quite amazing when you see it. The university actually moved to a new campus so that's why this was destroyed.

HOLMES: Hope so.

MALVEAUX: Their new office towers are going to be built on the site. Yes, they're nowhere around, so don't worry about that.

HOLMES: Yes, I hope they moved before that happened.

MALVEAUX: All right, thanks for watching AROUND THE WORLD.


CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, major news on that chemical spill in a West Virginia river that made tap water undrinkable for hundreds of thousands.