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Michigan Affirmative Action Ban Upheld; Watching The Planet Get Warmer; Search Not Over, One Month After Landslide

Aired April 22, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, with the Bluefin-21 search area nearly now complete, is it time to ask if searchers have been looking in the wrong place this whole time?

Rob McCallum is a CNN analyst and ocean search specialist and Mary Schiavo is a CNN aviation analyst and an attorney for victims and families of transportation accidents.

Rob, the Bluefin-21 is expected to complete its search in the next couple of days. I don't know how to take this news. Is it that there's a third left to search and, good news, we're going to find it there in the one-third that is left or is it, boy, they are almost done and they are coming up snake eyes, maybe this was the wrong place the whole time?

ROB MCCALLUM, CNN ANALYST: Well, it could be the wrong place altogether, but we don't know that yet and we have to allow them to search the last 30 percent before we can make any sort of definitive decision on that. But it is becoming clear that if this area doesn't pan out, then area is going to have to widen and it's going to have to widen to include all of the pinger locations or places where pingers were thought to be heard and then back along the arc of the aircraft track heading northwards.

TAPPER: Mary, was there too much optimism that these pings definitely came from the black boxes? Does the fact that they've gone so long in the search and not found anything put doubt on those initial readings?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVAITION ANALYST: Well, I think just the length of time that they have searched and not found anything would just naturally put doubt on things. But with the pingers, there's so much practically about it that says it had to be the planes. I mean, there are just not pingers there for any other purpose. There were some people were saying it could be animal tracking devices. That's not what they have - and on oceanographers' equipment or fishing equipment. It's just not the same. Besides, the batteries would have been dead if it had been out there for awhile.

So I think the pinger is likely -- it's very likely that it's from the plane and that they are searching in the right place, but there's a lot of questions. For example, they said the ocean plays trick on sound, and that sound is very unusual in the ocean. There's a particular layer of the ocean where it can travel long distances. Maybe before they widen the search, they need to actually experiment. Put a pinger under the ocean and find out how far a good, strong one will travel. Find out if it degrades to 33.5 if the battery runs down. And really start to narrow it, really for some old-fashioned, scientific testing.

TAPPER: Rob, you and I have spoken at length about whether the Bluefin is the right equipment to be searching at these depths because it only goes so deep. Is there a chance that the Bluefin could have missed something in its scans of these areas?

MCCAALLUM: Yes, it's possible. You know, the Bluefin is operated by a pretty good team, but it's a technical tool. It's used for pinpoint searching in a relatively confined space. And so whenever you're using sonar under water, there is a chance that you will miss something.

The good news is that the data that is collected by the Bluefin is available on a hard drive and so it can be analyzed and reanalyzed by a fresh set of eyes. So if they missed it in the first analysis, it would pay to get somebody else to come and look at the data and see what is being missed.

TAPPER: Mary, the families are very frustrated by the lack of information being presented at these technical briefings. You've represented families of disasters like these in your other life. What are the airlines and governments obligated to provide, do you think?

SCHIAVO: Well, under international law, they are obligated to provide them compensation. They are obligated to keep them advised. They are obligated to help them get to the accident site, to give them information, to help them with memorials, et cetera.

But in terms of hard specifics and how often they get briefed, no. We're used to a different set of laws that are enacted that cover only the United States, and that requires very frequent briefings. It requires transparency with the NTSB, with the families. So we're used to a different standard.

However, that being said, the Malaysians have been particularly egregious. Anyone that works with families knows once you schedule something and you tell them that you're going to give them some information and you're coming to tell them something and you cancel that or you don't show or the briefing doesn't come off, it's one of the worst things you could possibly do because they hope for and they just latch on to the promise that they are going to be provided some information, something, because that's all they have to hang on to. So, those were serious, serious mistakes, and I think it might have put the ability of the Malaysians to complete the investigation in jeopardy. They just won't be trusted.

TAPPER: Rob McCallum, Mary Schiavo, thank you so much.

When we come back, Malaysian officials discuss the possibility of issuing death certificates for those on board Flight 370, all 239 on board so family members can receive assistance. But will those family members accept the finality of it without any sign of the plane?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time for the Money Lead. For the families of Flight 370's passengers, the wait for answers, any answers has been long and painful. But according to Sarah Bajc, passenger Philip Wood's partner, some have gotten phone calls that they wish would stop.


SARAH BAJC, PHILIP WOOD'S PARTNER: The general perception within the family group, nobody is interested in compensation lawsuits. And we're really quite sick of being hassled by attorneys trying to get us to sign on to earn millions of dollars. That's got to stop.


TAPPER: As we've seen in the countless images and videos of distraught family members, the situation has taken its toll emotionally. But crudely, it also has a financial cost. And now that a U.S. time limit for when lawyers can contact family members has passed, will families take more action?

Let's bring in Richard Quest. He is in Kuala Lumpur. So Richard, help us understand what these families need in order to be able to file insurance claims and lawsuits.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that depends very much on the country you're in. For instance, here in Malaysia, the insurance association of Malaysia has announced in the last few days that death certificates will not be needed or required if families wish to proceed with life insurance claims. Because obviously it's quite difficult. There's a legal morass, bearing in mind a need for -- since there's no body and no presumption of death yet, therefore, how can you have a death certificate?

But there is a recognition, a reality that people do need to file claims. So individual countries will have individual rules and regulations that will allow them from the insurance point of view, Jake, to file their claims.

Now, from the compensation point of view, that's, of course, is governed by the international treaty, the Montreal Convention. Certain payments have already been made. We can expect further interim payments to be made under the Montreal Convention, article 28. And then ultimately, you're looking at final payments in the future.

TAPPER: And Richard, if they want to sue, who can they sue? Just the airline? Can they sue the government?

QUEST: No. No. First of all, it's jurisdictions, and you're at who you sue -- you sue the airline. Governments tend to have sovereign immunity in most jurisdictions, so you sue the airline. In this case it will be Malaysia Airlines. If you can prove that the plane, the 777 was at fault, you would sue Boeing, and that would put you into the United States.

But at the moment, with no plane and with no report and no findings of facts, you're pretty much lost as to who you would sue. Ultimately, Montreal Convention, it gives you about $150,000 automatically -- U.S. dollars automatically under strict liability. And then it is up to the airline to prove that they did nothing wrong or that somebody else did something wrong.

But without the plane, then the Montreal Convention is there. That's the only bit you've got. And we're still some way off this. The lawyers have already been seeking clients, Jake. The U.S. 45-day limit seems to have been ignored by one particular firm in the United States. Others can now be expected to seek clients.

But here's the point. You're not suing at the moment in the U.S. unless you can get Boeing into the action. And you can't get Boeing into the action until you can prove, which you can't at the moment, the 777 is at fault.

TAPPER: Richard Quest in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, thank you very much.

Coming up, the Buried Lead. We'll take you to the ends of the earth, literally. A photographer capturing some unbelievable images for you on this Earth Day.

And in national news, the consoler-in-chief. President Obama visits with families trying to rebuild after disaster struck. What did he tell them? That's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. It is a Supreme Court ruling that could dramatically impact college admissions policies across the country. In a 6-2 today, the court upheld a Michigan law that bans affirmative action programs at publicly-funded schools. The law was approved by Michigan voters back in 2006, but was later overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and according to today's ruling that lower court essentially overstepped its bounds by reversing a policy approved by voters.

That clears the way for other states to try and adopt similar bans on affirmative action. The Supreme Court's first Latina justice, Sonia Sotomayor, harshly criticized the decision saying it will lead to a decline in minority enrollment in Michigan schools. But in his ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the case was not so much about how the debate over racial preferences should be resolved but who should resolve them.

Now it's time for our "Buried Lead," a milestone just in time for earth day, but unfortunately it's not the kind of milestone environmentalists were hoping for. Scientists now say concentration of carbon dioxide in atmosphere has been consistently above 400 parts per million for the last month. It's a higher rate of Co2 than earth has seen in millions of years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And for those who still think the overwhelming majority of scientists are wrong about manmade climate change, take a look at this. For almost a decade, the celebrated photographer and founder of the extreme ice survey, James Baylock, has been bringing us photographic evidence of global warming from near the North Pole.

His work was the subject of the 2012 documentary "Chasing Ice." Now Baylock is capturing more time lapsed evidence in the South Pole, in the southern hemisphere. I recently had a chance to talk to him while he was aboard the National Geographic Explorer and I asked him about the goals of his new mission to the bottom of the world.


JAMES BALOG, PHOTOGRAPHER: We've been working for eight years looking at glacial changes, glaciers receding as a result of climate change and we're expanding our evidence. We've seen glaciers and ice sheets disappearing at an astonishing rate. I never imagined that we'd see change this radical in such a short period of time. But we've seen these big tons of ice breaking back or melting off and changing the glacial dynamics of this amazing landscapes until recently people thought were big enduring monolithic blobs.

TAPPER: How do you convince skeptics that something has to change?

BALOG: Many years ago I have to admit that I was one of those who thought about the belief and ideology more than evidence. I thought it was simply impossible that humans could change the basic physics in chemistry of this gigantic planet of ours and once I started to understand the evidence, particularly, that which is in the glaciers of the world, I realized that climate change is indeed real. It's happening right now. It's not something for the distant imaginary future. It's right now.

TAPPER: And you're convinced that this is mainly due to man and changes that humans are making to the environment and the atmosphere?

BALOG: Yes. Based on the evidence, I think we've got a natural change that is being exaggerated and made more intense by human activity, the burning of fossil fuels, basically dumping the waste of our combustion into the atmosphere.

TAPPER: You're witnessing some of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen captured on film and yet it must feel somewhat hopeless at the same time. Are you inspired? Do you feel defeated?

BALOG: Yes, I actually find it inspiring. I take inspiration from these fantastic landscapes. I take inspiration from the opportunity that through our cameras we can be a voice for these landscapes. Look, climate change didn't happen overnight. It's happened over decades and centuries, tailpipe by tailpipe. And it's going to be corrected over decades and centuries.

We shouldn't be naive and childish and think that there's a short-term fix and incentive for every possible change right away. But it's something that can be dealt with and I find it fascinating to be here at this moment in history being part of this whole story.

TAPPER: James Balog, thank you so much. Stay warm.


TAPPER: A stunning reminder of how beautiful and how fragile the planet is on this earth day.

Wolf Blitzer is here with a preview of "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf, we now know about the significant attacks in Yemen against al Qaeda that they happen. Do we know specifically who they were targeting?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": They were targeting high value targets. And there's some suspicion that the master bomb maker, Ibrahim Al-Asiri, he may have been hit. They are doing DNA testing. Our own Mohammed Jamjoom is working his sources in Yemen right now. He'll be joining us. Barbara Starr from the Pentagon will be getting analysis from retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Richard Myers is going to be joining us as well.

There are dramatic developments and as you know, President Obama is not shy about authorizing these drone strikes going in with missiles to assassinate high-value targets, as they are called, and there were a recent series of them in Yemen over the past few days.

TAPPER: All right, Wolf Blitzer, we'll be watching "THE SITUATION ROOM" coming up. When we come back, President Obama making a stop before his Asia swing to get a full scope of the tragedy. Where he is and who is he meeting with next. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In national news, President Obama is making his way out of the country for an Asian trip leaving on a sombre note with a stop-over in Washington State right now to view the destruction from a massive landslide there with his own eyes. Today marks a month since mud, dirt and rocks smothered a square mile about an hour north of Seattle. At least 41 people are dead, two people still are still missing. The president is meeting with relatives of the victims and with rescue crews.

Our own Ana Cabrera is standing there live for us. Ana, it's been a month and the president witnessed an effort that's still amazingly very much in progress.

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. It is just an overwhelming amount of devastation when you look at this landslide area. We got word the president just finished his aerial tour and is now off to meet with those families. He's definitely seeing not only slow, methodical progress, but the community really united by tragedy. We see signs like this and yellow ribbons throughout the surrounding communities as people are there to support those who've been affected by this horrific disaster. We went back into this landslide area just yesterday to give all of you a better sense of the search effort still underway.


CABRERA: Is this the last zone to be search? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's not the last zone.

CABRERA (voice-over): The work seems never ending. It's been one month since the mountainside plunge into the town of Oso, Washington. Searcher, Ben Woodward, took us right into the heart of the slide.

(on camera): What was here before the landslide?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sparse houses, trees.

CABRERA (voice-over): We walked along what was once a highway. The surroundings don't even resemble the community that once flourished here, yet this is progress.

BEN WOODWARD, SEARCHER: We're standing under at least ten feet of water a few weeks ago.

CABRERA (on camera): Water and mud still creating the biggest challenges for these search crews. We are told that water was above my head when that landslide first hit. They had to create a water channel with pumps able to move the water out of this area just to give search crews access to work here. Special machinery like this excavator just arrived. This gives you an idea of what search crews are up against. Logs, mud, piles of debris stacked 20 to 40 feet high in some places.

(voice-over): The slow, sloppy, and dangerous work comes with an emotional toll. So far, at least 41 victims have been recovered in the disaster zone. A Washington spruce tree left standing now serves as a makeshift memorial for the lives lost. It provides a source of strength for the ongoing recovery effort.


CABRERA: There are still two people missing and this are months of recovery ahead and even when this search effort ends, there are still months ahead of clean up and rebuilding -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ana Cabrera in Oso, Washington. Thank you. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I know turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Jake, thanks very much.