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Israel Investigating Deadly Strike on Children; Union Complaint: Company Limits Bathroom Breaks to Six Minutes a Day; Widow: Veteran's Cancer Surgery Delayed

Aired July 16, 2014 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Bottom of the hour, you're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Explosives fired by Israel have fallen on a beach in Gaza, killing four children, just reportedly out playing soccer. You can see video. We're just going to show the aftermath of the scene. It is awful, awful stuff to look at. You see these gurneys, these four small bodies being carried away.

Paramedics tell CNN, the victims' ages range from 9 to 11 years of age. Israel says it is investigating how this happened. CNN's Wolf Blitzer is with me now from Jerusalem. So Wolf, let's just begin with the story we just talked about with these kids. Has the Israeli government said anything else, given any kind of explanation as to how these four kids were killed playing soccer on a beach?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": I know they're investigating the specifics of this shelling, whatever it was, what happened. What may have gone wrong? I did speak with an Israeli cabinet minister, Naftali Bennett, who is a member of the inner security cabinet, spoke in the last hour with him. He's directly blaming Hamas, like other Israeli officials I've spoken with over the past hour or so.

They're blaming Hamas for rejecting the ceasefire that Israeli accepted. They make the point, those four little boys would be alive right now if that ceasefire had gone into effect, if Hamas had accepted the ceasefire. And there wouldn't have been any shelling shall wouldn't have been any air strikes, wouldn't have been any Hamas rockets and missiles coming into Israel.

But that ceasefire was rejected and the fighting has clearly escalated over the past 24 hours. It's a tragedy. Israelis always say they try to be as precise as they possibly can, but you're right, a lot of Palestinian civilians, young people, men, women, children, elderly, who have been caught up in this.

Gaza is a very, very heavily populated area, one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. And if the Israelis are going after specific targets, sometimes they're placed near populated areas, and they're going to be the civilian casualties. Formally the Israeli government hasn't said what happened. Informally, saying Hamas should have accepted that ceasefire. BALDWIN: We talk about the cease fire. You talked to a top Palestinian who told you that Hamas remains defiant because Israel has not followed the deals to stop similar wars back in 2009 and 2012. You know this part of the world almost better than anyone at CNN. To your knowledge, folks you're talking to, is that charge true? Do you know what he's talking about specifically?

BLIZTER: Well, yes, that was Nabil Shaf, he is a senior adviser to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. He felt they made a blunder in not accepting the ceasefire, like the Egyptians, other Arab countries. They wanted that cease fire to go into effect. He is hoping now on second thought Hamas will come around. He did say the political leadership may be more inclined to accept the ceasefire as opposed to the military wing, which seems to be adamant in continuing these rocket attacks against Israel.

So it's unclear. I do know that there is a new proposal on the ground right now, a proposal for a humanitarian pause, a temporary ceasefire that the United Nations putting that forward. Israeli officials say they're willing to consider it. We haven't received official reaction yet from Hamas. It would be good, though, stop the fighting, take a pause right now and start dealing with some of these long-term issues.

You asked who is to blame over the past couple of years for violating that earlier ceasefire at the end of 2012 and I was here at that time covering that earlier confrontation. I think it's fair to say, Brooke, there is plenty of blame to go around in this horrible, horrible conflict.

BALDWIN: Wolf, thank you. We will watch for you as you've been there almost a week now. Anchoring "SITUATION ROOM" live from Jerusalem, starting at 5:00 Eastern only here on CNN. Wolf Blitzer, appreciate it.

Just ahead, does your boss monitor your bathroom breaks? One company accused of allowing employees only 6 minutes a day. We will tell you why. Next.


BALDWIN: Six minutes a day to use the bathroom during work time, according to a union that is the rule at this Chicago faucet company and it has workers protesting. The union filed a complaint saying the company unfairly disciplined 19 workers in June for quote/unquote, "excessive use of bathrooms."

The company says the policy is in place because some employees were spending way too much time in the bathrooms and not enough time on the manufacturing line. So what did they do? They installed swipe card systems on their bathrooms last winter. They even have a reward system so you get a $20 gift card if you don't use the bathroom at all during work time.

I wouldn't be getting one of those because sometimes you've got to go. And we're going to leave it there, Danny Cevallos. I chuckle talking about this story, and I know you shake your head too. But apparently these employees were wasting like up to an hour a day using the facilities. What do you think?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it is -- it's really -- what's even more fascinating is that the law in this area in Illinois is sort of a hodgepodge of OSHA and the FLSA, the fair labor standards act. The FLSA does not require breaks. However, if your employer did choose to give you breaks, they can't dock you in pay for any breaks that are under 20 minutes.

On the other hand, OSHA itself appears to require reasonable bathroom breaks. What exactly that means, I guess remains to be seen in Illinois. However, there is no requirement in Illinois that you be given bathroom breaks other than they be reasonable. So maybe 6 minutes a day is considered reasonable for the average employee.

BALDWIN: OK. The thought of having my boss monitor and have to use swipe cards to go to the ladies' is insane to me. But at the same time, this union here says that human resources has asked workers to explain what they were doing in the bathroom. Legally can they do that?

CEVALLOS: So this is fascinating to me because the scuttlebutt I hear is that the complaints are people are apparently on their cell phones in the bathroom. This is a problem that we didn't have in 1985.


CEVALLOS: That now people -- forget about taking a newspaper into the bathroom. No one does that anymore.

BALDWIN: Catching up on Facebook on their phones.

CEVALLOS: Absolutely. They sit on their phone, and while that's -- do I need to finish the rest? They just sit there on their phone. So if that's going on, your employer may have an argument there. But this is relatively new ground. In the last few years, we've been able to bring the entire universe of the internet into the bathroom stall with us.

So employers have to hash out whether or not a reasonable bathroom break includes reading the "New York Times" online or the 6 minutes or 8 minutes that an employer deems reasonable to spend in the stall.

BALDWIN: And this is what it's come down to. Thank you, mobile phones and I guess the people who abuse that. Danny Cevallos, we'll just leave it. Danny, thank you so much.

CEVALLOS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up, you thought he was gone. No, he is back in a big way. Weird Al making a lot of headlines these days. He's using this unique promotional stunt to get the word out about his new album and giving fans a preview of some of his new tunes.

Want to know who Weird Al sat down with? This man, Mr. Jake tapper. We'll get the scoop, next.


BALDWIN: Tomorrow night, my favorite episode of "The Sixties" premiers.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: 3, 2, 1, 0, we have liftoff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The space race was about our own sense of security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't really know whether a human could survive in space and the Soviets send this guy to space, and he survived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were in a race, and the Russians were the bad guys, and they were winning this race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say for most of the '60s, we had a sense of being behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that this nation should committee itself to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a moment when the whole world kind of stopped in their tracks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of human experience will be divided two eras. Before man walked on the moon and after man walked on the moon.

ANNOUNCER: "The Sixties" tomorrow night at 9:00 on CNN.


BALDWIN: By the way, quick addendum, the song we're playing there, Steven Stills wrote the song, he's joining me tomorrow, live here on the show.

You know, some singers come and go, but one man appears to be standing the test of time. A man, who, quite frankly, needs no introduction.

Weird Al Yankovic making hits off other people's hits. This week released a new album, already pumping out the hits. One a play on Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." He called it "Word Crimes."

And being a grammar nerd, I appreciated that one. Jake Tapper, you just sat down with Weird Al. What did he have to say for himself?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "THE LEAD": First of all, can I say that that song "Word Crimes" is so much better than "Blurred Lines?"

BALDWIN: Like a thousand million, gajillion times better.

TAPPER: And maybe it's just because I'm a word and grammar nerd but it's just brilliant. Anyway, we sat down together and one of the questions I had for Mr. Yankovic was, how much the business model has changed. Of course, you may or may not remember, Brooke, but he came up really exploded in the '80s, making fun of Michael Jackson.

BALDWIN: I was around in the '80s, Tapper.

TAPPER: You're just so youthful and he made -- you know, he parodied Madonna and Michael Jackson and that was a time when MTV really controlled the music video market. But now MTV doesn't run music videos. So I asked him, is this better, is he able to achieve more with his art? What does it mean?


"WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC, PARODY SINGER-SONGWRITER: MTV doesn't really stand for music television anymore and for my purposes, the internet is the new MTV. So I am basically marketing toward the online audience. And I -- it does allow me to try things that maybe I wouldn't have tried before, because before I was trying to go for the heavy orientation on MTV and trying to think, what would the MTV executives like? And how it's basically, what do I like, what do the fans like?


TAPPER: It's without question, you know, people as much as people enjoyed "Eat It" and "Fat" and "Like A Surgeon" in the '80s, "Word Crimes" is another level of sophistication that he's really grown as an artist, I have to say and the longevity. He started contributing songs to the pop culture in 1976. He's 55 years old, and he's still going strong. It's pretty incredible.

BALDWIN: Where is his mustache? Jake tapper, did you ask that hard- hitting question?

TAPPER: I -- I didn't even notice that he didn't have a mustache. I'm sorry.

BALDWIN: You're such a man. Jake Tapper, I can't wait to see the interview and your spin on it. The top of the hour on "THE LEAD." Thank you so much, my friend. Appreciate that.

Coming up next, CNN broke the story about the long wait times across the country. Today the interim secretary of Veterans' Affairs grilled on Capitol Hill and CNN is learning that some VA leaders did not seem to be terribly concerned about this problem. We'll tell you what the VA's head of oncology said when discussing the issue.


BALDWIN: Congress today did a check-up of the troubled VA system. You know, CNN first reported how veterans were waiting months and months and months to see a doctor. The new secretary of Veterans Affairs told us in a committee in the last two months that VA has contacted 160,000 veterans to get them off those long waiting lists and conducted 543,000 referrals for vets to be seen by private doctors. And, he says, he is reforming the scheduling system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SLOAN GIBSON, ACTING SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: We're putting place a comprehensive external audit of scheduling practices across the entire VHA system. We are building a more robust, continuing system for measuring patient satisfaction, which I believe will be central to our measurement processes in the future.


BALDWIN: But all of this comes way too late for some veterans' families. They are complaining of long wait times not just to see a doctor, but even worse, to receive critical surgeries like removing a tumor. Here is CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sergeant Terry Mitchell, radio operator in Vietnam withstood fire deep in the jungle, exposed to agent orange, survived all of it and then his wife believes his life was cut short by delays in care here at the VA.

(on camera): What do you call this place?

VICKI MITCHELL, WIDOW: VA hell because you are in hell when you get here.

COHEN (voice-over): Here's what she means. August 8, 2012, a VA pathologist finds a growth on Terry Mitchell's neck is concerning for cancer and recommends complete excision. In other words, operate and get it out. But Vicki Mitchell says her husband then got bounced around from doctor to doctor. Medical records show it took two and a half months to have his surgery.

The Dallas VA where Mitchell had his surgery tells CNN this meets the standard of care at the VA and that Mitchell didn't have a typical type of skin cancer and therefore did not have a typical treatment plan. We talked to cancer surgeons outside the VA and they say they don't wait two and a half months to operate on their patients. More like a few weeks at the most.

(on camera): The patients here wait months to get their cancer removed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Certainly not.

COHEN (voice-over): Dr. Karl Bilimoria is a cancer surgeon at Northwestern University. He did a study of looking at cancer surgery wait times at the VA compared to other hospitals.

DR. KARL BILIMORIA, CANCER SURGEAN, NORTHWESTERN MEMORIA HOSPITAL: The waits at the VA hospitals were roughly twice that of community hospitals.

COHEN: Waits to remove liver cancers or colon cancers were more than twice as long at the VA. Dr. Bilimoria's team first reported their findings three years ago. (on camera): Do you think anything's gotten better?

BILIMORIA: I don't think anything's really changed.

COHEN: You wouldn't let your patients wait months for a cancer surgery. So is that acceptable for our veterans to wait months?

BILIMORIA: No, I don't think it's appropriate that they wait months.

COHEN: So you've had meetings with top VA leadership and you've attended their conferences. I would think they would have said, my goodness. We have to fix this right away, but it doesn't sound like that's the response that you the got.

BILIMORIA: No, and I don't think it's particularly surprising to anybody that's worked at the VA.

COHEN (voice-over): After getting nowhere, the Northwestern researcher sent an e-mail, directly to Dr. Michael Kelley, the head of oncology at the VA Nationally. The VA doctor replied back in part, "Timeliness of care is of interest, but would not be at the top of my list."

(on camera): Are you joking?


COHEN (voice-over): We read his email to Vicki Mitchell.

MITCHELL: Who is he? I'd like to go visit him.

COHEN (on camera): Dr. Michael Kelley.

MITCHELL: I would like to go visit that man because I want to take every one of my grandkids and my kids and let him tell that to them. Let him be diagnosed with something like that and see what happens.

COHEN: What would you say to him?

MITCHELL: I hope he doesn't ever get this kind of cancer and gets treated at the VA because he's up the creek without a paddle. My god, I can't believe he said that.

COHEN (voice-over): Dr. Kelley declined our request for an on-camera interview. In a statement he said, "No veteran should have to wait for needed cancer care. It is not appropriate or acceptable for a veteran to wait for months for cancer surgery. I strongly believe that timeliness in the delivery of care is a top priority, which is why I've been actively engaged in the improvement of VA's quality and timeliness of cancer care."

A VA official added that what Dr. Kelley meant in his e-mail was that he didn't think the Northwestern research was the highest priority and that he questioned their findings. That's not good enough for Vicki Mitchell especially since the VA knew about the study showing long waits well before her husband got sick. (on camera): If he had made timeliness more of a priority, how would that have changed things for your husband?

MITCHELL: It would probably made his care better and he would be with me, not in the ground.

COHEN (voice-over): Doctors tell us there's no way to know for sure whether getting the cancer out sooner would have saved Terry Mitchell. All his widow knows is that shortly after the operation they found cancer in his lungs. Six months later, he was dead. Mitchell still has her love letters her late husband wrote her from the war zone all those years ago.

MITCHELL: You're the only girl in my life and you will always be.

COHEN (on camera): Do you miss him?

MITCHELL: My God, yes. Every minute. Every day. He was my love.


COHEN: Dr. Bilimoria, the doctor who did the study on the delays, he's worked at three different VAs and he said too often he and his fellow surgeons had to fight to get the patients the surgeries they needed when they needed it.

BALDWIN: It makes you wonder how many Terry Mitchells there are. How many different stories you could be telling. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for sharing their story.

That does it for me here at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Brooke Baldwin. I will be back here this time tomorrow. In the meantime, let's take you to Washington to my colleague, Jake Tapper. "THE LEAD" starts right now.