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AMERICAN MORNING

Powerful Earthquake Off Coast of Japan Triggered Small Tsunami Last Night; President Bush Refuses to Meet With Cindy Sheehan

Aired August 16, 2005 - 09:30   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Soledad O'Brien.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Carol Costello, in for Miles.

Coming up, Cindy Sheehan's protest outside of President Bush's ranch in Texas has been seen by millions of Americans, but is it really having any effect on the president's approval ratings, and should the president meet with Sheehan? A little bit later, we're going to talk to two military mothers who lost their sons in Iraq. They'll answer that question from their perspective, ahead this morning.

O'BRIEN: First, though, we'll look at the headlines with Kelly Wallace.

Good morning again, Kel.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again. And good morning, everyone.

These are the stories now in the news. First, a developing story we've been telling you about all morning. Search-and-rescue crews are heading to a remote area of Venezuela where a passenger plane is said to have gone down. The West Caribbean Airlines flight was headed from Panama to Martinique when it crashed with more than 150 people onboard. A government official says it is unlikely anyone survived. No word yet on the cause of that crash.

To the Middle East now. Israel's defense minister says the army will take action against anyone who violates the law. The Israeli government wants thousands of settlers in Gaza and the West Bank to move out as part of a disengagement plan. At least 500 protesters have been arrested so far.

World Youth Day celebrations are under way in Germany. Thousands of Roman Catholic pilgrims from around the world have flooded the city of Cologne and other parts of the country. The event is expected to reach its high point on Thursday with the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. A special mass is planned for Sunday.

And the Navy is checking out one of its cargo planes after its landing gear malfunctioned. This is an incredible story. Take a look at this twin-engine C-2 Greyhound, making an emergency belly landing on Monday. A cable catching the back end of the plane to slow it down. All 25 people onboard were fine. Well, this plane was traveling around for about two hours, because its landing gear would not deploy. So it was losing some oil, you know, to try and get rid of that so it wouldn't catch on fire, and it was captured live on television, live on "AC-360," if you happened to be watching it last night. It was incredible.

O'BRIEN: They're safe and sound, at least.

WALLACE: Safe and sound.

COSTELLO: Well, thankfully we don't see that that often.

Thank you, Kelly.

WALLACE: Sure.

COSTELLO: A powerful earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a small tsunami last night. The magnitude 7.2 quake hit off the coast of northern Japan. That's just about 50 miles northeast of the town of Sendai. Witnesses say they could barely stand, train service was disrupted, power still out for thousands of people. The quake even shook skyscrapers in Tokyo, 220 mimes to the south.

Atika Shubert is live in Tokyo via videophone.

Atika, what's the extent of the damage?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, fortunately, considering it was such a powerful earthquake, there is actually very little damage, or at least less damage than initially thought. Now most of the damage and those that were injured came from the city of Sendai, that you mentioned. That's in the Yangi Pri (ph) (INAUDIBLE), closest to the epicenter. A number of those that were injured actually came from a sports complex where the ceiling collapsed over an indoor pool. About 20 people were injured there. But fortunately, most of the people that were in the complex were able to get out unharmed.

Now, also, more than 100 homes also reported some minor damages to their structure, mostly cracks and so forth. Also, one wooden home just outside of Tokyo also collapsed, which is quite surprising, because it's more than 200 kilometers away from the epicenter. So police are investigating to see why that particular wooden house flattened. But all in all, no reports of any widespread damage. So many people here are breathing a big sigh of relief.

COSTELLO: They're pretty prepared for this, aren't they, Atika? I mean, Japan is prone to earthquakes?

SHUBERT: That's right. It has some of the biggest earthquakes in the world here. Actually, Japan sits over four tectonic plates that are constantly shifting. Not a month goes by you don't feel a tremor here, which life gets disrupted pretty quickly by these earthquakes. There's a huge train system here, and every time there's an earthquake like the one we had today, the high-speed bullet train here stop. As a precaution, they get out, check for damages before they can move on again. Also, a nuclear power plant was also temporarily halted for the same reason. Part of its emergency measures, you make sure it's OK before it starts up again. Just to give you an indication, people here are drilled every year. There's a special vehicle, a special machine to simulate earthquakes, so school children know where to go in the event of an earthquake -- Carol.

COSTELLO: That's pretty cool. Atika Shubert, live in Tokyo this morning. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: In other news, President Bush refuses to meet with Cindy Sheehan this morning. The mother whose son died in Iraq began her 11th day virtually camped out in the president's front yard. Is her well-publicized protest in Crawford, Texas doing any political damage? CNN political analyst and columnist for "The L.A. Times," Ron Browstein, live for us from Washington this morning.

Ron, as always, nice to see you.

Let's get right to it. Do you think the president is making a mistake in declining to meet with Cindy Sheehan?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POL. ANALYST: Well, I think there are certainly people in both parties who feel that he might have diffused this if he found a way to meet with her early on, perhaps with other military families who support the war, of which, there are, of course, many.

Right now he's in a difficult situation, where if he doesn't meet with her, the story goes on through the vacation and perhaps beyond. If he does, he elevates her notoriety and visibility enormously. So there really isn't a good choice at this point for the president.

O'BRIEN: Sort of the classic caught between a rock and hard place. At the same time, though, many people say, well, it's too late now. I mean, can he really actually have a meeting that won't be seen as some kind of weakness?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, he's the president; he can meet with whoever he wants. If he wants to meet with her, I'm sure she'll find time on her schedule. And the option of trying to offer a meeting with her, as well as with other families that support the war is still on the table, I suppose. The problem is, as you suggest, that he has not met with her, and if he does now agree to do so, she would be the woman who kind of forced this president, who doesn't like to change direction or change his decisions, to do exactly that. And I think the feeling among, certainly among Republicans that I've talked to, is that if he did that, he would elevate her visibility enormously, give her more credibility and it would probably be counterproductive from his point of view.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that she has become, her protest, has become a symbol, a bigger symbol for the president of what's going wrong?

BROWNSTEIN: Well you know, it's an interesting thing. I think in the long run he protest might have more affect on her side of the debate than on the president and his side of debate. Overall public opinion about Iraq, Soledad, is driven by Iraq, by what happens in Iraq, much more than really the tenor of the debate at home. So in that sense I'm not sure this is going to have a big material impact on the way the American public views the war.

On the other hand, we had a very strange year in Washington this year, where despite growing public disillusionment with the war, there really hasn't been corresponding increase in criticism of the war from Democrats or outside groups. No one is really out there presenting an alternative point of view, and I think that Cindy Sheehan's vigil is going to increase pressure on her side of the debate to become more active. I talked to a number of liberal group, who say they've been focusing this year on things like judges and the nuclear option over the filibuster. I think she's going to increase pressure on her side of the debate to begin to turn back to this issue and begin to present more of an alternative view on where we should go.

O'BRIEN: Even her family says they don't agree, many members don't agree with the protest that she's pulling out. Do you think that that's sort of a metaphor for many American families?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, the public is deeply ambivalent and divided about this war. I mean, you look at any poll. Gallup/CNN/"USA Today" has asked eight times this year, was it worth going to war or not? All eight times, the majority has said no. On the other hand, you do not yet see a strong feeling in the American public that it's worth giving up. People say the alternative of allowing Iraq to essentially fall into chaos is unacceptable as well. So the public, as you just said, a rock and a hard place before, the public is there as well, where they are deeply dissatisfied with the way things are going, they are not yet willing to write off the cause and they don't see an alternative approach. In that moment, you can see a lot of ambivalence and division within families and within the country.

O'BRIEN: CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein. Ron, thanks, as always.

Coming up in just a few moments, we're going to talk to two moms who've also lost their sons in Iraq, very different views on Cindy Sheehan's protest -- Carol.

COSTELLO: A family in Georgia is suing Ford for wrongful death. It has to do way problem that we've been reporting on. Certain cars apparently catch fire, even though their parked with no key in the ignition. Ford denies liability.

CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin says, even be though the company has reported allegations of hundreds of fire, the government hasn't issued a warning for millions of Ford owners.

Drew is live in Atlanta for us this morning.

Good morning.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. The Washington family here in Georgia has decided to sue Ford to find out why there's no warning. For months, the family thought they were to blame, possibly from leaving a gas fireplace on the night of the fire, but it was not until months after that fire they learned about this cruise control switch from reports just like ours. Ford says there's no way to know what caused the fire that killed Blake Washington. But like so many other people we've talked to, including Ford owners, the Washingtons want to know why no one from Ford or from a federal agency investigating Ford, why there was and is no warning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The federal agency that is supposed to make sure cars and trucks are safe also issued no warning to the public about the nearly 15 million non-recalled vehicles. For months, CNN asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about any advice or any warning it might give to Ford owners whose vehicles contained a switch.

Finally, last week, the agency known as NHTSA sent us this e- mail. It is as close as NHTSA has come to issuing a warning. It says any Ford owner experiencing problems related to the cruise control switch should get the problem repaired at a Ford dealer, and until you do, NHTSA now tells Ford owners do not park your vehicle in your garage. That warning has never been placed on NHTSA's Web site. NHTSA never took out an ad. The agency never held a press conference.

Nancy Lopez is a friend of the Washingtons.

NANCY LOPEZ, FAMILY FRIEND: If somebody knows -- government, whoever, knows that there's a potential risk for such a tragedy, why wouldn't you say something? Why would you not give people the opportunity to fix it before something terrible and tragic happened? I can't understand.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: We are going to look into that question in an in-depth report tonight, but NHTSA says they have acted appropriately, because right now fire rates in non-recalled vehicles are not the same as those found in recalled ones -- Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, you just want to scream. What's up with NHTSA? I mean, why isn't it doing more?

GRIFFIN: It says it's doing all it can. Right now, NHTSA is investigating about four million more of these cars, but there's a total of 16 million out there with this part. What NHTSA says is, until we find elevated risk of fire in a certain make or model, we really can't pressure Ford to do anything. They have pressured Ford, they say, into recalling about a million, 1.1 million, of those 16 million vehicles.

COSTELLO: Well, you would think Ford would want to do something. Is Ford taking any responsibility? GRIFFIN: Certainly not in any of the fires that involve a death. And Ford has been fighting others. But Ford's own investigator admits to us, at least over the phone, that there have been at least 100 fires blamed on this cruise control switch, which Ford believes did cause the fire. Ford is not about to recall 16 million vehicles, though, Carol. That would be very expensive.

COSTELLO: Yes, but why? Why risk someone else dying? Someone else getting hurt?

GRIFFIN: Ford and NHTSA again are saying the fire rates in the non-recalled vehicles are not that high. It's not posing that much of a risk, according to Ford and according to NHTSA, which would make it a possibility of a recall. However, they're still investigating.

COSTELLO: Yes. So if the story makes you steam, Drew's full report can be seen tonight on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." That will come your way at 8:00 p.m. Eastern -- Soledad.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COSTELLO: Still to come, we're "Minding Your Business." Find out how surging gas prices are hurting Wal-Mart's bottom line. That's just ahead, on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: In Crawford, Texas, Cindy Sheehan is still protesting outside of President Bush's ranch. She's been there since August 6th and vows to stay there until the president meets with her. Her son was killed in Iraq, and she wants to talk to the president about pulling U.S. troops out of the region. But do other military mothers agree with her?

Jan Johnson lost her son Justin in the war. She's at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Good morning to you. Thanks for talking with us this morning.

JAN JOHNSON, LOST SON IN IRAQ WAR: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Your son Justin served, in fact, with Cindy Sheehan's son Casey. Tell me how you feel when you see the videotape of Cindy Sheehan and the protest that she now has in Crawford, Texas.

JOHNSON: I'm not for the protest. I believe that we should stay the course. We need to be there. To me, in a way, she's disgracing Casey, because Casey was over there trying to serve his country and help the Iraqi people. And by what she's doing, it's kind of taking away from the meaning of his death, I believe.

O'BRIEN: Do you -- she has made, as I'm sure you well know, many requests to meet with President Bush. It's part of the reason she's camped out right near his ranch. Do you think that, in fact, he should meet with her?

JOHNSON: No, I don't. O'BRIEN: Why not?

JOHNSON: I think if he does, he's starting a whole new ball game, as far as setting a precedence. If when she leaves, then other people are going to wanting to be meeting with him, if they have a disagreement about one of his policies. So -- I think he's just, you know, protecting himself as far as that goes, by not meeting with her.

O'BRIEN: I want to bring in Rosemary Palmer. Rosemary lost her son Edward in the war, as well. Rosemary, tell me a little about the circumstances of Edward's death.

ROSEMARY PALMER, LOST SON IN IRAQ WAR: He was in a troop carrier that was blown up by three mines stacked on top of each other, and all in the vehicle were killed.

O'BRIEN: When you see the pictures of Cindy Sheehan and her protests in Crawford, Texas, do you feel the same way that Jan Johnson feels, that it's disrespectful towards her son's memory?

PALMER: Not at all. One of the things our sons died for was the rights for people to have free expression. And Cindy's down there because she firmly believes in what she's doing. And I think the more George Bush stands up and says, no, I'm not going to meet with this woman, the bigger icon he makes of her. And because of the growing dissatisfaction with the way the war is going, the longer he holds out, the more support she's going to have.

O'BRIEN: I know you agree, clearly, with her right to protest. But do you agree with her protest? Would you go out there and join the protesters?

PALMER: Well, actually, I'm going to a vigil tomorrow evening to support her here in Cleveland, in Cleveland Heights, just because I think that she has the right to the say that. And our view has been all along, fight the war right or get out. And since our son was killed two weeks ago, 28 more guys have died, and the American people have gotten to the point of oh, it's another one, it's another two. It just doesn't make the impact it needs to make. You know, we're losing a lot of our guys, and in part, it's because there are not enough people there to do the job.

O'BRIEN: Ms. Johnson, I want to bring you back in. You've been listening to what Ms. Palmer has to say. When she says fight it right or get out, what do you think?

JOHNSON: Well, I think it does need to be fought right, but to do that, we've got to stay there. People say let's bring the guys home. Well, we bring the guys home, and then the terrorists are going to come see us here, is the way I firmly believe. And because of that, my husband leaves next week to go to Iraq, to join the Georgia Guard, where his guys are at right now.

O'BRIEN: Jan Johnson, Rosemary Palmer. Thank you very much for talking with us. And again, I know you're both grieving mothers, and we really appreciate your time. PALMER: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Carol?

COSTELLO: "CNN LIVE TODAY" is coming up next.

Daryn Kagan, what are you working on?

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We got a lot, Carol.

Good morning to you.

Coming up at the top of the hour, honoring the lives lost to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 through volunteering and giving.

I'm going to talk with one of the founders of One Day's Pay and why he has a special connection to the cause.

Plus, he's made you laugh on "The Daily Show" and several movies such as "Anchorman" and "Bruce Almighty" -- well, his new movie, Steve Carell plays a never done it, never been there middle-aged man. Yes, a 40-year-old virgin. He's going to join me to talk about it. He's a funny guy. Looking forward to it.

COSTELLO: No.

You know what you should do...

KAGAN: What's that?

COSTELLO: ... you know, because he's played an anchor in several movies...

KAGAN: That's true.

COSTELLO: ... you should get him to be your co-anchor for the afternoon.

KAGAN: Well, the space is open.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: That would be fun.

KAGAN: We have seen funnier performances, haven't we?

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: Yes, from people on our own staff.

KAGAN: We will not name names.

S. O'BRIEN: Not today.

KAGAN: No.

COSTELLO: Thank you, Daryn.

Still to come, it's in the jeans. What retailers are banking on to make all the bucks.

We'll take a look, next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: You are not the only one complaining about high gas prices. Even retail giant Wal-Mart is taking a hit.

Here with that and a check on the markets, Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business." He's in for Andy this morning.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you again.

COSTELLO: Wal-Mart?

VELSHI: When Wal-Mart complains about things, you know it's serious. And that's why markets have opened a little lower today. Wal-Mart is definitely a component of that.

We are in earnings season. We're down 30 points on the Dow right now. And Wal-Mart has come in with their quarterly earnings.

Now, let's put this in perspective.

Wal-Mart brought in about $77 billion in May, June and July. They got about $2.8 billion of that in profit. That is the lowest profit in four years for Wal-Mart, and they are saying that the next quarter will be lower.

One of the things they're talking about is Wal-Mart paid $30 million more in the quarter because of gas prices, because they got a lot trucks and stuff. That's puny in relation to what Wal-Mart brings in, in business. They're talking about the customer. Their core customer is demographically in that place where they're a little bit more hurt by higher gas prices.

COSTELLO: They live farther out from the city and they have to drive in.

VELSHI: Live farther out, they drive. They are trying to save some money, they are maybe not very affluent and they are paying more for gas and Wal-Mart is saying that's going to affect the kind of money they spend. And if the economy slows down, it might effect their employment.

When Wal-Mart says they're concerned -- Wal-Mart sees 100 million customers a week. When Wal-Mart says it's concerned, other people think they're concerned and that's why...

COSTELLO: And that's why the markets are a bit down this morning. VELSHI: ... the markets are a little lower.

COSTELLO: You were going to talk fashion too?

VELSHI: I'm going to talk fashion, because it's back-to-school season, and this is the second busiest retail season of the year before the holiday season, and everyone is talking about Destroyed Denim.

You see, this is our age. We think back to acid-washed jeans.

COSTELLO: That was a terrible, terrible time in fashion history.

VELSHI: No, this is big holes. It's back. I mean, I should have kept my acid washed and just made holes in them.

Take a look at this.

COSTELLO: No, Ali.

VELSHI: If you go to American Eagle, $58. Look at that. $58 for that pair of jeans, and it looks like two-thirds of a pair of jeans. That's Abercrombie & Fitch, if you want to be upscale, $69.50. Again, big holes in them. And the thing is, listen, you can't even do this on your own. It's not like you put a few holes in it. This is...

COSTELLO: Actually, if you put them in between two rocks and then rub them...

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: Put some bleach in there.

COSTELLO: Put some bleach in there.

VELSHI: That's what you want to look for. That's what the companies are trying to sell this season.

COSTELLO: That's the style. That's what your children will be asking for to go back to school. So good luck, mom and dad.

VELSHI: Wait until you see destroyed vests.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: Yes.

We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: The microphones are on now. We can speak.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: I was just remembering people used to tell me I look like Kathie Lee.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: I was noticing Madonna, 47.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: She looks great, she looks great.

COSTELLO: The best arms in showbiz.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, if you're around working out all day, it's not so bad.

All right. We're out of time, you guys.

Let's thrown it down to Daryn Kagan at the CNN Center.

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