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AMERICAN MORNING

Threat to America: Nation's Power Grid at Risk; Playpen Recall

Aired September 27, 2007 - 08:01   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Breaking news. An intensifying crisis in Myanmar. Police take aim at protesters in the Asian nation, firing into crowds.

Open to attack.

SCOTT BORG, U.S. CYBER CONSEQUENCES UNIT: It's equivalent to 40 to 50 large hurricanes striking all at once.

CHETRY: How terrorists could take down the power grid with the click of a mouse.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Can you say right now that this vulnerability has been eliminated?

CHETRY: Plus, a sticky situation. The coveted seal of approval for sugarless gum? Well, it came with a price tag. So just who can you trust?

We ask the tough questions on this AMERICAN MORNING.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: And welcome once again.

It is Thursday, September 27th. Glad you're with us.

I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Roberts.

Good morning to you.

We begin this morning with a CNN terror watch that could well threaten America. There are fears that a terrorist with a keyboard anywhere in the world could cripple this nation's power grid. CNN obtained video of an experimental cyber attack on a generator and now some people are raising the alarm about what might happen if an attack were carried out on a larger scale.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, joins us now from our Washington bureau with more.

What's this all about, Jeanne? MESERVE: Well, John, if you thought a cyber attack could only disrupt service and cause temporary inconvenience, think again. Government testing is now showing just how devastating an attack on a computer could be.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice over): This is an electric generator. It is vital because it is the kind that power companies use to bring electricity to your home.

It shutters and shakes. Then goes up in smoke. Destroyed just as effectively as if with a smuggled bomb. But all it took was a computer, some patient work, and the click of a mouse.

ROBERT JAMISON, ACTING UNDERSECRETARY, DHS: What's new here is that through a cyber attack you can actually get in and cause physical damage to equipment. That's the new piece of this.

MESERVE: Could a large-scale simultaneous cyber attack knock out power to a huge part of the country for months? Listen to what economist Scott Borg projects if such a nightmare scenario played out with the loss of the power to a third of the country for three months.

BORG: It's equivalent to 40 to 50 large hurricanes striking all at once. It's greater economic damage than any modern economy has ever suffered.

MESERVE: The potential damage is so severe, the Department of Homeland Security asked CNN not to divulge certain technical details about the government experiment dubbed "Aurora". The test was conducted last March at the Idaho National Lab.

We can say that the research involved hacking into a replica of a power plant's control system. Researchers changed the operating cycle of the generator, sending it out of control until it self-destructed. Since the test, the Department of Homeland Security has been working feverishly with the electric industry to thwart such an attack.

(on camera): Can you say right now that this vulnerability has been eliminated?

JAMISON: No, I can't say it's been eliminated. But I can say that a lot of risk has been taken off the table.

MESERVE (voice over): Joe Weiss is an expert on power plant control systems and has been sounding the alarm for five years.

(on camera): So the same systems we're using here are being used in Iran, Pakistan?

JOE WEISS, APPLIED CONTROL SOLUTIONS: Very, very possibly.

MESERVE: Which means people there know how to run them?

WEISS: Absolutely. MESERVE: They know how to bring them down?

WEISS: Absolutely. They have the same training, the same passwords.

MESERVE (voice over): And security experts say it would be virtually impossible to figure out who attacked.

DHS points out that its own research uncovered the power plant vulnerability and action it is taking with industry is reducing the risk. But the question remains, can the U.S. close the cyber security holes before the hackers find them?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: There is no publicly known case of a power company control system being hacked, and DHS says it knows of no specific threat. But experts tell us the security of the systems is being tested all the time by hackers -- John.

ROBERTS: A real surprise for us.

Jeanne Meserve this morning from Washington.

Jeanne, thanks for that -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, again, we're following breaking news out of Myanmar. And there are more violent clashes between police and protesters being reported today.

Government troops are reportedly firing automatic weapons into the crowd. In fact, the Japanese foreign minister told CNN that a Japanese citizen was among those shot and killed. At least 10 people were reportedly shot.

The troops were using tear gas. They were also firing warning shots in an effort to try to break up these protests.

It's now nighttime in Myanmar. Most of the streets are said to now be clear.

And protesters were angry about overnight raids on monasteries. There is a look at one of the monasteries that was raided. They also say that hundreds of monks were beaten and others also beaten and arrested -- John.

(NEWSBREAK)

ROBERTS: Time now to check in with our AMERICAN MORNING team of correspondents for other stories new that we're following.

Also new this morning, a recall of products made in China. This time, playpens. And there has been a death involved here.

Ali Velshi at the Business Update Desk with a look at this.

Good morning, Ali. Not good news here.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: No. There's been a death of a 10-month-old child connected to something called the Kolcraft Infant Play Yard Playpen.

There are 12 models of this. The death is around the strap that you can see there in the middle of your screen which could cause strangulation. So they are recalling 425,000 of these playpens.

There's another problem as well. There's a cradle that could -- could also cause suffocation.

There are a number of recalls this week. It really is incumbent upon parents to see what they can do to check what else is going on.

You can check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, CPSC.gov. I inadvertently renamed the organization in this last report.

But it is really important for parents to check, because yesterday along we had seven different recalls. These are two of the bigger ones -- 350,000 of the Happy Giddy Gardening Tools and Sunny Patch Chairs. Two hundred thousand of Thomas and Friends Toys, various types of toys.

So there are just a lot of things around that are being recalled that are in people's homes. And it's -- I mean, it's hard for us to keep track, and we've got all this information coming in.

So do what you can to see that your home is safe -- John.

ROBERTS: All right. And as long as you get the letters right in the Web address, Ali, it doesn't really matter what they stand for. Right?

VELSHI: That's right -- CPSC.gov. It's worth a visit.

ROBERTS: All right. Good information.

Ali Velshi, thanks very much.

(WEATHER REPORT)

CHETRY: Well, the American Dental Association gave a thumbs up to chewing gum, as long as it's sugarless. But was it also as long as it was one certain brand?

Was the seal of approval bought and paid for? And who can you trust?

Well, we're asking that question next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: A shocking surveillance tape to show you this morning.

Take a look at this: an adult helping a young girl steal a purse. Or is it the young girl helping the adult steal a purse?

This is in a video arcade in New Jersey. You've got to look closely here.

The woman puts the little girl down -- take a look at this. The woman puts the little girl down. She crawls away underneath the counter.

Police say she came back with someone's purse. The two quickly take off.

So far, no leads on this. Police say that they're working to enhance the video, trying to get an image off of it so they can start following who it might have been that employed this little girl in this theft.

Unbelievable what some people will do.

CHETRY: Such a shame.

Well, for the first time ever, the American Dental Association is giving its coveted seal of approval to certain brands of sugarless gum. But did you know that the gum company did pay the ADA for that seal?

Well, Clifford Wall is the director of the ADA Seal of Acceptance Program. And he joins us live from San Francisco.

Thanks for being with us this morning.

CLIFFORD WALL, ADA: I'm glad to be here.

CHETRY: So, Wrigley's paid $36,000 to submit the gum to the ADA for this seal and also the studies which said that the sugarless gum was good for you. Those were also funded by Wrigley's.

Is that a conflict of interest, in your opinion?

WALL: No, not at all. That's the way that a lot of research is done.

There are a lot of products out there. And to get -- to do the clinical studies, which is what we evaluate with the ADA Seal of Acceptance Program, to do those studies, somebody has to fund them. The important point is that the studies are done independently, they're analyzed independently, and then they're reported. And we have experts -- expert consultants that use objective scientific methods to review all of the studies that are submitted for accepted products.

CHETRY: I guess the question though is, is the consumer getting the best advice, the best information if there is this system where certain companies that have an interesting obviously in selling more of their products are the one that fund the studies, that in this case have broken in their favor? And I ask that because isn't all sugar- free gum, if sugar-free gum does apparently help in preventing tooth decay, doesn't it all qualify, not just Wrigley's brands?

WALL: Well, I can talk about the Seal of Acceptance Program and what we do. And we've done this since 1930. And we have about 400 products in our program, all types of dental products -- toothbrushes, floss, mouth rinse -- and for all of those studies it's the same process.

We look at objective clinical studies that have been done for those -- for those products. Many of those studies are funded by the companies and -- but they're done by independent researchers.

CHETRY: Right. So is all sugar-free gum then good for you when it comes to preventing tooth decay?

WALL: Well, I can only talk about products that have gone submitted to our Seal Program. It's a voluntary program. We encourage anybody to submit a product that has an oral health benefit. And, for instance, toothpaste, mouthwashes, dental floss.

In this case, a company came to us, Wrigley, with studies that they believe showed an oral health benefit with their gums for chewing their gums. The council put this through the same rigorous review process it does for all products and concluded that, in fact, these gums do three things.

They help reduce plaque acids -- and those are the acids that cause tooth decay -- they help strengthen teeth because saliva, it contains a lot of -- it contains calcium phosphate and fluoride, and that bathes the teeth. And finally, they help reduce decay. So the company gave us very good objective clinical studies to support all three of those indications.

CHETRY: All right. The only thing is, Dr. Peter Lurie of a nonprofit consumer advocacy group said that, "Wrigley has an ongoing relationship in the tens of thousands of dollars with the ADA. This, coupled with the fact the clinical studies are not open to the public, means the meaning of the seal remains obscure."

What is your response to that?

WALL: I would totally disagree. The meaning of the seal is very open and we have a lot of information about the Seal Program. And I would disagree with that.

CHETRY: All right. Well, thanks for giving us you your take on it.

Dr. Clifford Wall, the American Dental Association director of the Seal Acceptance Program.

Thank you.

WALL: OK. You're welcome.

CHETRY: Well, we want to take in our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta as well to weigh in this morning. He joins us from Washington now. What does the medical establishment in general think of these seals of approval? Because if you're sitting at home and you see -- you think my toothpaste has a seal, it must mean that it's better than some of the other brands...

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, first of all, I think this happens a lot more than people sort of realize. And while the information or the message from these seals may not be inaccurate, it may be incomplete for some of the reasons I think you were just alluding to, Kiran.

A lot of other sugar-free gums, for example, aren't studied. So we don't know if they would also sort of meet the seal of approval or not.

We also hear that, for example, when it comes to sunscreens, that you also see these seals on sunscreens. Not necessarily seals of approval, but they are seals that basically talk about the fact that these sunscreens may provide some benefit.

What we come to find out as we investigate this a little bit, that, in fact, you can get these seals by actually paying some money to the American Cancer Society or the American Academy of Dermatology. When we ask about that specifically, they say, well, look, they're supporting cancer-fighting programs. Therefore, we give them that seal. The consumer says, boy, that looks like a seal of approval, but, in fact, it's just money that's going toward cancer-fighting programs -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Let me check. You got your ear piece back in. Can you hear me again?

GUPTA: Back in, yes. Got you.

CHETRY: OK.

So the other question is, you said it happens more often, and we do understand that. They'll do a study about cholesterol and it will be funded by the company that makes cholesterol-lowering drugs, one particular kind.

So how does the everyday consumer know whether or not they can trust these studies and whether they really are independently verified, even though they may in this day and age be paid for by the drug companies or, in this case, some of the marketers of this gum?

GUPTA: There's a remarkable sort of interaction between money and a lot of these studies. There's no question, and it's going to raise eyebrows. I think it has in the past and it will for a long time.

Part of the problem here, Kiran, is to conduct these trials, it costs a lot of money. There's no question about it. They're multiple-year trials, they involve lots of participants. And it costs a lot of money to get it done. Right now, not only is it the pharmaceutical industry specifically that has the money to be able to pay for these trials, oftentimes it's the very company that's trying to get a drug approved that's submitting the trial data. So that's, like I said, going to raise a lot of eyebrows.

The duty and the onus really is on the FDA and other authorizing bodies to be able to look at that data independently and say, look, it meets our standards. It is independently reviewed and it's something that we can trust. And again, it's a difficult process, but I think that because of the way things are right now, a lot of these pharmaceutical companies do continue to fund a lot of these trials.

CHETRY: All right. Sanjay, thanks for weighing in.

GUPTA: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Coming up now to 25 minutes after the hour.

Why is Republican former Senate majority leader Bill Frist getting together with former president Bill Clinton?

We'll tell you ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Well, the situation in Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar, appears to have rapidly gone downhill today with these anti- government protests.

CHETRY: Yes. In fact, we heard confirmation from a Japanese foreign minister that a Japanese citizen was one who was shot and killed as police were firing in the crowd, according to witnesses.

Well, we are going to be speaking with someone very close to the situation when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.

ROBERTS: Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back and thanks for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING, Thursday, September 27th. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kiran Chetry.

We've been following the developments out of Myanmar, the Asian nation. Breaking news this morning as the situation seems to deteriorate. You can see from some of these pictures of the protests turning violent. Violent clashes between police and the protesters. These were some pictures that were posted on a blog. Troops reportedly firing automatic weapons into the crowds, killing at least ten people, including a Japanese citizen. Police rolled through the crowded streets in military trucks using tear gas to disburse the protesters. They were also -- the protesters, very angry about raids that took place on monasteries in which hundreds of monks were beaten and arrested. Joining me by phone, from Myanmar, a U.S. citizen visiting the country. She was out earlier in the day, during the protest; understandably she doesn't want to reveal her name but a disturbing situation to a witness. Are you with us?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on the phone): Yes.

CHETRY: Explain for us what saw on the streets this morning in Yangon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. First of all, today is 7:00 p.m. and today Thursday. And this morning around, usually the monks go out from 7:00 (INAUDIBLE) and see some of the people. What the government did today to them was locked them up in the monasteries. So the monks are still inside the monasteries and are not allowed to go out, so we are not sure if they're beating them or not. However, many protesters went to the streets today (INAUDIBLE) Pagoda and they were shouting and yelling at the military and the police. I'm visiting here. I came here for a couple of weeks and I was in the hotel where I would be able to see what is going on and I saw when the police and military went out there (INAUDIBLE) and were beating like five to ten people and then killed one of them and left them on the floor. Then everybody started to run. And one Western guy who was laying down the floor, people were saying it was a (INAUDIBLE) however it's not official. We don't know (INAUDIBLE).

CHETRY: Just a tragic situation there and for you to have to witness firsthand some of that has got to be certainly upsetting for you. Thanks for sharing a little bit of a firsthand account of what is going on there. Again, CNN is following the latest developments on these protests. It's said that things have now quieted down a little bit. People clearing out of the streets but what the international response is going to be and the response from the neighbors, those who have called on this government to back off and allow these people the right to protest peacefully and to assemble. We're going to continue to follow the latest developments on that throughout the morning.

We also have a terror watch for you now. New fears this morning that a terrorist with a keyboard anywhere in the world could cripple the nation's power grid and bring the economy to its knees. The Department of Homeland Security releasing this video was an experimental cyber attack and it was able to cause a generator, a power generator, to self-destruct. Sources familiar with the experiment tell CNN that the scenario could be used against huge generators that produce the country's electric power if hackers were able to gain the ability to get in there by a remote computer and find a way to cause it to detonate.

We also have a new recall to tell you about this morning following the death of a 10-month-old baby. 425,000 playpens from "Sesame Beginnings," this is a Kolcraft brand, are being recalled because of a strap that hangs down from the changing area into the area where the child is. It can strangle the baby. These playpens were manufactured in China. If you think, you have one of them; you should visit our web page for more info at cnn.com/am. That will link you to the Consumers' Product Safety Commission where you can find out more. We also want to know what you think. Who do you think is at fault for a lot of these recall we've been talking about the past couple of weeks? China or the U.S.? China or the U.S.? Go to cnn.com/am and cast your vote. Right now, 27 percent of you think China is to blame and 73 percent think the fault lies ultimately with the United States.

Aviation officials will meet with President Bush today to discuss solutions to the problems caused by so many flight delays. Yesterday, angry congressmen blasted those same aviation officials for not cutting flights into busy airports. John.

ROBERTS: 35 minutes after the hour.

Former President Clinton is taking on the problems of the world with the help of a few high profile friends, politicians, business leaders and celebrities are all getting together in New York City to work on poverty, disease, the environment and ethnic violence. It's all called the Clinton Global Initiative. Former Senate Majority Leader, Dr. Bill Frist, is part of that initiative and he joins us now. Good morning to you and thanks for being with us.

DR. BILL FRIST, FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Good to be with you, John.

ROBERTS: I want to ask you about some of the good work that you're doing with the CGI. But first of all, there's this battle brewing in Congress now between Capitol Hill and the White House over the state children's health insurance program. The house passed a bill with a $35 billion over five-year increase. The president is threatening to veto this because he wants to hold that the $5 billion over five years. Where do you come down on this? Should the president veto that bill?

FRIST: Well, John, I would support the president's veto. When we set the program up in 1997, it was very specifically targeted not to the very poor but the near poor. And that population is 300 percent of poverty. The way the program is structured is not an individual entitlement as people think but it's really a block grant program to the states and the states get a lot of flexibility to use the money, how they wish. So it ultimately comes down to do you double the size of a program with one bill or you increase it by 15 percent to 20 percent? The president thinks you increase it by 15 to 20 percent, instead of doubling that bill overnight.

ROBERTS: But what's wrong with trying to cover 4 million more children as many democrats and some republicans in congress want to do with the bill that got out of the house and is now before the senate?

FRIST: You know, I believe that we should reach out as much as possible. Right now, there are about 5.6 million people, kids, in that program and another 5 million are eligible. They have the program but they don't take advantage of it. So a lot of people, a lot of Americans, a lot of my former constituents are saying before doubling the size of the program, taking a lot of the people out of the private insurance market to put them in this new plan, why not go ahead and focus on the 5 million people who have the program, kids, who are not taking advantage of it and bring them into the program?

ROBERTS: It looks like it could pass the senate with a veto approved majority but didn't pass the house though.

FRIST: Yes, so the veto will stand, we'll go back to the negotiating table but I think it will be reauthorized for another three months and then three months later work out a further compromise. Ultimately, we will pass a very important program.

ROBERTS: Let's talk about this initiative that you're involved in, "Survive to Five," what is that all about?

FRIST: Survive to five is exactly what it says. Right now, there are 28,000 kids who are going to die over the next 24 hours and 28,000 yesterday and every single day. People say 'well, that's the way it's always been.' Not really. Two-thirds of those kids are going to die of easily treatable, preventable causes. And people say what do you mean? And I mean, a few cents for vitamin A, vitamin supplements, vaccines for $17 a kid, for oral rehydration because these kids are dying of things like pneumonia and diarrhea. And so the "Survive to Five," is a campaign to engage people all across this country to have that full understanding that using these easily preventable solutions, we can save thousands and thousands of life, not every year.

ROBERTS: So, is your involvement more in the medical side of things because you are doctor? You are a heart surgeon or is it from the political side of things. You get in there. You use your clout to talk to the leaders of some of these developing nations to say 'we've got to do this.'

FRIST: You know, it's really both. I was in Bangladesh, not too far from where the violence is today. And Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world and is also among the poorest. There, on the ground, as a physician, as a doctor but also as a policy maker, I saw huge improvements -- vaccines 3 percent to 77 percent, people living 20 years longer, infant mortality being improved by 30 percent in the poorest country in the world. So, I'm going in really as a physician one on one but also as a former majority leader of the United States Senate to work with leaders across the world.

ROBERTS: Well, good luck to you on that initiative. I mean, anything we could do to, you know, cut infant mortality rates around the world.

FRIST: It's easy to do.

ROBERTS: Hey, just before you go. I got to ask you a quick question because you are the former senate majority floor leader. Larry Craig yesterday said that he is going to stay in the Senate until his case is heard. Looks like he's going past that September 30th deadline, what's your thinking on that? Should he just bow out gracefully?

FRIST: Again, you know, I am out of that business right now but as any observer, what the events described are very distressing overall. I don't know the full story. I don't know his full rights are. So, he has every right to say that 'I'm going to stay in there.' On the other hand, he made a pretty strong commitment that 'I'm out." And if you're going to say that you're going to be out, you should probably leave.

ROBERTS: Former Senator Bill Frist, thanks very much for being with us. Good to see you.

FRIST: Great to be with you. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. A light show in the sky. Where this storm is now heading? There you see the lightning. Rob Marciano tracking extreme weather for us. AMERICAN MORNING will be back in just a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, some people just prefer bottled water. Some say tap is just fine. Can't tell the different but Clyde, an elk, certainly has discriminating test. There he is. He selected bottled water. Now, they're not sure how he first got the taste of bottled water but they swear that he now refuses to drink out of the well at the ranch where he lives in Colorado; instead he prefers to get bottle-fed.

That's tough. He doesn't know probably because he can't read that sometimes-bottled water really is just tap water bottled at a certain place, going through filtration.

All right. There you go. He's cute by the way.

A thunderstorm putting on a light shows over Minneapolis next week. They only saw a quarter inch of rain. That storm now moving east towards Cincinnati, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky. There it is. There you see the lightning. 44 minutes past the hour. And whenever we capture those shots, it really is amazing. It just, it literally looks something out of a movie. Doesn't it Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: I never get tired of those stuff, you know. It's one of these things that drop the jaws of kids or you get some screaming because they're scared, it's cool. 70 percent, a lot of that cloud meaning it doesn't even touch the ground, the majority of lightning actually doesn't even touch the ground but no doubt, it up the skies across Minneapolis. Now, that, well the energy from that, is now drifting a little bit farther to the southeast. Part of the fusing weather system that's running into seriously warm air, Louisville up to Cincinnati down to Lexington, you're seeing some showers and thunderstorms this morning as the folks who live in Nashville, Tennessee, your second bout of seeing thunderstorms and that's good because you use the rain, that's for sure.

Look at this record high temperature yesterday, 93 D.C., 93 in Hartford, 92 in Delaware. This is the last week of September folks. This is some smoking hot stuff. Temperatures in the lower 90s and it will be a little bit cooler today, John, but still warm and muggy and the only reason you'll be cool is because of some cloud covering the potential for seeing some rain, 93 in your D.C. man. How do you folks make your families stay cool through that?

ROBERTS: Well, You just keep the air conditioner going just a little bit longer. So, that's good, you save on heat. All right. Rob, thanks very much.

MARCIANO: All right. See you.

ROBERTS: CNN NEWSROOM just minutes away. Heidi Collins at the CNN Center now with a look at what's ahead. Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, John. That's right.

The Jena Six case on the NEWSROOM rundown this morning. He could walk out of jail today. Defendant Michael Bell's case moved to juvenile court. Next hour, we're going to be following those developments very closely.

And troops in the South Asian nation, Myanmar said to open fire on anti-government protesters. We'll have the very latest with that.

And also, a new study fueling new debate over the safety of childhood vaccine. Did a mercury-based additive leave some children with learning disabilities?

We'll also have any breaking news when it happens. We're in the NEWSROOM. Top of the hour, right here on CNN.

ROBERTS: We will see you soon in a little less than 14 minutes away. Thanks, Heidi.

Thursday, and it's time to check our Dr. Gupta's mail bag. He'll be back with that in just a little while so be with us when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It's on its way and welcome back to the most news the morning here on CNN. An unmanned spacecraft called "Dawn" launched from Cape Canaveral within the last hour. It's going to study two asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists are hoping to learn what causes rocky planets like Earth to form.

CHETRY: Cool. Well, it's Thursday. That means it's time to open Dr. Sanjay Gupta's mail bag. He's answering questions that you e- mailed to him throughout the week.

ROBERTS: Sanjay's in our Washington bureau today. Our first question Sanjay is about sleep. When you work a morning show, of course, that's a topic that often is at the top of mind. It comes from Kelly in Arizona. She asks, is it possible for a healthy, active 42-year-old to sustain good health on only 5 hours of sleep a night? For some of us, that would be a lot. Can this be healthy or am I headed for trouble?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. I mean that e-mail could come from so many different people. There's no question. We are chronically sleep deprived as a society. We did a whole documentary on this very topic. It's sort of fascinating. A lot of people don't get what they need. There's a lot of studies on this and you are going to hear varying numbers. About 7 1/2 to 8 hours seems to be sort of the sweet spot in terms of what most adults need to get sleep. Now, what we also found was sort of interesting, if you get 5 to 6 hours every day for a week, on the last day of the week it's almost like as if you hadn't slept the night before at all. That's what chronic sleep deprivation sort of does to you.

In the short-term, it affects your concentration, it affects your speech, you may start stuttering more, you may have difficulties actually getting words out. And the longer term, it's actually associated with lots of different disease processes including obesity. A lot of people think well 'I'm up, I'm active more, so, therefore, I'm less likely to get fat.' Actually, it's the opposite. It's more likely to be associated with obesity. Set the thermostat between 66 and 70. I tell you, this is the best piece of advice I learned. Get that thermostat at the right temperature and you're much more likely to be able to go to sleep.

CHETRY: Wow. It's a problem we all face, that's for sure. All right. Our next viewer writes -- 'I've been seriously considering becoming a vegetarian, what are the pros and cons associated with making such a drastic transition in diet?' What do you think, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Well, you know, first of all, it can be a drastic transition. So, you know, a lot of people would suggest sort of doing it slowly. There are pros and cons on both sides. Certainly, eating red meat in large quantities has been associated with, for example, with colon cancer. We know about its potential effects on the heart as well. Transitioning to a total vegetarian diet -- a lot of people will say 'well, look, there's gong to be lack of protein in your diet.' That's certainly true. So you really go pick vegetarian foods that have enough protein but also things like vitamin B12. That's a real concern for people who transitioned to a vegetarian diet. You got to make sure you're getting plenty of the green leafy vegetables to be able to make up for those deficiencies. It's actually interesting, there's a new study going on right now. A two-year federally funded study looking at this very issue to find out which diet really is the best in the long run for people.

ROBERTS: Hey, quickly Sanjay because we're almost out of time here. Our last question comes from Priyanka in Maryland. She wants to know, what does a low blood platelet count mean? And is there a way to increase the platelet count?

GUPTA: Well, now really quickly, there are several different types of cells in your blood. There are red blood cells, which transport oxygen. There are white blood cells, which fight infection. There are platelets, which help your blood clot. Platelets, so if you have too few platelets you might bleed more likely. You might have nosebleeds, for example. If you shave, you might cut yourself and the bleeding might last longer. So, it's really important to find out what the underlying cause is. Sometimes if you're producing too many white cells, it sort of crowds out those platelets and that could be a problem. To find that underlying cause is the important step towards trying to get that platelet count back up.

ROBERTS: So, really it's a matter of go in to see your doctor and working this out?

GUPTA: Get it checked out? Absolutely.

ROBERTS: Sanjay, thanks very much. If you got a question for Dr. Gupta, e-mail us. Go to cnn.com/am. Sanjay will answer your questions every Thursday here on AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: And here is a quick look now on what CNN NEWSROOM is working for the top of the hour.

TONY HARRIS, CNN, ANCHOR: See these stories in the CNN NEWSROOM.

The case of Jena Six defendant Michael Bell moving to juvenile court this morning. He could be released on bail.

In Myanmar, soldiers said to open fire on anti-government demonstrators.

Nearly a half million playpens facing recall.

And the man who hiked 40 miles of wilderness in a day to save his wife. NEWSROOM, just minutes away at the top of the hour, on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Before we leave you today on AMERICAN MORNING, we want you to meet another CNN hero. Someone making a difference in their own community. Today's hero uses a talent for boxing to turn around her tough neighborhood. Monica Lovato is today's CNN hero.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MONICA LOVATO, COMMUNITY CRUSADER: All right, so let's start. Espanola is a small community. And the biggest thing that is out there they always say is the drugs and the overdoses and the poverty and the bad things. That kind of reputation. It is negative and it hurts the kids. It hurts the kids to hear that and to think that, you know, that's all there is.

My name is Monica Lovato and I started a boxing program last year at the city of Espanola so that the kids would have something to do and somewhere to go after school. When I was younger there wasn't much to do in Espanola. We just found somebody's house to hang out at and party. Leroy Quintana was my boyfriend throughout high school. After high school, he got into a car accident on his way home late at night and he was killed in the car accident. Leroy's death really, really took a toll on me. It felt like a part of me died. To try and get my mind off of things, forget about Leroy and forget about what happened, I started boxing. It's really changed my life around. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your winner and the new IBA women's boxing weight champion, Monica Lovato!

LOVATO: I just recently won the IBA bantamweight world champion title. Last year, I made an agreement with the city that I'd volunteer my time to start the Espanola Boxing Club. It's something for the people. It's something for the community. The most important part of my program is teaching self-discipline and raising their self- esteem.

The dream is to build a big community center that is affordable for everybody. If we don't keep them busy and have something for them to do, well, then, we haven't accomplished anything. I'm not just boxing in the ring, but I'm fighting for my community.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: What really happened to the crew of a charter fishing boat that never returned from a trip off of Florida? New claims about pirates and murder in the high seas that's ahead on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, we're out of time. Thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ROBERTS: We will see you again tomorrow.

CNN NEWSROOM with Tony Harris and Heidi Collins begins right now.

HARRIS: And good morning, everyone. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

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