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AMERICAN MORNING

Search for Missing Crew Member in Alaska; Iraq Death Tolls Reaches 4,000; JPMorgan Discusses Increased Offer on Bear Stearns Stock

Aired March 24, 2008 - 06:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be back, but it was good to be away.
A lot to tell you about this morning. We're following breaking news this morning. It's a desperate search off of Alaska's Aleutian Islands. The Coast Guard is searching for a missing crew member.

The Alaskan Ranger, which sank early Sunday morning 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor in the Bering Sea, four crew members, including the captain, died, 42 others were rescued. Most of them were wearing survival suits. Coast Guard rescuers quickly responded to a frantic distress call.

We have it for you.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ALASKAN RANGER, CALLING FOR HELP: Mayday! Mayday!

U.S. COAST GUARD, RESPONDING TO CALL: This is (INAUDIBLE) Kodiak roger precopy on position. Understand you are flooding, taking on water in the stern. Requesting your number of persons on board. Over.

RANGER: Number of persons, 47 people on board. Over.

COAST GUARD: I got Ranger (INAUDIBLE) understand 47 persons onboard, request vessel description, over.

RANGER: We are a (INAUDIBLE) staller.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROBERTS: A terrible tragedy in dangerous waters. For the latest, we're joined by Captain Michael Inman of the U.S. Coast Guard station in Juneau, Alaska.

Can you tell us the status for the search of for the missing crew member?

VOICE OF CAPT. MICHAEL INMAN, U.S. COAST GUARD: Yes, sir, we are continuing to search the -- the Coast Guard cutter Monroe is on scene searching and searched throughout the night. At first light this morning, we will have an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter coming to search the area for about five to six hours and we will look at that, our results, at that point and see where we stand, sir. ROBERTS: Do you have any idea at this point why the ship went down. It was taking on water, as we saw in that distress call. There was something also about perhaps the steering gear box may have been leaking. Do you know if it blew a seal?

INMAN: We don't know the total causing factor of what caused the vessel to sink. We do know they had reported uncontrolled flooding and eventually got to the situation where the captain felt he had had to abandon ship with the crew. That's where we kicked into action and started moving forces throughout Alaska toward the scene.

ROBERTS: The Coast Guard rescued a number of people as well. Another ship nearby, the Alaska Warrior pitched in and took them to Dutch Harbor. What were the weather conditions at that time? Did it have a factor in the ship going down?

INMAN: Probably not a contributing factor with the ship going down, but it made for challenging search conditions for our air crews and the rescue swimmers they put in the water. Ten-foot seas, 25 to 30 knots of wind, sea temperatures at the time were probably 29 degrees, air temperature in the mid 30s.

Very challenging throughout the search they also had rain, snow squalls that occurred. So as they lowered the rescue swimmers into the water, it was a real challenge for the crews.

ROBERTS: Captain, one more question before we let you go -- as we said, a number of at least crew members had had survival suits. Without a survival suit, how long could one be expected to survive?

INMAN: Your survival time is minutes to no more than 30 minutes. With the survival suits, significantly longer, up to a number of hours.

ROBERTS: All right, Captain Michael Inman for us from the U.S. Coast Guard station in Juneau, Alaska.

Good luck on the search. We'll check back in with you later and see if you've made progress.

A tragic milestone in the war in Iraq this morning. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad bringing the total number of deaths to 4,000 in just over five years. This tragic milestone comes at a particularly deadly time in Iraq.

Our Kyra Phillips is live for us in Baghdad.

This tragic milestone, Kyra, comes at a particularly deadly time in Iraq.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I remember when the very fist soldier died. We started learning about IEDs, improvised explosive devices. How many times have we covered that story and that contributing to the death of soldiers, Iraqis, innocent civilians?

I even remember hitting the milestone of 1,000 deaths. I remember sitting in the newsroom looking at all the newspapers being printed. They showed each picture and each name of each soldier that had been killed. Now we're at 4,000. That would take a number of newspapers to picture all those individuals that have lost their lives in this war.

And just looking at the faces, I mean, these are fathers, daughters, sons, friends. John, they're all dying in a war that has become very controversial and very unpopular among Americans and Iraqis.

ROBERTS: Kyra, the uptick in violence we saw there other over the weekend, is that foreboding a trend, or was that just an anomaly in what has been some fairly significant progress there in Iraq in terms of lowering the violence?

PHILLIPS: Sure. Last week, you know, it marked the fifth year anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom. General David Petraeus told me, look, the death count is down. The attacks on U.S. troops are down. But in no way shape or form are we doing the victory dance. It's extremely dangerous here and people are dying.

You look at the mortar attacks on the Green Zone, that used to happen twice a day. Now it's been months before we've seen these attacks that happened in the Green Zone. Over the weekend, U.S. soldiers dying, the weekend before that. It had been a number of weeks before we saw deaths of U.S. soldiers.

Yes, there has been tremendous improvement, but still this loss of life continues. You just don't know when it's going to happen -- John?

ROBERTS: Kyra Phillips for us this morning in Baghdad. Thanks. Good to see you.

In response to the news that 4,000 American lives lost in Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "You regret every casualty, every loss."

He spoke in Israel where he's meeting with prime minister, Emud Olmert. Cheney says Hamas, backed by Iran and Syria, is trying to torpedo Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Cheney heads to Turkey today. It's the last stop on his tour of the Middle East.

Senator John McCain is back on the campaign trail after wrapping up his Mideast and European trip. He heads to California today to raise money and look for support in a state that voted Democratic in the last two presidential locations.

Senator Clinton's travel plans include Philadelphia today. She is kicking off the day with what's being called a major policy address with a month to go until the Pennsylvania primary.

CNN's Jim Acosta is live in Philadelphia for us.

Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

You're right. Hillary Clinton is expected to be back in Philadelphia this morning. She is set to deliver a major policy address according to her campaign.

While the candidates stayed away from the cameras on Easter Sunday, their surrogates were busy on the talk shows. Bill Richardson, who had just announced his support for Barack Obama, he responded to a jab from Hillary Clinton supporter James Carville after hearing of the Richardson support of Obama, Carville called Richardson Judas. The New Mexico governor, who served as energy secretary in the Clinton administration fired back yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NEW MEXICO: I'm not going to get into the gutter like that. You know, that's typical of many of the people around Senator Clinton. They think they have a sense of entitlement to the presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, both campaigns will be keeping an eye on the polls this week so see whether or not Barack Obama has recovered from that big controversy last week over the subject of race and his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright -- John?

ROBERTS: No question that his popularity has taken a little bit. We'll see if he can get back on the upswing again.

Jim, thanks.

Veronica De La Cruz is here with more news this morning.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Good morning to all of you out there. A short time ago, the Olympic torch was lit in Greece, but it wasn't all cheers as a pro- Tibet demonstrator rushed the podium. The president of the Beijing Olympic Committee was speaking when a protester ran behind the speaker and held up a black flag. He and another man were quickly removed by police.

The torch was lit without further incident. Activists say China's plan to carry the torch through Tibet would be,"adding insult to 50 years of blood-stained injury".

From al Qaeda's second in command, an audio message posted online last night is telling Muslims to attack western interests in defense of Palestinians in Gaza. It's said to be from al-Zawahiri, but the speaker's identity has not yet been verified. A similar message was released last week from Osama bin Laden.

A government lab top containing medical data on 2500 patients was reportedly stolen in February, but they weren't told until last week. "The Washington Post" says the patients were taking place in a National Institutes of Health study. The data was not encrypted, which is a violation of government policy. They waited to reveal the theft to avoid panic. They say the risk of identity theft is low because the lap top didn't include data, such as Social Security numbers or addresses.

Explosions rock an Arkansas town, destroying a meat processing plant. It apparently began in the freezer of the Cargill Meat Solutions plant yesterday. It set off multiple blasts and caused an ammonia leak forcing 180 people to evacuate nearby homes. About a quarter of the town's 4,000 resident's work at the plant. Cargill says it's too early to tell whether or not they will rebuild.

More pain at the pump. According to the Lundberg survey, a gallon jumped to $3.26 on average, which is nearly seven cents higher over the past two weeks, breaking the record set last May. Right now the lowest average price is $3.03 in Newark, New Jersey. San Francisco has the highest at $3.66 a gallon.

That is what is new this morning. Send it now back to John.

You know, I've been hearing, for the few people who live here in Manhattan, they're all crossing the bridge to Jersey to fill up.

ROBERTS: Yes. When you live that close to the cheapest gas in the nation, why wouldn't you go across the bridge? We'll see if the prices go down. The price of oil is going down.

The price of Bear Stearns may be going up. JPMorgan has been increasing its offer.

The big question, what does it mean?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Last Monday when you were away, what a busy Sunday with the Bear Stearns deal that had happened. The Federal Reserve backing the purchase of Bear Stearns by JPMorgan for $2 a share. It had about $72 when it started the week.

Bottom line is, over the course of the weekend, JPMorgan is discussing upping its offer. A lot of tension in the last week. A lot of people calling the deal and the buyout of Bear Stearns a bailout. The government was saying, how can you call it that when folks who had had stock worth upwards of $70 five days ago were getting $2 for their share? It did look like a fire sale and there are now negotiations to maybe up that price.

Now, all week, even though the price for Bear Stearns shares was just $2, such a fraction of what it was worth, the stock has continued to trade at much higher than that, upward of $6, $9, because there's some feeling that this deal was not going to happen that way.

As a result, for those of you following the financial sector very closely, you'll see a lot of activity, some talk of a new deal in the works very quickly. Also some news that Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs are getting downgraded by Standard & Poors in a continuing sort of wash of what's going on in the financial services sector. Another busy week. ROBERTS: The stock trading is more than the dead cat bounce of an Enron?

VELSHI: Sure. This is real. When the stock is supposed to be bought out, and it's trading at three times its value or more, that means some people know something the rest of us don't know.

ROBERTS: We'll see which way it goes. Ali, thanks.

You're watching the most news in the morning. A flood threat in the Midwest in the morning. We're tracking extreme weather coming up next.

He's both a registered sex offender and a candidate for mayor. How is that possible? The answer ahead in our legal brief when AMERICAN MORNING continues. Twelve minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It's coming up on 15 minutes after the hour. Welcome back to most news in the morning.

We're watching extreme weather, including heavy flooding in Arkansas today. A levee on the Black River broke, water pouring into the town of Pocahontas. The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for six counties in Arkansas. Floodwaters are finally receding in Eureka, Missouri. A new $49 million levee system held, but other towns weren't so lucky. Southeastern Missouri towns near the border with Arkansas could be in for more flooding today.

And the Georgia Dome hosted Easter services nine days after it was damaged during a tornado that roared through downtown Atlanta. Members of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church attended the Easter service at the Georgia Dome for the 14th year in a row despite a lingering hole in the roof. The storm caused $150 million in damage to downtown Atlanta.

As we mentioned, Arkansas still in the crosshairs for flooding. Rob with the weather update desk tracking the weather. '

How is it looking?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Wet, John, and it's not raining. That's the problem. It's going to take several days for some of the rivers to crest. They'll just continue to roll downstream, and the water's got to go downhill at some point. Trying to get to the Gulf of Mexico in a hurry.

Want to show you more video out of Arkansas. Fairly dramatic stuff where rivers, a couple feeding into the river, the Black that feeds into the White. There are levees which haven't been maintained much in over 30 or 40 years. This is the end result. Thanks KTAV for that video.

Let's go to Google Earth and show you where this is located. These rivers will slowly recede. As we zoom into this area just east of Little Rock, these rivers are trying to get into the Mississippi, which is trying to get down into the Gulf of Mexico.

So here you go. We'll pull up the flood stage map here. We are well up over flood stage, but it won't crest until tomorrow. There you see it ramping up. Tomorrow it's expected to crest at 33 feet.

Where is everything going to go after this? There's Little Rock. This has the radar imagery on it. So we're clear. No rains, going to be nice and sunny. Zoom out and down to the south, clear as well. But all this water, once it gets to the Mississippi, has to get to New Orleans and through Baton Rouge. We've got flood warnings that are issued now for Baton Rouge later on this week. This river, the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, not expected to crest until Saturday.

So we have several days left to go before this massive water eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico. They're predicting moderate flooding for the capital city of Louisiana come this weekend. John, back to you.

ROBERTS: Not good. Rob, thanks very much.

Seventeen minutes after the hour. Here is a registered sex offender still on probation and now running for public office. Bryant Sliter is running for mayor of Wilmer, Texas, just south of Dallas. He says he's a changed man since his arrest for trying to solicit sex from a 15-year-old girl over the Internet in 2004.

Let's bring in AMERICAN MORNING"'s legal analyst, Sunny Hostin, who has more. The question a lot of people are asking is, wait a second. Here is a registered sex offender. How does he run for mayor?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's shocking to me. These deferred prosecution agreements are not unusual, but they're unusual in sexual offense situations.

ROBERTS: We jumped ahead. Deferred prosecution. How does that apply to this case?

HOSTIN: That is what happened here. He was not technically convicted. Committed a crime. The prosecutors decided to offer him what's typically called a sweetheart deal. That is, do the right thing. Pay some fines, go on probation, perhaps take some sex offender type courses. And at the end of the day, after one year, two years, three, sometimes six months, it will be as if you never did anything. Those are deferred prosecution. We're going to defer that prosecution to see if this happens again.

It's done for soft crime cases, cases where they're nonviolent, cases of domestic abuse between family members, a lot of corporate criminals get these deferred prosecution agreements.

ROBERTS: How is soliciting sex from a 15-year-old girl a soft crime?

HOSTIN: That is a problem. It's a violent crime, not a soft crime. It's highly unusual because these are the type of cases that happen over and over again. There is a high recidivism rate. We know sexual offenders don't just stop, especially those trolling the Internet, trying to have sex with 15 year olds, like this guy did.

ROBERTS: This fellow apparently is being very open about it. He talks about it in his campaign literature saying, yes, this happened. I'm a changed person. How much trust could the public have in someone running for office who has been soliciting sex from a 15-year-old girl over the Internet?

HOSTIN: You know, Governor Spitzer lost his job over this, right?

ROBERTS: He didn't lose his job from soliciting sex from a 15- year-old. He lost his job...

HOSTIN: For solicitation of sex. I have to tell you, I think this is so much worse. So how do you start in politics in this way? It's highly unusual. I just can't imagine that he will win this sort of thing.

ROBERTS: Wow, an unusual case in Wilmer, Texas. You'll be back to talk about Guitar Hero, the very popular video game being sued again.

HOSTIN: A very interesting case.

ROBERTS: I've got Guitar Hero -- it's not mine, my daughter's -- and Gibson Guitars. Very interesting.

Sonny, thanks. See you soon.

Senator Barack Obama is speaking out defending his longtime pastor, and his church is defending him, too. Coming up, how race, religion and politics are addressed during Easter Sunday services.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't go to a church that didn't talk about politics in some way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not expecting to hear politics in church, but I'm not going to shy away from it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The intersection of politics and religion. Lola Ogunnaike takes us inside her church to hear how politics mixes in the pulpit.

Plus, new pictures that could show the early warning of a bridge in trouble years before it collapsed. We'll show you ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Barack Obama is defending his spiritual advisor, Jeremiah Wright. Obama's church is coming to his defense. During Easter services, the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ did not shy away from the controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: We are thanking you for this unique moment in history. All that we have gone through as a church you are making us anew. The more pressure put on us prepares us to come out as diamonds in this rough.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: In a radio interview airing on Philadelphia radio this morning, Senator Obama defends his church and pastor saying, quote, "This is not a crackpot church." Obama also reminded listeners that Bill Clinton invited right to the White House when Clinton was having his impeach the crisis.

Faith in politics met on Easter Sunday in many African-American churches across the country.

Our Lola Ogunnaike takes us inside her church in Brooklyn.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Easter Sunday at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Brooklyn. Worshippers dressed to impress. Baptisms and boisterous hymns, praying and politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary ain't the savior. Neither is Obama. Neither is McCain.

OGUNNAIKE: But does politics have a place at the pulpit? It was a question brought to the American forefront thanks to Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and these explosive comments.

WRIGHT: Now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is brought right back into our own front yard! America's chickens are coming home to roost.

OGUNNAIKE: The firestorm that followed his forced many black Americans, including Senator Obama himself, to explain what happens inside their chapels.

OBAMA: The church contains, in full, the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black experience in America.

OGUNNAIKE: But it's an experience that differs from church to church and person to person.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES PROFESSOR: There is no one blaming church. There is no one black church tradition. We're not all listening to the same sermon on Sunday.

OGUNNAIKE: And they're not all looking for the same thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't go to a church that didn't talk about politics in some way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not expecting to hear politics but I won't shy away from it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The lord has given me victory.

OGUNNAIKE: My pastor, the Reverend Anthony Trufant likes his sermons to strike a balance between current events and biblical ones. Resurrection, the election, and more tackled in 30 minutes.

REV. ANTHONY TRUFANT, SENIOR PASTOR, EMMANUEL BAPTIST CHURCH: Every preacher must have a newspaper in one hand, a bible in another.

OGUNNAIKE (on-camera): I want to talk about something you addressed in your sermon today. You mentioned McCain, Hillary, and Obama. But you stopped short of saying who you were endorsing.

TRUFANT: It has always been any policy to be politically aware, politically involved, but not to employ my pulpit as a bully pulpit.

OGUNNAIKE: Now you're going to tell me who you're voting for.

TRUFANT: No. I endorse Jesus Christ as a person that people ought to get to know.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: It's interesting that the fellow you talked to said he wouldn't go to a church that didn't talk about politics, but these churches have to be careful. It's a fine line they walk because there could be a risk if they get too heavily involved of losing their tax- exempt status.

OGUNNAIKE: Right. You're allowed to talk about politics but not endorse a candidate specifically and not allowed to use church funds to donate to any candidate or campaign. Churches have to be very careful about that.

In 1992, for example, one church used its funds to create anti- Bill Clinton endorsements, and they ended up losing their tax-exempt status, which could be death to church. If their parishioners can't write off their donations to the taxes, there goes your church.

ROBERTS: It's true what your pastor says, he approaches his job with the Bible in one hand, a newspaper in another. Churches really have to stay relevant, particularly in as hot a political year as this one if they want to keep people engaged.

OGUNNAIKE: They have to be very mindful of current events, make sure that current events don't dominate the bible or the lord's word. But they also have to be mindful of what's going on out there. Their worshippers want to hear what they're hearing is relevant to their daily lives.

That's what's happening right now between the race and gender and class and all sorts of things that the election is stirring up. You'd be foolish to ignore it.

ROBERTS: Interesting look at what happened yesterday in church. Lola, thanks.

You're watching the most news in the morning. Right now the U.S. Coast Guard searching off the coast of Alaska after a fishing trawler goes down in near freezing temperatures. How it happened, new information on a search for the missing.

Rocky Mountain fresh. You would think the water from the Rockies would be as pure as it would get. Why are people warned about the drinking supply? That, when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: I think it is Monday. Here we go. Now, let's try it again.

Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

It's Monday, the 24th of March. I'm John Roberts. Kiran has got the morning off.

New this morning for you, a tragic milestone in the Iraq war. Four U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bombing in southern Baghdad, bringing the number of Americans killed in Iraq now to 4,000.

Coming up, we'll take you to a memorial to the fallen. It is inspiring awe and outrage. It's in a state that has the highest number of casualties per capita. See why it's igniting some controversy. That's coming up.

A crew member of a fishing trawler is still missing this morning after the ship sank off Alaskan's Aleutian Islands. Four crew members including the ship's captain were killed when the ship, the Alaskan Ranger, began taking on water early Sunday.

The Coast Guard was able to rescue 42 crew members. Earlier, I spoke to Captain Michael Inman from the U.S. Coast Guard about the status of the search for the missing men.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INMAN: Coast Guard Cutter Point Monroe is on scene searching and searched throughout the night, and at first light this morning, we will have an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter coming out of St. Paul to search the area for about probably five to six hours, and we will look at that -- our results at that point and see where we stand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The crew reported trouble with the steering gear box shortly before they called for help. But the Coast Guard says it is not yet clear why the ship began flooding and sank. And the owner of the ship, releasing the names of those who died.

They are Captain Eric Peter Jacobsen, Chief Engineer Daniel Cook, Mate David Silveira, and Crewman Byron Carrillo. Relatives say this is how the men would have wanted to go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMY ROMAN, NIECE OF DANIEL COOK: Ultimately, he died how he wanted to. If you're a fisherman, you want to die out at sea. You live to fish. If you're a true fisherman, this is how you want to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The Alaskan Ranger was built back in 1973. Its owners saying they are determined to find out what happened.

There is new evidence this morning that two steel plates on the I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis which collapsed last August were bent at least four years before the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board releasing the images from 2003. The photographs reveal slight bends in two plates that held beams together. The NTSB says the bent plates are part of the investigation into why the span collapsed killing 13 people.

A salmonella outbreak in Colorado has now grown to more than 200 reported cases. Of the 216 reported, 68 have so far been confirmed, nine people sought medical help, one person remains hospitalized. Health officials in Alamosa, southwest of Pueblo, believe the outbreak was caused by a contaminated water supply. They say that they will put chlorine in the system starting tomorrow.

A man on Long Island in New York has been diagnosed with typhoid fever. It is so rare. Only 400 cases appear every year in the United States. Health officials say that he works as a food handler at a Mama Sbarro's Restaurant in Hicksville. The restaurant passed that inspection on Friday, but Health officials are cautioning those who ate at the restaurant last weekend, that may have some risk of contracting the illness.

Our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is going to have more on typhoid fever to tell you about at 7:20 Eastern.

Outrage is building over the unauthorized snooping into the passport files of the three top presidential candidates. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisles say federal laws may have been broken and they are calling for an investigation by the Justice Department.

More politics now. Less than a month to go until the Pennsylvania primaries and things are getting more tense between the Obama and Clinton campaigns.

A Hillary Clinton backer even compared Bill Richardson so Judas after the New Mexico Governor endorsed Barack Obama. What is the potential fallout? CNN political analyst, John Dickerson, joins me this morning from our Washington bureau.

So, how important an endorsement is this for Barack Obama, John, and how much of a blow is it to the Clintons who really tried to do a lot to try to keep Richardson in the fold there, even sending Bill Clinton to New Mexico to watch the Super Bowl with him a couple of months back?

JOHN DICKERSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's an important endorsement. It's funny, though, Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn was pooh-poohing it after the endorsement came out.

He said, well it doesn't really matter at this point. Clearly, James Carville's remarks that you pointed to comparing him to Judas suggested it was a rather a bigger, more important move. The Clintons had both lobbied him within eight days of his switching and deciding to go with Obama.

It's a big deal because Richardson is a super delegate and he made a case when he supported Obama, which is not just that Obama would make a good president but that Democrats should get behind their nominee now and prepare for the fight against John McCain. And that essentially Democrats should wrap up this primary process, which, of course, Hillary Clinton wants to go on until the convention.

ROBERTS: The senior strategist with the Clinton campaign, Mark Penn, is downplaying the strength of this endorsement, basically saying that the time for its effectiveness has past. But doesn't this really help out Barack Obama potentially with Hispanic voters? And what about this idea that Bill Richardson might make a pretty effective running mate?

DICKERSON: Well, that's the case. Penn was making essentially that because the states in which Hispanics play a big role have largely passed, the Richardson endorsement doesn't matter so much. But in fact, it does matter because the Democrats are in this moment where super delegates will determine the race and Richardson was making this pitch to them.

Indeed, Richardson could be a good vice presidential choice. He also, importantly, made a claim about Barack Obama's ability to be commander-in-chief with Richardson's foreign policy experience, that's helpful for Obama since Hillary Clinton has been attacking him on that front.

And Richardson could help him shore up his administration if he would sign on as vice president. Of course, Richardson, like all good vice presidential picks is denying that he wants the job.

ROBERTS: We're hearing more this morning too about Reverend Jeremiah Wright. In an interview to be broadcast today in the "Michael O'Connor Show," Barack Obama said, "This guy has built one of the finest churches in Chicago. This is not a crackpot church. Witness the fact that Bill Clinton invited him to the White House when he was having his personal crisis.

So right there Barack Obama is trying to say, hey, it wasn't just me who is embracing this guy. It was also Bill Clinton. What kind of an effect might that have in diffusing this crisis for Barack Obama, which does seem to have something of a negative effect on his popularity ratings in the last week?

DICKERSON: It is. It's continuing to trouble the Obama campaign. This is a tricky move of raising Clinton's troubled period. Because, you know, in the campaign right now the Obama campaign is already a little bit on the defensive. One of his top aide, the top military advisor, compared Bill Clinton to Joseph McCarthy, which was a little off the wall.

So bringing up the president's relationship with Wright, which was certainly nothing even remotely close to Obama's, seems to be a curious approach. But the story keeps dogging Obama and I suppose this is one way to try and shift the conversation.

At bottom he's trying to say, you know, look, let's put this in some perspective. Jeremiah Wright was not, you know, a crazy person, but more in the mainstream. The problem is Obama still has to explain his remarks, which are not in the mainstream.

ROBERTS: Right. John Dickerson for us this morning. John, we'll see you a little later on. Thanks.

DICKERSON: Thanks.

ROBERTS: We have been talking about the milestone reached overnight. 4,000 Americans now killed in Iraq. A memorial honoring U.S. soldiers killed in action consists only of tiny white flags, one for each soldier killed. It's in the state with the highest number of casualties per capita.

But as CNN's Jim Acosta reports not everyone agrees with the way that the fallen are being honored.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Nearly every day Ned Kelly tends to this field. It's a memorial designed to hit people right in the gut.

NED KELLY, IRAQ WAR MEMORIAL ORGANIZER: If we didn't do this, where else would people see the enormity and the numbers of people that have been killed over there?

ACOSTA: For the last five years, Kelly and a few friends in the tiny town of Waitsfield, Vermont, have been adding a white flag for every American soldier lost.

KELLY: I'm a vet myself. My son was in Iraq. And so I'm very invested in this. We live on a dead-end road and every vehicle that would come up the road that we weren't expecting, it would sort of, uh-oh, is this the notice that he's been killed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody was thinking we would still be doing this at 4,000.

ACOSTA: Russ Bennett, the memorial's founder, has had enough of the war and the field.

RUSS BENNETT, IRAQ WAR MEMORIAL FOUNDER: And you use the word burden. It's a burden, especially, if you do it on a day like Thanksgiving or any of those other days. You know, that some family has made the ultimate sacrifice.

VICKI STRONG, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: I want it to be known that these displays do not honor my son. He's not a statistic.

ACOSTA: Fellow Vermonter, Vicki Strong, wants the Waitsfield Memorial to come down. Her son, Sergeant Jesse Strong, died in Iraq.

STRONG: You see that purple heart over there?

ACOSTA: She prefers the more personal memorial she's built in her front yard.

STRONG: He's a person. He's a story. He's a human hero. So when they take the war in Iraq and politicize it and make it into all these negative things, we're hurting our soldiers and our own freedom.

ACOSTA: So for people out there who say, oh, this is just one of those anti-war statements, what would you say to that?

KELLY: It's not just an anti-war statement to me. It is a statement of respect.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The organizers behind that memorial never thought their statement would grow this large. Now they have some planning to do for the future. That's because that field up in Vermont, John, is running out of room.

ROBERTS: So Jim, what do they plan to do? And it's interesting that he did admit that it was an anti-war statement. Not just an anti-war statement. So obviously that adds a bit to the controversy.

ACOSTA: That's right. They're very up front about this, that this is an anti-war statement, but they're trying to make it as subdued as possible. There are many people who are also working on this memorial who are saying, why don't we mention the number of Iraqis killed; why don't we mention some of those contractors who have been killed out in Iraq?

The organizers behind this memorial say, no, let's just go with the barebones approach and just talk about the soldiers who have been lost over there -- John.

ROBERTS: All right. Jim Acosta for us this morning in Philadelphia following that story.

And it brings us to this morning's "Quick Vote" question. And it is a controversial one. Is the Iraq war winnable? We're asking yes, leave the troops in as long as it takes. Or no, we should start pulling troops out now. Cast your vote for us at cnn.com/am. We'll have the first tally of votes coming up in just a little while here.

The U.S. telling Americans, Big Brother will be watching visitors at the Olympics in Beijing. Now China is responding to those charges.

And a down economy. Prices going up all around. Americans are paying more for necessities. Despite all that, they're still pretty confident about the future. Ali Velshi tells us why, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Forty-six minutes after the hour. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" this morning with more on the home crisis.

What do we got this morning?

VELSHI: We're going to be getting some numbers today about existing home sales later on this week about new home sales. So I want it to put this in perspective. Something we've been telling people.

As tough as this home price situation is, the mortgage crisis is, CNN Opinion Research Corporation conducted a poll. And we asked Americans about what the value of their house is compared to when they bought it. Look at this. 82 percent of Americans tell us that their home is worth more than they bought it. Only 11 percent say its worth less.

And when we asked them, would gave them a time period, five years ago, compared to five years ago, how much is your home worth? 70 percent of our respondents said its worth more now than it was five years ago. Only 18 percent say it's lower.

ROBERTS: Do they know that to be a fact or they just think? Well, I mean, you always think until you're able to sell your house and get money. But you know, these days you've got a lot of tools to be able to find out exactly what your house is worth. If anything in the neighborhood is sold, you have some sense of what it's worth. And the fact is, that is true.

Home prices have gone up so much over the last ten years that in many cases the downturn mostly affects people who bought high or had high mortgages. But in fact, our home prices are not down overall compared to where they were ten years ago. Just something for perspective to think about. Again, this doesn't matter if it's your house and you need to sell it. You're going to lose money.

ROBERTS: Sure. I mean, if you bought maybe the last couple of years. (INAUDIBLE) you might be back a little bit. But if you bought more than that ago, you probably still --

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: You might be OK. And once it comes through this dip, you might be OK again. So a little bit of, you know, a little bit of silver lining in the cloud. ROBERTS: You know, I noticed that New York is bracing for some job losses because of what's going on in the financial sector.

VELSHI: Yes.

ROBERTS: Might New York real estate be affected (INAUDIBLE) future?

VELSHI: Well, one-third of New York is connected to Wall Street money. And there are three jobs for every one of those jobs that sort of a support job as a result of that. So yes, there could be. But the dollar being so low, it's attracted so much money from overseas and so many other investors that for the moment we're not seeing that. But yes, I think at some levels you'll find it in Manhattan.

ROBERTS: A lot of people from Europe taking advantage of the home prices here, which are relative bargain. Ali, thanks.

VELSHI: OK.

ROBERTS: It has inspired countless rockers, but the wildly popular video game "Guitar Hero" had struck the wrong chord with guitar maker Gibson which has now filed a second lawsuit against rocker video games. Let's bring in AMERICAN MORNING legal analyst Sunny Hostin.

Is this the same as the last lawsuit that was filed over patent infringement?

HOSTIN: It's very, very similar. And these patent infringement cases aren't that difficult to prove. I mean, the bottom line is, all he has to prove is that this other company made or sold something that was a bit infringed on his patent without his permission.

ROBERTS: So what is Gibson saying it's got that this infringes can depend on?

HOSTIN: Well, apparently he's had a patent for quite some time. He's had a patent for almost ten years. And he's patented the technology. He's patented the software. He's got the only game in town. And if you want to use that software or that technology or whatever his patent is, you've got to pay him. You've got to get a license to do it.

ROBERTS: But is this just Gibson trying to get a slice of this pie? Does it really have a legitimate claim to this?

HOSTIN: You know, it does. And the bottom line is, when you go through the efforts of securing the patent, people have to listen. And the interesting thing, John, is even if you accidentally infringe on someone's patent, the bottom line is that you still have to pay. Now, if you prove -- if he can prove this was willful, they knew about the patent and did it anyway.

Let's say he sent a letter to them and said please stop doing this and they did anyway, we're talking three times the money damages. So there's big, big money and that's what he's looking for.

ROBERTS: Wow. So Gibson is saying that it did something, at least patented something, that had sort of a guitar that you play and then a 3D set of glasses that you wear and put some headphones on to put yourself into a rock concert.

HOSTIN: John, it sounds like you know a lot about this.

ROBERTS: Both the game at home and Gibson Guitars. I'm sort of covering both sides of this. I mean, is there a possibility here that Gibson may in fact win from Guitar Hero or concession that it has to stop selling this game? What's it's going to mean for people at home?

HOSTIN: Well, that is a possible avenue. You either have -- you get to force someone to stop infringing, which is stop selling, or you force someone to get a license. So pay me and then you can use it all you want. Or you don't want to pay me, you want to argue that this is your invention and it's not, pay me three times the amount that you would have paid.

ROBERTS: Wow, well, we'll see what happens. This is going to be adjudicated by a judge, obviously.

HOSTIN: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

ROBERTS: Sunny Hostin for us this morning. Sunny, thanks.

Floodwaters proved to be too much for a levee in Northern Arkansas. We're going to have the latest on the flooding that is hitting that state today.

And America's past time is Japan's passion. The Boston Red Sox and Oakland A's get ready to open the baseball season on the other side of the world. A look at the fan frenzy, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DE LA CRUZ: Well, it's 54 minutes after the hour. Welcome back now to AMERICAN MORNING. Just in case you're just joining us, here's what's new right now.

Heavy flooding in Northern Arkansas after a levee broke on the Black River. Engineers are using sandbags to plug the two cracks in the levee. But the river could keep rising today. The National Weather Service has flood warnings in effect for six counties.

And the Olympic flame is on its 20-country, 130-day journey today. The lighting ceremony took place this morning in Greece. But what's being called the journey of harmony turn out to be a little less than peaceful. Two pro-Tibetan protesters interrupted a speech by China's Olympic organizing committee chief during that ceremony.

And China is calling a U.S. warning that visitors to the Beijing Olympics may be monitored, "irresponsible." The charge came after the State Department advised Americans visiting China to expect their rooms and offices to be bugged and searched while they're out. The Chinese Foreign Ministry says privacy in China is guaranteed by law.

1970s radical Sara Jane Olsen back in prison for another year. Corrections officials say her release a year early last week was the result of a clerical error. Olsen was part of the Symbionese Liberation Army which kidnapped Patty Hearst. Her next release date is now March 17th of 2009.

Well, the ex-wife of French president Nicolas Sarkozy has tied the knot in New York. The Web site of a French newspaper says Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz married public relations executive Richard Attias at the Rainbow Room. It is her third marriage. Albeniz and Sarkozy split up last year after an 11-year marriage. Sarkozy married singer and ex-super model Carla Bruni in February.

And Red Sox fever has hit Japan. The Boston Red Sox and Oakland A's are getting ready to open baseball season tomorrow in Japan. Many Americans made the trip, but the Japanese fans are also cheering the return of superstars like Daisuke Matsuzaka, who starts tomorrow for the Red Sox. And that is what is new this morning. I'll send it now back to Japan.

You know, the guy is just -- he is such a rock star. Such a rock star there in Japan and Japanese obviously love their baseball.

ROBERTS: I wonder if some of those hairstyles are going to catch on, too? What do you think?

DELA CRUZ: You know, interesting to see maybe.

ROBERTS: Veronica, thanks.

New questions this morning about what caused a fishing trawler to sink. Four men killed another one missing and a desperate search under way right now. We've got the distress call coming up for you at the top of the hour.

There is growing outrage over snooping into the candidates' passport files. Are your private records safe? Who is allowed to look at your information and what they can learn.

And the Clinton campaign speaks out about Governor Bill Richardson's endorsement of Obama. Do they really think he's a traitor? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Four thousand lost, five long years. The Iraq war reaches a new milestone overnight. Rising fears.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is like nothing I've ever seen before. There is water everywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Can a levee hold back a wall of water rushing downstream?

And shop talk. Who's winning in a downed economy?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting value for a dollar spent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: On this AMERICAN MORNING. And good morning, thanks very much for joining us on this Monday, the 24th of March.

I'm John Roberts along with Ali Velshi and Veronica De La Cruz to kick off your week. Kiran, has got the morning off today.

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