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AMERICAN MORNING

Democrats Debate in Final Showdown Before Primary; Pope to Celebrate Mass in Nationals Park; Oil Breaks Records; Vioxx Questions on Early Research

Aired April 17, 2008 - 07;00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first half of the debate focused on campaign gaffes, mostly his. It included his suggestion that small town voters turn to guns and God because they are bitter about decades of government inaction.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that is a fundamental sort of misunderstanding of the role of religion and faith in times that are good and times that are bad.

CROWLEY: Obama went after Clinton for criticizing him as an elitist recalling the '92 campaign when she dismissively noted she'd not spent her life baking cookies.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People attack her for being elitist and this and that, and I remember watching that on TV and saying, well, that's not who she is. The problem is that that's the kind of politics that we've been accustomed to, and I think Senator Clinton learned the wrong lesson from it because she's adopting the same tactics.

CROWLEY: From the bitter moment to Jeremiah Wright, Clinton tried to elevate the importance of all the incidents.

CLINTON: It is clear that as leaders, we have a choice who we associate with and who we apparently give some kind of seal of approval to.

CROWLEY: But Obama tossed them off as irrelevant.

OBAMA: I do think it's important to recognize that it's not helping that person who is sitting at the kitchen table, who is trying to figure out how to pay the bills at the end of the month.

CROWLEY: Mostly they agreed on issues. Both hardened their stand on Iraq promising withdrawal no matter what, and both committed to no tax hikes on the middle class. They were also in sync when asked whether they would each promise to put the other on the ticket.

CHARLES GIBSON, MODERATOR: So I put the question to both of you, why not?

(LAUGHTER)

GIBSON: Don't all speak at once.

CROWLEY: It is tense now on this long campaign for the nomination, and it is increasingly bitter. No love lost here. Candy Crowley, CNN, Philadelphia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we'll talk to Candy more about this later on in the hour. We also know more now about Barack Obama's personal finances. His campaign has released his 2007 tax returns. Obama and his wife reported $4.2 million in income last year, most of that is profit from his two books.

The Obamas combined salary was nearly $261,000. They paid $1.4 million in federal taxes and donated more than $240,000 to charity.

Meanwhile, the boss is backing Obama. Bruce Springsteen says that Obama speaks to the America he's envisioned in his music for the past 35 years.

And Senator John McCain is dismissing comments that he's too old to be president. Those comments are from Democratic Congressman John Murtha who at 75, by the way, is four years older than McCain. Murtha is a Clinton supporter and says he doesn't believe McCain can handle the rigors of the presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I've served with seven presidents. When they come in, they all make mistakes. They all get older, and this one guy running is about as old as me. Let me tell you something, it's no old man's job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Well, in response McCain told CNN that Murtha should speak for himself. That he's doing fine, thanks. McCain will be 72 in November, and if elected would be the oldest man to become president.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: It's three minutes after the hour. Pope Benedict XVI is celebrating mass in Washington, D.C., this morning. Begins in just a few hours at the brand new Nationals Park which opened less than a month ago.

CNN's Jason Carroll joins us now from the scene there this morning at the brand new ballpark. And Jason, we do know that the weather is going to be spectacular today. You just couldn't ask for a better day, 77 and sunny there in Washington.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I guess a lot of prayers were answered because the weather is, in fact, gorgeous. And as you say, we're just a few hours away from the Pope's mass, but already, John, the faithful are starting to file in here to hear the Pope's message of hope.

Two of the faithful joining me right now. We've got Karen and Cameron Spruill, both of them from Maryland. You're just 10 years old. A lot has been said about this new Pope. I know you are very excited. What are your impressions of the Pope so far?

KAREN SPRUILL, CAMERON'S MOTHER: I think he's a wonderful ambassador. He is the prince of peace and Christ's person here on earth that will help us to, I think, come back to the tradition of the church and what the meanings of the church are and the teachings of the church.

CARROLL: You know, I also know that you were telling me earlier that you felt as though he was definitely more of a candid type of Pope.

SPRUILL: Correct. I think he was very candid with his leaders yesterday when he had his meeting with our leaders here in the United States, and positioning them to bring us forward and to make sure that we, again, go back to the traditions and the foundation of what the church was built on.

CARROLL: Also addressing the sexual abuse scandal. We talked about that a little earlier as well.

SPRUILL: Correct. I think everybody is of the same mind, that we need to move on from that but make sure that that will never happen again and that we're vigilant with our children, and we're vigilant with the teachings of the church.

CARROLL: Also, you're here with your lovely daughter, Cameron. I know this is an exciting day for you, too. You will be singing in the children's choir. How are you feeling about that?

CAMERON SPRUILL, SINGING IN CHILDREN'S CHOIR: It feels like you won a million bucks, just amazing that you get to do that. And in front of our biggest leader, too.

CARROLL: We are certainly looking forward to that. Thank you both of us for joining us. A very exciting day for both of these two and for the 46,000 other people, John, who are expected to attend the Pope's mass which should start just at about 10:00 a.m. -- John.

ROBERTS: And, of course, a lot of baseball fans are hopeful as well that the Pope will bless the stadium while he's there and that the Nationals will have a good season. Jason Carroll for us this morning. Jason, thanks.

CHO: Looking like a resident from Virginia.

A national crackdown to tell you about this morning aimed at finding illegal immigrants. The biggest raid was conducted at Pilgrims Pride chicken plants in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida. Federal agents arrested hundreds of workers on charges ranging from identity theft, documentation fraud, and immigration violation.

A suspected armed illegal immigrant caused some tense moments at Texas A&M in Kingsville, Texas. Here's what happened. The university was apparently in lockdown for three hours yesterday as authorities searched for a gunman. Police say the suspect bailed out of a truck during a routine traffic stop. Several people were later arrested, including one suspect who was armed.

And the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that will allow many states to resume executing prisoners by lethal injection. Could it set a precedent?

Well, the high court looked specifically at Kentucky's method of killing criminals that upheld a lower court's decision that ruled it isn't cruel or unusual punishment. Chief Justice John Roberts in his opinion called the Kentucky procedure a "painless death." John?

ROBERTS: The FBI is calling for reinforcements to crack down on mortgage fraud. FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate panel that more FBI agents are being called in to help deal with the surge in mortgage fraud investigations. There are now 204 agents working on 1,300 investigations, many of them involving subprime lending.

New rules for the airline industry and it may make delays a little more palatable for passengers. The Department of Transportation has doubled the compensation for passengers who get bumped from a flight and are put on a flight that gets them to their destination two hours later than their original one. The new rule takes effect next month.

But there are some bad news for travelers as well. Efforts to ease congestion could lead to higher ticket prices. A new plan to be tested at New York's LaGuardia airport would require airlines to auction off a few landing slots per day to other airlines. The government is hoping that increased competition would force airlines to fly bigger planes, which means more passengers without adding takeoffs. But airline officials say the plan would raise costs and, therefore, increase ticket prices.

CHO: LaGuardia probably a good place to do it because of all the ripple effect that it causes throughout the country.

Meanwhile, did the makers of Vioxx deceive the public about health risks long before the drug was pulled from the market? We're "paging Dr. Gupta." He's here with us in New York. Sanjay paying us a "HOUSE CALL" in the studio coming up.

And another day, another record high for oil prices. It's already costing you more at the pump. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business". That's next on AMERICAN MORNING."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Ten minutes after the hour and the oil price and gasoline price woes just continue like every day.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: If the numbers didn't change we wouldn't have --

ROBERTS: Jump in front of the bus. VELSHI: I could sleep in, but unfortunately the numbers actually changed. But that could just be electronic, right? I've just been making a reference to this and those numbers, those electronic numbers -- unfortunately, this isn't electronic. This is real.

$115.54 is where oil got to this morning, and it does seem to be adding another digit to this third number every day. There's one, 11, 12, 13, 14. I just hope that would stop, but of course as that happens, it contributes to the price that you pay for gasoline. And we have yet again, according to AAA, another record price for gasoline, $3.42 for a gallon of gasoline. That's a national average for self-serve.

There are some places we already know more than $4. Last month, $3.28 was the average. Look at the gain in gasoline. The other thing that we should tell you about is oil does move the opposite direction of the U.S. dollar, and the U.S. dollar is weakening again. We now have a record low against the euro. It will cost you $1.60 to buy a euro right now.

This isn't a record against the pound or the Canadian dollar, but still low. $1.98 for a pound and a dollar for a Canadian dollar, and these are just representatives of other currencies. So your dollar is very weak. So it's too weak for you to travel. Airfares are high because of oil prices, and you can't drive for your vacation. So, get to like your place.

ROBERTS: So you know what people are asking this morning...

VELSHI: Yes.

ROBERTS: Where does this all end? Or does it?

VELSHI: Well, this is so speculative that you don't really know when it ends. It ends when speculators decide that this is not the best bet. There are better places for their money. And part of that means when the stock market, when real estate, when other things become more reasonable investments, but the fact is there is a lot of demand for oil. So if you can trade in oil, you're going to make money until there are other places to make money. It's considered safe, believe it or not.

ROBERTS: Is there any high for oil?

VELSHI: Well, at some point people stop buying the product or weaning back on the product. And that's when -- and we're seeing that behavior. Yes.

CHO: Just like with gas, you know, people have that sort of psychological $4 level, right? Or whatever it is --

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: What level? $4, exactly.

ROBERTS: We thought the psychological level was $3. CHO: Right. Yes.

VELSHI: Yes.

CHO: Not anymore.

ROBERTS: Ali, thanks.

VELSHI: OK. You want to tune in to "ISSUE #1," by the way, because Suze Orman will be taking your calls and offering solutions to your personal finance questions today. Join Suze, Ali, Gerri Willis and the CNN money team for "ISSUE #1" noon Eastern here on CNN.

CHO: Oh, beautiful here in New York, but wildfires and snow out west. Rob Marciano tracking the extreme weather for us this morning. Hey, Rob, good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, guys. That snow helping the wildfires out west, that's for sure. And take a look at this thing -- that satellite picture.

If this was a couple months later, we certainly would be worried. But that's going to cause some problems in the East Coast. We'll talk about that plus the snow and the rain heading towards the Mississippi. The weather is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARCIANO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Rob Marciano watching this storm that really caused some problems in California, Nevada, then the last couple days in Colorado with heavy winds that brought in those fires, and now snow on the backside and potential for seeing severe weather on the front side. So that will be an ongoing threat as we go through the next few hours and through the overnight period tonight.

What have we seen so far? Well, severe thunderstorm watch that's being allowed to expire. Some rough weather last night through Kansas. Back side of this is bringing some snow to the high prairie in southeast Colorado, the same spots that saw those winds and wildfires. So from 70 and 80-degree temperatures dropping down into the 30s with snow heavy at times right now.

Here is where the rain is pushing into, into Lincoln, Nebraska, Omaha as well. Some of this is heavy at times and contains -- at least has had a history of containing some hail and some gusty winds. And it's all heading in an area that's already saturated. We know we had some flooding problems up and down the Mississippi. We could see upwards of two, three and four inches of rainfall for the next 48 hours, east of Des Moines, into Kansas City and heading into the upper reaches of the Mississippi River Valley.

On to the Atlantic we go. Here is the East Coast. Here's this swirling mass of clouds. It's right over the gulf stream, which isn't quite warm enough to produce a hurricane, but nonetheless, it can produce some waves back across parts of Cape Hatteras in the outer banks and that will cause some problems as far as waves go and and slightly cooler weather along the coast.

But just inland, 77 D.C., 71 degrees in New York. Yesterday, Chicago hit 70 for the first time since, I think, October 20th, which is one of the longest streaks they have ever been sub-70. So enjoy the spring weather if you're getting it today. John and Alina, back up to you.

CHO: Take a bike ride.

ROBERTS: Yes. Nice to finally have that weather. Yes, you got a brand new bicycle yesterday.

CHO: Yes. J.R. helped me buy it. Yes.

ROBERTS: Joining the group of people who are finding alternative methods of getting around other than filling your tank with gasoline.

CHO: Hey, we're watching the Olympic Torch Relay. The torch arrived in New Delhi. As you can see, the relay underway there. You see the runners. Of course, that torch is making its trek around the world, will end up in Beijing in August for the Olympic Games but, you know, there have been some protests, some arrests there.

And so, we are watching that very closely, including, by the way, some Tibetan protesters wearing headbands saying free Tibet. They actually stormed through the barricades at the Chinese embassy. They were under arrest. There's heavy security there, of course, so people watching that situation very closely.

Meanwhile, we've got a very special guest here in the studio.

ROBERTS: Yes, we do. Yes, Sanjay Gupta is here with us this morning. It's 18 minutes after the hour, and you got some news on Merck and Vioxx...

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

ROBERTS: ... and the studies that led up to its approval.

GUPTA: I know. It's good to be here, first of all. You know, it is pretty remarkable when you look at these trials and this idea that they're so strongly worded, what the editors of "JAMA" are saying now in terms of what you can trust, what you can't trust. Everything that's out there. How do you really know? I'll have it for you coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: New questions this morning about the drug maker Merck and how it got the painkiller Vioxx to the market. There are accusations that Merck manipulated data to help promote Vioxx.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta here in the studio with us. Hey, buddy, good to see you. Listen, the "Journal of the American Medical Association" as you know published these claims against Merck.

GUPTA: Yes.

CHO: You actually went back to the editor in chief, talked to them about it. Vioxx was pulled from the market four years ago.

GUPTA: Right.

CHO: So why is this article coming out now? Why is it important now?

GUPTA: Because she says this is an affront to biomedical science and very, very strongly worded. In fact, she says the integrity of medical science must be a priority for everyone, talking about the editor in chief of "JAMA." As you mentioned, this is a blockbuster drug for Merck for some time. Take a look at the timeline.

In 1999, the medication came out. 2004, you remember this, it was linked to heart attacks and strokes. Taken off the market at that time. Big news. And then, there was a $4.85 billion settlement.

CHO: Right.

GUPTA: What is at issue here is pretty remarkable. I have to tell you. You know, I'm obviously a physician, I read these articles and stuff like that.

CHO: All the time.

GUPTA: All the time. And what they are saying is that Merck paid ghostwriters to write the articles and then paid academicians to lend their bylines to the articles. You assume when you read one of these articles that the person who wrote it is on the article, and people who didn't write it are not on the article.

CHO: Right.

GUPTA: So that one of the things. The other thing I thought was also interesting -- you may remember this. There was a possibility that this drug could treat Alzheimer's disease or sort of ward off some of the symptoms. What they came back and found was not only did it not work, but it may have actually increased mortality to some extent as well. They say that data was not presented quickly enough. Merck says it was for their part.

You know, what they're saying is look, this was a manipulation of data. There was a manipulation of overall results. There was a manipulation of physicians, manipulation of journal editors, a thousand little pieces as it were. And let me just real quick.

Merck says, we've asked them as well, they say these statements were false, misleading, and lacked context overall. So, you know, here's where we are, but pretty amazing to think about what we read and where it came from.

CHO: Yes. And there are a lot of questions, we were talking about this yesterday. All the producers and we were raising the question essentially that, you know, when you think about such a big well-known drug like Vioxx and these accusations, how many other drugs are out there, lesser known, smaller companies, and the same thing is going on?

GUPTA: Well, you know, the writers of these articles say they sort of stumbled upon this. It wasn't something that was so overt. As these lawsuits came about, they realized that there was something else going on here when they sort of chased the data back specifically.

To your point, there are a few other drugs. There was Vioxx and Bextra, which were both taken off the market. You remember those hearings. Celebrex is still on the market. This is a medication that has strong warnings now, strong warnings about the possible links to heart disease, the possible links to stroke.

Keep in mind, a lot of people who take these medications are older. They have the sort of wear and tear of life, if you will, Alina. They take the medication. They're also at risk for these things because of their age sometimes. You add those two things together, it's a real problem.

CHO: Yes.

GUPTA: Buyer beware, you know, to some extent, which is a frightening thing to say when it comes to your medicine cabinet.

CHO: Yes. No kidding.

GUPTA: But I think that's always the case.

CHO: Well, yes. And do your research.

GUPTA: Absolutely.

CHO: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much. Good to see you in the studio.

GUPTA: Thanks.

ROBERTS: Good to see you, doc. Thanks for being here.

As we have been reporting, Pope Benedict XVI will take centerfield this morning in a first ever mass at Washington's National Park. At a prayer service last night, the Pope addressed the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church telling church leaders that it is their God-given responsibility to heal the wounds and restore trust. It was the second straight day that the Pope has addressed the scandal.

And it brings us to this morning's "Quick Vote" question. Here's what we're asking this morning. Do you think Pope Benedict can heal the wounds of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal? Right now, 26 percent of you say yes. Seventy-four percent say no. Cast your vote at CNN.com. We'll tally the votes this morning, and we also want to hear from you via e-mail as well. Go to our Web site at CNN.com/am and follow the link that says "contact us." We're getting some good responses in. We'll read some of those coming up at our next half hour.

You're watching the "Most News in the Morning." Hundreds of children in limbo in Texas. Did authorities have enough evidence to suddenly take them from their families after raiding a polygamist compound in Texas? We'll talk to the attorney general of the state, next, on AMERICAN MORNING."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It's coming up at 26 minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning."

Hundreds of children and their attorneys will be in courtrooms in San Angelo, Texas, within hours for the nation's largest child custody case ever. The children were taken by the state in a raid on a polygamist compound. And this morning, we're getting the first real look inside.

"LARRY KING LIVE" got an exclusive tour of the living quarters. One room had five beds said to be home to several older girls. Some of the mothers spoke to Larry last night from inside the ranch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": So you have never to your knowledge seen a younger girl marry an older person?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not that I'm aware of.

KING: Marilyn, had you?

MARILYN, FUNDAMENTALIST LATTER DAY SAINTS MEMBER: Not that I have ever seen.

KING: Esther, had you?

ESTHER, FUNDAMENTALIST LATTER DAY SAINTS MEMBER: Not that I have ever seen.

KING: So all these stories are false or just you haven't seen them?

ESTHER: I believe they're false.

MARILYN: I believe they are false.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Me also.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, members of the group maintain that there was no abuse of the children. I spoke earlier to Greg Abbott. He's the attorney general of Texas and asked him what proof the state had to back up its claims.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: At this point, do you have any evidence of physical and/or sexual abuse or is it allegations at this point?

GREGG ABBOTT, TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's our belief that these children who were under the age of 17 have engaged in sex with older men, which is a violation of Texas law, which is also a potential violation of the bigamy laws. So, yes, we do believe we have information believed that will be substantiated in court that will show that there has been sexual assault as well as bigamy.

ROBERTS: How much of this case hinges on that phone call that was allegedly made by this 16-year-old girl charging that she had been sexually assaulted, raped by her 50-year-old spiritual husband, I think is the way she put it?

ABBOTT: The case really doesn't hinge upon that particular 16- year-old. Once the information that was credible came in to investigators in which they could in good faith make the determination they needed to go into the compound and determine whether or not there was any kind of wrongdoing, the case is on its own after that.

The information has been learned to date is of horrible, outrageous sexual assault of underage girls as well as abuse of underage girls, underage being under the age of 17. These are the kind of allegations that need to be looked into, and we appreciate the cooperation of all the people in the compound to ensure that the legal process will run its course.

ROBERTS: There have also been criticisms that have been -- and complaints raised by members of this FLDS sect that the women and children were taken away by gunpoint. We have seen pictures that had been released by the FLDS sect of SWAT teams there, armored personnel carriers. Was this raid, if you will, carried out in a typical fashion when this is a child custody case or a child safety case involved?

ABBOTT: A typical operation doesn't involve the removal of 400 children because the typical operation doesn't involve a compound. And when you're dealing with a situation where we wanted to avoid another Waco-Koresh type situation, we wanted to make sure it was carried out in a way in which we could minimize danger not only to the children but to everybody else in the compound. In hindsight, we believe, that the removal of the children was done as safely and effectively as it could have been done.

ROBERTS: This is a very logistically difficult case because of the number of children who are involved. You've got 416. Under Texas law, they're supposed to each be represented by an attorney. Yet to the best of my knowledge in San Angelo, which is the closest big town, there are only 80 attorneys that might be available. How are you going to provide a separate attorney for each one of these children? ABBOTT: The state bar of Texas has done a great job of ensuring legal representation for all of these children. They've coordinated lawyers from around the state who are going to the greater San Angelo area to assist in this process serving as attorney ad litems for all of these children.

ROBERTS: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, thanks for being with us this morning, sir.

ABBOTT: Thank you, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: Pope Benedict is getting ready to celebrate mass this morning in Washington, our nation's capital. It will take place in just a couple of hours at the city's new stadium, Nationals Park. The gates have just opened. People trickling in there. Some 47,000 people are expected today.

The Pope spent Wednesday speaking to hundreds of bishops telling them they have a duty to heal the wounds caused by the church's priest's sex abuse scandal. Even though the Pope conceded that the church mishandled the crisis, some critics said he has not gone far enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI: Responding to the situation has not been easy, and as the president of your bishop conference has indicated, it was sometimes very badly handled.

BARBARA BLAINE, SURVIVORS NETWORK OF THOSE ABUSED BY PRIESTS: What we're looking for would be a strong stroke of the pen by Pope Benedict that would give a directive that all of the predator priests have to be removed from houses of religious communities and have to be removed from the parishes where they're still living and then maybe our church would be safer for children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: The Pope will speak with Catholic educators tonight before heading to New York tomorrow.

Senator Barack Obama's controversial bitter remark was front and center in last night's debate. Obama defended himself but Senator Hillary Clinton, his opponent, did not let him off easily.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The point I was making was that when people feel like Washington's not listening to them, when they're promised year after year, decade after decade, that their economic situation is going to change and it doesn't, then politically, they end up focusing on those things that are constant, like religion. SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't believe that my grandfather or my father or the many people whom I have had the privilege of knowing and meeting across Pennsylvania over many years cling to religion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Obama has been accused of being elitist or commenting some voters cling to things like religion or guns out of bitterness with the government.

And here's an updated look at where the candidates stand right now in the delegate count. This morning, the current CNN estimate shows that Senator Obama has 1,644 delegates. 226 of those are superdelegates. Senator Clinton has 1,498 delegates, so close and 248 are superdelegates. She trails Obama by just 146. Of course, 2,025 delegates are needed to clinch the nomination.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: It's 32 minutes after the hour, and let's take a look at some live pictures this morning of the Olympic torch relay in New Delhi. It's the latest leg in the journey as the torch makes its way back to Beijing. Police sealed off streets and advised workers to keep a low profile as Indian officials try to avoid chaotic scenes like those we saw in San Francisco and London last week.

Sara Sidner is in the Indian capital. She joins us now by phone. Sara, we should point out that India's home to the world's largest Tibetan exile community. Is there any sign there of the sort of protest that we saw in London and San Francisco last week?

VOICE OF SARA SIDNER, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me tell you from my vantage point, John, that the Olympic torch has certainly ignited a flame of controversy, but you would never know it from where I'm standing. We're standing in front of Parliament Building, and the President's House right on the (Rashta) which is where the Olympic torch will go. Which is about a 2.5 kilometer or 1 1/2 mile stretch that ends up at India Gate, which is a huge and beautiful monument in New Delhi where there are dignitaries waiting for the torch and the torch relay has gotten under way.

In fact, it's almost done. It's a very, so far short ceremony. But there are, as you mentioned, there are 100,000 Tibetan refugees who call India their home and thousands who live here in New Delhi. But from this vantage point there are no protesters, not even any members of the public. It's turned into a very sanitized, very calm, almost eerily silent event with very few people involved in even being able to watch this. Although we do see several people holding huge flags from China, a huge flag from India, but those are certainly invited guests by the Indian Olympic Association. No one has been let into this venue without very strict security measures. I have had my security checked two or three times and I'm in the media conclave.

So basically from this vantage point you would never there are any protests going on in New Delhi. However, John, earlier today the Tibetan refugees and their supporters did hold quite a large bit of protest, but that was half a mile or so away from the venue because there has been so much security around the area. There's really a bubble over the area that I'm standing where you just cannot get anywhere near this ceremony. John.

ROBERTS: Certainly, some lovely pictures there of the road leading up to the Parliament Buildings in India Gate. Sara Sidner for us this morning on the torch relay in New Delhi. Sara, thanks. Veronica de la Cruz joining us now with other stories making headlines.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN, INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to all of you. And good morning to you out there as well.

Breaking news to start with out of Iraq. Right now, at least 42 people are dead, many others injured after a suicide bomber attacked a funeral in northern Iraq. The bomber was wearing an explosive vest. The funeral was for a Sunni tribal leader who was gunned down two days ago. Police believe the mourners were targeted because they support a U.S.-backed movement that is fighting Al Qaeda.

And the Iraqi government has re-assigned a police chief and army commander in Basra. Their departures come three weeks after Iraq launched an offensive attack against Shiite militias in the southern city. That operation was criticized by U.S. commanders as poorly planned failing to disarm the fighters.

New questions about a missile defense shield of the U.S. is planning in Europe. A group of prominent scientists are telling a House committee that the Pentagon may have misled the public and U.S. allies about the system's capabilities. They claim it can't protect the U.S. against a real world missile attack. The program has been a major source of tension with Russia, which opposes the plan.

And an alarming new report to tell you about this morning. Out of New Jersey's Newark Liberty Airport. The number of planes landing there with low fuel levels has tripled in the last two years. Federal investigators say passengers were never in danger. The jets were given priority to land, but they say it puts a burden on the already overloaded air traffic system. It's likely to come up at a hearing today on FAA modernization. And that's what is new this morning.

Pretty scary to think, a lot of us have probably landed in Newark, and have taken Continental. So.

CHO: Yes. It is an alarming report.

Veronica, thanks. Coming up, call it the beige book blues. A new report paints a downbeat picture of the nation's economy. Ali Velshi is going to show us exactly where. Next, there are some bright spots too, we should mention. And new information about the size of your brain and Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Sanjay Gupta here in New York in studio. He's going to have the latest research. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHO: The economy is issue number one for Americans. "Issue number one" here at CNN, too. Ali Velshi with more on that. Hey, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN, SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I come bearing gifts. I've got the "Beige Book."

ROBERTS: One for each of us?

VELSHI: It is every now and then the Federal Reserve - you know, I think of it this as sort of a place in Washington where, you know, secret things happen. Well, the Federal Reserve is actually a bunch of 12 regional banks across the country in various cities. They cover the whole country. And every now and then we come out with a report about how things are, what the economy is looking, almost anecdotally in those areas.

They have come out with the recent one with some interesting findings. First of all, in those regions that are covered by New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Dallas, manufacturing activity has slowed down. And that's something that we've expected. By the way, out of the 12 districts, activity generally, economic activity has slowed down in nine of them. Real estate sales have declined in those areas covered by New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and San Francisco.

Again, no surprise we have been hearing those things. One would say New York City hasn't softened, but this is the whole area covered by that. And one thing that's interesting is luxury goods, demand for luxury goods has actually strengthened in those areas covered by Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. Surprised New York is not in that list, but a lot of those areas are places where money is coming in from overseas. People spending their euros here in dollars. So, it's a bit of an anecdotal picture of how things are across the United States. So, that we don't think it's all one situation. It's very different.

ROBERTS: The Fed only slightly more opaque than the CIA.

VELSHI: Correct. Only slightly.

ROBERTS: All right. Ali, thanks.

CHO: And make sure you tune in to "Issue number one" later today. That's noon Eastern time. Suze Orman will be taking your calls and answering your questions with Ali and Gerri Willis. That's at noon Eastern time right here on CNN.

ROBERTS: Extreme weather rolling in the heartland. Rob Marciano is tracking the extreme weather for us. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Good morning again, John, Alina and Ali. Check this out. We've got snow in the - well not even in the Rockies really, in the high prairie of Denver, Colorado, eastward and heavy rain heading towards the swollen Mississippi River. Will it lead to more flooding? We'll talk about it next when AMERICAN MORNING continues. Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARCIANO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Rob Marciano. Take a look at the shot of the radar scope here in Colorado. One of the tools we use here in the weather center. Now I can show you the precipitation and also the (orbs) here at La Junta 34 degrees, 92% relative humidity and north winds of 9 miles an hour and light snow. That is a far cry from what it was yesterday and then the day before just up the road where that fire was between La Junta and Pueblo. Now snow is falling. So, that certainly is the good news there.

We have winter storm warnings that are actually in effect. Colorado City just to the south of Pueblo saw several inches of snow and still snowing there. And heavy rain heading towards Nebraska. Some of this storm brought not only soaking to this part of the world, but also some severe weather across parts of Kansas yesterday. In some cases, winds strong enough to blow over a tractor-trailer and quarter-sized hail.

Grant Islands to Lincoln, Nebraska, Omaha reporting temperatures in the lower 40s with heavy rain. If that's not a miserable start to your day, I don't know what is. And it's going to shift off to the east, Kansas City up towards Des Moines. This is rain into saturated areas in the next 48 hours, 2, 3, 4 inches possible, and we'll be heading into the Mississippi River valley. So once -- now that we finally started to get some of the water down in the Gulf of Mexico, we got another round of rain so maybe reagitate some of that flooding. John and Alina, back up to you.

ROBERTS: Rob, thanks very much.

CHO: New research about avoiding Alzheimer's disease. We're "Paging Dr. Gupta." Sanjay is in the house with more on that. It's all about the size of your brain apparently.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I have the coolest job in the world. I get to come here and talk about brains, specifically the size of the brain. It's pretty intriguing.

CHO: It's you area of expertise.

GUPTA: It is my area of expertise. It's pretty intriguing stuff. I'll tell what you it all means, how you might possibly be able to avoid Alzheimer's and how this all works. That's straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.

ROBERTS: A bigger brain may protect you against Alzheimer's disease according to new research. Which means I'm in a lot of trouble. We're paging our Dr. Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent. He joins us now. So as a neurosurgeon --

GUPTA: Small brain, big head.

ROBERTS: There you go. I got a lot of room in there. I could put more in. Is this a case where size, in fact, does matter? GUPTA: It seems like it. I mean, this is pretty fascinating stuff. What they did was took two groups of patients who all had these sort of telltale plaques in their brains on autopsy. And what they found was one group of patients never had any symptoms. They never had any problems with their memory or any other problems with cognition. They said what is different about their brains? And they specifically started to look at an area called the hippocampus. You know, I get to show the brain here. This is -- you're looking at it sort of underneath --

ROBERTS: Just loving every second.

GUPTA: This is really neat. You look at this and you basically see this area in red here is the hippocampus. Can't do that though. This area over here is the hippocampus. And what they found was in people who never developed any symptoms, that hippocampus was about 20% larger than people who did develop symptoms. Now, it's hard to say what you can really do about it. Obviously you're sort of born with this, but it might be an area of fertile research. What exactly is going on here? How is this protective against developing any of the mind-robbing aspects of Alzheimer's? There might be something there.

ROBERTS: Is that an indication that the hippocampus is the key in developing Alzheimer's?

GUPTA: Well, I think that, you know, we've known for some time that the hippocampus is certainly important for memory. It is an area where you store long term memories. You can access short term memories as well. So, you know, memory is such a cardinal symptom of Alzheimer's. Really, if you look at Alzheimer's overall, a lot of the symptoms are related to lack of memory, both short term and long term sometimes. So how do you somehow increase that or how do you sometimes target that? Again, that might be a fertile area of research.

ROBERTS: And of course, anatomically men are larger than women for the most part. Does that mean that men may be more protected against Alzheimer's because of the increased size of their brain or is it sort of relative to your body size?

GUPTA: It does seem to be relative to your body size. In fact, if you look at a brain, which you know, I look at a lot of brain. If you look at the brain without knowing if it's a man or woman, you can't tell if it's a man or a woman specifically. I got to do that to do. That's a Mind Institute you were just looking at there. Fascinating place where they do a lot of studies here.

What they have found is certain areas of the brain might be a little bit larger in people with higher intelligence, for example, but not so much a gender difference. In fact, when they look at Albert Einstein, they found that his parietal lobes which was the area, sort of back, above the ears, were about 10 to 20% larger than people who did not have his intelligence. What that all means, hard to say is not in your control necessarily. ROBERTS: I read something that people who are of greater intelligence might be slower to progress to Alzheimer's but once they get it they progress all that quicker.

GUPTA: That might be interesting and I wonder how it has to do with their parietal lobe versus their hippocampus. You know, we're learning a lot about this.

ROBERTS: I suggest that you go back to your telestrator and get this all worked out.

GUPTA: That's a plaque. That's a tangle. This is what the disease is which shows pretty amazing stuff.

ROBERTS: You're just far too engaged this morning. If you got a question for Sanjay, e-mail it to us. Go to cnn.com/am. He's going to be opening up the mail bag coming up in our next hour as he does every Thursday right here on AMERICAN MORNING. Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: Thanks, sir.

CHO: As we have been reporting, Pope Benedict XVI will take center field this morning in a first ever massive Washington's Nationals Park. He has a prayer service last night. The Pope addressed the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, telling church leaders it is their god given responsibility to heal the wounds and restore trust. It was the second straight day the Pope has addressed the scandal and that brings us to this morning's "Quick Vote" question.

Can Pope Benedict heal the wounds of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandals? Take a look at this right now, 22% say yes, 78% say no. I thought it would be a little closer. You know, but keeping voting this morning. Go to CNN.com/am we're going to tally your votes throughout the morning. We've also been asking for you e-mails on this as well, just too many to read.

ROBERTS: Yes, this may be an indication too while the nose are so much greater than the essence because it's such an emotional issue. And that's right, in fact, we want to read one of them. Bobby from Chattanooga, Tennessee says "the Pope coming to the U.S.A. will not change anything. He's wasting his time and will not be able to change the world with one visits."

Jim from Lebanon, Pennsylvania says "Pope Benedict will be far more convincing if he will send Cardinal Law back to Boston to face criminal charges." Of course, Cardinal Law, the priest who was at the center of the sex abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese. He is now the archpriest of a church in Rome.

CHO: Well, right and a lot of critics, church critics say you got to get rid of these priests. That's the only solution to all of this, and Susan from Dewitt, Michigan, writes "how can one person heal the wounds of so many. This is enlightening and interesting. However, I believe the answer is yes, through the prayers of people." So keep sending those e-mails. We'll read them throughout the morning.

ROBERTS: Yes. More of those coming up in our next hour.

Right now you though, you could be losing up to a fifth of your retirement fund, and you may not find out until you get that gold watch. Blowing the whistle on hidden 401k fees and what the government may do about it, today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): Papal blessing.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: God bless America.

ROBERTS: This morning, the Pope's mass for the people at Washington's New ballpark.

Plus, weighing in on politics and pedophile priests.

In agreement.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, yes, yes.

ROBERTS: But on the attack.

CLINTON: We need a fighter back in the White House. Yes.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can take a punch. I've taken some pretty good ones from Senator Clinton.

ROBERTS: The first head-to-head since Reverend Wright, bitter- gate, and Bosnia. What about the war in the economy. It's the most politics in the morning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I am absolutely committed to not raising a single tax on middle class Americans, people making less than $250,000 a year. In fact, I have a very specific plan of $100 billion in tax cuts.

OBAMA: I not only have pledged not to raise their taxes, I have been the first candidate in this race to specifically say I would cut their taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Well, that was just one of the many highlights from the sometimes tense face-off last night. The final debate before that crucial Pennsylvania primary now just five days away. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley was at the debate last night. She joins us now from Philadelphia. So, Candy, such a riveting 90 minutes. It was so interesting and an interesting couple of exchanges. And you say it really comes down to one word said three times in a row, right?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, that was the most interesting to me. Yes, yes, yes. And that came from Hillary Clinton when she was really pushed on do you think Barack Obama is electable in the fall campaign? And she said yes. I can tell you that I've asked her this question before and she's always said, well, we'll make voters decide that. We'll let them do the final determination.

So particularly because we know that behind the scenes those who are courting the superdelegates for Hillary Clinton have been saying, you know, we think he'll get beaten in the fall. She's much more electable. I don't think it totally takes away her argument. I think what she'll say is I'm more electable, I'm more certain. But nonetheless that was movement for Hillary Clinton who has really been dodging the question of his electability and hinting around that he is not electable on the stump and saying it flat out some of her surrogates behind the scenes.

CHO: Right, Candy, and you alluded to the point that Hillary Clinton made right after she said 'yes, yes, yes,' which is I think "I'm the better candidate," and, of course, Barack Obama said the same thing following that statement. But, you know, many people...

CROWLEY: Surprise.

CHO: Yes, exactly, surprise. You know, we've been hearing a lot that Clinton really had to deliver a knockout punch in last night's debate. Obama just needed to avoid mistakes with that now famous bitter comment where he said Pennsylvania voters cling to guns and religion because they're bitter about their economic situation. Let's listen to how the candidates addressed that last night. We'll talk on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think it's not the first time I've made a, you know, statement that was mangled up. It's going to be the last.

CLINTON: I don't believe that my grandfather or my father or the many people whom I have had the privilege of knowing and meeting across Pennsylvania over many years cling to religion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

All right, Candy. We in the media talk about this a lot and we have a lot over the past week or so, but the real question is how is it resonating with those voters in Pennsylvania?

CROWLEY: Well, it's really interesting. I mean at this point we have anecdotal information. We've talked to some people in some of these small towns who said oh, I heard something about that, but it hasn't really -- didn't at that point a couple days ago, hadn't really sunk in. We also looked at the polls. Some of which have included the time period after Obama's comments came to light, and they show little change. They showed that Hillary Clinton is ahead by about six points here in Pennsylvania, which is where she was before the comments came out.

So, you know, so far for Obama. It looks like he's been able to weather this storm. I'm sure that there'll be more polls coming out. We will pour over them. We've got more primaries coming up but at this moment at least tentatively, it doesn't look as though it has had a lot of resonance on the ground, here and nationwide.

CHO: very quick question and I need a quick answer but I just to know, how critical is it for Hillary Clinton to win in Pennsylvania?

CROWLEY: How about very. Well, that's as short as I can get.

CHO: Yes.

CROWLEY: She absolutely have to win in here because this is her argument. I can win in this big states. I can win the traditional Democrats that we need in November.

CHO: All right. So, she's got to follow through on that promise. Candy Crowley in front of the "Election Express," CNN "Election Express" in Philadelphia for us this morning. Candy, thank you.

CROWLEY: Thanks.

CHO: And here's an updated look at where the candidates stand this morning. The current stand on delegate estimate shows that Senator Barack Obama in the lead with overall delegates. He has 1,644.

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