Return to Transcripts main page


Reverend Wright Speaks Out and Defends Himself; Oil Nears New High, Gasoline Hit Record High; California Wildfire Forces Evacuation; Commuters Resort to Carpooling

Aired April 28, 2008 - 06:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, Ali Velshi. He's sticking to --
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Unfortunately, the oil barrel is here again.

PHILLIPS: I was just -- we've got the infamous, I should say prop.

ROBERTS: And in our third hour, if you can be around the television set, Ron Paul is going to be joining us live in the studio to talk about his new book, "The Revolution: A Manifesto." Ron Paul supporters have been plugging his appearance for the last three days, so we hope to have a lot of people watching this morning.

All right. Let's get right to it. Barack Obama's former pastor is speaking out for the first time since some of his controversial sermons hit the Internet and became an issue in the Democratic presidential race. Rev. Jeremiah Wright took on his critics and delivered a speech about race last night at the NAACP's Annual Freedom Fund Dinner, where some 10,000 people in attendance heard him defend his words.


REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, FORMER PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: I am not one of the most divisive. Tell him the word is descriptive. I described the conditions in this country. Conditions divide, not my description. Somebody say AMEN.


ROBERTS: It is one of the most popular stories on right now. Our special correspondent Soledad O'Brien was personally thanked by Reverend Wright last night. She was at that dinner, witnessed the speech. She joins us now live from Detroit. So what do you think, Soledad?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I have to say personally thank as he was avoiding sitting down doing an interview with me. So that's why I think he was personally thanking me. You know, it was a home run certainly for the 10,000 people who attended. He's obviously speaking, John, to a very friendly crowd, absolutely massive, massive dinner there -- six or seven head tables. So just imagine this humongous event. But he's also speaking to a much wider audience. You can tell by some of the jabs that he was taking at some of the critics that he has had over the past several weeks. And when I think it pains to say I'm not going to -- I'm not talking to my critics then he'd go ahead and take a stab at them.

You know, the theme for the NAACP dinner was a change is going to come, so he kept coming back to that refrain. But I think if there could be a subtitle to his speech, it would be something like this is my version of who I am by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, because he really was trying to set the record straight and kind of referenced that he had been distilled (ph) these short little sound bites, that it was hard for people, the general public, you know, not neither the people or supporters are not necessarily people who are just going to hate them anyway, but to understand who he was.

He also, at one point, mocked the media because for partly that reason defining him in short clips and sometimes without context, I think it's fair to say. But also for all the controversy that they've been talking about, he's been saying, you know, he's not a politician. He's a preacher. He reiterated that again last night. Listen.


REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, FORMER PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Many in the corporate-owned media have made it seem as if I have announced that I am running for the Oval Office. I am not running for the Oval Office. I've been running for Jesus a long, long, time, and I'm not tired yet.


O'BRIEN: Attending or you were watching, that was it. I mean, he, you know, I am running for Jesus. And the whole thing frankly was really funny. I think a lot of people have and have seen Rev. Wright defined as controversial, defined as angry, defined as anti-American. Not in that speech. Not in that speech at all.

He was funny, he was witty. This is a guy who's got two masters and his doctorate in Divinity. Here is a guy who speaks five languages. They made pains in his introduction to point out all his accomplishments.

You know, he was preaching to the choir, as they said, 10,000 people who absolutely were hanging on every word and literally falling out of their chairs at some point, John, because some of that speech was so, so, funny. But the most serious thing I think is when he talked about differences, and at one point differences in learning styles between white kids and African-American kids. And here's a little bit of what he had to say.


REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, FORMER PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Only black children 50 years ago was singled out as speaking bad English. In the 1961, it's been all over the Internet now, John Kennedy could stand at the inauguration in January and say, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask rather what you can do for your country." How do you spell "ask"?


O'BRIEN: And he went on like that in a similar vein. And again, the context of the speech, it was very, very funny. It was really quite amusing. But he went on at length about these learning differences: right brain versus left brain, and I would suspect that there are lots of people who work in education who are going to say, well, maybe some of is not quite accurate. That, actually, you know, all children learn differently. So I think that that might kind of an interesting thing that people are going to be examining more closely.

But as far as Rev. Wright is concerned, it was a great speech from his perspective. It was a home run, not just to the 10,000 people attending. But I think it really got across the Rev. Wright who he thinks he is and how he wants to be defined -- John.

ROBERTS: Soledad O'Brien for us this morning from Detroit. Soledad, we should mention that he's back at the national stage again today, appearing at the National Press Club this morning at 8:30.

O'BRIEN: That's right.

ROBERTS: And we'll bring some of that to you. And we'll see you a little bit later on this morning. Soledad, thanks.

PHILLIPS: Meantime, on the presidential campaign trail, the Democratic candidates are debating over debates. Hillary Clinton challenging Barack Obama to a 90-minute Lincoln-Douglas style debate with no moderator, just the two Democratic candidates asking the questions. Obama turning her down, saying that the two have already debated 21 times. And right now, his focus is talking to voters ahead of the May 6 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got nine days, we're trying to campaign and meet as many voters as possible. So rather than me in the studio, I want to make sure that we're reaching out to folks, where they live, and, you know, answering their questions, having as many interactions as possible.


PHILLIPS: Former President Bill Clinton says that last week Obama didn't want to debate his wife because he was afraid he'd lose.

Meantime, Democratic Chairman Howard Dean wants all superdelegates to pick their nominee by the end of June. He says their decision should be based on who is more electable and most likely to defeat Republican John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: One of these two wonderful candidates is going to lose with about 49 percent of the delegates, and that person is going to have to do what's right for the country and get out their incredibly devoted followers who have put so much time and energy into the campaign to make sure that we do the right thing for the country, which is to elect a Democrat.


PHILLIPS: Howard Dean will be live in our next hour to talk about the rules superdelegates must follow when they pick the Democratic nominee. And Republican candidate Ron Paul will join us at our 8:00 hour with his latest challenge to the Republican Party.

John McCain is accusing his Democratic rival Barack Obama of being wrong when it comes to the economy. During a campaign stop in Florida, McCain blasted Obama for saying he's open and nearly doubling the current capital gains tax. McCain says that would be a tax hike on the 100 million Americans who owns stock.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama wants to raise the capital gains tax which would have a direct effect on 100 million Americans. That means he has no understanding of the economy and that he is totally insensitive to the hopes and dreams and ambitions of 100 million Americans who would be affected by his almost doubling of the capital gains tax.


PHILLIPS: McCain also sharply criticized Obama for calling his proposed federal gas tax holiday a scheme. Obama has said that such a holiday would weaken the nation's highway and bridge infrastructure potentially putting lives at risk.

ROBERTS: Breaking business news this morning. Another new record for gas prices. The new national average for a gallon of self- serve regular is $3.60. Remember we told you a week ago today that it just hit $3.50, so it's up a dime in the last week, up 32 cents from the last month. Gas has been going up more than a penny a day for a month now. At this time last year, gas was $2.94 cents a gallon. AAA says today's increase is the 13th straight day that gasoline has gone up.

Continental Airlines says it's not interested in a merger, ending weeks of speculation about a possible hook-up with United Airlines. Continental's CEO says right now the airline is better off on its own, but he did leave the door open to a possible future alliance with another carrier.

We're also following breaking news in Southern California this morning. Firefighters gaining some ground on a wildfire in Santa Anita Canyon. Thanks to light winds and rising humidity there. The fire had started Saturday, along a popular trail and creek. More than 400 acres scorched. More than 1,000 people have been evacuated. Crews say some of these areas have not burned in 30 years. They say it could be a week before it is completely under control. No word of any injuries or at this point, how the fire started.

PHILLIPS: Oil source closer to a new record high pushing up gas prices to their highest ever. Find out why even more higher prices are headed your way. That's straight ahead.

And a phenomenal breakthrough. Scientists say a new treatment could one day help the blind see again. An amazing story straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


PHILLIPS: The reason why Ali Velshi doesn't carpool with us in the morning is this barrel doesn't fit in the hybrid.


ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I got to bring the barrel. That's exactly right.

PHILLIPS: Back to the issue.

VELSHI: Yes. I have to strap this to my back and bring it in. We have oil prices coming close to an all-time record high. $119.93 is where it was just a few minutes ago. $119.90. That's 3 cents more than it was, but it's been going up. We were down by about 115 bucks earlier last week. Let me tell you what is going on with the price of oil. There are a few things.

First of all, on Friday, there was some skirmish with some U.S. boats and some Iranian boats, and that's what started the price of oil going up. Then, we had a strike in the United Kingdom, which shut down a big North Sea pipeline. Then, we had more trouble in Nigeria. So two major oil facilities, one pipeline and one major facility are not working. We're trying to figure out how much oil is not coming out of Nigeria, but it's a big deal because Nigeria produces a lot of the world's oil.

And now, earlier today, the president of OPEC says it's quite likely that oil could hit $200 a barrel, even if OPEC increases its output. Now, how's that affecting the price of gas. Take a look.

Guess what? Surprise, surprise, we have a brand new record in the price of unleaded gasoline, $3.60 a gallon. There are some people who thought it would be $3.50 by Memorial Day and $3.75 by Memorial Day. What is Memorial Day, because we just want to get this over with?

Now, I did learn, by the way, something interesting. That people -- we discussed this a little bit on Friday -- that some people thought that by putting premium gasoline in your tank that doesn't use premium gasoline, you somehow get either a cleaner engine or a better gas mileage.

PHILLIPS: Oh, oh, that's not true.

VELSHI: Not true at all. And I spoke to Michael Quincy, a good friend of ours, who is the automotive contents specialist at Consumer Reports. Here's what he told me.


MICHAEL QUINCY, AUTOMOTIVE CONTENT SPECIALIST: Read the owners' manual. Make sure you know exactly how much money you need to spend on fuel before you go wasting it on fuel you don't need. If it says required, then I'd put in premium. Otherwise, don't even -- don't even spend your money on it.


PHILLIPS: Yes, but there are certain cars and engines that need --

VELSHI: Correct. If you have a performance vehicle or a high- end vehicle, if it says it needs --


ROBERTS: It's not even high-end anymore, though.

VELSHI: Well, there are about 250 models of cars that need premium gasoline, and it will say so in your gas tank and it will say so in your book. And if it says so, you have to put it in. Otherwise, it will gum up your engine.

ROBERTS: You know, the higher the compression engine, the higher the --


VELSHI: Correct.

ROBERTS: In other words, you get what's called detonation, which can destroy an engine.


VELSHI: Well, that's what I've heard -- I thought I was going to call it pain, but detonation sounds way better.

PHILLIPS: How about high auto bills?

VELSHI: Detonation.

PHILLIPS: That's what I would worry about.

VELSHI: Exactly.

ROBERTS: The one thing I do know about. VELSHI: I like that -- detonation.

ROBERTS: Gasoline engines.

VELSHI: Way more serious than what I had to say.

ROBERTS: Ali, thanks.

VELSHI: All right.

ROBERTS: This morning, crews in California fighting back against the flames and they're getting some welcome help from the weather.

Rob Marciano is tracking wildfires out west. Hey, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, John. It's not going to big dose of rain, but it will be slightly cooler temperatures eventually and rising levels of humidity, especially as we go to tomorrow. We'll talk about the fires and the rains that are heading off to the east. Complete weather is coming up when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.


MARCIANO: Right now, fire crews in California are scrambling to clear fire lines around some fast-moving wildfires in southern California. Look at these pictures. It has already consumed more than 400 acres in the Santa Anita Canyon, and firefighters there say that it probably started on Saturday, not sure how. Thirty percent contained at the moment. Over 1,000 people have had to evacuate their homes, and some of these areas has not burned.

Look at how close that is to those houses right there. My goodness. Some of this area has not burned in four years, so there's certainly plenty of fuel.

Good morning, everybody. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Off shore winds blowing again today but not quite as bad as they were over the weekend.

Check it out in the map. Still will be dry today but increasing levels of humidity as we go through time. This front here is actually going to save things here and begin to cool things off as it drops in from the north and from the west.

Look at this. Santa Ana yesterday, 103. Fullerton, California, 102. These are record highs. Los Angeles, 95, 94 in San Diego. Generally speaking, temperatures will be five to 10 degrees cooler today, but you can see some of the latest numbers here.

These are winds that are still continuing to come out of the northeast at about seven miles an hour or so. We still that offshore flow until we turn it around to onshore, which will happen later on today, tonight, and especially tomorrow. We're still in for some dry and warm weather. Wish you could have some of this rain back to the southern California area, don't you? Look at all the rain heading across the northeast in through the metropolitan areas of Baltimore, D.C., Philly, New York, in through parts of Boston.

This is not terribly heavy. Just enough to kind of wet the grass, wet the roadways a little bit and is really widespread. D.C., you're kind of in and out of it. The more substantial rains are down to the south and west actually where they could use rain.

That's the latest from here. Hope you guys had a good weekend. John and Kyra, back up to you.

ROBERTS: Rob, thanks very much. And Rob, hang in for the "Hot Shot" here.

MARCIANO: All right.

ROBERTS: Take a look at this. You're not going to believe it.

Stay in your lane. Talk about driving here. A man is driving the car in two steel cables over a river in central China. Needless to say, he took the tires off. It took him a half an hour to drive 250 yards. The car was about 50 yards above the ground for this stunt.

Oh, if you got a "Hot Shot," send it to us. Go to and follow the "Hot Shot" link.

PHILLIPS: That's how we beat gas prices. Start driving on cables.

ROBERTS: Beats traffic.

PHILLIPS: Our life is in limbo anyway.

ROBERTS: Beats traffic.

PHILLIPS: Exactly.

Amazing results from a research study that could give the gift of sight to the blind, that is if they want it. That story straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


PHILLIPS: A new study is raising health concerns for both mothers to be and babies. Researchers say that in the past seven years, the number of women with diabetes giving birth has more than doubled. The study's author says that the rise is mostly linked to the increasing rate of obesity. Researchers say that expectant mothers who don't control their diabetes face a greater risk of miscarriage and birth defects.

And it is being called a phenomenal breakthrough, giving the gift of sight to the blind. Scientists were able to improve the vision of people with a rare form of blindness using gene replacement therapy. Two patients could only use hand motions before the treatment but within weeks, they were reading an eye chart. Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen will join us in our next hour to tell us if the treatment might be used in people with other forms of blindness.

ROBERTS: Senator Barack Obama's former pastor is insisting that he is descriptive, not divisive. Reverend Jeremiah Wright took on his critics and defended his fiery sermons while giving the keynote address at the NAACP's Freedom Fund Dinner last night. Controversial clips of the pastor have been circulating on the Internet for months, steering up trouble for Barack Obama's campaign.

And this morning, we want to know and this is our "Quick Vote" question. Have you heard enough from Rev. Jeremiah Wright? The choices: Yes, move on or no, tell me more.

Cast your vote at We'll tally your votes throughout the morning. We also want to hear from you as well. Send us an e- mail. Let us know your thoughts on the pastor and his latest speech. Go to, and hit the bottom that says "contact us."

PHILLIPS: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning." John and I are actually carpooling to work, and a lot of other people are doing it to, trying to save on gas. We're going to talk to a couple of co-workers and follow their carpool commute live as it happens.

And if you drive a jag, does it really matter how much it cost to fill up a tank? A look at why the luxury market is revving up when it's tough times for most people. Straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Twenty-four minutes after the hour. Kyra and I are trying to go green and combat rising gas prices for the last couple of days. We've been sharing rides to work in a hybrid vehicle. These are pictures from our commute on Friday.

PHILLIPS: Actually, I'm just making sure I'm awake at 2:00 in the morning. Now, with the price of gas this morning hitting a record $3.60 a gallon, many people are doing the same thing.

Also, our next guest -- well, they work down the hall from each other, and now they're carpooling. Robin Lanuk and Marilena Wilburn join us from their meeting point in Stamford, Connecticut.

Good morning, ladies. So Robin, what motivated you two to do this?

ROBIN LANUK, CARPOOLS WITH CO-WORKER: The high gas prices and looking to have some company on this long commute each morning.

ROBERTS: Marilena, you actually ride-shared with somebody else until it became no longer possible for you to carpool with them. Are you sold on this idea of carpooling? Is that why you got together with Robin?

MARILENA WILBURN, CARPOOLS WITH CO-WORKER: Yes, yes. And it's been helping me a lot lately, because I've been saving a lot on gas.

ROBERTS: Right. And you typically drive, if I'm not mistaken, Marilena?

WILBURN: Well, we take turns.

ROBERTS: Oh, you do. OK. So how long is the commute? How much gas do you use in the course of a week?

LANUK: It's about 80 miles both ways.


LANUK: About $55 a week, for me at least, every other week.


PHILLIPS: Well, Robin, how much do you think that you are saving? And how much is gas there in Stamford right now?

LANUK: Gas price right now down the street from me was $3.99 this morning.


LANUK: Yes. I'm saving about -- I would say about $200 -- about $100 a month, at least with carpooling.

PHILLIPS: So what do you do with that money?

LANUK: Putting it away. Hopefully take a trip.

PHILLIPS: There you go.

ROBERTS: So what does it take to make car -- what does it to take to make carpooling work? As we mentioned, you two live down -- work down the hall from each other. Kyra and I have been carpooling. We work beside each other. We also happen to be staying in the same building, so it's not very difficult for us. But how much of an effort is it to try to get this thing together?

WILBURN: It wasn't that difficult. I mean, we knew each other for quite a few years. And then, Robin approached me when we had a party for one of my managers who left and she approached me and asked if I wanted to carpool together.

ROBERTS: I was just going to say, so what happens if one of you is a little slow in getting ready in the morning, or one of you has to stay late at work? Does that going to screw up the schedule, or can you work around it?

LANUK: Our company is very flexible, and we've been fortunate enough that if one of us has to stay, the other is more than willing to stay and continue working. Or if somebody needs to be a little late in the morning, we accommodate that also.

PHILLIPS: All right, Robin --

LANUK: We really work hard to make it.

PHILLIPS: Well, and you talk about saving the money. Robin, you mentioned about $100 a month. Now, let's be honest here. Marilena, you know, carpool confessions. Are you learning things about your co- worker you didn't want to know that you did want to know? Does this bring you closer? Is it building up morale?

WILBURN: No. It's been fun working out, driving up with her. It's great. We got to know each other very well. We laugh all the way up and going home. And it does bring up morale.


PHILLIPS: All right. We're going to talk more about that because I know you guys are going to fire up. We're going to take live shots throughout your commute. So we'll just -- we'll tap in and see what you guys are talking about.

ROBERTS: That's right. We'll see how this all works, and hopefully we'll be able to check back in with you a little bit later on. Thanks very much for joining us. On your way, folks, we'll see you soon.


PHILLIPS: All right. Well, the "Most Politics in the Morning" now.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigning in North Carolina today, just over a week before the May 6 primaries there. And in Indiana, Obama is insisting that race is not a factor in the election and it isn't the reason that working class voters seem to prefer Clinton. Obama is trying to connect with working class voters by staging smaller events in Indiana and North Carolina.

Now, Hillary Clinton is criticizing U.S. war policies saying that Afghanistan needs as much attention as Iraq, if not more. She says the Taliban attempt to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul yesterday is proof that more resources are needed there.

ROBERTS: Descriptive not divisive. That's how the Rev. Jeremiah Wright defined himself during a spirited speech in Detroit. Senator Barack Obama's former pastor spoke before thousands at the NAACP's Freedom Fund Dinner.

CNN contributor Roland Martin was there. He was even singled out last night by Reverend Wright. He joins us now live from Detroit. So what did you think of it all, Roland?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think overall, I mean, he was the one trying to define himself. I mean, what we know of Reverend Wright is basically YouTube clips. And so, he gave America and the audience an opportunity to say this is a different kind of Reverend Wright. I mean, I've been reading and seen all the messages on

A significant number of people said that they were impressed by the speech. The problem that some people said, well, you know, the guy needs to see sit down.

But one thing that really jumped out was he talked about how we have to bridge our differences, Christians, non-Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, straight gays. And so, I'll be very interested to see if that particular sound bite is the one that drives this whole conversation versus anything else.

ROBERTS: One of the things he talked about was the differences between the way that people worship. Let's listen to a little bit of that.


REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, FORMER PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: I come from a religious tradition, where we shout in the sanctuary and march on the picket line. I come from a religious tradition where we give God the glory and we give the devil the blues.


ROBERTS: He is suggesting the people there, don't be afraid of what you hear, we just do things differently. And the key point of what he was saying last night was differences are not deficiencies.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. I mean and look, (inaudible) "ANDERSON COOPER 360" and she's like, oh, there's guys up there shouting and everything. I said hey, it's called preaching.

I mean that's what it's called. If you go to some southern white churches in the south -- in Texas, in Mississippi, you might hear the exact same thing. It's a matter of style.

I think a lot of people, John, have a problem with the style. And that's why I even heard some of the comments last night. He was saying get over the style. There are different styles. It's the substance. That's what matters.

ROBERTS: Right. You know, every time that we run sound bites from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, we get a flurry of e-mails from Barack Obama supporters saying, look, we've heard enough about this guy, move on.

What was the sense in the room there last night? Did people really want to hear more of an explanation from him?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, I mean that the folks there weren't looking for an explanation because they know who he is. They simply wanted to hear him actually speak versus he on YouTube speak or frankly (inaudible) people like me and folks like Little Ball (ph), a hate Sean Hannity and others defining him.

That's what this boils down to, John. How he is being defined. And surely the Obama campaign probably says the last thing we want is a guy out there making news.

But really, this gives people -- it's a very fine line to say, OK, can I look at him in a different light? Am I hearing more of him versus hearing a minute and a half, two minutes worth of snippets? That's really what this all boils down to.

ROBERTS: Yes and he mentioned Barack Obama last night. Let's listen to what he had to say.


WRIGHT: Please run and tell my stuck on stupid friends that Arabic is a language, it's not a religion. Barack Hussein Obama, Barack Hussein Obama, Barack Hussein Obama.

There are Arabic-speaking Christians, Arabic-speaking Jews, Arabic-speaking Muslims and Arabic-speaking atheists. Arabic is a language. It's not a religion. Stop trying to scare folks by giving them an Arabic name as if it's some sort of disease.


ROBERTS: You know, Roland, he's absolutely correct in what he says there, but is that helpful to Barack Obama? Obama yesterday in an interview on "Fox News Sunday" seemed a little uncomfortable with the fact that he's drawing all of this publicity. But at the same said, I understand that he's got a right to go out there and defend himself.

MARTIN: Yes, of course. I mean, the last thing he does not want Reverend Wright to be news because how he will feel about him. But look, we have people who are ignorant of other cultures, who don't understand. And so, for him to make the point is absolutely correct.

And sure, they're not going to particularly like it. But I think there is a fine line here, John. If people get a different view of Reverend Wright, they won't have just the YouTube clip version of who he is. All of these sound bites, the entire speech that we played, may cause some folks to say, "You know what? I might see him differently."

Some people may just through the exact same way. But it redefines who he is. And again, it might be helpful. It may hurt, but it gives us a different view of him. I think that's probably what's the most important from his vantage point.

ROBERTS: Hey, Roland, really quickly, do you know if he was invited to speak at the dinner before this controversy erupted or did the invitation come afterwards?

MARTIN: I don't know exactly how the invitation came about. I know they probably invited some other people, but I'll talk to Reverend Wendell Anthony to find out.

ROBERTS: All right. Great. Thanks very much. Roland Martin for us this morning from Detroit. Roland, thanks.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. and Iraqi troops on the attack in Iraq going after militant fighters in Baghdad. The military says that at least 38 enemy fighters were killed over the weekend. The deadliest attack came Sunday. That's when the military says that 22, quote, "criminals" were killed when they tried to attack Iraqi and American forces at a security checkpoint.

Now, authorities in Afghanistan are searching for suspects in the attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai. Officials say about 100 people are now being questioned. Three people were killed, eight wounded when militants opened fire on Mr. Karzai and other dignitaries during a military parade. Karzai was unhurt.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility and the government says three of the attackers were also killed, but the Taliban says additional attackers were involved.

And another airline bites the dust. EOS Airlines, which offered expensive business class only flights, has filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations. The airlines was launched in 2005 flying between New York and London on Boeing 757s with only 48 seats -- seats that extended into full beds.

Several other small airlines have folded recently including Max Jet, EOS' biggest rival. And if you have a ticket to fly an Eos, well, the airline recommends getting a refund through your credit card company.

Well, some stores are rationing rice, others are looking at record profits. Luxury items from Rolls Royce's to fine jewelry are selling as well as ever. Our Alina Cho shows us how some people are still flying high in a down economy.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Entrepreneur Paul Parmer says he doesn't feel any turbulence up here in his private jet or on the ground.

CHO (on camera): Same is true for money?

PAUL PARMER, ENTREPRENEUR: Same is true for money, you're right.

Hi. Welcome to my house.

CHO (voice-over): Parmer belongs so a small, elite club, the ultra rich. Unlike millions of Americans hit by skyrocketing fuel and food prices, the wealthy are snapping up high-priced cars, homes and jewelry.

CHO (on camera): This seems counter intuitive, what's going on?

ANDY SERWER, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: These people are not hurt. And, to the extent they are hurt, they're down to their last $50 million. CHO (voice-over): A new study by the Harrison Group says the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans accounts for more than half of all U.S. consumers spending. The luxury market is not only booming, in some cases, it's setting records. Take real estate. 71 Manhattan apartments worth at least $10 million sold so far this year. That's compared to 17 in all of last year.

Foreign buyers are helping, taking advantage of the weak dollar. But the richest Americans are also in the market for what they believe is a good deal.

PAM LIEBMAN, THE CORCORAN GROUP: And I wish we had more of them to sell. This part of the market is basically recession proof.

CHO: Fine jeweler Faraone Mennella's business has never been better. Everything is selling, even with sticker shock prices, like this $180,000 necklace and $65,000 matching earrings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really doesn't surprise you, right?

ROBERTO FARAONE MENNELLA, FARAONE MENNELA: Yes, it's true. I mean, we travel around the country and we see in our stores, everything that is high ticket is selling out.

CHO: That includes smaller communities like Fresno, California where there is still an appetite for everything from designer handbags to Jaguars to million-dollar homes.

Back to Parmer, he owns five homes in three countries, a dozen cars, three jets and says he'll keep spending without looking at the price.

CHO: What recession?

PARMER: Yes, what recession?


CHO: Well, not so fast. To be clear, the superrich only make up a very small slice of the overall economic pie. The overall economy, as we've been reporting, is hurting. And as one expert put it, you can't just have consumer spending at the top end, you need it at the little shop on the corner too. And when that happens, perhaps we will see signs of a recovery, Kyra.

But it's just incredible. Remember, as Ali was pointing out earlier to me, you know, this is just a fraction of one percent of the population, but it's an influential fraction. They're spending a lot of money. Some people call them the gas that makes the economy go. But it's mind-boggling.

PHILLIPS: $80,000 necklaces, though?

CHO: Yes, I mean, they can't make enough of them. You know, $27,000 gold cuffs and it's really linked to the price of gold, they say. They have to go in and mark up their prices every couple of months. So, these women or their husbands who are buying this jewelry say -- to a certain extent, if you have the money, if we don't buy it now, the price is only going up.

PHILLIPS: That's his approach.

CHO: That's how the jewelers are making money, yes. It's incredible. It's mind-boggling. $84 million for a Palm Beach's estate just recently sold.

ROBERTS: Nice lifestyle if you can get it.

PHILLIPS: Alina, look pretty good flying in that private jet.


ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the problem is it's going to be a little harder to get on a private jet right now -- at least a semi-private jet. You know, you just mentioned this Kyra a few minutes ago. Another of these business class airlines out of business. Eos Airlines out of business and that's just one piece of a lot of business news that we've got for you.

So, we're going to take a quick break and AMERICAN MORNING is going to come right back and I'm going to tell you about your flying options when we do. Stay with us.


VELSHI: And welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING, I'm Ali Velshi. We've got news on the airline front for you. Number of things happening. First of all, Continental has said in the letter that it's not interested in merging with United Airlines.

Now you know, we had had this discussion about how would Delta and Northwest merging. We were probably going to hear from Continental and United at some point because that was the next deal. Now, Continental says no way. Then on top of that, American Airlines says that it is in advanced discussions to merge with Continental and in sort of discussions to merge with U.S. Airways. So we don't know whether that's going on.

ROBERTS: It's all very confusing.

VELSHI: Very confusing. Very confusing. Just stay on the airline that you're booked and don't worry about merging with anyone else. And then EOS, which is the (INAUDIBLE) airline, all business class, flies from New York to London with just 48 seats in which all lie flat and they give you fancy food, closing it's doors. It is declaring bankruptcy. It's what number five something that's done that. Also Max Jet, it's competitor, has gone out of business.

So this all business class airlines to Europe out of business.

ROBERTS: How much for the ticket? Do you know?

VELSHI: They went up to $9,000 for a New York to London run. ROBERTS: One way?

VELSHI: No, no, return. But it was, you know, first -- like a business class and you didn't -- you just didn't have those rushes, it was easier to board. It was very much a high end sort of thing.

PHILLIPS: Remember Trump Airlines, never going back for a while. And I remember, oh, wow, you go first class. It's a great deal and it didn't last very long.

VELSHI: Right. There's something about this business model that's not successful.

PHILLIPS: It doesn't work.

VELSHI: The airlines --


PHILLIPS: No, I'm talking about the you know, even like Trump Airlines and it was very affordable at that time, $70, I think one way, if I remember correctly.

VELSHI: Yes. The airlines have learned that they are making a lot of their money on business travel and overseas travel. So you think if you just take that component, the business and overseas travel, you can make money. But the bottom line is these little airlines are competing against major carriers that have the ability to price them out.

They have the ability to squeeze their prices for a little while. Take a bit of a lost. But when it's your only business and someone else is squeezing you out, you're done. So the problem with airline is always been the same. It's the size of the airline. If you're not big enough to influence prices, you get squeezed out and if you get too big, you sometimes can't -- don't have the flexibility.

ROBERTS: More on this coming your way later on today, because a reminder, Ali, Gerri Willis and the CNN money team all get together for "ISSUE #1," everyday, noon Easter, right here on CNN. And online at

PHILLIPS: But weather to start the work week, some relief though for firefighters in Southern California. That's good news. Rob Marciano tracking all the extreme weather for us.

Hey, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Kyra. Hey, John. Hey, Ali. Yes, fires out west, some improvement there. Rain to the east and winter just doesn't want to quit. Complete weather coming up when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back, stay with us.


(WEATHER REPORT) PHILLIPS: The teen drama "Gossip Girl" going all out to attract viewers. Coming up. See what some parents are so outraged about. What do you think that stands for?

ROBERTS: You don't want to know. And the networks surprising response to it as well. And the online gun dealer who sold weapons to the Virginia Tech shooter appears on the Virginia Tech Campus. Find out what he had to say. Why he was there, when he joins us live ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


PHILLIPS: So imagine "Sex in the City" in high school with a blog. The show "Gossip Girl" follows sophisticated teens in New York and now some are raising alarms about the suggestive photos and text message lingo used to sell the show. Here's CNN's Brooke Anderson.


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Drinking, drugs, sex.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Porn and handcuffs, really?

ANDERSON: And they're still in high school. It's no secret "Gossip Girl" is racy, but it's the shows provocative new ad campaign that has many, including the Parents Television Council outraged.

MELISSA HENSON, PARENTS TELEVISION COUNCIL: They're using nothing but sex to sell this program. The lowest common denominator, I think, is a good way to describe it.

ANDERSON: Two high schoolers appearing to have sex with the acronym OMFG splashed online, on posters and billboards in plain view of unsuspecting kids and parents.

RICK HASKINS, EVP MARKETING, CW: Some people could say oh, my freakin' goodness. Other people could think it means other things.

ANDERSON: Are you kidding?

Rick Haskins, the vice president of marketing at the CW, which airs "Gossip Girl" is serious when he says it's open to interpretation.

HASKINS: What it stands for is an explanation of surprise or I can't believe it.

ANDERSON: It's been called raunchy. It's been called borderline pornography. You don't agree with that?

HASKINS: No, not at all.

ANDERSON (on-camera): Haskins insists the campaign isn't sending a negative message. And that the ads like this on this public sidewalk are meant for older viewers. HASKINS: OMG or OMFG which ever one you want to say are just letters. Anyone you talk to, you talk to ten people and they will give you probably ten different answers.

ANDERSON (voice-over): We spoke to more than 30 people and everyone, except two women in their 60s said they knew what it meant, one thing.




ANDERSON: Could it possibly stand for anything else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't believe so.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's blasphemy actually.

ANDERSON: The PTC is considering pressuring advertisers and is already warning parents.

HENSON: Rather than reinforcing positive values that parents are trying to instill in their children, this program very often is undermining those positive values.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's gotten way over my head.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


ROBERTS: Well, it seems to have the desired effect that everybody is talking about. All right?

PHILLIPS: Yes. I mean -

ROBERTS: So when they pulled them later this week.

PHILLIPS: Yes. Aside from the text message, I mean, the fact these are high schoolers, I don't know, as a parent, it's pretty scary.

ROBERTS: It's like O.C. gone wild. 53 minutes after the hour. Senator Barack Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is taking on his critics. He defended his fiery sermons while given the key note address at the NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner last night in Detroit.

Controversial clips of the pastor had been circulating on the Internet and seen on television for months, becoming an issue in the presidential campaign. That brings to us this morning's "Quick Vote" question. We want to know from you, have you heard enough from Reverend Jeremiah Wright? Right now, 65 percent of you say yes, move on. 35 percent say no, tell me more. Cast your vote at

We'll keep tallying your votes throughout the morning as we get more people clicking on it. We also want to hear from you. Send us an e-mail. Let us know your thoughts on the Reverend Wright and his latest speech or the controversy in general. We'll read some of those emails, coming up, in our next hour.

Middle man, who decides the presidential race for the ages? The dean of the Democrats joins us live.

Plus vision quest. Break through therapy that helps the blind see.


PHILLIPS: Free speech or insensitive. Eric Thompson is the online gun dealer who sold one of the weapons used by the Virginia Tech shooter and he spoke on the campus last week.

Thompson also sold accessories to the man who killed five Northern Illinois University students in February. Thompson spoke to students supporting concealed weapons on campus, but some other students disagreed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guns kill people, bottom line. I know people kill people, the people that use the guns, but having more guns on campus and having more weapons of violence are not going to solve any problems.


PHILLIPS: Eric Thompson joins us now from his store in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Eric, good morning.


PHILLIPS: Well, we are obviously talking about the worst school shooting in American history. Why did you go to the campus and speak?

THOMPSON: Well, I went there because I was invited with the students for concealed carry on campus. And I really believe what they're trying to accomplish and anything I can do to help out and make people safer is something that I'm willing to do.

PHILLIPS: Did it ever go through your mind that this might not be a good move. It may be too soon. This might be a little insensitive? THOMPSON: Well, I'll be quite honest, I was nervous going there, but after meeting with several of the students and some family members and people that lost some loved ones there and their support and their willingness to find solutions to make people safer, I felt I made the right move, standing up for what I believe.

PHILLIPS: And of course, we've talked about the criticism when it happened that day. But I want to get your reaction in particular to Virginia Tech Associate Vice President Lawrence Hincker. He said this about your visit. "I find it terribly offensive to learn that the gun-seller of the weapons used in the Virginia Tech campus murders, would step foot on this campus."

And then some students step forward spoke as well. Let's just take a listen, Eric.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Young people don't want to see more guns on campus and especially not the person that perpetuated that situation.


PHILLIPS: What's your message to those students and also to the leadership there on campus?

THOMPSON: Well, the students for concealed carry on campus last week were holding a gun education week and I think that the importance of being here is to educate people about guns and let them know that guns are actually safe in the hands of somebody that's properly trained and somebody that's law-abiding citizen and upstanding.

And I think that they were trying to accomplish that and so was I. And it's unfortunate that people don't understand it and that's the message that I was trying to convey.

PHILLIPS: OK. Reality check and because I'm very familiar with guns and gun training as well, Eric. And I'm thinking about college students. I'm thinking about fraternities, drinking, trouble that these students get in to. And then to think that they could have weapons on campus, what's your response to that. I mean, is that a concern to you at all?

THOMPSON: Well, you know -- I mean, it's been proven. I mean, I've heard several school administrators speak out on this and I think it's extremely insulting to characterize 21-year-old adults and old in that manner.

We have plenty of evidence through universities and colleges in Utah and Colorado and even in Virginia where there's been absolutely no instances of the fears that these people are perpetuating. I think it's just an inflammatory comments that have been made with every state in every concealed carry argument to date.

PHILLIPS: And Eric, I've been wanting to ask you this. Since everything had taken place and you continue obviously to sell guns in your stores, up and operating. At any point from when this happened to now, do you lie awake at night? Do you think about the fact that a weapon you sold went into the hands of a killer?

THOMPSON: Excuse me. You know, I'm a father.