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American Airlines Charges More Fees to Flyers; Barney Frank on Housing Relief Plan; Oil Prices Surge; Danger from Magnetic Toys; McCain's Get-Together

Aired May 22, 2008 - 07:00   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That means there will be layoffs as well. But, you know, the flying public simply is not used to this. We're used to paying $8 for a sandwich, maybe $3 for that trail mix, but how about this for hidden fees? Have you heard about this?
You want more leg room on JetBlue. A premium coach seat will cost you an extra $10 to $20. You want to bring a small child and put them on your lap during the flight. That will cost anywhere from $10 to 10 percent of the adult fare.

And you want to bring a pet onboard, maybe Spot or Fluffy (ph). That will cost an extra $50 to $85. And remember, that is on top of what you've already paid for in the fare.

Now, U.S. airlines have tried to increase fares 15 times just this year, John. Eleven of those attempts have succeeded. That means for domestic round trip airfare this year, you'll pay about $100 more over last year.

But remember, when airlines start to do these things like American is, other airlines tend to follow suit. Right now, United is studying this and they may follow, John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And looking back to what that fellow told you, Alina, how long before they start weighing passengers and charging them above a certain weight.

CHO: I know.

ROBERTS: Alina Cho for us this morning at LaGuardia. Alina, thanks very much.

A look now at how airlines have pinched pennies over the years in your AM extra. Way back in 1987, American Airlines says it saved $40,000 a year. How? By eliminating one olive from each salad served in first class.

Southwest says by taking out just three peanuts in each bag, it saves $300,000 a year. Who's the guy who takes out the peanuts? I don't know.

And Northwest says it saved $2 million a year when it dumped its half ounce bag of pretzels, and there were only 18 pretzels in those bags -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: I've heard of a bean counter, but not a pretzel counter. Speaking of bean counters, Ali Velshi here.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, this is highly problematic, by the way, because every time the airlines have done one of these things -- Alina talked about those 15 attempts in an airfare increase, of which 11 were successful -- they all pick up on it.

PHILLIPS: So why not not pick up on it so then we'd rather fly those airlines?

VELSHI: JetBlue and Southwest were the ones that didn't pick up on these things.


VELSHI: Now you saw JetBlue is starting to impose to see if you want a bigger seat or you want to just --

PHILLIPS: This is outrageous.

VELSHI: It is outrageous.

PHILLIPS: This is major water cooler talk.


PHILLIPS: Everyone is going to be furious about this.

VELSHI: Yes. This is a real problem. At some point, as I said yesterday, I think you'll get a discount on your airfare if you offer to fly the plane for them.

Now, in terms of the fuel surcharges, that part I can understand to some degree because of this. Look at the price of a barrel of oil, $135.09. Talk about ridiculous. There was a 24-hour period where we saw oil go up $5 a barrel. Now, that translates into the price of gasoline.

First of all, take a look at how oil has done just this year. Just a chart of where we are this year. Look at the increase in the price of oil from the beginning of the year.

There was a little bit of a dip. We started at $100. We're 33 percent higher and it's May. That's ridiculous.

Now, I just spoke to -- I just heard from the chief economist from Moody's who says that at $135 a barrel, gasoline should be $4.50 a gallon. Once again, we have a record for gasoline prices. It doesn't seem to be stopping. So this is a bit of a problem.

This spike in oil is due to a few things, but they really do tend to be supply related. So we talked earlier about some problems in Nigeria. We had a report that U.S. oil stockpiles are lower than most people who watch these things expect it, and we are expecting a report later today by the International Energy Association that world supply may actually be lower than expected. I should tell you one thing. Yesterday we hit at one point during the day we were at $132.46 a barrel. At that point the United States is spending $1 trillion a year on gasoline. That more than wipes out the effect of the stimulus package that the government put in those checks that people are getting more than what's out.

PHILLIPS: We're talking about this all morning.


PHILLIPS: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: All right.

PHILLIPS: And as oil prices rise, Congress is also demanding answers. A Senate panel grilled oil company executives yesterday about why those prices are soaring, and there was a lot of explanation.


J. STEPHEN SIMON, EXXON MOBIL CORP. SENIOR VP: When energy prices are high, the urge to point fingers at oil companies is strong, but undercutting the ability of American companies like Exxon Mobil to compete in a huge global marketplace only makes it harder for Americans to secure the energy they need at competitive prices.


PHILLIPS: However, lawmakers were not impressed. In fact, one senator demanded the oil execs to reveal how much money they make while their companies rake in billion dollar profits.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I know it's a matter of public record, but last year what was your compensation counting all the amounts that you have to list in salary, deferred compensation, so forth?

SIMON: In total, about $12.5 million.

LEAHY: Thank you. Mr. Lowe, what was yours? Press the button.

JOHN LOWE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, CONOCOPHILLIPS: I'm sorry. I know it's a matter of public record. I don't know the exact amount.

LEAHY: Mr. Lowe, I wish I made enough money I didn't even have to know how much I make.


PHILLIPS: The oil executives went on to blame the skyrocketing prices on the laws of supply and demand -- John.

ROBERTS: It's above $4 million who counts. Now to the "Most Politics in the Morning." Senator John McCain is spending the Memorial Day weekend at home in Arizona, and he has invited three possible running mates. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, one-time rival for the GOP nomination, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, 36 years old, the nation's first Indian-American governor, and Florida Governor Charlie Crist. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was invited but says he can't make it. He's on a previously planned vacation.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has also been mentioned as a possible McCain running mate. We'll ask him about that when he joins us, coming up at 7:50 Eastern this morning.

Meantime, Senator Barack Obama back in Florida this morning. The delegate dilemma there is on the minds of both Democratic candidates. Senator Hillary Clinton wants the delegates seated. So does Obama but he is confident that he will still come through with the big win.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My hope is in a couple weeks' time that we've won some more elections, we've won some more delegations, we've gotten the Florida delegation seated, so that they're going to be at the convention. And then, we're going to have a convention in August, and I'm going to accept that nomination. And then, you and I together, we're going to have to work hard to make sure that we win Florida, we win this general election. And then, you and I together, we're going to change the country and change the world.


ROBERTS: CNN's Jessica Yellin is following both campaigns today, and she joins us now live from Miami. And, Jessica, Senator Barack Obama is going to be meeting with a group of voters who might be said to be somewhat skeptical of some of his policies.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. Barack Obama is in Florida mending fences, and there are a number of different key voting constituencies that are a little bit wary of him. Among them Jewish voters, and he'll be meeting with a group of Jewish voters at a synagogue today in the Boca Raton area, reaching out to them on particularly foreign policy, his policy on Israel.

This comes after yesterday he tried to reach out to some Latinos, Hispanics here in Florida, who have also viewed him with some skepticism. I should point out at his event for Latinos yesterday, less than half of the audience was actually Latino. So he has quite a bit of ground to cover here.

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that he would lose to McCain in the state of Florida. That's a matchup Obama/McCain, where Senator Clinton would beat McCain in Florida, as of the latest poll.

And she is arguing that she is the stronger candidate, but she's really fighting for her legacy here, trying to get every single delegate from the Florida delegation seated despite party rules that said they should be counted out because of an inter-party fight. She made clear reference to the Florida recount in the year 2000, which has such emotional significance to Democratic voters. Let's listen.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are the party that believes every vote should count, and, therefore, we're asking the Democratic National Committee to make sure they count all of your votes and you get all of the delegates you deserve to have.


YELLIN: Now, the Democratic Party will decide on May 31st exactly how that delegation is seated. The Obama campaign as recently as this morning made it clear that they are willing to have some sort of compromise that reaches out to Senator Clinton giving her more delegates than Barack Obama from Florida. Have to wait and see how that plays out, John.

ROBERTS: We should point out, too, Jessica, that it's going to be a public meeting and probably televised. That will be must-see TV for political junkies. Jessica Yellin for us this morning in Miami. Jessica, thanks.

PHILLIPS: Oscar Pistorius.

ROBERTS: Yes, he's coming up.

PHILLIPS: He sure is.

ROBERTS: He's great.

PHILLIPS: He wants to be an Olympic sprinter, but he's a double amputee. A new ruling will allow him to compete in the Olympics, but some say he got an unfair edge. We're going to talk to this amazing athlete coming up.

ROBERTS: Plus, a bill to help out struggling homeowners could stall in Congress. We're going to talk to Representative Barney Frank about the problems with it. He joins us live in just a few minutes' time.

PHILLIPS: Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, dangerous games.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I might as well have handed her a gun.


PHILLIPS: This popular toy was recalled, fixed and re-released. So how did it land this young girl in the hospital?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She looked at me and said mommy and daddy, am I going to die?


PHILLIPS: A family looks for answers, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


PHILLIPS: And welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." An Olympic dream still in the making.

He's known as the fastest thing on no legs. Oscar Pistorius runs on prosthetic blades and he won an appeal to compete, and he says his blades don't give him an edge. Oscar was born with a bone defect and had both legs amputated when he was just 11 months old, and if he qualifies, he'll be the first amputee ever to compete in an Olympic track event.

Oscar now joins us live from Johannesburg. Oscar, great to see you. And if you don't mind, explain to us how the blade works. We've actually got a picture of it. Kind of tell me about the dynamics.

OSCAR PISTORIUS, DOUBLE AMPUTEE RUNNER: Hi, Kyra. The dynamics of the prosthetic basically comprise three different pieces. It's got the top piece which is customized to any amputee's stump and then it comprises the actual foot, which is called the cheetah, which is made by RSA (ph). And on the bottom, it's got a spot chip (ph) that we just take from a Nike shoe and put on the bottom for your grips like a spike has in the bottom.

PHILLIPS: Well, it looks pretty amazing. And you would think, OK, just looking at the dynamics of it, wow. You would run like a cheetah.

You know, the IAAF came forward and said hey, you know, there's a disadvantage here. We want to hire a team of scientists, which it did, about 10 scientists to test those blades, and the outcome from the scientists was that you had an advantage with regard to energy efficiency and also a mechanical edge.

It kind of gave you more of a spring. It gave you an advantage when you ran. Do you agree with what the scientists found?

PISTORIUS: Well, I don't know if there actually had one scientist over two days. And then during the appeal we had to put together a scientific team so we got some of the most world-renowned biomechanics and kinetics, and we had a team of about 10 scientists over for about two, three weeks.

And we had to present the case to the court of arbitration for sports and they ruled that there wasn't an advantage on the prosthetic legs. So we're extremely happy about that and we're looking forward to obviously moving on, you know, away from those critics.

PHILLIPS: I'm curious. Do you think you have an advantage truly?

PISTORIUS: No, never. I mean, if I thought I had an advantage I definitely would not be running.

PHILLIPS: Well, I can imagine.

PISTORIUS: And I know for a fact that I don't. You know, we've done all these tests.

PHILLIPS: What about the disadvantages? When it gets windy and the rain, is it harder to train? Is it harder to run?

PISTORIUS: Well, the biggest disadvantage is in the muscle (ph), it's a passive device that can't create energy. There's no ankle joint. The pro perception is very bad because you stump so much higher off the ground, and you just don't have that feeling on the actual track (ph).

I mean, the disadvantages are really big especially in the acceleration phase, the balance phase. There are a lot of difficulties that, you know, you encounter being an amputee, and using the prosthetic leg. But, you know, it's things that you learn to deal with and overcome.

PHILLIPS: Now, mentally and physically, this entire controversy battle, going through the courts, how has it impacted you as an athlete?

PISTORIUS: It's had a huge impact on my season, (INAUDIBLE) and in December last year, I had to take it direct in the training and put it as a second party and prepare for the court case. We had to do a lot of testing on the prosthetic legs on myself.

It was a lot of trips to the U.S. and back that we had to do, but, you know, I think the most strenuous probably was mentally and emotionally. I think when the result came out last week I thought I would be jumping for joy, but in the end it was a sigh of relief and so happy that it was all behind me and that, you know, once again I could put athletics as my number one priority.

PHILLIPS: And I wanted to ask you this, Oscar. Final thought about being a paralympian in the Paralympics. It's something I've been involved with.

And, you know, these athletes take a lot of pride in that specific event. Do you think this in any way cheapens the Paralympics, or are you still in support of doing both?

PISTORIUS: No, I mean this is part of the reason why I do it. You know, it wasn't only for myself. It was for the recognition of Paralympic sports, you know, to show that the device that we use doesn't give us an advantage. And it's actually the hard work and the dedication of the athletes that pays off at the end of the day.

You know, I think the majority of this was for that decision and, you know, Paralympics is still something I'm definitely doing. I'm actually leaving next week to prepare for the 11th Paralympic disabled race in Europe and it's something that I don't distinguish the difference between Paralympic and able-bodied and enabled me to actually, you know, whatever meet it is, it's still as competitive as the next.

PHILLIPS: Well, Oscar Pistorius, we will be following you and indeed see if you qualify, and hopefully get to talk to you when you come home with that medal. Oscar, thanks for your time.

PISTORIUS: Thank you so much. Thank you.

ROBERTS: He is just so fast.

PHILLIPS: Isn't he dynamic?

ROBERTS: Really extraordinary.

PHILLIPS: I think he is. Not only does he run, but his personality.

ROBERTS: Amazing.

Hey, Rob Marciano is checking out the extreme weather today. Rob, I don't know if it's got anything to do with the looming battle over seating the delegates there, but record heat in Florida today.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, definitely heating up. Yesterday, too. 95, 96 degrees in places like West Palm, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Of course, close to the beach so not too far to cool off. But they're also getting some smoke from some of the wildfires.

As a matter of fact, a wildfire, a brushfire just north of Orlando with some evacuations of some homes there but nothing too severe. We are getting a little bit of moisture heading into Florida today, so that's good news. At least in south -- in central Florida we'll see a little bit of relief, but still going to be smoking hot down across the south.

Kansas City, hey, look out. Some thunderstorms coming your way rolling off towards the north and east. Some of these will have your typical thunder and lightning, some gusty winds, maybe some small hail. But the real, severe stuff is expected to come later on today.

Tornados, damaging winds, and large hail expected in this area across parts of western Nebraska and Kansas. We're looking at a moderate risk for severe weather. And at this point, it looks like it may be a daily thing for the next several days as the weather pattern is just going to stick and tornadoes could be a daily event in this part of world. Of course, it is Tornado Alley and it is that time of year.

So we'll keep you posted as the afternoon, especially, rolls along. John and Kyra, back up to you.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that. Rob, thanks very much. MARCIANO: You got it.

PHILLIPS: So here's the question, will John McCain walk Ellen DeGeneres down the aisle? They talk same-sex marriage.

ROBERTS: And here is the answer, no.

PHILLIPS: There you go. And things got a little tense. We'll tell you what the answer was.

ROBERTS: Plus, Elizabeth Edwards, she likes Hillary Clinton's health care plan but her husband has endorsed Barack Obama. Larry King asked her who she's going to back. Hear for yourself, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


PHILLIPS: New ruling says that the military can no longer automatically discharge gay troops under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. As a matter of fact, the Federal Appeals Court didn't strike down the policy, but it ruled that the military must prove that a gay service member is a threat to discipline and readiness.

Well, John McCain appears on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" today, and they talked about McCain's opposition to same-sex marriage. The show airs today, but we get to bring you a sneak preview. Take a look.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that people should be able to enter into legal agreements, and I think that that is something that we should encourage. I just believe in the unique status of marriage between man and woman.

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW": There is this old way of thinking that we are not all the same. We are all the same people, all of us. You're no different than I am. Our love is the same.

MCCAIN: We just have a disagreement, and I along with many, many others wish you every happiness.

DEGENERES: Thank you. So you'll walk me down the aisle? Is that what you're saying?


PHILLIPS: I love Ellen. She announced her plans to marry her partner Portia de Rossi after the California Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage in that state. We'll see if John McCain walks down the aisle, maybe attends.

ROBERTS: He didn't need to verbalize the answer. The face said it all. Mortgage bailout. Congress stalled over a plan to help you keep your home. Congressman Barney Frank joins us live. Is he part of the solution or part of the problem? I'll ask him if anything will ever get done.

And dangerous toys, some seemingly harmless play things could be a tragedy waiting to happen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Doctors say these magnets are so powerful that most parents don't realize that if a child swallows just two of these, it could kill them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of parents that don't know that they've got a time bomb in their toy box.


ROBERTS: One company says they have taken safety steps, but not everyone is convinced. That story, coming up next.


PHILLIPS: Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, a CNN exclusive with Elizabeth Edwards. Her husband endorsed Barack Obama, but who is she backing? Hear what she told Larry King, just ahead -- John.

ROBERTS: A mortgage bailout plan stalled on Capitol Hill. While the politicians fight, will there be any relief anytime soon for American homeowners?

Congressman Barney Frank is the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and he joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Congressman Frank, good to see you. So the Senate reached agreement on this federal mortgage bailout package, but you're suggesting that there is a fight looming in the House. Why?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Over one specific issue. I must tell you, I am disappointed by that sort of reflective negativism that we sometimes get in the media. This bill isn't stalled. We don't completely agree.

And, yes, there will be some disagreements and a fight over a couple of pieces, but your tone is just totally out of touch with reality. We passed the bill a few weeks ago. Senator Dodd did a very good job working with his counterpart, Senator Shelby.

They passed the bill. It's very close to what we did. They just -- they haven't actually passed it in the Senate yet. So nobody has stalled anything yet because there's still going through the process.

The Senate committee passed it 19-2. It will come to the Senate when we return from recess in June, and I'm pretty confident the president will have a bill that I hope he will sign. He's reversing his position I think or vetoing it.

The problem is in the Senate bill they leave out about $500 million that we had made available for building affordable housing in the area where Katrina did devastation, New Orleans and southern Mississippi, and I hope we can win that. Yes, there will be a fight over that.

They also have a loan limit that I think is too much in California, but nothing is stalled and no, I'm not part of the problem. We passed the bill in the House. We are together at plus 90 percent.

There is a fight over a couple of pieces, but that's called democracy. That's so much the process, and I'm confident we'll have this worked out by the middle of June.

ROBERTS: With respect, Congressman Frank, when we interviewed Chris Dodd on this a number of weeks ago, he said he wasn't happy with the pace at which it was advancing. He also said, "that if I were writing this on my own it would look different, but it's a balance," speaking of this idea of using this --

FRANK: That's exactly right. And you interviewed him a couple of weeks ago, if you had said that a couple weeks ago, I would have said yes, I'm worried. But, in fact, we've now seen a lot of progress, and Senator Dodd deserves credit.

And it is a balance. There will be some differences of opinion, but those are fairly narrow. There were two major outstanding differences. One, do we or don't we put the money into New Orleans?

That's about $500 million. I think we can find it elsewhere. And what's the size of the jumbo loan limit? So as of a couple weeks ago, yes. The president was saying he was going to veto it a couple of weeks ago. That was the major obstacle because he was getting Senate Republicans to object. That seems now to have broken.

ROBERTS: Yes, the president does seem to be a little bit more amenable when he's talking about the Senate bill. Let's listen to what he had to say on that front.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Laws shouldn't bail out lenders. Laws shouldn't help speculators. Government ought to be helping creditworthy people stay in their homes, and one way we can do that, and Congress is making progress on this, is the reform of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac.


ROBERTS: So there is a proposal in the Senate bill to appoint a new regulator to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Are you confident that when you get through negotiations with the Senate, that you will be able to present the president with a bill that he will not veto? FRANK: Yes. That bill to do the new regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac passed the House last year, and it passed the House in a form that was very much acceptable to Secretary of Treasury Paulson whom he worked with. I mean, the point is the administration has had to back off on a number of areas from its kind of initial government is always going to be a problem and keep government out of it.

They're welcoming now a greater government role in student lending. And here, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which are quasi-public, they're private corporations charted by Congress, they now accept the fact that they will play a bigger role and they therefore should be better regulated.

The House did that last year, and we've been pushing for a Senate bill on that and we now do have it. The other thing, though, I do want -- you ran the clip appropriately. The president saying don't help lenders and speculators.

Apparently our bill doesn't, by the way, neither the House bill or the Senate bill. The only -- the beneficiaries here are the homeowners, and it only goes to people who are in a primary residence. The single family -- the individuals who own one home and live in it.

But when the president said he's opposed to bailing out speculators and investors, I guess when his appointees decided to help the people who were the investors with Bear Stearns are the people who have done business with them, he must have been absent from school that day.

ROBERTS: Congressman, let me briefly come back to your initial point here about timing. When is this going to get done?

FRANK: Middle of June. The Senate -- we passed the bill in May.

ROBERTS: You say middle of June?

FRANK: The Senate passed the bill in committee 19-2. A very good sign. It will come up on the Senate floor when we come back on the first week of June. And I believe these differences between us are -- there are a couple of important ones, but there aren't a huge number.


FRANK: I'm confident it will be passed. And I hope -- if the president is ready to sign this, it will be signed by the end of June.

ROBERTS: Good luck. A lot of people are counting on you.

FRANK: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Congressman Barney Frank.

Thanks for coming in this morning -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, in a CNN exclusive, Elizabeth Edwards says that she's not taking sides. She actually told Larry King that she intends to focus on her number one issue instead of making an endorsement.


LARRY KING, HOST: Your husband has endorsed Obama.

Have you?

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: No. I've always said that I'm staying out. I'm going to -- you know, I don't have very much political capital. I have a very small change purse here. And I want to use it for the issues about which I care.

KING: But we know...

EDWARDS: I have always said that I was unlikely to endorse.

KING: We know that you favor Hillary Clinton's health plan over Obama's. And that's the most significant thing to you, isn't it? So one would think you might be in her corner.

EDWARDS: Well, I mean, you know, I want to be able to fight for a health care plan that I think makes sense for America.


PHILLIPS: Her husband, John Edwards, endorsed Barack Obama, as we told you. And Edwards is battling breast cancer, as you know. She also praised Senator Ted Kennedy for his work on cancer long before he was diagnosed with it.

Veronica de la Cruz is here with other stories making news this morning -- good morning.


Good morning to all of you.

And a good morning to all of you out there.

We have to report some staggering numbers after that Myanmar cyclone and the Chinese quake. The combined totals of dead and missing in both countries now exceeding 200,000. The combined homeless figure now more than seven million and nearly 30,000 people remain missing.

Also new this morning, a daring rescue in Texas after a boat nearly plunging over a dam. It took Lake Canyon officers about half an hour to tow the boat from the edge and save two fishermen. The men could face a $200 fine for getting too close to the dam.

And one man's trash is gooey, smelly, rancid gold in today's economy. One restaurant in California says someone is stealing vats of vegetable oil. The owner says someone took 250 gallons of it. He thinks it's someone who has his own backyard still or someone who is driving a converted diesel engine. A biofuel company was ready to pay as much as 50 cents a gallon for it. And on that note, sorry, we are out of gas -- that's what one airline had to tell people who already had tickets. Southern Skyways told travelers headed from Akron, Ohio to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to find their own way because it can't afford to fill up. Many families booked special discount flights with kids flying free. Now they're stuck and can't afford to get there another way.

And that's what's new this morning. I'll send it back to the three of you.

And apparently they -- a couple of families looked into the price of gas.

What, that's, what, a 650-mile trip?

At least $500 to get there.


DE LA CRUZ: So now it looks like a staycation for a lot of these families who had booked on this flight.

ROBERTS: Yes. It's getting so, so expensive.

DE LA CRUZ: Ridiculous.


DE LA CRUZ: It's getting ridiculous. You know...


ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But listen to this...


ROBERTS: High gas prices finally good news for somebody. You can see the staff of LeTourneau University in Texas is getting an extra day off this summer. School is going to be open Monday through Friday, but employees will rotate, taking one day off per week. The school's president says cutting commutes by 20 percent will help employees save money.

A policy that I think she should institute here, as well.

What did you think?

DE LA CRUZ: Oh, yes.

PHILLIPS: Well, all you've got to do is move to like Colorado or Illinois, where it snows. And you get day off all the time.

VELSHI: Right. You get those days -- those snow days. Exactly.

PHILLIPS: Exactly.

ROBERTS: Ali Velshi here.

And we're asking the question this morning, when should I get out my little handheld Milwaukee with a nice (INAUDIBLE) and start drilling (INAUDIBLE)?


VELSHI: We did a story earlier this week about -- where was it -- a gentleman in Indiana or something. He found oil in his backyard. You know, we've been really trying to get to how much it costs to drill for oil and at what point it's profitable. Given that oil is $135 -- or hit $135.09 a barrel today, gasoline running at three dollars -- and what did we say gasoline was? I've lost count. Fifteen records -- normally this little thing pops up right under me when I do that.

ROBERTS: $3.83.

VELSHI: Yes, it's right there. (INAUDIBLE). All right, so here's what it costs to drill for oil. Oil, if you just get it -- and before any of you in the oil industry e-mail me and tell me that's wrong, these are very broad ranges, but they are about as accurate. I'm trying to give you a sense of what it costs.

If you drill for oil on accessible land, it's maybe a thousand feet below the ground and it's straight down, you could get oil for about 20 bucks a barrel. Obviously, if you have to start drilling sideways, which is what they do, that cost could go up dramatically.

If you're offshore in shallow water, somewhere between $20 and $60, depending on how far you are and what kind of equipment you need and how much oil you're getting out of it.

In deep water, like they're talking about off the coast of Brazil -- we're talking about more than 10,000 feet deep -- it's $60 a barrel. Shale, in Western United States, again, depending on where it is, $30 to $50 a barrel. And the oil sands in Alberta are $50 to $60 a barrel.

So you get the sense that at $60 a barrel, everybody is making money on a barrel of oil, you know. So that's why, at $135 a barrel, a lot of people say it doesn't need to be there. You probably think that for getting a lot of oil, we need more than $60 a barrel. But that's less than half of where we are now.

ROBERTS: Interesting figures.

Thank you for breaking that down for us.


PHILLIPS: Well, some talk about -- this morning about the possible money running mates for presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain. Coming up, we're talking with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. We're going to get his thoughts on that and on the race so far.

And Rob Marciano following all the extreme weather for us across the country -- Rob.


Yes, we're looking at the threat for severe weather across the usual spots today. But a pretty good chance of it.

Plus, something turns 125 years old today. We'll tell you what that is this is when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.


MARCIANO: There it is in all its glory. Back in 1883, this puppy opened up. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It took almost 6,000 feet. It took 13 years to build. The Brooklyn Bridge turns 125 years old today, connecting Manhattan to that wonderful borough of Brooklyn.

Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

They'll be celebrating that all weekend long. A little Google Earth for you. Here's Ellis Island. Here's Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. And there is the Brooklyn Bridge. They're going to light it up all weekend long to commemorate the anniversary, the birthday. They're going to throw up some fireworks, too.


MARCIANO: You guys have got to go check out the Brooklyn Bridge this weekend. A hundred and twenty -- is that -- it -- it is just a spectacular, beautiful piece of bridgework, don't you think?

ROBERTS: Absolutely. I mean it is a miracle of 19th century engineering. It's really an incredible thing. And it's still there in all its original glory.

Rob, thanks very much.

MARCIANO: See you guys.

PHILLIPS: It's already been recalled and the company says redesigned, but a family has a warning for you now about those popular magnetic toys and what happens when a child swallows the magnet.

CNN's Special Investigations Unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau joins us now with more on her investigation -- good morning, Abbie.


After a recall, you'd expect these toys to be safer. The company says they are. But if you ask one Indiana family, they'll tell you these magnets are still a danger. And they're hoping something will be done about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I take a look at your belly? BOUDREAU (voice-over): Haley Lents is eight years old and her doctor says she's lucky to be alive.

JASON LENTS, PARENT: I feel guilty because I gave her an object that could have easily killed her. I might as well have handed her a gun.

BOUDREAU: Nearly two weeks ago, the Lents rushed Haley to the hospital for emergency surgery. While playing at home with the popular Magnetix, Haley swallowed 20 steel balls and 10 magnets. This is the x-ray taken of Haley, where you can see all the small pieces -- pieces doctors say were ripping holes in her intestines.

DR. ALAN LADD, RILEY'S HOSPITAL FOR CHILDREN: Well, she had multiple areas where the magnets had stuck together between different loops of intestine.

BOUDREAU: Haley says she thought the small shiny balls looked like something she could eat.

HALEY LENTS, SWALLOWED MAGNETS: I like candy a lot. So that's why I ate them.

J. LENTS: She looked at me and said, "Mommy and daddy, am I going to die?"

BOUDREAU: Haley's parents didn't realize when they bought a magnetic set last Christmas the toy had already been recalled. In 2006 and 2007, MEGA Brands recalled more than four million magnetic sets after the Consumer Products Safety Commission reported 27 intestinal injuries and one death after these toy magnets were ingested. The company redesigned the product by encasing the powerful magnets in plastic. And that redesigned toy appears to be what the Lents bought.

(on camera): Yet doctors say these magnets are so powerful that most parents don't realize if a child swallows just two of these, it could kill them.

J. LENTS: A lot of parents that don't know that they've got a time bomb in their toy box.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): MEGA Brands stands behind its product. It says it knows of one other case of a child who has swallowed a magnet rod since the recall. The company also says it created a new product, designed to have no magnetic parts that can be swallowed. It will hit store shelves in July -- too late for Haley, who says she has a message for other children.

H. LENTS: Don't eat them, kids.


BOUDREAU: The age labels on the box say this toy is meant for children six years and up. But doctors say even older kids just can't seem to resist putting these little shiny pieces in their mouths, which can be very dangerous. Now, MEGA Brands tells us that this is a highly unusual and isolated case and does not indicate any problems with the company's magnetic toys that are on the market. It says its toys meet the highest safety standards and adds if a child swallows 30 pieces of any toy, it's likely to result in harm. It points out in this case, no magnets got loose from the product. Remember, Haley actually swallowed one of these rods. And, actually, the magnets are embedded in the plastic in these rods.

A spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission says it's investigating what happened in this case so.

PHILLIPS: Well, Abbie, Haley just steals your heart, that's for sure. It makes you stop, look and listen.

BOUDREAU: Yes. She absolutely does.


PHILLIPS: Abbie Boudreau, thanks for that report -- John.

ROBERTS: It's coming up on 44 minutes after the hour.

With gasoline prices closing in on four bucks a gallon, people are looking for alternative ways to get to work. And we've got the great commuter race on for you. We're sending three of our correspondents by bicycle, car and subway to find out who gets to work first.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we're at the Bethesda Station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Connecticut Avenue is moving well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, I'm cutting underneath some of the heaviest traffic.

ROBERTS: You might be surprised to see who made it to work first. That's coming up next hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Plus, high profile guests are heading to a barbecue with Senator John McCain this weekend. Some say that he may be grilling up potential running mates. We'll talk live with one of the men who is said to be on that list, next on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Well, you have questions, we have answers.

PHILLIPS: Every Thursday we dig into Dr. Gupta's Mail Bag.

Sanjay joins us now this morning -- are you ready?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm ready. It's my favorite segment of the week.

PHILLIPS: Oh. ROBERTS: He's locked, loaded, dressed and ready to go.


PHILLIPS: He wants to be with us.

GUPTA: I am, John. Thanks to you guys.

PHILLIPS: Now that you fixed his tie, which was great.

All right, our first question is from Sabina in New Mexico. She writes: "I eat 30 to 50 grams a day of protein and I'm worried about the possibility of overdoing it. Can a person eat too much protein and how safe is it?"

GUPTA: You know, that's a good question. Sabina, I'll tell you a couple of things. First of all, yes, you can eat too much protein. But you, according to what you're telling us, are probably eating not enough protein. In fact, if you look at the minimum requirements, typically around 56 grams a day for men, 46 grams a day for women. It depends on how much you weigh.

And to put that in a little bit more perspective, three ounces of a chicken breast, for example, has about 25 grams of protein. One egg, seven grams of protein. And it starts to add up as you go throughout the day.

Now, if you eat too much protein what happens?

Several things. It can be hard on your liver. It can also be dehydrating. It makes you very thirsty. And, finally, it can also cause some problems with, long-term, actually storing fat. I mean protein still has calories in it, so watch it. But I think you're in good shape for now.

ROBERTS: Sunita from Trinidad has got a question about her family's heart health this morning. She says: "My son is three-and-a- half years old. His father had a heart attack two years ago. When should I start testing my son for heart-related diseases?"


ROBERTS: Three-and-a-half sounds a little young.

GUPTA: It is young. And, you know, it's great that she's thinking about this, certainly, at a young age. But the reality is really into the 20s, you start thinking about things like blood pressure, cholesterol. The fact that the father sounds like he probably died young -- I don't know how old he is -- is certainly going to but your child at higher risk. But there are lots of things that can be done much earlier than before.

So, good that you're thinking about it, but he's got a good 15, maybe even 20 years before you have to worry.

PHILLIPS: And our final question is from Nathaniel South Carolina: "I've had a constant ringing -- or more like a hissing -- in my right ear for three weeks.

What causes ringing in the ear and what is the best route to go to stop the irritating condition?"

GUPTA: It's interesting. This actually has a medical name. And it's called tinnitus, T-I-N-N-I-T-U-S. That's the name of this ringing in the ears. And, Nathaniel, you're not alone. Millions of people suffer from it. The good news is that, for the most part, it's not a indication of anything more serious or anything really to worry about.

A couple of things can make it worse -- loud noises if you've been exposed to them recently. Also, alcohol and caffeine actually increases the blood flow to your inner ear and can give you some of that tinnitus, as well. So look at what you're drinking and eating and see if you maybe want to cut down on that.

ROBERTS: But, of course, if it's 3:00 a.m. And there's a ringing in your ear, it might be Hillary Clinton, right?


PHILLIPS: Wanting more money to raise for her campaign.

GUPTA: Right. Hillary -- I've heard that.

ROBERTS: Doc, thanks.

GUPTA: All right guys. All right.

ROBERTS: It's always great to see you.

E-mail your questions for Dr. Gupta. Head to Sanjay will answer them, as he does every Thursday right here on AMERICAN MORNING.

PHILLIPS: And you can catch Sanjay's special this weekend on the health of the commander-in-chief. The First Patient airs Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Now a check of our Quick Vote question -- who or what is to blame for sky high oil prices?

Right now, 29 percent of you say it is oil companies, 11 percent of you blame OPEC, 37 percent think it's the government's fault for not stepping in and 24 percent say consumer demand is behind the spike.

Go to and vote. Keep those votes coming, actually.

We want to read some of your e-mails now, also.

Ken from South Carolina writes: "It becomes apparent that the real problem with high oil prices and record profits for the oil companies is the excessive environmental prohibitions against drilling. Now, protecting the environment is important, but it cannot be allowed to prevent Americans from getting to work every day and being able to support their families."

ROBERTS: And Ronald in Mount Vernon, Illinois writes to say: "Gasoline is high because we, as Americans, have been used to driving big cars and SUVs that are gas guzzlers. We can't blame anyone but ourselves for our own wastes. We never think about consequences."

We'll read more of your e-mails coming up in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING.


PHILLIPS (voice-over): The smile that kills.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A circle, two eyes, a nose, no mouth -- but it clearly represents a smiley-face.

PHILLIPS: The mystery sign around the deaths of dozens of college kids across the country.

Plus, second thoughts -- John McCain invites three potential running mates for a Memorial Day weekend.

Will one leave with a golden ticket?



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that I can show people not only where we have diverged, but serious differences. The issue of climate change, which is huge issue out here in the State of California; on the issue of spending; the way the war in Iraq was conducted for nearly four years, which was terribly frustrating.

So -- but, basically, rather than me beat up on the president, the point is I've got to show my own vision and plan of action for the future of the country.


PHILLIPS: Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain with Ellen DeGeneres, driving home the point that he's different than President Bush. McCain's appearance on Ellen's show airs today.

Well, lots of speculation this morning about McCain's running mate. Three contenders are heading to McCain's Arizona ranch over Memorial Day weekend.

CNN's Mary Snow following this story.

Now he's downplaying it, but come on, this looks like a V.P. audition, wouldn't you say?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it certainly does. And that's why it's getting so much attention. The McCain camp is saying, look, this is a social weekend. Ten couples are going to the senator's home in Arizona. But if you look at the guest list, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, 36 years old. Also, Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, who made an eleventh hour endorsement in the Florida primary, who is widely seen as a potential V.P. candidate. And Mitt Romney his former rival.

While it's not seen as -- the McCain camp is saying nothing official, we're going to be doing grilling, but it could be seen as a compatibility test -- how well do these people get along with one another. And certainly it's early on in the process. The convention isn't until September. But the McCain camp has been very tight-lipped. But certainly it's been on the -- in the works in terms of forming a list.

PHILLIPS: I like how you said grilling. So the grilling will happen over the grill is what I'm understanding.


PHILLIPS: And when was the last time they really all got together and had a barbecue?

SNOW: Exactly.


OK. Another turning it just a little bit. Tomorrow a big day concerning medical records.

SNOW: Long anticipated medical records. As we all know, Senator John McCain has a history of a bout with melanoma. And the last time when he ran for president, in 2000, about 1,500 pages of medical records were provided. So the McCain camp has been saying for a long time now they were going to do this. They will be released tomorrow in Arizona. Also, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to be going with us to pore over these documents. But that is going to be a big topic for him tomorrow, although this is kind of getting overshadowed by this big barbecue over the weekend.

PHILLIPS: We'll follow both and we'll find out what they had to eat, as well.

Mary Snow, appreciate it.

SNOW: Sure.


ROBERTS: Minnesota governor and McCain supporter Tim Pawlenty is one of those names being floated as a possible running mate with Senator McCain.

And Governor Pawlenty joins us this morning from Minnesota.

Governor, good to see you. Are you feeling left out this weekend?


And I had a chance to be at the ranch earlier. And Senator McCain is a great griller and it will be a wonderful weekend for those in attendance. He's going to have a great weekend. I wish them all well.


When did you go to one of these, just a few weeks ago, was it?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think it was more like March, John.

ROBERTS: Oh. OK. So give us the inside scoop.

What are these things all about?

PAWLENTY: Well, from what I can tell, it was largely social. The McCains are wonderful people. They have a beautiful spot and they just enjoy sharing it with their home. And I'm sure it's a chance to get better acquainted with those in attendance, as well.

ROBERTS: So do you talk a lot of politics?

Do you get a sense he's feeling you out for how you'd be as a running mate?

PAWLENTY: Well, mostly what you see is John McCain in a relaxed setting. He's a great griller -- the baby back ribs, the steak and some chicken and so many other things. But he's relaxed and joyful and I really get the sense that he is in a wonderful spot when he's at that place near Sedona in Arizona. And just -- he kind of beams and is joyful. And it seems like a restful and wonderful place for him to be.

ROBERTS: Governor, no secret, as we said at the top of this, that your name is being floated as a possible running mate.

What could you bring to the ticket?

PAWLENTY: Well, you know, I'm focused on being the governor of the State of Minnesota. But Senator McCain is going to have a lot of great choices to look at, probably dozens of people. But for somebody who is a governor, you'd bring executive experience. You'd bring domestic issues like education and health care reform and, in the case of many governors, they also have some, you know, international experience, as well.

But these decisions are going to be complex. They're going to be personal, based on geography, based on politics and credentials and so many other things, John. So that's going to be, obviously, up to Senator McCain.

ROBERTS: What does he need as a running mate?

Does he need somebody who's well-voiced on issues like the economy?

Does he need somebody to back him up on national security?

PAWLENTY: Well, Senator McCain, of course, has so many strengths himself. He's such a leader in national security and military affairs experience. He's so courageous and so wonderful as a leader. And he's demonstrated that.

But he's going to have to pick somebody, I think, that he's comfortable with, that brings something to the table in terms of expertise and maybe geography, maybe the politics of it, who knows?

But I think, in the end, it's also going to have to be somebody who has the requisite character and chemistry with him, as well as competence -- competence in the issue areas.

ROBERTS: Talking about geography and what a running mate might bring to the table, Minnesota has been Democrat since 1960. Even in 1984, it was the one state that Walter Mondale won. The last couple of contests, though, it's been fairly narrow in terms of the vote margins.

Do you think that you could turn it red this year?

PAWLENTY: Well, Minnesota has a deep, you know, liberal tradition. It's the land of Humphrey and Mondale and McCarthy and Wellstone. But in more recent times, we've had some success here with Republicans winning statewide. And so we're still at a little bit of a disadvantage, but it's a lot more competitive than it was previously.

ROBERTS: And now we've this new hat being thrown into the ring. It looks like Jessie Ventura is going to take a run at Norm Coleman to become the senator there in Minnesota.

Are you concerned that Ventura could pull this one off and lose you a seat in the U.S. Senate?

PAWLENTY: Well, with Senator Coleman running, he's a very dynamic and wonderful senator. I think he's leading in the polls by a pretty reasonable margin. So he looks like the frontrunner.

I don't know if Governor Ventura is really interested in running for Senate or not...

ROBERTS: Well, he says he is.

PAWLENTY: I have a hard time believe that. Well, he's also out selling books. So you don't know for sure.