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Israel in All-Out War; Obama Parody Controversy; Caroline Kennedy Meets the Press; Sea of Sludge Hits Tennessee Valley Residents; Movie Theater Shooting; President-elect Hits the Gym Every Day; General Motors and Chrysler Receive the First Part of the Auto Bailout

Aired December 29, 2008 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news. Israeli tanks on the move. The Mideast erupts, over 300 dead. Hundreds more wounded. We're live on the ground.

Plus, racial parody outrage.

MUSIC: Barack, the magic negro.

ROBERTS: A campaign mailer now dividing the GOP.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want (INAUDIBLE) Republican Party. I mean, you have to hold yourself at a higher standard.

ROBERTS: Whether this man could take the right in the wrong direction on the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: Good morning. Thanks very much for being with us. Monday, it's the 29th of December and I think Phil forgot to stream (ph) my mike on.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: No, I can hear you.

ROBERTS: No, it's on. OK, you can hear me all right? Fine.

All kinds of things happening in this last week of 2008. Lots of breaking news to tell you about and that Barack Obama parody as well.

CHETRY: Oh, yes. A lot angry --

ROBERTS: It's just pretty striking.

CHETRY: A lot of anger about that this morning. We'll get to that.

First, though, our top story and some breaking news out of Israel. Tanks on the move now as the military pounds targets allegedly linked to Hamas for a third day. Palestinian medical sources say the death toll has now topped 300. The intense assault designed to try to put an end to the daily rocket attacks being launched by Hamas on Southern Israel. But this morning, Hamas leaders are refusing to back down and Israel's prime minister saying the campaign could last for "some time." We're going to be live in a moment at the Gaza border.

Also this morning, the man accused of scamming $50 billion from clients is a victim himself now. Police say that someone stole a $10,000 statue from Bernard Madoff's estate in Palm Beach, Florida. The four-foot high copper statue portrays two lifeguards sitting on the sand. Madoff is currently under house arrest at his $7 million Park Avenue apartment.

And a perfect ending to quite an imperfect season. The Detroit Lions have cemented their place in football history. Nothing to be happy about though.

It's the biggest losers ever. The Packers beat the Lions 31-21 yesterday, and it makes the Lions the first team to go winless through an entire 16 game season. The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers also lost every game but that was on seasons were there's 14 games and they were an expansion team.

ROBERTS: Well returning now to our breaking news right now, Israel could be preparing to take the fight onto the streets of Gaza. Its tanks are on the move as the fierce air assault continues now for a third day. The attacks aimed at forcing Hamas back into a cease- fire that flattened a major prison, tunnels and the campus of an Islamic university.

More than 300 people are said to have been killed and 6,500 Israeli reservists have been called up to reinforce troops already gathered at Gaza's quarter. The air strikes provoking outrage across the Arab world.

Hundreds appeared at a large demonstration in Syria. Protests were also held in Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. But despite growing international appeals for calm, Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, says it is now in an all-out war designed to send a clear message to Hamas.


EHUD BARAK, ISRAEL DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): We want peace. We have stretched our hand in peace many times to the Palestinian people. We have nothing against the people of Gaza, but this is an all-sought war against Hamas and its branches. The strength that we have demonstrated is the source of our strength when it is time to fight.


ROBERTS: Our Paula Hancocks is covering the situation on the ground there. We'll be going to her in just a couple of minutes.

The conflict in Gaza may well continue into the next administration, and President-elect Barack Obama now receiving daily intelligence briefings. He's also speaking with members of his national security team about it. One of Obama's senior advisers says the president-elect understands Israel's urge to respond.


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: He did, as you said, visit Sderot in July. And he said then that he thought that when the bombs are raining down on your citizens it's obviously unacceptable and there is an urge to act.


ROBERTS: And Sderot, just so that you know, exactly what the geography is the town, the Israeli town that's very close to the border with Gaza, the town that is subject to so many rocket attacks over the past few years.

Paula Hancocks joining us on the telephone right now from the area.

Paula, what's the very latest from your vantage point?

VOICE OF PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On this point we're seeing a couple of fighter jets heading over Gaza and also some helicopters overhead. This is nowhere near over. This is what we've been hearing from the Israeli officials. And certainly these air strikes are continuing throughout this Monday.

Now we know the Islamic university has been hit. We know a mosque has been hit in the Jabaliya (ph) refugee camp killing also according to Palestinian medical sources five children in that area. We are seeing consistent air strikes across northern Gaza as well.

This is the area that many of these Palestinian militant groups are continuing to fire these rockets. So certainly we are seeing this operation continuing. And on the ground, a little earlier on this Monday, we still have about six or seven tanks heading past us on the road to Gaza and then turning right. They're heading north along that border fence, patrolling at this point, but Israel says if it needs to go in, it will.

ROBERTS: Paula, are there any indications other than the fact that they are massing armor and personnel along the border with Gaza that a ground incursion will be imminent?

HANCOCKS: Well, at this point it's really difficult to say. We are seeing tanks on the move. These tanks arrive from our position here. Just about a mile from the Gaza border about 24 hours ago and they've just been sitting around. The soldiers being very little. And all of a sudden they jumped from the tanks and moved towards the border.

This is just after a rocket attack, a deadly rocket attack from one of these militant groups that hit Ashqelon, which is a town about ten miles north of Gaza. Now one person was killed in that rocket attack and just after that the tanks started to move.

But the Israeli officials are being very open about this. They're saying if they feel they need troops (ph) on the ground, they will put troops (ph) on the ground. But obviously, that could be many more Palestinian civilian casualties if that would have to happen and Israel is going to consider very carefully because that could also be Israeli soldier casualties -- John.

ROBERTS: Paula Hancocks for us from the ground there in Israel. Paula, thanks so much for that.

Coming up at 6:30 Eastern, we're going to be speaking with Hanan Ashrawi. She's a long-time negotiator for Palestinian peace and says Israel gave Hamas no choice in this conflict.

CHETRY. And this morning, a powerful Washington insider making no apologies after sending out a Christmas CD with a song titled "Barack, the Magic Negro."

Chip Saltsman who's running to take over the Republican National Committee said it was meant as a joke, but it's not striking many as funny.

CNN's Jim Acosta is live in Washington with more for us this morning.

Hey, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No apologies is right, Kiran. This release of the CD sounds like a rookie mistake, but Chip Saltsman is far from a newcomer on the national political stage.


CHIP SALTSMAN, NATIONAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER OF MIKE HUCKABEE: We have already got a big crowd here for Governor Huckabee.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Chip Saltsman made a name for himself as national campaign manager of Mike Huckabee's upstart bid for the White House.

SALTSMAN: I'm officially announcing my candidacy for Republican National Committee chairman.

ACOSTA: Now a candidate for chairman of the Republican National Committee, Saltsman is doing damage control after mailing RNC members a controversial CD loaded with racially-tinged songs. One of the tunes aimed at the next president.


MUSIC: Barack, the magic negro.


ACOSTA: A crude parody of the children's classic "Puff, the Magic Dragon," the song first touched off a brief firestorm when it aired on Rush Limbaugh during the campaign. Limbaugh blamed the media for stoking the controversy.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Everyone of you out there who think you've got something here on "Barack, the Magic Negro," I'm going to try to help you and save you.

ACOSTA: Saltsman defends the CD telling CNN, "I think most people recognize political satire when they see it. I think RNC members understand that."

But current RNC chairman, Mike Duncan, says he's appalled in a statement to CNN. The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party.

JOHN AVLON, AUTHOR, "INDEPENDENT NATION": There's a crowd of conservatives that takes a special pride in being anti-pc (ph). Well, I don't think they fully appreciate it as it comes across somewhere between being indifferent to hostile. And that's how they've gotten in a larger problem they now face, preaching to an ever smaller choir and looking for votes only in a group that is increasingly old, white and rural.

ACOSTA: A concern echoed by Colin Powell, who recently singled out Limbaugh as part of the party's problem.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Is this really the kind of party that we want to be?

ACOSTA: Liberal media critics say the issue is bigger than Limbaugh.

KARL FRISCH, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA: It's unfortunate but it's not surprising. This type of rhetoric, this type of hate speech and fear mongering happens every day on conservative talk radio.


ACOSTA: One Republican whose coming to Chip Saltsman's defense is Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state and an African- American who's also running for the top job at the RNC. Blackwell blamed the media telling CNN, "Unfortunately there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race" -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Jim Acosta for us this morning. Thanks.

ROBERTS: New this morning, tough border security and a recession may be deterring people from trying to sneak across the U.S./Mexico border. That's according to border patrol officials who say they caught 705,000 people trying to enter the U.S. illegally in the last fiscal year which ended back in September. That is the lowest number since 1976.

An update on a story that we've been following. The two pilots for Hawaii's Go Airlines who overshot an airport in February did fall asleep in the cockpit. According to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board, the pilots confess they were worn out and dozed off. The report also says there was an 18-minute gap with no radio contact. Go's parent company, Mesa Airlines, fired the two pilots after the incident.

And we are looking back at the biggest stories from 2008. Counting down, the top five.

Number four, Michael Phelps amazing record shattering run in the Water Cube at the Beijing games. Phelps carried the American team to victory in two relays and took home eight gold medals captivating audiences around the globe. You can follow all of our top stories online at

CHETRY: Quite a year it was.

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

CHETRY: Saying good-bye to 2008. Boy, I mean, we packed a lot in this year. Let's see what 2009 holds.

ROBERTS: That year-long breaking story of the American election was a pretty good one too.

CHETRY: Exactly.

Well, Caroline Kennedy is talking to reporters about her quest to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. And she came armed with an answer when asked about her experience. We'll have more on that.

Also, 2008 going straight to the shredder for some. We're going to show you how New Yorkers were pulverizing this year's bad memories.


CHETRY: Thanks for the memories. Well, New Yorkers are trying to get rid of theirs. They're greeting the New Year by shredding their bad memories of the past year.

It's the second annual Good Riddance Day. It was held yesterday in Times Square, just feet from where the ball will drop on Wednesday night. Pink slips, mortgages, bank statements, divorce papers, all of them shredded to smithereens. In some cases, there you see them sledge hammered to death, all of it eventually carted away to the dump.

ROBERTS: Why carted away to the dump? Why not use it as the New Year's Eve confetti?

CHETRY: Either that or you could make some sort of sculpture, right? New Yorkers love art.

ROBERTS: Something, yes.


CHETRY: This year everyone is putting their 401(k) statements in there, you know.

That would be a good idea, right? I mean, the average is being down some 30, 40 percent.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, you know, it's really rotten. I mean, let's just face it, it is a really rotten year.

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to a new week, the last week of the year and we're glad.

CHETRY: And Christine tried to travel during the Christmas holiday so you might want to shred your ticket.

ROMANS: Yes, exactly.

ROBERTS: Or shred the airline if it could fit into the --

ROMANS: Yes. Well, let's just say they shredded me but I came out on the other end of that and I survived to tell about it, right?

Today we're talking about a new kind of car note. Usually a car note is something that you get to buy your car. This time the car companies are getting a note from us.

Today is the first installment of that big loan for GM and Chrysler that taxpayers are giving them. They will get some of that money today. Couldn't come a moment too soon for a couple of these companies, right?

So Chrysler and GM each get $4 billion today of our money to try to prove, of course, that they're viable by March. GM gets another $5.4 billion on January 16th. Another installment for GM is that another $4 billion on February 17th.

Another note on cars, Edmunds, the tracker of the online web tracker of cars, says that December should likely see trucks and SUVs outselling cars for the first time.

ROBERTS: Because of gas.

ROMANS: Can you believe it? We said the same thing when gas started to come down. We sat here and we said, oh, boy, here we go. Truck, SUVs and --

CHETRY: If you can afford it, now is the time to buy.

ROMANS: There are a lot of big fat incentives and that's one of the things --

ROBERTS: People planning for the future.

ROMANS: Yes. How quickly we forget $3 and $4 gas, right?

ROBERTS: And I'm not hating on pickup trucks because a lot of people need pickup trucks. ROMANS: Right.

ROBERTS: They've got a lot of stuff they have to haul, but this idea of buying into SUVs again because the price of gas is temporarily low...



ROBERTS: ... will be in for a rude awakening when this (INAUDIBLE) gets going again.

CHETRY: It's a double-edged sword though because I got to tell you we had one four wheel drive vehicle, it was my in-laws' SUV. And when it snowed, that's only thing we use. Everything else really didn't work on the road.

ROBERTS: I had to borrow a friend's SUV.

CHETRY: See. See, you need them.

ROBERTS: However -- however, I'm actually thinking of getting a hybrid SUV.

ROMANS: Oh, interesting. It's a good call. Well, they're buying some cars and it looks like in December, they're buying trucks and SUVs again. So here we go.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

ROBERTS: Thanks.

Well happening right now, the military mission and civilian cost, both of them growing as Israel steps up the attacks on Hamas. But the resistance continues to be strong. Breaking developments from the war zone coming up on the "Most News in the Morning."

Kennedy talks.


CAROLINE KENNEDY, SEEKING CLINTON'S SENATE SEAT: I was dismayed by my -- by my voting record.


ROBERTS: The woman who wants Hillary Clinton's Senate seat on the hot seat. What Caroline Kennedy revealed in her first big sit- down interview.

You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHETRY: Back to AMERICAN MORNING. We're continuing to monitor breaking news at 18 minutes past the hour. It's coming out of Middle East this morning.

And right now, Israel is saying it's in an all-out war. Tanks are now on the move along the Gaza border. Warplanes have blasted a prison, a university and tunnels that the Israelis say were a weapons pipeline for Hamas. There's bloodshed on both sides of the border. Palestinians say that more than 300 have been killed while two Israelis have reportedly been killed by Hamas rockets.

We're going to have more breaking developments from the battle lines at half past the hour -- John.

ROBERTS: Caroline Kennedy intensifying her campaign for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. She is speaking to reporters laying out her agenda and taking on critics who are questioning her qualifications.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is following the story. She's here with us this morning. Good morning.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, it comes to this. Caroline Kennedy really thinks that she's the best choice to replace Hillary Clinton and she says she has a lifetime of experience that qualifies her to be the best senator from New York.

Kennedy met the press this weekend in New York sitting down for an extended television interview and taking over a Manhattan diner to talk to reporters from all three major newspapers in the city. She's trying to answer criticism that she has brushed aside reporters since expressing interest in the Senate seat. She also tried to answer the nagging question about her experience.


CAROLINE KENNEDY, SEEKING CLINTON'S SENATE SEAT: There are many other qualified candidates. So I'm not saying I'm the only choice, I'm just saying -- I'm just telling you what I bring, and I think that's a lifetime of experience and commitment to public service.

It's a deep respect for the constitution and a knowledge of that. It's a work for education for families. I'm a lawyer. And, you know, and I think that I have relationships in Washington that I would like to put to work to benefit the people of New York.


FEYERICK: Now, Kennedy talked about her family's history of service particularly in the Senate where her uncle, Ted Kennedy, still serves. But she was also pressed on another issue that's dogged her, the embarrassing release of her voting history which showed she sat out many local elections.


CAROLINE KENNEDY, SEEKING CLINTON'S SENATE SEAT: I was dismayed by my voting record. There isn't a good excuse, so I don't have one. And obviously going forward, I will make sure to correct that. So I appreciate the fact that everybody in the city now knows about my mistake.


FEYERICK: Kennedy stayed away from talking about her personal wealth, said it was September 11th that moved her to give back to her community along with her work for Barack Obama and said that the economic crisis, health care and education would be her top priorities.

There were also some questions about her connections to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg's top aide has been working to help Kennedy, a fact that has some Democrats concerned. But Kennedy said she is a democrat through and through and would not be beholden to anybody. And this is not the first time that people have been asking when are you going to run? When are you going to run? This isn't exactly running. She's the only person she's really got to persuade is Governor David Paterson.

ROBERTS: She handled that question about her voting record with good humor but to say I'm dismayed at my voting record?

FEYERICK: Right. Exactly.

And there's also the thing when you're a Kennedy, everybody knows what you're doing. So it wasn't saying that now everybody knows is pretty much the case.

ROBERTS: Interesting. Deborah Feyerick for us this morning. Deb, thanks so much. Good to see you.

CHETRY: Well, right now, as Israel races to root out Hamas, diplomatic pressure is mounting to bring an end to the hostilities. So how long will the fierce back and forth combat last? We're going to talk to a long-time negotiator for Palestinian peace.

Slammed by sludge.


TOM VEREB, HOMEOWNER: And as we walked around, we came down here and said oh man, it's just kind of hard to believe.


CHETRY: Once beautiful houses slammed by a wall of muck and a devastated community is steaming mad. How could this happen?

You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Tennessee residents are watching their homes literally drown in a sea of sludge after a billion gallons of potentially toxic waste came gushing out from a coal burning plant. Homeowners have plenty of questions now for the Tennessee Valley Authority and they, of course, want the mess cleaned up and quickly.

Brooke Baldwin joins us live in Kingston, Tennessee this morning. Brooke, any progress?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some progress, still though, Kiran, I would say a lot of questions. I have some of that sludge for you. I was about more than a billion gallons of this concrete colored sludge that spilled from the Kingston Steam Plant that's just over my shoulder into the neighboring communities here in eastern Tennessee.

Now TVA is saying they're working 24/7 to clean up this massive mess but some people here say that isn't good enough.


BALDWIN (voice-over): Situated in the shadow of the TVA Kingston Steam Plant --

TOM VEREB, HOMEOWNER: You couldn't see the smoke stacks from our house.

BALDWIN: Said Tom and Wendy Vereb's dream house, complete with a dock, a boat, and this loveseat swing, now it's all gone.

So looking at this and then looking at this, what goes through your head?

WENDY VEREB, HOMEOWNER: Depression really. I mean it's so sad because it was so pretty here. I mean we used to sit here and do -- we have fires, you know, we have the fire going and stuff, and they'd row across the way to us and we have some wine together and stuff like that, and sit out here. It was really peaceful.

BALDWIN: One week ago, a tidal wave of water and coal ash burst out of the plant's retention pond, cascading sludge onto 300 acres of surrounding land and waterways including this couple's cove.

T. VEREB: And as we walked around, we came down here and said oh man, it was just kind of hard to believe the view of it.

BALDWIN: Some families just stop and stare but most want answers. Sunday night, so many people packed into this emergency meeting that last minute city council had to change the venue. And then the questions came.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the last time this levee had been inspected?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you have an emergency plan in place for such a thing?

BALDWIN: The target, TVA, the president and CEO trying to assure everyone that cleanup, containment and safety are TVA's top priorities. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here to tell you, we'll clean it up and we're going to clean it up right. And we're focused on that job.

BALDWIN: It's a job that Tom Vereb knows for now has no end in sight.

T. VEREB: This mess is going to be around for a while.

BALDWIN: And if they decide to sell, who would want to buy?


BALDWIN: Of course, one of the biggest questions is, is the water safe to drink? A couple of groups are doing independent air quality and water quality testing. TVA has come out. They had said yes, that the water should be fine to drink, the drinking water.

Meanwhile, EPA just came out releasing a letter yesterday saying they have detected high concentrations of arsenic in the river water. This is the river water but that they did say they did not find those higher arsenic concentrations in the water treatment plant which is nearby.

Well water, still a question. So, Kiran, a lot of questions, not enough answers yet. But some of these groups are just hoping that some of these people really just don't panic.

CHETRY: And I guess you got to make your own decisions but, I mean, are the people you're talking to saying they're just going to not take any chances, play it safe, maybe drink bottled water for now?

BALDWIN: I think bottled water is definitely the way to go. Some of the people we said just standing around some of this stuff is a concern. Once it dries, just even breathing it in, some people feeling headaches. So we just really don't know yet the health ramifications of this stuff.

CHETRY: All right. Brooke for us this morning. Thanks so much.

ROBERTS: It's 28 minutes after the hour. And here's a check of this morning's top stories.

Breaking news, pressure now building along the Gaza Strip. Israeli tanks are gathering troops. They're mobilizing. Israeli's defense minister, Ehud Barak, saying his nation is now in an "all-out war with Hamas."

And right now, the fighting continues in the air. Israeli warplanes are pounding the Palestinian territory, wiping out a prison, tunnels, and part of an Islamic university. Palestinian medical sources say the death toll has now topped 300.

We'll have more on this breaking story coming your way in just a second here.

This morning, we're learning more about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich whose defense strategy against impeachment. His lead attorney says he plans to submit the president-elect's internal report which revealed that there was no wrongdoing between Obama's transition team and the governor. In the meantime, the lieutenant governor of Illinois says he is certain that Blagojevich will be out of office in less than two months time.

And with just 22 days left on the job, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is sharing her thoughts on President Bush's low public approval ratings. She told CBS's Sunday morning that Americans will soon thank the president for what he's done.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's not a popularity contest. It is to lay a foundation for where this will all come out. I know that your business is to report today's headlines and I respect that. But my business is to lay a foundation for history's judgment.


ROBERTS: Rice went on to say that she believes the decision to invade Iraq was the right one.

And returning to our breaking news this morning, Israeli's top guns taking aim at terror while its tanks and troops mass along the Gaza Strip. Israel says its mission is to force Hamas back into a cease-fire. The three days of bombings have left bloodshed on both sides of the border. It's all happening along the Gaza Strip near the Mediterranean Sea.

And joining me now is Hanan Ashrawi. She's a member of the moderate Third Way party in the Palestinian parliament. She's a long- time negotiation for Palestinian peace, of course, a figure who many of you will be familiar with. She joins us now live from Ramallah in the West Bank.

Hanan, it's good to see you this morning. Israel is claiming the right to self-defense in all of this saying that it's had enough of Hamas rocket attacks, and is moving once and for all to stop them. Can you accept that position?

HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: Not at all. We can't. Because Israel is an occupying power. Israel is carrying out the most brutal military occupation against a captive Palestinian people. And Gaza, they had been under siege for months now. The ground of their most basic needs, whether electricity, fuel, food, medical supplies, and at the same time in the West Bank, we're under siege, on fragmentation with over 690 checkpoints.

And now Israel has decided that if the victims do not lie down and die quietly, it's going to sell them relentlessly from the air. What it has done in the last few days is destroyed the lives. Killed 313 people in less than three days. Over 1,400 injured without any facilities to even treat the injured and the wounded. And at the same time, it's destroying institutions, infrastructure, a mother with four daughters, younger than 10 years old, their daughters. And at the same time, it's saying this is a strike against Hamas. This is a strike against a captive civilian population.

ROBERTS: Well, can you --

ASHRAWI: And this shows that Israel is playing politics with Palestinian lives, in the middle of an elections campaign. They get their credentials by how many Palestinians they can kill. It's the same thing, it's been going on.

ROBERTS: Can you explain then, Hanan. I mean, all of this is aim toward -- toward Gaza, where Hamas is in power. They're on the West Bank where Fatah is in power. There are no hostilities against Israel emanating from the West Bank for the most part. There are no hostilities back toward the other way against the Fatah movement.

Can you explain the difference? What's not happening in the West Bank versus what is happening in Gaza? Is this, as many people say, not a result of the policies of Hamas towards Israel?

ASHRAWI: Well, it's a result of a little dynamic of the occupation. In the West Bank, the occupation is there. In terms of checkpoints everywhere. The army is in control. Even the Palestinian authority does not have freedom of movement.

We have to go through hundreds of check points. And at the same time, the president has to get permission to move from Israel. So this is a hands-on occupation with all the powers and none of the responsibilities. And Gaza, what they did was they withdrew from the Gaza strip itself and they control the air space, the territorial waters and all the crossing points so they lay siege to Gaza. And it's -- the occupation reinventing itself so to speak.

ROBERTS: But isn't -- but isn't the point here --


ASHRAWI: Militarily, anymore.

ROBERTS: Isn't the point here, though, that nobody is firing rockets from the West Bank into Israel, yet Hamas daily fires rockets from Gaza into Israel. Everyone knows about the story of Sderoth, which is a city itself under siege. Hamas did not renew the six-month old cease-fire despite the fact that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pleaded with them to do it.

ASHRAWI: Yes. Well, actually, for the last six months, Hamas has held onto the ceasefire. It has even fought. I'm not Hamas supporter, as you know, but we have to be accurate in assessing the situation. It has adhered to the ceasefire. It has even fought other factions that attempted to --

ROBERTS: But it refused to renew the ceasefire, and after the ceasefire expired more rockets were fired into southern Israel.


ASHRAWI: Exactly. It refused to renew because for six months Israel did not comply. That's simply the situation. Israel continued the siege, continued holding the Palestinian people captive in Gaza. That's why now, when we look at Gaza we don't see Hamas or Fatah or any other faction. This is not political. We see only a human tragedy. We see people suffering. We see the occupation on the rampage without any checks, without any accountability.

And we see the Israeli parties playing politics with our lives. This has been premeditated. It's a plan that was there for a long time, and now they've declared this openly. Forget the spin, forget the convenient, blame game, and blaming the victim as always. This has been in the making for some time, waiting for an occasion, and at the same time, this is part of their electioneering where they are wreaking havoc in Palestinian lives to show that they can be just as hard line as they are.

Unfortunately, Israel continues to be treated as a country above the law, and exempt from any kind of accountability. It will act with impunity and continue to enjoy this. It's the Palestinians who pay the price. And we have to deal with the causes. Stop the occupation, end it, and you will have peace.

ROBERTS: Hanan Ashrawi, it's always good to connect with you. Thanks for joining us this morning from Ramallah. Appreciate it.

ASHRAWI: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: OK. And coming up in our next hour, it's 7:20 Eastern, we're going to talk with Gabriella Shalev. She is the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. So stay tuned for that.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, crowded movie theater erupts in chaos after a guy allegedly fires a gun because a family won't quiet down. The latest on the investigation and the suspect's side of the story. Wait until you hear what he might use as his defense.

Plus, are there secrets to living longer? We haven't discover a real fountain of youth, but your location can actually affect the length of your life. We're "Paging Dr. Gupta" on AMERICAN MORNING. It's 35 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Time to fast forward to some of the stories you'll be hearing about on CNN today. GM and Chrysler will finally get their hands on some of that auto bailout money. $4 billion to be precise. This is the first of three payouts from the over $17 billion loan they got from the government. GM will get another $5.4 billion in mid- January and then $4 billion more in mid-February.

Well, the FBI is now looking into the disappearance of a cruise ship passenger in the waters off Cancun. 36-year-old Jennifer Feitz fell over board the Norwegian Pearl on Friday night. She was on the Christmas week cruise with her husband who reported her missing earlier in the day. The Mexican Navy found no trace of Feitz in a massive search over the weekend. And we're hoping to hear more from police and prosecutors in Philadelphia today about the man accused of firing a gun in a crowded movie theater. He's suspected of shooting a man because the people he was with wouldn't quiet down. CNN's Susan Candiotti is working the story for us this morning.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, good morning. You're in a movie theater, people start making noise, it's really annoying. What do you do? A Christmas night shooting at a movie theater in Philadelphia has a lot of people wondering how to react.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Christmas night at the movies in south Philly seemed like fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How old are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seven but I look a lot older.

CANDIOTTI: A mom, boyfriend and her three teenage kids went to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," but the on-screen drama nearly turned deadly for one moviegoer. Kia Banner (ph) tells CNN the theater was packed and her family was laughing at the show when this man told them to pipe down. She told him to back off and her son verbally defended her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He threw the popcorn on my kids. The whole bucket of the popcorn he threw it on my kids. And next thing you know, he's swinging.

CANDIOTTI: Banner said her boyfriend stepped in front of her children. And a shot rang out hitting her boyfriend in the arm. He's no longer in the hospital.

CNN affiliate WPVI called the sources saying suspect James Cialella told police he shot in self-defense. Police cannot confirm it, and are unable to say Cialella has entered a plea or remains jailed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who brings a gun to a movie theater? I don't understand that.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Would you say that this man simply snapped?

DR. J. BUZZ VON ORNSTEINER, PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, see, I don't look at psychological situations like this with a person just snapped. I kind of don't believe that.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Psychologist, Dr. Buzz Von Ornsteiner said when something like this happens the anger has been building up like a boiling kettle.

ORNSTEINER: It starts to steam, and then without any intervention, without any good coping skills, without any logical or reasonable solutions, it just kind of explodes.

CANDIOTTI: We asked moviegoers how they handle noisy people around them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I usually turn around and tell them to be quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I try to ignore it, usually, unless it gets really bad, then I might change seats.

CANDIOTTI: Dr. Buzz says if that doesn't work, tell management.

ORNSTEINER: Let them handle it, they're the professionals.

CANDIOTTI: Good advice for movie fans worried about another flare-up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The movie shouldn't be that important. I think that maybe it does make me a little bit more scared maybe to say something to someone.


CANDIOTTI: The accused shooter in Philadelphia faces several charges including attempted murder.



ROBERTS: Susan Candiotti for us this morning. Susan, thanks so much.

Parts of the Midwest are underwater today. Rivers overflowing after some nasty weekend storms. Rob Marciano is tracking the extreme weather.

And President-elect Obama has been hitting the gym nonstop. Just how intense is his workout routine? Our Ed Henry finds out. It's 42 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: 44 minutes after the hour. We're back with the "Most News in the Morning." And a real special treat today, Rob Marciano here with us in new York. I've seen the folks every Christmas I guess.

CHETRY: You know, I was laughing. John laughed at me last week when we were talking about inauguration weather, because we were going to be out there in D.C. And I said you can hope for an Indian summer. And he laughed. Yesterday felt like an Indian summer.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, sure. Record temperatures across much of the East Coast yesterday. So, if we can postpone that a week or two -- ROBERTS: Well, let's see if she can get it to last until the 20th of January.

MARCIANO: I'd say it wouldn't hurt if you guys were a little, you know, nice to me. Maybe we can work something out. OK?

CHETRY: All right.

ROBERTS: We'll try our best.


ROBERTS: Just as long as it's above 40 degrees, I think that should be fine.

MARCIANO: That's not too much to ask.

CHETRY: That's all we ask. That and a couple of space heaters, and we're happy.

MARCIANO: Well, I'm sure you'll have that as well.

ROBERTS: Thanks so much. We'll check back with you.

MARCIANO: All right, guys.

ROBERTS: 46 minutes after the hour now.

Fit to lead. So how did the president-elect wind up with a physique like this?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got the paparazzi photo that's been seen all around the world. How do I get from here to there?


ROBERTS: What it really takes to get those Barack hard abs. Anyone can do it, right? You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."



UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Welcome to pumping up with Hans and Franz, the informative training program for the serious weightlifter.

HANS: Once again, I am Hans.

FRANZ: And I am Franz.

HANS AND FRANZ: And we just want to pump you off.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Hans and Franz in a classic clip from "Saturday Night Live." It appears that President-elect Barack Obama has bought into their program, hitting the gym every day for months now, and judging by that now famous paparazzi photo that made the rounds last week, it all seems to be paying off. CNN's Ed Henry decided to see if he could handle Obama's rigorous routine. And he's here now to tell us all about that.


ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, everyone is looking for a New Year's resolution, so after those paparazzi photos here in Hawaii, I thought I'd figure out what it takes to be like Barack.


HENRY (voice-over): Meet personal trainer Mike Sapp who worked with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in his body building days, and has been reading up on President-elect Barack Obama's routine.

(on camera): I've got the paparazzi photo that's been seen all around the world. How do I get from here to there?


HENRY: Is there any hope or not?

SAPP: There is. There is. I mean, he's in pretty good shape. So we're going to have to -- we're going to have our work cut out for us.

HENRY: A combo of cardio and strength training just like the president-elect who is religious about working out six days a week.

SAPP: 13, 14 and -- good job.

HENRY: I've got a long way to go, but just a couple of months ago Governor Schwarzenegger mocked candidate Obama's physique.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: And then I'm going to go and give him some biceps curls to beef up those scrawny little arms.

HENRY: The gubernator has since walked that joke back and it's easy to see why. Mr. Obama is clearly in better shape now than he was at the beginning of the campaign. On this Hawaiian holiday, he started every single morning except for Christmas at the workout facility of a local Marine base dubbed Semper Fit. That can be an inspiration to millions of Americans trying to get fit.

SAPP: It's going to kill the, you know, I-don't-have-time theory, right. I mean, if he can make the time and he makes the commitment, then I think you know, you owe it to yourself to try and get in shape also. HENRY (on camera): So Mike, how'd I do?

SAPP: Arnold would be proud.

HENRY: Really? Not too shabby. Puts new meaning into the term "Fit for Office."




ROBERTS: Outrage over a song --


(SONG PLAYING): Barack the Magic Negro -


ROBERTS: Barack the Magic Negro.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is more than just dumb. This is indicating of a larger tone deafness in the Republican Party.


ROBERTS: The GOP calls it a parody.


(SONG PLAYING): Vote for him and not for me 'cause he's not from the hood.


ROBERTS: We'll let you decide.

Plus, the bombs, the rockets and raids, as the violence escalates in Gaza. We're live with the latest from what's now being called an all-out war on the "Most News in the Morning."



CAROLINE KENNEDY, JOHN F. KENNEDY'S DAUGHTER: I would be an unconventional choice. I haven't followed the traditional path, but I think I bring a lifetime of experience to this. In my family, you know, public service is really, you know, the greatest honor that anyone can have.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHETRY: Well, that was New York State Senate hopeful Caroline Kennedy giving an interview to a local station here in New York. She has been criticized, though, for not talking to the press enough even as she tries to make her case for taking over Hillary Clinton's open Senate seat. But will her recent interview be seen as too little too late.

Joining me now someone who's been critical of Kennedy, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman.

Thanks for being with us. You had some critical words about her on Lou Dobbs on Friday. Let's listen to what you said.


ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, Queen Elizabeth is more accessible to her subjects than Caroline Kennedy in terms of talking about the issues.


CHETRY: Now, since then, she has -- maybe she listened to your advice. Because she did speak to "The New York Times." She talked to New York One. Any better? Is she talking about the issues?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, to her credit, she recognized that was really a grass roots rebellion that was brewing from so many in the political activist. Because she was only -- when I made those comments on Friday evening, she was only taking questions from the press that were submitted in writing. Only responding to a certain number of those questions and not really giving full answers.

The good government groups were concerned that she wasn't engaging in the full disclosure process, which legally she had no obligation to, but they felt that was important. And of course there was a controversy about her voting record. And I think to her credit, she has really been almost speed dialing interviewer. She has been doing interviews throughout the state trying to really introduce herself to the New York State voter, and also discuss where she stands on the issues. How full her answers were? How effective she will be in that process is up to the governor. And there's strong support amongst New York Democrats to support the governor's choice, so I think that's an encouraging sign.

CHETRY: It's important not just for the State of New York, but also this is a Senate seat -- of course, in the United States Senate.

ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely.

CHETRY: And so it does have larger implications. You know, some of her supporters are saying, you know, maybe she doesn't have the traditional political resume, if you will, but she's very intelligent. She's an Ivy League educated lawyer. She's somebody who's publicly worked to try to help improve New York schools. Does she have a unique resume, perhaps? But one that is just as solid as somebody else who's been in politics for a long time? ZIMMERMAN: She has very solid resume. And she's really made -- really very distinct achievements in her life. That's never been an issue. The issues are her experiences and her achievements -- well, a good fit for this position? That's what it's about.

And it's important to remember, too, that this -- she's competing in a broad spectrum of candidates who've served our state, and in fact, have served our nation very effectively. Members of Congress like Steve Israel or Caroline Maloney or county executive like Tom Suozzi, or for example, leaders in the labor movement like Randy Winegard. So there's a broad spectrum. Of course, there's Andrew Cuomo, our New York State Attorney General, former secretary of HUD. So this process is not about Caroline Kennedy.

CHETRY: In the mainstream media, it has been really about Caroline Kennedy. That work against her in a way for Governor Paterson.


ZIMMERMAN: Remember -- Remember, Kiran, these are the same pundits who said that Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton were going to be the nominees of their parties. And I discounted their theories then. And had gotten trouble with the political chattering class. And I certainly gotten trouble Friday night, too. I can tell you that. But the point here is this process as well is very much open, there is not a front-runner. And anyone who says that, you know, the old expression, those who talk don't know and those who know don't talk. And so this is a wide open process, and there are broad spectrum of very qualified candidates. And she's one of them.

CHETRY: Is there intense lobbying going on behind the scenes for Governor Paterson. I mean, he made a few comments not many, but one of the things he said was where are you all getting that she's the front-runner? I mean, what is going on in that type of behind the scenes process as people try to get Paterson's ear and explain why they think who they are supporting would be the best candidate.

ZIMMERMAN: I think what's happening is I think many of her handles, and I think they mishandled her rollout rather dramatically. And I think the fact she changed direction is to her credit and shows she's pursuing a new strategy. But what you have is a mind game being played amongst the political pundits and with the media.

They try and create the perception of inevitability, and that's not going to make the case. It's going to be the qualifications, the vision and the leadership that this individual -- the individual can show both for New York state and for our nation. Because you're right, as you pointed out, this is the United States Senate position and a critical time for our country.

CHETRY: And which is why I wanted to ask you quickly before we go about replacing a woman with a woman. She brings a certain amount of experience of raising her children, and then now that their children are sort of growing it out of the house, trying to jump back full-time into a career, is that something that also needs to be considered as they decide who's going to take over for Hillary Clinton?

ZIMMERMAN: I don't think there's a tougher job than raising children. I think the experience from that is an extraordinary experience. It gives one great knowledge and insight for a whole wide range of issues. But, of course, being a United States senator and playing that role both for New York State and the country is really a position that should go to the most -- the person who can best meet the needs of our state and our nation at this time. There are a broad perspective of candidates, both men and women, who have been successful parents and have also contributed to our country's future.

CHETRY: Robert Zimmerman, thanks for joining us this morning.

ZIMMERMAN: Thank you.

CHETRY: Good to talk to you -- John.