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Obama Heads to Europe for Economic Summit; Clinton Attends Afghanistan Meeting; French Caterpillar Workers Hold Mangers Hostage; Ford Exec Shares Company's Survival Secrets; Depression: Genes or Environment?

Aired March 31, 2009 - 07:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're just crossing the top of the hour now. Welcome to the program. It's Tuesday, the 31st of March. I'm John Roberts.


Coming up in just about 30 minutes, we're going to hear from one of the executive vice presidents at Ford Motors, the only one out of the big three in Detroit that didn't need to take bailout money. What's their secret? And are they going to be able to remain competitive even though their other two are getting some money from the government.

ROBERTS: An interview you don't want to miss this morning here on the Most News in the Morning.

Meantime, here's what's on the agenda. Stories that we'll be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes. A group of senators will introduce a potentially historic bill on Capitol Hill today. It would allow all Americans to travel to Cuba. This comes after the government eased travel restrictions for family members a few weeks ago.

U.S., Japanese and South Korean missile destroying ships are set to sail in anticipation of North Korea's eminent rocket launch. Pyongyang says it will send a communication satellite into orbit between April 4th and the 8th. The U.S., Japan and South Korea suspect that North Korea is using the launch to test a long range ballistic missile that may be capable of reaching Alaska. North Korea raised tensions on Monday by detaining a South Korean worker for allegedly denouncing the North's political system.

Stop eating pistachios and everything with them in it. That doesn't come from me. That's the warning from the Food and Drug Administration this morning. The FDA says the nation's second largest pistachio processor is voluntarily recalling two million pounds of nuts. That after Kraft foods found salmonella strains in some of its nuts that it purchased from Setton Farms in Terra Bella, California. The FDA says other recalls could follow.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, back to our top story, the president heading to Europe an hour from now for a key economic summit in the midst of a worldwide economic meltdown. His popularity across the Atlantic doesn't mean that he's getting a free pass. That's because some European countries are highly skeptical of the U.S. economic bailout plans.

CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley tells us this morning what's at stake for the president.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran and John. You know, I've been to a lot of these economic summits and they are not must-watch-TV. That's the rule. This one is the exception.


CROWLEY (voice-over): President Obama is a popular man abroad. U.S. policy not so much.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, "FINANCIAL TIMES': You might even go so far as to call an ideological rift between the Europeans and the Americans.

CROWLEY: The rift is over global recession. The president wants more countries to put more money into their own economies, ala his stimulus plan.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't want a situation in which some countries are making extraordinary efforts and other countries aren't, with the hope that somehow the countries that are making those important steps lift everybody up.

CROWLEY: Reaction has been cool to hostile. The outgoing Czech prime minister blistered the idea and the U.S. recovery plan.

MIREK TOPOLANEK, CZECH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): All of these steps, the combination and the permanency is a way to hell.

CROWLEY: Rather than pumping more money into their economies, many countries want tighter financial regulations. Complicating things, heads of state blame America for starting the worldwide recession. They are less inclined to follow the U.S. lead. The capitalism anti-protectionist deregulation combo has lost some shine.

There is risk President Obama could leave empty-handed, but observers say the bar for success is low. A communique with broad language on stimulus, financial regulation and protectionism will do.

FREELAND: I think what we're going to see coming out of this summit is much less really concrete actions and a concrete plan, and much more a focus on a show of global unity.

CROWLEY: President Obama is not likely to lose his shine, regardless of what happens at the G-20. He will almost certainly see streets lined with supporters, but he'll also see something else.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CROWLEY: In what will surely be welcomed in Europe, the president has promised to talk and listen. And he is in search of familiar territory, the middle ground. The White House has already signaled he does not believe the G-20 has to choose between stimulus and tighter regulation. He thinks you need both -- Kiran and John.

ROBERTS: Candy Crowley for us this morning. Candy, thanks so much.

Not sure what the G-20 actually is, saying well I knew of the G-7 and the G-8, what's the G-20? You're going to be hearing a lot about it this week, so here's more in an "AM Extra."

The G-20 consists of finance ministers and central bank governors from the European Union and 19 countries. They represent 90 percent of the world's gross domestic product, 90 percent. Topping this week's G-20 agenda, coming up with a global stimulus package, preventing protectionism by individual countries, helping developing nations that have been hit hard by the recession, and toughening regulations on financial markets.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, America's chief diplomat is already in Europe this morning at a summit aimed at helping Afghanistan. The breaking news out of this, though, Secretary of State Clinton is signaling that that could include a plan by the Afghan government to reconcile with some members of the Taliban, and pass al Qaeda supporters who now denounce violence.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: As President Obama has pointed out, the world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos. While there is great temptation to retreat inward in these difficult economic times, it is precisely at such moments that we must redouble our efforts.


CHETRY: The U.N. summit is at The Hague in the Netherlands, and our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is there. She joins us live right now on the line.

And, Jill, does the U.S. think it is possible to turn some of these former enemies into friends?

VOICE OF JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, they're certainly hoping so and the idea is, they believe that if you divided up the Taliban into the, let's say irreconcilables, as they call them, the people who are ideological, true believers who cannot be changed one way or the other, they would say they're about a third. But two-thirds might be switched over, might be, and some of those could be, let's say village people who have very little money and who are given money by the Taliban, and that is why they're fighting. They're not ideologically driven.

So that's the hope, that they might be able to divide and conquer, you could say, and bring those people over to the other side. They would have to renounce violence. They'd have to say they support the constitution, and this would be led not by the United States, but it would really would be the Afghans themselves who would try to do this, Kiran.

CHETRY: And also of note and this is interesting, who is attending this conference. Official with Iran and this would be the first time that there could possibly be some direct talks between the United States and Tehran. What are we looking for as Secretary Clinton attends this, and how Iran factors in?

DOUGHERTY: Yes. Well, Iran was invited and they took the invitation, so that's a good sign in the eyes of the secretary. How they might engage is a little unclear. After all, the Obama administration says it wants to begin that engagement. But certainly they're not going to be sitting down and having, you know, talks and negotiations at this particular meeting. But they might meet each other. They might be able to see each other briefly, that type of encounter that could be very important, diplomatically.

So people are watching how the secretary of state might see this trip (ph). And he happens to be the deputy foreign minister. It's not the foreign minister. So both sides are being a little bit careful in the way they approach this, not expecting a whole, whole lot, but significantly if they could even chat a bit, that would be a step in the right direction.

CHETRY: Certainly would, all right. Jill Dougherty for us this morning, thank you.

ROBERTS: Six and a half minutes after the hour. Just in to CNN, it seems that the bad economy is raising tempers in France again this week.

A siege of sorts taking place at the U.S. Caterpillar plant in Grenoble, France, where workers are holding -- I guess you could say -- hostage four managers from that plant. They barricaded them inside their office, demanding that they make concessions on the imminent laying off of 733 workers at that plant.

Now, there's been a rash of this going on in France. Last week, a manager of the U.S. 3M company in Paris was detained for 24 hours and back on March 12th, the head of Sony was also detained. The workers there who were holding these managers in their office say that they do intend to let them go, that there is "a deal within reach."

We'll keep following the story for you this morning. But again, workers at the U.S. Caterpillar plant in Grenoble, France, have barricaded four managers inside an office demanding concessions on the imminent layoffs of 733 workers there.

We're also digging deeper this morning on the president's plans to force Chrysler and GM to save themselves, including the fate of ousted GM boss Rick Wagoner. One of our viewers was curious about that, too.


QUESTION: This is Nelson Anderson (ph) from Georgia. I just wonder how much of a package they are giving the CEO from GM leaving, how big a money package he's given?


ROBERTS: So how much does Wagoner stand to make after presiding over the downfall of the country's biggest automaker? His retirement package could top $20 million, according to SEC documents. He'll get no severance package, but Wagoner has been on GM's payroll for 32 years.

Christine Romans "Minding Your Business" this morning and is here with more on this. This is something that he has accrued over the course of three decades.


ROBERTS: So could there really be the same level of outrage regarding this than there is with AIG?

ROMANS: When I talk to people who are the sort of the corporate governance types, their outrage is for the board of this company, that the board helped him make decisions over the years that may be weren't the best decisions and led them to where they are. There's a board of directors, folks, who sit there for years and years and years and vote on these types of things.

Let's talk about what the money is. It's about $20 million for the retirement package. It's two different pensions.

This is pension money. He didn't get a bonus last year. He didn't get a salary this year. He will not get a severance package. He has worked for the company for 32 years. This is what the company says.

He has worked for GM for nearly 32 years, and he would be entitled to certain vested awards, deferred compensation, and pension and other post-retirement benefits.

Deferred compensation for those of you who are wondering, that means along the years he could have taken a portion of his salary and said I want to defer that and I want it to grow in a retirement plan and take it when I retire. So that's what that is there.

Now, here's the part where you start to get a little irritated with the board if you're the kind of person who believes in pay for performance.

Since 2000, June 2000, the stock is down 95 percent from $50 a share to $2.70 a share. The company has lost $80 billion in the last four years and has had to resort to $13.4 billion in aid. There are decisions made by this company, by its board of directors, and by its management over the years that have led to these kinds of numbers, so you can see why there are those who would be critical of him getting $20 million.

He's eligible for it. The company doesn't say exactly what it's going to look like in the very end, but he has worked in this company his entire adult life.

ROBERTS: All right. Christine, thanks so much for that.


CHETRY: We also want to hear what you think on the president's plan for Detroit, the economy, and all the big stories that we're covering. You can call our show hotline. It's 877-my-amfix, which is 692-6349. You can also follow us on twitter at AMFix.

And all the Detroit headlines focusing on Chrysler and GM. What about Ford? Is Ford in the clear? We're asking the company's executive vice president.

Mark Fields is going to be talking to us exclusively in about 20 minutes here on the Most News in the Morning.

Well, a major snowstorm putting Fargo, North Dakota on the edge of disaster yet again. There's melting ice, snow and crashing waves that could put the man-made levees to the test again along the Red River. It fell to just under 39 feet yesterday. That's still, though, 21 feet above flood stage.

And it will, of course, reach speeds of 17,000 miles per hour. Now, it's going about one. That's the space shuttle "Atlantis." It's on the crawler right now. And take a look at it, taking a slow journey to the launch pad this morning for a liftoff.

ROBERTS: You can see it. There it is.

CHETRY: You can see it behind us here on the desk, no. There it is scheduled for liftoff May 12th. The crew heading up into space. They're going to be working on repairs for NASA's Hubble telescope.

Well once you crack one open, it's hard to stop but the FDA is warning people to stay away from pistachios this morning. We have the latest on another threat to the nation's food supply.

It's 11 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Thirteen minutes after the hour now, and this morning a warning about pistachios. Right now, the Food and Drug Administration is advising Americans not to eat anything containing pistachios while they investigate a possible salmonella scare.

CNN's Alina Cho is following this developing story, and she joins us now.

Good morning, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, John. A very big deal right now.

The FDA is advising people not to eat anything containing pistachios. That bears repeating.

Now, here's what happened. The salmonella strains were discovered during routine testing by Kraft Foods last week. The very next day, they protectively recalled their back to nature trail mix where the contaminated nuts were presumably found. Now the roasted pistachios came from Setton Farms that's in Terra Bella, California, one of the nation's largest suppliers of pistachios and they sell to about three dozen companies, including wholesalers who repackage the nuts for use in products like ice cream and trail mix. Pretty scary stuff.

Now, the Setton plant is recalling up to two million pounds of roasted pistachios, as you just mentioned. In addition to not eating the nuts, the FDA is also advising people not to throw anything away containing pistachios because additional recalls are likely. They're doing lab tests now.

For more information on this, it's best to go to the Web site You'll get the latest updates there. You can also go to

The recall, as I mentioned, is expected to widen. Hundreds of lab samples being looked at right now. The FDA says so far, no illnesses have been linked to this case specifically, but at least two people have reportedly called the FDA to complain that the nuts made them sick.

Now we should also mention, John, that this pistachio recall is not related to last winter's peanut recall that has been linked to eight deaths and sickened more than 500 people in 46 states, but certainly that is the first thing that people thought of when they woke up this morning and heard about this news. Again, important to note that it could take weeks, John, for them to figure out just how many products are recalled.

If you think about the peanut recall, more than 3,800 different products, including peanut butter, of course, were recalled in the end. But they're looking at hundreds of lab samples, actually turning back trucks so that those samples can be looked at right now.

ROBERTS: Well, at least they're doing something pretty aggressive about it.

Alina Cho for us this morning. Alina, thanks.

CHO: You bet.

CHETRY: CNN confirming some breaking news right now out of France. Hundreds of French workers angry about some layoffs, proposed layoffs at the Caterpillar plant, are now holding executives of the company hostage. And we got this confirmed now by a spokesman for the workers union, Nicholas Benoit (ph). He says that workers are angry that Caterpillar has proposed cutting more than 700 jobs and refusing to negotiate with these workers about possibly trying to save some of those jobs. And so right now in the southeastern city of Grenoble at the offices of this construction equipment company, they are holding five executives now in their offices.

There were workers inside the building holding these five executives, that includes the head of operations. They're being held in their offices. They're also about 500 of these workers outside of the building as well, and they're protesting at this time.

We are not able to reach a Caterpillar representative but again, we're getting word about this from the spokesman for the workers union.

Police are at the scene. They say they arrived about two hours after learning that this had happened. And right now for those five executives being held, apparently they're being allowed to get food but again, these angry workers hoping to have some sort of negotiation with the company over the proposed cuts of 700 jobs at the Caterpillar plant.

We'll continue to follow the story. As soon as we find out more about it, we'll bring it to you.

ROBERTS: Well, it's something that lawmakers and the presidents can actually agree on. It's not a health care plan or the latest economic bill. They are tackling a major issue for every college football fan including the commander in chief. We're live from Washington with the latest on this Capitol Hill huddle just ahead.

And today, senators will take the first step toward ending all travel restrictions to Cuba for everyone. After five decades, is it time to finally move on? We'll find out.

Seventeen minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Developing now in Washington, new momentum for lifting the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans. A bipartisan group of senators set to introduce a bill that would do just that. It's been about a year now since Cuban leader Fidel Castro left the world stage.

CNN's Jim Acosta is live in Washington for us. Kind of makes you want to have a Cuba Libre and a cigar.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I have a rule. We should play Buena Vista social club every morning on AMERICAN MORNING.

That's right, Kiran. You know, speaking of Cuba, you know Earnest Hemingway wrote about "The Old Man and the Sea." Well, for many years Congress has been chasing this blue marlin. They have tried for years to change U.S. policy toward Cuba to no avail. But what President Obama and the White House, a key group of senators is giving it one more shot -- the music is still going -- taking aim at the travel restrictions that effectively stop nearly all Americans from stepping foot on the island.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Tessie Aral, the owner of this Miami travel agency that specializes in trips to Cuba, is in a good mood these days. Ever since Washington loosened the travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting the island, Aral says non-Cuban-Americans have been calling in, wondering when they can join the party.

TESSIE ARAL, ABC CHARTERS: I think most Americans are going to want to try to travel to Cuba because it's been the forbidden fruit for so long.

SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: We allow Americans to travel to China, to Vietnam, both communist countries.

ACOSTA: North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan wants to do the same for Cuba, with the bill in Congress that would end all travel restrictions -- yes, all of them for Americans visiting the communist nation, arguing the Cold War era policy aimed at the Castro government has failed.

DORGAN: It seems to me if something has failed for nearly five decades you might want to take a look at it again and see whether you should modify it.

ACOSTA: Dan Erikson, the author of the book "The Cuba War," says there's one problem with lifting the ban, the embargo, which stops U.S. companies from doing business in Cuba.

DAN ERIKSON, AUTHOR, "THE CUBA WARS": So you have American tourists traveling on to Cuba, to drive around on Chinese buses, stay in Spanish hotels, eat Canadian food.

ACOSTA: They wouldn't be able to stay at a Marriott, at a Hilton?

ERIKSON: No, there wouldn't be any Marriott.


ACOSTA: They wouldn't be able to use their Delta sky miles.

ERIKSON: And there's no Hilton, there's no miles. The only drive-through McDonald's ever seen in Cuba was in the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay.

ACOSTA: President Obama has hinted at changes in U.S. policy on Cuba, but never mentioned how much. On a trip to Chile, Vice President Joe Biden indicated support for the embargo, but added --

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We thought there is a need for a transition in our policy toward Cuba. ACOSTA: That transition would have to get past Cuban-Americans in Congress like Senate Democrat Bob Menendez.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: The government is pure and simple a brutal dictatorship. The average Cuban worker lives on an income of less than $1 a day.

ACOSTA: Travel agent Tessie Aral is one of a growing number of Cuban-Americans who say it's time to move on.

ARAL: For our country to tell us we're not free to choose where we want to travel to, I think that's just archaic.


ACOSTA: Supporters of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act believe they can get this bill to the White House plus the measure has the support of Indiana's Republican Senator Richard Lugar, whose foreign policy views have had a big influence on the president, a president, Kiran, who is actually younger than the Castro regime.

CHETRY: Very interesting.

ACOSTA: That's a fact.

CHETRY: Yes, absolutely. All right. Jim Acosta for us this morning, thanks.

ACOSTA: You bet.

ROBERTS: General Motors and Chrysler on the clock. Thousands of jobs at stake. Millions of American car owners left waiting. Could Ford be the last one standing? The company's vice president is here with something that could sweeten the deal for you.

President Kennedy once described himself as the man who accompanied Jackie to Europe. There may be a similar vibe when the Obamas arrive overseas. We'll take a look at Europe's fascination with the first lady.

It's 24 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Congress is set to tackle one of the biggest issues of our time and no, it's not the economy. Just like you, every football season, lawmakers and, yes, even President Obama agonize over the complicated college ranking system.


OBAMA: It is about time that we had playoffs in college football. You know, I'm fed up with these computer rankings and this and that and the other. Get eight teams, top eight teams right at the end. You got a playoff, decide on a national champion. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, our resident football fanatic, Carol Costello, is on the story. She joins us this morning from Washington.

Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. You know, even my mom is hot over this issue. People are very passionate about this, especially after watching the excitement of March Madness. College football fans are wondering why they can't have their own sort of madness. Lawmakers are, too.


(Bell ringing)

COSTELLO (voice-over): If you're tired of all that depressing economy stuff, take heart. The Senate's anti-trust subcommittee will hold hearings on, yes, the cost of consumer goods, the price of gas, the cost of text messaging, and the BCS -- as in the Bowl Championship Series.

Congress wants to change the way college football determines its national champion. You should have known it was coming.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: BCS system is anti-competitive, unfair, and in my opinion, un-American.

COSTELLO: Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has been steamed ever since the BCS bypassed the Utah Utes for the national championship game despite a perfect record of 13-0 last season. Florida got in and became national champions despite losing one game during the regular season. Senator Hatch is not the only one steamed either.

REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: In every other NCAA sport, every other college sport, they have a playoff.

COSTELLO: On the House side, Congressman Joe Barton has introduced legislation pressuring the BCS to have playoffs instead of using its mathematical method to determine a national champion.

BARTON: We're not mandating that they have to do it. We're simply saying, you won't get all the TV advertisement, the revenue, and the team that wins the game can't call itself a national champion unless it's the result of a playoff system.

COSTELLO: The BCS's formula for determining which teams qualify for its five full games is complicated. This is its mathematical formula. Translation?

The BCS averages the percent totals of the Harris Interactive poll, the "USA Today" Coaches poll and various computer polls to come up with the rankings which determine which teams go to the major bowl games. If you still don't get it, don't feel bad. It's become a national joke. Lawmakers feel confident they can persuade the BCS to switch to a playoff system now, because the Senate, the House and even the president...

OBAMA: That's why we need a playoff.

COSTELLO: Are all on the record for change.


COSTELLO: Yes, as we told you, President Obama has gone on record saying playoffs are the way to go, but lawmakers should expect a fight. The BCS told me, "We understand people in D.C. need to respond to their hearts and constituents. We think the leaders of higher education are the better group to manage post-season football." In other words, you're in for a fight.

ROBERTS: It is the pressing issue of our time. Carol Costello for us this morning. Carol, good to see. Thanks so much.


ROBERTS: Half past the hour. Here's what's on the agenda this morning, stories that we'll be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes here on the Most News in the Morning.

President Obama leaves for Europe in about a half an hour. Yes, he's got other things on his mind besides the BCS. It's his first overseas trip highlighted by the G-20 economic summit as the president's spending plans take a lot of heat across the Atlantic.

Breaking right now, more economic anger in France. Hundreds of workers are holding Caterpillar executives hostage in Grenoble, France. They were protesting hundreds of proposed layoffs at the company. Police are on the scene but say the situation is still unfolding. We're waiting for updates and we'll bring them to you just as soon as we get them.

And Ford, the company in the best shape out of the big three automakers is temporarily laying off 1,400 workers due to slow sales. Union reps say the company is shutting down a Chicago area assembly plant for three weeks. The plant turns out the Taurus, the Sable and Lincoln MKS models. Kiran.

CHETRY: And President Obama is showing some tough love for the auto industry. He's given General Motors 60 days to do better or lose federal money. He also fired the company's CEO and the president says that the government has no intention of running GM.


OBAMA: Now we cannot continue to excuse poor decisions. We cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of taxpayer dollars. These companies must ultimately stand on their own. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: So, right now, Ford is the only major U.S. carmaker that's getting by without taxpayer money. Joining us this morning live from Dearborn, Michigan, for an exclusive interview is Executive Vice President of Ford Motor Company Mark Fields. Mark, thanks for being with us this morning.

MARK FIELDS, EXECUTIVE V.P., FORD MOTOR CO.: Thanks for having me on this morning, Kiran.

CHETRY: So, Mark, your company is the one that's gotten by without federal money. Will you be able to continue that?

FIELDS: Well, our position hasn't changed. We're in a different position than some of our competitors, and we're not seeking emergency taxpayer assistance.

CHETRY: Right, but I'm saying in the future, how are you guys guaranteeing that you won't need to go to the federal government like your two competitors have and ask for some help?

FIELDS: Well, we're going to continue executing our plan, which really involves decisive actions around transforming the business, but also bringing great high-quality, fuel-efficient vehicles into the marketplace. And we've been working this plan over the last three years, and we've been making progress.

Clearly it's a tough time in the economy, but we are really focused on bringing theses great cars and trucks to customers, getting our cost structure right. We've come to new agreements with our UAW partners. We're working through reducing our debt. So we're going to continue working through that, and we don't expect to take taxpayer assistance from the emergency funds.

CHETRY: You say it's been tough times, and certainly for you guys, it has -- 2008 the worst annual loss in Ford's 105-year history. You guys can restructure. You can work out new deals with the unions. But in the end, if people aren't buying cars or they can't get credit, how do you remain viable?

FIELDS: Well, consumer confidence is the biggest issue in the marketplace right now. The good news is, our new cars and trucks that are coming into the marketplace are being well-received. Our retail market share has been up three of the last four months. We expect the month of March our retail share to be up again.

But getting that consumer confidence is really important. And that's why today we're announcing our Ford advantage plan, and it's for any customer who buys a Ford, Lincoln or Mercury product, when they come into the showroom and buy their product, if that customer loses their position, we will pay their car payments up to 12 months while they're unemployed, to give them that peace of mind.

CHETRY: You're also offering some zero percent financing. I'm sure that you're trying to do that as well because of the frozen credit in a lot of instances. I want to get your take on this, though. President Obama announced yesterday he's giving GM 30 days, giving Chrysler a month, basically, to submit a reorganization plan that the administration finds acceptable. The Obama administration also of course forced General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner out. Was that the right move, in your opinion?

FIELDS: Well, what we are supportive of is that the president is committed to a vibrant U.S. auto industry. As we mentioned, Ford is in a different position. We're not asking for the emergency taxpayer assistance. But what we are focusing on is taking decisive action to streamline our business, but more importantly win new customers with the great set of products we're going -- we're coming out with over the next couple of months.

CHETRY: You know, there is some unprecedented government intervention going on right now in the U.S. auto industry at your competitors. They're getting billions of dollars in taxpayer money. They're being forced to restructure, as we talked about. They actually were forced to fire their CEO. And right now, it seems that, you know, they're on a different level than you guys are. Is there some sense that perhaps there's an unfair advantage, that they're getting a lot of government help, whereas you guys are sort of on your own. Does that concern you?

FIELDS: Well, we don't feel we're being disadvantaged, because we have been restructuring our company over the past three years. We have been investing in high-quality, fuel-efficient vehicles over the last couple of years, which are just starting to come to the marketplace. So our approach is continue to work this plan, continue to make sure that Ford remains competitive both today and in the future and continue to work with our stakeholders to make sure that happens.

CHETRY: Well, we certainly wish you guys a lot of luck. Mark Fields, executive vice president of Ford Motors, thanks for being with us this morning.

FIELDS: Thank you.

ROBERTS: If you need to save some cash on your next flight, you better act fast. Ticket prices could soon be taking off. When and why it's happening, just ahead on the most news in the morning.



ROBERTS: At least he knows what's happening. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. If you think your last flight was rough, here's a guy who can top it. A Jetblue employee says he accidentally took a free flight from New York to Boston. How did he do it? He fell asleep in the plane's cargo bin. Workers at Logan International Airport discovered him after landing. Police say the man will not be charged with any crime. However, his bosses may have something to say to him when he eventually makes it back to his home base. CHETRY: What are you in here for? Well, I fell asleep in the cargohold. I'm doing some hard time.

ROBERTS: I was checking out the inside of the cargohold to make sure everything was OK and don't you know it, the plane took off.


CHETRY: All right. There you go, maybe he needs a little bit of caffeine, a little pick-me-up.

But when it comes to booking your next flight you may soon be left with higher prices and fewer options and you can blame it on the recession. Our Jeanne Meserve is breaking it down for us from Reagan International Airport this morning. Good morning, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran. There is certainly still some airline bargains out there now. But experts say it's likely to change. That's because the airlines haven't seen a drop in business like this since 9/11.


MESERVE (voice-over): The numbers are stunning and sobering. The Federal Aviation Administration predicts the number of passengers boarding U.S. airlines will plummet 7.8 percent this year. Hardest hit, the major airlines, which haven't seen passenger levels this low since 1995.

RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I think business travel is down. I think leisure travel is down, but it's all as a result of a very lousy economy, that all of us are facing.

MESERVE: Have you ever seen an economic event hit travel like this has?

PAUL RUBEN, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF TRAVEL AGENTS: Not in my lifetime, and I've been around a few years.

MESERVE: Based on White House economic forecasts, the FAA projects there will be a slight increase in airline travel next year, and a steady two percent to three percent increase each year after that, through 2025.

DARRYL JENKINS, AVIATION CONSULTANT: I don't believe it for a minute.

MESERVE: Aviation consultant Darryl Jenkins believes economic worries are too deep for a quick turnaround.

JENKINS: Even if the economy begins to turn around it does not mean that consumers are going to be out there spending a lot, and so I'm very pessimistic this year and next.

MESERVE: The airlines are expected to decompensate for the lack of passengers by cutting capacity, perhaps by as much as five percent or 10 percent. That means fewer flights in and out of some cities and crowded planes. It could also be bad news for travel bargain hunters.

RUBEN: If you believe in the fundamentals of economics, as price goes up, demand will go down.


MESERVE: The FAA once talked about the number of airline travelers per year growing to about a billion by 2016. Because the economy has hit the airlines so hard, they've now pushed that off until 2021, that's a delay of five years, Kiran.

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

And by the way, it was just a couple of days ago that our own personal finance editor Gerri Willis was telling us about the deals that we could find on flights right now. She was correct, but those deals will be ending soon. Southwest is stopping sale fares April 6th. American ending European deals April 8th and you have until May 1st to try to find a deal with U.S. Airways. John?

ROBERTS: Right now, President Obama just minutes away from taking his first overseas trip to Europe. He's popular there but his economic policies are not. This morning we're traveling with the president and if you think the first lady is a hit here, wait until you see Europe's fascination with her. It's 42 minutes after the hour.



ROBERTS: Well, President Obama is heading to London in about 15 minutes for the G-20 economic summit but his traveling companion may receive even more attention than he will. Michelle Obama's star is rising in Europe and she has her own overseas agenda. Here's CNN's Erica Hill with all that.


ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the UK, where celebs and royals keep the presses running, Mrs. Obama is already seeing some ink of her own, making headlines for her "Vogue" and "Oprah" covers, the organic garden she help started at the White House and yes, those much documented and coveted arms. But this international love affair isn't just about what you see on the outside.

BECKY ANDERSON, ANCHOR, BUSINESS INTERNATIONAL: People like Michelle Obama because she doesn't just talk the talk. She walks the walk. She really gets involved in issues that count, and certainly in Europe and around the world, that is what has impressed people.

HILL: Issues like education, which she has pushed since day one. Most recently with a visit to a high school in one of Washington, D.C.'s poorest neighborhoods. MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: I've lived in a community where being smart wasn't necessarily the cool thing to be.

HILL: In London, Mrs. Obama will visit a school for underprivileged girls. She'll also venture out on her own to the Jewish quarter in Prague, visits that could have a lasting impression not just in Europe but also at home.

CARL SFERRAZZZA ANTHONY, FIRST LADY HISTORIAN: We so often look at what a First Lady does in our own country, but the truth of the matter is, what they do overseas really makes them literally figures of world power and influence.

HILL: Of course, it's important to remember this visit isn't about the First Lady's agenda, it's about the president's.

ANTHONY: If anything, the two of them will only end up bolstering each other, sort of like you know, when you have a Hollywood actors marrying each other, you know. It will really be a popular team, but I don't think that her popularity as great as it is, is going to eclipse his.

HILL: The comparison to the Kennedys can't be avoided. Jacqueline Kennedy's visit as First Lady in 1961 charmed the continent and Americans alike, giving her a boost in popularity back home. While Mrs. Obama may not need much of a boost stateside, any help for the U.S. overseas will be welcomed. And you can bet the world is watching.


ROBERTS: Erica Hill reporting for us this morning. The European paparazzi has gotten a head start on her trip. One British paper has already tracked down Mrs. Obama's prom date. Always important to track down the prom date when you're covering the First Lady, I think.

CHETRY: Exactly. Get all of your bases covered.

Well, interested in buying 432 pristine acres with waterfront views? Hmmm. Well, did we mention it houses one of the country's most notorious maximum security prisons? President Obama has been personally campaigning for his $3.6 trillion budget but did he close the deal especially with key members of his own party? We're going to be talking with Congressman Charlie Rangel when he joins us live.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning.

There's new research this morning that may help solve the mystery about whether depression is caused by genetics or your environment. Researchers say it may be as simple as taking a look at your brain. We're "Paging Dr. Gupta," CNN's chief medical correspondent and our resident neurosurgeon. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is in Atlanta. Welcome back, by the way, great to see you.


CHETRY: You have three happy and healthy baby girls at home now?

GUPTA: Yes and at least two of them are sleeping at any given time. So...

CHETRY: Right and the other one is up wailing for you, I'm sure.

GUPTA: Kiran, this is fascinating. You know, this idea that there is psychiatric diseases that were able to get some sort of biological marker on is fascinating. And the idea that we could maybe predict who is going to more likely develop depression later on in life also very fascinating.

This long term study came out of Columbia. The study went on for 25 years. They looked at people of different age groups age six to 54. They were considered high-risk because they had either a parent or a grandparent with depression which we know makes them higher to set up with depression as well.

What they found was as they examined the brains of these people before they had any symptoms, they found that the right side of the brain which was over here, you see that purple area, demonstrates a significant thinning of the brain as compared to the left side over here where there was hardly any thinning. Now, what's so important about this is we know that the right side of the brain is responsible for our ability to process emotions, for our ability to do things that are more considered artistic as opposed to more things language oriented. So could there be some sort of relationship between the thinning and your overall likelihood of developing depression?

Think about what we're saying here. This idea that you could predict who is going to develop depression later on in life is exactly what the study is saying. It's early and it's a small study but fascinating, Kiran, nonetheless.

CHETRY: It is fascinating. Also, because then what would, I mean, is your way to preemptively treat depression then would ask.

GUPTA: I think that's the big question here. First of all, can you - you know, how reliable is this in the long run? And could this be something that could be used more widely? Right now, no. You can't go to the doctor and say I want to know if I'm likely to develop depression by getting an MRI scan. But could we start to develop these more definitive markers and I think more importantly to your point, what would we do about it? Is there a way to increase the thickness of that area of your brain and will that relieve symptoms later on in life?

We don't know. But we do know people who live in households with either a parent or a grandparent is depressed are more likely to get depression themselves and this is maybe one of the reasons why.

CHETRY: Wow. That is certainly fascinating. Hopefully, we'll be able to figure out more about it in the years to come. Sanjay, great to see you. Thanks for being with us this morning. GUPTA: Thanks, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Right now, President Obama just minutes away, actually about seven minutes away from embarking on his first overseas trip to Europe. He is popular there but certainly his economic policies are being met with some skepticism. This morning, we're traveling with the president. We'll have more on that story.

And this morning, North Korea on the brink of testing a missile that could reach Alaska or Hawaii. U.S. warships are on the move. We'll take you to Beijing for the latest developments.



ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

It's been an all presidential press. President Obama again last night trying to sell his massive budget plan to a skeptical Congress while democrats try to whittle down the $3.6 trillion proposal.

Joining me now from Washington is New York congressman Charles Rangel. He is the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Congressman, it's good to talk to you. So you got a bicameral budget conference coming up tomorrow and House Minority leader John Boehner says this going into it, "President Obama's budget spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much about our kids and grandkids." There are also some democrats in the Senate who are worried about the level of spending. What about you?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL, CHMN, WAYS & MEANS COMMITTEE: I think we all are. You know, our nation is in intensive care. We're sick and we're going through hard times. It's going to cost us to get out of this and I'm confident, like in every other crisis, we got to bounce back stronger than ever. Of course, the minority don't have a plan. So they're just saying no and democrats are being cautious in terms of spending in the outer years.

ROBERTS: So according to Congressman Charlie Rangel, is the president going to get everything he wants in this budget?

Of course, not. No president does and no president should. That's why we have the Congress. But there's no question that we're working with the president and at the end of the day, he is going to feel confident that we worked with him toward a common goal.

ROBERTS: So how much do you want to trim off of the $3.6 billion? You know, Kent Conrad over in the Senate has got a figure of around $600 billion. How much do you want to trim and where would you find the money?

RANGEL: Well, they always ask where do you find the money and that is the most difficult thing to ask. But if a nation is in trouble, if we don't really spend the money and do what the economists tell us to do, if we don't invest in health and education and energy for it to be a stronger nation, we'll never be able to pay back the money we do know.

And so, to me, I think the emphasis has to be what do the economists tell us that we need to invest in business, in people, to cut taxes, and to get us to the point that, once again, we will regain the economic and political strength that America is known to have. And so I don't really think that planning for 10 years is as important as getting out of the mess we find ourselves in today.

ROBERTS: You very strategically ducked my question. I said what would you cut.

RANGEL: I don't think that we are in a position now to say what we are going to do 10 years from now. I think what we have to do now is to determine whether we're on the road to recovery. I could not tell you what we should invest in our banks or what we should invest in Wall Street after what they've taken us through, but I know one thing, that would be Congress say we got to get them on their feet and, at the same time, make certain that Americans suffer as less pain as possible.

I think that should be our goal. For those people who is going to talk about going against a president, you realize this budget is not a mandate, it's merely a guide.


RANGEL: And we don't know what's ahead. I hope a speedy economic recovery is ahead, but I'm supporting the president and I'm supporting the budget and we're going to pass it and we're going to move forward together. I only sincerely hope that at some point, the republicans stop saying no and join us with some type of a compromise so that it will be one nation under the president and the Congress.

ROBERTS: Congressman, in recent days, you've been very critical of AIG for the bonuses that were doled out. In fact, you've authored legislation that would claw back a lot of that using the tax code. There was an interesting headline in "The New York Times" over the weekend saying, "For Rangel, a complicated relationship with AIG," document that you reversed yourself on whether or not to tax the AIG bonuses and you originally opposed and you supported. And just Last year you tried to woo AIG to donate $10 million to a school there at city college in Harlem and people are questioning what exactly is the relationship between Charles Rangel and AIG?

RANGEL: People aren't questioning anything. "The New York Times" writes the story and then repeats the story, and the truth of the matter is that there is no substance to that story. And it wasn't AIG that I was after. It was all of the people that are taxpayers' money received bonuses that, by any way of defining what a bonus is for, they certainly didn't deserve it. And so, I hate to use the (INAUDIBLE) for tax purposes but we had to get the taxpayers' money back. And the only relationship I had with AIG, and they didn't give a nickel, which "The Times" didn't say, is that the chairman - the former chairman of AIG was in Korea in combat in 1950 with me, and that's been the only relationship. Not political and not legislative. But we went beyond AIG to say that anyone that got a bonus for the things that they caused, the pain they caused our country at taxpayers' expense, that we should get 90 percent of it back. Fortunately, half of them morally recognized that they violated every principle of economics, and they've given back the taxpayers' money. So, I think what "The Times" should say is, job well done.

ROBERTS: Congressman Charles Rangel, it's good to talk to you this morning. We'll be looking forward to your budget proposal to see exactly what it is that you'll cut. Good of you to come in this morning. Appreciate it.

RANGEL: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: All right.