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New Taliban Threats; Family of Soldier Charged With Killing Five Comrades Speaks Out; Robocall Reform; New Push for Cuban Trade

Aired May 13, 2009 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And that brings us now to the top of the hour. It's 8:00 Eastern on this Wednesday, May the 13th. Thanks very much for being with us on the Most News in the Morning. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kiran Chetry. Here's what's happening this morning. Stories we're going to be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes.

First, breaking news. The Taliban threatening Pakistani leaders and their families. Telling CNN, officials in the war torn Swat Valley have three days to resign before they arrest them. We're live in Islamabad.

The case of an Army sergeant accused of killing his comrades, well, the military has been looking into the quality of mental health care for troubled soldiers. Sergeant John Russell allegedly gun down five fellow servicemen at a combat stress clinic in Iraq. His father says that the Army is to blame for pushing his son over the edge.

And the road trip set to make a comeback? AAA says that more Americans are expected to travel by car this summer, despite the lingering recession and gas prices that are ticking upward. We'll take a look at why and what it could tell us about the economy.

First, though, we are watching breaking news. An intensifying battle in Pakistan's Swat Valley. The troubling situation for the U.S. becoming more violent. Police say that dozens of Taliban fighters attacked a NATO terminal outside of Pakistan's northwest city of Peshawar torching eight trucks. The Taliban leader is also threatening Pakistani officials and their families saying get out or be arrested.

Ivan Watson is live in Islamabad this morning with more on what's happening right now - Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, I spoke with the Taliban spokesman in the Swat Valley. He is a man named Muslim Khan. And incidentally, he says that he was a painter based in Boston for some four years before the 9/11 terror attacks.

Anyway, he told me that he has a warning to provincial and national parliament members from the districts of northwest Pakistan, where the Swat Valley is located. He said they have three days to resign. If they don't, then the Taliban will capture their relatives and it will destroy their properties. Blow up their houses. And he went on to say that Islamist politicians in this country, political parties that have seats in the parliament here in Islamabad, where I am standing now, that they must come out with a press conference to announce their support for the Taliban - Kiran.

CHETRY: And the other question you were talking about, that attack that happened at that NATO building there, that NATO headquarters. What was going on with that?

WATSON: Well, Pakistani police say almost 70 militants attacked this supply depot. And this shows how this conflict has really bled over the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was a supply depot that brings material to the NATO and American forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

That supply route is periodically attacked by Taliban militants, and this morning up to 70 of them attacking the supply depot and blowing up ten container trucks that are supposed to carry supplies to the troops over in Afghanistan. That has forced the U.S. military to try to find alternate routes through former soviet central Asia. Countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - Kiran.

CHETRY: So as we've seen this violence grow and spill over into the border, and sort of flare-up right now, what is the plan? Are you hearing anything from Pakistani officials about how they are going to put this down and quell this surge and violence? WATSON: Well, they appear to be trying to flush out the civilian population from northwest Pakistan, to pave the way for the military to go in and basically blow up everything they see.

I spoke with -- we spoke with a Pakistani soldier who's in the Swat Valley. He said that there is a strict curfew in place. Anybody who walks out into the streets in the Swat Valley automatically gets shot at, regardless whether that person is a militant or a civilian.

And then, they periodically lift the curfew to allow these droves of civilians, more than half a million, Kiran, in the last 11 days. That's a phenomenal number of people. A lot of terrified, desperate people that have fled from there.

Also, yesterday, we saw Pakistani troops brought in by helicopter to one area, where the Taliban maintains a number of militant training camps. That's also in the Swat Valley. And the Taliban commander told me the fighting has been fierce in those mountaintops ever since those Pakistani troops got helicoptered in - Kiran.

CHETRY: Ivan Watson for us in Islamabad. Keep us posted as this breaking news continues to develop today.

Thank you.

ROBERTS: The deadly shootings in a military counseling center in Iraq triggering an investigation into mental health treatment for soldiers. Nineteen-year-old Michael Edward Gates of Fredericksburg, Maryland was one of the five victims gun down by a fellow servicemen. His grandfather says he is struggling to understand how an American soldier could have been killed by one of his own.


JAMES HURLEY JR., GRANDFATHER OF VICTIM: My grandson went there to get help, too. He was having a rough time, you know? You know, 19 years old, you're killing people. You're an enemy. You're seeing your friends die. And he was stressed. And he went there. And then somebody else is more stressed than him, and killed him.


ROBERTS: Forty-four-year-old Army Sergeant John Russell faces five counts of murder. His father is pointing the finger at military officials saying Army counsel, quote, "Broke his son."

Ed Lavandera has that story.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, Sergeant John Russell grew up here in Sherman, Texas, and just before he deployed for Iraq last summer, he bought a house in this neighborhood. And this is where we spoke with his father and only son.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): It started with a fight inside this combat stress clinic in Camp Liberty, Baghdad, between Sergeant John Russell and other Army officers. Russell was being escorted back to his barracks when he snapped.

WILBURN RUSSELL, FATHER OF SERGEANT JOHN RUSSELL: He says they got (INAUDIBLE) facility. He beat the crap out of the guy and took a gun away from him.

LAVANDERA: Military officials say Sergeant Russell then drove back to the clinic and killed five U.S. soldiers. But Russell's father says it wasn't combat stress that made him kill, but fellow soldiers who pushed him over the edge.

John Russell's father and son spoke extensively with us about the Army sergeant's experience in Iraq.

W. RUSSELL: They overstressed him. They broke him. They ruined his life. They told him: You're an idiot. You don't belong in here. We're going to break you. We're going to get you out of here.

LAVANDERA: Russell was on his third tour in Iraq. His family says the 21-year Army veteran never showed signs of post-traumatic stress, and, even if he did, he wouldn't have talked about it.

W. RUSSELL: He wouldn't have asked for help if would have had to, you know?

LAVANDERA (on camera): He would have?

W. RUSSELL: No, he would not have.

LAVANDERA: He would not have.

W. RUSSELL: No. He...

LAVANDERA: You think that's my why they forced him to...

W. RUSSELL: He's think he's a John Wayne, you know, a man's man. You know, he's -- you know, he's laid-back. He's real quiet.

JOHN RUSSELL, SON OF SERGEANT JOHN RUSSELL: Something in his mind just went off and he just had no control over it, that's what I think.

LAVANDERA: Because you said earlier, he's -- he's -- he's not like a violent -- he's not a violent guy.

J. RUSSELL: No, not at all. Not at all.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Military officials in Baghdad say Sergeant Russell was ordered to undergo counseling last week because of unspecified words and actions.

MAJ. GEN. DAVID PERKINS, U.S. ARMY: We just know that his chain of command had concerns about him. He had been undergoing counseling within the command. Again, they had already taken the immediate measure of removing his weapon.


LAVANDERA: Sergeant Russell's son tells me he last received an e-mail from his father on April 25th, wishing him a happy birthday and saying that he was looking forward to the end of his deployment and that he would be home to visit in less than two months -- John and Kiran.

CHETRY: Ed Lavandera for us this morning. Thanks so much.

In your "Political Ticker" now on Wednesday morning.

New York State one step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. The state assembly passed this bill Tuesday. It's actually the second time the state assembly approved same-sex legislation. Back in 2007, though, it stalled in the then republican-controlled Senate. The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote, and if passed, it would go to the governor who was made clear that he will sign the bill.

How do you pay for a $1.2 trillion health care overhaul? Well, Senate leaders are considering new federal taxes on soda and sugary drinks. Lawmakers estimate adding a tax of three cents for 12-ounce serving to these types of sweetened drinks, they say it would generate $24 billion over the next four years. Diet beverages would be exempt.

Well, you've probably seen the commercials, that could change, though. The FDA says that Cheerios' claims that the cereal can lower cholesterol 10 percent in a month makes it a drug. So they sent a warning letter to General Mills accusing them of unauthorized health claims. The company now has 15 days to answer how they will correct the statements on the cereal box. General Mills says this dispute is over language, not science.

ROBERTS: Pope Benedict XVI visiting the birth place of Christ this hour. He's in the West Bank and making a strong statement about a Palestinian homeland.

And touching down and going up in flames, landing gear, catching fire on the runway. The amazing landing and the frantic escape caught on tape.

It's nine minutes after the hour.


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

It was a scary landing for 52 people on board a southwest flight at Houston's Hobby Airport last night. At first, it looks like the typical puff and smoke as the landing gear hits the ground, but then look, the tire catches fire several hundred feet down the runway. Passengers on board slid down emergency chutes to get out of aircraft. The Southwest spokesperson says everyone on board the airplane is a- OK.

A big stink in an office building in San Jose, California sent seven people to the hospital and sickened more than two dozen others. An employee was cleaning rotten food out of an unplugged office refrigerator. The combination of rotten food and cleaning solution produced noxious fumes, and forced firefighters to evacuate the AT&T building downtown. Get this, though, the person who was cleaning out the fridge wasn't affected. The person has allergies and couldn't smell the food.

CHETRY: You know what, that's why we have a big sign on ours that says every Thursday if it's not named and dated, the stuff goes in the garbage.

ROBERTS: There you go.

And Eminem's Michigan roots are showing. The rapper is teaming up Jimmy Kimmel to fly about 200 laid off autoworkers to Los Angeles for Friday's taping of his appearance on Kimmel's late-night TV show. Eminem says they want to remind that real people are being affected by what the giant automakers are going through.

CHETRY: There you go.


CHETRY: While we are playing "Lose Yourself" to that whole thing.

ROMANS: That's cool.

CHETRY: Christine Romans joins us now. And if you are deciding to take a road trip this year, buckle up and have fun. ROMANS: I know. What a better time for a road trip right? For Memorial Day weekend. AAA reporting that more people are going to take to the roads this year, driving. Because, I mean, what a great way to get away from the recession, I guess, you know?

CHETRY: I'm going to save this tape and when people are stuck in traffic.


ROMANS: I know. I know, drive safely and bring lots of munchies for the kids in the backseat and turn up the radio.


ROBERTS: At least it's cheaper this year than it was last year.

ROMANS: It is. It is. And people have been complaining to me a lot about higher gas prices. They're up about 11 percent over the past week or so. You look at $2.27 a gallon, according to AAA, for gas right now. And they're saying, wait a second here. I'm filling up the gas tank and it's getting more expensive. What's going on?

Well, Kiran and I were just talking about how it is still a lot less expensive than it was a year ago. No one is predicting $3 or $4 gas God forbid like we saw last year. And according to the government, actually, we might be really close to the peak for gas prices.

AAA is saying they expect more people than last year to take to the roads for Memorial Day. Millions of people taking to the roads, quite frankly, to get out of town and drive somewhere, to the beach, to the park, showing you that people can get over a recession -- well, maybe not get over it, but at least can try to forget it for a three- day weekend.

ROBERTS: Yes. They can at least deal with it for a while.

So what's "Romans' Numeral" this hour.

ROMANS: OK, 27 million, 27 million.

ROBERTS: The number of people who will be hitting the roads.

ROMANS: There you go.

CHETRY: Come on, that was too easy today.

ROBERTS: Come on.

ROMANS: That was too easy.

CHETRY: Come on.

(CROSSTALK) ROMANS: Twenty-seven million. It's more than 30 million people who are actually going to be -- going on a vacation or going somewhere. But the number of car travelers during the coming Memorial Day holiday, according to AAA is projected to be 27 million. And on this, only on our second or third day - third day of "Romans' Numerals" I have now really proven that I got one that was way too easy.


CHETRY: John guessed it yesterday. We both...

ROMANS: I know. So, you know, you can Twitter us. You can Twitter us if you've got a clever number that you think we should try to do to try to stump these guys, which is smart for me, I guess.

Twenty-seven million. Are you guys going to go some place? You're going to drive on Memorial Day?

CHETRY: No, absolutely not.

ROBERTS: I will be in Ireland.

CHETRY: Really?


ROMANS: Oh, that's a very fun place to drive. Gas prices costs more there, too.

All right, guys.

ROBERTS: I'm actually going to be bicycling, so...

CHETRY: You're going to bicycle all the way to Ireland?

ROBERTS: Once I get there. Doing what I can to reduce my carbon footprint.

ROMANS: Well, that's good. That's very good.

Now, I think that people have been tired 18 months into a recession. People are starting to think about the summer, Memorial Day. You know, look, I'm going to do something, you know? This is the time to do something, so there you go. Go to Ireland.

CHETRY: I'll be pushing the double jogger.


ROMANS: Yes, me, too. I'll be changing diapers, so...

CHETRY: Thanks, Christine.

Well, from shatter to confusion. The last frantic moments aboard the doomed flight to Buffalo. We're going to hear the words from the cockpit.

And have you been getting a lot of these robocalls lately, especially the ones for these car warranties? Well, apparently, you're not alone. And now, a couple of senators are trying to put a stop to it.

Fifteen minutes past the hour.


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

I will tell you one thing that probably doesn't leave you smiling, getting those robocalls, especially when you're sitting at home trying to eat dinner, or in our case, go to the bed.

Well, they're not just on the home phones anymore. These car warranty robocalls seem to be especially prevalent. They're on the cell phones as well.

Listen, have you gotten one of this?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are still eligible to reactivate warranty coverage. This is the final call before we close the file. Press one to speak with a representative now about your vehicle. Press two to be removed from the follow-up list.


CHETRY: New York Senator Charles Schumer got one of those calls. He's working to put an end to calls like this that pitch what turned out to be bogus car warranties.

Thanks for being with us this morning, Senator Schumer.


CHETRY: You know, I got confused, and I'm sure other people get confused. I thought they were -- they knew that, you know, it was my car. I thought they knew what they were talking about. And so it really is, not only an issue of annoyance, but also they're not peddling something that's legit. Is that correct?

SCHUMER: This is consumer fraud, A, 101. Yes, they call everybody. They call randomly. They call people who don't have cars.

But unfortunately, there are too many people who are gullible, particularly with everything going on with Chrysler and GM. And they ask you for your credit card and they take $200, $250 off. And leave you open to credit card fraud.

So, first job here, consumers should not respond to this. If you're worried about your car warranty, you call the company that issues the car.

CHETRY: Yes. I just basically hung up and deleted it, but it made me wonder and think twice. And we were talking about it today in the newsroom. A lot of people said, wait a minute, I was tricked for a while there -- wondering.

So right now, you and your colleague, Senator Mark Warner, wanted to do something about it. You want to ask the Federal Trade Commission to take action.

How big of a problem do you think this is besides being a nuisance, and what do you hope the FTC can do?

SCHUMER: Well, we know that just about everyone has gotten these calls and repeatedly.

By the way, another minor annoyance, when you press two, they still call you again. I pressed two the first time I got the call, and I've got them three or four more times.

There are four levels of problem. A, it's annoying. B, they appear to do-not-call list. You notice you don't get cell phone spam much except these folks.

Third, of course it costs money if you don't have the right plan, but worst of all many people do lose lots of money for no reason.

We've asked the FTC to do a full-fledged investigation into this. And it shouldn't be hard to track down who these scammers are, because after all you follow the money. They've got to get the credit card and cash it in.

The FTC has been very cooperative. They sent us a letter yesterday saying there's an investigation in progress. And we look forward to hearing from them soon about what they're going to do about it. They have the powers. This is a criminal violation of law. And they have the powers to go after these people. We just need them do it.

CHETRY: And one of the big challenging things is that usually when one site gets shut down, for example, with the Internet, or one company gets shut down, they just set up shop somewhere else under a different name, under a different, you know, credit card or whatever.

I mean, how effective do you think the FTC will be if you do get this passed and actually stopping these calls?

SCHUMER: You know, with people with viruses, it's nearly impossible to check out because you don't have to follow up to them. But with this, you need to follow up to them. You need to give them a credit card number. They've got to cash in the money on that credit card and the money has to be sent somewhere. So it's much easier to find out who they are and go after them.

And I believe the FTC is confident they can go after them. We don't know how many different groups there are, if it's one group from a bunch of different phone numbers. But I think they're going to get to the bottom of it soon and stop this scam which, at the very least, is annoying to millions and millions of people; and at worst, can cause you to lose thousands of dollars through identity theft giving them your credit card number.

People should, again, not respond to this. If your warranty is up, call GM, call Chrysler. If you're wondering if your warranty is up, call them. Don't rely on these calls.

CHETRY: All right. And lastly, is there any hope for anybody who has been scammed to get their money back in this situation?

SCHUMER: We will have to see. We'll have to see if they still have money in the bank account. I'm sure the FTC will try to freeze it as quickly as possible when they find them.

CHETRY: All right. Good luck.

SCHUMER: Thanks, Kiran.

CHETRY: I bet you there's a lot of people who don't have your cell phone number, but these robocallers do. How about that one?

SCHUMER: Isn't that amazing? I mean, I don't give my number out to many people and these guys called me four or five times. The last straw I was at a hearing on health care in the middle of some intense -- you see the number on the phone. You say, well, maybe that's one of my kids who is calling from a different number. And you pick it up and get this call and it does alarm you at first, it does.

But when you think about it, nobody is calling you to do this. It would be, you should check it out and call the right person.

CHETRY: Senator Charles Schumer, always great to talk to you. Thanks.

SCHUMER: Thanks, Kiran. Nice to talk to you.

ROBERTS: Now that some travel restrictions have been lifted, the U.S.-Cuban relations show signs of thawing. Is it time, though, to start doing business with Cuba again? See who's pushing for it for practical reasons -- the creation of U.S. jobs.

It's 23 minutes after the hour.


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

Well, it was bound to happen. Once U.S.-Cuban relations began to thaw ever so slightly, ideas for making money on this situation would be next. So trade with Cuba is the logical question because it could mean new jobs for Americans.

Our Jim Acosta is live in Tampa this morning, where that entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and waiting for the embargo to go away.

Jim, why is everybody talking about trade with Cuba if the White House isn't yet ready and Congress, for that matter, not yet ready to go there yet?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a good question, John. But, you know, just in case, a lot of business leaders are getting ready. We're seeing a diverse coalition. Everybody from liberal Democrats in Congress to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce calling for a change in course with Cuba, which explains why officials here at the Port of Tampa and other ports in the U.S. are looking at ways to cash in, wondering if their ship has come in with Cuba.


CARL LINDELL, TAMPA PORT AUTHORITY COMMISSIONER: There's good fishing around here. That's for sure.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Florida real estate developer, Carl Lindell, sees more than good fishing from the deck of his yacht as a commissioner for the Port of Tampa. Lindell said the catch of the day should be Cuba.

LINDELL: We want to send a message to Washington that it's time to rethink this stuff, and try to find ways to build some bridges between us and the Cuban economy.

ACOSTA: With U.S. and Cuban relations improving, ports across the Gulf Coast are drawing up business plans, hoping for an end to the 47-year U.S. trade embargo against the island.

ARTHUR SAVAGE, TAMPA SHIPPING TYCOON: If we increase the ships, that ties right to jobs.

ACOSTA: Tampa shipping tycoon Arthur Savage is already exporting U.S. authorized farming products to Cuba. His grandfather once ran a ferry service to Havana.

SAVAGE: I would like to be right there one day with a mojitos in my hand going to Cuba.

ACOSTA: He worries the state's battered economy could be missing the boat.

SAVAGE: They want to trade with us.

ACOSTA: Before the embargo, imported tobacco from Cuba turned Tampa into America's cigar capital. Today, the city has only a few cigar factories left.

ERIC NEWMAN, CIGAR MAKER: There's a big mystique about Cuban tobacco.

ACOSTA: Cigar maker Eric Newman still cherishes the last bag of Havana tobacco his father liberated from the island.

NEWMAN: And to this day, we still have it.

ACOSTA: He wants more you.

(on camera): So you want to get in on the game basically.

NEWMAN: We do. We do. Is it any better? Probably not. But the customer thinks it is. You, the media, will hype it up like nobody's business.

ACOSTA: And we were.

NEWMAN: We want to join the fun.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But Cuba's critics and Congress insists, the island must change first by freeing its political prisoners.

REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: It seems to me that we need deeds, not words. And they talk a good game. Release the prisoners. That's the clearest, most tangible expression that things are in the process of changing in Cuba.

ACOSTA: With the embargo still in place, all Carl Lindell can do is dream of reeling in the big one.

LINDELL: We can't afford this embargo anymore. It's doing no one any good.


ACOSTA: And there are trade groups in Washington that say that billions of dollars of trade are at stake with Cuba, which explains why Tampa already has some stiff competition. Officials with the port in Mobile, Alabama are already planning their own trade mission to Cuba coming up in July -- John.

ROBERTS: There's definitely something in the air, Jim. Not quite sure what it is at this point, but something's out there in the hither.

Jim Acosta...

ACOSTA: Something in the water, too.

ROBERTS: Yes, something in the water. Don't let it hit you, Jim. Jim Acosta for us in Tampa this morning. Thanks.



CHETRY: Well, we're at 29 minutes past the hour. Time to take a look at this morning's top stories.

U.S. and South Korean officials have found no concrete evidence that North Korea's producing weapons for plutonium. That's according to a report from the South Korean media. Pyongyang said last month that it had started reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods used to make that kind of plutonium.

The latest on who knew what and when about alleged torture during the Bush administration. Now a source close to Nancy Pelosi tells CNN the House speaker was told in February 2003 that waterboarding was used on CIA detainee, Abu Zubaydah. This appears to contradict Pelosi's account that she was never told that waterboarding actually happened. The source also said that Pelosi supported a letter that was sent to the administration at the time, raising concerns about it.

Well, a new report this morning shows a number of foreclosed homes shot up now 32 percent last month compared to April of '08. RealtyTrac says the highest rates are in Nevada, California and Florida. Last month, more than 342,000 households got at least one foreclosure notice. That's the second straight month with a rate above 300,000.

Well, this morning, there's a chilling account of Continental Flight 3407's final moments as hearings into the February crash near Buffalo, New York continue. We're now learning what the crew was talking about in the minutes before they slammed into the ground, killing all on board and one on the ground -- topics like ice buildup, also their lack of experience and training.

CNN's Allan Chernoff joins us live now with more on those harrowing minutes before that crash. It really sent a chill on your spine if you fly.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's enough to make you not want to fly. And in fact, we did learn yesterday that basically during those final seconds of flight 3407, it appears the pilot and co-pilot didn't know how to prevent the plane from crashing.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): "Jesus Christ, we're down," exclaimed pilot Marvin Renslow.

Then, First Officer Rebecca Shaw screamed as Flight 3407 crashed into a private home near Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.

Those were the final 20 seconds of the cockpit voice recorder. Only minutes before, Shaw told Renslow of her fear of crashing in icy conditions. That was a violation of cockpit rules requiring all discussion to focus on landing the aircraft.

Why couldn't Captain Renslow save the plane? The National Transportation Safety Board is examining Renslow's training at Colgan Air, the regional carrier that operated Flight 3407. Renslow never received hands-on experience with the safety system in the Bombardier Q400 aircraft, called a stick pusher, and activate it to prevent the plane from stalling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know of any stick training or stick pusher training that was done in the actual Q400 prior to the accident?

PAUL PRYOR, COLGAN AIR: In the simulator, no. In the grounds book portion, it is covered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's information, it's not practical experience with handling anything, right?

PRYOR: Correct.

CHERNOFF: The airline doesn't have to provide that training, according to the FAA.

TINA SINISCALCO, SISTER OF CRASH VICTIM: This should not have happened. No. These fifty people should be enjoying their life right now.

CHERNOFF: Captain Renslow was fully FAA certified, but he had failed five pilot tests, three of which occurred before he joined the airline. Colgan Air says Renslow revealed only one of those failures to the airline. Those facts led the safety board to ask an official from the aircraft's manufacturer if a more experienced pilot could have saved the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe this was a recoverable stall?

WALLY WARNER, BOMBARDIER: My opinion is yes.


CHERNOFF: Pilot fatigue is another factor the NTSB is examining. Captain Renslow did have nearly 22 hours off before he reported to work the day of the crash but he was seen sleeping in the crew room at Newark Airport when that flight began. And the first officer, she commuted through the night to get to work to Newark.

CHETRY: The other interesting thing though is that some of the aviation experts that we've talked to said that it is really not that normal, and even though it is against FAA guidelines to have that type of casual conversation in the cockpit and also it's not that normal to fail those - I guess those little tests that they give.

CHERNOFF: Well that conversation is forbidden. Once you're under 10,000 feet the conversation is supposed to be purely on landing that aircraft. Just the technicals, what has to be done. All business. They violated that rule.

CHETRY: All right. Allan Chernoff, thanks.

ROBERTS: From running for vice president to becoming a grandmother, Sarah Palin expected to tell her side of the story in a new memoir coming up. Details of her book deal just ahead.

And for decades, it's been the unsolvable problem for every president. The nation's broken health care system. President Obama is offering his own fix but who's going to pay for it?

It's 34 minutes after the hour.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE) CALLER: I'm dying to have my daughter who is 43 to have health insurance. She's never had it. She can't afford it. She's a waitress.

CALLER: You don't want national healthcare in this country. I'm a disabled veteran. I quit going to the V.A. hospital because of the way that I was treated there. You're going to get the same problems on national health care because they're going to tell you, you go here, you go there and that's what you've got do.



CHETRY: Just into CNN, we have the latest numbers on retail sales. Christine Romans joins us now with more. An unexpected drop in April.

ROMANS: Yes, that's right. So March and April sales, retail sales declined, that means people are spending less money on you know, food, clothing, gasoline, all kinds of different things.

In January and February, remember, Kiran, we'd seen it pick up a little bit and we thought, after six months of people really pulling in, maybe the consumer was feeling a little better, a find a little bit of money, and spend some money, an important, important component of any kind of recovery or at least slowing the decline.

Now we know two months in a row, Kiran, that retail sales have declined. This is something that economists are really watching closely. We're looking for any sign that things are getting better in the economy. This is the sign that the consumers are still very fragile and that they're still really holding on to their wallet because of the recession.

CHETRY: All right. Christine, thanks.



ROBERTS: President Obama is charging forward with his plan to cover uninsured Americans. And after meetings with healthcare officials and business leaders, he's striking an optimistic tone.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The country is geared up. Businesses are geared up. Families are geared up to go ahead and start solving some of our extraordinary health care system problems.


ROBERTS: But there are huge costs attached to the proposal.

So where's money coming from? Joining me now is Richard Kirsch. He is the national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now.

So health care reform, covering the uninsured expecting to cost anywhere between $1.2 and $1.5 trillion. The president's only got about half of the money to do it. How do we have universal health coverage in this country without bankrupting the nation?

RICHARD KIRSCH, NATIONAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICA NOW: Well, the first thing to realize is not just about covering the uninsured, it's making sure that everybody, including people with insurance have good insurance because a lot of time now your insurance fails you. Half the personal bankruptcies in this country is because of medical costs. Most of these people have insurance but the insurance stops paying.

ROBERTS: OK. So that's the importance. But how do we pay for it?

KIRSCH: Well, first of all we pay for it by saving from the system. For one thing the president's talked about stopping overpayments to the private insurers and Medicare. That will be about a couple of hundred million dollars. There's other kinds of savings. We have a public health insurance plan. What Veteran Administration does is it uses its bargaining power to get lower purchasing prices for drugs.

So there are ways that we'll have savings in the system. And they will have to come up with new revenues and those new revenues will be, you think - it seems like a lot of money over 10 years but $2.3 trillion system a year, it's not that much money.

ROBERTS: You are talking, higher taxes, higher deductibles, higher co-pays?

KIRSCH: Well, no, not higher deductibles and co-pays. We're going to make health care more affordable for people. That's the key thing here, John. We have to actually make health coverage work. Good health coverage that we can afford and so the revenues will be raised - you know the president is talking about raising taxes for people who make more than $250,000.

We've looked at closing loopholes in Wall Street or profits that foreign corporations ship overseas but the most important thing here is if we don't do this, it's going to cost us even more. Because the high health care inflation that we have to rein in is bankrupting families and businesses -

ROBERTS: Right. On that front, the president had the healthcare industry in the other day, had business leaders in yesterday trying to get everybody on the same page with lowering costs. Do you trust that the health care providers are going to play ball here? Or are they, as economists Paul Krugman suggests, the Trojan horse that is looking to get inside so they can either help write the legislation or maybe leverage the opposition to it?

KIRSCH: Right. Well, President Reagan said trust but verify. We get to verify and verify means real accountability. These are good intentions, they say, they're bringing. We'll see if their intentions are real when it comes to writing the legislation.


KIRSCH: Because legislation is going to have real ways to control costs and that means that the insurance industry, or the drug companies, or the hospitals and doctors are going to make a little less money than might have otherwise and so that's what cost control means and are they willing to go along with this? We'll see if it's good intentions or really reality.

ROBERTS: Most republicans so far have stayed quiet on this. The one real opponent to all of this is a fellow name Rick Scott from Columbia/HCA. There was a massive fraud investigation while he was the CEO. $1.7 billion in fines were paid to the federal government for overcharging Medicare and Medicaid. The ad campaign is being run by the same people that did the Swift Vote Veterans for Truth against John Kerry in 2004. But he makes the point that government-sponsored health care could take us down the road that some other countries have seen where there had been bad outcomes.

Let's just run a little bit of his commercial.


RICK SCOTT: Before Congress rushes to overhaul health care, listen to those who already have a government-run health care.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Britain, Katie Braquel (ph) denied the Pap test that could have saved her from cervical cancer.

Kate Spall (ph), her mother suffered on a wait list as her renal cancer became terminal.


ROBERTS: Now the big difference because Britain's national health service, the doctors actually work for the government. Here we've got private health care. But is there something to be said for this idea that once the government gets involved that there may be, you know, limiting access to services, capping fees, things like that and it won't be as good a system that we have now.

KIRSCH: Well, first of all, John, how many stories have you ran over the years that private health insurance companies with those same kind of stories, denying care saying we can't pay for this. It's experimental. This happens across the United States. ROBERTS: Every time I go to the doctor...

KIRSCH: Right. Every time that you go to the doctor, Americans get health care denied in this country all the time. And we need to fix the American system. That's what we're talking about here and no one is talking about a government health care system.

What they're talking, but first of all, if you like your health insurance, you can keep it. That's what the president has said, that's what the congressional leadership had said. You can keep it. But we're also going to set some rules so the private health insurance companies can't deny you because of pre-existing conditions, can't raise your rates when you're sick when you're old, or a woman of childbearing age.

We lost a lot of our competitors to private health insurance companies. You have a choice of public health insurance plan. These are for profit companies. They make money, they lose money when they pay for care. We want a public health insurer whose bottom line is good health.

ROBERTS: Well, we're opening up a big dialogue on all of this and it's going to be fascinating to watch over the coming months. Richard, it's great to see you this morning. Thanks for being with us.

KIRSCH: Great being here.


CHETRY: All right. Well, Sarah Palin's life may seem like an open book already but now the Alaska governor has signed a deal to publish a memoir. The pages are expected to be filled with details about politics and her personal life. Just in time for her re- election campaign.

It's 43 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Well, Governor Sarah Palin's book deal is now a done deal. Harper Collins will publish her memoirs in the spring of next year. Whether you read the tabloids or "The Times", there may be something in it for you, read both.

Alina Cho joins us now with more. And you know, the question that we asked is, much of her life is like an open book, what else is there to tell that maybe we haven't heard about.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm sure there a lot of juicy details, Kiran.

Good morning. Good morning, everybody.

You know, we don't know yet how many millions of dollars she will get for it, but you had to know it was coming and if Sarah Palin decides to run for president in 2012, she will have that all-important memoir on her resume.

Now the book, which doesn't have a title yet, is set to be published sometime in the spring of 2010. Now, Palin will work with a professional writer, but she says she does intend to do most of the writing herself.

In fact, she told the "Associated Press, "being a voracious reader, I read a lot today and have read a lot growing up. And having that journalism degree, all of that will be a great assistance for me in writing this."

Now publisher Harper Collins says the book will detail Palin's historic climb from small town mayor to Alaska's first female governor and her meteoric rise to VP candidates, seemingly out of nowhere and then there will be the personal story. Dealing with her teenage daughter Bristol's unplanned pregnancy, having a son serving in Iraq and another son who has Down syndrome.

Palin says the memoir will give her a chance to set the record straight, saying, "there's been so much written about and spoken about in the mainstream media and in the anonymous blogosphere world that this will be a wonderful, refreshing chance for me a get to tell my story that a lot of people have asked about."

So the big question just how much money will Palin get for writing the book? Well, so far, the governor and Harper Collins are not talking. There were earlier reports suggesting that Palin was going after an $11 million in advance. A figure she later called "laughable."

But just to compare, Hillary Clinton got $8 million for her memoirs. Bill Clinton got $12 million. So Kiran, it'll be interesting to see just how much money she will get. Will it be more? Will it be less? Will it be comparable?

CHETRY: Those are huge advances, though, that the Clintons got.

CHO: They were. But Palin is, like her or not, she is a fascinating figure. People are fascinated by her life.

CHETRY: She certainly is. Alina Cho, thank you.

CHO: You bet.


ROBERTS: Most people hope that they never have to live through a tornado but a select few known as storm chasers actually tried to find the deadly twisters and get as close as they can. Our Rob Marciano is on the ground with them today and we're going to take you there live.

And Hulk Hogan who always told kids to train, say their prayers and eat their vitamins but now a new study says taking vitamin supplements may actually reduce the benefits of working out. Uh-oh, it sounds like a job for our Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's here to explain.

Forty-eight and a half minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Well, it goes against just about everything that we've ever learned about living a healthy lifestyle. But that is the way the world isn't, one week coffee's good the next week it's terrible for you. There's a new study that says some vitamin supplements may be short circuiting your body when you workout.

We're paging our Dr. Gupta. He's live from Washington this morning. All right. What the heck?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, look, no one's saying vitamins in general are necessarily bad. What's sort of interesting here when you workout you release these things called free radicals and the idea is you take these vitamins, these antioxidants they get rid of the free radicals. It made a lot of sense. The problem is some of the health benefits from working out are sort of predicated in the idea that your body goes through a little bit of stress, what's called oxidated stress.

And if you take vitamins, especially high doses of vitamins such as Vitamin C and E, you may be sort of preventing that beneficial oxidative stress and as a result not getting all the health rewards of simply working out. Again, when you workout you are mobilizing glucose, you're raising your metabolism, all that could be changing a little bit as a result of high-dose supplements in these vitamins, John

ROBERTS: So you're saying that the free radicals are actually doing good things?


ROBERTS: Because we're told they're bad, that they're burning up our body, they're giving us wrinkles. They're making our skin bad.

GUPTA: Yes. It's kind of people say it's like rusting your body from the inside and too much of it is bad just like too much of most things are bad but a little bit of oxidative stress causes your body to sort of rev up its metabolism. That's the goal. You want your metabolism to be higher so you're burning calories at rest. Those are the numbers there people always ask.

Vitamin C, 75 milligrams, most of that you can get in your food. Unsafe over 2,000 milligrams. You can see the numbers for Vitamin E as well.

ROBERTS: Hey listen, there's something else out there. An interesting controversy, which business will say this is the reason why we love government so much. Cheerios has been making this claim for a long time. We're talking about the breakfast cereal here, that it can lower cholesterol.

Well, along comes the FDA, sends them a letter to say, hey, the way that you're talking about lowering cholesterol, you're talking about Cheerios like it's a drug and you haven't filed a new drug application with the FDA.

GUPTA: Pretty amazing. And you're right, there is an organization that basically looks at these type of claims and ask two questions.

One, are they supportable? I mean, is there evidence that are suggestive?

And two, are they sort of over the top? Are you sort of marketing as a drug as opposed to a food product?

And in case, you know, this is a little bit of a forerunner, I think how they are going to start treating some of these claims that we see, not only with Cheerios but with lots of other products out there. Cheerios says, look, what we're saying is true. You can lower your cholesterol in over six weeks by four percent if you eat enough of this - of the Cheerios.

But you know, the counter argument is, you're making claims like a drug. So I think that this is going to sort of go back and forth for a while.

ROBERTS: But if it's true, why can't they say it?

GUPTA: Well, if you're marketing something as a drug, it sort of puts it into a different sort of different silo of the sort of - in a scrutiny that it has to undergo before making those claims and I think that's part of the issue here. You can make lots of claims with the food product but once you are starting to make claims as a drug product, there's a different set of standards that it has to meet before you can make those claims, certain proof that you have to provide.

ROBERTS: It would be interesting to see how this one comes out because General Mills doesn't look like it's going to back down. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, good to see you this morning, doc.

GUPTA: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: Thanks. Kiran.

CHETRY: Well a small army of scientists and meteorologist are on the ground across tornado alley this morning. All part of a high-tech project to learn more about the path and the makeup of deadly tornados. Learn what it takes to be a storm chaser. Rob's been doing it for the past few days and he's going to continue on.

It's 55 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Fifty-seven minutes past the hour right now. And our Rob Marciano is living every meteorologist's dream this morning. He's taking part in a high-tech project trying to get inside of tornadoes, to understand them better than ever before and today we get a behind-the-scenes' look of what it is really like to be a storm chaser.


ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Shortly after 10:00 local time. Just had the weather briefing and the decision has been made to travel, a couple to - three hours, actually.

So, activities ramped up here and everybody is on the move. We've got one more live broadcast in about 20 minutes. So we'll be behind the eight ball, but we hope to catch up. And if conditions ripen, see our first storm.

Well, it's a whole other ball game over here. Couple hours west of Texas now. Shed a couple of layers. Sunny, severe, clear. Temperatures into the mid-80s. We've pretty much moved the staging area into this truck stop parking lot. Kind of see those clouds out there in the distance. I assume that's what they're scanning.

There's DOW7. You see the radars whipping around there, probably scanning those clouds off there in a distance. Let's go see what they're looking at.

ERIK RASMUSSEN, VORTEX2 TEAM LEADER: There's some convection or showers trying to form out there where it's a lot drier. If that happens, there could be some cold air and spreads out on the ground and initiate some more storms. If those storms can move off to the area behind me, where it's more humid, potentially it may become a super cell.

MARCIANO: What kind of odds are you giving for this to continued to grow, (INAUDIBLE) and develop?

RASMUSSEN: I think probably better than even we'll be chasing it later today.

MARCIANO: I'll take those odds.

Those puffy white cumulus clouds earlier have grown somewhat. Now blocking out the sun. We've kind of moved our position, moved the entire armada actually to this other town just to the east. And now we're waiting for this thing just to grow a little bigger and we'll probably get those dopplers working again, scanning the storm.

Visually, this is a pretty cool storm. We're following (INAUDIBLE) into this area that has some rain, actually verga (ph) and some downdrafts just coming down and just kicking up this dust. That may be as close as we get to a tornado. This dust from the downdraft.

Well, no tornadoes. But, got a couple of cool storms and beautifully back lit by a setting sun. So maybe we'll have better luck tomorrow.

We didn't find any tornadoes, but the researchers here are quick to point out that as just as important to analyze storms that don't produce tornadoes because we're trying to predict them much better.

Either way, chasing across the Texas panhandle, the way the terrain is set up and the way the storms were backlit, it certainly was a beautiful experience.

Today, may be a little bit more hair-rising, a moderate risk especially to the north, I assume we'll be heading to later on today. Yesterday, as one of the lead team leaders told me, was pretty much a dry run. And a practice run and they are definitely ready to go now.

John, Kiran, back to you.


ROBERTS: Well, they're supposed to get some bad weather today. So who knows maybe Rob will see a flying cow at some point.

CHETRY: Hopefully not. Knock on wood.

ROBERTS: You better go to the theater and watch a re-run of "Twister."

CHETRY: Thanks so much for being with us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We will see you back here tomorrow.

ROBERTS: Right now here is CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins.