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Bill Clinton in North Korea; Sen. DeMint: Clunkers Program Example of D.C. Stupidity; White House Considers Moving Gitmo Prisoners to Kansas, Michigan; Turbulence Injures Passengers, Grounds Flight; Study Links Children's Inactivity, Higher Blood Pressure; Airline Flies Pets Exclusively
Aired August 4, 2009 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning once again, it is Tuesday, August 4th, we're coming up on the top of the hour here in New York. I'm Kiran Chetry.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm John Roberts. Thanks for being with us.
Here's what's on this morning's agenda. The stories that we'll be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes or so.
Former President Bill Clinton is in North Korea this morning. He is on a high stakes mission to free two American journalists facing 12 years of hard labor. We're covering all the angles of the story with the global resources of CNN for you today.
CHETRY: Officials in Washington in an uproar this morning, the White House is considering giving Gitmo detainees to maximum security prisons at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and (inaudible) Michigan. One congressman though is saying it would put a bulls eye on this community. Our Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has new details on this story for us this morning.
ROBERTS: And the clock is ticking on the cash for clunkers rebate program. The White House says money for it will not last through this weekend unless the Senate approves an additional $2 billion. Will that happen? We'll ask one republican who is standing in the way of swift passage of a bill. Senator Jim DeMint calling cash for clunkers, "an example of the stupidity coming out of Washington."
We begin this morning with breaking news. A surprise visit to North Korea by former President Bill Clinton. He arrived in Pyongyang just before midnight. His mission, to secure the release of American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. You may remember back in June, the women were charged with illegally entering North Korea and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.
But the big question this morning, will the trip be a success? Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is live in Washington for us this morning.
Jill, I was on a trip with President Clinton where he met with Syria's President Hafez al-Assad and was stiffed by him, but I take it that he probably wouldn't be showing up in Pyongyang and yes he's pretty reasonably certain that he'll be able to get them out.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you're probably right. I mean, it feels certainly natural that he wouldn't embark on this high-profile mission if he didn't feel there would be some success. But that said, you know, North Korea can be a very unpredictable place.
Now, the greeting at the airport was very friendly, little girl with flowers, and interestingly, the nuclear -- the chief nuclear negotiator for North Korea meeting former President Clinton. But you have a lot of things going on at one time: you have the individual fates of those two journalists, then you have the nuclear standoff, which is really acrimonious and very strong between the U.S. and North Korea and you could add the rest of the world, and then you also have the personal drama of this negotiator/envoy Bill Clinton going to North Korea at the same time that his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the person who has been leading a lot of the diplomacy on North Korea.
ROBERTS: So, you have the White House saying this morning, Jill, that this is a private trip by the former president. But is it likely someone of his stature would ever go to North Korea without the -- I don't want to know say -- the blessing of the White House, but without the implicit knowledge and permission of the White House to do it?
DOUGHERTY: No, absolutely. It is planned in conjunction with the White House and the State Department because this is very, very sensitive. And they've been talking, actually, for quite a while about sending some high-profile negotiator or envoy -- and remember we were talking potentially Al Gore before that or Bill Richardson, somebody like that.
But I think what they're saying here is, this is not a formal negotiator coming from the United States. This is a personal mission to get those two journalists out. That said, ultimately it might have an effect on the overall relationship.
ROBERTS: All right. Well, we'll keep watching this one very closely. Jill Dougherty for us this morning in Washington -- Jill, thanks so much.
CHETRY: In the meantime, Elaine Quijano was working her sources at the White House this morning. It was interesting. There was a very tersely-worded statement that came from the press secretary, not giving many details.
What is the White House saying now about this trip?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, you're right, absolutely. Two sentences is all that we got from the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, but telling in some ways.
Take a look. This is what he released earlier this morning. "While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans on the ground, we will have no comment. We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission.
Now, what's significant there is Robert Gibbs is making clear by using the phrase "solely private mission," and at the end of that statement, saying that it's "former President Clinton's mission," trying to maintain some separation. Obviously, as Jill was just saying, this is such a highly sensitive issue. Behind the scenes, a lot of negotiations leading to this point.
But is the White House talking about that -- talking about those details right now? They are obviously not. Perhaps a sign of just how critical a juncture the U.S. is at right now when it comes to secure the release of these two journalists. But definitely, from this statement, the White House is trying to maintain a little bit of distance as this mission continues - Kiran.
CHETRY: All right, Elaine Quijano. We apologize for the audio. You were a little bit low, but I think we did hear most of what you were saying. Elaine Quijano for us at the White House -- thanks.
ROBERTS: Well, who are Euna Lee and Laura Ling? Here's more for you and an "A.M. Extra." Both work for Current TV, a Web-based television channel started by Al Gore. Euna Lee is 36. She is a Korean-American videographer and joined Current back in 2005. She's married to an L.A-based actor and has a 4-year-old daughter named Hannah.
Laura ling is 32. She's a Chinese-American reporter who gained attention for her reports on the drug wars in Mexico. She's married to a financial analyst in Clayton. Back in June, Ling's celebrity sister, Lisa Ling, spoke exclusively to Anderson Cooper about her sister's conviction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA LING, LAURA LING'S SISTER: It's very challenging. We haven't heard much out of North Korea. So, in a way, we appreciated that they released these charges. We will say, again, as we've said before that we said before, that when they left U.S. soil, they never intended to cross in to North Korea. According to the charges, they confessed. And so, we know they're sorry. We're very sorry. And we hope that the North Korean government now will show compassion and just let them come home.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Lisa, I mean, does it concern you that the North Korean government is saying that they were there for a smear campaign, not acknowledging that they were independent journalists?
LING: All we can say is that they are journalists and they were doing their job. My sister has been a journalist for years. And that's really all we can say.
You know, we weren't in the courtroom. We don't know any sort of specifics other than what was released. We just hope, you know, given the fact that we know the girls have apologized profusely, that they will let the girls come home to us. It's been -- it's been three months. And that's been too long for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHETRY: And meanwhile, Iran is also confirming it's holding three Americans and that they were arrested for crossing illegally into the country from Iraq. That group says that they got lost hiking; but Iran's state run-run media doubting those claims. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working with Swiss diplomats and also leaning on Tehran to release them. We're going to get a full report on that situation by Dan Simon just ahead.
So, will the U.S. really go about trying to negotiate the release of these three Americans? How would it work? At 8:30 Eastern, we're going to be speaking to Haleh Esfandiari. She's the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. She also was held hostage. She was held in Iran in a jail, actually, for three months.
So, we're going to...
ROBERTS: She was at that notorious Evin Prison, terrible place to be.
CHETRY: That's right. We actually spoke to her husband live here on AMERICAN MORNING as they were waiting those several days not knowing what happened to her. So, she can speak from a first-hand perspective of what that was like, what goes through your mind during that and whether or not these three Americans can expect to be released any time soon.
It's seven minutes after the hour.
ROBERTS: Right. And new this morning: Seven countries in 11 days for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is in Africa and her biggest international trip yet. Her first stop: Kenya. Mrs. Clinton is expected to push policy objectives that President Obama laid out last month. Also, on the agenda: the pirate problem in Somalia.
CHETRY: The full Senate starts to debate on Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, today. It's all but certain she'll be confirmed before the chamber's August recess kicks off on Friday. The White House was hoping that more Republicans would vote for her because of her record as a judge. But it looks like only a handful of GOP senators are actually siding with Democrats to support her.
It is President Obama's birthday. He's 48 today. But the president did some early celebrating over the weekend at Camp David. Here's what White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he did, and some chuckles actually did quite well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can get you -- try to get some more information on that. I know the president spent a little time with some friends over the weekend at Camp David playing basketball and having dinner and bowling and having some fun with...
QUESTION: Bowling? What did he bowl?
GIBBS: I watched this -- 144. No, no, no, I...
QUESTION: Who was keeping score?
GIBBS: The machine was keeping score.
QUESTION: How many frames?
QUESITON: Is that a hypothetical?
GIBBS: No, no. Are you a good bowler?
QUESTION: Ten frames, right?
GIBBS: What do you bowl? You might be -- I'm just saying that it's...
QUESTION: Are we throwing down?
GIBBS: You seem to doubt the president -- again, I watched the last four throws, three strikes and a nine. I'm just saying. I told the president, look, if you'd done this in Pennsylvania, my life would have been a little easier last spring. So...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: He was referring there to the legendary low score of 37 that the president bowled in Pennsylvania during the primaries. A lot of gutter balls there that he was throwing, got a lot of grief, too. Apparently, he has improved quite a bit. He got a bowling alley at the White House.
CHETRY: Right. There you go. They were going to tear it out. I guess they changed their minds. Maybe he has a new love of the game.
ROBERTS: The ceiling is so low, you couldn't do much else with it. They couldn't put a basketball court in there for sure.
ROBERTS: I guess you could always dig down a little deeper, you know? You are the president after all.
Cash for Clunkers, you know, it's -- it passed the House last week. They put another $2 billion into it. It's before the Senate now. But not everybody's on board this idea of this sort of stimulus to the economy.
Senator Jim DeMint joins us -- coming up in the next couple of minutes -- to tell us why he opposes the program.
It's 10 minutes now after the hour.
ROBERTS: Good morning, Washington. Fair weather right now and 76 degrees -- it's going to be a beautiful day there. But hot, mostly sunny, with a high of 92.
Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.
Cash for Clunkers has driven car sales higher, but the popular rebate program is just about out of gas and needs some urgent refueling from the Senate to the tune of $2 billion if it wants to keep going. There are some roadblocks, though, mainly from Republicans, like South Carolina's Jim DeMint, who has been a vocal critic of the president.
Senator Jim DeMint joins us this morning from Capitol Hill.
Senator DeMint, it's good to see you this morning.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Good morning, John.
ROBERTS: You called this program, quote, "an example of the stupidity coming out of Washington now." However, during the month of July, Ford saw its best sales in two years, sales up 2. 3 percent, car dealers are moving inventory now, people are trading in inefficient gas guzzlers for more fuel efficient vehicles. Some people might say -- where's the stupidity in that program?
DEMINT: Well, they're trying to micromanage the economy here. They told us, "OK, we need $1 billion, we'd have this program through November," within one week, it was broke. Now, they're back for $2 billion more.
We have no idea what the program has done. And what this is as an example of, if you do create some incentives, people will buy things, but instead of just targeting one industry, we had talked about several months ago, instead of the stimulus government spending plan, just give across-the-board tax cuts to businesses and to workers so they can go out and decide what to buy.
It's not fair to borrow this money and charge it to people who aren't buying cars so that a few can buy cars. We can't manage the economy from Washington. And the dealers have told me this is one of the worst managed programs that they've ever seen.
ROBERTS: Now, your colleague from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, was on the "Today" show this morning. He said that he would probably support the program. But you want them the Senate to wait at least until September before moving forward on this. Why do you want them to wait?
DEMINT: Well, we didn't even read the bill when it came through the first time. They attached it to an emergency war-spending bill. And now, we don't even know what happened and how the $1 billion got spent, and they want $2 billion more. This is borrowed money we're going to charge to our children and we need to just slow down this Congress and this president and stop spending and borrowing money.
We can't manage the whole economy. Most of these cars would have been off the road anyway. The dealers tell me the sales were down for a couple of months waiting for this program. They'll go down once it's over. We're not selling any cars that wouldn't have been sold anyway.
ROBERTS: Well, we're at point, though, Senator, where the economy is just starting to show maybe the earliest signs of recovery. And if you can, you know, put a little bit of fire under it by, you know, getting car sales up again through a program like this, is that a bad thing for the economy?
DEMINT: Well, it's not a bad thing to encourage the economy to work, but for the federal government to be trying to pick winners and losers, what about appliance dealers and TV manufacturers and heat pumps? All of these relate to efficiency. There are a lot of products and services in our economy, and we, at the federal level, should not be borrowing money to help one industry.
Again, I believe these cars would've sold anyway. The month- to-month sales for cars have gone up on most through this year already. And all we're doing is just creating a bump in car sales in a few months.
But again, this is borrowed money. This is not the role of the federal government. And frankly, I think we're making a mess of the economy rather than help to fix it.
ROBERTS: Let me turn to the issue of health care if I could because that'll be a big discussion over the course of the August recess. Of course, it's still a matter for a lot of discussion there in the Senate. You have now famously said, quote, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his waterloo, it will break him."
Many Republicans have been accused by Democrats of being obstructionists on this. Do your statements just add fuel to those charges? I mean, is -- do you create the perception that all you want to do is scuttle this idea?
ROBERTS: Senator, we seem to have somehow lost your audio, and I'm not quite sure why. Our profound apologies for that. We don't quite know what happened, we usually have fairly easy connections there to the Russell Building. So, again, our apologies to Senator DeMint.
We would like to know what you know, though, about the "cash for clunkers" program. Do you support more funding? Have you used the program? Will you use it? Share your thoughts at CNN.com/amFIX - Kiran.
CHETRY: Well, two very different sides to this story. Some say it's not fair for us to try to get Guantanamo Bay detainees moved to other countries without taking some here in the U.S., but where? And is it doable? And what are some of the towns that could be housing these Guantanamo Bay inmates say about it?
Sixteen minutes past the hour.
ROBERTS: Nineteen minutes after the hour.
We don't quite know what happened. But we have managed to fix the problem. Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina is back with us from the Russell Rotunda.
I want to give you, Senator, a chance to respond to that. Your "waterloo" statement that if you can stop President Obama on health care, it could be his undoing, and this idea that -- does that just give the perception that all you're interested in is scuttling this bill as opposed to trying to find health care reform.
DEMINT: Republicans are trying to stop a government takeover of health care. We've been working on reform for a long time. I've introduced a lot of ideas as a former small businessman myself. If we just do a couple of things, John, if we have tax fairness for people who don't get their health insurance at work, we could give every family in America $5,000 a year to buy their health insurance. And if we only allowed interstate competition between insurance companies, the cost of insurance would go down and the quality of the insurance products would go up.
But the Democrats are fighting any real health care reform. They're insistent on a single-payer government takeover. The president has said it. Charlie Rangel, Barney Frank, all the Democrat leaders seem to be on record wanting a government-run health care system in America. And to pay for it, they're going to cut Medicare and crowd out private policies through employers.
ROBERTS: Now, when you say, Senator, that they want a government-run health care program. I mean, they only want that as part of an overall health care program according to all of the bills that have been written. You're not saying that they want to get rid of all of the private plans and just have a single-payer government- run system, are you?
DEMINT: Yes, I am, and the president has said that. There's a tape on YouTube of his quote, saying that we will replace employer plans. And all...
ROBERTS: But where is that in any of the legislation that's currently making its way through Congress?
DEMINT: We don't have to put it in legislation. If you have a taxpayer subsidized government plan, it's going to crowd out the private policies in a very short period of time. They're already shifting so many costs from Medicare and Medicaid to private insurance. They cost about 1/3 more than they should.
ROBERTS: Yet the bill that has been agreed on in the House specifically states that the government would not negotiate at Medicare rates. It would negotiate at rates comparable to private plans.
DEMINT: Well, they would still be deciding what doctors get paid, and a taxpayer-subsidized plan is going to run the private policies out of business. The Lewin Group and other outside analysts say from 80 million to 100 million Americans will lose their employer- based insurance and more doctors are likely to...
ROBERTS: Under certain circumstances -- and those circumstances are, if the plan is open to everyone and they reimburse at Medicare rates, and that's not in any of the plans.
DEMINT: Well, you can't have a government plan at the state level for competition without running private policies out of business because it's subsidized. But we don't need to do that, John. All we need to do is allow interstate competition.
Why do we need to create Fannie Meds in every state when all we need to do is open interstate competition and create a national market for insurance companies? We can keep them more accountable and bring down the price. We don't need a "cash for clunkers" type of Medicare program running the health care business. They're saying -- they're saying it's going to cost $1 trillion, but we saw what happened with the "cash for clunkers" program, they ran out of money in a week.
ROBERTS: Yes. I mean, some people would say that's because the program was so successful. We'll see where that goes from here for the rest of the week.
DEMINT: Thank you, John.
ROBERTS: Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina, good to catch up with you. Glad we reconnected with you. Appreciate it.
CHETRY: Well, our next guest spent 105 days in an Iranian prison back in 2007. She was taken from her car at knife point. Many questioned whether or not she'd ever be freed. Haleh Esfandiari was accused of spying, and she spent that time in Iranian jail.
What was it like as three Americans right now are also being detained in Iran, accused of something very similar? She's going to join us in about seven minutes to talk about her story.
CHETRY: Twenty-five minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.
You know, as soon as the president said he was going to shut down Guantanamo Bay's prison camp, a lot of critics said, well, then, what are we going to do with the detainees? Where are they going to move to?
ROBERTS: Well, one proposal the White House is considering -- many of them from Gitmo to prisons in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Standish, Michigan.
Our Jeanne Meserve is tracking that plan and the backlash against it this morning.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, the administration is still wrestling with the very difficult question of what to do with detainees when the prison at Guantanamo is closed. One option under consideration: housing them and trying them under one roof.
(voice-over): The possibility that Guantanamo detainees might be headed for the military prison at Fort Leavenworth has Kansas officials in an uproar.
REP. LYNN JENKINS (R), KANSAS: Transferring terror suspects here places a bull's eye on this community.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: This is a bad idea on an artificial hurry-up timeline.
MESERVE: Administration officials say Fort Leavenworth and the maximum security prison in Standish, Michigan, are being considered as possible multi-purpose destinations for detainees that could contain courtrooms for both federal criminal trials and military commissions. And house in one place, detainees now being sorted into three groups: those being held for trial, those being indefinitely detained, and those cleared for release, but without a country to take them.
In Standish, Michigan, where the unemployment rate stands at 24 percent, the maximum security prison is slated for closure. Some local officials support using it as a detainee facility to preserve jobs. But Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra disagrees, saying turning Michigan into a terrorist penal colony is not the way to improve the economic situation.
For now, the White House is dodging the argument.
GIBBS: Well, I don't know to the degree to which they've gotten into specific siding and certainly no final decisions of any sort have been made.
MESERVE (on camera): Housing and trying most of the detainees in one location could reduce costs and avoid the risk of moving suspects for trial. On the other hand, moving prosecutors and judges and forming a jury pool could be a challenge, but probably nowhere near the challenge of overcoming local opposition.
John and Kiran, back to you.
CHETRY: All right, thanks so much, Jeanne.
Well, meanwhile, it's 28 minutes past the hour right now.
We check our top stories.
A plane carrying tourists slid off the runway in Thailand, actually crashed into an air traffic control tower, killing the jet's pilot. Police say 34 people on board were hurt, the Bangkok Airways flight was landing in stormy weather on the resort island of Samui.
ROBERTS: Australian officials say they have arrested four suspects accused of planning a terrorist attack. Authorities say the men were going to raid a military base and launch, quote, "an attack on military personnel" until they themselves were killed. Four hundred officers took part in the (INAUDIBLE) raid, the men are said to have links to an Islamic extremist group in Somalia.
CHETRY: And also breaking this morning, former President Bill Clinton is now in North Korea. He's on a diplomatic mission to secure the release of two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They were sentenced to 12 years hard labor there. The two could be released at any moment.
North Korea says that they entered the country illegally and were trying to launch a smear campaign against their government. They insist they were doing a story on China and crossed over the border accidentally.
Well, as we just told you, former President Bill Clinton is in North Korea. He is trying to get the release of these two U.S. journalists that we've talked so much about, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
But Iran now is also confirming it's holding three Americans and Iran is now accusing them of crossing into the country illegally. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling for their release, but what is it really like to be held in an Iranian prison? Our next guest knows this firsthand.
Joining me is Haleh Esfandiari. She's the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and she also spent 105 days in Evin Prison in Iran back in 2007.
Thanks for being with us this morning. We really appreciate it.
HALEH ESFANDIARI, DETAINED IN IRAN FOR 105 DAYS: Thank you for having me.
CHETRY: First, let's get a little bit of your personal story and what it was like for you. You say you were visiting your mother. You were on your way to the airport after a visit to your mother. You were stopped by men with knives, and then, this led to the beginning of what turned into interrogations and then eventually 105 days in prison.
What did they say you did?
ESFANDIARI: They thought I was part of a plot to overthrow the regime through velvet revolution. There is a sense of paranoia among the intelligence ministry officials in Iran that the United States (INAUDIBLE) is after overthrowing the Islamic republic.
CHETRY: Did they want some sort of confession from you? You said that you had to go through hours and hours of interrogations over eight months. What were they trying to get you to admit to?
ESFANDIARI: They were trying to find out really what the United States was up to; what the United States' plans were for Iran. But -- I mean, I was not aware of any such plans.
CHETRY: You were also unaware at the time obviously because you were being held, how everybody was working towards your release.
In fact, we spoke where your husband here on AMERICAN MORNING at the time, and he was proclaiming your innocence and talking about how you really need to be let go, how you were 67 years old, you had absolutely nothing to do with any plots against Iran.
And at the same time, I know your center was working for your release, as well. But you had no idea any of this was going on.
What is it like, as you wait with the unknowns, not knowing what's going to happen to you when you're an in an Iranian prison?
ESFANDIARI: Solitary confinement is terrible. Being cut off from the rest of the world is even worse. You don't know what's going to happen to you the next hour let alone the next day or two. So I was concerned, I was worried.
But I didn't want to give into despair, because I think the idea of my interrogators was to break me down, and I had decided that I was not going to give them the pleasure of seeing me breaking down.
CHETRY: Right. And then how did you eventually get released?
ESFANDIARI: One day I was called in for interrogation, and I was told that pack your belongings and leave, you are free to go. And I thought this was a very cruel joke. And I said, "Are you sure?" And they said, yes.
And so I went back to the Ward 209, where political prisoners are held. And I took my few meager belongings, and then, after a lot of paperwork, walked out of prison.
And it was only when I came out that I'd found out really there was so much effort and so much was done for me. And it really makes a big difference if people focus on the detainees in these different countries.
CHETRY: And that's what I wanted to ask you about, because there's been several high-profile prisoners that are then released with much fanfare from Iran.
I mean, remember the 15 Royal Navy sailors out of Britain that were then paraded out and given handicrafts and let go after they had to apologize profusely, I guess, for accidentally going into Iranian waters. And then just recently Roxana Saberi, who was a journalist who the claim that she was also potentially spying.
So, as we look to what's going to happen to these three, who claim at this point that they were tourists actually in Iraq that accidentally crossed over, how do we know? Do we have any clues based on what happened in the past with Iran and detainees as to how it will turn out for them?
ESFANDIARI: It's not only the three detainees. There is another Iranian American, Kian Tajbakhsh, who was held with me who is also now in prison.
I think the three detainees will be set free and let go eventually. But my concern is for Mr. Tajbakhsh, who is an urban planner, not at all politically involved, who has been put on trial.
And so what determines whether or not your case gets a lot of attention, whether or not your plight is noticed by others around the world, and whether countries and individuals are working for your release?
ESFANDIARI: In my case, I was very fortunate because both my husband, as you know and my daughter at the Wilson Center, especially, President Hamilton and his deputy Mike Van Husen did everything possible under the moon and the sun to try and prove that I was innocent and to get me out.
And I really think international pressure makes a big difference.
CHETRY: All right. And as we know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton putting international pressure on this situation with the three, and, at the same time, a parallel situation almost in North Korea right now with former President Clinton trying to secure the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.
We hope it all turns out well, and we're glad your story ended well, as well. You wrote about it in "My Prison, My Home." Hal Esfandiari, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
ESFANDIARI: Thank you very having me.
ROBERTS: So you're on a transoceanic flight 38,000 feet. Suddenly it's like the bottom drops out of the airplane, people and things hit the ceiling, bouncing all around. That's what happened on a Continental Airlines jet yesterday, injuring a number of people. We've got the incredible pictures from inside the plane coming up next.
It's 35 1/2 minutes after the hour.
ROBERTS: The top videos right now on CNN.com, a house on the move in Del Ray Beach, Florida. The house weight in at 145 tons, and it is being slowly, oh so slowly transported via a series of steel wheels to its new location just down the block.
Also, this video come to us from Peoria, Arizona. A jeep loses control, flips over on the side of the road into a mine shaft. You can see the top of the jeep there.
Eventually the driver was rescued. He was OK.
And the mayor of Silverton, Oregon, coming under fire for his choice of wardrobes. Drew Rasmussen is the nation's first openly transgendered mayor, and this outfit, worn in front of schoolchildren, has some community members in an uproar, accusing Rasmussen of violating the city council's dress code.
And I thought I got it when I went on the air without a tie.
Well, it was 10 seconds of terror, a packed jetliner plunges, passengers slammed against the ceiling.
CHETRY: And it happened yesterday, and it was during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Houston. At least 26 people were hurt as we understand, four of them hurt pretty seriously.
This morning, passengers are talking about the moment their jet hit that severe turbulence. Here's CNN's Brian Todd.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Kiran. We're getting new information about the conditions that Continental Airlines jet encountered over the Caribbean, and the passengers and their pictures are telling a harrowing story.
TODD: This is what violent turbulence looks like inside the cabin. These photographs from a passenger aboard Continental Flight 128 show the ceiling of the plane split open. Two sections you can see in this shot look like casings for several oxygen masks.
On witness says this damage may have been done by passengers who were thrown upward.
JOHN NORWOOD, CONTINENTAL FLIGHT 128 PASSENGER: All of the lighting and all where the masks come down and everything, people that weren't seat-belted in flew up and hit the ceilings. So, their faces and their heads hit the plastics and broke all the plastic up at the top.
TODD: The plane, with 179 people aboard, encountered severe turbulence on the way from Rio de Janeiro to Houston, and diverted to Miami. Twenty-six passengers were hurt. Some required at least temporary hospitalization.
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers say there was no severe weather in the area at the time. And a Continental Airlines official now tells CNN this aircraft encountered what's called clear air turbulence. Pilots we spoke to say this is when a plane gets caught air masses moving swiftly in different directions.
As the name indicates, it often happens when the weather looks fine and it comes on with virtually no warning.
JOHN WILEY, PILOT: So as the pilots were transiting this area, they're not seeing anything on the radar, they're not seeing anything visually that gives them reason to believe that they're getting ready to penetrate an area with clear air turbulence.
TODD: Pilots say during these events passengers not wearing seat belts can get severely injured when g-forces throw them to the ceiling. They can stay pinned on the ceiling even for a few seconds, then could get injured by being thrown back down on the seats or the floor.
After landing in Miami, some passengers were asked whether they got any warning to buckle their seat belts when the heavy turbulence began.
DEANNA BUCKLEY, CONTINENTAL FLIGHT 128 PASSENGER: None, whatsoever. I hit my head on the light above and it broke the light out and showered in glass.
TODD: Continental says the seat belt sign was illuminated, and their procedure it so give a verbal warning when that happens.
TODD: A Continental official told me they're still gathering information about exactly what happened, but quote, "There's every reason to believe a verbal warning was given."
John and Kiran, back to you.
CHETRY: All right, well, thank goodness most people were not badly hurt. But do you keep your seat belt on even when you're just sort...
ROBERTS: Not as often as I should. Sometimes on flights if I'm not getting up or getting out to do anything, I'll leave it on the entire time and not even notice I've got it on. But other times, I'm there without it.
And I remember traveling with the press corps, never used to put it on, would take it off, talking on the cell phone with the tray table down too. It's a wonder any of us lived.
Well, still ahead, extreme weather, storms possibly capable of producing tornadoes moved through some parts of the country. Our Rob Marciano's tracking all of it and he's going to join us on the other side of this break.
It's 42 minutes after the hour.
CHETRY: It's 45 minutes past the hour.
We fast forward through some of the stories that will be making news later today.
We're watching North Korea all day long. Former president Bill Clinton is now on the ground there in hopes of securing the release of two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, both Americans who were detained there.
They've been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after illegally crossing the border when they were reporting on a story in China.
Also today, at 9:30 a.m. eastern, hearings set to begin for seven men from North Carolina that are accused of plotting a violent jihad. The men were arrested last week by federal investigators charged with conspiracy to provide support to terrorists, also conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim, and injure persons in a foreign country.
Also later today in New York harbor, a terror drill will focus on finding radioactive material on ships and also keeping a dirty bomb or nuke out of the city. Seventeen different vessels from New York as well as New Jersey and the Coast Guard will all be involved.
And that's what we're following for you today. It's good that we did give that heads up, Rob, because can you imagine all of the lookie-lous as they're driving down the highway if they see all that activity out there? It's just a drill.
ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's kind of like when Air Force One was flying overhead.
CHETRY: Yes. Probably not as much fallout after that one, but yes, kind of like that.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: It's 47 1/2 minutes after the hour.
You talk about the problems associated with your kids spending hours in front of the television set, the computer screen, and playing video games.
Well, a startling new study shows that the health consequences are even worse than you might have previously thought. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta has got that for us coming up next. Stay with us.
ROBERTS: Good morning, Hotlanta, living up to your name today. It's sunny and 76 right now, later on today, mostly sunny and hot, hot, hot -- 93 degrees is the high for Atlanta today.
We all know that it's not good for children to sit around all day watching television or staring at a computer screen. Kids need activity. They need to get up, run around, go outside, play.
But here's a new one. It our fit national segment this morning, there's a startling new connection between your child's blood pressure and how much television they watch.
And we're not just talking about overweight kids either. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Atlanta this morning, he's got that. This is pretty surprising news, Sanjay.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is surprising, in part because it's not just overweight children, as you mentioned, but kids of normal weight even underweight, as well, looking at this pretty good link between television watching and increased blood pressure.
And, again, we're not used to talking about hypertension in kids, but it's something that we talk about more and more often as we talk about the childhood obesity epidemic.
What they found specifically, they followed kids, this is between the ages of three and nine, over 100 kids, and they followed them for a period of time, trying to figure out what was going on here, what was the association exactly.
And they found that kids who were watching more than 30 minutes of television a day, which isn't much. I have three kids of my own, and I can tell you, it's pretty common for them to watch at least that much television, but they did seem to have an increase in blood pressure of about six to seven points overall.
Now, when they tried to figure out, drill down into exactly why that was, a couple of things sort of emerged. One is that what kids tended to eat while they're watching television. Poor choices in terms of food, pretty universally, high calorie food, low nutrition food, food that frankly wasn't very good for them.
And the other thing was that the television watching often interfered with their sleep. And we know that lack of sleep or poor sleep can also be associated with hypertension.
So, those two things, John, more than anything else seem to account for this increase in blood pressure.
ROBERTS: So you say about six points differential. Is that really a big deal in a kid who is between the ages of three and nine?
GUPTA: Right, it's a great question.
And the right answer after we talked to some people is we don't know for sure, again, because we're not used to monitoring blood pressure in children that young. So we don't know what the impact is.
What we do know is that kids who have hyper tension, even low levels of hypertension, as children tend to become hypertensive adults.
And John, you and I have talked about this several times in the past, we're starting to see evidence of arteries, for example, thickening of arteries in eight-year-olds that is similar to what we used to see in 45-year-olds.
So, the process is starting much, much earlier, and hypertension, as we know, can be an indicator for lots of these chronic diseases.
So, who knows? But it certainly seems to be a problem.
ROBERTS: All right, well that is surprising news this morning. Sanjay Gupta with that for us this morning. Sanjay, thanks so much.
GUPTA: You got it, John.
ROBERTS: The lesson in that, Kiran, get your kids up, get them out of the house, get them running around and playing, and watch what they eat too.
CHETRY: That's what we used do when we were little. You'd be outside all day. They'd have to call us back for dinner. Then we'd eat and run back out.
ROBERTS: That was in the days before Xbox.
CHETRY: And that was before Wii skeeball was so cool. Thanks, John.
Still ahead, you know when you've got to travel, especially across country, and you've got to take your dog, a lot of people worry throwing the dog in the cargo hold. What's it going to be like for your pet?
Well, now there is a new airline catering to just that customer. Carol Costello takes a look.
CHETRY: Hazy morning this morning as we check out the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River this morning, 76 degrees right now, pretty fair. A little bit later, it's going to be mostly sunny, 89, and we haven't seen 89 very often. We haven't even seen 85 very often this summer in New York. So no complaints, just stay in the AC.
ROBERTS: As long as it doesn't rain today, everything will be all right.
CHETRY: Slap on the sunscreen, yep.
Well, welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. There is a new airline that's flying the friendly skies. It's one that caters to a very specific clientele. The name says it all. It's Pet Airways.
ROBERTS: The Steve Miller song was "Fly like an Eagle." This one could fly an eagle.
It offers coast-to-coast travel for cats and dogs, other pets. No owners can go on board the plane. Our Carol Costello has the story from Washington.
A new company, Carol, and you think this would be an unlikely business model. Is it catching on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have a two-month waiting list, can you believe it? I admit, I was skeptical about Pet Airways because who in a recession would dole out hundreds of dollars to fly their pet on a plane just for dogs and cats?
But once again I underestimated the love Americans have for their animals. It's crazy.
COSTELLO: Welcome to Pet Airways, where passengers are passengers. And people pet parents.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to be a special passenger.
COSTELLO: On Pet Airways, pets fly in the air-conditioned main cabin of a beached 1900 turbo prop in the company of pet specialists. The animals' owners aren't up there with them. They'll fly commercial and meet up with their loved ones when their pet's flight lands.
Alysa Binder is the co-creator of Pet Airways.
COSTELLO (on camera): Some people might think oh, you're crazy.
ALYSA BINDER, CO-FOUNDER, "PET AIRWAYS": Yes, people did, but we said there was a need, and we are our own community. And we said we get it.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Note, she said, our own community. That's loosely defined as a group of people who think their pets are people who know that one day their dog will be able to do what Doug did in the movie "Up." UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Doug. I have just met you and I love you. My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may talk. Squirrel!
COSTELLO (on camera): So he's your baby?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is my first baby.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Gus is 12, arthritic, and prone to seizures, and the thought of Gus flying commercial alone is too much to bear, even at $399 one way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm definitely nervous about his -- how he's feeling. But it makes me feel so good to know at Pet Airways that they're going to be stopping by checking him, they're going to be in the plane with him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We treat them like they live with us, they sleep with us. We take care of them, they go to the doctor. Why should this be any different?
COSTELLO: And with that sentiment in mind, Arthur, Gus, and the rest are buckled up and ready to fly.
When Pet Airways lands in L.A., let the reunions begin.
COSTELLO: We did get an e-mail from Jennifer. Gus traveled just fine. She said he had a great trip.
As for the costs, Gus was the great big dog with special needs. It cost $399 to fly him from New York to L.A. But the airline says some flights are as low as $149.
And John and Kiran, some customers told me that that is comparable to what commercial airlines charge to fly the dogs in cargo.
ROBERTS: I guess it's, what, $75 or $150, something like that to fly your pets?
CHETRY: What about the convenience factor? You have to drive your dog sometimes to a separate airport than you're going to, right, drop them off and get your own self and your family on that plane, and then fly to your destination and then pick up your dog?
COSTELLO: I will only tell you this, that there were people from Boston who drove two hours to this regional airport where, you know, we shot the story. They didn't mind the extra travel or the extra inconvenience at all.
ROBERTS: Not surprising.
Did they serve snacks? COSTELLO: No, no snacks -- well, actually, the owners brought in dog food, and the dogs are fed once. They stop over in Chicago, the dogs are fed, and that's all they eat, because you don't want accidents on the plane.
ROBERTS: I just wanted to know if they were getting better treatment than people.
Carol Costello for us this morning. Carol, thanks so much.
Continue the conversation on today's stories. Go to our blog at CNN.com/amfix.
That's going to do it for us. Thanks so much for joining this morning.
CHETRY: It still sounds easier to let your neighbor dog-sit. But anyway, all right, well, to each his own.
Meanwhile, here's CNN "NEWSROOM" with Heidi Collins. Have a great day.