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Investigation Continues into Terror Suspect in Denver; President Obama to Promote Health Reform on Sunday Talk Shows; Republicans Claim They Have Alternative Health Care Reforms; Study Shows Public High School Students Lack Basic Knowledge About U.S. History

Aired September 19, 2009 - 10:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody, from the CNN center, this is CNN Saturday morning for September 19th. I'm T.J. Holmes.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes good morning everybody, thanks for joining us. I'm Betty Nguyen. We have a lot to tell you about this morning so let's get right to it.

Starting our day, we're going to be talking about this, a fourth day of questioning in the terror plot probe.

HOLMES: Yes. I guess they can call him the suspect now. They say he has ties to Al Qaeda even though he's not under arrest. This is the Colorado man at the center of that alleged terror plot in New York.

NGUYEN: Federal investigators say that he also had video of Grand Central Terminal in his possession. Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve joins us now from the federal courthouse in Denver. OK, Jeanne, we've had a couple days of questioning. Still no arrest. What are you expecting today?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're expecting him to come back to this federal building behind me for his fourth day of questioning by the FBI.

Although, as you mentioned, an official who is familiar with the matter says that Zazi has admitted to ties with Al Qaeda, he was allowed to go home last night, and according to his attorney he was resting comfortably.

What Zazi has been telling the federal authorities we don't know at this point in time. However, the source who told us he admitted ties to Al Qaeda also says the government is exploring what sorts of charges they might be able to bring against him, and there is a possibility at some point of a plea deal.

Now, in addition, two sources familiar with the investigation say that when Zazi drove to New York last week, he had in his possession video of Grand Central Station in New York. And this contributed to law enforcement's belief that he might be in the process of planning some sort of attack on a transit system.

I would also mention that the attorney general, Eric Holder, spoke yesterday, and he said the FBI is working this case around the clock in New York, in Denver, and in other cities. And he said to his knowledge there was no imminent threat. Back to you.

NGUYEN: All right, Jeanne. The Department of Homeland Security did put out a memo last night to be on the lookout. Tell us exactly what they're wanting people to be on the lookout for and where perhaps.

MESERVE: Well, this is a Homeland Security note. It wasn't intended for public consumption. This went out to state and local law enforcement and to transit officials. Essentially it's telling them to keep their eyes open in this situation.

DHS issued a statement last night which said in part that "DHS and the FBI have no information regarding the timing, location, or target of any planned attack, but we believe it's prudent for transit authorities to remain vigilant."

That might seem obvious, but they wanted to emphasize the point.

NGUYEN: Now they get a memo to emphasize that. Jeanne Meserve joining us live from Denver. Thank you, Jeanne.

So, from chief executive to chief salesman -- yes, President Obama hopes to change some attitudes about health care reform, and he is appearing on five television talk shows tomorrow to do just that.

Live to our Dan Lothian in CNN's office at the White House. So, Dan, the president is really pushing hard on health care reform. But is he having to change his message any, as we have so many bills out there it seems and so much discussion as to what to do with reform?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We've really seen the president kind of sharpen his tone this week. On Thursday, he got a mostly a young audience at the University of Maryland all fired up as he was pushing for health care reform.

And then, as you pointed out, he's hitting all the talk shows, the Sunday morning talk shows, five of them, to be exact, where he'll be talking about a number of issues, but in particular health care reform.

The White House does believe that there are a lot of minds to be changed not only across the country but up on Capitol Hill. And so that's the reason you have seen this big push.

Now the president, as he sits down, he did sit down and tape those interviewed yesterday. In addition to all the other networks, he also sat down with John king from "State of the Union." And he talked about, you know, how his family will be responding to the H1N1 virus and also about health care.

But another issue that came up is another story that's been big throughout this week and that's the tenor of the tone in Washington and across the country where we've seen the president really come under attack, and some believe that at the heart of all this is racism.

In fact, former President Jimmy Carter said that, and John King asked the president about that. Take a listen.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In recent weeks, people have raised some pretty serious questions. The big rally in town, signs talking about afro-socialism, swastikas with your name and your picture and name on them, "You lie!" shouted out during a nationally televised address, and former President Carter said he sees racism in some of this. Do you?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, as I've said in the past, are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are. That's not the overriding issue here.

I think there are people who are anti-government. I think there are -- there's been a long-standing debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition where when presidents are trying to bring about big changes.

I mean, the things that were said about FDR are pretty similar to things that are said about me -- he was a communist, he was a socialist. Things that were said about Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some of the new deal programs, you know, were pretty vicious, as well.


LOTHIAN: That might be the case, but some do believe that this time that tone is a lot sharper. But the president clearly not wanting to go down that racism road.

NGUYEN: Yes. Dan Lothian joining us live today. Thank you, Dan.

And tomorrow at 9:00 Eastern, President Obama's full interview with John King on health care reform, the economy, and a whole lot more. You can get the full story on "STATE OF THE UNION" tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. eastern.

We have been telling you about this morning a major conservative political conference going on in Washington this weekend. It's called the "Values Voters'" summit. You'll see a lot of big-name conservatives there, a lot of Republicans running around, and a big Republican is running around there right now, the House Republican leader John Boehner. He just spoke to an audience there at the convention.

Sir, good morning. We're glad we could get you here and get you talking to us. I guess health care will be the big topic there I assume this weekend.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Well, good morning, T.J. Yes, health care is one of the many issues that's being discussed here. And I think these voters here, along with tens of millions of other Americans, are concerned about these proposals to have the government take control of our health care delivery system.

HOLMES: Let's talk about the latest proposal. The latest one is the Baucus bill. And are you suggesting this one talking about having the government takeover as well, because this one, as we know, does not include that government-run, that so-called public option. So do you think the Baucus bill we saw this week moves this conversation and this debate forward?

BOEHNER: Well, I think it helps move it forward a little bit because clearly Senator Baucus recognized there were some serious deficiencies in the other bills, whether it had to do with undocumented immigrants, whether it had to deal with the issue of abortion.

But when you begin to look at the co-ops in the Baucus bill that are government sponsored, government supported, I think the infrastructure that's being created in the Baucus bill is very similar to the infrastructure, government infrastructure that's created in these other bills. And so, it's not a full government option, but it's a big step toward one.

HOLMES: You essentially would say these co-ops we're talking about here in these exchanges essentially do the same thing as the public option, would you and the Republicans not go along with the co- op, as well?

BOEHNER: Well, it's pretty clear when you have no Republicans in the House or Senate who are being supportive of these bills, it's because they take this giant step toward a big, government-run health care system.

Listen, we have problems in our current health care system. But we can address the problems within our current system, not throw the whole current system away in the favor of this government-run plan.

HOLMES: I guess a lot of folks are asking and the president has said -- it was a scene made at his speech in the joint session of Congress, when he was saying you have other ideas, I want to see them. And a lot of folks held up some paper saying here are our plans.

But how big of an uphill climb is it for you when you have the president, who can go onto five network morning shows tomorrow, Sunday morning talk shows, and get his message out, and how difficult is it for you and the Republicans to say here is our bill to counter? Do you have a bill to go out there and promote right now, sir?

BOEHNER: No. There are a lot of what we think are really good, better solutions to this health care problem. And you can find them at There are a number of proposals that are outlined there from Republican members. But it is difficult competing with the president. He has a much bigger soapbox than we have.

But the American people have pretty much decided they don't want to go in the direction he's asked them to do. And I think he can talk as much as he wants, but it seems the more he talks about it and the more people find out about it, the less support there is for the proposal.

HOLMES: And I'm going to ask you one last question here, and I know a lot of folks will be interested to hear this, but try to do this quickly and clearly as you can.

We can see the president out there make his proposals and say what he wants in a bill. You tell me, tell the American people right now clearly what it is that Republicans want in a bill and how much you think it should cost.

I know that's kind of a big question I'm trying to get you to sum it up, but sum it up for Americans. We're hearing what the president wants. What do Republicans want and, specifically, how much would it cost?

BOEHNER: There are two problems with our current system. It costs too much, and not all Americans have access to high-quality health insurance. And so, on the cost side, we think that medical malpractice reform and the defensive medicine that doctors have to practice as a result would save about $125 billion a year according to Price-Waterhouse-Coopers. We should do that.

I think every health insurance company, Medicare, Medicaid ought to be locked in a room and come up with one claim form for all the providers. It would save $40 billion to $50 billion a year or more in efficiencies. Then you begin to save money that you could use to help people with preexisting conditions, help the working poor and those in their 30s to be able to afford better health insurance.

HOLMES: All right. Mr. Leader, I appreciate you taking the time with us this morning. And again, we will make sure, because a lot of people have a lot of questions about what Republicans do exactly. You mentioned that Web site. We'll try to certainly guide some of our viewers to it as well so they can see all these options.

Sir, I appreciate you taking the time. You enjoy the rest of your weekend.

BOEHNER: T.J., thank you.


NGUYEN: A lack of affordable, reliable transportation is keeping too many families mired in poverty. But our CNN hero has a solution that is turning lives around, in fact.

Can you believe students are being stumped by questions like this -- who is the first U.S. president? Is the education system failing our students? We'll take a closer look.


HOLMES: Every day, hundreds of low-income families struggle to get to work and school on time using public transportation systems that pretty aren't reliable all the time. This week's hero is working to make sure challenges like that don't become career-ending nightmares.


SUSAN JACOBS, CNN HERO: I'm a single mom. Not having a car, I have to take three buses every morning. I also depend on a friend of mine to get my kids to day care, because of the way the buses run, I'm unable to do it and get to work on time.

I know what it's like to have the fear of losing my job because I can't get to work. I was hitchhiking. That didn't last long because of the kindness, actually, of a stranger. He said "I'll let you use one of my vehicles."

He was put in my path to help me move forward and made me realize I could make it.

I'm Susan Jacobs and I provide working wheels to keep families working.

This is Susan with wheels of success.

Our goal is to try to step in to work with employers so that before they lay someone off, hopefully we have a solution.

The Cavalier's done too?


JACOBS: We started taking donated cars and doing repairs. You pay a monthly payment for a year based on a sliding scale, and also give three volunteer hours a month back to the organization.


JACOBS: Receiving a car is more than just the car, and people literally see how their life's going to change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is awesome. I got my own car.

JACOBS: I love what I do. My life has made a difference.



NGUYEN: Here's our top stories right now.

President Obama looking to remind leaders of 20 major economies that preventing another financial meltdown is a global effort. Here's more of his message during his weekly address to nation this morning.


OBAMA: All of us need to act more responsibly on behalf of a better economic future. That's why at next week's G-20 sum we'll discuss some of the steps that are required to safeguard our global financial system and close gaps in regulation around the world, gaps that permitted the kinds of reckless risk taking and irresponsibility that led to the crisis.

And that's why I've called on Congress to put in place a series of tough, commonsense rules of the road that will protect consumers from abuse, let markets function fairly and freely, and help prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again.


NGUYEN: Well, Republicans are launching a new counterattack today against the president's push for health care reform.

And speaking on the GOP's weekly radio and web address, Congresswoman Sue Myrick spoke about her battle with cancer, and she said her diagnosis, quote, "Took six doctors, three mammograms, and one ultrasound before her cancer was even located."

She said the process took a few weeks but would have taken far longer had she lived in a nation with government-run health care.


REP. SUE MYRICK, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: These so-called health care reform bills have different names, a public option, a co-op, a trigger. Make no mistake, these are all gateways to government-run health care.

For small business owners, these proposals mean higher taxes at a time when unemployment is nearing 10 percent, and analysts are predicting that any kind of recovery will be a jobless one.

And for seniors, expect massive cuts to Medicare, which is unacceptable under any circumstances. Doing this now without implementing significant reforms to make the program more efficient would leave seniors susceptible to the rationing of care.


NGUYEN: Well, for alternate Republican options, Myrick suggests checking out the Web site

HOLMES: Put on your thinking caps, folks. This is pretty easy. I don't think you need a cap for this one.

Who was the first U.S. president? Yes. Sounds pretty easy, right? Apparently not for a vast majority of Oklahoma high school students. They miserably failed a simple civics quiz -- 77 percent could not name the first president, a guy named Washington. You might remember him.

Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs put this test together, actually did this survey, in all fairness, not just picking on Oklahoma. We've seen similar surveys from various states over time, actually prompted a guy, seeing stuff like this Steve Perry. He wrote a book that says man up, nobody is coming to save us.

So let's enter the principal's office, and enter the principal, Dr. Steve Perry, there he is, author, educator, CNN contributor, which means we have to pay him now. We used to get this for free. Now we've got to pay him for this.



HOLMES: Good morning to you. Good to see you. On this quiz, first of all, we saw this and we said this can't be right. But you heard these numbers. Whether it's a scientific survey or not, to hear that kids failed the way they failed some of these simple questions, you weren't surprised to hear it. Why?

PERRY: Not in the least, because when we look at our children's performance internationally, we see that in the United States our kids are lagging behind the rest of the world. In fact, countries such as Iceland are smoking us in the classroom.

When you look at the fact that among the most industrialized nations that America is near last again in terms of the high school graduation rate. We look at the current economic situation with a sense of surprise, but there should be no surprise when we look at the performance of our children in the classroom. They are behind other industrialized nations.

HOLMES: To say behind is one thing, Steve, but there's a graphic of it. I'll let some of the folks at home see this.

A few of the questions from this particular quiz -- the first president, only 23 percent got that right. How many justices on the Supreme Court -- only 10 percent. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence -- 14 percent. We elect U.S. senators for how many years -- 11 percent.

Now, it's one thing to say we're lagging behind but to not know some of this basic stuff, that sounds just impossible.

PERRY: We've been pouring good money over bad into some of the worst performing school systems in the country. Many of our large cities, in fact, have some of the lowest performing school systems and therefore school children.

The only people benefiting at this point from many of America's public schools are the public school employees -- the teachers, the principals, and the like. These schools are designed to fail. We're spending in some cases $100 million to build one building that is obsolete before the last brick is laid.

We have to at some point begin to have an honest conversation about school reform. When schools fail, we fail. When the unemployment rate approaches 10 percent, we say there's a national crisis. But when only 10 percent of the children in some of America's high schools are performing at goal, we see it as an achievement gap. HOLMES: That's failure you're talking about. But, and I know this is a huge question here, but where is the failure? You talk about a building being built and it's outdated by the time the last brick is there. Are we just talking about they don't are have the right resources, they don't have the right teachers, they don't have the right support?

PERRY: It's not -- we spend a considerable amount of money. In some cities we spend as much as 85 percent of our local tax dollars going go to our public schools. So it's not the resources.

It's the fact that we have public teachers' unions who in fact are running the school so they benefit the teachers and not the children. We have administrators...

HOLMES: That's a big statement there, Steve. A lot of teachers' unions and teachers' groups, those are powerful folks. You know that's a big statement that's not going to sit well with a lot of folks.

PERRY: Good. I hope it doesn't sit well, because you know what doesn't sit well with me? Failed children, when children don't believe in themselves because they believe the education that they are not receiving is, in fact, undermining their very sense of self.

Our children are failing because we're not teaching them. We are not teaching our children to perform successfully in this economy, and as a result the economy is suffering.

HOLMES: Last thing here, we certainly don't mean to pick on folks in Oklahoma there, but you don't have any reason to think that if this same survey was done in the other 49 states the result would be any different?

PERRY: No, I don't think they would be any different. In fact, anecdotally, if we look at many urban centers, in fact, we will find that the top children in those schools are immigrant children. So our kids are being beaten by children who do not even know the language.

But it's not just there. If we look at America's top colleges and universities and Ivy Leagues in particular, you'll find a great number of children who come from other countries. Our kids are being smoked because we are not preparing them.

HOLMES: All right, well, again, I want to mention that the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs actually did this survey. The questions come from the citizenship test that has to be taken.

But we called the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs to get some comments and find out a little more about it and wanted to bring somebody on to talk. They declined this morning, but we did put that question out there to them.

Steve Perry, again, author, principal, and now CNN contributor showing up with us on Saturday to get his check.

PERRY: Yes, sir. HOLMES: Steve, good to have you on board. Good to see you. We're going to see you plenty, my man.

PERRY: Take care.

NGUYEN: He has some rally strong statements right there.

And I guess to drive point home, we talk about these children who didn't answer the questions very well, very low passing scores. I don't think there was one category you had like 70 percent of the kids answer the question correctly.

But here's the deal -- it came from that citizenship test. Most of these folk who is take that citizenship test from foreign countries and whatnot, 92 percent of them pass on the first try. But at the same token, this was a telephone survey. And when they asked these questions, maybe the students didn't take them...

HOLMES: Obviously from some of the answers they did not take it seriously. They gave Michael Jackson wrote the Declaration of Independence, clearly stuff like that...

NGUYEN: Or Barack Obama is the first president of the U.S.

HOLMES: Some of that. But still, pretty alarming. And even educators are surprised by the results either way.

Well, the windy city is trying to get the Olympics. It's running into some resistance, not necessarily from other cities, but from within Chicago itself.

NGUYEN: And later, military training in Iraqi streets without ever leaving the U.S.

HOLMES: But if you are traveling or you feel like traveling, want to get somewhere, we'll have some budget-friendly getaways in our next hour.


HOLMES: Well, after the difficulties, former first lady Hillary Clinton had in trying to push health care reform, the current first lady Michelle Obama is trying a different approach.

NGUYEN: She is. She's using her own personal accounts to describe how the need for proper health care affects every American household.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I will never forget the time eight years ago when Sasha was four months that she would not stop crying. And she was not a crier, so we knew something was wrong.

So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that next morning. He examined her and said something's wrong. We didn't know what, but he told us that she could have meningitis.

So, we were terrified. He said get to the emergency room right away. And fortunately for us, things worked out because she is now the Sasha that we all know and love today who is causing me great excitement.


But it is that moment in our lives that flashes through my head every time we engage in this health insurance conversation. It's that moment in my life, because I think about what on earth would we have done if we had not had insurance?

What would have happened to that beautiful little girl if we hadn't been able to get to a pediatrician who was able to get us to an emergency room? The consequences I can't even imagine. She could have lost her hearing. She could have lost her life if we had had to wait because of insurance.

And it was also fortunate that we happened to have good insurance, right? Because if we hadn't had good insurance, like many of the panelists up here, we would have been saddled with costs for covering that emergency room visit, for her two days in the hospital. We would have still been paying off those bills.

And this issue isn't something that I've thought about as a mother. I think about it as a daughter. As many of you know, my father had multiple sclerosis. He contracted it in his 20s. And as you all know, my father was our rock. He was able to get up and go to work every day even though it got harder for him, as he got sicker, more debilitated.

And I find myself thinking, what would we have done as a family on the south side of Chicago if my father hadn't had insurance, if he hadn't been able to cover his treatments? What would what would it have done to him to think that his illness could have put his entire family into bankruptcy?

And what if he had lost his job, which, fortunately, he never did? What if his company had changed insurance, which fortunately never happened, and we became one of the millions of American families who can't get insurance because of a preexisting condition?

So, these are the thoughts that run through my mind as I watched this debate.


NGUYEN: All right, first lady Michelle Obama and her husband, the president, Barack Obama, is actually going on with John King tomorrow morning on "STATE OF THE UNION" on a taped interview tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. He'll be discussing a number of topics, including health care and race.

HOLMES: The first lady is campaigning for something else, as well, the 2016 games. She wants them to be hosted in her hometown of Chicago. But not everybody wants the Olympics? Say it ain't so, Dwayne.

Dwayne Truss. He's with a group that's called No Games Chicago. He's here to discuss why some taxpayers just don't want the games there. And also joining us, Katherine Skiba with the "Chicago Tribune," who was been writing about the subject.

Dwayne I will start with you here. Why? Wouldn't everybody want the Olympics to come to their town?

DWAYNE TRUSS, NO GAMES CHICAGO: Well, on behalf of No Games Chicago and the 84 percent of the taxpayers in Chicago who do not want to pay for the Olympics because we have other pressing needs such as better schools, better parks, and better public services, we don't think the Olympics is worth it.

HOLMES: Excuse, sorry there, Dwayne. Once that money goes out there on that one point, excuse me for interrupting, that some would say that Chicago will get the money back. It's an investment in infrastructure and in jobs, and you'll make that money back. Do you not buy that argument?

TRUSS: There's other alternatives that Chicago can do to create those types of jobs. And many of those job, almost all of them, are temporary. It's just pretty much a one-time boost.

Construction companies would use the same crews to schedule those crews for those construction projects. The hotels would hire workers temporarily. The restaurants would hire workers temporarily.

And you're going to see a significant drop-off when it comes to tourism because they cite the fact the tourists will come back to Chicago and spend money, but many reports that show that that doesn't happen after the Olympics.

HOLMES: Let me bring Katherine in here.


HOLMES: Katherine, he makes several points that people have some concerns about is that, in fact, yes, we're not guaranteed to get this money back. How is this debate going back and forth? I guess both sides, really, who's winning the battle in wanting the games to come?

SKIBA: I think it's important to underscore that it's not until October 2nd when the International Olympic Committee meets in Copenhagen that we will know the result of this four-way race. Right now Chicago is competing with Madrid, Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro. And I can assure you from conversations over the last week and in the White House, the games have a very big backer in President Barack Obama.

HOLMES: Now, the things you've been reporting on, does it appear -- and you probably looked at past games and what not, some cities don't get their money back, some cities are stuck with infrastructure. What are estimates for what Chicago could be left with? How could they benefit if the games came to Chicago? SKIBA: That's to be determined. The games are nine years away. I will tell you I met Friday afternoon at the White House with Valerie Jarrett, who is the president's point person on the Olympic Games, and she promises, believe it or not, an Olympics that are on budget, on schedule, and free of the taint of corruption.

So, I think the operating budget is in the area -- just the operating budget is near $4.8 billion. And at the moment the White House is focusing on sending Michelle Obama as their emissary to try and get the games. And advisers are providing checks and balances to keep the Olympics clean and on budget.

HOLMES: Dwayne, are you buying some of those promises that are coming directly from the White House? Do you buy those promises this could work out long term even though you have those concerns, and historically, it hasn't always been great for Olympic cities? Some cities, though, have done well and made money. Are you not buying some of those promises?

TRUSS: I can only go by Chicago history of corruption, cost overruns, inside dealings, and what have you, like, for instance, the Millennial Park downtown, which is this tourist destination. The original budget was $150 million. That ended up costing close to $500 million and they used a lot of taxpayer money for that.

Soldier Field renovation, original budget $350 million, and that turned around and cost taxpayers $660 million. Even the school I was involved with, the construction of a new high school in Chicago, the original budget was $47 million, and that budget is over $100 million, because we have a problem with, you know, contractors making a lot of money off the taxpayers, and you have the fox watching the henhouse.

HOLMES: Well, I'll end with you, Katherine, on this one last question here. What are the chances for Chicago, how do they stack up against the other cities? And once it's done, do Dwayne and the others have no recourse? Once they are picked as the Olympic city, that's it, nothing we can do about it.

SKIBA: If they're picked the train will have left the station, Dwayne. And I would suspect the Olympic organizers want oversight, informally and formally.

It is a close race. These decisions are sometimes made by razor- thin margins. That's why President Obama next week will go to the U.N., he will go to the G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh. He will be meeting and lobbying foreign leaders.

And Michelle Obama, poised, a Harvard-trained lawyer, highly popular around the world, is set to help make the closing argument in Copenhagen October 2nd.

HOLMES: Well, Katherine Skiba and Dwayne Truss, Dwayne we'll be watching this thing closely. Hopefully you won't move out of your beloved Chicago if they get the games. But I know you'll be watching closely on October 2nd to see how this thing works out.

Both of you thank you so much for being here. We'll talk to you again soon.

SKIBA: Thank you, T.J.

TRUSS: Thank you, T.J., thank you very much.

HOLMES: All right -- Betty.

NGUYEN: And I'll be watching to see how it works out in Chicago.

In the meantime, though, coming up in our check of the top stories, President Obama takes on the role of race and the health care debate.

And falling prices just in time for your fall vacation plans.


NGUYEN: Welcome back, everybody.

President Obama taking his health care reform efforts to the little screen. He's be on five television talk shows on Sunday. Among them, of course, CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King. President Obama also talks about the economy and a whole lot more. You don't want to miss it. Watch the full interview on "STATE OF THE UNION" tomorrow morning.

So do you plan to reduce overcrowding in California prisons? A lot of people are. But that falls way short of a court order. Yep, a special panel of federal judges ordered the state to remove 40,000 inmates over the next two years, 40,000 inmates, folks.

But a state plan put out yesterday clears out around 16,000. Now, that plan calls for thousands to be sent to other states and illegal immigrant inmates to be deported.

Well, $86,000, what would you do with that? It seems like a whole lot, doesn't it? That is what court documents say will be the combined monthly allowance for Michael Jackson's mom, Katherine, and his three children.

It includes more than $13,000 for entertain expenses for the kids, $3,500 for Katherine Jackson's clothing. A judge also ruled she can challenge for control over her son's estate without risking any benefits from the original will.

HOLMES: Summer is over. You might not be thinking about a vacation, necessarily, but now is a very good. You can find some really good deals if you'd like to get away this fall.

Richelle Carey for us now is "On the Go."


RICHELLE CAREY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bargain hunters can make the most of traveling off-season. CHRIS MCGINNIS, EXPEDIA.COM: Fall is usually the best time of year to travel. You'll find the cheapest flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. The opposite is true at hotels. Weekday rates are very high, but on weekends you can find very good deals.

CAREY: You can also sail away at a fraction of the cost in the fall.

MCGINNIS: A lot of travelers are cruising during the hurricane season. When that demand goes down, this forces the cruise lines to really cut their fares to the bone. So you can expect to find really good Caribbean cruises as low as $50 a night. And remember, this includes room, food, and entertainment.

CAREY: But these deals may come at a price. Some airlines like Delta and U.S. Airways are planning to cut many nonstop flights.

MCGINNIS: Travelers will still be able to get nearly everywhere they went before, but they are going to have to take one or two stops if they live in a small town that's not an airline hub.


NGUYEN: Italy's prime minister wants to reduce his country's military presence in Afghanistan. That's after a car bombing Thursday killed six Italian soldiers.

Our Atia Abawi joins us now from Kabul. And Atia, give us the latest, because you were at the airport for a ceremony for these Italian soldiers, correct?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I was. And it was a very, very somber ceremony. It's a somber day for Italy, especially for these Italian soldiers that were saying their last good-byes to six of their men who lost their lives on Thursday when a suicide bomber targeted their convoy, and killing six Italians, injuring four others, but as well killing 20 Afghan civilians.

It was a very sad day for these soldiers. And yes, there is controversy going on back home for them in Italy when it comes to their government, their prime minister wanting to pull their troops out of Afghanistan. They've been here for many years now. This isn't the first loss of life they've seen. It is the highest loss of life they've seen in a single incident.

But at the same time, when you talk to the soldiers on the ground, they're just grieving for the family, they're grieving for the men. They're saying they're here to do their duty until they're asked to leave. They didn't want to get involved with the politics.

And this is obviously a scene we've been seeing when it comes to U.S. soldiers, to British soldiers. And right now the entire coalition countries questioning whether they want to stay in Afghanistan, whether it's worth the loss of life. But at the same time, today, families from all over Afghanistan and all over Italy grieving, and they might be grieving for a very long time -- Betty? NGUYEN: Very sad. And I will be interesting to see exactly when that withdrawal occurs as Italy's prime minister is asking for one.

All right, Atia Abawi joining us live from Kabul. Thank you for that.

HOLMES: Coming up in our next hour, Congressman Joe Wilson heading home to South Carolina.


HOLMES: What is he telling his voters? What are they saying to him and about him these days?

NGUYEN: That's going to be a good exchange between him and his voters.

And at noon, a beating outside a cracker barrel restaurant here in Georgia. It is -- or is it the restaurant's version of road rage or a hate crime? There is an investigation underway. We'll give you the latest.


NGUYEN: All right, so, getting troops ready to go to Iraq. The military is trying something a little different as they train troops for duty over there.

HOLMES: The story now from Christine Denn (ph) of affiliate KERO near Barstow, California.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we try to do here is give as realistic a scenario as possible to train our soldiers getting ready to go to Afghanistan and Iraq.

CHRISTINE DENN (PH), KERO REPORTER: Welcome to me Medina Wassel (ph). It's where Middle East meets west and where in the blink of an eye peace can explode into chaos.

LT. COL. MARK COLLINS, : It kind of displays what could be a worst day in Iraq. So, if a soldier actually encounters that on the battlefield either in Afghanistan or Iraq, it's not the first time they're seeing it.

DENN (on camera): From the street vendors to the street signs, this is as close to Iraq as you can get.

(voice-over): This simulated Iraqi town is complete with fake buildings, actors, and plenty of warfare. Out on this battlefield, there's no time to think, only react. And it better be fast if you want to live.

In a situation where you don't know who is an ally, at the end of the day, these Iraqis are. They may be actors, but they are real Iraqis who signed up to help the army train.

ALI ALZAYAABY, ACTOR: It makes me feel like it's home because it's realistic. And we're helping as a culture, advising the soldiers what they do wrong, what they do good, at the same time they're not insulting my people in Iraq.

DENN: Trained to avoid culture shock and shell shock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what we try to do here is make sure they leave here with the best training possible.


NGUYEN: Well, the training town near Barstow, California isn't the only one. Other bases right here in the U.S. have similar setups in an effort to get soldiers ready for what they will face over in Iraq.

Hello, everybody. From the CNN center, you are in the "CNN Newsroom." It is Saturday, September 19th. Good morning. I'm Betty Nguyen.

HOLMES: Hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes. It's 11:00 here in Atlanta, Georgia, where we sit, 8:00 a.m. out on the west coast. Thanks for being with us.

We want to begin in Denver, a developing story there where a young Afghan man is facing a fourth day of questions from the FBI.