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AMERICAN MORNING

Deadly Tsunami Hits Samoan Islands in the South Pacific; Senate Finance Committee Rejects Health Care Proposal; Is Obama Ready to Concede Public Option?; Summit Underway to Address Dangers of Texting and Search for Solutions; A Debtor's Revolt; School Year Reform

Aired September 30, 2009 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for being with us on this Wednesday. It's the 30th of September. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. Glad you're with us. We have a lot going on this morning. We have some big stories we're going to be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes.

First, tsunami waves triggered by a powerful earthquake flattened villages on the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific. Right now, more than 80 people are said to be killed and dozens of others injured. Telephone services cut. Homes and government buildings are destroyed. We're getting a live report just ahead.

ROBERTS: A setback for the president and his plans for a public option in the debate over health care reform. A key Senate committee rejecting two Democratic proposals that would create a government-run insurance program to compete with private insurers. Ahead, does this mean that a public option is no longer an option for the White House?

And an urgent summit meeting in Washington to address the dangers of distracted driving. It will be focusing on everything from texting to talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel, and what kinds of laws are needed to keep drivers safe. Jason Carroll following developments for us on that story.

ROBERTS: We begin with breaking news this morning in that deadly tsunami hitting the tiny U.S. territory of American Samoa. The island is some 2,600 miles from Honolulu. It's kind of halfway between Honolulu and New Zealand. It was hit overnight and declared a major disaster area by President Obama.

The tsunami was triggered by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. At least 22 people are dead on American Samoa. Dozens more on the island next door.

This morning, we're getting some new pictures from the disaster zone. The signs of devastation are everywhere.

And joining us now on the phone from Apia, Samoa is Russell Hunter. He's the managing editor of "The Samoa Observer."

Russell, thanks for being with us. How would you describe the scene there this morning? RUSSELL HUNTER, MANAGING EDITOR, "THE SAMOA OBSERVER (via telephone): It's total devastation. The whole villages just no longer exist. And it's nighttime here, and we estimate something like 2,000 people are out in the open tonight.

ROBERTS: Oh, my goodness. Do you have any confirmation on the death toll at this point?

HUNTER: The official death toll as of 5:00 p.m., that's perhaps five hours ago, was 47, 4-7, but it will go much higher than that.

ROBERTS: Right. And give us some idea, you know, because we saw the pictures from Indonesia back in 2004 in December.

HUNTER: Yes.

ROBERTS: Just that wall of water coming in. Give us some description of the level of the water that hit American Samoa after that earthquake.

HUNTER: Yes, it's actually quite similar to the one on Boxing Day that you're talking about, that was years ago. We have reports of two, some say three waves of upwards of 15 feet, penetrating inland up to 150 yards.

ROBERTS: So as you said, there are thousands of people who are without shelter tonight.

HUNTER: Yes.

ROBERTS: They're going into this first night after the tsunami. What is the general situation on the island in terms of power, in terms of running water? How much emergency aid is needed there?

HUNTER: In terms of power and running water in the main center up here where I am, fortunately the services are intact. But out there in the rural areas, they are in very serious condition. They do need help, yes.

ROBERTS: Right. All right. Well, we understand that help is on the way. A C-130 has been dispatched from Hawaii. It's on its way there to American Samoa.

Russell Hunter from "The Samoa Observer," thanks for being with us this morning and perhaps we can get back to you a little bit later on, as the extent of the devastation becomes clearer. Thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

CHETRY: Turning now to the debate over health care reform, a public option may no longer be an option for President Obama. The Senate Finance Committee voting down two proposals by Democrats that included government-run insurance to compete with private insurance companies. So is the centerpiece of the president's plan off the table?

Our Suzanne Malveaux has the president's reaction to the setback. First, though, Jim Acosta on the Senate committee vote and also the dimming prospects for public health insurance.

Hey, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Kiran. You know, all of the other bills besides the bill coming out of the Senate Finance Committee have that public option, so these votes were the first big losses for the public option on Capitol Hill with a handful of centrist Democrats coming down against it. That doesn't mean the public option supporters are giving up just yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Rockefeller.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Rockefeller, aye.

Mr. Conrad?

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Conrad, no.

ACOSTA (voice-over): This time the nos came from Democrats who joined Republicans to defeat the public option, keeping it out of the Senate Finance Committee's crucial version of health care reform. The committee's chairman argued there's no way the option could beat a filibuster in the Senate.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT), SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: No one has been able to show me how we can count up to 60 votes with a public option in the bill, and thus I am constrained to vote against the amendments.

ACOSTA: Two amendments that would give the uninsured the option of joining a government-run health care plan pitted Democrat against Democrat. Public option supporter Jay Rockefeller cited data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that says the provision would save the government $50 billion. A bill without the option, he argued, gives the insurance industry a pass.

ROCKEFELLER: Who comes first, the insurance companies or the American people?

BAUCUS: We all agree on the goal. There's the whole health insurance (INAUDIBLE).

ACOSTA: Republicans also got into the mix with Iowa's Charles Grassley tangling with public option proponent Chuck Schumer over the prospect of government health care.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: If you want competition, you don't want the government running everything. The government is not a fair competitor. It's not even a competitor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you don't want Medicare.

GRASSLEY: It's a predator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I can tell you right now, it would be a disaster. And what's worse, the American people will lose an awful lot of control over their own health care needs.

ACOSTA: Just before watching his amendment go down in defeat, Rockefeller signaled the fight would go on.

ROCKEFELLER: The public option is on the march.

Mr. Chairman?

BAUCUS: No.

ACOSTA: Then a little more than an hour later, Schumer's public option amendment also lost. But the New York senator was also defiant.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Today the odds went up that there'll be a public option in the bill.

ACOSTA: Liberal health care reform supporters say it was exactly the showdown they wanted.

You wanted this debate, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We definitely wanted this debate. We didn't want our champions in the Senate to shirk from this. We wanted to lay the sides out very clearly, make it really clear that there was a stark choice here between those who want to continue to leave us at the mercy of the private health insurance industry without any competition and those who say we need a choice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: All eyes now will be on Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican who may offer up an amendment that would call for a trigger, threatening the insurance companies with a public option down the road if the industry doesn't change its ways. There's a reason why some in Washington call her President Snowe because health care reform just might be riding on her vote -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we're going to have to see how that goes. Jim Acosta for us this morning, thanks.

ROBERTS: So how is the White House dealing with this setback? Joining us now, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. So, is the president prepared to give up on a public option?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, he may have to be. This is really kind of the ugly part of the business of sausage making if you will. And the president's short time in Congress and his dealings with the late Senator Ted Kennedy, he realized going into this that he's going to have to give up, make some serious compromises and very big items.

This certainly is one of them. I spoke with a senior administration official just after the vote yesterday, and he said they're still confident that they're going to walk away with some kind of health care reform, that they're other incremental steps that could lead to this public option down the road.

For now, the administration was left to put out this statement, that the president has said he's open to other constructive ideas, increasing choice and competition. He's going to work with Congress to ensure that under health insurance reform, Americans who cannot afford affordable coverage will always have some kind of choice.

Now, the kind of health care reform that the president is likely going to get is much less ambitious than what he set out. But he still believes that there's going to be more people insured, greater protections against health insurance abuse.

ROBERTS: So there's a lot of happening in Washington this week. We've got the debate over health care reform and also Afghanistan taking center stage at the White House.

MALVEAUX: And this is going to be a huge meeting here, because you just take a look at the players, all of these people. This is a very high profile meeting and the list of people who are actually going to be there, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Defense Secretary Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who we've heard much about.

This is all about strategy, what is the mission going forward in Afghanistan, and how does the United States, how do they go after the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and at the same time work with this Afghan government that is quite crippled after that election.

ROBERTS: There are a lot of questions yet to be answered.

MALVEAUX: And this is just the beginning, beginning of the process. This is something that the president is going to be talking with top officials for the weeks to come and then eventually make some tough decisions about whether or not there will be more U.S. troops.

ROBERTS: All right. We'll keep watching it closely. Suzanne, thanks.

MALVEAUX: Thanks.

CHETRY: Also new this morning, the State Department says it welcomes Iran's decision to let Swiss diplomats visit three Americans who've been held there since July. Joshua Fattal as well as Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were hiking in Iraq's Kurdish region when they were arrested for entering the country illegally.

And while in New York last week to address the U.N. General Assembly, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said that he would ask the judiciary to look at the hikers' case with "maximum leniency." ROBERTS: In just a few hours, the top U.S. general in Iraq delivers a status report to Congress. General Ray Odierno expected to tell the House Armed Services Committee that some 4,000 U.S. soldiers will be leaving Iraq by the end of October. The troop drawdown will put the U.S. force in Iraq at about 120,000. Later this hour at 6:30 Eastern, we're going to talk with Congressman Ike Skelton, who chairs the Armed Services Committee.

CHETRY: Well, the Centers for Disease Control with a message for all of us to eat more fruits and vegetables. According to a new CDC report, less than one in ten high school students are getting the recommended two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily, and just 14 percent of adults eat enough. The CDC is issuing its first state by state report about fruit and vegetable consumption.

ROBERTS: The dangers of texting while driving. The public awareness campaign underway to alert people as to the dangers. There's a big summit going on in Washington, too. Our Jason Carroll takes a look at that coming right up.

It's 10 minutes now after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." Cell phones, BlackBerrys, iPods, a lot of people feel they just can't live without them and they have to check them every minute.

Well, they're contributing to what the U.S. Transportation secretary calls an epidemic of distracted driving, and it can have deadly consequences. The two-day summit begins in Washington this morning to address the dangers and also to search for solutions.

Jason Carroll is following the story for us. It made a big enough deal and big enough concerns about just how dangerous it is that they are having a summit about it.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And so much interest, they actually extended it to two days. You know, when I spoke to the transportation secretary, he told me he still doesn't think people realize just how dangerous this problem is. The summit is part of an attempt to raise public awareness and to get legislators on the road toward passing laws banning texting while driving.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): Some drivers call it fallout from life on the road in the digital age, texting while driving. A graphic public service announcement produced in the U.K. widely seen on the web in the United States illustrates a violent end.

This issue now subject of a distracted driving summit in Washington, D.C., drawing safety experts and leaders from across the country. United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says organizers hope to develop recommendations for reducing the problem. RAY LAHOOD, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I think what we are attempting to do is raise the public awareness about how unsafe it is to text and drive, and then also talk with folks about the way forward in terms of some solutions.

CARROLL: Groups like the Governors Highway Safety Association plan to attend the summit. The group initially came out against laws banning texting while driving, then did an about-face, after meeting with the groups members who saw that violent PSA and some alarming studies.

VERNON BETKEY JR., CHAIRMAN., GOVERNORS HIGHWAY SAFETY ASSOC.: I think that as a result of those discussions the decision was made to readjust our policy.

CARROLL: Summit attendees will have access to recent studies, like the one from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which found that truck drivers risk of accident 23 times higher while text messaging. Another study done by Professor David Strayer at the University of Utah found another disturbing result.

DAVID STRAYER, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH: Text messaging is a level of impairment that exceeds what we see with someone who is driving while they're drunk.

CARROLL (on camera): Exceeds it?

STRAYER: Yes.

CARROLL (voice-over): Strayer's researchers found a driver with alcohol level 0.08 legally drunk in most states is four times more likely to crash. Texting that driver is eight times more likely. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving. Secretary LaHood believes more will follow.

LAHOOD: I believe that sooner rather than later, there will be some very good laws to address this very serious problem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: Well, the Transportation Secretary also says following this summit, organize -- organizers will be working with Congress to develop laws banning texting while driving.

The Truckers Union will be watching very closely. Truckers we spoke to say if any laws are adopted, there should be some sort of an exemption for them to allow them to use an on-board computer that they have to communicate with their dispatchers. We're going to have more on that story tomorrow as we continue to follow this summit.

CHETRY: Wow. It's just amazing to see that you're more -- you're twice as likely to crash texting than you are drinking and driving.

CARROLL: Yes, actually there's a simulator out there that they have where they put you in there and they -- yes, we went through that one as well. And, basically, what they do is they -- they, you know, you use the texting device and they put you through all these different scenarios, and it's amazing how easily your concentration is broken.

ROBERTS: Oh, yes.

CHETRY: You're looking down and typing with both -- with both hands.

CARROLL: I know. I know.

ROBERTS: Particularly when Alina Cho is the one who's texting you.

CARROLL: Yes, I'll have to talk to Alina about that later.

ROBERTS: You are our simulator man. There's no question about that.

CARROLL: You know, let's see what else is out there for me to try, right?

CHETRY: The possibilities are endless. Jason, thanks.

ROBERTS: We'll be watching this very closely. Thanks, Jason.

So, OK. So, you're a credit card customer. You don't like your credit card rates. Your bank is not helping you out. You feel like they're, you know, doing this to you. So what do you do? You take it to YouTube, and you get some reaction. You get some results. Christine Romans is looking at that, coming right up. Sixteen and a half minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." Twenty minutes past the hour right now, and starting today, there is a new law that makes it legal to bring a concealed weapon into bars and restaurants in Arizona as long as you have a permit and there's no sign posted that bans them. This law was backed by the National Rifle Association. One stipulation, though, if you do carry a concealed weapon into a bar, you're not allowed to drink alcohol.

ROBERTS: In Los Angeles, the City Council approving a law that requires new homes to be built with some type of graffiti-resistant finish. It's the latest effort in the city's war on tagging. The new ordinance was unanimously approved. It offers an exemption to homeowners who agree to remove any graffiti that appears on their property within seven days.

CHETRY: Also new this morning, CNN has learned President Obama is said to announce $5 billion in grants to support critical research projects. He'll reveal the details when he tours the National Institute of Health later today. According to an administration source, the money will support 12,000 research projects and tens of thousands of jobs ranging from teachers and lab technicians to database managers and scientists.

ROBERTS: So, you know, this was a -- this was a nation that was founded on the idea of revolution, and it's still alive and well today. Christine Romans "Minding Your Business" for us this morning. What's this one all about?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I have a story of a woman named Ann Minch who had $5,900 on a Bank of America credit card. She's paid 12.99...

ROBERTS: What's the (INAUDIBLE)?

ROMANS: Fifty-nine hundred dollars, about just under $6,000, and she had a 12.99 percent rate, and Bank Of America jacked up her rate to 30 percent and Ann Minch went ballistic on YouTube, and her YouTube rant went viral. More than 350,000 people logged on and watched this rant. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN MINCH, BANK PROTESTOR: You have reaped ungodly profits in your behemoth casino scams, then lost, only to turn around and usurp the wealth of this great nation. I'm staging a debtor's revolt right here, right now, and thereby refuse to pay you one more red cent on your 30 percent credit card account.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Said she could get a better rate from a loan shark. In fact, she was furious about this. She said she never missed a payment. She had paid on time. She's a 14-year customer. She went crazy. She kept talking about Ken Lay, and Ken Lay running -- Ken Lay actually ran Enron. Ken Lewis is who I think she was talking about. But...

ROBERTS: Well. But she used the magic word usurp, which is always big...

ROMANS: And she also talked about usury, too, the -- you know. But she said that this was -- one of her great comments is that she said she's staging an American debtor's revolution against the usury and plunder perpetrated by the banking elite, the Federal Reserve, and the federal government.

Anyway, Bank of America listened, and they called her, and she updated her rant and said that they had lowered her credit card rate, but they told her that actually she did miss a couple of payments and that they -- for reasons of customer privacy, wouldn't tell us more about her particular account. But they did lower her rate.

CHETRY: Back to the original 12.9 percent?

ROMANS: She says so, yes, but she's been looking at her account online to make sure that it really goes down that far. But look, my advice to you is don't say you're not going to pay your bills. I mean, I want to remind everybody, that she did charge $6,000 worth of stuff or almost that, and has a $5,900 credit card bill. I mean, we kind of...

ROBERTS: But she did say she didn't want to pay those outrageous rates.

ROMANS: She does not want to pay those outrageous rates, and the bank also points out that they -- you can contact them if this happens to you, you can contact them and you could say I want to pay off my card. They'll give you at least 30 days. You want to pay it off at the old rate.

But here's the problem, for so many people -- if you don't have a job -- if you don't have a full-time job, you can't just cough up $6,000 in 30 or 60 or 90 days to pay up a credit card. But what I was just struck by was that this woman went ballistic and it resonated. People watched it, the bank responded. You know, we'll see. But I think you should pay your credit card bills.

ROBERTS: Maybe it's a whole new trend. We'll see. When I couldn't get a AT&T signal out of my apartment, I'd said so on the air and they sent somebody over to look at it. I still can't get a signal.

ROMANS: And look, she's not a big, famous TV anchor. She's just somebody with a camera. That's cool!

CHETRY: That's the beauty of YouTube, everybody has a voice, right? Christine Romans, thanks.

ROBERTS: All right, so President Obama is thinking about, you know, what's going on with schools in America and how we're falling behind compared to the rest of the world, so what are some of the ways that you might address that disparity? Well, how about longer school years, longer school days?

Our Alina Cho is looking at all of that for us this morning. Twenty-four minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: I hope Jon Stewart's not (ph) listening this morning.

ROBERTS: Why?

CHETRY: "Changes" -- he loves when we play this song. We love it because it's relatable to so many different stories.

ROBERTS: Everything from credit card rates to baseball games, to...

CHETRY: And now to school hours. It's now 27 minutes after the hour, and we're talking about shortening summer breaks. Sorry, kids. Nine-hour school days? I don't think this is going to go over very well in the walls of most elementary and high schools.

ROBERTS: No, but the president argues that American students are way behind compared to students in other countries and this longer school days, longer school year's a way to level the playing field globally. Alina Cho joins us now with an idea that is gaining some traction and its fair share of controversy. Good morning.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys. Yes. I mean, listen, I think if you just look at the statistics, they're pretty staggering. I mean, an American student drops out of high school every 26 seconds. The president -- the Obama administration, you know, they want to reverse that, but keep in mind, there's no written plan really right now.

You know, it's all something that they're just advocating along with the Education Secretary, but think about it, guys. Nine-hour school days, shorter summer breaks -- no way? Students may not like it, they may even hate it, but some parents and especially the president say it's a good idea.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVE GALLAGHER, PARENT: So we get an extra day!

CHO (voice-over): It's 3:00 in the afternoon, and Steve Gallagher has just picked up his 10-year-old daughter, Sammy, from school, right in the middle of the work day. A longer school day for Sammy, what President Obama wants, means a more convenient day for dad.

STEVE GALLAGHER: It kind of works into our personal schedule. For example, I can then have the ability to pick my daughter up after school as opposed to cutting my work day short.

CHO: The idea is gaining steam. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is touring the country with unconventional allies, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich, encouraging local districts and states to embrace the idea of longer school days and a longer school year, saying the current system is outdated, a century old, when kids needed summers off to help on the farm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. This is the right word.

CHO: Duncan says students who thrive are in class longer.

ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Guess what? They're in school nine hours a day, they're in school on the weekends and they're in school over the summer, and, you know, this is not a new idea.

CHO: American students have one of the shortest school years in the world -- 180 days versus 195 for most European nations, and 200 for East Asian countries, and US students spend fewer hours a day in the classroom, 35 hours a week. Swedish students are in class 60 hours a week. The nation's largest teacher's union says more seat time is good, but after school programs at school? Better.

RANDI WEINGARTEN, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: We have them for mediation, we have them for enrichment, we have them for sports, we have them for art, we have them for music -- those are really good things. SAMMY GALLAGHER, STUDENT: Four times four is 16.

CHO: Steve Gallagher is all for longer school days, but summers off?

Some might argue longer school day, longer school year, could work to our advantage.

STEVE GALLAGHER: I agree with that, but it's difficult to make that cultural shift within our country on just an edict from the president.

CHO: So what does 10-year-old Sammy think about the president's proposal?

SAMMY GALLAGHER: Well, longer school days usually means more homework and for a lot of people homework can be very overwhelming in a way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: Who wants to do more homework?

You know something else that could be overwhelming? The cost of it all. In fact, the National Taxpayers Union -- a conservative group, we should add -- says yes, it all looks good on paper, but there are a lot of hidden costs involved, like potentially more money for teachers, higher electricity bills when you keep schools open longer. And who's going to foot the bill? Probably taxpayers.

So guys, what's interesting is you look at a student like 10- year-old Sammy, she's got Hebrew school two days a week. She's got soccer practice two to three days a week. She goes to school early already. She goes to camp five weeks out of the summer, so she's really, really busy. But that's great if you're middle income, if you're a high income family.

Take a look at kids in poverty. They have something called summer learning loss and almost always studies show that kids in poverty, poorer kids fall behind during the summer months, maybe they're not -- they don't have parents who are involved. Maybe they're not getting regular meals. For whatever reason, school is really their primary learning experience.

CHETRY: Right.

CHO: And the Obama administration is saying listen, we got to keep kids in schools longer. Maybe they don't have more seat time but maybe these schools become community centers where the YMCA gets involved, the boys and girls club gets involved and there's some sort of partnership there, which could offset the cost.

ROBERTS: All right. Alina Cho this morning. Alina, thanks.

How do you feel about making school days longer, or maybe extending the school year? Tell us your thoughts at CNN.com/amFIX. Crossing the half hour, some of the top stories we'll be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes. This just in to CNN.

Another earthquake, this one magnitude 7.9 is measured by the U.S. Geological Survey just off of the western coast of Sumatra, about 50 miles deep compared to the one yesterday that hit off of Samoa and American Samoa, which was much shallower than that. This one hit just off the western coast again of Sumatra near the town of Padang (ph).

We haven't had any information yet about possible tsunami warnings but sure that we'll probably hear something about that. Not far, by the way, from Banda Aceh, which is where that huge one was back in 2004.

Meantime, more than 80 people dead following a powerful 8.0 earthquake in the Pacific Ocean that triggered that tsunami on the islands of Samoa and American Samoa. President Obama declaring the U.S. territory of American Samoa a major disaster area.

CHETRY: A U.S. diplomat says Washington is open to dialogue with North Korea provided Pyongyang's help -- provided that Pyongyang helps get nuclear disarmament talks started again. North Korea has been insisting on direct talks with the U.S. after quitting the Six-party negotiations on its nuclear program back in April. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg says that North Korea seems to understand the value of reengagement and also urge them to take advantage of that opportunity.

ROBERTS: And for the first time the National Football League is acknowledging a link between head injuries and dementia later in life. A study commissioned by the league found its former players were 19 times more likely than the rest of us to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other memory-related diseases between the ages of 30 and 49. The NFL has long denied the existence of any reliable data linking injuries to cognitive decline.

We'll have much more at 7:40 Eastern when we talk with Dr. Julian Bailes. He's the head of the Neurosurgery Department at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. He's also the former team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was warning about this years' ago.

CHETRY: Well, in just a few hours, the top U.S. commander in Iraq will deliver a status report to Congress. General Ray Odierno is expected to tell the House Armed Services Committee that some 4,000 troops will be coming home by the end of the next month.

Congressman Ike Skelton will hear General Odierno's testimony. The Missouri Democrat chairs the Armed Service Committee and he joins us this morning from Washington.

Congressman Skelton, glad you're with us this morning. Thanks for being here.

REP. IKE SKELTON (D), MO: Good morning. CHETRY: So, General Odierno, as we said, is going to be announcing this one phase of the drawdown, sending about 4,000 troops home by the end of October. That still leaves about 120,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. From your briefings, how is this drawdown going?

SKELTON: Well, it appears it's going quite well. Of course, it has to be responsibly done. You go too fast and the house of cards could very well fall down.

I think that we will learn from General Odierno two things today. Number one is the status of the situation in Iraq and number two, the withdrawal of troops and how that is going. And it appears from his earlier comments that he will tell us that it will be coming out faster.

Now, this, of course, is very, very helpful to bring people home, getting rest, relaxation and of course, it would also help in sending additional troops, much needed troops, in my opinion, to Afghanistan.

CHETRY: So, you know, the focus certainly has been at least in the headlines on what's going on in Afghanistan but still Iraq poses many challenges. And do you believe that the logistical challenges, some of the challenges with security will all be met in time for this August 2010 deadline, which was the deadline to withdraw combat forces, U.S. combat forces from Iraq?

SKELTON: It appears so. And the fact that he indicates that additional troops other than those that are scheduled can come home and face potential redeployment, tells us this. If it's going well, we have a big investment there in troops, and equipment, and we have to make sure it's done responsibly, because if it's not, it's still fragile. Economies are still fragile. Government is still a fragile security situation.

CHETRY: Yes. And, you know, politically speaking as well, they seem to have still some fundamental issues that have not been worked out yet. What type of government is going to ultimately lead Iraq, whether it's going to be a big central government or whether it's going to be more of a system where areas run themselves.

Also the questions about sharing oil revenue, that's led to some tensions as well. Is there a concern and how are you going to address this with General Odierno about a spike in violence and whether or not that would complicate efforts to bring U.S. troops home?

SKELTON: Well, of course, we'll ask him about that but the fact that he is going to make recommendations to us, which I assume will be some several thousand troops, means things are going relatively well. You see, Iraq has a lot going for it. If you glue it all together and its government works well, it's a potentially rich country, it can function well and potential agriculture. Of course, the oil is there, and there's no reason that serious positive will of the people can't make this a success.

CHETRY: And then speaking of another big challenge, we're talking about Afghanistan right now and General Odierno said in an interview yesterday that he, as well as General Petraeus, General Stanley McChrystal all agree that Afghanistan were (ph) urgently needs more U.S. troops and more military support. Do you see the Obama administration coming to the table and agreeing to the additional troops, be it 10,000 or as much as 40,000 to 45,000 as has been recommended by some groups?

SKELTON: I certainly hope so. I sent a letter to the president just a few days ago urging him to heed the call for additional resources that General McChrystal is proposing. It's a very fragile situation.

You see, in my opinion, the real war didn't start there until March when the president laid out a strategy, a solid strategy, for the first time. And to fulfill this strategy, General McChrystal thinks we need additional resources and I hope the president will heed that request.

CHETRY: Well, it was great talking to you this morning, Congressman Ike Skelton, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, where you're going to be hearing from General Odierno today. Thanks for your time.

SKELTON: You bet.

ROBERTS: Well, with flu season just about upon us, the first doses of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine are being made available in the next couple of weeks or so. New York State is the only one that is mandating that certain people get that vaccine and guess what? There's a backlash against that. We'll tell you all about it coming right up.

Thirty-eight minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Now, there's a song of Revolution, if ever I heard one.

Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." The first dose of the H1N1 vaccine are being shipped and not a moment too soon. Health care workers will be among the first to be inoculated. But here in New York State, there is a backlash against forced swine flu vaccinations for those folks. Mary Snow is following that story for us this morning.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, as New York prepares to get its first doses of the swine flu vaccine next week, it's meeting resistance. New York is the only state to mandate that its roughly 500,000 health care workers get the vaccine under the threat of losing their jobs. And there's backlash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me liberty.

SNOW (voice-over): The liberty these health care workers are seeking is the freedom to opt out of a mandatory H1N1 vaccine. New York State says they must get the shots as a condition of employment, and it's enough for this physical therapist and mother of three to consider leaving the state, calling the requirement a violation of her rights.

BRENDA DELOZIER, PHYSICAL THERAPIST: It is not just one step, it's one of many steps towards controlling the American people.

SNOW: Julie Hinderliter, a registered nurse, says she can't afford to lose her job but doesn't want the swine flu shot.

JULIE HINDERLITER, REGISTERED NURSE: There's no reason to force us to take a vaccine that's full of all kinds of ingredients that we don't want to put in our bodies.

SNOW: Among concerns, some health care workers point to deaths blamed on a swine flu vaccine in 1976. We asked the state's health commissioner, Dr. Richard Daines, about that.

DR. RICHARD DAINES, NY STATE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: To look back at one isolated incident 33 years ago, it would be like saying, well, a plane crashed 33 years ago. I'll never fly again. And I suppose even an ordinary passenger could say that, but health care workers in our professions we're kind of like the pilot and the flight attendants and the crew and if we don't believe in the safety of this modern scientific enterprise, how can we persuade patients to believe in it?

SNOW: Daines says the state's health care workers are already required to get other shots such as measles and rubella and that patients' rights come first. One expert in infectious diseases says the vaccine is safe and he thinks New York's mandatory program is a good one.

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Voluntary programs have been only half successful. Only about half the health care workers across the country, including in my own institution, have come forward to be vaccinated.

SNOW: So will health care workers outside New York also be mandated to get swine flu vaccines? That question was put to Thomas Frieden, the director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, CDC DIRECTOR: Our sense is that this particular season in the midst of a pandemic is not the time at the federal level where we would start a new mandate along those lines.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: But while Dr. Frieden says he's not considering a federal mandate for health care workers this year, he says he does want them to get the swine flu shot -- John and Kiran.

CHETRY: Mary Snow for us this morning. We'll have to see where that one goes because there are people that say they don't want it, and they're not going to do it.

ROBERTS: Yes. Absolutely. CHETRY: All right. Well, still ahead, we're following the latest news.

Word of another earthquake hitting just off of Indonesia. There is now a tsunami watch and this is on top of the devastation in the Samoan islands because of another earthquake and tsunami. Our Jacqui Jeras is following all the latest on this.

It's 44 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Yes, we have word of another earthquake, this one just off of Sumatra, Indonesia. Jacqui Jeras is following the latest at the weather center in Atlanta for us, and there's a tsunami watch now as well, Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's right, tsunami watches have been issued for Indonesia as well as India, Thailand, and Malaysia. This was a very powerful earthquake, 7.9 in magnitude, and it was about 30 miles off the coast, so if a tsunami were to be generated, this would be happening relatively quickly.

There you can see the location of it, very near Sumatra. This was 54 miles deep is what the estimate is right now, so to put this in comparison with the earthquake that happened yesterday and the depth of that one, that was 7.4 miles deep so a huge difference, and this one will be less likely to generate something very similar to that. Now I want to go ahead and show you the estimated time map for the propagation map. Because of the location of this earthquake, this is not really going to be impacting the Pacific Ocean so no tsunami watches or warnings or advisories for Hawaii or for The United States Mainland at all.

So this is going to be more into the Indian Ocean, and there you can see the three-hour mark. So it is going to be maybe three or four hours before we'd see any of these waves move into parts of India. They moved very, very quickly, by the way. They can move as fast as 500 to 600 miles per hour. We got this animation together for you to help give you a better idea of how this occurs. These are the subduction plates and this is the Pacific plate and the Australian plate.

If an earthquake is to occur, it has to be the kind where the plate lifts upwards because that pushes up and displaces the water, and then you can see those waves as they move out and they propagate and there is a series of waves that come in. You know, the ones that happened yesterday about ten feet high and there were four of them, and those can come as far apart at anywhere between maybe ten minutes and two hours. So it is kind of a lengthy process as we continue to get more information on this. We'll let you know. So again a tsunami watches for Indonesia, for India, Thailand and Malaysia. John and Kiran, back to you.

ROBERTS: Jacqui, do you know how this earthquake that just happened compares to the big one back in 2004? JERAS: That one was, I believe, like a 9.0 or an 8.5, so this is definitely below that.

ROBERTS: All right. Jacqui Jeras for us this morning. Jacqui, thanks.

For the latest on the earthquake, yesterday's tsunami and all of the day's headlines, by the way, if you have an iPhone, download the new CNN app. It gives you access to breaking news, video. You can follow your favorite stories and even upload pictures and videos to our iReport Web site. The CNN app available at the App Store for just a $1.99.

CHETRY: Still ahead, we are going to be talking about this really, really heartbreaking custody case that's taking place right now. A dad in Tennessee goes to Japan after his ex-wife leaves with the kids and doesn't come back. He tries to get them back. He's now in jail for trying to kidnap his own children. His current wife is going to be joining us a little bit later to talk more about what's happening with this case now. 50 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." A custody drama unfolding 7,000 miles away. An American father sitting in a jail cell in Japan right now.

CHETRY: Yeah, Christopher Savoie charged with trying to kidnap his own kids after his Japanese ex-wife defied a court order here in the U.S. and took their two children back to her homeland. The Tennessee dad traveled to Japan after they failed to return home for school, but when he tried to actually take them back and go to the U.S. embassy in Japan, he ended up getting arrested. Kyung Lah has the very latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just a few steps away, that's how close American Christopher Savoie and his two children were to the front gate of the U.S. consulate in Fukuoka, Japan.

He was screaming, "let us in", says this woman, but Savoie never made it inside. Shannon Higgins traveling with the boy could only watch as Japanese police arrested his friend in front of his two children, 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca.

SHANNON HIGGINS, CHRISTOPHER SAVOIE'S FRIEND: Trenching to see the kids in the situation that they were. To see how things unfolded, and it just makes me have to ask, you know, was there any other option?

CHRISTOPHER SAVOIE, PARENT: I said they're what? They're what? They're in Japan?

LAH: From his Tennessee home before he came to Japan, Savoie described his frustration that his ex-wife, Noriko, abducted the children to her home country. A U.S. court awarded Savoie sole custody, but under Japanese law, Noriko is the only recognized guardian. So Christopher Savoie now sits in this jail facing up to five years behind bars for kidnapping.

STEVE CHRISTIE, INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANT PARENT-CHILD REUNION: It's a nightmare. It's a living nightmare that you can't escape.

LAH: Four years ago, American Steve Christie's son was abducted. Christie says there are upwards of a hundred of American parents who had children abducted by Japanese ex-spouses.

CHRISTIE: The fundamental thing that really needs a change is Japan needs to change its family law and recognize joint custody.

LAH: The U.S. embassy says it is working to win Savoie's release. As far as Isaac and Rebecca? They've been returned to their Japanese mother.

HIGGINS: In the end, it comes after the kids, that they are trapped in between two countries, two legal systems, two parents, two cultures.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: You know, we saw with the other case of the man from New Jersey whose son is down in Brazil, can't get him back out, how long -- that has been going on for years. How long is this going to go on for?

CHETRY: I know. The other shocking thing about it, I mean, at least in Brazil, he's been able to visit them as the long going custody, and the courts have actually ruled in his favor, but in this situation, Japan, the custom I guess is that if you divorce, the kids, you make a clean break from your children and from your ex and it's a totally different situation as we know here. They don't think he has any legal leg to stand on in Japan.

ROBERTS: Yeah, and now he's in jail which kind of makes the situation even that much more difficult.

Ahead, by the way, in our 8:00 hour here on AMERICAN MORNING, Christopher Savoie's attorney and his current wife join us live to discuss the arrest and why they are concerned about his health while he's in custody in Japan.

CHETRY: All right. We are going to have the latest details when we come back about Najibullah Zazi, the 24-year-old, who is basically selling doughnuts outside of a cart in Manhattan, and people say now that he was involved in a plot to attack the United States. He appeared in court. We are going to have the latest on that. 55 minutes after the hour.

ROBERTS: Three minutes down to the top of the hour. We're back with the Most News in the Morning. The 24-year-old Afghan man accused of plotting to plant a bomb in New York City has pleaded not guilty to the crime. Najibullah Zazi was arraigned by a federal court Brooklyn in order to be held without bond. Deborah Feyerick is tracking this developing story for us this morning. Good morning, Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning guys. And back to this developing, New York City's top cop now saying that he believes that the case has been thwarted, broken up and the question many are wondering this morning, is he just repeating what the FBI director said weeks ago that there's no eminent threat, or have all the leads dried up?

24-year-old terror suspect Najibullah Zazi has hands and feet unshackled, appeared relaxed at his arraignment in Federal court. And through his lawyer, he pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to use weapons of mass destruction. Zazi, who is being held as a flight risk, is accused of buying hydrogen peroxide and other industrial strength chemicals, with the intention to build bombs like those used to target London's subways and buses in 2005.

Zazi was arrested in Denver ten days ago. Federal authorities alleged that when he traveled to Pakistan last year, he received detailed of bomb-making instructions at an al Qaeda camp. Zazi maintains he went to Pakistan to see his wife.

J. MICHAEL DOWLING, NAJIBULLAH ZAZI'S ATTORNEY: What I've seen so far is that Mr. Zazi traveled to Pakistan, which is not illegal, but Mr. Zazi purchased certain products that contain chemicals that allegedly could be used to make a bomb, that those acts were not illegal.

FEYERICK: Zazi stayed for one night in this building in the Queens area of New York, where federal investigators later found several backpacks. Backpacks were used in the mass transit attacks in London and also Madrid. But two men living in the apartment, Naez Kahn and his uncle say the backpacks had been given away free by a store, and they planned to send them to relatives in Pakistan.

Investigators believe Zazi was preparing to act. Several days before driving to New York on September 9, Zazi checked into a Denver hotel room, and allegedly tried to heat bomb-making components. As he did so, Zazi repeatedly tried contacting an unknown individual, saying he needed answers urgently on the right mix of ingredients.

DOWLING: The government will have to produce someone else. They don't necessarily have to invite him, but they'd better come up with someone else or the conspiracy charge fails.

FEYERICK: Prosecutors say much of the evidence is classified, and so defense lawyers and court personnel will have to be screened to obtain security clearances.

Now the case is expected to be so complex. The both sides have agreed to waive certain deadlines. Prosecutors say they expect the discovery process to be voluminous. An interesting note in the court yesterday as U.S. Marshals sectioned off a row of seats for Zazi's family, well, no one shows.

ROBERTS: It's going to be a long involved case.

FEYERICK: Absolutely. It's not over yet, not by long shot.

ROBERTS: Deb Feyerick for us this morning. Deb, thanks so much.

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