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President to Hold Afghan Strategy Sessions; Is Obama's Message Getting Off Track?; New Autism Study Shows Autism Disorder Becoming More Common; Greenspan: Unemployment Will Top 10 Percent; Farming While Latino

Aired October 5, 2009 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning to you. It is October 5th. Thanks for joining us on the Most News in the Morning. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. Glad you're with us. We've got a lot of big stories that we're going to be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes.

First, President Obama is setting his sights this week on a major foreign policy challenge. That's Afghanistan. He's holding at least two meetings with his national security team, and these meetings could not come at a more sensitive time after eight American troops lost their lives over the weekend in a massive, coordinated attack.

ROBERTS: The war in Afghanistan not the only issue on the president's plate. He's also pushing his plans for health care reform, dealing with the economic crisis and working to fulfill many of his campaign promises. But with so many of these priorities still up in the air, is the president off message?

CHETRY: Also, it's a story that's sure to have people talking today. There are some new numbers out, a new study actually shining some light on autism. A study in the "Journal Pediatrics" (ph) now saying that one in every 91 kids have some degree of the disorder.

Are more kids being diagnosed? Is autism more common than we thought? We're going to get some answers today.

ROBERTS: But first, what happens at the White House this week could set the course for the war in Afghanistan. The president will huddle for at least two strategy sessions with all the big guns from his national security team. The meetings come as American troops on the ground were dealt a serious blow over the weekend.

Eight soldiers were killed when two bases were attacked by militants linked to the Taliban. It was the deadliest attack at American forces in more than a year.

We're covering the story from the Pentagon with our Barbara Starr this morning and at the White House with Dan Lothian. Let's start with Barbara, though.

And, Barbara, what do we know about this weekend attack? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, good morning. According to first reports, this was a terrible day for U.S. troops in this remote area of Eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. When you look at the map, you see how close this place of Nuristan really is.

Eight U.S. troops killed. Militants had the high ground. A large number of militants firing from ridge lines down onto a remote combat outpost where the U.S. troops were stationed. The militants using mortars, rockets, heavy machine guns. Other militants firing from a nearby mosque.

The firefight lasted we are told some 12 hours. The rough terrain and bad weather hindered the counterattack from really getting under way in a sustained fashion. One U.S. source saying that the U.S. troops threw everything they had at the militants, but again, when it was all over, eight U.S. troops dead.

It's ironic, John, these combat outposts are very vulnerable, and there is a strategy under way to abandon them and pull back because they're very tough to defend against militants and they're in such remote areas the thinking now is it may not be worth it. There just aren't enough troops to put out there -- John.

ROBERTS: Barbara, the strategy going forward is a big question that the administration is wrestling with. The National Security adviser, Jim Jones, was on "STATE OF THE UNION" with our John King over the weekend. It seemed that he was trying to create a little bit of distance from General McChrystal's call for more troops in Afghanistan. Let's listen to what he said.


GEN. JIM JONES (RET.), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Ideally it's better for military advice to come up through the chain of command, and I think that General McChrystal and the others in the chain of command will present the president with not just one option, which does, in fact, tend to have a, you know, forcing function, but a range of options that the president can consider.


ROBERTS: He appeared, Barbara, to be mildly chastising General McChrystal for going out and talking about his recommendations in a very public speech. But what's the reaction at the Pentagon? Are commanders there feeling pressure to deliver plans to put fewer, if any, additional troops on the front lines?

STARR: Well, a bit of a smackdown actually of General McChrystal and his proposal for perhaps tens of thousands of additional troops. I talked to a source within the last 24 hours very familiar with General McChrystal's thinking. At this point he is not proposing any other options. What this source tells us is General McChrystal sticks by his view that a full counterinsurgency strategy is what is needed. That if he thought there was another way to go, he would have said so -- John. ROBERTS: Could that be read as General McChrystal really trying to protect not just his point of view but his military career as well, to say this is what I recommend, this is the only way I'm comfortable doing this?

STARR: Well, you know, I think every four-star general -- and General Jones is a retired four-star, he would know this -- has to eventually come to that decision. Can they support what a president of the United States want civilian authorities who are in charge are telling them is the way forward?

Typically the way this goes is while the debate is going on, inside the White House you can voice your views. Once a decision is made by the president, you salute smartly and carry it out, or you have to resign. I don't think anybody thinks that General McChrystal or anyone is there yet. But General McChrystal is a pretty candid guy. He's going to say what he thinks and put his view on the table. It's going to be up to the White House to decide, of course.

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon this morning. Barbara, thanks so much.

CHETRY: So, these attacks in Afghanistan underscore the tough choices facing the president right now and we keep the conversation going with our Dan Lothian, the only reporter live at the White House this early.

So, Dan, as the president prepares for big meetings on the war effort this week, will attacks like the one over the weekend put more pressure on him, renewed pressure to send more troops?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, it will certainly add to the criticism that we've heard, especially from Republicans up on Capitol Hill, that the president not acting very quickly on deciding what the next strategy will be in Afghanistan will only endanger the troops who are already on the ground in Afghanistan and will allow al Qaeda and the Taliban to grow there. But the White House is saying that it's not about the speed at which they get this done, but they want to get it done right. And that's why you're seeing the president sitting down with top generals, his cabinet members and other advisers last week here at the White House and additional national security meetings will be taking place at the White House on Wednesday and Friday as well, as the president tries to figure out the best way to go forward.

Will it be sending in additional troops or will it be scaling back and doing what the vice president has been pushing, which is using more special ops teams and also attacking from the air with these predator drones. The White House again, as I pointed out, wanting to get this right and not really wanting to do it quickly but right.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we'll see if we hear anything today on that front. Afghanistan, though, just one of many issues on the president's plate. His ambitious to-do list has had some hang-ups and hiccups as we know. It's something that "Saturday Night Live" is actually poking some fun at this weekend. Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, AS BARACK OBAMA: On my first day in office, I said I'd close Guantanamo Bay. Is it closed yet? No.

I said we'd be out of Iraq. Are we? Not the last time I checked.

I said I'd make improvements in the war in Afghanistan. Is it better? No, I think it's actually worse.

How about health care reform? Hell no.


CHETRY: So there you see them having a little bit of fun at the president's expense.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

CHETRY: But is there concern among senior aides that this is the perception on Main Street, that the president put a lot on his plate and has not accomplished much yet?

LOTHIAN: Well, if they're concerned, you know, they're not talking about it publicly. What the White House has been dealing with from the very beginning is this issue of whether or not the president is juggling too much, and they often will suggest that this is something that's really being pushed by the media.

But the president himself has pointed out that the reason he's dealing with all of these issues is because these are all matters that cannot wait. And that's why you see him tackling Afghanistan. That's why you see him tackling the economy, and they'll point out to their successes.

Yes, there are a lot of things that the president set out to do when he came into office that he has not yet accomplished. They point out that he has a lot more time, but they also will point to the fact that he's been able to work on the economy, to bring it back from the brink of total collapse. So they believe that the president has done a lot, and they believe that the president needs to do all these things at the same time. And that's why while he's juggling Afghanistan this week, today you'll see him meeting here at the White House with a group of doctors as he pushes health care reform, Kiran.

CHETRY: It's been a long nine months. A lot of challenges. No one is doubting that for a second.

Dan Lothian for us this morning, thanks.

ROBERTS: Other stories new this morning. The White House says President Obama is committed to taking on the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban on gays serving openly in the military. National Security adviser Jim Jones telling CNN's John King on "STATE OF THE UNION" that it will happen at the right time.


GEN. JIM JONES (RET.), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president has an awful lot on his desk. I know this is an issue that he intends to take on at the appropriate time. And he has already signaled that to the Defense Department. The Defense Department is doing the things it has to do to prepare, but at the right time I'm sure the president will take it on.


ROBERTS: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently asked President Obama to weigh in on the policy.

CHETRY: And this is a crucial week in the fight against swine flu. The first doses of the H1N1 vaccine will be available today to people living in Indiana and Tennessee. Other states will start getting their shipments later this week. Pregnant women, health care workers and people with special health conditions including heart disease as well as diabetes are supposed to get the vaccine first.

ROBERTS: It was a good weekend for the undead. Woody Harrelson's horror comedy "Zombieland" took the number one box office spot raking in $25 million. The family flick "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" slipped to second place. And the double feature 3D release of "Toy Story 1 and 2" came in at number three for the weekend.

CHETRY: Well, still ahead, we're going to have the latest on this new autism study that's out that is a real eye-opener. It suggests the disorder is much more common than we thought. We're going to talk about that still ahead.

It's nine minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Today is National Child Health Day, and we're talking about a new study released today in the journal "Pediatrics" that is raising a lot of questions this morning about autism.

The findings say nearly 700,000 children in the United States have autism spectrum disorder also known as ASD. That amounts to a staggering one out of every 91 children.

Alina Cho has been digging into those numbers this morning. Does this research show that autism has become more common or are we just better at identifying it or too many things are being lumped into the same bucket?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, that's the $64,000 question, you know. We were on a conference call on Friday and even the authors of the study say this is a complicated story.

I mean, and listen, is there a better, wider diagnosis? Yes. Does that explain everything? Absolutely not.

And really, all of the smart minds who watch autism say any way you slice it these numbers are pretty, pretty scary.

Guys, good morning. You know, the U.S. government is releasing new autism numbers today and they are eye-opening. One in 91 children in the United States diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder -- one in 58 boys. Now that amounts to more than one percent of the population of children aged 3 to 17. Pretty scary, and what's worse, many say we as a nation are wholly unprepared to deal with it.



CHO (voice-over): If there was any doubt about the extent of autism, look here -- 27,000 families, all affected by autism, walking for a cause.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty soon there won't be anybody that doesn't know somebody who has a child with autism. We're everywhere.

CHO: A new comprehensive government study says one in 91 children in the United States has autism spectrum disorder, 673,000 children, more than one percent of the population of kids aged 3 to 17. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed, one in 58. The Centers for Disease Control calls the study significant. Autism a serious issue that warrants urgent attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is staggering. It's quite amazing, and I wish we had the answers for what's going on.

MARK ROITHMAYR, PRESIDENT, AUTISM SPEAKS: Is there a better diagnosis? Yes. Is there a wider diagnosis? Yes. But it doesn't account for these striking numbers. Something else is going on. There's something else that's going on, and we don't know.

CHO: A medical mystery. The study's authors say part of the increase can be attributed to more awareness. Doctors are more willing to make the diagnosis than even three years ago. Parents are more willing to talk about it, but that doesn't explain everything. Buried in these numbers they say is a true increase.

CHO: Ari Cantor (ph) is moderate to severely autistic. He can read, write, even cook but only with the help of his parents. At 13, he's still a child, but soon Ari will grow up. Then what?

They really have nowhere to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, ARI'S MOTHER: Nowhere to go, and we are wholly unprepared to help them. They may need different supports.

CHO (on camera): Such as?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Such as they may need a job coach.

CHO (voice-over): Ari's father's great hope?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, ARI'S FATHER: That he finds a place in society and society finds a place for him. I'm not smart enough to know what that place is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's the greatest fear. What will happen to him when we're gone? Who will love him? Who will watch him to make sure he's okay? Who will take care of him?


CHO: And that is the challenge of all parents with children with autism, especially those who are high-functioning, like Ari, who really could go on to live by himself as an adult, get a job, maybe even have a relationship.

But his parents and the authors of the study maintain only with the proper support - and guys, so far everyone agrees, we're just not there yet. Our system isn't there. You look at a kid like Ari, he'll go to an ungraded school until he's 22 years old. His mother says after that, children living with autism who become adults, they fall off the cliff. There are no services to support them. And, you know - I mean, maybe he'll go on to have a job, maybe he can't use a computer with a mouse, maybe he needs a touch screen, maybe he needs a job coach, those types of things, and we're just not there yet. We're just not dealing with it yet. And so this is a wake-up call.

ROBERTS: It obviously raises a lot of questions. I mean, an autism diagnosis could be very expensive for a family. That's pretty obvious. It's just been 15 minute's time. We're going to be talking with Paul Keckley - he's a health care economist - to find out how these new numbers figure into the debate about health care.

Alina Cho, thanks.

CHETRY: And still ahead, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan speaking about unemployment, about how long he thinks it's going to last, and when the economy is going to get better. Christine Romans, "Minding Your Business." Sixteen minutes past the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. And new this morning, a fast-moving wildfire in Southern California forcing at least 4,000 people from their homes. The so-called sheep (ph) fire has scorched more than 7,000 acres and destroyed three homes. It's about 20 percent contained this morning. Yesterday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in San Bernardino County.

CHETRY: The suspect accused of stalking and posting online videos of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews naked in her hotel room is expected in court today. A Chicago judge will decide if Michael Barrett should be released on bail or sent to Los Angeles as a federal prisoner. Barrett was arrested Friday at O'Hare International Airport. Investigators said that Barrett rigged peepholes into hotel rooms across the country, recorded videos of Andrews, and then tried to sell them to celebrity Web site If convicted, the insurance executive faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

ROBERTS: Wow! How bizarre is that.

Bank of America will decide on an emergency CEO sometime this week. The Wall Street Journal reporting it's in case legal troubles force the bank's current boss, Ken Lewis, to step down before the end of the year, his announced retirement date. The Journal also says the plan was in the works before Lewis announced that he would retire last Wednesday.

CHETRY: Christine Romans is "Minding Your Business" this morning, 20 minutes past the hour. We're hearing from former Fed chief Alan Greenspan about unemployment, how long he thinks it's going to last.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: He was talking to ABC's George Stephanopoulos. You know, Alan Greenspan used to be called "The Maestro." Everyone thought that he was just a genius about the American economy, presided over a time when the economy was really roaring ahead. Now, people look back and say maybe there were policies and - and a point of view from this Fed chief that helped foster some of this credit bubble.

Either way, let's talk about what Alan Greenspan has to say about the economy right now. A 10 percent unemployment rate, he says, is likely, and the unemployment rate will rise there and stay there, even though he thinks that we're going to see an economy grow this quarter at 3 percent. That's a pretty good rebound from what we've seen over the past couple of years, but it wouldn't matter for the personal tragedies of all these people who are trying to - to get a job.

So he says joblessness is going to stay high. We have a 9.8 percent unemployment rate right now. Think of this - June 1983 was the last time we were up here. It's was 10.1 percent there. We have lost 7.2 million jobs since this recession began. But Greenspan is particularly concerned about another number in here, and this is the number of people who've been jobless for more than six months. He says that when you've been out of the labor market that long, you start to lose skills. The labor market keeps changing, technology keeps changing and the longer you're out, the harder it is on your skills. And he says that that is a tragedy for American families and their - and their pocketbooks, but also, listen to this. This is what he says about the broader impact on the American economy.


ALAN GREENSPAN, FORMER FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: What makes an economy great is a combination of the capital assets of the economy and the people who run it, and if you erode the human skills that are involved there, this is a real and, in one sense, an irretrievable loss.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: "An irretrievable loss" - that's the first time I've heard somebody of his stature talk about the danger of having such high unemployment for such a long time. Should there be another stimulus? He said no. Forty percent of the current stimulus has been deployed. There's a lot still more to go. He does seem to favor, though, an extension of unemployment benefits and - and those sorts of things, tax credits for health care. He said there's important safety nets happening for people who are unemployed and he doesn't necessarily think that stimulus can be stimulating (ph), but he thinks all of those things are important and justified.

ROBERTS: So here we are, Monday morning, start of another week. Have you got a "Roman's Numeral" for us...

ROMANS: I do. It's 5...

ROBERTS: ... this morning to kick off the week?

ROMANS: It's 5.4 million, and this has to do with Alan Greenspan's concerns about the overall impact of unemployment on the economy.

CHETRY: And people out...

ROBERTS: Go ahead.

CHETRY: ... for six months?

ROMANS: That's right. That's the number of people now...

CHETRY: You were going to say (ph)?

ROBERTS: I was going to guess the number of jobs that have been permanently lost in this country.

ROMANS: Oh, I hope it's not 5.4 million, but it very well could be, John, to be quite honest. But 5.4 million people - a number of people unemployed for six months or longer, and he's very concerned about how high that number is getting. That's a long time for people to be unemployed and a broader impact, he says, on the quality of the American economy.

CHETRY: Christine Romans for us. Thanks so much.

You know, also today, we're talking about this new autism study suggesting the disorder is far more common than we thought. We're going to be talking with a specialist about affording paying for health care, and autism costs are expected to skyrocket in the coming years. We'll be right back.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. It's an eye-popping charge from farmers who say they were wiped out of business after devastating floods, ruined not just because of the water but charges of racism at the Department of Agriculture. Our Thelma Gutierrez has that story for us this morning.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): John, Kiran, we're talking about hundreds of small family farmers across the country who alleged the USDA has denied them disaster relief, access to government loans, and has treated them unfairly based on their ethnicity and race.


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): In Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, California, hundreds of Latino farmers say the US Department of Agriculture discriminated against them and forced many families out of business. Like John Carrillo, whose father built a thriving family farm in Salinas, California.

JOHN CARRILLO, LATINO FARMER: That's our logo here. Our American dream was to succeed as a Hispanic farming company.

GUTIERREZ: After the devastating floods of 1995, Carrillo asked for disaster relief.

CARRILLO: I was denied three times.

GUTIERREZ: He wasn't alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost our 300-acre ranch that we were leasing in Greenfield, California.

GUTIERREZ: What did you lose?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One hundred and fifty-one (ph) acres.

GUTIERREZ: What did you lose?


GUTIERREZ: Latino farmers allege that over decades the USDA denied them loans and assistance that white farmers were able to get. They filed a complaint known as the Garcia case, charging the government with discrimination. The case is stalled for nearly a decade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Hill. How are you?

GUTIERREZ: Attorney Stephen Hill represents the Latino farmers. His Washington, DC law firm took their case pro bono.

STEPHEN HILL, ATTORNEY FOR LATINO FARMERS: The original defendant in this case, Secretary Glickman, has admitted in testimony before Congress that good people lost their farmland not because of bad weather, not because of crops, but because of the color of their skin.

GUTIERREZ: Latino farmers, Native Americans, women and African- Americans all filed class-action lawsuits against the USDA claiming discrimination. But the government settled only with the black farmers.

HILL: And, to date, the government has paid out nearly a billion dollars to some 15,000 black farmers.

GUTIERREZ: And the allegations that the black farmers made were similar to the Hispanic farmers?

HILL: Not similar - identical.

GUTIERREZ: The only difference between the two cases, according to Hill, the black farmers were certified to fight as a group, whereas the court has not granted Latino farmers class-action status.

TOM VILSACK, USDA SECRETARY: The Garcia case is a little different because it wasn't certified as a class action.

GUTIERREZ: Tom Vilsack, the current agriculture secretary, acknowledged as much in a recent video posted on YouTube. A spokesman for the Justice Department, which represents the USDA, told CNN it could not comment on the case citing pending litigation.

How many of you are still farmers today? None of you? What are you doing now, Joe?

CARRILLO: I'm running (INAUDIBLE) for a company.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm working in Kmart.

GUTIERREZ: A bitter end to an American dream.


GUTIERREZ: The farmers say if they're forced to fight the government individually, many families will not be able to afford the legal battle, and their cases of discrimination may never be heard -- John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Thelma Gutierrez for us this morning. Thelma, thanks so much.

And a reminder, we're just 16 days away now from "Latino in America" - a comprehensive look at how Latinos are reshaping American politics, schools, businesses and neighborhoods. It premieres on October the 21st and 22nd, only on CNN.

CHETRY: And taking a look at our top stories, this morning, we're tracking the seventh named storm of the hurricane season right now, tropical storm Grace is about 400 miles from Portugal and moving toward the northeast. That storm is packing winds of 65 miles per hour and is expected to weaken in the next day.

Our Rob Marciano is keeping track of Grace and will have more for us in about 15 minutes.

ROBERTS: A developing story out of Pakistan right now, the United Nations shutting its offices after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the lobby of the World Food Program in Islamabad. At least three people were killed. The attack comes in the heels of a new threat by the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. He is promising to target the United States and Pakistan for attacks carried out along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

CHETRY: President Obama will not be meeting with the Dalai Lama during his visit to Washington this week. Their meeting has been postponed until after the president meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao next month. It will be the first time since 1991 that the Tibetan's spiritual leader will visit Washington and not meet with the president.

Well, back to our top story this morning. A brad-new study published in the journal "Pediatrics" says that the number of children with some form of autism has taken another big jump. In the 1990s, one in 166 children had autism. In 2002, that rose to one in 150 kids, and now these new numbers put it at one out of every 91 children. The CDC and the National Institutes of Health does not have a clear answer as to why this rate is increasing.

Health care economist Paul Keckley joins us now. Paul is also involved in the non-profit Hanna and Friends Autism Group as well.

Paul, thanks for being with us this morning.


CHETRY: You know, this study is alarming to a lot of people. I think one because of the jump in numbers. Also because of the mystery surrounding autism. Who gets it? How do you get it? And also, how do you diagnose it? What do you make of this study?

KECKLEY: Well, two things. One, we're finding better ways to diagnose. And as you know, what we've found is increased prevalence but also unknowns. This was a study done by telephone survey of parents who were asked if a health care provider had diagnosed their child. Imagine the numbers of people who might be inaccessible by telephone or those that are not diagnosed by providers at all. So it really is a striking study.

CHETRY: And explain what they mean when they say autism spectrum. Some are asking, are they just lumping in more children who have been diagnosed with certain behavioral characteristics that may or may not be autism. Asperger Syndrome considered a milder form, and some of these other non-specific behavioral disorders.


CHETRY: I mean, is it growing because they're widening this quote-unquote "spectrum?"

KECKLEY: Possibly. There are diagnostic tools like an E-2 checklist that clinicians can use, but certainly we're defining these diagnoses differently than we might have before. And we're also finding different ways to capture the data. So all of those contribute to what is arguably an increased prevalence, and yet, what we see in this study might actually understate the actual prevalence of autism.

CHETRY: So you also found that 38 percent of parents, as you said, this was a phone interview conducted with parents who said that their health care provider or their child's pediatrician had diagnosed with autism their child. But 38 percent said that their child at one time was diagnosed with autism, but no longer.

How is that possible?

KECKLEY: Well, it's because they may fall off the map. They may be treated for other diagnoses. Some of the first cousins to autism sometimes are thought to be just learning disabilities or mental disorders and the like. So it's not a perfect system. One of the concepts in health reform that's popular is that we have medical homes. That people have ongoing care under a primary care team, and that would eliminate certain of the gaps that occur in care. It's understandable.

CHETRY: Is there a cure, though? Is there a cure for autism?

KECKLEY: You know, if you study this back to my days in evidence-based medicine at Vanderbilt and our Deloitte studies, it's hard to find. There are a lot of experiments under way with drugs and various dietary approaches to treating autism, but the science is not perfect.

CHETRY: Why is it more common among boys than girls? According to the study, one in 58 boys will be autistic, whereas the overall numbers one in 91, according to the study.

KECKLEY: Unknown. Unknown. Great question. It's also more prevalent among Caucasians than it is non-Caucasians. And there are so many other areas where -- until we have the data and until we have longitudinal studies, meaning we follow people over a long period of time, are we really going to have those answers?

CHETRY: And it's hard to imagine the costs as you take a look at somebody that's going to need special treatment, care, supervision for the rest of their life because physically speaking people with autism can live just as long or live just as long. So what are the long-term plans, if any, to deal with these hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of autistic adults we're going to be seeing?

KECKLEY: Kiran, the plans are spotty. There are programs like "Hanna and Friends" that you mentioned earlier that are dealing with kids in their late teens and even into their adult years. Human services programs have been almost the safety net, but those are not complete. And those fall under different buckets than health care expenditures. So the costs are enormous. The studies back in '07 suggesting this may be a $35 billion challenge to the U.S. health system. So we're not ready to tackle that.

CHETRY: Hey, you know, and the big question that looms over this entire thing for many and all of us know people who had children diagnosed with autism is why? I mean, why are we seeing -- you know, people believe passionately on many sides. Some bring up, you know, environmental factors. Some say that, you know, is it genetic? Are you predisposed to get it? It just seems like we don't have a lot of answers about this mysterious disease or disorder.

KECKLEY: We have more questions. We have more questions than we have answers. You hear it's asbestos, it's environmental, it's variety of things, it's our diet. We don't know. We do not know.

CHETRY: All right. Well, obviously, we have a long way to go in terms of figuring out what we do with this growing problem.

Paul Keckley, great to talk to you this morning, though.

Thanks for being with us.

KECKLEY: Thank you, Kiran.

ROBERTS: It is the first Monday in October, and you know what that means. Supreme Court back in session, and number of landmark cases that they are going to be talking about. And one case in particular has caught our attention.

In 1934, a veterans group put a cross up on public land to honor dead from World War I. Well, now it's become a big problem. In fact, the cross isn't really there anymore. It's covered up by a billboard. Our Kate Bolduan takes a look at both sides of this debate, coming right up.


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

Today all eyes will be on Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the Supreme Court kicks off its new term. The high court will be tackling the full docket including whether a Christian cross on public property in the Mojave Desert must go.

Here's Kate Bolduan with that story.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, behind these plywood boards stands what's at the center of a fight that's made its way all the way to the high court, all against this desert backdrop miles from civilization.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): You could very easily drive right by or mistake it for a forgotten billboard in the middle of 1.6 million acres of desert, but inside is a cross boarded up by order of a federal judge, a cross creating a huge constitutional controversy.

(on camera): How many miles do you guys travel from your home to come take care of the memorial?

HENRY SANDOZ, UNOFFICIAL CARETAKERS OF CROSS: No, we don't really take care of it now because of the box, but we're 160 miles away from it now. BOLDUAN (voice-over): Henry and Wanda Sandoz have been the unofficial care takers of what has for decades been known as the Mojave Memorial Cross, first erected in 1934 by their friend, a World War I veteran to honor fallen soldiers.

WANDA SANDOZ, UNOFFICIAL CARETAKERS OF CROSS: We just love our veterans and we feel that they should be honored. And this is right here in this little piece of our world, that's how we did it.

BOLDUAN: But it also sits in the Mohave National Preserve, a government land, and some now argue that cross is violating the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state.

PETER ELIASBERG, ACLU OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: What Bouno want is neutrality and a complete remedy here.

BOLDUAN: Peter Eliasberg is the ACLU attorney for Frank Buono, a former ranger who worked in the preserve, the man who filed the original lawsuit. While Buono is Catholic and a veteran, he says the Mojave cross should go.

ELIASBERG: For the government to say we're going to impose on each and every one of you veterans this religious symbol, even though for many of you it is not your religious symbol. That is not an appropriate expression of religion in public life.

BOLDUAN: Jewish and Muslim veterans groups support Buono, but attorneys for the veterans of foreign wars and the Sandozes say the cross is a historical memorial not a religious symbol, warning the outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications.

HIRAM SASSER, LIBERTY LEGAL INSTITUTE: And this is the first one that's going up to the Supreme Court, and they want to make sure that this one prevails so that all the veterans' memorials with religious imagery across the country can be protected.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Why not just take this memorial, same cross, same memorial and just move it to a less controversial location?

H. SANDOZ: It was put here by the veterans for the veterans of all wars, and that's where it should stay.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): In recent years, the Supreme Court has taken a case-by-case approach on this issue, allowing the Ten Commandments to remain on public property in a Texas case. The same day ruling a display of the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky court house unconstitutional. With its caretakers anxiously standing watch, it's now up to the high court to decide the fate of this cross.

W. SANDOZ: I hope it won't be too long before we'll be able to look at the cross again, instead of a stupid box.

H. SANDOZ: Really. We'll repaint it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BOLDUAN: No matter the outcome, this case could be a major test of if and where the government will draw the line when it comes to any private expression on public land - John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Kate Bolduan for us this morning.

Kate, thanks so much.

You know, the VFW and Congress tried to find a remedy here that the VFW would get a little parcel of that land, where the cross was on if they gave Bureau of Land Management and other parcel of land. The court said, no, it's too cute by half. We can't do that. So we'll see where this one goes today. Interesting.

We want to know what you think about this story, by the way. Sound off on our blog. Just head to

And don't go anywhere, because coming up at 6:56 Eastern, we're going to be talking to our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, author of the best-selling book "The Nine," about the Supreme Court about what we can expect from the newest Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor who makes her first appearance in open court today.

CHETRY: All right. We look forward to hearing from Jeff.

Meanwhile, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back Rob Marciano following extreme weather for us, plus possibly a tropical storm out there.

Forty-four minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Starship, "We Built This City," on the A.M. playlist this morning. It's 46 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. That's a live look right at New York at the upper West side this morning. It's 51 degrees going up to 68. And it's going to be mostly sunny today.

ROBERTS: It's still sunny at the road (ph) of San Francisco.

CHETRY: I don't know. It's just any city that was built on rock 'n roll.

ROBERTS Not just rock but rock 'n roll.

Rob Marciano is at the weather center of Atlanta this morning checking all of the extreme weather. Another tropical storm out there. The season is trying to hang on, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah. This one is kind of interesting. It's so far east, John and Kiran that it's almost off our satellite map. I want to point this out. Here's New York or Jersey, and it's pretty much along the same latitude as that. We'll move the map over here, the Azure, Canary Island, this thing is right about there and moving quickly off towards the north and east. It has 70-mile an hour winds, tropical storm Grace.

I question whether this is a tropical storm, but that's not really for me to decide. There was over waters that were far less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and about the latitude of New York City. So anyway, this is the forecast track heading towards the British Isles here before too long. But who knows before that happens, it might become a hurricane.

All right. Let's talk a little bit more about what's going on a little bit closer to home. The flood-stricken South seeing another batch of heavy rain especially across the Atlanta area, Eastern parts of Georgia. I suppose the drought not officially over in the Carolina, so this is for the most part some beneficial rainfall for them. And It won't hang around too long. So just isolated patches of flooding today.

Cold core low across parts of the Rockies looking for some snow there. Another nice day I think across parts of Northeast. But if you're doing some travel looking out for Atlanta, Charlotte and New Orleans to see some rain-related delays and maybe some wind delays across New York City with a high temperature there of 69 degrees. Kiran back to you.

CHETRY: All right. Can't complain. Sunny 68 and 69. Not bad. Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: Enjoy. See you guys.

CHETRY: Still ahead, the investigation is widening now into that New York terror plot, the plot to detonate homemade bombs in the U.S. There are new details on who the feds are watching now. It's 49 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Right now, the investigation is widening into the New York plot to set off homemade bombs in the United States.

ROBERTS: CNN is learning just who officials are watching, and they're linked to the only person so far arrested, 24-year-old Najibullah Zazi. Here's Susan Candiotti with the latest.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When accused terror conspirator, Najibullah Zazi, traveled to Pakistan last year, what happened to the others who were with him? Sources close to the investigation tell CNN, several of them are back in the U.S. presumably under surveillance. No one will say who, how many, or where they are.

RAY KELLY, NYPD COMMISSIONER: There's a significant amount of resources being devoted to it, and the investigation is going forward aggressively.

CANDIOTTI: You're confident that those people will not get away?


CANDIOTTI: Prosecutors allege Zazi and others flew to Peshawar, Pakistan in August 2008. During FBI questioning, they say he admitted getting explosives training at an al Qaeda camp. Zazi has pleaded not guilty to a terror plot. One of the people under nonstop surveillance is Naiz Khan. He is a childhood friend of Zazi and says he let Zazi stay at his apartment as an impromptu favor on September 10th after Zazi drove to New York from Denver.

Khan says the FBI also questioned him about traveling from Pakistan to New York on the same day as Zazi last January. Khan says it's all pure coincidence. He says they didn't fly to Pakistan with Zazi either and showed us his passport to prove it. He says he's not a terrorist and has not been charged in the case.


NAIZ KHAN, ZAZI'S CHILDHOOD FRIEND: Every year I go three months, and then I come back. And I did not even know that he's coming or he's in Pakistan or not.


CANDIOTTI: When Zazi returned from Pakistan, prosecutors say he and others bought large amounts of hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals from beauty supply stores in Colorado. Those were chemicals were bomb ingredients used in deadly terror attacks overseas. Man has learned the search for possible evidence has expanded to include fertilizer.

That was a key ingredient in the Oklahoma City bombing. The FBI has been canvassing businesses including this New York landscaper asking about fertilizer sales and showing a binder of male photos. In the meantime, Zazi's uncle tells CNN, federal investigators flew him and his wife to New York last week to testify before a grand jury as part of an ongoing investigation.

This case is maybe going full throttle, but as one source put it, no one is ready to say the FBI has its arms completely around it -- John and Kiran.

ROBERTS: Susan Candiotti this morning. Susan, thank you so much.

The first Monday in October and that means the Supreme Court is back in session, even though it had a rare hearing in September. Of course, all eyes will be on Judge Sonia Sotomayor to see how she might wield her influence on the court. Our Jeff Toobin, author of the best-selling book "The Nine" about the supreme court joins us coming up next and tells us what we're in store for us. Stay with us.


ROBERTS: Four minutes today at the top of the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. The Supreme Court starts its new term later on this morning. New justice Sonia Sotomayor makes her debut, actually, makes her debut in terms of the new session. She was there on the bench once in September. There are some critical cases on the docket. For more, let's bring in our CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, also the author of the best book around in the court, and how was that for plug, "The Nine.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: That's what we love. We love those plugs. Happy first Monday in October to you.

ROBERTS: Same to you. I know it's an exciting time for you.

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: So justice Sonia Sotomayor was in open court back in September when they, you know, had that rare hearing out of the session on the Hillary Clinton movie. She proved that she was going to jump right in. So how do you expect her influence to be felt on the court on this term?

TOOBIN: You know, just as Byron White was famous for saying "when you change one member of the court, you don't just change one member, you change the whole court." And that generally is true. That the vibe changes with the new justice. This may be, though, a rare exception to that because her politics seem very similar to David Souter's so that the divisions on the court, four very conservative justices and four liberal justices, Anthony Kennedy and the middle is probably not going to change that much.

ROBERTS: Yeah, Clarence Thomas said it as well saying that adding a new justice to the court takes the court, "out of its comfort zone."

TOOBIN: It does and, you know, the recent years in the court, it tends to work this way. There was the longest period of stability in the history of the nine-member court. 1994 to 2005, there were no changes at all, 11 years with the same nine justices. But since 2005, this is now the third new justice. So we appear to be in a period where the court is turning over.

ROBERTS: So she has proven herself to be no shrinking violet on the court, even though she's is, I guess, you can say a rookie even though she has had 17 years on the bench. But there are other legal analysts who were saying with Sonia Sotomayor out there on the bench, very outspoken sort of person, will justices Roberts and Alito try to sort of assert their conservative influence on the court to a greater degree than they have in the past couple of years?

TOOBIN: I think we're starting to see Chief Justice Roberts in particular but also Justice Alito really asserting themselves as very conservative justices. There are now four very conservative justices, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia. That's a very powerful block, but it just underlines how important Anthony Kennedy is because he usually sides with the conservatives but not always.

ROBERTS: We talked just a few minutes ago about this case that is going to come up before the court about the cross in the Mojave Desert, whether or not that's a religious symbol on public land that needs to go. A couple of other cases who want to get you to outline force because they're very important as well. McDonald v. Chicago, a hearing about gun rights. What's that all about.?

TOOBIN: Two years ago, the court issued a very important decision saying that the second amendment, which speaks of the right to keep and bear arms is a personal right to individuals. When it comes to federal regulations. It was a case that came out of D.C.

But it's an even bigger issue this time, because the question is, does that right to keep and bear arms apply against the states? Because most gun control laws are not federal laws, they're state laws. And the question is, are all those state gun control laws unconstitutional? That's the issue that's up in that case.

ROBERTS: And the two other cases that will be presented currently before the court. Sullivan v. Florida, Graham v. Florida, whether or not to sentences to minors -- life sentences against minors in prison without hope of parole constitutes, what is it? cruel and unusual punishment.

TOOBIN: Five years ago the court ruled that juveniles could not be executed. That you could not execute someone for something they did as a child. This is somewhat an expansion of that. Is it unconstitutional to sentence a child to life without parole for a non- murder offense.

The cases there refers to is sexual assaults and robberies, these are not murders. These children, can you sentence them to life without parole?

ROBERTS: OK, so a couple of big chases before the court.

TOOBIN: And they always add court cases over the course of the year, so we don't know. By next June I expect we'll be talking about other cases as well.

ROBERTS: Jeff, we'll get you back in the third hour to talk more about this. Thanks so much for dropping by. Appreciate it.

TOOBIN: All right.