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CNN NEWSROOM

Football Team Gives Hope to New Orleans; Two Dead after Sweat Lodge Ritual

Aired October 15, 2009 - 13:00   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Tony, thanks.

Battered in 2005, still bruised in 2009. New Orleans, one scene of Katrina's crimes. Its heard a lot of promises over the years. Will the president push the recovery forward?

Women fit for a kingpin. They ride the cocaine train live in Columbia's fast lane. Death's never to far away.

An immigrant beaten to a pulp not far from where another immigrant was beaten to death. Are the dots there to connect?

Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips, live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

It's not Barack Obama's first trip to post-Katrina New Orleans, but it is President Obama's first time. The first time that people on the Gulf Coast can look at him and say, help us out. This hour, he's at MLK Charter School. Katrina wiped that place out in 2005. And now it's the first public school in the city's Lower Ninth Ward to reopen.

When you hear the word "Katrina," isn't this what pops into your head? Rooftop rescues, the Superdome turned into shambles, desperation, ruin, nightmares to last a lifetime? Of course, you can rebuild a city, but how do you rebuild a spirit? Leave that to the Saints.

Here's CNN's Dan Lothian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most people across the country and around the world remember the New Orleans Superdome as an ugly and dangerous shelter after Hurricane Katrina hit the city. But more than four years later...

JAMES ANDREWS, BUSINESS OWNER: This is my city here, born and raised here.

LOTHIAN: ... transportation business owner James Andrews sees something different.

ANDREWS: Now? Oh, man, it's an awesome structure.

LOTHIAN: The building is sparkling, and so is the record of the team that temporarily relocated, but came back. The New Orleans Saints are 4-0. Some say this perfect season is a good metaphor for a city and region still struggling to recover, like Andrews, whose New Orleans home was destroyed.

ANDREWS: The city represents a rebirth. The way they're playing now? Even in that. It's a rebirth. They're coming back. You know, just as the residents throughout the city.

BOBBY HERBERT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The Saints are going into the bye week.

LOTHIAN: Former Saints' quarterback Bobby Herbert hears the optimism on his popular sports radio show. He calls it team therapy.

HERBERT: I think it's like the underdog syndrome, you know, and truly embracing the team and as a part, also, of an escape, you know, you can be having problems and you try to bounce back? Without a doubt, like, if the Saints can do it, so, myself, my family, as an individual, that I can achieve, you know, different things in my life.

LOTHIAN: A Sunday escape from reality. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as of August, 60,000 properties in New Orleans are still abandoned.

There are still 1,500 people in Louisiana living in temporary housing. And the Army Corps of Engineers has not finished a $15 billion system to provide 100-year flood protection for New Orleans. The project is only a third of the way through.

A football team can't erase those problems with wins, but Saints' quarterback Drew Brees realizes it helps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any added pressure, because winning really is, in a way, more than just a game; it's a psychological boost?

DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: I wouldn't say it's any more pressure, but it's definitely something that we acknowledge, we realize, and we think about. And I think it just drives us to, you know, be that much better. When you understand, you know, what winning on Sundays does for this community and for the rebuilding efforts and giving these people hope and uplifting the spirit of the city.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Dan Lothian joining us now live from New Orleans. You know, are people upset that the president isn't spending more time looking around the city, Dan? It always seems too short.

LOTHIAN: That's right, and they really are. We've heard that from several people here on the ground, that they believe that the president should have spent at least an overnight here in New Orleans and gone beyond just New Orleans, gone to some of the outer communities, maybe even gone to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where they also were impacted during Hurricane Katrina. They really feel that it's just too short. He's here less than four hours and should have spent more time here.

On the other hand, the administration says that, listen, the president made five visits here before he came into office. He had a chance to get out, take a good look at the landscape and at the destruction. But he didn't get a chance to sit down and talk to people. That's what he's doing this time. He's having this town-hall meeting so he can hear some of the concerns that residents still here have, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Dan, thanks so much.

You know, Dan mentioned Mississippi. If you ask anyone from Mississippi, and they'll tell you in no uncertain terms New Orleans is just part of the Katrina story. There's still a lot of work to do on the Gulf Coast, where the hurricane scored a direct hit.

And Chris Monforton is helping out with a lot of that work. He's with Habitat for Humanity. He's joining us from Biloxi.

You know, Chris, we're talking about the president in New Orleans. You hear New Orleanians saying, "It's still not enough time. You need to see more of the city." You're there, and have been, working in Mississippi. Is it getting the short end of the stick?

CHRIS MONFORTON, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: You know, I wouldn't say that we're getting the short end of the stick, that certainly the storm ripped through the entire Gulf Coast region with more than 100,000 homes, you know, lost and significantly damaged on an 80-mile coast. We've come a long ways, but by no means, we have -- we have a long ways to go, absolutely.

PHILLIPS: Well, how do you feel about the government? Do you feel that you have gotten enough funds? Have you gotten what you've needed in order to meet your goals?

MONFORTON: Well, certainly, you know, there's a lot of work that needs to be done and remains, that -- that the government's role, certainly with the allocation of federal CDBG funds, you know, to all the states that were affected by the storm, we've been able to successfully work with the state of Mississippi and the Mississippi Development Authority to access some of these funds for housing programs.

The federal funds are not easy funds to spend. And certainly, we've learned that, but, you know, we have not had such -- you know, so much of the difficulty as some -- some other organizations and municipalities. But certainly, there is red tape, and, you know, we're learning how to navigate that.

PHILLIPS: So, you know, I wasn't -- I was in New Orleans not too long ago. I go through the Ninth Ward, and it seems, after so many years, it remains very much the same. In Mississippi -- and I haven't been there in a number of years -- would I feel the same way, walking through some of the most devastated areas?

MONFORTON: You know, I think one of the -- one of the, you know, biggest contrasts I think from New Orleans to the Mississippi Gulf Coast is that, you know, when the storm came through in 2005, that, you know, in New Orleans, it really was a flood event. In Mississippi, we had a surge event.

And we have been successful, I believe. We've experienced a lot of success, in really cleaning up, in trying to move past that direct response and look to our future, that certainly there are significant remnants of this, that the storm came through four years ago.

But, you know, you can see the communities that are beginning to revitalize. And every day, you know, we see new stories about new businesses, you know, opening up and coming back to the area. I believe yesterday morning Wal-Mart in Pass Christian, which was just 30 miles east of the eye of the storm, opened up four years after the storm came through.

And certainly every day, you know, I know in our organization, and in dozens of others working on the coast, families, you know, more importantly, those that have been struggling and living in those transitional housing units, are getting back into homes. Certainly, we have a lot more work to do. But, you know, we are making progress.

PHILLIPS: Chris Monforton with Habitat from Humanity, joining us from Biloxi. Chris, thanks for your time.

MONFORTON: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: And Chris continues to impact his world. And you can, too. Check out CNN.com/impact. There's a whole section called "Katrina After the Storm." Tons of stories. Lots of facts and figures, and a list of charity groups that you can help out.

Now, next hour the president speaking at the University of New Orleans. A lot of buildings there still off-limits for more than four years. We're going to have his -- or I guess, four years later, still off-limits. We're going to have his town-hall meeting live next hour.

The future of your health care, it could be plotted out behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. Top Democrats huddling in private today, working to slam two very different bills into one. GOP leaders argue that the Democrats' plan will raise taxes and premiums. But both parties say they're looking out for your bottom line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: The House bill alone has 53 new boards, bureaucracies, commissions, and programs that all amount to more bureaucracy at the expense of doctors and patients.

This trillion-dollar government approach will lead to higher premiums, higher taxes, fewer jobs, and fewer benefits for seniors. Republicans offered -- have offered common-sense solutions to lower the cost of health care and increase access to affordable health insurance. It's time for Democrats to scrap their big government plan, sit down and work with Republicans on common-sense solutions that will make our current health-care system work better. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The arguments are very convincing. The public support is there. And, by the way, the dollars. The robust public option that is being considered in the House, saves $110 billion. How can you ignore that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Now, there's still a ways to go before any deal is sealed. So, White House negotiators will meet with Senate Democrats again on Monday.

Sex, drugs and white-hot beauty. It seems like the sweet life for the armed candy of Colombia's cocaine kingpins, but all that glitters is not gold.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, they bought what he was selling and ended up dead in the desert, in a sweat lodge. Now the self-proclaimed visionary's right back at it. Pushing purification for profit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Imagine dying in the desert in a sweat lodge. Saturday funerals are plans for two people that died in an Arizona retreat just a week ago today, and two others from the sweat lodge ceremony are still in the hospital, one of them in critical.

Meantime, the guru who ran that retreat is right back at work, selling his self-help secrets. Here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He has become rich and famous trying to help others. But as of now, a frustrated county sheriff investigating two deaths says James Arthur Ray is not helping him.

SHERIFF STEVE WAUGH, YAVAPAI COUNTY, ARIZONA: We attempted to interview Mr. Ray at the scene. He refused to talk to us.

TUCHMAN: What happened at the scene in Sedona, Arizona, is still a mystery. Fifty to 60 men and women packed in a ceremonial sweat lodge, with James Arthur Ray. Scorching temperatures, where people paid thousands of dollars to Ray for five days of self-help exercises, including use of a sweat lodge.

But here's what 911 operators heard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two people aren't breathing, with no pulse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not breathing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Two people dead, 19 hurt. An investigation to see if criminal charges will be filed. And while authorities say neither Ray nor his attorney are talking to them, we know Ray, as usual, is trying to drum up more business.

At a hotel in L.A. Tuesday night, where no cameras and tape recorders were allowed, and where Ray would not talk with us, he did tell potential customers that, despite what authorities are telling us, he's working with them and conducting his own investigation.

"I have no idea what happened," he said. "We'll figure it out."

At a different sweat lodge in Sedona, they have their theories about what happened. This one is conducted by the people who came up with the concept many generations ago, Native Americans, who invited us to experience the sacred ceremony in the intense heat first-hand.

More than an hour is spent inside, most of it in complete darkness. Fiery lava rocks make the temperature hotter than a typical sauna. The cost for guests to participate: free.

Many Native Americans have been alarmed for years over what they describe as self-help gurus packing too many people into sweat lodges and using potentially dangerous materials to cover the structure.

In this sweat lodge, they ask God to help the victims and their families.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still praying for them. We're still praying for those that are affected by this.

TUCHMAN: But there is condemnation for those like James Arthur Ray, who put on these ceremonies for profit.

VERNON FOSTER, KLAMATH MODOE TRIBE ELDER: It's a blatant act of desecration, for one, to our ceremonies. And it's an act of exploitation.

TUCHMAN: James Ray is still advertising next year's event at the same location in Sedona. It's called the Spiritual Warrior, and for five days, it prices out at nearly $10,000.

He's been a guest on "LARRY KING LIVE" and was asked about all the money he makes.

JAMES ARTHUR RAY, NEW AGE GURU: It's noble to charge for your services if you're providing a fortune in value. And so I believe, in the world that we live in, you are compensated in direct correlation to how much value you're providing.

TUCHMAN: James Arthur Ray is a salesman and proud of it. In fact, tonight he's scheduled to appear in San Diego, trying to sell his pricey tips for a better life. While the sheriff in Arizona is still hoping he'll tell him what he knows about the tragedy in the sweat lodge.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Sedona, Arizona.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: This Halloween, a North Carolina pastor is getting all fired up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're doing is we're burning books that are satanic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: It's not what you're thinking. Copies of the "Harry Potter" books will not go up in smoke this time. You won't believe what this preacher considers satanic verses.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Top stories now.

An American dad jailed in Japan in a custody fight. Well, he's a free man for now. Christopher Savoie was released today. Savoie was accused of going to Japan to try to snatch his kids from his ex-wife. A U.S. court had given him custody, but Japanese prosecutors are still investigating the case.

Another string of brazen attacks in Pakistan. Militants took aim at two police training centers and a federal agency building, killing at least 47 people. The victims: police officers and civilians. Eleven militants also died. The Taliban are blamed.

The mothers of three American hikers held in Iran, pressing their case at the U.N. They're delivering a petition to Iran's U.N. mission, calling to free their children. The hikers were arrested more than two months ago after apparently crossing the border from Iraq.

Job losses in the U.S., slowing? I know, I know, you've heard that before, but you've got to hear these new numbers. First-time claims for unemployment benefits dropped to 514,000 last week, the lowest level since the start of the year. Also, people continuing to get jobless benefits fell to just under 6 million, the first time that's happened since late March.

Steward Anderson is frustrated when Wells Fargo and Wachovia pulled off their $15 billion merger. He got a bum deal. He was laid off in March. So, guess what he did? He made a spreadsheet. Anderson is keeping track of everything, from his networking to phone calls to how many employment managers he's actually talked to. Well, now, he can add something else to that list, our "30-Second Pitch." He joins me live.

Good to see you, Steward.

STEWARD ANDERSON, JOB SEEKER: Hi. How you doing?

PHILLIPS: Well, I guess this makes sense, you know? You're all about numbers, so it makes sense that you would keep track of every effort that you make to finding a job.

ANDERSON: Yes. I think in this economy you have to be very, very strategic in how you conduct your job search, and so that's what I've done.

PHILLIPS: So, did you see it coming? Was there any warning? I mean, you're in the type of business where, you know, I mean, you're right there in the middle of the economy and the job losses and the bank accounts that are dwindling. I mean, you were definitely in tune to what was happening.

ANDERSON: Yes, actually, I -- I got a sense of what was -- was going on. The only thing I just didn't know was it was going to be as severe as it has been. But I did have some inclination of where we were headed.

PHILLIPS: So, with all of your experience and background, why do you think it's been so tough for you to find a job?

ANDERSON: Well, I think it's tough -- talking to friends and colleagues, I think it's tough for everyone right now. And I think that you have to use different approaches to secure a job opportunity now. So, and networking is a big -- a big part of that. So, I think everybody's having a hard time. It's just not me.

PHILLIPS: So, when you -- and it's not like you're not -- I mean, you're not sitting back just waiting for something to happen. What do you think the biggest challenge has been, even though you have made so much effort and continue to make effort every single day?

I mean, what is it that maybe someone who has had no problem thus far is thinking, "Gosh, Steward, you know, you must be doing something wrong here. You're so talented. You have so much background." What is it that they don't understand about how bad it is right now?

ANDERSON: Well, it's really, really bad. I was looking at TV news reports this morning. Corporations are making huge profits right now, but the job opportunities are lagging in the U.S. economy. So, it's a lagging indicator, so that's what's basically happening. I think eventually it will turn around, but right now you just have to hold your ground, be strategic and have faith that you will find something.

PHILLIPS: Are you ready for your "30-Second pitch"?

ANDERSON: I'm ready, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Steward, here you go. Start the clock. You can now begin.

ANDERSON: My name is Steward Anderson. I am a strategic business manager with a successful track record of increasing corporate profits through marketing, sales, and management. My objective is to continue to create competitive advantages for companies by developing and creating effective solutions for operations management. Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Wow, and ten seconds to spare. So, that gives me a chance to brag about your new wife and your daughter. Congratulations.

ANDERSON: Well, thank you so much.

PHILLIPS: Tell me -- I mean, you know, in a tough time like this, boy, she's been sticking by your side, hasn't she?

ANDERSON: Oh, yes, she's been a great source of inspiration. And it's -- it's always nice when you have someone. She knows that I'm out here every, every day, and she sees the progress that I'm making. Like I said, I have a career management tool kit. So, she sees what I'm doing. And eventually, I will hit a home run.

PHILLIPS: Oh, well, you sure hit a home run with her. That's for sure.

Steward is joining us live from Charlotte. I don't think we even mentioned that, so in case there's anybody out there impressed by Steward, he is living right now in Charlotte. But also willing -- are you willing to move?

ANDERSON: Yes.

PHILLIPS: OK. There you go. Steward, good luck. Keep us posted.

ANDERSON: OK, thank you.

PHILLIPS: Once again, Steward's e-mail, StewardJAnderson@yahoo.com. The name, all one word, and that's posted on our blog.

And if you want to be part of the pitch, please e-mail us your resume and contact info, just like Steward did, to 30SecondPitch@CNN.com. Or you can reach out to us on Twitter at KyraCNN. If it's Thursday, it's "30-Second Pitch" day.

What do Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and the pope and most versions of the Bible have in common? Well, apparently they're all instruments of Satan, according to a North Carolina pastor, Pastor Marc Grizzard. So, he's asking members of his congregation to cast their Bibles into a Halloween bonfire. Well, not all their Bibles. The King James version will be saved from fiery damnation, he says. He said it's the only true version of the Bible.

If thou knowest what he meant, well, he's also planning on burning books by Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and other authors that he says are heretics. Also part of the festivities: barbecued chicken with all the sides.

It wrecked their schools, it washed away their books, so why are some students calling Hurricane Katrina a blessing in disguise? A story of rebirth in the classroom that will really get you thinking.

But first, we'd like to acknowledge the passing of a hero. U.S. Marine Willard Oliver was part of the Navajo code talkers, the World War II communications unit so important in the Pacific. Wounded in the battle of Saipan, Mr. Oliver was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He died yesterday at the age of 88.

Of the 400 or so Navajo trained as code talkers, fewer than 50 are still with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Happening now, top Senate Democrats huddling behind closed doors, trying to figure out their next move on health care reform. The Senate Finance Committee cleared its reform bill two days ago. Democrats hope to get a final bill to the Senate floor by the late week of the month -- or by the last week of the month, actually. But Republicans say that any bill the Democrats decide on will up your taxes and your premiums.

More than four years after Hurricane Katrina, President Obama is checking out the ongoing recovery. He's in New Orleans this hour, on his first trip as president to the storm zone. He's stopping by the MLK Charter School, the first public school in the Lower Ninth Ward to reopen after Katrina. Now, next hour, the town meeting, where he's sure to get an earful from people who still call themselves victims.

Beaten and battered by Katrina, schools all along the central Gulf Coast were flattened or flooded by the big storm, but believe it or not, those waters also washed away a sense of despair and ushered in a rebirth.

CNN's Sean Callebs paid a visit to a New Orleans school district in August.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The floodwaters washed away so much here. So much lost. But they also washed away a crippling problem, a terrible public school system. Todd Purvis is principal of the Kipp Central City Academy.

(on camera): You know, right now it's Louisiana and Mississippi always at the bottom of the two in public education. Are you optimistic that's going to change?

TODD PURVIS, PRINCIPAL, KIPP CENTRAL CITY ACADEMY: I'm very optimistic. I mean, when I talk to teachers and families, especially teachers that, you know, we're trying to convince to move here, I tell them that I firmly believe that New Orleans in five or 10 years will be looked to as the model as to how you reform an education system.

CALLEBS (voice-over): Donnell Bailey says before the storm, he did poorly in a poor public school. He said he failed fourth grade and says he never thought about his future.

DONNELL BAILEY, HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMAN: I actually look at the storm as a blessing in disguise.

CALLEBS: The storm forced an education overhaul from the ground up. This man, Paul Vallas, who turned around schools in Philadelphia and Chicago, is driving the change. And he's in a hurry.

PAUL VALLAS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS RECOVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT: In the recovery school district alone, the last two years we saw an increase in test scores in every subject at every grade level.

CALLEBS (on camera): Vallas inherited a district where only about four in 10 kids graduated from high school. In fact, so many students were failing so badly, the state had taken control over about 85 percent of the district's schools.

Well, Vallas is now spending millions of federal dollars that are pouring in, giving kids laptops and offering smaller class sizes that give more one-on-one instruction. But perhaps most importantly, he hired a small army of young, motivated teachers from across the country through the organization Teach for America, some of whom replaced veteran teachers who were considered underperforming.

VALLAS: They bring a certain energy, and they bring a certain, you know, personality and drive into the schools that really creates a culture of high expectations.

CALLEBS (voice-over): As for Donnell Bailey, that's why he calls the storm a blessing.

BAILEY: But then I changed my teachers -- teachers are in (INAUDIBLE). The expectations were more higher, you know, and my teachers expect me to live up to its expectations. So, like, the drive that my teachers gave me, it really pushed me up to that level.

CALLEBS: In fact, Donnell's new public schoolteachers pushed him so hard, and he did so well that he received a scholarship to a $17,000-a-year private school. It's a good story.

(on camera): It's a winning formula of motivated teachers, renovated schools and new laptops. But they're not all good stories here. By state law, if students don't pass an exit exam at the end of eighth grade, they're not promoted to high school.

(voice-over): Corticia Davis (ph) studies at home because she failed that test and can't enroll in school. Her mom says Corticia (ph) has a learning disability, difficulty retaining information. And she doesn't want the 15-year-old to attend the eighth grade for a third time. And says the district isn't providing adequate tutoring and other resources that might give Corticia (ph) a chance for a high school diploma.

(on camera): What's your big fear? Are you worried that Corticia (ph) could fall through the cracks, get frustrated and simply drop out?

DANA DAVIS, MOTHER: Well, I feel as though -- I feel that she's already fallen through the cracks. I mean, she's already three grades behind.

CALLEBS (voice-over): The new education czar, Paul Vallas, says the situation is disappointing. And, no, not every student is succeeding. He doesn't like graduate exams.

VALLAS: I've always thought that you give the high-stakes test, and if a child does not pass all, you know, all the components of that test, then you conditionally pass the student if the student has hit other benchmarks.

CALLEBS: And the district's long-term goal...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who's going to college?

STUDENTS: We're going to college.

CALLEBS: For families here, that's been an all but unthinkable goal. Only about 7 percent of New Orleans public school kids graduate from college. That's right, just 7 percent.

So, some things never change here. Once again, it's hurricane season. And thoughts of Katrina are always here. But there is now hope because Katrina did bring Paul Vallas and his army of new teachers here. And there's hope of a brighter future for the kids.

Sean Callebs, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Well, we want to update you on Corticia (ph) Davis. She's now back in school repeating the eighth grade, but her mom says she's still struggling, and she's getting ready to be re-evaluated for a special program.

Next hour, President Obama holds a town hall with Katrina victims in New Orleans. We're going to go there live as soon as that gets under way.

Get a C-section or get out. Can you imagine a hospital saying that to a pregnant woman? Moms-to-be having their babies, but not the way they want.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Duck, cover and hold on tight. No, the big one didn't shake California, but the state is preparing with a fake quake. Organizers say that 6.7 million people are taking part in a huge earthquake drill. Everyone from schoolkids ducking under their desks to firefighters setting up triage.

It's official, Social Security is canning its cost-of-living increase next year. More than 50 million Americans collect those checks, and this is the first year without a raise since 1975. But those bank accounts could be getting some padding, thanks to President Obama. He's calling for seniors to get an extra $250 payment. On with the military uniform, off with the wedding ring. It's often true for female soldiers. A new report says they're three times more likely to get divorced than their male counterparts.

If you saw her like this, would you cut her off or cut her some slack? A lot of people heard a dying woman's story on CNN and had to do something.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, mother of a health care clash is playing out on Capitol Hill. Some pregnant women say that their insurance companies are not delivering on coverage. You see, the moms can't pick how they'll give birth. Is that even allowed?

Senators are hearing all about it today, and our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here to tell us what the heck is going on. It sounds pretty outrageous.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, for a lot of women, it's really brutal. They go to give birth. They have a Caesarean section, and then years later, they apply to get insurance. They're not insured through their employer, they apply on their own.

And the insurer says, sorry, you had a C-section, I'm not going to insure you. Or, sorry, you had a C-section and we're going to charge you much, much higher rates than if you hadn't had a C-section. So, there was a hearing today on Capitol Hill in the Senate today, and Peggy Robertson talked about her experience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PEGGY ROBERTSON, HEALTH CARE CONSUMER: I discovered that in all but five states, it is legal to discriminate against women because of a previous Caesarean, either by denying coverage, requiring sterilization or charging significantly higher premiums than would be paid by a woman without a previous C-section.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Now, you can imagine a lot of women might fall into this situation as about one out of three births in this country are via Caesarean section.

PHILLIPS: OK, insurance companies refuse to insure people with other conditions as well. So, tell us about those.

COHEN: Right, I mean, there's this situation, there's the situation that we heard, I think it was on your show earlier this week, about a baby that was born big and the insurance company said no?

PHILLIPS: Oh, that's right. Yes, the baby -- yes, it's true. Sorry, your baby's a little too hefty.

COHEN: Right. Hefty. We don't insure hefty babies.

PHILLIPS: That's a pre-existing condition, yes.

COHEN: Right. I think it's cute. I want to reach out and just pinch him! And the child wasn't sick. They just said your child is too big.

PHILLIPS: Aww.

COHEN: There are other women who've been denied insurance because they were the victims of domestic violence. And they were told, sorry, your husband beat you up, we're not going to insure you now.

So, there are more and more of these examples, and this is of course one of the reasons why so many people are fighting for health care reform, is, you know, soon, lots of -- I mean, even more people, lots of people already are being discriminated against because of pre- existing conditions. Imagine if this keeps going on?

PHILLIPS: OK. I'm going to keep looking at video of that baby. He's just so adorable.

COHEN: I know, he's so cute.

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: All right, your "Empowered Patient" is about C- sections, right?

COHEN: That's right. I'm writing about Caesarean sections today and what you can do to avoid one if you don't want one. And you can take a look at CNNhealth.com. Too many Caesarean sections, are we doing too many in this country?

PHILLIPS: Thank you, Elizabeth.

COHEN: Thanks.

PHILLIPS: Well, your doc may be a little sick after getting this news. A thief might have stolen his or her personal information. Blue Cross-Blue Shield is warning 800,000 doctors now about a security breach after someone ripped off a laptop loaded with information. It could affect nearly every practicing physician in the country.

Elizabeth is staying to listen to this. No patient info was on that computer, thank goodness, and so far there have been no reports of any I.D. thefts. So, let us know if you hear anything more, Elizabeth, all right?

COHEN: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: I put her on the spot. All right. Awesome CNN viewers like you helped change the outcome of this outrage. You remember Mable Randon that we told you about yesterday, the stage-four cancer patient in Houston fighting death right now, and who relies on an electric oxygen machine to help her breathe?

Well, heartbreaking enough as it is, right? Then she falls behind on her electric bill, gets a disconnect notice from her power provider. Nice move, eh?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MABLE RANDON, CANCER PATIENT: I'm on a set income, and my husband lost his job. And he find a little work every now and then, but it's been hard. What am I to do? What am I going to do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Well, Mable, my love, you don't have to do a thing now. The money has poured in. The bill is covered. And now a fund has been set up to cover your future bills. A power company spokesperson said that the company's doing its best to address Mable's needs.

But here's an interesting tidbit. KHOU found out the power company, Pennstar, is stops in Texas for customer complaints. That's the kind of title you earn when you threaten to cut off a dying woman's power over 188 bucks. Yes, she owed $188. I wonder how much money Pennstar is going to make this year?

Pushing forward to the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM, another hate crime making headlines in New York City. A Mexican man beaten to a pulp as he left a food pantry.

And two men, relatives of radio host Tom Joyner, exonerated of murder. Too bad they'd already been executed.

First, it was a 6-year-old suspended over a spork. Now, the latest victim of his high school's zero-tolerance weapons policy, an Eagle Scout with a pocketknife and a survival kit in his car. High school senior Matthew Whalen has been suspended for 20 days.

Seems that a classmate told school officials Matt had a knife. So, he took them right out of his car, showed the 2-inch blade, given to him by his police chief grandpa, by the way. Well, a Scout who served as a National Guardsman and who's applying to West Point clearly a security risk. Now with a black mark for violent conduct on his record.

And back to our little spork boy. Remember him? Seems folks at his school have come to their senses after a barrage of nationwide criticism. They've lifted a 45-day suspension and reform school sentence for first-grader Zach Christie. All that punishment over a Cub Scout utensil that he brought to eat lunch with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ZACHARY CHRISTIE, FIRST-GRADER: She said, can I have that? I'm going to hand this to your teacher, and she handed it to the principal. And I -- and when they called my name up, I was, like, uh- oh. It's fun being homeschooled, but I do want to -- I do sometimes miss my friends and want to go back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: And now he has. Zach says his classmates were really disappointed to hear that he spent his vacation doing homework.

Drug kingpins with crazy-hot girlfriends. Al Pacino had one in "Scarface," remember? Johnny Depp had one in "Blow." That was Hollywood, folks. But in real life, well you can see -- maybe Hollywood didn't exaggerate enough. Hello!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: They hang out with some of the baddest men in the world, getting the finest luxuries that cocaine money can buy and giving up their freedom, their souls and many times, their lives. They are the lovers, more like the slaves of Colombia's drug lords.

Our Karl Penhaul has this exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If your boyfriend is Colombia's top cocaine capo, you'd better keep in shape. For eight years, Yovanna Guzman was one of the lovers of Wilber Varela, boss of the North Valle Cartel.

YOVANNA GUZMAN, GIRLFRIEND OF FORMER DRUG CAPO (through translator): It's like he had two faces. I saw him so tender with the ones he loved, then you see the cartel killings. He always said he was the best of friends and the worst of enemies.

PENHAUL: Nicknamed "soap" partly for his ability to give authorities the slip, Varela was a corrupt cop turned drug trafficker. He ran cocaine in go-fast boats and light aircraft to the United States and Europe and had a reputation for brutality. But he charmed Guzman with bling bought with his ill-gotten gains.

GUZMAN (through translator): There were the vacations, the cars and the luxury SUVs, and of course, jewelry. There was always jewelry. But there were small details too, like flowers.

PENHAUL: Guzman was a 19-year-old model. Varela told her he was a cattle rancher. She says she only found out the truth later. Varela sponsored her through the Chicamed (ph) beauty pageant. Gangsters use the contest as a shop window to pick up new girls or would buy (INAUDIBLE) a gift for their moles (ph). It's unclear whether Varela paid the judges, but Guzman won the crown.

GUZMAN (through translator): Of course the luxuries don't make you fall in love, but they do dazzle you. When you get dazzled, you get carried away. But then you ask yourself, where is the love and my principles?

PENHUAL: Guzman realizes she was bought with cocaine money, and she sold herself.

GUZMAN (through translator): I feel that all of us have a price. Sometimes you feel luxuries like the designer clothes, shoes and handbags are important, but afterwards you realize you're empty inside.

PENHAUL: Little by little, Varela turned Guzman into a prisoner in a golden cage. He forbade her to go on modeling shoots or to hang out with male friends.

GUZMAN (through translator): He was very jealous. And what's his is his and belongs to nobody else, and nobody can touch it, look at it or mess with it.

PENHAUL: Even though Varela had a stable of other top model and actress girlfriends, he became so jealous of Guzman, he sent one of his henchmen to put a bullet in her.

GUZMAN (through translator): When I got shot, I was supposedly never going to walk properly again. The bullet could easily have hit me somewhere else and killed me. But I pulled myself together and said I'm not going to be crippled.

PENHAUL: For now, Guzman won't discuss the reason for the punishment shooting. She's writing a tell-all book about her rags-to- narco-riches story.

GUZMAN (through translator): There's a moment when you get tired of the luxuries in that fictitious world. I wanted love and to have a family, but you realize you can't have that with a drug trafficker because money is everything, and they buy what they want.

PENHAUL: Ordinary Colombians seem fascinated by glamorous narco lifestyles, judging by the high ratings of two TV soap operas. The cartel tells the story of the rise of the North Valle mob which Varela headed. The sequel, called "Mafia Dolls," portrays women like Guzman.

GUZMAN (through translator): They're women like me who are dazzled but then realize money is not everything. Then there's others who will trample everyone to get what they want, whatever the cost. They know they're living in a golden cage.

PENHUAL: Guzman only dares recounts her experience because Varela is now dead. The law put a $5 million bounty on him, but in the end, it was an inside job. One of his own power-hungry underlings executed him.

GUZMAN (through translator): I didn't know whether to be happy or sad. He had his good side, but my freedom doesn't have a price. I felt the golden cage had been flung open, and I could fly again.

PENHAUL: Guzman says she returned all the expensive gifts shortly before Varela died. Colombia's drug squad is still investigating some of her property. She's clearly not lost her taste for luxuries, but Guzman now realizes the most valuable asset is her freedom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Karl Penhaul joining us now live from Bogota. So, Karl, I think we just saw women's rights being set back a century.

PENHAUL: I think this whole thing throws up a number of questions, and I think there's a universal question there: Do we agree with what this woman says, that everybody has their price. How many of us really would turn back the Rolex watch, the Cartier watch or even a luxury SUV that gets parked out of our houses with a bow on top. How many of us are big enough to say that we don't want to benefit in some way or another from dirty money?

Many of us would agree that to ship tons of cocaine is wrong. But then maybe there's a little bit of moral flexibility there. What we also know is that the bulk of the profits from the drug trade don't end up back in Colombia. They're being filtered through legal economies in the United States and in Europe.

There's drug money awash in the U.S. and European economies. So, the same thing that's happening here that we've seen there must also surely be happening in the developing nations that are consuming this cocaine -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Karl Penhaul's exclusive series, live from Bogota, all week. Appreciate it so much, Karl.

And now any minute, we're going to hear President Obama's remarks live from a town hall meeting at the University of New Orleans, his first trip to that city as president. Be curious to see how he pushes forward the post-Katrina recovery. The university itself is still bruised from that storm. Several buildings are still damaged and off limits. When he starts talking, we'll stop talking and take it live.