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AMERICAN MORNING

Obama in China; Illinois Prison May House Gitmo Transfers; Sarah Palin Candidate for Presidency?; Some Consider Obama Dangerous for America

Aired November 16, 2009 - 08:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And we begin the hour, though, with President Obama in Beijing. He's there for meetings with China's president. Earlier, the president spoke to several hundred students - Chinese students at a town hall meeting in Shanghai. He used the occasion to lecture the Chinese government about free speech, calling for an end to China's censorship of the internet.

So what can the president expect when he sits down with the country's communist leadership? Our John Vause is live in Beijing for us. Hey, John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kiran. Well, President Obama may be the one who's in for some lecturing himself by Chinese party officials over the next few days, in particular about the falling value of the US dollar and the massive federal deficit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE (voice-over): Next comes the hard part, US President Barack Obama face to face with the three most powerful communists in China - President Hu, Parliamentary Leader Wu, and Premier Wen.

Most analysts believe US-China relations are good, but have shifted in the last 12 months with global issues taking center stage - the economic crisis, climate change, nuclear proliferation.

KENNETH LIEBERTHAL, BROOKING INSTITUTION: So it isn't a matter of there being a lot of friction over them at this point. The issue is we're figuring out whether we can work together on that. And there's a lot riding on that.

VAUSE: With the U.S. government continuing to run huge budget deficits, mostly financed by China, in a way, President Obama will be meeting with his bankers and will need to convince the Chinese government that the huge holdings of U.S. dollars and debt are both safe. While the U.S. wants China to allow its currency to gain in value, believing right now it's deliberately undervalued to give Chinese exporters an unfair competitive edge. But there was no support for that at a weekend economic summit of 21 Asian leaders in Singapore.

And then there is the issue of human rights.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the United States will never waiver in speaking up for the fundamental values that we hold dear.

VAUSE: U.S. officials say it will be raised even though Mr. Obama did not meet with the Dalai Lama in Washington last month to avoid a backlash while visiting Beijing.

MIKE CHINOY, CHINA ANALYST: Obama has sought to put to the side a number of issues that were major irritants over the years, particularly human rights, Tibet and so on. The calculation, I think, in Washington is that the previous approaches to these issues have been counterproductive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Now, President Obama has already met with President Hu this evening in Beijing. The two had dinner. That is their fifth face-to-face meeting this year, an indication of just how important this relationship is now between China and the United States.

Analysts say this list of things to be dealt with is so long and so complicated, don't expect any hard outcomes over the next few days. Instead, they say it's more like an ongoing conversation -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Certainly, a lot of challenging things to discuss, but man- on-man, person-to-person, do they get along? I mean, with what's their relationship like?

VAUSE: Well, it seems very friendly. But the problem when you look at President Hu, he never really gives much away. He's very stern faced, he's very cold. In fact, you can't even buy a book about President Hu. There's no biographies about him available at any of the bookshops.

We just don't know a lot about him. We don't know what he's like as a person. People don't really talk about him. There's very little written about him in the press.

They certainly seem very friendly when they meet, smiles and handshakes, but, really, what's going on behind that facade of the Chinese president, really, is anybody's guess, Kiran.

CHETRY: Very interesting. No books out on him, you can't read a biography, very different. Here, you can read about 50 biographies, right, of any of our political leaders.

John Vause for us this morning -- thanks.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, a political line in the sand has been drawn over the decision to try the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks here in New York City. Critics, including the former mayor, Rudy Giuliani, call the move dangerous. But the administration says it is confident in the American system of justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NYC MAYOR: Anyone that tells you that this doesn't create additional security problems, of course, isn't telling you the truth. And the best indication of it is, just look at the additional security that's going to be employed when this happens. That also happens to cost millions and millions and millions of dollars. All of which would be worth it if there was no other choice.

There is another choice. The choice is going to be utilized with regard to other terrorists, meaning military tribunals. It's the more appropriate choice with regard to a recognition that we are at war with Islamic terrorists -- something the Obama administration refuses to say.

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: We believe that these folks should be tried in New York City, as you say, near where their heinous acts were conducted, in full view in our court system, which we believe in. We've had, you know, since 2001, about 195 terrorism cases in the courts and we've been successful 91 percent of the time. We're very confident about these cases and we believe this is the appropriate thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: This morning, there is also the question of what to do with the other terror suspects currently being held at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Many communities are saying, "Not in my backyard." But some people in the tiny town of Thomson, Illinois, say, taking in these hardened terror suspects may present an opportunity.

Our Elaine Quijano is live in Thomson.

Exactly, Elaine, what are residents there telling you about all of this?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the people that we've talked to here in Thomson, John, say, "Look, we understand there are national security concerns," but at the same time, they say, "For us, this is very personal." It's about economic opportunity to them. They see this as a real chance for their town to make a comeback.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): About 150 miles west of Chicago sits the farming community of Thomson, Illinois; population: 600 -- where the biggest building in town, $145 million state prison sits mostly empty. And just down the road at Sunrise Restaurant...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

QUIJANO: The talk is all about how to fill it.

ARDEN WEAVER, THOMSON RESIDENT: I myself, I have no objections.

QUIJANO: Like others in Thomson, Arden Webber has heard the concerns about security and bringing terror suspects from Guantanamo to U.S. soil. But he's not worried.

WEAVER: I don't feel, with the modern technology in this prison, I can't picture anybody escaping.

QUIJANO: Neither can restaurant owners Zendel Zendeli -- his take, that it doesn't matter who's being held at the prison.

ZENDEL ZENDELI, RESTAURANT OWNER: All of the prisoners are in there for a reason. It won't make a serial killer any less dangerous than anybody else, you know? They'll be bringing all kinds of prisoners there.

QUIJANO: The Thomson Correctional Center reportedly houses only 144 minimum security inmates.

But the state of Illinois is jumping at the chance to fill more of the prison's 1,600 cells.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Make no mistake about it, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We have a chance to bring more than 2,000 good-paying jobs with benefits to this region.

QUIJANO: Back in Thomson, the shuttered businesses on Main Street tell the story of the toll the recession has taken on the town and its people.

CINDY OTTENS, THOMSON RESTAURANT: We need jobs in our area. Very depressed both economically and emotionally, people are looking for these jobs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, later this morning, federal officials will be on hand to take a look at the prison behind me. In the afternoon, they are set to meet with local officials. In the meantime, John, some Illinois Republican congressmen are making very clear they do not support this idea. They say, "Look, we understand full well the economic picture here in the state." At the same time, they believe national security concerns trump everything else -- John.

ROBERTS: So, not everyone happy about it. Elaine Quijano for us this morning in Thomson, Illinois -- Elaine, thanks, great report.

CHETRY: Also happening right now, General Motors just announcing it will start repaying the taxpayer dollars it owes the government. A first payment of $1.2 billion will be sent out next month. It's part of the automaker's first report card since coming out of bankruptcy in July.

GM didn't have to make any payments until 2015, but better-than- expected sales helping pay the bills. GM also lost $1.2 billion in the third quarter, but in a sign of the times, they say that shows progress.

ROBERTS: NASA is getting ready for liftoff of the space shuttle Atlantis scheduled for 2:28 Eastern this afternoon. And an update from our Reynolds Wolf, there is now a 70 percent chance that the weather will cooperate. That's down from 90 percent earlier this morning, though. The six-astronaut crew will be in space 11 days, including Thanksgiving. They're delivering spare parts to the International Space Station, along with a frozen turkey. There are also three spacewalks on the agenda. I'm kidding about the frozen turkey.

CHETRY: So, a big weekend for the doomsday flick "2012" at the box office -- number one, taking in $65 million in the U.S. alone. Internationally, it took in a ton of money as well. It stars John Cusack and depicts the destruction of earth at the end of the Mayan calendar, which incidentally is December of 2012. Last week's number one, Disney's 3D version of a "Christmas Carol" starring Jim Carrey, slipped to number two.

ROBERTS: How buildings can fall down in a single movie?

CHETRY: Exactly.

ROBERTS: You'll find out in this...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Some minor relief over the weekend for victims of Bernie Madoff's multibillion dollar Ponzi scheme. Over 100 items seized by Federal Marshals were auctioned off in Manhattan on Saturday, raising nearly $1 million that will go to the victims of Madoff's scheme. Among the highlights was this custom-made silk Mets jacket. It sold for -- get this -- $14,500. That's more than 20 times what was expected. Seven hundred dollars was the initial estimate.

Ruth Madoff's diamond dangle earrings fetched $70,000, that's more than three times their estimated amount. But the highest estimated amount, a Rolex prisoner watch, only delivered $65,000. It was $20,000 less than was hoped for. So, some watch aficionado got a good deal and other people paid through the nose for things like the Mets jacket.

CHETRY: Would you want to wear his Mets jacket that he sweated in for all those years and pay 14 grand for it?

ROBERTS: I don't think somebody would actually wear it. They'd probably get a mannequin and -- you know, there are people who collect all sorts of baseball memorabilia and I guess that's one thing -- I don't think I'd want anything that Bernie Madoff owned.

CHETRY: Yes. Me neither.

ROBERTS: But if it raises money for the folks that he scammed, what the heck.

CHETRY: Exactly. And, you know, there are still a couple of houses you can buy.

ROBERTS: Yes, absolutely. If you're in the market for a yacht, head down to Fort Lauderdale tomorrow where three of Bernie Madoff's seized boats will be up for sale, and there's his private jet in Long Island, the home in Palm Beach and his apartment here in New York.

CHETRY: The other Manhattan penthouse.

ROBERTS: Yes.

CHETRY: There you.

Well, still ahead, we're talking about Sarah Palin. She's back in the spot. Her new book, "Going Rogue," is out. The reviews are in. And we have two very different perspectives from James Carville and Leslie Sanchez. They'll join us live -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

CHETRY: Twelve minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Sarah Palin ready for yet another close-up. Her new book out, "Going Rogue," is in bookstores tomorrow and her much-hyped interview with Oprah Winfrey also airs later today. So, people are talking about Sarah Palin yet again. But some are also asking the question: does she have a political future?

Joining us to talk about that and more from New Orleans, we have Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, James Carville. Good morning, James.

And from Washington...

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning. Good morning.

CHETRY: Good morning. We have with us Leslie Sanchez, Republican strategist and author of "You've Come a Long Way, Maybe."

And, Leslie, I want to start with you, because here's "The New York Times" review right now. Palin's book, they call it part cagey spin job, part earnest autobiography, and part payback hit job. They talked about, you know, a lot of the things that she said about the McCain campaign, laying the blame at the feet of some in the McCain campaign, like Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace, for some of her famous flubs, like the interview with Katie Couric.

Is that where you want to go with her autobiography?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the first point is that "The New York Times" even took the time to review it. I think that's an important step.

CHETRY: They had to. It was so talked about.

SANCHEZ: Well, sure. No doubt.

But don't forget, she wasn't the first one to talk about that. Immediately after the loss on the Republican side, there was no doubt there was a lot of spin. And a lot of attacks lobbed at Sarah Palin. I think she's done a very fair job of explaining what her perspective is. That's what unique about the book.

She's talking about her experience not only with the interviews, her preparation, the issues of the wardrobe. She's giving that insider view. Yes, there's political spin to it. But overall, it's a very unique perspective from that candidate.

CHETRY: James, you know, she also -- a lot of people have said, look, you know, criticize her if you want to, and seven out of 10 who were polled in the CNN poll said they don't think she's qualified to be president. But then, again, what she says seems to carry a lot of political weight. So, it really is an interesting dichotomy. I mean, she's the one that brought up death panels. The White House was forced to say, "Hey, we're not trying to kill grandma with -- by passing health care reform."

So, I mean, she sort of seems to be able to get a message out there still. What does that mean, politically, James?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I mean, she gets a message out and she's got some popularity. The only problem stands from a simple fact. She was supremely and uniquely unqualified and unprepared for the high office of what she was running. That's vice president of the United States.

And a lot of things she says is true, that he mainstream media thinks that she's unprepared or vapid or not ready. And that's exactly right. In many instances, she was probably mistreated.

But the underlying truth of this that cannot be denied, she has no business around the office of vice president or president. And that was her problem from the beginning. And now, she's mad at McCain for -- mad at the McCain people. They gave her the opportunity of a life and she just -- she should have never been on the stage that she got on. And that's all of our problems.

(CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: So, you think she should have said no? I mean, you said she's supremely unqualified to be president -- she didn't pick -- I mean, to be vice president. She didn't pick herself.

CARVILLE: I agree. I blame Senator McCain. Look, no Republican for the next 100 years can talk about national security qualifications. This woman had none.

No, she didn't pick herself, but she could have said no. She should have known what was coming. People -- of course, this was going to come, of course, this was going to happen. This woman has no business running for an office this high.

She's a compelling person. I watch everything she does. She's got -- she's got an interesting story. She's a great entertainer. She can speak. But she has no business being around the Oval Office. CHETRY: Leslie, let me ask you...

SANCHEZ: Please.

CHETRY: Well, I just want to ask you, Leslie, because you know, look, liberals are not going to like her. A lot of Democrats are not going to like her. I mean that kind of goes, I mean, that's understandable, right? She appeals to her Conservative base. But the thing that perhaps may worry people like you, Leslie, if she were to run in 2012, is that according to the GOP, they're pretty split on this. 52% say, yes, she's qualified to be President, but an astounding 47% of Republicans don't believe she is. Can she change that?

SANCHEZ: She may be able to. You know, I say the onus is on her and her ability to substantiate her credibility, her credentials, her gravitas, not only on domestic issues, but foreign affairs. She came to this with a very strong record that the media and many on the Left were willing to dismiss immediately. And especially women's groups and a lot of the feminists that you would have thought would support her for pioneering through a lot of things in Alaska. They were the last ones on board -- if not criticize her completely.

(CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: Right, but did -- while leaving office. She could have said that going down the road, "I stayed and stuck it out."

SANCHEZ: There are many women who feel that she is a quitter that she let people down. But there are other people who felt that instead of quitting, rutting -- cutting and running from the fight, she's running to the fight.

One thing that's important to keep in mind with her, she's relevant. It is unavoidable. She is influencing the debate, not only in health care, she's influencing on candidates. You saw the Conservative party, the New York election, New York 23. She shed light on that. And she's also raising considerable amounts of money. If she can continue to do that and improve her substantial, kind of her brand in terms of intellectual heft on key issues, she has a potential future in this Party.

CHETRY: All right, James, I want to switch gears really quickly and ask you -- what is the most important thing...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Three words for Sarah Palin.

CHETRY: Go ahead.

CARVILLE: I think the most important thing is, run, baby, run. I just -- I hope her -- and look, this kind of entertainment can't be beat. I'm serious. It's fun talking about this. She's a complete hoot. She's got a charming; she's got an interesting story. You know what I mean. CHETRY: Did you say hoot?

CARVILLE: Yes, a hoot, fun.

CHETRY: All right.

CARVILLE: A hoot -- come on, you know it's an expression -- that guy's a hoot, you know.

CHETRY: I hear you.

CARVILLE: Maybe that's a Louisiana thing.

CHETRY: No, I just -- I wanted to double check. Leslie, is that slightly worrisome when a Democratic strategist like James Carville says, "I hope so-and-so runs against us?"

SANCHEZ: We'll take the support. You know, it's too far out to tell what's going to happen. A lot of people say, you know, say watching these candidates is like watching somebody cross an icy road. You really never know which way they're going to go. To be fair, this is kind of what this is about. A lot of people thought that about Hillary Clinton. A lot of people thought that about Bill Clinton. You never know kind of the gravitas, but again, she's relative to this debate. The onus is on her.

CHETRY: All right, we'll have to see how it goes. As you said, it's a long way off, but her book tour is taking her to Iowa, so who knows. It may be an omen. James Carville and Leslie Sanchez, thanks to both of you.

SANCHEZ: Thanks.

ROBERTS: So, NASA is over the moon about the amount of water that they found on our closest neighbor. So what does it all mean for the future? We'll find out when we talk to an expert from NASA coming up, it's 18 and half minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: So, you ever said something and you say, why did I say that?

CHETRY: No, never. Ever!

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: A few times a day. But even The Boss makes mistakes sometimes. At a concert on Friday, Bruce Springsteen shouted out, "Hello, Ohio!" several times, in fact. The problem was he was in Michigan. It wasn't until Miami Steve Van Zandt sort of sidled over to Bruce and said, "Bruce, we're in Michigan, not Ohio," but he finally got it. Was it a senior moment? Bruce Springsteen, who did turn 60 years old this year, told the crowd he'd been worried about making that mistake for his entire life. So...

CHETRY: Poor Bruce.

ROBERTS: Yes.

CHETRY: Hello, Ohio! My favorite state.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: You know, they don't take that well. There's a big rivalry there.

CHETRY: Oh I know. (INAUDIBLE) football field.

ROBERTS: The road becomes a blur, you know?

WILLIS: I'm sure that's true.

CHETRY: It's happened to everyone.

WILLIS: But never on this set.

CHETRY: No, no.

ROBERTS: Are you kidding? I remember I forgot Hillary Clinton's name one day. Known her for 15 years.

WILLIS: It's a lot of hours.

CHETRY: Yes, we could go on and on for hours but meanwhile, how about General Motors is this one step into the light here for this company that had to file for bankruptcy that we own 61% of as taxpayers?

WILLIS: Yes, I think that's a great way to put it. They are making progress, that's their big message today. And even as we talk, the company is holding a press conference, describing these third quarter earnings. So let's talk about what happen. They had a $1.2 billion loss; I know that sounds like a lot, but better than previous quarters. And they say they're building a strong, healthy foundation, a healthier balance sheet and they're going to accelerate their plan to repay taxpayers.

Just a couple of information -- a little more information on the results themselves. These are not typical third quarter numbers. This company is now private. It will go public again, but this is their estimate of performance over the third quarter. And remember, this is a slimmed down GM. A much smaller GM. The good news here is the company is going to be repaying its debt to taxpayers four years earlier than expected. They will begin paying back that $6.7 billion loan in December with a $1.2 billion payment.

CEO Fritz Henderson said today, we are committed to repaying this. And I should note that a lot of this money that the government gave to the company actually came in the form of buying shares. And that money is expected to be repaid when the company goes public with an IPO and that will be replaced. At what level? We don't know yet. It's not expected that we're going to get all our money back yet. And as we mentioned before, some of this money they're going to repay with our money, with taxpayer money. So it's an amazing story. We're going to be watching what they're doing and I should say that Henderson was talking about the fourth quarter; they expect sales to fall in the fourth quarter and rebounding in the coming year.

ROBERTS: They're going to need to sell an awful lot of cars to repay back that money.

CHETRY: That's right.

ROBERTS: Gerri thanks so much.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: They found water on the moon in that experiment. Boy, was NASA ever excited about that? But what does it mean for the future? We'll find out when we are joined from an expert of NASA, coming right up, 24 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour right now. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. You know, since President Obama's election, legal experts have seen a big increase in militia activity here in the United States. They say at least 100 new groups have cropped up since January.

ROBERTS: We have spoken with one such group. And while some of its members will not show their faces, they are not afraid to talk about their mistrust of the government and they are even more suspicious of the President. Our Jim Acosta is with us live now for part one of an AM original series, "Patriots or Extremists?" first of all, does these groups have a right to form and train?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely have a right to form, a right to train because of the second amendment, and they have a right to free speech. And even their critics will acknowledge that. But it is not very easy to talk to these groups. We contacted nearly a dozen different militia groups across the country and only one, the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia allowed us to take our cameras to one of its training exercises. Armed with a small arsenal of semiautomatic weapons, the militia's leaders say they are simply defending their rights.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Once a month in the woods 30 miles outside the nearest city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're practicing target acquisition.

ACOSTA: Members of the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia meet for training.

(on camera): Is it getting bigger?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, absolutely.

MEMBERS OF THE SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN VOLUNTEER MILITIA: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Training for what depends on who you ask, but this militia member, who didn't want to give his last name, worries the government will eventually take away his gun rights.

"BRIAN", SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN VOLUNTEER MILITIA: Well, any time we get a Democratic president in the office, people become concerned, including myself and we get a resurgence out here.

ACOSTA: Others just don't like President Obama. So, you don't trust him?

MICHAEL LACKOMAR, SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN VOLUNTEER MILITIA: In short, I think he could be dangerous for the nation.

ACOSTA: Michael Lackomar sees the militia as a check against government overreach.

LACKOMAR: Just the simple fact that we are out here doing this will give somebody pause, will make them think twice.

ACOSTA: Because you're ready to defend your rights?

LACKOMAR: Ultimately, yes. Down this fire.

ACOSTA (on camera): Right.

(voice-over): And they're prepared to teach anyone, even this reporter how to fire a semi-automatic weapon like this Russian assault rifle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go.

(on camera): The members of this militia insist they are not enemies of the government. They say they just want to be prepared in case the government becomes the enemy.

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: The truth is, is that these groups are popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Earlier this year, Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center put out a report warning of a surge in militia activity that came with the election of President Obama. Since that report was issued, Potok says his staff has counted 100 new militia groups across the country.

POTOK: There really is this kind of terrible fear mixed with fury about the idea that President Obama is somehow leading a kind of socialistic, you know, takeover of America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not an Obama-centered organization.

So we put this across as wound... ACOSTA (voice-over): But militia leader Lee Miracle (ph) says his group is different, teaching survival skills that might be needed after a natural disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two at one, put your rifle back down.

ACOSTA: As a military veteran who's now a postal worker, Miracle urges respect for the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As opposed to work, he's my boss. He's (INAUDIBLE) he's still my boss, but...

ACOSTA: He's your boss?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's my boss, yes. He's my boss. He should come out and have some barbecue with us.

ACOSTA: If he did, he'd find a movement that's not just gaining new members --

(on camera): How many of you are new to the militia?

(voice-over): It's getting more worried.

(on camera): How many of you are worried about the constitution right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Worried as in the sense that it's not being followed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now the signs the Second Amendment those militia members could not specify which of their constitutional rights they think are being peeled away, and the Obama administration has not proposed any new gun control measures. It's unclear just how closely militias are being watched by federal authorities. The FBI and ATF both declined our request for interviews -- John and Kiran.

CHETRY: So we're talking about like who joins these groups.

ACOSTA: Right.

CHETRY: I mean, we didn't see any minorities, but, you know, the question is, who are the people who think that they need to join these groups or that want to take part?

ACOSTA: Well, one thing is for certain. If you ask their names, a lot of them will not give you their names, some of them wore masks, some of them are essentially afraid that their businesses, for example, will be frowned upon...

CHETRY: Will be targeted. ACOSTA: ... if they, you know, give their names. But at the same time, it's surprising just how normal some of these folks are. You know, they're very friendly, very welcoming, very hospitable. And in fact, the leader of that militia invited us into his home, which we were happy to do and meet his family. Eight kids, 22 guns in the house. There's a reason why he calls his family or refers to his family as "Lee and Kate plus 8" plus a gun rack. And you'll meet all of them tomorrow. The different side of the militia.

(CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: So in the case of "Jon & Kate Plus 8," that would have been so good.

ACOSTA: That's right. This is a whole new reality show.

CHETRY: Yes, and the worse right now. All right. Well, we look forward to that. Thanks so much.

ACOSTA: OK, you bet.

CHETRY: And also we want to know what you think. Are militia members patriots or are they extremists? And are they right? Do you think that your rights could be slipping away? Or do you think these groups are going too far? Go to our Web site, CNN.com/AMFIX. We welcome your comments.

ROBERTS: We're crossing the half hour, checking our top stories this morning.

Drug companies quietly pushing through price hikes while at the same time promising to cut prescription costs by $8 billion a year. That's according to the "New York Times." The average price of a brand name drug jumped by about nine percent in the past year. That means a year's supply of a daily drug now costs you about $200 more on average. Drug companies say the hikes cover the development of new drugs.

CHETRY: The radical Islamic imam who talked to the Fort Hood shooting suspect says he did not push Major Hasan to hurt Americans. That report coming from the "Russian Post" this morning. But the Muslim leader did tell the paper that the attack that killed 13 is, quote, "acceptable under Islam," adding America was the first one who brought the battle to Muslim countries.

ROBERTS: And President Obama in Beijing right now, pressing leaders on human rights. He's meeting with President Hu Jintao and other top communist leaders. The president's first stop in China was Shanghai where he spoke to Chinese students at a town hall meeting overnight. He emphasized the importance of personal freedoms, including an uncensored Internet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: These freedoms of expression and worship, of access to information and political participation, we believe, are universal rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The president told students, the more freely information flows, the stronger a society becomes.

Well, after the Apollo Missions took man to the face of the moon, we came back with a few conclusions. One in particular, it's really dry up there. But NASA now says it has found significant amounts of water on the moon, calling it a new chapter that could lead to a lunar space station.

Here for the A.M. breakdown this morning is Jim Garvin. He is chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Jim, it's great to see you again. Thanks for coming in.

So when we talk about there being significant quantities of water on the moon, you know, we think back to the AEL Cross experiment a few weeks back, just how much water is there up there?

JIM GARVIN, CHIEF SCIENTIST, NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER: Well, John, that's one of the things we're trying to find out. But at least we've seen signs that there's enough to call it a science resource, something that may tell us about our own origins as a planet.

ROBERTS: Now, that AEL Cross experiment found about 26 gallons of water on the moon. How excited was NASA to find out that there was that amount there?

GARVIN: Extraordinarily. This is the driest place we could have imagined. We went there so many times back in the late '60s and '70s and saw the same stuff, an exciting world, but frozen in time. And now, with water, this magic molecule, finding it on the moon, even at the amount we've seen from AEL Cross, this is a new chapter.

ROBERTS: Give us some kind of comparison, Jim. I don't know if you've got the figures at hand, but maybe you know about this. The amount of water that you found on that space on the moon, how would that compare to maybe some like the Mohave Desert or the Sahara dessert?

GARVIN: Well, this is equivalent to perhaps the driest of the deserts on earth. But for the moon, a planet basically bath in the vacuum of space, that's an extraordinary amount. It's really a gold mine for science and maybe, eventually, for human explorers.

ROBERTS: So what are the prevailing theories as to where this water came from?

GARVIN: Well, there's a lot of theories. And that's why it's so exciting. We don't have all the answers. In fact, science is fun. Some colleagues think it could be from commentary impacts that have just over time accumulated these ices that purvey parts of our solar system. Others think it's the action of the energy of the sun hitting the moon and making water molecules. Others think there are other processes. The point is, John, we don't know, but now we have to go find out.

ROBERTS: As you said, Jim, any way you look at it, the moon is pretty dry. So what's the practical value of finding water there?

GARVIN: Well, there's really two things, John. First, if there's enough -- and we have more work to do -- if there's enough, we could actually use it to help us live, work, breathe and understand how to be there. So that's great for human exploration. Second, as a science resource, even the tiniest amount, the tiniest thimbleful could be clues to the earliest history of our solar system and how our own oceans and planet put itself together a long time ago.

ROBERTS: Now in terms of further exploration, thinking that we might send some rovers up there, to go to the darkest, most cold parts of the moon and try to scrape up some soil and find out exactly what the quality of the water is, and maybe to a greater degree how much there is there, and whether it might be of value, if, you know, as the last administration was thinking about, putting a space station on the moon. Some sort of lunar base there to use as a jumping off point for a trip to Mars.

GARVIN: Well, maybe the first step is to use our existing lunar reconnaissance orbiter to further scan the moon to see if this particular place, which is called Cabeus is so unique it's the one place to go with future robots. And then to make our plans on the basis of that. So we have some near-term homework we can do right as we're doing our job now.

ROBERTS: And what about this idea of creating a lunar base and using it as a jumping off point to -- for a trip to or mission to Mars? Could the amount of water that's on the lunar surface be extracted in some way so that you wouldn't need to bring as much water to that halfway point before you -- well, not even halfway point, it's like a tenth of the way point -- before you go on to Mars?

GARVIN: Well, I think the most important thing, John, is to -- if there's enough, to use it while being there. Use the moon as its own destination to learn how to leave off planet. Leaving from the moon to Mars, to make that trip better, maybe not the right engineering solution. In fact, our engineers think it may be better to stage in low earth orbit to go to Mars. So the moon is a great destination in its own right, and with the water there now, that we need to understand. It makes it even more alluring.

ROBERTS: Hey, we had you on on Friday talking about "2012" and debunking a lot of the myths that go along with this end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012.

I'm wondering, did you see the movie over the weekend?

GARVIN: No, I'm planning to see it this next week. It's been a busy weekend with water on the moon and shuttles launching. And, hey, we're busy exploring. ROBERTS: I guess. Yes, shuttle scheduled to take off this afternoon at 2:28, by the way. And weather right now, about 70 percent chance of lift-off.

Jim, it's great to see you. We'll get you back. Let us know when you see "2012," we'll get you back.

GARVIN: OK. Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: All right. Take care.

CHETRY: He's great. It's been a busy weekend. There's water found on the moon. Who has time for movies?

ROBERTS: What the heck? Yes. They got a scathing rink up next to hockey league.

CHETRY: All right. Well, still ahead, there's a new study that's raising some questions now over some popular cholesterol- lowering drugs. Our Elizabeth Cohen is going to be here to break it down for us.

Thirty-eight minutes past the hour.

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CHETRY: It's 41 minutes past the hour right now.

A new study is casting doubt on the popular cholesterol drug Zetia. Millions of people take it every day, but researchers found that if you're trying to reduce plaque build-up in your arteries, Zetia may not be the answer.

Elizabeth Cohen has the latest on a new study from the American Heart Association.

Tell us what the study found when it came to cholesterol drugs, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This study is so interesting. For anyone who's trying to lower their cholesterol, a cast out not just on Zetia, but also on Vytorin, which is a sister drug, both from Merck. What researchers did was they compared these drugs to Niacin, which is a relatively inexpensive vitamin.

And so they had people that were already taking statin, and then they gave the one drug, or they gave -- they gave them Vytorin -- they gave them Zetia. I'm sorry. They gave these folks Zetia, and then they gave other folks the niacin. And it really is very stunning what they found.

Let's take a look at the results. Folks who were taking Niacin saw significant reduction in the plaque that builds up on the arteries. They could actually see it in an ultrasound of arteries. But when folks were taking Zetia, they didn't see any changes in plaque. There were basically no differences, leading the researchers, and I talk to one of them yesterday evening to say, gee, maybe people really ought to be taking this inexpensive vitamin rather than an expensive drug.

Kiran?

CHETRY: Wow. All right. Is there, like, a recommended amount of the "B" vitamin. Because B vitamin -- I mean, this niacin is in a lot of stuff that we eat and drink every day. Do you have to take a certain amount in a pill form? And if so, why aren't people doing that over some of the more expensive drugs?

COHEN: You know, that's an excellent question. If you have high cholesterol and you want to think about taking Niacin, you've got to talk to your doctor. This isn't something where you can be food labels and kind of put it together. And there are actually some prescription forms of Niacin that your doctors might want to give you. So in this case, you've got to talk to your doctor.

And, Kiran, I want to tell you, before I answer your other question, I want to tell you what Merck had to say about this. Because this study kind of disses their drugs that are making Merck a lot of money. Merck says, look, our drug, Zetia and Vytorin, help lower bad cholesterol.

Here's the actual statement. "Nothing from this study changes the well-established understanding that lowering LDL cholesterol, that's the bad cholesterol, is the primary target, and that Vytorin and Zetia do those things."

But the folks who did the study would tell you, when you look at the plaque build-up, these drugs don't work. And that's the bottom line.

CHETRY: Wow. So you recommend people talk to their doctors because these are drugs that you would take in addition to a statin drug.

COHEN: That's right.

CHETRY: So already taking a statin, like Zocor or something along those lines.

COHEN: Right. It's a little bit confusing, because Vytorin has a statin in it. But, basically, if you're trying to lower your cholesterol and you're trying to decide between taking a prescription drug or a form of Niacin, you've got to talk to your doctor about that. I mean, you can't do it on your own.

CHETRY: All right. But all of this information is very helpful for people. I mean, keeping abreast of these studies and I know that they're planning their own study, as well, Merck, on a larger scale, but it's good for people to keep ahead of this stuff especially with something like heart disease and lowering your risk for that.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for helping clear up some of the questions this morning. COHEN: Thanks.

CHETRY: Appreciate it -- John.

ROBERTS: Forty-four minutes after the hour now. Winter storm warnings move across the country. Our Reynolds Wolf is tracking the national forecast. And in just a couple of minutes, we're going to start a year-long look at an extraordinary working mom. She's commuting to work this afternoon. It's about 180 miles, but wait until you find out where she's going. Well, that kind of gives it away just a little bit. Stay tune.

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ROBERTS: If you're waking up in Vegas this morning, you'd better have your woollies with you. Right now it's partly cloudy; it's only 40 degrees outside. And later on today, you'll get some of that famous Nevada sunshine, but it's only going to be 64 degrees.

Our Reynolds Wolf is tracking the extreme weather across the country. Reynolds, why so cold in Vegas?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, I mean, what you have is you have a low that is moving over parts of the Central Plain, it's pulling in some cold air right behind it. So along the Strip today, they're going to be -- well, I don't want to say they're shivering, but it certainly is colder than the summertime temperatures they get when they get up to 120 or so. So it's a cooler time there to say the least.

(WEATHER REPORT)

WOLF: You got it.

CHETRY: Still ahead, we're going to meet Cady Coleman, she's an astronaut and a mom prepping for a November 2010 trip to the International Space Station.

Forty-nine past the hour.

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CHETRY: Hello AC/DC.

All right, 52 minutes past the hour right now.

It's something that a lot of moms can relate to, the stress of being a working mom. Well today, she takes to it a different level.

Cady Coleman, she does a lot of traveling for her job, Japan, Russia, Germany and how about the International Space Station?

ROBERTS: There you go with NASA set to launch the shuttle "Atlantis" in just over five hours' time, we thought, what better day to launch our year-long look at this extraordinary working mom. Our John Zarrella, live at the Kennedy Space Center with our first look of the CNN exclusive series at "Counting Down Cady." Good morning, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John, Kiran. This is really a rare opportunity.

Cady, her family and NASA are letting us go behind the scenes of what it is really like to be an astronaut. Not just the training, but the personal sacrifices that go along with it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CADY COLEMAN, NASA ASTRONAUT: It is beautiful out.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Time with her son, Jamey, is precious.

COLEMAN: We only want the carrots. And so I think this is the carrot row.

ZARRELLA: Time. There's never enough of it.

Cady Coleman is a working mom. This Massachusetts farm -- her escape, her serenity.

COLEMAN: Oh, wow. And it feels a little wrong not to be home. And not to be with your, you know, with your son and with your husband.

JOSH SIMPSON, CADY COLEMAN'S HUSBAND: This is an artistic thing, Cady.

COLEMAN: There's no question this is an artistic thing.

ZARRELLA: But this is her life. The job she loves, pours herself into, is a marathon of travel and training.

COLEMAN: I mean, if you are not dead, you have to be there. Seriously and so, you know, if it's the school play that afternoon, you're probably not going to be at the school play and you're certainly not going to be at the school field trip.

ZARRELLA: But at the end of the rainbow, an incredible payoff.

Cady Coleman, a NASA astronaut, will fly next November to the International Space Station. She'll spend six months there. A chemist, she's flown twice on shuttle missions.

COLEMAN: This is really a pretty neat little experience where they've actually designed that gene into these plants.

ZARRELLA: Her last in 1999.

Her hair, let's just say, less manageable back then. When she flies this time, the space shuttle will be very close to its end. Coleman and her two crewmates will make the trip to the station on a Russian rocket.

COLEMAN: I want to go live on the space station and I don't really care how I get there.

ZARRELLA: Months of training take place in Star City outside of Moscow.

If not Russia with her crewmates, it's Japan, Germany or the Johnson's Space Center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My Armani (ph). I use this when I go spacewalking.

ZARRELLA: In so many ways, this journey is not just Cady's. Her son and husband, Josh...

SIMPSON: So this could almost be a bowl, at this point.

ZARRELLA: Who himself a world class glass artist are full partners.

SIMPSON: This is important to Cady. This is what she lives for. And, you know, I think Jamey and I want to support her in any possible way that we can.

ZARRELLA: In Jamey's world, mom going into space, no big deal. Seems everyone's mom is an astronaut.

JAMEY SIMPSON, CADY COLEMAN'S SON: In Texas, like, when somebody says, like, my mom's an astronaut, like, everybody just like, yes, whatever.

ZARRELLA: When they are together, they often go out and watch the space station flying overhead.

COLEMAN: I like to think about the fact that Jamey and Josh might do that when I'm up there and it might be after my bedtime, but they'll be, you know, looking up and seeing me.

ZARRELLA: And they will still be on that journey with Cady.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Now, once a month, we're going to be updating you with a new piece on Cady's travels. And if that's not enough, Cady is going to blog for CNN, once a week, on the AMERICAN MORNING page at CNN.com. So plenty of Cady Coleman the next year, John and Kiran, as she gets prepared to spend six months on the International Space Station -- John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: We'll be looking forward to all of that, John. It's got to be tough for her family, for her husband and son to think that mom is going to be going and a year from now, mom will be going away for six months' time.

CHETRY: Yes. ROBERTS: But I guess it's like soldiers who go on deployment, they go away for a year or more.

ZARRELLA: Yes, absolutely. It is difficult, but at the same time, as you heard from her husband, Josh, this is what she lives for and they understand that and they are full partners in this.

CHETRY: Yes, what a supportive guy. That's great. And also, are they able to talk on video phone? I mean, can she speak to him and have a lot of conversations with the kid?

ZARRELLA: Yes, absolutely. And they use Skype. She was just in Moscow doing some training a couple of weeks ago and she's able to communicate back and forth with them. And you know, what's also interesting, once she gets into space, she planning to continue blogging for us on AMERICAN MORNING...

ROBERTS: Excellent.

ZARRELLA: ... which is going to be spectacular, about what it's actually like to live there.

ROBERTS: Skype's a wonderful thing.

CHETRY: Yes.

ROBERTS: It brings a long distance relationship together.

ZARRELLA: Yes it does.

ROBERTS: John Zarrella for us this morning, John thanks so much. We look forward to your series of reports over the next year.

Fifty-seven minutes now after the hour.

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ROBERTS: Continue the conversation on today's stories. Go to our blog at CNN.com/AMFix and tell us what you think.

That's going to wrap it up for us on this Monday morning. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you again tomorrow morning.

CHETRY: Meanwhile, the news continues. Here's "CNN NEWSROOM" with Heidi Collins.