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Senate's Health Care Bill; Secretary of State Clinton Remarks on Afghan Inauguration; More Questions on Mammograms; Court Ruling on Responsibility in Katrina Aftermath

Aired November 19, 2009 - 10:00   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Other stories we're working on right now and watching closely; the planned spin-off of AOL from Time Warner next month will probably cost thousands of jobs. AOL announced this morning a plan to cut a third of its staff; that's around 2,300 jobs. The company says the cuts could save around $300 million a year.

Is she really a he? South Africa's Sports Ministry says it will not release today's results on the gender test for the runner Caster Semenya. The ministry also says that she'll keep the gold medal that she won at this summer's World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Gender questions erupted over her dominant performance and masculine build. Two newspapers reported the tests showed that she has both male and female body parts.

It's an air travel mess today. A computer glitch has led to ground stops at two major airports this morning along with widespread delays and some cancellations. A computer system in Atlanta went down for about three hours and though it's back up the impact is still being felt.

Our Rob Marciano joins us with the very latest on that.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the computer back up, Fredricka but as you can imagine anything that causes a delay at one airport in the morning is going to cause a problem throughout the rest of the day especially if it's a hub. Imagine that multiplied over several airports and several hubs and you got a problem.

The good news is this mess behind me although looking chaotic is fairly well coordinated. Right now, we got about 4,000 or so aircraft in the sky and that is a lot more than we just had an hour or so ago. And that's good news. The computer is back up and running. But the ripple effect is certainly in place and there are going to be delays throughout the day today.

All right. Here's a look at the latest list of delays at the Atlanta airport. We do have a ground stop until 11:45. Although I'm told that's mostly Delta second tier aircraft. So not the entire airport. Ground delays at New York's La Guardia, Newark, at JFK, 45 minutes to an hour or so at Philadelphia. Some of these are weather related in that there's some low visibility. So that's kind of exaggerating the situation. So that's not the best of news.

As far as - look at this, Fred. WHITFIELD: Yes.

MARCIANO: A little bit of movement on the tarmac there.

WHITFIELD: It's a pretty picture.

MARCIANO: That's good. Clear skies here, WSB, our affiliate down here in Atlanta. Showing some aircraft movement and so improving conditions but I think it will last throughout the day. Air Tran has canceled a couple of dozen flights. I'm sure Delta has done the same, just kind of alleviate the situation a little bit. But this has happened once before and it took several hours, pretty much the entire day to get caught up entirely.

WHITFIELD: What a mess but you know, it's kind of confusing about that picture. Because Atlanta, a very busy airport. That picture right there even that shows kind of a ground stoppage or delays that could be any day because the amount of planes that come in and out of the airport and the amount of planes that are just lined up in every terminal, you know, is pretty remarkable. It's a busy place. So hopefully things get up and running. Because folks get a little testy when they wait hours.

MARCIANO: Never. Not me. I'm the king of patience.

WHITFIELD: You are just cool all of the way through.

MARCIANO: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Right.

MARCIANO: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: A model we should all look up to. Thanks so much, Rob.

MARCIANO: OK. See you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: We'll check back with you.

MARCIANO: OK.

WHITFIELD: All right, something else that gets a lot of folks hot under the collar, the debate over health care reform. Well, after years of talk, months of wrangling, now the moment of truth perhaps.

Last night the U.S. Senate's leading Democrat unveiled his plan. Harry Reid said it will benefit millions of Americans and will actually save taxpayers money, he says. The price tag an estimated $849 billion over 10 years. CNN's Dana Bash broke the story last night and she is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Dana, Harry Reid said of all of the health care plans out there, his would be the best one. What exactly is in it? DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is being debated hotly as we speak as you can imagine. Well, let's give some examples of what's in this. First of all, just like the House bill, if you have a pre-existing condition under this bill, you can no longer be discriminated against or prevented by insurance companies from actually getting coverage.

Also, pretty much everybody, every American will be mandated to get insurance coverage or face a penalty. And that will be phased in. And then one of the most controversial issues and that is a so-called public option. A government run health insurance option. That is in this bill, Fredricka, but one that allows states to opt out.

That was intended to appeal to some of the conservative Democrats in the Senate who just don't like the idea of a public option. But I got to tell you, looking at this, that is probably the most likely thing to change by the time the Senate ultimately votes on this because just these conservative Democrats, many of them are absolutely adamant still that they can't go for that kind of government run plan.

WHITFIELD: And so while this preliminary price tag is huge. They claim it will reduce the deficit in what way?

BASH: Well, they say that it will and also that it will be paid for. Let's give you some examples of how they're going to do that. A 40 percent tax on so-called Cadillac plans, high cost insurance plans. The Medicare payroll tax will be slightly increased for families who make over $250,000.

And get this, Fredricka, this is new. A five percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery. This is already getting a nickname up here. The Bo-tax. And not just that. It looks like actually Botox probably would be included in this new five percent tax. They think that this will raise about $5 billion. They were scraping to get as much money as they could to pay for this huge health care bill and that includes taxing cosmetic surgery.

WHITFIELD: Oh, very interesting. It's kind of very clever too, Bo-tax. That name at least.

All right. Abortion funding still a possible deal breaker here. We saw what happened in the house. What potentially in the Senate?

BASH: This is much less strict language that they have in the Senate bill and that does pose a problem, not just for passing in the Senate but ultimately for going into the House. This bill does say that no taxpayer dollars can be used to fund abortion. But it does also say in the public plan for instance it is not banned and instead the secretary of Health and Human Services would just determine whether it can be offered as long as no public money is used and it's not banned from good private plans. Again, the money has to be separated and it is hard to see how that is going to fly with anti-abortion Democrats who wanted much stricter language -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

I want to take you overseas right now. That's U.S. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton. She is in Kabul, Afghanistan. That you knew, you saw the pictures yesterday of her arrival. Well, she is there and she's talking to a host of people there in Kabul.

Let's listen in right now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: ... with the government of Afghanistan against a common enemy. There is a threat on not only the people here but people back at home wherever you may be from. And that's why I really express on behalf of certainly our country, President Obama, and our administration, and the American people, our gratitude for your willingness to serve.

Secondly, we have to do everything we can to create the capacity of the Afghan government and the Afghan people to protect themselves and I was very pleased to hear today when President Karzai said that he hopes that within three years the Afghan security forces will have the lead in important areas and within five years, which is an ambitious goal, but he stated it, the Afghan security forces would have the lead throughout the country.

There will probably be the necessity for continuing partnering, advising, training, but to take the lead and to take the fight to the enemy is what he said he wanted to see happen. And the only way that can happen is by the work that you do, the training, the mentoring, the support that you give to your Afghan counterparts. And we're going to be giving you the kind of encouragement that you need to be able to help deliver on this goal that President Karzai set for Afghanistan.

Thirdly, I know that serving here is challenging. There are a lot of sacrifices, most particularly not being able to see your family and friends for long periods of time. And that many of you have been here not just once but twice, three times, and I met somebody on his fourth tour. So I really appreciate your willingness to serve but I also know that for everybody who serves, there's a family that serves as well. It's trying to take care of everything and hold it together back wherever home is.

And I hope if you e-mail or you call or you write, you let them know that I'm grateful for their service as well. Because we couldn't have a United States superb all volunteer service we have if it wasn't a family commitment. Parents, spouses, kids, everybody knows that when you sign up, there's no predictability about where you're going to be and how often they're going to get to see you. I guess as a mom I would say be sure you write home and e-mail and all of that.

Finally, especially for our Americans, we have a national holiday coming up next week. I spent Thanksgiving of 2003 in Afghanistan and I have never eaten so much in my life. I had one meal in Kabul. Another meal at Bagram and another meal at Kandahar. So I - WHITFIELD: All right, Secretary Hillary Clinton there in Kabul. Two-fold message there as she talks to an audience of U.S. military personnel as well as reporters, media representatives there in Kabul, Afghanistan, during her visit there offering praise to the U.S. military for their service and at the same time also talking about the promise, the hope for promise in this new Afghanistan administration, at least the swearing in of a second term for Hamid Karzai.

She was there. She witnessed that swearing, which took place earlier today. Much more on Secretary Clinton's visit to Afghanistan as we learn of more information.

All right, meantime, let's talk about Washington now and how lawmakers there want to know how it could have happened; 13 people dead, 42 others wounded at Ft. Hood, an Army psychiatrist is charged in those shootings. This hour, the Senate Homeland Security Commission opens the first congressional hearing on the tragedy.

Was it the result of intelligence failures? The Pentagon is ready to launch a sweeping review of its policies. And U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to unveil it later on today.

So could the attacks at Ft. Hood have been prevented? According to a new CNN opinion research corporation poll, more than six in 10 Americans believe federal law enforcement agencies or the U.S. military should have been able to prevent the deadly shootings, 31 percent disagree. But the public is split over whether the attacks were an act of terrorism with 45 percent saying yes and 47 percent saying no.

So we just got some new jobless numbers last hour. The U.S. Labor Department says the number of newly laid off workers seeking unemployment benefits stands at 505,000. That's unchanged from last week. It also says the number of people continuing to claim benefits dropped just a bit.

On Capitol Hill, a couple of key hearings are taking place this hour. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner right there, testifying about the financial crisis. Lawmakers want to know how reforms proposed by the Obama administration will actually improve the economy and prevent another economic breakdown.

And tracking of stimulus dollars, a House oversight committee is hearing testimony on how many jobs have been saved or perhaps created under the Recovery Act and how recipients account for their use of stimulus money.

So it has been more than a year since the government authorized the $700 billion bailout of the financial system. Known as TARP. Will the program be extended? CNNMoney.com's Poppy Harlow is in New York.

A lot of talk about TARP and the future. What do we need to know right now?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN MONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: A lot of talk about that, Fredricka. This is a $700 billion program. And I think most Americans think to just spend the money until there's no more money. But actually what happens is that TARP expires in just a matter of weeks at the end of this year on December 31st. However, Treasury Secretary Geithner can be extended for 10 more months.

Now extending it could be very unpopular. Politically there are plenty of critics of TARP and most people agree that this program at least prevented a catastrophic collapse of the financial system. Still, our economy is struggling greatly. Unemployment over 10 percent. Yesterday we heard from the Treasury secretary who said, listen, when he was speaking to a group of small businesses saying the credit crunch is not over yet.

Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, she is the woman that oversees how Treasury spends the TARP money. She's holding a hearing right now it's going on right now in Washington on the effectiveness of that TARP money. One of her main criticisms is that TARP has simply not done enough to help main street.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH WARREN, CHAIR, CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT PANEL: We shoveled money into the large financial institutions and instead of lending it, they held onto it. And we didn't put any restrictions on that back on the front end. The single biggest mistake was a year ago. If we had intended that money to go into the hands of smaller businesses, and to be loan money, then we should have put some restrictions on it up front.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Indeed, hindsight is 20-20. Nothing she can do about that right now. But there is a lot of talk, Fredricka, about using the remaining TARP funds. We're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars that have not yet been spent, not yet been given to the banks, using it elsewhere to create more jobs, more stimulus, maybe aiding small businesses directly.

I asked her legally can they do that? That's really a gray area. It's really fuzzy as to whether TARP can be used for other purposes. That's what we're going to want to watch if it's indeed extended at the end of the year -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: As we mentioned, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also on Capitol Hill today. What's the expectation?

HARLOW: Well, what he's doing is he's testifying before the joint economic committee on financial regulatory reform. This has really been one of President Obama's three main initiatives. Financial reform, health care reform, and also the energy bill that he's trying to get through the Senate.

Now, advocates say what we need is financial reform. We need the entire system to be overhauled to prevent another collapse. But the Senate and the House, of course, they don't agree. They are working on very, very different bills. There's a huge divide and honestly, Fredricka, at this point the experts we talk to a lot of questions about whether we'll see any financial reform, at least before the end of the year. So two important hearings today. We're tracking them both on cnnmoney.com, the latest update is there.

WHITFIELD: All right. Poppy Harlow, thanks so much.

All right. Placing blame for a devastating flood. You remember them. A judge rules against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now accusing them of negligence in the 40 years leading up to Hurricane Katrina.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: A ruling by a judge in New Orleans could open the door for thousands of Katrina-related lawsuits. The judge cited negligence by the U.S. Army Corps of engineers as the main reason behind some of the massive flooding during Hurricane Katrina.

Joining us now from New Orleans to talk about the significance of the judge's decision is St. Bernard Parish president Craig Taffaro, Jr.. Good to see you.

CRAIG TAFFARO, PRESIDENT, ST. BERNARD PARISH: Good morning, Fredricka. How are you today?

WHITFIELD: I'm doing pretty good. Give me an idea of your initial reaction when you heard about this judgment that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is being held accountable for this.

Well, it's a long time coming. It's a bittersweet celebration here for us but a victory. You know, obviously, we've been saying this as a community and as a region for some time that we were concerned about the threats and risks that the MRGO created for our community. So while we're happy that the judge has seen fit to vindicate us, certainly we're saddened that it had to take such devastation to get it to this point.

WHITFIELD: So this may have been your belief and your community's belief for a long time as this trial was getting under way, did you have a strong belief that that would be the outcome or did you feel like that was going to be a long shot that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be held accountable in the end?

TAFFARO: Well, we always figured that it would be a very long battle and it's really about a mindset and an approach that we have to include in any Army Corps project and we're pleased that, we think that some of that is happening now and this decision reflects some things and an approach that was done for years prior to Hurricane Katrina. We're hoping that what this does - it gives us a place to be in the negotiations and at the table for discussion.

WHITFIELD: So what I find interesting here is that you had six plaintiffs in this case. Settlements of upwards of $317,000 being doled out to each of the plaintiffs. Some a little bit less than that. But I wonder, does this now, in your view, open the flood gates to others who say, wait a minute, you know, I want compensation for what I went through as a result of this ruling.

TAFFARO: Well, it certainly can. More importantly than that, we certainly want people to be compensated. Keep in mind that individual assistance dollars that have been supported to many residents in the region are quite extensive. So we're not sure how the individual breakdown is going to basically occur.

More importantly though, and all along, our hunt in this fight so to speak is making sure that what we need to have happen in terms of restoring our coastline, building our protection, and making sure that bills are created.

WHITFIELD: And are you getting some reassurance on that level now as a result of this?

TAFFARO: We are. We were in discussions already. What this does is it strengthens our position to make sure that what is being discussed and in some ways verbally committed actually gets done.

WHITFIELD: I guess you say greater reassurance.

TAFFARO: Absolutely. Greater reassurance. Very much so.

WHITFIELD: All right. Craig Taffaro, president of the St. Bernard Parish, thanks so much for your time.

TAFFARO: You bet. Thanks for your interest and coverage on this.

WHITFIELD: Thank you. We know it's been communicated in so many different ways from you, from others in your community and in surrounding areas for four years now and certainly this ruling could now lead to billions in damage claims so we want to hear from you as well. We've been checking in with our blog to get some of your comments.

We've been asking the question also trying to educate you a bit about this ruling and what it means for New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward, St. Bernard Parish and the responsibility now that's being laid on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In about 20 minutes from now we're going to be reading some of your comments that we're getting right here on this blog. This on Heidi Collins' page here in the NEWSROOM. And as we get those, we'll be able to convey them to you.

So still a lot of outrage and even confusion over new recommendations on mammograms. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen to help sort it all out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: A look at our top stories right now. A historic cemetery in the Chicago area is open again. For now only to family members. The Burr Oak Cemetery was shut down after it was discovered at that graves there were actually disturbed. Four cemetery workers are charged with removing or double stacking bodies to resell the grave plots there. They have since pleaded not guilty.

It is now a felony in New York to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs with children in the car. New York Governor David Paterson signed the bill known as Leandra's Law yesterday. It was proposed after the 11-year-old girl was killed in an accident last month. The mother of one of her friends was at the wheel. Police say she had been drinking.

Especially breast cancer survivors are outraged over the latest government recommendations that women in their 40s do not need routine mammograms. One big reason, insurance companies often look to the federal panel when deciding what they will actually pay for.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now with some questions in our "Empowered Patient" segment. I mean a lot of folks are a little confused about, you know, what to do about this information. Do I adhere to it? Will my insurance cover it, et cetera?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It does get confusing. So I'm going to start off a little bit by telling you about the reaction that you sort of mentioned when you were talking.

Women who have had breast cancer that was spotted by a mammogram in their 40s are mad as heck. They really are. So actually, let's take a look. We'll introduce you to one of them. Her name is Sarah Fute (ph). And she had cancer. She is pointing it out there. That mammogram was taken when she was 42. It was a routine annual mammogram.

And she said if I listened to this government panel, I would be dead right now. Instead she's 49 and cancer free. So I spoke to many, many women like Sarah who said what is going on here?

WHITFIELD: Yes. And now the concern, too, for a lot of women wondering with this kind of recommendation how might that impact my insurance coverage. While it may be $100 or $150 or so to get a mammogram for some women, you know, people rely on insurance to cover it.

COHEN: They do. And it's actually probably going to be much more than that. I was talking to one person who looks at the numbers. He said it's more like $640 to get a mammogram. And studies have shown though even if you ask a woman to pay $10 for a mammogram, it deters a lot of women. They don't get it. So here's the issue. We don't know. We don't have a crystal ball. So we don't know what insurance companies are going to do.

On the one hand they do look to this task force for guidance on what to pay for. On the other hand, observers have told me, you know what, this is such a politically charged area. It would be a PR nightmare for an insurance company to stop paying for mammograms for women in their 40s. Those women would go ballistic. And they said no insurance company wants that.

So the folks I talked to think that insurance companies are going to keep paying and in fact insurance companies say they'll keep paying. We have it down on black and white on cnn.com. So if they don't pay we can go back to them and say hey, you said you would keep paying.

WHITFIELD: So now, I wonder what this might promote? What might this deter? Because it was the same panel or maybe not the same people but this panel that recommended the whole 40 and over, everyone started keeping it on their to do list as soon as they hit 40 that I got to start getting these mammograms, how might this recommendation, how influential might this recommendation be?

COHEN: You know, I got to say that I think gynecologists who are usually the ones who tell women to get their mammograms. I think they're going to listen to cancer specialists and to other gynecologists, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Cancer Society, the list goes on and on. All those people say keep getting your mammograms starting at your 40th birthday.

So I have to think that women and doctors are going to listen to all those groups instead of listening to the government task force. But I will add if you're confused about who to listen to, go to cnn.com/health and you can see my column, the "Empowered Patient" column, it sort of gives a broad view. It's called "I Want My Mammogram" because that's the outcry we are hearing from women.

WHITFIELD: I know this ignited quite the firestorm.

COHEN: Oh, it did.

WHITFIELD: And the panel had to have anticipated that.

COHEN: I asked one of the panel members on the day after it came out, did you anticipate this? And she said yes. But I have to say that I don't think she anticipated the secretary of Health and Human Services coming out and making a statement. I don't think she anticipated congresswomen coming out and making a statement. I have to think this is way bigger than what they anticipated.

WHITFIELD: Yes, something tells me we're still going to be talking about it for a few more days. All right. Thanks so much, Elizabeth Cohen. Thanks for making us smarter.

COHEN: Oh, good. Well, thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, this is a promising sign perhaps of an economic rebound. One of the hardest hit sectors of the job market is now roaring back. We're going to share that with you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Live in the CNN NEWSROOM, Fredricka Whitfield.

WHITFIELD: On Capitol Hill, a couple key hearings taking place this hour. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is testifying about the financial crisis. Lawmakers want to know how reforms proposed by the Obama administration will improve the economy and prevent another economic breakdown.

And tracking of stimulus dollars. A House oversight committee is hearing testimony on how many jobs have been saved or created under the Recovery Act. And how recipients account for their use of the stimulus money.

The recession is really changing the face of the labor market, and analysts say some jobs, like some of those lost in manufacturing will actually never return. But the economic problems are also creating some new growth areas. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with details on that. Susan?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Fred. Yes, it's called mortgage restructuring. It is a boom area in the all-out effort to stop the tide of foreclosures.

"The Wall Street Journal" says that the four biggest mortgage services have hired 17,000 people this year. Bank of America, CitiGroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo. What do they do? They work with borrowers to modify loans, and there's people from all sorts of different background applying for this kind of work.

The Journal has a fascinating anecdote about a former police officer who is one of their best loan servicers. Why is that? Because she's great on the phone trying to calm people down. And some of these loan servicers, Fredricka, even go door to door to get the paperwork needed.

Meanwhile, we're just watching some declines here. Triple-digit declines. We've been on a nice run for the last couple weeks, but we're seeing the U.S. dollar finally get some mojo, and what's happening is, we're seeing weakness in commodities. That's pushing down stocks as well. The Dow, NASDAQ, the S&P 500 each down about 1.5 percent now, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow. So, back to that mortgage modification and hiring. Might people expect that to be a growth area and there may be more hiring to come?

LISOVICZ: Certainly the numbers suggest it. Why is that, Fredricka? Because earlier this week we talked about mortgage delinquencies in the third quarter hitting a record -- 6.75 percent of all mortgages were delinquent. And Transunion among others saying they expect it to keep rising.

Of course, here's a loan modification program being pushed by the government to help 4 million borrowers avoid foreclosure. The government put a lot of money into that plan. But the problem certainly exists. And there are people now, there are jobs, created to just try to avoid the foreclosure. It's kind of a bittersweet thing quite, frankly.

WHITFIELD: I was going to say. That's a strange oxymoron. Growth in one area, but at the same time it's the dearth of good things happening.

LISOVICZ: A calamity, but if you can prevent foreclosure, that's certainly a win-win.

WHITIFIELD: Susan Lisovicz, thanks so much.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

President Barack Obama on his way back to the U.S. this hour after wrapping up an eight-day, four-nation tour of Asia. His final stop: Seoul, South Korea. CNN's Dan Lothian reports from there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president didn't leave Asia with a lot of agreements but senior adviser David Axelrod says that they never expected a ticker tape parade that expectations were not set very high. But he believes that the president's visit was a success because they were able to move dialogue forward on a number of key issues.

(voice-over): Feeling good about his extended trip to Asia...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's great. I had a wonderful time.

LOTHIAN: President Obama saluted about 1,500 troops of the U.S. troops based in South Korea.

OBAMA: We thank you for your service. We honor you for your sacrifices and just as you have fulfilled your responsibilities to your nation, your nation will fulfill its responsibilities to you.

LOTHIAN: But his upbeat message doesn't change the tough reality of nagging global challenges like the nuclear ambitions of South Korea's neighbor to the north and Iran, which continues to resist international pressure.

OBAMA: They have been unable to get to yes. And so as a consequence, we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences.

LOTHIAN: The president gave no specifics on potential sanctions that he says will be developed over the next several weeks. And while he appeared frustrated by North Korea's cat and mouse game, there was a shade of optimism as Mr. Obama talked about Ambassador Stephen Bosworth's visit next month to hold direct talks with the North.

OBAMA: The door is open to resolving these issues peacefully.

LOTHIAN: The Asia tour also took the president to Japan, Singapore and China. A heavy schedule of bilateral meetings on climate change, the economy, trade, but there were also a few side trips to play tourist.

OBAMA: Oh, it's beautiful. What a magnificent place to visit.

LOTHIAN: As President Obama returns to business in Washington, climate change agreement remains elusive, and this new deeper friendship is still complicated. For example, China is emerging as a key partner but still has a ways to go on human rights. One good sign, say White House aides, President Hu has accepted an invitation to visit Washington sometime next year.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Seoul, South Korea.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: So, one of the fastest women in the world can't outrun accusations that she's actually man. Today, new developments in the controversy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: A look at the top stories right now. The CIA steps out of the shadows and into your living room. The nation's spy agency is about to unveil a series of TV and Internet commercials to recruit Arab Americans. The CIA has a five-year plan to boost fluency in Arabic and other languages and says that kind of diversity is essential to combating terrorism.

Is she really a he? South Africa's sports ministry said it will not release today's results on gender test for runner Caster Semenya. The ministry also says she'll keep the gold medal she won at this summer's World Athletic Championships in Berlin. Two medals, actually. Gender questions erupted over her dominant performance and her masculine build. Two newspapers have reported that the test shows she has both male and female body parts.

All right. A court hearing today for an accused serial killer in Cleveland, Ohio, but the pretrial proceeding will not focus on 11 bodies found in and around his inner-city home. Instead, Anthony Sowell will face charges in the attack on a woman there. In that case last year, that actually led police to his home, and that's where they made the grizzly discoveries. Sowell has been charged with five counts of murder.

A critical ruling in New Orleans could open the door to thousands of lawsuits related to Hurricane Katrina. A judge placed blame on the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for the flooding in St. Bernard Parish and in the Lower Ninth Ward. The judge awarded around $700,000 to the plaintiffs, saying that the Corps's negligence and short sightedness in maintaining a key shipping channel actually led to the tragedy.

So, earlier this hour, we talked to the president of the St. Bernard Parish, who said that the decision vindicated the people of his parish.

Well, joining us now to get his take on the judge's ruling and what it means for much of the city of New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin. Good to see you.

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: Good to see you.

WHITFIELD: This is impacting particularly the Lower Ninth Ward because some of the plaintiffs came from the Lower Ninth Ward. How do you interpret this ruling and what it might do for many people who continue to suffer in your parish, in your city?

NAGIN: I think it's huge. We've been monitoring this case. What this does, particularly for the people in Lower Ninth Ward -- many of them did not get enough money from the road home program, which were the federal grants. Many businesses did not get enough help. And hopefully this ruling will open up the flood gates, if you will, for those people to receive proper compensation.

WHITFIELD: Did you anticipate this outcome or did you think this is a long shot? No way the is U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is going to be held accountable.

NAGIN: I thought it was a long shot. We've had a couple of cases that went down in flames, if you will. There was a law in 1928 that pretty much gave the Corp immunity. So, this was a surprise but a pleasant one.

WHITFIELD: And what do you expect happens from here? While the six will receive their settlement, and you mention there may be an opening of the flood gates for others to bring judgments then against the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Do you also see that perhaps the federal government may appeal this decision and it may not be that easy?

NAGIN: I think this is going to take some time. I'm sure the federal government will appeal because if this is allowed to stand -- and I think you will see a multitude of lawsuits, the city of New Orleans included, and I think it will create a lot of liability for the federal government. But it also may ensure justice at the end of the day.

WHITFIELD: And how might this impact the continuing efforts to reinforce the levees, to strengthen what you do have?

NAGIN: Well, Congress has already appropriated about $14 billion to repair the levees throughout the metropolitan area. A lot of that work is ongoing, and we got through one more hurricane season, and I think we'll fill in some holes I was concerned about. So, we probably have the best hurricane protection system we've ever had in the city's history.

WHITFIELD: I know you can't wait as well as any Atlantic coastal city can't wait for it the end of the hurricane season to arrive. It's the end of this month. In your view, as you reflect back on this year and every year following Katrina, do you feel like the city is becoming more and more prepared for the potential of another hit?

NAGIN: Well, we have a levee protection system, as I just mentioned, that I think is the best it's ever been. I don't see another Katrina-type event. We've modified and improved our hurricane evacuation processes, and the last big storm threat that we had was Gustav. We executed flawlessly. Our neighborhoods are getting stronger. The city of New Orleans has over 80 percent of its population is back. So, we're feeling pretty good about where we are now.

WHITFIELD: Mayor Ray Nagin with New Orleans, thank you so much.

NAGIN: Thank you.

WHITIFIELD: All right. This morning we've been, of course, asking your thoughts and your reaction to this ruling, and here's some of what you've been saying. Gregory writes this on our blog, "The government should foot the bill for health care before they pay for people building their homes in disaster-prone areas. How is the Corp responsible for the weather?"

Michael Armstrong writes this, "The government seems to have a hand in all the failures in this state. Let's not forget the mobile homes and how much money was wasted. It should all fall on the governor and the mayor."

And remember, we want to hear from you. Just log on to CNN.com/fredricka to share comments and we'll get them on the air as soon as possible.

All right, meantime, just a reminder, in case you don't know what day of the week it is, it's Thursday. And you know what that means.

A new set of questions on the CNN Challenge. All you have to do is go to CNNchallenge.com and start playing the game. Ready for the first question? Here we go.

Which state did President Obama say is the 50th one that he has visited? Was it Alaska, Idaho, Maine, or Wyoming?

I love that music, don't you? We'll be right back with the answer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: With this dramatic music, I need to give you dramatic speech. Every Thursday, CNN Challenge comes out with its new questions for the week. So, just before the break we showed you one of them.

Here it is, one more time. "Which state did President Obama say is the 50th one that he's actually visited? Was it Alaska, Idaho, Maine or Wyoming?"

Ready for the answer? Alaska.

Run, do not walk to your computer. Go to CNNchallenge.com and take this week's full quiz. One of the anchors on there will help you play the game. It's a lot of fun, so check it out. CNNchallenge.com.

Checking a couple stories in our political radar now. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford will have a chance to defend himself in an investigation into his travel and use of campaign funds. The state ethics commission has scheduled a hearing for early next year. Questions about Sanford's travel were raised after he disappeared in June and later admitted that he had been visiting his mistress in Argentina. The Associated Press found Sanford violated bans on using state airplanes for personal and political purposes, and "The State" newspaper in South Carolina reported that Sanford's campaign reimbursed him for what may have been personal expenses. A lawyer for the governor says Sanford will be cleared by the commission.

Virginia's newly elected governor, Bob McDonnell is refusing to disavow anti-Islamic comments by his supporter and Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson. The Republican McDonnell handily won Virginia's governor race earlier in the month. Muslim groups have called on McDonnell to condemn recent claims by Robertson that Islam is, quote, "a violent political system." McDonnell told CNN that the first amendment entitles Americans to express whatever opinion they have, but he stressed he reached out to Muslims and visited mosques during his campaign.

All right. Let's check in with our Rob Marciano. We have a couple things we want to talk about. What's going on here on the ground -- sort of kind of -- and in the air and what's happening way, way, way up there.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: OK. We'll start with...

WHITFIELD: Which one?

MARCIANO: Let's start with what's going on not so far up.

WHITFIELD: OK.

MARCIANO: That's been the biggest story...

WHITIFIELD: It's supposed to happen so far up.

(WEATHER REPORT)

MARCIANO: All right. Let's talk about shuttle way up there.

WHITFIELD: Yes, we're increasing our elevation there. We start out 30,000. We went up a little more. Now let's go, you know, a few hundred thousand miles away.

MARCIANO: I think it's 600 miles up there. They're doing a space walk, Fredericka.

WHITFIELD: Really? Just 600 miles?

MARCIANO: Yes. I think so. I guess you can't quote me on that.

WHITFIELD: OK, I'm thinking thousands, but go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

MARCIANO: ... tapping right now. Two guys are out there. One on his first. Another one is on his second -- or fourth. In all, NASA has done this 200 times. So, no one will float away. They're out there putting in some communications equipment on the international space station...

WHITFIELD: You're talking about the astronauts. Michael Foreman and Robert Satcher...

MARCIANO: Exactly. Both wearing white suits and big bulky gloves so they don't come in contact with space. They're putting some computer -- or communication equipment on the international space station, which was docked by the shuttle yesterday.

WHITFIELD: That's cool stuff. That's very exciting especially for the surgeon. We know he's good with his hands.

MARCIANO: You bet he is. For sure.

WHITFIELD: They're putting him to work. All right, Rob. Thank you.

MARCIANO: All right. See you later.

WHITFIELD: A soldier spills the secret. His unit accused of taking the law into its own hands. A CNN special investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: It's a secret is that a platoon of soldiers kept until one soldier finally came forward. In an exclusive investigation tonight on "AC 360," that soldier talks about why he initially kept a secret about three Army sergeants that murdered four Iraqi detainees at a Baghdad canal. Special investigations unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau has this preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: (INAUDIBLE) Cunningham was at the canal when the Iraqis were murdered. But he didn't reveal what happened until nine months later. I asked him why he waited so long to break his silence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOUDREAU (on camera): Why didn't you report it right away?

JESS CUNNINGHAM, FMR. U.S. ARMY SERGEANT: Fear.

BOUDREAU: Fear of what?

CUNNINGHAM: Retaliation. Fear of being alone. Fear of being the only one that had a problem with it. Fear of so many things could have happened to me.

I don't really care what other people think about me. I don't worry. I'm not going to lose any sleep. I did the right thing. I did the right thing that day.

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sergeant Cunningham talks about breaking the band of brotherhood tonight on "AC 360." We've also obtained 23.5 hours of Army interrogation tapes in which you'll hear one of the soldiers confess to the crime.

Our investigation, "Killings at the Canal: The Army Tapes," is tonight on "AC 360."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Thanks, Abbie.

And I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Mr. Tony Harris.