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Senate Dems Divided on Health Reform; Interview with Michael Steele; Adding Jobs to Recovery; Be Your Own Boss; Woman Starts Small Business to Help Battered Women; U.S. Obesity Rates Increase; James Cameron's "Avatar" Still Incomplete

Aired November 23, 2009 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning to you and welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. It's 8:00 here in New York on this Monday, November 23rd. I'm Kiran Chetry.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans in for John Roberts this morning. Here are the big stories we're going to tell you about in the next 15 minutes.

It's back to square one for Senate Democrats and their health care reform bill. A bare minimum 60 votes Saturday night moved the measure forward, but with Democrats so divided and not a single Republican on board, could we be in store for several more weeks of bitter debate ahead?

CHETRY: Well, there is a big nuclear scare at Three Mile Island. Workers are exposed to radiation. Now, the Feds say it's safe, but what went wrong at the Pennsylvania site this weekend? Investigators are digging deeper.

ROMANS: Plus, even with unemployment in double digits, some people are finding ways to turn things around in this economy. One idea: be your own boss. With a little help, it may not be as hard as you think.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember turning the key and I said, "I'll be back for this key." Meaning, I'll be back. And they said, "Well, just start your own agency. Don't let being laid off stop you."


ROMANS: That's coming up in part one of our A.M. original series "Success in Sour Times."

Our top story this morning, it's back to the drawing board for health care reform in the United States Senate. Democrats managed to get 60 shaky votes Saturday night to move their bill forward for debate, but it's clear the party is too divided to get this particular measure passed.

Brianna Keilar is live in Washington for us.

Brianna, what's the issue that seems to be dividing or will divide Democrats as the Senate takes up this bill?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, so far, it continues to be the controversial government-run insurance plan. There are a few Democrats who have voiced major concerns if not outright opposition to this so-called public option in the Senate bill. And they've made it clear, just because they've voted yes on this procedural vote this weekend doesn't mean they will sign off on the health care bill.


SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: The ayes are 60, the nays are 39.

KEILAR (voice-over): For a moment, Saturday night, it looked like Senate Democrats and the health care reform bill were gathering momentum after months of political posturing.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: All we're asking today is have a debate on it.

KEILAR: And prodding from the president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To take the baton and bring this effort to this finish line on behalf of the American people.

KEILAR: The Democrats have their 60 votes, enough to send the measure to the Senate floor for debate, but with so much dissension in the ranks.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: We need to do a much better job at making transparent what things actually cost.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: We're telling people you have to buy insurance plan.

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: I worry about a government-run plan that would be subject to recommendations that might be applied universally without respect to patients.

KEILAR: It became clear the bill won't fly as written and Republicans looking to slow down the process seized the opening.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: It might take longer but it would also provide a better result. And most Americans think we should get it right rather than try to hurry it up.

KEILAR: Major Leader Harry Reid got his 60-vote majority, but it's how he accomplished it that speaks volumes. Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana voted yes after scoring a provision in the bill that boosts spending for her state by $100 million to $300 million.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: I'm proud to have asked for it. I'm proud to have fought for it. And I will continue to. That is not the reason I am moving to debate.

KEILAR: Still, with so many Democrats on the fence and no Republicans leaning their way, there are still plenty of hurdles to come for Democrats and this bill.

REID: The road ahead is a long stretch, but we can see the finish line.


KEILAR: The next step now, debate on the Senate floor beginning after Thanksgiving. The goal now for passage of a final bill by both the House and the Senate is slipping into the New Year. Democrats' ultimate goal: getting this health care bill to President Obama's desk before his State of the Union Address at the end of January -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Brianna Keilar in Washington -- thanks, Brianna.

In a moment, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele will join us. We're going to ask him about a new GOP ad targeting moderate Democrats who voted "yes" on the Senate health reform bill this weekend. The ad accuses one senator of, quote, 'selling out." We'll ask the head of the Republican Party what he is hoping to accomplish. That's ahead.

CHETRY: Also new this morning, dramatic video coming out of California where a transit -- San Francisco officer arrested an unruly passenger over the weekend.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get off the train. You should get off the train.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, don't right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get off the train. Wow, 507 (ph).



CHETRY: Well, video of this arrest was then posted on YouTube. It, of course, went viral. BART spokesman tells CNN that they are planning a full investigation.


LINTON JOHNSON, BART SPOKESMAN (via telephone): The video was posted by somebody who has jumped to conclusions as to what he believes happened and we're not saying that that person is wrong or right. What we do need to say to that person and to the rest of the world, that we're going to look at all the facts, not just what you see on the video, and then we'll make a conclusion as to what happened.


CHETRY: Well, the suspect, Michael Gibson, is charged with felony battery on an officer. Police say the officer is unable to work because of cuts and a concussion and has been placed on leave.

ROMANS: An attorney for the Fort Hood shooting suspect, Army Major Nidal Hasan, says Hasan is paralyzed from the chest down. And doctors believe the paralysis is permanent. The Army psychiatrist is recovering from gunshot wounds at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He'll remain under confinement until his court-martial. Hasan is charged with killing 13 people in the Fort Hood massacre earlier this month.

CHETRY: A lawyer for one of the five men facing trial for the 9/11 attacks says all five will plead not guilty. The attorney says the men will not deny their role in the attacks, but will tell the jury why they did it. Critics say the Justice Department's decision to hold a civilian trial gives the men a platform for propaganda.

ROMANS: And we're following a developing story this morning. Authorities are investigating a radiation leak at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant over the weekend. One hundred fifty workers were sent home and tested for radiation exposure.


JOHN WHITE, U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: We've also looked at the exposures of the individuals that were involved here. Based on the information that we see today, we found that while there were some contaminated individuals and possibly some intakes of the radioactivity, we found nothing that indicates that there's anything significant, anything that exceed NRC regulatory limits.


ROMANS: Now, the unit had been shut down for refueling and maintenance. The plant was the site of the worst ever U.S. nuclear disaster in 1979. A partial meltdown then forced its second reactor to be permanently shut down.

CHETRY: Also new this morning, "New Moon" rising, the vampire flick, "New Moon," had the third biggest opening weekend ever, pulling in close to $141 million. In fact, only "The Dark Knight" and "Spider-Man 3" have done better. It also set records for a single-day performance with $79 million and midnight showings raking in more than $26 million. All of this, 80 percent of all the tickets sold, by the way, were sold to women and girls.

ROMANS: A Michael Jackson fan in Hong Kong is the new owner of a sequined glove worn by the King of Pop when he first moon-walked in the mid-1980s. After taxes and fees from a New York auction, the 36- year-old paid $420,000 and called it a bargain. He reportedly bought the rhinestone set of glove on behalf of a resort in Macao.

CHETRY: Rihanna returning to the stage at the American Music Awards. It was her first performance since the assault by then- boyfriend Chris Brown back in February in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Lady Gaga, known for her over the top performances, did not disappoint, smashing bottles on her flaming piano, complete with a nude body suit with some sort of Christmas lights on it. She performed a pair of songs from her upcoming album and one on a piano was -- there you go -- literally on fire.

Then there was J. Lo, Jennifer Lopez, returning to the mike from a little bit of a break from music, showing that she can still dance and perform. Ho! Hot mama. Unfortunately, things didn't go so smooth, because she fell after jumping off the back of a dancer. All right. So, I thought that was on purpose. I thought she was just doing one of those things where, you know, she jump back down, run off your behind and jump right back up, a break dancing move.

ROMANS: Yes, she meant to do that.

CHETRY: It's like Beyonce, remember when she tumbled down that entire flight of stairs and continued performer. The show must go on.

The big winner of the night was Taylor Swift. She took home five awards, including the biggest, Artist of the Year. Nineteen years old, it's been a huge year for Taylor Swift.

ROMANS: It really has. She's very young and a lot of to go. I mean, how do you -- how do you follow up a year like this for somebody like Taylor Swift? Young and completely on top of the world.

CHETRY: Good for her.

Well, still ahead, we are going to be talking more about the health care debate. The Senate in a crucial -- passing a crucial hurdle, but a long road ahead, especially because of a lot of Republican opposition to the health care reform bill in the Senate especially.

Michael Steele is going to be joining us -- he is the chairman of the RNC -- to react to what went on this weekend and, moving forward, what can we expect from health care reform.

It's nine minutes past the hour.



CHETRY: How about that? A little Elvis this morning. Fifty degrees in Washington, cloudy. The nation's capital going up to a high of 51 today and they also are expecting a little bit of rain in D.C.

Eleven minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

The fight over health care reform is getting personal this morning. Republicans are releasing a new ad targeting a handful of moderate Senate Democrats, accusing some of them of being sellouts -- all because they voted in favor of continuing the debate on their party's health care reform bill.

Let's listen to a little bit of the ad.


NARRATOR: One member sold her vote to the highest bidder. One member sold out his principles. Two more lost what little credibility they had on fiscal responsibility. Another put the interests of the left of his party before his own state.


CHETRY: Michael Steele is the chairman of the Republican National Committee. He's in Washington this morning.

And, Mr. Chairman, good to have you back with us. Thanks for being here.

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: It's good to be with you.

CHETRY: So, we saw a little bit of the ad. One of the senators that you attacked there, Ben Nelson, says that he wouldn't vote for the bill as it is now and he wouldn't have even voted for the bill to go to the floor if this was the final version. But he's saying, listen, let's at least get it out there in an open debate.

Is it fair to go after him for that?

STEELE: Well, look, the bottom line is: yes, it is. Because this process has been anything but open and it's been anything but fair. You're having members of Congress discussing and voting on this bill at, you know, 8:00, 10:00, 9:00 at night, no one's paying attention.

We were told by the administration, we've been told by Democrat leadership, that this is going to be a public, transparent process and it hasn't been. And so that's step one.

Step two, if you know it's a bad bill, why would you vote out a bad bill to talk about a bad bill and you're not going to change it? You know, the whole idea that, you know, the House passed a bill saying, "Well, you know, we've got the Stupak Amendment." Well, that's not going to be a part of the final bill that's...


CHETRY: You're referring to the abortion amendment in the House.

STEELE: On the abortion amendment, that's right.

Why don't we just cut this nonsense out and do it open and fair, and say, "Look, this is a bad bill, we don't need to talk about a bad bill. Let's put a good bill on the table. We're Republicans and Democrats," that little bipartisan thing everybody keeps talking about, we can do that and we don't have this, you know, "I'm standing on this side, I need to do this, you're in that position." Let's have an open debate.

But this is a process where people are saying one thing leading up to the vote. They get their arms-twisted, or in the case of Mary Landrieu, you're able to triple the amount of money that was being offered to you from $100 million to $300 million, and then you vote for the bill.

I mean, so what -- so what does that say about this process that it just took an extra $200 million to get you to vote out a bad bill?

CHETRY: Right. Well, I mean, most of us would say, isn't that politics as usual in Washington? Horse trading happens all the time.

STEELE: Yes. But we were told...


CHETRY: Arm twisting happens all the time. It happens on the Republican side as well.

STEELE: Yes, but we're not in charge now. So, I accept that. But, you know, we were told by this election that this was going to be something different.

CHETRY: Right.

STEELE: And this hasn't been, anything but different.

CHETRY: Well, let me -- let me ask you a couple of questions. Because you said that you feel like it's a bad bill out there.

I know one of the things that Republicans are very much against is the public option. And this is a huge hurdle that has to pass. This would mean that the government would have a government-sponsored insurance plan competing with private insurers. And that's a very controversial move.

But our latest CNN poll shows that 56 percent are now in favor of some sort of public option. What is that telling you, as Republicans go out there and talk to their constituents...

STEELE: Well, it doesn't...

CHETRY: ... about the need for some sort of affordable insurance?

STEELE: Well, it's a nice poll. I like to see how the question was asked to the people, because that number tells me that they don't know exactly what it is. When you say some kind of public option...

CHETRY: Well, let me -- this is...


CHETRY: Let me just read it to you so we're not confused here.

STEELE: That could be anything.

CHETRY: Just asked, would you be in favor or a public health insurance option administered by the federal government. In favor, 56 percent, opposed, 42 percent.


STEELE: I just -- I -- that's great. Well, let's see what that looks like. Because when you start breaking down exactly what "administered by the federal government" means, I think we've seen it with the mammogram issue. I think we've seen it with a number of other questions that have come up with related -- related to women's health this past week.

So if that's what you're talking about, I'm sure 56 percent of the people out there don't want a system in which the federal government's going to tell them, I'm sorry, you can't have a mammogram now because we've decided you don't need it. So I think when you get down into the bare knuckles of what exactly it means to say the government is going to administer your health care, I don't think you're going to get 56 percent of the people saying, I buy that.

CHETRY: All right. One of the other things that I want to ask you about is the abortion issue. It's becoming a big fight in this. And you said that the Senate bill basically uses accounting gimmicks to allow for federal funding to be used for abortions. Explain that.

STEELE: Well, basically what they do is they're robbing Peter to pay Paul. They're shifting dollars around that ultimately would get used without clearly delineating that these federal dollars should not be used for abortions. The same with the Stupak Amendment.

Taking the Stupak amendment in and of itself is a good step, but you're going to need to put into the language of the bill definitive language that says that absolutely, under no circumstances, should federal dollars be used for abortions.

That's got to be a part of the final conference report if this ever gets to that stage, where you're very clearly stating that you're not going to do the accounting gimmicks that Washington is noted for by putting it over here in this pot and you know that that pot can be used for a whole host of things, including abortions.

CHETRY: You know, Politico's...

STEELE: And that...

(CROSSTALK) STEELE: And let's just clearly spelled out. This is not necessarily going to be what the American people want when it comes to this issue.

CHETRY: "Politico" is asking if there's a little bit of hypocrisy involved here given that you actually just found out that your own health insurance plan by Cigna for the Republican National Committee actually covered elective abortions and has covered elective abortions since 1991. How did that happen?

STEELE: Well, actually, we're about to -- we have done some digging into that and we're -- it's not as it appears, as we found out from our insurance carrier. And so we're going to be having further conversation on that point. But just taking the initial news, the Republican Party has made it very clear, I certainly have as chairman, that we will not cover such elective abortions in our insurance policy.

I've notified our insurance company of that. They have done an investigation and have come up with some very interesting information, which we're sorting through right now. And so we'll be back to you on that later on. But there's no hypocrisy here. Actually, it's very consistent.

You know, previous -- if that was the case, people didn't know that that was part of the policy from before. We did an investigation, a forensic overview of our policies, as I thought we should do. We found this language and we've now fixed the problem.

CHETRY: All right. Well, several Cigna employees say that the insurer offers you the option to opt out, and the RNC did not choose that option to opt out the coverage...

STEELE: Well...

CHETRY: Covering elective abortion.

STEELE: Number one, Cigna employees should not be talking about our insurance policy, and number two, it's not -- that is not the case.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we're -- we are almost out of time, but I just want to ask you quickly. Newt Gingrich was talking about the possibility of some of the principles that are going to be maybe in next year's congressional elections. Things that you guys are talking about. A Contract with America II. What would some of the foundation of the contract to America be?

STEELE: Well, it's not so much a Contract with America II. The Contract with American stands on its own. It was right for that time. It helped define that moment. I -- you know, I and Newt and others are looking at how we define this time, a time where we have an administration that's overstepping its reach on health care, overstepping its reach on the economy -- how do we principally make the argument, make the case to the American people that the direction the Obama administration, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid want to go is not good for America. And I think we'll have some very interesting things to say next year about that.

CHETRY: All right. Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, thanks for coming on with us this morning.

STEELE: All righty.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, we're going to be "Minding Your Business" with Gerri Willis. A lot of poem concerned about the potential for maybe slipping back into recession, but an important survey of business economists says no, there should be growth in the fourth quarter and that things are turning around. The economy will be on the mend in 2010. Gerri is going to have that for us right after the break.


ROMANS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." A giant apology from eBay after a computer system failure caused the world's biggest online auction site to crash over the weekend. The computer glitch inactivated the search function on the Web site, leaving millions of shoppers unable able to use the site. Ebay plans to compensate seller for losses caused by the outage

CHETRY: Bet they lost a pretty penny themselves with all that going on, right?


GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: And at a worst time possible, right?

ROMANS: Exactly. Yes, right.

CHETRY: Well, Gerri Willis is here "Minding Your Business" right now and she is talking more about hopefully some signs that job growth, or at least the shedding of jobs, could be slowing.

WILLIS: That's what we're hoping. And that's what we're seeing from this report from the National Association for Business Economics. They survey some 48 economic forecasters for business and this is what they find. They expect job losses to bottom in the first quarter of 2010.

That's right. There's going to be a turnaround, they say, in the second quarter where businesses will actually begin to hire. They are forecasting that the average unemployment rate will be 9.6 percent by the end of next year. Still not pretty, but better than it is right now.

And 61 percent of these forecasters say, hey, the recovery of previously lost jobs, those jobs that were lost since December of '07, some 7.3 million, they will be gained back by 2012. So in terms of -- two more years, exactly. So in terms of jobs, they're seeing the turnaround coming.

They also improved slightly their GDP forecast. That's, of course, the broadest measure of economic growth for our country. They say in the fourth quarter of this year, we'll have growth of 3 percent. For all of next year, 3.2 percent. So it's in the right column.

Is it really exciting? No, it's not. But at least it's positive. And that's one of the things we are definitely expecting. Also, it's important to know that consumers are still keeping their purse strings tight. We won't be spending, we're going to be holding back.

Personal savings rate will be about 4 percent. That's up from where it is right now, but it's good news because people will be stocking away more dough for a rainy day or possibly retirement.

Also housing, I know you guys care desperately about housing and housing prices. A little ray of sunshine in this report for housing. They say housing starts and residential investment will be up next year. They see house prices up 2 percent next year. Who-hoo. OK.

And the other thing that I thought was interesting out of this was that 2010 will be the first year that housing actually contributes positively to the economy since 2005. So...

CHETRY: It's been a rough few years.

WILLIS: It's going to be back. That's what they're saying. You know, as we were talking in the break, Christine, you know, we're really watching GDP this week and what's going to happen. Will there be a revision to GDP numbers out there? What does growth really look like?

ROMANS: Some people think that the GDP that we said was 3.5 percent the last time it came out, that it might be revised to 3 percent or maybe even a little lower. That maybe it wasn't quite as strong in the third quarter as thought. We'll know more about that later this week.

WILLIS: Hopefully, we'll have some good news.

ROMANS: I hope so, too.

CHETRY: Gerri, thank you.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

ROMANS: And coming up, we're going to be talking about health trends of the last 20 years. Dr. (INAUDIBLE) is going to stop by. Fascinating his study and the analysis there of the kinds of costs that are confronting over us.

Did you know that over the past 20 years women have gained 15 pounds on average and men 17 pounds on average. Obesity is a big costly problem in health care situation that you don't hear as much about when you're talking health care reform. We're going to talk a little bit about some of the things that we need to tackle to get our health care costs under control. That's coming up next.

WILLIS: Like the treadmill.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." Twenty- eight minutes past the hour. You know, with all the talk that the recession is over, as we were talking about with Gerri just a few minutes ago, unemployment rate is still in double digits and across the nation, over 10 percent. In Illinois, for example, it's at 11 percent. In California, it's hit 12.5 percent.

ROMANS: So we're tracking down stories of people turning things around in a bad economy. Jason Carroll is here with part one of our AM original series, "Success in Sour Times."

Sometimes the recession grows green shoots and those green shoots are people who start their own businesses or mange to, you know, take -- some (INAUDIBLE) metaphor, lemons. Turn them into lemonades.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's amazing what can happen when you're down and out, how creative you can become. One woman we met definitely became creative. She was like thousands of others in this country who was laid off this year. So she hired herself and became her own boss using a little-known government program.


CARROLL (voice-over): For five years, Ida Petkus worked at a place where she made a difference, counseling victims at a domestic violence center. Then one day last March, they told her it was all over.

IDA PETKUS, ADVOCATE FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS: My position was eliminated because of economic times.

CARROLL: Petkus had built a career at helping people, and at 53 years old, she wondered what else she was qualified to do.

PETKUS: I remember turning the key and said I'll be back for this key, meaning I'll be back. And they said, well, just start your own agency. Don't let being laid off stop you. So that's what I did.

CARROLL: And she did with the help of the Self-Employment Assistance program, SEA. Petkus founded Three House Haven in Mt. Holly, New Jersey.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And she did it with the help of the self-employment assistance program, sea. Petkus founded Tree House Haven in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. It's a nonprofit helping victims of domestic violence like this woman who we'll call Sara.

"SARA," DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIM: I was in a very bad way when Ida came to me. And I can sit here and talk about it now with some focus and with some confidence that I have a plan, I have resources, and I'm going to make it.

CARROLL: Petkus, the counselor, got some counseling and training of her own at SEA.

MICHAEL GLASS, DIRECTOR, N.J. SELF-EMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: In the 13 years it's existed in New Jersey, and we've pretty much been with it since its start, close to over 8,000 businesses have been created.

CARROLL: The program gives potential small business owners free classes in areas such as marketing, fundraising, and bookkeeping. The Department of Labor offers the program in eight states. Petkus began taking classes in August, and in just a month Tree Haven had opened its doors.

Victims like Sara could not be more grateful.

"SARA": The first word that comes to my mind is "hope." Ida, my advocate, has continued to open the doors for me and clear the way.

IDA PETKUS, ADVOCATE FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS: I believe that small business is going to make a difference in this economy. I don't want to be medium or large. I want to be small and I want to help. I like where I am, helping victims.


CARROLL: She's definitely helping a lot of folks out there. You know, Tree House Haven sustains itself through private funding. Already Petkus has gotten help from Verizon and the Philadelphia Flyers.

And I asked her what her next goal was. She said to move to a bigger office upstairs...


... and hopefully to be able to hire some more employees and sort of give back to people who have helped her.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: But she says she still wants to stay small. CARROLL: You were listening. Yes, she does want to stay small, but still she wants to grow just a little bit. But it was inspiring to be out there and see a woman like that doing what she's doing, especially in such difficult times.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And you will not have a recovery in the broader economy until small business and new businesses like this start cropping up and growing a little bit.

CARROLL: You sound like Ida.

ROMANS: It's true. The numbers all show it. That's what will drive the economy.

CARROLL: We'll see.

CHETRY: Jason, thanks so much.

We want to hear from you. Find out more about your stories. Are you finding success in sour times? Leave us a comment and read more about Jason's story on our show web page,

Also tomorrow we'll look at another success story. National chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco, but we're going to be checking out the new trend of local chain stores. Can they compete with the big retailers? That's tomorrow right here on the Most News in the Morning.

ROMANS: All right, checking our top stories now, a protest at U.C. Santa Cruz is over, but not before students trashed the place over the weekend. A campus spokesman says 70 protesters took over the university's main administrative building in anger over new tuition hikes.

He says some students could face criminal charges or school discipline.

CHETRY: Frequent fliers are too frequently confused when it comes to cashing in their miles. That's why New York Senator Chuck Schumer says he's calling for a federal investigation.

He's claiming that customers are using millions of frequent flyer miles every day because of confusing rules and also deceptive practices by the airlines. He wants a new set of regulations that all carriers would have to follow.

ROMANS: And happening right now, two NASA astronauts are on the third and final spacewalk of the shuttle Atlantis mission. The mix of jobs today includes hooking up a new oxygen tank to the International Space Station.

The shuttle and space station will undock on Wednesday. And all you space geeks out there, don't forget, we're counting down to Cady, NASA astronaut Cady Pullman's lift off for the ISS next year. She just posted a new blog on our site at America is losing its battle against obesity and at alarming numbers. According to America's health rankings, obesity rates have increased by a whopping 129 percent over 20 years. Now over one in four Americans is considered obese.

Why should Washington bogged down with health care reform listen up when they hear these numbers? Because if left unchecked obesity will be at 43 percent by the year 2018, adding nearly $344 billion to health care costs.

We want to break down these numbers and others with Dr. Reed Tuckson, chief of medical affairs for the United Health Foundation, the group that puts out the study. He joins me now from Minneapolis. Welcome to the program, doctor.

First, tell me what is the United Health Foundation?

DR. REED TUCKSON, UNITED HEALTH FOUNDATION: The United Health Foundation is a foundation that is dedicated to providing people with information to help them to improve their health and that of their community's. The annual health ranking is done by the foundation in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the partnership for prevention.

ROMANS: And the Health Foundation, just to be clear, it's funded by the insurance industry or one of the insurance companies, right?

TUCKSON: It is funded by the United Health Group Family of Companies.

ROMANS: Excellent. Let's talk about these numbers, these obesity numbers. We've heard these numbers again and again, that we have a public health threat, really, in the rising number of people who are obese in this country. One of the statistics from this report that I found, shocking, is that over the past 20 years on average men in this country have gained 17.2 pounds, women, 15.4 pounds in 20 years.

With that comes all kinds of public health issues, like diabetes, like heart disease, and other things. Why is this happening, first, and what kind of threat is it to health care costs?

TUCKSON: Well, it's happening because of three things. Number one, especially with obesity, what we are seeing is people are eating too much in general. And then, of course, they're eating too much of the wrong things. And lastly, what is of course happening is that we are not exercising.

And in particular, we are not creating a culture of exercise or the opportunities to exercise in our children. We are really failing them when it comes to promoting and protecting their health.

The consequences of this are extraordinary. As you indicated in your opening, today we are spending almost $80 billion in managing the health consequences of obesity -- heart disease, hypertension, cancer, diabetes. These are now becoming epidemic and persistent problems. If things continue, and there is no reason, unfortunately, to think that they won't, in ten years' time, we will spend $344 billion just managing the health consequences of obesity alone. We can ill- afford to do this. And this is an urgent, absolutely urgent call to action.

ROMANS: We know that many of these costs and many of these numbers that you're talking about are things that can be prevented. Smoking, for example, can be prevented. And there's been a big public health push in recent years to try to lower rates of smoking. Three million people have quit smoking in the past year.

Is here obesity prevention in this country is any meaningful way?

TUCKSON: No, unfortunately, there is not. And even as you mentioned the successes, and we should celebrate the successes of tobacco. But still, at the numbers we are experiencing the use of tobacco today, we still know there will be 450,000 people, almost, in this country who will die this year from this number one preventable risk factor for death and disease.

And so the point is and the story here is that we as a nation are not making prevention enough of a priority. And that means that each of us as individuals, as members of families, as participants in community life, civic associations, fraternities, sorority, churches, and, of course, our local, state, and national elected public officials, all of us working together have got to decide today that we are going to take the action necessary to turn this around.

If we do not, we will not be able to afford to be able handle the health consequences. And of course, even more devastating, there are so many millions of Americans that are going to die prematurely or suffer preventable misery and agony. This ought to be much higher on the national agenda.

I think your point that it's got to be a multipronged approach is pretty important, because you've got some mayors like in New York City, Michael Bloomberg, who's sort of taken this matter into his own hands in some cases with fat and salt content. We can see now when we go to a fast food restaurant what we are eating.

But the schools, the school lunch program is something to look at as well.

But this is a company of free choice. You have companies that create certain things to consume and people have the choice to spend their money and consume it. How do you change the thinking from top to bottom?

TUCKSON: I love the example that you gave of a local elected official who takes leadership. But what we need is to find leaders not only like that in the policies community, but we have to find leaders like that in our own home.

Tonight there will be so many parents who will put -- make decisions and choices, of course, about what they put on the dinner table for their children. This is the day to choose, to choose the right things.

There are so many things that we could be doing through our community organizations. Our churches have such a major role to play. And they could be doing so much more, even if it means simply creating a safe haven for our children to exercise every day from 3:00 until dark.

So there are so many things that we should be doing that we are not doing. And I don't think it's all about elected and public officials. It's about each of us as individuals deciding today is the day to take responsibility for my own life and that of my family.

ROMANS: Right. It's just a difficult set of circumstances. In some neighborhoods, you can't get an apple, but you can get a value meal from any of the -- it's more than just one solution, you're absolutely right. And something we need to talk about as we continue to talk about health care costs.

Dr. Reed Tuckson, United Health Foundation, thank so much, sir. I appreciate it.

TUCKSON: Thank you.

CHETRY: This morning, it was all "New Moon," "New Moon," "New Moon" at the box office, raking in $120 million just this weekend alone in some places.

Well, now we're turning our focus to another movie that at least its director James Cameron hopes is a huge hit, "Avatar." It's 3d, a sci-fi opus, and we're going to show you a little sneak peek.


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

The man who made the biggest blockbuster ever is hoping to top that this Christmas with "Avatar." If you haven't heard of it yet, welcome back from Pluto.

CHETRY: I guess you and I were both on Pluto.

Well, promotion for "Avatar" really is everywhere, and for director James Cameron, it's literally a dream come true.

Our Jason Carroll sat down with him to talk about it.


CARROLL: He made millions terminating mankind, battling aliens. And when critics thought he couldn't top himself, James Cameron sunk the titanic, making the highest grossing film of all time, winning 11 academy awards.

Cameron has a thing for worlds. This time it's Avatar's world.

JAMES CAMERON, DIRECTOR, "AVATAR": We challenged ourselves on this film to go beyond what we collectively knew.

CARROLL: This is Cameron's imaginary planet, Pandora, inhabited by luminescent creatures and blue-hued indigenous aliens. Humans can't survive on Pandora. Special technology allows them to live through avatars, which look like the planet's giant blue natives.

Cameron calls it a classic adventure with a love story, due in theaters December 18th, and still unfinished.

This is an actual sound effects editing session. Opinions here are encouraged, but it's clear who the boss is.

CAMERON: When you direct your movie, you can do it any way you want.


CARROLL: Cameron knows "Avatar" is under intense scrutiny. Costing $237 million and counting, it could be the most expensive movie ever made.

CARROLL: A lot of money spent on "Avatar," a lot of pressure. Are you feeling the pressure?

CAMERON: Sure. You always do on a film. I think pressure is good for filmmakers.

CARROLL: Cameron showed me where much of the money is being spent, visual effects.

CAMERON: There's like 3,000 visual effects.

CARROLL: Wait, 3,000 visual effects.

CAMERON: Yes. Pretty much every shot in the film is a visual effect.

CARROLL: Good God. That's a lot.


CAMERON: That's what the study said too, "Good god!"

CARROLL: Cameron actually updated technology, allowing him to mix 3d, computer animation, and live actions to bring actors like Zoe Saldana to life.

CAMERON: So the trick was to get everything that she had done into her character.

CARROLL: Fans can't wait, but some critics already saying Cameron's avatars look more like giant Smurfs.


CARROLL: Does it make you nervous? What does it do? CAMERON: Actually, honestly, a bit of relief. I think if everybody was embracing the film before the fact, the film could never live up that expectation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not in Kansas anymore.

CAMERON: I think the film stands for itself and that's what -- we're going to get our fair day in court.


CARROLL: Oh, well, Cameron will actually get his day in court on December 18th. That's when "Avatar" is due to be released in theaters. The problem is the movie still isn't finished yet. When we've met him out there...

ROMANS: Oh really.

CARROLL: Yes he's still editing.

CHETRY: Talk about procrastinating.

ROMANS: He's waiting until the last minute...

CARROLL: Because there's just a lot to do. There's a lot of last-minute tweaks he wants to make. He wants to make sure it is just right when it hits theaters.

CHETRY: Wow, and you said he actually had to invent or build a camera to shoot in 3D.

CARROLL: He did. The technology did not exist for him to really envision what he wanted to do, so he said, I'll create the technology. So he created a new 3d camera in order to capture everything that he wanted to do in this film, it's incredible.

ROMANS: And every minute the studio is watching the dollars go ding, ding, ding.

CHETRY: But if anybody can do it, he's delivered before, right? So they're going to put their bet on him.

CARROLL: When they say he couldn't deliver before, he did it in "Titanic". We'll see if he does it again.

ROMANS: All right, you can see more of Jason's interview on our blog. Go to

CHETRY: Still ahead, we're going to be talking about the travel week ahead. Of course, Thanksgiving, big holiday; a lot of people taking to the roads and the skies. However, in many places, especially up on the East Coast, it is not looking good.

Our Rob Marciano is going to be tracking that for us. It's 47 minutes past the hour.


ROMANS: Seattle, rainy. Is that a news flash if it's raining in Seattle? My friends live in Seattle and say it doesn't rain all the time. 46 degrees later -- showers, 49 degrees. Seattle is a great place to live if you...

CHETRY: I like some green there.

ROMANS: If you love the outdoors, if you love fresh air, if you want to go on a bike ride, go climb a mountain, it's all right there in your backyard.

CHETRY: There you go.

ROMANS: In the rain.

CHETRY: Then again, so is like San Diego, right?

ROMANS: And it's going to rain on the East Coast, so what am I talking about?

CHETRY: Rob Marciano, where is actually the bet, weather wise -- if you could earn a living and where is the absolute best weather place to live in the U.S.? Is it San Diego?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, yes, San Diego is not too shabby, but West Coast, generally speaking, from south to north you go, things start to deteriorate. But Seattle, it does rain often, but it doesn't rain a lot.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans reporting live from the grill (ph) where it's 85 degrees and sunny.

CHETRY: Christine Romans reporting live from the grill where it's 85 degrees and sunny.

MARCIANO: That would be the plum assignment.

Guys check out this video, this is dramatic stuff. I want to show it to you right off the top. It's actually from Turkey. We've been talking about the tremendous amount of flooding of rains across the UK. Different system, but look at this guy watch his home collapse from the flooding across Turkey. That's just heartbreaking to watch there. They only saw about three or four inches of rainfall, but obviously in this neighborhood, that was just enough to do it.

All right, let's talk more about the rains across the east coast. Not quite as bad as that. Certainly not flooding rains potentially here, but we saw this was the same system that saw rains across the south east over the weekend.

Now that rain plume or rain shield beginning to get into D.C. It'll slowly march up the I-95 corridor as the day rolls along. So you start it off roll until you're dry across New York and then end it to on the wet side. We will see some delays New York metros and D.C. because of low clouds and fog and that increasing threat for rain. And we're already seeing a ground stop in Atlanta because of low clouds. So the fog is an issue certainly this time of the year.

And this system will get into the midsection. I think travel day on Wednesday, guys, this guy will create problems, more so across the Great Lakes, Chicago, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit. Those hubs are going to be more of an issue. East Coast should be ok for the most part on Wednesday.

All right. Back to you in the grill.

CHETRY: All right, where it's sunny and 85.

ROMANS: We're doing an investigative report on the cliff jumping at Rick's Cafe.

MARCIANO: It wouldn't be bad.

CHETRY: Thanks Rob.

ROMANS: You want to come?

MARCIANO: Yes. See you guys.

ROMANS: Ok, we're going to talk about the CNN Hero of the Year. This is, as one participant want to called it, the Oscars of Giving. Really a heartwarming stuff; people who, without much fan fare, unsung heroes around the world, trying to make their neighbors lives better, trying to teach kids how to read, trying to get clean water to their countrymen.

It's a really emotional and awesome tribute to people who are going the extra mile. It's great.

We're going to have that for you right after the break.


CHETRY: Fifty-five minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

It's really a point of pride for us here at CNN that over the past few weeks, millions of you have logged on and voted to select CNN's Hero of the Year.

ROMANS: And this past weekend, we honored the ten selfless individuals for making the world a better place. Anderson Cooper hosted the star-studded event and CNN's Brooke Anderson has a preview.



JORGE MUNOZ, TOP TEN CNN HERO: God bless this country. ANDERSON: And triumph. A night to honor everyday people doing extraordinary things.

GEORGE LOPEZ, ACTOR: You know what, it's the Oscars of giving.

ANDERSON: Ten finalists for CNN Hero of the Year were recognized for helping others around the world. Among them, a 20-year-old amputee who's getting artificial limbs to kids who need them.

JORDAN THOMAS, TOP TEN CNN HERO: I think that's every amputee's goal is to not be limited or defined by their situation.

ANDERSON: The Heroes' Night began on a star-studded red carpet at Hollywood and continued inside the Kodak Theater, home of the Oscars, where musical greats paid tribute in song.

Some of Hollywood's biggest stars joined in.

NICOLE KIDMAN, ACTRESS: Let's honor our hero, Betty.

ANDERSON: How cool is tonight?

PIERCE BROSNAN, ACTOR: Truly cool, truly wonderful, truly memorable. Keep doing good things.

ANDERSON: 2.7 million votes were cast online to determine which of the honorees would be named CNN's Hero of the Year. The honor went to...


ANDERSON: Penaflorida created a classroom on wheels in his native Philippines to educate his country's forgotten children.

EFREN PENAFLORIDA, CNN HERO OF THE YEAR: Each person has a hidden hero within.

ANDERSON: He received $125,000 to continue his work. The nine other honorees were awarded $25,000 each. No dollar value can be put on the inspiration they provide.

Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


CHETRY: There you go. And you'll see some more amazing inspirational stories went the star-studded tribute airs right here on CNN. It's going to be on Thanksgiving night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

And there you go. It's 57 minutes past the hour. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


CHETRY: That's going to do it for us. Thanks for being with us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

Meanwhile, you can continue the conversation by heading to our blog,

ROMANS: That's right. Here's "CNN NEWSROOM" with Heidi Collins -- hi, Heidi.