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Government Expected to Acquire Illinois Prison for Guantanamo Bay Detainees; Senate Democrats to Drop Medicare Compromise; U.S. Suspects Found Extremism on Web; Letting Faith Guide Finances; Taliban's Supply Line

Aired December 15, 2009 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And a good Tuesday morning to you. Thanks very much for joining us on the "Most News in the Morning." It's December 15th. I'm John Roberts.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ten day till Christmas. Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. Kiran Chetry has the morning off. Here are the top stories we'll be telling you about in the next 15 minutes.

A major announcement expected today from the White House. Some prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are reportedly heading to the heartland. We'll have live reaction just ahead.

ROBERTS: It put promise in a health care compromise, but now Senate Democrats are ready to dump a deal cut just last week in order to keep a key senator in the fold and keep hope alive for delivering a health care bill by Christmas. We're live in Washington with the latest developments.

CHO: And must some Americans letting faith guide their finances. Islamic banks writing interest-free loans in the name of religion. Christine Romans reports these unorthodox practices could have prevented American's economic meltdown. We're going to tell you how.

ROBERTS: But we begin this morning with a developing story and a critical step toward President Obama's promise to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Today, the White House is expected to announce the tiny town of Thomson, Illinois will be the new holding tank for some suspected terrorists.

Dan Lothian is the only reporter live at the White House this early. And, Dan, what are you picking up from your sources there?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we do know that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and also Senator Richard Durbin are expected here at the White House to meet with the president to discuss using this facility to house not only federal inmates, but also some inmates/detainees from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

I can tell you that several months ago I was talking to a senior administration official who did tell me at the time that this was at the top of their list, this Thomson correctional center, was a facility that was at the top of the list, explaining to me that this was an ideal location. It's a facility that has not been heavily used and so they really saw this as a good opportunity, an area to transport and move some of those detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

But clearly, this is a decision that would have a lot of controversy behind it. There are those who are very concerned about safety. That bringing some of those detainees onto U.S. soil would invite more terror attacks. But I know that CNN has been there to talk to some of the folks in the area and they really see this as an economic boom.

This is town that has been heavily hit by economic downturn, and so they see this as injecting new life into the community, bringing as many as 2,000 new jobs. About a billion dollars injected into the community, so no doubt, according to, you know, widespread reports that this is a done deal it will bring a lot of controversy behind it because again, those are concerns that there will be many different problems that will arise from having those detainees here on U.S. soil -- John.

ROBERTS: Any idea, Dan, when this all might happen?

LOTHIAN: Well, later this morning is what we're expecting that this announcement will be made here at the White House. Again, officials are having that meeting and we expect that after that meeting, the announcement will be made here, John.

ROBERTS: Dan Lothian for us this morning. Dan, thanks so much.

Here's more on the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in an "AM Extra." There are currently a little over 200 detainees being held at Gitmo. Of those, fewer than 20 are considered, quote unquote, "high value," meaning that they would have extensive knowledge of Al Qaeda.

President Obama had pledged to close the detention facility by next month, but administration officials say it's unlikely that that deadline will be met. Right now, the cost of operating the military prison is estimated at about $60 million a year.

CHO: Other big stories we're watching this morning, some of Wall Street's biggest banks say they're ready to step up lending in 2010. Of course, this follows a big White House meeting yesterday between President Obama and Wall Street CEOs. The president reminded those executives that American taxpayers bailed them out and now he expects them to repay the favor by writing more business loans and modifying more mortgages. Certainly more Americans -- more and more Americans want to refinance or buy homes. The CEO of U.S. Bank says sometimes that's easier said than done.


RICHARD DAVIS, CEO, U.S. BANK: There's also a time and a place for lending to be a risk/reward measurement, right? So at the end of the recession, the qualifications of most borrowers are lower than they were at the beginning and the banks right now more than ever, you don't want us to make loans that are not strong and well suited for the consumer or for the small business.

So we agreed this early that more lending needs to be done. We're looking for those opportunities to make sure we don't put people in harm's way or we don't put banks back in harm's way.


CHO: Bank of America is now pledging to lend $5 billion more to small and mid-sized businesses next year. JPMorgan Chase has already announced plans to boost its lending next year by $4 billion.

ROBERTS: The chairman of Ford is praising President Obama's handling of the crisis in the auto industry. Bill Ford says the president acted, quote, "swiftly and forcefully to rescue GM, Chrysler and major auto suppliers." The two Detroit automakers received billions of dollars in federal aid to go through bankruptcy. Ford avoided taking any federal help.

CHO: Also this morning, a new twist in the push for health care reform. Democrats now appear ready to abandon a plan that would let 55 to 64 year olds buy into Medicare. Now that was part of a package announced just last week as an alternative to a controversial government-run insurance program, otherwise known as the public option. But Connecticut independent Senator Joseph Lieberman doesn't like the Medicare buy-in, and Democrats, of course, need his vote.

Brianna Keilar live for us in Washington this morning. So, Brianna, what does that mean for the future of health care reform?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly this idea of the Medicare buy-in appears to be going elsewhere. This was a watered-down alternative to the government-run insurance plan that Senator Lieberman and some moderate Democrats opposed. And now even though some Democrats are just furious with Lieberman, they realized the only way they can get a vote on health care reform before Christmas now is to find another plan.

They've got a small window of opportunity here in the next couple of days to get this done. And as of last night, Alina, when Senate Democrats held an emergency meeting, there was no new compromise, but they're going to be trying to hammer one out today as they head to the White House to meet with President Obama today, Alina.

CHO: Brianna, as you well know, Senator Lieberman has been for this expanded Medicare program in the past. In fact just three months ago, he talked about why he supported it. Listen to this.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: My proposals were to basically expand the existing successful public health insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid. When it came to Medicare, I was very focused on a group, post 50, maybe post, more like, post-55. People who have retired early or, unfortunately, been laid off early who lose their health insurance and they're too young to qualify for Medicare. And what I was proposing was that they have an option to buy into Medicare.


CHO: Brianna, I think this is what you call a good old fashioned flip-flop. What's going on?

KEILAR: Well, and his office acknowledges that he did change his mind. So he supported this idea pretty vocally when he ran as the vice presidential candidate in 2000, and he says he supported this idea back in 2006 as well. Like I said, his office says yes, he changed his mind, but they say that's because in light of a skyrocketing deficit and the strains on Medicare. What was a good idea back then no longer a good idea, they say, and Senator Lieberman fearing that it's going to break the bank. That's what his office says.

So, of course, he is being skewered by liberal blogs as being beholden to the insurance companies that are headquartered in his state. But his office, Alina, quick to point out that he is supporting changes that the insurance companies hate for instance, taking away the anti-trust exemption they have now.

CHO: And I suppose he does reserve the right to change his mind. Brianna Keilar live in Washington for us. Brianna, thank you.

ROBERTS: New this morning, serious questions about the safety of CT scans. You also know them as CAT scans. Two new studies now suggest they deliver far more radiation than previously reported and may actually cause as many as 29,000 cancer cases in this country each and every year. Twenty thousand people get CT scans each day in this country. In the next hour, Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us. We'll ask him about the risks now being associated with one of medicines best detection devices.

CHO: Home for Christmas, maybe only in your dreams. That's if you're flying British Airways this holiday season. The union approved a 12-day strike over Christmas and New Year's, starting on December 22nd.

Ouch. This comes after British Airways cut the number of cabin crew workers when they couldn't cut a deal.

ROBERTS: He's a "Sports Illustrated" cover model. Comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert appears on the cover of the magazine's latest issue wearing an Olympic speed skating uniform. Fans of his "Comedy Central" show dubbed the "Colbert Nation" stepped in to sponsor the U.S. speed skating team after its official sponsor declared bankruptcy. They have helped raise more than $250,000.

The new issue of "SI" hits the newsstands tomorrow.

CHO: Great photo.

Coming up, a road to jihad that started on YouTube of all places. New details on the interrogation of five Muslim Americans who allegedly went to Pakistan to become terrorists. How e-mails that were never sent still raised some red flags.

It's eight minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHO: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Missing hikers on Mount Hood. That's the developing story we're following this morning. Blizzard-like conditions and the risk of avalanches may put the search for those hikers on hold this morning. The body of a fellow climber was found a day after those hikers vanished on Friday. Now, forecasters say a major storm could bring up to a foot of snow and overnight temperatures have dipped into the teens.

ROBERTS: In California, a 14-year-old boy is accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. Police say a student witnessed the attack in a stairwell of the San Francisco Bay Area middle school last week. The school's principal and the assistant principal have been placed on administrative leave while police investigate. The school district says it is working to improve safety after the gang rape of a girl on a Richmond high school campus last October.

CHO: And listen up, the Supreme Court will take up a case that could decide whether your boss can look at the text messages that you send from your work phone. Now the case centers around a California police officer who sent sexually explicit text messages to his girlfriend from his government pager. Federal appeals court in California ruled that when his boss reviewed those text messages, that violated the fourth amendment which protects from unreasonable searches.

ROBERTS: New details this morning on the five Muslim Americans who were arrested in Pakistan last week. Their interrogators in Pakistan say videos of fellow Americans being ambushed and killed on YouTube weren't enough for them. They wanted to be a part of it all.

Now, we're learning more about a sneaky trick they played with e- mails to try to hide their plans from the feds. Our Brian Todd has a closer look for us this morning.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Alina. Pakistani police say these five men communicated with each other by typing out texts on an e-mail account but never actually sending them and that they drew the attention of a militant with online postings. Those postings according to the Pakistanis were made by one young man who just months earlier was more known for his athletic prowess at a high school in the D.C. suburbs.


TODD: Ahmed Abdullah Minni (ph), known as an accomplished wrestler at West Potomac high school outside Washington. And according to an interrogation report by Pakistani police, it was Minni's interest in online YouTube videos of attacks against U.S. forces, videos like this one, that drew attention from a militant named Saifullah (ph). The report says that person contacted Minni after Minni repeatedly praised the attacks.

It also says Minni and his four friends from Northern Virginia now being held in Pakistan communicated with each other on an e-mail account without fear of interception by the FBI. The report says they set up an account they could all access, would leave messages only in the draft section but never send them, then delete the messages after reading them.

IRA WINKLER, AUTHOR, "SPIES AMONG US": Well, the text is what's coming across, whether or not it's in the form of a sent message, received message, or draft message.

TODD: Former NSA analyst Ira Winkler says authorities could at least see that text was being created on an account and see who was using that account in the U.S. and overseas.

(on camera): And I read this, and then I delete it. And then I save out. If I've got no prior history, if I've got no criminal record, and the FBI would have no reason to know that I'm doing anything, isn't that undetectable by the FBI?

WINKLER: Yes and no. What's happened is if you delete this message, they were still able to see the data was sent to you to be displayed on your monitor. So the data was still sent to you.

TODD (voice-over): Winkler says some deleted messages might have vanished, but some might have been kept in a back-up system by the service provider. The five young men are now in legal limbo for the moment, blocked by Pakistani courts from being deported or handed over to U.S. authorities. Back home, the leader of their mosque says family and friends simply want to turn back the clock.

ESSAM TALLAWI, SPOKESMAN, ISLAMIC CIRCLE OF N. AMERICA: I still imagine -- I still -- in my memory, I see them just walking in the mosque and praying with us. I want them to come back and pray with us, for things to go back to normal.


TODD: The attorney representing the families of the five men would not go on camera with us, but told us that she is also waiting to see when or if they'll be sent back to the United States and what if any charges they might face. With some frustration, she told us she doesn't have those answers yet.

John and Alina, back to you.

ROBERTS: Brian Todd reporting for us this morning.

And coming up at 8:10 Eastern here in the Most News in the Morning, we're going to be speaking with Mustafa Abu Maryam. He's a Muslim youth coordinator who knows the five men arrested in Pakistan, and their parents. This will be his very first television interview.

CHO: Looking forward to that.

Still to come, imagine getting a zero-interest loan. Sounds good, right? And it's happening right here in America.

Christine Romans reports on Muslim Americans who are allowing their faith to guide their finances. Islamic banks are offering those zero-interests loans to comply with religious beliefs. So, could that have kept us out of a recession? It's a good question. Christine's going to try to answer it.

It's 15 minutes after the hour.


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

Imagine applying for a car loan or a mortgage and you get approved with just two conditions. First if all, you have to pay back the money, interest-free, and you have to say thank you.

CHO: That sounds good for the consumer. It's the way that business gets done in the Muslim-American community where people let faith guide their finances.

So Christine Romans now with an AM Original, "In God We Trust." So, as I said, good for the consumer, not so good for the banks.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it's a very small and growing market, quite frankly, and there are a lot of financial institutions and community financial lenders who are trying to figure out how to -- hot to serve this small but growing market in the United States.

But it comes with some interesting challenges. Listen.


ROMANS (voice-over): For Babar Saeed and his family, Islam is a way of life. They pray, eat and attend school according to their faith.

It even extends to their finances.

BABAR SAEED, USES ISLAMIC FINANCIAL PRODUCTS: Being here in the US, we -- we try to live our life according to Islamic principles, and -- and this is one of the area that if we are -- you know, being compliant, is very important to us.

ROMANS: Saeed uses Islamic models of (ph) financial products to pay for and insure his home, invest in stocks and save money.

Why these special financial products? Because faithful Muslims can't invest in companies that violate Islamic law, and they aren't allowed to charge or pay interest.

IMAM HAMAD AHMAD CHEBLI, ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF CENTRAL JERSEY: When you have $100 -- just a very simple calculation -- and you give it to me, Islamicaly (ph) I have to return that money with a word of thank you, exactly as I borrowed it. No less, no more.

ROMANS: Saeed's local imam says how one deals with finances is a major tenet of Islam. But it's not easy for American-Muslims to comply with their faith when it comes to money.

Muslims make up an estimated 1 percent of the US population. There are few banks serving their needs.

SAEED: There are very few choices and it -- it's kind of surprising, because even in Europe, there are -- you know, there are a lot of companies who are offering these products.

ROMANS: And while there are few options available, some financial experts speculate the Islamic banking model could have kept the US out of recession.

Wesam Berjaoui is a manager with University Islamic Financial, one of the few companies offering Islamic mortgages in the US.

WESAM BERJAOUI, REGIONAL MANAGER, UNIVERSITY ISLAMIC FINANCIAL: We never dealt with these risky type of qualifications of clients in terms of negative amortization, 110 percent loan, interest-only. These are not part of the Islamic finance models.

So if these were eliminated, then you would not have had these huge amount of foreclosures as well as these over-inflated house prices.

ROMANS: Iman Chebli says it's not just about money models. Rather, Americans lost faith, dealing with each other unfairly.

CHEBLI: I saw how much damage for the people who have been dealing with interest, and they don't believe in the message of God, neither in the Christianity or Judaism and Islam.

ROMANS: Saeed says as the Islamic financial industry grows, the potential benefits will be far-reaching.

SAEED: I'm sure that if those products are out there, a lot of American-Muslims -- and not just American-Muslims. Probably a lot of people of other religious faith who value socially responsible or ethical investing or financing, they will probably come to these products.


ROMANS: Now, many, many people told us that the Islamic model of -- of financial dealings would have prevented the bubble in this country, but, ironically, Dubai, a boom zone in the Middle East, has ran into financial trouble of its own, despite using Islamic financing.

Dubai World, a state-owned investment firm, used sukuk bonds to finance its rapid growth. Those are a type of bond that -- that do comply with Islamic law. Today, it's having trouble repaying those bonds, trying to restructure that debt and, indeed, had to get a $10 billion bailout.

CHO: It's interesting, you were also saying that imams have a -- have a view on insurance as well, right? ROMANS: Well, look, I mean, there's a -- there's a lot of -- no gambling, no speculation, no -- no interest usery. So it's very difficult to craft these financial products to protect people financially, but also to comply. There is a very growing group of people that were trying to figure out how to do that, and that's something that is -- that is, indeed, growing.

ROBERTS: A question I have is if you're not charging any interest and if you loan somebody $100 and they pay you back that $100 with thanks, how is anybody making any money?

ROMANS: Is it any wonder why the big banks don't have humongous Islamic banking divisions in this country? Right.

ROBERTS: So you don't make money.

ROMANS: Well, there -- there must be some way for fees and the like to make money, but the people that we talked to, a lot of them -- these are community financial -- financial services. These are places -- basically they are in business to serve their fellow Muslims.

CHO: To do it for the greater good.

ROMANS: Right. Exactly.

CHO: Interesting.

ROBERTS: Well, that's fascinating in and of itself.


ROBERTS: Christine, thanks so much.

CHO: We have a quick programming note. Balancing faith and finances at a time when money is tight.

Christine is going to explore the intersection of how we worship and how we spend. "In God We Trust: Faith and Money in America." That airs this Saturday night, 8:00 Eastern time right here on CNN.

ROBERTS: And Christine is going to be back in just a couple of minutes along with Jill Schlesinger. They'll be talking about the meeting that President Obama had yesterday with the CEOs of banks.

The president has urged them to loosen up the purse strings a little bit and loan some money. So, will the cash begin to flow? We'll find out.

It's 24 minutes after the hour.


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

Along the Afghan/Pakistan border, insurgents and the Taliban are using border towns to smuggle in weapons and guns. The makeshift supply line heads all the way to the capital of Kabul. So how are US and Afghan forces fighting back?

Our Barbara Starr is on the ground there with a look in this "AM Original."


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Just over these ridgelines lies Pakistan. We are deep in Northeastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province with the men of Task Force Mountain Warrior.

Although the town of Nare (ph) is relatively peaceful, it is here that Taliban and other insurgent and criminal groups have established supply lines that run from this border region all the way to the capital city of Kabul. Squadron Commander Brad Brown points to an observation post along a mountain crest where US and Afghan forces watch for smugglers who earn large sums of cash from their operation.

LT. COLONEL BRAD BROWN, U.S. ARMY: They use that money to then buy weapons. They bring them back. They sell them to other insurgent groups. They bring back, you know, some Pakistani and Afghani fighters that end up supporting the various militant groups on this side.

STARR: Mountain Warrior has been repeatedly attacked. The insurgents specialize in roadside ambushes.

BROWN: When the time is right and -- and they feel like they have an advantage, they can put together as many as, you know, 200 fighters for a major operation.

STARR: These mine-resistant vehicles have just been fitted with a new basket of armor to protect them against rocket-propelled grenades which have been devastating.

CPT. JOHN LEE, U.S. ARMY: We've had vehicles that have been struck with RPGs that have had catastrophic hits to them. They have caused, you know, we've taken some casualties from those attacks.

STARR: Colonel Randy George overseas all US operations in an area covering 700 square miles. He says the poverty in these villages makes some Afghans work for the Taliban just to earn money to survive.

So, now, the colonel is moving his troops closer to where the people are, trying to gain their trust.

COL. RANDY GEORGE: We're moving to where -- the most of the population centers, and you were just up in Nare (ph), a significantly larger population center that's there. And then, in a lot of these smaller villages, we're seeing as, you know, we're coming in there, we're occupying or we're holding their land and I think that they've realized that that's not the case.

STARR: The soldiers know that winning the confidence of these people will take time. For now, their focus is on bringing security to the region.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Nare (ph), Afghanistan.


ROBERTS: And we're coming up to the half hour now, and here's a check of your top stories this Tuesday morning.

The top US commanders for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on a diplomatic mission this morning in Pakistan. After years of mistrust and hard feelings on both sides, in an overnight interview, General David Petraeus told our Arwa Damon President Obama's timeline for Afghanistan does not mean that the US will abandon that country.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How do you convince other major players that the U.S. does have the staying power?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I think at the end of the day, we have to keep coming back to why it is we are engaged in this region in the first place. Why are we in Afghanistan? And, of course, it is because that is the location in which the 9/11 attacks were planned. We've got to ensure that that can't happen again.


ROBERTS: And General David Petraeus also telling CNN one way Washington hopes to build trust with Pakistan is through $1.5 million in aid over the next five years.

Lawmakers in Congress putting the finishing touches on a $626 billion Pentagon spending bill. Democratic leaders hope to send it to President Obama's desk by Friday. The measure contains $128 billion to support the president's request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And more money will be used to buy about 1,400 mine- resistant MRAP vehicles for U.S. troops. Law makers deciding to move the legislation forward without a long-term increase to the national debt.

And computer technicians recovering about 22 million e-mails that the Bush administration said were lost. Two watchdog groups that sued over documents have settled with the Obama administration. The National Archives will now process the e-mails which will not be made public for years. A Bush administration spokesman says too much has been made over what he calls standard I.T. issues.


CHO: Really?

Back to business as usual this morning for the CEOs of America's largest banks. They got a little scolding from President Obama yesterday. He asked them to do what banks were supposed to do, lend money to people.

So was the message received? Maybe not. Here with the A.M. breakdown, Jill Schlesinger, editor-at-large at, and our own Christine Romans.

Good morning, guys.

First, I want to talk about this meeting yesterday between President Obama and the Wall Street CEO. Now, three CEOs of the largest banks, the three largest banks didn't quite make it. Fog was the problem.

Is this really the best PR move, Christine?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Look, the president invites you to the White House for an important meeting, where he's just went on a national television and said you are fat cats, who don't get it. You need to go the night before.

But the president was gracious about this at the top of the meeting. And that's what kind of surprised me. He's on the phone chatting with Dick Parsons from Citigroup, who couldn't get down there because of the fog, and he was quite gracious about it saying, well, I'm glad you guys are there on the phone. The rest of us are saying, hey, there's a 7:30. There's still a train, you know. I mean, you could have been there if you would just give a little more time.

CHO: Forget about the train. I mean, one guy drove his own car from Pittsburgh. He stopped on his way at a Wendy's to get there.

Jill, I mean, what is your take on this?

JILL SCHLESINGER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CBSMONEYWATCH.COM: Well, I think this is a great metaphor that some of the bankers are right now and where they were a year ago. Because a year ago, they all came together and it was clear they worked together in a room and said we've got how to avert the crisis. And they did that.

CHO: Well, that's fine. But what's going on? Mortgage rates, they are at their lowest level since the 1940s, but there's such tight restriction that effectively these Americans who want to refinance, who want to buy a home are locked out. So what's going on?

SCHLESINGER: Well, there is a big problem with the various modification processes, OK? Number one is we had first lenders, right? The guy who loaned made the first loan are followed by second, sometimes third lenders. So when you go to modify the loan, the second and third guy don't agree to it.

ROMANS: It's a mess.

SCHLESINGER: And it's a mess. And so you have people who are trying to apply for a loan, you don't know who holds the loan. There's a lot of paperwork, and it's impossible for both sides.

CHO: Yes, you call it a pen in the blank process, right, Christine?


CHO: I mean, -- and there are broader implications. I think people seem to forget -- you know, Americans wanted to refinance right now, because mortgage rates are less than five percent.

ROMANS: Right.

CHO: So when you refinance, you've got hundreds of dollars more in your pocket a month to spend.

ROMANS: Right. But look, when we look at the president's mortgage modification program, we know that of those successful modifications, those trial modifications, I think 25 percent of them are already behind on their loans again. So there is this question here. People are really in dire straits, trying to figure out how to fix the problem. That there are different solutions for different people. Millions of people in trouble.

SCHLESINGER: And, you know, this is an interesting thing, because I spoke to a bunch of bankruptcy attorneys because I was working on a story about this, and they said, you know that many people would actually be better off filing for bankruptcy and walking away from their homes.

ROMANS: That's right.

SCHLESINGER: You feel like, people really don't want to do that. Most people want to make good on their promises. But in many cases, if you are underwater by more than 20 percent, so let's say your house is worth $100,000, you owe $120,000. In that case, most lawyers will say walking away is actually more financially prudent for you than trying to knock out a deal with the bank.

CHO: So what's the solution? Because there are so many millions of Americans who want to refinance, who want to buy a home, take advantage of these good prices right now.

ROMANS: For a lot of people out there, there is going to be an opportunity. But bank lending standards are back to where they were 20, 25 years ago. And many regional bankers have told me this, too. They'll give you the loan.

CHO: Is that a good thing?

ROMANS: Well, I mean, if you don't want to create another bubble, but it's leaving some people out in the cold. 7-20 credit score. You have to have money in the bank. I've heard bankers saying, look, do you have six months of insurance and mortgage payments in the bank after closing? Then maybe we can start to talk. That's the way it used to be.

CHO: Like buying a co-op in New York City.

ROMANS: Exactly. But that's the way it used to be. The free and easy money is just not here. You're going to hear a lot of people saying lend, lend, lend. The bankers are saying, wait, we have to be careful about lending. I think the bankers, and I don't know if you agree with me on this. I think they are more chasing about what happened a year ago than their chasing by the White House.

SCHLESINGER: Right, I agree.

CHO: But wait a minute -- I mean, I think, Jill -- I mean, listen, you know -- and I talked about this earlier, if more banks lend and you're able to refinance your home, you have hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars in some cases more in your pocket to either spend more, maybe pay down your credit card debt, and this will ultimately lift the economy, right?

SCHLESINGER: Yes, but -- and to Christine's point. There are a lot of people who had loans to begin with that should never have gotten those loans, and that really is the core basis of this problem.

And many people who were in pretty good shape went out and borrowed more money when times were good and used their homes like ATM machines.

ROMANS: With the enthusiastic approval of the banks, by the way, and Congress.

SCHLESINGER: And Congress and the presidents of various administrations, by the way. So all of that was working. Again, now the pendulum shifts. And that's what happens when you go from blind greed to blind fear.

CHO: Right.

SCHLESINGER: And that pendulum has shifted, and we are paying the price for it. And, unfortunately, that is actually what the economic cycle does. It does create a movement from greed to fear. We are living with it. It's a very messy process, this recovery. And it's going to go on for some time.

CHO: Well, the interesting thing, one percent said refinancing used to be like a free weekend in Vegas. Now it's somewhere between an army physical and a root canal.


SCHLESINGER: Then we need to meet in the middle.

ROMANS: The banks are having record defaults, too. So one of the reasons why they are having trouble lending to credit-worthy people is because a lot of other people aren't paying their bills. And that's putting a lot of pressure on this situation.


CHO: All right. We'll leave it there.

Jill Schlesinger, Christine Romans, thanks very much.

SCHLESINGER: Thank you. CHO: John?

ROBERTS: Well, call it a rocky mountain high. A new way for one mom to do a little bonding with her son -- growing medical marijuana. Wait until you see this story.

It's 37 minutes now after the hour.


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

More teens are smoking pot and abusing prescription painkillers. After a decade of decline, a new federal study shows an uptick there of nearly 1.5 percent among eighth, tenth and 12th graders in the past two years. And the numbers also show fewer teens think that pot is dangerous.

Meanwhile, in states like Colorado, medical marijuana is a booming business. Some politicians there are even calling it the green rush.

CHO: How about that?

We found one mother south of Denver who used to flush her son's pot down the toilet. Now she's helping him grow it.

CNN all-platform journalist Jim Spellman has this "A.M. Original" for us this morning.


JIM SPELLMAN, CNN NEWS ALL-PLATFORM JOURNALIST (on camera): So this is your little marijuana farm?

JASON IRWIN, MEDICAL MARIJUANA GROWER: Yes, this is me and my mother's little marijuana farm. Greenhouse one, greenhouse two.

DIANE IRWIN, MEDICAL MARIJUANA GROWER: I had an Aveda hair salon in Lakewood for 17 years. I sold my salon and moved down to the country.

JASON IRWIN: We started in July, which was really late, because we didn't even get this property until June.

DIANE IRWIN: I gave Jason some money after I sold the salon. And I just trusted him to do what he felt was best to invest the money and help us to get ahead financially. And so one day I was staying with him and he said he was going to open a dispensary, and I said, go for it.

JASON IRWIN: The growers deal with a lot of the poundage which is where the dollars are.

DIANE IRWIN: He called me one day on the phone and said, mom, I think we should buy this land. And how do you feel about growing medical marijuana? And I said, OK. It was just a faith thing.

SPELLMAN: And so your mom -- during the growing season, your mom lived in this camper?

JASON IRWIN: Yes. She also started hanging the buds in here. She did half the harvest in here. She lived in here by herself with no real heat or water in this camper.

DIANE IRWIN: It was -- it was an adventure that I never thought about experiencing. When we finished, it was like now we're bound course for me, living off the grid, roughing it.

JASON IRWIN: We got two ounces per plant. Total off of 62 greenhouse plants we got like, I think, 13 pounds. It is a really cheap investment to grow -- to be able to legally grow 63 cannabis plants in a market that has been determined by the black -- by the illicit drug market.

DIANE IRWIN: And it was fun. Every morning, I would go out and talk to my girls and pray over them and ask them to provide good medicine for the people that were going to be using it.

And so, you know, growing up, I used to bust him all the time with marijuana. And I used to flush it down the toilet or stash it.

I'm in for the long haul. I really do feel like we're pioneers bringing new life to medical marijuana, and it is exciting.


ROBERTS: Well, that's something you don't hear about every day.

CHO: Pioneers? A little like outward bound? Yes, an interesting business.

ROBERTS: I'd be interested to know how you get the license to do such a thing. How much money is in it? Because many of this -- some of these places are not for profit.

CHO: Right.

ROBERTS: Others are, but the state is seeing this is a growing source of revenue.

CHO: Yes. Well, I mean, I think the first step is that the state has to legalize medical marijuana, right?

ROBERTS: That would be the first step, yes.

CHO: And only a few states do that. And so, you know, you look at California, Michigan, Colorado. Anyway.

ROBERTS: Really interesting way for mom and son to get together there on a drug project -- a joint project, excuse me.

CHO: Well done. ROBERTS: That was accidental, but somehow I propose.

CHO: Nice way to bond.

Still ahead, more heavy rains across the southeast, parts of the country in for a blast of cold air. Rob Marciano tracking it all from the CNN center in Atlanta. He's going to get us out of this. We're going to get a live report from him - next.

Forty-four minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Forty-seven minutes after the hour. Welcome back to Most News in the Morning. We're taking a look right now at New York. It's 45 degrees going up to 49 degrees with some sun, a few clouds in the forecast as well. Time right now to fast forward through the stories that we'll be covering on CNN today.

At 3:00 Eastern, the White House is expected to announce a plan to move a limited number of guantanamo detainees to a prison in Illinois. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Governor Pat Quinn will be on hand for that announcement.

At 02:00 Eastern, the Federal Reserve Board begins its two-day policy meeting. The Fed is expected to leave interest rates at record lows to help spare a lending. We'll be keeping an eye up for announcement tomorrow.

And the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear the case of Michael Newdow. He is suing Supreme Court Justice, John Roberts. Newdow is in 80 as challenging the use of "so help me God" in the presidential oath of office. He was against the pledge as well one nation under gut, you know.

CHO: Things are always come up to crop up in cases every couple of years, doesn't it?

ROBERTS: He does. He's one of those people who just keeps coming back and coming back and coming back.

CHO: We might get some rain in New York City. Lots of rain in the South, unbelievably. Rob Marciano in the Weather Center in Atlanta watching that for us, so where is it, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Biloxi, New Orleans, much of South Louisiana, a couple of spots there really getting hit hard this morning. Two to four inches more expected on top of what they've already seen yesterday, and last night and yesterday, not only did they have a problem with rain, but fog. Check out some of this video coming in from Biloxi which also after the fog yesterday.

It got hammered with heavier rain yesterday afternoon and last night. A number of large airports shut down for at least major delays yesterday from Atlanta to Houston because of this soupy, soupy stuff. All right. Let's check out some of these rain totals, Evergreen, Alabama 3.8 inches; New Orleans got 3.2; Mobile seeing at 2.15, so you get the idea, and there is more rain on the way to South of Houston, heading across the I-10.

St. Mary's parish is seeing a flash flood warning right now in parts of the suburbs of West and New Orleans, seeing a flash flood of warnings right now, and that rain will last for another couple of hours at least.

Cool front about the slide for the Northeast. You may see a sprinkle or a light snow shower before the real cool stuff begins to move in later on this afternoon and tonight. Fog and some low clouds across parts of the New York metros there, because of that, maybe some delays, and the cool air definitely driving South as another winter storm rolls into the Pacific Northwest. That's the latest from here. Alina, John back up to you.

ROBERTS: Rob, thanks so much. We'll check back with you. Coming up in just a few minutes, we're going to have the second in our original series, Walk In My Shoes. Today, the topic, why do teens fight?

And we heard from a National Intelligence Estimate a couple of years ago that Iran had stopped working on plans for a nuclear bomb back in 2003, but a new document suggests, maybe they had been working on one as recently as 2007, working on a nuclear trigger, which might be the last piece of the puzzle that they would need to develop. We'll have the latest for you on that coming right up. Ten minutes now to the top of the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to Most News in the Morning. There could now be proof on paper that Iran is trying to build the bomb. Experts say a new top secret document talks about the device that has no peaceful use at all. Our Matthew Chance spoke to an expert who didn't leave a whole lot of doubt that this is for real.


MATTHEW CHANCE, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If ever there was a smoking gun, this may be it. More worrying evidence that Iran could be developing a nuclear weapon. One Western diplomatic source with knowledge of Iran's nuclear program tells CNN the newly revealed document is authentic, describing its contents as alarming. Written in Farsi, the document talks of a four-year Iran in program to develop a neutron initiator, a highly specialized component of a nucleardetonator. Weapons experts speaking on CNN say there can be no mistake about its use.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FMR. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: And the amount of money it looked like Iran was going to spend and the amount of people effort, this had no civil application, and the only conclusion we could reach is that this was part of a plan to develop at least the capability to be able to build this part for a nuclear weapons program. CHANCE: Crucially, there is no date on the document, but the newspaper which originally broke the story, "The London Times" quotes "security sources is saying it relates to 2007", far later than U.S. Intelligence Estimates that says Iran carried out work on a nuclear weapon. The U.S. Intelligence assessment previously said Iran quit working on a weapon in 2003.

It's been just a few months since Iran confirmed the existence of a secret nuclear facility near the Shiite, Holy City of Qom quoting widespread international concern. Western Diplomats say the latest secret document adds to what they call a growing body of evidence backing deep international concerns of Iran's nuclear program. Analysts say the timing of the document's leaking ahead of a key U.N. Security Council meeting may be significant.

MICHAEL CLARKE, ROYAL UNITED SERVICE INSTITUTE: It was a single target of the documents; I think it's Russia and China. Those are the two Security Council permanent members who have been most reluctant to go down the sanction through.

CHANCE (on-camera): Officials of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA confirm they are looking into this Iranian document but say they have not yet formally asked Iran to explain it, but with the damming contents not made so public, that may soon change. Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

ROBERTS: So, smoking gun or not? The Obama administration has hinted that now is the time to turn up the pressure on Iran. Coming up in our next half hour here on the Most News in the Morning, we'll be joined by two experts on Iran. Among them, author Robin Wright, who is testifying on Capitol Hill today, and as you saw on Matthew speaks (ph) Former Weapons Inspector David Albright will be joining us as well.

CHO: We'll look forward to that.

Another big story that broke overnight, Gitmo detainees to the Heartland? A tiny town in Illinois could be the next home for suspected terrorists from Gitmo. There is a big meeting at the White House today. We're going to be live there. We'll have that and all the other top stories in 90 seconds.