Return to Transcripts main page


"Enhanced Screening" in 14 Nations; New Year, New Threat ;U.S. Implements Stricter Airport Security; Low Interest Rates Caused Economic Bubble; Many Groups Lobby for Health Care Bill

Aired January 4, 2010 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning to you. Everybody is back to work today. I guess some students - some college students still have another week off or so, but for the rest of us, a brand-new year, brand-new decade, brand-new week, back at it again.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. And it's nice and cold out there for much of the country as well to welcome the Monday.

ROBERTS: Exactly. Yes, so bundle up.

It's the 4th of January. Thanks for being with us in the Most News in the Morning. I'm John Roberts.

CHETRY: I'm Kiran Chetry. Glad you're with us.

Here are the big stories we'll be bringing to you in the next 15 minutes. New security measures for passengers traveling to the US from 14 countries that are considered high risk for terrorism. The Transportation Security Administration says that passengers will face enhanced screening, including full body pat-downs.

We'll have more on what these new rules mean to you straight ahead.

ROBERTS: The United States closing its embassy in Yemen after threats against Americans. In just a moment, what the administration can do about the rising threat from inside Yemen and what it could mean for terrorist suspects at Gitmo.

CHETRY: Also, what are gun owners and (INAUDIBLE) associations lobbying around the health care reform? Well, millions of dollars are being spent on this bill by some very unlikely special interest. Our Carol Costello is following the money trail.

ROBERTS: Top new security measures taking effect right now for passengers flying to America from 14 high-risk nations. Those nations are considered state sponsors of terrorism or countries of interest by the Transportation Security Administration.

Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is live in Washington for us this morning.

And, Jeanne, what do these new measures entail? JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, good news for some passengers. As of now, all passengers on flight heading into the U.S. will be subject to random screening, not the mandatory intensive screening that has been in place since Christmas Day, but those flying in from certain countries will be required to go through enhanced screening, that could include full body pat-downs, carry-on bag searches, full body scanning, and explosive detection swabs. This according to a new security directive issued by the Transportation Security Administration, and now, in effect.

The countries include those that are officially listed by the State Department as sponsoring terrorism. Those are Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. A list of another 10 countries of interest was developed by the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies. It includes Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen.

A senior State Department official says the countries were chosen because of concerns, particularly about al Qaeda affiliates.

The directive does give pilots on all inbound flights the discretion to prevent passengers from keeping pillows and blankets on their laps. And to limit movement in the captain -- cabin, rather. The directive does not have an expiration date and is intended to be sustainable and long term.

However, John, it may be modified depending on what new intelligence comes in -- back to you.

ROBERTS: At the same time, Jeanne, what's the latest on the investigation into the attempted attack on Christmas morning? What's the government saying about it these days?

MESERVE: Well, the president's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, panned out across the talk shows yesterday and he said, although there were lapses and errors in sharing intelligence about the attack, there was no smoking gun. And he rejected comparisons to the failures of communication before 9/11.


JOHN BRENNAN, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER ON COUNTERTERRORISM: It's not like 9/11. There was no indication that any of these agencies and departments were intentionally holding back information. And I can point to numerous successes...


BRENNAN: No turf battles. There were lapses and human errors. The system didn't work the way it should have. But no agency was trying to...

BORGER: Sloppiness?

BRENNAN: I think there were human errors and lapses. And so, what I'm going to do is to make sure they tell the president exactly what I think went wrong. But there wasn't an effort to try to conceal information.


MESERVE: President Obama will meet with his top homeland security and intelligence advisers at the White House tomorrow to discuss the shortcomings that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board an aircraft, and as we all know, very nearly bring it down -- John.

ROBERTS: Jeanne Meserve for us in Washington this morning -- Jeanne, thanks.

CHETRY: Well, terror is at the top of President Obama's agenda as he gets set to return to Washington from vacation. The White House is insisting that it is on top of the threat. But given the near catastrophe on Christmas, it's proven to be a tough sell.

Our Jim Acosta has the story from Washington.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And all those involved in the attempted act of terrorism on Christmas must know you, too, will be held to account.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama is starting 2010 confronting a cold reality. Al Qaeda has established a new stronghold in Yemen where the White House now believes terrorists plotted with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up Flight 253 on Christmas Day.

Nearly after the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, the U.S. and Britain suddenly closed their embassies Sunday.

BRENNAN: Al Qaeda has several hundred members, in fact, in Yemen and they've grown in strength.

ACOSTA: The emerging threat comes as the president and his national security team plan to meet tomorrow on how to plug holes in aviation security.

BRENNAN: Clearly, the system didn't work. We had a problem in terms of why Abdulmutallab got on that plane. There is no smoking gun piece of intelligence out there.

ACOSTA: But the chairman of the 9/11 Commission argues a red flag was missed, that warning from the suspect's father to U.S. officials in Nigeria.

THOMAS H. KEAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: That alone, given who that father was, his prestige in the community, and his connections with the United States embassy, that alone should have been enough.

ACOSTA: Republicans have blasted the administration's handling of the failed attack, with Dick Cheney accusing the president of pretending the nation is not at war. White House counterterrorism John Brennan all but called Cheney a liar.

BRENNAN: Either the vice president is willfully mischaracterizing this president's position both in terms of language he uses and the actions he's taken or he's ignorant to the facts.

ACOSTA: But there are troubling new questions for the administration, such as the president's plan to close Guantanamo, a plan that includes sending some detainees back to Yemen, a place that's become a haven for former Gitmo prisoners.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: The odds are that they will end up in the fight against us planning attacks on the United States of America. So, I think it would be truly irresponsible for us, America, to send prisoners of war that we hold now at Guantanamo back to Yemen.

ACOSTA: Despite the barrage of criticism, the White House insists it wants to finish the job in the war against al Qaeda nine years after September 11th.

BRENNAN: We're going to get bin Laden, we're going to get Zawahiri, we're going to get the others.


ACOSTA: Some tough there, but John Brennan says the White House is not considering sending troops to Yemen right now. Instead, the focus appears to be on al Qaeda worldwide.

And consider what the director of the counterterrorism center here in Washington is warning, al Qaeda, he says, is refining its methods to test the nation's defenses, Kiran. This threat is not going away anytime soon.

CHETRY: Unfortunately, right. Jim Acosta, thanks.

In less than 10 minutes, we're going to be digging deeper into Yemen's terror problem with CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen, and also, military affairs fellow, Sebastian Gorka.

ROBERTS: It is nearly back to business as usual at Newark Liberty International Airport this morning. To check out the scene last night when a security breach caused a six-hour delay for travelers. A man walking through a screening checkpoint exited into a secure area, triggered a terminal lockdown, that man was never found.

Meanwhile, Dove Ballon was stranded at Newark airport with her husband. Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, she spoke to us on the telephone about the ordeal.


DOVE BALLON, STRANDED AT NEWARK INTL AIRPORT LAST NIGHT (via telephone): We got on the plane about 7:00, and we sat until 8:30, at which point they asked us to get off the plane, which we did. And then we were milling around various areas of the airport until 11:40 when we finally started to go through security. And we actually got we got on our flight at 12:05 and we took off at 1:06.


CHETRY: All right. Well, cold and snow didn't keep golfers from their game. Dozens bundled up for 47th annual Eskimo Open. This took place outside of Chicago. One generous winter rule is an automatic two putt. Is that really generous? You go if I don't, is it?

ROBERTS: Well, within 36 inches of the cup in snow? No, that's not generous. Eighteen yards away might be generous. That's not particularly.


CHETRY: That sounds like so much fun, doesn't it, out there freezing?

ROBERTS: I played snow golf in the past, but we played with purple balls that were easy to find in the snow. These guys were playing with white ones.

CHETRY: That sounds brilliant.

ROBERTS: Rob Marciano is tracking the extreme weather and the cold across the country. He joins us. He's at the weather center in Atlanta.

Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. Something tells there's a lot more going on when you are playing golf in the snow than just playing golf, regardless of the colored ball they're playing.

CHETRY: Exactly.

MARCIANO: It's really good time.

CHETRY: Snowshoes, trying to like move around the court with those on. It's a mess.

MARCIANO: Exactly. And just getting to the club house is the goal, I suppose.

All right. Listen, cold day again much of the eastern two-thirds of the country. In some cases, it will be record-breaking. Temps at the teens and 20s across parts of the northeast. Eight degrees in Chicago if they're teeing off (INAUDIBLE) hill again this morning. And these numbers again do not include the wind chills.

But look at the Deep South: 26, Jacksonville; 33 degrees in Orlando. Deep freeze, hard freeze warnings in effect all the way down into the Florida Everglades today. And we've got an even colder air mass in Canada that's going to be dropping south.

The good news, at least right for now, the only areas that will expect to see significance snowfall will be in the Great Lakes again today.

Talk more about this in about half an hour, guys.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that, Rob. Thanks so much.

CHETRY: I love Rob's map, it's cold and then it's frigid. Take your pick.

ROBERTS: Cold, colder and coldest.

MARCIANO: That's it.

ROBERTS: All right. Rob, see you soon.

Al Qaeda in Yemen, just how dangerous is the organization? And what should the president do about Yemeni detainees at Gitmo? We'll talk about coming up.

It's nine minutes after the hour.


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

Here are some of our stories new this morning that we're following for you today.

ROBERTS: Thirteen-year-old California boy shows that he is a true survivor. Matthew Ybarra was sledding with his family last weekend near Bakersfield when he went searching for a bigger hill, he got lost, but somehow, managed to survive 16 hours on the mountain and freezing temperatures before he was found the next morning. He's doing OK but he could lose a couple toes due to frost bite.

CHETRY: Wow. Brave little kid.

Well, when Pastor Rick Warren asks, he certainly receives. He pleads for donations to fill his church's $900,000 deficit and brought in close to $2.5 million. At this Sunday's service, Warren says the collection shows that Saddleback Church is the most generous in the world.

ROBERTS: Dramatic evidence being revealed that elements in Yemen are an active threat to the United States. General David Petraeus visited the president of Yemen over the weekend to discuss all of this. Will Yemen be an active ally on the war on terror?

Joining me now is CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen. And military affairs fellow, Sebastian Gorka, who spent some time in Yemen. Peter, let's start with you. The U.S. embassy as well as the British embassy closed today after a rare on-camera threats by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They say that it's in response to recent attacks against al Qaeda targets; that they're stepping up their activities against the United States.

Are they taking it to a new level there?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, the Detroit attack or the attempted attack on the Northwest flight is definitely taking it to a new level, because the Yemeni affiliate of al Qaeda, previously has demonstrated ability to attacking American warships in Yemen, American embassy in Yemen, also attacking neighbor Saudi Arabia just on August 27th, they attempted to assassinate a senior Saudi security official with the very similar bombs that was used on the Northwest flight.

But the fact that they are now able to do out of the area operations like the attempt to bring down a Northwest flight does show a new ability in this area, John.

ROBERTS: So, Sebastian, Yemen has ordered an unprecedented number of troops, according to some reports, into an area where al Qaeda is operating. As we said, General Petraeus met with President Saleh of Yemen over the weekend. Is the United States in the process here of opening up another major front against terrorism?

SEBASTIAN GORKA, MILITARY AFFAIRS FELLOW: I would be very caution in saying that so soon.

What we have to understand is that the recent attempt to hijack is simply an event that has brought Yemen onto the front screen of many people who weren't aware of the fact that the United States has been very active supporting the Yemeni government for many years in their various internal problems, not only against al Qaeda. So, America has been doing it so many years. I've been involved with training Yemeni officers here in Washington.

So, this is -- we are stepping it up, we're ramping it up. But this isn't something new.

ROBERTS: You know, this is a question I asked earlier this morning, Sebastian, and that is, you know, as Peter mentioned, there was an attack against the U.S. embassy in Yemen. That was in 2008. Nineteen people, including one American were killed. Yet, it's only been since this airliner incident that this has really come up on the radar screen for most Americans.

Why hasn't it been on our radar screen to a greater degree?

GORKA: I think there are some very simple answers to that. I think, if you look at the history unfolding of what we've done after September the 11th -- Peter was working on the book on this whole history -- we focused on, what, on Afghanistan, we focused on Iraq, and to a lesser extent on Somalia. I think these things have quite understandably taken our attention away from other areas of the world where we've been very active, whether it's the Philippines, whether it's Pakistan, whether it's been Yemen itself, America is involved assisting many, many serious counterterrorism nations in the world, and Yemen is up there in tier one of that group of countries.

ROBERTS: All right, Peter. So, based on the research that you have been doing for this book "Post 9/11," President Obama is going to be meeting with his intelligence officials tomorrow at the White House, how do you think American counterterrorism priorities will change in the wake of what happened on Christmas and what is going now on in Yemen?

BERGEN: Well, I think as Sebastian indicated, we have been involved in Yemen for some period of time, United States. There was a drone attack, you may recall back in 2002, so this is not new. We are amping it up in Yemen, no doubt. TSA has got 14 countries that are going to be searched.

An issue I wanted to raise about that is you know 14 countries whose citizens are going to be searched and patted down before getting on American flights, interestingly don't include Britain. Now after all, it was a British citizen, Reed who almost brought down an American Airlines flight between Miami and Paris in December 2001. It is British resident that tried to bring down seven American-Canadian airliners in 2006, and it is a British resident, after all, Umar Farouk, was living in London at the time when he got radicalized who also tried to bring down the Northwest flight. So it seems that there is, you know, the threat is more from Britain than let's say Afghan citizens who never brought down or tried to bring down an American airline.

ROBERTS: Definitely, an important question to ask in all of this. And Sebastian, as you said you worked with Yemeni military training them in irregular warfare, how would you rate their capability in dealing with Al Qaeda?

GORKA: I think they are committed. I think they understand the threat to their country and to the region. They have a long way to go, but America is committed to what we call capacity building. We are along with the British, we're helping to setup a counterterrorism unit. There is a lot of work to be done, but the officers that I worked with are serious individuals. They want U.S. assistance and they want to take the flight to Al Qaeda.

ROBERTS: No question we will be hearing a lot about this going forward.

Sebastian Gorka, Peter Bergen, thanks very much for being with us this morning. David Gurgin is the name that I was gunning for there. Peter Bergen, Sebastian Gorka, good to talk to you this morning, thanks.

Seventeen minutes now after the hour.


KIRAN CHERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. We're coming up on 20 minutes past the hour right now. And Christine Romans is here. She is "Minding Your Business" this morning. We are talking about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, what he says was some of the problems that led to the big financial crisis and also moving forward, what is the solution.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the housing bubble in particular, because many had criticized that the Fed Chief and the Fed for keeping interest rates too low in the early 2000, saying those very super low interest rates between 1 percent and 2 percent in 2002, 2003, actually helped to contribute to the bubble. When you have interest rates that are that low it means there is money gushing through the system, and many critics have said that gushing money found its way into home prices, and helped contribute to the crisis.

Let's take a look at this graphic that the Fed Chief himself gave yesterday to this very important conference of economists in Atlanta. You can see back there in the early 2000s when interest rates went down. After September 11th, the Fed cut interest rates. And then, look at where they go in the first, maybe third of that graphic, they got down in the 1 percent range there and then before they started to come back up again as the economy started to strengthen.

Now we have interest rates very, very low again, even lower than in the beginning of the decade. These are near emergency rates for the Fed funds target, as we call it. The interest rates target that the Fed sets. And some are wondering, well the first time we did this, it created a big bubble, could it be creating a bubble again. But the Fed chief said it was regulatory failures and not the low interest rates that caused the problem. And we need to have better and smarter regulations.

One thing that is quite interesting about the Fed comments yesterday from the Fed chief, is at what point are they going to have to raise those interest rates. These are near emergency levels right now, we are gushing money into the system, at what point when the economy stabilizes, will they have to start raising interest rates, and what will that mean for the recovery and for our own pocket books.

CHETRY: Your Romans numeral for us this hour.

ROMANS: It is 5.34 percent.

ROBERTS: Oh, that is average mortgage rate?

ROMANS: 30-year fixed rate mortgage. When interest rates are this low, it means your mortgage rate is very low - this has been a very good time for people, these low interest rates...

ROBERTS: I am surprised they are not lower than that.

ROMANS: I know. There is a big spread there.

ROBERTS: Funds down at almost 0 percent. Somebody is making money.

ROMANS: Yes, somebody is making a lot of money. Those interest rates, many people say, are likely going to go up this year.

ROBERTS: All right. Christine, thanks so much. The gun lobby and even the museum lobby are getting involved in the health care debate. Our Carol Costello has got an A.M. Original coming right up for you.

Twenty-two minutes now after the hour.


CHETRY: Twenty-four minutes past the hour right now. Top stories, just five minutes away. First from an A.M. original, something you will see only on "American Morning." Our latest report on who is lobbying for your health.

ROBERTS: Health care reform is big business is Washington and its made for some strange bed fellows, groups that you would never expect teaming up both for and against the bill. Our Carol Costello is in Washington this morning, where she is tracking the money trail. Hi Carol.


Guess how many organizations registered to lobby on the health care reform bill? I bet you have heard. I will say there are hundreds of organizations who lobbied for and against health care reform. Organizations you would not expect like the Gun Owners Association, and the Beverage Association. Why would they spend millions of dollars lobbying for what goes into health care reform? You are about to find out.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER, TELEVISION AD, CONSERVATIVES FOR PATIENTS' RIGHTS: The future of every American's medical care rest with these 14 senators.

COSTELLO (voice-over): It's the kind of commercial you have no doubt seen a million times, and courtesy of groups you would expect to spend millions to schmooze Congress on health care reform.

Here's one from the insurance industry.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER, TELEVISION AD: Congress is proposing over $100 billion in cuts to Medicare advantage.

COSTELLO: But big insurance is not the only organization with its eye on the health care pie. So do organizations you would not expect who sometimes lobby at the mere hint of a threat, like the Gun Owners of America. They lobby to make sure that the bill does not use gun related health data to prevent people from owning firearms.

The American Association of Museums lobbied to make sure that health care costs would not jeopardize the charitable gifts that wealthy Americans donate to museums and other charities.

In all, nearly 1,000 organizations actively lobbied Congress on health care reform according to, all willing to pay to keep their eye on the health care pie.

(on camera): How much money is focused on just this one bill?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's about $400 million.

COSTELLO (voice-over): The Center for Responsive Politics says all that money in the first three quarters in 2009 came from all kinds of folks. Example, the soft drink industry.

(on camera): You spent $7 million?

SUSAN NEELY, AMERICAN BEVERAGE ASSOCIATION: We spent money to put the voice of the people on the air, most of that goes for paid media.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Why would the American Beverage Association, a powerful group that lobbies for companies like Coke and Pepsi spend all that money on health care reform? One word -- fear.

(on camera): Was this sort of like defensive lobbying?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS, TELEVISION AD, AMERICANS AGAINST FOOD TAXES: Washington, please hear us, we just can't take any more taxes right now.

COSTELLO (voice-over): The beverage industry was so concerned lawmakers would tax sugary soda to pay for health care, in 2009 it spent 10 times as much as the year before. This in response to a Senate committee report that merely floated the idea, an idea that has been pushed for years by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

(on camera): There was never any real champion among lawmakers for this tax, was there?

JACOBSON: No, there never has been and there really isn't a champion now.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Still, the beverage industry registered more than a dozen organizations and lobbying firms to convince lawmakers to kill the very idea of a sugary soda tax.

(on camera): You guys poured all of this money and effort in to defeating something that some think never was going to happen anyway.

NEELY: We were counseled by very smart people in Congress that this in some quarters might be a viable idea, just again, because the pressure for funding was so enormous, rightly so. And you could not take anything for granted. COSTELLO (voice-over): And then there is this, 15 beverage industry lobbyists also made campaign contributions over time to 14 members on the Senate Finance Committee, the very committee that had the power to kill the idea. Absolutely legal and some charged absolutely effective, the soda tax idea died before it ever became a serious consideration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The beverage industry saw a threat on the horizon. They realized that they had a short window of opportunity to remove it, and they threw everything they had at it.

COSTELLO: The American Beverage Association, just one more example of the hundreds of lobbying organizations who have their eye on the health care pie.


COSTELLO: There were a lot more organizations on that list too. The Home School Legal Defense association, the Brick Industry Association, the Fishing Partnership Health Plan. Even our parent company, Time Warner, was on that list, John.

ROBERTS: So, there was quite an uproar after the Senate health care bill passed, because it included a proposal to tax -- of all things -- tanning salons. Does the tanning industry now wish they had lobbied on the bill? Did they say, oh no, why didn't we register? COSTELLO: I did call the organization that represents the tanning industry, and they said this idea of the tax came out of the blue, and they wished they had registered to lobby because you know, they certainly wanted to defeat the tax. It may happen, it may not -- who knows. There is still time to register, though.

ROBERTS: It's amazing, the number of people who got in line for the health care bill.

Carol Costello for us this morning. Carol, thanks.

Next in our series, Lobbying for your health, a powerful union is chasing reform. Inside their war room, health care is a candidate and they are trying to win the election. Carol sits down with the union boss and, shall we say, makes him sweat just a little bit.

That brings us around to the half hour, that means it's time for this morning's top stories.

Reports of confusion after new changes in airport security. The TSA says everybody flying in the United States will be subject to stricter measures, and if you are flying in from 14 countries that government considers high risk, there will be enhanced screening.

But so far the Associated Press reports that in Europe there are very few visible changes.

Well, it's back to business after a security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport. Flights were grounded and thousands of passengers had to be rescreened last night after a man walked through a screening check point exit into a secure area of the terminal. The man was never found.

And a deadly start to the year for U.S. forces. A NATO official says four soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan yesterday. Kiran?

CHETRY: All right, well in February, phase two of the credit card accountability, responsibility, and disclosure act goes into effect. And it really is, it's meant to protect consumers by restricting what credit card companies can do, from interest rate hikes to over the limit fees.

But the companies of course are standing to lose $7 billion in fees from these new measures and some are them are already finding loopholes in these laws to make sure the consumer pays anyway.

So how do you protect yourself? We're joined by Vera Gibbons, a financial contributor at CBS, and our own business correspondent Christine Romans. Thanks to both of you for being with us.

So Christine, let me start with you, just breaking down some of the changes that will happen once this part two comes in. What changes come February?

ROMANS: The two most important changes are the fact that they just cannot abruptly hike your interest rate for no reason. They have to tell you why they are doing that, and give you time to say in writing, no, you know, I don't accept the terms of that and I will pay off the balance at the old rate.

CHETRY: And it has to be 45 days notice.

ROMANS: Yes, and they have to do it in English that we can understand. And that's something that I haven't seen yet in what's been coming in the mailbox. So far I have not seen very clear language telling me how these things will change. Congress was very clear the language has to be better.

CHETRY: More disclosure, essentially.

ROMANS: And also the over the limit fees. They are not going to be able to charge you high and egregious over the limit fees over and over again.

CHETRY: When we're talking about the fact that they are standing to lose some $7 billion, credit card companies are stupid. They are going to find ways to make up this money. So, Vera, where are we going to see things change for us?

VERA GIBBONS, CBS FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTOR: One of the sort of nastier things that is happening to consumers right now is they are switching your rate to a fixed to a variable rate card because they are not able to raise rates on a whim on those fixed rate cards, you have to be late paying your bills otherwise they cannot get away with that.

And there way around that is to switch you to a variable. So you could have a promotion rate and then all of a sudden it's 6.99 percent fixed and all of a sudden it's 18.99 percent variable. So you are stuck.

CHETRY: That's the question. As a consumer, what would you do?

GIBBONS: You can't do much. Even if you are a creditworthy consumer, you have you no negotiation. You can opt out by closing the account altogether, but then your credit report takes a hit.

And if you close your account and think you'll find a fixed rate out there, because in this environment we are seeing more variable rate cards and much fewer fixed rate cards.

ROMANS: The most important thing people can do -- you cannot be late on a payment, because these banks, these financial services companies, they will find a way to make up for the lost fees that Congress will not let them charge anymore.

So as soon as you are late and you are carrying a balance, you have you to pay that bill. People have to think of their credit cards as charge cards and not as limitless loans.

And the credit card companies in Congress, frankly, for years, they allowed this to happen. And now you have to think of it as a charge card and pay it off every month.

GIBBONS: The other thing too is you have to keep these accounts active. The old advice we used to give to put your credit card on ice, it actually no longer applies, because some of the credit card companies are now charging inactivity fees of $19 a month if you don't use your card within a 12-month time period.

CHETRY: First of all, you get penalized for house keep and sweep out some of the cards you have. What can you do about that? You take a hit from your credit card if you get rid of your card?

ROMANS: I was talking to a CEO of an oil refinery that said he was irritated with his credit card. They put an identity theft protection charge on there and he didn't want it and he told them to get it off, and they didn't take it off.

And he got a late fee for not paying the penalty, just close my account, and his credit score dropped 20 points like that. This is happening...

CHETRY: So what do you do, take the hit and close it out anyway?

ROMANS: Well, in hindsight he would not have closed the card.

GIBBONS: People are trying to transfer their balances to the zero percent offers. But there is a problem with that. We are not seeing the offers anymore. And so Chase, for example, is charging you up to five percent of your balance transfer. If you are $10,000 in debt, it will cost you $500 just to transfer your balance over.

ROMANS: There was a story about a 79 percent credit card. Well, we did a lot of research on that. There was a flyer that was sent out and they had double the response of normal, which that tells you that credit card companies are pulling in credit for people who are subprime borrowers.

And there are hundreds of thousands much people who are desperate for a credit card to help them rebuild their credit. If you can pay off every month, you can help restore your credit score, but there are a lot of subprime borrowers that will not get the chance, because people who are risky borrowers will be shut out of the borrowing business over the next few years.

GIBBONS: And 50 percent of consumers carry a balance month to month. So the people who are getting out of this, they are switching to debit cards that now account for 50 percent of the transactions.

CHETRY: All right, well, thanks guys for trying to clear up some of this. People just have to really read the fine print, because what credit card companies are sending you to clarify is not any easier.


CHETRY: Thanks to both of you, appreciate it -- John.

ROBERTS: The U.S. embassy shut down in Yemen after terrorists there stepped up their threats. Just how dangerous is Al Qaeda in Yemen? We'll find out coming up next. It's 36 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: It's 39 minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

The U.S. and British embassies in Yemen are closed for a second day, an unusual move prompted by threats from Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, the group that trained the accused Christmas Day bomber.

Our Paula Newton is live today. She is in Dubai with our security watch. Hey, Paula.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, John. Also the French and Spanish embassies have partially closed. The reason, John, those security threats keep coming. One diplomatic source I spoke to in Yemen said they received no specific threats, but Al Qaeda continues to have that foreign community in Yemen in its sites.


NEWTON: For decades Yemen has been a reliable outpost for Al Qaeda, and now terrorists there are stepping up the threats, vowing to kill every crusader working in western embassies. President Obama's counterterrorism adviser confirmed the threat to CNN.

JOHN BRENNAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: They are indications that Al Qaeda is planning to carry out an attack against targets inside of Sana'a, possibly our embassy, and we will take ever measure possible to ensure the safety of our diplomats.

NEWTON: Both the American and British embassies were shut down in Yemen's capital Sana'a as the security officials evaluate the threat level. The Obama administration is now directly linking Al Qaeda to the Detroit bombing attempt.

Both the United States and Britain are working to enhance security training already underway in Yemen, and that includes creating a Yemeni counterterrorism police unit.

BRENNAN: We are concerned about Al Qaeda's growth there, but they are not just focusing on Yemen. They are looking to the west.

NEWTON: Both American and British officials are sensitive to claims they are opening up yet another front in the war against terrorism. But Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown concedes the pressure building in Al Qaeda and Pakistan and Afghanistan has had unintended implications.

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The weakness of Al Qaeda in Pakistan has forced people out of Pakistan and forced them into Yemen and Somalia. One lesson I think we learned is that by taking on Al Qaeda in Waziristan, we have diminished their strength and dispersed their organization.

NEWTON: But to what end? Several members have regrouped in Yemen, a deeply conservative, poor, and anti-western nation, where there are only limited options in fighting a war on Al Qaeda.


NEWTON: Limited options, John, what are they? You will see more of what the Yemeni government says it did today. It says it took out two Al Qaeda militants directly linked to threats against the U.S. embassy. Unfortunately, John, the government also saying three, including the top Al Qaeda leader got away. So the chase is on and they are in Yemen.

ROBERTS: Paula Newton for us in Dubai. Paula, thanks so much.

CHETRY: And some record lows this morning, including many places that are in the negatives this morning, very cold. Rob only has actually two descriptions on his weather map, cold and frigid. He's going to give us an update on the forecast after the break.


ROBERTS: Fifteen minutes now to the top of the hour.

Rob Marciano is checking in for the extreme weather forecast across the country. We've got lots of cold temperatures.

Rob, I remember as a kid -- and this is going back a long way now -- that International Falls, Minnesota, held the record for the coldest spot in the continental United States, the lower 48. How did they do last night? ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh yesterday morning they hit minus 37 last night; not quite as cold, I've got to check the number on that. But they are in a warming trend. They might get about the zero mark today.

Frigid and cold are the two descriptive words that Kiran pointed out here behind the break. And when you get cold air below freezing all the way down to Florida that creates some problems, not only for the citrus farmers but also for the berry farmers in parts of Tampa. And that's become an issue.

Check out some of these numbers: eight degrees right now in Chicago, minus nine in Minneapolis; again, these numbers do not include the wind chills. It is 18 currently in Atlanta.

Strong winds come around this area of low pressure which is beginning to weaken and move offshore. We will see more in the way of lake-effect snows today, in some cases they are piling it up fairly rapidly. So winds yesterday across parts of the northeast. Check out some of the damage done, not only because of the snow but the waves across parts of eastern Massachusetts from Boston, up to Gloucester, to Revere (ph). Can you imagine temperatures in the below freezing and snowing and then you get those waves on top of that? That's nasty.

And then, of course, they're playing football in Buffalo where they had over a foot of snow yesterday. The Bills taking on the Colts, Colts in the playoffs no problem, with home field advantage. The Bills did manage to take them down. And that is definitely a home field advantage when it's snowing like that in Buffalo, especially when you're playing a team that typically plays indoors.

Dangerously cold air, not just the air mass that we're in right now but another surge of cold air expected to come down from Canada later in the week and at least 20 if not 30 degrees below average once again. And so we could be talking about another record low for International Falls, John, and probably some folks who live down all the way to the Gulf Coast.

We'll keep you posted. It's going to be a chilly, chilly start for 2010 for sure.

Back to you guys.

ROBERTS: What's the record there at Internationals Falls, a minus 40? Is that the...

MARCIANO: It's over that, it's close to minus 50 I believe...


MARCIANO: Well check on that, we'll report back on that tomorrow...

CHETRY: Wow and the players in Buffalo, short sleeves? Come on, throw out some under warmer, come on tough guys. MARCIANO: They are tough.

CHETRY: They have to keep the muscles warm.

ROBERTS: Well, let's just talk about the -- the players in Buffalo in the snow, in the cold with short sleeves, meantime in the NBA they are packing heat.

Wait until you hear this story.

It's 47 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to The Most News in the Morning. Fifty minutes past the hour right now. It means it's time for our "AM House Calls" stories about your health.

France, deciding to sell off millions of extra swine flu shots; the government says it has more than enough to deal with the outbreak. Officials say they started with a plan for two-dose vaccinations but then realized that one dose would be sufficient and so now they're reselling part of the stock. The country spent more than a billion dollars on vaccinations.

There is a new study by the FDA that's going to be looking at just how safe it is for woman to take certain prescriptions drugs while pregnant. Health officials say that more clinical trials are needed to determine future regulations and recommendations. Current stats show that two-thirds of women took at least one prescription drug during pregnancy.

And the NFL is looking for some more protection for its players considering new rules on helmets to prevent concussions. We talk a lot about this on the show. The league wants more a research on helmets, many of them were designed in the '90s, however, some researchers worried that data favoring a particular helmet over another could give players a false sense of security -- John.

ROBERTS: Meantime, two Washington Wizards players are in trouble with their team ownership, the NBA and possibly the law. Star players Gilbert Arenas and a teammate allegedly drew guns on each other during a locker room fight over a gambling debt.

Our Susan Candiotti has got the story.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, good morning. We haven't heard the whole story from Gilbert Arenas yet. Today he says he'll be talking with investigators.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Washington Wizard's guard, Gilbert Arenas is a three-time NBA all-star, but he's alleged locker room gun antics could get him into serious foul trouble legally.

GILBERT ARENAS, WASHINGTON WIZARD'S BASKETBALL PLAYER: I'm a jokester and nothing in my life is actually serious.

CANDIOTTI: But it's no joke. The D.C. police and U.S. attorney's office and National Basketball Association all say they're investigating. The "New York Post" reports, Arenas and teammates Javaris Crittenton allegedly drew guns on each other in the locker room December 21st over a card playing gambling debt.

ARENAS: I can't you know speak on that. Look, you know, I'm -- if you know me you've been here, we never did anything violent. Everything I do is funny, well, it's funny to me.

CANDIOTTI: Team owners say Arenas kept unloaded weapons in his locker with no ammo, a practice they called dangerous and disappointing, quote, "Guns have absolutely no place in a workplace environment and we will take further steps to ensure this never happens again."

ARENAS: I agree, that's bad judgment on my part, storing them here and I take responsible for that.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): When players are working there's a great deal of security, but away from the spotlight it's a whole new ball game.

(voice-over): Some professional athletes own or carry guns saying they consider themselves potential targets and need protection. Protection from attacks like that suffer by Washington Redskins defense Sean Taylor who was murdered in his Miami home during a robbery. But carrying a gun can be costly even for a celebrity.

Ex-New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burris is currently serving a two year prison sentence for illegal possession of a gun after accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub.

Megastars like Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal create fan frenzy when they hit the court. And post game fans get up close and personal with their heroes.

Shaq who works with police in his spare time declined to talk about the Arenas incident.

Neither did LeBron James but he did talk about security in general.

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS BASKETBALL PLAYER: I live in Akron, Ohio which is my hometown, so I don't need security, I don't travel with security. One thing I do is continue to just make sure my family is always safe.


CANDIOTTI: What are the league rules? Well, the NFL and NBA forbid players from handling guns on company time or property and recommend against gun use for personal protection.

The discussion now is whether teams should write a gun clause in the player's contracts similar to banning skydiving or boxing. As for Crittenton the other player involved in this, CNN has been unable to reach his agent. He tells the New York Post his client will be exonerated -- John and Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, we'll have to see what happens with that one.

Meantime, when people get in trouble with the law, they try to do a very creative things right? To prove that they...


CHETRY: ... or at least to get rid of the evidence, throwing it out the window. But Jeanne Moos caught up with people who decide that the best idea is to eat it.

Fifty-five minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Well, welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. We are also speechless about "Avatar". We knew it was going to be a gamble, right, for James Cameron; turned out to be the right one. Talk about success of Hollywood blockbusters.

The science fiction epic brought it another $68 million this weekend, and became only the fifth movie in history to soar past the billion-dollar mark. Cameron became the only film maker to direct two films that had made it to that milestone. The first one of course was "Titanic".

ROBERTS: You know, it's the classic example of you have to spend money to make money because I think the two of them are the most expensive films that were ever made, right?

CHETRY: Yes. Especially if you invest technology, to get those 3-D shots for "Avatar".

ROBERTS: Somewhere around $300 and $10 million for that film. Are you going to go see it?

CHETRY: No, I have to say sorry. Are you?

ROBERTS: No, I went to see "Sherlock Holmes" over the weekend. I quite enjoyed that but I'm just not into the whole computer graphics.

CHETRY: Yes. No. But I know a lot of people are, and for what it is, it's supposed to be fabulous. So there you go.

We're about two minutes until the top of the hour. That means it's time for the "Moost News in the Morning".

And criminal suspects can do the darndest things. Take for example the alleged bank robber who was caught on tape trying to eat the evidence. ROBERTS: He certainly did. But as Jeanne Moos tells it, it's not the first time the paper trail has led straight to the suspect's stomach.


MOOS: It's no picnic dining on the hood of a police car. Maybe you've seen the alleged bank robber eating what police believe was a holdup note saying, "Give me the money or I will shoot." You may have seen it but the Twinsburg, Ohio police checking for weapons didn't see it until police from the city where the bank was robbed called.

DETECTIVE SGT. GREG FEKETIK, TWINSBURG PD (via telephone): They contacted our department saying, "Hey, by the way, did you guys find a note?" And then that's when the officers were checking their dash cam video, and there's this guy eating a white piece of paper.

MOOS: But eating the evidence is nothing new. Whatever this lady is eating in a Chinese courtroom, at least she had the sense to wash it down.

The most common things suspects eat seems to be pot, as seen on this episode of "Cops".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I see what's in your mouth again, real quick please. Can you just open your mouth?

What is in that? What's in that? Just spit it out. It's ok.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are eating plastic and everything.

MOOS: And then there was this North Carolina teenager who at least ate appetizing evidence after allegedly trying to rob a store.

Police say the suspect used a banana stuck under his shirt to simulate a gun, and the owner and a customer jumped the suspect and sat him down to hold until police came but they before they arrived...

BARRY MABE, STORE OWNER: The boy pulls his banana out and peels it and eats it, so he ate the evidence.

MOOS: But not all of it. He couldn't eat the peel so police photographed it as evidence.

Sometimes the evidence eaten is not the main course. Police in the bank robbery case say they still have surveillance pictures and money found in the car with an exploded dye pack and a gun.

So they don't have to like sit around and wait for the guy to pass the note.

FEKETIK: No, I don't think so. I don't know if we would get anybody to volunteer for that job.

MOOS: At least a note is low in calories, high in fiber.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

Maybe he didn't have any breakfast.

FEKETIK: That could be.

MOOS: ... New York.


ROBERTS: That's going to wrap it up for us. Thanks so much for joining us on this first full week of the New Year. We will see you back here again bright and early tomorrow morning.

CHETRY: Got through Monday, there is nowhere to go but up.

Meanwhile, the news continues. "NEWSROOM" with Heidi Collins is next. Good morning Heidi.