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AMERICAN MORNING

Philly Flash Mobs Rocks South Street; Owe Taxes to Uncle Sam?; A Soldier's Story: Will McLain Learns Where He'll be Stationed

Aired March 29, 2010 - 07:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning to you and thanks so much for joining us on The Most News in the Morning. It's the 29th of March. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. Glad you're with us. We have some big stories we're telling you about in the next 15 minutes.

First developing now out of Russia, two deadly explosions rocking Moscow subway stations happening during rush hour. The trains and the platform jammed with commuters. Moscow's mayor is calling it an act of terror carried out by female suicide bombers.

ROBERTS: President Obama heading back to Washington today after a surprise visit to Afghanistan where he rallied American troops and laid down the law to President Hamid Karzai. We're live at the White House just ahead.

CHETRY: The southeast taking a beating from a severe line of storms. In North Carolina as many as eight tornadoes may have touched down causing a lot of damage. No word right now on any deaths. They'll be checking house to check to check on injuries a little bit later today.

High winds though blowing down trees and power lines from Charlotte to Greensboro. And now it's the northeast feeling Mother Nature's wrath. Our Rob Marciano is keeping an eye on all of the extreme weather this morning.

And of course we want to invite to you get on our blog, join the conversation at CNN.com/amfix. Anything about the news you would like to comment on, we'll be reading some throughout the morning.

ROBERTS: We begin this morning with a story still developing, two deadly explosions tearing through subway stations in Moscow during the morning rush hour when the trains and platforms were jam-packed.

Investigators say female suicide bombers blew themselves up around 8:00 local time when it would have been standing room only on the rails. The first bomb ripped through a train, killing dozens of people inside and on the platform the stop right underneath what used to be the headquarters of the KGB, no doubt one of the most secure areas in the country. Our Matthew Chance is in Moscow this morning. He has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, people in this Russian capital may have felt they were insulated against the insurgency that has been raging in southern Russia for decades now. But that illusion was shattered this morning with these two suicide bomber, females according to the authorities, detonating their explosives at peak rush hour in two metro stations in the heart of the Russian capital.

The first one here at a place called Lu Bianca, a very famous name in Russia because it was the former headquarters of the KGB, now the Russian federal security services, that actually oversee the anti- terrorist campaign in places like Chechnya. That was attacked.

In the metro station right behind me, you can see it's been sealed off now by the security forces. The injured and the dead have been taken away, evacuated, given medical treatments, and taken to morgues.

But there's still a great deal of work going on underground, first and foremost repair work to try and get this vast transport system working again. Secondly, forensic teams there are trying to gather what evidence they can to piece together who it was that carried out this attack that ripped through the metro station at 8:00 in the morning local time.

And 30 minutes later another bomb -- another suicide bomber, another woman suicide bomber on another train station a short distance from but here on the same train metro line detonating her suicide belt as well on another train carriage killing at least another 12 people -- 35 people in total this morning have been killed.

It could have been much higher than that in fact. There were 40 people in hospitals now treated for injuries, some of them very grave injuries indeed, as can you imagine.

These suicide bombers choosing what was the peak of the rush hour as people were trying to get to work, some 500,000 people on the Russian transport system when the first of those bombs was detonated, the explosions clearly designed to cause the maximum casualties possible.

Back to you, John and Kiran, in the studio.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Matthew Chance for us in Moscow this morning.

And if you are about to head to the subway in New York City this morning, be prepared for more security there. The NYPD says it's beefing up its police presence underground and inspecting more bags in response to the Moscow bombings. Police say there is no specific threat against New York City.

CHETRY: In just a couple of hours President Obama will be back in Washington after a surprise visit to Afghanistan. The trip to the war zone was his fist as commander in chief. The president spoke to troops at Bagram Air Force base near Kabul and thanked them for all of their service.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: There's no visit that I can considered more important than this visit I'm making right now, because I have no greater honor than serving as your commander in chief. And it is a privilege to look out and see the extraordinary efforts of America's sons and daughters here in Afghanistan.

So my main job here today is to say thank you on behalf of the entire American people.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House with more on the president's trip. It took a lot of people by surprise that he made the stop over the weekend. What about the timing and what he was doing there?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly took us by surprise as well, Kiran. But one of things the president made very clear was that he was proud, he was grateful for the service of the troops. That was a very important element in this trip.

But the back story, equally important was that meeting he had with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. They rolled out the red carpet. He did get special red carpet treatment there.

But the bottom line there is the back story is the president and officials here at the White House have been very concerned about the state of Afghanistan since Hamid Karzai was reelected in what was widely considered a fraudulent election back in August.

A couple of things that they're looking at. First, he has not addressed fixing some of the major problems of his administration, that is taking on corruption as well as tackling the drug trade, a drug trade that is funding, financing the Taliban. And that has made Hamid Karzai lose a great deal of credibility.

The second thing is Hamid Karzai has essentially distanced himself from some of the allies of the west. He has been meeting with leaders within the last month of Pakistan and China as well as Iran. As a matter of fact he had come from a trip over the weekend with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran just hours before President Obama landed.

The message from the president was very clear. He said that the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan is critical and has to be influential in not only military success but civilian success as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We have seen already progress with respect to the military campaign against extremism in the region, but we also want to continue to make progress on civilian process of ensuring that agricultural production, energy production, good governance, rule of law, anti-corruption efforts, all of these things resulting in an Afghanistan that's more prosperous, more secure, and independent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Kiran, it was also notable is that who was traveling with them, General Jim Jones, the national security adviser, who said publicly that they had to have a rapport that was strategic here that was good with Hamid Karzai.

This is not a warm and fuzzy relationship like we saw with President Bush and Hamid Karzai before. They were much closer. President Obama and Karzai are very businesslike here. They are trying to improve this relationship.

That is why President Obama visited him -- invited him to visit here at the White House on May 12th. We understand karzai has accepted that invitation. Kiran?

CHETRY: A lot has changed. Many in the U.S. had hoped things would be up and running more and the Afghan government would be taking on more at this point.

MALVEAUX: That's a big disappointment for the administration, and they are really trying to push them at this point. And Nato allies as well are very frustrated with what they are saying coming out of the Afghan government, that he certainly needs a push and a very hard push, and that is what President Obama in part was there to do.

CHETRY: Suzanne Malveaux for us this morning, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: Also developing this morning, a dangerous storm system on move and spawning what are believed to be several tornadoes across the southeast. In Highpoint, North Carolina, authorities are going door to door after the storm damaged homes and blew down trees and powerlines yesterday.

These remarkable pictures from YouTube show one of the funnel clouds as it was forming. In Belmont, North Carolina, bands of violent weather peeled off the roof of at least one industrial building. And in nearby Charlotte, strong winds blue trees onto homes that produced hail the size of tennis balls.

(WEATHER BREAK)

ROBERTS: Violence in vandalism in the streets. At 12 minutes after the hour, a look at how so-called flash mobs are terrorizing people in Philadelphia, and how far the city will go to put a stop to it.

CHETRY: Also, we've been with him through 12 weeks of intense training. Ahead, our "A.M." original series "A Soldier's Story" continues. We'll find out where army recruit Will McClain will be stationed. Is he heading to Iraq or Afghanistan? How was basic training?

He's made quite a transformation and our Jason Carroll will be here to show it to us.

ROBERTS: Plus, an amateur stargazer is giving NASA a run for its money. Find out how a British man took these amazing pictures 22 miles above the earth for just a few hundred dollars. He's joining us live just ahead.

It's 12 minutes now after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Philadelphia's problem with so called "flash mobs" has grown so big and problematic the city has called in the FBI for help. Just watch this recent YouTube video and you'll see why. One man described a "tsunami of young people" who punched and kicked their way through the south street area.

CHETRY: At least four of these flash mobs have broken out in last year. Some say that kids don't have anything else to do. Others are suggesting it has to do with class and race. Susan Candiotti is with us this morning for an "A.M." original, something you'll see only on "AMERICAN MORNING."

So, first of all, when they talk about flash mobs, what are they talking about?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Usually we've heard about these things in the past in kind of a fun way. You hear about people sending out word via text messaging or Facebook to meet at an outdoor location for a pillow fight or a snow ball fight.

But in Philadelphia several flash mobs involving teenagers in the last year have been causing a lot of trouble. And now the mayor and the police are saying enough is enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Philadelphia's mayor goes for a nighttime stroll on South Street to prove a point. His city says is safe. Yet four times in the last year, so-called flash mobs, mainly teens, used texting and the Internet to stage impromptu gathering that turned ugly around downtown Philly.

RICHARD ROSS, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, PHILADELPHIA PD: And I think they take advantage of the large group. And then from that, all kind of mayhem results.

CANDIOTTI: Mayhem like teens running through stores including this Macy's, merchandise destroyed, fights breaking out. In all, nearly 30 juveniles are convicted in the incidents.

(on camera): Are the kids down there all just a bunch of troublemakers?

SHARNELL BARNETT, 16 YEARS OLD: Of course not.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Sixteen-year-old Sharnell was there last Saturday night but says she want involved in any trouble. She's part of a citywide student association that advocates positive activities.

(on camera): And what do you want people to know about Philadelphia and the kids in Philadelphia?

BARNETT: That we are not a flash mob.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Community activists blame state budget cuts that have slashed youth programs and poor parenting as part of the problem.

SHELLY VANOFF, PUBLIC CITIZEN FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH: The fact that kids have nothing to do is our fault, not theirs, because we haven't developed the programming. And, of course, it is our fault if they are not being adequately parented either.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Some are saying there are racial overtones and that had the flash mobs been made up of mostly white students, there wouldn't have been such a huge uproar. The mayor denies it.

MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER, PHILADELPHIA: There is no racial component to stupidity. You want to go out after school or even at night as a young person, there's a way to conduct yourself. And when you exercise bad judgment, bad things are going to happen to you.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): On this night, quiet. But in the summer nights to come, police expect more flash mobs with no way to tell where or when they'll pop up next.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: And to put it bluntly, Mayor Michael Nutter says, hey, teenagers, stop the stupidity. And again, good thing it was all quiet this weekend so they didn't have any trouble. But they're not really sure whether it could happen again. They're keeping an eye on it.

CHETRY: Unfortunate, for sure. All right. Susan Candiotti for us, thanks.

CANDIOTTI: You're welcome.

CHETRY: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we have much more ahead including "Minding Your Business."

It's 17 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Twenty minutes past the hour. Christine Romans is here "Minding Your Business" this morning.

So, the last hour, we're talking about the surge in stocks --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Right.

CHETRY: -- and how some of the other things are certainly lagging behind like employment and, of course, some mortgage problems.

ROMANS: Right. And there's been a lot of feedback on Titter and Facebook this morning about this. Half of the people think we're going to 14,000 in stocks.

CHETRY: Right.

ROMANS: And half of the people think that we're going to have a 30 percent collapse and that we're crazy to think stocks are going anywhere. So it's been a pretty interesting debate we are all having about that.

We're also talking about tax time and the number of people who could very easily have a big tax bill and have no money in their bank account. And here's a couple of reasons why.

Your jobless benefits, the first $2,400 of your jobless benefits last year were tax free. But if you're long-term unemployed, you might have to pay taxes on your jobless benefits. Also, people were adjusting their withholdings last year to make sure they have more money in their paychecks and they might have, you know, adjusted too much and they might have to pay some taxes.

So here's some advice for you if you have a big tax bill -- April 15th, boys and girls -- and you don't have money in the bank.

Number one, don't hide. You'd be surprised the number of people who just close their eyes. You would really be surprised. File on time, file an extension. Don't rush to pay with a credit card. You're going to be hearing a lot about that. You could get stuck paying high interest on this.

Yes.

ROBERTS: You can't file an extension if you owe money?

CHETRY: Right.

ROMANS: No.

CHETRY: Take it in the estimate.

ROMANS: Absolutely and you could --

CHETRY: How do you know? ROMANS: So what you do is you talk to the IRS. You talk about making a deal with them and doing installment plan -- you're absolutely right.

ROBERTS: Yes.

ROMANS: Making an installment with them. If you owe less than $25,000 or if you think that you're going to actually some have money in the next four months, they will be able to do a deal with you. But just don't -- don't put your head in the sand. I mean, that's the most important thing. A lot of people try to do that.

ROBERTS: Plus you get sand in your nose.

ROMANS: Yes. It's just not good for your hair too.

So talk about installment plans and you can get a payment agreement. Well, they'll help you pay this, you know, over the next four months or so. But this is -- more people than you think are in this position because, you know, it was a tough year last year, and especially the jobless benefits. The stimulus made the first $2,400 of your jobless benefits tax free but after that you have to pay.

ROBERTS: All right. Christine Romans this morning "Minding Your Business."

ROMANS: Sure.

ROBERTS: Christine, thanks so much.

Twenty-two and a half minutes after the hour. Coming right up, "A Soldier's Story." Our Jason Carroll following Will McCLain. It's an AMERICAN MORNING original series that you'll want to see. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Twenty-five minutes now after the hour. Your top stories just five minutes away. But first, an "A.M. Original"

For months, the Army has given CNN unprecedented access to show you what it's like to enlist and learn to be a soldier through one man's eyes.

CHETRY: And his name is Will McLain. The story of Will and his family is one that we've been proud to tell and one that you'll only see on CNN.

Our Jason Carroll has been following him with part six now of this "A.M. Original," A Soldier's Story."

Hey, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's been fun to watch Will as he's grown along to this process from the very, very beginning. You know, now what we're going to do is show you what happens to a private once the training wraps up. What happens? Where do they go next? Will McLain and the others are about to find out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, go, go, go, go.

CARROLL (voice-over): Urban warfare training, one of a series of crucial exercises soldiers like Will McLain undergo at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, to become Army combat engineers. Learning how to secure buildings in hostile regions is key.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Get in the fight.

CARROLL: Nearly 13 weeks into his training, Will is beginning to learn how to become a leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say go right, go right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, go, go, go.

CARROLL: But on this day, it's hard for all of them to stay on top of their game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get from behind this corner, son. You can't shoot around the corner. You're not superman.

CARROLL: Why is this day a distraction?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, go.

CARROLL: Now that Will has completed basic and is wrapping up specialized training, he and the others will get orders for their first station. It's where the Army will send new soldiers for more training before many are deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.

(on camera): We're actually talking to Will now before he's actually gotten his orders. How are you feeling about that?

WILL MCLAIN, U.S. ARMY RECRUIT: It's kind of like I'm anxious to see what I'm going to get because I know so many places.

CARROLL (voice-over): Thousands of miles away back home in Rosamond, California, his mother Lori is anxious too.

LORI MCLAIN, MOTHER: So I'm waiting for his call. I can't be tough and discuss it because that just pulls my strings right out.

CARROLL: Lori McLain has seen dramatic changes in Will in the three months he's been gone. He dropped 54 pounds and more.

L. MCLAIN: It was kind of a symbol of him growing up and doing his thing more like I'm not your baby any more, tough stuff. He's always my baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First troop, Hamburg, Germany. CARROLL: Now, seconds away from another major change in Will's life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fort Stewart, Lewis, McLain.

W. MCLAIN: Fort Stewart, Georgia. That's all right. I can deal with it. It's down south. Maybe drive to Texas, I can do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. I'm living it up in Hawaii.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, great.

CARROLL: New assignments always come with a few jokes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get yourself a Georgia girl with good home cooking.

CARROLL: McLain will have a familiar face with him at Fort Stewart. His battle buddy Demetrius Daniels, the recruit assigned to be his partner during basic training.

W. MCLAIN: You just know it. I just want to say it will make it easier when I get there, so at least I know somebody. I have somebody I can try and avoid getting in trouble with, you know, all that fun stuff.

DEMETRIUS DANIELS, BATTLE BUDDY: We were prepared to part ways, but I think it's good that we're still --

CARROLL: Welcome news for his mother back home.

W. MCLAIN: I was just kind of let you know we got our orders in today.

L. MCLAIN: And --

W. MCLAIN: Yes, I'm stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

L. MCLAIN: He's not to be put to a war immediately. Thank you, Lord.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holt, danger.

CARROLL: Not immediately but for soldiers like Will, war is still a very real possibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire in the hole.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: Well, at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Will and the others will receive even more intensive combat engineer training which could last for months. This is similar to the path many soldiers follow before being deployed to places like Afghanistan or Iraq.

ROBERTS: He's got a terrific attitude about all this. CARROLL: Yes, he really, really does. And it's been incredible to see the change in this guy, I mean, from the very beginning when he was just out there thinking I'm going to be a football player, now becoming what a soldier is all about.

ROBERTS: Right.

CHETRY: Fifty-four pounds too, that's a lot to lose?

CARROLL: Fifty-four pounds. Yes, you want to lose weight, the Army is not a bad place to do it.

CHETRY: Probably in the best shape of his life.

CARROLL: So far.

ROBERTS: That's why Jason got so slim. Thanks, Jason.

CHETRY: By going out on all these stories.

ROBERTS: Exactly.

Jason is going to be back tomorrow, by the way, with part seven of "A Soldier's Story." We're with Will McLain as he graduates from his training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. But his battle buddy Demetrius, who you just say in Jason's piece, is nowhere to be found. Find out why tomorrow right here on the most news in the morning.

CHETRY: We're crossing the half hour now. It's time for a look at the top stories. And developing right now, terror in Moscow. At least 35 people are dead in explosions that ripped through two subway stations. Moscow's mayor blaming two female suicide bombers who detonated during the morning commute when the trains were packed as were the platforms, one right underneath the site of the old KGB headquarters.

ROBERTS: We're learning a lot more about the self-proclaimed Christian militia, the target of an FBI roundup in three states over the weekend. The group shows off its guns in a recruiting video on youtube and says it's preparing for the end battle with Satan. Seven suspects are expected to appear in court this morning.

CHETRY: And President Obama is flying home to Washington after a surprise trip to Afghanistan. It was the first as commander in chief. He delivered encouragement to U.S. combat troops there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy Al Qaeda and its extremist allies. That is our mission. And to accomplish that goal, our objectives here in Afghanistan are also clear. We're going to deny Al Qaeda safe haven. We're going to reverse the Taliban's momentum. We're going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and the Afghan government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: The President also stressing the partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan. But at the same time pressuring President Hamid Karzai to crack down more on rampant corruption in his government.

ROBERTS: So what did President Obama's visit accomplish? Joining us now from Washington is Zalmay Khalilzad. He is the former ambassador to Afghanistan, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Ambassador, great to see you this morning. So the President went to Afghanistan to lean on Hamid Karzai for greater cooperation.

I mean, the national security adviser Jim Jones said, "in his second term, there are certain things that have not been paid attention to since day one." This is talking about Hamid Karzai. Is the president likely to get more cooperation from him now?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR & SPECIAL ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: Well, I think the visit had two purposes with regard to President Karzai, one was to reassure him and rebuild the relationship with him because there has been a certain amount of strain in relations. President Karzai has believed that the U.S. worked against him during the elections.

And also there has been some concern on the part of Karzai that the U.S. might begin to withdraw next year. Then several regional players are telling him that he needs to distance himself from the United States. So he had invited President Obama, President Karzai to come to the United States in May. So that was to repair diplomacy.

But the second part was to press him on governance and on corruption. I think the two things are related. That is, to repair the relationship with Karzai and to get Karzai to do more. And I think we made progress on the first. We can expect to make progress on the second.

CHETRY: Well, Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being with us, by the way. The Taliban many say was able to control places like the Helmand province because the people simply didn't trust their own leaders. And we had U.S. Ambassador Carl Eikenberry echoed this back in the fall. Basically saying that Karzai is shunning responsibility. And he is actually happy to see the U.S. stay in the country. Will Afghanistan see effective leadership from its government any time soon?

KHALILZAD: Well, that is the challenge for us. Of course, the goal is to get the Afghans to do more but in order to get the Afghans to do more, we need to press them. But at the same time we need to be careful not to press them in a way that gives them the impression that we will abandon them because in that scenario, they will hedge against our withdrawal and try to work with China, with Iran and with others. And that was to a degree what was happening and I think the president's visit was to reassure on the one hand and to press on the other. ROBERTS: Mr. Ambassador, the U.S. is pinning a lot of hopes on this so-called surge of forces in the southwestern part of the country in Helmand province, you know, that the U.S. military, NATO, goes in and clears the area of Taliban, and then it's up to the Afghan government to come in and complete the hold and build part of the strategy by coming in with government services. Are they capable of doing that in any kind of way that could turn the tide there on if not a permanent basis, at least some sort of long-term basis?

KHALILZAD: One cannot succeed in the counter insurgency strategy as you described without the civilian part. And the Afghan capacity to deliver on the civilian side has been limited. Our own ability to also do what we need to do on the civilian side has been limited. I think one of the challenges that we face there ourselves and the Afghan is how to rapidly build up the civilian capacity. I think that will be difficult but it's a necessary step that both Afghanistan and the United States have to take.

CHETRY: And the sacrifice has been great. The number of U.S. troops killed so far in 2010 doubled from the time period last year and number of IED attacks in 2009 also up, more than 3,000, from the year before. They say, of course, it's partly due to the U.S. offensives.

But as you said, not pushing the Afghan government too far, do you have to layout, though, some sort of time line or some sort of benchmark saying, this is not an open-ended commitment? We've talked about this for so many years and we're still seeing these high casualty rates.

KHALILZAD: There is a need for goals, joint objectives and time lines and benchmarks as you say. But I believe in order to get there from here, first the repair had to be done and I think the president's visit is invitation to President Karzai to come and visit Washington in May, creates the basis more moving forward on a joint plan with benchmark, as you say, for progress on the part of the Afghan government.

ROBERTS: Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan joining us this morning. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for coming in. We really appreciate it.

KHALILZAD: Well, thank you.

ROBERTS: A man snaps space shots of earth with a helium balloon and some duct tape and a compact camera. For a fraction of the cost of a NASA mission. Is that why NASA wants to talk to him? We'll be talking to him coming right up.

It's 36-and-a-half minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ROBERTS: Amateur star gazer Robert Harrison grabbing some big headlines and the attention of the professionals over at NASA with his high altitude balloon project called "Icarus."

CHETRY: Yet he used just a few basic pieces and a few hundred dollars and he took breath taking images 22 miles above the earth surface. And today we're lucky enough to have him join us, to get a chance to talk to him about how he did. Robert Harrison joins us live from Leads, England this morning. Good to see you, Robert.

ROBERT HARRISON: Good morning.

CHETRY: First of all, just sort of break it down for us. How did you get these aerial photos, leading to these aerial photos 22 miles above earth using just a little bit of ingenuity?

HARRISON: Well what started off that I want to take some pictures of my house with a helium balloon and a camera. And I thought that by cutting the string, I would get some great pictures but I never imagined I would get the pictures I did. But I spent a bit of time doing a bit of research on the internet. This is not first time this has been done.

You've got people like Bill Brown in the U.S. who has been doing this for 20 years. They've got a lot of help from a lot of people. But the pictures are quite spectacular.

ROBERTS: You also had a group of people in Colorado who are trying to do something similar and ended up captivating the attention of the nation when they thought their little boy had blown away in the balloon. But in terms of what you had put together because all great ideas start very small. I mean, the guy in youtube just wanted a place to put pictures of his cat online.

But how did you put together the gear that was able to take it up that high, Robert, to get these amazing pictures?

HARRISON: The gear is quite simple, consists of a helium balloon, a parachute already deployed for the way down. Then a little insulated box with a camera in it and a tracking device. In fact, the (INAUDIBLE) is a tracking device and that consists of like a little GPS satellite navigation system and a little radio transmitter, about the same power as your car, remote control. That sends a signal down to the ground.

Using Google maps and the GPS system put up there by NASA, it's quite easy to track the whole thing. You just collect it and chase it all the time in the car and you know where it is using Google maps and you just pick it up about two minutes after it land and you get those very nice pictures and very nice video out of it.

ROBERTS: Wow.

CHETRY: We just saw some video of you actually, I guess, that's where you got it right in a field there. You picked it up, the parachute and everything worked out the way it was. But you didn't know that at that time.

HARRISON: That's right. CHETRY: You actually -- you had to go back and check out the digital images. What was your reaction, when you first saw them and realized, wow, I got some good stuff here?

HARRISON: It was just amazing. I looked through the pictures and never ever imagined in my life I would be seeing pictures looked like they were taken in space, seeing the curvature of the earth, the blackness of space and that thin blue line which makes up the atmosphere, which we live and breath in. I had no idea that was the result. I was absolutely astounded.

ROBERTS: So in terms of, you know, retracking and retrieving the balloon on its way back down or the camera on its way back down, I take the balloon goes up high enough that it pops and the parachute deploys. How far away do you --

HARRISON: Probably --

ROBERTS: Go ahead.

HARRISON: That's right. The balloon goes up and as it gets bigger and bigger, eventually it pops about 21 miles above the earth surface and then goes back down the surface, about 50 miles away from the launch normally.

ROBERTS: Wow, that's a long way. Now this has attracted the attention of NASA and we have a statement here from a physicist at NASA, David Syder (ph), who says "it's gratifying to see people using this access to near space. Amateur groups have been doing these types of balloon launches for about 20 years. It's a cost effective way for almost anyone to reach near space conditions. I mean, this is something that's -- wow, I mean, you really captured their attention with these amazing photographs.

HARRISON: Yes, I don't think they'll be calling any time soon. They do a fantastic amount of work. Putting the GPS isn't all the thing they do. This is basic, very amateur and very low down. It looks like it's from space, I think the rockets need to go any higher and then it gets into the millions and thankfully people at NASA are doing that --

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CHETRY: So you may have inspired some people --

HARRISON: Sorry, go on.

CHETRY: I was just (INAUDIBLE) you may have inspired some people to give this a try themselves. What are things that turned out to be surprisingly easy as you undertook this and what are some of the unexpected hiccups that happened along the way?

HARRISON: OK. In terms of cost, it's not very much money. In terms of time and ingenuity, it's quite a lot of work because you put in many, many hours. And the other thing is you must get approval from the FAA, I think it is in the U.S.. It is important that you get clearance before do you this. You can't put it up in your backyard. There is a safety angle. But getting on to people like Bill Brown in the U.S., he's been doing this for 20 years. He's got some fantastic pictures up there, and he really is the grandfather of this (INAUDIBLE) in the amateur world.

ROBERTS: You're planning to share this as well, Robert. You're planning to involve some school children in some of your future missions. What are you hoping to do?

HARRISON: Absolutely. But one of the big problems we got in the U.K., kids are not getting engaged with science. We got far less people going into university and doing science courses than ever before. To try to get some inspiration into the kids in school would be fantastic to get this developed into some sort of school project where kids -- their hobby or their science project could be taking pictures from space and that would really engage the next generation of scientists, I think, kids in school would be, (INAUDIBLE) they'll remember for the rest of their lives.

ROBERTS: All right.

CHETRY: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: But just don't let them get near the balloon because, you know, it -- it causes all kinds of problems, as we found out.

Robert, great -- great to talk to you this morning. Thanks so much.

HARRISON: Very welcome.

ROBERTS: All right.

CHETRY: All right. Congratulations, Robert. Pretty cool stuff. And, as he said, that thin blue line of the atmosphere, amazing pictures that he got.

ROBERTS: He's very excited about all of this, too. It's amazing to see, you know, people who are into rocketry or building model airplanes or something.

Wow, a helium balloon would be really an exciting thing to pursue.

CHETRY: I know, and especially then to be able to share it, to have something to show people afterwards.

ROBERTS: And it's great that he's going to involve, you know, young people in this as well, try to steer them toward the sciences.

CHETRY: They need it. They need it for sure.

All right. Well, still ahead, there are some major flooding threat, some big concerns for the northeast part of the country right now as we continue to get rain and rain and rain.

Rob Marciano tracking all of it for us, coming up.

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ROBERTS: Good morning, New York City. A look at Columbus Circle outside of our headquarters here in New York where right now it's cloudy and 50 degrees.

We had a lot of rain overnight. We've got heavy rain moving in later on today. The high is only going to be 56 degrees today.

Another big storm in the northeast. This is the second one in three days, and Rob Marciano in at the Weather Center this morning to explain all of this. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning.

Well, you had a lot of rain in the beginning of the month, now you're having a lot of rain at the end of the month, and it's going to wrap up to be at least twice as much rain as you should have. And across parts of the south, this is weather -- severe weather is happening, so it's all up and down the East Coast right now.

South Florida, this is the Doppler radar showing some action across Fort Lauderdale and through Coral Springs. This was severe earlier in the morning. It seems to have weakened a little bit, but there's more coming in off the Gulf of Mexico, across the Keys, and this tornado watch is in effect until 11:00 local time for parts of the Florida Peninsula.

All right, tornado watches have been dropped for the Carolinas. Boy, a rough night yesterday with at least 20 homes damaged, certainly some businesses damaged as well and a few injuries from Winston, Salem to Charlotte to Greensboro. It was a -- a rough go last night. But now it's all shifting to rain and it's all moving up towards the northeast.

So heavy rain last night and some places already got an inch. We could see three to six inches of rainfall total here over the next 36 to 48 hours as this low treks up the eastern seaboard. It will intensify. You get some wind tonight. It's going to be a stormy night for sure, but the big deal's going to be the heavy rain and there will be travel delays beginning today at the major metropolitan airports.

Boston, New York, D.C. and Philly and also, I should mention, San Francisco and Seattle, pretty strong Pacific storm system rolling into Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. High wind warnings posted and blizzard watches for the mountains and it will be warm and windy across parts of the central part of country.

Once we get through the next couple of days, guys, it does warm up and dry out quite a bit in the northeast towards the end of the week, but the next 36 to 48 hours is going to be a little bit dicey. I think some communities around the tri-state area are going to have to take some action as far as trying to prevent flooding and in some cases evacuate some neighborhood. We'll keep you posted on the development of this storm -- John, Kiran, back up to you.

CHETRY: All right. Thank you (INAUDIBLE), Rob. Thanks so much.

Well, it's 50 minutes past the hour right now. This morning's top stories just a couple of minutes away, including terror in Moscow, suicide bomb explosions rocking the subways while people were standing shoulder to shoulder during the busy commute hours.

Matthew Chance is going to be there live, describing the scene right now.

ROBERTS: At half past the hour, how can you eat healthy if almost every choice is fried or overflowing with sugar? We're taking a look at one of the possible root causes of the obesity epidemic in minority kids and how to solve it.

Are supermarkets with healthy choices avoiding where they live on purpose?

CHETRY: At 40 minutes past the hour, the sisterhood of the traveling space suit? How women who have been there before helping astronaut mom Cady Coleman get ready for life in orbit, heading to the International Space Station.

Those stories and much more at the top of the hour.

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CHETRY: Welcome back. It's time for your "A.M. House Call", stories about your health, and a new study suggest that bingeing on junk food has the same effect on the brain as cocaine and heroin.

Scientists at the Scripps Research Center in Florida found that rats who consumed a diet of bacon, sausage and cheesecake not only became obese, but their brain chemistry changed. Researchers say that the rats developed compulsive eating habits, much like a drug addict.

They say that overeating leads to the overload of the brain's pleasure censors, which is similar to what happens when you do drugs.

The price of beauty apparently not as high these days, if you can deal with the struggling economy. Some Florida plastic surgeons are offering discounts on cosmetic surgery, charging only $6,000 for a tummy tuck compared to the usual $8,000. Also, less than $4,000 for breast implants.

Doctors say that more people are opting for what you -- they call "tide you over procedures" like Botox and chemical peels because they're more affordable.

Well, put your mind at ease. It will make for more lasting memories. Researchers have pinpointed that the way that relaxation neurons work together with what's being called theta waves in the brain. The findings, published in the journal "Nature" could help develop new theories (ph) for people with learning disabilities and some types of dementia.

There you go. Plastic surgery sales after bingeing off all the junk food and the cheesecake, you can get your tummy tuck.

ROBERTS: Well, I know. "Nip/Tuck" just went off the air, and --

CHETRY: Yes. Well, it jumped to (INAUDIBLE).

ROBERTS: -- the last show (INAUDIBLE) nobody's doing plastic surgery anymore, so maybe -- apparently you can get some good deals, though. Not that I would know.

We also want to give you an update on the health of the Former First Lady Barbara Bush. She's still in a Houston hospital this morning. A family spokeswoman says Mrs. Bush has not felt well for about a week and doctors are performing routine tests.

The Former First Lady had heart surgery back in March.

We're back with your top stories this morning right after the break. Stay with us.

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