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AMERICAN MORNING

The Danger in Afghanistan: Security Situation Getting Worse; Eyewitness to War; Perils of Education Reform in D.C.; Tax Cuts Stand Off; Prostate Cancer Screening

Aired September 13, 2010 - 07:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) was that? Is that a plane crash?

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JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with shocking new video this morning. Moments after the huge explosion in San Bruno this morning, homeowners return to see what's left of their of their neighborhood while questions surrounding the energy company. Were warning signs missed?

It is Monday, September 13th. We'll be showing that video again this morning. I can guarantee that. I'm Jim Acosta. John Roberts has the morning off.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Candy Crowley in for Kiran. We will have the latest on the California explosion investigation in a moment. But first, here are this morning's top stories.

We are on freedom watch this morning. U.S. hiker Sarah Shourd could be headed home within hours after spending more than a year of her life alone in an Iranian prison. But will Iran make good on its promise?

ACOSTA: America's longest war is growing more deadly. In fact, 2010 is the deadliest year for combat troops in Afghanistan since fighting began in 2001. And this morning, our Jason Carroll is back from the front lines with a firsthand account of what our men and women serving in Afghanistan are facing.

CROWLEY: And could it be a big break in a big Washington standoff? Hear why House Minority Leader John Boehner now says under certain circumstances he will vote with President Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone but the wealthy.

ACOSTA: Democrats were saying we'll wait to see that one happen.

Meanwhile, new developments this morning in San Bruno, California, that neighborhood that was blown apart by a deadly gas explosion and fire. Residents were allowed back in for the first time yesterday and they're finding their block in ruins. Many realizing they have no home to return to wondering if they'll be able to find anything in one piece and whether it's safe to be there now. For some, the site took them right back to Thursday night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBY CALIP, SURVIVED GAS EXPLOSION: I thought about when I first saw the fire and how scared I was, how happy I was to come back, and how much I wanted to help rebuild the community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: State regulators ordering a complete inspection of PG&E's natural gas system. The company must check miles of pipeline to determine if there are any other leaks. And CNN's Ted Rowlands is now with the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This incredible home video was captured moments after the explosion from a house balcony just behind the blown gas pipe.

WALTER MCCAFFREY, SAN BRUNO RESIDENT: What is that? Is it a plane crash?

ROWLANDS: The voice you hear belongs to Walter McCaffrey. He had one hand on his video camera, the other on his phone, telling his wife not to come home with their three children. This is the view from that deck now. Walter and his wife were allowed back Sunday afternoon to their house for the first time since the explosion.

MCCAFFREY: Just looking at all of this, I saw all this from the news, but being here in the first time coming up here and looking at all this, it was just -- no words. I can't really explain.

ROWLANDS: Teams are still sifting through ash, searching for remains of people still listed as missing. As investigators try to learn what caused the explosion, questions have surfaced about the section of pipe that blew. A PG&E document outlining costs to replace the pipe, says, quote, "The likelihood of a failure makes the risk of a failure at this location unacceptably high."

That doesn't mean PG&E thought there was a chance the pipe could explode. But Mark Toney, executive director of the utility reform network says it's important if reports that residents smelled gas before the explosion are true.

MARK TONEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE UTILITY REFORM NETWORK: Nobody, PG&E included, could have imagined something as horrible and terrible as the San Bruno blast and fire as happening. But the fact remains that when PG&E got the reports of gas leaks from several customers over several days they should have realized that this was an area that was old that was at high risk, that they identified as high risk.

ROWLANDS: Federal officials leading the investigation are looking into the reports about the smell of gas in the days before the explosion and how PG&E responded. CHRISTOPHER HART, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: We would ask anybody who says they smell gas and called it in to let us know.

ROWLANDS: The McCaffreys plan to move back when they're sure it's safe to do so. While their home only suffered minor damage, their neighborhood will never be the same.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

No comment from PG&E on the history of this gas line. They say they can't publicly comment. The NTSB is the lead organization in this, and they say they may not be able to determine an exact cause of the explosion for months. Jim, Candy?

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Ted Rowlands. Really scary pictures from out there.

Freedom could be just a few hours away. We are waiting for word from Iran this morning that Sarah Shourd, one of the three Americans held prisoner for over a year, is out of jail and heading home. But she will have to leave behind her fiance Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fattal. And right now it's a matter of money.

This morning, the Iranian media is saying the country is just waiting for her $500,000 bail to be posted. Reza Sayah is monitoring the situation for us live from Pakistan this morning.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Candy, a lot of eyes on Tehran at this hour to see if Sarah Shourd is going to be released, and if so, when. We spoke to her lawyer about a couple of hours ago. This is also a lawyer who also represents the other two U.S. hikers. And he told us that everything is in place for the release to take place. All they're waiting for is the $500,000 in bail money.

Of course, this entire process has been a bit of a debacle by Iranian officials with a lot of waffling on this matter. Last week Iranian officials came out and said Sarah Shourd would be released, then she wouldn't be released. On Wednesday, a senior prosecutor came out and said Iranian officials are offering to release Sarah Shourd in exchange for $500,000 in bail money.

The hikers' lawyer told me he met with his clients yesterday. It's interesting to note it's the first time he's met with his clients since he was hired to represent them back in December of 2009. Candy, he told me they're in good condition. He says Sarah Shourd is happy with the news of her possible release, but her wish is for all three of them to be released together.

CROWLEY: Reza, why are they releasing her?

SAYAH: Well, the senior prosecutor who held a news conference on Sunday in Tehran cited her medical condition. Her lawyer had told us earlier that she was suffering from a preexisting gynecological condition. And now a representative for the families recently said that she has discovered a lump in her breast. So again, that's what the senior prosecutor is citing as the reason for her release.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much monitoring this for us in Pakistan.

ACOSTA: And new this morning, firefighters battling an estimated 6,400 acre wildfire outside of Boulder, Colorado, are being called to a brush fire to the north, this one west of Loveland, and nearly 700 acres is forcing mandatory evacuations in the area. Officials have ordered a fire ban to prevent it from spreading.

CROWLEY: The U.S. Open men's tennis final between Rafael Nadal and Nokavich will be held at 4:00 p.m. eastern. The championship match was postponed yesterday because of rain here in New York. This is the third straight year the men's final has been pushed back to Monday.

ACOSTA: Lady Gaga ruled the
CROWLEY: That is disgusting.

ACOSTA: Yuck.

CROWLEY: Also at the VMAs, Taylor Swift addressed last year's incident when Kanye West stormed the stage during her acceptance speech by singing about it this year. West recently tweeted that the stage-storming stunt crippled his career.

ACOSTA: And you won't find meat on this guy's head. Rob Marciano checking weather headlines for us. Rob, I couldn't resist. Lady Gaga setting a fashion trend there. It may be moving to the news world, perhaps, in the not too distant future.

(WEATHER BREAK)

ACOSTA: From the great video file this morning. If Lady Gaga wasn't enough, check this out. He may be coughing up a pompom or two. An Oakland raiders cheerleader getting a little too close to a hungry, hungry mascot yesterday and became lunch. Look at that. I don't think she had any raw meat on her head, but we'll have to check the tape.

It's not the first time we've seen this out in the world of sports. Last year, look at this -- up in Toronto, the Toronto raptor gobbled up a dancer. I guess, Candy, this is some sort of trend in professional sports -- cheerleading-eating mascots, something to be on the lookout for. Might want to be careful to the kiddies when you take them to the next sporting event.

CROWLEY: Apparently.

ACOSTA: Don't get too close to the mascot. CROWLEY: Well, from the ridiculous to the really sobering, an eyewitness to war. Our Jason Carroll is back from Afghanistan. And this morning we'll talk to him about the challenges in our men and women serving in the deadliest war since 2001. It is ten minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Despite the surge of 30,000 new U.S. troops, a security expert tells the "New York Times" the country is more dangerous now than in the past nine years. In August alone, insurgents in Afghanistan launched more than 1,300 attacks, that is 700 more than the same time last year.

ACOSTA: Our Jason Carroll spent three weeks on the front lines of Afghanistan, talking to troops and seeing the dangerous conditions firsthand. And Jason joins us now back here in New York safe and sound. Thank you very much for bringing all the stories to us. It was terrific to watch. We're going to check in with him in a moment.

First, let's go to Barbara Starr in Washington with the latest on the violence against our troops. Barbara, let's go to you first. Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Jim and Candy. You know, even as the last of those search forces arrive in Afghanistan, security is increasingly troubled. And sometimes the numbers do tell the story.

The coalition is reporting -- look at some of these statistics -- that in August, just last month, there were more than 4,900 kinetic events. That's an attack, mortars, rockets, small arms, IEDs. This is a seven percent increase over the month before, July of this year. And it's a 49 percent increase -- 49 percent over August of 2009, the same month last year when there were over 3,200 of these attacks. Some indication that the IEDs are declining, but still very deadly and the coalition says it believes one of the reasons for the increase in the number of attacks is due to the increased number of troops. More operations especially in the south, and increased insurgent activity, especially before the upcoming parliamentary elections now scheduled for just a few days on September 18th. One of the big concerns, though, is that the violence is spreading to northern Afghanistan where the insurgents traditionally have not operated.

So what does General David Petraeus think? Well, he's offering some of his own statistics about progress. In the last 90 days, he says that they have captured some 235 insurgent leaders, captured or killed over 1,600 insurgents overall, the rank and file, if you will, and killed over 1,000 insurgents. It sounds an awful lot like a body count -- Jim, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much. Our Barbara Starr monitoring everything for us from Washington. You know, those sorts of figures, the increase in the attacks have some long time supporters of this war beginning to question how they feel about it.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Right.

CROWLEY: Of course, our Jason Carroll, we want to bring you back in. Just back from Afghanistan. Let me ask you the question everyone asks when you come back from a place like that. What was it like?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was sobering, it was eye-opening. It was in some ways encouraging to see the soldiers interacting with the Afghan people. That's going to be key if U.S. coalition forces are going to be able to win this war. It was also sobering to see the flip side of that, the attacks that took place while I was there, the loss of life that we, you know, that happened while we were there. So it's going to be a long haul for the soldiers who were there on the ground trying to do what they need to do while they're there.

ACOSTA: And this country that they're fighting in -- we were talking about this a little bit during the break, does it feel like a country?

CARROLL: I think it would depend upon where you are. Where I was, which was in the south, Paktika province, it did not. It just simply felt like a number of villages, simple people trying to do what they can. The Taliban trying to influence those particular villages. U.S. forces trying to reach out, trying to do what they can.

I think -- but in Kabul, obviously, which is much more metropolitan, you have a much different feeling. So I think it really depends upon where you are. The problem is, as you know, Afghanistan is -- in many ways is made up with type of places where I was.

ACOSTA: Yes. Very tribal.

CROWLEY: You know, one of the things I think that you get the sense when you're over there is that it's almost like a deadly game of whack-a-mole. That, you know, you move in, you clear the Taliban. You move out, you go someplace else. The Taliban moves back in.

CARROLL: Moves back in.

CROWLEY: What is the sense you were getting from the U.S. troops? We're beginning to see some politicians wondering about this. What are the troops thinking?

CARROLL: Well, I think the troops are there so focused on the mission at hand. It's difficult to say because the troops that I was in -- you know, I interacted with being embedded with them, the basic feeling was that, look, we're here to make up for some lost ground, to get in there to engage the Afghan people. We saw evidence of that when I was there. I saw them getting out there, trying to reach out to village elders because it's really a war of trying to win over the hearts of the Afghan people. If U.S. forces can get in there, right? And win over the hearts of Afghan people by providing water -- by providing a well where a well is need, perhaps, then, those people won't turn to the Taliban to do that. That is going to be one way to win this particular war. If you can't do that, if you can't get in there and win the hearts of the Afghan people, you know, you're not going to succeed. ACOSTA: And do they get that sense that they are winning those hearts and minds? Do they have that feeling?

CARROLL: Well, it's the beginning for them. I mean, the ones that I came in with in some ways, it is the beginning. It is a long haul. For example, we went to something called a shura (ph). This is a meeting of village elders, where these village elders from all over get to come together and voice their concerns. And U.S. forces get a chance to, you know, hear what they have to say. Came out of that meeting and there were clearly some elders who were on both sides of this issue, came out of that meeting and it was a little disheartening for some of the soldiers to hear the Taliban and U.S. forces mentioned in the same sentence in terms of who has done more harm to their community.

ACOSTA: Well, Jason, thanks for going all the way out there and doing some terrific reporting. And we're glad to see you home safe.

CARROLL: You bet. Thanks so much.

ACOSTA: Thanks, Jason. Appreciate it.

Well, coffee prices are going up. I don't like the sound of that, Candy. And certainly isn't a welcome --

CROWLEY: That's troubling.

ACOSTA: That's not a good development this morning. But growers in Vietnam and Brazil are planning to give all of us a different kind of jolt in the morning. That's what we call a tease in this business. We're waiting for that.

It's 20 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Coffee prices are on the rise, sorry to start your day of badly. Brazil and Vietnam hit by crop shortages and growing global demand. U.S. stockpiles are at a 10-year low while coffee prices just hit a 13-year high. Folgers, Dunkin' Donuts and Millstone have already hiked the price of a bag of beans by 10 percent. And those single serve cups could cost 15 percent more come October.

ACOSTA: Not good news. If you feel cramped in coach now, take a look at these sky rider seats. The Italian designer says several U.S. carriers are considering installing them. Passengers would sit perched at an angle with less than two feet of leg room. Sounds comfy. The fare would be cheaper, but airlines, you guessed it, could make more money since the narrow spacing would allow them to cram more fliers aboard. Must have something to do with the rising price of coffee.

CROWLEY: My back hurts already.

ACOSTA: Yes. CROWLEY: A lot of older Americans are relocating to college towns to enjoy their retirement years. So what makes a city filled with college kids and ideal retirement destination? Must be the keggers.

At 8:20 Eastern, "Money" magazine's --

ACOSTA: That's my idea of retirement.

CROWLEY: At 8:20, Amanda Gengler brings us the top five retirement college towns and what they have to offer. And the city at the top of the list is going to surprise you.

ACOSTA: And Oprah's 25th and final season begins today. The queen of daytime talk moves to our own network in January. Microsoft's Bill Gates and Washington D.C.'s school chancellor, Michelle Rhee, just finished taping with Oprah. Rhee, you might know, has made headlines reforming the capital's school system. And Kate Bolduan is live in Washington this morning.

Kate, that story just dovetails perfectly into what you're looking at which is this big primary race in Washington, D.C. tomorrow. A lot of people don't realize that the big election in D.C. is always the Democratic primary and heavily Democratic Washington, not the actual election with the Republican on the other side of the ticket. And this is a big race.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it's this mayoral Democratic primary that everyone is keeping an eye on. Why? Well, many see it as a big test of national education reform efforts. We'll tell you why when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Everyone wants better schools for their kids, right, Candy? We all do. But when it comes to education reform, toes sometimes get stepped on.

CROWLEY: They do tend to. Education one of those hot-button issues. And in Washington, D.C., the education reformer mayor, Adrian Fenty, is battling for his job. If he loses tomorrow's primary, it might have a chilling effect on school reform nationwide.

Our Kate Bolduan is live in Washington. I was going to say is living in Washington, you're doing both, actually.

Kate, it seems Mayor Fenty has made a couple of enemies along the way trying to upgrade D.C.'s education system.

BOLDUAN: You're absolutely right, Candy. And while there are, we should say, other big local factors in Washington, D.C.'s Democratic mayoral primary, one issue playing a significant role also carries significant national implications. Education reform.

A little back story. Then known as the Democratic dynamo, Mayor Adrian Fenty came into office in 2006. He quickly took complete control of D.C.'s failing public school system and he handed it over to the new chancellor, aggressive reformer Michelle Rhee. Rhee, then, ushered in a wave of controversial change that grabbed national attention, including shutting down two dozen schools, firing hundreds of educators, including more than 100 teachers over the summer for poor performance. Also overhauling the teacher evaluation system, linking it to student performance for the first time and doing away in large part with tenure, putting in its place teacher performance pay. But Fenty, once a rising star, well, he's now in the fight for his life. And we caught up with him on the campaign trail to ask him about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR ADRIAN FENTY, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: You asked me whether we would make the decisions we made around education reform now knowing everything we did? I say absolutely, yes. A hundred times out of 100. I was elected to do what's right for the city and not what's politically popular. And that's what we've done around fixing our schools. And the great thing is our schools are better off for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Then he acknowledges -- he acknowledged to me that this aggressive reforms have caused him in the polls but he is unapologetic saying D.C. schools and D.C. students have suffered for too long -- Jim and Candy.

ACOSTA: And, Kate, I guess Candy mentioned in the previous hour here on AMERICAN MORNING that one reason that Adrian Fenty is in trouble down in D.C. is because of those big snowstorms. They had some trouble clearing the streets down there.

But getting back to education reform, I mean, is the moral of the story here to big city mayors across the country, if you try to reform your inner city school systems, you may run into trouble with your teachers' unions because that is essentially what's happening in D.C., those teacher unions are going right after Adrian Fenty and they want to knock him out. I mean, I guess that's the moral of the story.

BOLDUAN: That is the fear. And the teachers unions say they want to help the schools too. I mean, in their defense, they say this is too much, too fast, and too harsh. The reforms in D.C. schools while ruffling many feathers along the way. And this is why it matters nationally. They are exactly what the Obama administration is calling for nationwide. These types of very kind of aggressive and innovative reforms.

And the administration is putting up some serious cash to prove it. They're not just talking about it, offering more than $3 billion in competitive grants for innovative reform efforts just like what's going on in D.C..

In the most recent polls, Fenty is neck and neck or losing to his challenger D.C. city council city chairman Vincent Gray. Voters count education as a chief concern heading into the polls, leaving, as you just mentioned, Jim, leaving some to wonder if the result of this race could create a chilling effect on national education reform efforts. Simply the fear that politicians see these reform efforts backed by the Obama administration as just too risky to take on.

ACOSTA: All right. Kate Bolduan, we'll be watching down in D.C.. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: It is almost 7:32, and that means, of course, time for this morning's top stories.

Sifting through the rubble in San Bruno, California, victims of that devastating gas explosion and fires were allowed back into their neighborhood for the first time yesterday. Four people are confirmed dead, 37 homes destroyed. And now PG&E has been ordered to inspect all its natural gas lines in the state.

ACOSTA: Despite the eight months that passed since Haiti's deadly earthquake Port-Au-Prince doesn't look much different. The "Associated Press" reports only two percent of the rubble has been picked up, no one's really in charge of the government. So there's no one to manage the cleanup. Recovery teams say it's difficult for heavy equipment to navigate all the debris and few places to put it.

CROWLEY: And officials in Chile now lowering cigarettes to the group of 33 trapped miners. They'll have two packs a day to split between them. Rescuers sent down nicotine patches and gum until they could improve ventilation to the mine. NASA scientists at the scene reportedly advised against allowing the miners to smoke.

ACOSTA: And over the past week, our newest correspondent Kaj Larsen has been traveling across Pakistan, bringing us stories from the devastating floods there. Going to some of the remote and dangerous parts of that country places where even many rescue teams can't or won't go. And along the way, he spoke to the people about where their hearts and minds lie. And Kaj joins us live from Islamabad this morning.

And Kaj, we've been saying all morning that despite these devastating floods down there, we are getting to see some parts of Pakistan that perhaps we hadn't really seen before and hadn't really understood before. And you're getting to talk to people about what they think of the United States, which is also important.

KAJ LARSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely, Jim. We've tried to push this as far out as we can and talk to a variety of people. You know, earlier in the show, you had Jason Carroll talking about the strategic importance of winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan. It's arguably equally important to win hearts and minds here next door in Pakistan in one of our strategic allies in the region.

So as I traveled around the country covering the floods, I took a barometer of what the Pakistani people are feeling about Americans. Here's what I found.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LARSEN (on camera): So here I am in Pakistan. And for the last week, I've been crisscrossing the country as I've been following the aftermath of the devastating floods that took place here. And along the way on my journey, I've been talking to different Pakistanis that I meet to get a pulse of how the people in this country are feeling about Americans and about America.

First stop, (INAUDIBLE). I spent the night in a local guest house. And in the morning, I spoke with a couple of the cooks who had made us breakfast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): America's not Pakistan's enemy. If so, why are they here to help the Pakistan people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If the U.S. is the enemy of Islam, why are there mosques being built there? According to my information, there's over 300 mosques in America.

LARSEN: The next stop on our journey was about five hours down the road when our driver wanted to stop for some chai tea.

What do you think of Americans?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think the U.S. is a good country. And the people of the U.S. are good. If there are drones, it's because there are terrorists. If there are no terrorists, then there will be no need for drones.

LARSEN: So after the chair refill, we decided that we had to refill the car. We stopped at a petrol station and chatted with the cashier about his feelings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The U.S. is helping people who are affected by the floods.

LARSEN: But my man over here who pumped our gas feels differently. He does not agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The U.S. is attacking Muslim countries one after the other. One day I worry that the U.S. will attack Pakistan.

LARSEN: Mixed reviews. Well, we kept pushing south to our next story where we arrived at our luxury accommodations. The Decent Lodge. So we're going to head into the Decent Lodge and talk to the manager and find out his opinion about Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Pakistanis give Americans maximum regard in Pakistan, but Pakistanis are not treated well in the United States.

LARSEN: And American policy? How do you feel about American policy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American policy, Pakistan (INAUDIBLE) not good for Pakistan.

LARSEN: I don't need a translator for that one. Finally, I spoke with Dr. Yasmin (ph) who I had met on a story we were doing about a humanitarian group. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should I speak truth? Then there is a disaster, it gives us (INAUDIBLE) but at the same time, throwing bombs on us. If you want to win the hearts of the people, you have to live in the hearts of the people. You cannot throw bomb and say good luck.

LARSEN: Hey, what do you think of Americans?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

LARSEN: Thank you.

Road trip Pakistan, three provinces, seven days, 500 miles. Two polarities that speak volumes about this country.

A well-educated Pakistani doctor who had grave suspicions about America. And a chai tea maker who had never met Americans before, yet embraced us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And Kaj Larsen joins us now live from Pakistan. And Kaj, we were all watching that video there of the Decent Lodge and I have to say, in all of our travels, we stayed in some decent lodges, I have to ask, was it decent?

LARSEN: It was quite decent. That was a no thrills advertising campaign and the guest lodge reflected it.

ACOSTA: And I guess, you know, one of the things that struck me when I was watching that piece, Kaj, is just how pleasant the people of Pakistan were towards you. I mean, was that the case every time you stopped somebody on the street and asked them about the United States? Or did you find the nicest five people for that piece there?

LARSEN: Everybody answered our questions quite respectfully. The sentiment that was expressed was mixed, of course. The United States faces a very precarious challenge on the ground here in Afghanistan. It's a balancing act. They are getting some positive feedback for providing help with the aid and with the flood relief, but at the same time, they have to balance that with the very sensitive issue of American boots on the ground here in Pakistan. So what we found on our journey was a mixed bag. And I think that's pretty representative of what the Pakistani population is feeling.

ACOSTA: All right. Kaj Larsen, in Pakistan for us, this morning. Thanks, Kaj. Appreciate it.

CROWLEY: From international politics to domestic politics. And House minority leader John Boehner. Did he blink? The man who could become the next speaker of the House, now says he would support a middle class tax cut for everyone but the wealthy if that's his only choice.

What's behind that? We'll talk about it. It's now about 39 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: This morning, talk of a compromise over the Bush era tax cuts that expire at the end of the year. House minority leader John Boehner says he may side with Democrats on their tax plan, but only if there's no better option.

Here to talk about it, CNN's senior political analyst and Republican strategist Ed Rollins. And Cornell Belcher, democratic pollster. It's good to see you both.

Ed, let me start with you. The White House sort of immediately painted this as, "oh, thanks, you know, really good to see this conversion by John Boehner." I'm thinking that there is a method here to this. And it may be Boehner kind of taking the political edge away from the Democrats. Parse it for me, politically.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think - first of all, the big issue here is Democrats. Is there enough Democrats to basically pass this? And obviously there's a lot of moderates who are in real serious races, conservatives, who don't want this. They basically want the tax extension for everyone, not raise anyone's taxes.

So Boehner may have been upfront. I think Boehner basically has to be careful though, because there's a lot of Republicans who misinterpreted this and will be very unhappy with him at this point in time.

CROWLEY: Cornell, let me bring you in here because it seems to me what we saw from Friday's news conference from the president and then yesterday from various White House officials including Austan Goolsbee, the new head of the Council of Economic Advisers as well as David Axelrod, top adviser to the president, all saying, "you know, if the Republicans want to hold middle class tax cuts hostage for their rich friends, well, I guess that's their choice."

Boehner comes out and goes, "well, I'll vote for middle class tax hike if it's my only choice.' Doesn't that kind of take away the whole Republicans are for the rich argument? The Democrats hoped to play out during this debate?

CORNELL BELCHER, PRESIDENT OF BRILLIANT CORNERS RESEARCH AND STRATEGIES: No, I think it's important to understand that historically we, Democrats, have always taken a beating on taxes. This is a big victory for us. Look, we got them to compromise on taxes. We were actually getting the upper hand on taxes here, with them holding the middle class tax cuts hostage.

So I think this is a win for Democrats. In a certain way we're going to take the tax issue off the front burner for a (INAUDIBLE). And as my good friend, Ed, knows, any time Democrats can lessen the tax issue going into an election, it's a plus for us.

ROLLINS: Well, you've still got a bunch of Democrats out there running in very tough races who basically don't think you've taken the issue away. And I don't think Democrats can on one vote basically erase their long history of raising taxes on working people. CROWLEY: And can Republicans still make hay out of the fact that it is - that the Democrats are going to say we don't want to extend these tax cuts for those couples making $250,000 and over? Isn't that a fairly potent argument in tough political times?

BELCHER: Well, look, here's the choice. I mean, it is a choice between sort of Republicans who want to give tax cuts to the rich and continue down with the Bush policies that got us into this mess or Democrats who want to be focused with our tax cuts and give it to the middle class and try to build America's middle class back in.

That's the choice we want to make. We're making these choices all across the country, we're making them in Congressional races, we're making them the Senate races. And now we have a national sort of narrative that sort of push this choice. Look, you have a choice between Boehner and these Republicans who want to continue these tax cuts for the rich or Democrats who want to give tax cuts to the middle class who really need it.

ROLLINS: It's not an either or, it's not tax cuts for the rich and tax cuts for the middle class, everybody got their taxes reduced. And it's about raising taxes and once you raise one group, you're going to raise others. There's not enough tax revenue according to the Democrat plans.

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CROWLEY: Let me button up the issue -

BELCHER: Look, I can push back on that because that's just not true. Look, Ed, the wealthy have done really good under the Bush years and they did get their taxes cut significantly. The middle class is shrinking and they're hurting. If you want to help build the American economy, you've got to help the American middle class and that's what the Democrats are trying to do.

You can't look over what the Republicans have done on taxes over the last couple of years and say that's benefited the American middle class. And where Americans really got benefited was under the stimulus plan where the taxes got cut.

America's now paying some of the lowest taxes they've paid historically. That's not me spinning, that's the truth.

CROWLEY: Cornell, let me button this up just with a broader political question. Boehner also went out of his way to say, look, I think it's a tough climb for Republicans to take over in the House. Do you think it's a tough climb?

BELCHER: Talk about lowering expectations. Look, they are -- look, the wind is at their back. I think, you know, historically they're supposed to take over -- they're supposed to win some seats.

I think they're going to have a tough time getting there, but the wind is certainly at their back and history says they're going to pick up seats. I think the sort of Tea Party insurrection has really, really harmed them in the long run, especially on the Senate side where you look at where some of the Republicans' top choices to take on Democrats have been basically taken out by fringe elements of the Tea Party.

I think when we look back at this cycle and look at the -- the chance that Republicans had, I think a lot of us are going to say, was a Tea Party a plus or negative for the Republicans? And I think looking at it now I've got to say it's a negative.

CROWLEY: Ed, I've got to give you just one word here. Yes or no, is John Boehner the next speaker of the House?

ROLLINS: John Boehner is the next speaker of the House.

CROWLEY: Thank you very much. Ed Rollins, Cornell Belcher, thank you both -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Bold predictions from Ed Rollins. As always. Thank you so much.

On the freedom watch, U.S. hikers Sarah Shourd could be leaving Iran today. A reunion with her family may be only hours away after more than a year in solitary confinement. The latest on her release and the fate of the two hikers she will have to leave behind.

It is 46 minutes after the hour.

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ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning again. This is the peak of hurricane season. And we have three disturbances at the very least that we're watching and one major storm.

Let's talk about -- the storm's eye. This is Julia, this is the tropical storm just off the coast of Africa affecting the Cape Verde islands. Don't have to deal with these things. It's just 40-mile-an- hour winds.

But this thing. This is hurricane Igor with winds of 150 miles an hour. This is a category 4 storm on the brink of becoming a category 5 storm. Look at this -- that eye, how distinct it is. The structure. It is barreling to the west and could become a category 5 storm before the day is done.

The forecast track from the National Hurricane Center brings it continued further to the west, continued strong as at least a four storm, and then beginning to re-curve towards Bermuda and potentially the east coast of the United States.

But that would be well over a week away. So dangerous storm there. We certainly hope it doesn't get any closer to us than it has to be. We are looking at that. This disturbance, this is much closer to the U.S., that has the potential of becoming something, too.

We have just a couple of showers across the northeast today. Fairly quiet compared to yesterday. A little front rolling down all the way Deep South and creating dry conditions as far as low humidity is concerned. And also comfortably cool conditions in other aspects of the country. Mild conditions across the northern tier.

That's a quick check on weather. AMERICAN MORNING is coming right back.

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ACOSTA: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." It is 7:53. Time for your "AM House Calls," stories about your health.

A simple blood test may be a strong indicator of a man's risk for developing prostate cancer. That's according to a new study from the American Cancer Society. But whether men should get that blood test is up for debate.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us this morning.

And, Elizabeth, I would think this would be a sure thing if the test is being offered, why not have it? But how does this screening work?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I know, Jim, you know what, prostate cancer is different from other cancers. And here's why.

If you get screened for prostate cancer your doctor may find something that is very small and very slow growing and likely will never kill you. But you and your doctor may feel compelled to treat it and that treatment could cause you to be incontinent and impotent, something obviously no man wants.

So it's very tricky whether to even go down that road at all. And what some doctors have done is that they'll do an initial screening of a man at, let's say, age 55 and take a look at that PSA level.

Well, what this study out of Europe found is that if you take about 25,000 men with a low PSA level, if you rescreen them, in other words, if you screen them again later in life, you will save one of their lives. Just one of their lives. And you will probably cause many, many more of them to have problems like being incontinent and impotent.

So the question here is, is it worth it to screen a man twice if he seems to be OK the first time because you'll save one life out of 25,000 but you will also upset other lives in the process. So it's a tough decision.

ACOSTA: Right. And if you have a low PSA should you get screened again, I guess is the question.

COHEN: Exactly. That's the bottom line. And that is something that every man will have to talk to his doctor about. Because everybody has a different tolerance for risk. Everybody will look at these facts differently.

Now I wrote a whole "Empowered Patient" column about this. I called it "What a Dude to Do" because it really is a dilemma. And if you go to my Twitter page, which is @lizcohenCNN, you'll see a link to that column.

And I hope it really helps men make that decision with their doctors because it's not an easy one.

ACOSTA: Yes, this is new on me. I have not heard about this PSA test. And if they do get that checked is that OK? I mean if some men never do it, is that OK?

COHEN: Right. Some men actually choose never to get tested, never to get a PSA test. In fact the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society has told me that he doesn't get PSA testing, he doesn't feel like it's worth it. So it is a valid option.

I know it sounds weird. You think, wow, there is a cancer test out there, I want it. In this case you might not want it. That is a valid option.

ACOSTA: All right. Well, Elizabeth Cohen. For more information about your health and the health of your family be sure to pick up a copy of Elizabeth's book, "The Empowered Patient: How to Get the Right Diagnosis, Buy the Cheapest Drugs, Beat Your Insurance Company and Get the Best Medical Care Every Time."

And that's -- be a good one to pick up. Lots of great advice in there. Thanks, Elizabeth.

CROWLEY: Top stories coming your way in just two minutes.

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