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Obama to Make International Trip; Chicago Police Decline National Guard Offer; Suspects Arrested in Israel for Planning Terror Cell; America's Obese Living in the South

Aired July 18, 2008 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: It's sort of like campaigning, but not really. Sort of like being president, but not that either. It's Barack Obama's first trip overseas as a major presidential contender. A tightrope of sorts without a net.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): We're going cruising tonight.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You can call this one a corporate paternity suit. Toy makers fight over how and when Bratz were conceived and who can claim custody of millions of dollars in profits. Of course, it's all about the money, and we've got the verdict this hour right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

PHILLIPS: Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips live in New York.

LEMON: And I'm Don Lemon, live here at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

PHILLIPS: His plans are made; his goals are clear. Well, his bags are packed and his goals are clear. That's for sure. The stakes are extremely high.

Having laid the groundwork with a national security address on Wednesday, Barack Obama is preparing for his first trip abroad since he clinched the Democratic nomination. England, France, Germany, Jordan, Israel, they're all on the itinerary. And whether he'll throw in some talked-about visits to Iraq and Afghanistan remains to be seen.

Anyone can see that the freshman Senator hopes to close a foreign policy gap with his Republican opponent, who's accused him of being an armchair quarterback.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm glad today that Senator Obama, apparently, is going to sit down for the first time -- for the first time ever -- with General Petraeus, our general over there, one of the great generals in history. He's never asked for a briefing, to sit down and get a briefing from him. I'm glad he's going to Afghanistan for the first time. He's never been to Afghanistan. And I'm astonished. I'm really astonished that he should give a policy speech on Iraq and Afghanistan before he goes to find out the facts.


PHILLIPS: CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins me now with the risks, the rewards, and, of course, the talking politics beyond the water's edge.

Bill, you know, it's interesting. I was reading in some of the international papers that foreign writers are actually likening the Obama Europe trip to the Beatles' trip, their first trip, to North America. I mean, those are pretty high expectations. Is this dangerous?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They are very high. And it is dangerous.

I was recently in Europe on a trip just last month. And I was told by people, you know, if he shows up in London, the expectation is there could be 50,000 people on the streets, English people, to greet him. I'm not sure that's such a terrific idea if he ends up being claimed by crowds in France.

But the Europeans want change in the United States. And for them, Barack Obama is the face of change.

He's got to be careful, though, especially when he goes to Iraq and Afghanistan. There's a kind of trap that McCain is laying for him, because if he shifts positions, then his critics will say, "Well, he's not sticking to his guns. He's a flip-flopper." On the other hand, if he doesn't shift positions, they'll say, "Well, he went there and what did he do? What did he do there? He didn't learn anything. He didn't change. He didn't listen to what they were saying."

PHILLIPS: It's sort of like damned if you do, damned if you don't. Right?

SCHNEIDER: That's the problem he's facing.

PHILLIPS: Well, and he's got -- he's taking on tons of press, three network anchors. Some of his critics are saying, wow, isn't this a little arrogant? He sort of -- it sounds like kind of a premature victory lap versus going on a fact-finding mission.

SCHNEIDER: Well, the networks -- and frankly, it is unfair, because McCain went overseas a couple times, and he didn't get that kind of attention. From him, the networks, the broadcast networks are saying, well, that's an old story. He's been around for a long time.

You know, Barack Obama is new. A more exciting figure. He could get those kinds of crowds. McCain didn't draw that sort of response when he went overseas. And one other thing: Barack Obama very cleverly invited the three network anchors to accompany him and promised each of them an exclusive interview. And they really couldn't resist that.

PHILLIPS: Well, it's not exclusive if they all get a piece of the pie, right, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: Well, each of them will get an exclusive.


SCHNEIDER: Different nights.

PHILLIPS: OK, got it. All right. That makes sense.

Well, you know, and this is the first time that he is going to sit down with General David Petraeus, the man in charge. And someone that he has never sat down and talked to. What does he need to ask him? What does he need to do? This could be pretty pivotal in what the Americans think about his next move.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, well, obviously, you know, he's got to make sure that Petraeus -- Petraeus certainly understands. We have civilian control of the military in this country. The military doesn't make policy. The president of the United States makes policy.

So he's got to make it clear to General Petraeus what his priorities are in the region. And then find out from General Petraeus what the tactical difficulties and tactical issues are involved in implementing what has clearly got to be seen as Obama's vision for policy in Iraq. But it's got to be clear: Obama's setting the policy if he becomes president, not the generals.

PHILLIPS: That's going to be pretty interesting to follow the whole trip. Bill Schneider, thank you so much.


PHILLIPS: And will Obama's trip overseas have any bearing on your vote for president? E-mail us: We'll read some of your responses right here later in the NEWSROOM.

LEMON: Well, John McCain took his economic message to the battleground state of Michigan today. The presumptive Republican nominee poke to General Motors workers at a town-hall meeting outside Detroit.

The troubled company announced just -- just this week that it's slashing jobs and benefits to try to regain its footing. Among other things, McCain laid out a plan to support energy-saving innovations in the American auto industry.


MCCAIN: We have to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil as a national security and economic and an environmental issue. My friends, the -- America can do this. America can do this. And anybody that says that we can't does not understand the history of America.


LEMON: And Michigan, with its troubled economy, is a focal point for both campaigns fighting for its 17 electoral votes.

PHILLIPS: After President Bush's sharp criticism of Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fires back. In some of her harshest words yet for Mr. Bush, Pelosi calls him a total failure.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, the California Democrat said the president is in no position to criticize Congress. And she takes aim at some of his major policies, including Iraq and the economy.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Four dollars plus per gallon for oil is attributed to -- to oil men in the White House. God bless his heart, the president of the United States, a total failure losing all credibility. We'll always fight terrorism wherever it exists and credit to George Bush. It now exists in Iraq.


PHILLIPS: Well, in his criticism of Congress earlier this week, Mr. Bush accused lawmakers of doing nothing, and he said Americans deserve better.

LEMON: Let's talk about crimes in big cities, especially the No. 3 city in the country. Don't expect the National Guard on the streets of Chicago soon. A dramatic offer from Illinois's governor drew a chilly response Thursday from Chicago's top cop. He says crime in America's third largest city isn't as bad as it seems.

More on the story now from CNN affiliate reporter, WGN's Lourdes Duarte.


JODY WEIS, CHICAGO POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: I'm sure he would love to do something to help the city of Chicago. And I'm not going to speculate on what his intentions were. Like I said, we would be willing to take help from anyone.

LOURDES DUARTE, WGN REPORTER (voice-over): That's Police Superintendent Jody Weis reacting to this.

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS: Violent crime in Chicago is out of control. That in certain communities in the city of Chicago, it is reaching epidemic proportions.

DUARTE: Yesterday, as he signed new gun legislation, Governor Blagojevich suggested Chicago needed help and that perhaps the state could step in, offering up more manpower from Illinois State Police and the state's National Guard. It's an idea Superintendent Weis says isn't quite that simple.

WEIS: The National Guard comes in under different rules. I mean, technically, they can't enforce public law unless there's, like, a state of emergency declared. So they could be posted along the city, but they really wouldn't take law enforcement operations. That's the difference between the military and the police agencies.

DUARTE: When it comes to the governor's comment that Chicago's crime is, quote, "out of control," Weis points to simple math. Although he says the murder rate is up 13 percent from last year, when you look at the average over the last five years, he says 2008 falls right in line with those numbers.

WEIS: If you track back during different years, you'll see oftentimes when there's high unemployment, crime goes up. When you have low unemployment, a strong economy, crime goes down.

DONIELLE BREUNIG, CHICAGO RESIDENT: I don't know what it's going to take. I'm not an expert, but I think something does need to be done.

PAUL FIALKOWSKI, CHICAGO RESIDENT: It ain't the superintendent's fault. You know, it ain't the mayor's. It's a lot of gang-bangers. It's out of control, you know?

JAMES WELL, CHICAGO RESIDENT: If he was that concerned, he would have taken action earlier.


LEMON: Now as you heard the superintendent say there, for the first half of the year, Chicago's homicides are up 13 percent. Robberies are up 8 percent. Superintendent Weis says 2008 projections are well within the range of the past few years and similar to other big cities.

As a matter of fact, we just got off the phone with the governor's spokesperson. More conversation with him in the NEWSROOM in just a little bit.

And also, we're going to be talking with the man who has been following this story very closely. Hal Dardik from the "Chicago Tribune" joins us in the NEWSROOM in just a little bit -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, nearly a week after their mother disappeared, two young girls in North Carolina haven't been told that she's dead. A memorial is planned near Raleigh today for Nancy Cooper, whose body was found Monday near her home. Cooper's husband, Brad, is taking a DNA test amid reports the couple's marriage was having troubles.

Today, the victim's father spoke of the two children, ages 4 and 1.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GARRY RENTZ, VICTIM'S FATHER: They at the moment don't know. We have not told them. I shouldn't say they don't know, but we have not told them. They have not mentioned to us that they know. So we're going to walk very gingerly into this area.


PHILLIPS: Well, the victim's parents and sister gained temporary custody of the children after telling the court that the father was abusive and was having an affair.

LEMON: Well, let's talk weather now. Take a look at what some people in central Taiwan are dealing with. Man, oh man, it is a tropical storm. It has turned streets into fast-moving rivers and made getting around by car or foot, well, to put it bluntly, a risky adventure.

At least 14 people are reported dead. Another half dozen are missing.

The storm's eye has past over the island, but more heavy rain is in the forecast. Southern China is now bracing for that storm.

Well, something wet and windy could be brewing in the Atlantic Ocean, not from -- not far from the Carolinas, I should say, definitely worth keeping an eye on. And our Reynolds Wolf joining us now, keeping an eye on that.

OK. What are we looking at?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we're actually looking at three different systems. Busy times right now in the tropics. You've got one system in the northern Atlantic, the other one that Don was talking about.

Then we have this system. Take a look at this, right in parts of the Caribbean. You've got really warm water at this point, minimal shear. Perfect environment for the system to really strengthen. And that's what we do anticipate, for this to get a little bit stronger. Right now moving just to the south of the Dominican Republic. Certainly something we're going to keep an eye on, one of several, as I mentioned.

The other one, as Don was talking about, off the Georgia, the Carolina coast, not really well-defined at this point. And one great benefit of this: it will be a rain maker. Keep in mind, this part of the southeast is just -- really just dry as can be. So any rainfall would be certainly beneficial. That's happening right now.

Most of the scattered showers limited to the coast, places like, say, Charleston, southward to Jacksonville.

And then we have Bertha, Bertha thankfully moving up into the northern Atlantic, still strong right now, just to the northeast of Bermuda and pulling away.

That is the latest on our tropics. Don, let's sent it back to you.

LEMON: All right, a busy weather day, Reynolds. We'll be checking with you. Thank you very much for that, sir.

WOLF: You bet.

LEMON: Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Issue No. 1, your money. Wall Street this hour is a mixed bag after the mid-week rally. Tech giants Google and Microsoft dampening spirits as both fell short of earnings expectations.

After three days on the slide and bottoming out near 130 bucks a barrel, it appears crude is back on the upswing, the price per barrel up $1 or so. Renewed supply concerns fuelled today's ascent. Militants in Nigeria are blamed for triggering an explosion to a petroleum pipeline in that nation's southern delta, meaning an interruption to a daily output of 47,000 barrels.

We're going to check in with CNN's Susan Lisovicz for the latest just before the bottom of the hour.

And rising jet fuel prices bring out the budget ax at American Airlines. The day after its parent company AMR reported a near $1.5 billion loss, American is slashing its payroll. Thirteen hundred aircraft mechanics are being shown the door, along with 200 more white-collar workers.

The latest round of job cuts is in addition to the 900 flight attendant and 200 pilot cuts announced earlier.

And airlines in the U.S. Aren't the only ones hit hard by the fuel crisis. Australia's largest airline, Qantas Airways, says it will slash some 1,500 worldwide, as it grapples with escalating fuel costs. Most of the pink slips will be directed at management and office support positions.

And Australia's second largest carrier, Virgin Blue, says it will begin charging baggage fees and raise some fares to offset fuel costs. The pay-per-weight luggage policy begins September 1.

LEMON: An al Qaeda cell in the heart of Israel. Authorities there say they've arrested six Arabs who planned to set up a group tied to the terror organization. A big question now: were they planning to target President Bush?

PHILLIPS: Are some people born to commit crimes? Dr. Sanjay Gupta will tell us about an intriguing new study.

LEMON: This is intriguing, as well. Bratz and Barbie, they're closer than you think.


PHILLIPS: Six Arab men arrested in Israel today accused of planting the seeds of an al Qaeda-style terrorist organization. Their first planned target, allegedly, if successful, would have been a big one.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Was it a sinister terror plot or simply a wild fantasy played out on the Internet?

On Friday, Shin Bet, the internal Israeli security service, announced that it had arrested six individuals -- two Israeli Arabs and four Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem -- on suspicion of trying to set up an al Qaeda-linked cell.

Now one of the -- one of the suspects, Muhammad Najam, a student at Hebrew University, according to the Shin Bet, used his cell phone to video a helipad that was later used by U.S. President George W. Bush during a visit to Israel.

Now, according to the Shin Bet statement, he also tried to raise the possibility of targeting Bush's aircraft on a chat page used by al Qaeda supporters.

In addition, Shin Bet claimed that they found information on how to assemble explosives devices on the personal computers of several of these suspects.

Now, earlier this month, Israeli police arrested two Israeli nationals of Bedouin origin whom they claimed were planning -- or rather were passing information over the Internet on Israeli army bases and other potentially strategic targets, like Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport.

Now, until now, al Qaeda has been unable to establish any sort of presence in Israel, Gaza, or the West Bank. And we have yet to hear any statements on behalf of the six suspects.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Jerusalem.


LEMON: All right, Ben.

Well, it's official now: the United States' diplomatic approach to Iran is new. It's very different, and it includes potential for resurrecting relations between Washington and Tehran that flat-lined three decades ago.

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that potential hinges on one big "if."


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: It is, in fact, a strong signal to the entire world that we have been very serious about this diplomacy, and we will remain very serious about this diplomacy. It should be very clear to everyone the United States has a condition for the beginning of negotiations with Iran. And that condition remains the verifiable suspension of Iran's enrichment and reprocessing activities.


LEMON: One of Rice's top diplomats is to attend a meeting with Iran's nuclear negotiator this weekend in Switzerland.

PHILLIPS: More long-dormant diplomacy may get a shot in the arm next week. Secretary of State Rice is reportedly set to sit down for her talks with her counterpart from North Korea during a multinational security gathering in Singapore. If they do, it will be the highest level meeting between the U.S. and North Korea in four years.

LEMON: Shrinking America's education gap. New ideas, new advances. We'll tell you the latest as we continue our CNN series, "Black in America."

PHILLIPS: If the VW Beetle and the Subaru Brat had a child, it might look like this. The ZAP is totally electric, eco-friendly and an antidote to high gas prices. So why is it illegal in some places?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your own license plate and lights that work.


LEMON: OK. So it didn't take a DNA test or anything, but it turns out that Bratz and Barbie are related.

A jury has decided that the person who designed the Bratz characters did so when he worked at rival Mattel. That means Bratz were conceived at Barbie's house, Mattel, and belonged to the toy giant.

Mattel could get millions of dollars in damages. Analysts believe -- get this -- Bratz have made their parent company, MGA Entertainment, half a billion dollars a year.

PHILLIPS: After two days of big gains on Wall Street, stocks are down and tech stocks in particular are bearing the brunt of the selling today. Susan Lisovicz on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with the latest from there.

Hey, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kyra. Well, you know, there was a time when Google could claim that it was immune to the swings of the economy, but clearly it can't say that anymore.

Google's results, quarterly results, came in lower than expected. The weak economy hurt ad spending, which is so critical to a search engine like Yahoo! Not only consumer spending, but the online advertising falling -- falling, as well.

And, you know, half of its revenue came from overseas, which we're seeing a lot in corporate earnings this year. Thank goodness, a lot of companies do have business overseas. Google shares are down 10 percent, below $500 a share for the first time in three months.

A year ago, we were entertaining thoughts of $700 and $800 a share. So big fall for Google.

Microsoft, by the way, shares are down, as well. Its shares are down 7 percent. It missed earnings by a penny. It's getting punished. IBM, however, beat expectations.

A lot of information flooding the market. And this week is a big earnings week, as can be expected -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Let's take a little bit of a switch. Oil back up after three days of big drops?

LISOVICZ: Yes, but you know what? It's not up a lot right now. I'm looking at under $1, just over $130 a barrel. You're right: supply disruptions in Nigeria.

Kyra, I remember talking to an oil analyst once who borrowed a line from "Casablanca." So instead of "We'll always have Paris," "We'll always have Nigeria." There are always problems in Nigeria.

And also, I just want to mention a trader's note that came out today, saying that a key ingredient in the fall, the sudden fall of oil this week is China, as it's shutting down factories and sidelining all those cars, because they don't want to -- they want the air to be cleaner for the athletes. So that's an interesting scenario, as well.

Also, of course, we have big gains in the marketplace. But not today. The Dow is off just by two points. The NASDAQ is getting creamed, though, because of Google and Microsoft. It's down 34 points.

And oil's trading, like I said, just above $130 a barrel. Still really high. But a big fall this week; no doubt about it, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Susan Lisovicz, thanks.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

LEMON: Well, guess how many miles to the gallon this thing gets? Take a look at that. Zero miles to the gallon. So why would you want it? Well, the ZAP vehicle is all electric all the time.

The company wants to build a plant outside of Louisville so it can crank out more vehicles and zap high gas prices, of course. Well, there's just one problem. They're not street legal in Kentucky. They're considered motorcycles, and motorcycles by law cannot have a cabin. The legislature is pushing the governor to zap the law A-S-A-P, or ASAP, I should say, to make the vehicles legal.

PHILLIPS: And here's your Friday cliffhanger: a parachutist coming in for a landing, getting ready to strike up the band like never before.


LEMON: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon, live here at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

PHILLIPS: And I'm Kyra Phillips in New York. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Well, it's 1:29 Eastern Time. Here's some of the stories we're working on in the CNN NEWSROOM.

They're not calling it a timeline, but the White House says President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have agreed to include a, quote, "general time horizon" in talks about various U.S. goals in Iraq. Goals that include reducing U.S. combat forces. The two men also agree that there would be no arbitrary date for withdrawal.

And the family of a 92-year-old woman shot and killed in a botched police raid has named their price. That raid happened in Atlanta, back in 2006. Katharine Johnson's family says they will settle with the city for $18 million. The city has until August 31st to respond. Three officers were charged in that shooting.

And shares of Freddie Mac are up more than 17 percent thanks to no small part to a story in the "Wall Street Journal." The journal claims that Freddie Mac is thinking about selling $10 billion in new shares in order to raise capital.

LEMON: Here's a question for you. Is crime out of control in Chicago? Well, the Illinois governor says he's even offered up the National Guard. But local officials say otherwise. They say violent crime in the windy city is on par with other urban areas. Who's right? And what role is politics playing in all of this? Of course, if it's Chicago, there's going to be some sort of politics involved in this.

Joining us now by telephone is City Hall reporter Hal Dardick of "The Chicago Tribune."

OK. So, I spoke with a representative from Jody Weis' office, the police superintendent. And the representative said, you know what, crime is on par with other cities and its still not very high in the city of Chicago, although the murder rate is up. I spoke with someone from the mayor's office. The mayor is in Toronto. And then I spoke with someone from the governor's office and they're saying, well, this is not politics, the governor's trying to help out. But really, what is going on here, Mr. Dardick?

HAL DARDICK, CITY HALL REPORTER, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": I think there's a lot of political observers here in the state believe it is more about politics than it is about the crime rate.

The governor has embattled at the current time. One of his top fundraisers was convicted last month on corruption charges. He's been disagreeing with his fellow Democrats and the legislature about the budget and he can't agree with the mayor over how to fund a badly needed capital bill. There was even talk of impeaching the governor last month. The memo circulated by House Speaker Mike Madigan approached that topic.


DARDICK: So, the governor being asked about a lot of these issues, here's a chance for him to say I can come and help Chicago with this up take in crime, the people are admittedly upset about. But it is not an epidemic as the governor has portrayed it.

LEMON: But the murder rate is up 13 percent. And we had one weekend in Chicago, where just an outrageous number of people were shot and we had the superintendent on and he said, well, that's really because of gang violence and guns. And I think he said, you know, when the economy is not good, crime goes up. And they're right on par with that. But the average person who is on the street, they're not considering politics in all of this, they're feeling it.

DARDICK: Yes, absolutely. And I think people are rightly concerned about violence as they always should be. But if you look at the statistics, we're so on par to be at a fairly low level of violence for Chicago, over the past few decades.

LEMON: I've got to ask you, is there an outrage? Is there a public outrage? An organic outrage, or I should say, grassroots, or is this something that's cooked up between the politicians there?

DARDICK: Well, I think there's definitely a frustration and they're tapping into that. And I think a lot of the representatives are hearing from their constituents that there's been more young people being killed. And something needs to be done about it to address it. And so the frustration is real, but the description of it is as out of control or epidemic is perhaps not justified.

LEMON: And so whatever it is, whatever it is, they need to get a handle on it regardless of whoever's side you're on. The mayor, the governor, the police chief, or what have you. Mike Madigan, whatever it is, right?

DARDICK: That's correct. Yes, I think people are demanding that.

LEMON: Hal Dardick from "The Chicago Tribune," who is a City Hall reporter. Thank you so much for putting some perspective to this for us. DARDICK: Thank you for having me.

LEMON: And we want to tell our viewers, we did invite the governor to come on today. However, he was not able to accommodate our request -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, you are looking at what the Burmese government does not want you to see. In fact, our news crews was not even given permission to shoot these pictures. It's the coastal country side of Myanmar. More than two months since the cyclone smashed homes, flooded the land and killed a staggering number of people. You think it's easy bringing Myanmar's plight to the world's attention. Think again.

Here's CNN's Betty Nguyen.


NGUYEN (voice-over): Just getting into the country was half the battle. Little did I know the rest would be near impossible.

We had to devise a plan to bypass multiple military check points and get down to the cyclone devastation. The only way out of Yang Gong is through this check point? That's a problem, because if we're caught, our team faced deportation, even prison time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a difficult- it's one of the harder places to shoot a story. Because you live in fear of yourself being kicked out but really more fear of the people that work for you being arrested and put away for 20 years.

NGUYEN: That was my photographer. I can't show you his face because he still works in the region. So after days of poring over maps and scouting out routes, we were finally on the move. To get down to the Irrawaddy Delta we have to leave under the cover of darkness. The last thing we need right now is to be stopped.

We hopped from different modes of transportation, all the while feeling like fugitives on the run. It's really the only way to get down there and bypass the check point. It's going to be a long ride. And a rough one.

We slept in stifling conditions and lived off of little more than bottled water and power bars. Once daylight broke through it was clear this journey was far from over. We're waiting right now for a second boat. A smaller one that we're told will be able to make it through the canals a lot easier.

After 21 hours we finally made it. Though it normally takes only four hours to get here. And judging from the devastation, it doesn't look like much has changed in the two months since the cyclone struck.

Debris still littered villages. We had to work quickly, capturing what we could, never knowing when we'd get caught. Trekking through muddy fields, over makeshift bridges and right into rice paddies. We came across an eerie discovery -- bodies still rotting in the delta.

I knew we would find them. I just didn't know how haunting it would be. Yet just a few feet away, the living press on.

It's a place where slivers of hope can be found in the eyes of the young. So happy and full of life. And for a brief moment, you almost forget, they've seen more pain than most people can imagine.

Betty Nguyen, CNN, Myanmar.


LEMON: "The Dark Knight" could break movie records this weekend, but the loss of star Heath Ledger left the studio walking a fine line.

PHILLIPS: The N-word. Jesse Jackson used it, rap stars use it. But, should it ever be used at all? We'll take a closer look next hour, at the heated debate now swirling around his racial slur.


PHILLIPS: A much anticipated movie opening. People waited in late night lines in many cities for the very first showings of the latest "Batman" movie. But "Dark Knight" has another draw. The late actor Heath Ledger's final, complete performance. Something the studio is handling very carefully by the way. That's included in this movie.

Here's CNN entertainment correspondent, Kareen Wynter.


KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His performance as the manaical Joker in the "Dark Knight," has already earned Health Ledger rave reviews from critics and co-stars alike.

MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL, "RACHEL DAWES": Heath did something really remarkable in this movie.

GARY OLDMAN, "LT. JAMES GORDON": It wouldn't surprise me if he doesn't sort of get some kind of nod or nomination, Oscar nomination.

WYNTER: For those behind the scenes, finishing and promoting the late actor's last film was no easy trick.

STEVE ZEITCHIK, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": Warner Brothers Christopher Nolan, the director, were in a very interesting position and in many ways, difficult position with how to exit the story of the Joker.

WYNTER: Steve Zeitchik is a senior writer for the Hollywood Reporter.

ZEITCHIK: Walking that line between you know, leaving the door too wide open on one the one hand. But being on the other hand, too explicit about what happens to him at the end of the film. So, I think there was really some tricky production and post-production issues that you know, both the director and studio faced.

WYNTER: Once completed, deciding how to use Ledger's image and performance to market the film, came with its own set of challenges.

ZEITCHIK: If they you know, push Ledger too hard in their marketing campaign, then I think they can risk looking like they're trying to capitalize on the tragedy. If they don't push it hard enough, then I think they're probably leaving an opportunity to really capitalize on one of the great performances in terms of these kinds of movies.

WYNTER: Warner Brothers, a studio behind the film, which like CNN, is owned by Time Warner, declined our request for a statement.

ZEITCHIK: You know, there are some people who are coming out and saying, did Warner's use him too much. And there others are saying, well, did they not use him enough? And that's generally a sign when you're hearing those kinds of competing voices that the balance was probably struck roughly in the right proportion.

WYNTER: The film is also striking a chord with fans., the nation's leading movie ticket web site says, "The Dark Knight" has sold out theaters from Alaska to Florida, and is on track to break records.

Kareen Wynter, CNN, Hollywood.


LEMON: OK. Pass the biscuits and the gravy. A new obesity study tips heavily southern style.


LEMON: OK. Did your parents ever pay you to make good grades? An academic thinks it may be a smart idea. And may be a way to help shrink the learning gap that separates black and white students.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien has more from her Black in America series.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Victor Keys (ph) and other volunteers are confronting America's education crisis head-on. They're going door to door in inner city Houston, trying to convince dropouts to come back to school.

VICTOR KEYS, : I'm Victor Keys, Washington High School. I spoke with you on the phone a few days back.

O'BRIEN: This is where 18-year-old Brandon Gully (ph) lives.

KEYS" So close. We trying to get him back into school to finish.

O'BRIEN: Keys wants to convince Brandon that a high school education is his ticket to the future.

KEYS: Brandon, how are you doing, man? We come here to get you back in school, man. You didn't register this year. And so, as a matter of fact, I'm going to let you go -- and a matter of fact, if you don't have a shirt, I'm going to give you one of mine, we're going to take you back to school and get you registered, find out what you need.

O'BRIEN: Without saying so much as a word, Brandon simply turns around and walks back inside. While 70 percent of all high school students graduate in four years, that number drops to just 50 percent for black students.

This crisis in education has inspired Harvard economists Rowland Friar to action.

(on camera): If you could close that achievement gap between black kids and white kids, what do you think you could solve?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Income disparities, wealth disparities. I'm not saying they would be totally gone. But I'm saying, that I think some significant portion of that we would alleviate if we could close the achievement gap.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): And so professor Friar thinks he's come up with a possible solution. He takes us to visit some of the students he is paying to learn. You heard right. He's paying kids to learn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact is, is these kids understand money already at fourth grade. But they don't understand how education's going to help them get there. And so this program makes that connection very explicit.

Oh, she beat me.

O'BRIEN: These fourth graders can earn up to $250, depending on how well they score on a series of exams. It's a privately funded program and the kids say it's making a difference.

(on camera): Do you think it's like getting paid for your tests? You're ruining your love for learning?


O'BRIEN: Wow. That was a resounding no. Oh, my goodness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just encouraging us to do more work. It's not ruining our chances of getting good grades. It's actually highering it.

O'BRIEN: It's children like Eric, whom professor Friar is trying to reach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, they started off behind. And we've got to figure out a way to help them catch up.


LEMON: Well, make sure you join CNN's Soledad O'Brien, next week for a two-part special, Black in America. It airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, July 23rd and Thursday, July 24th. Of course only here on CNN.

PHILLIPS: So, is there really such a thing as a genetic predisposition to violence? Well, Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at a new study tracking genetics and criminal behavior.


PHILLIPS: So do some people have a genetic predisposition to commit crimes? Well, a new study suggests there is a correlation.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the latest from our Los Angeles bureau.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When we typically think of genes, we think of them controlling things like your height, your eye color, maybe even your likelihood of developing heart disease or diabetes.

But this idea that genes might also predict your psychological behaviors, is a fertile and fascinating area of research. And one that's growing a lot of traction. This idea that there's violence or bad behavior genes out there is something that's really starting to emerge.

There was a study at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. They followed 20,000 young men between the grades of 7 and 12. They followed them for some period of time. They interviewed them, they took their blood, trying to figure out could they identify the violence genes.

And in fact, they did. Identifying three, what they call, bad behavior genes. They have complicated names, but I'll tell you this. That there are certain triggers that actually cause the expression of these genes. Things like stress, family problems, low popularity and failing in school. What was even more remarkable to me as we sort of dissected the study, is they predict that about 1 percent of the population actually has these violence genes. 1 percent of the people out there, if they have them, their likelihood to be violence or be delinquent is just off the charts.

Now, as you might imagine, simply identifying the gene is only part of the issue. The real goal here is to develop some sort of intervention, some sort of medication even, to try to counter act the effects of those genes so you get less violence, less delinquence. Now, we also know that there's simple behavioral things that can actually counteract genes now. When you think of genes, you think of the the likelihood of developing something, the potential.

It is gene expression that is the behavior itself. How do you intervene in between? Well, they found something, for example, with one of the genes. Simply having regular family meals, actually took the risk of expressing that gene to near zero. So, there is a way to sort of dilute this. Again, a fascinating, fertile area of research. We're going to keep tabs on it. When we get more information we'll bring it to you.

Back to you for now.

LEMON: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, we appreciate it.

OK. Seconds on biscuits and gravy anyone? Well, the latest CDC survey on obesity shows a definite southern tilt. Take a look at this.

With Mississippi again, leading the way for the regional flab title, with 30 percent of its people considered obese. Wow. Tennessee and Alabama ranked second and third. The least weighty state is Colorado, where only 19 percent of people are considered obese. In all, the study finds a quarter of all Americans obese, which is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or above.

PHILLIPS: Energy costs skyrocketing and the economy suffering. Should the president ask Americans to help out in some way?

CNN's Josh Rubin is listening to voters in this week's Election Express Yourself.


JOSH RUBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you could tell the president to go on the air to tell the American people that they all need to do something to help out, that they all need to do their part, what should that be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe we should help out in terms of conserving energy. That's something. In terms of him putting it into a policy, no, I don't believe that we need that from him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe that the president or lawmakers can really ask Americans to do much of anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saying that kind of thing is great and every president's done that. You know, drive 55 or you know, turn your thermostat down, just silly things like that. You know, and that will help. But the president's job is not for small things like that. The president's job is for big initiatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we can all conserve. And I think we all know it. We just need to do it. We don't need the president to tell us that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He can tell us to wear sweaters and put the thermostat a little lower and carpool together and all those are good things. But I think you need a little bit of -- and I don't want to sound cheesy -- but you need a change in leadership and a change in direction and a change in how we spend our money.


LEMON: Skill, flexibility, athleticism. Who needs them? It's a contest where being a total flop makes you a big hit. Ouch.


LEMON: Oh! Ow. Well you know, that is just -- that's a case where the band could not play on. A parachutist in Kansas, got a little off track at the start of a military review and you see what happened there. He pretty much took out the brass section. All the players here are going to be OK, including the parachutist. But, two of the tubists, they didn't make it.

PHILLIPS: Well, here's a sport that you've just got to go with your gut. Oh! Behold the belly flop contest in Denver. It's not about the size of your belly by the way, so much as the size of your splash. This exercise in volume displacement raises money in part for the Firefighters Cancer Foundation.

LEMON: Oh, man, that hurts. Have you ever done a belly flop and it just -- ow, ohh. Cannon ball!

All right. OK. As campaign moments go, it was one of the most awkward. John McCain struggling to respond to a question about insurance covering Viagra but not birth control. Maybe the cat got his tongue but not his hand.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what they call glad handing. And this is what we called bad handing.

MCCAIN: But I have a --

MOOS: Q&A so bad you have to hide behind your hand. So bad, your move is imitated.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, WASHINGTON POST: You've got to have an answer. You can't do this.

MOOS: So bad that Planned Parenthood has now turned the exchange into an anti-McCain commercial.

VOICE OF UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ever use birth control? Then you'll want to hear this.

VOICE OF UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it fair health insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control? Do you have an opinion on that?

MOOS: For eight seconds, Senator McCain said nothing. Critics dubbed that his Viagra moment "a politician rendered speechless, squirms and winces, froze, agonized." And a week after it happened, still haunted by impotent performance, haunted by the new commercial, which the Republican National Committee called a misleading partisan attack.

(on camera): Allow me to introduce you to the latest character in the '08 campaign, John McCain's hand. A hand mocked on "THE DAILY SHOW."

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": John McCain's face is being attacked by the hand of a prehistoric monster. I'm sorry. I'm being told that that is, in fact, John McCain's own hand. I apologize.

MOOS (voice-over): A hand we asked body language expert and author, Dan Hill, to analyze.

DAN HILL, BODY LANGUAGE EXPERT: When he puts his hand across his mouth as if to protect himself from telling a lie, because normally, you know, a child says, you know, did I steal the cookie, no, mom. I did not. They put their hand on their mouth.

MOOS: It's almost as if McCain's hand had a mind of its own. A little like that ever so handy hand from the Adams Family. Remember, thing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thing, you're handful.

MOOS: A handful is what you call a question that combines both birth control and Viagra. We won't even attempt any Viagra jokes about Senator McCain. We'll let Arianna Huffington do that.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Because he's such a passion for Iraq, that's his --

MOOS: Likewise getting laughs were John Stewart's imitations of McCain's most awkward of moments. Check out Senator McCain's hand/eye coordination.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have an opinion on that?

MOOS: The senator's eyes look like he's just seen Thing run across the floor. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.