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Caretakers Accused of Making Mentally Disabled Men Fight; NASA Hopes to Launch Shuttle Tonight; U.S. Urged to Work with Mexico to Curb Violence; Obama Creates Council on Women and Girls; Pilot of Small Plane with Malfunctioning Landing Gear Lands Safely in Detroit

Aired March 11, 2009 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're pushing forward on senseless violence. You won't believe the allegations at a Texas school for the mentally disabled. Students pitted against students in a fight club run by the staff.

And after the blood come the tears over two mass shootings on two continents hours apart. You'll meet a lawman who lost his own wife and daughter.

Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

All right. We're going to bring you those shocking stories in just a moment. But some other stories that we have on tap today: President Obama's got his pen handy, signing off on a jam-packed spending bill and this hour creating an expert group to advise him on women's issues. We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it happens.

And the markets have been lively. The Dow this morning leaping back over 7,000 for a while. A big focus on the big board. Dow Industrials down 25 points right now.

All right. We're starting out our story that really got us fired up today. Innocent, vulnerable men allegedly used and abused for their caretakers' amusement. Police in Corpus Christi, Texas, are looking into a possible fight club at, of all places, a school for the mentally disabled. Might still be happening now if someone hadn't -- had not handed a cell phone to an off-duty cop.


PHILLIPS (voice-over): In the movie "Fight Club," the guys brutalized each other because they wanted to. But if the allegations out of Texas are true, there was nothing voluntary about the brawls at Corpus Christi State School. Police say nearly a dozen school employees forced mentally disabled men in their care to fight.

LIEUTENANT ISAAC VALENCIA, CORPUS CHRISTI POLICE: It is a big disappointment that someone would see some enjoyment out of someone less fortunate, not knowing any better, being placed in these compromising positions. It doesn't seem right.

PHILLIPS: Someone recorded the fights with a cell phone. Authorities are studying the video clips. There are at least 20 of them, dating back to 2007.

While they decide how to push forward the investigation, the state has ordered the school to stop admitting more students. Seven of the employees in question have been placed on leave. Four others have already left the school.

And get this: Texas records show there were 60 confirmed incidents of neglect or abuse in a year's time. The D.A. says there was never enough evidence to warrant criminal charges. But thanks to those videos, things could be different this time around.

CARLOS VALDEZ, NUECES COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It's barbaric. It's despicable. It is conduct that has no place in an organized society. We should not have anything like this; we should not tolerate it. And we will do everything we can to get to the bottom of it to make sure it doesn't happen again.


PHILLIPS: And we're now being told that arrests could come by the end of this week. And the state is installing video cameras, hiring security officers, and beefing up oversight of night shifts at that school.

We also heard from the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services that runs the school. A spokeswoman there tells us, "We have a zero tolerance policy for any abuse or neglect that results in physical harm to any resident. They will be fired if we find out there was any abuse or neglect."

Now, we just can't let this story go. First of all, there were so many red flags surrounding that place. Secondly, if the allegations are true, how could the rights of our most vulnerable people get trampled like this? Where was the law, and who was watching over the caregivers?

Let's push this forward with Curtis Decker. He's with the National Disability Rights Network.

You know, Curtis, you say this is not an isolated case by any means. You told me that in Texas, it had 450 cases of abuse in 2007, 114 deaths, and 800 employees have been suspended or fired since 2004 for abusing residents. And that's just Texas. What's going on?

CURTIS DECKER, NATIONAL DISABILITY RIGHTS NETWORK: Well, this is clearly a case of states like Texas relying on large congregant facilities to house people with mental disabilities. They're clearly not able to manage them. There isn't adequate oversight. The staff is untrained. And these kinds of abuses, as egregious as this one is, is, unfortunately, commonplace throughout the country that uses these outdated models of care.

Just let me say these are not schools. These are adult facilities for people between the ages of 18 and 77. And just simply the name, I think, gives you a sense of how they're not seeing these people as adults who deserve quality care and safety and treatment. PHILLIPS: It's absolute disrespect, which leads me to the next question. These caregivers. How are they screened? How are they paid? And what are the regulations with regard to who they bring in there to look after these special individuals?

DECKER: Well, the state schools are state agencies. These are state employees and represented by unions and should be screened through the normal civil service process.

But obviously, the wrong people are getting into these facilities and being hired to do this work, and there needs to be better oversight. And I'm concerned that, even if these people are fired or suspended, they at some point will be reinstated as they go through the normal civil service process.

PHILLIPS: And -- well, that's extremely frightening. And then I want to ask you about the inspection process. I mean, what was so horrifying about this, it wasn't happening in some private place in the middle of the night, in a closed-off room. I mean the video that's captured on these phones, it was in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon.

DECKER: That's correct. That's what's so stunning about this example. And there have been now open in Texas for some time, the department -- U.S. Department of Justice investigation that's been documenting the abuse and neglect not only in Corpus Christi but in the other 12 schools.

My agency in Texas has been very involved. We called for the moratorium on admissions last December. And now we're calling for it again. And I was happy to hear that finally, the state is going to stop admissions into this particular facility.

But the state, the federal oversight agency, the Department of Justice, we've known about this -- kinds of condition, maybe not this particular incident, but there's just been adequate evidence that these places are not well-regulated, monitored and need to be closed.

PHILLIPS: And Curtis, but if they are closed, where do these individual go? I mean, they need special care. They need special treatment.

DECKER: Absolutely. And unfortunately, the state, by maintaining these large facilities, hasn't done the work necessary to create good quality community homes. Other states that have given up this way of doing business are now creating quality programs for people to live in communities and have integrated lives.

And when the state spends all of its resources on these large facilities, there's nothing left over to create the kind of facilities that people need to live safely in the community.

PHILLIPS: Well, Curtis, you're a tremendous advocate for the National Disability Rights Network. I always enjoy talking to you, and we will definitely follow up and stay on top of this story. And please let me know about your efforts and what you're able to do in particular with this facility.

DECKER: We will do. Thank you very much, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Curtis.

Two horrific shootings to tell you about. In Germany, a 17-year- old gunman dressed in black stormed into his former high school today and opened fire, killing ten students and three teachers. Leaving the school, then he killed another person before hijacking a car and driving to a nearby town.

In a shootout there, he killed two bystanders before he was shot dead by police.

It's the latest in a series of school shootings in Germany that go back to 2002, when expelled students killed 18 people before turning the gun on themselves.

And in Alabama, new information is coming to light after a bloody rampage just hours ago. Authorities now say the gunman, Michael McLendon, once trained briefly as a police officer in the town of Samson, where some of the shootings took place.

Before killing himself, McLendon left ten bodies scattered across two rural counties near the Florida state line. Some were his family members, others complete strangers. Two of the dead include the wife and young daughter of a sheriff's deputy.


DEPUTY JOSH MYERS, GENEVA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: I was on duty. I was in a different area of the county. I was heading this way. We got notified on the radio that a trooper was chasing a suspect that had fired shots. I went to Geneva to allow me to assist.

While on the scene at Reliable, I told a friend to come and check on my family, and he told me to get home. And I came home and found my wife and my daughter had been killed.


PHILLIPS: The gunman had no criminal record but had quit his job just a week ago. The shooting spree is being called the worst mass killing by a single gunman in Alabama history.

And signing his name, drawing the line, if he hasn't already. President Obama soon will turn a $410 billion spending bill into law, insuring the federal government won't run out of money through the end of the fiscal year.

But in light of a few thousand earmarks, also known as pork, inserted by dozens of lawmakers in both parties, the president also promised new rules and restraints.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe as we move forward, we can come together around principles that prevent the abuse of earmarks.

These principles begin with a simple concept: earmarks must have a legitimate and worthy public purpose. Earmarks that members do seek must be aired on those members' Web sites in advance so the public and the press can examine them and judge their merits for themselves.

Each earmark must be open to scrutiny at public hearings, where members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.


PHILLIPS: Well, next hour our Josh Levs will tell us what earmarks really are and aren't. I'll tell you now, what you always believed is probably wrong.

And we expect to see the president again any minute now. He'll sign an order setting up a White House Council on Women and Girls. We'll listen in and tell you what the new office means when the event gets under way.

And looking for a job fair? They're all over the map. We'll show you a cool interactive site that will help you find them.

And in a nod to International Women's Day, we're recognizing female leaders from all around the world. Here's just a few of the women currently in power. We'll bring you more throughout our hours.


PHILLIPS: Another U.S. company falls victim to the global recession. Chipmaker National Semiconductor today said that it will slash 1,725 jobs. That's more than a quarter of its workforce.

The company says that it will immediately cut 850 positions worldwide, and the closing of plants in China and Arlington, Texas, over the next few quarters will trim an additional 875 jobs.

Now this comes after the California-based company recording a 71 percent drop in its third-quarter earnings.

And for a while, well, this morning, I had a chance to pinch myself to make sure that I wasn't dreaming, and I wasn't. Wall Street was extending yesterday's rally. Right now let's take a look at the big board there on Wall Street. Dow Industrials -- are we going to bring up the big board? There we go, down 16 points. We continue to watch the numbers and follow, keeping our fingers crossed for a rally.

All right. Are you looking for a job? Give a job fair a shot. They're all across the country. We've been talking about them throughout the past couple of weeks. We're actually following four right now. There's one going on here in Atlanta and in Philadelphia, Sacramento and also San Francisco. You can also go to our Web site, at, to find out more about the job fairs. If you just click onto our Web site here -- let me bring you down -- we actually have a map that you can click onto, and it tells you about all the job fairs happening all across the country. And this is a little touchy here, so here we go.

I know there's one going up here -- going on up in Seattle, Washington. It will be March 20, June 26 at the Washington State Convention Trade Center. There's also another one coming up May 5, and July 21, and August 21. That's just in Seattle, Washington.

And I do believe there was also one going on in Dallas, Texas, coming up. Yes. That's on April 16 at the Hyatt Regency. Also one in -- on July 21. And it looks like April 30, July 9 and October 27, as well.

So there you go: We're listing all the jobs for you -- job fairs for you all across the country.

All right, moving along. NASA keeps its fingers crossed. After a month of delays, will tonight's planned launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery be a go? We'll let you know. .


PHILLIPS: The USA not yet, but lots of countries have had female leaders. In honor of Women's History Month, here's just a few more of the women in power right now. Be on the lookout: there's more to come.


PHILLIPS: Well, after a month of delays, everything seems to be falling into place for tonight's planned launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Getting the shuttle ready for a mission is a pretty major undertaking. But our John Zarrella really, well, he got a behind-the- scenes look at everything that's involved.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A space shuttle comes home. A mission ends. Within hours, prepping for the next flight begins.

TERRY WHITE, ORBITER PROCESSING: Once we get it in here, we completely surround the orbiter by the steel structure so that we can do all of our maintenance on it.

ZARRELLA: This is Terry White's kingdom, the orbiter processing facility, the first stop on a shuttle's way back to the launch pad. Covered in the web of steel, Atlantis. Here White and his team change tires, inspect wiring -- there's 200 miles of it -- check engines. Inside and out everything is eyeballed.

WHITE: This orbiter was built in the mid-'80s and has flown 29 times. And it's experienced the heat of re-entry 29 times.

ZARRELLA: Protecting it from that heat, 24,000 thermal tiles. Each tile individually numbered, each one fits just one spot. Each one checked after every flight for gouges and cracks.

WHITE: Tile right here has not flown yet. The tile next to it has not flown yet. This tile over here has one flight on it.

ZARRELLA: On top of the wing, a piece of the shuttle's skin, called frizzy (ph), is being replaced.

As the work on Atlantis moves forward at the launch pad, Discovery sits.

(on camera): I'm standing on top of the launch pad here. We're up to 255 feet.

(voice-over): You look out over the Atlantic ocean. You see only the shuttle's boosters and external tank. The rest is encased until shortly before launch: protection against the elements.

(on camera): We're walking down now. We're going to take a look at the white room. And this is exactly where the astronauts would be going when they get on-board the space shuttle.

(voice-over): Travis Thompson is lead on the closeout crew, the last people to see the astronauts before the hatch is shut.

TRAVIS THOMPSON, CLOSEOUT CREW: We always ask them how they're feeling today, and what are they thinking.

ZARRELLA (on camera): So you don't have to tell me any names, but did anybody ever change their mind, say, "I'm not going," you have to push them in, say, "Yes, you are?"

THOMPSON: Well, I won't mention any names.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Two weeks after tonight's launch, Discovery comes home, and the process begins again.

John Zarrella, CNN, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


PHILLIPS: Jacqui Jeras also watching the skies for us. The weather is probably going to probably cooperate with this, right?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Probably? This is the best week of launch weather I've seen in a really long time, actually.

PHILLIPS: We should all go, because how many times have we dealt with the -- poor Miles O'Brien, you know, our space correspondent, so many times, delay, delay, delay, delay.


PHILLIPS: But he had a nice vacation in Florida for a number of times.

JERAS: I know. It can be a big factor. And have you ever seen it?

PHILLIPS: I haven't. I've always wanted to go.


PHILLIPS: That has been one of my -- that's on my wish list.

JERAS: What are you doing at 9:20 tonight?

PHILLIPS: You want -- well, let's see here. All right. We can hop a flight. Let's go.

JERAS: You can see it from Atlanta, believe it or not.


JERAS: Yes, go outside and take a look, low on the horizon. It will be down towards the southeast. We'll check it out.

PHILLIPS: What exactly would you see, though?

JERAS: You're going to see, basically, just a big flash.


JERAS: You know, you'll see the burners from the rocket.

PHILLIPS: The afterburners?

JERAS: Yes, you'll see that. And they'll be pretty steady. You know, if you live in this circle here, about a 500-mile radius, you're going to be able to see that straight, steady burn.

And the skies look pretty good and really clear across the southeast. So you should be able to see it.

But if you live in the red circle, if weather conditions were good, you would see more of that pulsating, you know, because you're not going to be able to see the space shuttle until it's much higher into the atmosphere, so you won't see the steady stream but you'll still see a little something.

Unfortunately, for the most part, there are clouds in the northeast area, so you're probably not going to get that chance for tonight.

All right. What does the forecast look like? There you can see those clear skies for takeoff. It's 9:20 Eastern Time tonight. The skies should be clear. The clouds will be north of us. So, you know, partly cloudy skies we think, at best.

Probability of weather delay, really minimal -- 10 percent. Yes, so that is just about as good as it gets. Now, speaking of flying, are you at the airport? Are you having a tough time? Are you having a bad day? Probably so. A lot of delays out there at this hour. And they're just getting worse. We've got a ground stop now at JFK.

Out of Detroit, we're looking at delays of nearly two hours. La Guardia pushing three hours. Newark also almost three hours. Philadelphia, an hour and 15 minutes. Boston, 40 minutes. So the air travel not so good today.

And we're concerned about travel on the roadways, too, tonight and tomorrow for some icy conditions that are going to be moving in across parts of Texas, Oklahoma, even up towards the Memphis area -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Boy, bummer on the delays. All right, Jacqui, thanks.

JERAS: Three hours.

PHILLIPS: Well, drug violence continuing to skyrocket in Mexico, and corruption runs deep. Sources tell us now that some 150,000 soldiers from the Mexican army have gone AWOL over the past six years, many of them deserting to work for the drug cartels.

They say the reason is simple: economics. Those cartels pay much better, and they use the skills they learned in the military. So that's part of the struggle in Mexico.

Across the border in the U.S., people getting more worried about drug-fueled violence coming to their communities. And top border officials are on the hot seat, talking to Congress.

Jeanne Meserve reports.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Assassinations, beheadings, kidnappings, the grizzly trademarks of Mexico's drug cartels. Is the U.S. doing enough to stop the violence and drugs from coming north to the U.S.? In a hearing with top border officials, a member of Congress made his opinion very clear.

REP. HAROLD ROGERS (R), KENTUCKY: I think we're conveniently hiding our head in the sands of Cancun beach, and we're not seeing what the real problem is. And it's a real problem for the United States of America.

Every major city in this country has legs of the Mexican drug cartel. Do they not? Anyone want to dispute that? Didn't think so. And yet I do not see the U.S. taking this thing as serious as they need to take it.

MESERVE: But Rogers wasn't the only member of Congress finding fault. Others wanted to know what officials are doing to stop the flow of money and guns southward from the U.S. into Mexico. REP. SAM FARR (D), CALIFORNIA: I think a lot of people, at least in my state, or my district, would argue that those guns killed a hell of a lot more people than the marijuana that was smuggled into this country.

MESERVE: And what if the violence in Mexico gets so bad it sparks a mass exodus? What then, members asked?

REP. JOHN CARTER (R), TEXAS: Do we have any contingency plan to deal with the possible reality that Mexico blows up and people start walking across the border, saying, "I want to be saved from this violence down here" by the millions.

JAYSON AHERN, U.S. CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION: We would actually put those plans in place, and they're very detailed.

MESERVE (on camera): U.S. officials insist they do understand that threats that drug cartels pose to both Mexico and the United States. They say agencies are working with one another and with the Mexican government to stem the violence. But clearly, they have a lot of work left to do.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: And remember the slogan for the American Express card: "Don't leave home without it"? Now AmEx is telling some people, "Go ahead, leave without it. We'll pay you." What a difference a recession makes.


PHILLIPS: All right, live affiliate -- or live picture, rather, from our affiliate WDIV coming out of Michigan there. Apparently, this small aircraft is having landing-gear issues. WDIV actually has their chopper over -- well, kind of side by side and on top of this plane as it's trying to come down for a landing. We're going to continue to follow this and let you know as much as we can.

Don't have much information, don't know where this plane was coming from, but it's trying to land at City Airport. That's the east side of Detroit, Michigan. Once again, a live picture coming to us from WDIV, our affiliate. We'll see how -- don't know anything about passengers on board, how skilled this pilot is, if it's a training flight or just a regular private pilot. But we will follow it and bring it live.

Meanwhile, we want to take you live now to the White House. President Obama getting ready to sign an executive order to assign the White House Council on Women and Girls. Let's listen in.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... I'm proud to sign this executive order establishing the women's -- the White House Council on Women and Girls.

It's a council with a mission that dates back to our founding, to fulfill the promise of our democracy for all our people. I sign this order not just as a president, but as a son, a grandson, a husband and a father. Because growing up, I saw my mother put herself through school and follow her passion for helping others. But I also saw how she struggled to raise me and my sister on her own, worrying about how she'd pay the bills and educate herself and provide for us.

I saw my grandmother work her way up to become one of the first women bank vice presidents in the state of Hawaii, but also saw how she hit a glass ceiling, how men no more qualified than she was kept moving up the corporate ladder ahead of her.

I've seen Michelle, the rock of the Obama family, juggling work and parenting with more skill and grace than anybody that I know. But I also saw how it tore at her at times, how sometimes when she was with the girls she was worrying about work, and when she was at work she was worrying about the girls. It's a feeling that I share everyday.

In so many ways, the stories of the women in my life reflect the broader story of women in this country: The story of both unyielding progress and also untapped potential.

Today, women make up a growing share of our workforce and the majority of students in our colleges and our law schools. Women are breaking barriers in every field, from science and business to athletics and the armed forces. Women are serving at the highest levels of my administration, and we have Madam Speaker presiding over our House of Representatives.


I had the privilege of participating in a historic campaign with a historic candidate who we now have the privilege of calling Madam Secretary.

But at the same time, when women still earn just 78 cents for every dollar men make, when one in four women still experiences domestic violence in their lifetimes, when women are more than half of our population but just 17 percent of our Congress, when women are 49 percent of the workforce but only 3 percent of our Fortune 500 CEOs, when these inequalities stubbornly persist in this country, in this century, then I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions.

I think we need to take a hard look at where we're falling short and who we're leaving out, and what that means for the prosperity and the vitality of our nation.

And I want to be very clear: These issues are not just women's issues. When women make less than men for the same work, it hurts families who find themselves with less income and have to work harder just to get by.

When a job doesn't offer family leave, that also hurts men who want to help care for a new baby or an ailing parent. When there's no affordable child care, that hurts children who wind up in second-rate care, or spending afternoons alone in front of the television set.

And when any of our citizens cannot fulfill their potential because of factors that have nothing to do with their talent, their character, their work ethic, that says something about the state of our democracy. It says something about whether we're honoring those words put on paper more than two centuries ago, whether we're doing our part, like generations before us, to breathe new life into them in our time.

That, above all, is the true purpose of our government, not to guarantee our success but to ensure that in America all things are still possible for all people; not to solve all our problems, but to ensure that we all have the chance to pursue our own version of happiness; to give our daughters the chance to achieve as greatly as the women who join us today.

That's the impact our government can have. It's the impact of a Health and Human Services Department that funds research by women like Dr. Nina Fedorhoff, a biotechnology and life science pioneer...


... who won the National Medal of Science in 2006.

It's the impact of a Defense Department that works to recruit and promote women -- women so that women like Sergeant Major Michelle Jones (ph), who was the Army's highest ranking enlisted woman before she retired, can strengthen our military with their leadership.


It's the impact the Department of Education that enforce Title 9 so athletes like...


... so athletes like Olympic Gold medalist Dominique Dawes and Lisa Leslie...


... have a level playing field to compete and to win.


It's the impact of the White House and the Congress that fight for legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act so that all women can get paid what they deserve.


I'm very proud this was the very first bill that I signed into law. And that's why I'm establishing this council, not just to continue efforts like these, but to enhance them. The council will be composed of the heads of every Cabinet and Cabinet-level agency and will meet on a regular basis.

We have many of those Cabinet members here. Some of the men showed up. We put them in the second row.


But they're going to be fighting...


They're going to be part of this council. And it's going to meet on a regular basis. Its purpose is very simple: to ensure that each of the agencies in which they're charged takes into account the needs of women and girls in the policies they draft, the programs they create, the legislation they support.

It's not enough to only have individual women's office at individual agencies or only have one office in the White House. Rather, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said, in our government, responsibility for the advancement of women is not the job of any one agency, it's the job of all of them.


And she should know. She helped lead an interagency women's initiative during the Clinton administration.

At the same time, given the critical importance of its work, this council must have strong leadership from the White House and direct accountability to me. And that's why I'm appointing Valerie Jarrett, one of my closest advisers and most senior members of my administration, to lead it. Tina Chen, another senior member of my White House staff, will serve as the council's executive director.

In the end, while many of the challenges women and girls face are new, the work of this council is not. It's been with us for generations. Francis Perkins, who was President Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of labor and the first woman to serve in the Cabinet, a great hero of the New Deal, described it well when she said, "I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered and so establish the rights of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats."

To sit in the high seats. That is why I'm standing here today, because of what my mother and grandmother did for me. Because of their hard work and sacrifice and unflagging love. That's what Michelle's doing right now, thinking every day about making sure that Malia and Sascha have the same opportunities as anybody's sons do.

That's why so many of us are here today; because of the women who came before us who were determined to see us sit in the high seats. Women who reached for the ballot and raised families and traveled long, lonely roads to be the first in the boardroom or in the courtroom or on the battlefield or in the factory floor. Women who cracked and shattered those glass ceilings so that my daughters and all of our sons and daughters could dream and little bigger and reach a little higher.

So, now it's up to us to carry that work forward, to ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements. And that they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers never dreamed of.

That's the purpose of this council. Those are the priorities of my presidency, and I look forward to working with all of you to fulfill them in the months and years to come.

All right, so I'm going to go sign this thing. Thank you very much.


PHILLIPS: All right, President Obama now signing that executive order to establish his White House Council on Women and Girls, flocked by all the important women in his life and in his administration. The council is actually going to be chaired by Valerie Jarrett. You probably saw her standing right there next to the president. She is a senior adviser and personal friend to the president.

We talked a lot with her prior to the president winning the election and her involvement and her advisement with regard to things he's going to be implementing now as the new president. You know, Obama pointing out he has both personal and political reasons to make this sort of high-profile move. You know, he talks about his daughters and his wife and, of course, his grandmother, who was a huge influence in his life.

And you remember in 2008 -- we were just looking through our numbers -- 53 percent of the electorate was female, and Obama carried that group 56 percent to 44 percent over Arizona Senator John McCain. High number there. So, we'll follow exactly what this council does specifically for women and girls and keep you updated.

Well, are you paid up on your plastic this month? a lot of folks aren't. A credit-rating agency says the percentage of Americans with credit card accounts more than 60 days past due is at a record level, at about 30 percent above historical levels. The agency claims that this could mean a record number of credit card defaults not far down the line.

And numbers like that might have inspired this new offer from American Express: Here's $300. Now get lost. Personal finance editor Gerri Willis is here to explain. Gerri, this is not your father's credit card offer.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: I'm telling you, you put it succinctly, right? You know, we'd really rather not serve you, OK? American Express is paying customers $300 to pay off their balances and close their accounts.

Now, this is a complete reversal. This comes after a decade of growth trying to expand its customer base, not narrow it. Accounts went from 65 million to 92 million in just four years. They really grew the base. You just showed the full screen there.

But I have to tell you, you don't want to jump into this until you consider the following. Think about this. You've got to work it through. You don't want to drain emergency funds during a recession if you don't have to. What if you lose your job? You may need that cash. It's important to have cash during economic hard times. You also want to consider your credit score here.

The reality is, if this was a credit card that you would have a long time and had a history of paying on time, that's really an important part of your score. And if you have a good score, you want to keep it, so you won't want to close the account. Also, read these offers carefully. They often have time limitations that you'll want to know about.

So, always something connected to the calendar, always details you want to pay attention to. The bottom line here is, don't throw out your mail from your credit card issuers without looking at it closely at first. You could be -- you know, possible you could get $300 in the mail.

PHILLIPS: Is it the only company doing this?

WILLIS: No. Emerge Visa, which is a subprime credit card issuer, they are giving out thousands of dollars to people with really high debt. They're doing it with a limited number of customers, really trying to get those cards paid off and off their books.

Citibank has offered a payment matching program in which card holders can get a 10 percent match made in excess of the minimum payment due. Now, what we're used to seeing is the stick rather than the carrot, right? Bumping up minimum amounts due, raising interest rates, simply cutting total available credit. Chase recently instituted what they called a transaction fee of $10 a month for some customers. Boosts income for them. Not so good for you.

So, lots going on in the credit card arena. Bottom line is, these credit card issuers really don't want you to use their product right now. It's crazy.

PHILLIPS: You know though, in these times, Gerri, I think we don't know what to expect. It is just a fascinating ride to see how creative people are getting.

WILLIS: Bottom line, cut your credit cards up.

PHILLIPS: There you go. Thanks, Gerri.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

PHILLIPS: If anybody else did it, you'd call it carjacking. Cops in one Texas town pulling people over and just taking their stuff. Oh, and by the way -- a lot of those people, black.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PHILLIPS: Once again, live pictures via our affiliate WDIV out of Michigan there. What you're seeing is a six-seat Piper Lancer aircraft. The pilot right now trying to figure out what exactly he's going to do. He's having issues getting the landing gear all the way down. He's been circling for about a half-hour. Fire crews have already lined up the runway preparing for what he's -- going to be an emergency landing if he doesn't get that gear all the way down.

We've got WDIV and its helicopter up there monitoring this for us. You know, one option if he can't get that gear completely down is, he could retract the wheels and attempt to make a belly landing. So, he's going to have to continue to burn fuel so if he decides to do that, you know, the hopes, obviously, is there won't be any type of explosion or fire.

But WDIV, the affiliate there, believes the pilot's the only one on board. There aren't any passengers. He's trying to land at City Airport, which is on the east side of Detroit, it handles mostly private planes. Anyway, we're following this, and hopefully going to bring you good news just in a minute. Hopefully, this pilot is going to be able to bring that plane down without any issues.

And it does look like he might be trying to retract those wheels a little bit. We'll continue -- how close is he coming -- Can we tell? -- to the runway? No, he's circling now over the water. All right. We'll keep our eye on it for you.

Well, you're driving through east Texas, and somewhere between Houston and Shreveport, Louisiana, coasting through one little town, you see them, those red and blue lights right there in your rear-view mirror. Cops pull you over, no big deal, maybe your taillight is out.

Only this guy's asking all kinds of questions. He wants to know if you've got any money. Then this officer tells you, hand it over or he'll haul you in for money laundering. Honestly, it sounds like one of those "cop gone bad" movies, but that's exactly what's being alleged in a federal civil lawsuit. And it's happening in happening in Tenaha, Texas. Police there accused of illegal stops and seizures of non-white motorists.

Joining me on the line, Timothy Garrigan. He's one of the attorneys who filed that suit. Timothy, I appreciate you joining me. First, to get on record here, how many clients right now are you representing?

VOICE OF TIMOTHY GARRIGAN, ATTORNEY: Right now, I represent ten plaintiffs in the case. But we've had contact by many others. And we get more inquiries every day. We are seeking class-action certification in the case.

PHILLIPS: All right. Out of those ten that you're representing for sure right now, do they in any way, shape or form have any ties to drugs or drug trafficking?


PHILLIPS: So no prior history?

GARRIGAN: Nothing that would suggest it was appropriate for them to be, you know, pulled over and robbed this way by the police.

PHILLIPS: OK, so here's what's happening. The police are saying, look, we've got a huge drug trafficking problem along that route. And so, we're doing what we have to do. First of all, do you agree that there is a huge drug trafficking problem along that stretch of highway?

GARRIGAN: I wouldn't know one way or the other. I don't think that justifies what they've done.

PHILLIPS: All right, well, let's talk about that then. Because they say, yes, there is a major drug problem, and that's why they are using search and seizure practices that they call, quote, "a legitimate use of the state's asset forfeiture law." What do you know about the state's asset forfeiture law?

GARRIGAN: I know that there's a major effort going on in the Texas legislature to try to reform it because it is subject to abuse. But the stops we're complaining about are in violation of that statute as it exists now. Typically, these people are stopped. No drugs are found. And only their money and valuables are taken.

PHILLIPS: So if they're innocent, we're being told that they are voluntarily signing over their belongings, so the cops can just take the jewelry, the money, the car. Is that true?

GARRIGAN: Well, that's what the cops have been doing, the ones we're complaining about. We don't think they should be able to get away with that. That's certainly what the whole lawsuit is about.

PHILLIPS: So basically, your clients feel they're being threatened, and if they don't turn over these specific items, what are the cops saying they're going to do to your clients? What are your clients saying?

GARRIGAN: They're threatening our clients with criminal prosecutions, with arrest. You know, understand, these people are driving through town. And the only way they're going to be able to continue on their way is if they forfeit whatever valuable possessions the police want.

PHILLIPS: Well, Timothy Garrigan, it's definitely a story that caught our attention. We're going to stay on top of it. We're going to stay in touch with you. We're also going to push this story forward. Next hour, I'm actually going to talk to the reporter who exposed these search and seizures. Plus, we're going to hear what the town's mayor has to say. We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: All right. Live pictures via our affiliate DIV -- WDIV out of Detroit, Michigan. We're continuing to follow this developing story right now. The six-seat Piper Lancer aircraft trying to make an emergency landing. Apparently the pilot had been maneuvering, trying to get the gear to come all the way down. He hasn't been able to do that.

He's been circling now for more than a half hour. Fire crews have already lined up there on the runway, just preparing for this pilot who's trying to bring this aircraft in. WDIV, our affiliate there that's working this for us, listening actually to the radios, believes that the pilot was trying to come in and make a landing.

And I'm not quite sure, I don't have good eyes, on the runway or not, and it looks like -- no, it looks like he's still trying to figure out -- I mean, he's right above the water there. I can't figure out where the runway is there for City Airport, on the east side of Detroit, where it is in comparison to where that water is.

But it looks like he's coming down, assessing the situation, and then taking -- looping back up and coming around again. So he's trying to get rid of his fuel. Because if indeed he's got to retract the landing gear and make that belly landing, he's going to want to, of course, prevent any type of fire or explosion. So we believe only the pilot is on board. We don't believe he has any passengers.

Don't know if this is just a private pilot who was out flying today, coming from a certain destination. We haven't been able to confirm that. But we're trying to get the details as we speak. And we're trying to monitor if indeed he can bring this aircraft down in a safe manner. It looks like he keeps trying to get a visual on where he's going to go, if he's got the right speed, if he's got the right distance. And when he doesn't, you'll see him pull back up and move across the water there.

Now, we have a little better angle here of the runway compared to where that water line is. We're watching it for you, and we will bring you -- actually, it looks like -- what do you think, Katy (ph)? Should we stay -- yes, let's stay with it for a sec. I think because he might -- it looks like he's not going over the water again. And he may be attempting to come in, down into the runway right now.

So, let's go ahead and watch this and see how he does. I mean, I can't imagine -- you know, you don't know how experienced this pilot is. And if he is experienced, you know, you can just think of the landing that Sully made there on the Hudson River, how calm he was on the radios, and what he was able to do. You know, so many pilots, when they go through this training, a huge part of that training is to not panic, stay in control, think, focus, have your checklist.

And the majority of the time these planes are able to be brought down without any problems or any issues. The hardest part is just trying to get the speed and the altitude at a good point and hope that that plane doesn't tip in any way when he brings it down.

So, it looks like he's getting closer. Let's see. He might be approaching the runway at this point. It's hard to see with the helicopter, because he's up so close on that Piper. But it does look like he is getting closer to the runway. Let's go ahead and see how he does. Are we able to listen to any of the radio communications by chance? No? OK. Ooh. All right. Let's go ahead and stay with this. He's coming across -- I wish I had a better angle. For all of you who may know this airport or know this runway, it looks like he's going to be able to hit it right on.

He's got the grass. It looks like he might be OK. Here we go. He's going for the touchdown. Our affiliate WVID bringing this live via the helicopter. This pilot trying to bring this aircraft down. Emergency landing, couldn't get all the landing gear -- looks like it's going to be pretty successful. Obviously, because he's missing all the gear, it's going to slide. He's got to be easy on the brakes, hoping that it won't turn.

As you notice, he's kicked the door open because he knows he's going to get the hell out of there, hoping to avoid any kind of problem. And you probably will see him jump out of there pretty quickly, just because of fuel issues. There you go. He's got his stuff, and, well, look at that. All in a day's work. He grabs his jacket and calmly steps out of his six-seat Piper Lancer there. OK.

He's like, OK, there's one practice emergency landing down. Now you'll see the fire crews come out. They'll make sure he's OK first, make sure he doesn't need any kind of attention. And then of course, he'll probably be able to give the firefighters an idea of how much fuel is still in the fuel tank. They'll come check out the aircraft. You see other fire trucks, of course, have to be there in case there's any issues.

But it looks like good news. This pilot, looks like it was only the pilot that was in that aircraft, a six-seat Piper Lancer aircraft. Nobody else on board. Firefighters checking out the aircraft. You could see that part of the landing gear did not fully come down. It looks like he chose not to retract and do a belly landing. He brought it down, perfect attitude and speed.

Oh, yes. He's got his cell phone. I'd love to know who he's calling now. Probably family, kids, wife, best friend. Yes, you saw me live on CNN, and I'm OK. Just imagine what's going through his head. His heart must have been beating as a true adrenaline rush.

All right, as we get more information, we will try and follow up for you.