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American Morning

Merger Between XM and Sirius Satellite Radio Gets the OK; Gas Prices Hit New Record High; Iowa Still Underwater; New Concerns Abound About Spread of Nuclear Weapons

Aired June 16, 2008 - 08:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to remind you that he has left more troops in Iraq than initially anticipated. And like me, we'll be making our decisions based upon the conditions on the ground, the recommendation of our commanders, without an artificial timetable set by politics.


ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So today Gordon Brown, for his part, essentially echoing what President Bush had to say there, as you heard just a moment ago. Essentially saying his decisions will be driven by what he hears from military commanders as well. Something we've heard President Bush say time and time again.

And that any decisions made on British troop levels in Iraq will be conditions-based. Now interesting to note, Prime Minister Brown was also pointedly asked whether or not pulling more troops out of Iraq would then enable the British to send more forces to Afghanistan for the fight there.

Essentially what Gordon Brown said is that you can't trade numbers on that. He insisted, again, that more troops for Afghanistan were on their way from Britain. Of course, that is welcome news, John, for President Bush. He's been trying to drum up additional support from European allies for Afghanistan -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Elaine Quijano for us in London this morning.

Elaine, thanks.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: The $5 billion merger between XM and Sirius Satellite Radio getting the OK from the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. But he's approval comes with some strings including a three-year price freeze and also turning 24 channels into noncommercial and minority programming. A final vote on that deal could come as early as this week.

Criminal charges could be filed soon against managers of two Bear Stearns hedge fund whose collapse helped kick off the credit crisis last year. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting the two may be charged with securities fraud. For the past year, federal prosecutors have been trying to decide whether the managers intentionally misled investors.

And as the credit crisis continues, a senator who was supposed to be keeping banks honest may have gotten a sweetheart deal from one of them himself.

Our Brian Todd has the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Kiran.

The scandal surrounding a controversial mortgage lender that shook up Barack Obama's campaign touched off a series of news investigations and now two very powerful senators are on the defensive.


TODD (voice-over): As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Chris Dodd has tried to crack down on companies accused of predatory mortgage lending at the center of the home foreclosure crisis. He's pushed for more regulation and even criminal charges against some lenders.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Obviously, they've been engaging in practices in some instances where they knew the borrowers were incapable of meeting their financial obligations.

TODD: But one company being investigated for fraud in the mortgage crisis, Countrywide Financial Corporation, reportedly gave Senator Dodd cut rate deals on two loans. Deals not available to the general public. According to a report in "Conde Nast Portfolio" magazine, Dodd's fellow Democrat Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budge Committee, got similar deals.

The magazine cites internal documents and e-mails saying "Countrywide CEO, Angelo Mozilo, directed staffers to give lower interest rates and points to influential people." Countrywide did not return our calls and e-mail. Contacted by CNN, Dodd and Conrad reacted with outrage to the report.

They acknowledge they got competitive rates, but both say they never sought favorable treatment and were not aware they were getting it. Records from Conrad's office show he got below market rates for one property on at least two occasions but in a telephone interview Conrad said this about Countrywide's loan for another property, an apartment building in Bismarck, North Dakota.

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA (via phone): With respect to the Bismarck property, which was a loan of less than $100,000, that I actually paid above market rates.

TODD: There's no evidence of anything illegal here. And one watchdog group says Dodd and Conrad may not have violated Senate ethics rules if they didn't know they were getting loans not available to the public but --

MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS FOR RESP. & ETHICS: Particularly I think for Senator Dodd being on the Banking Committee and then getting a loan that is at such a better rate than what is generally available, I think that's going to be a tough sell politically. How did he really not know this loan was on such better terms?


TODD: Melanie Sloan says her group is calling for a Senate ethics investigation of these deals but the two senators state clearly they believe they've done nothing wrong. Conrad says he's never met Angelo Mozilo in person, says he has only spoken to him once over the phone.

John and Kiran, back to you.

ROBERTS: All Right, Brian, thanks.

CHETRY: We just want you to know we did call Senator Dodd asking him to appear on the show but he did decline our request.

ROBERTS: All right. New this morning, Saudi Arabia says it will increase oil production by 200,000 barrels a day starting next month. The kingdom's oil minister telling U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that Saudi Arabia worries that if the price of oil stays high, people will find other sources of energy.

And gas prices hitting a new record high this morning. The new national average for a gallon of gas $4.08, according to AAA. That is the ninth straight day of new record for gas.

CHETRY: Well, Tiger Woods proving he's a legend once again. Even though he probably wasn't feeling 100 percent. Let's take a look. There it was. Sheer pandemonium yesterday at Torrey Pines in California as tiger sinks a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

That then forces an 18-hole playoff today for the U.S. open title. And all of that taking place despite Tiger's -- this was his first tournament since knee surgery back in April and he wasn't necessarily feeling 100 percent at times. You could see -- he looked like he was visibly in pain, wincing a few times and actually using a club as a makeshift cane at times.

ROBERTS: A couple of tee shots he doubled over because the knee hurt so badly. Rocco Mediate 157th ranked player in the world. He's going to try to stop Tiger from winning his 14th major which would put him only four away from Jack Nicklaus. Both of them finished one under par.

CHETRY: That's right. You said a few people might be calling out sick this morning, the golf fever perhaps.

ROBERTS: I think there may be an epidemic of golf fever across the country today.

You can have money, happiness and success if you work hard enough, right? Well, maybe not. With the economy in trouble, is the American dream still alive and well? We'll have a look. CHETRY: Also, Iowa underwater. Many cities and towns had been hit with devastating floods. And the worst may not be over. We're live in the flood zone.

ROBERTS: Plus, smuggled nuclear secrets. We'll talk to the man behind this bombshell report to find out where the blueprints ended up.

CHETRY: And a proposed federal rule change will allow guns to be carried in national parks. Reporter says it's all about safety. Critics say it's pandering by the administration. We're going to take a look at both sides. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: It's nine-and-a-half minutes after the hour. Today, we're taking a special look at the American dream. The idea that if you work hard, you could make a better life for yourself than your parents did. With the economy in so much turmoil, we want to know, is the American dream dead or alive? Here's a look at what some of you think.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's American dream mean?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: American dream? Just to be happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American dream is to buy a home and raise a family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To send your kids to college.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to be successful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having enough money to secure a good future for yourself and your kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To have the girl you love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To retire and enjoy some of the results of what you worked for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom, that's the American dream to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a little challenging these days to achieve any kind of dream because the challenge is always economic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The dream of owning a home for me is out of the question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's difficult striving for it, but it can be done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a nightmare. It's not achievable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's that difficult, if you're willing to go out and work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where there's a will, there's a way. And hard work and determination, I think, you can reach it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American Dream is on life support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, I'm doing OK a little bit. I'm probably better off than most people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just bought a home now, so I'm starting to live the American Dream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not living it yet, but I hope one day I will be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm living it because I have peace of mind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The American Dream is not dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American Dream is being rich and wealthy, and I'm not living it.


ROBERTS: We want to hear what you have to say. Head to our Web site at From there, shoot us an e-mail or click on I- report to submit your pictures or video. We'll show you -- we'll be showcasing some of your stories for the rest of this week.

You may find many times that the American Dream very much alive for new immigrants to this country.

CHETRY: That's right. And you know, it's still a wonderful notion that you can -- regardless of where you came from, you can work hard and try your best and make something good of your life.

ROBERTS: Last week, I was talking to a fellow who manages one of the local restaurants here. He came from Bangladesh. And he said he had to stand up in front of his 13-year-old daughter's school to talk about her and he said he broke down in tears because he was just so happy and so appreciative that she is getting opportunities that he never had back home.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: That's awesome. Love to hear those stories.

CHETRY: And as a parent, that's all you want for your children -- a better life, right?

Well, here's an "AM Extra" to look at. Some people there are doing pretty well in some tough times. The Associated Press ranking CEO salaries for last year. Where was I when CEO was a major?

I didn't know you could -- you know. John Thain from Merrill Lynch at the top. Salary and perks, bonuses, $83 million. And the man who runs CBS News or CBS in general, Les Moonves, came in second, bringing home $68 million. And even the tenth guy on the list, don't feel bad, Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum, bringing home a healthy $34 million.

How about that?

Well, look out. Electricity prices will be going up this summer. And Gerri Willis, with what you can do to bring your bill down.

ROBERTS: Hello, Gerri.

WILLIS: Yes. If you're not making the salaries you were just talking about, which are just totally crazy. You know, we talked a lot about electricity prices going up as much as 29 percent for some folks. You know, they're saying the same problems we are. Coal prices are up 50 percent in the last year. So are natural gas prices. That means the price of electricity going up.

Here is the kind of thing you can think about. You know the obvious stuff like closing your drapes and making sure you use your AC only when needed. But smart things to do you might not have thought of -- install those AC units if you're using AC units on the side of the house that is shady. That will make your AC unit 10 percent more efficient. Install a programmable thermostat if you have central air. That will cut your bill 10 percent.

Landscaping. Now, this is something you might not have thought of. If you put trees on the sunny side of your house, guess what, you're cutting down the work your air conditioning has to do to cool your house down. And in the wintertime, those leaves fall and, guess what, the sun gets through and your house heats up faster.

Also, a lot of utilities out there are shifting, allowing consumers, just like they do businesses, to shift their usage of electricity so that if you use electricity at a time of day when not a lot of people are, you can pay less for your electricity.

A few ideas for folks out there who are struggling mightily with these high bills. They only look like they're going higher, guys.

ROBERTS: Right. Great tips. Gerri, thanks so much.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: On the hunt. Right now, security forces combing the rugged terrain of southern Afghanistan after hundreds of terror suspects escaped.

CHETRY: And coming home after the flood.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm trying to cope with it, but I'm not doing a very good job, as you can see.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHETRY: It's just heartbreaking to see the stories of so many people left without homes. And it may actually get worse in some places this week. We're live in the flood zone. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Desperately trying to hold back the water across parts of the Midwest. The Mississippi River expected to reach its highest level of the year this week, 10 feet higher than it was just last Friday.

In Iowa City, the river has crested but may not come down for days. Hundreds were evacuated there. And 16 buildings at the University of Iowa were flooded. Its precious art collection moved out to Chicago.

Amtrak also suspending service between Chicago and points north and west due to that flooding.

Our Sean Callebs is on the ground in Iowa City. We have Jacqui Jeras also with us tracking today's extreme weather threat. First, though, we start with Sean Callebs.

Give us a sense of the situation there this morning, Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if there's some good news, the Iowa River behind me has crested but it's poured its way on to the campus here of the University of Iowa, causing some significant damage.

Over here, the School of Art, a building that was only less than two years old and inspired by Picasso work, some serious damage there.

Now right here, the Museum of Art, this could be the campus' first casualty. I spoke with the university president a short while ago. And she believes this building is going to have to be replaced. It housed between $300 and $400 million worth of art that she said was basically taken out of there under a tremendous amount of secrecy while people were sandbagging this campus.

CHETRY: All right, Sean Callebs, thank you. We check in now with Jacqui Jeras. She has a look at what we can expect and what's ahead for many of the cities that were just inundated with the waters.


CHETRY: Wow, isolated tornado threats possibly, Jacqui. So certainly as you said if you don't have to go anywhere don't try it. Thanks a lot.

ROBERTS: Let's just back to the floods for a second. Obviously, a tremendous number of people in so much need. And you have a chance to help those people. Go to to find out contact information for several relief organizations and how you can pitch in.

Nuclear smuggling, blue prints for the destruction in the wrong hands. The man behind the explosive accusations joins us, just ahead.

Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING -- playing for the other side.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I knew my patriotism was definitely going to come under attack.


CHETRY: The Olympian who is being called a traitor. Why this all-American girl is suiting up for Russia.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I still love my country.


CHETRY: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: It's 23 minutes after the hour. New concerns about the spread of nuclear weapons today. According to a report from a former U.N. weapons inspector, blue prints for an advanced nuclear weapon fell into the hands of an international smuggling ring.

It's not clear if those plans were passed around. The U.S. government has known about the black market weapons design for a couple of years, but the public is just now learning about it. The report will not be made public until later on this week, but we get a preview of it now from the man who wrote it.

Former U.N. Arms Inspector, David Albright, joins us now live from Washington.

David, good to see you. How advanced were these blueprints?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. ARMS INSPECTOR: Well, they were quite advanced. I mean, they're basically designs from Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. And so they were -- after years of work, Pakistan had learned to make the nuclear weapons smaller and lighter.

And so for many countries like Iran, North Korea, that's really the challenge. It's not hard to make a nuclear weapon per se if you have the nuclear explosive material, but it can be very challenging to make one small enough to fit on the kind of ballistic missiles they have. And this was that type.

Now Pakistan had said in 2003, 2004 that Khan had not taken any designs from the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. But what was found on the computers in Switzerland was quite different. It looks like Khan actually did steal designs out of his own country and then try to peddle them. ROBERTS: Just to fill in a couple of holes here. Khan, we're talking about. A.Q. Khan who headed up that nuclear proliferation network and is under house arrest in Pakistan. And these computers in Switzerland were owned by two brothers and a father who were suspected to be part of A.Q. Khan's arms network.

You say in this upcoming report, David, that these advanced nuclear weapons designs may have long ago been sold off -- may have is the operative phrase here. Long ago had been sold off to some of the most treacherous regimes in the world. Any way to know if they were in fact transferred?

ALBRIGHT: Well, that's been the challenge. I mean, the tenors, the two who were in jail, and the father are not cooperating with the prosecutors. Khan is not cooperating. And so it's not known.

Now, they would have been sold prior to when these people were arrested, so back in the early 2000s. And that's -- and so one of the questions, key questions, is did Iran buy these designs? Does it -- in that sense know more about making nuclear weapons than the public realizes.

ROBERTS: And what are the implications if Iran did get a hold of these plans?

ALBRIGHT: But what we would do is give Iran a great shortcut to making smaller nuclear weapons. It's been struggling certainly to try to reach that state. And these designs would have allowed it to make great advancements in its knowledge of nuclear weapons and then be able to build these smaller warheads.

ROBERTS: So how troubled should we be by all of this?

ALBRIGHT: I think we should be troubled and we should be troubled on many levels. One is that the Swiss were able to figure out these nuclear weapons designs in early 2006. And yet, Swiss, the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency have not been able to get to the bottom of this.

Now we're faced with the tenors may be released from jail soon. They may get out of jail free card. Khan may be released from house arrest. And we may never get to the bottom of this. And so I think it's very important that we start to put pressure on the governments involved in this to find a way to get to the bottom of it.

It's imperative that the tenors cooperate, that Khan cooperates, and that -- particularly Khan needs to be interviewed by the United States, by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the tenors need to be fully prosecuted. They should not be allowed to use some recent actions by the Swiss government that led to the destruction of these documents to claim that they can no longer get a fair trial and that therefore should be released from jail.

ROBERTS: We look forward to the report being released later on this week. David Albright, former U.N. weapons inspector. Thanks for joining us this morning. ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

CHETRY: Recapping our big stories this morning. President Bush on the final leg of his European tour. We have new video just in to CNN minutes ago. The president on his way to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

This morning he met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London where they talked about troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as new sanctions against Iran.

And President Bush reportedly has launched renewed efforts to capture terror leader Osama Bin Laden before his time in office is over. The "Sunday Times" of London says that defense and intelligence sources confirm there's a redoubled hunt underway in Pakistan even enlisting British special forces to hunt for the man who carried out the 9/11 attacks.

And security forces in Afghanistan say they've rounded up about 20 of the 1,000 fugitives who escaped from a prison in Kandahar. Prisoners made a break for it, Friday, after suicide truck bombs packed with explosives blasted a hole in the walls of the Soviet Era prison.

This morning tough talks from both sides over militants crossing over the Pakistani border to attack Afghan and coalition troops. Pakistan is now vowing to defend its border after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he will no longer tolerate the cross border attacks. Karzai threatened to send troops inside of Pakistan if those attacks do not stop.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is live in Washington with more for us on this.

Hi, Barbara.


It's just the latest indication of the rising tensions on that border. In fact, the situation is really deteriorating to the extent where now, last month, more coalition troops were killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq. That's a first time. Of course, President Bush weighing in on all of this border tension earlier today in London.


BUSH: We can help. We can help calm the situation down and develop a strategy that will prevent these extremists from developing safe haven and having freedom of movement.


STARR: You know, just last week, in fact, there was a gathering of about 100 suspected Taliban militants launching an attack against coalition forces in Afghanistan. The situation really becoming very serious in the eyes of the United States.

The major criticism, Pakistan is not cracking down on that safe haven area along its border with Afghanistan. And that is what is allowing the militants to cross into Afghanistan and launch all of these attacks. That is the U.S. view. A lot of pressure on that fragile new Pakistani government to crack down once and for all -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon this morning. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is making a surprise visit to Lebanon this morning. New video now of Rice in Beirut where she's meeting with leaders of Lebanon's new coalition government, and expressing support for their new sovereignty. A compromise last month gave Hezbollah veto power over the government. The U.S. still considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and says the compromise was necessary for stability.

New this morning, FEMA is defending an $85 million giveaway of supplies for Hurricane Katrina victims. We broke the story here on CNN last week revealing the agency gave away 121 truck loads of household supplies intended for people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Katrina. The FEMA chief told CNN's LATE EDITION they only gave away the household start-up kits when Louisiana turned them down.


R. DAVID PAULISON, FEMA DIRECTOR: We've been storing these things -- it's things we don't normally store -- refrigerators, stoves, coolers, diapers, things like that. States have been asking for these. We decided to open them up and give them to people who could use them. We did offer them to Louisiana. They said no they don't want them. So 16 states stepped up, they said yes we need these supplies.

We offered it to them through our General Service Administration, G.S.A, like we normally do with excess materials. We gave out over 90,000 living kits to Louisiana residents, people who had lost their homes and had to move somewhere else.


ROBERTS: Groups working to re-settle hurricane victims in Louisiana say they're still in need. After CNN's report Louisiana asked for the supplies to be redirected back to the state.

CHETRY: Alina Cho joins us now with other stories new this morning.

Good to see you, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good to see you. Welcome back, Kiran, again. Good morning, guys. Good morning, everybody. New this morning, those who knew Tim Russert were well aware that nobody was more important to him in his life than his son, Luke. And on the "Today Show" this morning, Luke shared memories of his father, a pillar of political journalism. He said NBC's "Meet The Press", the program his dad moderated for nearly 17 years, was like his second son.


LUKE RUSSERT, TIM RUSSERT'S SON: He saw himself as the questionnaire for the American people. He obviously did his job for himself, for his network, for his family. But at his core I believe he had a higher calling, a responsibility to educate the American public about the candidates who seek the highest office in the land.

I think he went out there working for the senior citizen, the nursing home who may not understand an issue, a complex issue in the American political system. The single mom who comes home and puts on nightly news. And my dad had that 90 seconds at the beginning of Nightly almost three to four times a week and would try to explain complex things to people and make them better informed voters.


CHO: Such a strong young man to talk to Matt Lauer this morning for so long without breaking down. Russert collapsed suddenly at work Friday while recording voiceovers for "Meet The Press". He died of a heart attack, just 58 years old. His family will hold a private funeral mass and burial on Wednesday morning.

Ask Americans who they think the next president will be, and a majority say Barack Obama. A new Gallup poll say Americans predict in November that voters will choose Senator Obama over John McCain by an 11-point margin. It is still early, though. In the very same survey, Obama also won the independent vote.

Three possible V.P. candidates appear to be saying no thanks this morning, but of course in politics it is all about reading the tea leaves. Over on the Democratic side former vice presidential nominee John Edwards says it's not something he would do again for Barack Obama but, quote, "I'd take anything he asked me to think about seriously." On the Republican side Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says he has the job he wants. Former senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson simply said, not interested.

Starting tonight same-sex couples in California will be allowed to get married. Diane Olson and Robin Tyler will be the first to legally tie the knot in the Los Angeles county at the Beverly Hills courthouse. Here's why. They were the original plaintiffs in the historic lawsuit that led to the state supreme court to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage. After Massachusetts, California is the second state to allow same-sex couples to get married.

In the "Heights" on top of the world last night. The first Latino musical written by a Latino won Best Musical at last night's Tony Awards. John, have you seen it? Hasn't seen it yet, but he likes it. He's dancing again. He likes it. "August: Osage County" walked away with the other big award for Best Play. But the revival "South Pacific" actually was the big winner of the night, taking home seven Tony Awards.

ROBERTS: Yes. I haven't seen it, but our Executive Producer Janelle Rodriguez said, I've seen it, it's fantastic.

CHO: She's a big fan, I know.

CHETRY: Thanks, Alina. Well, you're watching the most news in the morning. Turbulent times for the airlines. Jet fuel prices so high that airlines are forced to pass the cost on to you in many different and creative new ways. We're now taking a look at what could happen if the costs keep rising.

ROBERTS: A proposed rule change could allow guns to be carried in national parks. But states would get to make the ultimate decision.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Critics say changing the regulations could create chaos. Here in Great Falls, for example, this half of the park is located in Virginia where a person with a permit can carry a concealed weapon. That half is located in Maryland, where they can't.


ROBERTS: Supporters of the change say carrying guns is simply a safety issue. We're taking a look when the most news in the morning returns.


ROBERTS: Coming up on 22 minutes to the top of the hour. Carrying a gun into a national park is illegal for now, but a new proposal would change that rule leaving it up to the states to pull the trigger.

Jill Dougherty takes a look for us this morning.


DOUGHERTY: At the Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Virginia, carrying guns in national parks sounds like a good idea.

GREGORY HYLINSKI, GUN OWNER: It's important for people to be able to protect themselves at all times in all places even from wild animal attacks.

DOUGHERTY: At Great Falls National Park, a half hour drive from Washington, D.C., Photographer Maria Stenzel is watching the gray heron. She thinks allowing guns in national parks is a terrible idea.

MARIA STENZEL, PHOTOGRAPHER: We have too many weapons already. We have too much violence all over the country. And we don't need to allow them in new places.

DOUGHERTY: Across the country, the United States' 391 national parks are operated under a single set of regulations, by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Under the proposed rule change, the gun laws of the states in which the park is located would apply.

Critics say changing the regulations could create chaos. Here in Great Falls, for example, this half the park is located in Virginia, where a person with a permit can carry a concealed weapon. That half is located in Maryland, where they can't.

That's just one of the problems with changing the regulations. According to Maureen Finnerty. She worked 31 years with the National Park Service in senior positions. Finnerty says the national parks are very, very safe. She cites the latest National Park Service statistics. More than 272.5 million visitors in 2006. 11 cases of homicide or manslaughter, 61 robberies, and 35 rapes or attempted rapes or attempted rapes.

FINNERTY: This is an attempt by the policy people in the administration to take care of one of their very important constituencies, which is the National Rifle Association.

DOUGHERTY: The NRA counters many states allow residents with permits to carry guns in state parks. Why not the federal government?

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: They've changed their firearms laws in the last 15 years to allow good people to protect themselves from bad people. And this simply puts federal law in compliance with that change in terms of state law.

DOUGHERTY: The public has until the end of June to comment on the proposed change. The Interior Department will then decide whether visitors to national parks can come armed with guns. Jill Dougherty, CNN, Great Falls, Virginia.


ROBERTS: The airlines are struggling with high fuel prices and passengers are paying for it. But all of those fees may still not be enough. We're going to take a look at what lies ahead for the airlines.

CHETRY: Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, a town hall showdown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here by my own convictions, by my own considerations --


CHETRY: John McCain faces the question --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to be as concise as I can --


CHETRY: -- that never ends.




CHETRY: Jeanne Moos looks at what happens when the microphone lands in the wrong hands.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sir, you really have to ask me the question.


CHETRY: You're watching the most news in the morning.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. I feel like we say this all the time, gas prices hitting yet another new record high this morning. The new national average now for a gallon of gas $4.08 according to AAA. And the high price of fuel forcing airlines to tack on more fees to your travel bill.

But as Mary Snow reports, airlines need that extra money just to stay in the air.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Want a water or a soda while flying U.S. Airways? You'll now have to pay $2 for non-alcoholic drinks. Checking a bag? That will be $15 on some flights, not just on U.S. Air, but on United and American. With oil prices surging, analysts say, every penny counts for the airlines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bottom line is with fuel going up, tickets have to be increased between 2 percent and 4 percent for every $10 a barrel of oil in order for the airlines to stay basically at a level playing field.

SNOW: Airlines are cutting thousands of jobs and slashing routes to keep costs down. Airlines Analyst, Ray Neidl says the industry is in unchartered territory since no one anticipated that oil prices would reach these levels.

RAY NEIDL, AIRLINE ANALYST, CALYON SECURITIES: They are burning their cash, and there's a chance that we may have some major airline bankruptcies.

SNOW: Is there any help the government can provide? White House Economic Adviser, Ed Lazear.

ED LAZEAR, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: In the short run what will happen as far as the airline industry is concerned is that those prices will be passed along to consumers. That's an unfortunate consequence of the fact that we are competing with others in the world for a very scarce resource, namely oil.

SNOW: And New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who chairs the Joint Economic Committee says little can be done short term. Schumer believes airlines should lobbying Washington to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: There's only one way out of this, the problem on the ground and the problem in the sky and that is to finally once and for all get our grip on things as a nation and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

SNOW: And in the short term analysts say smaller cities are expected to feel the crunch the most as airlines pare back on routes in and out of smaller hubs. Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: It's 45 minutes now to the top of the hour, and "CNN NEWSROOM" just minutes away. Heidi Collins joins us from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a look at what's ahead. '

Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, John. Happy belated Father's Day to you as well.

We've got these stories coming up in the newsroom rundown this morning. A flood too far. High water extends from Wisconsin all the way down to Oklahoma. And some crests may not actually come for days. We're on top of that one for you.

And here comes the bride. No, party B. Same-sex couples line up for marriage licenses in California. We'll talk with the mayor of San Francisco.

And park the cruisers, hop into the golf carts. The high cost of gas causes lawmen to make some changes. Join Tony Harris and me in the "NEWSROOM" we get started at the top of the hour on CNN -- John.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to it. See you then, Heidi.

You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

Elian Gonzalez was once at the center of an international tug of war. Eight years later, this is Elian now. He's a teenager and a Communist.

Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, the all-American all-star.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BECKY HAMMON, WNBA ATHLETE: You love your country, you love basketball, it makes sense to have a dream of going to the Olympics.


ROBERTS: But she won't be wearing the red, white and blue.


HAMMON: I knew my patriotism was definitely going to come under attack.


ROBERTS: Why this Olympian changed sides and signed on with Russia, and why she says it's no big deal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's playing within the rules.


ROBERTS: You're watching the most news in the morning.


ROBERTS: You've got 11 minutes left in this hour. Welcome back to the most news in the morning here on CNN. Elian Gonzalez has gone from cute little boy, to Communist. The boy who was at the center of an international custody battle at the age of six is now a 14-year-old member of Cuba's young communist union.

Shasta Darlington is following the story for us from Havana, Cuba.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remember the little kid at the center of a bitter U.S./Cuban custody battle? Well, he's not so little anymore. Eight years after returning to his father in Cuba, Elian Gonzalez has joined Cuba's young Communist union. During a ceremony over the weekend, he was presented with a union card and vowed he would always follow the examples of Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul, Cuba's new president.

Elian is now 14, but he was just six years old when his mother was killed when a boat smuggling them to the United States flipped over. He was found clinging to an innertube, and handed over to relatives in south Florida. Fidel Castro himself led the ideological battle to bring Gonzalez back to Cuba and his father. Little Elian will return to his homeland, to his family, to his school, he said. And after months of huge marches and heated speeches, Castro claimed victory.

In many ways, Elian Gonzalez's future was written the day he returned to Cuba. Over the last eight years, his family has had front row seats at Castro's rallies. At an early age, Gonzalez himself started to assume a public role. Speaking at political rallies like this one. It's been five years since I was able to return with my dad, and it was possible, thanks to my family and the Cuban people and Commander Fidel, he said.

Castro and Gonzalez also had a personal relationship. The aging president attended the young boy's birthday on more than one occasion. At this party, he helped him blow out the candle. With credentials like those, it comes as no surprise for most Cubans that Elian Gonzalez joined the ranks of those young people most committed to Fidel Castro's revolution. John?

ROBERTS: Shasta Darlington for us in Havana this morning.

Shasta, thanks.

CHETRY: A star player for the WNBA taking some heat for staying true to her Olympic dreams, even if it means playing for a former Cold War enemy.

Our Ed Lavandera takes a look.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Becky Hammon's family preached the values of God and country growing up in South Dakota during the last decade of the cold war.

HAMMON: You love your country, you love basketball, it makes sense to have a dream of going to the Olympics.

LAVANDERA: But this quintessential all-American girl and all- star WNBA player won't be wearing the red, white and blue uniform at this summer's Olympics. Becky Hammon will be the starting point guard for team Russia, even though she doesn't speak Russian, and has no Russian ancestry.

HAMMON: I knew my patriotism was definitely going to come under attack, and that's OK. Like I said, I grew up in middle America. I know how people think, because that's how I think.

LAVANDERA: Some fans are angered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that her country?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then I wouldn't root for that.

LAVANDERA: And the Head Coach of the U.S. Women's National Team, Anne Donovan has called her a traitor. But now Team USA is toning down the criticism.

JIM TOOLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, USA BASKETBALL: We look at this as an individual decision that Becky has made. And she's in the position to feel free to do as she pleases in that regard. She's playing within the rules. LAVANDERA: Hammon spends half the year playing in the United States and in the off-season play for a professional team in Moscow, which provided her with Russian citizenship. Professional women's basketball didn't exist when Becky Hammon was growing up. So playing in the Olympics was the pinnacle of a career. Today, Hammon is 31 and she feels it's her last chance to fulfill that dream. Despite being one of the most popular players in America --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm looking for a Russia jersey with Becky's name on it.

LAVANDERA: Hammon wasn't invited to try out for the U.S. team until she had already signed to play with the Russians. So it's the gold medal match, Team USA, Team Russia tied. And you shoot the last- second shot and you make it. How do you feel?

HAMMON: Of course, I ran through all these scenarios in my head. Every scenario possible before I made this decision. So I had to be comfortable with it. This is a basketball game. I still love my country.

LAVANDERA: Becky Hammon says she'll take the shot and hopefully make it. For her, the Cold War ended long ago. Ed Lavandera, CNN, San Antonio


CHETRY: And on the campaign trail there are softball questions. There are some hard-hitting questions. And then there's the never- ending question. Ahead, the story in less time than it took to actually ask the question.


CHETRY: John McCain calls this campaign the straight talk express, although it was certain anything but express at one town hall.

ROBERTS: That's because one questions just kept on going and going, and going, and it's the most news in the morning.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no way John McCain could know this faithful point would result in the world's longest question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here by my own convictions, by my own considerations, accord --

MOOS: At least it felt like the world's longest question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe as a Christian voice in general for this nation --

MCCAIN: Can I have a question?



MOOS: Yes, but not quite yet. Not anywhere near yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not to insult, sir. I do not know what you know. I do not know how much you know. But --

MCCAIN: Can I have a question from you?


MOOS: We're a little more than a minute into this now and still no question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Bible is standard to it's principles --

MCCAIN: Now I'm going to ask you for a third time, can I have a question?


MOOS: As the guy um'd, the crowd was getting restless.

MCCAIN: Please, sir, there's a number of other people that would like to ask a question. Would you please go ahead, give me a question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to be as concise as I can.

MOOS: Oh, he's being concise all right. We're now a minute 45 into the question, and John McCain's head is getting heavy. Audience members are starting to rub their heads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Delivered minority groups, mainly have black people that have been horribly, terribly abused --

MCCAIN: Sir, you really, really have to ask me the question. I understand American history. Please go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, then I'll get very direct.

MOOS: Just don't try to direct him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to silence the Christian voice, trying to stop us from --

MCCAIN: Sir, you really have to -- you really have to --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I give you my final question, then?

MCCAIN: Yes, sir.


MOOS: Senator McCain was more generous with his time than the crowd was with theirs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Let me say this.

MOOS: Finally, three minutes and 15 seconds after he began came the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should we vote for Senator John McCain as president?

MCCAIN: Thank you, sir. Thank you.

MOOS: Then with an odd wave of his arm, he surrendered the floor to Senator McCain, who gave a 20-second answer. But we don't have time for that.

MCCAIN: Thank you for your commitment to the things you believe in.

MOOS: On this question, the straight talk express went local.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me. I'm hoarse.

MOOS: No wonder. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


CHETRY: We both just fell out laughing. He said, I'm trying to be as concise as possible. You ever have one of those days?

ROBERTS: One of those hazards when you say, I'll take one more from the back over there, please. Want to say welcome back, again. It's great having you back here. Two months away on maternity leave.

CHETRY: Like you said, it's like riding a bike. But, I'm glad that the --

ROBERTS: You get right back on there, and the way you go.

CHETRY: That the tour now's over today.

ROBERTS: We've got the pictures, by the way, to show you of the new little one. Christopher Knowles-Chetry.

CHETRY: That's right. There he is as well, little Christopher Knowles with his big sister, Maya, who is just fascinated.

ROBERTS: I think we got another separate one. No, we don't have the separate one. The face on-shot shows that he's definitely been eating a lot. There you go -- little chubby cheeks there.

CHETRY: Every two hours, whether he needs it or not.

ROBERTS: So, congratulations and welcome back.

CHETRY: Thank you, great to be back. ROBERTS: And for the first time in two months, we can say we'll see you again tomorrow morning. Thank you for joining us on the AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: Meantime, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Tony Harris and Heidi Collins begins right now.