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American Morning

Hurricane Bertha On the Move This Morning; Living Conditions for the Hostages While in Colombia; Interview with Senator John McCain; Celebrity Divorces in the Spotlight

Aired July 08, 2008 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: Hurricane Bertha on the move in the Atlantic this morning, now a major category 3 storm with wind gusts up to 150 miles an hour. Forecasters expect it to weaken somewhat over the next few hours, though. Bertha just over 1,000 miles from the island nation of Bermuda. Still not clear if it's going to hit the island, but people there are being advised to monitor progress.
This morning we have a better idea of what life was like for those three Americans held hostage in the jungles of Colombia. They spoke out for the first time about their ordeal, blasting their captors, and revealing what kept them alive for more than five years. Here's CNN Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, it was the first public comments made by the freed American hostages since their rescue, and it happened at a choreographed ceremony at Brooke Army Medical Center where they've spent the last five days. And it offered a brief glimpse for what life was like for the men in the Colombian jungles. Thomas Howes, Mark Gonsalves, and Keith Stansell, forever bonded by their hostage ordeal and their first words gave you a sense of the despair they endured.

THOMAS HOWES, FORMER HOSTAGE: Almost 5 1/2 years ago we fell off the edge of the earth. My companions helped me cope with difficult conditions.

MARC GONSALVES, FORMER HOSTAGE: There was a time that when I slept, I would dream that I was free. That time was only a few days ago. It feels so good to be free here now with all of you.

KEITH STANSELL, FORMER HOSTAGE: To my country, who never forgot me, never, it is my privilege to stand here before you with my family. They are - these people here - the reason that I'm alive.

LAVANDERA: With their families standing next to them, the former hostages made brief statements, answered no questions, and thanked the Colombian soldiers who orchestrated their rescue and asked people to remember that there are others just like them.

HOWES: We're doing well, but we cannot forget those that we left behind in captivity.

GONSALVES: Right now, right now they're wearing chains around their necks. They're going to get up early tomorrow morning. They're going to put a heavy backpack on their backs and they're going to be forced to march with that chain on their neck while a guerrilla with automatic weapon is holding the other end of his chain like a dog.

LAVANDERA: Mark Gonsalves spoke the longest and issued a blistering critique of the Colombian rebels who held him captive.

GONSALVES: I want to send a message to the FARC. FARC, you guys are terrorists. You deny that you are, you say with words that you're not terrorists, but your words don't have any value. Don't tell us that you're not terrorists, show us that you're not terrorists. Let those other hostages come home.

LAVANDERA: Gonsalves says he's grateful that he no longer has to dream of coming home, but that reminded Keith Stansell who wants to go home to Florida of one problem of being free.

STANSELL: And to Governor Crist of the great state of Florida, sir, I don't have a driver's license, how am I going to get home?


LAVANDERA: There's no word yet on when these men will leave Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Their doctors continue to say that they have no significant medical problem and they all appear to be in very good health. John and Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: Ed Lavandera for us. Thank you.

Well, new this morning, for the first time ever, Iraq's prime minister is calling for a timetable to withdraw U.S. forces. Nouri Al Maliki wants that to be a part of a security deal that Iraq and the U.S. are still trying to hammer out. Pentagon officials stress any withdrawal would be based on the readiness of Iraq's security forces. Baghdad has proposed an unofficial formula for the withdrawal. President Bush repeatedly said no to any firm time table.

And there's a new study by former four retired military that finds gays in the military don't undermine unit cohesion and suggest that Congress should repeal the don't ask-don't tell policy, included on the study's panel is the same three star Air Force Lieutenant General who helped draft current guidelines. The panel points to British and Israeli military, both of which allow gays and lesbians in uniform to be open about their sexuality.

Well, some trouble ahead for firefighters working to knock down California's 300 wildfires that are currently burning. Warmer weather is expected in the next few days, along with some dryer winds. The three most dangerous fires, one west of Santa Barbara, one at Big Sur, and the other in the southern Sierra Nevada are all less than 50 percent contained and another fire in northern California is forcing the evacuation of 5,000 residents as we speak. CNN's Kara Finnstrom is looking at the rush to get those fires under control.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Firefighters here in Goleta know hot temperatures are on the way, and they fear hillsides like this one that were torched and may still be smoldering could reignite. So they're racing to shore up the areas around neighborhoods. Cutting through thick brush, fighting fire with fire as they burned away potential fuel, and hiking into rugged terrain to extinguish hot spots.

One of our crews followed them and was there to capture a sudden flare-up and then the smothering water drop. The encouraging news, firefighters say cooler temperatures over the long holiday weekend allowed them to make good progress on the fire's southern and eastern sides, which is where the homes are.

Now they say the fire is largely burning in forest areas away from homes and they're working hard to keep it that way. Kiran, John.


ROBERTS: Those DC-10 fire bombers are pretty impressive, aren't they?

CHETRY: Yes. And they got a little bit of a break yesterday and the day before with some of the more humid conditions, but as we said, it's switching, and so now it's going to be drier and hotter there.

ROBERTS: Yes. As soon as that wind comes off of the high desert, it dries right up like that.

Bertha gets bigger. Coming up at eight minutes after the hour, the latest on the storm that has exploded from a category one to a powerful category three storm in just the past 24 hours.

CHETRY: Also, at 10 past the hour, the presumptive republican nominee, Senator John McCain says he can balance the budget by 2013. Is it possible? We're going to talk to him about his economic plan when he joins us live in just a few minutes.

ROBERTS: And Ali Velshi's energy hunt. See what he found in the sands of Alberta, Canada. You're watching the most news in the morning.


CHETRY: This morning, you're waking up to a major category 3 hurricane and it's churning in the Atlantic right now. Bertha packing winds of 120 miles per hour. So far though posing no immediate threat to land. CNN's Rob Marciano tracking this storm for us from the weather center in Atlanta. Hey there, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Kiran. That's exactly what we were hoping from Bertha although firing up from a cat one to a cat three in just a matter of six hours yesterday. It was a little bit surprising. It looks like it's weakening a little bit now as it heads north into a more unfavorable environment. It's still over 1,000 miles from Bermuda. It's moving northwesterly at 10 but we still officially have 120 miles an hour gust although likely it will be weakening as we go through time.

Here's the official forecast, it just takes it to the east of Bermuda, well away from the United States and takes it from a cat three eventually down to a category one. So Bertha should not be bothering anybody, it looks like, at least the U.S.

All right. We're looking at the west coast. Heat is building out there. And we've got problems as you know from fires, fresh video from the Goleta fire there, the gap fire. One of several burning in that state. Less than 50 percent containment for a number of these fires. They got some of a handle on them over the weekend with slightly cooler temperatures, but today, tomorrow, and the rest of the week, we're going to see some problems.

So, and just word now out of Butte county, 5,000 residents may be forced to evacuate. They're already starting to do that. That's just right around through here where they have a red flag warning out for today. Very low levels of humidity, dry down sloping winds and temperatures that will be on the rise. Also excessive heat warnings and watches posted for a good chunk of California and through Las Vegas as well. And this heat, Kiran, will likely last until at least Thursday, possibly Friday as well. Back to you.

CHETRY: It's going to be a big challenge. As we've said most of those fires are less than 50 percent contained right now. So they've got a big fight ahead of them. Thanks, Rob.

ROBERTS: It's 11 minutes after the hour now. Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama are selling their economic plans this week, battling over who has the better approach to fix the sagging economy. Senator McCain says he wants to balance the budget by the year 2013. President Bush's tax cuts and McCain's proposed cuts is a balanced budget even possible. Senator McCain is here now to answer those questions. He joins me live from Arlington, Virginia. Senator, it's good to see you this morning. Thanks for being with us.


ROBERTS: I check the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan organization yesterday. They project that by extending the President's tax cuts, which you want to do, and adding in the tax cuts that you're proposing, the deficit for the year 2013 will be somewhere around $439 to $445 billion. So I think it's a fair question to ask, how would you get that number down to zero?

MCCAIN: Well, first, I suggest you check in with other organizations. But the fact is there's a whole lot of economists, including noble laureates who agree with my plan. We're going to reach restrained spending, we're going to have the economy grow again and increase revenues. It's not the - the problem is that spending got completely out of control. We grew government by some 40 percent since the Great Society. The spending got out of control, we restrained spending, we keep people's taxes low. We create jobs, 700,000 jobs by building new nuclear power plants, 20,000 new jobs by coal, gasification, so that we have clean coal technologies, new automotive technologies, and we'll balance the budget. The same outfit said that we could never balance the budget in the past. We certainly have. It's spending that's out of control.

ROBERTS: Actually, I also checked with the Congressional Budget Office and the Center for Budget and Policy Priority numbers were more conservative, they were lower than the CBO's numbers. The CBO's numbers are higher but the number that you have -

MCCAIN: Again, they're static numbers. Not saying that revenues will increase with a strong economy and with low taxes. That's the difference. And I respectfully disagree.

ROBERTS: But Senator, you can't get over the fact, though, that extending the Bush tax cuts, as you want to do, and adding in your tax cuts do take the deficit number from - we actually go from a $70 billion surplus to a $445 billion deficit. So, it's those tax cuts.

MCCAIN: You can't seem to get over the fact that it's spending that's out of control. And you restrain spending and also you can't get over the fact that historically when you raise people's taxes, revenue goes down. Every time we cut capital gains taxes, there has been an increase in revenues.


MCCAIN: So, I'm glad to have this discussion with you, and obviously you disagree, but the facts are that when you keep taxes low, when you restrain spending, as we did in 1982 when Ronald Reagan came to office, then the economy grows. We've created 46 million new jobs since 1982, because of lower taxes, but the spending got out of control, and that obviously caused the deficit, which then caused us to have to borrow money from China, et cetera, et cetera. And that's our problem that we have today, is spending and not keeping taxes low and stimulating the economy.

ROBERTS: Senator, with respect, I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm just laying out some facts that some organizations, analytical organizations have put out there. The amount of money that you need -

MCCAIN: Actually, what you're laying out is a very different opinion. I have a large number of economists who agree with my point of view and I hope you'll consult with them as well. I'm sure you will, John.

ROBERTS: It's just that I think some voters are legitimately asking the question that the amount of money that you need to save to get down to zero is the total amount of the non security discretionary budget now - that the federal government operates on.

MCCAIN: Actually, what I'm hearing from voters right now is that they're worried about keeping their job, they want to keep their taxes low, they're worried about health care, they're worried about staying in their home, and they want to us figure out - that's what I'm hearing from voters all over America as I do town hall meetings everywhere. That's what I'm hearing from them, that's what I'm going to address. That we can do it through growing our economy and creating new jobs. ROBERTS: Senator, I'm sure you're also hearing from them about social security. Because you say that part of this plan, if you're going to balance the budget, is to reform social security. You've talked about the idea of private accounts, as President Bush tried to get through and couldn't. What else would you do to reform social security?

MCCAIN: I would sit down with democrats and republicans the way Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did in 1983. And they said, OK, we've got everything on the table here, let's come to an agreement. The approval rating of Congress right now 12 percent last time I saw. I know how to work across the aisle, I've done it with democrats and I've done it for many, many years. We'll sit down across the table with the backing of the American people.

ROBERTS: But do you have any idea on what you can do?

MCCAIN: On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I would like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money which is their taxes and put it in an account which has their name on it. Now, that's a voluntary thing, it's for younger people, it would not affect any present-day retirees or the system as necessary. So let's describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken, that's why we can fix it. We can do it together, republicans and democrats alike.

ROBERTS: Senator, on this issue of earmarks that you talk about frequently, you reiterated yesterday that you have never taken an earmark. I wonder if you can clarify something. Back in 1992, you were trying to get $5 million for a waste water treatment plans in Nogales. And you try to get it through Congress. They wouldn't put it through Congress so you sent a letter to then-president George H.W. Bush. Where you "I would like to request that EPA either reprogram $5 million out of existing funds or earmark the amount for an appropriate account to meet the waste water treatment needs at the Nogales plant. Was that an earmark?

MCCAIN: Of course, not. It was a request to have it put in the president's budget. And that's a very legitimate request so that the administration will ask for. The definition of an earmark is a program that is put in, and money for it, money put in an unauthorized fashion in the middle of the night. So, no it's not that and it's not the same.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, Senator, thanks for clearing that up this morning. Appreciate it.

MCCAIN: Thanks, John. I'm glad to clear it up for you. And it's good to talk to you again, John. I enjoy our conversations.

ROBERTS: Good to talk to you too, Senator. See you again soon.

CHETRY: A call that could catch a terrorists, but many officers aren't making it. Jeanne Meserve tells us why the terror watch list is not being put to proper use.


ROBERTS (voice-over): Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING. Ali's energy hunt.

ALI VELSHI, CNN, SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is what we came here to see. This is oil sand.

ROBERTS: The land of giant trucks, where billions of barrels of oil are literally right under your feet. You're watching the most news in the morning.


CHETRY: This song sounds so sad. You're not like that.

VELSHI: I'm not. What do you suggest we do?

CHETRY: I wanted I just can't get enough.

VELSHI: Oh, my that's good. That's actually very good.

CHETRY: The point is you have found what you're looking for.

VELSHI: We need more of it. We need more.

CHETRY: Yes. And Ali Velshi has been on an energy hunt with a unique source of oil. This one actually closer to home than we think.

VELSHI: You're absolutely right.

CHETRY: And it's not the Middle East.

VELSHI: The worldwide demand for oil is growing, so we decided to start our energy hunt in a place that you might be surprised to learn, supplies about 10 percent of America's imported oil. The oil sands of Canada is the largest known oil deposit in the world. It is significantly larger than Saudi Arabia. And unlike Saudi Arabia where the oil lies beneath the sand, in Canada the oil is in the sand.


VELSHI (voice-over): One-third of the world's know oil deposits are right here, in the dirt. So that's where we headed on our energy hunt. From New York to Fort McMurray, Alberta.

VELSHI (on-camera): All right, this is it. We are literally walking on black gold. This is what we came here to see. This is oil sand. It's sand that's encased in water and oil. In fact, this is about 10 percent crude oil.

Large quantities of oil embedded in sand only occur in two places in the world, Venezuela and Canada. Giant shovels scoop up 100 tons of oil-laden dirt at a time. Hundreds of trucks move across the landscape all day and night, every single day. You need a lot of earth to make oil. It takes about two tons of oil sands to make one barrel of oil. Now, this big hauler holds 400 tons of oil sands, so once that's all filled up and made into oil, you'll have about 200 barrels of oil.

That's right. Two tons of oil sand makes one barrel of oil. But at today's oil prices, it's wildly profitable. That's why major players like ExxonmMobil, Shell, Chevron and others squeeze 1.5 million barrels of oil out of this land every day and they send most of it to the U.S. It's costlier than getting it from a simple land well, because the tar-like oil has to be separated from the sand. And that uses lots of natural gas and warm water. The result is a heavy molasses-like oil which has to be upgraded into a lighter, high- quality form of crude that can then be easily refined into gasoline, home heating oil, and other petroleum products. Canada produces much more oil than it needs, so the excess oil is sold and sent by pipeline to its best customer, the United States.

Notice that there's no pipeline to Canada's west coast. There is one proposed, and it's backed by China.


VELSHI: Now, most of the oil from the oil sands comes to the U.S. right now. It's not clear that that will always be the case. If that pipeline to the west coast of Canada does get built, the oil could just as easily be shipped to China. And as for how much oil we can get from Canada, well optimistic predictions are that Canada can increase its oil sands production to between four and five million barrels per day within the next decade, and that would be about a third of all the oil that the U.S. imports at the moment.

ROBERTS: And how long would it last?

VELSHI: Well, at today's rates of production and what they're proposing, maybe about 70 years. But as oil becomes more expensive, it becomes more viable to do that and then there's actually more oil there than is viable right now. So could be 150 years, depending on what oil costs. A lot of oil there.

CHETRY: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: All right.

CHETRY: Republican leaders in Congress are getting a warning from their top fund-raisers, start doing something about Washington's out of control spending, or you can kiss your money good-bye. We're talking with one fund-raiser about how this plan would work, after the break.


CHETRY: Some republican donors have a message to GOP leaders in Congress to stop out of control spending or don't expect anymore money from us. So will their call be heard? Rich Wagner is president of the Lincoln Club of Orange County. It's an organization that gives millions of dollars each year to republican candidates across the country. He joins me from our Los Angeles bureau this morning to talk more about it. Thanks for being with us, Rich.

RICH WAGNER, PRES., LINCOLN CLUB OF ORANGE COUNTY: Thank you, Kiran, nice to be with you.

CHETRY: What is the goal of this call, if you will, to republicans in Congress to reign in the spending?

WAGNER: Kiran, it's about the spending. You know, republicans, we think, have been out of control on their spending for quite some time. We decided, Chip Hamlin, a club member, as well as I, wrote an article to bring attention to what we perceived to be the issue and that is that republican party is supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility and smaller government, yet there seems to be republicans in Congress that have gone way off the track.

CHETRY: So how would this work. What kind of impact realistically do you think this will have?

WAGNER: Well, the Lincoln Club in and of itself is not going to make the change happen. We're calling other organizations and republicans across the country to join us in this.

CHETRY: You know, a lot of candidates make promises, I mean, within their districts, it helps with re-election to promise some of the programs that come out of these earmarks that have really been the problem, taking these pet projects into major appropriation bills. If the republicans stop doing it, don't you just, by default, help the democrat in the district get elected?

WAGNER: We're not saying that we want to stop earmarks completely. We think there are good - we think there are good earmarks that are responsible and needed in order to govern the country. What we are saying is that we think it's become somewhat of a candy store. You know, we think that earmarks have grown since 1995 - from 1995 to 2005, increased by 285 percent. Why? You know, we think it needs to be reined in.

CHETRY: You know, we got a statement from House Minority Leader John Boehner. This is what he said. He said the House GOP economic agenda includes not only plans for an earmark freeze, which is going further than even what you said you wanted, but also proposals for serious entitlement reforms, unprecedented spending controls, and a revolutionary flat tax plan that has widespread conservative support. Isn't this sort of what you're looking for out of GOP leadership?

WAGNER: Sure. And I'm glad to hear that. You know, John Boehner, himself, has not been a person who has gone after earmarks. In fact, he does not do earmarks. And we think that's great, we applaud that. But as House Minority leader, it's incumbent upon John Boehner to stand upon the mountaintop, jump up and down, and yell and scream at the people that are being profligant in their spending and in doing earmarks. And we think Mitch McConnell should have to do - should be doing the same thing.

CHETRY: John McCain said this about what he would do if he was elected president. Let's listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I'm president, I'll order a stem to stern review of government, modernize how it does business, and save billions of dollars. I'll veto every single bill with wasteful pork barrel spending on it. You can count on it.


CHETRY: Do you think John McCain will be able to and is concerned enough about these problems that he'll be able to tackle some of the concerns you have?

WAGNER: I take John McCain at his word on that. I think he will and I saw the segment you had on just a few minutes earlier and he mentioned at least three times that I heard that spending was the issue.

CHETRY: All right. Well, Rich Wagner, thanks for joining us. The Lincoln Club of Orange County president. Thanks.

WAGNER: Thank you.


ROBERTS: It's coming up now on the bottom of the hour, just crossing it actually. And here's some of the top stories that we're following today. A deadly blast at the Indian embassy in Kabul is being blamed on Pakistan this morning. An Afghan government official who spoke to CNN says the attack has the hallmarks of the Pakistani intelligence. The car bomb killed 41 people and injured 150 yesterday. Afghan officials say it was the deadliest attack there since the fall of the Taliban.

This morning, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he sees no chance of a war between the Iran and the United States or Israel. But he also told reporters in Malaysia that Israel would fall apart without Iranian action. The comments came a day after Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the country would retaliate any military action by striking Tel Aviv and U.S. ships.

Hurricane Bertha on the move in the Atlantic this morning. Now a major category 3 storm with winds up to 150 miles an hour. Forecasters expect it to weaken somewhat over the next few hours, though. Bertha just a thousand miles away from the tiny island nation of Bermuda. Still not clear if it's going to hit Bermuda, but people there are being advised to monitor progress.

For the first time, the three Americans held hostage for more than five years in Colombia are speaking about the cruelty they endured at the hands of a rebel group called FARC. Emotions were raw as one of the man talked of the hell that those still being held are having to endure before their escape and blasting the group, calling them terrorists who pretend to be fighting for the poor. Here's Marc Gonsalves in his own words.


MARC GONSALVES, FORMER HOSTAGE: The FARC are not a revolutionary group. They are not a revolutionary group. They are terrorists. Terrorists with a capital "T," bad people. There are people who right now, in this very moment, they're still there in the jungle, being held hostage. In this exact moment, right now, they're being punished because we got rescued successfully. I want you guys to imagine that. Right now, right now they're wearing chains around their necks. They're going to get up early in the morning and they're going to put a heavy backpack on their backs and they're going to be forced to march with that chain on their neck while a guerrilla with an automatic weapon is holding the other end of this chain, like a dog.

I want to send a message to the FARC. FARC, you guys are terrorists. You deny that you are, you say with words that you're not terrorists, but your words don't have any value. Don't tell us that you're not terrorists, show us that you're not terrorists. Let those other hostages come home.


ROBERTS: All three men are still being treated at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Still unclear when they'll be able to head home.


CHETRY: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen says there's reason to be optimistic about Iraq. According to Mullen, security conditions are holding and violence is at its lowest level in four years. He says that could impact a decision on further troop withdrawals later this year.

Meanwhile, here at home, there are conflicting reports about an alleged near-collision at New York's Kennedy Airport this past weekend. Air traffic controllers says that two planes, one arriving, the other departing, came within about 100 feet of a collision before controllers were able to turn them away from each other. But FAA investigators say that radar data contradicts the controllers' claims.

And cutting jobs to cut costs. Air Tran Airways is laying off 480 employees to try to deal with rising fuel costs. Effective September 6th, 180 pilots and 300 flight attendants will be eliminated. That should save the low-cost carrier about $16 million a year. John.

ROBERTS: Potential terrorists may be slipping through the cracks because some local authorities are not making a call that could just take seconds. Our Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve's has got more on this now for us and she's in Washington. Hey, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, the mantra in intelligence since 9/11 has been connect the dots, but a simple step to help do that is being ignored by some state and local police.


MESERVE (voice-over): Six weeks before the 9/11 attacks, police in Arlington county, Virginia, stopped one of the hijackers for speeding. Even if Honey Hudger had been on a terrorist watch list, there was no way for local police to know. Now seven years later, a national tool created to close that gap is not being used consistently by state and local police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing, sir? Do you have your license and registration on you?

MESERVE: When a police officer runs a name through his computer, he gets an automatic alert if the individual is on a terrorist watch list. The officer is then supposed to contact the FBI's terrorist screening center. On a typical day, 15 to 20 officers across the nation do that, but many others do not.

LEONARD BOYLE, TERRORIST SCREENING CENTER: On an average day, probably about eight or 10 times we believe there is a hit against the watch list by a state or local officer and that call is not being made to us.

MESERVE: The failure to close that loop is an opportunity lost.

It can really help?

BOYLE: Absolutely.

MESERVE: Find the bad guy?

BOYLE: Yes, it can. And develop intelligence about them, develop information about their patterns of activity, their associates, et cetera.

MESERVE: In Arlington county when a police officer does the right thing and follows through with the FBI, day get an (attaboy) in their personnel files and an FBI agent embedded in the department follows up.

CAPT. KEVIN REARDON, ARLINGTON COUNTY, VA., POLICE: They don't just make a report and it disappears, they're contacted, the circumstances are evaluated, and they know that in fact someone is using that information.

MESERVE: here, where patrols pass right by the pentagon, terrorism is not a theoretical threat.

OFC. KEVIN RILEY, ARLINGTON COUNTY, VA., POLICE: It's a visual reminder every single day, you know, of things that have happened in the past and can happen at any moment.


MESERVE: Some of the theories on why more police departments don't follow through on watch list hits - time, money, and training though the consequences could be deadly. John, Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: Well, he's not a soldier but he's leaving his family behind to serve in Iraq. Why a career diplomat is answering the call.


ROBERTS (voice-over): Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

MICAH CURTIS: 99 percent of the people should not do what we did.

ROBERTS: The brothers who got busted trying to save their home from a wildfire. You're watching the most news in the morning.


ROBERTS: With wildfires burning all over California, firefighters couldn't be everywhere. That's why one homeowner took matters into his own hands. But our Dan Simon explains that his fire may have landed him and his brother in hot water. He's now here to explain.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): John and Kiran, fighting fire with fire. It can be an effective tool. But it's also dangerous. That's why it's best left up to professional firefighters. But one Big Sur homeowner decided to do it himself to try to protect his property.

SIMON (voice-over): With flames bearing down on Big Sur, Micah Curtis had few good options to save his family's 55-acre property. Firefighters were fighting other fires. So Curtis did what he thought was right. He set a backfire. Something that usually only professionals do to burn the brush that fuels a fire's path.

How did you actually start the backfire?

MICAH CURTIS, BIG SUR RESIDENT: With highway flares.

SIMON: You used a highway flare?

CURTIS: Which is why we got busted. Because they were two miles away with binoculars, watching us. And they say highway flare.

SIMON: Busted is right. Starting your own backfires is illegal because so much can go wrong. A backfire can start other unintended fires and cause massive damage.

Curtis doesn't exactly have a ton of experience. He was a firefighter 30 years ago during his college summers. But he says he knew what he was doing and credits his backfires with saving as many as eight houses on this mountain ridge including this one.

CURTIS: Our backfire saved us. If we hadn't had those backfires we would have been a meat in a sandwich between two flames coming up at 2:00 in the afternoon at 40 miles an hour winds.

SIMON: Curtis says the backfire was textbook perfect. Burning brush and then dying out. He claims some fire crews even praised his work.

CURTIS: Every fireman that comes up here that's a captain or anything like that said we did incredible work.

SIMON: But authorities say the out come is irrelevant.

MIKE DIETRICH, BIG SUR INCIDENT COMMANDER: What if this was a bad process with a bad out come, possibly a fatality or burn over of firefighters or other citizens. He was fortunate but that's not something that we subscribe to.

SIMON: Fire crews say they warned Curtis to stop his backfires, but he continued. Curtis disputes that. He claimed that he stopped when he was told. What is not in dispute is the sheriff's office made an arrest. But instead of arresting Micah Curtis, they took his brother into custody.

CURTIS: My brother Ross says, somebody's got to be the fall guy here. It's got to be me.

ROSS CURTIS, MICAH CURTIS' BROTHER: Me and my cousin were talking. Well, I said we need a sacrificial lamb to go down there because they're not going to leave until they have what they want.

SIMON: By taking the fall he says it allowed Micah to continue saving the family property. Ross Curtis could face up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. Was it all worth it?

CURTIS: 99 percent of the people should not do what we did. I'm not even saying it's a good idea we did it. But we did it. We saved our place. The proof is in the pudding.

SIMON: Now, when it comes to lighting your own backfires, there are exceptions here. The law says you can do it if you can prove it was absolutely necessary to save lives and property, so the brothers may actually have a solid legal argument here. Now it's up to prosecutors to decide whether or not they're going to move forward. John and Kiran, back to you.


CHETRY: It's one of those things where the outcome doesn't necessarily make it right, but boy what are you going to do? You try to do your best to save our house.

ROBERTS: Yes, a lot of people find themselves in that boat and they run up against law enforcement and they're trying to do their jobs and sometimes they collide like that.

CHETRY: Well, a new way to treat kids with cholesterol problems. That's right, cholesterol problems in kids. Some of you may not even think you have to worry about it yet. But experts say kids as young as eight may be needing cholesterol-lowering medication. How do you know if your child's at risk.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look.


ROBERTS (voice-over): Dangerous assignment.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Why is it important for you to volunteer to go to Iraq?

ROBERTS: Zain Verjee talks to a diplomat being shipped off to a war zone. You're watching the most news in the morning.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. More foreign service officers are serving in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, the State Department had a tough time filling diplomatic posts in Iraq. Now one career diplomat is stepping up, hoping to lead by example. Here's Zain Verjee with the latest in a series focused on the dangers and challenges new diplomats face today.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's not just American troops risking their lives to serve in Iraq. The State Department is struggling to get diplomats to sign up for the jobs too. John Naland head of the union of U.S. diplomats answered the call and will leave his family for one year to lead a reconstruction team in Iraq's () province.

Why is it important for you to volunteer to go to Iraq?

JOHN NALAND, PRES., AMERICAN FOREIGN SERVICE ASSN.: Well, we're a U.S. foreign service family, and so the key words are foreign and service. It'd be hard for me to encourage others to go if I didn't do it myself.

VERJEE: For all foreign service families, hard choices.

BARBARA NALAND, WIFE OF JOHN NALAND: A lot of families are in the same boat.

JOHN NALAND: Not seeing my two daughters go through a whole year of their elementary school careers.

BARBARA NALAND: I think we can manage, you know, for a year. I'm obviously more worried about him, because he will be in a dangerous place, even though the violence is down.

VERJEE: Last year the State Department was burned by bad publicity after threatening to fire diplomats who refused to serve in Iraq. A stormy town hall meeting ended in confrontation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a potential death sentence, and you know it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't you or anybody else stand there and tell me I don't care about my colleagues.

VERJEE: This time around, the department's playing it cool thanking, not threatening.

CONDOLEEZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Employees and their families deserve our nation's gratitude. I assure you that they have mine and I encourage you to join our teams in Baghdad and Kabul.

PATRICK KENNEDY, UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Foreign service people and civil service colleagues as well have stepped up and I have every belief that they'll do the same thing this year.

VERJEE: It's two dangerous for diplomat's families to live in Iraq or Afghanistan, so John Naland like many others will step up on their own while their families wait and worry.


CHETRY: That was Zain Verjee reporting. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says more diplomats are needed to deal with the dangerous world. There are about 900 available positions today, that's four times more than in 2001 and most of those positions are in Iraq and Afghanistan.

ROBERTS: CNN NEWSROOM just minutes away now. Heidi Collins at the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead. Hey, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, John. California's new hot spot in the NEWSROOM today. Wildfire erupts this morning in north of Sacramento now. 5,000 people are told to get out of their homes right mow. We'll have an update.

And the presidential candidates lobby the nation's largest Hispanic organization today. Before that, Barack Obama's town hall in suburban Atlanta. We'll have that live next hour.

Plus, he took a spike in the head, but he is not dead. The only thing the pin damaged was his sweet tooth.

And is your tween dating? Parents, a new survey is jaw-dropping. We'll have it for you, NEWSROOM, top of the hour, right here on CNN. John.

ROBERTS: Thank you very much, Heidi. We'll see you soon.

The Kabbalah movement, it already boasts Madonna among its ranks, now even more big names are signing up. So what exactly is Kabbalah? We're going to have a look.

And there's a new recommendation now for kids from families with high cholesterol. Our Sanjay Gupta taking a look at that. He joins us. Hey, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. This will catch a lot of people by surprise. We think of these medications for adults, but at what age should kids start using them? I'll have it for you coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Top videos right now on, booted for bad behavior. A Seattle woman with her two disabled children said her family was left stranded by Southwest Airlines on their way back home from Detroit. Southwest claims the family was being disruptive and unruly on the plane and dropped them off in Phoenix, where they were supposed to take a connecting flight. The family said police officers bought them food and a motel six, donated a hotel room for the night.

Also, Christie Brinkley battling a child custody case in a Long Island courtroom. It's the third day of the divorce trial between Brinkley and 49-year-old architect Peter Cook who Brinkley claims had an affair and spent $3,000 a month on internet porn. This morning's most popular video on You're watching the most news in the morning. We will be right back.


CHETRY: The American Academy of Pediatrics says that some children as young as eight years old should be placed on cholesterol- lowering medication. We're "Paging Dr. Gupta" right now, CNN's chief medical correspondent to find out exactly more about what parents need to know. This seems shocking that you would need to be on a statin drug or some sort of cholesterol drug at the age of eight.

GUPTA: I know, I was pretty surprised by it as well. But a couple things to keep in mind, one is that heart disease, the process of heart disease starts very early in life, even as a child. And the second thing is that there are more and more kids at risk than ever before because of the ramifications of the childhood obesity epidemic. That is really what we're talking about here. So the American Academy of Pediatrics says, let's widen the net to find out who should be screened and possibly treated at a much earlier age.

So in addition to checking weight and blood pressure, they're going to check cholesterol. And here's what we're looking for specifically. If it's 160 or above, that's the LDL, the bad cholesterol, and you have two risk factors, that may warrant medication. 190 or above with no risk factors would warrant medication as well. So again, we are talking about very young children here, children as young as eight years old. They have in the past recommended for children a little bit older than that, but this is the youngest ever. And as you said, it's pretty surprising.

CHETRY: Because you think, I mean, there are side effects associated with taking any medication, including cholesterol-lowering drug. And when you're on them, don't you have to be on them for life? I mean, it seems like you should try to change some of the eating habits and the exercise habits before you have to worry about cholesterol drugs?

GUPTA: Yes, I think you're absolutely right. And that was sort of the impact of the previous recommendations. Look, try exercises, try eating changes, those sorts of things. But we're finding out that it's not always working and we're still having a growing obesity problem in this country. Which is why I think they sort of pulled back the recommendations. Now, one thing I'll add as well, as far as side effects go, we don't really know what the side effects are long- term. Because we know in adults they cause muscle pain, they can cause nausea, they can cause liver problems, but in kids there's only been about ten-year data. And as you pointed out, they're going to need to be on it for the rest of their lives. So if you know, eating, diet changes, and exercise can work, certainly start with that, but medications may be necessary.

CHETRY: Wow, all right. Sanjay, we can find out more information on, by the way, but a very interesting topic and a concern to a lot of parents. Thanks, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thank you.

CHETRY: By the way, if you have a question for Sanjay, e-mail us, just go to and Sanjay answers your questions every Thursday on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS (voice-over): The power of Kabbalah.

MADONNA, SINGER: If we want something in life, we have to give something.

ROBERTS: Randi Kaye looks at the mysticism that's attracted Madonna and that some say she's using to lure in others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can somebody use Kabbalah to attract somebody else? It's definitely possible.

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


ROBERTS: From singers to star athletes, Hollywood's biggest names are in the roster of Kabbalah believers.

CHETRY: CNN's Randi Kaye takes a look at a movement that used to be restricted to only the most religious. Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Kiran. Kept a secret for most for more than 5,000 years, now embraced by celebrities, Kabbalah is in.


KAYE (voice-over): Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, David Beckham, Madonna, and now apparently Yankee star Alex Rodriguez, all believers.

Why do you think so many celebrities follow it? RABBI NAFTALI CITRON, STUDIES KABBALAH: What the Kabbalah offers to them is the paradox of living in this day and age. Wealth, success, power. On the other hand, a lack of meaning. And the Kabbalah has a lot of those answers.

KAYE: Rabbi Naftali Citron says Kabbalah, which means to receive, is not a religion but the mystical component of Judaism that some say pre-dates Moses.

MADONNA: A Kabbalist believes that he or she has the responsibility to make the world a better place.

CITRON: The application of it is to be less judgmental, to lose your ego when possible, check it at the door, and bring in the soul to encounters rather than just your own jealousy.

KAYE: Rabbi Citron says Kabbalah used to be reserved for men over 40, true Jewish scholars, that's changed. Now, people from other religions embrace it. The Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles where Madonna is a frequent visitor has been criticized by more conservative Jews for opening its doors to too many.

KAYE (on-camera): Critics are suspicious of Kabbalist because of their mystical beliefs. They believe in reincarnation, and in medieval times, some associated the mysticism of Kabbalah with black magic, even witchcraft.

Does Kabbalah have the power to break up a marriage? Friends of the wife of Yankee star Alex Rodriguez say yes. Cynthia Rodriguez just filed for divorce, accusing A-Rod of adultery and those close to her suggest that Madonna used Kabbalah to lure A-Rod in.

CITRON: Kabbalah has a very erotic element to it, so can somebody use Kabbalah to attract somebody else? It's definitely possible.


KAYE: Madonna has denied any involvement. A-rod wouldn't comment, but his soon to be ex-father-in-law confirmed to "US Weekly Magazine" that he has gotten into Kabbalah. John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Randi Kaye for us this morning. Randi, thanks so much.

So many questions unanswered.

CHETRY: Yes. That's right. It's still mystical to us.

Well, thanks so much for joining us today on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

ROBERTS: All right. Bright and early. Right now on to CNN NEWSROOM with Tony Harris and Heidi Collins.