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American Morning

Hezbollah Turns Over Two Coffins to the Red Cross; U.S. Official to Attend Iran Nuclear Talk; Obama and McCain Debate Strategies on Iraq War; Oil Prices Plunge; How to Get Off the No Fly List; Controversial Florida Billboard Invokes 9/11; Democrats in Congress Considering Another Round of Stimulus Checks

Aired July 16, 2008 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. The U.S. says it's sitting down with Iran.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And this appears to be, at least, walking away from what had been a very stiff policy.


ROBERTS: Nuclear talks just days away.

Plus, fire in the sky. A local musician using the burning Twin Towers to make a political statement and a buck on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And good morning. Thanks very much for being with us on this Wednesday. It's the 16th of July. I'm John Roberts reporting this morning from Washington, D.C. Good morning, Kiran.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. We miss you up here in New York, but glad you're with us, everyone.

And we start with breaking news. A landmark exchange between Israel and Hezbollah. The Lebanese group turned over two coffins to the Red Cross earlier this morning. They say it contains the remains of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

Their capture triggered the war between Israel and Hezbollah two years ago. Once the identities are positively confirmed, Israel has promised to free five Hezbollah prisoners.

And the FAA is set to approve new safety standards for airline fuel tanks today. This will affect more than 3,000 jets used by U.S. airlines, including all Airbus and several large Boeing models. The airlines will have up to 10 years to equip the jets with devices that will snuff out flames in fuel tanks. The new rules are aimed at preventing explosions like the one that brought down TWA Flight 800 twelve years ago.

And Massachusetts is on the verge of joining California by allowing same-sex couples from other states to marry legally in Massachusetts. The state Senate has voted to repeal a 1913 law that bans marriage for couples who can't legally marry in their home state. The Massachusetts House is expected to vote this week and Governor Deval Patrick says that he supports the repeal -- John.

ROBERTS: Breaking news in the high states nuclear showdown between the United States and Iran to tell you about this morning. An administration source telling CNN the White House will send a senior diplomat to sit down with Iranian diplomats at a meeting this weekend in Geneva. It's being called a one-time deal designed to jumpstart talks.

CNN's Elaine Quijano was live at the White House for us this morning. She's got more details on this. How much of an about face is this for the administration, Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the administration is very cognizant of that kind of characterization. And they would say this is not a negotiation. In fact, just a few minutes ago I heard back from a senior administration official confirming what this administration source said last night. That is, this senior U.S. diplomat under Secretary of State William Burns will, in fact, be accompanying a European Union delegation this weekend during a previously scheduled meeting with Iran's top nuclear negotiator.

Now, Burns, we are told, is not set to meet privately with this negotiator but he will be there, we are told, to essentially listen to what Iran has to say and also to reiterate the White House position that Iran must suspend its uranium enrichment before negotiations can begin. But, of course, critics, as you know, John, will look at this and say, aren't these essentially talks anyway?


ROBERTS: Right. So what's the goal of the White House here? They said that it was a one-time deal to try to jumpstart these talks. What are they hoping that Burns' presence there in Geneva will accomplish this weekend?

QUIJANO: Well, certainly, they want to underscore just how serious the administration is about getting Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. But, of course, keep in mind the timing of this as well. This is coming on the heels of last week's ballistic missile test by Iran. At the time, the United States sent out a very strong statement saying this is exactly the kind of activity that further isolates the Iranian people because of the actions of the Iranian regime.

So, no doubt that will be part of the message as well. But the United States, as you know, John, has also on the military side been trying to lay the groundwork for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe to try to defend against attacks from countries like Iran. So this is the diplomatic portion we are seeing. But certainly a major step in this process. We'll be asking the White House a lot of questions about this today.

ROBERTS: I'm sure a lot to talk about on that this morning. Elaine Quijano for us at the White House. Elaine, thanks.

CHETRY: And to the "Most Politics in the Morning" now. And a war over the war on the campaign trail.

John McCain blasting Barack Obama for laying out his plans for Iraq before a fact finding trip there. Meantime, Obama says McCain and President Bush don't have a strategy for success in Iraq. They have a strategy for staying in Iraq. CNN's Candy Crowley is following the campaign cross fire.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John and Kiran. You know, along the campaign trail there are major differences between these two candidates. And nowhere is the bright line clearer than on Iraq.


CROWLEY (voice-over): The candidate who thinks the Iraq war is a distraction from every threat the U.S. faces.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It should have been apparent to President Bush and Senator McCain. The central front in the war on terror is not Iraq and it never was.

CROWLEY: The candidate who says winning in Iraq is central to meeting the threats the U.S. faces.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan.

CROWLEY: A long distance debate over the U.S. future in Iraq and beyond comes as Barack Obama prepares for an expected trip to Afghanistan and Iraq. New numbers suggest Obama needs to power up his foreign policy pitch.

An ABC/"Washington Post" poll found 72 percent of Americans think John McCain would be a good commander in chief for the military; 48 percent said that of Obama, an advantage McCain presses early and often.

MCCAIN: I know how to win wars.

CROWLEY: The increase in U.S. troops that led to a decrease in the violence in Iraq has altered campaign dynamics. It gives McCain running room on an issue where he has mostly played defense. He notes Obama's opposition to the surge.

MCCAIN: Today we know he was wrong. The surge has succeeded.

CROWLEY: Obama now concedes some surge success and is trying to turn the discussion elsewhere.

OBAMA: The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike in Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as president I will not.

CROWLEY: The message, Barack Obama is willing to use U.S. military muscle. McCain argues Pakistan, an ally in the war on terror, is not the place.

MCCAIN: In trying to sound tough, he's made it harder for the people whose support we most need to provide it. I won't bluster and I won't make idle threats.


CROWLEY: The problem for McCain is that while he polls well as commander in chief those same polls also show the economy remains issue number one, and there Barack Obama scores better -- John and Kiran.

ROBERTS: Candy Crowley this morning. Candy, thanks.

New this morning, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke back on Capitol Hill one day after warning Congress that there are worse days ahead. In one of his gloomiest testimonies since becoming chairman in 2006, Bernanke stated the economy is facing a number of difficulties including strains on the financial markets, rising unemployment and the housing crisis.


BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The effects of the housing contraction and of the financial headwinds on spending and economic activity have been compounded by rapid increases in the prices of energy and other commodities which have sapped household purchasing power even as they have boosted inflation. Against this backdrop, economic activity has advanced at a sluggish pace during the first half of this year while inflation has remained elevated.


ROBERTS: Bernanke forecasted that the drag will last through the end of this year.

House Democrats hoping to inject at least $50 billion into the economy through a second stimulus package, one that will likely include another round of rebate checks for taxpayers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president's tax rebates were a plus but weren't enough. So far, President Bush is not endorsing the idea saying he would prefer to wait and see how the $168 billion measure passed in February affects the economy.

Oil prices take a plunge. Their second biggest one-day drop ever. Find out why and whether you'll see any savings at the pump ahead.

CHETRY: Cashing in.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you think Wheaties (ph)? Do you think Speedos? You don't necessarily think Botox.


CHETRY: Former Olympians go for some real gold. Alina Cho talks to Mark Spitz and Nadia Comaneci about backing Botox.


NADIA COMANECI, FORMER OLYMPIAN: I would like to look good too. What's wrong with that?


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


ROBERTS: Well, it's just about opening time here in the nation's capital. But it was closing time at the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. As far as the All-Star Game goes, it was the last All-Star Game to ever be played in the House that Ruth Built.

And it seemed like the ghosts that were there didn't want it to end. It was a marathon "Midsummer Classic," the longest All-Star Game ever in terms of time. Finally after nearly five hours and 15 innings, Michael Young's sacrificed fly gave the American League a 4-3 victory, their 11th straight win over the National League.

Boston's J.D. Drew was named the game's Most Valuable Player. And it's sad to think we're never ever going to see another All-Star Game at Yankee's Stadium there in the Bronx. But we will see them in the new one -- Kiran and Ali.

CHETRY: All right, John. Thanks so much. Did you watch -- no, you were busy watching oil prices.


CHETRY: You've got some good news.

VELSHI: I've got good news, and I don't know whether it's because John is far away from the oil barrel. But I want you to look at this.

I got two numbers on the oil barrel today. The top one -- it was the highest price of oil was at yesterday and the bottom one is the lowest price oil was at yesterday. That was a swing of $10.81.

Now, oil went up from this price later in the day but it still closed more than $6 lower. And that is the second biggest drop in like the history of oil. So I don't know what it was. But John's not here. John, the further you are from the barrel, the lower it seems to go.

Now, let me just tell you. Yesterday it was a full court press. The president was out there talking the economy up. And at one point he got a question from a reporter about the economy. Here's what he said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When will the economy turn around?


BUSH: I'm not an economist, but I do believe that we're growing. And I can remember, you know, this press conference here, people yelling recession this, recession that, as if you're economists.


VELSHI: All right. It's a little bit of a smackdown for reporters by the decider. So later on in the day, we did get to hear from an economist about the economy. Here's what Ben Bernanke had to say.


BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The economy continues to face numerous difficulties, including ongoing strains in financial markets, declining house prices, a softening labor market, and rising prices of oil, food and some other commodities.


VELSHI: OK. So clearly those two guys didn't have breakfast together. They were talking off a different hymn page. But that's actually what happened to the price of oil. The price of oil initially dropped because Ben Bernanke talking about the softening of the economy suggests that demand for oil will actually decrease and that's what explains why we had a bit of a drop yesterday.

Still, we're still above 135 bucks for a barrel of oil. So it's no particular discount but I just want to know, you know, that whole thing about John not being near the barrel has something to do with it.

CHETRY: From this position when you're sitting next to the barrel you look small.

VELSHI: I look a little small, right? I was noticing that in that shot. I look like I just actually kind of just sleep in this barrel.

CHETRY: You need a booster seat when you're next to your barrel.


CHETRY: All right. What do you think, John? You're not here and Ali says that's why oil was lower.

ROBERTS: Ali is kind of fortunate that the price of oil finally went down, because I think I was on the edge of putting him in the barrel and burying him in the tar sands.

VELSHI: There you go.

ROBERTS: And gets there --

VELSHI: I get another day. ROBERTS: Another day. All right. Don't screw it up, Ali. Thanks.

VELSHI: All right.

ROBERTS: The no fly list was designed to keep you safe in the skies, but it's also caused aggravation for thousands of innocent travelers. So what can you do if your name is on the list? Ahead our Sunny Hostin has got some answers.

Plus, Rob Marciano is watching the extreme weather for us this morning. Action out there in the Atlantic Ocean this morning, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. We're still watching a couple thinks including Bertha. That storm just doesn't want to go away. We've got Aletta (ph) in the Pacific in a building heat wave across the northeast. Details coming up when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." We have a look now at some of the stories we're going to be watching today on a CNN news grid.

10:30 Eastern time, the Department of Transportation will announce a new rule requiring fuel tank upgrades and thousands of commercial airplanes. The rule is designed to prevent explosions like the one that took down TWA Flight 800 twelve years ago.

Also, the presidential candidates are campaigning in the Midwest today. At 11:30 Eastern, Senator John McCain addresses the NAACP's convention in Cincinnati. And at 1:00 Eastern, Senator Barack Obama will talk safety and security at Purdue University in Indiana.

And coming up in our 8:00 Eastern hour, the debut of the newest jib jab video. The jib jab guys are back and they're poking some fun at politics, taking an aim at the 2008 presidential race. We'll show it to you a little later in the hour -- John.

ROBERTS: Presidential race just wouldn't be a presidential race without the jib jab guys weighing in. And now, let's go to Rob Marciano. He's down at the extreme weather center in Atlanta tracking what's going on in the Atlantic Ocean today. And there's a whole lot of activity out there, Rob.

MARCIANO: There is. And even closer to home, John. And Florida is going to see a tremendous amount of rain today. They've already seen a lot of rain in the past couple days. There is a disturbance right through here. You kind of see it in the flare up of clouds and thunderstorms here over this 24-hour weather loop.

But generally speaking, all along the gulf coast we've seen heavy rain. It's going to be from Tallahassee to Tampa today. And over the next couple days we'll see several inches of rain begin to fall. And this disturbance if it sits there long enough may get us a little bit worried as far as maybe something developing tropically and it's very close to home, obviously.

All right. Still watching this thing. It's heading towards the Winward Islands quite rapidly. It has not developed any further than what we talked about yesterday. Still, you know, maybe less than 50 percent chance of it developing into something like a tropical depression, a tropical storm. We'll watch that carefully.

And then Bertha just doesn't want to get out of here. Winds 65 miles an hour. It's about 348 miles from Bermuda. Now, it's going easterly and the forecast for it to go southeasterly. So this thing has been around for a couple of weeks now. And there's your forecast track as it heads off into the southeast.

Also, Aletta (ph), there it is. You've got winds of 85 miles an hour. That's going to go nowhere so don't worry about that. Temperatures are going to be building, John, I think in D.C. to Philly to New York. Temps will be in the lower 90s today, and then maybe excessive heat as we go towards Thursday and Friday. So try to stay cool up there -- John.

ROBERTS: I did hear this morning, Rob, on the way in, yesterday was extremely humid here. I'm hearing that today even though it will be hot in the nation's capital it might not be as humid?

MARCIANO: No, you kind of get a bit of a dry slot. But Thursday and Friday, excessive heat watches are already posted for Philly. So it will feel like summertime for sure, don't you worry.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks, Rob, so much.

Every day innocent travelers are taken aside and given the third degree all because their name is on the government's no fly list. And if you're one of those passengers we're going to tell you how you can get your name off that list. Stay with us.

CHETRY: Inside Myanmar.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just two months ago, dead bodies were floating in these rice fields. Now farmers are trying their best just to salvage what they can.


CHETRY: Surviving in a disaster zone. Betty Nguyen on a daily struggle for life's necessities. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. The Bush administration dismissing claims today that its no fly list has topped a million names, insisting that the secret government database is actually less than half of that. This was the list that was created after 9/11 to prevent anyone considered to be a threat from boarding a plane. But in the process it's also created enormous frustration for innocent travelers.


JIM ROBINSON, TRAVELER ON WATCH LIST: I'm not a terrorist. I've never been a terrorist, never intend to be a terrorist. I somehow got myself on the -- on the watch list. Nothing seems to be able to get you off the list.


CHETRY: Maybe Sunny Hostin can. Our AMERICAN MORNING legal analyst joins me now with more on this. First of all, how many American citizens are affected, are on this list and affected by this?

SUNNY HOSTIN, AMERICAN MORNING LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to tell. But as we mentioned earlier, the ACLU is saying there are million names on the list. The FBI is saying that's not correct. There are about 400,000 names on the list. But what we do know is that more than 30,000 Americans have asked airlines to take them off the list.

So at the very least, more than 30,000 Americans are affected. And it's really interesting. My uncle, a Vietnam vet, is somehow on the list. Every time he travels to Puerto Rico, he can't get back into the United States.

We've heard Jim Robinson, a former Justice Department official. Nelson Mandela was on the list. Ted Kennedy, Kat Steven (ph).

One of the more egregious examples that we've heard off is a gentleman by the name of Akifur Rahman (ph), computer software design owner, Muslim descent, born here in the United States, has been detained four times over the span of approximately one year. One time, Kiran, with his two young children and his wife, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old for six hours. So this is affecting many, many people.

CHETRY: How do you get off the list, then?

HOSTIN: Well, I'll tell you, it is difficult. However, there is a Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. And you can go to the Web site, or, and try to get off the list by verifying who you are, sending them documents, that sort of thing.

But again, people are saying that they are taking part of this program but really not getting off the list. But I do want to give our viewers some tips.

If you find yourself in this sort of situation, please stay calm. You don't want to escalate the situation. Have your travel documents and your ID ready. If it's still escalating, speak to a supervisor. If you are detained ask for a lawyer. Invoke your right to an attorney. CHETRY: So what's the problem with even after you get online and you try to verify? Is it just a matter of the information trickling down to the airlines and the airports and others that have that master list?

HOSTIN: Well, it's hard to tell. I mean, let's face this. This is a watch list. We are trying to protect our citizens, trying to protect our country. But the names -- name database is very difficult. And if you come within one or two letters of a particular name, they're really loathe to take your name off the list.

CHETRY: Wow. Yes, you're right. It's a headache for many people.

HOSTIN: It is.

CHETRY: Especially those who this happened to many, many times in a row in just a short span as you pointed out. Sunny, thanks for being with us.

HOSTIN: Thanks.

CHETRY: Also, don't forget to e-mail Sunny your legal questions. You can send them to Log on to our Web site and she answers them for us on Friday -- John.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Kiran.

A Florida billboard is drawing national attention and outrage. Have a look here. Is it free speech or political exploitation? The man behind the controversial ads tells us what he was thinking.

And Barack Obama and John McCain going head to head when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror. Hear what they're saying. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: Coming up at 26 1/2 minutes after the hour and a follow up to a story that we first told you about yesterday. The controversy surrounding billboards in Florida that show a burning World Trade Center and the message "Please Don't Vote for a Democrat."

Orlando businessman Mike Meehan paid for the ads which also promote his Web site. He says that he is trying to help Republicans, but both parties are upset at him now. Mike Meehan joins us now from Orlando.

Mr. Meehan, the Democratic Party in Florida not surprisingly upset by these ads that invoke the images of the burning Twin Towers, but also the Republican Party is taking you to task saying that these ads are inappropriate. Quote they say, "There are many ways to convey the importance of national security in this election without going to extremes, and we encourage a constructive dialogue." What do you say in response to that?

MIKE MEEHAN, BEHIND CONTROVERSIAL BILLBOARD: Well, the bigger picture, John, that I'm trying to convey to Americans is a reminder of terrorism that is still here. And it was during the Democrat Party of President Clinton that America was first attacked at the USS Cole killing many Americans. Our U.S. embassy in Africa, and even our trade towers in New York were first all attacked by the terrorists on Bill Clinton's watch. And, of course, George Bush pretty well inherited this problem and we had the catastrophe of the trade towers falling.

ROBERTS: So you say in your ad, "Don't Vote for a Democrat" because, I take it, you believe that Republicans are stronger on national security. But what do you say to criticisms that by invading Iraq and deflecting attention away from Afghanistan, President Bush has taken his eye off the ball on the war on terror, has allowed the Taliban and al-Qaeda to regroup both in Afghanistan and in those -- in those tribal areas of Pakistan?

MEEHAN: Well, I kind of disagree with that. You got to remember all the king terrorists people that George Bush did catch and how much success he did have. And we haven't had an attack on this soil since 9/11. And he actually did an excellent job, I thought, going after these terrorists unlike Bill Clinton who actually had bin Laden raking his hand and through the CIA and other high officials decide to get him go. I believe 9/11 could have been prevented if we had a Republican president at the time rather than Bill Clinton, a Democrat president.

ROBERTS: But there are also criticisms, Mr. Meehan, that this president didn't prosecute the war in Afghanistan post 9/11 to the point where, when they had bin Laden in their sights at Tora Bora, they let him escape. That's another issue there.

But let me ask you this question. There has been a real sensitivity to using the images of the World Trade Center and the attacks of 9/11 for political purposes. Are you just trying to make people upset?

MEEHAN: Well, John, no. Really, I think it's actually more offensive that the media does not remind people of the terrorists that actually died in this horrific event. And I think we need to be reminded of the terrorism that we still have it here. And terrorists are actually the result of why our economy is why it is.

The Democrats, they want to separate the economy from the war. And basically, the two really go hand in hand. We're buying oil from our enemies. And, you know, people are wondering why the economy is so low and why gas prices are so high.

ROBERTS: Now, the person who owns the billboard space that you're renting there defends your right to put up this ad saying that it's -- your protected under the First Amendment, right? The free speech to do it.

MEEHAN: Yes, sir.

ROBERTS: Do you plan on leaving these -- do you plan on leaving these billboards up all the way through the November election? You've got three of them up there. It's got to be pretty expensive. MEEHAN: Yes, but I'm willing to pay the cost for the fact that our soldiers that have died protecting this country have paid a heck of a lot more than what these billboards cost and what it costs to make this CD song that I've recorded.

ROBERTS: Right. All right. We should say that this billboard also pushes to a Web site of which you're selling the song. Just one quick question before we go here.

MEEHAN: Yes, sir.

ROBERTS: Where are the proceeds from the sales of that CD going?

MEEHAN: Well, the proceeds -- so I can recuperate some of my expenses on this.


MEEHAN: As you mentioned there, this is costing a lot. So, the proceeds will try to recuperate a lot of that expense.

ROBERTS: Costing a lot, provoking a lot of controversy as well. Mike Meehan, joining us from Orlando this morning. Mr. Meehan, thanks so much.

MEEHAN: Thank you, John. Thank you very much.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: We're crossing the half hour now. Some of the top stories we're following for you.

A new study finds American kids are prone to becoming couch potatoes. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego say 90 percent of 9-year-olds get a couple hours of exercise each day, but less than 3 percent of 15-year-olds do.

The study suggests less than a third of teenagers get even the minimum amount of recommended exercise. The sharp drop in teen activity is a major concern heading into adulthood.

We're following breaking news from the Israeli-Lebanon border. Right now, Israel and Hezbollah are in the process of exchanging prisoners. Earlier this morning, Hezbollah turned over two coffins said to contain the remains of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

Their capture triggered the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah militants two years ago. Once their identities are confirmed, Israel says it will then free five Hezbollah prisoners and also return the remains of nearly 200 fighters from Lebanon.

A new poll shows approval ratings for Congress and the President at record lows. Just 18 percent in the new AP/Ipsos Poll approve of the job Congress is doing. That's a 5 percent drop in just the last month. President Bush isn't doing much better. His approval rating at 28 percent, according to this poll.

The remote outpost in Afghanistan where nine U.S. troops were killed over the weekend is empty today. Officials say U.S. and Afghan troops left that base last night.

Also last night on "LARRY KING," Barack Obama said Sunday's attack along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is proof that America is stuck on the wrong battlefield.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The situation where the central front against terrorism should be taking place in Afghanistan, the situation has deteriorated. And we had this brazen attack on a U.S. base where nine servicemen were killed. And we've got to recognize that perpetuating the strategy that we have in Iraq is costing us elsewhere.


CHETRY: Meantime, John McCain says he, not Obama, knows how to win wars, and he's promising success in Iraq and Afghanistan.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He has no strategy. He just said that we need more troops. There's a dramatic difference. He just said we need more troops. He's never been to Afghanistan. He's never been briefed on Afghanistan personally by the commanders.


CHETRY: Well, Obama says that he wants to send two more combat brigades into Afghanistan. Yesterday, McCain said he wants to send three.

ROBERTS: More than two months after the catastrophic cyclone, recovery in Myanmar's farming villages is painfully slow and mostly unseen by the outside world, until now, that is.

CNN's Betty Nguyen managed to get into Myanmar and she's joining us live this morning from Bangkok, Thailand with the latest installment in her series on the suffering there.

Good morning, Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Now, to put all this in perspective for you, Myanmar used to produce the seventh largest amount of rice in the world. It exported that. But cyclone Nargis killed thousands of farmers and ruined their crops. Some are receiving some aid but even that poses a challenge.


NGUYEN (voice-over): The Irrawaddy Delta is Myanmar's rice belt. Before the storm, farmers here grew enough to feed the country and exported the rest. Not anymore. Cyclone Nargis ruined rich soil and killed tens of thousands. Farmers fortunate enough to survive are scratching out a living haunted by what they've lost. This man says he was trying to hold his baby above the tidal surge, but the swift current swept the child right out of his hands. The boy's body was never found. Yet, life goes on in these poor farming villages. But it's a hard row to hoe when their crops are being choked by salt water from the cyclone.

NGUYEN (on camera): Just two months ago, dead bodies were floating in these rice fields. Now, farmers are trying their best just to salvage what they can.

NGUYEN (voice-over): The trick now is trying to plow these fields with just a few water buffalo. Most of them died in the storm. Aid agencies and the government have donated one power tiller per every 100 acres. Since most farmers don't own that much land, they have to share.

This man says as many as 30 farmers will take turn using one tiller. No one here expects the season will produce quality crops. In fact, it's already having a trickle-down effect.

Monks who rely on donations are eating bad rice that was battered in the storm, though it's hard to complain when this monastery is one of few still standing.

This monk says reconstruction may take two years. That might as well be an eternity in villages where surviving from day-to-day is a constant struggle. But the people here have always lived a hard life and they will tell you, there's no time to dwell on the past.


NGUYEN: To understand the importance of these power tillers when it comes to struggling farmers, just take a look at the state-run newspaper in Myanmar. Every day, it solicits donations. And listed on here are power tillers. It cost about $1,000. John, that is $400 more than what the paper says it costs to replace a house.

ROBERTS: Wow. It's amazing what's going on there. Betty Nguyen for us from Thailand this morning. Betty, thanks so much.

CHETRY: And there's more airline turbulence on the horizon, according to a new report. That's what it predicts for the nation's air carriers. Warning of multiple bankruptcies. Find out how that could affect you, the next time you take to the skies.

Also, it's not exactly the breakfast of champions. So, why are two former Olympic greats promoting Botox? We'll explain. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Well, more bad news for the airlines. Possible talk of bankruptcies.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. First of all, we've got American Airlines which has laid off 200 pilots. And that's always a problem. It just continues. You know, this whole thing we're hearing layoffs, wage cuts, things like that.

But Fitch is an agency that rates the credit of companies that trade. And the reason is because people who invest in those companies' bonds want to know whether those companies are, you know, safe to invest in. Fitch has put out a very interesting note on the airlines.

And they've rated them in terms of their credit worthiness, suggesting that some of them, if these gas prices continue, might be forced into liquidation or bankruptcy or other things like that. They've got a list where they rate them. And I'll show you what's on the negative ratings outlook from Fitch in terms of the airlines.

United, Delta, US Airways, Southwest and JetBlue are all on -- have a negative rating. Now, negative rating for a company means that when they go to borrow money, they pay more for it. There's a premium. It's like a negative credit rating for you.

On the stable list from Fitch are American and Continental. So, those are the two that Fitch says are financially stable, should be able to borrow money and be able to continue.

But United, Delta, US Airways, Southwest and JetBlue all rated. Now, that doesn't mean that that's -- it doesn't mean anything. It just means that somebody who looks at their credit situation, their cash versus how much they burn, says that there's a negative outlook on them and you might want to be careful.

But that -- he specifically cited, this analyst, that gas prices are what is going to harm these airlines going forward.

CHETRY: What does it mean when you're flying? Will you notice?

VELSHI: Yes. I mean, what it means if you're flying right now is you've got less flight. You pay a lot more because of those increases. I would say the thing it means is that if you collect a lot of air miles, burn them, you know, in the next year or so because you don't really know what's going to happen with these airlines. But, yes, it doesn't look like it's going to be a good year for the airlines if gas prices stay at these levels.

CHETRY: Ali, thanks.



ROBERTS: Well, how do you say, this Bud's for you --

VELSHI: I would say the thing it means is if you collect a lot of air miles, burn them, you know, in the next year or so because you don't really know what's going to happen with these airlines. But, yes, it doesn't look like it's going to be a good year for the airlines if gas prices stay at these levels.

CHETRY: Ali, thanks.



ROBERTS: Well, how do you say "This bud's for you" in Flemish? A look at the fallout from the buy out that is putting Anheuser-Busch in the hands of a Belgian beer company.

CHETRY: Cashing in.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You think Wheaties, you think Speedos. You don't necessarily think botox.


CHETRY: Former Olympians go for some real gold. Alina Cho talks to Mark Spitz and Nadia Comaneci about backing botox.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We like to look good, too. What's wrong with that?


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


CHETRY: Well, they're two world class athletes, Olympic legends. You see that they owe their youthful looks to more than just a strenuous workout regimen and healthy diet. And they want the world to know about the benefits of botox. CNN's Alina Cho has the story.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She was a perfect ten. He, an Olympic record holder and winner of seven gold medals in 1972. More than 30 years later, Nadia Comaneci and Mark Spitz are traveling the country talking about achieving your personal best. That includes exercising, eating right, and botox?

(on camera): When you think about Olympic athlete endorsements, you think Wheaties. You think Speedos. You don't necessarily think botox.

NADIA COMANECI, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL GYMNAST: It does, because it's a part of your life now. You want to look good. You know, in your age.

CHO (voice-over): It's been nearly two decades since the FDA first approved botox to treat certain eye and neurological disorders. In 2002, botox got further approval for cosmetic use.

Doctors doled out nearly 3 million botox injections in the U.S. in the past year alone. A $1 billion industry. Allergan, the maker of botox is paying Comaneci and Spitz to promote the drug, though neither will say how much.

(on camera): There are critics who say there's just something that doesn't seem right about an athlete promoting botox.

COMANECI: We like to look good, too. What's wrong with that?

GARY HALL JR., OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL SWIMMER: Botox, you'd have a hard time convincing me that the procedure really made your life that much better or helped you accomplish your goals and dreams, which is really kind of the message for an athletic spokesperson.

CHO: Gary Hall Jr. is an Olympic gold medal swimmer. He's diabetic and gets paid to promote insulin. But he says only because it saves his life.

HALL: At the end of the day, it's the integrity that sustains any value that you might have as a spokesperson.

CHO: Isn't there something to be said for aging naturally?

COMANECI: people expect us athletes to look great. And we have to do everything that's possible to look great.

MARK SPITZ, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL SWIMMER: That's kind of a nice concept. But the reality is, is that people are very concerned about their personal looks.


CHO: All right. So a sports agent we spoke to said he sees no problem with this type of endorsement because botox -- well, it's FDA approved and of course it's commonly used now.

Critics worry that other athletes will see just how much money can be made from this type of promotion, Kiran, and will follow suit.

CHETRY: They're serious about their botox.

CHO: They are.

CHETRY: Both of them.

CHO: Listen, there's no denying on Comaneci. Yes.

CHETRY: She was our idol when we were younger, you know. (INAUDIBLE) that girls look up to. Does she worry about the message that she's sending there?

CHO: Well, yes. I ask her that, you know. And she said -- listen, look at me. I look great. I'm 46 years old. I've been doing botox for five years now. Nobody asked me why I look so great. And now they are.

Listen, they won't talk about how much they're getting paid. She's 46. He's 58. Again, they look great. But this sort of marks new territory in terms of celebrity Olympic endorsement. Certainly, we'll have to see what happens next.

CHETRY: Very interesting. Great piece. Thanks, Alina.

CHO: You bet.

ROBERTS: Waffles, chocolate and now Budweiser. A Belgian company is taking over Anheuser-Busch. Are Americans crying in their beer? Our Jeanne Moos finds out.

McCain's meal ticket.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her company and her wealth funded his first congressional campaign.


ROBERTS: The big time beer money that keeps the cash flowing. And the McCain's living large. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: So talking about beer this morning. Budweiser has been almost as American as apple pie until now, at least. Belgium-based InBev is taking over 150-year-old Anheuser-Busch, the brewer of bud.

So how does America's beer drinking public feel about the king of beers answering to an overseas boss? Are they going to switch out collides dales for Belgian draft horses? CNN's Jeanne Moos found out all about that.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even if you don't actually drink Bud, it's impossible to nip all those slogans in the Budweiser. From this bud's for you to --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Budweiser beer, the king is second to none.


MOOS: The king of beers is the nectar of presidential candidates trying to connect with the average Joe six pack. But prepare to drown your sorrows in a vat of bud.

You know who's buying Budweiser.


MOOS (on camera): Belgium, a Belgian company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Belgian company, out of Germany, right? MOOS: Well, out of Belgium.

(voice-over): Noon time customers at Rudy's Bar near Time Square weren't exactly crying in their beer. But others were with Boycott Budweiser T-shirts, and a YouTube video. Stephen Colbert went on a binge of false outrage against Belgium.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Well, as soon as I heard I started drinking non-stop. Before those waffle humpers change the formula.


MOOS: Actually, the formula isn't changing. The plants in the U.S. will still manufacture Bud. That hasn't stopped the reminiscing.



ANNOUNCER: He takes it on the pin, and lateral bust the field.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I drank Budweiser through the collides dale horses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Budweiser beer is the one that's leading the rest.


FROG: Green buddies, I got some bad news.


MOOS: It was bad news to song writer Phil Mcclairery who wrote "Kiss Our Glass" and directed it at the Belgian company InBev


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kiss your red, white and blue glass.


MOOS: But back at Rudy's Bar, only one guy seemed wistful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me, you know, like Budweiser is like Ford Motor company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll drink Belgian Bud and I'll drink American Bud. It doesn't make a (BLEEP) to me. What matters to me is the price when I get to this stand right here. This is the pig stand. This is the hog trough.

MOOS: One e-mailer treated Bud like hogwash saying the Belgians can only improve the stuff. It can't get any worser than it already is. Worser?


COLBERT: This is America's beer.


MOOS: Though everyone kept writing headlines, joking about the European Union.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This bud's for you. There we go.

MOOS (on camera): Or as they say in Belgium, this bud's for you in Flemish.


MOOS (voice-over): If only a presidential candidate could cast a veto.

MCCAIN: I will veto every single beer -- bill.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: Crashing the parties. Bob Barr joins us live. Could he be John McCain's Ralph Nader?

Plus, beer money.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her wealth funded his first congressional campaign.


ROBERTS: How Cindy McCain made her millions? How it could pose a conflict of interest for a President McCain.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lobbied ten times in the last eight years. You are watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: You apparently won't be hearing "One Headlight," "6th Avenue Heartache" or any other Wallflowers hit in the twin cities during the Republican National Convention. A report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press says Jacob Dylan and his band were scheduled to perform at an after party in the second night of the Republican National Convention. But his dad, Minnesota native Bob Dylan told him to think twice about it.

A publicist for the music legend says he had nothing to do with the decision. Still, 5,000 guests will now see Sticks instead.

But I know the keyboard player and lead singer, Kiran, so it's not a bad act to see.

CHETRY: How about it. All right, John, thanks.

Well, let's see what's making news on the "Political Ticker" this morning. John McCain's campaign clarifying his position on adoptions by same-sex couples saying that he will not seek a federal ban.

This comes after McCain told "The New York Times," quote, "I don't believe in gay adoption." Gay and lesbian groups reacted angrily to those comments. McCain who has an adopted daughter said adoptions are best done by traditional couples.

Democrats in Congress are considering another round of stimulus checks. They say the first round of rebate has already been eaten up by skyrocketing gas prices. President Bush says he isn't against the second stimulus package, but says he'd rather wait and see how the first one works out first.

ROBERTS: In a campaign where race is going to be a major factor, a new poll shows that Americans are split along racial lines. According to the New York Times/CBS News poll more than 80 percent of African- Americans have a favorable view of Barack Obama. But only about 30 percent of whites have a favorable opinion of him.

And for more up to the minute political news, just head to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

CHETRY: John, thanks.

Well, a former Republican congressman turned libertarian is now taking on John McCain and Barack Obama in the race for the White House, Bob Barr, and he joins me now from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma this morning.

Thanks for being with us. Great to see you.

BOB BARR, LIBERTARIAN PARTY CANDIDATE: Always great to be with CNN. Thank you.

CHETRY: First of all, tell us a little bit about why you left the Republican Party and are now running as a libertarian.

BARR: Well, as Ronald Reagan said many years ago, the Democrat Party left him. And that's when he joined the Republican Party. In my case it's a little different but the same process.

The Republican Party left me by its big spending, anti-civil liberties, anti-privacy ways way behind. And many other libertarian leaning Republicans and blue collar Democrats are turned off by the big government ways of the new Republican Party.

CHETRY: Wouldn't you have more of an ability to influence by staying within the party and staying in Congress versus breaking off into a third party, the libertarian ticket and trying to get attention that way?

BARR: Not at all. The status quo parties, that is the Republican and Democrat, have given us year after year, decade after decade of rising government prices. So that it's really become a simple question with the Republicans and Democrats.

Do you want to vote for a big government party or a really big government party? The Republican president, Mr. Bush, sent to the Congress a $3.1 trillion budget. The Democrat Party sends back a $3.1 trillion budget. They're really two sides of the same coin.

CHETRY: You know, you guys have met all your filing deadlines. You expect to actually be on the ballot in at least 48 states. There's some trouble with Oklahoma which we can talk about a little later.

But right now, our CNN poll has you with only about 3 percent of the vote. It says Obama at 46 percent, McCain at 43 percent, Ralph Nader with 6 percent and you with 3 percent.

When it looks like you don't have a chance at actually winning, what do you hope to accomplish by running?

BARR: Well, there are a lot of polls out there. Zogby Poll recently had us nationally at 6 percent just a few days ago and in double digits in some states. These are very early polls. We barely began our campaign. This campaign is going to get very, very close later on. We anticipate making it fully a three-way race. Winning is in that scenario certainly a possibility.

CHETRY: You also want to be able to highlight some of the issues that you think the mainstream candidates are ignoring. What are some of those big issues?

BARR: As I was saying that there are two other aspects of this. One is to raise the level of debate. To talk about what it means, $3.1 trillion budget. To talk about what it means when the government invades our privacy and wanted to spy on American citizens as allowed by recent legislation passed by the Congress and push by the Bush administration without ever going to a court to receive a -- to obtain a warrant.

These are fundamentally important issues. The cost of the Iraq war. We've been focusing on Iraq just sort of generally in a vacuum. We're spending $400 million of U.S. tax payer dollars a day building up the infrastructure by Iraq and providing a security blanket for that country. That money ought to remain in the pockets of the American taxpayers.

CHETRY: Let me just ask you one other quick question. You talk about limiting government. Yet in the situation there are many who say the reason we're in this big mortgage crisis is because there wasn't enough regulation and predatory lenders went out there and gave money to people who couldn't pay their loans and now we're seeing the collapse of that.

BARR: It wasn't predatory lenders at all. It was the government, through government enterprises just like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, pushing and pushing and pushing people into buying houses they couldn't afford.