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American Morning

Somali Pirates Attack New U.S. Ship; Tax Day Tea Party Protests Expected Today; Rep. Donald Payne: Plane Under Fire in Somalia; President Obama Makes Economic Pitch; Obama to Name a Border Czar; Defense Department's Weapons of Future; Robot Seals Helps Seniors; Right-Wing Extremism on the Rise?

Aired April 15, 2009 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, thanks very much for being with us on this Wednesday. It's the 15th of April. If you live on the East Coast, you've got 18 hours to either get your taxes done and filed, or file for an extension. It's the last day.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, or head out to a tea party protest. Apparently a lot of those taking place around the country. We're going to talk more about that as well.

A lot to cover this morning. The big stories we'll be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes.

We have breaking news out of Somalia again. Pirates attacking a new U.S. ship firing bullets, even an RPG. We're live in Africa with the latest. Plus dramatic e-mails written by a member of the crew as this attack unfolded.

We're also standing by for the crew of the Maersk Alabama to fly home to the U.S. The men arriving at the airport in Kenya just a short time ago. And their captain, Richard Phillips, is going to be taking a later flight.

He was supposed to travel with the crew. His plans changed. Wait until you hear why.

And it is tax day. As we said, and tax protesters are going to be marking the occasion by holding Boston tea party-style events all across the country. More than 2,000 rallies said to be staged to protest taxpayer funds and banks bailouts as well as out of control government spending.

ROBERTS: We begin this morning though with two major developments in America's escalating standoff with Somali pirates. As we speak, the crew of the Maersk Alabama is preparing to leave Mombasa, Kenya and fly home to the United States. Their captain, Richard Phillips, is going to take a later flight.

That's because in an incredible twist of fate, he is aboard a Navy destroyer that was diverted last night to escort another U.S. cargo ship that was attacked by pirates. A crew member onboard that boat, "The Liberty Sun," captured the terror in an e-mail to his mother saying, "We are under attack. We're being hit by bullets. A rocket penetrated the bulkhead, but the hole is small." We're following all the developments for the global resources of CNN. David McKenzie is live in Mombasa, Kenya,

And David, this latest attack coming two days after pirates promised revenge for the assault that freed Captain Phillips, but these are pretty standard tactics that they were using to take over ships, aren't they?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, John, standard tactics and dramatic tactics. Essentially what they did, they went up to "The Liberty Sun" in a small boat. They fired RPGs, rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic weapons. The crew just hit away and hoped for the best. And essentially what happened is that the USS Bainbridge, certainly been talking about a lot, that ship carrying Captain Richard Phillips, and as you say in a dramatic and strange twist of this ever- developing story, that ship came to the rescue of that boat that was carrying food aid to Africa.

So the USS Bainbridge yet again getting involved right in the thick of things, coming to the aid of that ship and escorting it with the captain, Phillips, who had been himself stuck in the lifeboat for days with Somali pirates before U.S. Navy snipers took them out and he was saved. That ship heading towards Mombasa now as we speak in the coming hours. And that Captain Phillips, his crew might have left from Mombasa, but he is still en route -- John.

ROBERTS: And what of that crew, David? The last time we saw them they were at the airport. They were waiting to go through security. Are they still at the airport or have they, in fact, taken off on that charter flight that will bring them to Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington later on this evening?

MCKENZIE: Well, John, that crew that went through that harrowing ordeal who managed to take the ship, who rarely acted heroically and managed to stave off the pirates has now left Mombasa. They left from the airport on a charter flight. They will be on their way to the U.S. to Andrews Air Force Base. And basically, they've been staying here relaxing, recuperating. A lot of them really wanted to see Captain Phillips one more time.

I spoke to a number of them. They said he really is the hero of the day. So they're hoping to meet up with him, but it seems like they are leaving and then he will be leaving at some point in the next hour, John.

ROBERTS: Well, hopefully for Captain Phillips, he'll be able to leave. My goodness, he's been trying to get back to Mombasa for quite a while now but I guess some work left to be done.

David McKenzie for us in Mombasa this morning. David, good to see you. Thanks so much.

CHETRY: Well, most of us don't need reminding that it's tax deadline day. And president Obama is going to be using the occasion to talk about restoring fairness to the tax code and providing tax relief to middle class Americans. Meantime, the president defended his economic recovery plan yesterday sounding cautiously optimistic in front of a Georgetown University audience.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no doubt that times are still tough. By no means are we out of the woods just yet. But from where we stand, for the very first time, we're beginning to see glimmers of home. And beyond that, way off in the distance, we can see a vision of an America's future that's far different than our troubled economic past.


CHETRY: President Obama went on to say that recovery will hinge on building a new economic foundation.

Meantime, less than 18 hours left to get those tax returns in the mail to Uncle Sam if you haven't really done it. Across the country today, tax protesters are going to be staging tea parties, railing against the president's handling of the economic crisis. In all, they say we could see as many as 2,035 tea party protest. Their inspiration, of course, the mother of all tea parties in 1773, when American revolutionaries dumped the king's tea into Boston harbor to rebel against taxation without representation.

CNN's Jim Acosta is following today's planned events for us from Washington.

Hey, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran, that's right. These are not the tea parties that my daughter would hold at home. What started off as a rant from a reporter on a cable business show has snowballed into a conservative movement against President Obama's agenda. The organizers behind these Boston tea-party style rally say these events which feature some top anti-Obama rhetoric may just be the beginning of a new energized Republican Party.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama, are you listening?

ACOSTA (voice-over): What Rick Santelli unleashed has this way come. Every since the CNBC reporter's rant against President Obama's plan to help troubled homeowners, conservatives have staged Boston tea party-style rallies across the country to protest what they describe as budget-busting bailouts gone wild. The grand daddy of them all set for tax day.

ROGER L. SIMON, PAJAMAS TV: I think in this situation we have people who are genuinely upset by the spending that's going on and they're scared. So they're organizing.

ACOSTA: Roger L. Simon is promoting the tea parties on his conservative Web site, Pajamas TV, where you can watch Sam Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, interview protesters at the rallies. As Wurzelbacher found, some of the rhetoric can be extreme.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you could waterboard Obama this weekend, what would you try to get out of him?

SAM WURZELBACHER, AKA JOE THE PLUMBER: Well, I don't want to waterboard Obama.

SIMON: I don't approve of that. I would like to hope and I think that the majority of the people here are respectful.

ACOSTA: Republican strategist Keith Appell says conservatives have borrowed a page from the president's netroots playbook, organizing tea parties online.

KEITH APPELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Now you've got conservatives, you know, tweeting to one another on Twitter.

ACOSTA: Is this the new Republican Party that we're starting to see emerge here?

APPELL: Well, I think there has to be a new Republican Party. The Republican Party we've seen over the last few years hasn't done very well.

ACOSTA: But some familiar faces are also at work. Promoters include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

GLENN BECK, HOST, FOX NEWS HOST, "GLENN BECK": I'm sorry. I just love my country and I fear for it.

ACOSTA: And FOX News personality Glenn Beck, who argues the tea party outrage hearkens back to Howard Beale in the film "Network."


PETER FINCH, ACTOR, AS HOWARD BEALE: I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore.


HOWARD KURTZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST" MEDIA CRITIC: I don't think I've ever seen a news network throw its weight behind a protest like we are seeing in the past few weeks with FOX and these tea parties.

ACOSTA: The White House has plans to counter the tea party message with an event to remind Americans the president cut taxes in the stimulus.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Americans will see more money in their pockets as a direct result of the Making Work Pay, tax cut that the president both campaigned on and passed through Congress.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Tea party organizers have said they have no idea what the turnout will be like saying they expect hundreds of rallies across the country today. But tea party critics aren't buying it. They call these events "AstroTurf," arguing these events aren't coming from the grassroots but from old Republican Party bosses -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Yes, difference of opinion about it exactly who's behind it.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

CHETRY: We're actually going to be talking to a young woman who's speaking at one of these events today. And also we're going to be bringing our independent political analysts on to break it down for us as well.

Jim, thanks so much.

ACOSTA: You bet.

CHETRY: And today's tea party protests already drawing a response from our iReporters, most of them are throwing their support behind the idea, including Jeany Rush who made her point in an interesting outfit.


JEANY RUSH, IREPORTER: What we don't need is taxation without representation. But guess what, that's what we're getting. So here's a toast to tea day on the 15th. And let's go join the local tea party. Why not?

STACEY, IREPORTER: The government is a little out of control. The people aren't having much of a voice anymore, so we just want to get back and have people learn about their country, where it came from.


CHETRY: All right. We'd love to hear from you as well. Go to Send us an iReport. You can also call our show hotline 877-my-amfix.

ROBERTS: We're learning this morning about a warning from the Department of Homeland Security to America's law enforcement agencies. The tough economy and the election of an African-American president could be creating a favorable climate for right-wing extremists to find new recruits. The department issued the alert last week. Homeland Security officials also point out that there is no specific threat of any kind of attack being planned.

Also this morning, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will head to the frontlines of America's so-called war next door. She'll meet with officials in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as they deal with increasing violence between drug cartels just to the south of the border in Mexico. Napolitano's trip comes ahead of President Obama's visit to Mexico tomorrow.

Meantime, all this week, we're looking at how America's insatiable appetite for drugs is fueling the border violence in Mexico. Yesterday, we shined a light on one proposed solution -- cut the cartels out of the equation by legalizing drugs here in the United States. It's something that drew a lot of response on our hotline at 877-my-amfix.


CALLER: The marijuana laws are totally ridiculous. It should be legalized.

CALLER: I smoke marijuana on an occasional basis, and it's a lot safer than alcohol. And I was wondering why it hasn't been legalized yet. And I think it could be a big boost to our economy and possibly save our economy.

CALLER: In terms of legalizing, certainly decriminalizing marijuana I am 100 percent for that. As someone in the field for many years, I believe that education's role is to teach moderation but there is no way anyone could teach abstinence. It just doesn't work.

CALLER: Nevada legalized prostitution. Everybody was saying, oh, that's not going to work. It worked. It made them money. Let's legalize pot. Let's make some money. Put the Mexicans out of business -- simple.


ROBERTS: And keep those calls coming. The number is 877-my- amfix. That's 1-877-amfix.

And stick around in our next hour. Congressman Ron Paul joins us live to make his case that drugs should be legalized.

And in two hours' time, former Mexican president Vicente Fox will give his take on the border violence and how he would deal with it.

CHETRY: All right. Well, it's April 15, deadline day to file your tax return. And struggling states hit hard by the recession are coming up with new ways to take more of your money. Christine Romans has a look.

Some scary moments also for a New Jersey congressman's trip to Somalia. His plane came under fire from rebels. He talks to us in his first interview since arriving home about his harrowing experience but also what are the solutions to the piracy into the violence in this African nation?

Eleven minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Thirteen and a half minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's the 15th of April and you know what that means. Time to settle up with Uncle Sam. Deadline day for filing those returns or filing an extension.

And cash-strapped states are planning some interesting ways to take more of your money. What else is new?

Christine Romans now with the real deal about your taxes. Good morning to you.


OK. States hit hard by the recession that had to dig deep to close their budget gaps. That means they're getting creative to raise more money and whether it's fees or taxes, it means more money from you.


ROMANS (voice-over): What do pole dancing, fishing licenses, car registrations, and a state car pass have in common? They all could get more expensive as states slap on taxes and fees in a scramble to raise money.

Colorado wants a fee for background checks for new gun owners. The price of a Michigan State park pass may rise. In Nevada, lawmakers are considering attacks on legal brothels and an increase in Vegas hotel taxes.

And in California, there's even a proposal to tax marijuana. Another to put a sales tax on porn. States are scraping for every penny.

BERT WAISANEN, NATIONAL CONF. OF STATE LEGISLATURES: What they're doing first is they're cutting spending. They're cutting back on programs. They're delaying projects. They're putting in hiring freezes.

ROMANS: And they still have to raise more money. Sin taxes are a perennial recession favorite like taxes on tobacco.

DONALD BOYD, NELSON A. ROCKEFELLER INST.: This time around wealth looks like it's the new tobacco. We're seeing quite a few states that are at least considering income tax increases on operating (ph) income earners. We've seen it in New York and California already.

ROMANS: Simply put, the math doesn't add up. States are bringing in less at a time when their recession-weary citizens need more services. Fees on hunting licenses and taxes on gentlemen's clubs can't close the gap alone.

BOYD: To see significant increases in - is what I would call the go-to taxes, the income tax and the sales tax. And if you want to raise significant amounts of money, that's where states are likely to go.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: And let's be honest, they need to raise significant amounts of money. He says raising taxes is the last thing that states do in a crunch. It's politically dangerous, of course, for politicians. None of us like it. But, he says he expects widespread tax increases starting next year just as the recovery is taking hold. But look for those tax increases to be temporary.

ROBERTS: There's a growing number of people, though, who say we are so far in the financial hole that we're going to have to have some semi-permanent, if not permanent tax increases to pay for this.

ROMANS: You're absolutely right, John. A lot of people are saying that. You look at the states. They have to close their budget gap every year, but the federal government doesn't and that keeps running these bigger and bigger and bigger deficits.

You know looking far out, that means it's math. You either cut services. You either grow your revenue, or you tax. So some combination of those three things has to happen.

ROBERTS: Christine, thanks for that.

CHETRY: Still ahead, pirates attack another American ship off the coast of Somalia. One of the sailors e-mails his mom during the whole ordeal. She's joining us live in the next hour with more on what he said.

First, though, we're going to be talking with a U.S. congressman just back from Somalia where his plane came under attack. He talks about what he said to leaders in that country.

Seventeen minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Right now, we're following developments in the waters off the coast of Somalia where pirates attacked another U.S. ship, "The Liberty Sun," firing grenades and automatic weapons. They were unable to board the vessel. There was some damage to "The Liberty Sun." It's now being escorted to Mombasa, Kenya by a Navy destroyer, that very same Navy destroyer that rescued Captain Richard Phillips. He's still onboard.

That diversion will delay Phillips's reunion with the crew of his original ship, the Maersk Alabama. They're set to leave Mombasa and fly back to the United States.

Meantime, the New Jersey congressman is just back from a trip to Somalia, the first American member of government to visit the country in a decade. And that's where he saw the violence firsthand. His plane came under fire from rebels at the airport in Mogadishu.

Congressman Donald Payne joins us now for his first interview since returning from Somalia.

Thanks for being with us this morning, congressman. REP. DONALD PAYNE (D), NEW JERSEY: It's good to be here.

CHETRY: So, you witnessed firsthand what a dangerous place and region this is. Why did you go?

PAYNE: Well, I have been dealing with that area for the last 20 years. And I had worked during the past two or there years trying to help them form a new government. They had a government that I met with three or four times in Nairobi. They were meeting outside of Somalia called a transitional federal government, and they were not strong enough to maintain themselves.

There was another group called the ICU, the Islamic Court Union, now called the Alliance that then took over a bit. And to complicate the story about the U.S. justice that Ethiopia intrude into bring peace although Ethiopia's hostile to Somalia.

CHETRY: Right.

PAYNE: So that was really the wrong peacekeepers.

CHETRY: You said, though, that this trip was largely successful. What about being fired on with your plane? What was that like? What happened?

PAYNE: Well, I think that the -- they're certainly a group the Al-Shabab who may be the closest link to Al Qaeda. They do not want to see this government work. That's what it's all about.

And I think the fact that I went there, that there were no problems during the day. We went around the various places, met with women's groups, met with the prime minister, the present cabinet people. I believe this was a desperation. They don't want to see this new two-month government succeed, but I assured President Sheikh Sharif that we would want to engage.

They have a plan that they feel they can deal with piracy on the ground, on the land, rather than in the sea which makes it very difficult.

CHETRY: Right.

PAYNE: And so, they will be coming up with a plan in a couple of weeks and will submit it to our government and myself and --

CHETRY: That's what I want to ask you about. The good news is you guys didn't even know that you had been fired upon...


CHETRY: ... until after you were safely in Kenya, so the engine noise actually drowned that out. So thank goodness you guys were safe.

But clearly, this is a dangerous situation that's been going on. We're just talking about this other brazen pirate attack, a U.S.- flagged ship. They fired RPG rounds. They fired semiautomatic weapons. Do the leaders that you talked to have a handle on how dangerous this is? And do they understand the urgency with which the international community wants them to do something?

PAYNE: Oh, no question about it. They think that it's going to prevent Somalia from moving forward. They know it's a dark mark on their country. They want to see it end.

And -- but, you see, the pirates have money with the cartels and the groups that support them. al-Shabab gets money from extremists who are anti-U.S. The government are the ones with no funds. And so, they said that it's very difficult even though they're going to go forward anyway.

CHETRY: Right.

PAYNE: But they're the ones that really need the support.

CHETRY: Are they -- will they support Admiral Mike Mullen? The chairman of the Joint Chiefs had said he hadn't ruled out perhaps attacking within Somalia. Would the government support that and outside a country like the United States launching attacks to try to cut down on piracy?

PAYNE: I think if we support the new government, had them form their own police, they have no police, they have no military, they know what to do. They know the terrain.

I think it would make a lot more sense to give them the resources to see if they can do it themselves.

CHETRY: Right.

PAYNE: If that fails, then we can bring in. I think it would, at this time, be a mistake to send in troops to try to weed out these terrorists.

CHETRY: Right. Got you.

Congressman Donald Payne, thanks for joining us and sharing how it went with your trip to Somalia.

PAYNE: Thank you, nice to be here.


ROBERTS: Good to see him back safe and sound.

President Obama sounding hopefully optimistic on the economy, but are things really turning around? Two experts with an interesting take on the subject join us just ahead.

And Bo meets the press. White House reporters and the country getting a first look at the newest member of the first family.

It's coming now at 25 minutes after the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Twenty- seven minutes after the hour. Time to get you caught up on the latest news.

A new border czar being appointed today by the Department of Homeland Security. It's former Justice Department official Alan Bersin. He's expected to get the job. He's going to be dealing with drug cartel violence along our border with Mexico.

And police have seized an arsenal of weapons in Mexico City that they say included an anti-aircraft machine gun. That would be a first for Mexican police. The weapons have been linked to a drug cartel.

New York Governor David Paterson trying once again to make gay marriage legal in New York State. He's expected to introduce a bill tomorrow but facing some stiff opposition in the legislature. Paterson tried once before in 2007, and the measure failed.

And the Bo show is off and running at the White House. The first dog making his first public appearance. The 6-month-old Portuguese water dog taking the Obama family for a walk on the White House lawn. By all accounts, Bo is a big hit with the girls -- John.

ROBERTS: Turning now to the economy, President Obama sounding a familiar theme these days once again taking a somewhat mutedly optimistic tone in his speech yesterday at Georgetown University.


OBAMA: There's no doubt that times are still tough. By no means are we out of the woods just yet. But from where we stand, for the very first time we're beginning to see glimmers of hope.


ROBERTS: Glimmers of hope. We're hearing that more and more from the president lately. So how is it playing?

Joining me now, the former CEO and chairman of Playboy Enterprises, Christie Hefner, and investment adviser Ryan Mack, president of Optimum Capital Management.

Good morning to both of you.



ROBERTS: So optimistic but cautious at the same time. Let's get the information from you. Reading the tea leaves out there, what do you see?

HEFNER: Well, I think it is exactly both of those things. I think the markets are starting to feel encouraged. I think you see that. I think the public polling shows some confidence in the administration.

On the other hand, I think we're going to see continuing job loss until we turn it around. And, so, it seems to me that the administration is striking the right balance in building credibility by being candid about the challenges but encouraging people not to feel that it is hopeless, not to feel fearful because there's a psychological element in all of this.

ROBERTS: Ryan, do you agree glimmers of hope, but where are you seeing the little sparks? I mean, maybe they haven't ignited into a brushfire yet.

MACK: Right.

ROBERTS: But are you seeing some sparks out there?

MACK: Well, in his speech last night or yesterday afternoon rather, the biggest commodity that we need in this economy right now is confidence. And I think he's trying to instill that within the people.

It's hard to be confident in an administration if the people feel that the administration doesn't know what they're doing. So he came out and said, you know what, this is what we've done. This is the reason why we're making these decisions. And let me say something to all you naysayers out there who have tried to get some policies that we've made. That's why his poll numbers are very favorable, even more so than Geithner or Bernanke in terms of his credibility in leading the economy.

So, you know, the home sales numbers, you know, slightly higher. Billable factory goods orders, slightly higher.

ROBERTS: Retail sales though way down. The Dow went down 137 yesterday.

MACK: That means America is actually self-correcting because we've had a history of excessive consumption for far too long.

ROBERTS: What do you think about that whole idea, Christie? Can we reset our sensibilities when it comes to consumers? And Americans have been the great consumers for decade upon decade. And now, are we going to pull in our belts? Are we going to consume less? Are we going to -- are we going to balance off our trade with countries like China? And what will that do to the global economy?

HEFNER: I think, with necessity, there's going to be this real de-leveraging of both personal debt and corporate debt and government debt.

ROBERTS: Wow. Return to the '40s.

HEFNER: And I think that there's no way that we're going to get around that. But I also agree with the president that, at the other end of this process, can lie actually a healthier economy than we've had before. Because part of what I think he's trying to do that he's communicating so well about, which is Ryan's point, and which is critical in a crisis, is that we have to tackle the endemic problems -- the problems of energy, the problems of health care, the problems of education. And that will require some investment.

So the question is, are we going to spend money that's an investment, or are we simply going to keep spending money?

ROBERTS: On that point, the president was alluding yesterday in a speech to this idea of a top-down, top-to-bottom, literal restructuring of everything in the way that the foundations upon which our economy are built. Let's listen to how he put it yesterday.


OBAMA: We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock.


ROBERTS: Borrowing from the parable on the Sermon on the Mount there saying, you know, the person who builds their house on sand is bound to lose it, the person who builds their house upon a rock is bound to keep it.

But he wants to go through -- he's got five pillars to economic prosperity. New rules and regulations on the financial industry, better education, renewable energy, health care reform, savings in the federal budget. He also wants to tackle social security reform.

Any one of those things would be an ambitious goal in the first year of a presidency, if not the first term. I mean, is he taking on too much. Can he do it all?

MACK: If you have a cavity on the right side of your mouth, is the solution to chew only on the left side of your mouth? No, you have to...

ROBERTS: Well, it is, temporarily. I've done that.

MACK: You have to go and fix the cavity. And, you know, as with the five pillars, you know, the cavities are, you know, lacks of regulation and oversight. We have inadequate health care system, inadequate education system. We have to go and fix our dependency on foreign oil. These things are cavities that are going to impact our future generations. That can't be fixed just by TARP reform and tax cuts.

ROBERTS: What about this idea of health care reform, too? He says, you know, when you're looking long term here, reducing deficits, reducing the overall debt, you've got to get the health care reform. You're on the board of Rush Medical Center in Chicago. What do you think about this idea? Because we're spending a lot of money on a lot of things other than health care.

HEFNER: Well, and as you know, we're spending more money on a per citizen on a percentage of GDP average than most developed countries and yet we have 50 million uninsured. I think the difference between now and the early 90s is that there's no stakeholder who doesn't recognize that the system is broken and has to be fixed. We've got 14,000 families losing health care every day. That's a crisis.

In business, it's a crisis to have the lack of competitiveness that the burden of health care costs is blurring (ph) by business. And from the government perspective, we've got a system that the health care costs are a major contributor to the deficits going forward.

So, I'm actually optimistic in talking across the aisle to both Republicans and Democrats that there is now not just a willingness but actually a desire to tackle a need for health care reform.

ROBERTS: Right. There's all kinds of optimism out here this morning. It's good to hear...

HEFNER: Some words of optimism.

ROBERTS: Christie Hefner, Ryan Mack, always great to see you. Thanks for coming in this morning.

HEFNER: Thank you.

MACK: Thank you.


CHETRY: Well, the Defense Department's developing new high-tech weapons that could give military sharpshooters a more effective arsenal to combat pirates. We're taking a closer look at that.

Also, robot therapy. See how the Japanese are using a cuddly baby seal to take care of senior citizens and children stuck in hospitals. It's 34 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

We're not going to take it anymore, right? Well, it's tax deadline day. And it becomes also tax tea party day today for many. A lot of people are protesting taxes and demonstrators in all 50 states are going to be holding Boston tea party-style rallies to protest higher taxes, bank bailouts and out of control government spending.

Well, to fast forward to what's going on today. In Washington this afternoon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sits down with leaders ahead of the Summit of the Americas. It begins Friday. At 2:00 p.m. Eastern, she meets with the prime minister of Haiti. Also, a changing of the guard at New York's Catholic archdiocese. At 2:00 p.m. Eastern, Archbishop Timothy Dolan will officially take office today after an installation mass which will take place at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Dolan is replacing Edwin Cardinal Egan -- John.

ROBERTS: It's 38 minutes after the hour. This morning, we're getting new pictures from Mombasa, Kenya. Bullet holes in the lifeboat where pirates were holding Captain Richard Phillips hostage. If you look closely, you can see the shattered glass where bullets fired by U.S. Navy SEALs took out three of the pirates with just three shots.

The Defense Department is now developing high-tech weaponry that's expected to make military snipers even more accurate in the future, as if they could be.

Joining us now to talk more about that is Nicholas Thompson. He's the senior editor of "Wired Magazine" and a contributor to the Wired blog "Danger Room," that focuses on national security.

So this is all coming out of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a futuristic sort of "Star Wars" segment of the Pentagon.


ROBERTS: It comes out with all those gee whiz stuff. Tell us some of what they're -- what they're coming up to aid sniper, starting with the program called EXACTO. What is that?

THOMPSON: Well, EXACTO is an attempt to make guided bullets. So they'd do would be a bullet will be shot. And if the target moves or if the wind changes, the bullet can compensate. So, it's bullet sort of would have brains of their own. And this is hard because you have to put little electronics inside of a bullet. We can guide missiles but it's hard to guide a bullet. But they put $22 million into it in November. So, we'll see what happens.

ROBERTS: EXACTO stands for Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance.


ROBERTS: And so, they're working on that, a kind of a guided bullet. They're also working on maybe laser-guiding as well for bullets in similar fashion that they do with laser-guided bombs that we saw used during the Iraq war and the Gulf war?

THOMPSON: That appears to be on hold. That actually might be a little bit harder. The way the guided bullet system would work -- there are a couple of mechanisms. One would be to have little solid pellets, sort of rocket fuel inside the bullet. You could fire them on one side that would steer it off to another direction. Or you could have the nose of the bullet that could be a sort of adjustable shape. And then as it flies to the air, it would adjust its shape and it could turn its trajectory. ROBERTS: Something else that they're working on -- SRVS, the Super Resolution Vision System, essentially makes a target more visible from distance? How does that work?

THOMPSON: This is amazing. So you know how you can sometimes see a mirage in the distance.

ROBERTS: Oh, no. It would be like when you're looking at long distance car...


ROBERTS: Like that shimmer, right?

THOMPSON: Exactly. The heat shimmer.

ROBERTS: Heat shimmer, right.

THOMPSON: So the heat shimmer happens because air right above the ground is hotter than air slightly above it. And light travels differently through air at different temperatures. So that can make things blurry.

But what it also does is it curves the light. Now usually, that's bad. But curving light can also make things clearer. So what this does is it takes advantage of the heat shimmer. It finds the really clear points in that blurry image and it creates a composite of all the clear points in that blurry image, and it creates a composite of all the clear points. So it's almost like you've got telescope or glasses instead of the mirage. So you can see through it much more clearly than you could before.

ROBERTS: So if you've got a target at extreme distance and it's sort of mask this heat shimmer, it sort of gets rid of that shimmer, puts together all the pixels into an image, and you can actually see the target through that shimmer.

THOMPSON: Right. And it's better than if there were no shimmer and if it was completely clear.

ROBERTS: Incredible.

THOMPSON: If it works, it would be better than that.

ROBERTS: There's one other thing now, the one shot. What's the one shot?

THOMPSON: So the one shot is a way of changing your scope on your rifle to adjust for wind turbulence or air pressure or whatever. So you aim and it's -- wait, actually the wind is blowing east-to-west near the target. You can't tell that now, but we can tell that.

So it automatically adjusts the position of the rifle. So you're looking through your scope. It looks like you've a shot right on target. But your rifle is actually pointed a little bit this way to compensate for the wind. So snipers can already do something close to that right now, but it's not automatic. It's not built in to the rifle.

ROBERTS: I read in "Wired" that this is accurate to 2,000 feet in a 40 mile-an-hour wind?

THOMPSON: Well, if it works, that's the plan.

ROBERTS: Unbelievable. Nick Thompson, with all that great stuff. Good to talk to you this morning.

ROBERTS: Good to talk to you, too.

THOMPSON: Thanks so much.


CHETRY: Still ahead, the healing power of a robot baby seal. We're going to see how the Japanese are using high technology. In fact, that little stuffed seal costs $6,600. But it's helping the elderly in hospitals.

Also, a warning about extremism on the rise in America -- a potential problem or just political posturing? That's in 15 minutes on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

The latest in Japanese robot technology is designed to help the country's aging population. It's a cute, cuddly baby seal. CNN's Kyung Lah looks at this adorable and therapeutic toy on the "Edge of Discovery."


KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You can't help but giggle. He is, after all, cute. But this robot baby seal named Paro is so much more says inventor Takanori Shibata. With more than 100 sensors, Paro responds to light, specific voices and even language.


All this artificial intelligence planned with a purpose. Sometimes, these nursing home residents can be withdrawn, distant and lonely. But when Paro shows up, the visible change is immediate.

Eighty-five-year-old Masako Asaga suffers from the effects of an aneurysm. The nursing home claims Paro helped bring back her ability to speak.


LAH: "She's my friend," says Asaga. "I come here to play with her." The inventor believes Paro has a potential to help those who are even more ill, like this Alzheimer's patient in Italy. Paro appears to help him communicate with the therapist.

While there are no formal long-term medical studies on Paro's impact, Denmark is purchasing 1,000 of the robots for its elderly. Testing is under way in 20 American nursing homes and hospitals.

Shibata hopes cute, little Paro, part animal therapy, part robot, could help comfort the rapidly aging population and unlock some of the mysteries of the mind.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.


CHETRY: We got our little Paro here. The producers brought her out. Again, we're just explaining -- a lot of people are saying why wouldn't they just bring animals to the hospital.

Well, in Japan, they don't allow animals because of fears of infection. So they also said the inventor chose a seal because it's harder to make a realistic dog or a cat, because people know what a dog or a cat feel or sound like. But most people haven't touched a live baby seal.

But anyway, here it is on the set. And again, if you touch its whiskers, it makes noises, little eyes flap back and forth. And if you pet his back here, you see his tail go up and down.

What do you think, John? Cute, right?

ROBERTS: It's a lovely seal.

CHETRY: I love him.

ROBERTS: It's very cute.

CHETRY: $6,600, though.

ROBERTS: It's expensive. Better be a pedigree seal.

CHETRY: Exactly.

ROBERTS: Forty-seven minutes after the hour.

Another U.S. ship comes under fire by Somali pirates that manages to stave off the attack. We'll be talking with the mother of one of the ship board crew members who got some rather, shall we say, alarming e-mails in the last 24 hours. Stay with us. We've got that story coming up.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDY SAMBERG, ACTOR, AS ROBBIE KLAVEN: Here's the deal -- Peter's always been a girlfriend guy. He puts all his focus and energy in his relationships and all his dude friends just fell by the wayside.

PAUL RUDD, ACTOR, AS PETER KLAVEN: This is ridiculous. Why is it weird that I had girlfriends?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing. We're just saying you never really had a best friend is all.

RUDD, AS PETER KLAVEN: Well, who's your best friend?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your brother Robbie.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's about the coolest guy I know.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

That was a scene from the hit comedy, "I Love You, Man." And the movie is spawning the new buzzword "Bromance." Basically, heterosexual men who aren't afraid to have close male friends and even show those men affection.

But do real men have "bromances"? And do they say "I love you" to each another? We'll see what some man on the street told our Lola Ogunnaike about all that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are we talking about?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (on camera): We're talking about "bromances."


OGUNNAIKE (voice-over): Bromance -- the term is causing some men to stop in their tracks.

(on camera): Bromance is a close relationship between two males, like best buddies but it's not sexual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, yes. I got one of those.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel the need.

OGUNNAIKE: He's not alone. Bromances are budding everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you see a cool-looking guy, strike up a conversation and ask him on a man date.

OGUNNAIKE: In the hit movie, "I Love You, Man," Paul Rudd's character hunts for the perfect best friend.

RUDD, AS PETER KLAVEN: Sweet, sweet name.

OGUNNAIKE: Just the latest in the string of bromantic comedies, showcasing men acting downright mushy with their best buds.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't we say that every day?

OGUNNAIKE: TV shows like "How I Met Your Mother" and "Entourage" are embracing it, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to hug it out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's hug it out.

OGUNNAIKE: MTV even aired a reality series called "Bromance," where men competed for star, Brody Jenner's hands in friendship.

BRODY JENNER, "BROMANCE": So one of you guys are going to go.

OGUNNAIKE: Bromantic shed tears, share feelings, even hugs. But that's as far as it goes.

GEOFFREY GRIEF, AUTHOR, "BUDDY SYSTEM": These are men that are definitely heterosexual and definitely feel that it's time to open themselves up to more of their feelings.

OGUNNAIKE: It's not a new phenomenon -- Butch and Sundance, Joey and Chandler, Axle and Billy from "Beverly Hills Cops."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you, Billy.

OGUNNAIKE: Yes. All bromantics.

But are men in the real world as accepting?

(on camera): Would you say that you two are involved in a bromance?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just college students. There's no bromance.

OGUNNAIKE: Have you ever said, "I love you, man"?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe I said it, but he thought I was drunk.

OGUNNAIKE (voice-over): Not everyone is hiding in a bromantic closet?

(on camera): So would you ever declare, publicly, I have a bromance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a bromance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you. You know.

OGUNNAIKE: Who are you saying I love you to, there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To my best friend. You know who it is. That's my homey.


OGUNNAIKE: John, I have to ask you, do you have a bromance?

ROBERTS: Well, I mean, do you really know if it's a bromance? Or is it just one of those things that are sort of intangible. I don't know. But I --

OGUNNAIKE: If you had a choice, who would you be bromantic with?



ROBERTS: Where is this conversation going?

CHETRY: Maybe you like Sanjay?


ROBERTS: There are things like -- you know, there's bromance, there's male crushes. This all falls out of the whole metro sexual thing.

OGUNNAIKE: It does. But you know what's so interesting about bromances, some women feel threatened by bromances. But actually, the experts say that you don't have to feel threatened by them. They actually maybe good for a relationship, because a man who's willing to be that open with his emotions could be a better mate.

ROBERTS: I'm bringing my hands here.

CHETRY: Hug it out.

OGUNNAIKE: Let's hug it out. Hug it out. Let's hug it out, John. No, no. But you know what, our entire crew is very bromantic. The guy from this set -- shout it out, bromantic boys. Yes, bromantics, you know it.

CHETRY: Lola, thank you.

ROBERTS: I'm checking out.

CHETRY: All right. Well -- he'll come around.

OGUNNAIKE: He'll come around. He's just -- CHETRY: He's not ready to say I love you, yet. All right.

OGUNNAIKE: You know, he's not. He's not.

CHETRY: Well, we're going to take a break. When we come back, there's breaking news. Pirates on the attack yet again, and the Navy responding. The rescued captain is now going to help out yet again on the seas off Somalia.

Also, drug nation. We're talking to one congressman who wants to legalize it all. Fifty-four minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Fifty-six minutes past the hour now. As you're getting ready for work this morning, we want to make sure that you catch two exclusive interviews we have lined up for you.

First, in just about 15 minutes, we're going to be speaking with Katy Urbik. Her son's ship "The Liberty Sun" was fired on by pirates off the Coast of Somalia. And we have the dramatic e-mail that her son was writing her while his ship was under attack by pirates.

ROBERTS: And then coming up in about an hour, another AMERICAN MORNING exclusive. This time with former Mexican President Vincente Fox as President Obama heads to Mexico tomorrow to talk about the country's deadly drug wars. We'll find out who the former Mexican president blames for all the violence. We'll also ask him what he would have done differently if he had to do it all over again while he was president.

Two big exclusive interviews coming your way in the next hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

But first, right-wing extremism may be on the rise in America. That warning from the Department of Homeland Security that call this a ripe environment for extremist groups to find new recruits. But is that really the case? As our Jeanne Meserve reports now, some who lean to the right are pointing fingers at the left.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Political conservatives are fired up.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: This is an effort to criminalize political dissent, standard, ordinary, every day political dissent.

MESERVE: This fury a reaction to an assessment from the Department of Homeland Security saying right-wing extremist groups could exploit fears about the economic downturn, gun control and the election of an African-American president to attract new recruits. It says groups dedicated to a single issue such as opposition to abortion or immigration may fall within the definition of extremists.

LIMBAUGH: We are not extremists. They are the extremists.

MESERVE: To make its case, DHS cites a surge in purchases of guns and ammunition, and the recent shooting of three Pittsburgh police officers by a man reportedly influenced by racist ideology and fears of gun confiscations. An organization that tracks extremist groups thinks DHS has the picture at least partially right.

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: The election of Obama certainly has played for these groups in the last six, seven, eight months. The economy, I think is much more questionable. We really don't know if that is having an effect.

MESERVE: A Homeland Security officials say DHS is not trying to squelch free speech. "There is no link between extremists being talked about in that report and conservative political thinkers, activists and voters." But conservatives aren't buying it.

ROGER HEDGECOCK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If the Bush administration had done this to left-wing extremists, it would be all over the press as an obvious trampling on the First Amendment rights of folks and dissent.

MESERVE: In fact in January there was a warning about left-wing extremists. It was issued by the Obama administration but both reports were begun under President Bush.

(on camera): This new DHS assessment said right-wing extremist may find to radicalize disgruntled veterans to exploit their military knowledge. Some conservatives find that offensive, but DHS points to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a veteran of the first Iraq war.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.