Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

Alabama Crew Finally Home as Captain Reaches Kenya; Obama Travels to Mexico; Credit Card Companies Create Web Site for Struggling Cardholders; Spanish Prosecutors Won't Pursue Case Against Bush White House; "Sexting" Teens Cause Debate over Severity of Punishment

Aired April 16, 2009 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. It's Thursday, the 16th of April. We're crossing the top of the hour. It's 8:00 Eastern here on the Most News in the Morning. John Roberts together with Kiran Chetry.

Good morning to you.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, too. And we're following, hopefully any moment now, the exiting of Captain Richard Phillips from the USS Bainbridge in Mombasa, Kenya. There's a live look right now.

Boy, it's been a long, strange trip for him. He was supposed to be reunited with his crew, but what happen is that they had to divert the Bainbridge to help out with another attempted pirate hijacking. But we'll bring it to you as soon as we see him get off that ship.

Meanwhile, here's a look at what's on the agenda. The stories we're breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes.

Breaking news. There were cheers and tears of joy at Andrews Air Force base overnight. The Alabama crew coming home, stepping on U.S. soil for the first time since they picked armed pirates off -- kicked armed pirates off of their ship. And we're just learning that their families also got a tour of the White House yesterday.

President Obama is headed to Mexico just two hours from now. It will be his first trip south of the border. A drug war on his agenda. We're going to hear the president's exclusive interview with CNN Espanol previewing his visit to Latin America live this hour.

But, again, we start with breaking news. The very happy homecoming this Thursday morning. The crew of the Maersk Alabama, the U.S.-flagged cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates last week, now arrives in the U.S. It happened overnight. Lots of smiles and hugs and welcome home. And now the boys are awaiting their skipper, Captain Richard Phillips.

As we said, he was detoured when the Navy destroyer carrying him was then called in to help another ship shake the pirates. That ship is still in port in Kenya, and Captain Phillips could be in the air heading home any time this morning. Meanwhile, at Andrews Air Force base this morning, cheers, tears, big smiles as the crew of the Maersk Alabama finally stepped off the plane and reunited with their families.


QUESTION: How does it feel to be back?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feels wonderful. Feels wonderful.

QUESTION: Is this your wife?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my daughter.

QUESTION: It's your daughter. So how does it feel (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great. We were cheering in there as soon as we landed. Spontaneous cheer.


CHETRY: The crew and their families boarded buses and headed to a hotel just a short drive away in Oxon Hill, Maryland. CNN's Chris Lawrence is live there this morning.

What's the latest? Is there -- they probably took the opportunity to sleep in a little, right? They certainly deserve it.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A few of them are taking it, though, Kiran. They are up. They are having breakfast. First time they are waking up here in their own country in quite a while after quite an ordeal.

You know, as we take a look at some of the video as they came back into the country. Landed at Andrews Air Force Base, it really reinforces what they went through as we learned more about that attack that they went through with the pirates.

The pirates shooting as they boarded the Alabama. One of the crew members sounding the alarm, just seconds before a pirate put a gun right to his face. Then all of the power being cut, then the lights going out. A huddle there in the engine room, not knowing what was going to happen next. It gives you a real idea of why they were so excited to see their families.

Now that that ordeal is over, the United States turning its attention, obviously, to the bigger question of piracy and how to stop attacks on American ships off Somalia -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Right. Chris Lawrence for us this morning with the members of the crew finally back home safe and sound.

Thanks so much.

ROBERTS: First stop, Mexico for President Obama on a trip to Latin America and the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. He is scheduled to depart from Mexico City in just about two hours' time. Ahead of his first visit south of the border, the president gave an exclusive interview to CNN en Espanol.

Correspondent Juan Carlos Lopez asked the president about two issues high on the agenda for his meeting with Mexican President Calderon. Immigration reform and Mexico's border war on drugs.


JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: One of the issues that's discussed in Mexico is that that government spends between $7 billion and $8 billion in their war on drugs, while the U.S. less than $1.4 billion for the merit initiative that includes Central America and spread out through several years. It's not seen as equitable.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all I think it's important to recognize that my budget has actually sought to increase by about 50 percent the amount of money that we're spending. We are already moving forward on, for example, Black Hawk helicopters to be sent to Mexico to help in the fight against the drug cartels.

So I want to put as much additional resources as we can into this effort. I think Mexico has been very serious about dealing with the problem. There are a number of Central American countries who are going to need our assistance, as well. And my commitment is to make sure that the United States, working in a multilateral fashion with all the countries in the region, are finally putting an end to the power and the strength of these drug cartels.

LOPEZ: Will immigration reform be part of this whole process? And also you've named a border czar. Was this consulted with Mexico, and what is he going to do?

OBAMA: Well, the goal of the border czar is to help coordinate all the various agencies that fall under the Department of Homeland Security, and so that we are confident that the border patrols are working effectively with ICE, working effectively with our law enforcement agencies. So he's really a coordinator that can be directly responsible to Secretary Napolitano and ultimately directly accountable to me.

There has been a lot of interaction between Mexican officials and officials on our side of the border. And, you know, Janet Napolitano has already been there. She and John Brennan, who is part of my national security team, are currently there. We're going to continue to coordinate effectively.

Now, immigration reform has to be part of a broader strategy to deal with our border issues, and as I've said repeatedly, I am a strong proponent of comprehensive immigration reform. I've already met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and committed to working with them to try to shape an agenda that can move through Congress.

And this is something that I think is important not just because of the drug cartel issue. It's important because of the human costs of a ongoing flow of illegal immigrants into this country. It's something that we need to solve.


ROBERTS: President Obama is scheduled to arrive in Mexico City this afternoon.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is already on the ground there. She joins us now with more on what's at stake.

What does the president really hope to accomplish during this visit, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, what, John, really, it's all about forging a new relationship with Latin America. We heard Barack Obama as a candidate really slam President Bush for neglecting the region after September 11. So what he wants to do is reengage in this region. And essentially his stop here in Mexico City obviously to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon to really give him some support.

His aides say a sense of respect, a sign of respect, that he does acknowledge this terrible problem that is -- both countries are facing -- that is the drug cartel, the wars, the violence that has spilled over into the United States. And, as we had heard before from Secretary of State Clinton, the insatiable -- what she called insatiable drug appetite from Americans.

Guns, cash, all of that coming from the United States flowing to Mexico. A lot of the violence spilling over across the border on the U.S. side. And that Barack Obama wants to show that he is serious about this.

Another thing that they are obviously going to be emphasizing is this whole idea about immigration reform. President Bush failed to get that comprehensive immigration reform. It is an area that he believes that he can be politically successful. He has kind of kicked it down the can, if you will, about a year or so. He says, "Look, I want Congress to weigh in on this. But they do believe that they have those votes for comprehensive immigration reform, that it's possibly a win-win issue for next year. So that is something else that they're also going to be addressing -- John.

ROBERTS: It will be interesting to watch that dynamic at the upcoming Summit of the Americas. Suzanne Malveaux in Mexico City this morning.

Suzanne, thanks.

CHETRY: Well, in case you can't make it or you weren't invited to the Summit of the Americas, you can follow it on Facebook. The State Department set up a page for it. There are more than 500 members. You go to for a link to the page.

All right. Well, let's fast forward right now to some of the stories that are going to be making news a bit later today.

President Obama is about to share his vision of the future of travel. At 9:00, he details plans for a high-speed rail system that would connect our cities, decrease air and highway traffic and also reduce our dependence on oil.

Also, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Port-au- Prince, Haiti. Also, the Dominican Republic today. She says that America is reviewing the way it handles Haitian immigrants trying to reach Florida shores as well as the possibility of further loosening travel restrictions to Cuba.

Also at about 9:00 Eastern tonight, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will be the headline speaker at a right to life dinner in Evansville, Indiana. It's the first major public event this year outside of Alaska, and it's leading some of the speculation that she's still serious about running for president in 2012.

Also, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, New York Governor David Patterson will formally announce plans to introduce same-sex marriage legislation in state assembly. If the legislation passes, New York will be the fifth state to legalize gay marriage. Similar measures were passed this month in Vermont and Iowa.

ROBERTS: In an interview that you'll only see on CNN, President Obama talks about how he will prove the United States sincerity to improve relations with Latin American.

Americans continue to drown in credit card debt. Now they may get some help from an unlikely source -- the credit card industry. Our personal finance editor Gerri Willis will be here to explain. It's 10 1/2 minutes after the hour.



JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": President Obama should get a big refund here. A lot of dependents. AIG, Citibank, Morgan -- all dependents. They're all dependents now.


CHETRY: How long would it take to mark all those allowances on the tax form? Well, the average American family carries $8,000 to 10,000 in credit card debt. We don't need to tell you. If you have a credit card, you certainly know it. There's a new Web site called It was developed by the credit card industry to help out.

Our personal finance expert Gerri Willis is "Minding Your Business" this morning. And is here with more.

You know, and a lot of people are saying, wait, a minute, why would we get help from the industry that is charging us the finance charges and they are making money off of our debt? GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Yes. It's a little curious, isn't it? Well, let me describe this Web site to begin with. Let's break it down.

The site is sponsored by the nation's biggest credit card issuers. Bank of America, Capital One, Citibank, Discover, VISA, MasterCard -- all the big guys. And in fact, it tries to help you manage your debt, communicate better with the credit card companies and tells you how to hook up with the credited credit counselors, which is a good thing. It was launched, though, February 18th, and that coincides with an increased focus on credit card company practices and moves for reform.

As you probably already know, Senator Chris Dodd has reformed legislation that is set to be voted on by the Senate and new Federal Reserve regulations go into effect July of next year. So it's interesting that all of these credit card companies are coming together in what looks like the critics tell me like a big P.R. move.

The good news is the site has a phone number for people who are in trouble, and this will hook you right up with the people who can actually help you. The credit card operators' offices where you can go to start talking about what you need to do to reduce your debt, and that's no small thing.

CHETRY: Right. Well, what if you simply can't pay. You just don't have the money. You don't have the means to pay it?

WILLIS: Well, you know, guess what? You don't have to have this credit card or this Web site to help you. You can do it on your own. And here are the steps to take.

Number one, obviously, don't add to your credit card balance. You have to stop charging on your credit card. And then call your issuer directly and you can ask for one of three or maybe all three. Ask for an installment plan to break up your debt in bite-sized pieces, something that you can afford. Maybe they will just delay payments or even reduce your interest rate, which is always a good thing. And finally, you can always transfer your balance to a new card with a low APR. I've done this myself. It typically works. And there are still cards out there. Check out to find low interest rate credit cards out there.

But you can get help. And a lot of it is no further than your telephone. You just have to ask for it. And, you know, some of this I think, the critics may have something to say here that, you know, they are really trying to look better to the public, these credit card companies, because they know they are getting a lot of criticism.

CHETRY: Yes. All right. Well, a lot of good advice from that. We just got to not add to that balance, right?

WILLIS: Yes. I know, it's tough.

CHETRY: Thanks, Gerri.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

CHETRY: Also new this morning, United Airlines about to get heavy-handed with its heaviest customers. If you're too fat to fit into a single seat, well, United says it will start aggressively denying boarding to overweight passengers unless they pay for a second seat.

Two Domino's Pizza workers in North Carolina facing felony charges now for allegedly tampering with food. You don't even want to see this, do you? But it's a video -- it's on YouTube. It shows them putting cheese in their nose, waving sandwich meat near their rear ends. Domino's says they've been fired and their store has been closed for decontamination.


And octomom Nadya Suleman wants to own the brand. She's applied for a trademark and plans to use the octomom nickname for TV program, for clothing and for other products.

ROBERTS: Only in America.

CHETRY: Also, if you're 21 or younger and you're driving, New Jersey wants everyone else on the road to know it. They just passed a law that takes effect next year where younger drivers have to display a special decal.

It can't be the "I made the honor roll at blank, blank high school." It's actually going to be on the license plate of your vehicles. It alerts police and other drivers that someone young is behind the wheel.

ROBERTS: So what happens if the only vehicle you drive is your parents' vehicle? Does that mean that they need to have that sticker, too?

CHETRY: I guess. But, you know, you're dad would -- you know, if you're the dad of a teenager, you'd love that. Yeah, I'm 21, behind the wheel.

ROBERTS: Yes. You know, it's kind of like being carded when you're in your 40s, isn't it?

President Obama on his way to Mexico this morning. But before he leaves, he sat down with CNN en Espanol. Hear his message for Fidel Castro.

And cracking down hard on teens who get caught "sexting." Is it time for law enforcement to lighten up? The debate ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Seventeen minutes now after the hour.


CNN ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. And breaking news to tell you about. A follow-up to a story that we brought you here on CNN a couple of days.

Spain's attorney general saying there is no merit to allegations that Bush administration officials approved torture against terror suspects at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That's because they were not there when the alleged torture took place. Spanish prosecutors will recommend against opening an investigation of six Bush lieutenants, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

And President Obama, in an interview with CNN en Espanol correspondent Juan Carlos Lopez, was asked about the Spanish investigation and accusations surrounding torture tactics that were used in Guantanamo Bay.


OBAMA: I've been very clear that Guantanamo needs to be closed, that some of the practices, the enhanced interrogation techniques, I think, ran counter to American values and American traditions. So I've put an end to these policies.

I have not had direct conversations with the Spanish government about these issues. My team has been in communications with them. I think that we are moving a process forward here in the United States to understand what happened, but also to focus on how we make sure that the manner in which we operate currently is consistent with our values and our traditions. And so, you know, my sense is that this will be worked out over time.

LOPEZ: There is a sense of mistrust in the region towards the U.S. You inherited, you said, you inherited the economic crisis. Did you inherit this from previous administrations? And how are you going to convince Latin Americans that the U.S. is sincere and that you really want to have an approach?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I don't want to overstate the degree of anti-American sentiment. I mean, I think, you know, these things go in ups and downs. But there are an awful lot of people in Latin America who are, you know, are inspired by traditions of equal opportunity and entrepreneurship. And, you know, there's a reason why there are consistently so many immigrants to our country from Latin America. I think people still see America as a place full of hope.


ROBERTS: President Obama went on to say that the United States and Latin American countries need to have a relationship as partners and that there are no senior or junior partners. It will be interesting to see how he can change the dynamic at this upcoming Summit of the Americas, whether he can sort of heal the rift that Hugo Chavez has put between the United States and several South American countries.

CHETRY: Yes, big challenge ahead. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that for sure. And also still ahead, we have a number of important economic reports that are on tap today. There are new numbers coming out on home construction, initial jobless claims. They always come out on Thursdays, as well. And we're going to bring them to you. They are coming out in just a couple of minutes.

Also, teens' lives ruined for sending racy and sometimes sexual text messages. Ahead, the debate over whether or not it's smart to loosen "sexting" laws or whether many of these kids should be lumped in with other sex offenders. It's 23 minutes after the hour.


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

President Obama is making his first trip to Mexico in about 90 minutes. Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, his Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, joined us from Mexico City, and during that interview, she issued an apology related to a report from the Department that right-wing extremism may be on the rise.


CHETRY: You've been getting a lot of pushback over this leaked domestic intelligence report warning of right-wing extremist groups. Conservative and veterans groups saying that it unfairly targeted returning military veterans and gun rights advocates without actually citing specific threats. How do you respond?

JANET NAPOLITANO, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, this is an assessment, not an accusation, as the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization released yesterday. But I know that some veterans groups were offended by the fact that veterans were mentioned in this assessment. So, I apologize for that offense. It was certainly not intended. I'll be meeting with the leaders of some of those groups next week.


CHETRY: And she also pointed out that there are many former veterans who work in the Department of Homeland Security. And the nine-page report did not mention any specific attacks that domestic right-wing groups were planning.

ROBERTS: Well, it's 26 1/2 minutes after the hour. And here's what's on the agenda this morning, the stories that we're breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes here on the Most News in the Morning.

First, breaking news. Tears of joys at Andrews Air Force Base overnight. The crew of the Maersk Alabama coming home, stepping on U.S. soil for the first time since they kicked armed pirates off of their ship. And we are just learning that their families got a tour of the White House yesterday. Though, they did not meet with President Obama. And right now, we're standing by, hoping to see their captain, Richard Phillips. It's believed that he's still on board the Navy missile destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, which pulled into a port in Mombasa, Kenya a short time ago. There's a live look at the ship.

The Obama administration attacking pirates by going after what they crave the most -- money. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced plans to freeze assets belonging to the pirates operating off of the coast of Somalia.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: These pirates are criminals. They are armed gangs on the sea. And those plotting attacks must be stopped and those who have carried them out must be brought to justice. Let me underscore this point. The United States does not make concessions or ransom payments to pirates.


ROBERTS: The State Department is also planning to work with the shipping industry to develop ways to defend against attacks. In the past, they have been reluctant to arm crew members.

The makers of hit movie "Slumdog Millionaire" have donated almost $750,000 to a charity devoted to improving the lives of street children in Mumbai, where the film was shot. The goal is to help educate 5,000 children who live in the slums over the next five years. That movie has grossed over $200 million worldwide.

A growing number of states are cracking down on teens who use cell phones or the Internet to send sexually explicit photos of themselves. It's called "sexting," and in some cases, punishment includes throwing kids into jail and ruining their lives.

In Vermont, they're considering legal protection for teens who have been caught sexting. Joining me from Burlington, Vermont is state Senator John Campbell. He's supporting a bill that's making its way through the legislature. And former sex crimes prosecutor Anita Kay joins us from Irving, California this morning. She's got some concerns about the new law.

And, Anita, let's start with you. What are your concerns about this law? What's wrong with the bill?

ANITA KAY, FORMER SEX CRIMES PROSECUTOR: Well, John, my concerns are that this law is too overbroad, that you're really decriminalizing this type of behavior, which is illegal to send naked images of children to other people.

Now, I'm not going to go so far to say that these children should be registered sex offenders. That's not what I'm saying. But the reason we have these laws is to really protect children. It's like why we have driving ages. It's why we have drinking ages. Because we, as adults, need to step in and protect these children and decriminalizing it is not going to protect these children. ROBERTS: Senator Campbell, what do you think about that argument because, currently under Vermont law, if I have it straight, a child who sends a sex text to another child could end up basically being classified as a sexual predator and on the list of registered sex offenders for the rest of their life.

VERMONT SEN. JOHN CAMPBELL (D): Well, John, you're right. And, Anita, with all due respect, unfortunately, our law, you're kind of over-broadening it in your review of it. But what right now, John, what we have is that if you are a child and you happen to take a picture of yourself, let's say a 14-year-old girl takes a photograph of her nude or seminude body and gives it to her 15-year-old boyfriend, she is guilty of transmitting child pornography, and he is guilty of possessing child pornography.

Now, we're not condoning that at all, but what we're saying is, do we want our children, who are doing foolish things, who are making bad decisions, do we want them to be criminals?


CAMPBELL: And I think that's really -- what's at the -- to cue this whole question is, where's the difference between bad behavior and criminal behavior?

ROBERTS: But what about that point, Anita? And you're shaking your head at what the senator was saying. But what about the point of, you know, if a child makes a mistake and shows bad judgment, doesn't do it maliciously, no intent to exploit themselves or someone else, they do end up on this list of registered sex offenders potentially for the rest of their life.

KAY: Right. Here's my big fear. I was a prosecutor, I did sex crimes and I also worked in the juvenile court system. And juvenile court system can deal with this type of crime in a way that children are not registering as sex offenders. But forward thinking, I do a lot of Internet crimes, I see what happened.

A 15-year-old downloads pictures to their 17-year-old boyfriend. Those things can be downloaded to the Internet. What we're afraid of is that the true pedophile, the true predators are going to get their hands on this material.

And we all think that the Internet is safe, and it is, but let me tell you, the pedophiles, they are the ones who are going to be able to get this information. They are very, very clever and law enforcement works really hard to prevent it.

And that's what children don't understand. They think it's harmless and they think it's in a vacuum and it's not. So there needs to be some repercussions for their behavior. It's mostly education is what they need.

ROBERTS: Go ahead, Senator.

CAMPBELL: Yes. Thank you, John. Anita, I agree with you. The fact is that children should know what is wrong and what is right. However, is it the criminal justice system that should be telling these children is it right or wrong?

KAY: Absolutely.

CAMPBELL: And also let me just address your issue of getting to the pedophiles. And the fact is our bill does not deal -- if it's retransmitted, then there absolutely are they able to be charged and prosecuted. And I believe that they should be prosecuted. These are situations such as you've seen all around the country the phenomenon now with the sexting is that we are very zealous prosecutors, and again you're a former prosecutor, and I'm just an old country lawyer here in Vermont.

I can tell you that I've seen some real zealous prosecutors around this country who decided that they're going to take it in their own hands to be basically the judge and jury and tell kids who have exchanged photographs innocently, maybe not the right thing to do, but between two people, two young kids, making a bad decision that are now charged as child pornographers and possession of child pornography.

So, let's just take that just a little further and see what is going to happen to them if they are on the right registry. And that is the other issue that I think we need to talk about is under the new Adam Walsh Act that where all the states are trying to commit to compliance with is that juveniles are now included on the registry in the sex offender registry.

So, if you have that 14-year-old girl that says your 14-year-old daughter, John, who may have taken a picture of herself to give to her 15-year-old boyfriend, and then she is convicted of the transmission of sexual -- of child pornography and he is in possession of child pornography. Let's say they tried to -- now that they are on the official sex offender registry for the rest of their life, and they try to get to college. They have to register as a sex offender so most colleges won't take them.

What if they want to become teachers or lawyers, or doctors.


CAMPBELL: Do you think they'll be able to deal with children? I don't think so, and that is where the dangerous aspect of this law is.

ROBERTS: Senator Campbell, Anita Kay, I'm sorry but we're going to have to leave it there. We're running out of time, but we'll keep watching this, as it makes its way to the Vermont legislature, and plenty of reporting still ahead to do on it. Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

CAMPBELL: Thank you, John. It's good to see you.

KAY: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: Kiran. CHETRY: All right. We're 33 minutes past the hour. Jobless numbers out just moments ago, could this be glimmers of hope for the economy, we're going to take a look. Gerri Willis is breaking it down for us.

Also we are kicking off a new series to help you take control of your you're your money and your home. It's called "Money in Main Street." Today we're going to see who is turning cheese into jobs.


CHETRY: Well, just in to CNN, new numbers on housing construction, as well as jobless claims. They came out just moments ago. And Gerri Willis has new details and you're breaking it down for us this morning. Any good news out of this?

WILLIS: Well, there's some good news. Good news from the unemployment sector, the jobs sector but bad news from housing. Let's start with the jobs news first. We are looking at weekly jobless claims for the weekend of April 11th. Those numbers down 53,000 to 610,000. That is good news out there. We're seeing people filing for jobless claims at a slower rate. That is always good news.

When it comes to the housing industry, we have some not so good news, coming on the heels of what we had seen was some better news coming out of the housing market, some glimmers of hope. Today, those hopes may be dashed. Building permits down nine percent for the month of March. That comes on the heels of a February number that was very positive and very upbeat.

Housing starts also down 10.8 percent at 510,000. That's an annual rate and, of course, we've been watching housing here for some time and as you know, guys, you know, the news has been on and off, right? We've seen huge declines in housing values across the country. We're starting to see some improvements in some markets across the country.

Today's news, not so positive. Some declines out there. I should mention building permits and housing starts. These numbers, in particular, can be very volatile. Can move around a lot. You can't take a lot from it. These are just kernels of information, seeds out there, but sort of a split in the economic news today, bad news and good news.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks, Gerri.

ROBERTS: Good to see those jobless numbers dropping. No question about that.


ROBERTS: President Obama on his way to Mexico and the summit of the Americas later on this week. He speaks with Mexican President Felipe Calderon this afternoon. We have an interview with President Obama hat was conducted by our sister network, CNN En Espanol. The president talks about the challenges ahead for Latin America and we'll air some of that coming up in just a little while. 39 minutes now after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. Top videos right now on This one is still number one, and even my mom is e-mailing me links to this one. She just loves it. So does everyone, apparently. It's the most popular video for days now on CNN.

It's Susan Boyle, the contestant on "Britain's Got Talent." She just blew people away with her amazing voice. Even the unflappable Simon Cowell was stunned. So be sure to join us on AMERICAN MORNING tomorrow. We're going to be talking with Susan Boyle. She is joining us live from her home in Blackburn, Scotland, tomorrow morning. Here is another little listen to Susan's voice.


CHETRY: There you go. Moving people to tears. Congrats. That is most popular on

ROBERTS: A lot of stories like that, I love. The unexpected.

CHETRY: Right.

ROBERTS: Today, CNN brings together money and Main Street, showing you the real impact of the current economic climate on real Americans. Our Poppy Harlow is here now with the first in our brand new series. Poppy, welcome to you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: Thank you so much. This was a great story. We went to upstate New York to look at small towns because we know small towns across this country are suffering. The success of small business that could be key to their recovery. One entrepreneurs move to bring a factory to upstate New York could aid the community that is struggling with near 10 percent unemployment. Take a look.


HARLOW (voice-over): In Cuba County, New York, an entrepreneur with an affinity for cheese could be just the stimulus that its struggling towns need.

LARRY ROSENBAUM, SARATOGA CHEESE CORPORATION: This is the beginning of a trend of bringing back manufacturing industry to New York state.

HARLOW: For 10 years, Larry Rosenbaum has been dreaming of a cheese factory turning out kosher and halal, feta and brie to the tune of $30 million pounds a year. What is the demand and is it just in the U.S. or is it around the world?

ROSENBAUM: Well, actually in the United States, the kosher cheese market is the type of cheese that's being made is not a high quality cheese.

HARLOW: Drawing from local farms and using green technology, Saratoga Cheese Corp. hopes not only to make cheese but also help surrounding industries.

DALE HEMMINGER, DAIRY FARMER: It's a really important thing that we're getting another market for our products.

HARLOW: Dairy farmer Dale Hemminger was skeptical of Larry's plan at first.

HEMMINGER: I was a little concerned. I really admire the research that they've done.

HARLOW: As soon as 2010, this barren corn field on the outskirts of town could be home to a $40 million, 64,000 square foot cheese factory and with the cheese will come the jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are 75 employees will be employed at the factory.

HARLOW: But Larry's dream is still $10 million short. He says he has raised $30 million but can't break ground until he reaches 40 million. As for the final slice of funding, Larry says both the dairy company and a private equity firm have expressed interest.

ROSENBAUM: We're not going to quit until we make it.

HARLOW: With 75 jobs at the factory, 150 construction jobs and an estimated $140 million in local revenue waiting in the balance, a lot is riding on Larry's shoulders.


HARLOW: Larry, his friends and family, they have invested a million dollars in the project which has been 10 years in the making, John. They say it's not really a question of if but it's a question of when it's going to happen. We will follow this story. We'll talk to Larry everyday. I'm sure he's going to call me in a few minutes to see how they're doing.

ROBERTS: Attacking the problem of local quality kosher cheese.

HARLOW: It is a big problem. I learned a lot on this story. I have to tell you, a lot I do not know.

ROBERTS: He should branch out to beef as well because most kosher beef is -- kosher chicken is great.

HARLOW: I'll tell him. New markets, more jobs.

ROBERTS: There you are. Poppy, good to talk to you this morning. Thanks.

HARLOW: Thanks.

ROBERTS: We are going to stay in touch with Larry and let you know how his venture works out. By the way, you can see more money in Main street with Roland Martin tonight at 8:00 p.m. and a new money in Main Street story, every Thursday right here on AMERICAN MORNING. CHETRY: Also, more of CNN's special sit down interview with President Obama. We're going to hear what the president says he hopes the new travel rules will mean for the people of Cuba.

Also, it's CNN versus Ashton Kutcher. That's right. And we need your help. Right now we're beating him in this -- I don't know, competition of sorts.

ROBERTS: We want to...

CHETRY: All right. If you want to help us flatten poor Ashton Kutcher, go to to find out more about it. But also you can go right to Twitter. If you're already on Twitter, just start following cnnbrk. That is our breaking news link. Why? Why do we want you to do this? We'll explain. It's 46 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Well, we're always on top of the latest medical news here on AMERICAN MORNING. And every Thursday, we dig in to Dr. Gupta's mailbag and Sanjay joins us this morning. Hey, Sanjay.


CHETRY: Love having you, of course. And I wish you can answer a ton more questions, but we're going to dive right in. Our first question comes from Kim in Fairfax, Virginia. This is what she writes.

"My husband smokes outside, but when he comes back in, I often smell cigarette smoke. Does this constitute secondhand smoke? If so, should I be concerned with this level?"

GUPTA: Well, Kim, this is an interesting question. The short answer to your question is yes. This does constitute secondhand smoke. You're talking about this lingering scent, but also the idea that the smoke clings to about everything, your hair, your clothing, and can even cling to dust within the house.

Some experts call that thirdhand smoke, incidentally. There's a lot of data on this now. For example, we know that people who live with smokers are also at higher risk of developing certain types of lung disease, including lung cancer. And we also know this is a very difficult habit to quit.

The fact that you're even writing in shows that you're thinking about this for your husband, urging him to quit. You're going to get all sorts of advice if you do this and in terms of how to quit, I've been working on this addiction special for some time and I can tell you it can be a difficult thing to overcome.

Let me just give you some tips from the CDC, sort of to get you to day one, to get you to that first day for Kim's husband out there. First of all, set a quit day. Mark it on a calendar, and do something to remind yourself. Also, figure out why, why you're really trying to do this that may help, Kim, help him out.

Don't do this alone for your husband. And for all the other smokers out there, try to get some help. I talked about this all the time, Kiran. This is one of the most tobacco smoking, tobacco use causes some of the most preventable diseases in the United States and around the world. So I'm glad that people are thinking about it.

CHETRY: Yes. Certainly, quitting is a good thing, no doubt.


CHETRY: Let's go to Sharon in New Jersey for the next question. She writes that "my husband's doctor told him to take an aspirin a day. Should I be taking one, too?"

GUPTA: You know, it's funny, people talk about aspirin, and they think it's just an aspirin, why worry about it? What harm can it possibly do? I'm glad you asked the question. Because just like everything in life you have to weigh the risks and the benefits here.

First of all, there's about a third of adult Americans who do take an aspirin, oftentimes to try and thwart things like heart disease and stroke later on. But if you want to try and stratify, figure out who those people are that are going to get the most benefit from it, we went to an organization called the U.S. Preventive Task Force. They do a lot of guidelines on prevention. And take a look there, so for men who are at high risk between the ages of 45 to 79 and for women who are at high risk from the ages of 55 to 79.

Now, we put a lot more information about the specifics of what high risk means and who all of the people are who can benefit from this on our blog at But you know, the bottom line is this, that aspirin can be a medication that can cause some problems and can cause bleeding ulcers. It can cause other side effects that you want to balance with the potential benefits out there.

CHETRY: All right. That's good advice. You're right. A lot of people think hey, it's just a baby aspirin, why not? May as well take it like a vitamin.

GUPTA: That's right.

CHETRY: All right. Sanjay, thanks so much. And also send your questions for Dr. Gupta's mailbag to, and you can also ask Sanjay a question in iReport or connect with him directly. He is Twittering. We'll get your questions every Thursday.

ROBERTS: And speaking of Twitter, we're asking for your help this morning in a race to a million followers on No one has ever made it to a million followers on the site. And hotshot Ashton Kutcher thinks that he can beat us there. He threw down the gauntlet in a YouTube video, saying that he wants to get to a million before CNN.

Well, we here at CNN aim to hand him his lunch, and we're doing it all for the benefit of charity and it could save lives. If Ashton makes it to a million before we do, he is going to donate 10,000 mosquito bed nets to charity for World Malaria Day on April 25. If we beat him, we will donate those 10,000. And we're a lot closer to the mark as well.

Here is how you can help. If you're already a Twitter member, just go to -- just start following cnnbrk. That's cnnbrk. Now, if you're not a member of Twitter, signing up is so easy, it's like getting out of bed.

All you got to do is just to the main Twitter page, You click on the big green "get started" box. You enter your name, a user name, you choose a password, enter a valid e- mail address as well and then click on "create my account."

And then you go to find people, and that' where you type in cnnbrk. It's simple. Your kids could do it. Believe me, your kids are doing it. We've already added thousands of you just this morning. We were at about 57 1/2 thousand this morning when we went on the air. We're now at 960,700, so that's 3,000 (sic).

CHETRY: He's at 944.

ROBERTS: He's added a few, too.

CHETRY: Right, and we're the ones with the live international platform right now. Shouldn't we be catching up a little more?

ROBERTS: Yes. Absolutely. So, you know we only need about 39 1/2 thousand to make it to a million, and we will donate those 10,000 mosquito bed nets. One on one with President Obama, what he told CNN en Espanol in a special sit-down interview by what he calls an important first step with Cuba. We'll have that for you at 54 and a half minutes after the hour.



CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. President Obama arrives in Mexico today. But before leaving a special one-on- one sit-down interview with CNN en Espanol. The president was asked about going face-to-face with controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.


QUESTION: A lot of people are focused about how are you going to interact with the leaders, for example, how you will face Hugo Chavez? Have you thought about that or is it going to be different than any other president?

OBAMA: No, look. He is the leader of his country and we'll -- he'll be one of many people that I have an opportunity to meet. And the whole message that we've tried to send throughout my campaign, throughout my recent travels overseas at the G-20, for example, has been that the United States, I think, has a leadership role to play in dealing with many of the big problems that we face.

But we also recognize that other countries have important contributions and insights. We want to listen and learn, as well as talk and that approach, I think, of mutual respect and finding common interests is one that ultimately will serve everybody.

QUESTION: Fidel Castro reacted to your lifting the sanctions saying it was a positive move but they expected lifting of the embargo and he said that people won't beg but that is what eventually they would expect from the U.S.

OBAMA: Well, I don't expect Cuba to beg. Nobody is asking for anybody to beg. What we are looking for is some signal that there are going to be changes in how Cuba operates that assures that, you know, political prisoners are released, that people can speak their minds freely, that they can travel, that they can write and attend church and do the things that people throughout the hemisphere can do and take for granted.

And if there's some sense of movement on those fronts in Cuba, then I think that we can see a further thawing of relations and further changes. But we took an important first step, I think it's a signal of our good faith that we want to move beyond the cold war mentality that has existed over the last 50 years and, hopefully, we'll see some signs that Cuba wants to reciprocate.


CHETRY: All right. And again, it will be interesting to see how he handles all of the varying, you know, and competing leaders down there.


CHETRY: As he gets ready to embark south of the border for the first time.

ROBERTS: Yes, we'll see if Chavez shows up at the United Nations next September and says, what do I smell in this room?

CHETRY: Right. The sulfur from El Diablo?

ROBERTS: Exactly.

CHETRY: All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We will see you back here do tomorrow.

ROBERTS: Don't forget to follow us at cnnbrk on twitter because we want to smoke Ashton Kutcher to a million.

Right now, here's CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins.