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American Morning

Is Obama Considering Tax Hike?; Three U.S. Hikers Captured in Iran; Bucking the Trend - What's behind the Decline in Crime?; Tracking Pythons in the Everglades; Rickets on the Rise; Cuba Warming to Washington with Caveat

Aired August 03, 2009 - 07:00   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Just crossing the top of the hour, 7:00 a.m. on the East Coast.

Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. It is Monday, August 3rd. Kiran has the morning off.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Roberts. Thanks for being with us this morning. And we're following several developing stories that we'll be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes, including news about your money. Encouraging new signs that the recession could be easing.

Plus, a big question for the White House. Is the president thinking about going back on a campaign promise and raising your taxes?

CHO: Plus, the State Department is doing everything it can to find out where Iran is holding three Americans. They were arrested after apparently wandering into western Iran while hiking next door in Iraq. We're live from Baghdad with the latest.

ROBERTS: And Henry Louis Gates Jr. is talking about his new friend. That new friend being Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley. Gates says the two of them really hit it off at the White House. We'll hear the Harvard professor's first public comments since the two sat down for beers in Washington on Thursday.

CHO: But we begin this Monday morning with two questions and two answers that now have lots of middle class Americans wondering if the White House is planning to increase their taxes.

Over the week Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and top economic adviser Larry Summers were asked about a possible tax hike, and neither of them would rule it out.


TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: We have to do what's necessary. Remember, the critical thing is people understand that when we have recovery established, led by the private sector, then we have to bring these deficits down very dramatically. We have to bring them down to a level where the amount we're borrowing from the world is stable at a reasonable level. And that's going to require some very hard choices. And we're going to have to try to do that in a way that does not add unfairly to the burdens that the average American already faces.

LAWRENCE SUMMERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: There's a lot that could happen over time. But the priority right now, it's never a good idea to absolutely rule things out no matter what.


CHO: All right, so if the administration OKs a tax increase, how big an about face would that be? Considering what the president himself said during the campaign last year, it's about as big as you can get.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If you make under $250,000, you will not see your taxes increase by a single dime. Not your income taxes, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains tax, no tax.


CHO: All right, Ed Henry is live at the White House for us this morning. Ed, what are you hearing about this? Were Geithner and Summers out this weekend setting the stage for a tax hike?


If it had been just been one top economic official leaving the door open like that on a tax increase, it might have been a mistake, it might have been a gaffe. But the two top money men that suggests a trial balloon, they are trying to test out how this would fly with the American people.

The key is going to be exactly what you pointed out, would a tax increase affect people making under $250,000 a year? That is the line in the sand that the president laid out in the campaign a few weeks ago. Robert Gibbs left the door open to changing that.

But then the president himself insisted to the American people that in the context of health care reform he is not going to break that campaign promise. It's going to be very interesting today at the daily briefing to see how Robert Gibbs squares all of this.

One thing they are surely going to point out is the fact that they inherited about $9 trillion dollars in debt from the Bush administration. Nevertheless, all this talk of fax increases is going to feed into the Republican argument that the president is just spending too much money.

CHO: Ed, as you know, the president had a lot on his plate right now besides this. We're got the cash for clunkers program that is about to expire unless the Senate approved $2 billion. We got health care reform, obviously the president taking that on the road trying to sell that plan.

So how much does all of this complicate the president's effort to sell that health care plan?

HENRY: Big time, because the president has been -- the key argument for health care reform has been saying this bring down cost, going to help bring down the deficit as well.

The CBO and others are saying, look, in the short-term, though, costs could explode in terms of trying to pay for all this reform.

And if now the American people see, look, tax increases will be what pays for health care reform, at least in the first few years, it's certainly going to complicate the argument, it's going to give Republicans more fodder, and could put conservative Democrats, who are the key to this whole equation, even more on the defensive - Alina.

CHO: Ed Henry, live for us at the White House. Ed, thank you.

Stick around, there's a lot to talk about this morning about the economy, the recession, and is the worst behind us? That's the big question we all want the answer to.

We have a couple of great economic minds here in the studio. We'll get their take coming up.

ROBERTS: The State Department is trying to figure out where the Iranian government is holding three Americans this morning. Iran says they were arrested after crossing an unmarked border. The three were hiking in Iraq's Kurdish region when they apparently took a wrong turn.

American officials say they are collecting information through Switzerland's embassy in Tehran, and the Swiss are asking to meet with the Americans.

Let's bring in our Arwa Damon. She is live in Baghdad this morning. What's the latest you're hearing there, Arwa, about the group's possible whereabouts?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the U.S. embassy here, as you can imagine, is being tight-lipped about any sort of intelligence they may have.

We do know though from Kurdish officials that they believe that these three might still be held at the border post where they were originally detained. Kurdish officials did send out patrols into that area. They did recover what they believe to be one of the backpacks of one of the hikers.

They also are trying to get in touch with the Iranian consulate, but it is proving to be very difficult for everybody involved in this to get a hold of any sort of accurate information - John.

ROBERTS: Do you have any idea what they were doing in the area? They say they were backpacking. Is that a popular tourist spot to go backpacking between Kurdish Iraqi territory and that part of Iran?

DAMON: Well, John, I mean, I'm sure it seems rather bizarre people would even consider coming to Iraq given that it is in the news more often than not due to violence or sectarian bloodshed.

But this part of the north is completely different than the rest of the country. It is relatively safe. It hasn't been plagued by violence. It is considered to be a great business opportunity.

This specific area they were going to Ahmed Awa, is very much a popular tourist destination. It is stunningly beautiful, rugged mountains, waterfalls.

But at the same time, they were warned by local police they are to be very careful because of the proximity that they were in to Iran and because the border isn't defined. And they specifically told, watch out. You're not Iraqis. You're Americans.

ROBERTS: It seems it was a prudent warning.

Awra Damon for us from Baghdad with the very latest. Awra, good to see you. Thanks so much.

CHO: We are continuing to follow some breaking news out of Miami. At least 26 people are injured, four seriously, after a Continental Airline jet had to make an emergency landing in Miami. Officials say the 767 hit severe turbulence while climbing to 38,000 feet. It was headed from Rio de Janeiro to Houston.

We are working our sources and will bring you more information as we get it.

ROBERTS: Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. says the Cabridge police officer who arrested him is a "nice guy." Gates spoke during a book signing on Martha's Vineyard, his first public comments since sitting down for beers at the White House on Thursday.

Gates said he and Sergeant James Crowley really hit it off in Washington and he looks forward to their next meeting.


HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., HARVARD PROFESSOR: You know what, I liked Crowley. And I thought that we would like each other. And I don't know what we'll talk about. But I asked him if he would have lunch with me one-on-one. I asked him if maybe we could go to a Red Sox game together, maybe go to a Celtics game together, maybe we could have dinner with our families. Why not?

I offered to get his kids into Harvard.



ROBERTS: Offered to get his kids into Harvard with the caveat that that's only if he stops arresting him.

On a more serious note, though, Gates says that he has received numerous death threats, and Harvard University has encouraged him to move.

CHO: And the runaway hit rebate plan Cash for Clunkers could get a jumpstart today. The Senate votes on a $2 billion bill to keep the program afloat.

Customers have been flocking the car dealers to get up to $4,500 back for trading in gas guzzlers for fuel efficient cars.

Our Brianna Keilar is live on Capitol Hill with the very latest.

ROBERTS: We know it's Monday and you're trying to clear the cobwebs out of the brain. But to make you feel a little better today, you're almost guaranteed to have a better day at work this Monday than this demolition team did in Turkey over the weekend.



ROBERTS: They were trying the whole factory collapse in on itself. You were seeing those implosions. Instead...

CHO: It's supposed to go straight down, isn't it?


ROBERTS: It decided to take a somersault. We can feel free to laugh this morning because there were no injuries. Apparently, no -- the thing stopped rolling just a few feet from the building next door. How not to implode a building.

CHO: It's miraculous that nobody was injured. It came so close to that other building. That's something you don't see every day.

ROBERTS: That's a tribute to construction at least with that building in Turkey...

CHO: There's a silver lining.

ROBERTS: That puppy just rolled over completely intact. Wow.

Between the stock market and housing market, the economy is beginning to show, dare we say it, signs of life. So does that mean that the recession is over? We've got experts with answers coming up next.

It's nine minutes after the hour.


CHO: How safe is your child's gym class? A new study says over a ten-year period, gym injuries at school have increased 150 percent. Larger classes, less supervision, and fewer school nurses all possible causes. Experts say the benefits of a lively Phys Ed class still outweigh the risk but that being healthy doesn't have to hurt.

ROBERTS: For the 13th straight day it's costing you more this morning for a gallon of gasoline. According to AAA, the national average is now $2.55 a gallon. That's up more than a penny overnight.

CHO: Listen to this. Right now two airlines are offering very special fares, but only on Twitter. Recently JetBlue posted a $9 one- way trip from New York City to Nantucket, United Airlines also offering what it calls Twares. The deals are only available for one to two hours.

ROBERTS: So $9 to get there, how much to get back? That's the question.

CHO: Hopefully nine bucks.

ROBERTS: The stock market surging, the housing market is beginning to pick up, and there are signs that the recession, dare we say it, may come to an end. Here is what the president said over the weekend about the good news that we've been getting.


OBAMA: The economy has done measurably better than expected. And many economists suggest part of this process is directly attributable to the recovery act.


ROBERTS: Let's look a little closer at this, this morning. Is the president right? Lakshman Achuthan is managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute. Diane Brady is senior editor with "Business Week," and they both join us this morning.

So, first of all -- we'll look at whether the stimulus is responsible in just a second, but first of all, suggestions that the economy is turning around. Diane, do you agree?

DIANE BRADY, SENIOR EDITOR, NEWSWEEK: Certainly, I think one person said we've fallen off the cliff, but we're in the valley now. So clearly we're at a crossroads. The earnings were really good last quarter, so the worst is over. But when it starts to improve is the real good question.

ROBERTS: Christina Romer, once of the president's economic advisers, Lakshman, said she thinks we are yet to hit rock bottom. Noted economist Nouriel Roubini doesn't think the turnaround will happen until the end of the year. What do you think?

LAKSHMAN ACHUTHAN, ECONOMIC ANALYST: I think it's happening right now. The recession is ending this summer. And I'm saying all this based on leading indicators which have forecast the beginning of recoveries reliably for almost a century now. So they even predate the Great Depression, and back to the jungle variety recessions that we used to have, and I think we just had one.

Now, that doesn't mean it feels good. And I think that's what the politicians have to navigate here, right. There's an end of recession, which means that basically you're at the worst point of the business cycle. So, of course, if you're in the neighborhood of the worst point of the business cycle, it's not going to feel very good at all.

ROBERTS: What do you think about the president's claim that the $787 billion stimulus package is at least partly responsible for things better in the first quarter than they were in first?

BRADY: When you talk to CEOs, they don't refer a lot to stimulus package because it really has not created jobs. And that seems to be the real issue is that what people worry about -- they talk about the banks and the stability of the banks. What they really look to the president is some policies that will get business started again.

So, stimulus may have stopped the worst of it. But how responsible it is for the uptick, I don't know.

ROBERTS: And what about this idea too that this could be a jobless recovery? Economists like Paul Krugman are floating this idea that there's not much in the stimulus that's going to create jobs.

It may put the economy on a sound footing, it may start the business cycle again, but that these companies are going to be leaner, meaner. They've trimmed staff. They found that they can get along without the staff. They shed a lot of costs they would like to get rid of, so they might just not hire these people back.

ACHUTHAN: Yes, and it wouldn't be actually that much of a surprise. This would be the third time in 20 years that we've had a so called jobless recover. The last two were just like that. I'm not sure why it would be a surprise that this one would be much different.

But it is very good news, for example, that we're seeing GDP come in significantly less bad. That's a necessary precondition to even get to the discussion about jobs growth. You have to have the economy stop contracting and start growing, and then you can start dealing the idea of actually needing to hire more people.

ROBERTS: So, Diane, what do you think the economy will look like in the future with all these jobs shipped overseas and companies now finding that they can obviously produce things cheaper in places like China, Mexico, and India than here in the United States? Are we seeing a fundamental shift in the American economy and the American job market?

BRADY: Americans have lost so much wealth. We've lost $14 trillion of household wealth. So one of the big things is are we going to be more frugal going forward much like the people who came out of the Depression. That's one question.

I think one of the other question is what kind of jobs will come back. There's a real question whether the standard of living here is going to drop because a lot of the jobs that have been created, they are not paying as much as they did in the past.

ROBERTS: I've got a couple more important issues that we want to tackle, including this possible extension of unemployment benefits, and will middle class get taxed to pay for everything that we have had to spend money on.

More coming up right after the break, stay with us -- 16.5 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. We're talking with Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, and Diane Brady, senior editor of "BusinessWeek."

So, we heard over the weekend that the White House is considering extending unemployment benefits yet again because a lot of people, I think there are well over a million people, may lose benefits, their benefits, their already extended benefits may run out.

Do you think it's a good idea to keep people on unemployment until they try to find employment again?

BRADY: I do. I think they have no choice at this point because people are sitting in houses that are going down in value. You've got the risk of foreclosure. And the reality is employers are not hiring. They are simply not hiring. Until they stop firing, the economy isn't going to recover.

ROBERTS: The last time you were on with me, I said, do we need a second stimulus? And you went, "No." Could this be the second stimulus?

ACHUTHAN: They benefits -- they legislate the idea of benefits if you lose your job. But the issue is nobody knew when they made the legislation how long each recession is going to be. And here you're in the longest recession in the post-war period, so it kind of makes sense that you're going to have to...

ROBERTS: So, would this be a second stimulus?

BRADY: No, I don't think it's a second stimulus.

But even the first stimulus isn't the reason you're having a recovery here. and that's a little surprising, I think, to a lot of people.

There are tax cuts and things that did go in earlier, but the big hunk of government spending wasn't in the clash for clunkers. That's a tiny fraction of the stimulus program.

ROBERTS: And that's one that actually seems to be working.

ACHUTHAN: And that seems to be working. So you have stimulus in front of you that's going to reinforce, I think, the early stages of this recovery.

ROBERTS: I guess cash for clunkers is the first example. They threw another couple billion dollars into it. We've got to borrow that money, so we have to pay for that. And then if they extend unemployment benefits we're going to have to pay for that as well through borrowing, which increases the deficit, which increases the debt.

And how do you ever make that money back? Taxation. There's new taxation on the way.

Let's remind folks at home what President Obama said during the election campaign about raising taxes on the middle class.


OBAMA: If you make under $250,000, you will not see your taxes increase by a single dime. Not your income tax, not you payroll tax, not your capital gains tax, no tax.


ROBERTS: All right, so that's what the president said during the campaign. Is he going to hold to that Diane, or is he going to have to raise taxes on the middle class maybe even just to pay for health care reform, but he can't keep that pledge now because we're just so far in debt?

BRADY: The rhetoric right now is limited to health care. They shifted it that we're not going to tax you for health care. But I think there's no question taxes will go up. And I people don't just look at Washington. People look at their total tax bill.

So, the states are so hard-pressed. They are really in a critical situation. Probably your state income taxes will go up. But I think a lot of people making less than $250,000 a year are going to be feeling the pain tax-wise.

ROBERTS: Our good friend Jeff Sachs up at Columbia University was telling us a year ago there's no way they can't tax people. When the dust begins to settle on the economic recovery, taxes are going to have to go up. Do you agree?

ACHUTHAN: Eventually. It's all about when, right? Right now everybody wants to buy U.S. treasuries, and so interest rates are basically low. There's a whole bunch of discussions around why that is happening. But as long as that is happening, you can kind of get away with deficit spending.

At some point that will change. It always does. And then you're going to have to say where am I getting income to offset all of this spending, and then it will become a real issue.

The hope, I think, is that the recovery is durable enough to withstand a rise in taxes. ROBERTS: Can you pay everything back by taxing the rich? If rich people become the new tobacco, you can't tax tobacco anymore, so you only tax rich people -- do they contribute much in taxes that you can offset everything by taxing them?

BRADY: I don't think so. Certainly everybody we talk to says they you can't. One of the big issues is taxation on businesses as well. There's a lot of fear that that may actually impede the recovery. If there's clamped down too hard they will stop hiring. Everybody will have to feel pain to get out of this.

ROBERTS: So, it's not over yet.

ACHUTHAN: No, not over yet.

But taxes haven't always killed the recover. Even in '33, you had taxes go from 25 percent to 60 something percent on the wealthiest Americans. The Depression ended and you started four years of 10 percent growth.

So, I don't think high taxes give you growth either, but it's more complicated.

ROBERTS: We'll keep watching this to see where it goes. Diane Brady and Lakshman Achuthan, great to see you. Thanks for stopping by - Alina.

CHO: John, thanks.

Bad economy, dog days of summer -- usually a recipe for higher crime. But something incredible is happening in many cities across the nation. Crime rates are actually dropping.

So, what's going on? We'll explain.

It's 25 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: We're back with the Most News in the Morning.

U.S. Navy Captain Scott Speicher was the first American officer to be shot down in the 1991 Gulf War. For 18 long years his family and friends never really knew what happened to him. Now they are finally getting some answers.

Our Chris Lawrence tracking the story, he's live at the Pentagon. And, you know, the word "bittersweet" has been used to describe what the Speicher family must be going through, but I would expect nor bitter than sweet this morning, Chris.

LAWRENCE: Yes, no doubt about it, John.

You know, the family tells us that they expect to get a classified briefing from the military either today or tomorrow. But they now know one thing for sure, that Captain Speicher did not die in some Iraqi prison.


LAWRENCE: Captain Scott Speicher's children were toddlers the day he disappeared. Now his remains are coming home to college students. A nearly 20 year mystery -- was he captured, tortured? All this time the answer was buried in the Iraqi sands and solve by a single tip.

MIRIAM NOVELLY, HIGH SCHOOL CLASSMATE: It's a bittersweet ending. I mean, it's great that we have finally accomplished an ending, but it is bittersweet.

LAWRENCE: Last month an Iraqi citizen told American troops about the crash site. When the marines arrived, another Iraqi said he was there when Bedouins found Captain Speicher already dead, and buried his body.

Searching the site, U.S. troops found multiple skeletal fragments and bones. And when military investigators compared Captain Speicher's dental records with the recovered jawbone, it was him.

SEN. BEN NELSON, (D) FLORIDA: The whole family is so grateful the Navy stayed on this.

LAWRENCE: But the military made mistakes, starting hours after Speicher was shot down when the Pentagon declared him dead.

DICK CHENEY, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The total U.S. losses are one aircraft and one individual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Pentagon has identified a United States Navy pilot as apparently the first U.S. serviceman missing in action in the Persian Gulf War.

LAWRENCE: Some in the military thought Speicher had ejected and might still be alive. In 1994 they proposed a secret mission to survey the crash site.

But according to senior defense officials in the room, chairman of the joint chiefs, General John Shalikashvili, scrubbed the plan, and said, quote, "I do not want to have to write the parents and tell them their son or daughter died looking for old bones."

In 2001 the Pentagon changed his status to missing in action. And there were accusations he was being held captive by Saddam Hussein.

After the invasion of Iraq, some thought they found Speicher's initials scratched into the wall of an Iraqi prison. And investigators even excavated a gravesite in Baghdad. But it was not him.

Now the vigils can end, but one fact remains...

NELSON: We walked away from a downed pilot. It was done by mistakenly declaring him dead, and then they didn't go and search for him. And that was a mistake. And that is very important that we never repeat that mistake again.


LAWRENCE: Captain Speicher's family say they appreciate all the troops who never gave up and kept searching all those years.

But they have got to be wondering, is there any chance he survived that crash, and would an immediate search and rescue have made any difference? John?

ROBERTS: Based on reports from the ground there from the Bedouins, perhaps not.

Chris Lawrence for us this morning. Chris, thanks so much.

We're crossing the half hour now, and here are this morning's top stories.

In a startling turnaround from what was promised on the campaign trail, top White House officials on Sunday talk shows refused to rule out middle class tax increases.

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner said reducing the federal deficit is key to sustaining the economic recovery. And the president's top economic adviser Larry Summers said you can't promise that taxes won't go up to pay for health care reform.

CHO: We're following a developing story this morning, an emergency landing to tell you about in Miami this morning. A Continental Airlines jet head from Rio to Houston with 168 people on board forced to make that emergency landing due to severe turbulence. Officials say at least 26 people are hurt, four of them seriously.

ROBERTS: For the first time in two years, Ford says it is on track to post a monthly sales increase, driven by the Cash for Clunkers program. And as government rebates have customers rushing to trade in their gas guzzlers for more efficient models and getting up to $4500 back. The Senate votes today on adding another $2 billion to the popular program to keep it alive.

CHO: And remember this story, 145 Air Force photos of what was called Scare Force One have now been released. That's the photo of that fly-by that terrified New Yorkers about three months ago. Guess what? It also cost taxpayers more than $300,000. And the release of government e-mail shows there was pre-flight concern about causing panic on the streets. Two days before the flight an Air Force colonel wrote, thanks for the heads up on sensitivities in the New York area. Afterwards, one top Pentagon spokeswoman wrote, "We all look like a bunch of buffoons." Can you say Moe, Larry and Curly?

Well, crime rates are falling in big cities across America even though unemployment is high and summers, two factors which historically are a prescription for trouble. So what's going on? Commissioner Charles Ramsey is the commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department and Chief John Timoney heads the Miami Police Department. He is also the president of Police Executive Research Forum which looks at these types of trends.

Good morning to both of you.


CHO: Chief Timoney, I want to start with you. Because as I just said, you know, we're dealing with a bad economy, the dog days of summer, usually a recipe for higher crime. But crime rates are actually falling in major cities across America. So what exactly is going on in your estimation?

CHIEF JOHN TIMONEY, MIAMI POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, I think it's a myth the whole notion that there's a direct correlation between a bad economy and crime. All you have to do is really look at the Great Depression. Crime rates did not skyrocket. Similarly here over the last year and a half when we have monitored pretty closely. You know, the assumption is crime is down. So some guy who is a truck driver one day loses his job, goes out and commits robberies and burglaries the next day is simply not true.

Over the last year and a half at our com stat (ph) crime meetings, we're looking at the people that were arrested for these crimes. It's the same people, it's the frequent flyers, guys with 15, 25 prior arrests. If the economy had a direct impact we'd be arresting people for the first time and that's simply not happening.

CHO: Commissioner Ramsey, I want to get to you. You currently head the Philadelphia Police Department but most of our viewers know you best for heading up the D.C. sniper investigation back in 2002. I certainly remember that quite well. You know, homicide is down in Philadelphia 11 percent. That's astounding. What do you think is happening? What is your department doing differently?

COMMISSIONER. CHARLES RAMSEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, we're actually 25 percent down over the last year and a half, when I first took office in January of '08. We've been making good progress. Our clearance rates up near 80 percent. That's one of the factors, our homicide investigators have been clearing cases a lot faster and getting the right people off the job plus we've put in place some strategy so that if there's a violent act that takes place, we look toward retaliation, a possibility of retaliation and we can deploy more real-time than we were before using technology and keeping track of what's going on to get people in the right spots at the right time.

CHO: Yes. And Chief Ramsey, you touched on that. I want to get to Chief Timoney in just a moment. Commissioner Ramsey, you know, you mentioned the technology. A lot of police work has gone high-tech, officers using mobile phones and the like. That really has helped a tremendous amount, has it not?

RAMSEY: Well it has helped. But it gets down to good basic police work. I think in Philadelphia, for example, we're actually a bit behind in technology. A lot of big cities are because it's so expensive to get some of these systems. But if you use what you have, use it wisely, and make good critical decisions early on, and you can avoid some of the problems.

CHO: Chief Timoney, I want to move onto the Henry Louis Gates case, that he, of course, is the Harvard professor who was arrested in his home on July 16th. A lot of talk about that. You actually wrote an op-ed piece in "The Miami Herald" saying that it's a shame that people on all sides have reacted so quickly and that the case may have been triggered by misconceptions. Explain that.

TIMONEY: Well, the people right away, and it seemed like everybody jumped to conclusions, read into the situation, things I wanted to ask. For example, the officer went there strictly as a result of a racial description when, in fact, the 911 caller never described race. There were other things that people latched on to. Some of them having to do with stereotypes, some of them have to do with preconceived notions. A whole host of things. The bottom line is. You know, in situations like that to become highly volatile, they break down unfortunately, sometimes along racial lines and you see even on television, people who are colleagues and friends breaking down along racial lines.

It seems when you look at the facts and the dispassionate cold- hearted fact, you can still find fault on either side. For it's not as bad or as inflammatory as initially it was charged the early days and once the rest surfaced...

CHO: Commissioner Ramsey, let me ask you this. I mean, yes, that is all true. But some people have suggested that as unfortunate as this was that really it has opened up a larger discussion on race, and is that such a bad thing? So, I'm just curious to know if you have done anything differently, planning to do anything differently in terms of race relations inside your department?

RAMSEY: Well, it does open up a larger discussion which I do think is a good thing. But I think everyone needs to take a deep breath when these things take place. I agree with John that, you know, we're too quick to jump to conclusions. I've heard the term racism thrown around more in the past week or two than I have since the 1960s or '70s. So that's a very dangerous thing. And I think people need to really stop and take a look. I think you've got two people, both of whom if they had it to do over again might have done one or two things slightly differently. But it wasn't a racist act, it wasn't anything that had to do with anything like that it's just unfortunate where you had a police officer and a citizen that didn't see eye to eye on an issue, things got out of hand and we wind up talking about it here on your program.

CHO: And they all shared a beer in the end. So - all right. Commissioner Charles Ramsey of the Philadelphia Police Department. Chief John Timoney of the Miami Police Department, good work to both of you. And thank you for joining us this morning.

RAMSEY: Talk to you later, buddy.

TIMONEY: See you. ROBERTS: And tomorrow at 7:30 Eastern, if you would like to save a few bucks for downloading music from shall we say less than legal Web sites, you might just want to pay iTunes the 99 cents or a $1.29 or whatever it is, we'll be talk to Joel Tannenbaum. A court is ordering him to pay $675,000 for illegally downloading 30 songs. That averages $22,500 for each song. $1.29 seems like quite a deal, doesn't? He's going to be here at 7:30 Eastern tomorrow on the most news in the morning.

CHO: John Zarrella is our Miami-based correspondent, you know, he gets a lot of great assignments, but one thing he does - he does a lot of stories on animals.

ROBERTS: He does all things. Anything that slithers in the night or through the everglades, John is on top of, hunting pythons in the everglades as only Zarrella can tell it. Coming right up. 38 1/2 minutes after the hour.



ROBERTS: Good morning, Miami, where you've got scattered clouds and 81 degrees later on today, partly cloudy skies with a high of 92. We should say that Miami, the focus of some breaking news this morning, where a Continental Airlines flight now from Rio de Janeiro to Houston had to divert after experiencing severe turbulence just north of the Dominican Republic. Four people apparently suffered serious injuries. So, we'll keep you updated on...

CHO: In fact, we're just getting word, John that Flight 128 is now departing Miami, expected to land in Houston at 9:35.

ROBERTS: Take the rest of the folks there.

CHO: That's right.

ROBERTS: Good news.

Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Imagine it's your job to track and trap some of the largest snakes in the world. They can grow over 20 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds.

CHO: Well, now think about doing that in the high grasses of the Florida Everglades at night, for free. The snakes are threatening the national park's ecosystem, so someone has got to do it. You know, and our John Zarrella went along for the ride.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Wasilewski drives along a narrow stretch of road the bisects Florida's Everglades. Night is coming on quickly. He's looking for snakes, one in particular.

JOE WASILEWSKI, TRACK BURMESE PYTHONS FOR FLORIDA: The next 10 miles seems to be the hot spot for Burmese pythons.

ZARRELLA: Wasilewski, a reptile expert is one of a handful of men sanctioned by the state to hunt down and rid the glades of pythons. An extraordinary move in response to what scientists believe is a rapidly growing threat to the delicate ecosystem.

WASILEWSKI: It's a large predator and they are eating basically everything in sight. That's the problem.

ZARRELLA: Twenty years ago, there were none here. Today, perhaps 100,000. No one is quite sure. Night is the best time to catch these non-venomous snakes. That's when they are on the move. Wasilewski spots something. He jumps from the truck, runs to it.

WASILEWSKI: This is not a python, this is a banded water snake.

ZARRELLA (on camera): A banded water snake.

WASILEWSKI: Yes. Do you want to pick him up?


WASILEWSKI: He'll bite you.

ZARRELLA: An hour driving back and forth across the road, still no pythons, at least not alive. There's a dead one and several more small snakes. A baby alligator, too.

WASILEWSKI: Oh, man. And it got hit by a car.

ZARRELLA: Two hours into our hunt, suddenly Wasilewski is on it. He sees one.

WASILEWSKI: Yes, baby. Hey, look at the size of this one.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Skillfully he grabs it behind the head. It instantly coils around his arm. Wasilewski will lock the snake in a crate and take it to national park biologist to be studied and destroyed. But first we got to untangle it from his arm.

(on camera): Wow.

WASILEWSKI: This isn't a big one.

ZARRELLA: That's - this is a good 10 feet.


ZARRELLA: Oh, yes.

WASILEWSKI: At least, 12.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Wasilewski doesn't get paid. It's voluntary. While he knows they got to be eliminated, he's got a soft spot for the reptiles.

WASILEWSKI: And guess what, it's not this snake's fault. He didn't mean to be here.

ZARRELLA: Some are believed to have gotten here when reptile breeding facilities near the Everglades were destroyed during Hurricane Andrew.

WASILEWSKI: Why don't you take this side?

ZARRELLA (on camera): No. You take that side. You take the head, and I've got the back end.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Others from pet owners who disposed of them when they got too big. They can grow up to 200 pounds. But this one is no longer a problem.

WASILEWSKI: One down, 100,000 more.

ZARRELLA (on camera): 100,000 to go.

(voice-over): John Zarrella, CNN, the Florida Everglades.


ROBERTS: What is it about snakes that creeps people out?

CHO: I have a major snake phobia.

ROBERTS: You're ooh-ing and ahh-ing through the whole thing.

CHO: You couldn't pay me enough. I would rather walk on a bed of coals.

ROBERTS: You were under the desk, hiding from the snakes.

CHO: I'm scared of them.

ROBERTS: Put it this way if it's going to be a snake, it's anywhere and under the desk and not on top.

CHO: Ten feet long.

ROBERTS: They are pretty impressive down there, aren't they?

CHO: Yes, they are.

ROBERTS: Because they're well fed.

CHO: All right. Here is what's on the "A.M. Rundown" in the next 15 minutes. Millions of kids and teens aren't getting enough of a key vitamin. Are your children at risk? At 7:50 our Elizabeth Cohen has some answers. At 55 minutes past, Cuba's president says Havana is ready for talks with Washington. But there's one thing not up for negotiation. We're live in Havana with President Raul Castro's warning for the White House. And at the top of the hour, will President Obama's health care reform mean higher taxes for you. Our Ed Henry is live at the White House to break it down. 45 minutes after the hour. We're coming right back.



CHO: You shouldn't be looking at that, you should be looking at a shot of John dancing, but that's the (inaudible) but we digress. Forty-eight minutes after the hour. Good morning, Atlanta. Look at that fog there. Overcast and 72. But the forecast says it's going to be sunny and 90 degrees later.

ROBERTS: Won't be a lick of humidity in the air either.

CHO: Right, exactly. There's a reason why they call it Hotlanta.

ROBERTS: Rob Marciano is in Atlanta this morning. He's tracking extreme weather across the country. And not only on shore but also offshore. Because as we we've been saying this morning we had that Continental Airlines plane that went through some severe turbulence off the southeastern coast of the United States, and had to make an emergency landing in Miami. What do we know about that, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, more details on that, John. Here is our Flight Explorer software, and we'll put things in motion. There you see, Boeing 767. 36,000 feet there. Keep an eye on this, that Intercontinental. So that's where it's supposed to be flying. And this the speed at 480 knots. Just as it crosses Puerto Rico, it's over the island of Hispaniola, still at 36,000 feet. It's going to start to climb here presumably to maybe find some more clear air, a more tranquil air, and then it goes from intercontinental eventually changing to Miami. That's when the flight was diverted and started to go down. Go Miami at some point here. Climbing to 38,000 feet and then traveling south to Miami.

All right. What have we got there, we got a little of a tropical wave. But it's really not creating a whole lot of turbulence. As far as more convection is concerned across the southeast, severe thunderstorms expected today across parts of the western Great Lakes. And these could be rough. Slowing down travel potentially in the Chicago area, temperatures today will be 90 degrees in Atlanta, 81 degrees expected in New York City. A lot of rain for you folks over the weekend. Today should be a little drier. John and Alina, back up to you.

ROBERTS: Rob, thanks so much. So, in that area just around the Dominican Republic, we think there was what some thunderstorms or just some heavy air there?

MARCIANO: There wasn't a whole lot of thunderstorm activity but there was a tropical wave so that certainly would create a little bit of up and down motion. ROBERTS: It definitely would. Rob, thanks so much. We'll see you again soon for another chat on the forecast.

So, everybody is telling you to put on sunscreen, right?

CHO: That's right.

ROBERTS: Because you want to protect yourself against skin cancers. You don't want to get your kids to get burn. But now there's some new evidence that slathering on the sunscreen may actually not be good for your kids in a totally different way. Elizabeth Cohen's got the news coming up. Ten minutes now to the top of the hour.



ROBERTS: Well, if you're like millions of parents in this country, you rub sunscreen all over your kids before they head out the door, but experts are saying, you might want to wait because a new study says millions of children and teens are not getting enough Vitamin D. Seven out of 10, in fact, and there's more to this, as well. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now with that. Why are so many kids low on Vitamin D, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, it's this one-two punch. Kids aren't getting Vitamin D in foods like milk and fish, and also kids are spending more time inside than ever before. And then when they go outside, they're often slathered in sunscreen as you mentioned. So let's take a look at the results of those two phenomena that are going on at the same time. What you have is you have 7.6 million with vitamin D deficiency, that's about nine percent of the population and you have nearly 60 million children who are vitamin D insufficient, which isn't quite as bad as being deficient.

So we're talking about 61 percent of the population being Vitamin D insufficient. And that's why the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that kids need to be taking vitamin D supplements. John, it's gotten so bad that actually cases of rickets are on the rise, and rickets is a disease that doctors thought was long gone.

ROBERTS: Yes. OK, so we should just clarify for people that a great source of Vitamin D is sunlight. So, you want to protect your kids against cancer and you want to use those heavy sunscreens to cut out UVB and UVA rays and even to some degree UVC rays and so you want to protect them when they're going out, but at the same time, you want them to get enough sun to get some Vitamin D. So, what's a parent to do?

COHEN: You know, John, I'll tell you, this is very tricky, and pediatricians don't even agree with each other about what to do. But here's what one expert told us. Some people say really makes a lot of sense. If you're going out to the beach, let's say from 10:00 to 2:00, you want to make sure your kids really are slathered in sunscreen, but if you're just going out for 15, 20 minutes, maybe they don't really need sunscreen if you're just going out for a walk in the park or to the playground, maybe you don't need sunscreen on them at every moment.

So, what some folks are recommending is, look, just let them go if it's for a short amount of time, Vitamin D, even just 15 or 20 minutes can do a lot towards getting your kid higher in Vitamin D levels. And of course, the real thing is you need to get your kids out of the house. That's what's important here, too.

ROBERTS: So, just a little bit of exposure gives you enough Vitamin D for the day? As you said, 15 or 20 minutes?

COHEN: Not necessarily enough, but it's certainly a great start.


COHEN: If you can get your kid out 15 or 20 minutes with no sunscreen a day, but you really, of course, want to make sure you're also not burning their skin. So, parents really have to keep an eye on this.

ROBERTS: Parents are going, what do I do now?

COHEN: Right. It's a tough one.

ROBERTS: Elizabeth, thanks so much for that. Appreciate it -- Alina.

CHO: John, thanks.

Cuba signaling it may be ready to start talking again with Washington, but there's a big caveat. We're live in Havana with the latest. It's 55 minutes after the hour.




CHO: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's the latest signs that two warriors from the Cold War days may be trying to patch things up. President Raul Castro in a speech over the weekend said Washington is now less aggressive to the communist island of Cuba, but he warned that Havana's political system is not on the negotiating table. CNN's Shasta Darlington live in Havana for us. We should mention that there is a satellite delay. Shasta, what can you tell us about Raul Castro's speech?

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alina. Well, as you said, Cuban President Raul Castro said that everything and anything is on the table to discuss with Washington, but he warned the political system is not up for negotiation. At a speech to parliament over the weekend, he said anybody expecting political changes once Fidel Castro and his generation have died is condemned to failure. And he also sent a specific message to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He said that she's asked for fundamental changes in the regime in order to start a dialogue. And this is what he said to her.


RAUL CASTRO, PRESIDENT OF CUBA (through translator): They didn't elect me president to restore capitalism to Cuba, nor to surrender the revolution. I was elected to defend, maintain, and continue protecting socialism, not to destroy it.


DARLINGTON: But most of the speech was really focused on the economy. Cuba is trying to stave off this global financial crisis. They want to start producing more (INAUDIBLE) to cut out imports so they're looking towards agriculture and they also want to boost activities that bring in foreign currency like tourism. That wasn't all negative as far as Washington is concerned. As you said, President Raul Castro said things have gotten better under U.S. President Barack Obama. He said that there had been some positive moves but the main tumbling block remains, and that's the U.S. trade embargo. Now as far as the Obama administration is concerned, the ball is really in Cuba's court. They said they've done things like lift restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittance. Now what they want are signs of change from Cuba, Alina.

CHO: Shasta Darlington live for us from Havana. Shasta, thank you.