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American Morning

Grading President Obama on His 200th Day in Office; On-Line Diary Sheds Light on Gunman Who Opened Fire at Pittsburgh-Area Gym; American Journalists Reunited With Families; Russian Subs Patrolling East Coast Not Considered a Threat; Homeowners Wants Out of Empty Building; Grade Congress and the President; Mother and Child Reunion; Shovel-Ready Projects, Too Much Red Tape?

Aired August 06, 2009 - 06:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, thanks for being with us. It's Thursday, August 6 on this AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Joe Johns in for John Roberts. We have sort of a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING today.

CHETRY: Not because you're here.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

CHETRY: But it's 200 days of this administration, of the Obama administration. How are they doing?

JOHNS: Yes, who knows?

CHETRY: Hopefully some people do.

JOHNS: Right.

CHETRY: He's marking his 200th day in office this morning. And at CNN we're giving you the opportunity to grade his performance for 28 weeks. He's been trying to fix an economy that's virtually in free fall. So how do you think he's doing? We've got some of the best financial minds and also the best political team on television standing by.

JOHNS: Plus the chilling words of a gunman who police say killed three women at a Pennsylvania health club before killing himself. His on-line diary speaks volumes about a possible motive for the shooting rampage.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is live in suburban Pittsburgh taking us inside the mind of a killer.

CHETRY: And it all unfolded live here on AMERICAN MORNING yesterday. Two journalists free from captivity in North Korea and back home with their families. Today we're asking what life was like in North Korea and an emotional reaction from sister Lisa Ling. Also the question that a lot of people are asking, how much did President Clinton's rescue mission cost and are taxpayers picking up the tab? We've got some answers on that for you as well. But we begin with the president approaching a big milestone, nearly 200 days on the job. And here at CNN, we're bringing in the best political team to take a closer look at how the president and the country are really doing. And we're also asking you to grade the president's performance zeroing in on three of the top priorities of the administration -- health care, foreign policy, but first, the economy.

And there's a brand new CNN/Opinion Research poll that came out just seconds ago showing only 44 percent of you think that the president's policies have made the economy better. Fifty-one percent saying no, they have not. So where is he scoring and where is he stumbling?

We're going to be talking to noted economists Laskhman Achuthan as well as "BusinessWeek" editor Diane Brady joining us in just a few moments. And we also have with us here on set this morning, Christine Romans and Suzanne Malveaux.

And we start with Suzanne. So 200 days in office, clearly a lot of challenges. And when he gets the grade at least from our polling, people are saying that there's still some work to be done on the economy.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And the one thing that you keep hearing from President Obama is I inherited this problem. This is a big problem I got from President Bush.

CHETRY: Right.

MALVEAUX: One of the things that they accomplished and they're very proud of is the economic stimulus package, $787 billion. They say, look, you see that recovery in the housing market. You also see some signs of things changing, turning around, that they perhaps headed off the worst depression of all time by being in this deep recession.

The second thing that they've done is they've taken on the auto industry, particularly looking at General Motors. The "cash for clunkers" program incredibly popular. You've got billions of dollars that have poured into this, and they've managed to increase the sales, Chrysler, GM, Honda, you name it.

And then finally taking on Wall Street. This is something they said it was a campaign pledge. They wanted to clean up their act, so they've gotten tougher regulations.

But I think one of the things that you want to take a look at, and Christine knows this best, is Friday, when you take a look at those job numbers...


MALVEAUX: ... the unemployment numbers, because that's going to be the threshold politically, economically. How are things going to hold on if the job numbers look like it's 10 percent unemployment. ROMANS: And that could very well happen. And that's something that is a headache for this president that they can't just wave a magic wand to make it go away. I mean, you're likely to see the unemployment rate continue to rise and this administration must be aware of it.

And in all politics, the pundits say, look, above 10 percent unemployment, all political rules are out the door. The last time this happened was 1982 and the president then, Ronald Reagan, suffered badly. His party did in the midterm elections.

The other problem are foreclosures. You're seeing these signs of stability in the housing market. The free fall is over. But this report this morning that says that half of all Americans -- half of all Americans will owe more on their home than it's worth by the time this recession is over. And at the Treasury Department, there's mounting frustration that the lenders, the banks who have received TARP bailout funds aren't doing more to help modify these homes. Just nine percent of the loans that are eligible under the president's mortgage rescue plan have actually been modified.

And even this week, the Treasury Department going a step further and showing that frustration, I think, by naming Bank of America and Wells Fargo as companies they are disappointed with. I've been, you know, across the table with these folks before at the treasury and they don't like to name specific names and they stood out this week and did. So I think that they are growing frustrated with business. The business isn't helping more.

JOHNS: And a lot of people in Washington, they're saying the banks are slow dragging on purpose because it's better for them.

ROMANS: Well, and that's what you hear from a lot of people who are critical of the servicers, that these people who are the loan servicers, if they drag their feet, there are more fees and there are more fines and there's all this more money that gets tacked on to the value of this loan and that frankly, they make money the longer they wait to try to help you out.

CHETRY: And the other -- go ahead.

MALVEAUX: One of the -- one of the problems in the waiting here is when you take a look at the economic stimulus money here in the pipeline, there's so little of it that's been spent right now for these projects, these construction projects. And what they need to do is they need to see people back at work. People need to feel the recovery. They're not necessarily feeling the recovery right now, and that's the political problem for this president.

And he's been very cautious about -- we don't want boondoggles.

ROMANS: Right.

MALVEAUX: We're afraid that the bad stories are going to come when all of this waste and inefficiency happens. But they've got to find a way of getting that money to these construction projects this summer or early fall.

CHETRY: Well, that's one of the things I was wondering about as well, Christine, as we talked about this before. We heard that there was a meeting where Timothy Geithner, the treasury secretary, said, you know, to federal regulators, stop. You know, you've got to help us out here. What is it in practical terms when it comes to when this money can be spent?

ROMANS: Well, for the stimulus, when this money can be spent, they're doing a lot -- spending a lot of money paving roads now, not necessarily building up new bridges because they want to get the money out quickly. But the risk there -- the risk is that these are short- term jobs and if the jobs are short term that they're creating, people still don't have the confidence then to go out and spend the money in the economy because they know that those jobs are going to end in six months or eight months.

The challenge here for this administration with the stimulus money is to have lasting jobs that can support a family, that the family then feels confident enough to go out and spend its money in the economy. And that's tricky.

I mean, we are still -- we're not even a year into what was a really terrible financial crisis. People are pulling in, and rightfully so. The stimulus money has got to convince people that they're building a foundation for things to get better and they can have confidence and spend their money.

JOHNS: Long way to go.

ROMANS: We have a long way to go, you're right.

JOHNS: You bet.

CHETRY: It's only 200 days.

And Christine will be with us throughout the morning so we're going to continue to check in with you, too. Thanks so much.

And also in just a few minutes, we are talking to noted economists Lakshman Achuthan and "BusinessWeek" editor Diane Brady. We're going to get their take and their grade for President Obama on the economy.

And also, we want to hear from you as well. How do you think President Obama is doing as we approach the second 100 days of his administration? Go to, and that's where you can give your grade for various issues and highlight the things that you think are working and perhaps things that are not. And then you can see the results tonight, 8:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

JOHNS: Also this morning, chilling new information about the gunman who opened fire at a Pennsylvania gym killing three women before killing himself. Police say 48-year-old George Sodini was "hell bent" on launching the attack. An on-line diary reveals his frustration with women and that he may have been planning the bloodbath for nearly a year.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is following developments from Bridgeville, Pennsylvania just outside of Pittsburgh. And, Susan, it seems like this guy picked a spot where his victims would almost be defenseless.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Joe. Good morning. And not only that, but police say the gunman went in and out of this gym at least twice and then made a mystery call to someone before pulling the trigger on his final try.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): George Sodini, 48. The guy with the bright smile had a good job but couldn't get a girlfriend. It was one of the things that seemed to push him over the edge.

PROFESSOR JAMES ALAN FOX, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: Clearly, he was full of blame. He blamed everybody for his problems.

CANDIOTTI: In an Internet blog that appears to have started last November, Sodini rails against his mother, his family, and women for making him miserable. An entry dated last December reads, "No girlfriend since 1984. Who knows why? I'm not ugly or too weird."

Sodini was a computer specialist for a Pittsburgh law firm. At home, he kept to himself.

BILL PATTERSON, NEIGHBOR: He came. You know, went to work, came back, and hardly ever see him around. Very quiet.

CANDIOTTI: Inside, he appears to be seething. In his blog, he singles out a preacher at a church he used to attend. "This guy teaches and convinced me you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven." He joins a gym, ogles the women.

FOX: All these young, beautiful, attractive, healthy fit women at the health club. And so he specifically chose the health club not just some random spot to go after the people he blamed.

CANDIOTTI: He devises what he calls his exit plan but backs out last January. "I chickened out. I brought the loaded guns, everything. Hell."

Over the next several months, Sodini's rants continue about women and the gym. At home, police say he circles the gym's aerobics class on a schedule.

CHARLES MOFFATT, ALLEGHENY COUNTY POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: He just had a lot of hatred in him and he was hell bent on committing this act. And there was nobody going to stop him.

CANDIOTTI: Tuesday, he goes to the gym twice, makes a phone call and returns a final time.


CANDIOTTI: Thirty-six rounds, three women dead, and a shot to his head.


CANDIOTTI: As you look at the flowers left behind by families, friends and strangers, there was a huge sense of loss and a statement from the gunman's family offering prayers to victims and survivors -- Joe.

JOHNS: Awful story. Thanks for that, Susan Candiotti.

CHETRY: And also new this morning at nine minutes past the hour, the two American journalists freed from captivity in North Korea say they're looking forward to some quiet time with their families. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were reunited with their loved ones yesterday after they were held for more than four months. And we're finding out new details about what it was like. Laura's sister, Lisa Ling, was asked about former President Clinton's rescue mission in Pyongyang.


LISA LING, SISTER OF FREED JOURNALIST: We don't know if it was actually orchestrated or not. We had a sense that the government had agreed to send President Clinton for which we were grateful. But in terms of whether a release was predetermined, we don't know.


CHETRY: And there you go. That was the first moment after they stepped off the planes, saw their families for the first time. Really an emotional, emotional scene that unfolded there in Burbank. Lisa Ling says that her sister and Euna were actually kept apart most of the time in North Korea and that they were also poorly fed.

She says that they actually saw each other at their trial for the first time in quite a while and hugged at that time. And she actually said that her sister asked her, could you please write a note to Euna letting her know how much I care about her. But again, a happy homecoming after all of that.

It was touching to see. You can't help but tear up yesterday when we saw them go up the plane. And the little girl, Hannah --

JOHNS: Amazing. And so surprised that of all people, President Bill Clinton himself popping in to help.

CHETRY: That's right. And you're going to be talking about that, right?

JOHNS: Absolutely.

CHETRY: A little bit later. How did he become involved? And also, it was interesting he didn't speak after they got off. He sort of let them have their moment of glory and talk to their families, and then he just sort of quietly slipped away. The knight in shining armor.

JOHNS: Right. Well, that's President Clinton looking for a new role out there on the world stage. Looks like he found it.

CHETRY: Well, the story certainly generating a lot of buzz on our hotline, it's 877-MY-AMFIX. And, you know, this is interesting. I mean, everybody, of course, just so happy that these women were safely brought back.

But there were some people that were expressing a lot of different views. And one of the things people wanted to know about was, how much did this rescue mission actually cost? Here's one of the callers.


CALLER: They obviously were trying to get a scoop on the story and cross the line knowing -- I mean, they're from there, they know what they were doing. And why -- is their family paying for this bill? Is it a tax bill? What is the exact cost? And who is paying for that?


CHETRY: OK, well, we did some digging. We have the answer in an "AM Extra" this morning.

The total price tag, including round trip travel on that private luxury jet was about $200,000. And this morning we learned the man who owns the plane is actually Hollywood producer Steven Bing. He's paying for all of it.

Bing has financed several big movies, including "The Polar Express." He's also a big donor and friend to President Clinton's charitable foundation. So with him footing the bill, the only thing that taxpayers actually covered were the salaries and President Clinton's Secret Service detail and as you know this, Joe, no matter where he goes, we pay that.

JOHNS: Right. Yes. He also has incredible contacts around the world and that sort of showed in this instance, didn't it?

CHETRY: Yes. Absolutely.

JOHNS: You bet.

All right. Moving on, the deficit soaring and the economy sputtering after nearly 200 days on the job. How's President Obama doing when it comes to lifting the U.S. economy out of this recession? Up next, we're talking to some of the best financial minds on television.

It's 12 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Fifteen minutes past the hour right now. President Obama entered the White House with an economy on the edge, as we all know. And after nearly 200 days in office, unemployment and the deficit continue to grow. But, so do many of your investments at the same time. So how has the president handled the economy so far?

We brought with us this morning, Diane Brady, a senior editor with "BusinessWeek" and Lakshman Achuthan. He's the managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute. Two great minds on the economy.

Thanks for being with us this morning.


CHETRY: So the first thing I want to talk about is the stimulus and how that has turned out. This was $787 billion, right? And the president said the economy has done better than expected and he's pointing to the stimulus as the reason why. Even though we've only seen, what? About 18 to 20 percent out right now, how do you think the stimulus is going, Lakshman?

ACHUTHAN: It's -- it remains to be seen, quite frankly. I think when you look at it, and as you just pointed out, most of it has not hit the economy. Something else must be writing the economy and setting it towards a recovery course. And from a business cycle point of view, this is all we do is look at this. Last fall, we were staring into the abyss and there was a big push at the final days of the Bush administration to really shore up the financial system and to really keep it alive.

We backed away from the abyss. We're still in a severe recession, but business cycle dynamics begin to take over. And I think that has more to do with the fact that we're having a recovery this summer than the actual stimulus package. The stimulus package will reinforce the recovery down the road, but I wouldn't blame the recovery all on the stimulus.

CHETRY: Doesn't that sort of bolster the GOP argument that this was wasteful spending or that this is shaping up to be wasteful spending and also libertarians we shouldn't have really been, you know, messing in this?

DIANE BRADY, SENIOR EDITOR, "BUSINESSWEEK": Far be it for me to take the libertarian thing. But no, I think basically the stimulus was partly needed to shore up confidence. That money will flow into the system. But the reality is, businesses have been slashing costs, in some cases laying off people they don't even have to lay off. That's been why the economy improved a lot last quarter. Earnings were up. But it's hard to get that money into the economy and create jobs.

ACHUTHAN: Yes. And I think this issue of confidence is tough to measure, right, how confident are you? And then you say something.

CHETRY: Right.

ACHUTHAN: But it's not very tangible and that is worth something. The confidence in the early stages of the plan to right the economy or to fix what was wrong with the economy was real and tangible and certainly contributed to the fact that the business cycle dynamic moving up was able to be sustained.

CHETRY: Right.

ACHUTHAN: The real issue -- and we're all talking about deficits, right. It's a core of a lot of the discussions right now, is what happens longer term in the stimulus. This big policy moves, this has a lot to do with the pace of growth longer term, the pace of the expansion. If the pace of the expansion is weak, you have a lot of trouble with deficits. If the pace of the expansion is strong or if it's a longer expansion, then you might have something closer to the 1990s where you're actually were able to bring the deficit down.

BRADY: Good luck with that.

CHETRY: This is hard to imagine at this point when you're talking trillions.


CHETRY: But, Diane, I want to also ask you about the other big move, and that was the federal government stepping in to rescue the auto industry. And this was something that they were hoping they didn't have to do, guiding them into bankruptcy in some cases like with General Motors.

So we saw more than $60 billion go out in bailout funds. Now, we have this Cash for Clunkers program. How are we doing in terms of figuring out whether this vital industry is going to make it?

BRADY: Well, Cash for Clunkers has obviously worked out well. But the reality is three car companies in Detroit, you talk to a lot of business people, one of those should have been allowed to go under. It's a lot of jobs lost. But a failure to big institution is a real valuable process in this country. It clears out Detroit (ph) and it allows new companies to grow. And the reality is right now we have still three auto companies in Detroit and I don't know how sustainable that is going forward.

ACHUTHAN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we're trying to have our cake and eat it too. If you're in a free market economy, the Achilles heel of that is that you get recessions, you get downturns. It's part and parcel of what we've bought into.

And then we say we don't like the pain of what happens during these downturns. And I understand that too.

CHETRY: Right.

ACHUTHAN: I mean, that's very reasonable. And so we're trying to kind of have it both ways by saving or limiting some of the pain yet enjoying all the other benefits of the free market and this is what we get as a result.

CHETRY: And actually that's what people are saying about when it comes to Wall Street as well. Will there be regulations?

You know, we sort of really helped them make it through the tough time and now we're seeing some turnaround. So what does that mean for us, the taxpayers?

And also, both of your grades as well on how the economy is doing. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to try and answer those questions.



CHETRY: Figured out in the break is that there are no easy answers to how to fix the economy, or we would have done it by now. But we're back now with Diane Brady. She's a senior editor with "BusinessWeek" and Lakshman Achuthan, the managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute.

So we talked a little bit about the stimulus and about the autos. What about the Wall Street cleanup? Will we see the type of changes that many were calling for in an effort to make sure that whatever happened, you know, it's arguable, won't happen again?

BRADY: I think there's a limit to how much the president can do in this situation. We need more regulation, but the reality is, is that they're back to the same behavior. You've seen fantastic earnings coming from banks like Goldman Sachs. A lot of money flowing back into the hands of bankers. And I think what's made a lot of Americans really angry is the idea that, in essence, we socialize the losses, the taxpayers take the downside. But we privatize the gains.

So all the millions, whether it's from risky behavior or not, goes into the hands of the banks. But they're pretty confident that we're not going to let them fail.

CHETRY: And, Lakshman, one upside, though, would be that perhaps for people who are looking at their 401(k)s, they're looking at their retirement and saying, what?


CHETRY: You know, this is down 33, 45 percent from the last time I looked. Are we gaining that back? And is this going to be something that people can rely on, especially those close to retirement?

ACHUTHAN: Well, it's a two-part question. We are gaining it back. We've seen fantastic gains in the stock market. That's part of the reason, in fact, that Wall Street is doing better because they get a piece of that, in essence.

CHETRY: Right. ACHUTHAN: But if it's sustainable is an open question. That all depends on the durability and the pace of the recovery. And that is where maybe a lot of the stimulus money that hasn't been spent could arguably be oriented towards lifting the growth longer term. A big open question we don't know the answer if that works or not. And when you look over decades, actually, the trend of recoveries has been getting weaker. So you're kind of fighting against the wind here.

CHETRY: All right. Well, I want to give you guys an opportunity to give your overall grade. And we'll start with Diane. What do you think in terms of how the administration has handled the economy so far as a whole?

BRADY: When I talk to business people, they give the administration a C. I would give them a B. I think he has put the right people in place which is what a manager does.

First of all, it's very hard for any president to get an A-plus in this environment. But the reality is that he's made some strong moves. He may be trying to shove through too much at this point, health care being one example.

CHETRY: All right. Reluctantly dragging Lakshman with the grade.

He's like my professor so I like to give you an I for incomplete.


CHETRY: But if you have to grade at this point...

ACHUTHAN: Yes. Well, with the condition, I'd like to give him an incomplete because it's too soon to tell what's going to come from all this. I would give him a B-plus and for two specific reasons.

One is that whatever he did, it was enough to stabilize confidence, which has allowed the business cycle dynamic to really kick in and bring this recession to an end. And it depends on what these policies will do for longer-term growth. If they can actually support it, then the deficit issue is less painful than we might think.

CHETRY: All right.

ACHUTHAN: But if you can't, then it's going to hurt more than you think.

CHETRY: We'll check back with you in the next 100 days. Lakshman, Diane, great to talk to both of you.

ACHUTHAN: Thank you.

BRADY: Thank you so much.

CHETRY: Thanks for being here. Thanks. We want to also hear what you think, by the way. How do you think the administration is doing? Go ahead and cast your vote, We're going to see the results tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN - Joe.

JOHNS: Thanks, Kiran. Two nuclear-powered Russian submarines are cruising in the waters off the U.S. east coast. Are they a military threat, or does Moscow have something else in mind? Chris Lawrence has the story.

It's 26 minutes after the hour.



MR. RYAN: Gentlemen, in the last 24 hours, I have seen some extraordinary Soviet naval activity. The first to sail was this ship, we believe called the Red October.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Ryan, would you characterize this as a first strike weapon?

MR. RYAN: That is a possibility, sir.


JOHNS: First strike weapon? Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. That's a scene from the Cold War thriller, "The Hunt for Red October." Back in the day, the cat and mouse games between the U.S. and Russia were often mined by Hollywood.

Russia appears to be flexing its military muscle again. Two of its nuclear-powered submarines are cruising in the waters off America's East Coast. But despite the appearance of a Cold War sequel, the Pentagon is playing down any potential threat. CNN's Chris Lawrence is following that story for us.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Joe, Kiran, the Navy has been tracking these subs through international waters, but the Russians may have sent them as a message to other nations, not the U.S.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): On the surface, it seems threatening. Two Russian attack subs patrolling a couple hundred miles off of America's eastern seaboard. But dig deeper -- this may be an elaborate sales cruise. The Russians bringing nuclear-powered submarines halfway around the world to show them off for potential buyers.

ERIC WERTHEIM, U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE: This particular submarine, the Akulas (ph), were the same type that India is looking to purchase.

LAWRENCE: And the same type that now functioned last year, killing 20 people onboard. Eric Wertheim works for the U.S. Naval Institute and wrote a book on the world's combat ships. He says by sending subs to the East Coast...

WERTHEIM: They're showing our submarines are still viable, our ships are still powerful. And this is why you can still view Russian weapons as something that you can purchase.

LAWRENCE: Russian subs haven't been this close to the U.S. coast in over ten years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is an effort on their part to project force around the world.

LAWRENCE: But the Pentagon says they're no threat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell you that nobody is alarmed by it because nobody is.

LAWRENCE: So perhaps this move is about making money, not war. For example, India used to buy patrol planes from Russia but just inked a $2 billion deal for a version of this aircraft. The seller, American company, Boeing.

WERTHEIM: Russia, I think, is understandably concerned that foreign customers are not looking to them anymore as a leader in the export market for weapons.


LAWRENCE: Well, a Russian general says these subs are in international waters and a part of a regular patrol. India has agreed to lease tow of these subs with an option to buy -- Joe, Kiran.

CHETRY: Chris Lawrence for us. Thanks so much.

Well, it's 30 minutes past the hour now. We check our top stories.

Memo to Republicans, President Obama wants your support on health care. He says with or without it, though, there will be a system overhauled by year's end. The president said that on MSNBC at some point that he may consider an alternative course of bipartisanship because "failure is not an option" in attempting to pass a health care reform bill.

JOHNS: Gas prices continue their steady climb. According to AAA, the average -- national average for a gallon of gasoline is now up, $2.61. That's up 2.5 cents overnight. The price increasing for the 16th straight day.

CHETRY: All right. And also, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler taken to the hospital in South Dakota overnight after falling at a concert. A fan say the 61-year-old singer fell off the stage backwards while trying to entertain the crowd after a sound system went out. So far, the hospital was not releasing any information, though, on his condition. JOHNS: It's good to be Bill Clinton. After bringing two American journalists back from North Korea. The former president is back in the spotlight and ready to do more for the current president who called to say thanks for the rescue mission.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't have a lengthy conversation. The main message I wanted to send him was thank you on behalf of obviously the families but also the American people for resolving what was a humanitarian ordeal.


JOHNS: So what can we expect from Bill Clinton?

John Harris is author of "The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House." He's also the editor-in-chief and co-founder of John joins us, of course, from Washington.

And, John, you and I both know from flying around with Bill Clinton back in the day that he very much wanted to be on the world stage then. What does this mean for him now?

JOHN HARRIS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER, POLITICO.COM: Well, I think, Joe, you know, we did log a lot of miles in those years. I remember it well. I think Bill Clinton would very much like to be an active participant in American efforts around the world. And to do that, he needs Barack Obama's support. His people made it clear they'd be happy to do more such of these missions in the future if they're asked and they can be helpful, and I think he's delighted to do it. Whether the West Wing is delighted to give him more assignments, I think is not clear yet.

JOHNS: There's been a lot of talk about President Clinton's legacy and certainly it is evolving. What do you think this trip will do for him now?

HARRIS: Well, it is a reminder that Bill Clinton is a substantial presence on the world stage. He's widely respected in -- by many foreign governments and by many people around the world.

You know, domestically, his reputation got scuffed up a little bit in that tough Democratic primary contest in the winter of 2008. But I don't think his reputation got scuffed up internationally.

JOHNS: What's the benefit for the United States government now that President Clinton is back on the world stage in a very big way? Do you expect to see this administration really using him again? Or is there still some uneasiness, if you will?

HARRIS: Look, Joe, I don't think that Bill Clinton or for that matter any ex-president is likely to become roving ambassador at large around the world. That's a confusing message, and I don't think it's one that Barack Obama or any president would ever really want. Sort of a competing presence representing the United States. But this is a great example of how it can be very helpful to use an ex-president. Bill Clinton was there ostensibly on a private mission as a private citizen. Of course, that's a big leap. He was clearly there at the instruction of the U.S. government. But it worked for the North Koreans. They were looking for a very high level presence. They got it. But the United States government can say, look, this was separate from whatever negotiations that we're having with North Korea over their nuclear program and the other issues.

JOHNS: When he does something like this, does he upstage his wife who happens to be the secretary of state?

HARRIS: You know, I honestly don't think that she is that concerned about it. She's got the job she wants, a better job than I think she expected after losing the primary battle a year ago. And -- you know, briefly, Bill Clinton is -- he's still an outside personality and he can grab the spotlight whenever he wants it. But I think he has no interest in upstaging his wife. And I don't think she's that concerned about it.

JOHNS: Can you give viewers some sense of why President Clinton would go over there and the Obama administration would essentially pretend, if it were, that, hey, we don't have anything to do with this. Is it just basically risk management?

HARRIS: Well, look, North Korea is one of the most isolated regimes on the planet. And the Obama administration does not want to reward bad behavior by giving the North Koreans exactly what they want, which is high-level engagement with the Obama administration and the U.S. government. That sends a bad message.

On the other hand, we can make a symbolic gesture by sending Bill Clinton over there. And this was apparently their suggestion and their urging. And two journalists who didn't belong in prison are able to come home safely. Well, that's a pretty good bargain in the calculation of the Obama administration. And apparently Hillary Clinton herself was very, very closely monitoring this situation of these detained journalists for several weeks now.

JOHNS: John Harris, thanks so much for coming in this morning. Great to see you again.

HARRIS: Sure. See you soon, Joe.

JOHNS: You bet.

CHETRY: All right. Well, how about this one. You buy your dream house in Ft. Myers in a luxury condo, 32 stories up. And then you find out, no one else lives there -- literally.

JOHNS: Thirty-two stories?

CHETRY: Yes, look at this thing. What if you were the only condo -- actually the only people living in the condo.

JOHNS: That's crazy. CHETRY: Yes. Well, it's happening. People have been trying to get out. John Zarrella tells their story about why they're stuck there.

JOHNS: Twilight zone.

CHETRY: Yes, exactly.

Thirty-six minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: There you go.

JOHNS: Love that Pink Floyd.

CHETRY: That's not our news room, by the way. That is -- that's...


JOHNS: It's empty.

CHETRY: That's the CNN Money Team. They get in a little later, all right, you know.

JOHN: Twilight zone.

CHETRY: Yes, sure is, right?

Well, it may sound like a dream come true, but it's really not, is it?


It does. A vacation home with a pool, river view and no noisy neighbors.

CHETRY: Yes. There's only one problem, though, for this family, there are no neighbors. They are the only people living in a 32-story tower, and now they want out.

CNN's John Zarrella explains.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ah, yes. Resort living. At the pool, there is always a chair.

(on camera): Your own private gym with state-of-the-art equipment, and you can work out all by yourself. There's nobody here to bother you.

Look at this parking garage. You never have to hunt for a space.

And when you get on the elevator, you never have to worry about anybody getting off first.

Sounds great, right? Well, maybe you should talk to Victor Vangelakos.

VICTOR VANGELAKOS, CONDO OWNER: This is our condo on the seventh floor.

ZARRELLA: This was going to be Victor and his family's vacation and retirement home in the Oasis, a 32-story condominium building in Fort Myers, Florida. The New Jersey fireman closed in November, paid $420,000.

VANGELAKOS: I tell people at home, and they just say, it's your own building. It sounds great. But, you know, it can be eerie at night. It's almost like a horror movie.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Why? Because the rest of the building is empty. This is a ghost tower. When the housing market collapsed, Ft. Myers got hit hard. Most of the units never sold. Those that did -- the owners were able to move to the sister tower next door where there are people. But Victor's lender won't agree to let him swap his unit here for one there.

VANGELAKOS: I called them up a couple of times. I got their law department, which they told me don't leave your unit. They recommended that's abandonment so I have to stay here.

ZARRELLA: Vangelakos's attorney and the developer are trying to negotiate a solution, nothing yet. Victor's biggest concern -- safety. Someone got into the building a month ago. Now every night, Vangelakos checks the building's locks.

VANGELAKOS: Well, I have to make sure, yes, because if I don't? What happens is they can get to this pool area through the parking garage.

ZARRELLA (on camera): The Vangelakos family has no idea how this will ultimately work out. But what's really starting to bother them is the eerie silence. When the only other voice they hear is...


ZARRELLA: John Zarrella, CNN, Ft. Myers, Florida.


CHETRY: Zarrella should move in.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

CHETRY: He looked like he was having a little bit of a good time.

JOHNS: Well, it would be perfect if you don't like people.

CHETRY: Exactly. JOHNS: I - I...

CHETRY: Not so crazy.

JOHNS: Well -- I -- I like people.

CHETRY: I like people.


You know, it's unbelievable. We'll keep you guys posted to see whether or not -- I mean, that's a -- whether or not, they'll finally let him move to the other one.

JOHNS: Right. It would mean...

CHETRY: The one right next door.

JOHNS: And then be completely empty. And then you'd be worried about vandals.

CHETRY: Well, this family's job isn't to keep the whole 32-story tower safe.

Anyway, meantime, yesterday, we all certainly watch, we got goose bumps, teared up when we watched Euna Lee reunited with her little girl 4-year-old, Hannah, right there, not seeing her mother for four months. Her family saying that she cried every night wanting her mom to come back home. Well, we're going to hear more about what it's been like for little Hannah.

It's 43 minutes after the hour.


JOHNS: Good morning, Beantown. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

A live look at Boston, thanks to our friends at WHGH. It's 66 going up to 81. It's going to be mostly sunny there. I was just there a couple of weeks ago. It was raining cats and dogs. Looks pretty good right now.

CHETRY: Yes, nice blue skies this morning for Boston. How about that?

Well, we want to let you know. Tomorrow is going to be 200 days of the Obama administration. And here at CNN, we're asking for people to get their grade. How do they think the administration is doing on some of the key issues like foreign policy, the economy, other big things, health care reform? And so we want to show you how you can do it on our Web site, it's And here's a quick look right now.

Basically, you go to the site. And it's up on our laptop here. What you do is you take a look -- here's question number one. Grade the Obama administration's handling of the economy. And then there's, you know, just a little small primer here about what's going on in the past 200 days. The stimulus bill plans to shore up the banks, helping out the autos. And then here is an overview of what people have said, whether or not they think the economy is starting to recover. So you basically can read any of this that you want to and then give a grade.

So let's say you want to do...

JOHNS: So it's like a cool on-line poll sort of.

CHETRY: It is an online poll, because we want to know what people are thinking. And we're asking this of everybody on our political team. Some of our best contributors as well. So you would select the grade. And here I am, selecting B. Of course, it worked before. OK, B plus or minus.

JOHNS: All right.

CHETRY: OK, fine. Let's say you want to do B minus. There you go. And then it asked you where do you live. All you have to do is give your state. So let's pop down here to New York. I should have just gone with Alabama. All right, here you go. And then, submit grade. There you go. And then you actually get a look at the country. You can click on your state, and we'll check out New York right here and see how people in New York think. Overall, a C-plus.

JOHNS: All right.

CHETRY: And this is pretty neat. You can do it for some of the other questions.

JOHNS: Do we know whether it gives you final totals, or do you have to wait for that until tonight.

CHETRY: Yes. I think that's the big unveiling tonight at 8:00 p.m.

JOHNS: Got you.

CHETRY: But here you go. Health care reform, what do you think. Do people think it needs an overhaul. And then again, throw your grade up there. And we also invite you to weigh in. A little bit further down, you can sound off, giving some of your opinions and comments as well. It's pretty cool.

JOHNS: It is cool.

CHETRY: We invite you to take part and get your voice heard as well on what you think.

JOHNS: On-line interactive.

CHETRY: That's right. It's

JOHNS: You bet.

All right. Thanks, Kiran.

It was a mother and child reunion that had a nation in tears. Euna Lee back from North Korea after four months in captivity and back in the arms of her 4-year-old daughter. A look through the eyes of a child.

It's 48 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Fifty-one minutes past the hour. There was barely a dry eye from Coast-to-Coast as Americans watched the two freed journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee reunite with their families. But, you know, it was the littlest loved one, Euna Lee's 4-year-old daughter, Hannah, who stole the show and stole our hearts at the same time.

Jeanne Moos has the kid's eye view of an emotional mother and child reunion.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Getting a ride from dad, who was himself was shaking with nervous energy, peering like a deer in the headlights at humongous hangar doors opening to reveal a glistening plane that you're told is carrying your mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What really strikes me is just watching that little girl.

MOOS: The women coming home were the news, but the kid meeting her mom was the star.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their adorable, 4-year-old daughter, Hannah.

MOOS: Adorable Hanna, swept up by her mom, smothered with hugs -- three-way hugs, four way hugs -- her hair caressed while she, in turn, played with her mother's ponytail.

Where did she think her mother was all these months?


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": You just told her, what, that her mom's at work?

MICHAEL SALDATE, EUNA LEE'S HUSBAND: Yes, she's still at work. And so she knows that she's in China or Korea. She just knows she's at work.


MOOS: Instead of clinging to a purple unicorn in her mom's absence, suddenly Mom was there to cling to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, wow! Hannah sort of says it all, doesn't she?



SHERRI SHEPHERD, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": I just wanted to cry watching Euna see her daughter.


MOOS: They nuzzled, they rocked, they whispered.

Will she some day remember she was smiled upon by former President Clinton, oblivious to the hug from former Vice President Gore?

She used to draw pictures starring her mother. While her mom was away, she drew this.

SALDATE: She drew a picture, and I was the center. And it was just her and I. She didn't include her mother, which really made me sad.

MOOS (on camera): Looking at from a kid's eye view, what is going through the head of a 4-year-old whose mother has disappeared for more than four-and-a-half months?

(voice-over): We asked a child psychiatrist.

DR. BRADLEY PETERSON, M.D. DIRECTOR OF CHILD PSYCHIATRY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: You have a lot of ambivalence around the absence of that parent. I mean you've been terrified that they may not come back. You've been angry that they've been away.

MOOS: And even the excitement of homecoming can be a yawn.

LAURA LING, JOURNALIST: We could feel your love all the way.

MOOS: When Hannah's mom was away...

SALDATE: She was just -- like we're at home -- well, Mommy will be home in a couple days or Mommy will be home soon or I'll do this when Mommy gets here.

MOOS: Well, she's here, forehead to forehead, cheek to cheek.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


JOHNS: Wow, what a moment.

CHETRY: I know. And poor little thing, you know? Four months without her mom, and then that big public reunion. She handled it with a lot of grace.

JOHNS: Gets you right in the throat.

CHETRY: It does. It does.

JOHNS: All right. Well, we're tracking -- in other news, where your stimulus dollars are going this morning. The money was supposed to go to so-called shovel-ready projects. But is too much red tape slowing things down.

It's 54 minutes after the hour.


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

The two American journalists freed from captivity in North Korea say they're looking forward to some quiet time with their families. You watched it unfold live here on AMERICAN MORNING. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were reunited with their loved ones yesterday after being held for more than four months. Laura's sister Laura Ling was asked about former President Clinton's rescue mission to Pyongyang.

All right.

Moving on, we're going to talk now a little bit about the stimulus highway plan. A lot of people have been thinking that shovel-ready projects were the way to go. And that's what the Obama administration has been pushing for a long time. But the question is whether these projects have been moving just a little bit too slowly.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Your stimulus dollars at work, sealing cracks and replacing concrete slabs on New York's southern state parkway, the first stimulus-funded highway project to break ground on Long Island.

Cost? $1.7 million.

That should be music to the ears of Marc Herbst, head of the Long Island Contractors Association. So it may surprise you to hear this.

MARC HERBST, DIRECTOR, LONG ISLAND CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION: And here we are in the heart of the construction season and 40 percent of the workforce here on Long Island is still not working. We haven't seen construction that low in the workforce in decades. And the stimulus program hasn't put the people back to work at this point.

BOLDUAN: Nearly six months after President Obama signed the stimulus bill, Herbst complaints transportation dollars are only trickling down.

(on camera): Generally, too much red tape?

HERBST: Too much red tape. And by the time we get to work and the money flows and gets here, we're going to be in the dead of winter. Shovel-ready now, we won't be able to put the shovel in the icy grounds.

BOLDUAN (voice over): He's not alone. Sherry Morian runs a construction company that recently won a stimulus bid to replace this aging bridge in Pennsylvania.

SHERRY MORIAN, PRESIDENT, QUALITY ENGINEERING SOLUTION: It has to be designed. You have to get permits. You have to get environmental clearances. You have to get coordination with the utilities. It's still has to go to the agency and get all of their approvals.

BOLDUAN: But wait. Transportation officials insist recovery money is moving faster than ever. In New York, they say, it's already directly created about 900 highway jobs.

TIM GILCHRIST, NEW YORK GOVERNORS TRANSPORTATION ADVISER: The Recovery Act funding is going out. People will see their dollars at work. From my perspective, what will happen next is the motorists on Long Island will be complaining about all of the construction.

BOLDUAN: And in Washington, the secretary of transportation says the focus is not only on speed.

RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: We want to get it out quickly, but we want to make sure it's done by the book. No earmarks, no boondoggles, no sweetheart deals.

BOLDUAN: But the question is, are all the checks and balances causing a stimulus slowdown?


BOLDUAN: Now, DOT estimates every $1 billion in transportation spending will create 11,000 jobs. But contractors warn, if more money doesn't hit the ground soon, especially in northern states, that ground and job creation could very well be frozen until next construction season - Joe.

JOHNS: And that's Kate Bolduan in Washington. Thanks so much.