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American Morning

President Obama Makes Final Push for Health Care Reform; Green Jobs Adviser Resigns; Jaycee Dugard's Former Community Holds a Hometown Parade Celebrating Her Freedom; Great White Sharks Tagged Off Cape Cod; Fake Afghan Voting Polls; Independent Voices; Cash for Kids; Smarter than the Average Bear; More School Days

Aired September 07, 2009 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and thanks very much for joining us on this Monday. It's the 7th of September, it's Labor Day. And so we're all here laboring away.

Good morning to you. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. That's right. Because even though it is a holiday, there are a lot of things going on today. Several big stories we're following for you. And here's what we're breaking down in the next 15 minutes.

We're heading toward a final showdown on health care reform. After months of passionate debate, the president is about to say something we haven't heard before, exactly what he wants to see in health care reform. New details, ahead.

ROBERTS: Van Jones is out as the president's green jobs czar. Our Mary Snow breaks down the controversy over his departure and examines what Jones did before he got to the White House that ultimately came back to haunt him.

CHETRY: Also, what would a Labor Day be without a trip to the beach? Well, our Rob Marciano is doing just that. He's taking his road show to Cocoa Beach, Florida where the surf is up and the pros are definitely hanging.

Is that Rob?

ROBERTS: Wait a minute? This is an assignment?

CHETRY: Wait, is that Rob?

ROBERTS: It's more like a vacation.

CHETRY: Exactly.

ROBERTS: Well, it is the Labor Day weekend. First, though, as Americans enjoy this holiday weekend, President Obama is back at the White House this morning gearing up for a make or break week on health care reform. He hopes to get control of the debate this week. First thing that he's going to do this morning, he'll hit the road to address the AFL-CIO, a key ally that is insisting on the so-called public option. Then on Wednesday night, the president will address a joint session of Congress.

More on all of that now from our Kate Bolduan.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, lawmakers and the American public are looking for details from President Obama and this week's speech all about selling health care reform may also be about pitching the message. Let's take what we can get now.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): President Obama returns from vacation to face a crucial week ahead in the health care debate. Top White House aides insist the president will spell out his specifics for reform when he speaks Wednesday to a joint session of Congress.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They'll leave that speech knowing exactly where the president stands, exactly what he thinks we have to do to get health care done.

BOLDUAN: At the same time, CNN has learned the White House is quietly talking about drafting its own health care bill, a kind of contingency legislation and is leaning toward a plan that would trigger a public insurance option, only if health care reforms failed to meet certain goals. White House officials dodged questions Sunday about whether the president would sign a bill that doesn't include a public option.

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: He believes the public option is a good tool. Now, it shouldn't define the whole health care rebate, however.

BOLDUAN: It's a contentious issue that has the White House squeezed from the right and the left.

REP, MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: We need credible, comprehensive, universal health care with a good, robust public option now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. But they don't need to --

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: I think if the Democrats embrace the public option, even in the form of the trigger, they're going to shoot themselves in the foot.

BOLDUAN: And political analysts say there's a lot riding on the president's short visit this week to Capitol Hill.

STU ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: He can talk about, you know, various alternatives and ideas. But at the end of the speech, it seems to me folks on Capitol Hill and around the country have to have a much clearer idea what kind of bill he feels he needs to sign.


BOLDUAN: Recent numbers show the president may have some hard work ahead there. According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, a majority of Americans say they feel more secure under the current health care system than with the president's proposals -- John and Kiran.

ROBERTS: Kate Bolduan for us at the White House. Kate, thanks so much.

And here's more on the president's speech to a joint session of Congress in this "AM Extra."

Unlike the regularly scheduled State of the Union Address, there have been only 13 of these special joint sessions since 1981. This is the second one for President Obama. His first came back in February when he addressed the financial crisis. Wednesday's remarks come 16 years to the month after President Clinton went before a joint session to introduce his health care reform plan.

And a reminder to you, CNN is the place to watch the president's health care reform speech to Congress this week. We're going to have full coverage with the best political team on television. That's Wednesday night, starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

CHETRY: And now to a setback for the Obama administration, the resignation of green jobs adviser Van Jones. Jones has been under fire from the right for some extreme comments he made before joining the administration. At the center of the controversy, a petition that Jones signed in 2004 that questioned whether the Bush administration had a role in the September 11th terror attacks.

Mary Snow has the story.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Van Jones, special adviser for green jobs, was thrust to the forefront over questions surrounding this 2004 petition he signed on the 9/11 (ph) Web site, demanding "a call for immediate inquiry into evidence that suggests high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11th attacks to occur."

Van Jones is listed as signer 46. Asked why his name is on it, an administration source tells CNN that Jones did not carefully review the language in the petition. And in a statement issued Friday, Jones said, "I do not agree with the statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Jones' name appearing on the petition responding, "It's not something the president agrees with." Jones has also gained attention for comments he made before his White House job, including this one, now on YouTube when he was talking about Republicans.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are the Republicans able to push things through when they had less than sixty senators, but somehow we can't?

VAN JONES, ACTIVIST: Well, the answer to that is, they're a- holes. As a technical (INAUDIBLE) political kind of term.

And -- and Barack Obama is not an a-hole.


SNOW: In 2005, he was quoted in the East Bay Express saying, "By August, I was a communist" when explaining about his radicalization following the acquittal in the police beating case of Rodney King in 1992. Jones said, "If I have offended anyone with statements I made in the past, I apologize."

The green jobs guru came under scrutiny by some conservatives, notably FOX TV host Glenn Beck. Defenders of Jones say Beck targeted him because Jones was formerly with a group now working to get advertisers to boycott Beck's show. The boycott came after the FOX host called President Obama a racist.

Before this Jones was primarily known for his environmental work, including the best-selling book "The Green Collar Economy." Back in May, in comments on the "San Francisco Chronicle"'s Web site, Jones even won the praise of former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, now a Republican candidate for governor in California.

On Friday, Whitman said she did not know Jones well and distanced herself, saying it's clear he holds views she entirely rejects.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: Well, new this morning, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that he is ready to talk face to face with world leaders but maintains what he calls his country's obvious right to enrich uranium. Ahmadinejad says there's no deadline, but he's prepared to present a package of proposals to the fiver permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany. President Obama has given Iran until the end of the month to take part in nuclear talks or face further sanctions.

CHETRY: The massive wildfire burning north of Los Angeles is now 51 percent contained. The price tag for fighting it so far, $50 million. It killed two firefighters, destroyed 78 homes and burned nearly 276,000 square miles of national forest so far.

California's governor has offered a $100,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist responsible for starting it.

ROBERTS: And the new head of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. says we will see visible improvements to America's front yard over the next year. Right now, the mall is stained by dead grass, crumbling sidewalks and green, foul-smelling water in the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. The renovation project will cost nearly $50 million. That will come out of the federal stimulus package.

CHETRY: Well, tell you what, it's going to be a beautiful beach day in many parts of the country on this unofficial last day of summer. Our Rob Marciano is taking advantage of that. He's got his road show in Cocoa Beach, Florida where some of the finest surfers are competing in one of the largest surf festivals in the country.

No point even asking how you scored that gig. I saw you there in the water, though. How was it?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The water is warm. Quite lovely actually. That's about all I can say about my surfing skills. We are at the Cocoa Beach Pro-Am Surfing Festival. They have been doing this for about 24 years. Amateurs and professionals alike competing for the prize, all to go to a good cause, the National Kidney Foundation. They've been raising -- there are over -- between $4 million and $5 million it raised for this event over the years and it's a big crowd pleaser for sure.

I've never surfed before in my entire life. And, of course, this is (ph) back in the big office, you know, get in the water and give it a shot. So here's a sneak peek at the lesson I had yesterday.


MARCIANO: I have never, ever surfed in my life. But Ryan is going to try to get me up on a board. What is the first order of business?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First order of business is get on the board. All you're going to do is keep your hands next to the rails and to get a nice easy rhythm just like this.

From there, it's just a simple pushup and you're going to bring your knees to your chest and get your feet one foot in front of the other, just like this. Yes, that's it.

You want your feet, shoulder apart with your knees nice and bent, and you can throw your arms out like this, you know, or you can pop them up like this, or go down like this, whatever you want.


MARCIANO: It only got uglier from there. A couple of good tries on the big board. I'm told that a cow could surf on the size of the board that I was surfing on, so some serious pressure there, guys.

CHETRY: You looked great on land. You did it on the sand.

MARCIANO: Surfing -- yes, you know, it's all about your style points on terra firma.

CHETRY: Right.

MARCIANO: I'm a bit of a land lover so...

ROBERTS: You're watching out for the little kids in the water too, right?

CHETRY: Right.

MARCIANO: Yes. There was -- the CNN lawyers will be called, no doubt.

Hey, I want to give the folks a quick peek at the forecast because it is Labor Day and folks will be headed to the beach.

There are nasty rip currents in some spots of the east coast. A little bit of a storm out near Cape Hatteras. The surf and waves will be up, though. The surf is pretty good for Cocoa Beach this time of year. Quite pleased.

And then some showers and thunderstorms across the Eastern third of the country. But other than that, the northeast looks to be very nice, although a bit chilly for folks who are heading to the beach, say across parts of Long Island and Cape Cod.

All right, guys. We'll see you in about half hour or so and give you a little bit more of the highlight reel, which isn't going to win me any ESPYs (ph), I can guarantee you that.

CHETRY: All right. Well, the good news is you gave it a shot. I saw you apologize to the little child that you hit. So, hopefully all's well that end's well.

ROBERTS: Off to a good start. All right, Rob, we'll check back with you a little bit later on.


ROBERTS: Good to see you this morning. Rob all wet this morning.

A homecoming parade for Jaycee Lee Dugard 18 years after she was kidnapped. We've got that story for you coming right up.

It's 11 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: And welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning" on this Labor Day. The weekend marks the end of the summer driving season and gas prices are actually down a bit.

Yes, they are. AAA reports the average price of a gallon, $2.58 for regular this morning.

ROBERTS: More than 2,000 students at Washington State University have reported symptoms of swine flu. That is more than 10 percent of the entire student body. Right now, there is no quarantine program in place. The university is handing out free flu kits to students.

CHETRY: And pro-football star Shawne Merriman is challenging claims that he attacked his girlfriend, reality TV star Tila Tequila. She starred in the MTV show "A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila." Well, police accused the San Diego Charger's linebacker of choking Tequila at their home Sunday morning. An attorney for Merriman says he was only trying to protect his girlfriend, who police say had been drinking. Merriman's attorney would not comment specifically on reports that Merriman was trying to keep Tequila from driving drunk.

ROBERTS: Tequila driving -- too much alcohol in there for me.

There's a big celebration this weekend for kidnapping victim Jaycee Lee Dugard in the neighborhood where she was taken nearly two decades ago. Yesterday, a lot of old friends and neighbors from South Lake Tahoe, California, held a parade to celebrate Jaycee's freedom. About 2,000 people turned out.

The Dugards don't live there anymore, but many people in town say their lives were changed forever when Jaycee vanished back in 1991. Kara Finnstrom has got that story for us.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, this small mountain community was devastated when the little girl they described as sweet and quiet disappeared. During the nearly two decades that followed, they never gave up hope. And Sunday they celebrated Jaycee Dugard's return to her family.


FINNSTROM (voice-over): A sea of pink, girls walking arm in arm. A hometown telling Jaycee Dugard they love her. It's all so familiar.

AMELIA EDWARDS, JAYCEE DUGARD'S CHILDHOOD FRIEND: It's very overwhelming. It's a good overwhelming.

FINNSTROM: Jaycee's childhood friend, Amelia Edwards, walked this route on the 10th anniversary of Jaycee's appearance. Now, eight years later, this community is walking it backwards, symbolizing they've come full circle, and Jaycee has come home.

EDWARDS: All of us are just like in awe. We keep getting goose bumps.

FINNSTROM: In the years since Jaycee vanished, this community has held its children tighter.

EDWARDS: I'm constantly trying to find out where she is and reach out for her hand.

FINNSTROM: That fear even more real for Edwards. The week before Dugard disappeared, Edwards says she told her parent a car with a man and woman inside followed her home from the bus stop.

EDWARDS: I remember hearing the tire tracks pull on to the dirt road behind me and freaked me out. And I remember walking faster, hearing the tires go faster and that made me even more scared. And so, then, I ran home. STEPHANIE TARPEY, AMELIA EDWARDS' MOTHER: We just thought it was a 10-year-old being overly dramatic and didn't really believe her actually.

FINNSTROM: Edwards says at the time, she immediately recognized sketches of the car and the woman suspected of involvement in Jaycee Dugard's disappearance.

EDWARDS: At 11 years old, it was -- it was my worst nightmare coming true. My mom stated, you know, it's the bogeyman coming to life.

FINNSTROM: Edwards needed to do something.

EDWARDS: This is one of the original pink ribbons.

FINNSTROM: She started what became a massive pink ribbon campaign. Pink was Jaycee's favorite color. Eighteen years later --

EDWARDS: We're getting lost in a sea of pink. It's the most beautiful thing I think I've ever seen.

FINNSTROM: Jaycee Dugard is not here with them. But Edwards now know somewhere that missing girl, now a free woman, just may see and feel their joy.


FINNSTROM: Jaycee is now healing with her family, out of the public eye. The Dugards moved away from here years ago, but this community says it never lost its connection to Jaycee -- Kiran, John.

ROBERTS: Kara Finnstrom for us this morning. Kara, thanks so much.

CHETRY: An amazing outpouring of support for her and they remembered all those years. I'm so happy.

ROBERTS: Really stunning. Missing 18 years and suddenly, there she was in plain sight all along.

CHETRY: I know.

ROBERTS: Just nobody bothered to follow up appropriately.

CHETRY: Yes. It makes you crazy to think about it, really.

Well, how about this one? Great white sharks tagged for the first time in the Atlantic Ocean. They're seen swimming off of the waters of Cape Cod. Oh, goodness.

ROBERTS: Don't forget, "Jaws" was filmed in Martha's Vineyard.

CHETRY: Gosh, this makes me so scary I'm almost glad that the swimming season is over. But anyway, so what are they doing now that they've identified at least two? Jason Carroll heads into those waters to find out.

It's 18 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: That's from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

ROBERTS: That's what we saw when we saw Christine's outfit this morning.

CHETRY: Yes, that's right. No, it's nice.

ROBERTS: Lovely.

CHETRY: In person it looks like it's perhaps made out of fish scales or perhaps sharks' fins.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I don't know what it is. I'm sure it's synthetic fiber.

CHETRY: Hope you like it.

ROMANS: Anyway, I like the fashion feedback on a Monday morning in Labor Day. Thanks, guys.

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Christine Romans is here "Minding Your Business" this morning.

And the president wants to help us save more.

ROMANS: That's right. Americans have not saved enough for retirement. The nest eggs we have are fragile. They're too small. That was true even before this recession hit, so the White House, the president on Saturday outlining some things that they're going to do immediately to try to get us -- help us save more, make it easier to save more.

Among the plans, automatic enrollment in retirement plans. This is already becoming much more standard for big companies. They're putting you right into the 401(k) automatically, and then you can opt out if you want. But these new rules make it easier for smaller and midsized employers clearing up paperwork, clearing up delays so that they can also make sure you're automatically enrolled in your 401(k) plan, your retirement plans.

Another idea, this would happen in 2010 and your new 2010 tax return. A little box on the top that you could check. If you got a refund on your tax return, you'll be able to turn that immediately into a savings bond. So taking that money and immediately saving anything you get back from Uncle Sam on your taxes.

And this third plan would turn sick days and vacation time into 401(k) money, allow you to do that. Employers and employees do it automatically to take any of that used up -- unused bank of sick time and vacation time and turn it into actual retirement cash. Now some companies already have something, use it or lose it policies. I think we have a use it or lose it policy. There's no money for us to cash out at the end of the year on unused sick time or vacation time, so it wouldn't help a company like that. But the idea here is to make it a little bit -- so it would help us. But the idea here is...

ROBERTS: It's all about us.

ROMANS: Yes. And other big companies are like that too, but the idea is to help people even on the margins find new ways to save money because we're not saving enough for retirement.

ROBERTS: You got a "Romans' Numeral" for us this morning.

ROMANS: I do. It's 26,578. Kiran got a little sneak peek, so she can give another hint.

CHETRY: OK. The hint is it's not enough.

ROMANS: Yes, $2,578. This is the median retirement plan balance.

ROBERTS: $26,578.

ROMANS: Is that what I said?


ROMANS: Right. 26,578. OK. So the median retirement plan balance is about as much down 16 percent, more than 16 percent...

ROBERTS: That's what many people have to retire on?

ROMANS: Yes. And more than half of Americans have nothing but Social Security for retirement.

ROBERTS: That won't last very long.

ROMANS: No, it won't. And especially if you get sick, it will last, you know, a week. You know, it's just not enough.

CHETRY: Maybe this isn't a good year to look at this because many people saw a big chunk of their 401(k) go away.

ROMANS: Yes. The number has been falling. It was even before the recession, it was too small. And Timothy Geithner said nearly half of the nation's workforce -- this is the treasury secretary -- have little or nothing beyond Social Security benefits to get by on old age.

ROBERTS: Yes. I mean, even if you, you know, upped that by 40 percent, which is, you know --

ROMANS: It's not enough, folks.

ROBERTS: (INAUDIBLE) stock market.

ROMANS: It's not enough. It's not enough. We have to do something. We have to start saving. These are some plans that are supposed to get us moving in that direction.

ROBERTS: Christine, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Good. Great.

CHETRY: Thanks, Christine. See you in a few.

Meantime, we're talking about the health care debate. There are some independent voices out there, perhaps maybe not partisan. Perhaps doing things different than what they think their party wants to do. We want to introduce you to a few of them, still ahead.


CHETRY: Jason just said what is this music? This is a Jimmy Buffet classic, "Fins" (ph).

ROBERTS: About sharks.

CHETRY: Meaning...

ROBERTS: They actually nail sharks to (INAUDIBLE) and things like that.

CHETRY: That's enough (ph). We got to get something for his iPod. You need some --

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, my iPod is hooked up. Let me tell you, it is hooked up.

CHETRY: All right. All right.

Meanwhile --

ROBERTS: Obviously, it doesn't have any Jimmy Buffett on it.

What good is an --

CARROLL: What about Jay-Z?

ROBERTS: What good is an iPod with no Jimmy Buffett?

CARROLL: Let's talk about Jay-Z.

CHETRY: I do need Jay-Z with "Death of Autotune." I need that new song. Please, we'll trade.

Meanwhile, there may not be another creature in the world as feared as the great white shark.

ROBERTS: It's Jason's iPod. And on this busy Labor Day, these fears of predators are throwing a monkey wrench in the plans of beach goers on Chatham on Cape Cod. Jason now joining us for more abuse.

We're going to stick the shark on you.

CARROLL: Oh, yes. You know, this is really a rare kind of thing that's going on here. We're used to seeing these types of, you know, beasts in the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, but not in our waters. Despite what you may have seen in the movies, sharks are common off in cape water off of the coast of Massachusetts but great white sharks are relatively rare in New England. So imagine the surprise of researchers who spotted not one, but two and were able to tag the giant predators near Chatham Beach.

They estimate each one weighed 1,000 pounds. Again, this is the first time a great white has been tagged in the Atlantic Ocean. It all happened on Saturday when researchers and local fishermen made a little bit of history at sea.


BILL CHAPRALES, TAGGED GREAT WHITE SHARK: As soon as the shark does come to the surface, I raise the harpoon and get ready to take aim. As soon as he gets within range, I just throw the pole into the fish that puts the tag into the fish and he takes it. As soon as it hits him, he takes right off, the tag is in place.

GREG SKOMAL, SHARK SPECIALIST, MASS. INSTITUTE OF MARINE FISHERIES: I tried to go out and find white sharks over the last 27 years, I can't find them. So that's a lot of time, a lot of commitment. And one day, boom, two animals. That kind of puts it in perspective.


CARROLL: It certainly does. The great whites were tagged with high-tech devices programmed to stay on the sharks until January 15. Then they will pop off, float to the surface and transmit data via satellite back to the researchers. Scientist hope the data will help them learn more about the shark's migratory patterns and lead to better conservation efforts.

Also an important note, state officials are warning swimmers to be on the lookout for these sharks this particular weekend. As you can imagine, a lot of swimmers staying out of the water. You know, at one point, they spotted the sharks at about ten feet of water. Just ten feet.

CHETRY: OK. You're scaring me. Ever since I have seen "Jaws," I've been petrified of great whites. He said they've been looking for how many years and they found two.


CHETRY: Does that mean there's a ton out there? CARROLL: Well, it sort -- it sort of makes you wonder how many of them are really out there in our waters and closer than you think. But we just haven't seen them.

ROBERTS: I think we're going to need a bigger boat.


Jason, thanks.

Half past the hour now, checking our top stories. British Justice Minister Jack Straw admits to including the name of the Lockerbie bomber in a 2007 prisoner transfer agreement between his country and Libya. He says the fact that the agreement included a $900 million oil deal between Libya and British Petroleum had a lot to do it.

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset (ph) al-Megrahi was not released when the deal was made but his recent release on compassionate grounds is raising a lot of eyebrows about a possible oil for prisoner release deal.

CHETRY: A significant crack discovered in San Francisco's Bay Bridge. It was found. The water (ph) bridge was closed Thursday for seismic retrofitting. This happens a lot in that area to make buildings and to make things like bridges more earthquake proof.

Officials say the crack is significant enough to keep it closed, and they are not sure when it will reopen.

What a traffic nightmare.

ROBERTS: It could be. I think a quarter of a million people use that bridge.

And new allegations of election fraud in the bitterly contested Afghan presidential race, "The New York Times" reports loyalists to President Hamid Karzai allegedly set up hundreds of fake polling sites. These sites reportedly never opened but somehow recorded hundreds, even thousands of votes for Karzai.

A spokesman for the president accuses his opponents of making up these accusations on CNN tonight. Don't miss Anderson Cooper; he's in Afghanistan this week to find out first hand exactly what is going on.

And "New York Times" columnist Nicolas Kristoff (ph) is going to be joining us in our next hour of AMERICAN MORNING, too to talk more about this.

CHETRY: Ok and meantime, well after a summer of town halls, a lot of partisan fighting. The time for talk appears to be over. Congress is getting back to work this week and all this week, we're focusing on independent voices. These are leaders, they may be leaders in Congress, they're maybe leaders in their local communities that could reshape the debate and help unite, rather than divide to get things accomplished. Joining us now is John Avlon, independent analyst and columnist of the and he joins us this morning to talk more about this. And we have all been talking just about how things seem have gotten really ugly over this health care debate. And so who are the people out there that I guess are willing to put politics aside and actually do something -- to make a difference for the better for all of us?

JOHN AVLON, AUTHOR, "INDEPENDENT NATION": Well, there aren't enough of them. And that's part of the problem. We're just experiencing growing pains as a nation politically, I believe. The far left and the far right hate to give up power. And they are retrenching and they are fighting back.

And the problem is the moderate majority of Americans aren't in the habit of fighting back yet. But if you look at local leaders, a lot of young leaders, who are transcending these old left/right divides and trying to do the hard work forging new coalitions across partisan lines, they deserve -- they're profile is encourage and they're practicing the politics of problem solving. And that's what we're looking at today.

CHETRY: And so we're highlighting two today and let's start with the member of the Republican Party that you like to highlight as an "Independent Voice". Tell us who you pick.

AVLON: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, mayor in the second term, a Republican mayor of a Democratic city. Won re-election in 2005 with nearly 90 percent of the African-American vote. That's just around ten years after that city was really divided by riots and this guy was a local campaign manager for Jeb Bush.

He is conservative in many respects, but he has practiced the kind of positive outreach that has led to his city's resurgence and was able to unite the city across racial and political lines despite being a Republican. That's a model for National Republicans who still face this deep diversity deficit.

CHETRY: Right.

AVLON: That's keeping them in the box.

CHETRY: And really is amazing when you take a look. "The Christian Science Monitor" by the way also highlighted Mayor Baker for a profile series that they talked about people on reshaping the Republican Party.

And what they wrote is, "The most fertile ground for Republicans is the growing ranks of independent and effort to rebrand the party from the inside are prompting a stir within a generation of young Republicans."

And this would seem like welcome news. Or at least a welcome assessment in light of the recent criticism of the GOP saying they risk turning into a regional party with dwindling national influence. AVLON: They do and it's largely because independents are the largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate. In a state like Florida, the number of independents have increased 300 percent over the last 15 years while partisan registration has either flat lined or declined.

So it's a matter of simple math or it should be for Republicans. They need to find common cause with independents -- they're going to have a fighting chance in a lot of these states.

CHETRY: And let's turn to Democrats now. Who did you decide to profile for your "Independent Voice" on the left.

AVLON: Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker. Who is becoming a well-known and increasingly national figure but he really bucks the partisan litmus test on a lot of key issues. Whether it's school choice, he's in favor even though the UFT opposes. He's backed tort reform, he works with the Senate (ph) Right Manhattan Institute on prisoner re-entry issues.

This guy over and over says look, these old politics on the far left or the far right fighting is a matter of the last generation's approach for politics. We need to be focused on the politics of problem solving. He gave an interview to "Meet the Press" with Mayor Bloomberg last few weeks ago where he really articulated this. So let's take a listen.


MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D) NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: I have endorsed Mayor Bloomberg. He's Republican. We cast our country to simplistically in left/right debate. He's been a leader in bringing America together around gun issues, are sensible for all Americans. He's for people together around lowering the carbon footprint cities with the left/right coalition.

This is the way we need to move forward. We have issues in this country that unite people. I'm proud to sit here with a Republican because that's the only way our nation is going to move forward, as left and right working together.


CHETRY: There you seen it and you really are applauding these types of effort. However, it seems easier said than done when it comes to Congress...


CHETRY: ...because there is so much partisanship and you really are pressured from both sides to vote with your party.

AVLON: That's exactly right. I mean, people in the Beltway have blinders on. They really don't see what's going on in the larger picture. They don't really feel that the American people, the moderate majority want them to work together to get things done because everything in Washington reinforces the old partisanship.

That's why putting light to these new voices can maybe help re- shift the debate. They get a lot of grief from the members or their own party...

CHETRY: Right.

AVLON: ...who want them to play to the debates. So we've got to give them the props and saying you know, good work, "Profiles in Courage" guys.

CHETRY: We'll very interesting and we're going to put these on our Web site at and we're going to continue to have you on and to tell us about some other independent voices out there that you think are really kind of cutting through the noise.

AVLON: Absolutely.

CHETRY: John, great to see you.

AVLON: Good to see you.

ROBERTS: All right.

Japan's birth rates way, way down. So what to do, how do you entice people to have more children? Well, the government of Japan has got a unique program that they are floating. We'll tell you what it is and how it might just increase the birth rate, coming up. Thirty-six minutes now after the hour.


CHETRY: 39 minutes past the hour on this Labor Day morning. Welcome back to most news in the morning.

You know "Cash for Clunkers" may be history. But now there's "Cash for Kids."

ROBERTS: The idea of a new political party in Japan and the strategy isn't needed to stimulate the economy. It's the birth rate that they're trying to boost.

Here Kyung Lah in Tokyo with the story.


KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At this Tokyo parks politics is pushing these parents to ponder pro-creation. Jin is an only child. But now his mom is thinking about giving him a brother or sister.

YOSHIKO SATO, MOTHER: It would help us with a second child says Yoshiko Sato.

She is talking about being paid for having kids. It's a campaign pledge by the new political party that stormed into power this week in Japan. The DPJ promises to pay parents the equivalent of $3,400 every year per child until high school. The goal of these payouts to parents -- boost Japan's birth rate; among the lowest in the world. The declining birth rate is a major drag on Japan's economy, compounded by a rapidly aging population.

Japan's government says about a quarter of the country's population is over the age of 65. By 2050, that's expected to be 40 percent. Far more crippling than the recession, but the "Cash for Kids" idea isn't being cheered on by some economists.

Economist Yuri Okina wonders where the money will come from. And she says it's not instant fix.

YURI OKINA, ECONOMIST, JAPAN RESEARCH INSTITUTE: We have to make it normal in Japan for a woman to raise a child and have a career, she says. Something that even today is still not seen as a norm.

LAH: Critics say the payouts, while attractive as a campaign pledge, doesn't fix the significant problem for working families, the lack of day care. Japan's government says 40,000 families are on waiting lists to get into day care centers just like this one.

That means mothers like Hiromi Espineli have to quit their jobs to take care of their children.

HIROMI ESPINELI, MOTHER: Going back to work would be tough, she says, since there are so few day care centers. While some money would be nice, she says it doesn't make that problem disappear.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.


CHETRY: There you have it. Now you're getting paid like what, $3,000, $4,000. The cost of raising a kid on average right from to 18...

ROBERTS: What is it now -- a quarter of a million dollars now?

CHETRY: Yes, I think it's almost that. So -- and that's before you get to the college education.

ROBERTS: Yes and don't we all know how expensive is that is? You don't know yet, but you'll find out very soon.


ROBERT: Not too long from now.

Our Rob Marciano is taking us final road trip on the summer season and this is the last thing in the summer season and he's in Cocoa Beach, Florida for the pro-AM Surf championship. We'll check in -- there's Rob, he's up.

CHETRY: There he's up.

ROBERTS: He's up, he's down. Well, that was a second and a half not bad that's a start. There he goes he's up again. He's up again.

CHETRY: There's too many people near him.

ROBERTS: He's turning turtle. And one more time. And he's got it. Look at that. Three times and he's in.

Forty-two minutes after the hour. We'll check in with Rob in a second.


ROBERTS: Last day of summer vacation and welcome back to most of the news in the morning. For many of you out there, Labor Day means one final trip to the beach. And that's exactly where our Rob Marciano was this morning, taking his road trip to Cocoa Beach, Florida for the 24th Annual Pro Am Surf Festival.

Hi, Rob.

MARCIANO: Hello John, hi, Kiran. And I see you've been having some fun with some of the shots that we took yesterday.

CHETRY: Yes, we've been having fun with it. You were terrorizing the children on the beach when the surf board got away from you. Aren't you supposed to have a strap?

MARCIANO: I had the strap, but it's pretty crowded. It's Labor Day so there's a lot of -- and Cocoa Beach is the family spot and a lot of small kids. And I almost took a couple of them out yesterday and all in an effort to bring you some television on this holiday of me looking real bad and that was a grand success.

Here are some of the highlights -- we had a lesson. I've never been on a surf board in my life. A bit of a landlubber and it certainly showed yesterday. Three tries before I even remotely made it up there. That one, that nose dive was really embarrassing. That one, you know, frontward is never that interesting. And here -- there is the nose dive again. Anyway taking out a couple kids, I think this is the shot where you'll see the board go out -- there it is. And I heard something -- I heard some small child scream. Anyway, CNN lawyers, you definitely want to get by the phone and go to work here. And the fourth time -- I made it this year.

ROBERTS: And I think they have great white sharks off the coast of Cape Cod and Rob in Cocoa Beach Florida.

MARCIANO: I know guys and...

CHETRY: It's not safe anywhere.

ROBERTS: Rob it's not safe on any beach anywhere across the East Coast.

MARCIANO: I am not scared at anything. Did you see the size of that wave JR?


MARCIANO: I mean, they was crawling over the top of my head, I was ripping right through the tube. That was sick.

ROBERTS: It reminds me of that place north of Maui they call Jaws when the storms come in off in the Aleutian Islands and the rolls come in 50 high.


ROBERTS: And he really just busting it there. Way to go.

CHETRY: There you go, you could have ridden right into the tunnel.

MARCIANO: Chilling it.

CHETRY: But I just like to ask I want to give you a little space. Or I mean, couldn't you go on a beach where there wasn't -- it wasn't packed with people that were just trying to enjoy the gentle surf and there you are plowing through with your board?

MARCIANO: Well, as you can imagine, I mean, just trying to get the paparazzi away when I broke out the surf. I mean, people were just clamouring to get a sight of this exposition, exhibit of fine surfing skills. So it's just part of the crowd control as you imagine.

CHETRY: Right, you know, it didn't work out for you because you got a shirt on. You don't surf in a t-shirt. You should have ripped that thing off.

MARCIANO: I know but I appreciate that suggestion, but, once again, probably a bad career move.

Hey, I wanted to introduce you to Greg my friend, Greg Taylor, who is a retired surfer, been announcing this thing for years. And he kind of gave me an idea of not necessarily what judges will be looking for in me, but the professionals. Take a listen.


GREG TAYLOR, EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: Well, the waves have been about -- maybe about waist high to chest high, but what the judges are looking for is the surfer that executes the strong, critical maneuvers and the critical section of the wave.

So when they do these big power turns and like slide out the tails and view these (INAUDIBLE) area of reverses and stuffs like that and then ride away from and then hit it again real fast. That will score well with the judge.


MARCIANO: Power turns, aerials these are all manoeuvres that unfortunately you didn't get to see because that's about when the camera ran out of battery. But as you can see behind me, it's an angry ocean out there here on Cocoa Beach and it isn't going to be waves like California or like Hawaii, but we're having some fun and we're here to raise money for the National Kidney Foundation.

So it's a good event, guys and I'm here to do my part in bringing you that not so award winning television.

Back to you.

ROBERTS: Rob Marciano, CNN's very own Larry Hamilton. What a guy.

CHETRY: Yes, it will win some awards.

ROBERTS: It will definitely.

CHETRY: It will some awards, maybe not the ones you are looking for. But some awards.

All right, Rob, hang ten.

MARCIANO: Thanks guys we'll see you.

CHETRY: All right, still ahead, well first, we're talking about tracking great whites in the Atlantic Ocean. And now we're talking about tracking black bears. Is anywhere safe?

Forty-eight minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: 51 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the most news in the morning.

And a group of scientists in Florida is now trapping black bears. And what they're hoping to do is learn more about how the bears live and feed. The goal is to protect the animals, to improve their quality's life and hopefully to keep them out of people's backyards.

As John Zarrella reports, the hunt involves high-tech GPS dollars as well as low-tech desserts.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For researchers John Cox and Wade Ulrey (ph), trapping bears is about appealing to their sweet tooth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't get into the pastries.

ZARRELLA: More often than not, they do. The bear gets the goodies, while at the same time managing not to get caught in one of the Cox and Ulrey's elaborate traps or snares.

JOHN COX, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY: Since this project has been going on for five years now, we have -- we have several bears with advanced degrees of tracking.

ZARRELLA: For three days...

COX: They didn't touch the pastries here.

ZARRELLA: ... we watched as the Cox and Ulrey checked traps baited with doughnuts and other sweets.

(on camera): You guys have got to stay one step of the bears, basically.

COX: You have to try to be smarter than the average bear.

ZARRELLA: I knew you were going to say that.

(voice-over): This bear hunt ends empty handed.

COX: This looks like a young one.

ZARRELLA: Weeks later another try. This time a young bear was caught in a snare.

COX: Usually the thing that you'll see is a little bit of an abrasion where they've rubbed some the fur off or maybe a cut. It climbs a pine tree trying to escape. The researchers wait for the bear to come down.

A tranquilizer is attached to the end of a long pole.

COX: Okay. We got him. Back off.

ZARRELLA: The University of Kentucky scientists are studying the movement of Florida's black bears, how they get from place to place. The corridors they travel that need to be set aside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's wonderful because the bears are telling us what habitat we need to protect.

ZARRELLA: The bears are fitted with a collar that every 15 minutes sends text messages back to the university, telling researchers exactly where the bears are.

This one, a female is too young. She won't get a collar. When they pass the reader over the back of her neck, a microchip is detected.

COX: This is a bear we've captured before.

ZARRELLA: As wilderness dwindles, bears simply trying to get from one place to another, run into humans. A 300-pound male is captured in a community west of Ft. Lauderdale, another dumpster diving in Ft. Myers. Our young black bear is awake now. She takes off into the forest, her home.

John Zarrella, CNN, Highlands County, Florida.


ROBERTS: Look at that. Poor bear, caught in a snare.

CHETRY: I feel bad for him.

ROBERTS: Terrible.

Declining scores in schools, education reform what to do about it. How to keep America's student on a world class level; a lot of different ideas. And one of them might be -- how about just doing away with summer vacation?

It's a controversial idea but it is one that is gaining traction. We'll tell you more about it coming up.

It's 54 and a half minutes after the hour.


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

The controversy over president Obama's speech to school kids could lose steam this morning as the White House posts the text of the speech online to give parents a chance to read it. Meanwhile, Education Secretary Arne Duncan weighed in yesterday and he didn't mince words, calling the controversy, hoopla, drama, and quote, "just silly."

Here's what led up to that.


ARNE DUNCAN, SECRETARY OF EDUCTION: It is amazing to me, the last time a president spoke to the nation's children was in 1991. The real question I have is why has it been 18 years since the president has addressed our nation's youth?

Schools can do this, they can not do it. They can watch it during a school day. Children can watch it at home with their families. They could watch it a month from now. They could never watch it; it's purely voluntary.

But I think all of the drama, all the hoopla, at the end of the day, the president motivates one "C" student to become a "B" student, one "B" student to become an "A" student or one student who's thinking about dropping out to stay in school and take their education seriously, it's all worth it.


CHETRY: President George H.W. Bush made a similar address to schools back in 1991 and like Obama now then Bush drew criticism with Democrats accusing the Republican president of making the event into a campaign commercial.

ROBERTS: And while America debates the President's plan to speak to the nation's school kids tomorrow, there another school idea that's causing quite a stir this morning -- sending kids to school all year long.

Labor Day wouldn't be the end of summer or the start of a new school year. It would be just another day.

Our Kate Bolduan shows you which towns are doing it and whether it's working.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, one of the Obama administration's top priorities is education reform. One idea gaining traction may be the last thing students want to hear. More time at school.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): While most students were off enjoying summer vacation, schools like Barcroft Elementary in Arlington, Virginia, were open and bustling with activity.

MIRIAM HUGHEY-GUY, PRINCIPAL, BARCROFT ELEMENTARY: We would like to think about our calendar as being the 21st century calendar.

BOLDUAN: Instead of a long summer break, Barcroft keeps students in class year round with shorter breaks throughout, offering 20 additional school days.

HUGHEY-GUY: It gives them learning experiences they might not be able to get over the summertime.

BOLDUAN: It's a strategy school districts across the country are experimenting with. Perhaps the most closely watched in Massachusetts which has extended class time for 22 of its low performing schools. The idea has even won the endorsement of both President Obama and his education chief.

DUNCAN: We have a significantly shorter school year, 20, 25, 30 days, versus India, versus China and other places. Our students are at a competitive disadvantage.

BOLDUAN: The major argument for extending learning time is school learning loss. Researchers have found students can lose about a month's worth of achievement during the summer break.

ELENA SILVA, SENIOR POLICY ANALYST, EDUCATION SECTOR: It's specifically true for low-income kids who don't have the opportunities that other kids have during those big breaks.

BOLDUAN: But more time is no silver bullet for reform. Miami- Dade County schools in Florida used an extended day program for three years, but dropped it because they didn't see improvement in test scores. Critics say it disrupts family life and is expensive. The Miami-Dade program cost more than $100 million.

MARTA PEREZ, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD: The teachers were fatigued at the end of the day. The students were fatigued and unmotivated.

BOLDUAN: Which is another criticism; it's not just time, but the quality of the extra time that matters.

SILVA: One of the risks, of course is that you end up extending time in schools that aren't working well and I think it goes without saying that no one wants to extend bad times.


BOLDUAN: While test scores at Barcroft Elementary back here near Washington have not yet shown great improvement, the principal is confident it's worth it. She says it's not just about test scores, but about helping the whole child -- John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: And that brings us to the top of the hour. It's Monday, it's the 7th of September. It's the last day of the summer holiday season. Labor Day. Thanks for being with us. I'm John Roberts.

CHETRY: I'm Kiran Chetry.