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American Morning

Senate Votes Again on Reform; Obama to Meet with CEOs; Hotshot Hackers; Foreclosure Projection; Ben Stiller on AM Original Series

Aired December 22, 2009 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It is Tuesday. It's December 22nd. We're coming up on almost 8:00 here in New York.

Glad you're with us on this AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Kiran Chetry.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes, sitting in today for John Roberts. Here are some of the big stories we're keeping an eye on.

The Senate got an early start this morning, voting on a few final details on that $870 billion health care reform bill. It's on track now for a full Senate vote and passage possibly on Christmas Eve evening. We'll have a live report from Capitol Hill just ahead.

CHETRY: Well, getting small banks back in the game, President Obama may offer a piece of the bailout today, but they may want no part of the pay czar. We're live at the White House with details on that.

HOLMES: And we're calling it "Big Stars, Big Giving," our series this morning on AMERICAN MORNING. Our Alina Cho going one on one with Ben Stiller. He's stealing from other charities to give to his charity. We'll explain this, coming up.

CHETRY: It's not as bad as it seems.


CHETRY: But first, the Senate getting things started early this morning, holding a test vote, one of the many procedural hurdles in their trillion dollar health care reform bill. They're cleaning up some final formalities - there you see a picture live - while making sure that their 60-vote majority remains intact.

Democrats are hoping for a full Senate vote by Christmas Eve. The measure designed to provide 30 million uninsured Americans with some unaffordable health care. And, of course, it will be expensive.

Dana has been monitoring the developments for us on Capitol Hill.

So, as we saw that vote and a lot of people are saying, "Wait a minute, I thought, you know, a couple of days ago, you told us, they voted on this thing." What just happened? DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A couple of days ago, they did vote on this thing and they're voting today and we'll some votes in a couple of days. It is the Senate at work even at this early hour. I will tell you, it's unusual for the Senate to be here at this hour, but it's unusual for the Senate to be here at all on December 22nd.

And essentially, what's happening is, if you look at the Senate floor right now, just a few moments ago, what the Senate did was formally adopt the package of compromises that they had the first vote on a couple days ago and that, of course, is the compromises that brought all of the Democrats together through a lot of deal making on health care, Kiran.

Now, what Republicans are essentially trying to do here, and they are the reason why this is taking a few days, at least, is because, look, they are outnumbered, they don't have the votes to stop this health care bill. So, what they are trying to do is slow-walk this and say as much as they can on the Senate floor that this is being jammed through and that people haven't had time to read it and that's the wrong way to go for the American people.

At this rate as you mentioned, we probably will see a final vote on Christmas Eve. It is possible Republicans could relent before that, but last time, I checked that's not the plan, Kiran.

CHETRY: Now, even if they do pass the bill in Senate, they still have to reconcile it with the House version, and there are some very murk differences in these two bills.

BASH: That's right, very strong differences. And let's go through some of them.

First of all, one of the most wrenching and controversial issues, of course, is abortion. In the House, what they passed is abortion coverage permitted only in private plans, only with an abortion writer. So it would be a separate policy. In the Senate, the compromise that they reached is allowing abortion coverage to be offered but people have to pay separately for that coverage.

And let's move on to taxes. Taxes, also, is a big, big difference, Kiran. In the House, there is an excise tax to all of the wealthiest Americans. But in the Senate, what they did instead is a tax on high-cost so-called "Cadillac" health insurance plans. And I can tell you that it's something that some of the Democrat's constituents, the unions, absolutely can't stand because a lot of the unions have pretty nice health plans. So, that is going to be a very big fight.

And the last is, of course, the government-run health care option, the public option. The House has one, the Senate does not. This was the big controversial issue, of course, for months and months and months. The irony, according to many Democratic sources I'm talking to is it looks like the public option at this point is probably dead because it is just impossible to get through the Senate. So, we'll see what happens. But the key thing to remember is that because this compromise was so hard to crack in the Senate, it is going to be very hard to change much what's in the Senate ultimately to get a bill to the president's desk.

CHETRY: All right. So, that -- when we're talking about the Christmas Eve deadline, the self-imposed, that's for the Senate. There is still a long way to go...

BASH: Exactly.

CHETRY: ... for these two bills to come together and for actual change to happen.

BASH: Exactly. That's just for the Senate. There was a hope and a demand, frankly, by the White House that he gets the bill by the end of the year. That's not going to happen. The new deadline they are talking about is the State of the Union in late January or early February.

CHETRY: All right. Dana Bash for us today in Washington -- appreciate. Thanks.

BASH: Thank you.

HOLMES: Let's go to a developing story now out of Brazil. A Brazilian supreme court decision expected today that could reunite a New Jersey dad with his 9-year-old son. David Goldman has been locked in a five-year custody battle with the family of his son's Brazilian mother who died last year. CNN will have complete coverage when that decision comes down.

Also new this morning, they are not too-big-to-fail, but some say maybe we could live without them. President Obama meeting with the heads of smaller community banks today. The community banks and small businesses need to survive.

Dan Lothian is live at the White House with the preview for us.

Dan, we saw the president last week with the so-called "fat cats." These are the skinny cats and the little kittens as we coined them yesterday. What this meeting is supposed to be about?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, this is part of the overall effort by this administration, to work with the leaders of financial institutions to try to increase lending, to try to turn around this lagging economy. And so, as you point out, the president meeting with the CEOs of smaller community banks, names that you won't necessarily recognize. Legacy Bank, and First City Bank, New Alliance Bank.

And at the top of the agenda is to talk about lending -- how can they increase lending to small businesses. We've heard that that's been one of the biggest concerns from small business owners, that they cannot get the capital that they need to get new inventory, to hire new workers. And so, that's going to be one of the main topics of discussion today. They'll also be focusing on the foreclosure crisis.

But as you point out, just last week, early last week, the president sat down with the CEOs of larger financial institutions like American Express, like JPMorgan Chase and others to talk specifically about how they can increase lending to the small businesses.

And, you know, one of the biggest concerns that we heard from these executives as they came out after the meeting is that they want to make sure that they're doing the right kinds of loans. Obviously, these are institutions that have taken on a lot of risk. And so, they are very hesitant to jump into a lot of risky loans. So, that's the balance that you're trying to strike here, is how can they increase loans to the small businesses without being -- giving too much risk.

So, we'll hear more of that today with the small business leaders, again, as they sit down and meet with the president here at the White House.

HOLMES: All right. Today, they're getting their turn.

Dan Lothian for us at the White House -- thank you so much.

CHETRY: All right. Right now, it's six minutes past the hour.

Also new this morning, the accused Fort Hood killer's attorney says that Major Nidal Hasan is not being allowed to pray with his family in Arabic. Police reportedly stopped the phone conversation between Hasan and his brother Friday because it was not in English. Hasan's attorney calls that illegal. The military requires Hasan to speak to visitors in English unless an interpreter is present.

HOLMES: And that was one expensive balloon ride. The parents of the so-called "Balloon Boy" have been hit with a $42,000 fine. According to the "Denver Post," the money would be used to pay back Colorado and federal agencies.

Officials launched a massive rescue effort, as you remember, in October, after Richard and Mayumi Heene reported that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, wasn't really flying falcon (ph) at all. They said he had floated in a runaway weather balloon you see it there. The boy was actually hiding in the attic the whole time, and he said he was told to do so by his parents so they could do it for the show.

CHETRY: All right. Well, this morning, nearly 200,000 people in five states are waking up in the dark after this weekend's nor'easter. Most of the outages are along the Appalachian Mountains. Utility crews say it may be slow getting the lights back on because it's difficult to get to some of the steep and rugged terrain.

Well, there you have. So, we're still worrying about the aftermath of the storm we saw earlier this weekend, and now, Reynolds Wolf tells us we could be getting ready for part two of that.

Hey, Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's right. And I'll tell you, the second system is coming through in many ways, maybe more potent, especially in terms of the opportunity of having some strong thunderstorms, maybe even some tornados in parts of the gulf coast.

And I'll tell you, some of the people in the Appalachians may not get their power back on until well after Christmas, because we got this storm system that you're seeing right there in the middle of the country, where you see the word "Late," well, that's where you can see some storms pop up later in the day, also snow possible from the Ohio Valley back into the western half of the Great Lakes and some storms forming out to the west.

Very quickly, take a look. Here is the storm system we're going to see as it stacks up on Wednesday, bringing those severe storms to the south, some ice possible for the Midwest and heavy snow in the Central Plains.

Coming up: we're going to show how that storm is going to shake out as we get into Thursday and where it will be headed. That is just moments away.

Let's send it back to you in New York.

HOLMES: All right. Reynolds, thank so much, buddy. We'll talk to you again soon.

WOLF: You bet.

HOLMES: Well, coming up here: sometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief, and that's exactly what it might take as well to catch a hacker. Jeanne Meserve with a report.

It's eight minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 10 minutes past the hour. It means it's time for an A.M. original, something you'll see only on AMERICAN MORNING.

First, though, a couple other stories new this morning.

HOLMES: Yes, this one is getting a lot of people's attention. The top general in northern Iraq is threatening to court martial female soldiers who get pregnant and male soldiers who get them pregnant. This general says troop strength in Iraq is already stretched thin and he can't afford to lose any more soldiers. The rule is part of a larger order restricting his troops' behavior.

CHETRY: All right. Well, Citigroup is denying reports that it was the victim of a security breach online. But according to "The Wall Street Journal," the FBI is investigating an attack by a Russian cyber gang. According to people familiar with the matter, the thieves stole an estimated tens of millions of dollars.

HOLMES: President Obama will announce his cyber security coordinator or czar. Yes, Howard Schmidt is his name. He's a former Bush administration adviser and is considered an expert in computer forensics. His job will be to shore up the country's digital networks.

CHETRY: Well, cyber warfare has been a rising threat to the country. And in a story you'll see only on AMERICAN MORNING, our Jeanne Meserve looks at a new effort to find the best and brightest hackers. It sounds silly but it's not to stop them but it's to help them help us secure our nation.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: T.J., and Kiran, cyber vulnerability has been called the United States' soft underbelly, its greatest strategic threat. You might never have thought computer hackers would be the nation's best defense, but a new effort is under way to find them, train them, and enlist them in the fight.


MESERVE (voice-over): Hackers hunker down in hoodies and headphones in a cutthroat competition to gain control of computer systems and keep others out. Here, it's legal. A game called "NetWars" with more than 1,000 people playing online. It's part of a cyber security talent search, based on the premise that somebody that can exploit a system knows how to protect it.

ALAN PALLER, THE SANS INSTITUTE: It would be silly for us to sit back and say, well, we don't want to teach people to hack, we're not teaching them to hack, we're finding the ones who are good and we're giving them a chance to get better.

MESERVE: Dan Crowley, who goes by the handle infonut (ph), acknowledges a lot of hacking is done in the shadows for money or mischief.

DAN CROWLEY, NETWARS CONTESTANT: Absolutely. Absolutely. Check your spam folder if you don't believe me.

MESERVE (on camera): So, what's the incentive to do it in the daylight?

CROWLEY: Well, for one, you don't get thrown in jail.

MESERVE (voice-over): And you do make contacts. The reward for his performance here, a pocket full of business cards.

CROWLEY: There is a gentleman here yesterday from the New York State Police.

MESERVE: Making those connections is one of the goals of the competition.

PALLER: We are hoping we can rapidly and radically increase the speed with which these talented kids get into the workforce.

MESERVE: Right now, there is a disconnect, the winner here is a part-time student looking for a job, and the runner-up sales grapes for a vineyard. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of a waste of talent, I guess, but...

MESERVE: The Chinese military reportedly holds competitions to cultivate its computer talent. The cyber exploit of Chinese hackers have contributed to the belief that future conflicts will be largely fought with a mouse, a keyboard and code.

The former director of national intelligence says right now the U.S. is wide open to attack.

MIKE MCCONNELL, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The nation is at strategic risk, and unless we find these youngsters, develop their kills, offer them opportunity, offer them education, and then enlist their help and support and skills in combating cyber attacks, the nation will have catastrophic consequences.


MESERVE: McConnell calls the cyber challenge useful but not sufficient. Estimates are, the nation needs 20,000 to 30,000 people with advanced offensive and defensive cyber skills. Right now, it has about a thousand.

T.J. and Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: Here you go. So, ironic. They need more hackers.

HOLMES: They need hackers to catch hackers.

CHETRY: There you go.

HOLMES: It kind of makes perfect sense.

CHETRY: Well, Christine Romans is "Minding Your Business" when we come back. She's going to take a look at real estate loan modifications, you know, trying to help people stay in their homes. Is this really working?

Fourteen minutes past the hour.


HOLMES: Welcome back to the Most News In The Morning. What time is it?

CHETRY: Seventeen minutes past the hour.

HOLMES: OK that means I think that it's time for Minding Your Business.

CHETRY: That's a safe bet whenever we see Christine. We know it.

HOLMES: OK. CHETRY: Well you know another big payout for AIG executives, the unidentified executive is going to be getting - get this, $4.3 to not leave the company. The increase was approved by the Obama Administration pay czar Kenneth Feinberg. This pay package includes more than $3 million in stock options. A million dollars incentive awards and that's on top of the executive's base salary of over 400,000 grand.

HOLMES: So how much does it cost to win the world series championship? About $26 million. The New York Yankees, you know they picked up their 27th world series title and it's costing them that money, the $26 million in a luxury tax. The Yankees the only team to go over the salary threshold last year, their payroll went down actually to $226 million but that's still way over the cap, and so because they went over they are hit with a fine that equals $26 million.

CHETRY: There you go. Let's look at the bragging rights though.

And Ford is trying to trim its staff. The automaker is offering a new round of buyouts to many of its 41,000 hourly workers. The amount of buyouts ranges from 40,000 to $70,000.

HOLMES: And the afore mentioned Christine Romans is here. We are talking about - this is supposed to help everybody. We are trying to help everybody to modify those loans that got in a tough place. So is that working right about now?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: We are looking at default rates and redefault. Now when you default that means you are not paying your mortgage, right? When you redefault that means you have had your loan restructured and you are behind again.

For many people this really worries them. Even 30 days 60 days after, they'd had a loan restructured, then they're behind again. We are watching these rates. And there is new evidence, according to regulators, new evidence that if you can cut the payment that the homeowner is making by enough, it will help them.

In the second quarter of 2008, almost a third of all homeowners with restructured loans, they ended up back in trouble again, 30 days later. I mean a third of them. By the second quarter of this year, you look at these charts, according to those regulators, that default rate had fallen into 18.9 percent. That means that something was happening that was making these loan payments a little more affordable for people.

Now regulators say it's because more servicers are cutting either the principle amount or the interest rate or they're stretching payments over a long period of time so they can lower actually the size that people are making. Now here, a lot of the regulators are saying this is good news.

But here is the bad news, when you look in the numbers, when you look at this report from regulators you can see the foreclosure crisis is still epic. You have 6.2 percent of homeowners are seriously delinquent. That means they are 60 days behind on their loans. And that's up almost 17 percent from the second quarter.

Now here is something causing concern. Prime borrowers, people who otherwise had good credit, had paid their bills, have not been in trouble with their bills were considered perfect candidates to have a 30-year mortgage or 16 - 15 year mortgage, 3.6 percent of them are now in default at least 60 days. And that's up almost 20 percent from the second quarter.

So what we know here is that as we have gone through now two years of restructuring these loans, more people, if you cut the size of the amount of money they were paying every month, more people were able to keep up at least for 30 days. But more people who are prime borrowers are starting to fall behind here. And that's going to be - that's going to be something to really watch for next year.

CHETRY: Yes I mean, obviously we know that's tied into the unemployment rate...


CHETRY: As well so more people that lose their jobs, they cannot pay the mortgage.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

CHETRY: Let's get to our Romans Numeral today. This is a number that Christine gives us every day about a number that is driving the story about your money. What is your numeral?

ROMANS: It's 1.7 million.

CHETRY: Dollars?

ROMANS: No, this is people.

CHETRY: It said dollars. Sorry.

ROMANS: Does it say - aww....

HOLMES: This is dollars, yes.

ROMANS: That's my bad. I'm sorry. 1.7 million, that's the number of foreclosures we are expecting in the months ahead. Think of that. 1.7 million.

CHETRY: Awful.

ROMANS: Even as we are seeing that you can cut these payments and its helping people we know there are a lot of people in trouble. We also know that without modifying these loans, the housing market still is pretty shaky because you've got a lot of people out there who cannot pay their bills.

HOLMES: All right Christine, thank you as always.

ROMANS: Sure. HOLMES: We'll see you soon.

CHETRY: We are going to take a quick break, when we come back, an "A.M. Original," Alina Cho is sitting down with Ben Stiller. He is more than just funny, he's got a big heart, 21 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Twenty-four minutes past the hour right now, and that means it's time for an "A.M. Original." Something you'll see only on American Morning.

HOLMES: All this week we are highlighting celebrities who are giving back this holiday season, really all year long. Today we are highlighting actor Ben Stiller doing something that really only Ben Stiller can do.

CHETRY: That's right. He made what - show me the blue steal. Or household phrase.

HOLMES: Yes from Zoolander. Man I love that movie.

CHETRY: You're not going to do it.

HOLMES: No. I know you paused for a second. Is he going to do it - no I'm not?

CHETRY: Well he launched a parody of a charity. He's actually raised a lot of money, our Alina Cho is here to explain part of the big series that she's been doing. Big Stars, Big Giving.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You guys flash the big steal every day, I must say.

CHETRY: We sure do.

HOLMES: Blue Steal.

CHO: Sometimes we get a glimpse of ourselves. You know Ben Stiller is hilarious as you know. Guys he is one of the funniest people on the planet. So when he started to get interested in philanthropy he began to brain storm about how to make an impact. And decided why not use comedy to try to make a difference. Well guess what, it's working.


CHO (voice over): He makes a living making people laugh.

BEN STILLER, ACTOR: Well I guess what I am best known for his blue steal.

CHO: But talk about philanthropy and suddenly a side of Ben Stiller few see.

(on camera): You were actually skeptical about philanthropy.

STILLER: Yes, I think I've always come at it from a cynical point of view. Maybe just charity fundraisers and the whole show business aspect of it. I've made fun of it in the past and - but, I think, you see what's going on in our world. It's kind of hard to sit back and not do anything.

CHO (voice over): It all began this summer, the actor travelled to Haiti with a charity, Save The Children. He saw how kids did not have access to clean water, how they were not going to school, and he wanted to help.

STILLER: It's really sort of overwhelming when you see the level of poverty that these people are living with every day. It's just a different reality.

CHO (on camera): They know who you are?

STILLER: Not, not really. Some do, but most don't.

CHO: Most don't. Really?

STILLER: Yes, it's not about me. I think these people are just you know more focused on just getting through their day.

CHO (voice over): The problem is serious, but Stiller by nature is not. So when he thought about how to raise money. He turned to what he does best, comedy.

STILLER: And basically I'm going to sell these head bands, $300, $400, $500 a pop, OK, and you get one all the money goes to the school.

CHO: Stiller Strong, the slogan stealing great ideas from other charities to build a school in Haiti.

(on camera): When you came up with this really brilliant original idea of Stiller Strong.

STILLER: Well I thought it was original because I came up with the idea of a yellow head band.

CHO: Yellow?

STILLER: Yes, it's great. It's useful. I later learned that Lance Armstrong had I guess done something with a...

CHO: Bracelet.

STILLER: Bracelet. Yes. Sort of like a little...

CHO: Also yellow?

STILLER: Yes but it does not really do anything.

CHO: Right. STILLER: See the great thing about the head band is it actually wicks away sweat.

CHO (voice over): Go to and you'll find a social media bonanza. What some call the future of fund raising?

STILLER: What you give me 400 bucks to wear it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to wear it. I pay you to wear it?

STILLER: No, no, for the school, to support the school.

CHO: And this plea from Stiller and Robert Demerol to Aston Butcher who has millions of followers on Twitter.

STILLER: So Aston, reTwit it, thanks.

ROBERT DINERO, ACTOR: ReTwit it, Ashton.

CHO: It worked, within seven minutes, Kutcher complied. The power of celebrity.

STILLER: Which color would you like? The yellow?

CHO (on camera): I like the yellow.

STILLER: All right, good --- I will go for the red because. See what I mean by it looks cool? See you actually look great in it. I like to wear multiple bands sometimes for a different kind of look.

CHO: I think that's very cool.

STILLER: If you happen to be abducting somebody and you don't want them to talk -- are there any kidnappers out there.

CHO (voice over): Kidding aside, Stiller knows comedy can help shed light on the world's problems, and maybe even begin to solve them.

STILLER: When you are somebody who is - you know. When people know celebrity or whatever, it doesn't mean that you know anything. I am not claiming to be an expert on Haiti, I have been there once, but it affected me and I am trying to do something.


CHO: And good for him.

You know, Stiller Strong launched this three weeks ago and already thanks to one big donation and several small ones, the charity raised more than $170,000, and that's about half the money need to build one school in Haiti. And Ben Stiller plans to go back to Haiti in February. So he is another star walking the walk and talking the talk. And please - by all means...

CHETRY: Oh yes if I put that on my hairstylists will come out and kill me during the break. But T. J., go for it.

HOLMES: Yes, my hairstylists too.


HOLMES: I'm going to go with that as an excuse OK?

CHO: We should point out if you go to you can actually buy these head bands, Ben Stiller for $300 he will autograph it.

CHETRY: I can't believe you didn't buy us a shirt, oh, Alina.


CHETRY: Little tube top, in the summer.

CHO: Or a head band for the winter.

CHETRY: Because when t. J. works out at the gym, that's right.

HOLMES: I'm on it tomorrow all right.


CHO: That's right, that's right. I did. I sat down with Madonna over the weekend. And you know many people know that Madonna adopted two children from Malawi, but did you know that she is building a school for girls there? It's a $15 million project. She broke ground in October. She went to Malawi for that. The school will open in 2012. It's something that she has never talked about before but it's something very close to her heart. I'm one-on-one with Madonna, that' tomorrow starting at 6 A.M.

CHETRY: We look forward to seeing that, good all Madonna. All right thanks Alina.

Well right now we are crossing the half hour. It's time to check the top stories. The L.A. corners of actors Brittany Murphy was suffering flu-like symptoms in the days before she died. The coroner autopsy on the 32 year old yesterday. But they say it will take 48 weeks for a toxicology results to come back. They may then know more prescription medications were reportedly recovered from her home but the coroner reports that there were no signs of foul play.

HOLMES: And Senator Rudy Giuliani, not so much. The former New York City mayor expected to announce today he will not run for the Senate next year. "The New York Times" and "Daily News" reporting he is also ruling out a run for governor. Instead he'll endorse Republican Rick Lazio.

CHETRY: And also Tiger Woods' popularity taking a hit since he crashed his car and then admitted infidelity during his marriage. A new CNN poll is out. It shows Woods has only a 34 percent favorable rating. Back in 2005, his favorable rating was 85 percent.

The drop though was not as dramatic with African-Americans. About Two-thirds of blacks still have a favorable view of Woods.

HOLMES: We heard a lot about thawing relations with Cuba. This could be a reminder change does not happen overnight. Right now an American manned is sitting in a prison in Cuba. He's accused of handing out computers and communications equipment.

President Raul Castro spoke about it publicly for the first time on Sunday. Here now to discuss how the American prisoner could fit into the larger picture of U.S.-Cuban prisons is Ann Louise Bardach, author of "After Fidel," which was named one of the most intriguing books of the year by Miami Herald's book review.

Thank you for being here. A lot of people December 5th is when this American was detained, have not heard a whole lot about him. What do we know about what is happening with him?

ANN LOUISE BARDACH, AUTHOR, "AFTER FIDEL": Well, we know that he was picked up on December 5th. We know that he is a subcontractor that was employed by DAI. And that is a development organization that is handling a $40 million USAID grant to promote democracy in Cuba.

These grants have been somewhat controversial in Cuba because Cubans really detest them. And previously we know that the Cuban government had arrested recipients.

But this is the first time that I understand that an American citizen has been detained. The issue is that he was handing out, as I understand it, laptops and cell phones, and that infuriates the Cuban government.

HOLMES: And, ma'am, as you mentioned there, it's not like Americans or people haven't traveled from this country to do humanitarian work there before, and, like you said, even others have been detained for actually receiving this type of aid.

So what is the motivation this time around? What makes this guy's case different that they decided to take him into custody?

BARDACH: We have to understand that Cuba is a repressive authoritarian country. And handing out a laptop or a cell phone sort of takes control away from the government, which is the purpose of the programs. And naturally that infuriates the Cuban government.

From their point of view the U.S. government does not do these programs in Saudi Arabia or China or North Korea. They feel like they have been picked out, and they feel that there is a tremendous bias here.

But for them to arrest an American is a really big deal. I understand that the U.S. interest section in Havana has been trying to get access to him. It is unclear whether they have even interviewed this person.

But this is a general ratcheting up of tensions with Cuba, a souring of relations, which began quite auspiciously under President Obama, who began his term offering really an olive branch to the Cuban government.

HOLMES: On that very point -- I did not mean to cut you off, but this is something we can pick up on. Like you said, it seemed like when President Obama there might be a softening of relations.

But right now, Cuban President Raoul Castro, we heard from him on Sunday, saying the instruments for the policy of aggression to Cuba remain intact and that the U.S. government does not renounce its effort to destroy the revolution and generate a change in our economic and social regime.

BARDACH: This is real old fashion cold war rhetoric. Just recently Cuba staged war games. That was another provocative gesture. This seems very bizarre when they finally have a U.S. American president who, as I said, has extended the olive branch.

But they are infuriated by American's insistence that the human rights and civil rights be part of the agenda as we move forward. They claim that is none of our business and we should butt out.

Certainly these programs have been controversial and somewhat provocative. And as I said, they don't apply to other authoritarian countries.

But the big issue here is Cuba is in terrible trouble right now. The global economic crisis has really hit them. They had three hurricanes. And they are really just teetering on economic life support.

So this is sort of a wonderful diversion. Once again Cuba has the big enemy to the north, they have once again the goliath. That's what it appear to be, ratcheting up tensions and somewhat of a diversion.

And yes there is nationalism and tremendous pride at stake here, but there is tremendous unsettled economic issues in Cuba that are just more severe than they are elsewhere.

HOLMES: Just when we thought there was hope of thawing of the relations, here we go, it seems like, all over again. Ann Louise Bardach, again, author of one of the most intriguing books of the year. Thank you so much for your time and expertise this morning.

BARDACH: Thank you.

CHETRY: It's 36 minutes past the hour.

Just in to AMERICAN MORNING, we are getting reports on the economy right now. America's gross domestic product, or GDP, expanded by 2.2 percent in the third quarter.

There is some good news and bad news here. Economists had predicted it could be an increase of 2.8 percent. However, it does mean two quarters now were we have seen growth, which is much better than the contraction that we had seen before these two quarters. The results thought do mean that the economic rebound was weaker than previously thought. The GDP is what measures a country's overall economic output. Some of the main factors behind this downgrade, they say consumers did not spend as much. As we know, 66 percent of the economy is driven by consumers.

They also point to commercial construction being weaker. And they say basically companies were cutting back more in inventories. It's something Christine Romans had mentioned before, when holiday shopping people were not getting these deep discounts they are used to seeing because retailers actually bought less expecting people to spend a little bit less.

But again, the headline out of this, the economy, the gross domestic product expanding by 2.2 percent in the third quarter.

HOLMES: It seems like with every little bit of good news there is bad news that comes along with that. But Christine will talk about that much more throughout the day.

Also something you'll be talking about and happy to hear maybe -- some new rules out there for the airlines that could get you off the tarmac a lot sooner. They have limits on how long they can hold you hostage on that plane, what this means for you.

It's about 23 minutes to the top of the hour.


CHETRY: You know what it's like, right, just sitting there on the runway, hoping for updates.

HOLMES: Horror stories trying to get up here, Atlanta New York, LaGuardia, Hartsville, those are two airports you don't want to get stopped at.

CHETRY: It can be tough. But would it make you feel better if you knew that there was a stopwatch running on how you could be tortured.

HOLMES: I will be watching that clock.

CHETRY: They say that relief is in sight for flyers trapped on the tarmacs. Critics, though, are saying that these new rules where you would only be able to be stuck on the runway for three hours may create more delays than it will actually save. Our Lisa Sylvester has more.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anxious JetBlue passengers stranded on this airplane for ten hours at New York Kennedy Airport in February of 2007. Same storyline for passengers of Continental and two smaller airlines left on a tarmac overnight at the Rochester Minnesota airport in August. LINK CHRISTIN, AIRLINE PASSENGER: There wasn't any room. The plane was getting warmer. There were at least two babies nearby me who cried and screamed almost the whole night.

SYLVESTER: Under new rules announced by the Transportation Department, airlines in the future will have to allow passengers to get off the plane if the flight is delayed more than three hours.

If not, the airline will face a fine of more than $27,000 per passenger. The only exceptions, if there are safety or security concerns, or if air traffic controllers say it would disrupt airport operations.

That news came as a relief for holiday travelers at the Reagan National Airport.

JIM HOSETH, AIRLINE PASSENGER: Definitely better. Three hours is still kind of long in my opinion, but it's quite an improvement.

SYLVESTER: The Air Transport Association, which represents the largest airliners, says it will comply with the new regulation but warns it could lead to more headaches.

JIM MAY, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: A hard and fast three-hour window, and it is very clear to us that that plane has to be back at the terminal or back to a point where we can deplane passengers, has to be within that three-hour window, is going to lead to more cancellations and conceivably greater inconvenience for passengers than they would have had otherwise.

SYLVESTER: But Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood disagrees. He says passengers will have more options instead of having only one choice -- to sit and wait on a plane.

RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: They can go back to the terminal, re-board the next day, go home or figure out if they want to get back on this flight if they know it is going to be delayed. It gives them the option so they're not sitting there trying to figure out what's happening in their life.

SYLVESTER: The new rule won't help travelers this holiday season, though, because it doesn't take effect for 120 days.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: We just had one big storm and a lot of people still trying to get to where they are going. And we have more severe weather that could make things messy for your holiday. Reynolds Wolf is coming up next.

It's 43 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Forty six minutes past the hour.

You know just this -- our whole conversation goes to show you cannot please everyone.

HOLMES: You can't.

CHETRY: First, everybody wants a white Christmas...

HOLMES: Of course.

CHETRY: ... but they definitely don't want their flights or travel plans to get delayed by that white Christmas.

HOLMES: They want it after they get there -- they just want to wake up on Christmas morning actually Reynolds and just see the snow outside. They don't want to have to get through it to actually ...


HOLMES: ... get home. So what's...

CHETRY: Unfortunately, you're not a time machine.

WOLF: Well, the first thing they want to do is just wake up period on Christmas morning and then they'll deal with everything else.


HOLMES: All right, Reynolds, we appreciate as always buddy, talk to you soon.

WOLF: See you guys.

CHETRY: Well, then you know there are more actual heart disease deaths on Christmas Day than any other day of the year. We're going to take a look at why and also if there's anything you can do to protect yourself or your love ones. Sanjay is going to join us in a moment.

Forty-eight minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: And welcome back to The Most News in The Morning. You know, for most people the holidays are a time of joy...

HOLMES: It's supposed to be...

CHETRY: It's supposed to be, yes, but others the crowd, the cooking, the stress, the baking, the shopping can actually be too much.

HOLMES: That is a lot. In fact, more people die of heart attacks on Christmas Day than any other day of the year.

Sanjay Gupta, this is scary. I don't even want to get to Christmas Day. So what is -- is it simply just the stress?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it's a large component of it and I don't want to be the Grim Reaper here either. But you're absolutely right, it's Christmas Day and it's the day after Christmas and New Year's Day are the three biggest days of the year as far as people dying from cardiac disease.

So yes, there's a lot of factors as you might imagine; some obvious and some not so obvious. What is that people tend to blow things up quote-unquote, "around the holidays". So if they've been having some problems, some chest pain or whatever they might be having they may be less likely to see the doctor. That's seems to a reason.

Another reason also is that hospitals do seem to be less staffed during that time so it's harder to get in to see somebody.

But some of the big reasons are ones that you've might expect are the stress you mentioned, stress does cause inflammation in the body. That can be a risk factor for this. But also the long list of things, travel, cold weather, the types of food that people are more likely eat over the holidays.

Also you're fireplaces, T.J. and Kiran this may be a little less obvious, but it could release a lot of carbon monoxide into the air, especially if it's not vented properly. For most people not a problem but if you do have some underlying heart disease or underlying lung disease that can be a bigger problem.

In isolation, these things may not be that big of a deal. In combination which happens over the holidays these are some probably parts of the reason as to why you have so many cardiac deaths.


CHETRY: That's amazing, you know, you do bring up a good point, you know that, that of course, the hospitals are staffed less, the doctors usually are closed and sometimes you're like, I'm just going to have to wait until after the holidays no one is around. But is there anything else you can do to lessen your risk?

GUPTA: Yes, I think there are and that's part of the good news here, I think people are watching right now, we do a segment like this every year and I always get these e-mails afterwards because people are reminded of somebody's relatively the simple tips; staying alert to your symptoms. That's what that really means, so if you do have symptoms to remember them. Even during the holidays, if you're traveling to visit kids or other relatives, taking your medications with you, don't forget that stuff.

Minimizing alcohol consumption, not always easy to do; but again, if you're at risk it's something to keep in mind. And keep your family informed as well.

Let me just spend one quick minute, one quick second telling and reminding people what the symptoms can be of somebody who's having a cardiac problem or having a heart attack even that's coming up. Chest pain is one that a lot of people know; also pain that can extend into the left arm or neck and light headedness, shortness of breath and excessive sweating. But T.J. and Kiran, you know, we talked about this all time, heart disease is the number one killer of man and woman in this country. Women as well, so they can have these types of symptoms, or they can have something that's totally different and they just feel funny. They could have back pain, they could have nausea or something that's just odd.

If you're at risk definitely get these things checked out don't blow it off, even if it's a holiday season.

HOLMES: Well, Sanjay...

CHETRY: Good advice.

HOLMES: ... stay close to your Blackberry for me on Christmas Day all right, buddy.

CHETRY: You're fine.

GUPTA: Well, it's a -- I'm here for you guys, absolutely. Happy Holidays.

HOLMES: All right and happy holidays too. See you back in Atlanta here soon buddy, thanks so much.

It is nice to have a doctor on staff. I'll hit him up for whatever actually...

CHETRY: Really.

HOLMES: It probably annoys him, but yes if I have a bad cough, I'll send an e-mail.

CHETRY: And he's so caring though, he actually does write back.

HOLMES: He actually does writes back.

CHETRY: He's a sweet guy as well as being quite brilliant.

Well, I'll tell you about some added stress...


CHETRY: How about you're outside and trying to toss around a few snowballs for fun and then someone pulls a gun? Jeanne Moos has the aftermath of all of this caught on tape.

Fifty-four minutes past the hour.



CONAN O'BRIEN, NBC HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Over the weekend in Washington, D.C. an off-duty police officer pulled a gun in the middle of a snowball fight. Now, guess what? He won. Apparently nothing ends a snowball fight faster than pulling a gun.


CHETRY: I guess if you qualify getting assigned to desk duty as winning, he won. There you have it.

Meantime, right now it's 56 minutes past the hour, and that means it's time for the "Moost News in the Morning". Jeanne sort of shows us how this all went down.

HOLMES: Yes. We, of course, we all know if it's a snowball fight, your weapon of choice is supposed to be snow. But yes this detective drew a gun. Jeanne Moos picks the story up from there.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From Times Square to a British talk show, snowballs flew, but in Washington, D.C. they flew until a detective drew his gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not shoot anyone over snowballs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get his license plate number.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your buddy over there pulled a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) gun in the snowball fight.

MOOS: It started happy enough, around 200 young people firing snowballs at each other, across Washington's 14th Street, an invitation to D.C. Snowpocalypse on Facebook and Twitter attracted the snowballer. "Bring your mittens and killer instinct."

No mention of a gun. A detective's hummer got smacked by snowballs, and out he came drawing his gun. In no time pictures were popping up on YouTube and Flickr, and to think just moments before the snowballers had rescued a police car.

But things turned tense after the detective pulled his gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not on the curb.

MOOS: For video artist Robin Bell who was taking this video.

ROBIN BELL, VIDEO ARTIST: It was kind of freaky.

MOOS: At first no one realized he was a detective, and someone called 911 reporting a man with a gun at a snowball fight. No wonder uniformed officers arrived with their guns drawn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your guns out? (EXPLETIVE DELETED) kidding me?

MOOS: The uniformed officers looked for the man with the gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got a holster. He's got a gun.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a detective.

DETECTIVE BAYLOR: My name is Detective Baylor, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Detective Baylor, OK? Pulling a gun at a snowball fight.

BAYLOR: Yes I did because I got hit with snowballs.

MOOS: Now he is being hit with an Internal Affairs investigation and put on desk duty, though he has his defenders. They say you should not have a snowball fight at major intersection, and it's no picnic driving along getting pelted by snowballs, it's scary.

Back at the snowball fight, the crowd broke out into a chant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't bring a gun to a snowball fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. You can go on with your snowball fight, all right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, I'm afraid I'm going to get shot by the police.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


CHETRY: There you go. All of it captured on cell phone video.

HOLMES: You have to be aware. Somebody's always watching.

CHETRY: That's right. Well we hope you have a wonderful rest of the week and rest of the day. Continue the conversation by the way on any of today's stories by heading to our blog which is

HOLMES: It's time now for the "CNN NEWSROOM" with Betty. Where have you been? Haven't talked to you in a while. We still work together, right?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: I know it's been a while. I've been watching. Yes, we do still work together. Thanks, guys.