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American Morning

Senator Bunning Ends One-Man Filibuster; President Obama to Unveil New Health Care Plan; Pirates Hijack Saudi Tanker; 795 Killed in Chile Quake: Aftershocks, Violence Slowing Relief; Jobless Benefits Back; Life After Captivity; Price of Tainted Food; High Seas Hijacking; Genes Linked to Alcoholism; Virtues of the Bean

Aired March 03, 2010 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning on this Wednesday, the 3rd of March. And thanks for being with us on the Most News in the Morning. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. Thanks for being here. We have some big stories we're telling you about in the next 15 minutes.

First, we start with Jim Bunning. The senator no longer balking. The Kentucky Republican finally ending a one-man filibuster which allows the Senate to keep unemployment checks flowing for thousands of Americans out of work. The fallout from a very tense game of Capitol Hill hardball ahead.

ROBERTS: The latest roundup for health care reform. President Obama set to unveil a new proposal, one that includes Republican ideas. Is it enough to produce a bipartisan health care reform bill? Or will Democrats be forced to go-it-alone. We're live at the White House with a preview of the president's new plan.

CHETRY: And four days after one of the biggest earthquakes ever, aftershocks still complicating rescue efforts in Chile. The death toll now approaching 800. Our crews spent the night in a car rather than test the roof over their heads. We're going to be live with Sara Sidner in the earthquake zone.

ROBERTS: Jim Bunning finally blinked and hundreds and thousands of Americans on the verge of losing jobless benefits can exhale, at least for now. Our top story this morning, the Senate passing a $10 billion measure that extends unemployment checks for one month. Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher turned Kentucky senator, decided to end this game of hardball dropping a one-man filibuster that proved to be about as popular as a brush back pitch. More now from our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, the drama, raw politics and raw nerves that surrounded the standoff is now over. And the money should be flowing back to support the unemployment benefits, the health care benefits, and even highway projects that were hurt by the blocking of this money. Now, one agency already last night sent out word that 2,000 furloughed workers -- this is in the Department of Transportation -- should come back to work. So that is already getting started. Now, on the politics of this, this, of course, was all about Jim Bunning, the Republican from Kentucky. And he argued all along that he supported passing this package, but he wanted it to be paid for, not add to the deficit. Here's the argument he made right before these votes.


SEN. JIM BUNNING (R), KENTUCKY: We must get our debt problems under control and there is no better time than now. That is why I've been down here demanding that this bill be paid for. I support the programs in the bill we are discussing. And if the extension of those programs were paid for, I would gladly support the bill.


BASH: Now as expected, Bunning's measure to pay for the $10 billion package failed. On the Democratic side, all but three Democratic senators voted against it. But Bunning insisted he would keep this issue pressing for fiscal discipline alive. And in tone and tenor that has been typical of Bunning during the past several days, he said, I will watch closely and check off the, quote, "hypocrites one by one," talking about Democrats -- John and Kiran.

CHETRY: Dana Bash for us this morning on the hill. Thank you.

Also a last-ditch effort by President Obama to get Democrats and Republicans to team up on health care reform. In just a few hours, the president will unveil a revised proposal. This one includes the best ideas, he says, from both parties. But is it enough for GOP leaders who want him to scrap the plan and just start over?

Suzanne Malveaux is live at the White House with the preview. And, Suzanne, what can we expect from this bill today or this proposal that we're going to hear from the president?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kiran, aides are calling this the president's final act. Really it's meant to show that he's open to some Republican ideas but also to nudge some nervous Democrats, members of his own party, to try to sign off and push forward on this legislation. He sent a letter to their leadership, Republican and Democratic leadership yesterday, essential saying last Thursday that bipartisan health care summit, I liked some of the ideas from the Republicans. I'm open to some of those ideas. Those are the things that he's going to be adding to the legislation, what he's going to put forward.

Some of those ideas include taking on fraudulent medical charges, new funding for resolving malpractice disputes, for instance, increasing doctors Medicaid reimbursements, and also offering tax incentives to curb doctors' visits. All these things, he says, Republicans actually introduced them at that bipartisan summit. He says, look, I'll sign on to this kind of thing. Republicans, they're not really impressed at all with this. We heard from the Minority Whip Eric Cantor yesterday, who said if the president simply adds a couple of Republican solutions to a trillion dollar health care package that the American people don't support, it isn't bipartisanship, it's political cover."

So clearly, Kiran, there is -- this gulf (ph) is not going to be bridged here. But the president is moving forward saying, look, I'm willing to put this out on the table, but I'm not going to do this in a piecemeal fashion. This is going to be comprehensive legislation. Democrats get this thing done.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we'll see how Republicans respond besides what you said right now that it's just political cover. We'll see if anyone changes their minds. Suzanne Malveaux this morning, thanks.

ROBERTS: Breaking news this morning. Somali pirates have captured a Saudi tanker and its crew of 14 off the Horn of Africa. According to the European Union Naval Force, the Al Nisr Al Saudi (ph) was taken over Monday in the Gulf of Aden. That's between Somalia, to the south of Yemen to the north.

Joining us now on the telephone is Commander John Harbour from the European Union Naval Force.

Commander Harbour, thanks for being with us. Can you tell us the circumstances surrounding this act of piracy?

CMDR. JOHN HARBOUR, SPOKESMAN, E.U. NAVFOR SOMALIA (via telephone): I certainly can. And it's relatively little information because it's a relatively small tanker. It's only about 5,000 tons. It was only debunkering, which means taking fuel oil up the coast. That's not a large super tanker that we've seen taken before.

But effectively, Sunday night, the master had spoken to the owners to say all was well. Monday, the pirates contacted one of the directors at the control of the ship and that was the last we heard of it until such time the E.U. NAVFOR was able to note that the ship was actually anchored off Garaad (ph), which is a well-known pirate stronghold. And that to some extent is what confirmed that it has been hijacked.

CHETRY: Some of the other details, Commander, that the ship was captained by someone who is of Greek nationality. The nationality of the rest of the crew not known at this time, and that they were also traveling as we understand it in an area that's sort of outside the designated route for naval warships, at least for naval warships to patrol those areas and try to help thwart these attacks. What else do we know about where they were?

HARBOUR: We know that they were heading to Mosjeddah (ph). Now when we say they were outside the international recognized transit corridor. That is a corridor set up by E.U. NAVFOR and the Maritime Security Center Horn of Africa. We recommend that all ships to transit that corridor. We know very little else, other than the fact it is a relatively small ship and the pirates clearly got on board to control and then contacted the owners.

ROBERTS: And, Commander, if it were bunkering, as you say, going up the coast, they're dropping off loads of fuel, wouldn't be unusual for it to be outside of those shipping lanes, I would think. But let me ask this question. Our understanding is it was empty at the time and if it's been taken to Garaad (ph), as you say it has which is a pirate stronghold, is the supposition here that they may demand a ransom or they may seek to use that ship as one of their bases of operation?

HARBOUR: Well, effectively, the pirates will take almost any ship as far as our concern. The target of opportunity gives them so much opportunity to do something with it. You're quite right in suggesting that asking for a ransom might not be as forthcoming as a huge super tanker. But the end of the day, there's still 14 lives involved. We mustn't forget that. Of course, our thoughts go out to the crew at the moment and the families of the crew that are on board that ship. But you're quite right in also suggesting that if a ransom was not immediately forthcoming, they could use the ship which is relatively small to act as perhaps their mother ship and some of their other pirating operations.

ROBERTS: All right. Commander John Harbour from the E.U. Naval Force, thanks for joining us this morning with the update on that.

HARBOUR: Thank you.

ROBERTS: We appreciate it, sir.

HARBOUR: Thank you very much.

CHETRY: Also in the coming year where we hear about this uptick in the (INAUDIBLE), the seas get a little bit calmer, so it's easier for the pirates to get on board.

ROBERTS: Yes. There's a lot of danger out there in the waters, there's no question.

It's seven and a half minutes after the hour. Let's get a quick check of this morning's weather headlines. Rob Marciano in the extreme weather center for us this morning. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. The snow that came across the southeast yesterday, now into the mid-Atlantic and the northeast that includes the New York metropolitan area. The areas on the radar scope, looking at a mixed bag from D.C. up through the I-95 corridor.

Not a whole lot of accumulation expected here. It's raining in Newark. It's snowing in LaGuardia, snowing out in the White Plains but raining in the Hamptons. Down to the south, you're looking at rain and snow mix in Virginia Beach and the naval stations around Hampton roads. And gusty winds but the direction that's this low is going to take is more out to sea than it is a direct hit on the major cities. So your accumulation will be minimal today and any snows that fell across the southeast yesterday should be melting after some freezing temperatures and some slick spots this morning.

Much more weather coming up in about 30 minutes. John and Kiran, good to see you.

CHETRY: All right. You, too, Rob. Thanks.

And Still ahead on the Most News in the Morning, Chile's police and military now cracking down on looters after the weekend's earthquake. Some people are saying that in some cases it's actually too late. We're going to be getting a live report on the latest in the aftermath of this quake coming up.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Eleven minutes past the hour. Time for a quick check of other stories new this morning.

It will be Texas Governor Rick Perry running for re-election in November. The Republican incumbent defeated Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison yesterday, after a nasty primary campaign. He will then face former Houston Mayor Bill White in the general election. White beat six challengers on the Democratic side. Rick Perry is the state's longest serving governor.

ROBERTS: Going inside Bush's brain. Former White House political adviser Karl Rove talking about one of his worst mistakes in a new memoir, saying that he should have pushed back against claims that President Bush knowingly misled our country into war with Iraq. Rove says the failure to find weapons and mass destruction badly damaged the Bush administration's credibility.

CHETRY: Well, child services in Los Angeles now investigating a stun gun incident at the home where Michael Jackson's children live. A lawyer for the late singer's mother says that Jermaine Jackson's 13- year-old son, who also lives at the house, ordered the stun gun online and then tested it on a piece of paper. He went on to say that a security guard confiscated the gun and that none of the children were in any danger.

ROBERTS: The death toll is now approaching 800 in Chile, four days after one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded. The number is rising as rescue crews dig into collapsed buildings and the threat of aftershocks and violence has slowed down the relief efforts.

Our Sara Sidner is live for us this morning in Concepcion, Chile. And, Sara, what's the situation like now for the thousands of displaced people there?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are. There are a lot of people who say that they simply haven't gotten any help at this point in time. We talked with several families who said that their apartment complex was intact but they were too afraid to stay inside because of the aftershocks and because things looked unstable and kept moving around. And then there's this building behind me, this large apartment complex, 15 stories high at one point in time collapsed to rubble. And we're understanding that there are no survivors believed to be inside at this point. Six more bodies, police say, are still inside this building. But a lot of people that just don't have the things they need for survival really here in this town trying to get things like water, food and gasoline, John.

ROBERTS: You know, Sara, we've been talking over the last several days about how different Chile is from Haiti in responding to this earthquake. The infrastructure is much better there. The country itself more modern, more services in terms of emergency services, rescue personnel. So why are people still fighting for basic necessities like water and food?

SIDNER: It's a good question. And there's a lot of people that are condemning the government saying it did not move fast enough. I can tell you, though, in the last -- about 24 hours, we've seen a lot more help arrive, especially from the military. Lots of soldiers have come into this town bringing in supply. We see firefighters helping people get water, and so people are starting to get a little bit more calm. The looting has calmed down quite a bit.

But there is still on the outskirts a worry that they'll be ignored. The city is getting a lot of the services, and people in the villages outside of the city feel that they're sort of being left out of getting any help, John.

ROBERTS: Sara Sidner for us this morning from Concepcion in Chile. Sara, thanks so much.

CHETRY: All taxpayers in Hawaii are getting a big bill for a small wave triggered by that earthquake in Chile. The mayor of Honolulu, though, says the city now spent $330,000 responding to the tsunami threat Saturday. Much of it was spent on overtime cost for police and firefighters, but also from lost revenue from city facilities that closed as the tsunami approached.

The mayor there defended the city's response, saying we avoided a major disaster, but you can never have enough practice at this.

ROBERTS: Coming up next in the Most News in the Morning, Senator Jim Bunning had thrown a knuckleball into the proceedings, but he has since withdrawn his opposition to the jobs bill, but what's it really all about? What -- what do the benefits really mean for folks at home?

Our Christine Romans, breaking that all down for you. She's "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Fifteen and a half minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Eighteen and a half minutes after the hour. That means it's time for "Minding Your Business" this morning. Relatives of a family killed in a crash involving a runaway Lexus are suing Toyota for negligence. Mark Saylor, an off duty California highway patrolman was at the wheel and the car suddenly accelerated to 120 miles an hour while he tried slamming on the breaks.

A tragic accident shined a light on safety flaws involving Toyotas and led to the recall of millions of Toyota vehicles worldwide.

CHETRY: Also, the Obama administration today is now considering new safety features that would be on all cars and trucks sold in the U.S., brakes that can override the gas pedal. These overrides would prevent the sudden acceleration issues that we've been talking about found in these recalled Toyotas.

Transportation secretary Ray LaHood told Congress yesterday that the fix requires relatively inexpensive software upgrade.

ROBERTS: All right. Christine Romans is here, "Minding Your Business" this morning. You heard the news about the jobs bill. Looks like it's going to go forward now. But what's really in it for you?

Here's Christine this morning. Good morning to you.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's in it for you is no a longer amount of time that you can actually step in there and file for jobless benefits. So the Senate has passed these temporary fixes that means something for you if you're one of those hundreds of thousands of people whose jobless benefits were going to run out this week.

It means jobless benefits and the COBRA subsidy -- just for the next 30 days. This -- they're going to have to go through this again, folks, but just for the next 30 days, as you know, taxpayers are saying -- paying 65 percent of COBRA premiums. That's health insurance premiums for people who are out of work.

It also has the doc fix, as it's called in Washington parlance. That means that doctors will not have to take a 21 percent pay cut in their Medicare reimbursement, at least for now. Also, infrastructure funding, those 2,000 transportation workers can get back on the job and an extension of I think a $60 million small business loan guarantee, something that's been a pretty popular program.

So there were four or five different things within this bill that we've been wringing our hands about for five days as people have been pulled off worksites, as people have been wondering where their next jobless check was going to come from. They were trying to figure out -- many families trying to figure out what is this health insurance thing going to mean for me if I don't have that subsidy? Am I going to be able to afford COBRA? Am I going to be able to keep health insurance?

As you all know, the average length of unemployment is more than 30 weeks. In some states, you can get jobless benefits up to 99 weeks. Some conservatives are asking, how long can we pay for this? We can't pay for this forever.

CHETRY: And this is unprecedented in modern times. I mean, we talked about this. You said yesterday, this is really upside down. More people are getting food stamps, you pointed out, than they are what --

ROMANS: It's upside down. More people are getting food stamps than are buying their first home. More people are filing for unemployment benefits than there are buying their first home.

Instead of -- instead of a quest to homeownership, which has been traditionally what's been going on in this country for a generation, now you've got people just trying to plug the holes in their personal balance sheets.

It is absolutely -- upside down is the best way to put it. It's upside down.

So there's a philosophical question to be asked, a debate, economically, to be asked about how long can we pay for all of this? And -- and Jim Bunning actually said, you know, there's no better time than now to start talking about how we're going to pay for things, although a lot of economists say, no, no, there's not -- there is a better time than now. Now is not the time because we have to plug these holes right now.

ROBERTS: You got a Numeral for us this morning, a Romans Numeral?

ROMANS: I do, and this has do to with broken government, everybody -- a 11.5 million people. Eleven and a half million people who for five days have been watching as the Democrats let the situation marinade and as Jim Bunning continued to talk about how we have to talk about -- 11.5 million people are the number of people who get unemployment checks.

Many of the (ph) people couldn't feed their families without them and I just think that -- and what I've been getting -- the feedback that I've been getting from our viewers and the like and on Facebook and on Twitter is that a lot of people have been watching this, quote- unquote, "Bunning bashing" but have been saying, wait a minute, why did the Democrats let this go on so long?

Couldn't they have fixed this last Friday? Did they -- is this -- is this also political maneuvering on both sides? And 11.5 --

CHETRY: And the answer is yes.

ROMANS: And 11.5 million people, you know, they just need a -- they just need a check.

ROBERTS: So here's something that will get you, like, really make you cry. I spent the last couple of days in Toronto --

ROMANS: Right. ROBERTS: -- where people are actually bidding for homes that are on sale, and homes are going for as much as a quarter of a million dollars over asking price.

ROMANS: Really?


ROMANS: So the market's coming back there.

ROBERTS: No. The market never went away.

ROMANS: Never went away. Did they have government intervention in the housing market like we did?


ROMANS: All of those -- that pushed (ph) to home ownership?

CHETRY: Interesting.

ROBERTS: Amazing, huh?

ROMANS: Yes, it is. It really is.

ROBERTS: And they beat us in hockey too.

CHETRY: Oh, you had to go there. All right.

ROBERTS: There you go. Thanks, Christine.

CHETRY: Christine, thanks.

Well, still ahead on the Most News in the Morning, in the week of last week's tragedy -- in the wake of it at SeaWorld, the debate continues over wild animals in captivity. We're going to actually take you to a sanctuary. These are -- this is a place, and -- and there are some others like this, that care for animals who can no longer perform, when they would just sort of be put down or, you know, worse.

Twenty-three minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Twenty-six minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Your top stories just four minutes away.

First, though, after that recent deadly accident that happened at SeaWorld involving a killer whale and his long-time trainer, there's been a lot of attention on animals, wild animals that are kept in captivity and trained to perform.

Our Gary Tuchman take a look at what happens to other exotic animals once they're no longer able to entertain.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, sea mammals are certainly not the only species that perform for human beings. At this ranch behind me, there are many animals who were in show business who are now retired. It's the largest wild animal ranch in the United States.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Babe the elephant used to perform in a traveling circus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's got two broken legs, the front right and the rear right.

TUCHMAN: Now, the 26-year-old African elephant is being taken care of at the largest wild animal sanctuary in the country, a Humane Society of the United States facility where more than 1,200 animals live on 1,300 acres in East Texas.

DIANE MILLER, BLACK BEAUTY RANCH: We're here to provide permanent sanctuary for animals who've come from all different manner of -- of cruelty and abusive backgrounds.

TUCHMAN: Babe's legs are hurt from his (ph) treatment back in her performance days.

Sad situation, but certainly not something you could compare to the treatment of killer whales, right?

TUCHMAN (on camera): Isn't it apples and oranges with the killer whales at a place like SeaWorld?

MILLER: I think that it's -- it's very similar in concept. You know, sea mammals, just like these terrestrial land animals that we have here at Black Beauty Ranch, sea animals are also wild animals that are being taken from their natural habitats and asked to perform for people in a very unnatural setting.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The director here shows us horses at the sanctuary who are hurt and sick after performing in circuses and shows. And then there is this animal.

TUCHMAN (on camera): This is Roo (ph) the kangaroo. Roo (ph) used to be one of the stars at a roadside attraction here in Texas. His specialty was that he boxed -- he boxed human beings.

Once, when he was fighting a human being, he broke his left arm. Ultimately, it had to be amputated by the veterinarian.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): So is the comparison between these animals and the killer whales fair? The SeaWorld employee in charge of the whales' training says totally unfair, the SeaWorld's whales are stimulated and happy.

CHUCK TOMPKINS, CURATOR OF ZOOLOGICAL OPERATIONS, SEAWORLD: I've been doing this for 32 years, and, you know, I have spent my whole life taking care of animals, and to have somebody make a reference that, you know, these performing animals are mistreated is just so offensive, I can't even put it into words.

TUCHMAN: There are people who say money affects decisions about animal welfare. A former senior scientist for SeaWorld in the 1980s tells us the parks could not financially afford to ever get rid of their killer whales. It would heavily damage the bottom line. But --

JOHN HALL, FORMER SEAWORLD SCIENTIST: I will say, they spend a great deal of money on their facilities and taking the best care of the animals that they know how.

I think that the whales probably would prefer to be in the ocean, but that's -- that's obviously not an option.

TOMPKINS: Most of them have been raised in the care of man their entire lives. It would be torture to put these animals back into a wild environment.

TUCHMAN: Aquariums and zoos all over the world have star attractions, whether they're pandas or tigers or apes. It certainly would affect the bottom line if they were to leave.

Richard Farinato used to be the assistant director of zoos in Boston and Greenville, South Carolina. That zoo had a star white tiger.

RICHARD FARINATO, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, GREENVILLE ZOO: There were days, for instance on a Sunday when the zoo is busy, with the white tiger there, it would be twice the crowd that we would see.

TUCHMAN: Babe is on a diet because of her condition.

TUCHMAN (on camera): She weighs 6,800 pounds, but she used to weigh 7,500 pounds?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seventy-six hundred (ph).

TUCHMAN: Seventy-six hundred pounds? Good job losing those 750.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Unlike the killer whales, Babe isn't ever going back to work.

TUCHMAN (on camera): I asked Diane Miller, the director of the ranch, if she thinks it's realistic that SeaWorld would ever free its killer whales. She says maybe not eminently, but if you change one mind at a time, who knows what could happen in future?

But when you talk with people who work with the whales at SeaWorld, not only do they scoff at that, but they are insulted by that, because they fervently believe that their whales are very happy and healthy -- John and Kiran.


CHETRY: Gary Tuchman for us this morning -- thanks.

Well, it's half past the hour right now. Time for a look at our top stories.

Hundreds and thousands of Americans on the verge of losing their jobless benefits can breathe a little easier for now. The Senate passing a $10 billion measure that extends their unemployment checks for the next 30 days. Kentucky Republican, you've been hearing a lot about him over the past few days, Jim Bunning, deciding to end a one-man filibuster, which clears the way for last night's vote.

President Obama reaching out to Republicans one last time, trying to craft a bipartisan health care reform bill. He will unveil that compromise proposal today and it includes Republican ideas on things like reducing medical malpractice suits and also new incentives for health savings account. The president has also flatly rejected calls from GOP leaders to scrap the plan completely and start over on health care.

Fourteen crew members are being held hostage after Somali pirates captured a Saudi tanker. It happened off the Horn of Africa. According to the European Union Naval Force, the Al Nisr Al Saudi was traveling in unprotected waters. The captain and crew are believed to be safe. We're going to be getting a live report and update on the situation from London in just a few moments -- John.

ROBERTS: Well, this morning, we're learning for the very first time just how much tainted food is actually costing America in money and lives and suffering, thanks to a landmark report by the project, the Food Safety Project. The study estimates that food-borne illnesses, like E. coli and salmonella, sicken 76 million people a year and kill about 5,000, ultimately costing the United States more than $150 billion a year. That is four more times the government's original estimate made over a decade ago.

Joining us now from Washington D.C., this morning: one of the architects of the report, Erik Olson. He's director of Food and Consumer Product Safety for the Pew Health Group.

And also in Washington for us this morning: Elizabeth Armstrong and her 5-year-old daughter Ashley. Ashley nearly died from kidney failure after contracting E. coli O157 from tainted spinach four years ago.

Good morning to both of you.

Elizabeth, let's start with you this morning. It was September of 2006, you had fed your daughter Isabella (ph) and Ashley some spinach. Isabella got sick, had diarrhea for a few days but she got better, then Ashley got gravely ill. What happened?

ELIZABETH ARMSTRONG, DAUGHTER A VICTIM OF FOOD-BORNE ILLNESS: Excuse me. The E. coli turned into hemolytic uremic syndrome, which essentially shut down her kidneys, caused massive brain swelling, pancreatitis, and we almost lost her. She needed dialysis to stay alive.

ROBERTS: Oh, my goodness. Ashley, I know that you were very, very young when all of this happened. Do you remember any of it?

ASHLEY ARMSTRONG, VICTIM OF FOOD-BORNE ILLNESS: When I almost died the spinach, well, I really liked it but we -- I almost -- when we bought it, it was -- we didn't know that it would almost make me die.

ROBERTS: Oh, my goodness. Yes. So many people didn't know when they brought it and then they found out later -- oh, my goodness.

Erik, let's talk to you about the study because it is rather stunning. When we look at what we knew in the past or thought we knew, versus what we know now is completely different. 1997, the U.S. Department of Agriculture figured that food-borne illnesses cost this country $35 billion a year. Your study found out that that figure is actually $152 billion, a cost of $1,851 per illness.

Were you surprised by that?

ERIK OLSON, THE PEW HEALTH GROUP: Well, it was actually done -- the study was done by an economist that used to work for the Food and Drug Administration and he used Centers for Disease Control or CDC data. We were very surprised when he came back with these numbers. And they were -- the reason that the numbers are so much higher than previous estimates is that he looked at the full array of all of food- borne illnesses, all the previous studies, just looked at a few specific illnesses. And he also looked at the whole wide array of costs ranging from things like medical costs, out-of-pocket expenses, as well as lost work and so on.

ROBERTS: Oh, my goodness.

You know -- and, Elizabeth, when we talk about the effects of food-borne illnesses in terms of, you know, overall health care and costs, you think, OK, so you get for a little while, it costs a certain amount of money. But when it comes to Ashley, the expenses were tremendous at first. And they will continue on for decades for you.

E. ARMSTRONG: That's correct. The six weeks in the hospital was extremely expensive, but it's the multiple kidney transplants that we have to look forward to that are really be very costly.

ROBERTS: Has she had any kidney transplants at this point?

E. ARMSTRONG: Not yet.


E. ARMSTRONG: Not yet.

ROBERTS: She's nodding yes and you're saying no. There's a little bit of disagreement. When will she have to undergo a kidney transplant?

E. ARMSTRONG: They estimated it will be between three and 10 years. And we're at three years now. So, we're very fortunate that we haven't need one yet.

ROBERTS: Wow. Ashley, do you have any idea what you have to go through for the rest of your life? I know that your mom and your dad are going to be there loving you and supporting you and taking care of you. But, you know, what are you thinking about all of this?

A. ARMSTRONG: Well, I'm thinking about --

E. ARMSTRONG: Just one day at a time, right?


ROBERTS: Yes. I mean, that's a good way to take life, one day at a time.

Erik, you know, the Food and Drug Administration says food- borne illness is on the rise. What's broken here? Why is there so much?

OLSON: Well, the system is completely broken at this point. What we have is a law over 70 years old and hasn't been updated in many decades. We've got legislation that would update it that has broad bipartisan support. It's already passed the House but it's bottled up in the Senate. And really, it's clear from this report that families, like Ashley's family, are taking huge economic hits as well as just the enormous toll on the family of having this kind of illness.

We really need the system to be modernized. We need the law to be modernized. And the Senate could do it really pretty quickly if they got around to it.

ROBERTS: Yes. We'll come back to that in just a second.

Elizabeth, just, you know, in terms of the kind of effect that this had on your family, can you tell us a little bit more about that? And what changes do you want to see made?

E. ARMSTRONG: Well, our lives are quite take bit different now. She's on five different medications. Her diet is extremely limited. And so, that kind of changes the diet of the whole family.

The countless doctor's visits and lab work that we do is pretty expensive. So, we just -- we just wanted to come here and talk to the Senate and just beg them essentially to pass this food safety legislation.

ROBERTS: So, you're happy -- you're happy with all of the changes that are in the FDA food safety modernization bill?

E. ARMSTRONG: I think it's an excellent start. I think it would -- it would help to make Americans safer.

ROBERTS: And, Erik, you know, we talk about that fact there's no bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. Congress is broken. This is -- this is a bill that passed the House. It got unanimous support in the Senate committee and it's caught up in a log jam.

What does that say about the state the government is in if you can't even pass a bill that's got broad bipartisan support?

OLSON: Well, you know, all Americans can get sick from food- borne illness. So, this has not been a partisan issue at all. We've had -- you know, obviously, Republicans and Democrats get sick from contaminated food. Excuse me.

So, it's clear that this is something where there's no need for scrapping between different groups. And we've had really strong support from some of the most conservative members of the Senate and some of the most progressive members of the Senate.

So, we're optimistic that this will move. It's just -- it needs to be made a priority by the leadership in the Senate.

ROBERTS: Well, perhaps Elizabeth and Ashley's presence there in Washington can help to clear the decks for passage of this bill.

Erik Olson, Elizabeth and Ashley, thanks so much for being with us. Great to see you.

E. ARMSTRONG: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Ashley, you're one happy kid. It's great to see that, particularly at 6:30 in the morning. Thanks so much, folks.

E. ARMSTRONG: Thank you.

OLSON: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Thirty-eight minutes after the hour.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning and a breaking news to tell you about today.

Somali pirates have captured a Saudi tanker and its crew of 14 off the Horn of Africa. Earlier today, we spoke with Commander John Harbour of the European Naval Force about what's going on.


ROBERTS: If it were bunkering, as you say, going up the coast and dropping off loads of fuel, it wouldn't be unusual for it to be outside of those shipping lanes I would think. But let me ask this question, our understanding is, it was empty at the time and if it's been taken to Garacad, as you say it has, which is a pirate stronghold, is the -- is the supposition here that they may demand a ransom or they make seek to use that ship as one of their basis of operation.

CMR. JOHN HARBOUR, SPOKESMAN, EU NAVFOR SOMALIA (via telephone): Well, effectively, the pirates will take almost any ship as far as they're concerned. The target of opportunities gives them somewhat opportunity to do something with it. You're quite right in suggesting that they're asking for a ransom might not be as forthcoming as a huge supertanker, but at the end of the day, there are still 14 lives involved. We mustn't forget that. And, of course, our thoughts go out to the crew and families of the crew that were on board that ship.


CHETRY: All right. So, for a little more on what happened today and what is going on, our Paula Newton joins us live from London with the latest on this situation.

You know, we had a lull at least in some of the reporting of pirates taking over these ships. But this is the season -- this is the high season for this now.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's key here, Kiran. Monsoon season is over. Those waters are calm. You can expect through March, April and May to be a lot more action.

What's clear here, though, is that because they have stepped up patrolling in the Gulf of Aden, you know, they had doubled the attacks in 2009, but really, they were able to keep the hijackings to about 50, which doesn't sound good. But considering you had such marked increase in the attacks, that's actually not too bad.

The problem now, Kiran, is what's going on are two things. One is, because that Gulf of Aden, a very, very small narrow channel is so well-policed right now, the Somali pirates are going further and further afield. They're going more into that Somali Basin, more towards the Indian Ocean waters really that for them have been unchartered. That's a problem.

Another problem, Kiran, is that those forces out there are dealing with -- really a lot of threats coming from terrorists right now in the area. And so, they have a lot to deal with. So, you can expect throughout the next few months, there will be more and more to deal with.

And, unfortunately, for the families of those who have loved ones on these ships, you know, the Somali pirates just wait it out and they wait to get that ransom. And history tells us they'll get it, usually in the millions of dollars.

CHETRY: All right. Well, Paula Newton keeping track all of this for us this morning -- we appreciate it.

ROBERTS: We're now coming up at 44 minutes after the hour. Rob Marciano is going to have this morning's travel forecast for you right after the break.

CHETRY: Also in 10 minutes, Senator Jim Bunning tried to make his escape in the elevators and Jeanne Moos shows some of those other successful and not-so-successful elevator escape attempts.

It's 44 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Forty- seven minutes past the hour right now. It means it's time for your AM House Call, stories about your health, and researchers have uncovered a link between alcoholism and a cluster of genes that are located in chromosome 11. That's one of the 23 sets of chromosomes that we have as humans. Scientists say that the more we know about specific genes that raise the risk of alcoholism, the better we can treat the disease.

ROBERTS: All right. So, it's the first week of March and that means that spin the wheel, coffee is good for you. Yes, coffee drinkers appear to have a lower risk of hospitalization for abnormal heart rhythms, and there is no evidence that a few cups today can thicken blood vessel walls and cause heart attacks.

Those findings being presented by researchers this week at the American Heart Association conference in San Francisco, but hold on, spin the wheel the other way. One potential warning about coffee, one study found that it may pose a modest risk for high blood pressure, so as always, everything in moderation.

CHETRY: That's right. I want to go with the coffee is good for you, because we need it. Exactly.

ROBERTS: Next week, it's going to be bad.

CHETRY: Right now, we're going to check on the weather headlines, Rob Marciano. Hey, you got to fizzle out. We thought we are going to get, maybe, another snowstorm. Nothing doing yet.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No. This one is scheduled to go out to sea and pretty much going to do that. You, guys, are seeing a little bit of rain and snow across parts of the northeast. This storm is not the one that we saw last week and that's the good news, but we did see a pile up of a decent amount of snow.

Scaly Mountain, North Carolina 11.3 inches, Fletcher North Carolina 9 inches, Ashville seeing 8.8 in some spots, and Georgia seeing some accumulation especially at the higher country, but in places like Gainesville, Georgia, just some wet snow on roadways but that was enough to do damage as far as people sliding off the roads and overturning.

This woman actually still in the car, but she managed to climb out unscathed. Wear your seat belts, my friend, and certainly take it easy, especially when we've got the kids in the car. All right. This storm now moving off towards the north and east, but mostly east and north, so that's the good news. We are seeing a little bit of snow across the New York metropolitan area, very wet snow in some spots. It's mixing with rain especially near the coastline and the same deal up near Boston. Here's the center of the storm. Big winds around it, Virginia Beach and naval station over there, seeing winds gusting a little over 30 miles an hour, so that will continue for the next couple of hours and this thing will head off to sea, and we won't see a whole lot of accumulation, only eastern parts of Massachusetts expected there.

We will see some air travel delays. Boston, New York, Philly, we will see some travel delays as well as San Francisco with another west coast storm moving into the mix. That's the latest here. John And Kiran, if they tell us that we can't have anymore coffee, we're pretty much going to have to shut down this show, so --

CHETRY: Exactly.

MARCIANO: Hopefully, you'll still be healthy.

ROBERTS: I've actually given up drinking coffee really early in the morning but haven't given up caffeine.

CHETRY: He does have some new tricks up his sleeve now.

MARCIANO: Yes, I bet you. All right. We're going to ask anymore on that.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: See you, guys.

CHETRY: For first time in more than a decade, Ford Motors actually outsells GM and Toyota. For the month of February, Ford U.S. sale soared 43 percent from a year ago. General Motors was the number two selling automaker, each sales rising 13 percent, and Toyota, not surprisingly, their sales fell, 9 percent. It was still, though, good enough for them to take the number three spot and Chrysler rounds on the top four at sales for the month of February up half a percent.

ROBERTS: This morning's top stories just minutes away including Somali pirates capture a Saudi tanker with 14 people on board. We have the very latest for you.

CHETRY: Also, Senator Jim Bunning, he has a change of heart. Two thousand people now go back to work this morning because of it. Why he decided to end his one-man stand that cut jobs and benefits?

ROBERTS: And at 25 minutes after the hour, an "A.M. Original," discount baby births. How one hospital is saving money for everyone, including the people that they bring into the world by doing it the old fashioned way? Those stories and more coming your way at the top of the hour.


ROBERTS: Fifty-four minutes after the hour and that means it is time for the Moos News in the Morning with Jeanne. His one man filibuster is now a history. CHETRY: That's right. Jim Bunning. He was a hall of fame picture turns Kentucky senator left a lasting impression with his antics at the members on the elevator bank. Here's Jeanne.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the elevator dings, think of it as the opening round of a fight.


MOOS: With the press under foot --

UNKNOWN MALE: Excuse me.

MOOS: Pressing in.

Senator Jim Bunning, a former major league pitcher has had an up and down battle with reporters that ends in an elevator reserved for senators. Watch Senator Bunning push the button and the ABC reporter wave his hand to keep the doors open.

SEN. JIM BUNNING, (R) KENTUCKY: Excuse me. I've got to go to the floor.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Senator, can you just explain to us why you're holding this up? I'm sure you have an explanation.

BUNNING: Excuse me.

UNKNOWN MALE: Are you concerned about those that are going to lose their benefits? I guess we have our answer.

MOOS (on-camera): When a public figure is being chased, an elevator can be his best friend or worst enemy.

MOOS (voice-over): Best friend because at the end of a long hallway pursuit, it's an escape from questions like this.

UNKNOWN MALE: What is your reaction to Congressman Weiner saying that you're one fry short of a happy meal, sir.?

MOOS: The happiest part of this meal --

UNKNOWN MALE: And what did you mean when you called Fox News an enemy of peace, sir?

MOOS: As when the closing doors left the congressman in peace. Even the terminator took refuge in the elevator. On the other hand, the elevator can be your enemy as you wait exposed for the doors to closed. Once on board there's the matter of elevator etiquette. This candid camera episode is shown in psychology classes to teach how it's human nature to conform. Unaware, the guy in the suit is surrounded by people who are in on the prank facing the opposite wall instead of the door.

Next thing you know, he's faced that way too falling into the trap of conformity.

MOOS (on-camera): Better to be trapped by the press than trapped in an elevator.

MOOS (voice-over): This guy had no food or water for almost two days. He got trapped in a New York skyscraper late at night returning to his job from a smoking break. Trapped for almost 41 hours, almost delirious with thirst, he relieved himself by opening the doors hoping someone below would notice the elevator leaking. Now, that's reason to yell.

BUNNING: Excuse me.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN. What do you think this does?

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Don't do that.

MOOS: Everything is okay.

New York.


CHETRY: One guy trapped for 41 hours.

ROBERTS: You would push every button in that case.

CHETRY: Poor thing.

ROBERTS: Top stories coming your way in 90 seconds. Stay with us.