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American Morning

Bomb Kills Dozens in Afghanistan; Congressional Democrats Propose New Payroll Tax Cut Deal; FAA's Babbitt Granted Leave Of Absence; Rob Blagojevich Sentencing; Payroll Tax Cut Fight; Newt Versus Nancy; Overweight Kids, Oblivious Parents!; Parents Of Suspected Hazing Victim Speak; New Clashes In Athens; BP: Halliburton Destroyed Key Evidence; An Audience With The Donald; Does Donald Trump Matter on Road to White House; New Study: Some Parents Don't Realize Their Kids Are Obese

Aired December 06, 2011 - 06:59   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly blasts. New tape of an explosion that rocked Afghanistan on a Muslim holiday. Fears of new sectarian violence as the United States tries to pave a way out of the country.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Tick tock. President Obama puts Republicans on the clock. $1,000 intake-home cash on the line for you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to walk from the front to the back of the bus backwards, and while the bus is full with other band members and you get beat until you get to the back.


COSTELLO: Ah. History of hazing and death at Florida A&M University exposing an ugly secret, inside the hazing in their world famous brand.

CHO: And many parents clueless that their kids are just too fat. Why a new study says doctors aren't helping in the battle against childhood obesity on this AMERICAN MORNING.


CHO (on-camera): Good morning. It's Tuesday, December 6th. Christine and Ali are off this morning. I'm Alina Cho along with Carol Costello on this AMERICAN MORNING. Glad you're with us.

COSTELLO: Good morning to you. We begin this hour with breaking news. A third blast reportedly rocking Afghanistan overnight. At least 54 people killed in one of those attacks when a bomb exploded in a Shiite shrine in Kabul. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live for Kabul. So three separate bombings in three separate cities, is that how it goes this morning?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does appear to be a coordinated attack, although the insurgency here is not renowned for necessarily doing that. Also what is new is it appears Shia Muslims have been targeted on this important religious holiday for them of Ashura, gathering near the finance mystery, the defense ministry, even the president's palace right in the center of Kabul here to mark that particular religious day. A suicide bomber in that tightly packed crowd detonating his device.

Now, we're about to show you some quite distressing video which shows the exact moment of that blast.




WALSH: Really at this point you are seeing the chaos that emerged as that particular device went off. People deeply, obviously, distressed, and this obviously happening on a key religious holiday.

Now, the concern is, are we about to see a sectarian conflict between those port parts, the Sunnis and Shias which became the epicenter of the conflict in Iraq. It's not played a particularly big part in Afghanistan's sectarian civil warfare so far. Mostly Tajiks and Pashtuns being at the center in this country. It's not clear how it will play out. But important the Taliban moving forward say they've each said that they are not responsible for the attacks in Kabul or matter of fact condemning them suggesting the occupier, NATO, American forces, are to blame for them somehow, suggesting they are perhaps trying to make these things happen to stay longer. So a deeply confusing day in terms of what this sectarian attack means for the ongoing insurgency here. Carol?

COSTELLO: Nick Paton Walsh reporting live for us from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Desperately seeking a Capitol Hill compromise. Democrats and Republicans are sparring over just how to pay for an extension of that payroll tax cut affecting millions of Americans. It's said to expire at the end of the year. Democrats have put forward a new plan, and with the clock ticking, President Obama is urging lawmakers to find common ground, and fast.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The message to Congress is this -- keep your word to the American people and don't raise taxes on them right now. Now's not the time to slam on the brakes. Now's the time to step on the gas. Now's the time to keep growing the economy, to keep creating jobs, to keep giving working Americans the boost that they need. Now's the time to make a real difference in the lives of the people who sent us here. So let's get to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHO: Republicans, though, aren't onboard with the Democrats' new offer. In fact, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch saying, quote, "It's hard for the majority to call this a compromise when the other side hasn't been involved." Ouch. CNN's Kate Bolduan following all the developments for us is live in Washington. Kate, good morning.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alina, like their original offer that failed in the Senate last week, Democrats now in this new proposal they're proposing to extend and expand employee payroll tax cut from 4.2 to bring it down to a 3.1 percent tax as a reminder Congress doesn't act, the rate will go back up to 6.2 percent in January.

And here are a couple of the major differences in the new plan being put forth by Senate Democrats. It no longer provides a tax cut to employers. This is in order to bring down the overall cost of the package in order to attract more Republican support. Democrats have also scaled down the surtax on income over $1 million down to just under a two percent tax from a little just over a three percent tax.

They have also made that million surtax, as it's called, temporary. And they have done that they say in response to Republican opposition to imposing a permanent tax to pay for temporary economic stimulus. That's why they say they're putting forth a compromise offer here.

We could see a first test vote on this plan as early as Friday, but as we've discussed earlier, it's not likely that this bill will be going anywhere as the millionaire surtax is still part of this deal and has doomed other Democratic proposals in the past. Republicans remain firmly opposed to it. One top House Republican leadership aide telling me, as they view it, it's a tax hike on small businesses and job creators and as they put it, it's a poison pill.

CHO: It doesn't sound very good. So remind us, Kate, when is the dead line? And is there any shot at deal at this point?

BOLDUAN: The deadline is at the end of December. This tax, this temporary tax, tax cut, will run out at the end of this month so that the tax increase, if you will, would kick in in the beginning of January if Congress does not act.

Congress is also working on a tight deadline as they're dealing with some other year-end issues. So they have a very limited amount of time to try to reach a deal on this and other important issues like, oh, keeping the government funded beyond December 16th. There is a general thought, though, at least to this point, that at some point Republicans and Democrats of both the House and Senate will come together to find some sort of compromise they both can agree to extend this payroll tax cut as leaders on both sides and both parties think it's an important vote. We clearly are not there yet.

CHO: Talking about that 11th hour deal there, Kate.


CHO: Kate Bolduan live in Washington, Kate, thank you.

COSTELLO: And Senate Bob Casey is the man behind the new Democratic payroll tax cut plan. And Senator Casey joins us now from Capitol Hill. Good morning.

SEN. BOB CASEY, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: Good to be with you, thank you.

COSTELLO: You say you've come up with this compromise plan, but you heard what Senator Orrin Hatch says. This is not compromise at all because Republicans weren't involved. So why weren't Republicans involved?

CASEY: Certainly they were involved, because we know exactly where the parties stand as of last week. We put forth a payroll tax cut last week which was for employees and employers, and they didn't agree with that, and they put up their own proposal, and that got just 20 votes. So here we are now trying to come together as Democrats and Republicans.

This is really simple. It's about two things. Are we going to increase taxes on families at the end of the year, going into a new year? Or are we going to cut them again and give them more take-home pay? That's has this is about, money in your pocket instead of having it taken out of your paycheck. It's as simple as that.

COSTELLO: The real bone of contention is this tax on millionaires for Republicans. Why not find a way. They'll never agree to that. They've said it a million time. So why not find another way?

CASEY: Well, look, when we have an economy which is still recovering. We're making some progress, but we still need to kick- start or jumpstart the economy, we've got to create jobs, cutting the pay roll tax is one of, maybe the only, action that Congress can take in the next few weeks or months to do just that to create jobs. We've got to do this now. We've got to give taxpayers the kind of center they should have by the end of the year.

And I think it makes a lot of sense. We've cut this surtax way down from what it was. It's a reasonable compromise. It's a reasonable way to get revenue to be able to give middle income families the break they should have a right to expect.

COSTELLO: The other interesting thing that's in this plan is that we want to eliminate the number of millionaires collecting food stamps. Are there really that many millionaires collecting food stamps?

CASEY: Well, the reason we put that in there, that's Republicans, insisting on having that in their proposal last week. That's a measure of how far we're willing to go to compromise.

But I think Republican senators should ask themselves. Shouldn't a few Americans help us provide a tax cut at the end of the year and throughout next year for 160 million Americans? I think it makes sense for those workers, those small businesses, but also it makes a lot of sense for our economy. We need to take steps to grow the economy.

COSTELLO: I'm sorry I keep going back to this, but it fascinates me. How many millionaires do you suppose are collecting food stamps? Does anyone know?

CASEY: I don't know the exact number. We can get that for you. But that's one measure to show we're trying to do everything we can to find a pay for to be able to make sure this legislation is paid for. That's what significant about this. This is a payroll tax cut putting money in people's pockets, and it's paid for. I think that's what taxpayers at least across Pennsylvania that I've talked to want us to do. They want us to come together on job creation strategies, do it now and do it in a bipartisan way, and I think we can.

COSTELLO: I think the biggest problem with these temporary tax breaks, you know, like the payroll tax break, and it's temporary, but then when you go to reinstate it, it's suddenly a tax hike and everybody talks about it as if it's a tax increase. So why not just -- you know, institute some sort of tax reform?

CASEY: Well, I think that's going to be coming, and there's certainly bipartisan consensus that we need tax reform. It's not happening in the next couple weeks. The problem is now we have an economy which we need to kick start again to create jobs now. This is a very important and some would even say precarious moment for the economy. This is one of the best ways to do it. We showed last year when we came together on a bipartisan tax bill we got very strong private sector job growth, especially in February, March, and April, well above 200,000 private sector jobs created. We freed need to do that again.

COSTELLO: So on a scale of one to 10. will a deal get done by the December deadline?

CASEY: I think we'll get it done, but I hope we don't simply extend it. That would be great down by two percentage points. We ought to cut the pay roll tax in half. That would be ideal and I think it would give the economy a real jolt.

COSTELLO: Senator Bob Casey, thank you for joining us this morning.

CASEY: Thank you very much.

CHO: Well, two former house speakers are turning back the clock and getting ready for what could be another epic battle. With front- running Republican Newt Gingrich surging in all the polls, Democrats are starting to take notice, and one old foe, former speaker Nancy Pelosi, is hinting she's ready to go on the attack, dredging up investigations of Gingrich when he served in the house back in the 1990s. Pelosi saying, quote, "I know a lot about hum. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year, 1,000 pages of his stuff." Here's Gingrich's response. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to thank Speaker Pelosi for what I regard as an early Christmas gift.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned about that information reemerging?

GINGRICH: We turned over a million pages of material. We had a huge report. The total -- 83 charges were repudiated as false. The one mistake we made was a letter written by a lawyer that I didn't read carefully.


CHO: The "Washington Post" ABC News poll has Gingrich 15 points ahead in the field in Iowa. The former speaker is calling on the house to repudiate Pelosi's comments. He's accusing her of using her office to damage his candidacy.

COSTELLO: Still to come this morning, tell it to the judge. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich expected to plea for leniency at his hearing today, his sentencing hearing, I should say. We're live in Chicago this morning.

CHO: A little later on in the program, we're going to be hearing from the parents of the Florida college drum major killed in a suspected hazing incident. Our Jason Carroll has an exclusive interview with the parents.

COSTELLO: And caught on tape. A car smashes into the front of a restaurant right into the dining room as people watch in horror.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It's 12 minutes past the hour.


CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's 16 minutes after the hour.

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA, has been granted a leave of absence. Randy Babbitt was arrested Saturday night in Fairfax, Virginia. He's charged with driving while intoxicated. Babbitt's job status is being reviewed right now by the transportation department. There's no word yet from the White House on whether the president will ask for his resignation.

COSTELLO: In just a few hours, Rob Blagojevich will be back in court for the start of a two-day sentencing hearing. Prosecutors will ask the judge to throw the book at the former Illinois governor who was convicted on more than a dozen counts of corruption. CNN's Ted Rowlands live in Chicago for us this morning. Good morning, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Rob Blagojevich, of course, has had a lot of important speeches in his political career, but this morning, he will have his most important speech of his life because his freedom is at stake. He'll be allowed to address the court in just a few hours here, and basically, what people are going to be watching for is, will he show any signs of remorse?

Up until now, even after the guilty verdicts came down against him, he has said he's innocent. He's innocent. And in his filings, his defense filings, he's asked the judge to play some tapes during the sentencing hearing which he says will prove his innocence. Legal analysts say, hey, that is a chapter that is finished. You need to show some remorse in front of this judge.

So, that will be something that will be very interesting to see, which Rod Blagojevich shows up today in court. Prosecutors are asking the judge to sentence him to 15 to 20 years in jail. He's been found guilty on 18 separate counts. The defense argues that he should get more along the lines of three to four years. We'll se what this judge decides.

COSTELLO: Will this be a lengthy process, Ted? I mean, when will the judge actually sentence him?

ROWLANDS: Yes. You know, normally, you have a sentencing hearing which takes a few hours. You know, everybody gets their chance in front of the judge. This judge has set aside two days. So, today, we're going to hear from Blagojevich. We'll hear from prosecutors and from defense attorneys, and then, the judge says, he wants to sleep on it, and he will deliver the actual sentence until Wednesday morning.

So, there'll be two separate hearings. Blagojevich will find out his sentence on Wednesday. He likely will not go to jail right away. If you look at George Ryan, the other former Illinois governor, who's now serving a six-year term in jail for corruption, the judge in that case allowed him to report to the bureau of prisons at a later date.

So, Blagojevich likely will be able to spend the holidays with his family. He's got two young daughters. The jury in this case said they didn't feel a lot of empathy for him. They just didn't believe him when he was on the stand. So, Blagojevich likely will be able to report himself sometime next year.

COSTELLO: Ted Rowlands reporting live for us in Chicago. Thanks.

CHO: There's a terrifying car crash caught on camera that we want it show you. It happened in Miramar, California. Take a look at this.


CHO (voice-over): The car smashes through restaurant straight for a group of customers. This is the incredible part. I mean, look at what happened. One person was hit on his way out of the door, but thankfully, nobody was seriously injured. The driver, this is the explanation, says she accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brakes, and that's what happens when you do that. COSTELLO (voice-over): It's amazing how often that happens, though. The restaurant didn't look too full, though.


CHO (on-camera): No, it didn't, but there's a little bit of damage to that restaurant.

COSTELLO (on-camera): Yes.

CHO: California's got the Santa Ana winds, car crashes and restaurants. I mean, you know, they can't get a break out there, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, there's a price to be paid when you live in paradise. That's weren't of them. Cars into restaurants.

CHO: That's true.

MARCIANO: Some video out of New Mexico, also a spectacular place, but some unusual snow for this early in season as far as south as the border of Mexico, the country, Albuquerque setting a record, and right now, I-10 and I-25 still shut down, although, most of the snow has ended. I suspect those roads will open shortly.

These are some of the totals. Snow totals at the higher elevations, over a foot in some spots, but Albuquerque setting a record. All they needed to do is get to about an inch to set a record. The other issues, the cold air in places like Arizona. Tucson, Arizona, the first five days of this month, coldest start in December since 1913, and they are feeling it this morning with temperatures that are in the 20s in Tucson.

Back hold (ph), they are filtering into Southern California. One more day of Santa Ana winds, well, this will be the latest of the last few that we've had, and then, we start to break down this pattern as the system makes its way into the plains and eventually towards the northeast. A couple of systems here, first one coming through the northeast.

Relatively light rain and relatively mild as well. Temperatures might actually get up over 60 degrees today before the back edge of this system comes in. There'll be some delays at the airports because of low clouds and some rainfall, especially the New York and Philly metropolitan area. D.C. might see some delays to a lesser extent.

We get one, two pulses of rainfall here in the next 48 hours, and then, actually, the back side of that, we get some cold air in Wednesday night into Thursday. We might get a little bit of snow accumulating, mostly away from the bigger cities. Maybe just like one or two inches, I think, at this point.

But meanwhile, 61 degrees in New York City for a high temperature. That is balmy. Sixty-nine in Atlanta, but here comes the cold air. Sixteen in Minneapolis and 39 degrees in Chicago. Don't be fooled up there and keep your rain gear handy. Guys, back up to you.

CHO: All right. Rob, thank you very much.

COSTELLO: Thanks for the advice.

CHO: Still to come this morning, the manhunt for an inmate who broke out of prison in New Hampshire. Authorities believe he is now on the run in Maine.

COSTELLO: And a shocking new study says many parents cannot tell whether their child is overweight. We'll discuss, coming up.


CHO: Welcome back. "Minding Your Business" now.

Some are calling this the make or break week for the Euro zone, and it's not off to a good start. A confidence early in the day yesterday that the EU was moving forward to fix its problems was quickly erased after ratings agency, Standard & Poor's, put 15 Euro zone countries on notice for a possible downgrade.

The main reasons, heightened market tension and greater risk of a recession into 2012 in the Euro zone.

Stocks came off their highs for the end of the session yesterday once this S&P news broke. Right now, U.S. stock futures are trading higher ahead of the opening bell. We'll be keeping a close eye on the stock futures this morning. There's a lot of market volatility right now. European and Asian markets are down so far today.

People are using their credit cards like it's 2008 again on Black Friday. Seven percent more shoppers paid with credit cards than last year. The banks are doing everything they can to get you to pull out the plastics. Credit card mailing surged 85 percent in the past year.

Google says that Verizon wireless is blocking the app called Google Wallet from being installed on a new line of android Smartphones. This is according to "The Wall Street Journal" this morning. With the app, a Smartphone can double as a credit card and you can swipe it over a censor at the check outline in stores. CNN has contacted Verizon for an explanation, but they've not yet responded.

This economy is creating more Mr. Moms. They're calling it a man-session. New census data says a growing number of jobless dads are staying home to take care of the kids while mom goes back to work. One-third of fathers with working wives are the primary childcare providers for their kids.

Don't forget for the latest news about your money, check out the all-new

AMERICAN MORNING is back after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to walk from the front to the back of the bus backwards, while the bus is full with other band members and you get beat until you get to the back.

CHO (voice-over): A history of hazing exposed. A former band member talks about a ritual that may have killed a Florida A&M drum major on this AMERICAN MORNING.


COSTELLO: It is 30 minutes past the hour. Good morning to you. Time for your top stories.

President Obama urging Congress to pass an extension of the payroll tax cut, which expires at the end of the year. The president says failure to act would mean 160 million Americans would pay higher taxes.

Democratic lawmakers have offered up a compromise plan. It includes a smaller tax on millionaires, which Republicans still oppose.

CHO: Two former House speakers are sparring again with frontrunner Republican Newt Gingrich surging in the poll, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi is hinting she may be going on the attack dredging up investigations of Gingrich from the 1990s. Gingrich is calling on the House to repudiate Pelosi. He says she's using her office to damage his candidacy.

COSTELLO: A whopping one in three children is overweight or obese. And even more shocking, many of their parents don't even know it. A new study says four out of five parents say they were never told by a doctor that their child had a weight problem. The study finds many parents didn't realize or don't realize when a weight problem is creeping up on their child.

CHO: Well, she called him Mr. Band. The mother of Robert Champion, the college drum major killed in a suspected hazing incident says her son fell in love with music when he was just 5 years old.

He died at 26 just before Thanksgiving. Champion's parents sat down with CNN's Jason Carroll and they say they want to see justice for their son.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert Champion was living his dream -- a dream that started when he was 5 years old, being a drum major. His parents say the last time they spoke to him was just before Thanksgiving.

PAM CHAMPION, ROBERT CHAMPION'S MOTHER: We had talked to him and he was saying how he couldn't wait to come home. CARROLL: Robert Champion was a member of Florida A&M University's prestigious marching band, the Marching 100. On November 19th, after Champion had performed at a football game in Orlando, his parents got another call, this time from his sister.

ROBERT CHAMPION SR., ROBERT CHAMPION'S FATHER: She called us and saying someone had called her and saying that Robert had problems breathing. And I think one of the band members said he wasn't breathing.

PAM CHAMPION: When you get that kind of news, you think, not my Robert, you know what I mean? Maybe they made a mistake. So I guess, I kind of still had that in my mind, that it wasn't my son, you know? You know, this is a bad joke, you know?


CARROLL: But this was all too real. Listen to the 911 call made by a band member.

911: Are you with the person right now?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Well, I'm outside the bus so I can hear you.

911: OK. So he's inside the bus?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Yes, he's inside the bus.

911: OK. How old is he?


911: OK. Is he awake?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: He's not even -- he wasn't responding. We thought he was breathing he was making noises, but I don't even know if he's breathing now.

911: Is he awake? Do you know?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: His eyes are open. His eyes are open. He's not responding.

911: OK, but is he breathing?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: I have no idea. I cannot tell you that.

CARROLL: The 911 call too painful for his parents to hear. It wasn't until Robert's body was brought home to suburban Atlanta that the shock of his death really began to register.

PAM CHAMPION: He kind of looked like he was still at school and he just had come home. But to have him come home that way, that's the hardest thing for anybody. CARROLL: But why did he die? Investigators suspect hazing. Band members we spoke to say it may have been the result of a rite of passage called crossing bus C. That's the bus Robert was on after the November 19th game. One band member, who did not want to be identified, told me what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to walk from the front to the back of the bus backwards and while the bus is full with other band members. And you get beat until you get to the back.

CARROLL (on camera): And the point of it is what?


CARROLL (voice-over): And the beating can involve something he referred to as thunder and lightning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thunder is when you get like a straight hit to the chest.

CARROLL (on camera): Straight hit to the chest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And lightning is when you get kind of like a slap to the shoulders.

CARROLL (voice-over): He says he himself has never been hazed, but that the beatings usually happened for one of two reasons, a mistake during a performance or as a way for the band member to gain respect.

In some ways, the Marching 100 is bigger than the games where they play. Their high stepping choreography has earned them a worldwide reputation performing spots at Super Bowls and the president's inauguration.

(on camera): But allegations of hazing have followed the band for years. Back in 2001, a student was paddled so badly he had to be hospitalized for kidney failure.

And just weeks before Champion's death, the band's director, Julian White, had to suspend 26 of the band members for hazing. White says he tried for years to end the practice, but says no one listened.

(voice-over): The university fired White following Champion's death and suspended band performances indefinitely. The school's president James Ammons spoke at Champion's funeral and vowed his death would not be in vain.

Ammons declined repeated requests to be interviewed. Champion's parents say the school must be held accountable.

PAM CHAMPION: Whatever it takes to clean up whether it is from top to the bottom, clean house.

CARROLL: They say justice will come healing for them will take much longer.

PAM CHAMPION: The thing is that I'm just going to miss his smile, his big hugs. There's nothing in the world that can prepare you for that. Nothing. Gosh, I'm crying. Nothing can prepare you for that, nothing.


CHO: Jason, it is so heartbreaking to listen to Robert Champion's parents and heartbreaking to listen to that 911 call. You know, you pointed out in your piece that this type of hazing has been going on for years.

The band director tried to warn the school numerous times. That band director was fired. I mean, is there anything substantive being done about this to correct this problem?

CARROLL: Well, the school does have a policy in place, but a lot of Julian White's critics basically say, yes, that he has the power to suspend a student when there is an allegation of hazing that's taken place, but suspension for some of these students is like a holiday.

It's not a real punishment, and the critics of the school and of Julian White basically say, if you have a system in place, and it's not working, you have an obligation to do something to fix it, and clearly, that didn't happen here.

CHO: And you have spoken to students. You know, your sense then is that this is still going on?

CARROLL: Absolutely, without question. This is something, again, right up until, right before Champion's death. Remember, Julian White had to suspend 26 of the band members for hazing.

So this is something that for generations, for years, has taken place at the university. Last night, there was a symposium held, an anti-hazing symposium held by the university's president.

Everyone in attendance had to come by and sign a form saying that they are against hazing, but Champion's parents say more needs to be done.

CHO: Our Jason Carroll with the story. Jason, thank you very much.

COSTELLO: Happening right now in Greece, erupting again. Clashes in Athens on the day that parliament is set to vote on the next year's budget. Protesters are also reportedly marching to mark the anniversary of a 2008 shooting of a student by police.

CHO: Oil giant BP files a lawsuit against Halliburton, one of its contractors during the deadly rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

BP saying Halliburton destroyed key evidence that pointed to problems with its cement slurry. Halliburton spokesperson saying it is reviewing the court filing, but it believes the allegations are not true.

COSTELLO: Still to come this morning, Newt Gingrich surging to the top of the polls, but how long can he keep it up? We'll ask Republican strategist John McLaughlin and former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer to look into their crystal balls.

CHO: They can see things we can't.

Obese kids oblivious parents. A growing number of children are overweight or obese, and their parents don't even know it. How is this possible? We'll talk about it, straight ahead.

COSTELLO: And scientists say they now know what caused that giant wall of water to slam into Japan in March. The anatomy of a deadly tsunami is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. It's 39 minutes past the hour.


COSTELLO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's 42 minutes past the hour.

Just a few months ago Newt Gingrich was considered dead in the water. The experts said he didn't stand a chance after his, much of his staff walked out on him, but now he's leading in Iowa, the first state to vote?

A perfect time for a little chat with Donald Trump, right? Gingrich is now the fifth Republican candidate to get an audience with the Donald. But on the road to the White House, how much does Trump really matter.

let's bring in Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary. He joins us live from New York this morning and Republican strategist, John McLaughlin is with us in our New York studio. Welcome to both of you.

OK, so John, I want to start with you because you have advised Donald Trump. How is he suddenly the Republican kingmaker?

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Trump has a sense, when things were going bad for the economy and the country and at the same time, he was being very critical of the president.

Republicans are looking for somebody to beat Barack Obama. So in his criticism of Barack Obama and the economy and China and foreign policy, he was moving himself to where people say how you should run.

So now what's happening is other candidates that sat back are trying to get a piece of that support, and basically that energy, so that they can be the one to beat Barack Obama.

COSTELLO: So are you agreeing with that? The nastier stuff you say about President Obama, the more cred that you have? ARI FLEISHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't. I think you got to keep it at serious level. There are a lot of things to be said about Barack Obama because he's led us to such a bad economy, to such high unemployment and such large debt.

But you know, on Donald Trump, Donald Trump is a builder. Donald Trump is a political donor. I don't see him as being a credible serious player in politics.

MCLAUGHLIN: I've got to the say you're wrong, Ari. First of all, being nasty, Ari and I have known each other 30 years. He's criticized him on policy, on ideas and seriously --

COSTELLO: Wait a second. Let's just take a stroll back through memory lane and check on what Donald Trump was really known for when he was making his run for president. Let's listen.

MCLAUGHLIN: This is what you heard.

COSTELLO: Maybe so.


DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: He doesn't have a birth certificate. Now he may have one, but there's something on that birth -- maybe religion. Maybe it says he's a Muslim. I don't know. Maybe he doesn't want that, or he may not have one.


COSTELLO: The thing that people remember, most people remember about Donald Trump's run was that President Obama produced his birth certificate.

MCLAUGHLIN: Right. What they should have remembered is --

COSTELLO: This doesn't help the country.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know what? He should have put it out when he first ran. But on the other hand, maybe Donald Trump used that to get attention, but it's been his criticism of his policy, on foreign policy, on China, on -- I mean, running from China like crazy just to pay for what we've gotten in the federal deficit right now.

He scored attention to that and the other candidates basically are looking to get some sort of attention for their policy criticism of the president. And no one can say things look good right now. That's what's going on right now. This president is really vulnerable because he's failing.

COSTELLO: There is -- there are two Republican candidates running for president right now who don't buy into the whole Trump thing, and one of them is Jon Huntsman.

Let's listen to what Jon Huntsman had to say about Donald Trump.


JON HUNTSMAN, (R), FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I'm not going to kiss his ring and I'm not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy. This is not about ratings for Donald Trump. This is about jobs for the American people.


COSTELLO: So, Ari Fleischer, Huntsman's like nowhere in this race. Was that a smart thing for him to say?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm glad to see somebody is standing up for not making Donald Trump the center ring of what could be a circus. That's, I think, where this is heading when people talk about Donald Trump. I wish Jon Huntsman was more affable and would connect better with people. I think that's his greatest weakness.

But this race is not about Donald Trump, third players or parties. It's who the Republicans will nominate at a time the American economy is tanking, a time when people are suffering and job losses are huge and the economy is going in the wrong direction. We have a president who flip-flops on every major issue. We have a president who said he wouldn't raise taxes on people whose income was below $250,000. He did it on his 16th day in office when he raised the cigarette tax. He said that he wouldn't extend Bush tax cuts. He led a Democratic Congress to raising the Bush tax cuts. He said he was against raising the debt limit as a senator. He raised the debt limit.

And he said he was against the health care mandate in the campaign and then, because Nancy Pelosi is a stronger leader, he signed one into law. We have a weak economy and a weak president. That's what this race is about for Republicans, and why we have to nominate a serious best candidate.

COSTELLO: So why -- why don't they like Newt Gingrich, then, John, just skip over Donald Trump? Because he's going to moderate the debate. It's become a circus, right? Why not just say it on your own?

MCLAUGHLIN: You know what the amazing this -- well, first of all, Gingrich has been saying that and he's become a front-runner and he's got 28 days to go in Iowa as a front-runner right now. But he's gotten there because he has been critical of the president. And he's the most substantive and he's been very good on policy. The difference is, he had 1,000 people at the Atrium at the Trump tower yesterday with the media covering it. What happens is he's using it to get attention for himself, his own ideas and his own platform. Gingrich, right now, for the next 28 days, including Christmas, has to win the news cycle every day to place first in Iowa. So this was today's event. Tomorrow, it will be something else.

COSTELLO: OK. So Ari, the final word. Is this the sort of stuff you need TO do to be the center of the news cycle for the next 28 days? FLEISCHER: Well, what's gotten Newt to be at the center of the news cycle is substance and policy. And I think frankly these debates have been fascinating. I'm a capitalist and I enjoy political consumerism. And Republicans get the shot in deciding among the candidates. This race remains extraordinarily volatile for Republicans. Still, almost anything can happen in this Republican campaign. I wouldn't place a bet on anybody yet.

COSTELLO: Are you excited to see Donald Trump as a moderator?


FLEISCHER: That will be a joke. It will be a carnival. I've called on Republicans to refuse to go. I think it's a mistake to put Donald Trump front and center --


FLEISCHER: -- of the Republican Party.

MCLAUGHLIN: You know, you're bringing a chapter of "Apprentice" to the Republican primary. It will bring more viewers and it will help the candidates get their points across.

FLEISCHER: It's not a serious --


MCLAUGHLIN: Ari, when you see the millions that watch, it will be very serious.

FLEISCHER: It's not about millions that watch, John.

MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, yes, it is.


MCLAUGHLIN: We have to communicate.

FLEISCHER: -- be a car wreck.


MCLAUGHLIN: Ari, we know that.

FLEISCHER: Presidential -- let me finish my thought. Presidential politics should be about things that are serious. They should not gravitate to the entertainment level. And that's what it will be if you put a third party showman, like Donald Trump, as a moderator.

And I'm glad to see most Republicans have not accepted that debate. It's a mistake for the gravitas of the Republican Party.

MCLAUGHLIN: It is serious. And you know what? Those other people have done the same old boring politics. We should make it at least interesting and exciting.




FLEISCHER: -- a great job for your client but not for the party.

MCLAUGHLIN: He's not my client. He isn't paying me. I wish he was. He isn't.

COSTELLO: Man, I don't think you can -- I don't think you can label this primary boring in any way.

But anyway, thank you both for being here, Ari Fleischer, John McLaughlin. It's been a great conversation.


FLEISCHER: Thank you.

CHO: Well, I didn't look away.


Thanks so much, guys.

Still to come this morning, overweight kids with oblivious parents. A new study says a growing number of parents don't even realize their kids are obese. How is this happening? We'll talk about it with CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, straight ahead.


CHO: Here's what you need to know to start your day.

President Obama urging lawmakers today to pass a new payroll tax plan proposed by Senate Democrats. He says it would give 160 million middle class Americans an extra $1,000 in their paychecks. Republicans are rejecting it, saying they had no input in the compromise plan.

Bomb blasts rocking Afghanistan this morning, killing 54 people at a Shiite shrine in Kabul. These pictures just in to CNN. Another bombing in northern Afghanistan claimed four victims. And a third explosion reported in Kandahar.

The massive wall of water that devastated Japan in March was so ferocious because at least two powerful waves combined to become one enormous tsunami. Researchers from NASA and Ohio State University say their findings could help them better predict the risks from future tsunamis.

All eight alleged victims in the grand jury report on former Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky, will reportedly testify against him in court. This according to "ABC News." Sandusky's attorney says he's looking forward to the opportunity to question anyone who testifies. The hearing begins next week.

You're caught up on the day's headlines. AMERICAN MORNING is back after this.


CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's 54 minutes after the hour.

Your "A.M. House Call" now, some shocking stats for childhood obesity. One in three children is overweight or obese, but -- get this -- many parents don't know their kids have a problem. Unbelievable.

COSTELLO: It is unbelievable.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us now with more.

Can't you see if your child is overweight?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's what everybody has said to me this morning, as I have been talking to them about this segment, can't you see it? Here's part of the problem. If your kid is a little bit overweight, it may look like they're just going through a chunky period and then, a couple months later, they're actually a fine weight. Sometimes it's hard to tell because children are constantly growing.

But here I think is where the real problem lies. In many communities in this country, if your child is overweight, they're in really good company. So if every other child looks like your child, you may not think that your kid is overweight.

So you would hope, in that case, that the doctor would tell them. But as this study shows, they asked about 5,000 parents of overweight and obese children, gee, were you told by -- that your child was overweight or obese? Less than a third said the doctor told them that they were overweight or obese.

You can blame the parents for not knowing, but why is it, when they went to their doctors, less than -- fewer than a third were told by those doctors that their child had a weight problem. And that's why we're seeing some public health campaigns. For example, here in Atlanta, driving around, you see these billboards where they show you a picture of an overweight child and they say, hey, if this is your kid, you might have a problem and you should do something about it. It's gotten to that, where they have to put heavy kids on billboards to show you an example. Here's some of the billboards here.


COHEN: They show you an example of it because they want you to know what's too heavy.

COSTELLO: So how many pounds are we talking about? When you say overweight, how many pounds are we talking about?

COHEN: This is part of the problem, Carol. There is no way to give you an answer to that question, because these are kids. They're different ages and they're different genders, so I can't say, oh, if you're five pounds or three pounds or two pounds, it has to do with percentiles. It's very complicated. And that is the other part of the problem. You cannot go on the Internet and get an easy answer to your question. You can't say, I have a 10-year-old, she's four foot whatever, she weighs this, is she overweight.

I want to show you an example of a chart that is supposed to help you figure out if your kid's overweight. What does this chart mean? This is a simplified version and it's so hard to figure out. So I have tried to do this, as a parent, to go online and find an easy way to see if my kid's weight is OK, and it's extremely difficult, and I do this for a living.

CHO: Is there anything, very quickly, that parents can do to identify this and fix it?

COHEN: Yes. The first thing that you want to do is just ask your doctor. When you go in for that annual physical or any other time, say, hey, Doctor, is this weight OK, because this study shows that doctors don't always tell parents. Now, maybe part of the problem is parents don't hear it. So be ready to hear it. When you go, just explicitly ask that question, is my child's weight OK, or do we need to worry about it?

CHO: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

COSTELLO: Ahead in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING, we'll take you inside one New York school that is so overcrowded that the principal is using the attic and the basement just to fit all the kids. Making them into classrooms, the attic and the basement.

CHO: Wow.

COSTELLO: We'll tell you about it.