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AMERICAN MORNING

Somali Pirates Target Maersk Alabama for the Second Time; One- on-One Interview with Obama; Obama Discusses Hurdles to Health Care Reform; Medical Pot: A Burning Debate

Aired November 18, 2009 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Thanks for joining us on the Most News in the Morning on this Wednesday, the 18th of November. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. Glad you're with us. We start with breaking news this morning. This is out of East Africa where Somali pirates have attacked the Maersk Alabama.

Now that may sound familiar because it was attacked seven months ago by pirates. Well, now, this is the second time. The crew of the U.S. flagship was this time, though, able to fire back and actually fend off the pirates. You may remember last April, the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by those pirates in this very same water.

Captain Richard Phillips was then taken hostage on the pirates or actually a lifeboat of the Maersk Alabama for five days before Navy sharpshooters gunned down his captors and were able to free him in a daring nighttime rescue.

Barbara Starr is on the phone with us this morning. Some other report saying this was -- it was just happening, that this happened yet again to the same ship because of the nature of those waters and how dangerous it is.

Barbara, are you with us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, I'm so sorry. Good morning, Kiran.

The spokesman for the European Union Naval Force is confirming the details of this incident. What may be most interesting at this point is where it took place, 350 miles off the coast of Somalia. That is a good long distance for these pirates to travel.

The activity in this region has been sadly picking up again in recent weeks. They are past the monsoon season so the pirates once again are finding that they can go these long distances out to sea to conduct these activities. Of course, the commercial shipping industry has been warned about this so many times that they are staying a far distance off the coast. But this time, 350 miles and they still got to the Maersk Alabama.

A Navy spokesperson confirming that pirates fired automatic weapons on the ship, the commercial ship, the Maersk. It then responded with its own fire. They had a protection crew on board. No injuries reported. No casualties. The crew did repel the attack. The European Union then dispatched one of its own patrol aircraft to investigate fly overhead and investigate the situation and look for the pirates who conducted the attack. No word yet on whether they found them -- Kiran.

CHETRY: It's very interesting. I mean, we've talked a few times to Captain Richard Phillips and some of the crew members in the wake of the attack. The first attack back in April and one of the things that they said is the need to be armed. The shipping companies are loathed to do that in some cases because of liability purposes, but it looks like this time things did change after that first attack.

STARR: Well, all we know at this point was a vessel -- a protection detachment on board the vessel. We're trying to learn more at this point as to whether it was a commercial crew, who exactly had the arms and who exactly repelled the pirate attack this time.

CHETRY: Wow. Very interesting. I know that you're working your sources on this developing story. We'll check in with you throughout the morning. Barbara Starr for us. Thanks.

ROBERTS: And now President Obama on the final leg of his four nation tour of Asia. The president is expected to arrive in Seoul, South Korea, at any moment. The ongoing nuclear standoff with North Korea will dominate talks there.

Before leaving Beijing, he took in one of the seven wonders of the world making a visit to the Great Wall of China. And he also sat for an interview with our Ed Henry. You're seeing it first here on AMERICAN MORNING. President Obama talked with Ed about a host of issues including his new war strategy for Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, since the last time we interviewed you, you won the Nobel Peace Prize and by the end of this week you would have visited 20 countries as the president, the most of any U.S. president in his first year. What have you accomplished?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, a couple of key things. Number one, I think that we restored America's standing in the world. And that's confirmed by polls. I think a recent one indicated that around the world before my election less than half of the people, maybe less than 40 percent of the people thought that you could count on America to do the right thing. Now, it's up to 75 percent. That builds goodwill among publics that makes it easier for leaders to cooperate with us.

We then have seen very specific areas of cooperation around the nuclear issues. If you just take the example of Iran, you know, we started off saying that right at the time of my inauguration, the world community was still divided on what Iran's intentions were and we mobilized the international community to present a credible, legitimate offer to the Iranians that would show their intentions to pursue peaceful nuclear energy as opposed to weapons.

Iran so far has not been able to say yes to that offer and as a consequence, you now have validators like the International Atomic Energy Agency. You've got the P-5 plus one, which includes Russia and China all saying to Iran you're on the wrong side of history here. And that means that if Iran continues to rebuff the international community, us setting up sanctions or other measures that put pressure on them becomes much easier.

HENRY: The Chinese president is not endorsing sanctions yet. And when people look at other issues like Mideast peace, you could argue that the peace process is worse off now than it was a year ago. You promised transformational change. I know it's not going to happen overnight but on the other hand...

OBAMA: Right.

HENRY: ... do you feel some pressure to get some of these things done?

OBAMA: Well, I think that there is no doubt that in the same way that on domestic policy, our first job was to stabilize the situation and prevent disaster. On the international stage our first job was to stabilize the situation to allow us to move forward. A lot of our initiatives have not yet born fruit, but we knew that something like Iran's nuclear program wasn't going to be solved in a year. The question is, are we moving in the right direction and I think there's no doubt that we are.

HENRY: Now on Afghanistan, have you made a decision on troop levels in your own mind? And when we hear that you don't want the U.S. to be Afghanistan forever obviously. Do you think you'll be able to get most U.S. troops home by the end of your presidency, or will this be something you hand off to the next president just as you were handed off Iraq and Afghanistan?

OBAMA: My preference would be not to hand off anything to the next president. One of the things I'd like is the next president to be able to come in and say I've got a clean slate and I can -- I can put my vision forward that I present to the American people. We are very close to a decision. I will announce that decision certainly in the next several weeks.

The pieces involved number one, making sure that the American people understand we do have a vital interest in making sure that Al Qaeda cannot attack us and that they can't use Afghanistan as a safe haven. We have a vital interest in making sure that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable that it can't infect the entire region with violent extremism. We also have to make sure that we've got an effective partner in Afghanistan, and that's something that we are examining very closely and presenting some very clear benchmarks for the Afghan government. We have to make sure that we are training sufficient Afghan troops so that they can ultimately secure their own country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Ed Henry together with President Obama. And coming up in a few minutes here in the Most News in the Morning, our John Vause in China is going to be speaking with President Obama's half brother, Mark Ndesanjo (ph). So stay tuned for that.

CHETRY: Some breaking news once again to tell you about. About 350 miles off the coast of Somalia, the very same ship, the Maersk Alabama that was taken over by pirates back in April, the victim of yet another attack. This time, though, the Maersk Alabama able to actually fend off the pirates who were tempting to seize control of that ship.

Joining us right now on the phone is Commander John Harbour. He's the spokesperson for the E.U. Naval Force.

John, thanks. Commander Harbour, thanks for being with us this morning.

COMMANDER JOHN HARBOUR, SPOKESPERSON EU NAVAL FORCE: Thank you.

CHETRY: All right. First of all, tell us what you know right now about this attack, this attempted hijacking of the Maersk Alabama.

HARBOUR: Of course. The Maersk Alabama had come down to the Gulf of Aden, that's heading for Mombasa. When about 6:30 this morning, that's U.K. time, she was approached by two small craft used by pirates. They approached what's fairly close and used automatic weapons by firing into the bridge. One was standard tactics to get the masters and crew to get the attention and pulled the ship to a stop. At which time, they were board.

Another occasion, however, the Maersk Alabama had on board a vessel protection attachment and non-vessel protection attachment far back at the pirates and they fled.

CHETRY: Wow. Really, a different story than what we knew just several months back when the same thing happened. However, the pirates were able to get on that ship, the Maersk Alabama at that time did not have arms. This time, of course, they did.

We had just a chance to speak earlier in the months to Captain Richard Phillips, who captained that ship and who arguably saved the lives of many of his crew by agreeing to be taken hostage so that the rest of the crew could be saved. He talked about the importance of these security attachments and it looks like in this case, and correct me if I'm wrong, they were able to fend off this attack because they were armed.

HARBOUR: That is right. Yes. Some ships not all, but some ships do employ private security firms to who would be trained and armed men, anything up to 10 people onboard the ship. And in an event of an event like this, they would be able to fire back at the pirates and at least fend them off or scare them off. And at the moment, there's a European Union Naval Force Maritime patrol aircraft that's been launched from Djibouti by the force commander, the European Union force commander to try and track that particular area. And we've also sent a European Union naval ship down in that area and we hope to sanitize the area and hopefully sight these pirates and arrest them.

CHETRY: You know, and you guys deal with this everyday, I know that our Navy as well. It's a huge, huge are that you guys have to patrol, some of likened to try to find a needle in a haystack. So the immediate situation right now it's great to know at least that the crew of the Maersk Alabama is safe and OK. But now you're investigation is continuing. How much confidence do you have that you will be able to locate these pirates?

HARBOUR: Well, of course, (INAUDIBLE) patrol aircraft up those days. The European Union Naval force is quite considerable in that area along with NATO, maritime forces and many other independent nations that we work very closely with, including the Chinese, the Russians the Japanese, Malaysians and others. And we've got an excellent coordination system which operates from Dubai under the system called the Shared (ph), the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (ph) zone.

The European Union on a regular basis patrols these waters and patrols the area. The Maritime patrol aircraft gives us good intelligence of pirate attackers that I'm fairly confident that we'll track down these particular individuals if we can find them and if we do, we'll later on arrest them.

CHETRY: The larger issue, are you guys making changes or stepping up patrols given that now that the monsoon season is over there are concerns that we're going to see an increase in these attacks or attempted attacks.

HARBOUR: Of course, the monsoon season is over. Attacks have increased, but we've been successful. The European Union patrols fairly heavily the Gulf of Aden itself, which is a congested area. And whereas last year, there were many attacks and many hijacks. Since July, there have been no hijacks.

We still have the same number of attack, but the European Union Naval Forces have had great success in that area. What we're finding is that the pirates are having to push much further out to sea and indeed they are taking ships of opportunity including the smaller fishing vessels and even yachts which shows desperation on their part. But, of course, they'll take any ship that they can get their hands on and, of course, ships that do act independently such as the Maersk Alabama to be able to protect herself. And I'm delighted to say that she's moving safely away from that particular area and heading down to her original port that he was headed for.

CHETRY: Of Mombasa, Kenya. All right. Well, that is great news. I know you guys were doing great work out there as well. The challenge continues, though.

Commander John Harbour, spokesperson for the E.U. Naval Force. And again, the news of the second time the Maersk Alabama attempted to -- hijackers attempted to take over that ship. This time the crew had a security attachment. They were able to fire back and they were not harmed.

ROBERTS: Also new this morning, the Space Shuttle Atlantis astronauts are scheduled to dock with the International Space Station at 11:53 Eastern. First, they'll show the shuttle's belly to the ISS cameras. That's another check for heat shield damage. Then they'll get in a position for the link up. The crew woke up at 4:28 this morning, Eastern to Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground."

CHETRY: Well, a Republican congressman from Illinois is saying that his comment about Guantanamo Bay terrorists was misinterpreted. Donald Manzullo told Rockford station WREX over the weekend, quote, "This are really, really mean people whose job is it to kill people driven by some savage religion." Manzullo says he was not referring to Islam in general but a perverted and violent form of Islam practiced by suspected terrorists. His remarks come as federal officials consider buying an Illinois prison to house Guantanamo Bay detainees.

ROBERTS: Well, you can't blame this one on American fast food. The American Heart Association says ancient Egyptians had heart disease too. X-rays of 16 mummies from Cairo's National Museum revealed definite or probable hardening of the arteries in nine of them. The subjects, some of them up to 3,500 years old lived between 20 and 60 years and given the cost of mummification, they're believed to have been members of the upper class. There you go.

CHETRY: Yes. They should have worked out more maybe. Maybe it would help them.

Still ahead, we're going to be talking about the president one- on-one. Our Ed Henry had a chance to sit down with him. He talked about a range of issues, but one of the big topics, of course, health care. How does the president think that it's going? Is he confident that Congress can pass health care reform?

Thirteen and a half minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to "The Most News in the Morning." President Obama just arriving minutes ago in Seoul, South Korea, where its nuclear neighbor will certainly dominate talks. But the president is never far from the health care debate that's raging here at home.

ROBERTS: The clock is ticking on this deadline to get this done by the end of the year. Our Ed Henry sat down with the president before taking off from China to find out where we stand right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: You set a lot of deadlines for fellow Democrats. They've missed many of them on Capitol Hill. You hear Democrats sometimes say why isn't the president more like LBJ? Why doesn't he grab them by the lapels and get this done and get more specific and enforce these deadlines.

OBAMA: The truth of the matter is is that we've been very specific. LBJ didn't have the Congressional Budget Office just to give you one example of how complicated the process in Washington has become. Essentially, Harry Reid was ready with a Senate bill several weeks ago, but it has taken this long for the Congressional Budget Office to present its best estimates of how much this is going to cost, how many savings will be obtained, what kind of savings will be obtained from the legislation.

So, there are just a lot of procedural hurdles that explain why health care hasn't been dealt with in 40, 50, 70 years. But I remain confident that we're going to get this done and we're going to have a bill that reduces our deficit, bends the cost curve, covers millions of people who don't have health insurance right now and for people who do have health insurance, makes their insurance more secure. I'm absolutely confident we're going to get that done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Meantime, President Obama not the only Obama making headlines in Asia this week. The president's half brother, Mark Ndesandjo lives in China. The men share the same father and they got to share a few moments together before the president had to leave for Seoul. Our John Vause is live in Beijing for us this morning. He sat down with the president's younger brother and joins us now with an interview that you'll see first here on CNN. Good morning, John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Now, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, he didn't grow up with Barack Obama. He says the two have only met a couple of times in the past. Even so, he still refers to the president as his big brother.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE (voice-over): In his informal dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao a few hours later, President Obama met briefly in his hotel with his half brother Mark Obama Ndesandjo.

MARK OBAMA NDESANDJO, PRESIDENT OBAMA's HALF BROTHER: We just had a big hug and my wife and he had a big, big hug. He was very, very powerful, very, very intense because he's my big brother.

VAUSE: Mark Obama, who spent the last seven years living in southern China has recently written a semi autobiographical book and in that book he said he was often physically abused by his father Barack Obama Sr.

(on-camera): Did the president ask you about the experiences with your father, the same father that you both share?

NDESANDJO: What I can say is that we talked about family.

VAUSE: Your mom is Jewish?

NDESANDJO: Yes. She is Jewish. I am Jewish.

VAUSE: Just like Barack Obama, Mark Obama was the child of a mixed marriage. While he never knew his half brother while growing up, the two have met from time to time as adults.

NDESANDJO: There's always that personal connection and I don't see him -- I honestly don't see him as president of the United States when I'm next to him.

VAUSE: Do you have that relationship, you can pick up the phone and say hey, it's Mark calling?

NDESANDJO: You do that very carefully.

VAUSE: Can you do that? Can you pick up the phone and call him?

NDESANDJO: You know, I would say -- I would rather not go into that for various reasons. The thing is that we know how to get in contact with each other if we have to.

VAUSE: It was an emotional meeting for Mark Obama, not quite the same it seems for a president in the midst of crucial talks with China's leaders.

OBAMA: I don't know him well. I met him for the first time a couple of years ago. He stopped by with his wife for about five minutes during the trip. I haven't read the book.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Now, President Obama has finished his trip here to China, was aimed at building deeper ties and also it seems spending some time albeit it briefly on family relationships as well. John?

ROBERTS: John Vause for us this morning in Beijing with that. John, thanks so much.

CHETRY: Still ahead, Goldman Sachs' CEO saying we're sorry for our part in contributing to the financial crisis. And you know what, we're going to put our money where our mouth is offering up some loans to small businesses. Christine Romans is going to break it down for us. It's 20 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to "The Most News in the Morning." It's 23 minutes past the hour right now. We have Christine Romans joining "Minding Your Business" with a little bit of good news I guess if you're a small business owner and you're saying, hey, what about the little guy? I need some help here.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Goldman Sachs is making bucket loads of money. They say they're going to give a little bit of that back to small business. Goldman Sachs and Warren Buffett and others are in this alliance to try to give something back as the 10,000 small business initiative, $200 million for college scholarships, $300 million to boost access to capital, mentoring and networking possibilities.

Look, this is a company that is, you know, as its CEO said last month, doing God's work. Investment banking is doing God's work. Well it's also doing a little bit of work for the Obama administration here right now because we're really trying to figure out how to get a recovery started in small business.

Small business lending is down pretty sharply. Goldman Sachs might be buying a little bit of reputation repair as well here. As you know, this is a company that is not held at very high regard by the public. The Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein (ph) said yesterday to a corporate conference in New York, we participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret. We apologize.

In particular, helping to provide cheap credit, that cheap credit fueled the whole housing bubble. Even Monday there was a big protest in Washington against this company and a picture of Lloyd Blankfein wanted public enemy number one. This is a company whose reputation has been badly damaged. It's making billions of dollars after having taken Federal bailout money and paid it back. So this is a company that can afford to spend a little money to try to help small business if only to repair its reputation.

ROBERTS: $500 million. What was their third quarter profit?

ROMANS: Their third quarter profit was more than $3 billion, $3.2 billion and they paid back I think a $12 billion loan from the government but they also received maybe $14 billion through AIG that they didn't have to pay back. So I mean, that brings...

ROBERTS: $500 million, it's a nice sum of money but compared to their profits, a small slice of the pie.

ROMANS: And that's the "Romans' Numeral." The "Romans' Numeral" is 3 percent. If you look at the "Romans' Numeral," that's how much this $500 million investment is compared to the compensation pool. So $500 million is just 3 percent of what their bonuses will be.

CHETRY: However, it's not anything to sneeze at if you're one of these small business owners or if you're a student that needs a loan. We can't expect the government to be able to...

ROMANS: And we have not been able to get help for the little guy as yet. So you need these big banks to help. Loan volume is down from the big banks for small business, including Goldman Sachs.

CHETRY: I'm still confused as to why it's considered an act of charity though for banks to lend. Aren't they supposed to lend?

ROMANS: Right. I don't think banks do anything as an act of charity. They're in it for business. I think this really goes far to help try to repair their reputation for a $500 million investment.

ROMANS: Christine Romans, "Minding Your Business" this morning, thanks.

Baby boomers, they're aging and caring for today's growing elderly population. It can all be a big challenge but in Japan they are developing technologies that could help seniors in this country stay independent.

CHETRY: It's really neat. It's an innovation called a robo nurse nimble enough to pick up a straw, smart enough to cook you an egg. CNN's Kyung Lah takes us to this pretty cool edge of discovery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The helping hands here are metal and silicone designed to assist a person to a wheelchair. Her name is 21, robot for the elderly. She's may look like ET but inventor (INAUDIBLE) says she's more than just a cute friend. Cook an egg and have the dexterity to delicately pick up food and serve it. The goal of 21 isn't necessarily to replace a human caretaker but to simply assist someone in this case to help me toast this piece of bread.

The aging baby boomers in the U.S. and Japan (INAUDIBLE) says will need this robot. By 2050, 40 percent of Japan's population will be over the age of 65 and fewer young people to care for them because Japan has one of the lowest birth rate in the world. So what man can't, machine can says graduate student Atomu Maeshiro.

I believe this robot will be a big help in the near future he says. Right now the robot needs a team of researchers and a screen full of computer prompts (ph) to work. Its inventor believes a commercial version will be ready to go by 2020, giving the elderly a hand up for independent living. Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Amazing stuff.

Sarah Palin went rogue. Hillary Clinton is going vogue. We'll explain when we return. It's twenty-eight-and-a-half minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

CHETRY: It's 30 minutes past the hour.

We have breaking news from East Africa. Somali pirates once again are targeting the ship, the Maersk Alabama. This is the very same ship they hijacked back in April. This time, though, the outcome is very different.

The crew of the Maersk Alabama had a security attachment with them, able to fire back and fend off the hijacking attempt. It happened overnight about 350 miles off the coast of Somalia as the Maersk Alabama was headed to port in Mombassa, Kenya. We're going to be getting a live report at the top of the hour.

Also reports this morning say that the Senate's health care reform will likely include a program for long-term care. Under the proposed program, people would pay a premium in exchange for the opportunity to receive cash benefits to cover the cost of home care, assisted living, or nursing homes. The late Senator Ted Kennedy pushed to have this measure included. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could unveil the bill as early as today.

Nearly 15,000 Americans have admitted to hiding money in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying taxes. It came clean during an IRS amnesty program that ended last month and will pay reduced penalties for coming forward. The new disclosures will mean billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury.

ROBERTS: Hillary Clinton is looking presidential to many Americans these days. A new CNN poll puts her well ahead of Vice President Biden and Sarah Palin as the most qualified to be president. And now we're getting to see a side of her that didn't come out of the campaign trail, talking about her favorite television show and the so- called "crush."

"Vogue" contributing editor Jonathan Van Meter traveled all the way to Africa to get a rare, unpoliticized look at the secretary of state. His feature is in December's issue, and he joins us this morning.

Good morning to you. How are you?

JONATHAN VAN METER, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "VOGUE": Good morning. How are you?

ROBERTS: Good. So, you spent about three weeks with her, a couple weeks in Africa, a week at the U.N. General Assembly, sat down with her a couple times. What most surprised you about her?

VAN METER: I think what most surprised me was that she was more accessible and more pleasant and friendly and easy to talk to than I expected. You know, I think, as a journalist, I've, you know, there's -- I've heard so many stories about how difficult she is to interview and she -- maybe she has relaxed now that she's no longer in electoral politics. I found her sort of unguarded at moments and just pleasant, cheerful. She was always sort in a good mood.

ROBERTS: So, a very scripted person that we saw on the campaign trail loosens up a little bit.

VAN METER: Yes. A lot of -- and, you know, I got to see her like a day, you know, one morning in Africa, she'd gone for a swim in the ocean and she had -- her hair was wet. And she came to meet me for breakfast for an interview and she just looks like, you know, a woman that had gone for a swim in the ocean and she was just -- you know, incredibly relaxed and pleasant.

ROBERTS: We mentioned the numbers about who's most qualified to be president right at the beginning here. Let's take a look at those numbers more closely. When asked who is most qualified to be president next to Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, 67 percent, a little more than two-thirds said Hillary Clinton; 50 percent for Biden; 28 percent for Sarah Palin.

What do you think is driving those numbers?

VAN METER: Well, I think it's a couple of things. One, I think the people in the United States are finally figuring out what the people in the state of New York figured out a long time ago when she became senator, which is that once elected to office or given a job to do, she's infatigable, she works really hard for her constituency. She's not nearly as partisan as I think people think she is.

And the other thing is that she's no longer -- half of the, you know, the country is no offended by every word that comes out of her mouth because she's not running a brutal campaign, and I also think that, you know, people are seeing that she's really dedicated to the president. She's working for her country. She's going around problem-solving and doing damage control all over the world, and I think people are sort of impressed by it.

ROBERTS: There are questions at the same time that have been raised as to whether or not her skills are adequately being put to use. And you talk about an interview that you witness in which she was talking about Afghanistan and the potential troop surge. You say, quote, "Clinton is so clear-headed, so eloquent, that it raises the question: Why hasn't Hillary Clinton been more out in front on the most troubling foreign policy issues of the day?"

Why do you think she hasn't?

VAN METER: Well, I think the first year in office -- I mean, according to her and her staff, is that she basically spent the first year traveling to countries and winning back the love of other people. And another reason is that she immediately appointed several envoys so they didn't have to go through a long...

ROBERTS: And then she broke her elbow...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN METER: And I think -- I think what's happened is that she's finally just turned the corner and is stepping out now as evidenced by so much of the press that she's getting and this interview itself and...

ROBERTS: One of the things that you write about that impressed you is, you said, the way that she plays with others, particularly older Republican men, really eluding to Bob Gates, the secretary of defense.

VAN METER: Right. Well, it's -- you know, remember during the Senate when she was a senator -- when she first got to the Senate, everybody was so impressed. All of the Republican senators were so impressed with her. And I think that same feeling has returned again, which is that, you know, Bob Gates seemed really enamored of her when they were together on stage during that thing at George Washington University.

And I get the feeling -- when she talked about him she said, you know, he's one of -- she just sort of gushed about him when she talked about him to me and said, you know, he wrote one of the best books ever written about Washington. And...

ROBERTS: And he has respect for her position as well.

VAN METER: Yes, he does. And he talked about the fact that, you know, she's, you know, the lead spokesman for foreign policy in America and once you get over that, everything falls into place.

ROBERTS: Yes. You said that she was stumped when the president asked her to be secretary of state. You quote her as saying, quote, "I did not think it was the right thing to do. I didn't want to do it. I just really had a lot of doubts."

We haven't heard her be that frank about this.

VAN METER: Right.

ROBERTS: She always said, "Oh, yes, well, you know, I considered it and, you know, took the job." She did have a lot of doubts according to your article.

VAN METER: She really did. And according to her staff, she -- you know, a lot had to do with the fact that she was still sort of battle-worn from the election and I think a lot of people wanted her to remain sort of the representative of them as elected politician. She was looking forward to going back to the Senate. She had an extraordinary amount of debt that had to be extinguished that if she became secretary of state, she wouldn't be able to use herself, her greatest asset, to extinguish that debt.

So -- and then, I think, also, she had never considered it and not -- couldn't wrapped her mind around the idea, and then, you know, what she told me was that a friend called her and said, "What if you had won and Barack Obama" -- I mean, what if yes, "What if you had won and, Barack, and you would ask him to be secretary of state and he said no to you. How do you say no?" And she said that's kind of what did it for her. That's what changed her mind.

ROBERTS: Yes. I mean, it's a position, it's a job that's difficult to say no to.

VAN METER: Yes.

ROBERTS: A lot of people might be interested as to what the relationship is between her and her husband these days.

VAN METER: You know...

ROBERTS: As he laughs.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN METER: She told me that when they see each other, which is very rarely, that they watch a lot of old movies together.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: When you talk -- when you say rarely, how rare is rare?

VAN METER: Well, you know, I saw them together once at the Global Clinton Initiative when she was giving a speech there. And he got up on stage to introduce her. She was the big speaker that moment. And he said, "You know, I want to thank everyone here for being, you know, the person that brought me -- you know, I haven't seen for you a week. Thanks to you people I get to see her."

It sounds like they don't -- I mean, she travels for 12, 13 days at a time kind of constantly. So, I don't think they see each other very often.

ROBERTS: And, quickly, we mentioned this at the top. Favorite television show, and who does she have a crush on?

VAN METER: "Mad Men" and David Miliband, the foreign minister of England who, you know, she referred to him as attractive and vibrant and she -- her body language around him is adorable.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: We'll watch it more closely. Jonathan Van Meter, thanks for joining us this morning.

VAN METER: Thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: Great article. I really enjoyed it.

VAN METER: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Kiran?

CHETRY: All right. Still ahead: The medical marijuana debate hits city hall in Los Angeles. Now, this is a city that has more pot dispensers than Starbucks.

Thirty-seven minutes after the hour.

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ROBERTS: Everybody is going to California, we're going to find out why.

Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

The medical marijuana debate is coming to a head in Los Angeles, a city with more pot shops than Starbucks.

CHETRY: Yes. Now, L.A. City Council is scheduled to vote on a new law today, but the top prosecutor there is already warning that if you sell, you'll get busted. And as our Casey Wian reports, supporters of marijuana are still putting pressure on city hall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, there's a debate under way that could outlaw many of L.A.'s cannabis retailers, but it appears they may soon have a new law on their side.

(voice-over): Los Angeles has quickly become the nation's medical marijuana capital. The city attorney estimates about 1,000 pot dispensaries operate here, most illegally. Although California law allows medical marijuana use and even cultivation in limited amounts, some officials are trying to ban medical marijuana sales in Los Angeles.

DAVID BERGERL, ASST. LOS ANGELES CITY ATTORNEY: The city attorney's analysis of the state law suggests that sales are not allowed whether they are for-profit or not-for-profit.

WIAN: The proposal drew hundreds of medical marijuana supporters to a rowdy, packed city council meeting on Monday.

RICHARD EASTMAN, MEDICAL MARIJUANA SUPPORTER: The dispensaries that provide the medicine that have saved my life and all of the people with cancer and glaucoma and multiple sclerosis and whatever illnesses should be allowed to receive their medicine.

WIAN: Two city council committees voted to allow medical marijuana sales, just not for-profit.

BILL ROSENDAHL, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: I know people today who have various illnesses, especially those with cancer, that it is the only relief that they get because a lot of these prescription drugs that people get addicted to that end up killing them, OK, is not what medical marijuana is.

WIAN (on camera): The idea that the debate over medical marijuana is all about medical necessity is contradicted by the industry's own advertising. Here's the nearly 200-page "Los Angeles Journal" for education on medical marijuana.

(voice-over): Inside, ads feature longtime recreational pot advocate Snoop Dog offers free joints for first time patients, suggestive photos of nearly naked women, and an attorneys who boasts of winning light or dismissed sentences for accused marijuana traffickers. Fourteen states now have laws permitting medical marijuana use.

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, this week, received legal clearance to collect sales taxes from pot dispensaries. And in Portland, Oregon, last week, the nation's first marijuana cafe opened at a former adult club called Rumpspankers. Smokers must remain behind closed doors.

(on camera): Back in Los Angeles, the full city council is scheduled to vote today on the new medical marijuana law. Even if it passes, the local district attorney says his office will continue to prosecute dispensaries who sell medical marijuana because, he says, that violates state law -- all of this while the California state legislature is considering a proposal that would tax and legalize marijuana statewide Kiran, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Casey Wian for us this morning.

The state of Colorado is also considering a similar law to tax pot sales. And boy, so, a lot different than it was a decade ago, isn't it?

CHETRY: Well, you know, states are suffering. We know in California, they're in a 50 percent budget deficit right now. So, you got to get some money.

ROBERTS: You can make some money, get it where you can.

Storm in the Midwest marching to the east. Does it go to affect your travel plans? Our Rob Marciano is on deck. He'll have the weather forecast coming up for you.

It's 44 minutes after the hour.

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CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Forty-seven minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. There is a live look at New York right now. It's 42 degrees going up to 54, and it's supposed to be mostly sunny here in the Big Apple.

Time to fast-forward now through the stories that we'll be tracking for you later today. Attorney General Eric Holder is on the hill this morning for a senate judiciary committee meeting. He is elected to face some tough questions on the decisions to hold the 9/11-terror trial in New York City for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as well as four other co-conspirators. The possibility of moving Guantanamo detainees to U.S. prisons and also whether federal investigators ignored warning signs about the Fort Hood shootings.

Spaceship "Atlantis" set to dock at the International Space Station just before noon Eastern time. The ship came through Monday long without any heat shield damage. Its crew is on an 11-day delivery mission, and they'll be bringing a 7th astronaut home with them.

And AAA is releasing its annual Thanksgiving forecast later this morning. We'll see how the economy might affect travel over the holiday weekend. One thing we do know, air travelers can expect crowded planes because U.S. airlines have actually slashed flights. Also, you know, some people used to be able to enjoy getting last minute deals. They say not this year. Book your travel now or you won't get a flight.

ROBERTS: Every time I go online I'm sadly disappointed at the cost of airfare these days.

CHETRY: Yes. ROBERTS: Rob Marciano is tracking the extreme weather across the country, and if you traveling by plane in the East, you might have a little trouble over the next 24 to 48 hours. Hey, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning, guys. As Kiran mentioned, you, guys, are going to have a gorgeous day across the Northeast. High pressure is still building and holding strong. These two Hs and Ls have been kind of battling the last couple days, and this thing has just made very little progress, so once again, this high is going to give you a gorgeous day, but this low in places like Chicago whereas going to bring you some rainfall, and that's pretty much what we're seeing right now.

Rain across parts of Chicago and kind of spreading into the Ohio River Valley, and it's just not making much Eastward progression, and because of that, you'll see light rain on and off throughout the day today. Travel across the Chicago will be impacted slightly, 15 to 30 maybe 60-minute delays at some sports, St. Louis, Charlotte, same deal because of the low clouds and light rain.

Atlanta, low clouds, and Seattle will see low clouds and rain once again with the next storm system rolling into the Pacific Northwest. Low elevation rains and high elevation snows, and I think the next storm that comes back through here, that will be a chunk of energy, that one means business around about Thursday.

Forty-four degrees for the high temperature in Kansas, 51, by the way, in Billings. Record high temperatures in Montana if you're feeling a little chilly right now, head towards Montana, typically in the 30s. Record highs yesterday in the 60s. It will be 56 gorgeous day in New York, kind of damp and cloudy in Atlanta with a high temperature of 61. Of course, as Thanksgiving gets a little bit closer, we'll be bringing you that forecast.

Several long-range computer models doing some interesting thing, but past five days, a little bit unreliable, so we'll unveil that forecast as it gets more appropriate in time. John and Kiran back over to you.

ROBERTS: That's a little too much of a tease. Rob, give us a hint.

MARCIANO: It's TV, John. You know how it goes. That's a tease. We'll talk more about it as the days progress.

ROBERTS: (INAUDIBLE)

CHETRY: I wonder if he's talking about snow. We'll have to find out. Thanks, Robbie.

All right. Still ahead, we're going to be talking about the new recommendations coming from this task force about mammograms like stretching it out to another decade. Meaning, women who used to say, hey, you need them at 40. Now, they're saying you need them at 50, not 40, but there are a lot of people who say, wait a minute, if I didn't get that mammogram in my 40s, I would be dead today, so we're going to talk more about exactly what's going on with these recommendations.

ROBERTS: And the latest installment in our special series "Patriots or Extremist." They have sworn an oath to the constitution, not the American president. We'll tell you what that's all about coming right up. Nine minutes to the top of the hour.

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CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": In Sarah Palin's new book, she says when she first laid eyes on her future husband, she said out loud, thank you, God. Yes, which is the same thing the Democrats said when they first laid eyes on Sarah Palin. (LAUGHING)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Like it or not, Sarah Palin is sharing the public stage right now with her almost son-in-law and the father of her grandson, Levi Johnston. Jeanne Moos got a full frontal examination of the rogue and the center fold.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's gone from a page in history to pages of "Playgirl."

There's actually going to be a pullout center fold of Levi.

DANIEL NARDICIO, PLAYGIRL MARKETING DIRECTOR: Yes, yes, totally.

LEVI JOHNSTON, FORMER BOYFRIEND OF BRISTOL PALIN: Welcome to my photo shoot.

MOOS: Entertainment Tonight paid for exclusive rights to shoot Levi Johnston's Playgirl photo shoot.

JOHNSTON: I'm taking it off.

MOOS: But not all of it. Full frontal, half frontal, quarter frontal -- what frontal?

NARDICIO: We have sort of well-placed objects in front of the frontal. There is like hockey sticks, shirts.

MOOS: The first photo released on "Playgirl's" website was a demure one from the onligatory shower scene. Levi's almost-mother-in- law told Oprah she has a name for this.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I call it porn.

MOOS: But blogs complained it was a tease. The website Gawker reacted with mock dismay. "Playgirl" says at the last minute, Levi insisted on a clause in the contract excluding full frontal nudity. How big is the story become?

NARDICIO: I got the "The New York Times" calling me saying so how big is he? MOOS (on-camera): "Playgirl" figures the audience is about 60% gay. The print edition was actually discontinued about a year ago, and they're bringing it back with Levi Johnston starring in the first issue in January.

PALIN: I hear he bought by the name Ricky Hollywood now.

NARDICIO: They took him out multiple times. He didn't drink. You know, he really had his head on straight. He really sees this as business. It's about his son.

MOOS (voice-over): Meanwhile, critics of Sarah Palin went about the business of dissecting her latest interviews looking for inconsistencies. For instance, when Oprah asked who she consulted when John McCain asked her to be his VP.

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "OPRAH": Was there a family vote or discussion?

PALIN: This time, there wasn't a family vote.

MOOS: That's not what she told Sean Hannity back then.

PALIN: It was a time of asking the girls to vote on it any way, and they voted unanimously yes.

MOOS: Sounds like a full frontal contradiction.

PALIN: This time, there wasn't a family vote.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: We are following several big stories this morning. The cargo ship "Maersk Alabama" attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia for the second time.

CHETRY: And this time it turns out better. We will have the latest details on that.

And also, President Obama sitting down with our Ed Henry overnight talking about lots of things including the decision to bring 09/11 self-proclaimed mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, here to New York for trial. Those stories and much more in 90 seconds.

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ROBERTS: Breaking news from East Africa. It has happened again. Pirates opening fire on the "Maersk Alabama" off of the coast of Somalia; the same ship that they hijacked seven months ago. Thanks for joining us on the Most News in the Morning on this Wednesday, the 18th of November. I'm John Roberts.

CHETRY: And I'm Kiran Chetry. Yes, we're getting late breaking details this morning from East Africa where Somalia pirates have attacked the "Maersk Alabama" again. It is the second time in seven months that the ship has been targeted off the Somali coast. The ship was headed to port in Mombasa, Kenya when it happened, but this attempted hijacking had a very different ending.

ROBERTS: President Obama now in Seoul, South Korea. The last stop of his Asia tour. Before leaving China, the President sat down with our Ed Henry to talk about getting health care reform passed, sending more troops to Afghanistan, and running for re-election in 2012 perhaps against Sarah Palin.

CHETRY: Some women are saying, I would be dead by now if it were not for a self-exam or early detection from a mammogram, so why is the government panel saying stop? You're going to hear from the experts on the disease from all angles, a doctor who helped craft the new guidelines and a woman who says her mammogram, she had no family history, was a routine mammogram ordered by her doctor, saved her life.