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Honoring the Fallen at Arlington National Cemetery; Week One of Casey Anthony Trial Ends; Thousands of Vets Homeless, Sarah Palin Hits the Road

Aired May 30, 2011 - 14:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: As Americans mark Memorial Day, President Obama is leading the nation's tributes to fallen service members and making some major changes in military leadership. As you may have seen live here on CNN, the commander-in-chief today introduced his picks for the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and chief of staff of the Army.

The man to the president's immediate left is Army General Martin Dempsey, whom the president wants to replace retiring Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen. It is just last month that Dempsey became Army chief of staff, so he wasn't considered the favorite for the top job. All the nominees require Senate confirmation, of course, which the president says he hopes will happen as swiftly as possible.

From the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama traveled across the Potomac River to the Arlington National Cemetery, where he placed the traditional wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He also paid a visit to Section 60, a part of the cemetery reserved primarily for troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is there, too.

Chris, how was the president received?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very well, Joe. I mean, people were, you know, coming up to him. There was a huge crowd around him as he made his way through on what's a very hot day, and one in which a lot of families here have spent the majority of the day.

We got here about 6:00 in the morning. There were families here about an hour later, and some of them I can still see that are still here today.

And I think the overall thing that you get from talking to the families is that these graves can be very personal. They are all very personal stories.

I mean, if you look in here, you can see how people have decorated these graves, leaving things, things that maybe don't make sense to anyone else but the people involved. This one is a Bud Light can with a Bud Light cap. This one right here, a little rock that says "Hope."

We talked to one young woman who lost her husband in Afghanistan. He had come home on R&R, spent some time at home. Four days later, he deployed back to Afghanistan.

He was in a vehicle, training some of the Afghan police there, was hit by a roadside bomb. All four Americans on that vehicle were killed.

And then four days later, after she heard that her husband was dead, she found out she was pregnant. And she talked to us today about what Memorial Day means to her and her family.


NICKI BUNTING, WIDOW OF FALLEN SERVICEMAN: I want everyone to realize these aren't just graves, they aren't just numbers, they're real people. And they had real families, they had wives and husbands and children and parents and siblings and friends. And so that's what today is about, just celebrating their life and making sure that everyone knows that these are real people that we have lost.

And so when I get to talk about my husband, I love to laugh and smile when I talk about him, and really share the great guy he was.


LAWRENCE: And again, back here live now at Arlington National Cemetery, just every story you hear is a lot like that, because for a lot of these families, Memorial Day especially, this has become the memorial to a lot of the men and the women who fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan because the wars are so recent, because there is no national memorial, and because Arlington is here in the nation's capital, near the nation's capital. This has become sort of the memorial for the Iraq and Afghanistan and the young men and women who die there -- Joe.

JOHNS: Thank you so much for that, Chris Lawrence, standing in Section 60 in Arlington National Cemetery, which has been called the "saddest acre in America." It's the subject of an HBO documentary, a well-known place, and we know why.

To politics now. And the question of the hour may be the question of the week.

Sarah Palin, she is riding, she is rolling, she is tweeting, she is teasing. But is she running?

The former Alaskan governor and GOP running mate is spending her Memorial Day on a bus tour bound for New England, presumably New Hampshire. I say presumably, because her SarahPAC Web site is not saying where she'll stop and when until after she has been there. She turned up this morning at the National Archives, in her words, "highlighting America's foundation," and contemplating a run for president in 2012.

Yesterday, Palin hit the streets with Rolling Thunder honoring America's POWs and MIAs. She is expected in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, later today, and my colleague Jim Acosta is already there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin gave one of her clearest signals yet that she is thinking about running for president. She was followed by reporters over at the National Archives this morning, where she was making one of her stops along this bus tour that she is taking on this week.

It started yesterday in Washington, D.C.. She rode across the Potomac River on the back of a Harley-Davidson as part of the Rolling Thunder event, which is an event to honor POWs and soldiers missing in action.

At that event, she didn't say very much about her future intentions, but later on this morning, as she was touring the National Archives, a reporter asked her, "Are you running for president?" And here is what she had to say.

SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, I think that any Republican candidate is very, very electable. I think Americans are ready for a true change, change to get our country back on the right track.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So does that mean you are interested in running? Are you going to run?

PALIN: You know, we're still kind of contemplating that.

ACOSTA: Palin's staff is keeping the details of this bus tour pretty close to the vest. They are not revealing to reporters exactly where they are going until almost the last second before they arrive, although we have heard from multiple sources that she is expected to not only take this bus to where we are right now, here in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but also later on this week to New Hampshire, which is obviously a key presidential primary state, further stoking speculation that she is very serious about making a possible run for the White House.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.


JOHNS: Tonight on CNN, John King is aboard the CNN Express, following Sarah Palin on her bus tour. Is she inching closer to a run for presidential? That's tonight, 7:00 Eastern.

And later this hour, we'll be talking more about Palin. Why is the media so addicted to covering her? We'll debate it coming up.

The jury in the Casey Anthony murder trial is taking a breather today for the Memorial Day holiday, and they need it, especially after the riveting and gut-wrenching testimony by Casey's mom over the weekend.

Twenty-five-year-old Casey is charged with murder of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. Week one of the trial came to a close Saturday with emotions running high, and the mystery of what happened to Caylee is still unfolding.

Let's go straight to HLN's Nancy Grace, who has been following this case very closely and joins me now.

Nancy, Cindy Anthony testified at her daughter Casey's trial. She talked about her granddaughter Caylee. Take a look with me at one particular moment that gives us an idea of the mood inside the courtroom.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you see that?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you recognize it?

ANTHONY: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you recognize it to be?

ANTHONY: Caylee's bed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does that photograph fairly and accurately depict Caylee's bed?

ANTHONY: Yes. I mean, there's a few things that's normally on it, not there. And the sheet is not on her pillow -- I mean, the pillowcase isn't on the pillow, but yes, that is Caylee's bed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a stuffed animal on the left side of the photograph. Is that one of Caylee's bears?

ANTHONY: Yes, that's one of her bears.


JOHNS: Nancy Grace, a very emotional moment. Give us an idea of why this moment is important for the jurors.

NANCY GRACE, HOST, "NANCY GRACE": Well, I think the emotion in the courtroom, especially from Cindy Anthony, shows who really loved Caylee. Cindy Anthony and her husband, grandfather George Anthony, largely raised the child. They are the only living victims left in this case, along with brother Lee Anthony, who would have been Caylee's uncle.

And throughout Cindy Anthony's testimony, tot mom sat there watching her own mother cry just a few feet away from her and really never cried herself, just shook her head resolutely back and forth -- no, no, no. And I also think that it was very important for the jury to see and weigh Cindy Anthony's credibility on the stand, Joe, because this is going to come down to a credibility contest. Do you believe tot mom's lawyers and tot mom, or do you believe George and Cindy Anthony?

Tot mom had a chance in opening statements to go with a straight accident theory which probably would have benefited her, Joe, to say, I should have been taking better care of Caylee, she drowned. And instead of reporting it, I covered the whole thing up to make it look like a murder, because I didn't want to tell my mom. Instead, she tells the jury, Joe, that her father and brother molested her, that's why she was afraid to tell them the truth, and that her mother is responsible for the drowning because of the pool ladder.

JOHNS: So when was the last time Cindy saw her granddaughter Caylee alive?

GRACE: Oh, that was really sad, Joe, when that was described in the courtroom. It was June 16, 2008.

And then the next morning, Cindy Anthony leaves for work. She is a very well respected nurse in the area. George was leaving the house looking for a job, and already had a job, as I recall. He was there that morning. No one ever dreamed that that would be the last time they saw Caylee alive.

JOHNS: So, Casey's ex-boyfriend Anthony Lazzaro has taken the stand several times during the first week, and he testified again on Saturday. What are we learning from him?

GRACE: Well, it's really interesting the way they are doing this, Joe, and you're really the first one to have brought it up in this manner.

Usually when you bring on a witness, you go from soup to nuts without witness and it is all over with. And then you bring the next witness. But what they are doing, Joe, now that you bring it up, is they first said, bring on George Anthony. Then he goes back to his seat in the courtroom.

He's allowed to stay in under the judge's ruling. He's exempt from the sequestration.

Then when they meet him again, they just put him back. I'm sure he'll be back again.

The same thing with Lazzaro. And the reason they are doing it is to keep the chronological order of the case.

For instance, George testified to what happened at the beginning, then he sat down. Then, as the case progressed, he came back up to fill in those days.

Lazzaro, the same thing. Lazzaro came back to describe the text messages he got from tot mom after her initial encounter with police.

He was saying, why did you lie to me? Why didn't you tell me Caylee was missing? I was very tired. Tot mom keeps saying, I was scared to tell the truth.

But at that time, Joe, she was afraid to tell the truth that Zanny the nanny had stolen the baby. Now she's telling the jury she was afraid to tell the truth that the baby was drowned.

So who are you going to believe, Joe? JOHNS: Great. Well, thanks so much, Nancy Grace. You've been covering this very closely, doing a great job.

GRACE: Joe, you didn't answer. You didn't tell me who you believed, Joe.

JOHNS: I'm not going there. I think maybe I'll ask you that question.

GRACE: You're going to wait until all the evidence is in?

JOHNS: Yes, at least.

GRACE: OK. I'll do that.

JOHNS: Or if not until we have a verdict. I'll leave it up to the jury.


JOHNS: All right.

GRACE: I somehow thought you might say that. Thank you for having me, Joe. I will see you the night at 8:00, friend.

JOHNS: You bet. Well, thanks for come on. Always good to see you, Nancy.

You can watch the special coverage of Casey Anthony and the trial each day on HLN, including all the key moments so far. That's our all day coverage on our sister network HLN.

Most Americans probably don't realize it, but on any given night tens of thousands of U.S. veterans are homeless. I'll talk to a woman who has been there.


JOHNS: According to the Veterans Administration, as many as 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Alisha Watkins is a retired Air Force staff sergeant. She was at the Pentagon during the 9/11 attack and she served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But when she appeared on Oprah Winfrey, she was living in her car. She shared a video of what it was like to live on the streets.

I talked to Alicia earlier this month. She was with a crowd outside the White House when the death of Osama bin Laden was announced.


STAFF SGT. ALICIA WATKINS, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): I have been through so much since September 11th, and to see all of these people who I have never met before take pictures and slap my hand and everything else, it brings back that feeling I felt when we draped that flag over that Pentagon that day. It really does. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Alicia Watkins joins us live now from Washington, D.C.

Alicia, the first thing everyone wants to know is, are you still homeless? What are your living conditions right now?

WATKINS: No, I am not homeless. People have to understand, no one knew that, so once my family found out, every -- I was in several different homes to go to. I still want my own, but I'm not homeless at all.

JOHNS: Right. So, you were injured in Afghanistan when an IED blew up, and then you came back to the states to try to rebuild your life. What happened?

WATKINS: Right. What happened with me is that, once I came back to the states, and a wounded warrior, I think I kind of fell through the cracks. And my care was not seen throughout its fruition, and there were things that were happening, like I was not getting paid, and there was no way to stop it. And so that is how I ended up homeless on the streets, because I was active duty at the time, was told that I was -- you know, never was going to use my back or walk or anything else again, and I was in this limbo.

And there was no paycheck coming. So after seven to eight months of this happening, you have utility bills and rent bills and everything else. So my debt was not spending, my debt was normal basic things that I could no longer handle.

JOHNS: So what does the United States government need to do for people like you who are returning from war to make them whole and make them -- you know, put them on in a track toward a good life?

WATKINS: Number one, they need to talk to people like me. I think there's a lot of brass in the White House and in Washington, but there's not a lot of brass coming to us who have been through this to ask, what happened, how can we fix it? And so think that's the first step.

The second is just, number one, taking our wounded warriors and having a cradle to grave until they are functioning into society back again, not leaving them out of their sight. I mean, I know my situation was unique because I was kind of -- I fell through the hoops. But how many other veterans are out there that -- wounded warriors are out there that this is happening to?

JOHNS: So this is Memorial Day, and I guess the bottom-line question for you is, what does Memorial Day mean to you? You were at the Pentagon, 9/11, you served in Iraq, and you got injured in Afghanistan. What does it mean to you?

WATKINS: Yes. For me, this Memorial Day has been the worst for me. And the reason why I say that is because I remember when I got to a place where, at the time I was homeless, my pride was gone, everything that I worked for was gone, I had surgery coming up. I was a mess. And I thought about ending it all. And it was one phone call from my grandfather that intervened. But I think about all of the graves that are there because of our veterans who killed themselves, who committed suicide after coming back are the war.

And I've been crying all night long. I have been to Arlington Cemetery earlier this morning, and it grieves me that when we come home, after all we have seen, it's easier for us to commit suicide than to live this life. And it grieves me, because I was at that place where I felt nobody cared about me.

And if it wasn't for, like I said, one phone call from my grandfather, I would have been one of the statistics that you read, that three times as many people have committed suicide from the war than those that are injured in the war. And so I was grieved. I'm very grieved this Memorial Day. So it's --

JOHNS: Well, Alicia Watkins, I thank you so much for coming in. A very emotional subject.

And for parents and grandparents and loved ones everywhere, pick up that phone and call that veteran you know.

God bless you.

WATKINS: Thank you.

JOHNS: Thanks for coming in, Alicia.

WATKINS: Thank you.


JOHNS: Move over pyramid. There's a new symbol to get Americans to eat right.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here with the details.

And Elizabeth, what is the USDA changing this time?


First, let's pay a little respect to the food pyramid, R.I.P., 1992 to 2011. It is out of here, and we now have the Dinner Plate.

That's right, the USDA is going to create a Dinner Plate. We don't know exactly what it will look like, Joe, but we are told -- our sources tell us -- it will indicate that half of your plate is supposed to be fruits and vegetables. You're supposed to have smaller portions of protein and grain and a little bit of dairy on the side.

The emphasis here being half the plate filled with fruit and veggies. Joe, as you know, not really the way Americans eat right now.

JOHNS: You know, this is not the like the color-coded risk system. What was wrong with the pyramid in the first place?

COHEN: Well, let's take a look.

Actually, there were two pyramids. They first came out with this one. One of the complaints about this one is that the stuff you're not supposed to eat, which is that little triangle of fats and the sweets, was at the top of the pyramid, and that was sort of counterintuitive, that the bad stuff is at the top.

They then came out with this one in about 2005. This was sort of the rainbow-colored one. There's just kind of a mass of food on the bottom, and I think you need a Ph.D. or something to figure it out. Six years later, I'm still trying to figure it out.

It was just perceived confusing, and the hope is that something like this will be a little bit easier to digest, if you will.

JOHNS: You think Americans are really going to do this though?

COHEN: You know, I think it's going to take a lot more than an icon to convince Americans to fill up half their plate with fruit and vegetables. And I'm sure that the federal government knows that.

I mean, it's great to sort of put this in people's faces and say, hey, half your plate, fruits and vegetables. Tell school kids, put the icon everywhere you can possibly think of, but it's not going to be enough. We need other strategies to get Americans to eat like this.

JOHNS: Yes, that's for sure.

All right. Well, great. Thanks, Elizabeth Cohen. And we'll be watching.

From severe weather warnings to travel delays, weather expert Chad Myers joins us next with a breakdown on what you need to know, especially if you have friends or family traveling today. Don't go anywhere.



JOHNS: Today is Memorial Day, but country music duo Montgomery Gentry supports American troops everyday. They've traveled to Germany, Kuwait and Iraq on USO tours and entertained soldiers here in the U.S. Here is more on how they are impacting your world.


MONTGOMERY GENTRY, USO: Hey, we're Montgomery Gentry, and we can make an impact for our troops.

We love to entertain our heroes and let them know how much we love them and miss them when they're overseas. This is the greatest country in the world. We can say and be and dream as big as we want to in this great country. We don't give it up enough for our American heroes. Join the movement, "Impact your World,"



JOHNS: Let's catch up on the latest headlines and some stories that you may have missed.

Sarah Palin may be on a national bus tour, but she's remaining coy about whether she plans to put her name in the hat for a presidential bid. The former Alaska governor said she is, quote, "still kind of contemplating a run."

Palin's One Nation Bus tour kicked off Sunday with a stop at the Rolling Thunder Bike Rally on the National Mall She is expected to make stops at historic sites in New England in the next several days. In just a minutes, we will step back and examines the media's obsession with Palin and her polarizing effect. You don't want to miss that discussion.

In Joplin, Missouri, the number of people unaccounted for from the tornado has fallen to 43. The number of people killed remains at 142. President Obama visited the town on Sunday,getting a first-hand look at the 13-mile path of destruction left by the tornado a week earlier. Workers are still searching through the rubble for remains.

As you hitch up the car for your Memorial Day road trip home, you will find some relief at the gas pump. The average price for a gallon of gas is $3.79. According to AAA, that is a five cent drop from last week and 14-cent drop from a month ago.

A major blow to Moammar Gadhafi, and a sign that his hold on power may be unraveling from within. Next in "Globe Trekking."


JOHNS: We are "Globe Trekking" now, and first stop, Libya. Fighters for and against Moammar Gadhafi may have reached a stalemate, but there is lots of comings and goings on the fringes of the war.

Michael Holmes of CNN International joins me now with two big stories. So, Michael, let's talk a little bit about the peace initiative.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a couple of things are happening in Libya today. One interesting one that came about that we heard about is eight generals have apparently defected. They are now in Italy, and we got that from some sources --

JOHNS: Now, how do you lose eight generals?

HOLMES: You would think that you would notice, wouldn't you?


HOLMES: But they are not the first, either. He has lost several senior military commanders over the course of this civil war, but eight in a group that large, that is pretty unprecedented. And it will further weaken his ability to carry out his side of the civil war.

JOHNS: This is the kind of thing that comes about because the military is being ordered perhaps to turn its guns on civilians?

HOLMES: You know what? I don't know for sure, but my hunch would be they see the writing is on the wall. They don't want to be with the losing side of this, I would imagine.

The other thing is in terms of the peace initiative is that Jacob Zuma, the South African president has gone up there again and having a bit of a chat with the Libyan. He says he is going up there to try to get a cease-fire. He also wants to work on the (INAUDIBLE) of humanitarian aid and stuff like that. He says he is not there to talk about an exit of Gadhafi. And one of Gadhafi's people was quoted today of saying that ain't happening. He is not going anywhere.

JOHNS: Right. And also, now, the U.S.-allied government of Yemen meanwhile looking more and more like it's Gadhafi-like in its own right.

HOLMES: Yes. Saleh hanging on. Again, the president for 33 years, and he is not -- I mean, everybody, everybody in the world now is going to say that the guy has to step down. He's not doing it. In fact, it is escalating in many ways. Plenty demonstrators were killed. Yes, this is the place, Taiz. This was a huge demonstration that went on. 20 anti-government protesters shot in this southern city according to the medics and organizers.

And meanwhile in the south of the country, a place where you have government jets bombing protesters there, although those protesters are said to be al Qaeda-linked and have taken over a lot of government buildings.

So, what is interesting is that you have two things happening. You have a popular revolution, and you also have as well now this tribal power struggle between Saleh and the tribes that are turning against him, and Yemen is an exceeding tribal place. There are areas of the country where tribal law rules and the country's law does not count. So, you have to appreciate the power of the tribe.

So, Saleh is battling with one other major tribe in particular that he does not want to see take over, and it is an Islamist group and he feels -- and others do too -- that this Islamist group takes over and they will have a type of government that they do not want to see in the type of government you don't want to see in a country that already has an al Qaeda presence.

JOHNS: Wow. And on a lighter touch, there are difficulties in FIFA.

HOLMES: Oh, boy. This -- I don't know if you saw this news conference, but the president of FIFA earlier today. Yes. First thing to understand, FIFA is the world governing body of football - sorry, soccer - (LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: -- and the first thing you've got to understand, there is a presidential election for the presidency of FIFA. Now, Sepp Blatter has been in the chair since '98. OK. So there's an election on Wednesday. The only guy opposing him, a Qatari, Mohammed bin Hamman, he has now been suspended for allegedly going around and offering to buy votes. $40,000 and -

JOHNS: Well, that's nice.

HOLMES: Yes, and so he's been - he denies it of course. He denies it. And so, there's this controversy going, so that would means that Bladder would stand alone, unopposed for the election.

The other side to this is two power brokers within FIFA were emailing each other and one of them made the comment, "Does Hamman think he's going to buy votes like Qatar bought the 2022 World Cup" --

JOHNS: Well, we have sound from the FIFA guy.

HOLMES: Oh, we do? Well, have a listen to Sepp. He is pretty defiant.


SEPP BLATTER, FIFA PRESIDENT: I regret what has happened. In the last few days and weeks, great damage to the image of FIFA, but especially, also, a lot of disappointment. For football fans. I'm speaking to the football fans.


HOLMES: That's about as contrite as he got. Most of it, he was defiant, saying there is not a crisis. We have some internal problems that we will sort it out internally. FIFA, you've got to understand, is a huge organization and it's been racked by complaints of corruption and the like. Been calls for overhauls, but it is run pretty much by Sepp Blatter as a bit of a (INAUDIBLE). And a lot of people criticize it. Very powerful group, though.

JOHNS: Wow. Great. Great stuff. Thanks. Always good to see you.

HOLMES: Good to see you, too!

JOHNS: All right.

The housing market is flooded by foreclosures. What this means for you if you are selling or buying a home. We will talk reality and strategy, coming up next.


JOHNS: Are you thinking about buying a home? What about selling? Well, before you do anything, here is a little bit of perspective. Sales of new homes fell to the lowest level in 47 years last year, and despite home buyer tax credits, historically low interest rates and loan modification programs, the house marketing is weak at best.

So, what do you do if you are a potential buyer or seller? Allan Chernoff has some insights in today's "Taking the Lead."


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lynda Nair's charming Maplewood New Jersey home has a beautiful kitchen, renovated bathrooms and four bedrooms. But when she put it on the market for sale last month at $599,000, she found no buyers even though her broker, Carol Greenberg, showed the home 16 times.

LYNDA NAIR, HOME SELLER: There is a lot of kids on this block.

CHERNOFF: What to do? Linda, divorced mother of two grown children who is looking to downsize, didn't hesitate. She lowered the asking price by $20,000.

(on camera): Are you confident it will go at this price?

NAIR: No. Not really, because of what the market is now.

CHERNOFF: The market in much of the country remains sluggish. Linda, a former realtor herself, understands she needs to be flexible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you gotten any calls in the last couple of days?

CHERNOFF: She followed Carol's advice to respond to the market's message: the original price is too high.

CAROL GREENBERG, TOWNE REALTY GROUP: The buyers are the ones who are going to set the price. You know, we can do as much as we can, and when the buyers, when we have 16 showings in two weeks and no offers, what does that say? That says the buyers have rejected this price.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Most people have an emotional attachment to the home and their neighborhood. But when it comes to selling, the realtors say you have to take the emotion out of the sales equation.

(voice-over): By minimizing their emotions, sellers like Lynda can realistically assess what they need to do to make a sale at the best possible price.

NAIR: If I want to sell my house and move on, I have to put it where the market says it should be. I don't have a choice.

CHERNOFF: Another key to selling in the market says Greenberg is recognizing that buyers hope to get a deal by negotiating the seller down, so sellers have to allow for wiggle room.

NAIR: I have an office.

CHERNOFF: Lynda Nair says she is willing to negotiate but only a bit, considering all the money she spent on renovations.

NAIR: I'm not going to give that away just because the economy has turned.

CHERNOFF: Allan Chernoff, Maplewood, New Jersey.


JOHNS: Now, I want to give you a snapshot of the housing market. Bank repossessions and short sales now account for about 30 percent of all home sales. Here is the reality -- according to RealtyTrac, the average price of a home in the U.S. is under $200,000.

A foreclosed home is selling for about $171,000. And there are a lot of them. Nearly 1,800,000 homes are in foreclosure. That breaks down into one in every 593 households, which means that you probably know someone who's lost their home or is about to -- especially if you live in these states. You can see here that the rate of foreclosure is highest by far in California. Florida has the second highest amount of foreclosures, followed by Arizona, Michigan and Nevada. Look at that.

Sarah Palin back in the spotlight, cranking up her bus tour, but saying it isn't a campaign ploy. She always seems to draw big crowds, but why? We'll take a look at her appeal, coming up next.


JOHNS: Sarah Palin is quiet no more. She had been sitting on the sidelines, and then she kicked off basically a bus tour. It started in Washington, and goes to places like Mount Vernon and Gettysburg. She hasn't declared, but this could be an indicator of where she's leaning.

Here's what she's saying about the tour.


REPORTER: Governor, it certainly looks like a campaign bus. If you're not running for president, why the tour?

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: This is not a campaign bus. This is a bus to be able to express to America how much we appreciate our foundation and to invite more people to be interested in all that is good about America, and to remind ourselves we don't need to fundamentally transform America, we need to restore what's good about America. You can start by doing that right in here. So, I'm glad you guys are here.


JOHNS: And all of the sudden exposure also stirs up extreme feelings on both sides -- pretty much two camps, there are the haters and there are praisers, and then there are those in the media who seem so obsessed. And what's it all about?

Joining me right now to talk about Palin's appeal is Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist; and also national reporter Scott Conroy; and CNN senior political editor Mark Preston. Scott, let's start with you. What should we read into this? What are you hearing?

SCOTT CONROY, REALCLEARPOLITICS.COM: I found that sound bite that you played kind of amusing. I think she said that, you know, this is nothing more than really just a sightseeing tour essentially. But we know that's not the case. I actually just reported a few minutes ago that Palin intends to take this bus to Iowa eventually next month.

So, I think we all know what that means. She is looking strongly at running for president, and by all indications, she is leaning heavily towards it.

I have learned through sources that I've talked to that really her biggest hold-up at this point is just making sure that her family is OK with this. If she runs for president, it's going to be a campaign like we've never seen before. It's got to be a lot of bus trips, a lot of on the ground grassroots campaigning. And she would basically take her family on it for the whole trip.

So, she wants to make sure that's feasible at this point. But, by all indications, and I'm told that Todd Palin, especially, is completely onboard at this point. And it looks like it's really going to happen.

JOHNS: So, your sources are saying she's taking this bus that she's got out there right now to Iowa. That would be news to -- I mean, to what degree do you have it nailed down?

CONROY: Well, of course -- I mean, you know, the logistics of this thing are already have been changed so many times. But I'm told by two very knowledgeable people that the plan right now is to go to Iowa eventually. I think this is going to be divided up into different segments. For the rest of the week, she's going up the coast and she's going to end up in New Hampshire which again is no coincidence. But -- she'll fly out later on and she'll make her way to Iowa eventually is what I'm told.

JOHNS: OK. Now, let me get Ford in here.

Ford, why is Palin such a polarizing figure?

FORD O'CONNELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that she drives the left and the media nuts, and I think that's also part of her appeal, you know, because while she's polarizing the left and the media, she really has a strong appeal in almost iconic following for right-leaning Americans who feel they really don't have a voice in government. A great example was the day before Election Day 2008, I was out with the Palin folks in Reno -- look, we knew we lost to Obama, pouring rain, thousands of people waiting outside just to get a glimpse of Palin. It's the fact that she's something different and she shoots from the hip.

But if she wants to actually make a run at the nomination, she's going to become a little bit more of a refined candidate or her campaign could flop right out of the gate. JOHNS: Mark Preston, you heard what we heard from Scott that she's going to take this bus out to Iowa. If that's true, does it say anything more than we know now?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, you know, what's interesting, Joe, is the fact that she says that this is not a campaign and Scott is saying that she's going to Iowa. You know, this trip up to New Hampshire is not publicly scripted. You know, she's going to these locations and just allowing the media a few moment's notice before she actually arrives.

Now, if she does decide to run a national campaign, she has to have more structure, as Ford says. The bottom line is she's running as this outside the beltway candidate and that would work well except you need inside the beltway text to help run your campaign. So, if Sarah Palin is really serious, she's really have to start building up her political staff and really starting to embrace at least behind the scenes a little bit of Washington or certainly the consultants that know how to run presidential campaigns.

JOHNS: Scott, back to you. You are probably one of the only journalists who's actually seen this movie they are going to unveil about Sarah Palin in Iowa presumably at some point. Tell us a little bit about that movie. I mean, what's it supposed to be?

CONROY: The movie is really an effort to reintroduce her to the country. I mean, lost in the Sarah Palin phenomenon that we've had over the last few years is her record as governor of Alaska. And you know what? She never even talks about it practically.

But I think that if she does run, and this movie shows, "The Undefeated" it's called, she will tout her record on oil and gas issues, which is very strong. She was one of the most popular governors in the history by the time she was picked by the McCain campaign. So, the movie really gets down into the weeds of, you know, trying to make her seem like a serious person to a lot of people who don't perceive her to be that way anymore. And quite frankly, it's pretty effective. I don't know how many people are going to go to see it. But those that do might see their perception of her change a little bit.

JOHNS: Great. OK.

CONROY: Of course, she still has a big uphill climb. I mean, she has a lot of people to win back over if she's going to be a serious candidate.

JOHNS: Scott, Mark, Ford, thanks so much for coming in on Memorial Day.

O'CONNELL: Thank you, my friend.

CONROY: Thanks you.

PRESTON: Thanks. JOHNS: Up next, we talked to our nation's veterans on this Memorial Day on what this special day means to them. CNN's Pete Dominick is in New York for Fleet Week. That's coming up next.


JOHNS: As the nation pays tribute today to the men and women who have given their lives to defend our country, we also wanted to hear from the veterans, themselves. Here is Pete Dominick.


PETE DOMINICK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It is Memorial Day and Fleet Week here in New York City. I'm at the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. And I'm going to ask veterans and those of us who benefit from their service what does Memorial Day mean to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honoring our military vets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think about my father, I think about where I grew up. I think about the sacrifices of all servicemen.

DOMINICK: What's Memorial Day? You guys know?


DOMINICK: Indy 500. What else? Anything else? How about you? It means naptime for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that we made a mistake in this country if we think it's a holiday. It's to celebrate people who spent time in the service, not guys who barbeque.

DOMINICK: As a veteran in World War II, I'm sure you lost some friends.


FRANK CLESACK, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: Every Memorial Day, I think of my friends who were killed.

DOMINICK: Do you remember them?

CLESACK: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last serving member who was killed in Vietnam was in my class at Notre Dame.

WARREN HOLCOMB, VIETNAM VETERAN: Memorial Weekend means the guys we left behind.

DOMINICK: Look at that.

HOLCOMB: I keep their name in my cover.

DOMINICK: What are their names? HOLCOMB: Lieutenant Steve Young. (INAUDIBLE) Spinos (ph), Lance Corporal Carmelo Nagel (ph). Sorry.

DOMINICK: That's all right.

LEN VENESS, U.S. ARMY VETERANS: On September 11th, I lost my friends at the NYPD fire department.

DOMINICK: And so, Memorial Day for you is those guys that you lost that worked in the FDNY.

VENESS: Right.

DOMINICK: So when you see the people with barbeques and there's mattress sales and Indy 500, all that. Is that OK?

HOLCOMB: It's all part of Americana. That's the reason we went to war. That's the reason we fought. Every time somebody threatens us from overseas, you know, we have a bigger barbeque and then go over there and kick their (EXPLETIVE DELETED), come back and have a bigger barbeque.

DOMINICK: What does Memorial Day really mean to you? What should we be doing, Ken Davis?

KEN DAVIS, HISTORIAN/AUTHOR: This is a solemn day on our national calendar. It's not a celebration. It is a day when we remember more than a million men and women have given their lives in service to the country, and that's what this holiday is all about.

DOMINICK: The origin, when did it start?

DAVIS: It officially starts in 1868. We're talking about the aftermath of the Civil War, 600,000 Americans died, that's an unbelievable number. Those are 2 percent of the American population back then. So, there was no town or village in the country that wasn't affected. This is the day that we remember what Lincoln said in the Gettysburg address, "the last full measure of devotion."