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Travel Disruptions Easing in Europe?; Should Government Limit Salt?

Aired April 20, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: Airliners are sent out on flights to Europe in the hope they will be able to reach their destinations. Still, there are ominous signs the ash clouds are not going away any time soon.

One of Wall Street's biggest names turned into the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Federal officials cite that as a textbook case for financial reform. But are shady accounting practices and shadow securities markets here to stay?

And Americans eat more than twice the salt they need, boosting the risk of strokes and other ailments. Should the government set limits on sodium?

Wolf Blitzer is out today. I'm Candy Crowley.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Half of Europe's flights are back in the air today, and more than two dozen planes took off from the U.S. and other locations headed for London, in the hope they would be able to land there. That effort may pay off, with British airspace now set to reopen.

But we haven't seen the last of that massive ash cloud spewing from a volcano in Iceland.

We want to go to our meteorologist Chad Myers at the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.

So, Chad, so things could get worse before they get better, or are they getting better?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, they're getting better than the first eruption that went up 40,000 feet.

Now, all of these eruptions are only about 18,000 feet. What's the difference? Well, if you get it up to 45,000 feet, then you're in the jet area, where the jets actually fly. If you get it in, let's say, the 15,000 feet area, you can fly over that ash cloud. So, we will have to keep watching.

Where's the ash now? Well, it's in the red zone. It's all -- even all the way to Maine. Maine, you should wake up tomorrow and see an amazing sunrise. That's what it's going to do for basically the U.S. and a lot of Europe, just give great sunrises and sunsets.

But, the bad part now, there are new concerns by the Icelandic volcanologists of a volcano that's only 12 miles away from we will call it E-15, because I can't pronounce it anyway. But it's only 12 miles away. And the last time E-15 erupted, Katla, K-A-T-L-A, also erupted, and sometimes that can be a bigger eruption than the E-15.

Could you imagine two simultaneously erupting and then all of that ash flowing over Europe? This could be months of travel interruptions, maybe even years of travel interruptions. The last time this volcano, E-15, erupted, it kept spewing ash for two years, Candy.

CROWLEY: Wow. The things that happen you never actually even thought about.

Let me ask you, we had those planes that took off for Heathrow not knowing if they could land, a flight I'm not sure I would be on. But we are hearing Heathrow is open. Are they landing?

MYERS: They are landing right now. Heathrow did open up about an hour ago. And I can kind of show you what has happened here.

The map behind me timed out while I was standing here waiting to talk to you, so I can't show you what the planes are doing at this point in time. I don't have anybody helping me here.


MYERS: So, the planes are landing from Heathrow and Gatwick. It's kind of an odd time for planes to be landing there, because, you know, it's almost, what, 11:00, midnight there. But they're getting planes in any time they can and trying to get people out as well.

So, the airspace is open. They haven't seen any problems with the planes that did land, so far, no reports of any ash in the cockpit, no smell of anything in the fuselage and no ash so far in the jets. And there's the plane that came in. That was B.A. Flight 84 from Vancouver, British Columbia, the first plane in.

And, in fact, it took 10 hours and 40 minutes to get from Vancouver, because they had to circle over Ireland and over the Isle of Man for a couple of hours, waiting for the British airspace to open up.

CROWLEY: Wow. I feel like we should clap. Thanks so much, meteorologist Chad Myers.

MYERS: That's what I thought, too.

CROWLEY: We appreciate it.

MYERS: I'm sure everybody clapped.


CROWLEY: Yes. We will see if we can get you a person to help you with your map. Thanks, Chad.


CROWLEY: The dense cloud of ash is forcing the U.S. military to detour medevac flights from one war zone to another.

We want to go live to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, obviously, the volcano is having an impact on everything, including the military.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, it really is, Candy. The U.S. may have the strongest military in the world, but, right now, it is still Mother Nature running the show.


STARR (voice-over): Jo Ann and Greg Gitto are now on their way to see their son Andrew, a Marine shot in Afghanistan, now finally on his way home via Iraq, because of the volcano erupting in Iceland.

JO ANN GITTO, MOTHER OF STRANDED MARINE: I just want to see him. I have not talked to him. So, it's been a long time since Thursday night.

STARR: The U.S. is now sending some troops wounded in Afghanistan into this hospital in Iraq, because it can't fly them to the primary medical facility in Germany. The Pentagon worries, if there's a major battle in Afghanistan, it won't be able to treat all the wounded.

BRIG. GEN STEVEN KWAST, U.S. ARMY: To have that capacity ready at our hands means we have to move those wounded soldiers.

STARR: The flow of troops and cargo into the war zone also slowed down. The secretary-general of NATO insists security across Europe hasn't been affected by the volcanic ash cloud.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: I can assure you that the Icelandic volcano does not have any effect -- effect on our operations, nor our -- neither our operations nor our territorial defense of allied member states.

STARR: But the U.S. Air Force is now inspecting every aircraft it has in Europe to check for damage.

Look at these pictures from the Finnish Air Force, ash and rock melted onto to their FA-18 engines after they flew. Air bases in Britain, Germany, and Italy have suffered shutdowns. Spanish military bases scrambled to help.

As Britain sent warships to bring home stranded citizens, experts say governments have to plan for what may seem totally improbable.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: What I can say is, I can think of an instance where we planned for a volcanic disruption, but think of things like hurricanes, terrorist attacks. There are all sorts of contingencies that both the military and the civilian federal government plan for.


STARR: OK, Candy, so what could be next? Well, Chad was just talking about that westerly flow that might be bringing ash to the east coast of Canada and the United States. I can tell you the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is responsible for the air defense of Canada and the U.S., now keeping a very close eye to see if the ash is coming this way -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon also keeping a very close eye on things.

Thanks, Barbara.

Five American students from the Washington suburbs have been held for more than four months in Pakistan, where they face terror conspiracy charges. Their trial resumes next week. The mother of one of the Americans says her son went through harsh interrogation in Pakistan.

Our Brian Todd is here with that story.

Brian, you talked with the mother?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did. And, Candy, this has been a highly charged case from the very start. Five young men, all Americans who simply vanished last fall and showed up in Pakistan, they now could face life in prison there for planning terrorist attacks against Americans. And now the mother of one of them is speaking out, having some strong allegations about her son's treatment.


TODD (voice-over): An explosive claim from the mother of a young American now on trial in Pakistan. Amal Khalifa just returned from seeing her son, Ramy Zamzam, in jail there. She says he gave her a chilling account of what happened when he was arrested last fall.

(on camera): And what did he say about how he was, how he was being treated?

AMAL KHALIFA, MOTHER OF TERROR SUSPECT: He said, we were -- us watching TV and eating banana. And 30 men armed with guns and with a gun in our faces, and they took us somewhere. We don't know where. And as soon as we get there, they beat the hell out of them. They tortured them.

TODD (voice-over): Khalifa says her son told of her of being kept for more than a day without food and water, and:

KHALIFA: They chained them to a chair and somebody standing behind him, as soon as he fall asleep, somebody hit him, so they don't fall asleep.

TODD: Khalifa says it was treatment that got four of the five young men in Zamzam's group to confess to terrorism-related charges. Their lawyer says the charges are fabricated. Khalifa says her son never confessed.

(on camera): We asked an official here at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington about Ms. Khalifa's claims that her son was tortured and beaten. This official emphatically denied the claim. He says that, while they have been in custody in Pakistan, the five young man have had regular consular access to U.S. officials there and that there have been no claims of beating or torture.

So, we called an official at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. This official did say that, yes, they have had regular access to the young men, but, because of privacy laws, they cannot discuss their condition or anything that they have said.

Ramy Zamzam, a promising dental student at Howard University, went missing last fall, along with four other young men from the D.C. area. They were later arrested in Pakistan. Zamzam left a video behind.

(on camera): What's on the video?

KHALIFA: I recall he's talking about how the relationship between the human being should be, not only between Muslim and Christian or Jewish. A human being is a human being. Everybody has to love each other.


TODD: That's at odds with what Muslim leaders in Washington who had seen the video said last December after the young men were arrested. At the time, those leaders said they were at "disturbed," uncomfortable with what was on the video. One of them said it seemed like a farewell message.

The FBI has the video now, and Ms. Khalifa says FBI officials have told her there's nothing incriminating on it. The FBI would not comment on that to us, Candy.

CROWLEY: Brian, and the mother also talked about what her son told her before he left.

TODD: She has said something about that. He -- she says that he said before he left that he was going to a conference in Baltimore.

Now, he has since told his parents that he was going to the wedding in Pakistan of one of the other four young men. She says that he didn't say that at first because he didn't want them to worry that he was going to a dangerous place.

The Pakistanis are not buying any of that.

CROWLEY: Yes, regardless of what he did or did not do, you can't help but feel sympathy for the mother in this position.

TODD: Absolutely. Right. Right.

CROWLEY: Thanks very much.

TODD: Sure.

CROWLEY: Discrimination or security? A tough proposed immigration law in Arizona is the subject of a national uproar. Supporters say it will cut crime. Critics claim it will lead to racial profiling.

And a warning about school lunches from a most unlikely group. It says the foods kids eat may be making America less safe.


CROWLEY: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, it's my favorite part. What's the question?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, as we reported, Candy, last week in "The Cafferty File," 47 percent of all U.S. households will pay no federal income taxes for last year, not a dime.

Turns out they're in very good company. General Electric and Bank of America also managed to pay no income taxes to the federal government for all of 2009. That's right, not a single dime. Here's how.

Although GE earned lots of money last year, they earned most of it overseas and not here in the U.S. General Electric's American operations lost about $400 million, while its international businesses netted nearly $11 billion in profit. After deductions and adjustments, GE reported a negative 10.5 percent federal income tax rate, and actually wound up with a tax benefit of almost $1 billion.

When it comes to income tax payments on all those overseas profits, well, these are deferred, indefinitely. Not bad. Make $11 billion, get a tax benefit of $1 billion more. The rest of us need their accountants.

As for Bank of America, after major losses in 2009, it ended the tax year with a tax benefit of almost $2 billion. Meanwhile, this country faces a staggering $12 trillion national debt. The skyrocketing deficit is estimated to top $1.6 trillion this year alone.

We are going bankrupt, and Washington refuses to do anything meaningful about it. But don't worry. The big corporations are doing just fine. See, they own the politicians, and they own the government, as evidenced by these kind of tax liabilities.

Here's the question. Is it right that companies like General Electric and Bank of America paid no federal income taxes last year?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

Candy, you probably paid more taxes than General Electric did last year.

CROWLEY: Which is kind of amazing, because I didn't make that kind of money, I just want it to be known right now.

CAFFERTY: You didn't make $11 billion last year?


CROWLEY: Not last year, no. Year before, but it was a bad year last year.

CAFFERTY: All right.


CROWLEY: Thanks, Jack.

Calling it a case of wholesale discrimination, Latino members of Congress are calling on Arizona's governor to veto a state bill that will require police to question people about their immigration status.

The measure passed yesterday by the state senate would also require immigrants to carry their registration documents at all times.

Joining me now, CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. She obviously was with the Bush administration.

We appreciate, as always, your expertise.

So, does it make it safer? I mean, you have looked at this bill. Would it make America safer to have a bill like this?


TOWNSEND: Well, you know, what is interesting, Candy, it's a very one-sided bill, and I think that's why you see the controversy. There's nothing comprehensive about the approach of this bill. This is very heavily weighted to the law enforcement side.

It requires officers, law enforcement officers, in Arizona to question those that they have a reason -- the key language here is a reason to suspect they're in the country illegally.

Well, you tell me, how do you tell that by somebody walking down the street? And so the real concern here is that that provision will lead to racial profiling.

CROWLEY: Well, it almost has to. I mean, you know, I guess I could be from Canada and be an illegal immigrant, but they're not going to, you know, stop you or I on the streets. They're going to stop people who look Latino, are they not?

TOWNSEND: That's right. And so this is really -- how is this going to be implemented? Is it going to result in racial profiling? Is it written in a way that's overly broad?

I don't want to get real legalistic here, but that's really going to be the crux of the concern. And I suspect this legislation, if it's signed into law, will end up in the courts. There will be a great burden on law enforcement officers to be able to articulate the reasons that they have stopped an individual that are -- that go beyond race, because race alone is not a sufficient legal basis.

You know, there are other very interesting provisions here. It requires people -- aliens to carry their identification cards. It makes illegal the fact of hiring day workers. It makes it illegal to transport them, because, of course, we hear about these stories along the border where you pick up day workers at a local street corner and hire them and then drop them back off.

It makes all of that -- so, it also makes a crime on the individuals who are supporting the sort of underground economy that supports illegal -- illegals who are in this country. You know, it's interesting, because Secretary Napolitano, who's now the secretary of homeland security, was the governor of Arizona, where this law is going to go before the now-Republican governor who replaced her.

She understands the immigration issue, but has put a different emphasis on work site enforcement, the sort of interior enforcement in this country that takes advantage of that underground economy. But she understands the border problem.

And let's remember, last year in Juarez, 2,600 people were murdered just on the other side of the El Paso border, and so border communities have tremendous concern about their own safety. And I think we're seeing this sort of legislation as a result of that concern.

CROWLEY: Yes, it will be interesting to see what the governor does.


CROWLEY: Fran Townsend, thank you so much.

A dozen junior high students get sick at school and have to be taken to the hospital, and now police say they know why.

And White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, opens up about the job he's eyeing down the line.


CROWLEY: It sank one of Wall Street's biggest names and drove others to bailouts. Jessica Yellin is here to shed some light on Wall Street's shadow world of derivative trading.

Plus, are you taking in too much salt? Why a prestigious advisory group says it's time for the government to start setting limits on sodium.


CROWLEY: On Capitol Hill today, a hearing into the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which helped trigger the global financial crisis, among those testifying, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who said Lehman's collapse highlights the needs for reforms.


TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Imagine building a national highway system with two sets of drivers. The first group has to abide by the speed limit, wear seat belts, buy cars with antilock brakes. The second group can drive as fast as they choose, with no safety features and without any fear of getting pulled over by the police.

Imagine both groups are driving on the same roads. That system would inevitably cause serious collisions, and drivers following the rules of the game would inevitably get hit by drivers who weren't. A system like that makes no sense.

We would never allow it on the roads, so why do we allow it in our economy? Our financial system allowed risks to move towards areas where regulations were most lenient. And, as you would expect, when there's a lot of money to be made by avoiding regulation, there's going to be a lot of activity and risk moving to where the constraints are weak.


CROWLEY: Let's bring in CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi.

I mean, that's quite the metaphor. I'm not sure I know whether Lehman is an example of someone we should have bailed out, and that's the lesson, or whether it's an example of why we should have reform.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And there are two other tricky things there. One is Tim Geithner is not really given to those kind of metaphors, so he didn't deliver it with a lot of conviction.

But he was in the room on September 14 and September 15, 2008, when the decision was made to rescue Lehman Brothers, so, again, unclear as to what exactly that means we were supposed to do with Lehman.

Here's what it does mean to our viewers. What it means is if that if the same situation were to present itself today, there are no regulatory changes in place that would prevent the situation that Lehman Brothers got itself into.

Now, keep in mind, we used to think, Candy, that only crooks kept two sets of books. It turns out that Lehman, evidence is showing, had two sets of books going. So, whether or not we had new rules in place, they may have been breaking the existing rules. The issue here, and this is why President Obama is pushing so strongly this week for financial regulation -- we will hear a speech from him on Thursday morning about this -- is that there's some feeling on Wall Street that there just are not enough cops around and there haven't been for a long time.

So there was a spirit of being able to -- to ignore financial regulation. Democrats and the administration want to change that right now, and it does seem like Republicans are starting to move toward their efforts to do so -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Ali, I did an interview the other day with Senator Mark Warner, who has -- Virginia -- who has been involved in trying to shape this financial reform bill.


CROWLEY: And I said, you know, we put up a big list of all the agencies already in existence that were supposed to be watching this stuff.


CROWLEY: And now they're going to have new rules and new agencies. And how confident are you that this is going to fix what was wrong?

VELSHI: Well, it's like alphabet soup. The financial regulatory system prior to this collapse was very much like the national security system before 9/11, lots of different agencies with lots of different disparate pieces of information that they couldn't bring together to see that there was an imminent collapse.

I have spoken to a number of people very close to the legislation, who say the design here should be to bring those dozen or so agencies together and work in a fashion that we can see things.

The other big thing about this legislation, this reform that the president is proposing, is that it is going to just make the whole system a little more transparent. Just the idea that everything has to be laid out, written, and understandable may help us get toward a clearer system.

It is a very opaque, hard to understand system right now, of financial regulation, left only to the experts and unable to be regulated by mere mortals who don't even understand the language of this -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Boy, that is -- that is for sure.

Thanks so much.

That's our CNN chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi.

Thanks, Ali. It helped sink Lehman, it got Goldman in hot water and it drove AIG to a government bailout. Now it's at the heart of the debate over Wall Street reform this week. It's called derivative trading.

What does that mean?

Our CNN national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here to explain -- so, Jessica, have at it.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: OK. breaking this down, Candy, derivatives are basically like buying an insurance policy. and it all started with crops. For the sake of it, let's just say you grow green beans. you spent money planting and raising them. And you hope that they stay healthy and make you money. Well, just in case there's a cold snap or a problem, you take out an insurance policy. If your green beans go bad, your insurance pays up and covers your crops. If the beans go to market, the bank pays you nothing. That insurance policy is a derivative. And it's a lot like a bet on your green beans.

Now creative finance executives said, why stop at green beans?

Let's do the same thing for other products -- oil, gold, even housing and mortgages. you can buy this insurance type protection for just about any product.

And here is what made them so popular. The finance guys looked at this and said, here's a big way to make more money. They decided you don't have to own the green beans, the oil, the mortgages or the gold to bet on them.

So, Candy, a gambler -- or even I -- could bet the bank that your crop price would go up. If it does, I make money. If it doesn't, I lose money. In a way, it's like gambling on other people's business. And that's what the derivatives market is.

CROWLEY: So I think this may take far more explanation than we have time for.

So what's Congress trying to do to change things?

YELLIN: Well, right now, most of the deals are done privately. They call it in a shadow market. And in the US, it's usually done through one of the big five banks. The problem with keeping it private is that a company like AIG was taking bets on whether people would be able to pay their mortgages.

When the housing market crashed and AIG was supposed to pay up, it didn't have enough to cover its bets. Hello, government bailout.

Now, because it was all private, nobody had any idea AIG was gambling so much. Now Congress wants most of these derivatives traded publicly, in the sunlight, like stocks, and then investors and everyone else can see how much each company is betting and then regulators can step in and order changes if a company is taking on too much risk. Derivatives in a nutshell.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, who knows a thing or two about derivatives.

On Capitol Hill, one of those leading the charge against derivatives says a reform measure would shine the light of day on those shadowy financial markets.


CROWLEY: Joining us now, Senator Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas.

Senator, thanks for being here.


CROWLEY: We wanted to talk a little further about derivatives, because you have a bill up on Capitol Hill that you think will go a long way toward stopping the sort of thing that caused this economic meltdown. And it's sort of open and transparent and put all this $600 -- what is it -- $600 trillion...

LINCOLN: $600 trillion, yes.

CROWLEY: -- worth of derivatives market.

Is it really possible to control that kind of cash that flows that quickly?

LINCOLN: Well, I think it's really important for people to know that with a $600 trillion marketplace where these derivatives have been -- these over the counter market products -- that we don't know about them except for the fact that we looked behind us. And so the whole objective here is to create transparency. Our bill does that. And I think it's probably -- I believe it is the strongest in terms of reform of anything that anybody has produced.

And what we do is we require 100 percent transparency -- real time reporting to both regulators and to the public. We also mandate that there is exchange trade, that they have to be exchange traded, as well as they have to be cleared.

And looking at all of these things, if banks want to be banks, they can be banks. But if they are going to deal with swaps, then they've got to move those swaps off of the banks.

CROWLEY: One of the reasons that Wall Street is not crazy about this idea is because they have sort of operated largely in the dark on these. They've been private deals.


CROWLEY: Is that -- when people bought them, they really didn't know what their market worth was, so banks could charge a lot because the -- the buyers had nothing really to compare it to.

LINCOLN: Well, that's right...

CROWLEY: How certain are you that you're going to be able to get enough votes for this, because it's a -- it's a pretty powerful lobby?

LINCOLN: Well, it is a pretty powerful lobby. But I think most members understand, like I do, that we answer to the people at home. And the fact is, is that you're exactly right. This information was privy only to the -- to the folks on Wall Street.

There's no doubt that businesses and industries need to be able to mitigate their risk. They need to park their risk in places. But we are able to still do that under our bill for commercial users.

But these people that have been doing it speculatively, those that have been at the mercy of the Wall Street folks who have all that information, you know, we will be able to shine the light of day on what they're doing with that transparency, with that real time reporting, and, therefore, I think, other people will be able to participate in that marketplace, but more importantly, people will know what's happening. They'll know what we are dealing with in terms of this market.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to politics, because you are in a very rough race back home -- a reelection race for you. One of the most endangered Democrats, I think, is one of the titles they give you when we read about your race.

What is it, do you think, that has made you a target from the left of your party -- the more liberal Democrat running against you in the primary?

What have you done wrong as far as Democratic orthodoxy is concerned?

LINCOLN: Well, I look for results. You know, I don't look at the politics of things. I don't look at the left or the right. And this bill is a good example.

What I look at is getting results for Arkansans, getting results for -- for the people of America. And I -- I look for common ground to solve that problem because I do think common ground is the place to be. It's where you find most solutions...

CROWLEY: It might cost you the election, though, might it -- might it not?

I mean it -- it does seem that this is a pretty rough one for you, so you may have -- being in the middle has not proven to be a very safe place to be for a politician.

LINCOLN: No, I have to say, you know, I've always had tough races. That's just by the nature, whether it was my age or my gender. They've always been tough elections. But I think, by and large, Arkansans and Americans see through that. They also see that when you're trying to get results, if you're looking for common ground and you're trying to solve the problem, that's exactly what they want.

People want to see nowadays, I think, government moving forward, sometimes one step at a time, but more importantly, solving our problems and to quit the bickering that happens out there.

CROWLEY: The last question here. By our count, you got about $4,500 in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs, which now has been charged -- but found guilty of nothing, we should say, but has been charged with -- with not really telling its investors everything that the investors should have been told.

You have gotten $4,500 from a Goldman Sachs PAC or from Goldman Sachs employees.

Have you thought about giving that back?

LINCOLN: No. I think the larger point here is, is that whatever that contribution was -- and I have had multiple contributions from lots of different places, from agricultural institutes, other business entities, $4 million from Arkansans.

The point here is, is the contribution didn't make any difference because I still produced one of the toughest reform bills that's been presented. The idea here is, is that certainly you listen to everyone -- and that's exactly what I did in putting this bill together. But more importantly, that you're working hard to get something done for the American people. And in my -- my case, the people of Arkansas.

People want transparency and -- and accountability in their government and in their financial system and that's what we do in this bill.

CROWLEY: Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, thank you so much for joining us.

LINCOLN: Thank you, Candy.

Great to be with you.


CROWLEY: Next up, calls for a crackdown on salt -- we'll show you who wants to have limits on the amount of salt we eat and why the government may be willing to do it.


CROWLEY: Government regulators say they'll start looking into limiting the amount of salt you consume. Americans take in more than twice the sodium they need and that can boost your risk of serious ailments. Most of the sodium in your diet doesn't come from your salt shaker. It's in processed foods and restaurant meals. Today, a prestigious group chartered by Congress called on the government to do something about it.

We brought in our Mary Snow to look into that -- Mary, what's the -- what's the story here?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, if you can see this, this is what a teaspoon-and-a-half of salt looks like in a very sophisticated lab here. But this is the average amount of salt that Americans consume every day. And that's according to the Institute of Medicine. And it wants to regulate the amount of salt that food manufacturers and restaurants can add to meals.

Sodium's been linked to a higher risk of hypertension, heart disease and stroke. and this panel now wants the government to set mandatory limits. And they would be the first of their kind.

The Food and Drug Administration said it hasn't made any decisions, however, it is opening a door. It issued a statement today saying: (ph) "Over the coming weeks, the FDA will more thoroughly review the recommendations of the IOM report and build plans for how the FDA can continue to work with other federal agencies, public health and consumer groups and the food industry to support the reduction of sodium levels in the food supply."

However, one group that is not swayed is The Salt Institute. It represents salt producers. It does not back any of these calls for regulations. And it says a one size fits all prescription by the federal government is reckless and may have serious, unintended consequences.

Basically, a spokesperson for the group said should the government regulate the consumption of what it says are low levels of salt, it would effectively compel the entire population to take part in the largest clinical trial ever carried out without knowledge or consent.

CROWLEY: It's probably not that all surprising that The Salt Institute would be against this. But --

SNOW: Right.

CROWLEY: -- haven't companies already been cutting back on their salt?

SNOW: Yes. You know, they have. And it's been a number of things. you've seen it in soup, some chips. But groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest say these have been steps in the right direction.

The bottom line, they say, it hasn't worked. This is the same group that found that some meals at popular restaurants contain several days' worth of salt in a single dish.

But one of the biggest hurdles, of course, is taste. And there's no substitute for salt. Food makers have been struggling with that in order to have products that have reduced sodium they can sell. And because of that, you know, a lot of food experts say it's not expected that any limits will take place right away.

CROWLEY: Cumin, that's all I have to say to you. Thanks so much, Mary Snow.

I appreciate it.

SNOW: Sure.

CROWLEY: A small part in a big film -- it led to more than six decades of work for one of "The Wizard of Oz's" munchkins. Today, a sad end.

A well known White House aide is mugged at gunpoint on a Washington street. We've got the details.



CROWLEY: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Hi, there Candy.

Well, there's controversy over the deaths of four unarmed Afghans shot and killed in their car by NATO forces. NATO says two of the victims were known insurgents and that their car was approaching a NATO convoy despite warnings to stop. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says all four victims were civilians, one a 12-year-old boy.

The crew of the Shuttle Discovery is home after 15 days and six million miles in space. The seven astronauts were due back yesterday, but weather postponed their return. Discovery is nearing the end of its service. It has only one mission left. And there are only three total missions remaining before the entire shuttle program is retired.

In Wisconsin, a funeral was held today for the actor who played the munchkin Corner (ph) in "Wizard of Oz". Meinhardt Raabe parlayed that small part in the 1939 classic into a lifetime career, appearing at Oz Festivals for more than six decades. He also worked for 30 years as a spokesman for Oscar Mayer. He died April 9th at the age of 94.

And actor turned White House aide Kal Penn was robbed at gunpoint early this morning in downtown Washington. Two officials familiar with the incident say his wallet and cell phone were stolen, but he was not seriously hurt. Penn starred in the film "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle." He is a White House liaison to Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, but is said to be eager to return to acting.

You know, he's also, Candy, he's been in a number of TV roles, "House" and "24." But a pretty bizarre story. And he is also planning on returning to acting. He did mention that. It was announced, I think, earlier this month -- Candy.

CROWLEY: He's going back to his day job.

Thanks so much.

SYLVESTER: Yes, going back to his day job. I think it pays a little bit more, too.

CROWLEY: I'll bet. I'll bet.

Jack Cafferty is next with your e-mail.

Then, a most unusual ailment -- Foreign Accent Syndrome.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has the prognosis.


CROWLEY: Time now to check back with Jack Cafferty -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Candy, the question this hour, is it right that companies like General Electric and Bank of America paid no federal income taxes last year -- nary a farthing?

Anne writes: "It kind of makes the whining about corporate tax rates nonsensical, doesn't it? They aren't the only corporations that pay little or nothing in taxes. Fair? no. It shouldn't be legal, either. And now they can spend all that unpaid tax money to buy more politicians to shape the laws to suit them. Why does any American with a brain support them?"

Randy in Minnesota: "And you wonder why we're in trouble, with money -- no money to pay the bills around here? No tax money coming in, there's no money to pay out. If we're smart, we can put the Republicans back in charge in November and then go through this again. It's time for the big companies to pay up and close the loopholes Republicans have given them over the last several years.

Let's start paying down the deficit."

Clifford in New York writes: "If GE is playing by the IRS tax rules and abiding by our ridiculous tax code, then they're entitled to whatever they can get. This really points out how ridiculous the tax situation is. Corporations that make billions of dollars should be paying taxes to help support the country they are doing business in. Small wonder the taxpayers of America are so angry. The list of injustices seems to go on and on."

Larraine in Maryland writes: "What a surprise. We're always being told by the Republicans that we need to end the corporate income tax. It looks to me like it's already ended. so they earned their income overseas. Does that mean that American soldiers don't have to defend them? It would be nice to see a little patriotism from these jokers, but don't hold your breath."

Peg in New York writes: "Who exactly allows this to be OK? It sounds like what's good for big business is not good for the tax paying masses. This is just plain wrong in so many ways and on so many levels. I need new appliances. GE is off my list."

And Andrew writes: "Jack, how dare you suggest that corporations pay income tax? It's the responsibility of the citizens to pay the taxes so that the government can then give the bailouts, the tax exemptions, the tax credits and the subsidies to the corporations."

If you want to read more on this, it will ruin your appetite for dinner, but we've got some pretty good e-mail --

CROWLEY: You did.

CAFFERTY: Allow me to compliment you on a magnificent job. I think this is the first time you ever anchored this telethon, isn't it?

CROWLEY: It is -- it is with you, for sure.

CAFFERTY: You done good, pilgrim.

CROWLEY: So -- and you've been here forever.

Thank you.

It's been fun.


CROWLEY: As long as I have you here, I'm great.

CAFFERTY: I'm here for you.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

CROWLEY: Migraines, headaches and Chinese accents -- in one case, there is a connection.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.


CROWLEY: Here's a look at today's Hot Shots.

In Bolivia, people wave colorful flags while attending a Conference on Climate Change.

In Nepal, Christians pray for peace and religious freedom.

And in India, a firefighter leaps through a burning ring of flames during a drill at the Commonwealth Games.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

A most unusual ailment leaves its victim sounding like they never did before.

CNN's Jeanne Moos looks at Foreign Accent Syndrome.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Politicians do it.


MOOS: Adopt an accent.

OBAMA: We've got too many daddies.

MOOS: Actors do it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a fake accent. I'm not from Scotland.


MOOS: Adopt an accent.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you start to talk like that and, you know, you're just like talking like that all the time.


MOOS: But this British woman used to talk all the time with an English accent until out of the blue, her accent changed into sounding Chinese.


SARAH COLWILL, ALTERED ACCENT: On the day that my voice changed, I found it difficult to speak. And when I did speak, it sounded Chinese.

MOOS: It happened after a migraine so severe, her husband called an ambulance. A week later, Sara Caldwell's new Chinese accent changed again.


COLWILL: It sounded more Eastern Europe. and it have been like that ever since.


MOOS: Doctors diagnosed it as FAS. and the does not stand for fake.


MOOS: It's caused by a stroke or a brain injury that affects --

GUPTA: The speech area itself, where you are actually forming words with your mouth.

MOOS: (on camera): Imagine the only voice you've ever known goes from this --


JUDI ROBERTS, ALTERED ACCENT: We've got fabulous things.


MOOS: -- to this.


ROBERTS: I felt like I was going bloody crazy.


MOOS: Florida resident Judy Roberts was Indiana born and bred. She had never even been to England, but a stroke left her with an English accent.


ROBERTS: And if you ran into anybody you used to know, they would look at you like you had flipped your wig.


MOOS: In a piece on Foreign Accent Syndrome, ABC interviewed an American woman who not only got a new accent --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The accent would be very Russian.

MOOS: CindyLou Romberg sometimes speaks in sounds that linguists say don't re-simable any known language.


MOOS: From gibberish to Chinese --

(on camera): English woman gets Chinese accent. It sounds like a joke, but the people it happens to aren't laughing.


COLWILL: Strangers who meet me think I'm foreign. And, also, some people speak to me as I am a bit silly or a bit stupid.


MOOS: (voice-over): Sometimes you get mocked for acquiring an accent.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hadn't quite adjusted to the tabloids.


MOOS: And sometimes an accent acquires you.


ROBERTS: Thank God I've got a voice.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos --

(on camera): Now, Sanjay, do you do any accents?

(voice-over): CNN --

GUPTA: No. Not really.

MOOS: -- New York.

GUPTA: Maybe off-camera.



"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.