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Obama to Begin Troop Withdrawal Out of Afghanistan; Tornadoes Tear Through Midwest; Texas Wildfire Forces Evacuations; Huntsman Joins 2012 Race; Tracy Morgan Back in Nashville; Supreme Court Backs Wal-Mart; Nepal's Stolen Children; Living Lasers

Aired June 21, 2011 - 13:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: He might just get one. It's your choice. I'll have links to them on my page at

CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Randi Kaye. Hey, Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I love that kid, too cute.

MALVEAUX: I know he is.

KAYE: He is great. Not shy at all.

All right, Suzanne, have a great day. Thank you.

Thirty thousand troops out of Afghanistan by the end of next year. An administration source tells CNN that is the plan for the draw-down. President Obama is expected to lay out the plan in a speech tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Of course, we'll bring it to you live right here on CNN. The first of those troops should be coming home this summer.

During meetings at the White House last week, U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, offered several options to the president. Here's where we are right now in Afghanistan.

Since operations began nearly ten years ago, 1,522 U.S. troops have died there, 185 this year. There are around 100,000 U.S. troops, many of them committed to the NATO-led international security force.

So, what do the American people think? In a recent CNN opinion research corporation poll, 74 percent said at least some troops should be withdrawn. 39 percent think all the troops should come home now, 18 percent think the current levels need to be maintained.

Joining me now to talk about this is General James "Spider" Marks. General, glad you're with us. What about this 30,000 number that we're hearing quite a bit about? Is it a good starting point for withdrawal?

MAJ. GENERAL JAMES MARKS, MANAGING PARTNER, ERGO: Well, you know, Randi, the 30,000 is what the president put in when he proclaimed the surge and when he supported the request for additional troops about a year and a half ago. So clearly, the removal of that surge force gets you back to the level where it existed for many years.

KAYE: So beyond that, what we're looking at is a U.S. presence that's already been declared through 2014 and the conclusion of our mission there. But what's unclear is what does that mission look like from 2014 going forward?

So, I think the very short answer is the initial reduction that we'll see by the end of this year will probably be pretty minimal in number. And we've heard numbers like 5,000 to 6,000. Then, over the course of the next year, which gets this force through another fighting season during 2012, and then a draw-down by the end of the year gets you back to where we were about a year and a half ago.

KAYE: The president has promised what he called a significant withdrawal by July, or starting in July. What number do you think we should consider to be significant?

MARKS: You know, that is truly based on conditions on the ground. I mean, a 5,000 withdrawal is significant to the commander on the ground that loses that 5,000. That's almost unacceptable. So, my point is the number depends upon where you sit and how you view this condition that you're confronted with. So, any number is going to have a different type of a flavor, and so my point being is clearly there is a large political -- almost fundamentally, it's a political decision the president is making.

KAYE: Does any withdrawal -- no matter how many troops come out, does that withdrawal send a dangerous message to the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan? I mean, if they know that we're leaving, might they just bide their time there?

MARKS: That's a very good point, absolutely. Bear in mind that the United States has declared, by Secretary Gates this past weekend, is involved in initial conversations with the Taliban. And clearly, we need to try to differentiate between Taliban and Al Qaeda and the different motivations that exist. It's not trying to be to arcane but what's important to realize is that we're trying to make a deal with the Taliban, our enemy currently in Afghanistan, who have harbored Al Qaeda for years.

So, can we do that? Well, we've demonstrated that we were able to do that in Iraq with the awakening a few years ago. Clearly, we'd like to see that take place in Afghanistan.

So, the message clearly could be, look, we're leaving, you guys are going to have at it, but what we want to do obviously before we make that departure is ensure that conditions in terms of the Afghan security forces and the political conditions on the ground in Afghanistan have been met.

KAYE: And just quickly, you brought up Robert Gates. I mean, earlier today, he said the president must take public opinion into account because people are just tired of ten years of war. Do you agree with that?

MARKS: Absolutely. It drives all decisions. Every aspect of warfare is political. So that absolutely is a piece of this decision.

KAYE: All right. General James "Spider" Marks, always great to have you on the show, and appreciate your insight. Thank you.

MARKS: Thank you, Randi.

KAYE: All right, now we want to show you some amazing video. A string of tornadoes ripped through the Midwest yesterday. So, take a look at this, pretty incredible. This was the scene in Nebraska last night. Several homes near the Nebraska, Kansas border were destroyed. The National Weather Service says there were preliminary reports of 43 tornadoes across the Midwest last night. The strongest tornado hit Kansas, which the national weather service has preliminarily rated as an EF3.

Historic wildfires across the country are also proving to be a force of destruction. In Florida, two firefighters died while battling the blue ribbon fire after it flared up again.

Back in Arizona, some residents are now being allowed to go home after being evacuated nearly two weeks ago. The wallow fire, the biggest wildfire in the state's history, has burned more than a half million acres in Eastern Arizona.

But in Texas, it is a different story. Nearly 2,000 people in towns near Houston are evacuating with one of the largest wildfires in the history of east Texas closing in on their homes.

Chad Myers is closely watching these conditions with us. Chad, it seems like several historic fires have popped up in this fire season. Can you give us perspective on that?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There has been wind this fire season. And not like there's not always some wind, but there have been days where winds were blowing 65 miles per hour.

So, you have fires all the way through parts of west Texas into new Mexico, into Colorado, back into Arizona, obviously, and even northern Mexico. Here are some pictures -- I kind of want to put this into perspective, because it's not like the entire western half of the United States is burning, but certainly because of the drought that's been there, the largest number of wildfires that we've ever seen up to this date look like this.

The four pictures of fires all happening literally at the same time, almost every different corner of our universe from WSVN on the top right, that's Miami, and then back to the top left, that's Albuquerque, and then Tucson, and then down to the south and southeast, the wallow fire. That's literally miles and miles -- square miles burned, and yet these firefighters continue to do unbelievable work. I think we just need to put this into perspective on how many homes have not been lost by the fires here.

Here's what the firefighters have to deal with for today and then for tomorrow. Phoenix is going to be 108, Tucson is going to be 103. And if we take a look at tomorrow, it is going to be 113 in Phoenix, the hottest day of the year so far. When it gets this hot, sometimes humidity can come up as well. It's called the monsoon season, the southwest monsoon. That can help bring rainfall in, at least an afternoon shower, to put some natural water on a place in Tucson now, hasn't rained in 71 days.

KAYE: Yikes, that doesn't sound good for them. All right Chad, thank you very much. We'll check back with you a little bit later on.

Jon Huntsman has joined the Republican race for president. He made his speech from Liberty State Park just across the water from the Statue of Liberty today, the same place Ronald Reagan launched his campaign from 30 years ago. Huntsman is a former governor of Utah who quit his job as ambassador to China earlier this year.

In his speech today, Huntsman talked about what kind of campaign he wants to run, and about his former boss, President Obama.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will conduct this campaign on the high road. I don't think you need to run down someone's reputation in order to run for the office of president. Of course we'll have our disagreements, that's what campaigns are all about. But I want you to know that I respect my fellow Republican candidates and I respect the president of the United States.


KAYE: That was earlier today, but right now, this is a live picture of the podium where Jon Huntsman is about to speak at a town hall in Exeter, New Hampshire. We'll have more on huntsman and his candidacy in our next hour.

"30 Rock" star and comedian, Tracy Morgan, went back to Nashville today to say I'm sorry. Morgan returned after going off on a homophobic tirade during a standup routine at the Ryman Auditorium there earlier this month. He apologized with the gay and lesbian alliance against defamation by his side, and Kevin Rogers, who exposed the details of Morgan's rant on his Facebook page. Here's what Morgan said about his change of heart.


TRACY MORGAN, COMEDIAN, "30 ROCK": I don't really see gay or straight, I just see human beings now. I pride myself on 20 years -- 18 years of standup of using it to heal people and not hurt. That was my whole thing and I hurt people with this.


KAYE: In the next hour, we'll hear more on what Morgan had to say and we'll revisit with Kevin Rogers in a live interview, a follow-up to his emotional chat with us and Morgan's apology.

So, what happens to the Wal-Mart case now that the supreme court put the brakes on the massive job discrimination suit? We'll talk live with the lead plaintiff, that is next.


KAYE: Wal-Mart says it's been vindicated by yesterday's supreme court decision, tossing out a class action lawsuit that accused it of discriminating against female employees. A company executive said, quote, "As the majority made clear, the plaintiff's claims were worlds away from showing a company-wide discriminatory pay and promotion policy. Wal-Mart has a long history of providing advancement opportunities for our female associates." Unquote.

A lower court had ruled that the suit could be heard as a class action case on behalf of hundreds of thousands of current and former Wal-Mart workers. Well, yesterday's five to four supreme court decision reversed that ruling, saying the case does not merit class action status.

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Betty Dukes, a Wal-Mart greeter in California. She joins us now from Berkeley along with her lawyer, Brad Seligman. Betty, I'd like to start with you. I'm sure you must be disappointed with this verdict. What did you think when it was handed down?

BETTY DUKES, GREETER, WAL-MART (via Skype): Well, when I received notice that we had -- the verdict was in, well of course I was disappointed because the verdict was going to affect the case greatly, but yet even with the judge's decision from the supreme court, we're still focused on going forth and my role in the case as plaintiff, my lawsuit against Wal-Mart, is still up and running. I'm determined to have the merits of my case heard in federal court in the near future.

KAYE: What motivated you, Betty, to file this suit in the first place?

DUKES: Well, as you know, the suit was filed a decade ago, ten years ago, in 2001. And I had been working for Wal-Mart for 17 years, started back in 1994. Well, over a period of time prior to actually filing this lawsuit in federal court, I had observed in my store that there was disparity in promotion, mainly between men and women. I did notice in my store that men were going forth in upper management more readily than women.

KAYE: Brad, I'm going to bring you in here in just a second. But Betty, I just have one more question for you. If you are planning to move forward, with your suit, do you plan to do that alone or possibly with a smaller group?

DUKES: More -- my -- the lawyers will strategize what will be the best thing for us to go forward, but I am hoping that women that's been out there that have let their voices add to this lawsuit, do not be discouraged. We are still very strong in our -- in our determination to see this through and prove that there has been mass discrimination against women at Wal-Mart, even if we have to do it one by one.

KAYE: So Brad, how does this change things for Betty and the others? I mean, will her case be any tougher to pursue as an individual lawsuit without this class action status?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me first say that it's really important to bear in mind, the Supreme Court did not rule that Wal-Mart did not discriminate. It did not rule that Wal-Mart is off the hook. And, in fact, Wal-Mart is going to face literally thousands of individual lawsuits because one of the peculiarities of class action law is even though the court has said this particular class action can't go forward, the deadlines for all the women in the class going back to December 26, 1998, have been frozen all these years. And all those women today have timely live claims of discrimination.

We're pursuing a strategy that looks at several different options. Number one is, we're considering whether we can file narrower or smaller class cases to bring large numbers of women in. Number two, we will intervene a number of women into the existing case in the northern district of California in federal court, where Betty Dukes and the other five plaintiffs have live claims today.

Number three, we'll consider filing suits in other states. And, number four, and most importantly, is, we will be filing EEOC charges. That is charges with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, across the country, for thousands of women who have claims. And the most important thing here is, yes, it makes it harder. Yes, it makes it much less efficient and much less efficient to move this forward, but this is a burden that Wal-Mart's going to bear also. The cost of litigating against thousands of claims is going to make this quite a nightmare for Wal-Mart.

KAYE: Well, the court --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we're prepared to go forward on this.

KAYE: The court has said that the case can't go forward because it's just -- it's just too big. Too big of a group of people. But, Betty, the -- Wal-Mart says that they feel some vindication here. I take it you don't agree with that?

DUKES: Well, of course they feel vindicated. That is why they have steered this case to the United States Supreme Court. As you know, in the federal courts of California, we have won all the appeals that they have leveled against us. When we get to the Supreme Court, we have five very conservative judges that's on the bench and it was all appointed by the previous Bush administration. So Wal-Mart knew that they could get up to the Supreme Court, that they had an advantage over us. And not only with the Supreme Court that they basically thought they could depend on, all of corporate -- the majority of corporate America, not all, a lot of corporate America also signed on with Wal-Mart in their favor and corporate America, they do have friends that are sitting on the United States Supreme Court bench.

KAYE: All right, Betty, Brad --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would acknowledge that --

KAYE: We're going to have to leave it there, Brad, I'm sorry. But thank you both and be sure to keep us posted on your case as well as you do move forward.

So, how many Americans do you think are unhappy in their jobs? Twenty percent, 30 percent, 40 percent or 50 percent? The answer and the reasons why in two minutes.


KAYE: All right. I'm out of here. No, not really. But that is what a lot of disgruntled American workers are thinking these days, despite the high jobless rate and a weak economy. A new report from a leading out placement and consulting firm says half, that's right, half of U.S. employees are actively eyeing the exits or have a less than favorable opinion of their employers. For more on this report, Alison Kosik joins us now from the New York Stock Exchange.

Hi, Alison.

So, tell me, why are so many Americans unhappy at work?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what the number one reason is? They're not happy with how much they're being paid. And we can all understand that, right? You know, wages stagnated during the recession. But there are other issues, too. They're upset with career development. Most workers don't think promotions go to the most qualified person. Also, health care benefits factor in here. Workers are shouldering more of the cost these days. And this high turnover rate is an issue for employers, too. They could wind up losing a good worker because they're unhappy. But, you know what, and as well, the disgruntled worker may not work as hard or do sloppy work as well. So there are all these ramifications in here contributing to the unhappy worker.


KAYE: Are you surprised, though, to see such high numbers in a weak economy? I mean millions of Americans would do just about anything right now for a job.

KOSIK: Oh, yes, I agree with you there, that millions of Americans are looking for a job. But many companies, the reality is, they're still reluctant to hire. And also what's happening here is people are working double time. And this is kind of adding to that dissatisfaction. Employers cut workers during the recession so the workers who were left had to do more work. They had to work twice as hard. So there is that certain sort of burnout factor in the high level of job dissatisfaction that we are seeing, Randi.

KAYE: And even if they aren't looking for a new job, I mean how many are just flat out unhappy?

KOSIK: Yes, 30 percent are so unhappy. They're ready to say sayonara. They're ready to quit. Another 21 percent have a negative view of their company. They're completely checked out. You know, and these negative feelings, actually, are at all career levels, not just at those lower rung positions where you see most of the disgruntled employees. But you know what? Surprisingly they're not looking for work. It looks like they're going to stick it out. They're going to stay put until the economy picks up because the reality is, there's stiff competition out there. Job seekers are vying for the very same jobs as millions of other out of work Americans are looking for. So sometimes it may be better just to stay where you are until the economy picks up a bit.


KAYE: Yes, these days, if you're not happy, just fake it, right? Hold on to that job.

KOSIK: Yes. Fake it, exactly.

KAYE: Yes. All right, Alison, thank you so much.

KOSIK: Keep a smile on your face.

KAYE: Thank you.

KOSIK: Sure.

KAYE: And, of course, for all the latest financial news, be sure to join Christine Romans for "YOUR BOTTOM LINE" each Saturday morning at 9:30 Eastern. And don't miss "YOUR MONEY" with Ali Velshi. That's Saturday's at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, Sundays at 3:00.

Twenty-three minutes past the hour. Time for some top stories that we are following along with you.

Mark Kelly, the U.S. astronaut who commanded the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour, announced today that he is retiring to spend more time with his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, as she recovers from a gunshot wound to the head. The two also have a memoir in the works. He said in a statement today, "I am humbled to announce that after 25 years of service to our country, I am retiring from the United States Navy and leaving NASA effective October 1st."

First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha are now in South Africa. Earlier this morning, Mrs. Obama met with former South African President Nelson Mandela. She also planned to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a member of young -- number of young women.

In London, a 19-year-old has been arrested in connection with that massive cyber-security breach at Sony. The PlayStation network went down back in April after the personal information of more than 70 million users was compromised. Police say the teen may have also hacked into a number of international businesses and intelligence agencies, including, yes, the CIA.

Why the celebration at Stonehenge? Well, it is the start of summer. The longest day of the year. The summer solstice officially came just moments ago actually at 1:16 Eastern Time. That is the moment when the sun was directly over the Tropic of Cancer and the earth's tilt toward the sun was at its maximum. In your face. Graphic warnings about the danger of cigarettes. New package labels unveiled today. Before you light up, give us just two minutes. We'll be right back.


KAYE: The FDA today unveiled new very graphic warning labels for cigarette packages. It's hoped that pictures of a diseased lung or a dead body will make people think twice before lighting up. CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here with the details to -- you're going to walk us through some of these new warning labels.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. First I want to show you the current one, all right.


COHEN: Couldn't be more boring.

KAYE: Right.

COHEN: Right. It's black and white, it's text and, in fact, it's kind of invisible on the pack of cigarettes.

KAYE: Yes, it's small.

COHEN: That's -- right, that's what the FDA says, they used the word invisible. So, instead of invisible, they're doing this. Half the cigarette pack, Randi, half the cigarette pack, not some little tiny thing, this is real right here. So the branding's here. Picture of a dead guy. Smoking can kill you. Can't get more direct than that. Warning, cigarettes cause cancer. Uh. Uh.

KAYE: Oh, that's so disturbing.

COHEN: We should get a close-up of your face right now.

KAYE: Yes.

COHEN: Cigarettes are addictive. This guy is blowing smoke out of his --

KAYE: So these will be on one side of the package?

COHEN: Both.

KAYE: Oh, on both? OK. Oh, wow.

COHEN: Front and back. Fifty percent of the surface area. Tobacco smoke can harm your children. Why are they doing this? Because one in five American adults smokes cigarettes, 443,000 people die every year from tobacco related death.

KAYE: So is there any data or is it too early to show that such graphic warnings like this can be effective? COHEN: You know, other countries are way ahead of us. They did this years and years ago. And then they studied it to see if they worked. And these were graphic. I mean, look at this. All right, that's New Zealand. You think ours are graphic?


COHEN: Oh, yes. OK, here's another one.

KAYE: Yes. I'm glad I had lunch already.

COHEN: This is Thailand. Yes. OK. That -- even this did not really seem to bring down smoking rates to a great degree. And I think that's important to note here that while it might be great they're doing these new labels, studies have shown maybe modest decreases but really nothing to write home about.

KAYE: So, besides this, I mean because this is so extreme, is there anything else that can actually deter people from smoking?

COHEN: Well, what's weird about this is it's extreme but the effect is relatively modest. I mean people don't start quitting in droves when they see this. They see this and say, oh, man, I know I should quit, but they don't necessarily quit. So, what makes people quit? We have data, we have hard numbers for you.

This is in New York City. In 2001 they had a 21.5 percent smoking rate. In 2009, 15.8 percent. That's a big drop in eight years. What did they do between those years? Tax increases, dictated smoke-free workplaces, free patch programs and anti-smoking advertisements, sort of similar to these. And then another tax increase. So all of these things together is what it takes to get people to stop smoking.

And, Randi, when I asked experts, which of these? They're like tax increase, number one.

KAYE: Yes, so maybe even like $1 on every pack might help.

COHEN: You are not the only person to have that idea. $1 --

KAYE: It wasn't my idea.

COHEN: OK. OK. $1 per pack, a tax, would do this, according to the American Cancer Society, 1.4 million American adults would quit smoking; 1.7 million kids would never start; 1.3 million lives would be saved. So, you know, follow the money. That's what the experts tell me.

KAYE: Yes, but it is an addiction. So many people have tried to quit, even with a tax or even with the graphic pictures on the cigarette packs and they just can't.

COHEN: They just can't. But, you know what, some people can. I mean, taxes really work. Pictures combined with other things really work. So is it addictive? Yes. But are there things that help? Yes, there are things that help. KAYE: Just do everyone a favor and try.

COHEN: Right.

KAYE: That's all I ask today of all of you.

COHEN: Right. That's a great request.

KAYE: All right. Elizabeth, thank you.

What would you do if you had no money to pay for health care? Would you borrow from a friend or play the Lottery? This North Carolina man did something way more unusual. We'll show you what he did right after the break.


KAYE: Thirty-two minutes past the hour. Here's a look at some of the headlines and news that you may have missed.

Starting next month, U.S. troops in Afghanistan will begin to come home. President Barack Obama is expected to outline his plan on troop withdrawal in a speech tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And it's expected 30,000 surge forces will pull out of the country by the end of 2012. About 100,000 troops are in Afghanistan right now. About three-quarters of Americans polled this month said they support pulling some or all U.S. forces from that country.

Jon Huntsman has joined the Republican Party's 2012 presidential field. The former Utah governor was also President Barack Obama's ambassador to China. As he announced his candidacy at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, he stressed the need for change in leadership.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we now need is leadership that trusts in our strength, leadership that doesn't promise Washington has all of the solutions to our problems, but rather looks to local solutions from our cities, towns and states. Leadership that knows we need more than hope. Leadership that knows we need answers.


KAYE: Huntsman's more moderate views on some social issues could make his path to winning the nomination a bit difficult. He is now the eighth major GOP candidate for president.

A North Carolina man found a very unique solution to get health care. He robbed a bank of just $1, then sat down to wait for the police to show up. James Verone says that way he will get the medical attention he needs in jail for free.


JAMES VERONE, ROBBERY SUSPECT: First time I've ever been in trouble with the law. So it's not -- you know, it was -- I'm sort of a logical person and that was my logic. That's what I came up with.


KAYE: The 59-year-old Verone says he has a growth on his chest, two ruptured discs and a problem with his left foot. He does not have a job and figured jail would be the best place to get free medical care and a place to stay. He says he's hoping for a three-year sentence but he may not get as much. Police are charging him with larceny, not bank robbery since he took only $1.

Flight cancellations will continue into Wednesday as travelers in Australia and New Zealand find themselves stranded again. Several airlines canceled their flights after an ash cloud from a volcano in Chile moved into the air space. The same ash plume had disrupted travel earlier this month when it drifted across the Atlantic and Indian ocean. Volcanic ash can damage aircraft engines. Sure is nice to look at, though.

In general, air travelers are just not happy. An American customer satisfaction index survey released today show passenger satisfaction has dropped to 65 on a 100 point scale. The biggest turnoffs for passengers have been higher fuel prices and baggage fees. And it looks like business travelers are the unhappiest of the bunch and that is not good news for the airline industry considering a whole lot of its revenue comes from this group.

So will gay couples in New York get to say i do soon? The vote on gay marriage in the state is still up in the air but we'll get the latest on it right after the break.


KAYE: In New York, debate continues in the Senate on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. The debate has drawn supporters and critics to the state capital in Albany. As we mentioned yesterday, Democratic supporters of the bill had hoped for a vote on the measure. It's already passed in the assembly. A vote didn't happen and it's now expected later this week.

Joining us from Albany to talk more about this is Brian Ellner, he's a senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, a group that's been in the trenches fighting for the passage of the bill.

Thanks so much for joining us. I want to ask you, what is your understanding of why there wasn't a vote last night? What was the holdup?

BRIAN ELLNER, SENIOR STRATEGIST, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: Sure. Look, I know there are a lot of New Yorkers and a lot of Americans who wanted us to have a vote last night. The fact is, for anyone who understands Albany politics, this is very typical for an end of session. A lot of different bills that have nothing to do with marriage equality have backed up. One on regulation, one on a real property tax cap. And they're dealing with those. When those are dealt with, our hope and expectation is they'll have a vote on marriage equality. You know, it's like just before going off for vacation and you're on the tarmac and the captain gets on and says we're ready to take off except there are seven planes in front of you. So, you know it's that sort of experience. We're waiting for takeoff and as soon as these bills get done, we expect to be next.

KAYE: As you wait for takeoff, though, you're certainly working hard on the tarmac, it appears. The Human Rights Campaign working hard behind the scenes.

What has your group been doing to try and get this bill passed?

ELLNER: Well, we've been doing a lot. Look, first of all, we have a governor who has been extraordinarily supportive on this issue. It's one of his top priorities and he has shown a lot of courage in pushing this right now. We also have a super majority of New Yorkers who support it. Record high, almost 60 percent of New Yorkers support marriage equality.

So what we've been doing all across the state and in the field is making sure that constituents have their voices heard by their legislators or heard by their legislators so there's no mistaking the widespread support. We've pulled together a really remarkable coalition of business leaders, professional athletes, celebrities, Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been very active here as have Senators Gillibrand and Schumer our United States senators. And the coalition is broad, it's been bipartisan. We have report support upstate, downstate, in the suburbs, in the city, Republicans, Democrats, Independents.

And in New York, this is a very moderate mainstream issue. And actually, of course, what we're fighting for is quite a conservative value, you know, the right for couples to make a life-long commitment to the person they love and protect their families. That's what we're fighting for here.

KAYE: And we know that a similar measure came up for vote in New York in the Senate there in 2009. How is the political and public landscape different today than it was in 2009, that maybe it would turn your way?

ELLNER: Sure. It's different in a number of respects. As I mentioned, we have a very strong governor who is championing this and he's also enormously popular. And that helps in, of course, in any fight. But we've also seen a marked shift in public opinion. It's reflected nationally in the polls. All the recent polls show that over 50 percent of Americans support marriage equality. And here in New York, as I said, it's a super majority, nearly 60 percent.

We've also seen Republicans being very supportive and it sort of mirrors what we saw federally with the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," where Republicans joined with Democrats to repeal that piece of legislation. And here we hope Republicans will join with Democrats and pass a marriage equality law in the coming days.

KAYE: Yes. Well, we hope to get an answer and a vote on it this week.

Brian Ellner, appreciate your time. And do keep us posted. Thank you.

ELLNER: Thank you for having me.

KAYE: A young girl's nightmare -- kidnapped into the world of sex slavery. It happens virtually every day in Nepal. Survivors speak out, coming up next.


KAYE: Now, a horror story from Nepal. Young girls living a normal life one second, the next, kidnapped and forced to be a sex slave in neighboring India. A few lucky ones are rescued or escaped. Actress Demi Moore spoke to some at a border crossing point.

What follows is an excerpt of a CNN documentary, "Nepal's Stolen Children."


DEMI MOORE, ACTRESS/ACTIVIST: Today I'm with Honorata (ph) at the Kathmandu Airport boarding a plane for India, or to be precise, to take me to the border Nepal shares with India. It's a cross step border that thousands of Nepalese girls are trafficked each year into brothels of Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and other Indian cities.

In just four hours at the border, I saw several thousand people crossing over. Honorata introduces me to mighty Nepal's own border guards. Their slight appearance belies an intense determination which is born from their own experience. All of Maiti Nepal's guards were themselves trafficked into brothels.

There are 50 guards working for Maiti Nepal across 10 checkpoints. Every day at the border, they will intercept on average 20 girls at risk of being trafficked.

(on camera): Can you explain to me like how it exactly works?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): She says every girl they watch, and they watch the men also. They watch and as soon as they catch the suspect, one, she takes the girl away, she takes the boy and then they cross questions. After cross-questioning, if they find that whatever they're saying is not true, then if it is a boy, they hand over the boy to the police station. Then they take the girl and go to the transit hall.


KAYE: And be sure to tune in to CNN Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for the world premiere of the documentary "NEPAL'S STOLEN CHILDREN" narrated by Demi Moore only on CNN.

Forty-five minutes past the hour. Here's a look at our top stories. A Russian jetliner crashed and exploded into flames in the country's northwest area. Forty-four people onboard were killed; eight survived, five in critical condition. The accident happened last night after the plane had taken off from Moscow. The plane apparently veered away from the airport and attempted to land on a highway.

NATO says one of its drone helicopters went down in Libya today. A spokesman said the unmanned drone was a U.S.-made Fire Scout chopper. The spokesman wouldn't say whether it was shot down or crashed due to mechanical problems. Libya state media says the drone was shot down.

Yemen's embattled president plans to return to his homeland Friday. That's the word from one of his senior advisors. President Saleh is being treated in Saudi Arabia after being wounded when his compound was shelled by rebels. Opposition leaders have demanded that Saleh step down and they call reports of his return a lie.

All right, so when you think lasers, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Those pointer pens for presentations, maybe? A weapon used by an evil master mastermind in a James Bond film? This all may change in two minutes. After the break, we talk to Harvard scientist engineering light from human cells. You do not want to miss this, it's really cool.


KAYE: Every day on this show, we do a segment called the "Big I," all about big ideas, solutions to problems and innovation. Well, today's "Big I" could literally light up your life.

Imagine if you could do with your hand what the alien E.T. did with his pointer finger here in the scene from the Universal Pictures classic movie, have it just light up just like that. Well, our next guests say they have figured out how one day we could do just that.

Joining me now, Malte Gather and Andy Yun, both Ph.D.s at Harvard Medical School.

Thanks so much for joining us.

This is really cool. I mean, to imagine that we might be able to do this one day. The science sounds like it's something, though, from the future or an "X-Men" comic book. Briefly tell us how this works and how far along you actually are in making this a reality.


Laser was invented 50 years ago. And they first made with the ruby and gas and semiconductor lasers has revolutionized our emerging (ph) society. You can find it in the CD player or at the supermarket and also the laser pointer.

And about -- this project was started about five years ago with the pure curiosity, what about the biological material. Can you generate laser light from biological systems? And our work that published recently showed that, indeed, this is possible. And as you mentioned, that now we can envision thinking something like a laser beam coming out of the eye and E.T.-like glowing light on the fingertip at your will, and as a way to communicate visual communication or interface with a control, the electronic devices remotely. And our work shows one way -- this is still a little bit of challenge remaining and how to integrate this in humans safely.


KAYE: Right. We're going to get to that --


KAYE: We'll get to that in just a second. But, Malte, let me ask you, what inspired you here? I understand you thought to use jellyfish in some way?

MALTE GATHER, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: Well, that's correct. Exactly.

So the jellyfish is really a very important part of the research in the sense that jellyfish produce this green fluorescent, and this protein is at the heart of our laser because it emits bright green light when you expose it to a pulse of blue light, and this is what we used.

So we started with cells and genetically programmed them to produce this GFP that is normally found in the jellyfish. And once we managed to do that, we took a single cell and placed it between a pair of mirrors, and these mirrors ensure that any green light that the cells generates bounces forth and back between the two mirrors, and this is exactly the principle of a laser.

So once the light starts bouncing, you get amplification and some of the light will leak out and this is the laser beam you can see coming out of the laser.

KAYE: So, Andy, just very quickly, what might this be used for one day? I mean, it's pretty cool to think of your finger lighting up, but in terms of real science.

YUN: So in medical areas there are a lot of effort going on to use light for -- to detect the disease, disease diagnosis, or treat the disease. For example, you can shine the laser light and then detect the signals that's only coming from the cancer cells to detect these little tumors before it becomes a problems. And very early stage diagnosis it's very important.

Also, for example, inject some drugs into the body and then using light activate the drugs at your will at certain locations. These are very fascinating premise and approaches. But one of the common problems is to deliver light deep inside our body, and that's a problem because the light gets scattered and gets absorbed. And our work indicates that instead of delivering light from the outside you may be able to generate light from the tissue directly for diagnosis and therapeutic purposes. In other ways also you can amplify light and as they pass, as they propagate through the tissue to enhance the efficacy of treatment and diagnosis.

KAYE: Well, we wish you lots of good luck with bringing this to market, and be sure to keep us posted.

Malte, Andy, appreciate your time. Thank you.

And for more on living lasers check out our blog, And don't forget to tune in tomorrow, same "Big I" time, same "Big I" channel.

Newt Gingrich loses more muscle in his campaign. This time it's the finance guys who are leaving his side. Your Political Update straight ahead.


KAYE: Time now for a CNN Political Update, and the Iowa battleground is heating up. CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser joining me now from Washington.

Hi, Paul. So who's making waves in Iowa?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, that person would be Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of neighboring Minnesota. You know, Randi, of course, Iowa important. Why? Its caucuses kick off the presidential primary caucus calendar. Well, we've just confirmed that Pawlenty's going to be the first Republican presidential candidate to go up with ads in Iowa. It's going to start tomorrow. It's going to run through the July 4th holiday. And it's going to play in most of the major media markets.

Listen, it's just another sign, another example of how important Iowa is to Pawlenty's chances of winning the nomination. He really has to do well there, next, you know, in August in that crucial straw poll in Ames and then of course in the caucuses next February, if he wants to win the nomination.

He could get a tough fight, though, from a fellow Minnesotan, and I'm talking about Michele Bachmann, the Congresswoman from that state. Later this month we expect her to formally announce her candidacy where else? Waterloo, Iowa where she was born -- Randi.

KAYE: Seems to make sense, I guess.


KAYE: What's this about George Pataki considering a run for president?

STEINHAUSER: Well, guess where he is. Iowa. Another one.

KAYE: Why aren't you in Iowa, Paul?

STEINHAUSER: Let's talk about Pataki. Iowa.

I don't know. It's a good question. Listen, Pataki four years ago, the former New York governor, four years ago he spent a lot of time in Iowa, he was thinking about running for the White House. He ended up never running for the Republican presidential nomination.

He was asked about it yesterday when he was out there. He said, listen, I'm not running but I'm not ruling it out. So I guess we'll keep our eyes on Pataki a little bit. We'll see.

KAYE: Yes. And what are you hearing about more problems for the Gingrich campaign?

STEINHAUSER: He had more people it seems jumping ship. The Gingrich campaign just confirmed to us about an hour ago that two of the top finance people, you know, the fundraisers for the Gingrich campaign, are quitting. Remember, it was just a couple weeks ago at the beginning of the month where he lost most of his top advisers and staffers to his campaign.

Now, campaign cash is important. Listen, I don't care how good a speaker you are, how many ideas you have, you need campaign cash to run a successful campaign. So this could be another problem for Gingrich. But he says he's going to continue to (AUDIO GAP) for the nomination.

Randi, that's what I've got right now.

KAYE: All right, Paul, thank you so much. Check back with you later on.

And your next update from "The Best Political Team on Television" is just an hour away.