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Pentagon Increase Missile Defense in Face of North Korean Threat; Sarah Palin Speaks at CPAC; Woman Loses over 100 Pounds; Blind Woman Becomes World Traveler; South by Southwest Event Continues; South by Southwest Festival Profiled

Aired March 16, 2013 - 14:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A look at our top stories right now: the Pentagon is taking nuclear threats from North Korea so seriously that it is ramping up missile defense on the west coast. Reports say North Korea test fired two short range missiles into its waters this past week. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says he wants to make it clear they stand firm against aggression. He says 14 extra missile defenses will be up and running by 2017.


CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The reason that we're doing what we're doing and the reason we're advancing our program here for homeland security is to not take any chances, is to stay ahead of the threat, and to assure any contingency. And that's why we made the decision we have.


WHITFIELD: And in a few moments I will talk to a security expert that will break down the latest threat and the U.S. response.

And two teenaged girls took the stand for the defense in the rape trial of two high school football stars in Steubenville, Ohio. The alleged rape of a 26-year-old girl happened last August during a full night of partying. One girl said the victim was drunk and uncooperative during a night of partying in August. She says she refused to leave with friends and instead went with the athletes. The players insist they are innocent.

And at least two people are dead after a bus crash in southern Pennsylvania. Three people who were injured were airlifted to the hospital, 23 people were onboard. All are members or are associated with the Seton Hall University women's lacrosse team. Investigators say the bus was on the Pennsylvania turnpike when it veered off the road and crashed through a guardrail and hit a tree. No word on where it was headed.

All right, now, back to the growing nuclear threat from North Korea. The U.S. is ramping up missile defenses on the west coast to stay ahead of that threat. Joining me now is international security expert Jim Walsh. Jim, good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So is this action by the U.S. meant to send a message to North Korea or to ease fears here in the U.S., or both?

WALSH: In the press conference announcing this change, it was said that this was intended to send a signal to North Korea. I really don't think that's what this is about. I think maybe a little bit, but this is primarily, the primary audience is the American public. It is the president and, in this case, the secretary of defense acting to reassure the American public that we are going to respond to the North Korean threat.

The reality is they're not going to have missiles that can reach the homeland, U.S. homeland for years if ever. If I wanted to be cynical I would say this is a missile defense program that probably doesn't work aimed against missiles that will never be fired. But it is OK to -- there is nothing wrong, I guess, with beefing up your defenses, but it is unclear if this even works. But the bottom line here, this is meant to reassure the American people, not really aimed at our allies or aimed at North Korea.

WHITFIELD: When you say not sure it will even work, you're talking about the interceptors, unclear whether they will be effective.

WALSH: Right. They had about half their test so far over a period of years. And in fact in announcing the change the department said this deployment was contingent on the fact this missile guidance system does in fact meet standards that it has not yet met. So that's what's unsure. That's where I say may not work against missiles that will never be sent.

I say never sent because North Korea is unlikely to commit suicide. There are very few countries in history that have said I don't want to live anymore, I want to give up power. I will launch a missile and commit suicide. That's why I think they won't get to this point.

But our defenses, even if they don't work great, maybe they will cast a shadow of doubt towards others. I don't think the American public should feel very threatened on the one hand, and on the other hand they shouldn't feel like this is a game changer and putting a few more interceptors there is really going to make a huge difference.

WHITFIELD: It's your belief then North Korea is simply grandstanding?

WALSH: No. I think they're working on it, right. They've had the three long range missile tests. They are going step by step trying to improve their capability. I just don't know that they're going to ever get to that point. If they get to that point it is going to be years, not months in which that happens. The CIA estimated back in 2000 that by 2015 they would have a long range intercontinental missile that could reach the U.S. homeland. Are they going to get it to that point in another few years? I don't think so. This is really, really tough scientific stuff. You have to shrink a warhead, put it on a missile, and it can't fail. If you shoot that up, it better land in the right place and better not come back down in your territory or you're in a world of hurt. So the standards are extremely high. This is a big challenge. They're working on it, but they are not there yet.

WHITFIELD: Jim Walsh, thanks so much from Cambridge. Good to see you.

WALSH: Good to see you, Fredricka. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington Republicans are trying to figure out what they need to do to win back the White House. Mark Preston is at the CPAC meeting in Maryland. There are divisions, no one is arguing about that, within the party, Mark. But does this conference reveal just how deep the divide is?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, there's no question, Fred. We have 4,000 plus activists that have come here for three days to really hear red meat speeches, to hear from panelists who are talking about one thing, conservatives need to stick by their values.

Now, this flies in the face of what we're hearing from Republican establishments who are talking more along the lines of having to moderate some of their views in order to broaden the party to try to draw more people in. You look back at the 2012 election and we saw the Republicans lost young voters and Hispanic voters and African- American voters. Establishment Republicans by in large are saying they need to maybe moderate some of those views. But here at this conference, though, Fred, they're not saying that.

WHITFIELD: OK. Then there are real headliners. Among them, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin getting more time than just about anybody else, you know, to speak. And her message was one that she says the GOP doesn't need rebuilding. It's the country that needs rebuilding. That was her message.

PRESTON: That's absolutely correct. Sarah Palin is such a crowd favorite certainly at CPAC and other conservative gatherings. She came out and kind of sashayed out there and was able to deliver a forceful message about the grassroots and really to the heart of what many people here are saying is that the Republican establishment has too much control over the party and in fact is stymying candidates with conservative values. In fact this is what she had to say, although she didn't speak his name, but this is who she was talking about when she talked about Karl Rove.


SARAH PALIN, (R) FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The last thing we need is Washington D.C. vetting our candidates. (APPLAUSE)

PALIN: If these experts that keep losing elections and keep getting rehired and raking in millions, if they feel that strongly about who gets to run, they should buck up or stay in the truck. Buck up and run. The architect can head on back to --


PALIN: They can head on back to the great lone star state and put their name on some ballot.


PRESTON: There you have Sarah Palin clearly referencing Karl Rove, who has made it clear the Republican Party needs to pick candidates, winners and losers, in the Republican primary heading into the midterm elections as well as 2016, presidential elections. And I have to tell you that's where the big schism stands right now between the establishment Republicans and where I stand right now, this meeting of conservative activists.

WHITFIELD: Mark Preston, thanks so much, at CPAC there in Maryland.

More trouble for Carnival cruise line. Another ship has a problem at sea. Details straight ahead.

Plus, six people are taking on the Fit Nation challenge with our Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Up next we'll meet a woman whose success has inspired her sister not to undergo weight loss surgery.


WHITFIELD: Training for a triathlon is no easy task, and getting to the finish line requires months of dedication and hard work. For Fit Nation participant Annette Miller training had been a triumph. Miller has lost a whopping 146 pounds in just 14 months, and CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta tracks her training.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Just two months ago we set our six Fit Nation participants loose on their journey to become triathlete. One of them I will point out, Annette Miller, she started her journey earlier. In January of 2012 she weighed 385 pounds, but by the time she applied for our program she had already lost more than 100. Now it is 146 pounds off the scale. Last week I saw her in Nashville.

ANNETTE MILLER, FIT NATION PARTICIPANT: When it comes to working out, you only get out of it what you put into it. I can remember not being able to maintain for 30 minutes. And I can run for two hours now, or when I am doing the spin classy still have steam left at the end of an hour. So it feels good to just keep building on that. I can do a little bit more today than I did yesterday. GUPTA: And there is more to the story than that. Annette also inspired her own sister who was considering gastric bypass surgery but had a change of heart when she saw Annette's progress.

MILLER: About a month ago she just told me, she goes, you know, I have been watching you and seen how you have done this and changed your life and I have seen your attitude change, and I'm going to try without the surgery first she said, because you have done it. I think I can at least try.

GUPTA: That's a great story. That's what this is all about. And we're going to keep checking in with Annette and her sister. And Annette, I will see you at the Nautica Malibu triathlon hopefully at the finish line in September.


WHITFIELD: Best to all of them.

Technology and fashion collide at the South by Southwest festival. We'll show you how next.


WHITFIELD: This year at the South by Southwest festival it is all about what you wear. We are talking about wearable computers. The trending music, film, and technology event in Austin, Texas, showcases some of the hottest technologies every year. And CNN Money's Laurie Segall was there and now she's back in New York. But you will tell us anyway about these devices in style right now. What's so fashionable in the tech world?

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN MONEY TECH CORRESPONDENT: Fashion is fashionable in the tech world. Who would have thought? You have these bracelets that connect to your smartphone and help you measure your heartbeat. And it is the idea technology is expanding way past our smartphones. I spoke to a woman with a brain sensing headband. It sounds very strange, but it connects to your phone, your iPad, and you can look at the brain waves. You may think, why would I want to do that? You can improve your memory. You can play different games on the apps. I spoke to the founder. Listen to what she had to say.


ARIEL GARTEN, SXSW PARTICIPANT: When you're able to track or sense your brain activity you can then do things to improve it. You can do exercises about functioning and decrease stress. And then over time ultimately the future we'll be able to play games and control appliances in our environment using only our mind.


SEGALL: Are we going to be able to turn off the toaster, someday turn it on with our mind? I think probably not. It is this idea we can use technology to make our lives better and be a little bit healthier, Fredricka. WHITFIELD: That's kind of cool stuff. So a lot of investors at the South by Southwest festival looking for ideas, what can that they cash in on. What are some of the things they're looking for?

SEGALL: Everybody wants to know what's the next big thing, but I can report back and say the next big thing it's just a cool app like Twitter for Four Square. It is what we spoke about, expanding past the smartphone. You have geeks wearing Google Glasses. I think investors are looking for that hardware aspect now that we have seen apps explode. We spoke to celebrities and geeks and politicians. Everybody has an idea technology is becoming cultured and investors are looking to invest in big ideas, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, good thing. It is looking ahead and looking forward, isn't it?


WHITFIELD: Laurie, we're going to check out that special later on today in about, well, just really 10 minutes from now right here on CNN. CNN South by Southwest special coming your way at the bottom of the hour, 2:30 eastern time. Thanks, Laurie.

How about traveling the world? Would you do it if you lost your vision? Up next a blind woman teaches us there is more out there than what meets the eye. Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to her next.


WHITFIELD: In this week's "Human Factor" Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to an 89-year-old blind woman whose poor vision hasn't stopped her from traveling the world.


GUPTA: This is what the world looks like through Arlene Gordon's eyes, 100 percent darkness 100 percent of the time.

ARLENE GORDON, 89-YEAR-OLD BLIND WORLD TRAVELER: It started in my 30s, 40s, the vision became so bad that I decided to gamble. I said, you know, it is worse this way. I am neither here nor there.

GUPTA: Gordon scheduled herself for an operation she was told could potentially make her vision even worse.

GORDON: For six weeks I had the west best vision I ever had in my life. It was fantastic. I was like a baby walking around and looking at everything.

GUPTA: Just as she had been warned, a few weeks later Gordon's remaining vision vanished, rendering her completely blind. Soon she learned to navigate her new world.

GORDON: As you tap, you're deliberately clearing a path in front of you. GUPTA: The streets of New York city were never enough. Gordon refused to let her blindness stand in the way of her passion for travel -- Cuba, South Africa, countless cities in Europe, collecting souvenirs at every stop along the way. And this is fascinating. Hand her a souvenirs and by feel alone she can tell you exactly what it is and where she got it.

GORDON: Oh, it is a Buddha, and that is from India.

GUPTA: Travel, she says, gave her a life as any in the movies.

GORDON: When we were in Venice and the windows opened up and I remembered seeing the movie with Katherine Hepburn where she is looking out over the piazza. There are so many things you can experience other than visually.

As a matter of fact, one friend said to me I never saw as much as I did when I traveled with you.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


WHITFIELD: All right, we'll have much more of the newsroom after this.


WHITFIELD: Here's a look at our top stories right now.

The U.S. has an immediate answer to a new threat from North Korea. The Pentagon will spend $1 billion to test and install additional missile defense battery from Alaska to the west coast. This follows North Korea's warning of a first strike nuclear attack. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says the U.S. has to take the threat seriously. Those new missile batteries won't be up until 2017.

Maryland lawmakers have improved a ban on the death penalty. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O'Malley, who says he will sign it. He says the death penalty does not deter criminals and is more expensive than giving prisoners life in prison. Maryland has executed only five people since 1976. One prosecutor promises to challenge the new law.

And more trouble with Carnival this week. The U.S. coast guard says it will look into an incident aboard the Legend ship which is having technical difficulties that affects its sailing speed. The company is flying more than 4,000 passengers back from St. Martin to Florida.

So what about the people who have already paid for the Legend's next voyage? What do you do if you are on one of them? We have advice from a travel agent in our next hour.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Much more on the NEWSROOM after this.