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Maya Angelou Dead at 86; Michelle Obama Launches Food Fight; Marine Jailed in Mexico.

Aired May 28, 2014 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michaela Pereira. It's 11:00 a.m. in the east, 8:00 a.m. out west.

We begin with this. One of America's most beloved poets and authors past today. Maya Angelou died at her home at the age of 86.

BERMAN: I've seen so many tributes over the last few hours. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio tweeted this, "Rest in peace, Dr. Maya Angelou, the world is better because of your voice."

PEREIRA: Radio host, Tom Joyner, quoting the poet herself, saying, "I believe each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory.

BERMAN: Her awards span generations. Three years ago, President Obama awarded her the nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom.

Our Fredricka Whitfield looks back at her extraordinary life.


MAYA ANGELOU, POET, ARTIST: The hells we have lived through have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Celebrated poet and activist, Maya Angelou, may have been speaking about her day. Born Margaret Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, April 4, 1928, the hells she lived through began at the age of 7 when she was raped by her mother's boyfriend. After she spoke out against him, he was beaten to death by a mob. She blamed herself.

ANGELOU: I was 7.5 and my 7.5-year-old logic deduced that my voice had killed him so I stopped speaking for almost six years.

WHITFIELD: It was during those years of silence that she discovered poetry and her love of art.

ANGELOU: And somehow I'm able to get down inside myself, deep where a poem may live, and find out what it has to say.

WHITFIELD: Her poetry was first physical. Winning a dance and drama scholarship in San Francisco and later touring Europe in 1954. Her growing love for the written word took her to Egypt and Ghana where they became a newspaper editor. In Ghana, she met Malcolm X and returned to the U.S. in 1964 to join his fight in the civil rights movement. After Malcolm X's assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, asked her to join him. He was killed on her birthday in 1968. The following year her first memoir was published, "I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings." More best sellers would follow.

ANGELOU: I want to write so well that a person is 30 or 40 pages in a book of mine before she realizes she's reading.

WHITFIELD: Her books detailed personal struggles, like having a baby as an unwed teenager. That son later became novelist, Guy Johnson. Blazing trails, she directed documentaries. Her screen play for 1972's "Georgia Georgia" was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and she appeared in the adaptation of "Roots."

ANGELOU: And I will still be your grandmother.

WHITFIELD: Maya Angelou was dominated for a Tony Award. She won three Grammys and in 2011 President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Former President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Arts. Years earlier, at this request, she had written a poem for his inauguration.

ANGELOU: Here on the pulse of this new day, you may have the grace to look up and out and into your sister's eyes.

WHITFIELD: She called herself Maya, which was her brother's nickname for her. Angelou came from her first husband's name, Tash Angelou.

ANGELOU: Bittersweet and very blessed.

WHITFIELD: She created her own name just as she created poetry from pieces of herself.

ANGELOU: Leaving behind ranks of terror and fear, I rise. Into a daybreak clear, I rise. Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the hope and the dream of the slave. And so naturally, there I go rising.


PEREIRA: I have to take a moment. That voice has given and those words have given hope to so many in my darkest times I looked to her books and to her words because she lived through it. Look at the version of -- I was going to say the version of hell she lived through as a 7-year-old child. Look at what she came through and survived. It's such a great legacy and great story of inspiration.

BERMAN: She wrote so much about her own experience, but like any truly great artist, she was a phenomenal artist. What she was able to do through her own experience help us connect with the greater human experience and learn something and we ended that piece with still I rise. I recommend it to all of you. Go listen to that today. It's the ultimate psych-up song. Not for a game but for life. It's the ultimate thing for you to get psyched to take on any challenge in the world.

PEREIRA: I'll go back and revisit her works again. You put them away on a shelf because you have read them but I think, like this, it's how I'm going to honor her life.

Thank you, Maya Angelou.

BERMAN: Ahead for us @THISHOUR, we'll take on other subjects now in the news. Among them, the First Lady in the middle of a food fight against Congress. Why she says the House should not play politics with kids' nutrition.


BERMAN: The First Lady is in a rare political fight against Congress. She's going to create changes to the child nutrition law.

PEREIRA: It would let cash-strapped schools opt out of nutritional regulations.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We are now seeing efforts in Congress to roll back new standards and undo the hard work that all of us have done on behalf of our kids.

It's unacceptable to me not just as First Lady but as a mother. The last thing that we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids' health.


PEREIRA: A rare move for our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who avoids partisan politics.

BERMAN: Indeed it is. We're joined by Margaret Hoover and Sally Kohn to discuss this.

Margaret, I want to start with you, a Republican here. The question a lot of people have is what's the Republican problem or issue with the effort on school nutrition. There's some 20 million kids who get free or subsidized lunched in schools. Doesn't the government have a vested interest in making sure what they eat in those programs are healthy?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it does. I think leading chairman of this effort also said in his statement about this that we agree that school lunch programs are important for children. Let's be clear about what this is. This isn't an effort to rollback school lunch programs. What this is an effort to give some schools having difficulty staying in the black with financials with this program a one-year temporary waiver to not implement this while they figure it out and then they have to implement it. It's odd the First Lady would get involved in this politically because the Obama administration has issued a lot of one-year waivers recently specially with respect to signature legislative effort.

PEREIRA: You are dying to say something, Sally. Go ahead.

SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look. First of all, the fact that Republicans are now trying to say poor cash strapped schools. We want to help them. Why are those schools cash strapped in the first place? Because Republicans haven't met a government program they don't want to cut including cutting funding at the federal, state and local level for our schools and these programs. Republicans don't like school lunch programs. A number of Republicans are on record saying they would like to say those go out the door. The larger issue here, let's be clear, Republicans are against this because Michelle Obama is for it. You can just see them contorting themselves to try to figure out how they'll make themselves against it without making it sound it's personal, which it is.

BERMAN: There are kids throwing away a lot of food. That is true.


KOHN: Right now, we have schools in which McDonald's and Burger King and Taco Bell are used to provide school lunches for our kids. We have 30 percent increase in obesity over 30 years. We have a crisis we should do something about it and give kids healthy food.

HOOVER: We should give kids healthy food. You know I don't argue against it.

KOHN: I know you're not, Margaret.


HOOVER: But here's the problem. A lot of these programs if they can't stay in the black are going to go under all together and then you risk kids not having food at all. Do you want the lunch program to be compromised entirely or do you want to give them --


KOHN: You can't starve schools and then say because schools are starved we now are going to put them into a double bind where they have to make Sophie's Choice and give them more money to improve school lunches.

PEREIRA: I know you are both moms and care strongly about the fact that our kids get the best so they can be their best. Here's the question. We know this is not going to be easy. We know there's not really a one-size-fits-all approach. It's going to take effort. What is your best solution, both of you, go.

HOOVER: This is very reasonable. The secretary of agriculture, Secretary Vilsack, asked for it. We need waivers. I don't have authority to give waivers. This was passed by house and Senate in fiscal year 14 conference report. This is not a new issue at all. That's why it seems like the First Lady wading into it is ill-advised. It revs up the base to create this food control mentality. It actually sort of awakens the beast rather than letting it lie.

KOHN: When the first George Bush was president, we had the exercise campaign. I remember. I tried to do pull-ups to get my physical fitness certificate. Arnold Schwarzenegger was out there encouraging me to do it. The Republicans don't like the First Lady and she wants to encourage kids to eat healthy and move, and all they have done her is mock her and attack her for that, and now it's moving into legislation. It's not cool. It's a good initiative.

BERMAN: To say all have is an exaggeration. Margaret, you have to agree, some have. Sarah Palin has made a franchise out of mocking the First Lady on the food issue.

HOOVER: This fits into a narrative, of course, of Bloomberg's controls in New York City saying you can't have big sodas and saturated foods. It fits into this nanny state and is it goes to this narrative that Democrats want to tell you what you can eat and you can't have individual choice and you can't have freedom. It cuts both ways.


KOHN: Freedom to have obese kids.


HOOVER: There is politics on this issue and there's policy. This is not as bad as it sounds. Democrats are making it worse. One-year temporary waiver to wait and make the economics of it work. All these schools will end up having the same requirements in a year from now.

PEREIRA: Bottom line, hopefully, adults work it out so our kids don't suffer from it. That's the one thing we agree on.

HOOVER: Absolutely.

PEREIRA: Margaret and Sally, thank you.

BERMAN: Is it wrong that I'm hungry now?


No one is talking about me. I'm talking about the kids. I'm hungry. Sorry.

Ahead for us @THISHOUR, find out why we're not wild about a certain pitch. It was the worst pitch I had ever seen in my entire life.

PEREIRA: I think he threw it with his wrong hand.

BERMAN: You have to watch this.


BERMAN: All right, time now for our "Hot Flash." These are stories you desperately need to hear about right now.

PEREIRA: First up, the one that's got him boiling, Pat Robertson has inspired this man beside me to be more proactive in lending a hand with the Household chores. Take a listen.


PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST: He's saying, I love you. You're wonderful. I've got a treat for you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So was I, with this piece of chicken I cooked.

ROBERTSON: That's right.


And wait until we get behind closed doors and you see the treat I have for you.


PEREIRA: Well, yes, ladies, that is a chapter from the Pat Robertson book of love. If your husband performs in the kitchen, reward him by performing in the bedroom. The 84-year-old televangelist was complaining to a caller who complained her hubby viewed house hold chores as a favor.

Oh, you male who is sitting beside me, want to explain male psyche?

BERMAN: Allow me to speak on this for a moment, if you will. I am deeply troubled by the statement. This is not a right or left or conservative/liberal issue. I've never understood this issue of sex as a reward in a marriage. What if my wife does the dishes? Am I then compelled to put out, is that what that means? And I don't know what goes on in the Robertson household, but what kind of an economic arrangement is this? Like Cap and Trade for sex and cleanliness.

PEREIRA: I told you they'd be outraged, didn't we?

What's up next?

BERMAN: As equally outrageous. So 50 Cent, you may have heard him, Mr. Cent is a performer.

PEREIRA: Mr. Cent.

BERMAN: He sings a lot of songs, rap songs. He clearly is in the right business because he can't pitch to save his freaking life. Look at this. He was throwing out the first pitch at the Mets game. He's supposed to throw the ball to the catcher! That's all I have to say.

PEREIRA: Right there, he knows he is going to never stop hearing about this from his friends. His friends are going to clown him so hard. You know what, 50, I can't do your job, I respect you as a --


BERMAN: Here's the thing. If you're going to throw out the first pitch, have the decency to practice beforehand.

PEREIRA: Do you think that's what happened?

BERMAN: Yeah, clearly. You think you're going to do that.

PEREIRA: I actually think he's right handed and --


-- he thought he'd try it with his left hand.

BERMAN: He could have thrown it with his foot and get more accuracy.

PEREIRA: Can you do that?

BERMAN: We are just days away from a new -- in fact, one day away from a new series that will take you back to a time changed the world, "The Sixties." To find out what kind of '60s persona you are, take our quiz at It's worth try. The questions will fascinate you.

PEREIRA: Or stumped you.

BERMAN: I took the entire quiz. It turned out I would be a '60s revolutionary.

PEREIRA: Oh, really?

BERMAN: Oh, really.

PEREIRA: Should I start calling you -- I'm not going to do that. For me, I did the test as well. Turns out I was apparently a member of the rat pack. Interesting.

You can take the quiz yourself, share your results with us. Don't forget that special is running tomorrow night on CNN. You can check it out yourself.

BERMAN: Set your DVR for that 9:00 tomorrow night. Really, really fantastic stuff. We have Dick Smothers on our show to talk about "The Sixties." "The Smothers Brothers," such a big part of the culture.

PEREIRA: We'll take a short back. Ahead @THISHOUR, A U.S. Marine has been stuck in a Mexican prison for almost two months, he says, for simply missing a turn. Hear what his mother has to say. She says it's a travesty of justice.


BERMAN: For almost two months now, a U.S. Marine and afghan war veteran has been held in a prison in Tijuana, Mexico. Today, he has a hearing before a judge. He's asking to be released.

PEREIRA: Yeah, 25-year-old Andrew Tahmooressi says he accidentally crossed into Mexico with three personal firearms on his way to meet friends in southern California.

I had a chance to speak with his mother earlier today on "New Day."


JILL TAHMOORESSI, MOTHER OF ANDREW: He did dial 911 when he realized that he was where he didn't want to be. And he called 911 to help him get back to the border. But that response was not provided.

PEREIRA: Now, we also know your son was in San Diego getting some help for PTS. We understand that he was diagnosed and was receiving help. How was your son leading up to this incident, how was he doing?

TAHMOORESSI: Well, he's a two-tour combat veteran of Afghanistan, meritoriously promoted on the battlefield in February 2012. Yes, he was in the harshest of conditions in Afghanistan so, yes, he was suffering from symptoms of PTSD, which is why he was out in San Diego, at the invite of a Marine friend. And just March 12, he was diagnosed positive for PTSD and started a treatment plan. But within days, he was imprisoned in Mexico, his life threatened, four-point chain restrained to a bed for 35 days. So he's been brutalized and definitely a setback to his recovery from PTSD.

PEREIRA: Absolutely. We can understand that. Is there any chance that critics are going to say, he must have done something? There any chance he could have done something that was misconstrued by those agents to elicit such a response?

TAHMOORESSI: In fact, he said he felt very confident that the first agents he met at the border when he crossed accidentally, the Mexican custom agents, he believed that they understood that it was a mistake, that he had accidentally entered, which actually happens hundreds of times a day, I hear from the State Department, and they were flagging over an escort car to help him get back and turned around. Yet the military then came on board, the Mexican military, and everything went south of the border literally from that point.

PEREIRA: He has since been moved from the situation where he was, one of the most violent prisons in Mexico, le mesa. Have the conditions improved now where he is?

TAHMOORESSI: Yes, because he's not fearing that his life will be taken every second. Now he is in isolation confinement. Yet he is not with the general populous which is favorable. And he does have a 24/7 guard that's with him at all times.

PEREIRA: Talk about today, we know he's going before a judge. How are you feeling about this hearing today?

TAHMOORESSI: Bittersweet. At 60 days out, we can't understand how -- I'm a mother and I had all the evidence within my hand within three days, that all the guns were legally purpose purchased in America. The 911 tape clearly states I accidentally crossed into Mexico, please help me. All of his possessions were in his truck. He had not yet found permanent housing. He had just moved from Florida. He was going to set up home in San Diego, get a job, continue with his V.A. treatment that just started March 12. Yet he was arrested that day. He is relieved he'll be able to go before the judge today and explain precisely how he made that accidental wrong turn and ended up in the dilemma he's in right now.


PEREIRA: I should point out, there's a demonstration scheduled at the border today in support of that Marine. Congressmen have written letters vouching for his character and his service to the United States. And, in addition, and this mom is not willing to go down without a fight, she set up a White petition. There's a lot of support he's garnering.

BERMAN: He's got a good mother who's working very hard to get hip out.

That's all for us @THISHOUR. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm John Berman.

And I'm Michaela Pereira.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.