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AMERICAN MORNING

Iraq Elections; Killings In Boston; Land Tug-Of-War; Minding Your Business; Fear 12 Stories Up

Aired December 14, 2005 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Former President Gerald Ford is now resting at home after a trip to the hospital. He was released from the Eisenhower Medical Center in Los Angeles last night. He had to have some tests done. The reason for the medical tests not clear right now but a spokeswoman told us they had been scheduled for some time. She also said the 92-year-old former president has recently been suffering from a cold.
She was known as Peru's little mermaid. A baby girl with a rare birth defect known as mermaid syndrome. Her legs were joined from the thighs to the ankles. Six months ago she underwent this series of three surgeries to separate her legs. And look at her. Look those healthy little legs and cute little feet. Doctors say -- oh, she's happy and healthy, though she will have to undergo multiple surgeries over the next 15 years as she grows up. Her first name, Milagros, which means miracles in Spanish.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Wow.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: She's cute.

MILES O'BRIEN: And they're just wiggly little legs. It looks like everything's OK.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes.

MILES O'BRIEN: That's a pretty rare kind of thing.

COSTELLO: Very rare.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes.

COSTELLO: And when we first reported this story, so many people e-mailed in concern for this girl. And we're happy to say she's doing OK.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, that's good news.

COSTELLO: Yes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Thanks, Carol.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. The Iraqi elections are our focus today. As a matter of fact, the president of the United States will be speaking today on the eve of those elections to further buttress popular support here in this country as those elections come upon us. But, of course, a big concern in Iraq right now is the security situation. And on top of that, specifically this morning, the fact that a truckload of phony Iraqi ballots were intercepted at the border with Iran. Maybe other truckloads out there. Colonel Brian Stephenson is one of the people who is charged with securing these elections.

Colonel, good to have you with us this moaning.

First of all, let's talk about these phony ballots. What do you know about that truckload of ballots and the possibility that there might be others out there?

COL. BRIAN STEPHENSON, MULTI-NATIONAL CORPS OF IRAQ: Well, good morning, Miles.

We received that report very early this morning and, as with any report like that, we'll get to the source and try and confirm whether or not it's true, which we have not been able to do yet. I will add that events like this either may happen or rumors of them may happen and one of the things that the Iraqi government has set up with the independent Iraqi commission in Iraq, the election commission, is to look for voter fraud. So even if truckloads of ballots were to come in, there are all kinds of safety measures to prevent the elections from becoming fraudulent. And also performed a -- go ahead.

MILES O'BRIEN: No, I didn't mean to interrupt you. But just a quick question for you. How good were these counterfeits? And is there some concern they could easily be mistaken for real ballots?

STEPHENSON: Well, we haven't even confirmed that the story is even true, so we can't assess how valid the ballots might be.

MILES O'BRIEN: Oh, so you're personally unaware of the story. We've been reporting it. Other news media have been reporting it. You're not aware of it.

STEPHENSON: Oh, I'm very aware of it, we just have no corroboration that it's true and we're trying to confirm and do just what you mentioned, is find out what -- are there, in fact, ballots there and could they be used as counterfeits. Again, we have a lot of steps in place to prevent that even if it were to come through the country.

MILES O'BRIEN: Now could you give us a sense of the kinds of steps that would be instituted to try to validate these ballots?

STEPHENSON: Well, the independent election commission in Iraq is overall responsible for that. There are over 150,000 political entity, basically political party inspectors, so to speak. There's over 81,000 right now and it could be as high as 150,000 inspectors that will be at the poll sites. So there's over 200,000 to 300,000 personnel that are going to be overwatching these elections.

They've also gone through and done some pre-assessments of areas that they saw were problem areas for the referendum in October. And then they anticipate probably around 1,000 to 1,500 challenges of which they have means by which they will secure the ballots with the Iraqi security forces in their particular storage sites so they can go back and do recounts.

MILES O'BRIEN: Colonel, tell us about the run-up to this election. I'm convinced that when the election comes and you clamp down the borders and you make it difficult for people to travel, obviously it's very difficult for the violence that we've grown accustomed to seeing to occur there. But in the run-up to this election, there's been a lot of violence. No less than 11 people associated with Allawi's party have been killed in the last couple of weeks. Additional violence in the Kurdish region. Two party members killed up there, 10 others wounded. The violence before and after is a problem as well. And to what extent do you think that intimidates people as they consider voting?

STEPHENSON: Well, we don't think that type of violence is going to be what's going to intimidate the actual voters from going to polling sites. Some things that we have done long-term, for instance, the operations that you've heard about in the western Euphrates River Valley between Haditha and Greater Alcam (ph), and then the return of Iraqi control to the borders on 30 November. All of those were geared towards creating a safer environment where we could leave behind up to 9,000 Iraqi soldiers, which we did not used to have to put in the Al Anbar Province and create a safe environment for them to vote.

What we're finding is the reason citizens don't -- feel intimidated to vote, of course, is because of the anti-Iraqi forces that are around them, not because they're against the process. So this allows an opportunity for them to feel safe to come out and vote. And when you look at Baghdad, for instance, we think that a large flow of foreign fighters was coming through the Euphrates River Valley. That's why we conducted the operation.

We've seen a decrease of over 50 percent in suicide (INAUDIBLE)- born IEDs with suicide bombers, which are -- have been usually conducted by foreign fighters. So those are the ways on a macro level that we think we've created a safer environment. Things like the emergency measures that the prime minister passes actually provides a safer environment for the citizens. And they're used to those kind of measures because this is the third time they'll be in place when they vote.

MILES O'BRIEN: Colonel Brian Stephenson with the U.S. military, thanks for being with us this morning, from Camp Victory in Baghdad.

STEPHENSON: OK. Thank you, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: And we'll be back with more in just a moment.

Oh, Iraq's parliamentary election will be held tomorrow. We'll have complete coverage here on AMERICAN MORNING starting at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

Now, Iran's president is stirring the pot against Israel again. For the second time in a week, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the holocaust a myth. On TV Tuesday he said, "they have fabricated a legend under the name 'Massacre of the Jews' and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves." America and Europe are trying to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. Israel has a nuclear arsenal. Of course, the Iranian president has called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map.

Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: To Boston now and a story that is shocking people in this small part of Dorchester in part of Boston. Four young men found shot to death in a relatively safe neighborhood. It happened last night. The murder rate in Boston, the highest it has been in 10 years. Steve Cooper of our affiliate WHDH is live in Boston this morning.

Steve, good morning.

What or who, I guess, are police looking for this morning?

Obviously we're having some trouble with Steve's audio.

Steve, let's try that again and see if we can fix your audio problem because we can see your lips moving but we can't hear what you're saying. Steve Cooper again from our affiliate WHDH.

Can you hear me?

STEVE COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Soledad, I can.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, we can hear you.

COOPER: A chilly night in Boston and residents here waking up to the chilling news of this quadruple murder that unfolded just a few hours ago. In fact, crime scene investigators have been coming and going from the scene. You mentioned earlier that investigators are looking for one suspect who witnesses say was seen leaving the scene of this shooting. But it was a pretty horrifying scene that unfolded when Boston police got these initial 911 calls sometime around 10:00 last night here in the fields corner section of Dorchester, which is part of Boston. And that's where they found those victims.

They were actually found in a rap music studio in the basement of a three-story home here and what is considered an otherwise quiet section of the city. The four male victims in their late teens and early 20s were gunned down right about 10:00 last night. Distraught family members could only look on in horror as police dealt with the crime scene. Three of the victims were actually pronounced dead at the scene. A fourth victim pronounced dead a short time later at Boston Medical Center.

The shooting happened ironically next to the home of Reverend Eugene Rivers (ph) and he is an anti-crime community peace activist who's been working tirelessly over the past several years to bring some peace to this community. And then, of course, all this happens right in his own backyard. In fact he just told me a couple of minutes ago, this happened as his daughter was inside and she was actually doing her homework when all this happened. Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, my goodness. You know, and for those who don't know Boston well, it is not a particularly crime-ridden area now. What do the police tell you about what's causing the spike in violence lately?

COOPER: Well, Soledad, a couple things. This is the 71st murder now with these four murders in Boston. It's making it the highest murder rate in 10 years in Boston. A couple of things that both the mayor of Boston, the police commissioner are talking about this morning, things like drugs, things like problem with gangs here. These are issues that they've been working on tirelessly for the past several weeks trying to sweep the city, get some of these illegal firearms off of the street. And then, of course, all this unfolds just in the past several hours. And right now the search is on for a suspect who leaves four people dead this morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, terrible, terrible news. Steve Cooper from our affiliate WHDH in Boston. Thank you for the update from there.

Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, imagine having your home taken away so someone can put up a mall or a yacht club. That's what's happening at Riviera Beach, Florida, where the debate over eminent domain is reaching a fevered pitch. CNN's John Zarrella with our story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Maggie has seen it all in this Riviera Beach neighborhood. Poverty, drugs, prostitution, violent crime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is combat zone.

MAYOR MICHAEL BROWN, RIVIERA BEACH, FLORIDA: It is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Zone three. This is combat zone.

BROWN: That's why we have to clean it up.

ZARRELLA: But cleaning it up has put Mayor Michael Brown right in the middle of what's considered by property rights organizations as the largest eminent domain case in the nation in 50 years.

BROWN: This area is subject to being demolished.

ZARRELLA: Thousands of homes and apartments sitting on more than 400 acres would be condemned, seized and bulldozed. It's an area large enough to hold at least 25 baseball parks. A 10-year, $1 billion redevelopment plan would replace these blighted neighborhoods with hotels, a yacht club, shops, theater and an aquarium.

BROWN: Look at this. This is a road to nowhere. ZARRELLA: The mayor and city leaders believe the plan will create jobs, new housing, improve quality of life and increase tax revenue. And no more than 100 people will have to be relocated. That's ridiculous says Martha Babson whose home sits in the redevelopment zone. She says this is simply a mammoth land grab that will line developer's pockets and force out thousands.

MARTHA BABSON, RIVIERA BEACH RESIDENT: Problem?

ZARRELLA: With the government taking over . . .

BABSON: Problem? This is America. I can understand hearing this in Cuba or Russia. But the fact that they just simply want the land I'm on and therefore they can take it and they base it on baloney like this? It's absolutely un-American.

ZARRELLA: A 2001 study, commissioned by the city, surveyed parcels of land and property and concluded that blighted conditions exist and redevelopment was necessary for the public good. Babson decided to do her own study.

BABSON: These are vacant lots according to their study.

ZARRELLA: Where the city's report found blighted, empty lots, she found there were homes on some. Nice homes.

BROWN: Look, is our report absolutely 100 percent perfect? No. What is? The fact is, is look around. And I challenge anybody to say that this area is not in need of rescuing.

ZARRELLA: City officials acknowledge some people will have to sacrifice, but that it's for the greater good. Opponents say the only people sacrificing for the greater good are those who can least afford it.

John Zarrella, CNN, Riviera Beach, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN: Now the Florida State Legislature may still get involved in the Riviera Beach fight. "The Palm Beach Post" reporting an interesting fact about the woman John just talked to in that report. In the redevelopment plan, her home would be about 10 feet under water at the bottom of the harbor for the yacht club.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh..

MILES O'BRIEN: That's Cuba or Russia or something, as she says.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I tell you, it touches a nerve that they can go ahead and . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: It does.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I mean, it's fascinating.

MILES O'BRIEN: Un-American, yes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And also the report, obviously, has some flaws. Those were pretty decent looking homes that they were claiming were blighted.

MILES O'BRIEN: Probably should get the facts straight before they get the bulldozers out.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: One would think.

MILES O'BRIEN: Anyway.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Weather now. Jacqui Jeras at the CNN Center.

Hey, Jacqui, good morning again.

(WEATHER REPORT)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Andy is "Minding Your Business" just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

What you got for us?

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, bottoms up. You won't believe how one cigarette company wants you to celebrate your birthday. Stay tuned for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SERWER: That is the odd couple, don't you think?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, yes. Yes, I do. Bill Buckner, 56, huh?

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes, 56, and still in hiding, I think.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh.

MILES O'BRIEN: Witness protection program, I believe.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: No, all is forgiven.

SERWER: (INAUDIBLE).

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly. Nero (ph) here.

Let's get to business news now. Critics of big tobacco are pretty mad about a new campaign. Andy Serwer's "Minding Your Business."

What's going on?

SERWER: Soledad, interesting to know how you feel on this one, where you come off on this. R.J. Reynolds, the maker of Camel cigarettes, are sending out drink coasters to young people on their birthdays. And this has got them under fire by attorney generals in California, Maryland and New York state because these coasters have drink recipes on them that seem to encourage excessive drinking.

Here we go. This one says the Crazy Bootlegger. And the Crazy Bootlegger is mix three shots together over ice, then make sure you're sitting. OK.

And what else do we have here? The Blue in the Face. If you turn green, you're doing it wrong.

They are recipes for exotic drinks that seem to encourage people to be drinking a lot. The Sweet Burner. Pour over ice, then let it burn!

And you can see you've got Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort and Sambuca (ph), for instance, in the Crazy Bootlegger. I've drank all three of those but never together.

MILES O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE), that's all in one drink?

SERWER: Yes, that's in one drink.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Wow, that's three shots.

MILES O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness. Wow.

SERWER: Yes. And so, you know, you have to sign up at a bar with an R.J. Reynolds' rep to receive these coasters. You have to be over 21. So you're sort of, you know, partaking. On the other hand, some of the young people in the "L.A. Times" article said they didn't smoke except when they drank.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Ah.

SERWER: So you can see here that the cigarette company kind of . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: Therein lies the connection.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) connection.

SERWER: Yes, exactly. Therein lies the connection. So on the other hand, don't the attorney generals maybe have something more important to focus on? I think that would be a legitimate question. I mean this is kind of going way out the food chain in terms of things to prosecute and condemn, if you ask me.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And I'm not sure they can't do it. I mean, if you're talking about people who are over 21, this is essentially a recipe.

SERWER: Right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I don't understand. And apparently they've signed up for it.

SERWER: Right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It may not be the most PC thing to do but it's . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: I mean, I think if they're distributing that in a kindergarten, that would be bad.

SERWER: Or first grade even.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, that would be bad.

SERWER: Or second grade. And a Sweet Burner, maybe I'll make some of these later, which is the vodka, triple (INAUDIBLE), grapefruit and cranberries.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, stop.

SERWER: Maybe after 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

MILES O'BRIEN: Can I just save those for later? They're just . . .

SERWER: Ten minutes later.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Move on, shall we.

MILES O'BRIEN: I want to do some research on that later.

Coming up, do you remember this? This? There it is! This. You remember this! Denver, just when was that?

SERWER: A couple weeks ago.

MILES O'BRIEN: A couple of weeks ago now. Two window washers sent flying. Their scaffolding rig broke free. It was awfully windy that day. Were they forced out on a day they shouldn't have been out at 11, 12 stories? We'll hear what they have to say next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILES O'BRIEN: A couple of weeks ago we showed you this, that startling video of that scaffolding, run-away scaffold, in downtown Denver, swinging back and forth in some high winds. Two extremely frightened window washers hanging on for dear life. Our Sean Callebs finally caught up with the men and talked with them about their experience.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Just looking at it again makes them physically sick and brings back the wobbly knees.

Meadro (ph), Hector says, fear. Fear that the cables were going to break and that they were going to fall.

On November 30th, 20-year-old Hector Estrada (ph) and 23-year-old Oscar Gonzales (ph) swayed wildly out of control more than 12 stories above the street below. Their window washing stage tossed about by gusting winds that suddenly kicked up in downtown Denver. They point to supporting cables they thought would give at any time.

Oscar says he thought of his infant son more than anything. Fearful he would never see the five-month-old again.

Oscar is married to Hector's sister and both of their families saw the frightening scenes broadcast on TV. The drama dragged on for the longest 20 or so minutes of their young lives. And look at this, as firefighters stabilize the platform momentarily, Oscar says they grabbed the stage and there I go walking across. But the safety harness gets caught for a moment and the drama continues.

Estrada and Gonzales say the worst moment was when it hit the building, sending glass flying and they thought the platform with going to break.

Gonzalez has been in the U.S. six years, Estrada four. Neither speaks English. Both quit the company they were working for, Ba (ph) Pop Building Services. They say Pop offered them a dollar an hour raise from $13.50 to $14.50, but only if they signed an agreement vowing not to sue the company. Oscar says they are still upset with their former employer, saying they called before the stage began swinging out of control telling them conditions were unsafe, but say the company didn't help them and right now they are considering filing suit.

The Ba Pop Company says it did nothing wrong and says the claims made by the two workers are false. It believes authorities investigating the accident will clear them. When firefighters finally secure the stage, the two quickly climb to safety. At that point it was all a blur.

Oscar saying he was shaking and thinks he might of even been crying but he doesn't remember for sure.

Both Oscar and Hector are still washing windows but for a new company and neither ventures too far from the ground.

Sean Callebs, CNN, Denver.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes, those don't work so well on the 12-story buildings, those long extension things.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That had to be scary.

MILES O'BRIEN: But the dollar an hour raise, I'm glad they didn't go for that.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, the employer says that that's not the case. That they didn't -- that they were speaking out about it but he didn't encourage them not to. That they chose not to. So I think you have a little contradiction between the employer and the employee on that. I'm sure there will be lots of follow-up on that.

Ahead this morning, what is life really like day in and day out for U.S. troops in Iraq? One commander will share his story for us, training Iraqi forces on the cross-hairs of terrorists. A look at that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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