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Ariel Sharon's Health; President Bush Media Blitz?; 'Minding Your Business'; UPS Santa's Helpers; Gift of Life For Iraqi Children

Aired December 20, 2005 - 07:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, it's cold. But you know what, that's one of the few ways to get to work this morning, get on your bike and pedal your way in. You're looking at a picture from Columbus Circle. And now you're looking at live pictures from our affiliate WABC. In that crowd there is the city's mayor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and he is hoofing it this morning very slowly because he's traveling with a big large crowd of people. They're going over the Brooklyn Bridge. He vowed that he would walk to work this morning. He spent the night in Brooklyn and that's the way he's going into work. Showing, I guess, for people who are trying to figure out how they're going to get in, that you with can walk, even though it is cold. Only in the 20s here in New York City. As a transit strike is now underway (INAUDIBLE) bunch of people.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: That's what he said in his news conference today. He said, I want New Yorkers need to go out and show your resolve. Show these guys we don't need them. We can do this on our own. We can walk to work. We can bike to work. We can roller blade to work. Whatever it takes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Not a very long walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, you know, to City Hall. It's not that bad. But people who are coming in from Queens to downtown . . .

SANCHEZ: Easier said than done.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Way easier said than done. The strike is one of Carol's top stories this morning as well. Let's get right to her for an update.

Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I know. And let's face it, if the mayor came in, in a limo, it would not look good politically for him. So he's walking with the rest of us this morning. Heading to New York, you bring your walking shoes because, as Soledad said, the mass transit strike is on. Authorities began shutting things down at subway stations just about four hours ago. Transit talks are expected to start up again but we don't exactly know when.

A man suspected in a bizarre Halloween rape is set to appear in a New York City courtroom today. Peter Braunstein, a former fashion writer, faces charges of sexual abuse, kidnaping and burglary. Police caught up with him in Tennessee last week after six weeks on the run.

Iraqi officials say final results from last week's elections will not be ready until next year. The announcement coming within the past 20 minutes. Early tallies suggest disappointing results for the secular party led by the former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a U.S. favorite.

In Miami Beach, Florida, investigators looking into the cause of a deadly plane crash. A seaplane turned into a giant fireball, slamming into the ocean on Monday. This is amateur video. And you can see it shows thick black smoke trailing the plane. It's believed all 20 on board are dead. Investigators will try to raise the wreckage from the ocean floor today.

An emergency landing causing sparks to fly at LAX. Officials say a passenger jet on its way to Germany from Los Angeles blew a tire as it left the runway. Look at that landing. The plane had to dump fuel and it made this emergency landing. All the passengers on board, all the crew members fine. Air India is now investigating.

And two U.S. Marines are fighting another battle this holiday season, the war on shoplifting. A Miami couple is accused of trying to steal about $900 worth of clothes. Police say they used bags called boosters lined with special material that keeps the alarms from going off. But a store owner recognized one of the suspected thieves anyway. Authorities say he took off and those U.S. Marines you see there were hot on their heels. Needless to say, both suspects now in custody. They face up to five years in prison if they are convicted.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Wow, that's an interesting strategy. I had never heard of that.

COSTELLO: I hadn't either.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Using a bag that's lined to be able to get past the detectors.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Of course, you can't cut those things out. I mean they have a new problem after that. But, gosh, that's (INAUDIBLE) that bizarre.

COSTELLO: I'm sure they figured that out, too.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, probably. Huh, that's weird.

All right, Carol, thanks.

SANCHEZ: And here's a story we're following from overseas. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left a Jerusalem hospital this morning after suffering a mild stroke Sunday. Doctors say the 77- year-old leader should make a full recovery. A small blood clot had briefly blocked a blood vessel in his head. And Guy Raz is live. He's in Jerusalem following this for us.

Guy, is the prime minister back to work today?

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is indeed, Rick. And the prime minister was beaming as he left Hadassah Medical Center here in Jerusalem just a few hours ago. He told reporters he was touched by the public support when he was hospitalized and he said now it's time to move on and to move forward. A not disguise reference to the name of his new political party known as forward or Kadima.

Now his doctors say he'll remain under medical observation and he won't suffer any permanent damage from his stroke, but they will recommend that Ariel Sharon go on a strict weight loss diet.


SANCHEZ: Question, is this going to have an effect on the election, if nothing else, in terms of perception?

RAZ: Well, interestingly enough, in a twist to all this, it appears as if Ariel Sharon's poll numbers have actually risen. Now in an overnight poll carried out, Ariel Sharon's centrist Kadima party has surged ahead of its two main political rivals, including the right wing Likud party now headed by the former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Now Ariel Sharon is hoping to be re-elected as prime minister. Israelis go to the polls in about 100 days and political analysts are saying that his hospitalization has actually in many ways helped his poll numbers.


SANCHEZ: Guy Raz bringing us the very latest there. We thank you.

Soledad, over to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you.

President Bush facing an uphill struggle, convincing Americans to stay the course in Iraq. He's also defending the use of wire taps without a judicial order. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice all part of the media blitz as well. Is the president making any headway? Mike Allen with "Time" magazine joins us with more on that.

Good morning. Nice to see you.

MIKE ALLEN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Hey, good morning, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You know, if you put up everybody in a quadruple or quintuple box, you would have seen everybody's lips moving at once from the president's cabinet. Essentially all going out and giving out the message. Clearly this is a strategy. Is the strategy working?

ALLEN: Well, this Bush White House is big on metrics, big on results. And an ABC News/"Washington Post" poll this morning has loaded with stocking stuffers for the Bush White House. The president up in approval eight points since they last polled on November 2nd. Up on approval of his handling of Iraq 10 points and up on the economy 11 points.

Soledad, you mentioned some of the many administration figures that have been out. Also Mrs. Cheney, who calls herself the grandmother of the United States jokingly, has been out. I'm wondering if maybe the president doesn't already know that the man of the year issue is on the stands, because he seems to be campaigning for it, maybe getting a jump on next year. You can't get the president on your iPod, but just about every other way.

In seven days we had the president giving six television interviews, three of them to NBC. We had him giving a live radio address in front of the television cameras, which he joked about it a little yesterday, taking unscripted questions from an audience in Philadelphia that was on your air, giving an address to the nation and then yesterday . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It's a complete change of strategy. I mean it's a 180 from what we've seen and heard from the president before. Let's throw those poll numbers up for anybody who missed them. This is an ABC News poll, I believe. And if we put those numbers up right there. You can see the numbers for approval were 39 percent, now up to 47 percent. Do you, Mike, credit this campaign with these rising poll numbers?

ALLEN: You know, Soledad, cause and effect is always tough to establish here. And one of the most interesting points that my former colleagues, Dan Balls (ph) and Richard Warren (ph) of "The Washington Post" make in their story about this poll is that the gains all came among Republicans and conservatives. They said that among Democrats, independents, moderates, the president's flat or not up at all. So that provides him a lot of opportunity to move up more. And that's why you saw the hour-long news conference yesterday.

Soledad, as you know, one of the precepts of this president's aides has always been that he is his best salesperson. And going back to '99-2000, the president was always stronger overall than he was among issues in his polls. People like him even if they don't -- and historically, people have liked this president even if they didn't necessarily agree with him.

Now, what we saw in the last few months is people questioning his credibility, questioning his response and handling of national and world issues and so you saw the numbers sort of come together.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And also, let me jump in here, because they were also questioning the use of wire taps. And I want to run a little chunk of his news conference yesterday. Let's listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: See over this issue bringing down these poll numbers, do you think?

ALLEN: You know, Soledad, that was a great clip. Because what you saw was the president asserting that he has this right. Also the sentence he said that sort of summed up the news conference was he said "we're doing the right thing." And, Soledad, this is going to be a tough case for them to make. Remember when conservatives were against federal power. You'll hear people talking about this being a government of laws, not men. So the president is going to have a tough case to make even with some Republicans in coming weeks.

I talked to Republicans and Democratic staff on The Hill yesterday, and even though the president keeps talking about the briefings that they received about this eavesdropping, these members, senators, say they did not realize what was going on. That it was not clear. That in some cases they took it to be about a computer or something else. So even Republicans say they have grave doubts about this.

But what you had the president out was -- is in his sort of firmest, sunny war-time mode saying that as commander in chief he has this power. And you saw the president trying to remind people why they like him. You know, the nicknames, stretch and action Jackson were back. And when another reporter sort of got tangled up in his wires, the president said, "you got a little problem there?" And he jokingly said "liberate him."

So the president's trying to show that he's confident, that he's not in the bunker despite this gathering storm over the big issue which is, how intrusive can the federal government be on its own citizens.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We will, obviously, continue to watch it and see if it's going to work. Mike Allen of "Time" magazine.

Mike, as always, thanks.

ALLEN: Have a beautiful week, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Thank you. Likewise.

ALLEN: Thanks.


SANCHEZ: Beautiful weather? Well, let's find out. Bonnie Schneider is checking things out for us. She's checking in with us now.

Bonnie, back to you.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: During the busy holiday season, Santa needs a ton of help.

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And delivering all those presents. Let's take a look this morning at just how they get millions of packages, UPS this is, going where they need to go. That's coming up this morning on AMERICAN MORNING.

Also, Andy is "Minding Your Business." What do you have coming up?

SERWER: Soledad, the airlines have been taking away our perks for years. You'll never guess who's paying to put them back into airplanes. Stay tuned to AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: One credit card company is spreading a little cheer to travelers during the holidays. Andy's "Minding Your Business."

SERWER: I can tell you're feeling warm and fuzzy now (INAUDIBLE).

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I am feeling warm -- so rarely, Mr. gloom and doom, do you do like positive, happy stories. This is a positive, happy story.

SANCHEZ: Wow, that's a shot.

SERWER: And especially -- I know. I'm used to it. I can take it.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I know it is, but it's true. It's not a shot if it's true.

SERWER: I've got a hardened skin by now being on this program all this time.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, no love for Andy.

SERWER: All right. And especially coming from your credit card company, too. You know, we're talking about airlines here, though, first of all. And, of course, they've been taking away our snacks, our food, our headphones, our pillows, everything has gone by the boards. It's all about cost-cutting. Now MasterCard is going to be providing a lot of goodies on 600 flights at American Airlines this holiday season. They're going to be providing snacks , headphones, puzzles, games. They will all say provided to you from MasterCard. And, of course, it's all about advertising. It's a captive audience that's sitting there for hours and hours. You can sort of stare at your headphones thinking what a wonderful thing that MasterCard is providing, these (INAUDIBLE).

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Do they stick a little application in there for people? (INAUDIBLE).

SERWER: I don't know. Maybe they should. They should.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It seems like if you're going to advertise, you . . .

SERWER: It would be a good idea. You know, this whole thing of sponsoring things on airplanes and underwriting is going to be a big thing going forward you've got to believe because, of course, the airlines are looking for all kinds of ways to save money and have other companies pitch in and defray cost.

Take a look at this airplane in Europe. It is a Ryan (ph) airplane, which is the discount carrier in Europe. And that says Cable & Wireless on it, which is a giant telecom company. You know, basically it's advertising. It's like a NASCAR thing here, right, just plaster the name all over the darn thing. Airlines here in the U.S. say they're not quite ready to do that, but you best believe some of them are thinking of doing it.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: They might be.

SERWER: Yes, next week. Not this week.

SANCHEZ: Oh, it's like, we live in a billboard world. Have you been to a sporting event lately?


SANCHEZ: I mean, at a baseball game, you know, the foul pole is sponsored and football -- everything is sponsored nowadays.

SERWER: Yes. Well, it's all about the market isn't it?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The airlines could use the money certainly.

All right, Andy, thank you.

SERWER: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Well, speaking of marketing. Over at UPS, this is crunch time, sorting through and delivering millions of packages for Christmas. And it's down to the wire now. CNN's Jonathan Freed takes a behind the scenes look at what is really an enormous job.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): You are riding through the heart of UPS' largest sorting facility for ground shipments in North America. We tossed in a package equipped with a camera. There are 65 miles of conveyor belts and rollers at this one and a half million square foot facility outside of Chicago.

RICK MENDOZA (ph), UPS: Break is over. Let's go. Get everyone back on the clock.

FREED: Rick Mendoza is one of the people responsible for making sure your holiday wishes arrive on time.

MENDOZA: And it looks like they're going heavy to Dayton, Ohio.

FREED: It's the busiest shipping week of the year and UPS says it's handling some two million packages a day at this center alone.

Do you feel a sense of personal responsibility for making sure that everything gets to where it's supposed to go?

MENDOZA: Yes, I do. Because I have the position of insuring that all the processes are in place. FREED: So how do they sort through 100,000 packages an hour? Take this system called the bullfrog because of how so called lily pads make packages jump to their destination.

All right, let's test that.

MENDOZA: Let's test it.


What's this?

MENDOZA: This is Knoxville, Tennessee, preload.


MENDOZA: The package all should say 3799. Grab one of them out, and we have, what, Knoxville, Tennessee, 3799. The right package in the right bag.

FREED: OK, you could have gotten lucky. Let's test one more.

MENDOZA: Let's test one more.

FREED: Another on at random.

MENDOZA: This one?

FREED: This one right here, sure.

MENDOZA: This one right here. This is a Ohio. (INAUDIBLE), Ohio, 4369. We go in. Here we go, Ohio, 4369.

FREED: Mendoza also watches over the folks who load and unload the trucks, which can be tricky during the holiday rush.

MENDOZA: From your shoulders to your waist is your power zone. And what we want to try to do is keep as much of the weight as you can within that zone. You don't want to carry packages below your waist. You don't want it to much overextend.

FREED: That's because things are already extended enough around here. Where, by company estimates, it's delivering up to 230 packages per second. At least ours didn't have to leave the building.

Jonathan Freed, CNN, Hodgkins, Illinois.


SANCHEZ: By the way, UPS says that people can still ship holiday packages as late as December 22nd, this Thursday, for on-time Christmas delivery.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: God, you'd hate to test that out, though.

SANCHEZ: Yes, of course.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You believe them but you'd hate to try it.

Still to come this morning, the gift of life. Four Iraqi children are getting a second chance at life. They're all smiles now. The kids, though, very sick. And thanks to one U.S. army sergeant, they're going to get the surgery that they desperately need. We've got their story coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Now a story of the gift of life. Four Iraqi children flown here to New York to undergo life saving surgery this week. They might not have gotten the second chance of survival if it hadn't been for the combination help of Gift of Life International, one hospital and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Marikay Satryano. Staff Sergeant Satryano joins us this morning.

It's nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: How are the kids doing?

SATRYANO: They're doing fine. They made the trip very well and our first child is undergoing surgery right now. His name's Wusam (ph).

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: They have very serious conditions. Give me a sense of each child and their age and what they're dealing with.

SATRYANO: OK. We have three boys and one girl. They range from ages six to about 14. And they're born with these congenital heart diseases. And each child's case is different and in different severities. However, these severities cannot be addressed in Iraq whatsoever. If they don't get these surgeries, they will die.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: They made some incredibly excruciatingly difficult trips to get here essentially. Give me a sense of just how hard it was for some of the family members who not only because of their medical condition, but, of course, the situation in Iraq.

SATRYANO: Yes. These families come from all over Iraq, including Sulimania (ph) in Kurdistan. And essentially they gather in Baghdad and then from Baghdad they come to Amman, Jordan, where I'm stationed. To get from Baghdad to Amman, you have to cross through the most treacherous real estate on the planet called the Al Anbar region. That can take . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It's in the news a lot, unfortunately.

SATRYANO: Exactly. Through Fallujah and to the boarder with Jordan. That can take 14 hours on a good day. It can take two days, which it did for some of these children who are sick, with their fathers. That's just to Amman. And then they came here.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All arrived safely, thank God.

SATRYANO: Yes. Thankfully, yes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And now really the hope lies ahead for them as they get medical treatment here at Montefiore Hospital.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about your involvement. How does it work that you're kind of leading the charge, along with other people too, to get them better?

SATRYANO: Exactly. I'm part of a team. I'm a civil affairs specialist. In Baghdad we have a center called the Iraqi Assistance Center. Parents scour the Iraqi Ministry of Health for help for their children and they often come up short or empty. So through word of mouth, they're sent to the Iraqi Assistance Center, half staffed by soldiers, half staffed by Iraqi citizens who risk their lives to work with us. Their medical records are scanned and sent to me. My office is in the U.S. embassy in Amman. And then it's my job to go out and try to match these resources. Such as, with the Gift of Life, the Rotary Gift of Life.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: So what kind of budget do you work with?

SATRYANO: Zero. Zero.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: OK. That's not an impressive budget. So what does it take to get somebody like Montefiore to agree? It's expensive, not only the surgery, but the flying the children here.

SATRYANO: Exactly.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I mean, all of it is not cheep.

SATRYANO: Well, the Rotary Gift of Life International has a great experience, 30 years of doing this. And they broker with the hospitals these charity cases. And it takes MacGyver like ingenuity to try to put this all together. And, more importantly, people of goodwill, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, I bet. I bet it takes a lot of people with goodwill. Have you found people embracing your cause when you make a phone calls to get help for these kids?

SATRYANO: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think there's a certain frustration that people feel a lot of things are out of our control and I convince them, no, this is within our control. If you're a person of goodwill, you can help this child.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: This is something you can do. Well, we'll be watching the status of these kids as they begin to undergo their surgery, life saving surgery, and hopefully we'll get a chance to check in with you again and see how they're doing.

SATRYANO: Thank you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Staff Sergeant Marikay Satryano, thank you for talking with us.

SATRYANO: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: And in a moment, today's top stories, including the rush hour meltdown in New York City. How are New Yorkers coping on the first morning of the transit strike? Stay with us to find out on AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Good morning. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

If you are not in New York this morning, you might want to count yourself lucky. Subways shutdown. Buses not budging. It is an all- out transit strike. We've got a live report just ahead.

SANCHEZ: I'm Rick Sanchez in for Miles O'Brien.

Investigators are going underwater this morning to try and get clues in the crash of a vintage seaplane. We're going to take you live to Miami for the very latest as they prepare to raise the wreckage of that Chalk's plane.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And a fake firefighter is brought back to New York. He is expected in court today to face a series of charges. We're got details just ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.


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