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Alabama Church Fires; Funeral for Coretta Scott King Turns Political; Gambling Ring

Aired February 8, 2006 - 08:59   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zain Verjee, in for Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Arson the inescapable conclusion in more church fires in Alabama, but investigators still have no suspects. A live report just ahead.

The funeral for Coretta Scott King turns political. Was it appropriate? We'll take a closer look at that.

VERJEE: More protests over controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. And now Iran's president has his own idea about political correctness.

Investigators say this professional hockey coach is a gambling kingpin. But it isn't just confined to the sports world. There could also be a Hollywood connection.

O'BRIEN: And millions of us can't get a good night's sleep. And a record number are popping pills to solve that problem. But does that create other problems? We'll tell you.

The hot Santa Ana winds continue to blow in southern California, whipping up flames like you see here. Live pictures from our affiliate KABC.

This is Ventura County -- not Orange County, as we've been showing you over the past couple of days -- in a remote canyon in Calabasas. We have no indication at this juncture that this fire is threatening any homes.

Nevertheless, we are watching this very closely as the weather conditions for fires persist there. Those whipping Santa Ana winds continuing to come off the mountains, dry vegetation leading to the fires we've been seeing. We are watching it closely for you this morning.

And on the fire front, in a much different part of the world, in a different motivation, in a different cause, more churches could be in danger today. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigating arson and civil rights violations potentially at four rural Alabama churches. That's added to the five churches that burned last Friday.

The fires bring to mind more than 30 churches, most with African- American congregations, burned in the southeast a decade ago. You'll recall that story.

David Mattingly joining us now from Boligee, Alabama, at the site of one of those fires.

David, good morning.


Just a little over 24 hours ago you could have looked behind me and seen standing a small, quaint country church. Well, that clearly is no longer the case. And congregations are now learning -- Baptist congregations are learning just how quickly their fortunes can change here in rural Alabama.


MATTINGLY (voice over): Smoldering ash and cement block steps, that's all that's left of the Morning Star Baptist Church in Boligee, Alabama, one of four burned Tuesday morning in rural western Alabama, one of nine in an apparent arson spree that began in another county on Friday.

REV. JAMES POSEY, MORNING STAR BAPTIST CHURCH: What kind of joy, what kind of satisfaction did you get out of doing what you did? We weren't bothering you. We don't even know you.

MATTINGLY: There is no known motive, no known suspects, but a growing mountain of evidence. Specially trained dogs lead investigators to substances that may have been used to start the fires.

Elsewhere, plaster casts are made of tire tracks in the mud, possible signs of a quick getaway. And broken doors on several churches indicate forced entry.

RAGAN INGRAM, ALABAMA DEPT. OF INSURANCE: It could be a religious bias. It could be a devil, satanic thing. It could be somebody angry at the Baptist churches. It could be a number of motives. And we're exploring those.


MATTINGLY: One thing investigators can't say right now also is whether or not these are racially motivated. Of the nine churches that have been hit, they've hit both black congregations and white congregations. They really don't know why. The big question in this, why is someone singling out these Baptist churches -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: David Mattingly in Alabama.

Thank you.

It was an extraordinary scene outside Atlanta yesterday. The brave widow turned fearless civil rights warrior laid to rest. Coretta Scott King was remembered amid praise and politics.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Amazing grace how sweet the sound

O'BRIEN (voice over): It was the kind of funeral Martin Luther King was denied, the 10,000-seat congregation filled with members of Congress and four presidents.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Coretta Scott King showed that a person of conviction and strength could also be a beautiful soul. This kind and gentle woman became one of the most admired Americans of our time.

O'BRIEN: And while the president offered a dignified tribute bereft of political rhetoric, other speakers used some of their time at the pulpit for partisanship, as well as praise. Former president Jimmy Carter reminding us of the current administration's failures in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

JAMES CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, those who are most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans.

O'BRIEN: The civil rights leader, the Reverend Joseph Lowery, turned up the political volume, praising Coretta Scott King and criticizing the war in Iraq in the same breath.

REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here.


LOWERY: Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war, billions more. But no more for the poor.

O'BRIEN: Moments later, the former President Bush rose in defense of his son, using humor to try and deflate the tension.

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would like to say something to my friend Joe Lowery.


Hey, look. They used to send this guy to Washington and I kept score in the Oval Office desk. Lowery, 21, Bush 3. It wasn't a fair fight.


The advice though, Joe -- the advice I'd give this guy is, Maya has nothing to worry about. Don't give up your day job. Keep preaching.


O'BRIEN: Now, we spoke to the bishop of that church just a little while ago, Eddie Long. And he told us when the talk turned to politics, he cringed a little bit -- Zain.

VERJEE: Miles, let's check the headlines now with Kelly Wallace. She joins us now.

Kelly, the King is coming to meet the president.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: That is right, Zain. King Abdullah of Jordan sitting down with President Bush. A lot on their agenda, of course, including the protests by Muslims around the world and the Hamas elections -- or Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections.

We want to shift gears, though, a little bit on a developing story that we are following very closely. We're watching that new fire burning in California. Miles was telling you about this just at the top of the hour.

Some live pictures coming in to us from our affiliate KABC out in California. This fire is pretty small, and it is burning in a remote canyon area near Malibu. The location is Calabasas, California. Officials trying to figure out how to get the fire crews on the ground there since it is a very remote era.

Again, you're looking at some live pictures of this fire. We'll be following the story and bring you developments as we get them.

Another wildfire also to tell you about, this one burning east of Los Angeles. And this one has destroyed more than 6,500 acres. Fierce Santa Ana winds are said to be fueling those flames in that fire.

The Danish prime minister now defending his country in the wake of criticism over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. He says Muslims have a "false picture" of his country.

Meantime, hundreds of people in Sarajevo took to the streets today. These are some new pictures coming in to us here at CNN. This protest one of the first mass demonstrations over the cartoons seen so far in Europe.

Turning to Iraq now, where there have been three bomb blasts within 30 minutes today. At least two people were killed in those explosions. And these are also some new pictures coming in to us regarding one of those attacks.

Another bombing targeted Iraq's minister of higher education. He escaped without injuries.

Early election results in Haiti could come later today. Ballot counting is now under way. The elections the first in six years.

Tens of thousands of voters turned out Tuesday. Many are hoping this will be a new chapter for the poor island nation that's been plagued by violence in the past.

And it is take two for Steve Fossett. He's now airborne, trying to break the record for the longest nonstop flight in history. The liftoff was originally set for Tuesday, but strong tailwinds and a fuel leak grounded that flight.

If everything goes as planned, Fossett should land near London on Saturday. That's some 27,000 miles in 80 hours.

And Zain, as Miles was mentioning, it will be five-minute catnaps, and also I guess some nutritional milkshakes to calm the stomach.

VERJEE: Yes, diet milkshake. And he's been taking that for a few days to save him from going to the bathroom too often. But he has some bags, I'm happy to report.

Thanks, Kelly Wallace.

WALLACE: OK. Thanks, Zain, for that.

VERJEE: A potential embarrassment for the National Hockey League. Investigators say an NHL assistant coach is behind a nationwide gambling ring. Included in the investigation are members of organized crime, current players, as well as the wife of a hockey legend.

Let's turn now to CNN Sports Correspondent Will Selva in Atlanta.


WILL SELVA, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Former player and current assistant coach Rick Tocchet will meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in New York today. Tocchet will answer questions about his involvement in what could turn out to be one of the biggest sports betting scandals in history.

In an investigation called Operation Slap Shot, Tocchet allegedly took about 1,000 bets totaling $1.7 million. Among those accused, several NHL players and Janet Jones, the wife of hockey's greatest player and current Coyotes head coach, Wayne Gretzky.

Here's what Gretzky had to say about this: "The reality is, I'm not involved, I wasn't involved and I'm not going to be involved. Am I concerned for both of them? Sure there's concern from me. I'm more worried about them than me. I'm like you guys, I'm trying to figure it all out."

New Jersey authorities say the bets were on football and basketball, but not hockey. The gambling ring has a connection to organized crime in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

Will Selva, at CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: Let's check the forecast once again. Chad Myers off today, nursing his cold and cough that he has. And Bonnie Schneider is the at CNN center.

Hello, Bonnie.



O'BRIEN: Bonnie Schneider. That's good news. Thank you.

Coming up, big trouble at one of the nation's biggest airports. We'll tell you why Philadelphia had to shut down their operation overnight.

Also, a record number of Americans are relying on sleeping pills to get a good night's rest. But are they really a long-term answer? I think you know the answer to that question in your heart of hearts. Sanjay Gupta will give us details.

And more on those political jabs at the Coretta Scott king funeral. Some are calling it a Wellstone moment. We'll explain what that means and what the lingering political implications might be with Jeff Greenfield. That is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: It was quite a funeral, six hours. And the full range of emotions as Coretta Scott King was laid to rest. There were songs, prayers, praise and a healthy dose of politics.

Former presidents Carter and Clinton, civil rights legend Joseph Lowery used their time at the pulpit to take some jabs at the current administration with the man, as you see, seated a few feet away, President Bush.

Jeff Greenfield is here to talk about the implications of all of this.

I tell you what, before we get going, one that we haven't shared as much with viewers this morning was former President Carter making reference to wiretaps, which of course has historical parallels here to Martin Luther King Day.

Let's listen.


CARTER: It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance.


O'BRIEN: All right. Not so subtle a statement there. What were your thoughts on this as you watched this unfold? Did it surprise you, first of all?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, I can't say that, because she was such a symbol of a particular moment in American political history. We should mention, by the way, that Martin Luther King was wiretapped during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations at the direction of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who was a hero of that movement.

But what struck me also was how quickly this became an item within the other side, within the political right. And within hours, I think when the funeral was still going on, this popped up as the headline on "The Drudge Report," which often begins the transmission through the -- through particularly conservative media.

"Hannity & Colmes" last night on FOX, it was the lead item. And Rush Limbaugh on his Web site went off on Joseph Lowery, whose piece he played, and called it -- and this was really the key, as you mentioned in your intro to this, "a Wellstone moment."

O'BRIEN: Tell us about that. We're referring to the late senator.


Back in 2002, shortly before the election, Senator Wellstone was killed in a plane crash. And at the memorial service, a number of political people made the point to honor Paul Wellstone's memory, vice president -- ex-vice president Mondale who was running in the state should be elected. There were also -- there was some booing, apparently, not that much, directed at some Republican senators there.

It became an article of faith on the political right that this had become a real ugly moment, when partisanship replaced memorials. After the funeral yesterday, Kate O'Beirne, a prominent conservative writer, said liberals don't know how to keep politics out of their funerals.

And on the Daily Kos, which is a site from the left, the argument was these conservatives had nothing to do with civil lights, they have no right to lecture us.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's talk about this, because when you talk about a Wellstone moment, timing is an awful lot in politics. And the timing there very different than here.

GREENFIELD: Absolutely. That memorial service happened literally three or four days before the election. And there was a backlash to it that may have helped the Republicans take that Senate seat.

We're now in early February. The idea that this is going to have some political implication, you have to really be overcommitted to endless analysis, which some of us on cable news are to think that. I do, however, think that in a more subtle way, this actually rebounds to the credit of President Bush. I mean, he came to the funeral, changed his plans, made a gracious speech. And I think for people who are not politically committed -- I mean, if you don't like George Bush, this was fine. If you like George Bush, this was horrible.

I think for a lot of people the idea is, do you really do this at a funeral?

O'BRIEN: Yes. Now, you've written your share of speeches for Bobby Kennedy, as a matter of fact, in a previous career.

GREENFIELD: Among others.

O'BRIEN: Among others. Would you have ever injected -- if you were writing this -- this kind of a talk, this eulogy, would you have injected politics in there? Think about it honestly.

GREENFIELD: Well, when you remember the history of the black church in America in terms of the civil rights movement, I mean this is where Martin Luther King -- Reverend Martin Luther King organized the Montgomery boycott, bus boycott back in '56. It's hard to keep politics out when you consider that part of what Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King represented was a huge political shift.

I think on appropriateness grounds, you probably would be a lot more subtle. I mean, this -- the idea of civil rights in America has become now a consensus. There is nobody arguing that Martin Luther King was on the wrong side of history. And probably if you want to make your political points about the president, there are other venues to do it.

O'BRIEN: You sort of get the sense that these days nuance is dead. It's coarse, isn't it?

GREENFIELD: Yes. Now, I don't want to -- I mean, the problem is, when you get to be my age, you always think that the tomatoes were better in the old days. But I do think that -- that, look, one of Robert Kennedy's greatest speeches came when he told a crowd in Indianapolis that Martin Luther King had been shot. That's an iconic moment. But there was no politics in that speech.


GREENFIELD: There was a quote from (INAUDIBLE) about tragedy. And maybe that was a more appropriate way to talk at a funeral.

O'BRIEN: Was that one of yours?


O'BRIEN: Was that one of yours?

GREENFIELD: Oh, that was his.

O'BRIEN: All right.

GREENFIELD: You know, that was a moment that nobody wrote that for him.

O'BRIEN: All right. Jeff Greenfield, excellent. Interesting.

Let's get to Zain. Zain is down in the newsroom and she's become an instant Sudoku expert.

Right? Aren't you?

VERJEE: Yes, an instant expert, yes. Sudoku, the Japanese have been doing this since the '80s. And it's only just caught on here in the United States.

I'm with Edwin Marin, and he's a grandmaster. How does this work? You know? I'm just getting my head around this. Show us.

EDWIN MARIN, "NEW YORK POST" SUDOKU GRANDMASTER: Just very quickly, in this, you have to get one through nine in every row, in every column, as well as in every three by three section. Very quickly, as I mentioned, one through nine. There is only one empty number there, so...

VERJEE: OK. Yes. So you're going to show us how you fill in those empty spots.

MARIN: Sure.

VERJEE: And I want some tips from you, because, you know, I wasn't very good. Most people spend their time at work not working but doing this. We're going to be right back.


VERJEE: And you're going to help us learn how to do this. Thanks much.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. It is Sudoku Day here on AMERICAN MORNING.

You excited?

VERJEE: It is. I am excited, although a bit worried that all these numbers I'm going to glaze over.

So, you know, Edwin Marin is here to give...

O'BRIEN: Give us some tips. We've got to tell you who he is.

I mean, this -- they call you "Duke of Sudoku," right?

MARIN: Yes. O'BRIEN: "The New York Post" headline, you won $5,000 and a trophy, beating out, what, about 1,600 other competitors to win the Sudoku championship for "The New York Post."

Now, we've set up a Sudoku puzzle. Is this an easy, medium or hard one?

MARIN: This is easy one.

VERJEE: He says with a gleam in his eye.

O'BRIEN: Whom can do that, do you suppose? Who were you thinking of in this case?

VERJEE: Well, give us some tips. Like, what's the best way to attack something like this?

MARIN: Personally, I like to jump around the puzzle always. I also look for repetition in numbers. Right off the bat, I see that the repetition in fours makes we want to start in this section.

O'BRIEN: Right. Just because you see 4s there?

MARIN: Just because I see 4s there.

O'BRIEN: You know you need a 4 there.

MARIN: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: And just to give you the basics, you want to use all the digits. You cannot repeat them vertically or horizontally or within these individual boxes. That's the simple rules. Right?

MARIN: Correct.

O'BRIEN: But there's -- it sounds so simple, and yet the logic employed, depending on how many numbers you are provided, how difficult the puzzle is, can be very taxing. Can't it?


O'BRIEN: So you jump around. I was talking to Will Shortz, who of course has written several books about this. He says one of the key things is use multiple strategies, but whatever strategy you start, play it out completely and then move on to the next one. Do you do that as well?

MARIN: Yes, I do.

O'BRIEN: OK. So give us...

VERJEE: What are your strategies?

MARIN: I'll start out just scanning the puzzle, as I said. I'd scan there and there to know that that's a 4.

O'BRIEN: Because you know 4 can't be there horizontally, can't be there horizontally. So it has to be there, no matter what.

MARIN: Correct.

O'BRIEN: OK. So that's good.

MARIN: And once I pick up on a number, I'll stay with that number.

O'BRIEN: OK. So 4, 4, and now where's it going to be here? We know it can't be in those two horizontal lines, right?

MARIN: Right. So it's got to be here.

O'BRIEN: Got to be here.

MARIN: And since it's up there it can't be here. And since it's right here it can't be here. So it has to be here.

O'BRIEN: There you go.

VERJEE: Do you do that just 4, 4, 4, or do you do -- you know, do you just jump progressively to 4, 5, or whatever strikes or catches your eye? Like maybe just 1 here?

MARIN: Once I find the first number, I'll start with that and I'll take it as far as it lets me go. After that, though, I'll go to another number. It can be whichever one I stare at.

O'BRIEN: Well, yes. Continuing with 4, we have a 4 on this column and a 4 on that column, so that 4 has to go down there.

MARIN: Correct.


VERJEE: I tried something...

O'BRIEN: And on we go.

VERJEE: ... this morning, where it just seemed easier to hide certain parts, to cover certain parts so your eye focuses on one thing and then, you know, you just sort of move it around. Is that a sort of tip for beginners, or you're just so great you just didn't need that?

O'BRIEN: Ed's never heard of that one, I think, Zain.

VERJEE: All right. Well, it worked. It was very helpful.

MARIN: Well, no, the other thing you can focus on is, where there's a lot of numbers provided to you. So you know in this section you have to have a 5 a 7 and 9. And maybe you can use other sections to pick that up.

O'BRIEN: Yes. We know a 7 and a 9 aren't going to be on those. A 9 is not going to in that row. A 7 is not going to be there. So that can give you some clues.

MARIN: Right.

O'BRIEN: But now you -- you got the bug. You were on a plane.

MARIN: Correct.

O'BRIEN: Kind of trapped on a long flight.

MARIN: Actually, I was flying from Munich to London.

O'BRIEN: OK, not that long a flight.

MARIN: Not that long.

O'BRIEN: All right. On a flight. But nevertheless, were you instantly kind of enamored with this whole thing?

MARIN: I was. I was. I'm not a big crossword puzzle fan. So when I started this, I found it to be much more entertaining, I could pick it up quicker, and I got hooked on it ever since.

VERJEE: Do you have to be patient?

MARIN: Yes, you do. As they get harder, definitely be patient. You can get stuck.

O'BRIEN: And you don't need a dictionary for this.

MARIN: No, you don't.

O'BRIEN: All right. The...

VERJEE: Just have to know how to count.

O'BRIEN: The Duke of Sudoku. Keep going. And we will hopefully have this done in about 30 seconds, all right?

VERJEE: Yes, 6 -- 6 over here. No? What about that? What about here?


O'BRIEN: No, it can't be.

VERJEE: No -- 5 here? All right. Oops.

O'BRIEN: Back with more in a moment.

Sorry, Ed.

Back with more in a moment.



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