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James Kim's Family's Ordeal; Discovery Launch Plan Still On; Power Coming Back on for Storm-Battered Families in Illinois; Baghdad's Fabled Tigris River A Dumping Ground For Sectarian Death Squads; Bees Could Be Defense Against Terrorist Attacks; NYC Places Controversial Ban On Trans Fat
Aired December 9, 2006 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: "Now in the News," a gate that was supposed to be locked, but the lock was cut by vandals. That's the focus of authorities in Oregon as they investigate James Kim's death from hypothermia and exposure. The could have stopped Kim and his family from taking a wrong turn, where they ended up snowbound. Kim died while searching for help.
In Iraq, another day of deadly attacks. At least five people were killed in a car bombing in Karbala, a holy city south of Baghdad. The bomb went off near a shrine.
In northern Iraq three people were killed in a car bombing in Mosul. And in Baghdad, at least three deaths are reported today, two of them in a mortar attack.
No heat, no lights for more than a week now. But today, reason to celebrate. Power crews in the Midwest are getting the electricity back on for some families who have been without since last week's big storm.
Straight ahead, Jeff Flock shows us what it's like for a family shivering in the dark.
And in Florida, live pictures right now of space shuttle Discovery on launch pad. Plans are still on for tonight's scheduled launch of space shuttle Discovery, but NASA is keeping a close eye on the sky. Bad weather could delay the launch plans.
We'll go live to the Kennedy Space center just moments from now.
Hello from the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Here's what's coming up in the NEWSROOM.
The streets of Iraq are not the only place you'll find bodies of Iraqi citizens. The Tigris River has also become a dumping ground for the dead.
Plus, the trans fat debate, it will soon be illegal to use in it New York restaurants. Has that city government gone too far? A topic for our legal eagles this hour in the NEWSROOM.
We begin with a new and disturbing twist in the story of the San Francisco family stranded in the snowy Oregon wilderness. Authorities say the road that James Kim and his family were on is usually blocked by a locked gate during the cold weather months, but they say a vandal cut the lock, ultimately sealing Kim's fate.
More from CNN's Drew Griffin.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: We now know just one more thing that went wrong during the Kims' fatal drive into this Rogue River wilderness area. Fifteen miles in they came to a fork in the road to go left or right. The right was the wrong way to go.
It should have been locked up tight with this type of Bureau of Land Management gate. But now we are learning that the gate was wide open, their path was wide open, because vandals had broken the lock and left the gate open.
The Kims may have thought they were traveling to safety, but, in fact, that road was leading to a dead end deep inside the Rogue River wilderness area. They would drive some 20 or so more miles. The road would turn to dirt. It would begin snowing.
Finally, they came up to a spot where they just could not travel any longer. And it was here, at this spot, the Kims tried to hold out day after day.
Remnants of the diapers of the little baby all over the place there, bottled water. And in a corner of this wide-open area are the four tires that the Kims took off their car and set ablaze, trying to find rescuers to try to find them.
It never happened. Mr. Kim eventually tried to walk out and walked to his death. A day or so later, the Kims were rescued.
Drew Griffin, CNN, in the Rogue River wilderness, Oregon.
WHITFIELD: And CNN goes beyond the headlines for an emotional look at the California man's heroic sacrifice to try to save his family. Tune in for "Stranded: The James Kim Ordeal," a special "PAULA ZAHN NOW." That's Monday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
NASA for now still plans to launch shuttle Discovery tonight. Liftoff is scheduled for 8:47 Eastern time.
Our John Zarrella is live at the Kennedy Space Center.
And John, what could stand in the way of this scheduled launch?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, as you said, for now they are planning to launch Discovery this evening, and the weather once again could be the issue. It looks beautiful here today, the skies are fairly clear, the sun baking down, but it's awfully, awfully windy. And right now it appears that during that during that 8:47 p.m. Eastern Time launch window, launch attempt, that the crosswinds would exceed the limits.
Now, it's not the crosswinds out at the launch pad, it's actually the crosswinds over at the emergency shuttle landing facility. If something should go wrong, they should try to bring the shuttle back here, and those winds are expected to exceed 15 knots. And that is unacceptable conditions.
So, right now, it's going to probably end up be a real-time call. Now -- as to whether they can launch or now.
Now, they had some other issues earlier today that might have prevented them from picking up the countdown. If we take a look at the shuttle model we have here, the external tank -- after Thursday's attempted launch, they had to drain out all that half a million gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Well, because of the cool weather here the last day or two, it took them longer to drain out the external tank and safe (ph) the tank with inert gases.
So, as a result, then, it took them longer to go ahead and top off cryogenics that are inside of the shuttle vehicle itself. So that kind of was a domino effect that sort of put NASA behind the eight ball today. But they managed to get all that work done in time so they could start refueling the giant external tank at 12:47 p.m. this afternoon. That's going on now as we speak.
Now, once they do get in orbit, the seven-member crew will rendezvous at the International space Station. It is a very intense, 12-day mission. The crew has trained extensively hard for this mission.
What they are going to do literally is to rewire the space station from a temporary wiring configuration that it has been in for a long time now to a permanent wiring configuration, which will allow them to use some of the newer U.S. solar arrays that are up there now and waiting to be turned on. That's the plan, three spacewalks, six and a half hours each, 12-day mission.
But the first order of business, Fredricka, getting off the ground. If not today, a little better weather anticipated tomorrow. And then much better weather anticipated for Monday -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, John Zarrella at the Kennedy Space Center.
Thanks so much.
Well, weather indeed the factor as to whether this planned launch will take place at 8:47 p.m.
Bonnie Schneider is in the weather center.
WHITFIELD: Well, after a long huddle against the cold, lots of smiling faces in Decatur, Illinois, right now. Thousands of people had lost their power in the big storm that blasted the region more than a week ago. Well, now, the heat and the lights are back on. Jeff Flock has the latest.
JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are getting good news from a power company now here in Decatur. It looks like the folks at Ameren say they believe they will have everyone essentially restored today, power in Decatur, Illinois.
This house right behind me is one that still needs work. They need to put a meter box on this one. But right next door is a happy story that we've been telling for part of the day here on CNN.
This is the home of the Reifs. And perhaps you see mom had to go off to work, but Russ and Tim and Becky here are able to be home to -- that's a pretty sight there. Look at that.
RUSS REIF, DECATUR, ILLINOIS, RESIDENT: That's a beautiful sight.
FLOCK: That is. And you've got -- what kind of bulb do you got up in there, too? That's one of those good bulbs.
REIF: Yes, one of those energy efficient ones. So I'm not wasting money either.
Well, overnight we spent time with the Reif family, and it was a very different scene then. Perhaps you can see the pictures of our overnight by candlelight.
There was also a kerosene heater at work and a little bit of the stove going, but, of course, you can't go to sleep with all those things on, so they had to shut everything down, and it got -- how cold did it get, Tim, inside?
TIM REIF, DECATUR, ILLINOIS, RESIDENT: I think about 50 degrees.
FLOCK: Fifty inside?
T. REIF: Yes, inside.
FLOCK: How was sleeping?
T. REIF: It was OK. I had a lot of blankets.
FLOCK: Now, Becky, you are still all bundled up out here, partly because we're making you stand out in the cold. But was it real unpleasant last night?
BECKY REIF, DECATUR, ILLINOIS, RESIDENT: No.
FLOCK: You are making the best of it?
B. REIF: Yes. FLOCK: Would you like to go through this again?
B. REIF: Not really.
FLOCK: Now, there's an honest answer. I don't think dad would like to either.
As we said, Ameren telling us they had about 400 outages when the day started today in Decatur, they have about 300 crew men and women on the street, and they think that they will have enough to knock these outages down.
Guys, on this street, you're good to go. And it looks like finally a day and a week after the storm, the ice storm last week, folks are going to be back to normal.
That is the latest from Decatur. I'm Jeff Flock, CNN.
WHITFIELD: And Bonnie will be back with more on the forecast a little bit later on that region and other parts of the map.
But first, the Supreme Court has been dealing with integration and schools for more than five decades now. Up next, it's our legal team's turn to tackle the latest tough issue. Just how far should the courts go?
Also, the New York ban on the use of trans fats. Has the law gone too far there?
Plus, some pretty bad news, folks. Santa's reindeer got fired. You won't believe what they were up to.
WHITFIELD: This fight at a Houston church is part of what's going on "Across America." It broke out just before the funeral of a teenager who was killed last month, reportedly for refusing to join a gang. The boy's father and stepfather started the fight, then others joined in.
A Florida bank had its cash machine anchored with cement, enforced steel beams, but that didn't stop some determined crooks. They commandeered a bulldozer from a construction site across the street. They knocked down the beams, uprooted the ATM, and then made their getaway.
New Orleans voters are deciding the political fate of William Jefferson. The FBI has been investigating the eight-term congressman for allegedly taking bribes. He's facing challenger Karen Carter in a run-off election today. Voter turnout is low.
A strange story from an elementary school in suburban Atlanta. A man claiming to be a first-grader's uncle came into the school and spanked the boy for unruly behavior in class. The trouble is, the man was not related to the boy he spanked. He was actually the uncle of another student.
Now the man is charged with misdemeanor battery.
Well, we start our "Legal Briefs" with an issue that was supposed to be settled more than a half a century ago. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of school integration, but as recently as this week, the court is still hearing arguments on how to achieve that goal.
Our legal experts will join us in a moment, but first, CNN's Gary Nurenberg looks at the latest cases.
GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Demonstrators rallied at the Supreme Court just before justices heard what could be precedent-setting case. At issue, when is it constitutionally permissible for a school district seeking to achieve racial diversity to deny admission to a particular schools based on a child's race? The court heard two cases on Monday, one from Washington State, and one from Kentucky.
Chief Justice John Roberts cited guarantees added to the Constitution after the Civil War.
JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: The purpose of the Equal Protection Clause is to ensure that people are treated as individuals rather than based on the color of their skin. So saying that this doesn't involve individualized determinations simply highlights the fact that the decision to distribute, as you put it, is based on skin color and not any other factor.
NURENBERG: But the court has ruled before there is a compelling interest in having schools be racially diverse.
JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBERG, U.S. SUPREME COURT: It's very hard for me to see how you can have a racial objective but a nonracial means to get this.
NURENBERG: Louisville has been struggling to integrate its schools for decades and has a plan that uses race as one factor in school admission. Justice Stephen Breyer said school districts are facing hurdles in achieving diversity.
JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, U.S. SUPREME COURT: There's a terrible problem in the country. And the problem is that there are lots and lots of school districts that are becoming more and more segregated, in fact, and that school boards all over are struggling with this problem. And if they knew an easy way, they'd do it.
So, I don't know whether this is exactly the only way to do it or not. I do know courts are not very good at figuring that out.
NURENBERG: The question for justices is how far school districts can go.
JUSTICE ANTHONY KENNEDY, U.S. SUPREME COURT: You're characterizing each student by reason of the color of his or her skin. That is quite a different means, and it seems to me that that should only be, if ever allowed, allowed as a last resort.
NURENBERG (on camera): Questions from seven of the nine justices made it clear there is no immediate consensus on the bench, that the court, like the country, doesn't yet know where to draw the line.
Gary Nurenberg, CNN, at the Supreme Court.
WHITFIELD: So here they are. They are chomping at the bit. Our legal team ready to take on this one.
Just how far should the law go when it comes to integrating schools in America? Both sides of the issue live, next in the NEWSROOM.
WHITFIELD: Getting back now to the school integration cases being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Where do our legal experts think the line should be drawn?
Avery Friedman is a civil rights attorney and law professor.
Good to see you, Avery.
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Hi, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And Richard Herman is a New York criminal defense attorney.
Good to see you as well.
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Hi, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, Richard, let me begin with you.
Does this argument revisit the Brown versus Board decision, or is it an attempt of a reversal of that landmark decision?
HERMAN: Fred, it looks like it's an attempt at to chip away at it and actually reverse it. You know, "The New York Times" wrote a great editorial this week, and it said in Brown a unanimous court declared education critical for a child to succeed in life, and held that equal protection does not permit it to be provided on a segregated basis.
This court, with the swing vote of Justice Kennedy, looks like it is now going to undermine the Brown decision and actually strike down, use the equal protection provisions to force segregation again. Not good.
WHITFIELD: Avery, how do you see it?
FRIEDMAN: Actually, the way "The Times" put it I think understates how powerful this case is to me, Fredricka. To me, this is the most important race case in public education in 50 years.
Because of Brown, 51 years later, you have African-Americans who are CEOs of major corporations, presidents of universities, television anchors, solely because of the legacy of Brown. If this is a dismantling, which I think it is, this nation is going in the wrong direction, and American policy and priority of diversity, Fredricka, is going right out the window. It's a terrible development.
WHITFIELD: But also -- also at issue here is whether it's constitutional to use race to try to bring balance. In this case, in the classroom.
FRIEDMAN: Yes. Right.
Well -- well, in fact, there is 50 years of precedent which -- in which the Supreme Court permits the utilization of race as a consideration to achieve the American ideal of diversity. Segregation, in other words, separating children apart because of their race and keeping them apart, is inherently unequal. We understand that.
So the idea of a narrow interpretation, which is where it kind of looks like the majority, this new sort of reactionary majority is going, really fails to recognize the whole essence and power of what Brown versus Board of Education is, and that is opening up America to children so they learn about each other. And...
WHITFIELD: So, Richard, what do you see the possible dangers here to be?
HERMAN: Well, the possible dangers, Fred, is that the whole Brown decision is going to get annihilated here, and you're going to have segregated classrooms again like we had years and years ago. We still have them today.
This is not the end-all solution. I mean, we're trying to chip away at and it not have segregated classrooms, but the fact is this Supreme Court decision, if they dismantle it, which it looks like they're going to do, is absolutely going to promote segregated school systems. And that's something we do not want in the United States.
WHITFIELD: And so...
FRIEDMAN: It's going to take...
FRIEDMAN: I'm sorry, Fredricka. It's going on to take away the power from local school boards who use race merely as one factor, along with neighborhood schools, siblings, to create the idea of what's behind Brown. And it is frightening to conjure up the thought of what that's going to mean. Terrible.
WHITFIELD: And, so, Avery, you also see that possibly this may set the stage for no use of race whatsoever, whether it be in schools or in any kind of a, you know, public law or public institution?
FRIEDMAN: Well, understand that the whole essence of Brown was to dismantle government enforcement of separating children because of what color they are. And so now with this narrow use of race saying, well, for this individual you can't use it at all, I think fails to recognize the whole idea of 50 years of precedent, and I think the consequence on American society is profound.
WHITFIELD: All right, well, we're not done with you guys.
Eating healthy food, well, it's always a good idea, but should it be the law? Our legal experts will be back later on discuss the New York City ban on trans fats.
In the meantime, here are some of the other popular stories on CNN.com.
Oregon police say a vandalized gate to a closed logging road put James Kim and his family in harm's way. Their car got stuck in the snow. He died after wandering in the wilderness. His wife and two daughters were rescued.
A marshal in Utah is under investigation after a letter he wrote came to light. In it, he pledges allegiance to polygamist leader Warren Jeffs. The marshal is facing a misconduct charge and could lose his certification.
Letters to Santa Claus are flooding in to the North Pole. North pole, Alaska, that is, where last year 120,000 letters arrived from 26 countries. Everyone with a return address gets a reply, postmarked from the North Pole.
Well, it's not your ordinary scene along the Tigris River in Iraq. But life in the war-torn region is anything but ordinary these days. Up next in the NEWSROOM, divers patrolling the waters in search of missing Iraqi citizens.
Plus, a unique weapon in the war on terror, bees. That's right, bees. Honeybees.
WHITFIELD: Take a look at these pictures. They are from southern Australia, where thousands of firefighters are battling dozens of wildfires. They are worried the flames might come together, creating a single megafire covering almost 1.5 million acres. Prime Minister John Howard calls it, in his words, "very, very scary stuff."
The gate should have been closed, but vandals cut the lock and opened it. Oregon officials say James Kim mistakenly turned on to the deserted logging road where he and his family became snowbound. Kim died of exposure trying to get help.
Patent rights for a truck toilet could be behind a shooting that left three people dead at a Chicago law firm. Police say Joe Jackson thought he had been cheated out of his invention. Jackson killed three people at the firm before police then killed him.
It's mission possible. NASA will try again to launch Space Shuttle Discovery. Scheduled liftoff? Tonight at 8:47 p.m. Eastern. Bad weather could cause another delay, however.
And car bombings in two Iraqi cities claimed eight lives today. This one in Karbala killed five people, while a car bombing in Mosul killed three.
Also today, sectarian violence in Baghdad, a mortar attack on a Shiite neighborhood killed two people and damaged at least three houses. And Shiite militiamen attacked a Sunni neighborhood, killing one man and torching at least two houses.
President Bush is facing new pressure to change tactics in Iraq.
CNN White House correspondent Elaine Quijano reports.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: On the heels of that sobering report by the Iraq Study Group, President Bush today, in his weekly radio address, praised the bipartisan panel for its work, but continued to remain vague about its recommendations. The report released earlier this week called the situation in Iraq "grave and deteriorating."
Well, today in his address, the president said the report was a straightforward picture of the grave situation in Iraq and he stressed areas of agreement with the Iraq Study Group, including the overall strategic goal of an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.
But as he's done since the report was released on Wednesday, the president was careful not to weigh in in any specific fashion on the 79 recommendations.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iraq study group understands the urgency of getting it right in Iraq. The group also understands that while the work ahead will not be easy, success in Iraq is important, and success in Iraq is possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUIJANO: The push for a new Iraq strategy comes as Democrats are preparing to take control of Congress next month. Ahead of that, the president yesterday engaged in outreach to a bipartisan group of lawmakers meeting with them at White House here. Now, next week, Iraq will continue to dominate the president's agenda. He has meetings and briefings at the State Department as well as the Pentagon. And the president is awaiting the results of three internal administration reviews on his Iraq policy. Aides say to expect the president to announce any decisions on changes to his Iraq policy possibly by Christmas.
Elaine Quijano, CNN, the White House.
WHITFIELD: Sectarian violence in Iraq has created a grim new reality. Almost every day bodies are found in Baghdad and elsewhere across Iraq as well.
CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins some Iraqi divers on their daily river patrol in Baghdad.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On Iraq's rivers, a grim duty -- searching for bodies. Baghdad's fabled Tigris River has become a dumping ground for the sectarian death squads, stalking the city street.
SAMIR FATAH, POLICE DIVER (through translator): One day, we discovered 70 bodies. They had been kidnapped and killed by terrorists.
ROBERTSON: As the killings have escalated, the river police are getting busier.
MUSHTAQ AQEEL, POLICE DIVER (through translator): Most of my job is looking for bodies. Because of the situation, we have no other work now.
ROBERTSON: Each day patrols go out. Each day they say they find at least six or seven bodies, although none on this training mission.
(on camera): The police patrol about 100 kilometers, about 60 miles of the river here. They say there are some places it's so dangerous when they go there, they need to take six patrol boats.
(voice-over): Police divers Samir Fatah and Mushtaq Aqeel joined the force together 12 years ago. They trained for lifesaving. Now young recruits are taught how to recover the dead.
FATAH (through translator): Most of the bodies we recover, their hands are tied and they've been riddled with bullets. Most have been killed intentionally.
ROBERTSON: As the daily sectarian killings have grown to 40, 50, sometimes more than 60 so far this year, it has become routine for relatives missing loved ones to come to the river and search.
Fatah and Aqeel recently returned from training in the U.S. Their patrol boats and equipment are U.S. supplied, part of the beef- up of Iraqi security forces. Both are happy for the support. Both feel powerless to stop the killings.
AQEEL: My job affects me psychologically because I live other people's grief, people who lost a brother, a father. I live moments of tragedy, not happy moments.
ROBERTSON: On the Tigris River, as in the rest of Iraq, there is no doubt plain sailing is not in their future.
Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.
WHITFIELD: And coming up tonight on "THIS WEEK AT WAR," hear from two members of the Iraq Study Group. We'll get in-depth analysis of the military and diplomatic situation in the region. Plus, tracing an ex-spy's death. John Roberts hosts "THIS WEEK AT WAR" tonight at 7:00 Eastern.
And if you are sending Christmas presents to soldiers overseas, you'd better get moving. Monday is the deadline for getting mail to loved ones in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And this could be Yogi Bear's worst nightmare. The humble honeybee earning superstar status in the war on terror.
Details from CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh in London.
ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This mini army of honeybees could be our next defense against terror attacks on targets like airports and train stations. Bees have an intense sense of smell so scientists are training them to have a nose for explosives.
MATHILDE BRIENS, DEVELOPMENT SCIENTIST, INSCENTINEL: What we do is we present a smell to the bee, and at the same time we give them food. And so they associate that the smell equals food.
VAN MARSH: The food is sugar water served up on a Q-Tip.
(on camera): This is how it works. The bees are already trained to pick up the scent of explosives and they will stick out their tongues. So they put the bees on this cassette and this cassette is placed into this sniffer box, if you will.
Now this box has a series of tubes exposed to the outside air. The scent of explosives is picked up by the bees. They'll stick out their tongues. And there's a camera inside here, capturing that motion on video.
(voice-over): Computer software measures when bee tongues are wagging, alerting security teams, for example, at metro rails or roadside checkpoints. Scientists say the bees learn to make the explosive association in about 15 minutes. That's a lot faster and cheaper than it takes to teach bomb-sniffing dogs to do the same.
And, no scientists say, bees can't be fooled by bombs covered in honey. Researchers at Inscentinel, the tiny English company behind this sniffer box prototype, showed us how it could be used.
PAUL DAVIS, FOUNDER, INSCENTINEL: By the end of the year, with the right resources behind it, we could be saving lives with this technology.
VAN MARSH: Technology that has numerous applications like teaching bees to sniff out bombs, dry rot in buildings or disease in the human body.
Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN, Hartfordshire, England.
WHITFIELD: And now to the trans fat ban, raising an often-asked question, when does the government go too far? Our legal eagles live next in the NEWSROOM.
Plus, this morning to surfers -- resist the temptation on this one. We'll explain why.
DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Hello, folks.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A former U.S. secretary of defense makes his mark. Donald Rumsfeld, engineer of the policies that fueled the war in Iraq, steps aside and earns a place as a candidate for "Time" magazine's person of the year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were operational decisions that we've made in terms of fighting the war in Iraq, there were choices in terms of the number of forces that we've had, in terms of how to respond, the looting of Baghdad, in terms of how to fight the insurgency that are properly put at the feet of the secretary of defense.
RUMSFELD: What's being undertaken here is difficult. It is not well known. It was not well understood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The choices and decisions he's made have been extraordinarily significant, not just in terms of tens of thousands of Americans serving in the armed forces and their families, but for people around the world.
WHITFIELD: New York's ban on trans fat, a good way to protect us or unnecessary meddling? Which is it? All day long we're looking at that ruling. In a minute, our law experts will discuss the legal aspects.
First, CNN's Mary Snow has the background.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A ruling on how french fries are cooked or how cupcakes are baked may not seem like a big deal, but a vote by the New York City Board of Health to ban artificial trans fats at restaurants and other food service establishment could blaze a path for the rest of the country. The restaurant industry is not happy and says the city shouldn't have a final say of what's allowed in the kitchens.
SHEILA WEISS, NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOC.: I don't feel that a municipal health agency should have the power to ban a product that the FDA has already approved.
SNOW: While it's not a banned product, health officials say trans fat have been linked to heart disease. They are often found in things like cooking oils and shortening. One reason they're used, they help foods last longer. But nutritionists say the harm outweighs the benefits.
CATHY NONAS, DIETITIAN, NORTH GENERAL HOSPITAL: This is like lead in paint. This is like smoking in restaurants. These trans fats are bad for your health.
SNOW: And some businesses have learned products that are bad for your health could be bad for business. Big chains are bracing and adapting their cooking far beyond New York. Wendy's, for example, says it's cut down cooking oil with trans fats. The company that owns Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken says it took two years to find a substitute.
JONATHAN BLUM, YUM! BRANDS, INC.: It's hard to find substitutes that taste great and so that's the first issue. We wanted to find something that was finger lickin' good for KFC and we were able to do so with the new oil that we switched to.
SNOW (on camera): McDonald's says it's been testing alternatives for five years and will comply with New York's rules but is not yet ready for a national roll-out. By July of 2007, restaurants must stop using frying oils with trans fats and by July of 2008, must phase out all products using them.
Mary Snow, CNN, New York.
WHITFIELD: And our legal experts weigh in, in a moment.
The Arctic blast is moving out, but what's moving in? Bonnie Schneider's forecast coming up next.
Plus, Santa's reindeer in trouble?
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(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: You don't want to miss this one.
WHITFIELD: So one day will we have to secretly buy doughnuts on street corners? Will possession of french fries get you busted? Let's talk to our experts about how far the law should go to make sure we all eat right. Once again, Avery Friedman and Richard Herman, once again talking about the trans fat ban in New York.
So, Richard, let me begin with you. Might we see a real legal challenge as a result of this?
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, you know, the restaurant groups, they are the ones that are going to scream and yell and fight because it's going to cost them more money right now.
HERMAN: I don't think the average citizen in New York City really is paying too much attention to this trans fat. There's too many more important things going on, like undercover police officers and shootings of people. You know, that's what important priorities.
But I've got to tell you, Fred, hell has frozen over. If I can't have a doughnut for breakfast and a slice of pizza for lunch, it's the end of the world here. I'm leaving the world.
WHITFIELD: Well, I'm sure you can still have a doughnut and pizza, but it's just got to be made with the right ingredients now.
HERMAN: Oh, and you think the right ingredients are going to be good? These fats are going to be saturated fats now. They're not -- they're the same thing. It's just unbelievable what's going on here.
WHITFIELD: They're taking the flavor out, some say.
So, Avery, what kind of legal recourse are we talking about? If the FDA says, hey, trans fats are OK, how is it that this one jurisdiction can say, no, it's not good enough for us?
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, because just because the FDA says it's OK doesn't tell you anything. The legal standard, Fredricka, is whether or not there's some rational basis for local government to take action.
And, in fact there's a Harvard study that says that Americans suffer, I think, 1.2 million heart attacks a year, and by getting rid of trans fats or minimizing it, you could reduce that up to nearly 20 percent.
So does the city of New York meet the rational basis? That's the legal issue. So if the Hospital Association wants to go to court, they are going down. And so the doughnut boys, I think, for the time being, are going to be OK.
But I think New York is going to set the stage. And I think trans fat, to be honest with you, Fredricka, is the 21st century equivalent of what we've done with tobacco. This is a big deal.
WHITFIELD: Oh, interesting, so you do see that not just New York, but later on, some other jurisdictions, you know, which we'll say or maybe even bring up the argument, where do you draw the line between personal responsibility -- no, I'm not going to eat that -- you know, versus the merchant who says free enterprise. It's available and I want to make it available to everyone and sell it -- Richard.
HERMAN: Fred, the substitute is saturated fats. It's almost as bad as trans fats. And what's the difference? What's the end result here? Fred, the New York City Board of Health is made up of friends of Mayor Bloomberg. He appoints these people, and they pass regulations.
There's no agency to oversee them. He's A health nut. He's a multibillionaire. He's a mayor as a hobby. I mean, this is what he wants to do. I mean, it's his people that rubber stamp what he wants. It's getting out of control. Next there it will be ice cream, then it will no sugar. Where is it going to stop?
WHITFIELD: Stop it already! Stop it already! We all want to eat the good stuff even if it's bad for us.
FRIEDMAN: Awful, awful. You know, he's speaking for the doughnut guys. That's what -- I think Richard is the spokesperson for doughnut makers.
WHITFIELD: All right, guys.
HERMAN: I take my Lipitor, I go on the treadmill, come on.
WHITFIELD: All right. You're doing the responsible things for yourself. All right. Well, thanks so much, guys and, you know, of course, this season we're all going to overindulge whether it's trans fats or not, whether it's legal or not.
FRIEDMAN: That's true.
WHITFIELD: All right, thanks a lot.
FRIEDMAN: Have a good weekend. Take care.
HERMAN: Nice to see you.
WHITFIELD: Well, more on trans fat, the ban, coming up later on this afternoon, when Dr. Bill Lloyd joins to us talk extensively about the health issues we have just touched on here. Just how real are the medical concerns? Dr. Lloyd in the NEWSROOM at 4:00 Eastern.
The Arctic blast -- well, it's moving in, and Bonnie Schneider will fill us in a little bit more on all the weather stuff coming up. In the meantime, in Texas, just a little too much Christmas cheer for Santa's reindeer. As part of a state campaign against drunken driving, the reindeer are grounded for having too much to drink on Christmas Eve.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey. Hi, there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This holiday season, if you drink, don't drive. Take a cab or a designated driver.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Well, it looks cute, but it's also controversial. Still, the spot starts airing in Texas on Monday.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN, breaking news.
WHITFIELD: In the meantime, this breaking news out of Allentown, Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia, where we are hearing reportedly there has been an explosion and it may have resulted in the fire involving many houses. I think we've got an official on the phone with the fire department out of Allentown.
Excuse me for not knowing your name, but first identify yourself and bring me up to date as to what is happening.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Lieutenant Karl (ph) from the Allentown Fire Department in Pennsylvania. We have two houses that are confirmed exploded. For sure, we have one other house that is involved in the fire. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no injuries at this time.
WHITFIELD: All right. When we talk about two houses exploding, what could likely be the culprits here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point that would only be speculation on my part. I don't honestly know. I do know that they were row homes, but until the investigation ensues, I won't be able to help you out there.
WHITFIELD: OK. And can you tell me anything about people who are in danger? Whether those homes were inhabited? What?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the best of my knowledge, the homes were inhabited. All of the buildings surrounding that area have been evacuated. All right? And...
WHITFIELD: OK. What kind of area are we talking about, evacuations? When you say the homes around it, meaning how many blocks? Say, for instance. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's primarily a residential neighborhood that the incident occurred in, so we're talking about probably a two- block radius that homes have been evacuated in. For sure the hot zone has been established as a one-block area. As I said earlier, they are row homes, so they are literally right on top of each other.
WHITFIELD: So, about how many people does this involve in terms of this two-block radius evacuation? Are we talking a few dozen, or a few hundred?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, I can't help you with that. I don't -- I don't know. It could be -- it could range anywhere from, you know, four houses up to 20 houses. And I'm not on the scene, so I'm not able to really help you out with the numbers there.
WHITFIELD: OK, well, we do appreciate that update. We know this investigation is still early, and you've got a lot to do. Lieutenant Karl of the Allentown Fire Department, we're going to continue to keep you all abreast of what's taking place there involving the explosions perhaps of two houses and now resulting in the fire of other connecting homes.
A two-block radius has been evacuated, many people who live in that residential community there in Allentown, Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia.
So, what if a natural disaster left part of America devastated, and then terrorists attacking Saudi oil wells. That is hypothetical scenario you'll see next in the CNN's special "CNN PRESENTS: WE WERE WARNED," the vulnerability of the world's oil supply.
And then at 4:00 Eastern in the newsroom, controversy surrounding the movie "Blood Diamond," a film about valuable gems sold to finance deadly coups in Africa. A check of the day's headlines is coming up next, and then "CNN PRESENTS."
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