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Denver Blizzard Round Two; Battle for Somalia; Hussein Death Sentence; Interview With John Edwards

Aired December 28, 2006 - 08:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It is Thursday, December 28th.
I'm Miles O'Brien.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Alina Cho, in today for Soledad.

Thanks for joining us.

O'BRIEN: Colorado under the gun again this morning. The state bracing for another foot and a half of snow from a massive storm expected to cross the Rockies this afternoon. The problem is, Denver is still trying to dig out of the last blizzard which dumped more than three feet of snow, shut down most everything, including the airport.

We are set to plow through this story. Severe weather expert Chad Myers is at the CNN weather center, and Jonathan Freed is at Denver International Airport.

Jonathan, let's begin with you.


It is expected to start snowing around noon today, more or less, but I know Chad will have a more precise timing on that when we get to him shortly. And it is expected to last here -- we are bracing for 24 hours.


FREED (voice over): A week after Denver was dumped on, on the side streets it's families, not snow plows, doing the heavy lifting. Officials say main roads are always targeted for cleaning first, but admit the snow fell too fast for them to keep up in the neighborhoods, with drifts several feet deep in some places.

JOSH FIELDS, DENVER RESIDENT: Now we just had a storm, and now another one is coming. I'm still trying to dig out of this first one because the plows didn't come.

FREED: This time, the mayor is calling in reinforcements. Public schools and the water department could help bring the total number of snow-clearing vehicles to 80, up from 50 last week.

MAYOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER, DENVER: And having a second snow like this, I think we need to marshal as many resources as we can and bring them together to put every -- every ounce of activity in snow removal as we possibly can.

FREED: Those trucks can't get on the road fast enough for Jeff Pierce.

JEFF PIERCE, DENVER RESIDENT: Stranded in the house for three days. And as you can see, still getting stuck.


FREED: So, a lot of frustration in those neighborhoods here in Denver, Miles. People just scratching their heads and wondering why a week later, with this other storm on its way, why those streets just haven't been cleared -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jonathan Freed in Denver.

Thank you -- Alina.

CHO: Well, that same storm heading for Denver right now has already done its damage in northern California. Tens of thousands of homes still have no power.

Driving rain in the Bay area caused a traffic nightmare around San Francisco. Gale-force winds knocked down power lines on Wednesday. One woman was killed when a giant oak fell on her house.

The high winds began on Monday. No other deaths are reported.

Severe weather expert Chad Myers watching all of this for us this morning.

And you're very busy, Chad. Good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I am. Good morning, Alina.


O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad.

Breaking news this morning. Al Qaeda on the run in Somalia. Ethiopian troops marching on Mogadishu, prompting a hasty retreat by Islamist militants. But there are concerns the militants will simply regroup and start a guerrilla war.

CNN's Africa correspondent, Jeff Koinange, joining us with more -- Jeff.

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Miles. And there is that chance, that they may regroup. But word coming from the Ethiopian government they will chase the Islamists all the way into the sea, if need be.

But right now, we're hearing reports of chaos in the streets of Mogadishu, a capital that has known nothing but chaos for the past decade and a half, right now spiraling into more chaos. Looting, gunfire. It looks like the militias who were controlling the capital in years past are slowly taking them over again. So at this point, Miles, very, very critical.

Do the Ethiopians move in, or do they hold their positions right outside the capital? Well, what they're doing right now, they are using the Somali government soldiers to move into the capital. And right now they've taken over the presidential palace and other key buildings.

And from there -- I guess they'll decide what to do from there. But it's very key right now. The Ethiopians have to move in, because if the Islamists regroup and come back, expect even more chaos -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: The concern here, Jeff, is that you could create sort of an Afghanistan scenario, where al Qaeda-related militants could effectively control the country, and that is why the Ethiopian troops and that is why the Ethiopian troops have support from the U.S.

KOINANGE: No doubt about that because, as you well know, what happened in Afghanistan, the Taliban fled into the hillsides, regrouped, came back with a vengeance. The Islamists have vowed that this is not the end.

They may be going back to regroup. And if Ethiopian soldiers should not only hold down the capital, Mogadishu, spread throughout the country, make sure they rid the country of these Islamists, it's note going to be easy, but they knew that going into this fight -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jeff Koinange in Johannesburg for us.

Thank you very much.

More breaking news for you. Another pipeline explosion in Lagos, Nigeria, the second in three days.

The explosion and fire in a poor section of the northern part of the Nigerian capital. No word on the injuries yet. Two hundred and sixty-five died in a blast there on Tuesday set off by scavengers trying to tap into the pipeline -- Alina.

CHO: Saddam Hussein is facing execution at any time over the next 28 days and sharing what could be his last public words. He's written a good-bye letter.

CNN's Arwa Damon live in Baghdad with more for us.

Arwa, good morning.


That's right. And that letter was written some time after verdict day, which was back in early November. In it, it does appear to be, by all accounts, to be Saddam Hussein, Iraq's former dictator's farewell letter to his people.

In it, he says that he accepts what he is calling his martyrdom, that he accepts his fate, but he is calling on the Iraqi people to unite, to put their sectarian differences aside and unite against the occupation. He does also say, though, that the Iraqi people should not blame the people of the nations that invaded us.

All of this as the nation and the Iraqi government are gearing up for the execution of Saddam Hussein and two more of his co-defendants.

There are fears that his death will further split this already divided country along sectarian lines. But on the one hand, the Iraqi government does believe that his death will actually decrease the violence, and they say that it will bring long-awaited closure to those who suffered most under his regime. But as a posting on a Ba'athist Web site indicated, we might just be seeing the opposite, an increase in the violence.

This posting that was signed by the Ba'ath Party of Iraq threatens that if this execution takes place, it will be a red line that the United States does not want to cross, also stating that should Saddam Hussein be killed, this would hamper any sort of negotiations that are happening between coalition forces and the former regime elements of the insurgency -- Alina.

CHO: CNN's Arwa Damon live for us in Baghdad this morning.

Arwa, thank you -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: In Iraq, an al Qaeda leader linked to a brutal kidnapping in custody this morning. The terrorist captured by special army forces is believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of two U.S. soldiers last June. Both soldiers were found tortured and murdered.

President Bush meeting again on Iraq today. He'll gather his national security team at the ranch in Texas.

Elaine Quijano live in Crawford with more.

Elaine, good morning.


That's right, President Bush will huddle with his top advisers today at his ranch here in Crawford to discuss options for changing his Iraq policy. Now, for several days, top aides have been trying to downplay really any expectations coming out of this meeting. They continue to describe it as "non-decisional."

They say it's part of ongoing consultations. But it will be a high-level meeting. Among those attending, of course, top members of the president's national security team, including his new defense secretary, Robert Gates. Now, Gates is just back from a three-day trip to Iraq. In fact, over the weekend at Camp David, the president actually met with Secretary Gates to get some input on what Secretary Gates heard from top generals while over in Iraq.

Also today, Secretary Condoleezza Rice -- in fact, both Gates and Rice arrived yesterday. And joining them, other advisers. Of course, Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. Also, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace.

Now, after that meeting today, President Bush is expected to make comments to reporters as for where he is in the decision-making process on Iraq. Aides are being very coy about that. Obviously, the president was expected originally a few weeks ago to make some sort of Iraq announcement sometime before Christmas. That did not happen. It got pushed back.

We know one of the options the president is taking a look at is the option of a temporary surge of possibly tens of thousands of U.S. troops to help stabilize Baghdad. Aides say as far as the president's announcement, we are expecting still to have one sometime in the early part of the new year -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: We keep hearing, Elaine, this talk about a surge. Is that the only proposal that's floating around inside the White House right now?

Oops. We lost her. Is she there? I think we lost her. We'll get back to her later.

Oh, wait a minute. Are you there? No, we've lost her -- Alina.

CHO: All right. We'll check back with Elaine a little bit later.

Happening this morning, Wall Street opening at another record high. The Dow soared nearly 103 points. It opens today above 12,500. The rally attributed to year end bargain hunters.

Overseas, search teams looking for two missing American climbers find a frozen body believed to be that of Christine Boskoff. Her partner, Charlie Fowler, hasn't been found. He's presumed dead. They've been missing since November 11th, when they went mountain climbing near the Tibet border.

O'BRIEN: The "Godfather of Soul," James Brown, back on stage today at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. His body will lie in repose for fans to say good-bye. James Brown's body is en route to New York right now from Georgia by car. It missed the last flight last night out of Atlanta. His family and friends will have a private funeral ceremony tomorrow.

Cloned food to get the thumbs up from the Food and Drug Administration today. The FDA says meat and milk from cloned animals are indistinguishable from conventionally-bred animals and safe for human conception. The public gets 90 days to comment on the approval.

And did you have trouble loading music on to your new iPod this Christmas? Well, it wasn't your fault. It turns out the iPod iTunes site was swamped and brought to its knees. So what you got were error messages and download times of 20 minutes or more. No word from Apple on when it will all be fixed.

Still to come this morning, on to '08. Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards is running for president again. He joins us live next to talk about his decision and the challenges ahead.

And also, a house connected to one of the country's more notorious murders goes up for sale.

And trying to fill a legend's shoes. The "Godfather of Soul" was supposed to wow the crowd in New York City on New Year's Eve. Who could possibly fill those swiveling shoes? We'll tell you.


CHO: New this morning, after years of decline new numbers show murder rates are on the rise in several of the country's major cities, including New York and Chicago.

And funeral services for former president Gerald Ford begin in California tomorrow. A state funeral in Washington, D.C., this weekend.

Fourteen minutes after the hour. If you're heading out the door, let's get a quick check of the forecast. Chad Myers at the CNN weather center.


O'BRIEN: The cat is out of the bag for John Edwards. The former vice presidential candidate making a run for the White House once again in 2008. The news spilled early on his Web site, forcing him to do a photo opportunity in New Orleans a day early, yesterday. He's in New Orleans again for the big announcement -- the sequel, I guess.

John Edwards joins us now.

Senator Edwards, good to have you with us.

A little bit of a misstep there for the campaign. Is that a bad omen?

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, no. We actually wanted this information to get out on the Web, which is going to be a critical place to get people engaged and organized. And the whole plan was to make an official announcement today in New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: Why in New Orleans?

EDWARDS: Because it exemplifies a couple of things. One is, this is a place that very clearly shows the two Americas that I've talked about in the past. But more important than that, one of the things I've learned since the last campaign is it's great to identify a problem, but the real issue is what are you going to do about it?

And we're here to show what Americans can do if they take responsibility and take action. We've had kids working here earlier this year in St. Bernard's Parish, I was here with them. And then yesterday we had young people working, and the day before working in New Orleans, showing what all of us can do. Instead of staying home and complaining about what somebody else is not doing, we actually go out and get our hands dirty and take the bull by the horns.

O'BRIEN: You know, you talk about two Americas, it's a populist message, but you're a real rich guy. Take a look -- we have some pictures of your house you're building right near Chapel Hill, a $3 million mansion.

That image, when you juxtapose that against an effort to work with the poor -- look at it, it's a big house -- is that -- is that image a hard thing to get around for you as you try to make this appeal that you're a man of the people, of the poor people?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I'm glad you like my house.

You know, I've -- I've been very lucky in my life. I've always said that I've had everything you could ever have in this country. It's not where I come from. It's not the place that my life started.

I started in a very different place. And I joke with everybody about being the son of a mill worker, because everybody's heard that so much they're sick of it now.

But the truth is that there's a lot of good to be done about the two different Americas that exist in this country today. The vivid example being here in New Orleans. And instead of just talking about the problem and complaining about it, I want to see us actually do something about it.

You know, in the last couple of years, we've actually gotten the minimum wage raised in six states, we've made college available to kids who were willing to work for it. We've gotten workers organized around the country so that they could earn a decent wage.

All of those are efforts to try to bridge some of the divide that still exists in this country. I think there's a lot left to do.

O'BRIEN: I want to show some people some numbers. Obviously really early here, but there's a point I want to make.

Take a look. This is a CNN poll which came out a couple weeks ago. And it's probably what most people might expect.

Hillary Clinton at the top with 37 percent. This is likely Democratic voters in the primary. Barack Obama with 15 percent; Al Gore, 14 percent, you at nine percent; John Kerry at seven percent.

At this point in that list, you're the only official candidate. The attention right now seems very focused on Hillary Clinton and the prospect of Barack Obama running.

Is it -- how difficult is it to get attention with the media so obsessed with those two candidates?

EDWARDS: Well, it's not too hard to get attention. If you look around where I'm standing right now, and that's pretty obvious, there are cameras everywhere.

I don't think attention is the issue, I think the issue is -- and by the way, I've seen a lot of polls that are different than the one you just gave. And if you look particularly at what's happening in some of the early states, Iowa, New Hampshire, the places these races get started, I think that I actually start in a very strong place.

But none of that ultimately is what matters, as you pointed out. This is before all any campaign even begins.

The real issue is who has the right vision for the country, who has the capacity, at least in the voters' minds, the maturity, the depth, the judgment, the experience to be presidents of the United States and make the hard decisions that have to be made, and who actually wants to motivate America to change the country, not just wait for the next election and hope that the next elected leader is going to do it. How long is it going to take us to figure out that doesn't work?

We have to do it. All of us have to do it. And so that's what -- what my campaign is going to be about. It's going to be about taking action beginning today, which we've already begun to do here in New Orleans and we'll be doing in other places around the country, because we want to get people involved in helping bring about the change our country needs.

O'BRIEN: You said your vote for the war in Iraq was your biggest mistake. How would you fix it?

EDWARDS: What I said, to be a little more precise, is I said it was a mistake. And I stand by that. But I think -- I think we need to do a couple of things.

One is that we need to tell the truth about how we got there. You know, we believed that there were weapons of mass destruction. That includes me, by the way. And there were not. We were wrong about that.

Second, I think we need to be honest about the situation we have now. As the Iraq Study Group pointed out, the choices are bad and worse.

What I would do with this very difficult situation is, first, recognize it requires a political solution. There is no military solution to what's happening in Iraq right now.

This fighting, the sectarian violence, the fighting between Shia and Sunni, has been going on for centuries. And I think what we need to do is make it clear that we're not going to stay there forever as an occupying force. I think we need to start reducing our presence.

I would take 40,000 troops roughly out immediately. And then I would continue that process over time, turn over responsibility to the Iraqis, gear up the training of the Iraqis, and engage in diplomacy in that region of the world to get other countries involved.

O'BRIEN: Senator John Edwards, thank you for your time. We apologize for the brief audio glitch there. And we wish you luck in your endeavors -- Alina.

EDWARDS: Thanks for having me.

CHO: Still to come this morning, bracing for a blizzard. The western U.S. getting ready for more than a foot of snow. We've got the latest storm track just ahead.

Also, a good-bye letter from a former tyrant. Saddam Hussein attempting to get the last word as he faces imminent execution.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


CHO: Happening today, a major strategy session on Iraq. President Bush meeting with senior advisers at his Texas ranch.

And one person detained in Prague after reportedly trying to hijack a Russian passenger plane and forcing it to make an emergency landing overnight.

Signs of life in the housing market. Will the good news continue?

It's 25 minutes after the hour. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business."

So, Ali, what does this mean?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just in time for the end of the year. This is the number -- this is probably the thing in business today that's going to be most interesting to people, despite the stock market records.

The question I get most form people is, what's happening with the housing market? And 2007 has been -- 2006 is where we are. It's been an interesting year, because we've had housing prices going up generally over the last five years, and then all of a sudden, this year, we have got other things going on.

Finally, we seemed to have hit a roof on housing prices, maybe. We saw interest rates, certainly those variable interest rates, start affecting people who had taken these other -- these loans that have, you know, APRS that move.

But what we're seeing now toward the end of the year, we saw yesterday new house prices in America are actually up. About $251,000 is the average price of a new house in the United States. That would be about a 5.8 percent increase over the same time last year, which means we could end with housing prices higher than they were last year.

And we're getting today at 10:00 Eastern, about an hour and a half, we're going to get the existing home prices. The existing home prices are the big number.

We talk about new home prices because it's a big industry, construction, and it's a big economic indicator. But existing home sales, the big numbers, we're going to see that.

What it means is, on average, the median price of a home in America is going to be higher probably at the end of the year. We still have to get December's numbers, which will come in January. But that's a good sign. That matters more to people than Dow.

O'BRIEN: How do you jive this with all this bubble-bursting talk?

VELSHI: Well, it's -- we're just not going up the same -- at the same speed we used to. That bubble has burst.

If you think that's what the housing market is about, you're probably going to be disappointed. But if you think that in America house prices go up year after year after year on an average, on a long-term basis, this is going to be a year that's probably going to fit into that mold.

CHO: So maybe not double-digit increases, but...

VELSHI: No, but up.

CHO: ... moderate increases. Got it.

VELSHI: Higher, yes.

O'BRIEN: Lower expectations a little, but...


VELSHI: Lower your expectations, and the world is all fine.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: That's what I sort of tell people who deal with me on many levels.

O'BRIEN: In many respects, yes. We do that every morning here.

Thank you very much, Ali.

In America this Thursday, Modesto, California, the home of Laci and Scott Peterson, selling for $350,000. The three-bedroom, two-bath house where the Petersons lived until Laci's murder four years ago this Christmas. Scott Peterson is on death row for killing his wife and his unborn son.

In Dallas, mountain climber Kelly James has been laid to rest. James and two fellow climbers went missing on Mt. Hood in Oregon the first week of December. The other two, Brian Hall -- also Dallas -- Jerry Cooke of New York City have not been found. They are presumed dead.

United Airlines is cutting fairs, starting a price war. The airline trying to fill seats in a traditionally slow travel season. Some of the bargains -- get this one -- 109 bucks, Chicago to San Diego. Good deal.

Denver to San Francisco, 126 bucks. And you can fly from Washington to Chicago for -- drum roll, please -- 49 bucks.

CHO: Wow.

O'BRIEN: Wow. It will be interesting to see who matches that.

A tourism record for New York City. Officials estimating 44 million people will visit the Big Apple by the end of the year. Hopefully not all at once -- 1.25 million this holiday week alone.

And if you're here on 5th Avenue, you know what we're talking about. The city rebounding since the 9/11 attacks. Mayor Mike Bloomberg says he wants more people to come. Tourism is a $24 billion a year business in this city.

CHO: That's right. The sidewalks are jammed.

Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, a move to save a beloved creature of the wild. And an admission that global warming is a threat to the polar bear.

We'll tell you why just ahead.

O'BRIEN: And Miles Cam Day. It's Thursday. Right?

So, crew, you know what it's all about?

CHO: Miles Cam!


O'BRIEN: The excitement is bubbling over here.

We can talk about polar bears, if you want. Or anything else, for that matter.

CHO: I was dying to say "Miles Cam!" Full force.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And how to buy Polonium. We can tell you about that as well on the Miles Cam.

Send us your e-mail at The place to hear the answers, 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Stay with us.

CHO: Some picture.


O'BRIEN: Another unwelcome visitor for Denver and its International Airport, mother nature serving up another healthy dose of wild winter weather.

CHO: Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims making there sacred journey right now. We'll show you what's being done to keep Muslims safe this year.

O'BRIEN: And the polar bear poster child -- a move to add polar bears to the endangered species list from the Bush Administration. new questions about what's threatening their existence on this AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. Thursday, December 28th. I'm Miles O'Brien.

CHO: And I'm Alina Cho in today for Soledad. Thanks for joining us.

O'BRIEN: Happening this morning -- John Edwards, the former Democratic senator and vice-presidential candidate is entering the 2008 presidential race. Edwards who will formally announce his candidacy this morning spoke to us a short time ago.


JOHN EDWARDS, FMR. SENATOR (D-NC): In the last couple of years, we've actually gotten the minimum wage raised in six states. We've made college available to kids who were willing to work for it. We've gotten workers organized around the country so that they can earn a decent wage. All of those are efforts to try to bridge some of the divide that still exists in this country. I think there's a lot left to do.


O'BRIEN: CNN planning live coverage of John Edwards announcement from New Orleans. 9:00 Eastern time.

Funeral plans announced for former President Gerald Ford. Tomorrow in Palm Desert, California, a private church service for the Ford family. On Saturday, a state funeral in the Capitol rotunda. Ford's body lies in state Saturday through Tuesday. On Wednesday, he will be laid to rest on a hillside plot near his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In Somalia, Ethiopian and Somali government troops now on the outskirts of the Somalia Capitol of Mogadishu. Islamics rebels are said to be ditching their uniforms and fleeing the city. There are concerns they could be regrouping. CHO: In Iraq, Saddam Hussein facing execution at any time within the next 28 days. The exact time and place being kept secret. An open good-bye letter written by Hussein could be his last public words.

In Crawford Texas, what to do next in Iraq is on the agenda for President Bush's meeting today with his national security advisers. They're expected to review various options, including sending in more U.S. troops.

In Washington, a new Congressional report on the government's handling of the Oklahoma City bombing investigation. It says the FBI should have done more follow up on tips regarding other possible suspects in the case.

Colorado bracing for another big storm. Ten to 18 inches of snow forecast for the Denver area and possibly up to 30 inches in the mountains and they're still cleaning up last week's storm. Denver International Airport has hired a snow removal consultant with experience at large airport. Good idea there.


O'BRIEN: The Hajj underway in Saudi Arabia. Every able bodied Muslim who can afford it must make the trip to Mecca at least once in lifetime for the Hajj. Already almost 2 million people are there. Many more are expected. CNN's Zain Verjee is among them.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The city has been bustling with activity all day, it's the first day of Hajj. ore than 3 million pilgrims have been picking up last minute supplies, some odds and ends that they may need as they head out into the dessert to perform a key set of rituals.

They've been going by bus, those that can afford it at least. We've also been seeing a lot of pilgrims just packed in on minivans and sitting on top of the roofs on buses. They're going also on motorbikes, people going by foot, by taxi.

In fact, we're learning the taxi drivers make more money this week than they do all year long simply because of the amount of activity here at the Hajj.

As you take a look around, you see the sea of white. People are dressed in what's known as Iram clothing that really symbolizes purity and humility of pilgrims as they perform the Hajj. The men wear two pieces of unstitched cloth and the women just dress simply and cover their heads.

Now when they get to the desert in the Minnah (ph) Valley, they are going to pray, they're going to meditate, they stay overnight in an encampment. And then at first light they go to the plain of Arafat where they stand in prayer all day until sunset, asking for forgiveness. Zain Verjee, CNN, Mecca.


CHO: A developing story in Iraq this morning. Saddam Hussein facing execution at any time over the next 28 days, appeals exhausted. Hussein is convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging. Members of his Ba'ath Party threaten to retaliate against America if that execution is carried out.

And Hussein is sharing what could be his last public words, a good-bye letter of sorts. CNN's Carol Costello has details.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A good-bye letter from a condemned man. Former Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein attempting to get the last word in a long missive posted on a Baathist web site.

It's addressed to his supporters both inside and outside Iraq and it takes a swipe at Americans, which Saddam refers to as merciless tyrants. And Iraq neighbor, the largely Shia Muslim Iran, he calls the Iranians, hateful devil worshipping Persians.

He writes that both countries are trying to enslave you and incite you to fight each other. But Saddam urges Iraqis to unite, writing, I hereby call upon you not to hate or bear grudges because this will prevent you from being equitable and just.

The letter strikes fatalistic notes as well, with Saddam writing it's to God to decide if he wants me to join the pious and martyrs in Heaven or to postpone this as he sees fit. He is our creator and we all ultimately return to him.

He closes by calling Iraq a loyal and honorable nation, and saying, I bid you farewell and submit myself to the merciful and ever faithful Lord.

Carol Costello, CNN, New York.


CHO: Still to come this morning, polar bears in danger of extinction. It's raising new questions for the Bush Administration and refueling the global warming debate.

And inside autism -- Dr. Sanjay Gupta continues our week-long series looking at the financial and emotional costs autism takes on parents. Stay with us, we'll be right back.


O'BRIEN: We'll tell you a little bit more about Milescam in just a moment. Let's get on to polar bears right now if we could for just a minute. More reason to be worried about global warming this morning. The Bush Administration is poised to put polar bears on the threatened species list. The problem, the ice that they rely on to hunt for food in this winter is not what it used to be


O'BRIEN: They call it the polar bear capital of the world. Churchill, Manitoba on the western banks of Hudson Bay is probably the best place in the world for humans to catch a glimpse of the magnificent mammals that rule the arctic icepack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, polar bear alert.

O'BRIEN: But the bears are in trouble, big trouble. For them, it's a matter of survival.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been chasing her since Wednesday, about 10:00, we got the first call.

O'BRIEN: That's Richard Romaniuk, polar bear policeman. He's a very busy man these days.

RICHARD ROMANIUK, MANITOBA CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT: Well, last night, we had four calls. One at 5:00, one at about 1:00, one at about 3:00 and one at about 5:00.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, buddy, you here by yourself?

O'BRIEN: The bears are coming to town with alarming frequency, weak, famished, and scavenging for food. Polar bears are nature's ultimate binge eaters. During the winter, once the Hudson Bay freezes over, they take to the ice with a voracious appetite for seal.

They hunt and eat as much as they can get their paws on. And then when the ice gets thin in the spring, they return to terra firma for a four month fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amount of time bears in western Hudson Bay can spend on the sea ice is critical for their survival.

O'BRIEN: Scientist Nick Lan has logged two dozen years studying polar bears for the Canadian Wildlife Service. Adult meals are 15 percent lighter than they were 20 years ago. Adult females with cubs, 20 percent skinnier.

The reason, the polar bear buffet is opening later and closing sooner. Over the past three decades, the thermometer has steadily risen and the ice has just as steadily receded. Today the Hudson Bay returns to its liquid state three weeks earlier than it did in 1970.

NICK LAN, CANADIAN WILDLIFE SERVICE: There is going to be a point in time where the bears are forced to shore so early that they just simply won't be able to survive.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: Jeff Sailer is curator of animals at New York Central Park Zoo. He joins us along with we hope polar bears back there -- Gus and Ida, the ice king and queen of the zoo. Good to have you with us Jeff.

Everybody loves polar bears. Can we save them?

JEFF SAILER, CENTRAL PARK ZOO: The only way we're going to save these guys is to actually reverse the trend of the sea ice disappearing. They really do depend on that for their food. They are totally adapted for it and without it, they starve.

O'BRIEN: So, do you believe that climate change is killing off the bears?

SAILER: I really do. We've seen it over the last 30 years, the amount of sea ice that's covering the arctic in the summer has been greatly reduced. The time it freezes over has gotten later in the year and time it thaws out has gotten earlier in the year and the bears don't have enough time to stock up on the fat during the winter as they usually would.

O'BRIEN: You know, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma has said that global warming is a hoax. What do you say to people of his thinking?

SAILER: I think if you look at species all around the world, and not just polar bears, we're seeing a lot of changes in where they live, what they're doing and the effects on them.

Like the polar bears, the fact that they're reducing in size based on not being able to get enough calories in their diet during the winter. You see it in New Guinea, with birds moving up to higher elevations where they wouldn't have been seen before, but now it's warmer and they can exist there and driving others species to extinction. So, it really is a real thing and we're seeing it on a massive scale around the world.

O'BRIEN: Jeff Sailer, who is curator of animals at the Central Park Zoo. Thanks for your time.

SAILER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Alina.

CHO: "CNN NEWSROOM" just minutes away. Heidi Collins at the CNN center with a look at what's ahead. Hey Heidi, good morning.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there Alina, nice to see you. And we hope everybody will be watching coming up at 9:00. We have these stories on the NEWSROOM rundown this morning

It is getting crowded out there. Democrat, John Edwards jumping into the 2008 presidential race. His announcement in minutes from New Orleans, we'll have it live. And President Bush huddling with his Iraq war council at his ranch in Texas. We expect to hear from the president on the war today.

And travel problems brewing today, thanks to yet another blizzard in the Rockies. Denver, getting ready for the big snowstorm, the sequel, part two, that is.

I'm in the NEWSROOM with Rick Sanchez today and we get started at the top of the hour right here on CNN -- Alina.

CHO: All right Heidi, thank you -- Miles.

COLLINS: You bet.

O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program -- we're watching for a big decision for the government. It could let your local supermarket sell mea from cloned animals and you may never know it. Details ahead.


O'BRIEN: Health news this morning, food from cloned animals could be approved by the Food & Drug Administration as soon as today. Scientists saying there's no difference between food from cloned animals and food from conventional livestock. But consumer say the food should be labeled because surveys have shown people are uncomfortable with the idea of cloned livestock.

And a new treatment approved for cyanide poisoning. Paramedics will be carrying now a kit used in France, it is called a cyano kit to treat the poison. It is considered a terror threat and a cause of thousands of yearly deaths from smoke inhalation.

CHO: Raising a child with autism can be an enormous burden both emotionally and financially. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now from the CNN center in Atlanta with part four of his special series, inside autism. Hey Sanjay, good morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alina. Hearing your child has autism can be one of the most difficult things for young parents to hear, one family described it as getting hit by a truck -- that's the feeling they have. We wanted to show you what it's like, what one family struggle is like and how they started to overcome some of those burdens.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's do your hair.

GUPTA (voice-over): Getting a haircut can be traumatic for 4- year-old Sebastian Gomez. You see, Sebastian's autistic and until recently, simply being touched could trigger a tantrum.

CHRISTINE FRY, PRINCETON CHILD DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE: It's really a milestone to come from a child who would throw himself on the floor for a haircut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shall we sing the itsy bitsy spider.

GUPTA: Contrast Sebastian now to him singing the same song a year ago.


GUPTA: The exhaustion and frustration of a child you can't comfort or control is a pain families express from this video from "Autism Speaks."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything I do is about autism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really had to give up my entire life.

MARIA GOMEZ, MOTHER OF AUTISTIC CHILD: Your life slowly is beginning to disintegrate and you can't do anything to sort of keep it together.

GUPTA: For Maria and Alfredo Gomez living in a new house in Miami, Sebastian's autism diagnosis at sixteen months led to another struggle, debt, they were shelling out thousands of dollars for private therapists with no insurance coverage.

GOMEZ: I can give you a list of horrible things that could happen to us which would be covered by insurance, that would cover his occupational therapy it would cover his speech therapy. If it's developmental issue, it's not covered.

GUPTA: Only eight states mandate health insurance coverage for autism. And with therapies costing around $70,000 a year, autism can break the bank. Another complication -- educational resources vary greatly from state to state.

DR. FRED VOLKMAR, YALE CHILD STUDY CENTER: It is a bit of roll of the dice in terms of where you're at and what happens to be available.

GUPTA: Like many families with autistic children, the Gomezes were forced to move to get better care. They enrolled Sebastian at the Princeton Child Development Institute in New Jersey where tuition is paid for by the state.

Still, with Alfredo commuting from Miami, the distance tests the couple's resolve and their marriage. The reality, advocacy groups say the divorce rate in autism families is 80 percent.

GOMEZ: It's very difficult not to blame each other, not to resent things, the move, the changing our lives, the living in different states. It's a huge gamble. But we'll never forget the first time Sebastian just got up and gave me a kiss. I froze because never did I expect such a thing ever to happen.

GUPTA: Small miracles. But the sacrifice and struggle of raising an autistic child is all about it. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And many parents worry as well, something that you might not think about, they worry about what is going to happen to their children once they have gone as well. There's lots of struggles but you got a sense there Alina of how one family at least is dealing with it.

CHO: That's right. A lot of parents worry that they are going to have to institutionalize their children. You know, Sanjay, fifth and final installment in your autism series tomorrow, what's on tap.

GUPTA: Well, we're going to talk about some hope tomorrow. There has been some progress made in the world of autism. There's been some progress made in the world of, the cost of autism, actually getting some of the dollars for it as well. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

CHO: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, live for us in Atlanta. Sanjay, thanks again.

GUPTA: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Fascinating series.

Here's a quick look what "CNN NEWSROOM" is working on for the top of the hour.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: These stories in the "NEWSROOM": Democrat John Edwards announcing his 2008 presidential bid. See it live from New Orleans.

A massive winter blast gearing up in the Rockies, Denver still digging out from last week's big blizzard.

State funeral plans set for President Ford, and we look at his six decade love affair with a woman named Betty Bloomer.

Here in the "NEWSROOM," 9:00 a.m. Eastern, 6:00 out West.


O'BRIEN: All right, we're rocking now. The show must go on. Grammy award winner Chaka Khan will now play New York City's B.B. King's nightclub on New Year's Eve. She's taking the place of James Brown, who of course died on Monday. Khan, known for such hits as "I Feel For You," "Ain't Nobody" and "I'm Every Woman" will fill the souls of the hardest working man in show business. Fill the soul, you get that right. Today Brown's body will lie in repose at the Apollo theater in Harlem, 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. here in New York City. It's the stage where he mad his debut in an amateur hour in 1956.

CHO: That's right. Anderson Cooper leads our party live from Times Square on New Year's Eve. Celebrations from around the world, music from the B-52s, the Goo-Goo Dolls and more. Don't miss Anderson and CNN's New Year's Eve 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time. O'BRIEN: And before it's happy New Year time it's Miles-cam time.

CHO: Miles-cam.

O'BRIEN: One more time. Come on guys.

CROWD: Miles-cam!

CHO: There you go. Jeez, I was alone on that one.

O'BRIEN: Our peanut gallery is just not serving me well.

Anyway, is the place for any questions you might have about anything we do here at CNN.

And if I can't answer it, we'll dial up somebody. We do that a lot. We frequently are dialing up Baghdad with questions for them. is the place to watch it, 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

That's all the time we have for this edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

CHO: "CNN NEWSROOM" with Heidi Collins and Rick Sanchez begins right now.


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