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Powerful Winter Storm Slams East Coast; War Money Battle; Oscar's Winners

Aired February 26, 2007 - 06:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly storm. Powerful winter weather in the Northeast right now. Hundreds of flights are on hold, including dozens for JetBlue.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. A surprise visit to Pakistan. Vice President Cheney delivering a strong message.

Plus . . .


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I started going down and the water was coming into my mouth and I started saying, hey, this doesn't look good. There's a chance, you know, you may drown.


M. O'BRIEN: Olympian effort. Gold medalist Rulon Gardner crashes in his plane, wrestling death for a fourth time.

S. O'BRIEN: And the dearly departed Martin Scorsese finally goes home with an Oscar.

We're live coast to coast, Hollywood, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. It's Monday, February 26th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's begin with that powerful winter weather socking the East Coast right now. It's going to be a snowy and a very sloppy commute too in New York City and Philadelphia, where the plows are out in full force. There are thousands of people in the Midwest now without power and hundreds of flights across the country have already been canceled. Now that same storm spun off damaging tornados in the Southeast. We're going to cover that as well. We've got team coverage for you this morning with Allan Chertoff at the Kennedy Airport right here in New York, Reggie Aqui is at Chicago O'Hare for us, Sean Callebs is in Dumas, Arkansas, this morning, and Rob Marciano is watching it all at the CNN Weather Center. Let's start with Reggie in Chicago.

Reggie, how's it looking?


Well, the lines are pretty line, as might expect. Over the weekend, including Sunday, they had to cancel more than 600 flights. O'Hare, of course, is the major hub for United and American. So take a look as these people are not so happily getting in line this morning trying to get to their destinations.

This caused a huge problem, this storm. Not so much in inches here in Chicago, but in hours. The hours and days people had to wait to get out of here, whether they were going to San Juan or San Diego.


AQUI, (voice over): Iowa, ice. Colorado, car pileups. A wintry Minnesota mess. But perhaps the most telling images from this weekend's storm come from Chicago. At least airport officials kept them warm inside. But for several days it looked like camp O'Hare. On this night, more than 1,000 passengers who wanted to take to the skies found themselves stuck just a few inches off the ground.

DAWN BECKMAN, STRANDED PASSENGER: We sat on the plane for four and a half hours, were deiced twice, taxied around the lot. And then I think between the fact that it was still hailing and that the crew had done their 16 hours, back to the gate. And here we are, sleeping on the cots.

AQUI: Cots turned out to be much safer than cars. Parts of the Midwest saw up to two feet of snow. And in Wisconsin, a mini van driver lost control of her car, colliding with a county snowplow. A mother, daughter, cousin, and family dog all died in the crash.

In Iowa, it could be a week or more before power customers see the light. At one point, 160,000 people lost electricity.

Meanwhile, back at O'Hare, oh, brother.

PATTY SILVERMAN, STRANDED PASSENGER: And I'm having a heck of a time sleeping.

AQUI: What do yo have, these (INAUDIBLE)?

SILVERMAN: Yes, a little cot here. Not very comfortable.

AQUI: Patty Silverman and thousands of others just trying to get home. After a weekend of this, those cramped seats in coach never looked so good.


AQUI: Yes, people just want to finally get to their destinations after a very rough weekend. I should mention, you heard me talk about the accident that happened with the snowplow in Wisconsin. The total number of people who died over the weekend is now nine. Most of those in Wisconsin because of car accidents, because of slick conditions up there. Soledad, I can tell you that here in Chicago this morning, we're already seeing some delays and cancellations out of O'Hare and into O'Hare. So it could be another very interesting day here at our nation's airports. Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, interesting as in bad and long and miserable.

Reggie Aqui for us this morning.

Reggie, thanks for that report.


M. O'BRIEN: This morning everyone is accounted for in south eastern Arkansas after a powerful tornado left a 17-mile trail of destruction. Homes and businesses in Dumas blown to bits. Power is out. At least 40 injured and this morning two children, aged five and seven years old, are in critical condition. AMERICAN MORNING's Sean Callebs is there.

Good morning, Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Miles.

It was a very difficult weekend for people here. They're slowly coming to grips with the injuries and the damage to essential services. But the big unknown in this area, as you look behind me at a pet food factory that employed close to 100 people, trucks strewn across this lawn. The big unknown, the long-term economic damage to this small town.


CALLEBS, (voice over): In a terrorizing instant, Brandy Lay lost everything -- her home, her job, and perhaps her entire community.

BRANDY LAY, HOME DESTROYED IN TORNADO: I think it will devastate it. My place of employment is demolished. And they're one of the biggest employers in this town. I just don't know if it will recover.

CALLEBS: Seconds before two suspected tornados did this to her streets, Lay, a mother of two, rushed next door to lead an elderly neighbor to safety, just as emergency warnings blared.

LAY: By the time we got to the grass, the sirens went off. And we made it from her driveway to our house into the hallway and it happened that quick.

CALLEBS: So quickly and so deafening, Brandy will never forget.

LAY: You hear people say it sounded like a freight train. It sounded like there was a freight train right on top of the house. And it was just like someone took the house and just shook it. And the roof just blew off.

CALLEBS: The town's major power substation took a direct hit. Most of the 5,000 residents are without power and it could be days before it's restored.

SHERIFF JIM SNYDER, DESHA COUNTY, ARKANSAS: It's kind of crippled a small town like this. We probably have -- we're looking at probably 800 people out of work. Probably a third of our businesses are gone.

CALLEBS: Lay lost everything, except her sense of humor, as she tried to calculate the incredible odds of losing both her house and her livelihood.

LAY: It's got to be a million to one, but it happened to me.


CALLEBS: Boy, and the people of Dumas are going to need to keep their sense of humor in the days and weeks ahead. I really think it bears repeating what the sheriff said. A town of about 5,000 people, 800 jobs perhaps lost. And the big unknown, when will these factories, when will these businesses get up and running, if they will? Stick with us on AMERICAN MORNING. Behind us, there are two mills at this pet food plant, Miles. We're going to show you in about an hour, when the sun comes up, the significant damage. It is just mind boggling what the wind did to these massive steel structures. Just twisting them as if they were toys.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Sean. We'll see you in just a little bit. Sean Callebs there in Arkansas.

Coming up, we're going to get the storm's track from Rob Marciano and we'll go live to New York's Kennedy Airport. JetBlue, remember them, and other airlines canceling dozens of flights well in advance today.


S. O'BRIEN: No matter how many tornados you covered, you just never get used to seeing that damage.

M. O'BRIEN: It's humbling when you see the power of nature.

S. O'BRIEN: Every single time.

Let's talk about what else is happening this morning.

Vice President Dick Cheney is making a surprise overnight stopover in Pakistan, meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, pressing Pakistan to step up against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Do more to track down al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. He's hinting that aid could be reduced if Pakistan does not act.

In London right now, six country talks about Iran's nuclear program. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany are looking for a unified way to confront Iran. Iran ignored a U.N. deadline to suspend its nuclear activities.

You might have notice that gas prices are up across the nation. Nearly 13 cents a gallon, in fact, over the last two weeks. $2.35 is the average for self-serve regular. The highest nationwide is $2.84 a gallon. That's in San Francisco. The lowest is $2.12 in Salt Lake City.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, at long last, there is an Oscar on Martin Scorsese's mantel this morning. The director finally winning the big one. In fact, the movie he made, "The Departed," departed the Kodak theater in Hollywood with four statues. Besides the director award, it won best picture, best editing and the best adapted screen play. Scorsese clearly savoring his moment in the limelight.


MARTIN SCORSESE: Thank you. Could you double-check the envelope, please?


M. O'BRIEN: It was his sixth nomination, but his first win. Others winners, as predicted, Helen Mirren took home best actress for her role as the queen. Best actor went to Forest Whitaker for "The Last King of Scotland." A bit of a surprise, a win for Alan Arkin. He takes home the best supporting actor for his role as the somewhat crazy grandfather in "Little Miss Sunshine." Supporting actress went to Jennifer Hudson for her role in "Dreamgirls." And "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's slide show turned film about the perils of global warming won best documentary. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres presided over this. So, congratulations there. True to form, she was low key, casual, frequently not on stage and, at one point, stopping by Scorsese's seat.


ELLEN DEGENERES: Are you enjoying yourself?


DEGENERES: That's great. It is warm in here, though, isn't it?

SCORSESE: It's getting a little hot.

DEGENERES: What is this? Oh, it's a screen play I wrote. That is so weird.

SCORSESE: It's a screen play you wrote. That says screen play right there.

DEGENERES: Yes, that is so weird.

SCORSESE: That's interesting.

DEGENERES: It's a cross between "Good Fellows" and "Big Mama's House," it's called "Good Mamas.

SCORSESE: I'm interested.

DEGENERES: And it's -- you don't have time right now, I'm sure, but I'll see you at the governor's ball.

SCORSESE: That really looks really good.

DEGENERES: Thanks. I appreciate it. Just take a look.


M. O'BRIEN: I assume he gave it a green light, as they say. Scorsese's first directing nomination was for "Raging Bull" back in 1981. Good to see he won.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, finally. Finally.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, New York's favorite director.

S. O'BRIEN: And she was funny. I thought Ellen did a good job. That's a tough crowd.

M. O'BRIEN: A tough crowd and she had the perfect approach.

S. O'BRIEN: She's so funny.

M. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, Rob Marciano has got the latest on this winter storm we've been talking about that's slamming the East Coast. We'll update you on what's happening there.

And then this guy. He is either the luckiest or he might be the unluckiest man alive. Rulon Gardner. Remember the Olympic athlete. Made it through a snowmobile accident, frost bite, lost a toe, has crashed his motorcycle. Now he's got another survival story to tell you about, a plane crash. We'll update you on what happened there.

Plus, the Reverend Al Sharpton. It turns out he's linked to Strom Thurmond. Did you hear about this? We'll tell you exactly how straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.


S. O'BRIEN: The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

A bomb explodes inside a government building this morning in Baghdad. Iraq's vice president is reportedly slightly injured.

And two are dead this morning, at least 1,000 others are trapped in a burning office building. It's happening in Bangladesh. The building is home to TV channels and a newspaper in the capital of Dhaka

Reverend Al Sharpton said that it's probably the biggest shock of his life. His family tree, it turns out, is intertwined with the slaves who were once owned by the family of Senator Strom Thurmond. AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken has more. He's in Washington, D.C., for us this morning.


REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Everything from anger and outrage, to reflection and to some pride and glory.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): That's how a flabbergasted civil rights activist Al Sharpton described what it was like to learn not that his great, great grandfather was a slave, but a slaved owned by relatives of a symbol of racial segregation, Senator Strom Thurmond. According to the genealogists, Coleman Sharpton, before he was freed, was owned by Julia Thurmond, blood ancestor of the Strom Thurmond who generations later became the champion of Jim Crow laws before moderating his views in later years as a U.S. senator. He had walked out of the 1948 Democratic Convention and run for president as a Dixiecrat. This intertwined family history was discovered after website approached "The New York Daily News" and then Sharpton, who's run for president himself.

MEGAN SMOLENYAK, ANCESTRY.COM: I'll tell you, this was a stunner even for me. I had no clue we'd find a story like this hiding in there.

FRANKEN: It was just another chapter in the story of Senator Strom Thurmond. Before Thurmond died at age 100, it was made public that he was, in fact, the father of a mixed race daughter, Essie Mae Washington. Family members are refusing comment on the slavery connection, although a niece of Thurmonds, Ellen Senter, did tell "The Daily News," it is wonderful that Sharpton was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was."

SHARPTON: The shame is that I am the heirs of those that were properties to the Thurmond family. But the glory is Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on a segregationist ticket. I ran in '04 on a ticket for racial justice.


FRANKEN: What's possibly useful about this is that as we still try and reconcile black and white America, it's important to note that the starting point, Soledad, was slavery.

S. O'BRIEN: All very interesting. Bob Franken for us this morning.

Thank you, Bob.

We're going to get a live reaction from the Reverend Al Sharpton. He's going to join us here at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time on AMERICAN MORNING.

It's coming up to quarter past the hour. It's time to get right to Rob Marciano. He's at the CNN Weather Center watching our top story this morning, which is the bad weather across the nation.

Hey, Rob, good morning.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, he's an Olympic gold medal Greco-Roman wrestle. But this morning, Rulon Gardner deserves a gold medal for survival. And this is the forth time - there he is there. You remember him. The massively huge Greco-Roman wrestler. In 2000, he knocked off a Russian who had the throne for 13 years in the Olympics. It was a great moment.

Here's what was going on, on Saturday though. He was flying over Lake Powell, which divides Utah and Arizona. It's a reservoir damped up by the Colorado River. There you see Lake Powell there. Flying low in a Cirrus SR 22 aircraft. It might sound slightly familiar to you. It's sort of a similar version of the plane that was used by Cory Lidle, you remember the Yankees pitcher who flew into the building here in New York.

That happens to be my Cirrus SR 22 here, as a matter of fact. This is a plane, by the way, that has a parachute which comes out the back if you get in trouble. But in this case, the parachute would do them no good. They were flying low over the lake. Gardner not the pilot. He was a passenger. And listen to what happened as they made a turn and apparently got too low to the water.


RULON GARDNER, PLANE CRASH SURVIVOR: We skipped once. We skipped. And then we hit a second time and that's when it dig in. The pro speller stopped. And then it just spun us. And we kind of went nose almost down in the water. And as soon as we hit and we started spinning, you know, we said, hey, get your seatbelts off, you know, open your door and get out.

I actually, you know, I started going down and the water was coming in my mouth and I started saying, hey, this doesn't look good. There's a chance, you know, you may drown.


M. O'BRIEN: All right. It happened right about here, Utah/Arizona border. Let's zoom down. We'll show you exactly the spot in Lake Powell where it occurred. A beautiful lake with steep cliffs. As we say, this is the dammed up Colorado River.

Zooming in here. Good Hope Bay. Perhaps an ironic name here given the fact that they had some good hope to get out of there.

This is only about two miles across there. And this direction is only about 3/4 of a mile. They swam in 44 degree water for as much as an hour.

Now, take a look. We pulled up some charts on what happened as far as hypothermia. And in the course of about an hour's time, that is a critical time. You look at the bottom line there, between 40 and 50 degrees, before you become unconscious, you have about 30 to 60 minutes of consciousness. Obviously he's in good shape. They made it to an island and they were picked up the next day by a fisherman. But look at what else has happened to Gardner in his illustrious career off the mat. He was stranded overnight, as we know, in wilderness. He was impaled on a hunting arrow. This wilderness event, by the way, he got frostbite and lost a toe. He had a serious motorcycle accident. And now he adds the plane crash to his list.

Apparently the doctor who delivered him, Soledad, said to his parents, I think this is going to be an accident-prone child. I'm not sure how he knew that, but, boy, he was right on the money. The question is, would you get in a plane with him? We're going to talk to Rulon Gardner himself at 8:15 Eastern.

Coming up on the program, gas prices on the way back up and climbing. Ali Velshi tells us how high, "Minding Your Business."

Plus, the national dilemma. How to get out of the war in Iraq without hurting the troops still there. A look at both sides of that fight on the home front ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

Vice President Dick Cheney on a surprise visit overnight to Pakistan. He's asking President Musharraf for more help against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

And the jury goes back to work this morning in the Scooter Libby trial. They took the weekend off. That makes today is the fourth day of deliberations.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, if you filled up your car over the weekend, you might have noticed something at the gas pump. And not a pleasant thing. Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

Ali Velshi, good morning to you.

Gas prices on the rise once again.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no kidding. In fact, this is a week that's full of business and full of business numbers. I hope everybody's had their coffee. But come over here and I'm going to tell you about the number that matters most to you right now.

And as Miles said, it's gas prices, tensions with Iran and colder U.S. weather have caused oil to settle above the $61 mark on Friday. That's the highest level this year. And at the pumps, the national average price for a gallon of self-serve unleaded is $2.35. That's up 13 cents in two weeks thanks mainly to refinery problems here in the United States.

Now Lowe's has confirmed what we already knew, saying that its fourth quarter suffered because of a slowing housing market and because of lower lumber prices. Winter is typically the weakest season for Lowe's and Home Depot as fewer houses are built or renovated. We're going to be getting new and existing home sales reports in the middle of the week. So if you're in the market, you'll pay attention for that.

The markets ended the week lower, although the Dow hit another record last week. And the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 both surpassed six year highs. One big group of economists is predicting that things are going to stay on track this year with the economy.

On Wednesday, we'll find out how the economy did in the fourth quarter of last year. The bad news is that the economy was slowing down. It will continue that way a little bit this year.

The good news is that means the Fed probably won't raise rates. It's good for business and good for consumers. We'll get a read on consumer confidence this week, which is running at five-years high and we'll find out how much Americans earned and spent in January.

So we will get all these numbers for you. But really, in the end, the one that's going to hit people this morning is the gas prices.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Ali. We'll see you in just a little bit.

Top stories of the morning are coming up next.

Flights canceled. A slushy drive across the Northeast. A live report from Kennedy Airport in just a little bit.

Plus, test yourself. Which has more calories, Soledad, pasta with chicken and broccoli or two steak dinners with caesar salads and baked potatoes?

S. O'BRIEN: Camera forefront. I'm going to go with the caesar salad. It's hugely (INAUDIBLE). That's what I'm going to guess.

M. O'BRIEN: So you think the . . .

S. O'BRIEN: The steak and the caesar salad has more, I'm going to guess.


S. O'BRIEN: You're going to let me know after the break?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, yes, that's the whole idea. We like to give answers to people, but they've got to wait a little bit.

And all the latest from Hollywood's golden night Oscar winners and wannabes.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning right here on CNN.


S. O'BRIEN: Stormy Monday. The Northeast is battling dangerous winter weather right now. Hundreds of thousands of people are in the dark in the Midwest.

M. O'BRIEN: America divided -- how to get out of Iraq but still not hurt the troops there? Both sides of the aisle feeling the heat from neighbors back home.

S. O'BRIEN: And the right direction. Martin Scorsese goes home with his first Oscar. We'll tell you what he had to say on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back, everybody. It is Monday, February 26th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien.

Thanks for being with us.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's begin with what's happening right now.

There is a powerful winter storm slamming the East coast this morning. It's going to be a snowy and very sloppy commute for New York City and Philadelphia.

Now, thousands of people in the Midwest are without power, and the storm system is sweeping through the Northeast, could bring another five inches of snow in some parts. Hundreds of flights are already canceled.

CNN's Allan Chernoff is live for us at Kennedy airport.

Allan, good morning to you. JetBlue this time taking some early action to do some cancellations.

Good morning.


That's exactly right. In fact, the bulk of the cancellations here at JFK seem to be at JetBlue. The company canceling 68 flights.

If you look at the boards and the various terminals, you'll see that most of them really are showing the bulk of the airlines actually still flying. And the arrivals look pretty good. Delta also has a fair number of cancellations, 27 departures are canceled.

But over here at the airport, you can see the control tower right behind me. And I can certainly believe that is very busy inside this morning.

Here at JFK, the snow has turned to rain. And that is certainly going to be helping the situation somewhat. But nonetheless, we still do have some cancellations. Flights to San Francisco, several airlines have canceled those. But on the other hand, L.A. looks just fine. Boston, we've got some flights departing within the hour. And also, Minneapolis looks just fine as well.

So, as I said, the bulk of the cancellations this morning over at JetBlue -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Allan Chernoff for us this morning.

Thank you, Allan.

Now, that same storm that's slamming the East Coast is part of a system that spun off tornadoes in Arkansas, in Mississippi, and in Louisiana. Some of the worst damage, look at it right there, that's Dumas, Arkansas. A tornado tore through more than 100 homes and businesses, injured 40 people, and the damage estimates are now in the millions of dollars. Just wrecked that town.

Got more weather for you in just a few minutes. Rob Marciano is going to join us with the latest on the path of this huge winter storm -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: The war in Iraq taking a toll on the man at the top of the struggling Iraqi government. This morning, both the president and vice president of Iraq are hospitalized.

Adel Abdul Mehdi (ph) slightly hurt in a bombing at the Ministry of Municipalities at Baghdad. At least six people were killed in that attack.

Meanwhile, Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani remains in a hospital in Jordan this morning. He collapsed over the weekend, on Sunday, was airlifted to that hospital in Amman. He's apparently suffering from exhaustion and dehydration. His son denies he had a heart attack.

Political battles being fought over how much money should be poured into the war in Iraq. Now, as AMERICAN MORNING'S Chris Lawrence tells us, the fight is causing massive riffs in both the Republican and Democratic parties.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president wants another $90 billion and more troops to fight the war in Iraq. But this fight over funding is causing both the Republican and Democratic parties to split from within.

Anti-war protesters in Denver have been staging a sit-in outside the offices of a Democratic senator and congressman, pressuring them to cut off the funding for the war in Iraq. Congressman Mark Udall is feeling the heat but says cutting the funding would be wrong. He says he won't do it.

Now, the Republicans are feeling the heat from the other side. Specifically those who voted with the Democrats to oppose the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq. Some conservative activists say if these Republicans are against the president when things are at their worst, there will be a price to pay in 2008. Some of them are promising to find primary challenges to these Republicans in the next election.

Outside of Fort Carson, Chris Lawrence, CNN, Colorado Springs.


S. O'BRIEN: Pressures on the National Guard are raising worries from the nation's governors. At the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, which is in Washington, governors expressed concern about the National Guard being be deployed over and over again to Iraq. They're concerned it leaves the states vulnerable.


GOV. JANET NAPOLITANO (D), ARIZONA: The Guard is being called in a number of directions. They're being stretched.

GOV. JIM DOUGLAS (R), VERMONT: Domestically, we certainly have the resources we need to deal with snowstorms or ice storms or whatever might -- might come along.

GOV. BILL RITTER (D), COLORADO: We really need to have a conversation in this country about what the National Guard troops are to be utilized for and whether or not they become a full-time force like the other services.


S. O'BRIEN: The governors want Congress to change a law that gives President Bush the power to federalize the Guard without a governor's consent -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Iran remains thumbing its nose at the U.S. and other nations, asking to pull the plug on its nuclear program. Today in London, the U.S., Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany talking about upping the U.N.'s punishment against Iran for its refusal to stop making nuclear fuel. But Iran says its nuclear program is a train on a one-way track with no reverse and no brakes.

Critics say the administration is laying the groundwork for a war with Iran. Now in a new report in "The New Yorker" magazine, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says the Pentagon is planning a bombing campaign against Iran that could be carried out within 24 hours on the president's orders.

Hersh spoke to CNN's "INSIDE EDITION."


SEYMOUR HERSH, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE: It's pretty obvious what's going on. In the last month or so, the president has been talking about cross-border attacks and more and more about Iranian interference and threatening American lives. So it's not surprising they would fine-tune the targeting to go after a suspected training sites, et cetera, across the boarder and inside Iran.



SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: We're assured by the secretary of defense that there is no plan to attack Iran. And I have some confidence in this new secretary of defense, and I'm going to take his word for it. Even though there may be some theoretical plans for just about anything that the military could conceivably get into at any point in the future, I just don't think that there is a current plan.


M. O'BRIEN: Vice President Dick Cheney says all options are still in the table in dealing with Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is offering direct talks with Iran if the country hits the stop button. Her term on nuclear activity.

CNN's "LATE EDITION" can be seen Sundays at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time -- Wolf Blitzer.


S. O'BRIEN: Well, Hollywood's A-list and just about everybody else bound to be buzzing over those freshly-awarded Oscar winners this morning. There were a few surprise sprinkled in with what were pretty much shoo-ins.

Here's CNN's Sibila Vargas for us.


SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: The 79th annual Academy Awards went out without a bang, literally. Marty Scorsese shooed them up. "The Departed" scored big in the best picture department, taking home the award and beating out a bevy of contenders, including "Babel," "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Queen," and "Letters From Iwo Jima."

Martin Scorsese was definitely one of the highlights of the evening, taking home the best director award finally. The director had been nominated multiple times and was considered a favorite in the category. Some had even considered him the Oscar's Susan Lucci. Well, not anymore.

Helen Mirren also reigned supreme. The British actress took home the best actress award for her stunning turn as Queen Elizabeth II in Steven Frears' "The Queen."

She was also considered a favorite racking up numerous awards earlier this year. So she was definitely a favorite, and she took home the prize.

And speaking of royalty, "The Last King of Scotland" Forest Whitaker took home his statue for his work in the dramatic picture. Whitaker played Ugandan dictator Idi Amin to stellar reviews, and tonight he is an Oscar king for playing "The Last King of Scotland."

Jennifer Hudson continued the Cinderella tale, taking took home the award for best supporting actress. The "American Idol" contestant who was booted from that competition won the hearts of the academy members.

And Alan Arkin took home the supporting actor award for his stellar work in "Little Miss Sunshine," a very odd and different role for Alan Arkin, but obviously he won again. He also won the hearts of the academy voters, beating out the man who was considered a favorite in the category. And that, of course, was Eddie Murphy.

So there you have it. Some surprises and a lot of celebration.

For the 79th Academy Awards, I'm Sibila Vargas, for CNN, in Hollywood.


M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, Rob Marciano will have the latest on the path of that winter storm that is hitting the Northeast.

Plus, you try to watch what you eat, don't you? But can you tell what has more calories -- a plate of pasta with chicken and broccoli -- that sounds good, right -- or two steak dinners with Caesar salads and baked potatoes. That sounds bad to me.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, that seems...


M. O'BRIEN: That's what my gut says. But my gut has some other issues, if you know what I mean. That's maybe the problem.

The answer straight ahead.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning right here.


M. O'BRIEN: Most news in the morning right here.

A story just coming in, the vice president on a surprise visit to Pakistan overnight, pushing for a more aggressive pursuit of the Taliban and al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden on President Pervez Musharraf's part.

We'll track that one for you.

And two are dead, at least a thousand trapped inside a burning office in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

We're watching that for you as well -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: There's a report due out today for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It's got some pretty shocking information, especially if you're trying to watch your calories. What they did was pretty simple. They just tested some dishes from some very popular restaurants.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Greg Hunter has more on the results this morning.

Hey, Greg. Good morning.


One of the dishes is from Ruby Tuesday's. And it's a pasta dish that equals about -- check this out -- the same amount of calories and fat as two different steak dinners with a Caesar salad. It's pretty unbelievable.

Now, I'm at Uno Chicago Grill. And one of the things that they looked at here was this, pizza skins. It has 2,000 calories, 134 grams of fat. But the folks here said, hey, wait a minute, you know, that's not fair, we do have healthy alternatives.

And check this out. Here's another appetizer. It feeds two. This feeds two. This only has 470 calories and 10 grams of fat.

If you back up here, if you look at the soups, here's 1.5 grams of fat in the vegetable. The chowder, 24 grams of fat.

Over here, hey, if you get a loaded potato, you know, lots of calories there, of course. Or you can get the steamed broccoli.

And coming down here, they have this little rib dish, which is one of my favorites. Not a lot of -- not a lot of calories, but 38 grams of fat.

It still looks good, hmm?

And then there's this one right here, it's counterpart. It's spinach, gorgonzola. It only hash about 11 grams of fat and only 800 calories in it.

And so that's what they say. They say, hey, listen, we do have things that you can splurge on, granted, but we also have things that you can watch your weight, watch your salt, and watch your trans fats, because this restaurant is just about trans fat free, and it will be trans fat free this year.

Back to you, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. So a couple things I want to ask you.

First, we've been asking people if they thought the two steak dinners had more calories than the pasta. So the pasta has more calories than two steak dinners? Is that what you're saying?

HUNTER: It has about the same. It has about the same. So, if you have those two salads, two Caesar salads and two steak dinners, you have about the same amount as that one pasta dish from Ruby Tuesday. Yes, that's according to company information.

They didn't even test this stuff. They actually got the company information and said, hey, how much -- you know, these are chains and they know just about exactly what their portion sizes are, how many calories are in them, how many grams of fat. Got it from company literature.

S. O'BRIEN: OK. So, now, is that company literature printed on the menu? I mean, that would be kind of nice to know when I go in to order, even if I am going to choose the fattening one.

HUNTER: Well, it's not printed on the menu. Here at Uno Chicago Grill, they actually have a kiosk and you find out, you know, how much salt, how much fat. All that's kind of -- pretty innovative.

But what they're trying to do in New York City is to try to put that information on the menu this year. They don't know exactly how they're going to do that yet in terms of what they're going to say and how much they're going to say on their menus. But that's the goal, is to put that information on the menu this year in New York City.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I'd support that. I would like to know that.

All right. Thank you very much, Greg Hunter. Don't eat it all, by the way.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, bring it back.

S. O'BRIEN: That's about two billion calories right there in front of you.

Greg Hunter for us this morning.

Thank you, Greg -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: We've got a hungry crew. They'll gobble that up.

It's a quarter of the hour right now. Rob Marciano is at the CNN weather center watching a mess, frankly.


M. O'BRIEN: Some news for your health is coming up. Another state joins the fray to offer that vaccine that prevents cervical cancer to school girls. Big controversy in Texas we've been telling you about on that front.

Plus, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, what does she think about Barack Obama? We'll tell you coming up.



M. O'BRIEN: So let me get this straight -- we don't need a Starbucks on every corner?

S. O'BRIEN: What?

M. O'BRIEN: Apparently not.

Two minutes before the top of the hour. Our business barista is Ali Velshi.


M. O'BRIEN: Hello, Ali.

VELSHI: Good morning.

When does a company get too big? When does the upstart become too big? Well, maybe it's 13,000 stores, which is what Starbucks has at the moment. And the chairman and founder, Howard Schultz, sent a memo to executives that we weren't supposed to get our hands on, but we did.

And it has been confirmed where he says that the growth of Starbucks has led, in his words, to the watering down of the Starbucks experience. In the effort to increase efficiency...

M. O'BRIEN: A horse is on (ph) the born in a big way.

VELSHI: Yes. No kidding.

But here's -- I mean, he cited some very specific things. He said this move to automated espresso machines -- now I'm not a Starbucks guy, so I don't know what this means -- but the automated espresso machines created greater speed and efficiency, but it blocked the view which is such a big part of the customer experience, apparently, because if you want to pay $5.50 for a cup of coffee, you want to see it being made.

The flavor-locked packaging -- again, I don't know what that means, but it means they put coffee in bags so they can get them to all the stores. Well, as a result, you don't get the aroma of the coffee being ground. And Howard Schultz calls the loss of aroma perhaps the most powerful nonverbal sign in Starbucks stores.

He also talks about the design chain in many of the stores, again, to speed up efficiently, get people through. He said it looks like a chain of stores now and not a neighborhood store.

S. O'BRIEN: Well...

M. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, remember, the idea originally was to bring back the cafe...

VELSHI: Right. M. O'BRIEN: ... and to bring back that social experience. And as you improve efficiency, that that can go away.

VELSHI: And it becomes, as he says, commoditized (ph). He said it's leading the resurgence of mom and pop coffee stores.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting.

VELSHI: Which may not be the world's worst thing.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right, Ali. Thank you very much.

VELSHI: See you in a bit.

S. O'BRIEN: Did you guys see this in Union Square, which is my neighborhood, over the weekend?

M. O'BRIEN: Were you a part of this?

S. O'BRIEN: This was the picture of the day. Take a look. No I was not in this...

M. O'BRIEN: You should have been there.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, a massive pillow fight. Hundreds of people in Union Square.

The rules were kind of straightforward -- swing lightly, do not swing at people who do not have a pillow or who are a cameraman or woman. But then you can see in the middle of the fray basically they were just pounding away at each other.

The pillow fight was announced on the Web site NeverMindSpace, which announces kind of weird events. Like, they did a massive bubble battle, and they did a subway car party, games of capture the flag in the street.

M. O'BRIEN: It kind of gives new meaning to the term downtown, if you know what I mean.


M. O'BRIEN: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Deadly storm. Powerful winter weather in the Northeast right now. Hundreds of flights are on hold, including dozens for JetBlue.

M. O'BRIEN: Breaking news overnight. A surprise visit to Pakistan. Vice President Cheney delivering a strong message there.

Plus this...


RULON GARDNER, GOLD MEDALIST: I started going down and the water was coming in my mouth. And I started saying, hey, this doesn't look good. There's a chance, you know, you may drown.


M. O'BRIEN: Olympian gold medalist Rulon Gardner surviving a plane crash, wrestling death and winning for a fourth time.

S. O'BRIEN: And the dearly "Departed". Martin Scorsese finally goes home with an Oscar.

We're live for you coast to coast this morning, in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and in Washington, D.C., on this AMERICAN MORNING.


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