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White House Sends Iraq Report to Congress Today; Humberto's Punch; Officer and Suspect Killed in Miami

Aired September 14, 2007 - 09:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you are in the CNN NEWSROOM, and I am the aforementioned T.J. Holmes.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Glad that we cleared that up.


NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen.

Thanks for being with us today.

You can watch events come into the NEWSROOM live on this Friday, September 14th.

Here is what's on the rundown.

President Bush selling his Iraq strategy today. His speech to marines, that is live. And a limited troop drawdown planned this year.

HOLMES: Also, four Miami officers shot, one killed. The suspect dead after a shootout with police. Today, investigators look for a motive for the mayhem.

NGUYEN: And does your toddler need a cholesterol check? Well, some doctors say yes.

Head start, right here in the NEWSROOM.

First up, the president speaks, Congress waits. Just hours after President Bush told the nation there's progress in Iraq, lawmakers get an Iraq report card from the White House.

And here is CNN White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano.

Elaine, I want to ask you this, what did the president say last night about the Iraqi government failing to meet benchmarks?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, you know, that report card to Congress is due out likely today, but President Bush, yesterday, really tried to temper the bad news that's expected on the benchmarks by first emphasizing the positive in his address to the nation last night. The president talked about the security and political gains that have been made at the local level in some parts of Iraq, but the president also responded to both Democratic criticisms and some Republican concerns as well that the central government in Baghdad has not made significant political progress towards national reconciliation. And the president responding to critics who say he needs to put more pressure on the Iraqis.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks. And in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must.


QUIJANO: But the president's own report to Congress, according to sources, will show satisfactory ratings for just nine of the 18 benchmarks. That's just one more than a report issued by the White House in July.

The White House argues that these benchmarks don't tell the whole story. They say there's a lot more going on in Iraq besides just the benchmarks -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Well, Elaine, the president also made clear he sees the military presence in Iraq lasting beyond his presidency. What exactly did he say about that?

QUIJANO: Yes. You know, this was very interesting because the president really tried to frame this in terms of what the Iraqis want.

The president said that Iraq's leaders have asked for a "enduring relationship with the United States." The president said that the U.S. is ready to begin building that relationship, and he talked about a U.S. political economic and security engagement extending beyond his presidency.

Now, those who are familiar with the president's thinking say, look, we're talking about something perhaps along the lines of what's in South Korea right now, with thousands of U.S. forces at the border there with North Korea. But a very striking comment, Betty, especially when you consider this is the same president back in January when he announced surge, who said he made it clear to the Iraqi government that America's commitment in Iraq was not open-ended -- Betty.

NGUYEN: CNN's Elaine Quijano at the White House for us today.

Thank you, Elaine.

President Bush on the road and on point. He is speaking at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. And CNN will carry it live. It is right now scheduled for 12:20 Eastern, 9:20 Pacific.

HOLMES: Homes in shambles, people in shock. South Texas picking up after Humberto, a storm with high winds, rain and the element of surprise.

CNN's Sean Callebs is in High Island, Texas, for us today -- Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of residents here in High Island, Texas, say they didn't see it coming, but look at the aftermath now. They know Humberto was here.

And look at the house behind me, the devastation here. I want to tell you, it's owned by 69-year-old Connie Peyton (ph) and, yes, she was in the home at the time the hurricane blew through.

She said -- and we're hearing this from people all over this tiny island -- they went to bed a couple of nights ago thinking, well, they're going to have some strong winds. They knew there were some clouds offshore that may create winds up to 50 miles an hour. Well, around 1:00 in the morning, when shingles started blowing off and roofs started blowing off homes, people knew the hurricane was here. The first one to hit the U.S. in about two years.

A lot of frustration, shock, even, in this community of 500 people that there was simply no notice. This was the most rapidly- formed hurricane to strike the U.S. ever.

And people here, they only live a couple of blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. They are used to storms, but nothing moving this fast.

If you look around, you could see there is a refrigerator over here, a hot water heater over here. Remnants of this lady's house just strewn all over. And we're seeing this in sparse areas around here.

There wasn't widespread devastation, but certainly where the eye passed over here on High Island there was significant damage. Then, of course, it moved in through Louisiana, on into Mississippi, dumping significant amounts of rain.

There wasn't a lot of flooding in this area because High Island is actually called that because, relatively speaking, it is high. About 20 to 37 feet above sea level. It doesn't sound like much, but it's enough to keep a punishing storm surge from affecting this area. So, any flooding that did occur yesterday was brought by the significant amount of rainfall they had here.

T.J., back to you.

HOLMES: All right. Sean Callebs for us there in High Island, and being on High Island worked out to some people's advantage, apparently, during the storm.

NGUYEN: Yes, that's true.

Let's check in now with Reynolds Wolf with a look at the weather outside.


HOLMES: And some of you are feeling the effects of Humberto, send us your I-Reports. It's easy. Go to and click on "I- Report," or type into your cell phone. Share your photos and video with us, but remember, please, during these storms, severe weather, your safety certainly comes first.

Avoid any dangerous situations out there. All right?

NGUYEN: Want to tell you about this -- a plea deal in the shocking death of a 3-year-old girl in Kansas City, Missouri. Erica Green's (ph) mother pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

Now, you may remember this case. The child's decapitated remains were found in a city park back in 2001. She was known as "Precious Doe," as her body remained unidentified for four years.

Michelle Johnson admits watching her husband kick the girl in the head and says she helped hide the body. And as part of her plea, Johnson agreed to testify against her husband.

HOLMES: Football crime and punishment. The New England Patriots will pay the price for breaking the NFL rules for cheating.

Coach Bill Belichick fined $500,000 and the team ordered to pay $250,000 for videotaping the New York Jets sideline signals in Sunday's game. If the Patriots reach the playoffs, they will have to forfeit next year's first round draft pick. If the team does not make the post-season, they will lose its second and third round draft choices.

NGUYEN: Did you get a chance to see this? If you haven't, just take a look.

The fur and feathers, they were just flying in a melee between two college mascots, of all things. OK, here is how it started, when the Houston cougar mascot imitated the trademark push-ups of the University of Oregon duck.

Well, that got the duck's feathers all ruffled and led to a sideline -- oh, what was that -- smackdown. The duck mascot was hit with a one-game suspension. Some say the fight was phony and all in fun.

He's brushing off his shoulder. It may have just been a little fun. But let me tell you this, school leaders say it was not staged. And we will let you decide for yourself -- Susan.


A 12-hour manhunt for a suspected cop killer ended just like it started, in a hail of gunfire.

I'll have that story coming up in the NEWSROOM.

HOLMES: All right. Thank you, Susan. We'll see you shortly.

Also, critics of the war killed in the war. Two soldiers who put their names to an anti-war editorial die in Iraq. NGUYEN: Also, just an incredible view, but it's not for tourists. It's home for U.S. troops and a target for Taliban and al Qaeda.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The trenches run between the buildings so that when they do come under attack from insurgents on the high ground, they can move around the base safely to get between their different firing positions.


NGUYEN: Soldiers call it the fish bowl. Our Nic Robertson pays a visit to Afghanistan's badlands.

HOLMES: Also, toddlers and cholesterol -- some doctors are calling for kids to be screened before their second birthday.


HOLMES: New developments this morning in a police shooting. The man suspected of killing a Miami-Dade officer and wounding three others shot dead in a final confrontation.

CNN's Susan Candiotti joins us now live from Miami.

Strange and disturbing story here, Susan.

CANDIOTTI: It sure is, T.J. Good morning to you.

A 12-hour manhunt for suspected cop killer Shawn Labeet ended just like the day started, in a hail of gunfire. Just after midnight, Labeet, after he somehow got about 30 miles north from where the morning confrontation began, and he shot four police officers, killing one of them, Labeet was cornered in a condo complex in Pembroke Pines, Florida. They found him near a swimming pool, and investigators said he appeared ready for a showdown.

He was armed, he had an extra ammo clip, and he was wearing body armor. Police shot him.


DIR. ROBERT PARKER, MIAMI-DADE POLICE: Obviously, something was very wrong with that individual. We don't have any answers. I'm certain that as time passes in the future and we look at everything that is before us in terms of the connection with Mr. Labeet, his motives and motivations, we might have some insight as to why this occurred.


CANDIOTTI: And Labeet's girlfriend might also be charged. Police say she lied to him initially after the morning shootout occurred. Police say that she gave them the wrong identification of her boyfriend, and police say they lost several hours in trying to find the right man. Eventually, they did.

Now, the police officer who was killed was on the force for just a few years. He is survived by his wife and two young children -- T.J.

HOLMES: All right.

Susan Candiotti for us there in Miami.

Susan, thank you so much.

NGUYEN: All right, so the next time you get your cholesterol checked, you might have your toddler checked as well. Yes, even tots need a head start, according to a provocative new study.

Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen will explain. She joins us today from Boston.

I'm a little interested here. Maybe a little concerned. Why would a toddler want to have their cholesterol checked? I mean, would they truly have high cholesterol?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to this new study, Betty, researchers said that it does help if you start screening toddlers for high cholesterol at 15 months, they said. When mom and dad take them in to get their shots, also get their cholesterol checked. And they say that way you can catch kids who have high cholesterol early and start getting them treatment.

Now, not every doctor thinks that cholesterol needs to be checked quite this early, but there certainly is a growing body of evidence that clogging of the arteries does start in childhood -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Really? OK. So, if you're going to test for cholesterol, what about high blood pressure, too?

COHEN: Yes, definitely. Doctors say that starting at age 3, that doctors should be checking for high blood pressure because it can be a sign that there's some problem.

Now, why would toddlers have high blood pressure, why would they have high cholesterol? One of the reasons...

NGUYEN: Apparently, we are having some technical difficulties with Elizabeth Cohen's report. And once we do get some more information or possibly get her back up, we'll bring that to you.

In the meantime -- T.J.

HOLMES: Yes. Earthquake terror in Indonesia to talk about. Another strong jolt. Day three of seismic shots.

NGUYEN: And up, up and away to the moon. Japan aiming to be a player in the space race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOLMES: Another earthquake hitting Indonesia this morning, triggering another tsunami alert and further frightening the residents there. This latest quake a magnitude 6.4, marking the third day of extensive seismic activity. Thirteen people are dead, dozens injured there.

Many homes, hospitals and government buildings destroyed. Experts warn this may be the run-up to the big one, as they put it. Many people fear a repeat of the massive 2004 earthquake-induced tsunami. It killed more than 230,000 people in that region.

NGUYEN: Well, T.J., you know today is Friday, time to assess who's been making their mark this week. And that newsmaker a rather easy choice, General David Petraeus.

He is the top military commander in Iraq, but this week his mission was diplomacy. He testified before lawmakers on progress in Iraq and he set the stage for President Bush's primetime speech last night and the Iraq report that is going to Congress today.

HOLMES: They questioned the war while fulfilling their mission. Today, two soldiers being mourned.

CNN's Mary Snow reports.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The grieving family of 28-year-old Sergeant Omar Mora remembers the man they call a hero, killed Monday near Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was coming home in November.

SNOW: Twenty-six-year-old Staff Sergeant Yance Gray was also killed. The Pentagon says they were in a truck that rolled over.

The two soldiers had shared a bond. Both were critical of the war and signed their names to an editorial published in August in "The New York Times". A total of seven soldiers authored "The War as We Saw It," and the editorial gained international attention.

They called the prospects of U.S. success in Iraq "farfetched," writing: "We are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasing manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day."

The soldiers words reached the U.S. Senate. Senator Chuck Hagel used their accounts to challenge General Petraeus' assessment this week of U.S. military progress in Iraq.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Are we going to dismiss those seven NCOs? Are they ignorant? They laid out a pretty -- a pretty different scenario, General, Ambassador, from what you're laying out today.

SNOW: The general pointed out that the seven sergeants were in an area with continued sectarian violence, but says progress has been made in other places in Iraq because of fundamental change. Before signing off on their editorial, the soldiers reiterated their loyalty to the Army, stating: "As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through."

Christa Mora, the wife of Sergeant Mora, says she doesn't want people to think her husband was unpatriotic, saying he just wanted people to know about his experiences. The couple has a 5-year-old daughter.

Staff Sergeant Gray also leaves behind a young daughter. His wife Jessica says her husband had strong opinions and convictions and was not afraid to speak up for the good of his men and their mission.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


NGUYEN: Well, it's being called the most ambitious mission to the moon since the Apollo program. Japan today is launching its lunar probe. And the probe expected to take about three weeks to reach the moon. But once there, the satellite will send out two more smaller satellites, and data collected from that mission will be used to study the origin and development of the moon.

HOLMES: Wasn't there a time they put a monkey or something on a spaceship?

NGUYEN: In space?

HOLMES: Didn't they? Didn't do that? Am I the only one that remembers this? No.

Is that not right? No, nobody remembers. OK. I thought they did.

NGUYEN: There was a movie. I don't know.

HOLMES: OK. This next story is about a monkey. All right?

Take a look. Oh, is that not the sweetest thing that just grossed you out before?

NGUYEN: Is this a love affair?

HOLMES: This tiny 12-week-old monkey taking a shine to his feathered friend, as you see. It's a pigeon there, reportedly returning the love.

NGUYEN: Really?

HOLMES: Reciprocating the love.

NGUYEN: How does that exactly...

HOLMES: I don't know. NGUYEN: Anyway, yes, let's not even think about that. Bad visual.

HOLMES: We've seen...


HOLMES: This is an animal sanctuary in China. The monkey was found abandoned by its mom, taken there, and that is where this odd couple hooked up. Workers say the two are inseparable.

NGUYEN: Just imagine what the offspring would look like there.

HOLMES: We could probably morph some pictures together.

NGUYEN: We'll work on that for you and get it to you in the next hour.

In the meantime, on to a serious subject, the war in Iraq, the debate in Washington. The White House issues a progress report. We're going to give you some perspective from a former presidential adviser.


NGUYEN: Well, good morning and welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM on this Friday.

I'm Betty Nguyen.

HOLMES: And I'm T.J. Holmes. So glad you all could be here with us.


HOLMES: All right. We take a look now at the opening bell on Wall Street. There it is. Happening right about now.

The bell getting started today, actually, after a day yesterday that saw some triple-digit gains in the Dow, some much smaller gains in the S&P, also the Nasdaq. Actually, people bracing themselves. It could be a tough day.

NGUYEN: Let's take you now to the war in Iraq and the battle over numbers. President Bush announces troop withdrawals.

But as numbers are crunched, are you getting the whole story here?

A Fact Check from CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president announced 5,700 U.S. troops would come home by the end of the year. But as for the total by July, he talked brigades, not troops.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will be able to reduce our troop levels from Iraq to 20 combat brigades to 15.

MCINTYRE: The CNN Iraq Fact Desk has broken that down into hard numbers. Five Army brigades, roughly 3,500 soldiers each, is 17,500 troops. A Marine expeditionary unit is just over 2,000 and the two Marine battalions are about 1,000 each, for another 2000. That adds up to 21,500.

The president made a point of saying the mission is changing from going after insurgents to getting the Iraqis to go after insurgents.

BUSH: Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations to partnering with Iraqi forces.

MCINTYRE: But the independent Jones Commission report says that will take up to a year-and-a-half.

And to his opponents in Congress, it all sounds like a warmed over version of the old "we stand down as they stand up" slogan.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I mean what -- please, it's an insult to the intelligence of the American people.

MCINTYRE: The president insists the surge met its goals.

BUSH: Anbar Province is a good example of how our strategy is working.

MCINTYRE: But Stephen Biddle, an expert who advised General David Petraeus, says the awakening in Anbar was unanticipated and outside the design for the surge.

STEPHEN BIDDLE, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think it's a temporary alliance of convenience that may be sustainable for a long time if somebody remains to police it.

MCINTYRE: The president says the troop withdrawal is a return on success.

BUSH: The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home.

MCINTYRE: Critics charge the surge is ending not because Iraq is getting better, but because the U.S. Army is out of troops.


NGUYEN: And Jamie McIntyre joins us now live this morning -- Jamie, I want to know if you've heard any more information about exactly where these withdrawals will be coming from?

MCINTYRE: Well, my colleague, Barbara Starr, reporting from the Pentagon this morning, was saying that just today, they're trying to get some of the planning meetings underway to go over the details of exactly how those troops will be coming out. You'll notice that General Petraeus identified one Army brigade coming out of Iraq before the end of the year. He said it was not one of the surge battalions -- surge brigades, rather -- but another troop somewhere else.

And one of the things they're looking at is the policy of first in, first out. Generally speaking, they want the troops who have been there the longest to be the first ones to come out when they start bringing the surge down. But sometimes that doesn't always make military sense. Sometimes some of the units that are there are need.

So one of the things they're doing is they're reviewing the plans for the deployment of additional troops to rotate into Iraq. They're looking at the support troops that they haven't identified yet that might also be able to come out. And they're adjusting the schedule for the deployments.

Some of the troops, you know, have been told that they would have 15 months on the ground in Iraq, extended from 12 months. Now, with this new plan, they may be able to keep them to their original 12- month deployment. That's probably what's going to be happening with that brigade that's coming out in December.

So the meetings are underway and intensifying this week, both at the Pentagon, U.S. Central Command and, of course, with commanders in Iraq -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Yes, maybe we'll hear more from the president today in the noon Eastern hour, as well, on this.

Senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, joining us live this morning.

Thank you.

HOLMES: Well, it's an incredible view. But it's not for tourists. It's home for U.S. troops and a target for Taliban and Al Qaeda.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The trenches have run between the buildings so that when they do come under attack from insurgents on the high ground, they can move around the base safely to get between their different firing positions.


HOLMES: Soldiers call it the fish bowl.

Our Nic Robertson pays a visit to Afghanistan's badlands.


HOLMES: President Bush vowing to bring U.S. troops home from the Iraq War. Last night, he told the nation he would follow recommendations from his top commander in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He has recommended that we not replace about 2,200 Marines scheduled to leave Anbar Province later this month. In addition, he says it will soon be possible to bring home an Army combat brigade, for a total force reduction of 5,700 troops before Christmas.


HOLMES: Well, today, the White House issues a progress report on the Iraq War. Skeptical Democrats are ready to pounce.


SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: A nation eager for change in Iraq heard the president speak about his plans for the future. But once again, the president failed to provide either a plan to successfully end the war or a convincing rational to continue it.


HOLMES: And David Gergen, of course, served as an adviser to four U.S. presidents.

He joins us now from Cambridge, Massachusetts this morning.

Sir, good to see you, as always.

The president had a number of audiences last night -- the Iraqi leaders, the U.S. lawmakers and also the American public.

Did he do what needed to be done last night when it comes to all three of those audiences?

DAVID GERGEN, HARVARD UNIVERSITY, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think that the president, this week, along with General Petraeus, has done one thing that's been very important to him and he has bought more time. It's very, very unlikely now that the Congress will tie his hands and force a quicker withdrawal over the next six months. You know, only two or three months ago, it appeared -- many of us thought that there would be a coalition in Congress that would reverse American policy and force a faster withdrawal than what the president plans.

I think he comes out of this week with a very, very high probability that Congress will not handcuff him.

HOLMES: And you said he's bought himself that time.

But are Americans now getting to the point where, OK, we get it, we can't leave, we can't pullout immediately because that would be horrible but, at the same time, Mr. President, we're just going to blame you for having us there in the first place and we're just going to be mad at you because we can?

GERGEN: I think that's also true. I mean by committing himself in this way, it's now almost overwhelmingly likely that there will be at least a hundred thousand troops in Iraq at the time of the next election, in November '08. And what that means is there's -- it's -- there's a very high possibility that American voters will punish the Republicans and the Republican Party for what they consider the incompetence and, frankly, the deceit of the Bush administration on this and for getting us into this mess.

So, yes, I think this is a two-edged sword for Republicans, that, on one hand, they have got this short-term victory. But I think it could be considered a long-term expense.

Can I just add one other point to this?

HOLMES: Oh, yes. Go ahead.

GERGEN: If I might. The headlines are all about who is coming out. I think that perhaps the more important headline is what the president was suggesting last night about the long-term. He start talking about an enduring relationship with Iraq. And we know that yesterday he met with journalists and he talked about having some sort of long-term or permanent military pact with the government of Iraq that would be like what we have with Korea.

Well, you know, we've been in Korea now for more than half a century. And it is a -- it would be stunning if this president tries unilaterally, by himself, as commander-in-chief to commit this country to remain in Iraq and to be bound to the Iraqi government, whatever that is, for another half century.

So I think that's going to be a subject of some considerable debate, as it should be.

HOLMES: And, yes, were you surprised to hear -- you talk about that long-term -- he talked about this being the next president's problem to deal with.

Were you surprised to hear him to go that route last night?

GERGEN: I was a little surprised. It's been apparent that he would like to -- that this administration intends to have the next president have to inherit this. And I think most of us think the next president is going to inherit a mess. But the -- I was surprised that he was speaking last night as if he personally could bind the United States to a long-term commitment to an Iraqi government that, after all, we're not even sure we're going to have an Iraq in the long-term, much less a government. And, you know, I just -- I just don't think that's what the American public is prepared to accept, nor the American Congress, until things clear up a little bit.

Let's see if they're going to have a stable government and there is anything they can defend. We're not sure they're going to get there. So I was surprised to hear about the long-term. And it does suggest this president is looking way beyond the horizon. And in that respect, I think he went beyond what General Petraeus was recommending. I think this is a political decision on his part, that was a real message -- you said (INAUDIBLE) message sending. This appeared to be a message to Iran -- you know, don't mess with us. We're going to stay here for the long haul. And, by the way, we're going to be on your border.

HOLMES: All right, the last thing here.

We've only got about 30 seconds.


HOLMES: But what could the president point to, what could you point to, what could anybody point to to say, you know what president -- Mr. President, you have earned the benefit of the doubt?

Even if people don't believe him and don't agree with his strategy, to just give him another chance and to just keep going along with the president.

Has he done anything, do you think, that he can point to to say you know what, just give me the benefit of the doubt and then stay with me?

GERGEN: Well, I do think you have to say the American troops and the surge have brought that kind of temporary improvement in security that was intended. You know, we put more troops in there and it's working better. It's working better on the streets of Baghdad. It's certainly working better in Anbar for a whole lot of reasons.

But as General Abizaid said, this may be very temporary.

And where is the strategy?

We see the progress. We're not sure what the strategy is.

HOLMES: And the point of it, as well, was for the Iraqis to have time to get their things together...

GERGEN: Right.

HOLMES: the government and that hasn't happened.

GERGEN: But that's...

HOLMES: They just had time to take a vacation in August (INAUDIBLE).

GERGEN: Yes, well, that's -- that's what those benchmarks are going to be about later. That's going to be an important story.

HOLMES: All right, David Gergen for us.

Always good to see you.

Thank you so much, David.

GERGEN: Thanks, T.J. .

Take care.

NGUYEN: Northeast Afghanistan one of the deadliest corners of the country.

And CNN's Nic Robertson reports from an American base in the thick of the fight.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So remote, everything comes by air. Flavored drinks, a rare luxury. Soda is unheard of. Everything is prioritized, limiting the number of troops sustainable here.

CAPT. JOEY HUTTO, U.S. ARMY: We call food class one, fuel class three.

ROBERTSON: (on camera): The most important?

HUTTO: Yes, sir. We have ammo class five, class four reconstruction stuff. To get those items up to us takes a lot of air assets.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Mountains dominate Forward Operating Base FOB Keating in Kamdesh, Northeastern Afghanistan and dictate not just a frugal, but a dangerous life for the soldiers here.

HUTTO: We have received small arms range inside of this compound, as well as indirect fires, the rockets.

ROBERTSON: (on camera): Mortars?

HUTTO: Yes, sir. We've had soldiers injured and killed on this spot.

ROBERTSON: Inside -- inside the secure wall?

HUTTO: Actually inside what we call our perimeter, the heskos (ph) themselves.

ROBERTSON: And the insurgents are firing, quite literally, from these rocks that are right over us here?

HUTTO: Yes, sir. This is what we call our north base. And, as you can see, it's very severe terrain.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Attacks from every direction began ratcheting up mid-August, almost daily at times.

HUTTO: We jokingly refer to this as the fish bowl because, once again, 360 degrees, we are visible.

ROBERTSON: (on camera): As the soldiers improve the base's defenses, they're building trenches like those used in the First and Second World War. The trenches run between the buildings so when they do come under attack from insurgents on the high ground, they can move around the base safely to get between their different firing positions. (voice-over): I visited another base farther south, in Nareh, where there are more troops and more reconstruction of schools, health clinics, electricity supplies, and attacks are far less frequent.

LT. COL. CHRIS KOLENDA, U.S. ARMY: The Nareh district is a -- is a very, very good news story. The Kamdesh district is much more contested and it's going to take more time.

ROBERTSON: (on camera): How much?

KOLENDA: I don't know. It's really up to the people.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Elders here have been swayed by U.S. reconstruction money, ending hostility.

"When Americans came here, they brought peace and security," Gul Zair, a district sub-governor explains. "They help us and before we didn't know that. When we see they are helping us, we have a lot of interest n them."

Back at FOB Keating, they say they are beginning to win over some local elders. But to speed up the process, they need to stop their convoys being ambushed.

HUTTO: In this terrain, if you can secure the high ground, you will own that terrain.

ROBERTSON: (on camera): And you won't get ambushed?

HUTTO: I'm not -- unless -- it's less likely. If you're higher, you can obviously observe.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): And to do that, they need more troops, which means more supplies, which means more helicopters. But it would make them safer.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Forward Operating Base Keating, Afghanistan.


HOLMES: It's your money. It's their projects.

Are your tax dollars being wasted instead of going to fix real problems?

We are pulling the lid off the pork barrel.


HOLMES: Let's talk about the music. (INAUDIBLE) a little scratch there. I didn't even know we had that here at CNN, but we need to tell you folks about the pod cast. You already know, you can catch up weekday mornings. You can actually catch those two right there -- Tony and Heidi. They're taking a little time now. Actually, Heidi was working today.

NGUYEN: She was working earlier today, yes.

HOLMES: Tony, we don't know about him.

You can catch them weekday mornings 9:00 until 12:00. But you can also catch them and take them anywhere on your iPod. The CNN NEWSROOM pod cast available 24-7. However, today's pod cast will feature Betty and I, but...

NGUYEN: Brace yourself.

HOLMES: Brace yourself for that.


HOLMES: You can get it right there on your iPod.

NGUYEN: Well, in the meantime, after the Minneapolis bridge collapse, a call to make sure all bridges are safe. But instead of focusing on just that, is Congress earmarking your money for pet projects?

CNN's Jim Acosta reports.



JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Government watchdogs say members of Congress are bellying up to the taxpayer trough at near-record levels. Consider the just passed Senate transportation and housing bill that critics insist is stuffed with $2 billion in pork. The so-called earmarks include $450,000 for the International Peace Garden in North Dakota, and another half million for a new baseball stadium in Billings, Montana. The bill comes less than two months after the Minnesota bridge collapse.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: We've got the largest number of deficit and out of compliance bridges in our history and yet we're going to make a choice to spend money on this rather than the higher priorities.

ACOSTA: A recent report from the Transportation Department's inspector general discovered more than $8 billion in pet projects last fiscal year. The study concludes many earmarked projects considered low priority are being funded over higher priority non-earmark projects.

STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: The more that we continue down the road of earmarking, the more at risk we're putting our infrastructure and our people.

ACOSTA: Over in the House, a new transportation bill that calls for a 5-cent hike in the gas tax for bridge repairs also includes $250,000 for a new bike path located in the Minnesota district of the Transportation Committee chairman, Jim Oberstar, a cycling enthusiast. Oberstar, who is on vacation, told CNN over the phone, it's an extremely worthy project.

But taxpayer advocates say lawmakers are getting more sophisticated in shielding their pet projects, replacing the word "earmark" with the less threatening phrase, "congressional directed spending."

ELLIS: Members of Congress are hooked on this junk. They are addicted to earmarks.


ACOSTA: That Senate transportation bill passed this week by a huge 88-7 margin. A similar bill was approved in the House earlier this summer -- both in defiance of a presidential veto.

Jim Acosta, CNN, New York.


HOLMES: Battered. Texas picks up after Humberto barrels through. A storm system on the move.

NGUYEN: And an officer killed. A massive manhunt and it ends in a shootout between the suspect and police. We're going to tell you about the final deadly confrontation.

HOLMES: Also, paying the price for cheating in the NFL.

The New England Patriots?

Say it ain't so. They get a big old yellow flag.

That's coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: But first, our news quiz for you.

How many Super Bowls have the New England Patriots won? Huh? Do you know?

We're going to tell you, right after a quick break.


HOLMES: No driving under the influence -- of electronics. That includes those cell phones. A new law targeting California teens.

NGUYEN: All right, so before the break we asked you how many Super Bowls the New England Patriots have won. I must say, I was correct. T.J. was not.



HOLMES: This is madness.

NEVILLE: ...if you guessed three, which I did and T.J. did not...

HOLMES: Guess.

NGUYEN: Let me just tell you...

HOLMES: You have got to be...

NGUYEN: ...they won in 2001...

HOLMES: Betty...

NGUYEN: ...2003 and 2004 championships.

HOLMES: We're the most trusted name. You can't lie to the viewers like that.

NGUYEN: I was right.

HOLMES: You can't -- you weren't oh.

NGUYEN: Keep reading, T.J. .


We're going to move on to much more serious things here -- kind of.

He once reported the new from the Middle East. Now, this retired journalist is raising a glass to his Life After Work.

Here now one of our favorites, CNN's Ali Velshi.


ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Steve Hindy, happy hour begins the moment he arrives at work. He is the cofounder and president of Brooklyn Brewery, a micro brewery in New York City. But his story starts a continent away.

STEVE HINDY, FOUNDER, BROOKLYN BREWERY: I used to be a journalist in my past life. For 15 years, I worked for newspapers and eventually Associated Press. And I covered the Iranian revolution, the hostage crisis. I moved to Cairo and I was sitting behind President Sadat when he was assassinated in 1981. So it was a very exciting five-and-a-half years.

VELSHI: While Hindy was overseas, he learned to brew homemade beer from other ex-pats. And after moving back to New York, he and a partner launched their own brewery in 1987.

HINDY: I sometimes tell people that working in the Middle East for six years was good training for starting a brewery in Brooklyn.

I've been robbed at gunpoint here. We had a run-in with some sort of mafia connected people at one point when we were building the brewery. VELSHI: They survived those experiences and business started pouring in.

HINDY: The first month, we sold 1,768 cases of beer and we were very proud of it. This past year, we sold about 800,000 cases of beer. Twenty-five years ago, I was sitting in the office in Beirut trying to figure out how to cover a story and stay alive. It's been a great experience, a great adventure and at least as exciting, in a little different way, than covering wars in the Middle East.

Ali Velshi, CNN.


NGUYEN: All right, so no cell phones, no text messaging, no laptops or PDAs. No electronics, period behind the wheel. That is the new law for teenage drivers in California.

Patty Lee of CNN affiliate KTVU reports.


PATTI LEE, KTVU CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Levita Fernandez (ph) got her permanent license two months ago and driving is not yet second nature.

LEVITA FERNANDEZ: It's pretty scary.

But it's fun, you know?

I'm getting used to it still.

LEE: She admits some teens are susceptible to distractions like the radio, but also PDAs, pagers and cell phones.

FERNANDEZ: Some of them do take their phone calls, but try to keep it under like a minute. Normally it's like, OK, hi, I'll call you back or something when I get home.

LEE: But most people aren't so disciplined. According to the CHP, cell phone use is the leading cause of distracted driver accidents and a Ford Motor study revealed teen drivers are four times more distracted than adults by cell phone use.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess it's better for people won't crash, but sometimes you have to talk on the phone.

LEE: Today, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that bans anyone under the age of 18 from using electronic devices while driving.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: We just came out with a report that the majority of traffic accidents from teenagers is because they're distracted because of cell phones, laptops or doing their makeup or whatever it may be, eating in a car and so on. So we -- we tried to really lower that number. LEE: The law takes effect July 1st of next year. Also going into effect, a law that requires all drivers over 18 to use hands-free devices.

LES BISHOP, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL: When we see somebody with a phone up to their ear, they can be stopped for that. And that's anybody of any age.

LEE: Parents of teenagers say they believe the new law will be helpful.