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President Defends Attorney General; Writer Walkout; Inspectors' Travel Paid for By Toy Industry

Aired November 2, 2007 - 07:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Stocks slide. World markets sink overnight. Can the Dow recover today?
Tough talk.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America would have no attorney general during this time of war.


ROBERTS: President Bush stands by his man, and draws a line in the sand.

Plus your flyer frustrations. You told us your air nightmares. We went to the pros and have the insider tips you need to know on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Who hasn't had a flying nightmare that they want to tell us about?

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we'll be interested to see. It's our "Quick Vote." If your last to travel experience was smooth sailing, we'd like to know.

ROBERTS: Few things in this world that bug people more than that. We want to hear from you.

Hey, welcome back. It's Friday, November 2nd. I'm John Roberts on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: I'm Kiran Chetry. Glad you're with us. We know, we start the hour with "Your Money" and, of course, concerns this morning.

The credit crisis may deepen. The world markets sharply lower today and that comes after the Dow's performance yesterday dropping 362 points at the close. What can we expect today on Wall Street?

Our Ali Velshi is actually on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for us. Are things shaping up to possibly be more positive today, Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Possibly more positive. Futures are still indicating a lower morning, Kiran. We have seen markets in Asia lower. We've seen markets in Europe a little bit lower.

Let's take a look at what happened yesterday. As you said, 362 points on the Dow. That was a drop of about 2.66 percent. We saw a similar drop on the Nasdaq, a similar drop on the S&P 500. So that was a rough day. I'll talk to you later about the fact that you're still up for the year.

But what caused this? Well, number one, oil. It came down overnight. But yesterday, we still saw record prices on that march toward $100 a barrel. We saw foreclosures increase in October, 30 percent over the year -- over the month before, 100 percent over the year before.

We saw manufacturing activity slower than expected, even though the U.S. dollar is low, and that should mean that our manufactured goods are cheaper to consumers across the world. We also saw consumer spending slower than what's expected. Despite the fact that we've already seen one rate cut, that means consumers pay less interest.

And finally, the biggie was a downgrade of Citigroup stock, a suggestion that maybe the subprime prices that became a credit crisis is bigger than we initially thought. And we've already heard that one before. So the bottom line is, investors were a little spooked.

A day after a fed rate decrease, they still feel that this economy is uncertain, and they're still uncertain about how the American consumer is going to react in this very busy holiday shopping season, Kiran.

So right now, we're looking at an open that may not be positive. We've got the unemployment report coming out at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. I'll be here with that, and that will set the tone for the markets today -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. We'll see what happens. We'll see whether or not we end the week on a high note or not.

Thanks, Ali.


ROBERTS: The threat of a television writer strike is more real than ever this morning. This is what it looked like 20 years ago. That was the last time that the writers walked the picket lines. Before there were DVDs, downloads and invention, there was born from the strike called Reality TV.

But last night, a negotiating team recommended its screen writers hit the picket lines. Writers and the performers who depend on them spoke out last night.


DAVE SCHIFF, TV WRITER, "KING OF THE HILL": It's not just for us who are currently working. But, you know, writers, writers down the line that we make sure that, you know, we get a piece of the pie. DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: It could mean that all of your favorite television shows will go away, and they may not come back. And so, what I'm trying to say is, this could be your last look at me and Paul.


ROBERTS: He says it like it's not a bad thing. Our Lola Ogunnaike is live at the newsroom for us now, with more on this.

Lola, when do you think the strike is going to happen or if it's going to happen?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, David Letterman is joking about this, but this is serious business, John. This strike could happen as early as this weekend. There going to have a discussion about it this afternoon. They're calling a meeting later today to determine when they're going to strike.

It could be as early as Sunday. It could be as early as Monday. But it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that this is going to happen.

ROBERTS: So if they do strike, what will be the net effect on the television industry and on people's viewing habits be?

OGUNNAIKE: Well, essentially they have two roadblocks here. They're fighting for a new media. They want a piece of that. You know, back in 1988, all of these things like iTunes, YouTube, digital downloads didn't exist. They want a piece of that. They also want a higher percentage of the DVD residuals.

Right now, they're getting about four cents on every DVD. They want eight cents. What does this mean for the viewer?

Well, it means, you know, the topical current events-driven shows like Jon Stewart, Letterman, Leno -- those shows will be immediately affected. Then the soap operas will follow. After that, it will be your prime time scripted shows like your "Grey's Anatomy", your "Desperate Housewives," your "Ugly Betty." Those will have trouble in about six weeks to eight weeks, and then movies should be hit earlier in the year.


OGUNNAIKE: Earlier next year.

ROBERTS: So it may take awhile for the entire effects to be felt. All right.

OGUNNAIKE: Yes. It will be a trickle effect, but there will definitely be an effect.

ROBERTS: OK. Lola Ogunnaike for us this morning on the potential for a writers' strike. Lola, thanks -- Kiran.


CHETRY: Well, a startling claim about 9/11 making headlines this is morning. Saudi Arabia's national security adviser says 9/11 could have been prevented if the U.S. had listened to Saudi Arabia.

Prince Bandar Bin Sultan in an Arabic TV documentary saying that Saudi intelligence was actively following most of the 9/11 plotters.


TRANSLATOR FOR PRINCE BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI NAT'L SECURITY ADVISER: U.S. security authorities had engaged their Saudi counterparts in a serious and credible manner. In my opinion, we would have avoided what happened.


CHETRY: A U.S. official is telling CNN to take the comments with a "grain of salt." Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and Saudi Arabia has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to stop them.

Well, a date for Don Imus. He'll be back on the air December 3rd. Citadel Broadcasting hired Imus for "Morning Drive" on WABC in New York for a multimillion-dollar yearly salary. He'll be syndicated across the country again.

This comes seven months after he was fired by CBS and MSNBC for his racist and sexist comments about the Rutger's women's basketball team. Imus also sued CBS and reportedly settled for as much as $20 million.

Jerry Seinfeld defending his former co-star Michael Richards. You remember Richards was caught on camera last year in a racist rant while on stage at a comedy club.

Well, last night on LARRY KING LIVE, Seinfeld tried to explain what may have sparked it.


JERRY SEINFELD, ACTOR, SEINFELD ON RICHARDS, RESPONDS TO RACIST RANT: That was, I think, a thing that, where you have a flaw sometimes in your personality or in your kind of emotional base. That sometimes it just cracks and something happens that's -- you almost don't want to do. I think people know what it's like to lose their temper.

LARRY KING, HOST: During all your years with him, was he ever racist?

SEINFELD: Oh, no, no, no.

KING: So you were shocked?

SEINFELD: Yes, completely. KING: Did you talk to him?

SEINFELD: Yes. Sure, we talked all the time. I talked to him a couple of days ago.

KING: How's he doing?

SEINFELD: He's doing good. He's still good. You know, he still feels bad.


CHETRY: Seinfeld also says that Richards is thinking about returning to show business -- John.

ROBERTS: In other headline news this morning. The Senate passes a revised child health care bill, and President Bush says he's ready to veto that one, too.

The revised Senate measure would still cover an additional four million lower income children. The Democrats say the new version addresses Republican complaints by tightening restrictions on illegal immigrants receiving benefits. It also caps the income level of families that qualify for the program at a lower level than the previous bill did.

One GOP congressman compared the changes to "putting lipstick on a pig," though.

A war of ideas is turning into a war of words over President Bush's nomination for attorney general. More Democrats are turning against the confirmation of Judge Michael Mukasey saying, he needs to come clean about his views on torture, specifically waterboarding, this technique of simulated drowning. Now, President Bush is raising the stakes.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry joins us now with the latest on that. He's reached into the playbook, Ed, and he's pulled out the old 9/11 play again.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning, John. The president is cranking this up for a very simple reason. As you know, this nomination was supposed to be a slam dunk. All of a sudden, it's some danger to the president.

Going back to that playbook you mentioned, warning very starkly yesterday in his speech, that terrorists could strike here again and warning Democrats that they could pay a political price if they continue to drag their feet on this nomination for attorney general, a key anti-terror post.

Democrats insist they're standing on principle, and they're taking their time for an important reason. They say it's absurd that Judge Mukasey will not state unequivocally that he believes waterboarding, this tactic used on terror detainees is illegal. The president, though, insisting this line of questioning is unfair. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's wrong for congressional leaders to make Judge Mukasey's confirmation dependent on his willingness to go on the record about details of a classified program he has not been briefed on.


HENRY: Now the key for Mukasey, though, is he's maintained the support of pivotal Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

In fact, later this morning, the president's going to be heading to South Carolina to raise some political money for Lindsey Graham, a political thank you of sorts perhaps. But the bottom line is White House officials are still optimistic that in the end, Mukasey will be confirmed.

But it's going to go down to the wire instead of being a slam dunk. This vote in the Senate will be much closer than this White House ever expected -- John.

ROBERTS: Ed, this issue of Mukasey not coming out and saying that he thinks that waterboarding could be illegal, does that go back to some of the cases that are in the hopper right now, particularly Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? That if he were to say waterboarding was illegal, that a lot of the evidence they had against KSM, which was apparently obtained through water boarding could be thrown out in the court case.

HENRY: There's a fear of that perhaps. There's also the fear potentially within the Bush administration that there may have been some CIA officials who used this technique previously.

And if you have an incoming attorney general stating that he believes it's illegal, those people then could face some legal jeopardy, those government officials. So a lot at stake, obviously, John.

ROBERTS: Yes, so don't expect anybody to say it's illegal.

Ed Henry at the White House for us this morning. Ed, thanks -- Kiran.

HENRY: Thank you.

CHETRY: Well, we're tracking extreme weather this morning as well. Hurricane Noel barreling into the Atlantic Ocean gaining hurricane strength.

Rob Marciano is tracking Noel at our weather update desk. So it looks like people in New England are going to feel the effects of this hurricane.

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, just about everybody that lives on the East coast, Kiran. Florida's been getting hit the past couple of days with wind and waves and now it's moving up the East coast. And it's not going to be a direct hit on the U.S., but it's going to be close enough. Here it is on the satellite imagery.

It's a category one hurricane. You notice that the darker purples, the brighter purples are beginning to fade. That indicates that this storm is likely beginning to transfer its energy or transfer its characteristics to one that's less like a hurricane and more like a regular old storm, but it's going to be a strong storm nonetheless.

Still the flow across Florida is out of the north, so beach erosion, heavy surfs still continues to be an issue for the next couple of days. And winds are north-northeasterly as the flow you'd expect across the Carolinas in through Georgia and northern Florida. So they're feeling the effects.

As a matter of fact, high wind warnings out for North Carolina later on today, for winds potentially gusting to 55 miles an hour.

Look at this track now. It does remain fairly close to the U.S., gets well, within a couple hundred miles of Cape Cod there, with winds of 85 miles an hour on Saturday afternoon. So high wind watch in effect for those folks.

John, they could see winds gusting to hurricane strength along Cape Cod and then this thing is going to make a direct hit into Nova Scotia as we get towards the weekend, pretty much as a category one hurricane.

Back to you, guys.

ROBERTS: All right. Rob, thanks very much. We'll check in with you soon.

A recall this morning to tell you about, just in time for Friday night pizza. Nearly five million frozen pepperoni pizzas may be contaminated with a potentially deadly E. Coli bacteria.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is at the medical update desk in Atlanta with what we need to know and what do we need to know -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: John, what you need to know is that these pizzas are really getting people quite sick. Nine people have gone into kidney failure and 12 others are ill.

Now, what do you need to look for? Because these pizzas could be in your freezer. You want to look for the Totino's brand and the Geno's (ph) brands. And what you -- it's hard to tell you exactly.

There's a long list of the types and the kinds and the exact varieties. So what you want to do is you want to go to Again, that's for the complete list of what you want to throw out when you see it in your freezer.

Now, John, it's interesting. Cooking does kill E. Coli O157:H7. See, you might wonder -- well, gosh, are people cooking their pizzas? They are. But experts tell us that when you cook these pizzas in the microwave, which, of course, many of us do cook our pizzas in the microwave, you can leave cold spots, and that's how the bacteria can thrive -- John.

ROBERTS: You know, here's the point because a lot of people think that just the process of microwaving disrupts the bacteria because of the microwave. That doesn't happen?

COHEN: No, it doesn't because you get some cold spots. None of you have ever, John, warmed up some food or warmed up some liquid, you can have these little places that are really cold. Other places can be really hot. Microwaving is not completely even all the time, and that's the problem that we're having here.

ROBERTS: All right. So what do people need to know? First, it was ground beef. Then, it was in spinach. Now, frozen foods. Is there any way people can protect themselves?

COHEN: Yes. What you can do is, when it's a product that is supposed to be cooked like this, cook it in the oven and cook it thoroughly. Make sure it is thoroughly warmed up, all the way through.

And if we're talking about produce, that's a little trickier. You can't necessarily wash off E. Coli so to some extent, you are taking your chances. The chance is tiny that you're going to get sick from produce, but it is there. And so, John, some people with immune problems, they choose not to eat raw produce. They cook everything.

ROBERTS: Right. I mean, that kidney failure thing, that's a big deal.

Elizabeth Cohen for us this morning in Atlanta. Elizabeth, thanks.

COHEN: Thanks.


CHETRY: Southern hospitality topping your "Quick Hits" now. President Bush will speak at a basic combat training graduation ceremony at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

The White House says he'll offer a detailed update on Iraq strategy and later attend a fundraiser for Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Protest this morning over constitutional changes in Venezuela that would allow President Hugo Chavez to run for re-election repeatedly. Thousands of students rallied outside at the electoral agency's office chanting "freedom!" Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the crowds.

Well, there's some serious and new accusation this morning about the people who check for toxic toys here in the U.S. The head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission under fire for traveling on the dimes of toy companies. We're going to have more on that straight ahead.

Also, up in flames packed with kids. Terrifying moments after a children's home burns to the ground. Ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



Bombshell accusations this morning for the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Today's "Washington Post" reports that Nancy Nord and her predecessor took dozens of trips on the toy company's dime, as parents were buying millions of potentially lead- tainted toys.

Elizabeth Williamson broke this story for "The Washington Post" and she joins us now live from D.C. Thanks so much for being with us.


CHETRY: First of all, Elizabeth, tell us what it is that you found.

WILLIAMSON: Well, I submitted a foyer request, Freedom of Information Act request for documents on travel from what are called nonfederal sources. And what I got back were a few hundred pages of documents detailing travel paid for and supplied by the industry. Many of these industries were regulated by the CPSC.

CHETRY: Now, Nancy Nord and her predecessor, it was also her predecessor as well accepting nearly 30 trips you found, totaling about $60,000. This is going back to 2002. Do you have any indication if this is just the tip of the iceberg or this is it?

WILLIAMSON: It's really difficult to say. I think there was a lot of travel that was funded by the agency. But because I submitted a request for travel which was funded by outside sources, it's difficult to know the true extent of it.

But what I saw were just record after record of travels, speeches, appearances that were funded in whole or in part by industries that are regulated or under scrutiny by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

CHETRY: You know, we interviewed a couple of ethicists for the article. One of them called it a blatant violation of the ethics code. It does seem like a clear conflict of interest. How does the CPSC defend itself?

WILLIAMSON: Well, the CPSC points to quite rightly the fact that some of this travel is legal and it falls within federal guidelines. But what the guidelines do state is that there has to be -- you have to avoid the appearance of impropriety, particularly when one's dealing with industries and companies that fall under the scrutiny or the regulations of the agency. CHETRY: You also reported that some of the trips were sponsored by lobbying groups and lawyers that were representing makers of toys that have been linked to consumer hazards. Do you have any indication how many of these trips were from those groups?

WILLIAMSON: There was a lot of association travel. Everything from soap and detergent makers, their association, writing instruments. There were juvenile product makers. All of these are represented by associations here in Washington and across the country, and a good number of them funded travel as well.

CHETRY: The bottom line -- were you able to find a link or at least extrapolate from this that perhaps there is some compromising going on or there's something that has to do with potentially impacting the decision that the CPSC makes when it comes to some of these products?

WILLIAMSON: Well, the agency maintains that -- I sent them a series of records of travel that I found to be particularly of interest, and they maintained that their lawyers and their ethics department reviewed that travel and said that there was no regulatory issue pending before the agency.

But again, the regulations point to the appearance of impropriety. And so, I think that is the situation that creates that appearance for some of the ethical people that I spoke with and the lawyers I talked to.

CHETRY: Bottom line is we're talking about all these toy recalls and we're heading into the busy holiday season. And people want, you know, to make sure their toys are OK. This certainly doesn't look good as you've been able to find. Good reporting, by the way.

Elizabeth Williamson, thanks for being with us.

WILLIAMSON: Thank you, Kiran. .

ROBERTS: We had Nancy Nord yesterday. It's a shame she wasn't appearing today. Well, timing is everything.

Strange circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a missing woman in Chicago. The woman's husband is a police officer. He's drawing suspicion. We'll tell you why.

And pilots asleep at the wheel, something NASA didn't want you to hear before you took your next flight.

And more horror stories from flyers. Ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. Breaking ground on a new bridge in Minneapolis tops your "Quick Hits".

Work began on the replacement span for the I-35W bridge that collapsed in August, killing 13 people. Minnesota officials say the new bridge will be ready by next December. It will cost $397 million, and nearly half of it will be covered by federal emergency relief funds.

American Airlines is setting up a new round of fare hikes adding $20 to the price of a domestic round-trip ticket. The nation's largest airline is trying to recoup some of the costs from rising crude oil and jet fuel prices.

Delta immediately followed American's league with its own fare hikes and United is saying, haven't decided yet, whether or not it will raise rates.

ROBERTS: So you're on a flight, you're approaching the airport, the pilots are up front and they're asleep. That's one of the things that NASA did not want you to know about. It's in the agency's once secret aviation safety reporting.

It says two commercial pilots allegedly fell asleep on a red eye flight between Denver and Baltimore. Their snooze was rudely interrupted by frantic calls from air traffic controllers warning them that they were approaching the airport at twice the speed allowed.

NASA was originally reluctant to release the report over fears that it could scare passengers into not flying and hurt airline profits.

CHETRY: Well, I'm sure if you already have a fear of flying, that's a final nail on the coffin there.

Well, we've been taking a look at some of the frustrations that flyers face. Many of us have these types of stories, and the list can be as long as the line for takeoff at La Guardia.

No sleeping pilots. But some of the stories are bad. Actually, we had someone write in from Tokyo, C. Parker, who said she had a TSA agent tell her she had too much baby food for her 1-year-old. She was getting ready to go on a 14-hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo.

She said she had to make sure she could feed him, you know, from the entire flight and with delays, which was what happened to her last time.

ROBERTS: Yes, the agent apparently thought that she could feed the 1-year-old from the little tray that comes around.

CHETRY: Lots to choose from. Well, Chris Lawrence has been looking for the e-mails that you sent us. He actually got some specific answers to some of your air nightmare problems that you wrote about. He's going to be joining us in the next half hour.

ROBERTS: And make sure that you keep your stories coming for us. E-mail us. The address is Those people, of you right now in the airport, waiting for your flight, get in your laptop, your blackberry, whatever. Send us a note.

CHETRY: All right. Also, it brings us to our "Quick Vote" today. Rate your last airline trip. How about this.

Was it smooth as silk? A little bumpy or the absolute worst?

Well, let's take a look right now. And surprisingly, 41 percent of you say so far, smooth as silk. Thirty-four percent, though, say the absolute worst, and 24 percent right down the middle, with a little bumpy.

ROBERTS: You know, it's interesting. It's either one of you is smooth as silk or the absolute worst.

CHETRY: That's right because not only do you get delayed and then you're waiting on the runway, but you have the middle seat as well, right? Just to add insult to injury.

ROBERTS: It is a nation of extreme, shall we say. Keep on voting. We'll continue to update the poll throughout the morning and the next hour in the next half hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

As we said all week, we've been focusing on these flyer frustrations. Chris Lawrence is going to be taking a look at some of those horror stories.

CHETRY: That's right, and he actually -- we sent him out to not only take in some of those stories but come up with some solutions if there are any out there.

We're going to find out what he found. That story and today's headlines when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN, ANCHOR: Live look this morning, Charleston, South Carolina, WCBD, and about 63 degrees right now, as we start to see the sun coming up there. It's shaping up to be a high of 68 degrees, partly cloudy though.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: The Cooper River Bridge is beautiful, isn't.

CHETRY: It is. The pretty span.

Well, good morning. It's Friday, November 2nd.

ROBERTS: Don't be ahead of yourself. The year has been going by too quick already. Don't accelerate.

CHETRY: I'm Kiran Chetry.

ROBERTS: I'm John Roberts. Worldwide worries this morning about money after the Dow took a 360-point nosedive. There is fear that a credit crisis and surging oil prices will drag down the entire U.S. economy. The reason? People are not spending. The holidays are coming and the fed may not be there next time to bail us out. Ali Velshi live on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. What's got people so spooked here, Ali? ALI VELSHI, CNN, "MINDING YOUR BUSINESS:" Well, it's a bunch of things. You know, with the closing bell you're going to hear the opening bell in two hours but in one hour you're going to get the unemployment report. And there's confusion whether this economy is strong or weak, whether there's a recession coming or whether we're facing inflation because you need different tools to deal with those different things. For the average investor out there, the message is don't panic right now. While a 362-point drop is significant, take a look at where it is in terms of perspective, from the year until now, the Dow is actually up more than 8 percent. The NASDAQ is up 15 percent, almost 16 percent. The S&P 500 is up 6 percent.

So your portfolio, if you are diversified will reflect that. And one of the things we should talk about is what you should do if you're looking at this and you're getting panicked; you're getting worried but listen. Don't sell or trade into momentum, because if you're diversified you should be invested for a longer term and these gyrations shouldn't have a big impact on your portfolio. You shouldn't be in one sector or one type of stock. Stay diversified. Buy lots of sectors. Buy lots of different kinds of mutual funds and rebalance your portfolio every three months. That's when we have the earnings season and you get the report card about how companies are doing. See what's gone up, what's gone down and adjust your portfolio accordingly. When days like this happen, the opportunity for investors is to go into their portfolio, look at their 401(k), talk to their financial adviser, and if you don't have one, get one. Learn what's going on in your portfolio and make adjustments.

There's no particular reason why the average investor should worry that this market is on the downward trend. We're still at 13,500 on the Dow. There are a little bit, there are some reasons to be a little bit concerned about the economy in general. We'll keep you posted on that. We'll be here in an hour when the unemployment report comes out and will let you know how it's going. John.

ROBERTS: Ali, thanks very much, look forward to your reporting. Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, new this morning, some new details in the mysterious disappearance of a woman in the Chicago area and some new questions for her police officer husband. The family of 23-year-old Stacy Peterson reported her missing on Sunday. It was two days after she reportedly told her husband she wanted a divorce. Stacy's aunt says that her niece told her that she was afraid of her husband that he followed her, called her constantly and even tracked her with GPS on her cell phone.

Now Drew Peterson is a 29-year veteran of the Bolingbrook, Illinois Police Department. There's a picture of him now walking out before the cameras. He told "The Chicago Tribune" that he thinks his wife is fine and that she left him for another man. Stacy's family says she would never leave her two two-young children behind. She has a 2-year-old and 4-year-old who are now with a neighbor. Police are not calling him a suspect but they have taken his computer as well as his guns and they also took cars that were in front of the family home yesterday. The disappearance triggered renewed interest in the death of Peterson's former wife. She drowned in a bathtub three years ago. It was ruled an accident. Police say at the time of her death the couple was finalizing splitting assets after a divorce.

Well, they voted to strike and now we're waiting to hear when and how soon. We'll see the fallout on TV. TV and movie writers last week walked the picket lines. Actually, it was two decades ago they walked the picket line. Last night, the negotiating team recommended the screenwriters do it again. It's all over revenues for new media like DVDs and downloads.

ROBERTS: Bombshell accusation this morning for the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Records reportedly show that she was traveling on the toy industry's dime as parents were buying millions of potentially lead-tainted toys. Records obtained by "The Washington Post" show that the agency's acting chairman Nancy Nord, who you remember was on AMERICAN MORNING yesterday and the previous chairman took nearly 30 trips since 2002. Destinations included China and Hilton Head, South Carolina. All paid for by the toy appliance and children's furniture industries, along with other manufacturers that they regulate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for Nord's resignation and before this came out, a commission spokesman had no comment on the new report.

New comments this morning from Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, about the decision to send diplomats to Baghdad, ordered them there. He says they could be fired if they refuse the assignment. Crocker says diplomats who put their safety ahead of the country's interests are in the wrong line of business.

Progress in Iraq reported today. The number two U.S. commander in Iraq says that signs of normalcy are returning to the Iraqi people. According to Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the troop surge has insurgents on the run and the Iraqi forces are improving and increasingly taking the lead from U.S. troops in Iraq security.

CHETRY: Firefighters in Southern California trading with the marines today, part of a new move to get more military choppers in the air faster the next time wildfires try to take over. Crews from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection will head to Miramar in San Diego. There were reports that it was communication issues that kept some marine choppers grounded as flames burned more than 500,000 acres last month.

Well, this morning for the first time, we're hearing the frantic 911 calls from people in the San Diego area. Many of them were inside their homes that were already on fire.


DISPATCHER: 911 Fire and Medical. This is Leanne.

CALLER: I'm engulfed in flames and my property is on fire, and I'm in the house, and I can't get our.

DISPATCHER: You're inside the house and it's on fire?

CALLER: The fire is all around me on the property. My whole property is in flames. I'm engulfed in flames.

DISPATCHER: I want you to get in the lowest part of the house. Get down on the lowest part, get down on the floor, OK? Stay with me OK. Stay on the phone with me.

Caller: OH, I will. Very definitely. You are the first voice I heard. You cannot imagine what this is like.

DISPATCHER: No, I can't. I really can't.


CHETRY: Well, thousands of people came home days later to find their homes entirely burned to the ground.

ROBERTS: 37 minutes now after the hour. Noel now a hurricane. Will it cause trouble for anyone? Rob Marciano is tracking the storm this morning from the extreme weather center in Atlanta. How is it looking, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Well, it looks like Nova Scotia is getting hit hard but it's going to be close enough to the U.S. that everybody will get a piece of the action like Florida did, although it didn't make landfall in Florida. Days of winds just raking the coastline, big time beach erosion problems there and heavy surf that continues to be the issue. This storm now beginning to pick up steam as it heads north-northeast, now up to 18 miles an hour. Its sustained winds are 80 miles an hour.

So, that does make it a hurricane that happened last night. We got this red Ls. That just means that it becomes less like a hurricane, and just transfers into this very strong storm, note 85 mile-an-hour winds just off the Cape Cod shoreline tomorrow afternoon. So we've got high wind warnings posted today for North Carolina, with winds gusting up to 55 miles an hour at times and Saturday, eastern Long Island, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, could very well see hurricane gust winds out for that region with this storm as it kind of explodes and that will open the way for maybe some colder air across the northeast. So on the last leg of the hurricane season, we've got a hurricane and what we're going to eventually transform ourselves into some cooler air in the winter before too long. John.

ROBERTS: So Rob, the New York City marathon is coming up on Sunday. What kind of weather might they get for that?

MARCIANO: It should be far enough into Nova Scotia where it will be just a little bit breezy. So, I think it will be OK.

ROBERTS: But as you say, cool temperatures?

MARCIANO: Cooler. I think the bulk of the really cold stuff comes middle of next week. So, I think the New York marathon should be OK.

ROBERTS: They want it cool. It would be good if they got a little bit of cool air. Rob Marciano for us this morning, thanks.

MARCIANO: See you soon.

ROBERTS: We're hearing for the first time from a tow truck driver who barely escaped with his life when a steam pipe exploded in New York City. 21-year-old Gregory McCullough suffered third degree burns over 80 percent of his body. He was trapped in his tow truck, surrounded by steam as hot as 400 degrees. The explosion tossed his truck into the air and then dropped it into a huge crater in the street. McCullough told reporters what he remembered just before the blast.


GREGORY MCCULLOUGH, INJURED IN STEAM EXPLOSION: As I pulled up to the light, you know, coming to a stop, all I heard was boom. Truck went in the air, came back down. It was very hard. It came back down, this is a 15,000-pound truck we're talking about, not just a regular car or mini van. This is a 15,000-pound truck.


ROBERTS: McCullough's passenger in the truck, (Judith Bailey)(ph), suffered burns over 30 percent of her body. Both are suing the New York utility Con Edison for not properly maintaining the steam pipe before it blew.

CHETRY: Well, desperate measures for one town affected by the extreme drought. The waterfall that feeds that town of Orme, Tennessee has nearly run dry. The volunteer fire chief heads into Alabama three times a week to bring back 20,000 gallons of water. The mayor opens the town's tap for just three hours a night so everyone can shower and do laundry.

There's a deal in Atlanta's favor in the fight over a dwindling lake water of Lake Lanier. The governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida met in Washington. The Bush administration brokered the deal to send less water from Georgia's reservoirs to other states. Lake Lanier is the main source of drinking water for Metro Atlanta.

Flyer frustration. You told us about your travel nightmares. So, we took some of your problems to the pros and got the tips that could make your next trip a little bit smoother. The secrets you need to know coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. This week we've been focusing on flyer frustrations from planes stuck on the tarmac to safety measures that seem to change with each month.

ROBERTS: We asked to you e-mail us and tell us about some of your worst nightmares. AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence has been going through your e-mails. He talked to travel pros to find solutions to all of this and he joins us this morning. So, what did you find? CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: This is on track to be the worst year ever for delays, probably not what anybody wanted to hear but there are some ways you can get around trying to make that not quite so bad. One, as tough as it sounds, get up early. Those flights at 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning are the ones you want to be on. Those are the ones that are most important to the airline, because that's when they position their planes for the rest of the day.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): On a recent flight from Chicago to New York, bad weather stranded passengers in the air for hours, even after some were assured they'd arrive on time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They told me no flights were delayed, everything's fine everything's going to New York.

LAWRENCE: Agents are typically busy. So that may be their first response.

JANET LIBERT, "EXECUTIVE TRAVEL MAGAZINE:" What you really want to push a little farther and ask specific questions.

LAWRENCE: Janet Libertof "Executive Travel" magazine suggests asking where is the plane coming from? Did it leave its last destination on time?

LIBERT: But then also ask about the flight crew. Are the flight crew here? Are they ready to go?

LAWRENCE: Libert says before she left home our delayed passenger could have done a quick internet search for flights going into nearby airports.

LIBERT: So knowing that she could gone and said you know what instead of flying into JFK or La Guardia, can I fly into White Plains? Can I fly into Islip? These are surrounding airports or even if they can fly in to Philadelphia.

LAWRENCE: One of our viewers was flying from Atlanta to Oklahoma and told us, "our flight was delayed time after time with no explanation given." Airlines will often purposely delay regional jets to accommodate connecting passengers. There are fewer flights to smaller cities, less options to rebook them.

LIBERT: Many times an airline will hold the (RJ) to get the connecting passengers on to the plane.

LAWRENCE: And the headaches don't stop when you land. We had an e-mail that said "recently I got married in Italy. And the airline lost my luggage on the way there. I had my dress with me but nothing else." If you're traveling together, experts advise you to cross pack. Odds are the airlines won't lose both bags. So, husbands hand your wife a pair of slacks and a razor. She'll stuff a dress or two in your suitcase. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (on-screen): At least that way you'll both have somewhat of, you know, the bare necessities just to get you through the first few days before the airline can deliver the bag. And another good thing to thing is to try to check your flight history. Think of it almost like a credit check. Some flights are riskier than others. You got U.S. Airways 1543, Boston to Charlotte, late about 100 percent of the time late.

ROBERTS: How do you check it?

LAWRENCE: You just go online and takes about 2 seconds. You can check your flights on time arrival history.

CHETRY: Wow, that's interesting. Did anybody also complain about other passengers mocking it up. I mean, we all know that you got to take off your shoes. We all know that you get to put your little liquids in a zip lock bag and then you're in line with 10 people who didn't do that and still taking their belts and their shoes off at the last second.

LAWRENCE: Yes, you see the eyes start to roll as you look behind you and you go - oh look at this guy, he's jamming up the line again. Yes, that's especially around the holidays, because you're going to have a lot of people who don't fly normally. Business travelers are savvy, they fly every week, they know the drill but during the holidays you get a lot of people vacationing maybe for the first time in a year, they'll have a little bit more trouble going through those lines.

ROBERTS: We've been getting interesting e-mails on all of these. One of the most interesting - A fellow who is going to a trade show in Las Vegas from Baltimore. He was flying from Baltimore to Detroit to Vegas. The flight was late. He missed his connection in Detroit so he got on another one. He eventually ended up going Baltimore, Detroit, Minneapolis, Dallas, Las Vegas. Took him 12 hours, missed the trade show that he was trying to go to and get this, here's the kicker, obviously not everybody can do this. He says two months later I decided to cut the airlines out all together, get a pilot's license, invest in my small plane. Now, no TSA agents removing my shoes, delay schedules. Just great, he says.

LAWRENCE: I might have just gone to Avis but that's one way around the problem.

CHETRY: You bring up a good point too about, in your piece, about how these regional flights because less of them are flying, they may actually choose to delay those so that no one misses their connection. Should you just drive if it's a difference of two hours of trying to make your flight direct?

LAWRENCE: Yes, sometimes that is a good alternative. You know, that works both ways because if you're the guy running late on the connecting flight you want them to hold that jet so you can get to Appleton, Wisconsin. If you're the one who's on time and sitting at the gate, well, you're ready for that plane to go.

ROBERTS: I was at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, once after interviewing Mitt Romney, it's a 20-minute flight to Chicago, it took three hours to get there.

LAWRENCE: Opss, ouch.

ROBERTS: Lovely.

CHETRY: All right. Chris, good stuff. Thanks so much.


CHETRY: We also still want to hear about you and some of your flyer frustrations. Send your stories and videos, even i-Reports to On Monday, we're going talk to a former air traffic controller. He's got some pretty keen insights into why there are so many problems in the industry today and what he has to say might scare you a little.

ROBERTS: Well, from scares in the air to frightening moments on the ground. Advice for motorcyclist from a fellow rider who just happens to be the Transportation Secretary. She had a bad crash, she says she's lucky to be alive. Mary Peters there with her hog and new safety plan, next on AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: 51 minutes past the hour now and if you're just joining us here's a look at what's new this morning.

Asian markets taking on the chin after this morning's, this morning, after yesterday's huge drop from the Dow. Credit fears being blamed for the drop, which came just one day after a rally, caused by the cut in interest rates, down by the way yesterday 360-some points. Ali has been following it. He's there and he'll bring us more details coming up.

Also a strike looms for Hollywood writers, their union voting last night to hit the picket line. Writers last went on strike two decades ago, before anyone heard of iTtunes and there were no DVDs. Writers want a bigger chunk of those so-called new media revenues. If they do strike, late night shows like Leno and Letterman would be the first casualties. They don't write shows in advance, of course, they're topical shows. Other shows would have some episodes in the bank.

And a new gig for shock jock Don Imus. His nationally syndicated radio show, the new one will be going through ABC radio networks, begins December 3rd. Imus was fired by CBS in April for a racial insult against the Rutger's Women's Basketball Team.

Well, it's now Hurricane Noel. The good news is it's starting to move into the open waters of the Atlantic. Everyone on the east coast from North Carolina to New England is warned to watch out though for strong winds and also for heavy rains as it brushes along the coast. It could dump up to six inches of rain in parts of New England over the next 24 hours. With all the recent toy recalls have been putting some attention on lead poisoning. Now there's a government panel warning doctors to be more alert to the signs, saying one tip-off could be a child's IQ level. It seems children with low IQs may be suffering from lead poisoning. It can cause irreversible learning disabilities and behavior problems which is why important to catch on early. Doctors say that very high levels of lead can cause coma, seizures and even death.

ROBERTS: Passing seven minutes to the top of the hour now. Alarming news for motorcycle riders. A new Department of Transportation report says deaths in motorcycle accidents are on the rise, dramatically. In fact, fatalities more than doubled over the last decade. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters is an avid rider herself with a plan to help save lives. She joins me live from Washington, along with the motorcycle. Mary, what do the statistics show in terms of fatalities with motorcycle accidents?

MARY PETERS, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Well, John, what's concerning us is that for nine years in a row we've seen increases in motorcycle fatalities. And as you just indicated, those numbers have more than doubled in the last decade. We're also seeing that almost half of those who are fatally injured in motorcycle crashes are not wearing helmets. So, what we're announcing today is a very comprehensive new safety initiative for motorcycles.

ROBERTS: Now, motorcycle ownership in the same time exploded, but it's not just the increase in the number of riders out there that accounts for these statistics. What else is in play here?

PETERS: John, that's exactly right. Some people say that just because there are more motorcyclist of course, there will be more crashes and fatalities. But the fact is that motorcyclists represent about 2.5 percent of all of the vehicle fleet but they represent over 11 percent of all of the fatal crashes. So, we're seeing a disproportionate representation and unfortunately in people in my age group, us baby boomers who used to ride years ago and now are back riding are seeing a largest increase in fatality.

ROBERTS: Yes, I've got two motorcycles myself, and just a couple of weeks ago one of my neighbors had a bad crash in the Blue Ridge Parkway trying to avoid a deer. He's in the hospital now with two broken legs and a broken shoulder. You had an accident yourself. In fact, you're lucky to be standing there talking to us. What happened?

PETERS: Indeed, I am. This was in August of 2005, just north of Tucson, Arizona, John. My husband and I were approaching a wide junction and had miscommunicated about whether we were going to turn left or continue. And the bottomline is that I crashed into him and went off my bike. The good news is I was wearing all of my safety equipment including the helmet that's right here beside me today and I'm convinced that helmet kept me from being a head injury patient.

ROBERTS: Right. What kind helmet do you have? Do you have a one of those full coverage or on of those Harley-Davidson half helmets? PETERS: It's a three-quarter helmet.

ROBERTS: So not face protection but good protection down the sides and down the back. Some anti-helmet groups, Secretary Peters, claim that there's no difference in the number of fatalities, whether you're wearing a helmet or not wearing a helmet. What do the statistics show about that?

PETERS: Well, the statistics belie that fact, John. The fact is that if you're not wearing a helmet, you're more than half as likely to die in a motorcycle crash due to a head injury. We're seeing much greater incidence of head injuries in those riders again who are not wearing helmets, even those who are injured and are regrettably killed.

ROBERTS: And so, you got ideas to increase safety, quickly can you run through those for us?

PETERS: Absolutely. One is we're going to do a very significant setting, a crash causation study for the first time ever. We're also at putting out standards for training for new motorcycle rider training. In addition to that, we are educating the public, making sure they know how to share the road with motorcyclists, as well as motorcyclists being responsible for themselves. We're working with law enforcement to make sure law enforcement knows what to look for in terms of motorcycle riders who perhaps aren't safe or unexperienced and we've been changing standards for roadways so that we're ensuring we're designing, building and maintaining roadways in the safest way possible and finally that D.O.T. sticker on the back of the helmet that indicates it's a helmet approved by D.O.T., we're putting out new standards so those can't be counterfeited and put on helmets that aren't safe.

ROBERTS: Well, as a fellow rider myself I appreciate any efforts that you can take to make us all safer. Good luck to you. Maybe we'll get out and ride together one of these days, it would be great.

LIBERT: I'd like to do that John, and personal responsibility is really the bottom line here.

ROBERTS: Mary Peters, secretary of transportation with us this morning. Thanks for being with us. Good to see you.

CHETRY: Well, how about this one. Are you ready for some punkin' chunkin'? Maybe you never heard of it. Well, it's a huge event each year in Bridgeville, Delaware. Actually, punkin chunkin is the annual world championship contest. You'll not going to believe how advanced these guys are. Look at the equipment they're working with. Can you even see where it went on the horizon? They set records every year. What was last year, 3,000 feet?

ROBERTS: It was 3,800 feet last year but the record was in 2003, 4,400 feet. The first year they did this, it was 128 feet so they've come a long way.

CHETRY: We'll show you some of the highlights as they get ready for the weekend-long competition. We'll talk to the champion coming up in our next hour, as well as from last year. Stick around, we're going to be chuckin' some pumpkin. Still ahead.