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Presidential News Conference; Inside a Torture Chamber: Gruesome Complex Found in Iraq; Message of Hope: Fire Survivor Inspires Others

Aired December 20, 2007 - 11:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: It looks like we need to start this 11:00 hour with the weather.

COLLINS: Sidelined by sickness. Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani expected to leave a Missouri hospital today. Giuliani was admitted and spent the night after complaining of flu- like symptoms.

He started feeling sick while he was campaigning in Missouri yesterday. His symptoms got worse after his plane took off for New York, so he returned to the airport, consulted his personal doctor, and went to the hospital.

Giuliani's spokeswoman says everything checked out OK. In a statement, she said, "After precautionary tests, the doctors found nothing of concern at this time and Rudy will be going back to New York later today. He is in high spirits and is grateful to the doctors and nurses who checked him out."

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Democratic dead heat. New poll numbers out this morning on the presidential race in Iowa. Just two weeks until the caucuses, just two percentage points apart.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Hillary Clinton at 30 percent, Barack Obama is at 28 percent, and John Edwards is close behind at 26 percent. On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee leads Mitt Romney 33 percent to 25 percent. Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Fred Thompson are locked in a tight race for third place. Giuliani is at 11 percent, McCain and Thompson at 9 percent.

COLLINS: And just a few moments ago we heard from the president, a news conference that lasted for about, oh, 50 minutes or so. Our Ed Henry was there listening in.

And Ed, going back to talk about some of this, I mean, he really touched on many different areas, but really he was emphasizing this morning a lot of work not to be done yet. And when Dana Perino first was telling us that news conference was going to be happen, what did she say? That he's going to be talking about the good, the bad, and the unfinished.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, he did start out on a positive note saying, in fact, that he felt like Congress was ending the year on a high note. He praised them for the energy bill that he signed into law yesterday, the largest increase in fuel efficiency standard for cars and SUVs, et cetera, for the first time in decades. Also congratulated them for giving him about $70 billion in new war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.

But as you note, he also hit Congress pretty hard. On the issue of earmarks, for example, what a lot of people feel are wasteful spending projects. Also for not closing the so-called intelligence gap, not passing a long-term fix on intelligence reform.

Also interesting, though, that the president waded in to the 2008 campaign ever so gently. Even though he kept saying he didn't want to do it, and he said that before, you could see he couldn't resist. And in fact, at one point talked about Republican hopes in 2008.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we will keep the White House. I believe ours is the party that understands the nature of the world in which we live and that the government's primary responsibility is to protect the American citizens from harm. And I will continue to remind the American people that our professionals need to have the tools necessary to make sure that we find out who is think being attacking us, and if they are, do something about it. That's what we're going to do.


HENRY: Now, two other big issues the president was pressed on, Iraq, of course, and why there has not been more political reconciliation within the Iraqi government. He acknowledged that there are a lot of gains that still need to be made, but he did push back and said he feels there have been some gains, there's a functioning government in Iraq. And he was still optimistic as he ends the year about the future in Iraq.

And finally, Afghanistan. As you heard from Barbara Starr just in the last few minutes, the president acknowledged the administration is undergoing a thorough review of why the situation on the ground in Afghanistan seems to be going backward, even as there are some gains on the security front in Iraq. Obviously, the road ahead in 2008 in Afghanistan is going to be very difficult -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. A lot of topics he addressed today I think we're going to be talking about for the near future, certainly into next year, that is for certain.

CNN's Ed Henry outside the White House this morning.

Thank you, Ed.

HENRY: Thank you.

HARRIS: A bloodstained torture chamber, mass graves uncovered in Iraq.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck takes us inside the gruesome complex.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The al Qaeda complex was found in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, thought to be a safe haven for the Iraqi insurgency. As U.S. troops swept the area, they came upon what appeared to be an underground detention facility. It turned out to be that and more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The building we're in right now, it's a torture facility. It's got a lot of chains up on the ceiling. It's also got the chains where they were shackled to people up there. In addition, we had several different torture implements.

WHITBECK: According to the U.S. military, 24 insurgents were killed and another 37 were detained in the operation. A large weapons cache was also found.

As U.S. soldiers searched the area, the horror of what had transpired there began coming to light. The remains of 26 people were found buried in shallow graves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now we're not having any luck with identification because the remains are anywhere between six to eight months decomposed, but the local nationals are helping out, as you can see behind me. The grim reality of it all has kind of hit them.

WHITBECK: The U.S. military says as it has increased operations in Baghdad and Iraq's western provinces, it is forcing al Qaeda and other insurgent groups to find safe havens elsewhere.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It says that the surge is working. These people are now on the move. Before they had sanctuaries all over Iraq, particularly in the Sunni provinces out west. The tribal leaders banded together to push them out of those areas, and they're now on the move.


HARRIS: Our Harris Whitbeck joins us live from Baghdad.

Harris, I'm just curious this, so this particular operation is out of business. Any real chance -- it seems to me difficult to believe that there aren't other operations like this in the country. What is the military saying about that?

WHITBECK: Well, first of all, Tony, this isn't the first time that torture centers like this one have been found, and it is most probable that there are more of them in other parts of Iraq. The U.S. military says that while the insurgent groups like al Qaeda are on the run, they have not lost their capacity to not only run more detention centers or torture centers like this one to keep the local populations in check, but also to stage what they call spectacular attacks to bring more public attention to their cause.

HARRIS: Harris Whitbeck for us in Baghdad. Harris, appreciate it. Thank you.

COLLINS: They went into the mountains searching for a Christmas tree, but once they got lost, they needed a Christmas miracle. A father and three children swept up in a snowstorm and struggling to survive.

They fought off frostbite by tucking their cold feet under each other's jackets. They spent three days trudging through the snow and feeling their hope slip away. Then the call that they were found safe.

The family was spotted by a helicopter. It was on the last fly- over of the day. Yet another snowstorm was about to ground the search. Last night they spoke on CNN's "ANDERSON COOPER 360."


CHRISTOPHER DOMINGUEZ, SON: Well, we all heard the helicopter. We were all yelling -- we were all sitting down at the time. We all had each other's feet inside each other's jackets trying to keep our feet warm, because they were all frozen. And just trying to keep our feet warm, and we heard the helicopter and told my dad, "The helicopter. The helicopter."

Josh saw the helicopter. And my dad, he just ran out there and started waving his arms screaming, "Help! Help!" And that's -- that's when they started circling and going down and going down. And we were all just happy -- happy to be rescued.

ALEXIS DOMINGUEZ, DAUGHTER: It was really, really scary. Like, I remember going under the tree and just -- we were all trying to like be next to each other. The shelter wasn't very big, so Chris and my dad weren't like really in the shelter. It was really me and Josh in the shelter. And so it was just really, really scary, the most scariest thing that could happen.

FREDERICK DOMINGUEZ, FATHER: My youngest boy is like, "Dad, are we going to make it? You sure we're going to make it?" I said, "Son, I would tell you what I bought you for Christmas if I thought we weren't going to make it."

C. DOMINGUEZ: I didn't want them to really lose help. Whenever they would freak out I would just be like, "It's all right, we're going to make it through this. This is nothing. We've already been here a couple days, what's a couple more days?"

F. DOMINGUEZ: I'm scared. You know, you can't let them know that you're scared. So I'm telling them, "We're going to be all right. I promise you we'll be all right."

So my -- and I was relying on God. I just said, "God, I completely need you now, because my kids" -- you know, you go to survival mode. And every parent would do that. You know, you just go into survival mode and you will do anything to sacrifice yourself because it's your kids, man. These are your kids. LISA SAMS, WIFE & MOTHER: I can't even explain what went through my mind. I was just ecstatic. I was relieved and I just had so much joy.


COLLINS: The two younger children have some frostbite on their toes and had a touch of hypothermia. All four though are expected to make a full recovery.

HARRIS: Tied down, drenched in gas, and set on fire. From beauty to burn victim, meet this courageous woman live.

That's next in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Her husband tied her down, poured gasoline on her, and set her on fire. Burns to 85 percent of her body. But Hien lived to inspire others, and this morning she is joining us from New Orleans.

Hien, thank you for being with us.

Your story is an incredible one. Can you take us back to February of 2003 and tell us what happened?

HIEN DINHGENSCHOR, SET ON FIRE BY HUSBAND: Yes. I was burned by my husband. My husband poured gasoline over my body and flicked the light on, on February 3, 2003. I was in a coma for 130 days.


DINHGENSCHOR: And after that they transferred me to the rehab center for two months, so it took -- I was in the hospital for seven months, include rehab center. At the (INAUDIBLE) rehab center I have been in outpatient therapy for one year.

COLLINS: My goodness. And Hien, I'm sorry to interrupt, but just so the people at home now, we are now looking at a photo of you before this horrible event happened back in 2003. And you were and are a beautiful, beautiful woman, especially with what we know about you now and the way that you are trying to inspire other people.

But I think what's really interesting about this is that you didn't know that when all of this was happening to you. You lost your will to survive until you met the paramedic by the name of Charlie Brown. I know you've had an opportunity to meet him very recently.


COLLINS: What was that like, to be reunited with the man who told you that you were going to make it through this?

DINHGENSCHOR: Yes. So it's so -- I can say that after the fire stop, I start my new life. So after the fire stop, Charlie Brown is -- was the first person -- he's the first person that I saw after the fire stop.

I also can say that he was the first person that I saw after my knew life. So -- you know, I -- however at that moment I thought that I'm going to die, so I begged him that, please, let me die.

I'm not going to live, because I knew that I was burned very seriously, but Charlie Brown, looking at me so tenderly, very lovely, and he look at me very worried, and he say that, "No, baby. No, I'm not going to let you die."

So he touched my heart, and I felt warm at that moment because I just got hurt from the one I love.


DINHGENSCHOR: But Charlie Brown touched my heart that there are many good people around me, because when the fire stop, I thought that the whole world collapse in front of me. I thought that the whole world from now -- I am not going to believe anyone. Everybody around me just so bad, but it's not. There are many people around me.

COLLINS: Right. Well, it's a very, very hard lesson to learn, especially going through with what you went through, such a difficult and painful time. I know now though that you have some career plans of your own. All of this really works to inspire other people.

What are you going to be doing?

DINHGENSCHOR: I am going to be an occupational therapy assistant, occupational therapy assistant.


DINHGENSCHOR: It means I am going to help the people to get back their life, fighting to get back your life back. There's no reason that you give up. If I can, you can do, too.

COLLINS: Well, I think you are going to be just the person to do that for so many people whose lives you will have an opportunity to touch, just as you have been touched by someone like Charlie Brown.

We so appreciate your story. It's lovely having you.

Hien Dinhgenschor, thank you so much. And we're thrilled to know that you have worked your way through such a difficult time.

Thank you.

DINHGENSCHOR: Thank you. You, too.

HARRIS: Your credit, it's the bottom line of all you worked for, and it is about to change. What to do to protect yourself now.


HARRIS: Want to get you the very latest information. Rob Marciano at the very top of this hour mentioned there was a sighting of a tornado in Brookhaven, Mississippi. That is in Lincoln County, and the Lincoln County sheriff is on the line with us right now.

His name is Steve Rushing.

Steve, thanks for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

Steve, are you there?

Did we lose him?

Steve Rushing, Lincoln County sheriff, are you on the line with us?

OK. All right. So we can't find Steve. We're going to try to reach him again.

Rob Marciano is standing by.

And Rob, you mentioned at the top of the newscast there was a sighting of a tornado in Brookhaven and the possibility of some injuries as well.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And more importantly, the injuries, like you mentioned, we have got one report of an injury, we've got damage to a home, we've got trees down.

No word of an actual sighting. Typically in this type of weather situation there is so much rain in this type of weather event down near the Gulf Coast, the air is just packed with moisture. You don't always -- even in the middle of the daytime, you don't always see the tornado, or at least get the report, but we have got the report of the damage, which is troubling, no doubt about that.

All right. Here is a line -- let me back it up here a little bit, give you the wider view.

These red boxes, as you know, tornado watches now in effect for the entire southern half of Louisiana until 4:00 today. All right?

Where the actual tornado touched down or possible tornado touched down was with this line that moved through Lincoln County, which actually is just to the west of this new issued box, but nonetheless, it's still within the rough weather. It looks like the roughest weather for that area that got hit is to the east, but there's still a pretty decent line of thunderstorms that's just on the edge of the northern edge of that one watch box that is moving off to the east.

Again, I will show you on the Google Earth, if we can -- let me get to the right switch up here -- Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and these icons that as we zoom in will begin to separate, they show you the actual storm report that was sent into the National Weather Service. And it does indicate that at 9:05 Central Time, they had not only damage, but also one injury reported there.

So hopefully we will get that official on the line and we can get more specific on that.

HARRIS: Yes. I believe he is, but, Rob -- hang on, Rob, because you guys ask great questions here.

Again, the Lincoln County sheriff, Steve Rushing, on the line with us.

Steve, are you there? Sheriff, are you there?


HARRIS: Hey, Brookhaven obviously in your county. What can you tell us about the storm and the possibility that it was, in fact, a tornado touching down in Brookhaven? Can you confirm that for us?

RUSHING: Well, we had a report of one come through. So far we've had had three homes destroyed and one business was damaged, and some other roof damage in the area. We had one gentleman that's been transported to the hospital who was in one of the homes when it had come through.

HARRIS: Yes. At least it sounds like those very strong -- straight-line winds is what I hear Rob and the other meteorologists refer to these as.

So you have had at least one injury and three homes destroyed. Has the storm moved out of your area? It sounds like maybe it has.

RUSHING: Most of the heavy part of the storm has moved through. We have got a steady rain coming in right now when we're out here.

HARRIS: So what are you dealing with now? You're obviously dealing with the destroyed buildings. And are you talking about a loss of power, are you talking about some possible flooding? I'm not sure how much heavy rain was associated with this system. It looks like quite a bit though.

RUSHING: No flooding that we've had reports of so far. We're dealing with power outages, waiting on the power company to help us out on that. Help the victims here recover their property.

HARRIS: OK. If you would again, give us a bit of reset. How many homes, how many properties damaged, and how many people injured?

RUSHING: We have two homes completely destroyed, another one sustained heavy damage, one business that sustained heavy damage also.

HARRIS: One business as well. Have you -- have any of your sheriff's deputies been able to actually get to some of these locations and do a bit of an assessment?

RUSHING: Yes, I'm on scene now.

HARRIS: Oh, you're on the scene now.


HARRIS: OK. If you would, play reporter, if you would, and sort of describe what you're seeing now.

RUSHING: Well, we had two mobile homes that were here that are completely destroyed. That's about probably about -- I'd say 100, 200 yards to (ph) a field. Heavy tree damage, power lines down. The other -- the roof tore off of it. It's scattered over a pretty good area.

HARRIS: How many mobile homes? Are we talking about a mobile home park?

RUSHING: No, it was just two of them right here together.

HARRIS: OK. All right.

All right. Well, we'll let you get back to work.

The Lincoln County sheriff, Steve Rushing.

Oh, Rob has a question?

OK. Steve, if you would hang on the line. Rob Marciano has a question for you -- Rob.

MARCIANO: Steve, just for our viewers who are to the east of you that are going to get hit with some of this weather, describe for us what the conditions were like as they changed and began to deteriorate. What did the sky look like? How did the winds pick up? Did the rains come in before the wind? So people who leave to the east of you may be able to identify the situation and take cover.

RUSHING: Well, of course, we had the warning come out. I'm not sure what time it had come out, but the sky darkened pretty quick, rain come in right before it and then it got real heavy during it. (INAUDIBLE) when it come through. We just had heavy rain and some tree damage, but out this way we had some pretty major damage to some homes.

MARCIANO: Well, it sounds like you have got your hands full there with those homes destroyed and damaged.

HARRIS: Yes. Boy.


MARCIANO: Sheriff Rushing, thanks very much.

Tony, let's roll through the radar again and give folks...

HARRIS: That would be great, yes.

MARCIANO: ... an update here on where these storms are headed.

Again, just to give you a location of where all this action has occurred, where Sheriff Rushing was talking about in Lincoln County, where that storm came through now, I guess about over an hour ago now, right through here. Now that storm has moved off to the east.

Good news: earlier, we saw the pink polygons, that indicated a tornado warning which was extended to the counties to the east of where that tornado touched down or possible tornado touched down. Those looks like -- they look like they have been allowed to expire. There are still a number of severe thunderstorm warnings that are in various counties for heavy rain, straight-line winds and certainly potential for hail.

So, they're not the only ones, Tony ...


MARCIANO: ...that are experiencing some rough weather. And we have those tornado watches that are in effect all the way 'til 4:00 local time, which is 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. So, a couple hours from now (ph).

HARRIS: Man, and you're expecting that system to move with the same kind of intensity as it continues to move to the east? Are you seeing the same kind of intensity as -- man, has been demonstrated in Brook Haven?

MARCIANO: It doesn't look like it's weakening all that much.


MARCIANO: Maybe just a hair. The problem is, Tony, it's got -- it's a lot of energy with this system.

HARRIS: Right.

MARCIANO: It came through the Pacific, and now it's tapping the moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, so folks who live even in through western parts of Alabama will likely be under the gun as we go through this evening, and it's a slow mover. That's the other problem with it.

HARRIS: Boy, OK, Rob, appreciate it. Thank you.

MARCIANO: All right.

HARRIS: Any additional information, just give us a shout.

Just another reminder for you here, if you see news happening where you are, particularly weather news, particularly right now if you're in the Mississippi area, if you would stay out of harm's way, but send us some video. Maybe a photo. Go to and click on i- Report or type i-Report at on (ph) your cell phone. Again, as always, stay safe.

COLLINS: Casting stones at Satan. It's a highlight of the Muslim pilgrimage. We're live from the Hajj.


COLLINS: Casting stones at the devil. It is a vital part of the Muslim pilgrimage and one of the most dangerous for the millions who gather. CNN's Isha Sesay is covering the Hajj from Mina in Saudi Arabia.

We have seen this ritual turn deadly in the past, Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Heidi. Over the years, hundreds of people have lost their lives in stampedes that have broken out in the Jamarat, which is just behind me there.

Now, just last year, over 300 people lost their lives in a crush. Today, the stoning started at noon and by that time, people had gathered and were streaming in to the Jamarat to carry out the second day of this part of the stoning ritual, and, Heidi, they're aiming to strike three pillars. They've actually been expanded to become walls actually. But they're looking to hit these three structures which Muslims believe represent Satan -- (INAUDIBLE) in the three spots where it's believed Satan tempted the prophet Abraham.

Now, you might wonder what's the point of all of this? I'm sure some viewers are asking themselves that question. Well, it's all about resisting temptation. The casting of the pebbles is a symbolic act of actually saying no to all those things that would tempt a pilgrim away from the path of righteousness.

Now, Heidi, we went into the Jamarat a couple of hours ago because we wanted to capture on camera for our viewers the extraordinary scenes that take place there. We're going to share those images with our viewers a little later on in the day, but Heidi, I can tell you from firsthand seeing it with my own eyes, it's absolutely incredible.

People are so impassioned as they throw the stones. They're shouting "Allah (INAUDIBLE)," God is great. They're chanting. They're so moved. They're casting stones -- sometimes, they're casting bottles, so it's not just stones that are being thrown at those walls. And an extraordinary thing, Heidi, to bring out is children are in there as well -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Well Isha, any way to know just roughly how many people have come together?

SESAY: Yes, absolutely. This year's Hajj has nearly three million people descended upon Mecca. This structure, the Jamarat structure which has three levels that people can carry out their stoning ritual in can hold 300,000 people. It can process 300,000 people per hour. So, at this point in time, we don't know how many people have completed the ritual, but just behind me, they're still coming, they're still streaming in, they're still going in to carry out this vital ritual, Heidi.

COLLINS: Wow, from Mina, Saudi Arabia, live for us today, Isha Sesay. Isha, thank you. HARRIS: Man, OK, the company that puts out credit scores is changing the way it rates you. Oh, boy. CNN's Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis is here with what that means for all of us. Gerri ...


HARRIS: Is this ...

WILLIS: Fear not the change.

HARRIS: Fear not the change?

WILLIS: Right. Your credit score may well go up a little bit.

HARRIS: Really, OK?

WILLIS: We don't really know how much yet.

HARRIS: Well, what is FICO doing here, what's this all about?

WILLIS: Well, there's a lot going on. You know, in the wake of the mortgage meltdown, FICO is trying to find a better way to score people. And there are a lot of changes here you want to pay attention to.

First off, it stops authorized user provisions. This means if you have a spouse or a child which is using a credit card in your name, you won't be able to do that anymore. Also, there will be higher penalties for delinquency, and more points for on time payment.

Now, if you're doing things right, that's good news.

HARRIS: Right.

WILLIS: If you're not, you're in trouble. More points for different types of credit. So, if you've got the mortgage, you've got the credit cards, you've got the student loans, all of that, that's really going to help your credit score if you're managing your debt well.

HARRIS: OK, so what do we need to do, sounds like pay on time ...

WILLIS: Oh, yes.

HARRIS: make sure this new scoring system doesn't hurt us?

WILLIS: Well, you have to establish your own credit history. Look, getting rid of these authorized users means that you can no longer piggyback. I think you heard that story about folks who were selling access to their good credit scores to people who didn't have good credit scores?

HARRIS: Oh, OK. WILLIS: Well, they were duping banks, right?


WILLIS: So, that's not going to go on anymore. So, you may find yourself with no credit history, no credit score, no credit rating. That's all bad news. You need financial DNA in our society. So, you're going to have to go out, establish your own credit history. This'll probably apply generally to women who have their husband's credit cards.

Of course, pay the cards off on time. That's an absolute all the time, but under these new terms, it's going to be even more important, and don't collect too many cards. I know a lot of people have seen the devil in the details in all these new rules. They think, hey, I can have more cards.


WILLIS: Just not a great idea because it tempts you too much to use them.

HARRIS: Particularly right about now, the holidays.

WILLIS: Right.

HARRIS: Here's the other thing. You know, a lot of folks don't even know where to go to find their score. Can you help us?

WILLIS: Yes,, great place to go, you're going to have to pay for the privilege to get your credit score. You know you can get credit reports for free ...

HARRIS: Right.

WILLIS: ...but the bottom line is your credit score at I think it costs you $16. You get the number, you know where you stand and you can actually work to make it better.

HARRIS: I love this, OK, so don't -- let me channel this from you. Don't fear the change.

WILLIS: Don't fear the change. And it's going to take a long time to go into effect anyway, maybe next year, maybe not.

HARRIS: Yes -- well, before I lose you here, what's coming up on the big "OPEN HOUSE" show this weekend here?

WILLIS: We have great stuff for the holiday season. We're talking about how to buy toys that are safe, last minute shopping and gifts. I bet you're on that list, Mr. Tony.

HARRIS: Yes, absolutely.

WILLIS: And tipping etiquette. It's that time of year where you're tipping. HARRIS: Outstanding. Hey, Gerri, we've got an extra segment with you tomorrow. I want to tell everybody about it. This is going to be terrific. Tomorrow --

WILLIS: It's exciting.

HARRIS: Yes, an expanded version of top tips. You're going to answer folks questions, their e-mail questions, from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. -- well I guess at both time frames, right? In the 10:00 hour and then again in the 11:00 hour?

WILLIS: That's right. I'm on the phone. I'm listening to your questions.

HARRIS: Yes, great.

WILLIS: We'll bring you the questions...

HARRIS: That's terrific.

WILLIS: ...we'll answer the questions.

HARRIS: OK, so there's still time, as you can see here, to send in your questions...

WILLIS: That's right.

HARRIS: ... so that you can get the best advice from Gerri Willis. Here is the address, Gerri, this should be fun tomorrow. Can't wait.

WILLIS: I'm looking forward to it.

HARRIS: All right, have a great day.

WILLIS: You too.

HARRIS: Thanks.

COLLINS: A man says discrimination drove him out of town, and now he's making a fresh start.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope that they just --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Accept you and learn to like you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, accept me, you know --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a very kind man, big heart.


COLLINS: Feeling different because of skin color, blue man's story. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: A free home for a disabled Iraq veteran. Out of work and on the brink of bankruptcy. Details now from Stacia Erdos, of affiliate WPXI.


STACIA ERDOS, WPXI (voice over): The stars and stripes proudly displayed outside the new West Mifflin home of Corporal Carl Duda. The free, newly refurbished home is a Christmas present that will help wipe away much of the family's hardship.

CPL. CARL DUDA, U.S. ARMY: The most amazing gift I have ever gotten besides my daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless the usa

ERDOS: Corporal Duda was so proud to be an American, he volunteered multiple times for active duty. The last time, severely wounding his back in Iraq. His employer at home, firing him.

DUDA: We were almost bankrupt. The company I used to work for terminated me because I volunteered for military duty again. And that shows the very worst in our people towards soldiers.

ERDOS: But it was more than Duda's amazing story that caught the attention of the Hope Lives Foundation, which was holding an essay contest to give away, for the second time, a remodeled, debt-free home to a returning veteran.

JIM TONER, HOPE LIVES FOUNDATION: When he found out about the contest, instead of keeping the information to himself, he made sure all the other vets knew about it. So he put others in front of him and that's what a soldier does. So that pretty much cinched it for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to welcome you, from me, my wife and my daughter.

ERDOS: If neighbors say hello, Duda's feeling more secure now about his future with his wife and young daughter. And if there is a Santa, he now believes.

DUDA: We're going to just relax and enjoy the holiday season. It's going to be a lot easier than the last four or five years have been.


COLLINS: That is the second home give away by the Hope Lives Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides temporary housing to displaced families in the Pittsburgh area. You can check them out at the

HARRIS: To business news now. And relief is on the way for the millions stuck paying the AMT, the dreaded alternative minimum tax. But your refund check may be delayed. Susan Lisovicz is on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with that and a look at the markets.

Susan, good morning.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Tony. Good morning to you. We've got a regular good, bad and ugly here on Wall Street this morning. And I'm not talking about a Clint Eastwood movie. Let's start out with the good. The good, we're talking about Oracle. Its shares are up more than six percent this morning after reporting a 35 percent jump in its quarterly earnings. And it's a sign, perhaps, that some tech companies are insulated from the slow down that we've been seeing in so many other industries.

But the bad would come with what we're seeing with FedEx. FedEx, very busy this time of the year, certainly getting a lot of orders. But its last quarter, its net income fell six percent amid high fuel costs. FedEx is considered a barometer of the U.S. economy because it serves so many industries.

And then the ugly would have to be Bear Stearns. Now this is no surprise. Because what we saw yesterday with Morgan Stanley, well Bear Stearns registering its first quarterly loss, Tony, in it's 84- year history. Taking a nearly $2 billion write down in securities of course related to bad mortgages. And what we're seeing overall, well, it's kind of a lackluster performance with a couple hours into the session. The Dow right now is down 23 points. The NASDAQ, meanwhile, is up 10 points with a lot of heavy lifting from Oracle.

HARRIS: Yes. Well, hey Suz, got to ask you this question. I know investors have been a bit concerned about whether consumers will continue to spend, it really props up the economy. But it sounds like those investors have one less financial worry.

LISOVICZ: I'm telling you, Tony, well you know, the dreaded AMT.


LISOVICZ: Those three letters are about as dreaded as IRS. But there is some relief. Congress has been busy this week, and finally passed a one-year patch for the alternative minimum tax. The tax, as I'm sure you and many of our viewers know, originally was aimed at preventing the rich from paying taxes, but it's since filtered down to a lot of folks in the middle class.

Without this fix, Tony, 21 million tax payers would have been hit with this tax. Both parties agreed to -- for the patch to be fixed. Although, Democrats were concerned about more debt. Anyway, the problem here is the treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, says because it's so late in the year that this was enacted, that there may be some delays with getting refunds out next year. But the fact is, both parties met, did something on the alternative minimum tax.

HARRIS: Wow, are you kidding me?

LISOVICZ: No I'm not. HARRIS: Knock on wood or something.

LISOVICZ: It's the holiday season, Tony.

HARRIS: There you go. Susan, great to see you. Thank you.

LISOVICZ: Thank you.

COLLINS: "YOUR WORLD TODAY" is coming up in about 11 minutes and Jim Clancy is standing by to tell us a little bit more about the program.

Hi there, Jim.

JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Heidi, and hello to Tony as well.

We're going to take you right around the world. Colleen McEdwards joins me as we take a look at the man that South Africans call a zunami. He's unstoppable, or is he? He may be headed to a disaster of his own making. Instead of running for the presidency, he may be tied up in court.

Plus, where in the world is addiction to computers and the internet so bad they're calling in the military? We're going to take you there in a report that examines too much of a good thing.

And what does Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have in common with a teen beauty contestant? Well not much you say, we're going to give you a hint. It's something he said. We're going to have fun with this one. We're going to count down the top ten notable quotes of 2007. And let me just say that they were not picked because they were the most intelligent things.

HARRIS: There you go, there you go.

COLLINS: How about, "Don't tase me, bro?"


COLLINS: Does that come in there?

CLANCY: I think it's going to be in there somewhere.


COLLINS: All right, Jim. Thank you.

HARRIS: Jessica Simpson, in the stands and on the hot seat. Why some football fans and at least one star are asking her to stay away.


COLLINS: Want to get you this information about that family in California that had been missing for three days. They're the family UP in Paradise, northern California, that had been gone for three days while they were in search of a Christmas tree. They got lost, and obviously all their family members very, very worried about them. They were found. You see the video here last night. And we had heard quite a bit from them on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" last night. A great story.

However, we are now just getting word that Lexi Dominguez -- she's the middle child -- is now back in the hospital complaining overnight that her feet hurt. We did know that she and her younger brother, Josh, had suffered from a bit of frostbite on their toes. You remember the story where they had apparently ripped their T-shirts to put fresh socks on. They made socks out of their T-shirts and hid their feet under each other's jackets to try and keep warm. They'd gotten very, very wet because they were so near a creek in the area, so that was one of the challenges they faced in the terrifying three days.

Again, the new information is on this that Lexi Dominguez, the picture of her you see there, is now back in the hospital complaining of pain in her feet. So we'll continue to follow this for you and give you any updates just as soon as we get them.

HARRIS: So how could it happen? One car goes into two pools?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was crazy. It was crazy. I said, well, God, in your hands we are.


HARRIS: Wow. Sounds crazy. What's needed here, driving lessons, swimming lessons?


COLLINS: Pop star Jessica Simpson slapped with a penalty flag. The blonde bombshell is no fan favorite in Dallas. Many say her enthusiastic appearance at Sunday's game somehow caused the dismal performance of her new boyfriend, quarterback Tony Romo. Romo had the worst game of his career, at least statistically, and his Dallas Cowboys lost. One of Romo's teammates, Terrell Owens, even asked that when the team makes the playoffs Simpson watch from home. T.O. later said he was just kidding.

HARRIS: Talk about home field advantage here throughout the playoffs. You kidding me here? It's important. Get her out of there!

Hi. One car, one snowstorm, two swimming pools. All of this adds up to a couple of very grateful-to-be-alive folks this holiday season.

Reporter Victoria Block (ph) of affiliate WHDH has more.


CLAUDI PIERRE LOUIS, ACCIDENT VICTIM: It was crazy. It was crazy. I said, well, God, in your hands we are.

VICTORIA BLOCK (ph), WHDH REPORTER: Claudia Pierre Louis describing how she and her husband almost died in last week's snowstorm.

LOUIS: My foot was under it all the time while I was sliding on the brakes. I don't know really what happened.

BLOCK: But looking at the damage and these pictures, it's clear she lost control of her car while she was pulling into her driveway.

LT. ROBERT LEGRICE, RANDOLPH, MASS. POLICE: The vehicle then slid through a fence, down a hill, crashed into an above-ground pool at number 9 cropper street, the neighbor's house, continued down the hill, through a six-foot stockade fence, down a small embankment and into an in-ground pool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just feel the car sliding, but I couldn't do anything.

BLOCK: The tarp covering the pool cushioned their landing in almost three feet of water. Neighbors got them out through the back of their vehicle.

LOUIS: I couldn't feel my touch. Everything like was -- it was a big shock for us.

BLOCK: Both are in pain, and going to physical therapy, but say they're simply too grateful to complain.

LOUIS: I cannot say anything saved me other than that man upstairs. That's our gift for Christmas.


COLLINS: Two swimming pool?

HARRIS: Two swimming pools. Above ground and then -- because I was a little confused. Doesn't take much. I was confused by that this morning.

COLLINS: Yes, it was bumpy.

All right, CNN NEWSROOM does continue just one hour from now.

"YOUR WORLD TODAY" is next with news happening across the globe and here at home.

I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: I'm Heidi Collins. Have a great Thursday, everybody.