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AMERICAN MORNING

Ledger's Autopsy Today: Fans Mourn Rising Star; Ledger's Autopsy: What Will It Tell Police; Market Meltdown: Should You Refinance Your Home?; Voice Mail Takes Internet By Storm

Aired January 23, 2008 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Ledger was found yesterday on the floor of his New York City apartment. Ledger, just 28 years old, had finished shooting a new "Batman" sequel called "The Dark Knight" where he played the Joker. He earned an Oscar nomination for his role in "Brokeback Mountain." And throughout the night, Ledger fans came to New York City, came to the apartment, stood outside where he died to pay their respects. And that's where Jason Carroll is live for us this morning with the latest details. And we also heard from Heath Ledger's father yesterday as well. That was heartbreaking as well.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Heartbreaking to listen to. Heartbreaking for all of Heath Ledger's fans. And, in fact, some of his fans have already started to leave flowers and cards and candles here in front of his apartment building. What will also come, Kiran, are lots of questions about how and why the actor died.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): A tragic end of a promising acting career captured by a crowd of paparazzi. Outside a New York City apartment building, Heath Ledger's fans gathered outside as well, some still in shock over the loss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a mess. I've been crying all day. I just -- I can't believe something would happen to someone who is so talented and --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a great actor. I mean, he had the potential to be a fantastic actor. So to do so many things, it's just sad to see how it ended, you know.

CARROLL: It's not clear yet just what caused Ledger's death. Fire department spokesperson says Ledger died of a possible drug overdose, but police would not speculate on the cause, only to say there was no indication of suicide. The 28-year-old actor's body was found by a housekeeper and a massage therapist around 2:45 yesterday afternoon.

DEPUTY COMMISSIONER PAUL BROWNE, NEW YORK POLICE: It was found facedown on the floor at the foot of the bed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Face down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he was naked, sir?

BROWNE: He had no clothes. Correct.

CARROLL: The housekeeper and therapist tried to revive Ledger but could not. Paramedics arrived at the fourth floor Soho Apartment around 3:30 and pronounced him dead. Police say they found several bottles of prescription medicine in the apartment, including sleeping pills found near the actor's bed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, maybe not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Ledger is perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated role in "Brokeback Mountain." And while his career was a success, privately the actor struggled. Recently, Ledger had broken up with actress Michelle Williams whom he met while filming "Brokeback." The two have a baby girl. In the actor's hometown of Perth, Australia, the star's family tried to make sense of the loss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM LEDGER, HEATH LEDGER'S FATHER: He was a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving, unselfish individual who was extremely inspirational to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: More cars and candles expected to arrive throughout the day. Also, today, an autopsy is scheduled. Toxicology tests will be conducted as well. Kiran, ultimately, it will be up to the medical examiner to determine the exact cause of death -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Jason Carroll for us in New York this morning. Thank you.

So what kind of information can we expect to come out of today's autopsy. A lot of questions about that this morning.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, certainly. They are about the prescription drugs that were found in Ledger's apartment, to what they may have had to do with this tragedy. CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta also happens to be a certified medical examiner. He joins us now. What do we know about the case so far that at least your professional life tells us about this case?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When you approach something like this, there are several things that you look for that you sort of mentioned. Obviously, you want to look to see if there is any sign of foul play. First of all, it sounds like there wasn't. Was the body moved at all? That's another question that people have often in these sorts of situations. Again, it looks like it wasn't. Those are two important things from a medical investigation standpoint. Then you look at these pills, and you start to determine, are they're going to fit with the toxicology reports. Also, you may have to think about in a 28-year-old who has sudden death, was there something that already existed in his body? Was there a preexisting heart condition? Was there a preexisting brain condition? Those are the sorts of things you have to think about as well.

Those are rare. Those are obviously going to be less likely, and you sort of make your list of things that you think are going to be more common and investigate all of those things. An autopsy, along with toxicology reports, will probably provide the answers.

ROBERTS: All right.

CHETRY: You know, one of the other things -- he had done a couple of interviews with papers and talked about the difficulty in sleeping and suffering from insomnia for long periods of time. And I believe, one of his quotes was "I took two Ambien and only worked for an hour.

GUPTA: Right.

CHETRY: When people suffer from insomnia for long periods of time and they're trying to sort of find some relief from that, how dangerous does that become in terms of self-medicating?

GUPTA: It's a great question because people do this all the time. The thing about a lot of sleeping pills, whether they're prescription or nonprescription, sometimes they sort of take you into stage four sleep, one of the deepest stages of sleep, but not leave you there very long, which is why people say, oh, it didn't really work for me. What they don't recognize is they were actually passed out for a certain period of time and then they woke back up again. And that's what's going to happen.

What people tend to do then is they tend to add more medications or even perhaps more dangerously, is they'll add other medications with similar active ingredients and they'll think, well, these are different medications so they're not interacting.

CHETRY: Right.

GUPTA: But in fact they are. Add to that alcohol -- no one is saying obviously that was involved here, but if you do, that could make even worse.

ROBERTS: That kind of sleep deprivation puts stress on the heart, too, doesn't it?

GUPTA: Yes, it does. You know, it sounds -- he's 28 years old, otherwise healthy guy, so his body should have been able to tolerate sleep deprivation even over an extended period of time. But, you're right. When you start adding the medications, other stressors, who knows what happened here?

ROBERTS: Right. Well, perhaps we'll get some answers today when the autopsy comes back. Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: All right. Thanks.

ROBERTS: We're also on the "Financial Security Watch" this morning. It looks like the emergency interest rate cut worked, at least for now. Overseas investors jump at the chance to pick up bargain priced stock boosting world markets. But experts say we could expect more bumps in the road because some think the rate cut means U.S. officials admit that there is a serious problem here.

The markets were mixed but for the most part were up. Japan's Nikkei closed two percent higher today. London's FTSE gained three percent on Tuesday but right now, it's trading slightly down.

Our senior business correspondent Ali Velshi is tracking it all for you this morning aboard the Election Express. He left Atlanta this morning and is now headed to Birmingham, Alabama. Ali joins us now live via broadband from the road, where he's talking about the economy and all of these battleground states coming up on February 5th. Good morning, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. We're trying something new here. We're moving down the highway, driving at highway speeds from Atlanta, as you said, we're heading toward Birmingham, Alabama. At this point, we're in Alabama now. We are able to sort of track the markets and stop and talk to people about the economy. We know that's the number one concern of Americans. But, first, let's talk about the markets and that rate cut that you talked about.

The Fed chopped those rates by three quarters of a basis point. About 24 hour ago, the markets ended up lower yesterday, but not where they started. They started off more than 400 points lower. Let's have a look at what those Dow has done in the last year because really, the day-to-day movements are little annoying for people to look at. Let's look at that last year and see how it's done.

Both the Dow and the S&P over the course of the last 12 months have really, really had crazy rides. We are now lower than we would have been a year ago. That makes some people think there's a buying opportunity. Now, John, here on the ground, we've been talking to people, and their concerns about the economy are very different. They're not about markets and rate cuts. They're about things on the ground.

We started by talking to a restaurant owner in Florence, South Carolina. He says his business is OK. The people he's worried about are those who have to work 40 hours a week to get things done and still not make -- get ends meet. Let's hear what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY KANOS, FLORENCE, SOUTH CAROLINA: I really don't know what they could do. I think it's just a mixture of just these high gasoline prices, you know, grocery store prices are going up every day. My costs are going up every day. I think by just giving, you know, giving people a little bit of a rebate, I don't think that's the answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: And that's what he's talking about. The rebate he's discussing is the federal government's stimulus proposal that will send checks out to people and hopefully get them to spend it. So that's where we are right now. We're headed to Birmingham. We'll keep on checking in with you and tell you what people on the ground here in the south are saying about the economy, John.

ROBERTS: Ali, have a safe trip. Thanks very much. We'll see you again soon.

And negotiations begin today on President Bush's economic stimulus package. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will start negotiations on the plan this morning. He had another side of cooperation. Paulson says he's now willing to include breaks, even for those who paid little or no income tax. So what could it mean for you? Rebates of up to $800 or $1,600 for married couples -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, Fred Thompson now officially out of the Republican race for president. His decision comes after a disappointing third place showing in last weekend's South Carolina primary. It's a state that was seen as a make-or-break test for the Thompson campaign. He even admitted as such. There is no word yet on whether or not he'll endorse any of the remaining candidates.

And Democrat Barack Obama fighting back against the persistent Internet rumors falsely labeling him a Muslim. Obama telling a reporter the ongoing rumors are part of a, quote, "systematic political strategy." He would not speculate on who's behind them but said that they seem to "magically appear wherever the next primary or caucus is."

ROBERTS: Well, the most politics in the morning heads next to Charleston. We're hitting all of the battleground states on the road to Super Tuesday, talking with voters, the candidates and focusing on the issues. Our goal -- to help you choose a president. Our Alina Cho is here now with more stories new this morning. Good morning, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, John, Kiran, Sanjay. Good morning, everybody. We want to begin with some breaking news.

This is out of Perth Amboy, New Jersey near New Brunswick, not far from New York City. You're looking live there at a three-alarm fire, broke out at a two-story warehouse. No reports of injury and, of course, no word at this early hour on a cause. You can see the smoke there. These are earlier pictures now. Firefighters, though, we are hearing, are getting the upper hand. We are watching the story very closely. We'll have much more in the next hour.

Also, new this morning. New concerns about sushi. Lab tests conducted for "The New York Times" found so much mercury in raw tuna that a regular diet of a few pieces a week could be a health hazard. Levels were found to be so high in five out of 20 places in Manhattan that the FDA may actually sue to get the sushi off the market. "The Times" says most of the tuna tested was blue fin. That's the expensive kind.

We're going to be paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta - he's sitting right here - about the possible health risks at the bottom of the hour. So stay put.

We're seeing the first big court settlement this morning stemming from last year's wave of toy recalls. According to "USA Today," the maker of the famous Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys has settled a class-action lawsuit for $30 million. The Thomas the train recall last June covered 1.5 million toys, and was the first to raise concerns about lead paint in toys coming from China. Several suits are still pending against toy makers and distributors. But this could be the first settlement of many.

We have to progress to report in the writers strike negotiations. The two sides have agreed to informal talks today after weeks without meeting. The two sides are hoping this will lead to formal talks and eventually an end to the strike. The writers guild also said it dropped its demand to unionize reality and animated show writers. That was one of the issues the studios were asking the union to drop when talks broke down in December. We should mention that the Grammys" have gotten a waiver, so that show will go on. The Oscars, still up in the air.

And he was trapped for 96 hours, face down in the snow, underneath an ATV, forced to survive off rotting beaver meat to fight off animals who wanted to eat him. It's an amazing survival story coming out of Canada this morning. Listen to this.

When paramedic Ken Hildebrand says he was riding his all-terrain vehicle in Alberta collecting animal traps - people still do that - when the ATV hit a rock, rolled over and trapped him. The beaver meat from the traps kept him warm and kept him from starving until a hiker found him, get this, four days later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN HILDEBRAND, SURVIVED 96 OURS TRAPPED IN WOODS: He says, are you OK? And I said, not really. I need some help. And he said, what can I do? Can you lift this bike off of me? I said I got a first aid kit in there and I've been laying underneath this bike for exactly 96 hours.

I teach wilderness procedures, survival and stuff. I knew I was up against. I had everything I needed, but I just couldn't get to it. That was the biggest problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: I'll say. Looks great, though, I must say. Hildebrand, by the way, suffered hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration and leg injuries over those 96 hours. And guys, he's a paramedic and he said his biggest concern was that he was worried he'd miss his next shift at work. So he stuck under the ATV -- he's worried about work. But, got to give it to him, he's creative.

(CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: Oh, I mean, how lucky, though, that -- the beaver trapped, the beaver is in a trap, kept him warm and he ate the meat. So -- how about it?

CHO: Incredible.

CHETRY: How about it?

CHO: How about it?

CHETRY: All right. Thanks, Alina.

CHO: You bet.

CHETRY: There's a joke in there somewhere. But Rob Marciano now is at the weather update desk tracking extreme weather for us this morning. It's those types of survival skills, Rob, you need them if you're going to be traveling as much as you've been doing.

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: A couple of beaver pelts never hurt anyone traveling in winter weather. That's for sure. All right.

Speaking of winter weather, let's go to it. We've got them across several spots of the country, in areas that you wouldn't necessarily think about. Yes, frigid weather about to reinforce the Great Lakes. But we slide the map down to the southwest corner of the U.S., and we've got some subtropical moisture that's going to sit in this low -- is going to sit and spin for a good couple of days.

So we're seeing moisture roll in across the California coastline right now. Here's your low and here's the moisture plume, and it's turning into snow in some spots across the higher elevations. San Francisco up to Sacramento is where we're seeing most of the rainfall. High elevations of the Sierra Nevada, seeing some snow.

But look at this. Some rainfall down across the south and some of this rainfall is turning into snow. Above the 4,000-foot mark, we could see 12 to 24 inches across the Santa Barbara mountains. How cool would that be to be sitting on the beach and maybe see some snow- capped mountains there in So-Cal?

Winter storm warnings posted for that part of the country. Don't be driving your ATVs up around the Santa Barbara Mountains later on tonight and tomorrow. Kiran, back over to you.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: OK.

ROBERTS: For years, people have claimed to see a face on mars. Now, it's an entire body. A closer look at the new picture that has some people thinking of little green man. And with the markets a mess and new cut in the key interest rates, should you consider refinancing your home. We'll get the answer from CNN's personal finance editor Gerri Willis. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. How would you like to wake up and look at that every morning? A Deltona, Florida, man is fighting to keep 50 poisonous snakes in his house. He says the neighbors are OK with the venomous rattlesnakes and cobras living nearby. The only problem is there is a city ordinance against having them as pets. He's trying to get people in their community to sign a petition and force the town to make an exception.

Can you imagine that knock on your door? Hello, could you sign this, John? I'd like to have 50 poisonous snakes next door to you.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, maybe it keeps the burglars away.

Eighteen minutes after the hour. The Fed rescued the market with a dramatic interest rate cut, and those rates could go even lower. Does that mean it's a good time to refinance your mortgage? CNN Personal finance editor Gerri Willis has got some advice for you in our "Financial Security Watch." So you're a homeowner, what should you do.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: It is a good time to refinance. I got to tell you, these rates are moving already. They don't always move in lock step with the Fed, but they sure are right now. As a matter of fact, 30-year fixed rate mortgages right now about 5.3 percent. The devil is in the details, though because some folks aren't going be able to refinance if they want to.

I got to tell you, though, this is pretty impressive. And next week, we'll probably get another rate cut.

ROBERTS: Yes.

WILLIS: This is good news for people out there who have toxic loans, John.

ROBERTS: But every time you refinance, there are ancillary costs that go along.

WILLIS: You bet.

ROBERTS: You know, points closing costs. Whatever, how much of a rate cut do you need to make that worth your while?

WILLIS: Well, if you're new rate is 0.5 percent or a full percent below what you have right now, probably it makes sense. There's a bigger calculation in that, but that's the least rule of thumb to get you started.

A couple of things you need to know, though. You're going to need probably 20 percent equity in your home to be able to do this. That's what the lenders are requiring right now. They used to require just 10 percent. You know, they're tightening their purse strings. They're making it more difficult for people to qualify for these loans.

It used to be with a 660 credit score, you could get one of these new loans. Now, it's more like 720. And, of course, this all depends on where you live and who you're dealing with. The numbers may vary somewhat. But I got to tell you, it's looking pretty good.

And one other thing I want to mention right now is saying how it's more difficult now. One mortgage broker told me yesterday that it used to be that eight out of 10 people who came through his door and asked to do a refinance qualified for it. Now, it's only two to three. So you can see the big difference there.

ROBERTS: Yes. But I mean, great day to take a look at the market and see where you are.

WILLIS: Great day to take a look at the market. One other thing to consider -- if your home value has declined, it'll also be difficult too because you could end up owing more in the house than it's worth, and you don't want to refinance.

ROBERTS: Yes, certainly I don't want to do that. Gerri, thanks very much. Good tips.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: Now it brings up to this morning's "Quick Vote" question. Should the government do more to avert a recession? Cast your vote at CNN.com/am. Right now, 84 percent of you say yes, the government should do more. Sixteen percent say no. We'll continue to tally the votes throughout the morning -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, a lot of frequent flier miles for this cat. Check it out. Gracie May somehow sneaked into her owner's case and survived a frigid flight from Florida to Texas. There, another passenger picked up the suitcase by accident. And when that person got home, the 10-month tabby jumped out. None the worse for the wear. Gracie May's owner picked her up and took her home. And as you can see, she's doing fine.

What an adventure for a little cat.

ROBERTS: One more thing that could go wrong in that?

CHETRY: Exactly.

Hey, she can ride while you're flying stories. You guys should get together.

Well, little green men on mars? That's what some people would like to think after taking a peek at this new picture. Come on. It's got to be Photoshopped, right? Supposedly, it's a figure on the Red Planet. We're going to show you more coming up. Also, another example of why you need to be careful when you're sending an e-mail or even leaving a voice mail these days. Our Veronica De La Cruz shares a cautionary tale ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Twenty-four minutes after the hour. It's another example of why you need to be careful when sending an e-mail, writing a text message or even leaving a voice mail these days. Our Veronica De La Cruz is here with a story about a snow-day phone call that snowballed on the Internet. I got to hear this one. Good morning.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this stuff could weigh funny. You know, it is not just what you type, it's also what you say in it. It started last week when a senior Braddock Secondary School in Virginia called the listed, that being the operative word, the listed home number of the chief operating officer of the county school system, Dean Tistadt.

About three inches of snow had fallen and the student left a message wanting to know why classes weren't canceled. Later in the day, the student's phone call was returned, not by Dean Tistadt, but by his angry wife. The student decided to post the voice mail on the Internet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TISTADT: And don't you ever call here again. My husband has been at the office since 6:30 this morning. So, don't you even suggest that he purposely didn't answer his phone. He is out almost every single night of the week at meetings for snotty-nose little brats. And he may not have called you, but it is not because he's home. It's because it snowed. Get over it kid and go to school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DE LA CRUZ: Yikes. That's all over the Internet, John. The recording is on YouTube. It received more than 11,000 views. The student also created a Facebook page, with a photo of Mr. Tistadt, his work e-mail address and his phone numbers. Also, a link to that voice mail recording.

Now, we did try to get in touch with Mr. Tistadt this morning. We haven't heard back from him quite yet. And according to local media reports, he says his wife reacted emotionally after they received dozens of similar calls at their home, some even waking them up in the middle of the night. Now, "The Washington Post" says that the Tistadts obviously have learned a lesson from all of this. And I would think that lesson would be, why list your phone number?

ROBERTS: Yes. Well, and why call somebody back? I mean, you know, two words when it comes to voicemail messages, David Hasselhoff.

DE LA CRUZ: Yes.

ROBERTS: Let's not forget that. Wow, what a story. Veronica, thanks -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, guys. Well, look closely at this so you can tell me whether you think it's true or not. Is this a man on mars or just rocks and some clever lighting? You be the judge. It's the picture that's sparking some new rumors about life on the red planet, resembling big foot, a man in mid stride, perhaps, with his head tilted to the side or is it just a rock?

The image was taken back in 2004 by NASA's roving robot "spirit." The pictures, though, only recently turned up on a Chinese Web site. How's that to add to the conspiracy? What do you think?

ROBERTS: Looks like a little sasquatch.

CHETRY: I thought he was sitting down sort of with his elbow on his knee there. Thinking?

Judge for yourself. Why would China get a hold of it, though?

ROBERTS: Yes. They obviously have a good satellite technology. Wow.

CHETRY: Well, all right, let us know what you're thinking. You're watching the most news in the morning.

And worries about red meat and blue fin tuna. There's a Burger. There's sushi, some health risks. Dr. Sanjay Gupta weighs in.

Also, now that Fred Thompson is out of the race, which of the remaining Republican candidates could stand to benefit the most? We're going to take a look. That story and the headlines when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: There's the look this morning. Boston, Massachusetts, where it is 30 degrees outside. Fair right now. Only warming up about two degrees, expected to be pretty sunny today. Nice shot this morning from Boston on this Wednesday, January 23rd. I'm Kiran Chetry.

ROBERTS: Good morning, I'm John Roberts. I misspoke myself. It was Alec Baldwin who left the...

CHETRY: The phone call for his daughter.

ROBERTS: The voicemail message for his daughter. Hasselhoff was that terrible video of him -

CHETRY: The hamburger eating incident.

ROBERTS: Very nice.

New this morning. Some tragic news to report. An autopsy will be conducted today in the body of Heath Ledger to determine what caused his death. Ledger was found yesterday on the floor of his New York City apartment. New York City police are saying they are looking at the possibility of a drug overdose. Ledger is best known for his role in "Brokeback Mountain" which earned him an Oscar nomination. He also just finished shooting a new "Batman" movie, which is set to come out this summer.

And Ledger's fans created a makeshift memorial to him outside his New York City apartment. Throughout the night, mourners came to leave flowers. His peers in the acting community also said they will miss the talented actor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICIA CLARKSON, ACTRESS: I just saw him, and I'm not there. He was a very, very gifted young man, incredibly talented.

STANLEY TUCCI, ACTOR: He was a captivating person. The performance in "Brokeback Mountain" was beautiful. But every time you saw that guy on screen, you just wanted to watch him. And it's sad - well, it's just sad that he's gone. Too young. Too young.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: It is sad. And Ledger's family in Australia issued a statement thanking fans around the world for their prayers.

Hoping to clear his name, Dr. Jan Adams sat down with Larry King last night. Adams performed surgery on rapper Kanye West's mother, Donda West, the day before she died. The coroner's report was inconclusive about the cause of death. Medical examiners believed that she died of heart disease coupled with multiple postoperative factors. Larry asked Dr. Adams if the autopsy report cleared things up in his mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JAN ADAMS, PERFORMED SURGERY ON DONDA WEST: As far as I'm concerned, the autopsy, at least the autopsy report suggests nothing went on during surgery. Nothing went on during recovery. OK, she's now gone home. We need to look at that period. And I think that's what's open.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, you may remember that Adams was on Larry King once before, but walked off without answering any questions. "Larry King Live" can be seen, of course, every night right here on CNN at 9:00 Eastern, Kiran.

CHETRY: We're on financial security watch this morning. Overseas markets seemed to have rebounded after Tuesday's emergency interest rate cut. Most major markets are up. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 10 percent that wiped out yesterday's losses. London's FTSE though trading lower. Experts say more bumps in the road could be coming because the investors may think that the surprised rate cut by the Fed proves U.S. officials are still concerned about the economy overall. A desperate situation reaching a boiling point in Gaza. Palestinians pouring across the border into Egypt looking for food and supplies. Thousands of people tore down barbed wire and blew holes in the walls separating Gaza from Egypt. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he ordered his troops to allow the Palestinians in. Gaza has been cut off from necessities since Israel imposed a blockade last week. The U.N. has already warned the action is causing a humanitarian crisis. The U.S. is pressuring Israel to try to find another way to punish the Hamas government for a recent series of rocket attacks on southern Israel.

And the House is trying to override President Bush's veto on the State Children's Health Insurance bill today. The democrat bill added $35 million to cover 4 million more children. They say the plan is needed now more than ever with the downturn in the economy. The plan - the current plan covers 6 million kids and the republicans say there isn't enough money to keep it running through next year.

ROBERTS: Well, he was a late entry into the republican presidential race, now Fred Thompson is making an early departure. The former senator called it quits yesterday after his disappointing third-place finish in South Carolina last weekend. So which GOP candidate stands to gain the most from Thompson dropping out? Joining us now from Washington is Jim Vandehei. He is the executive editor and co-founder of politico.com. So, the votes that were going Thompson's way, were are they going to go now? Will they go to Huckabee? Will they go to Romney?

JIM VANDEHEI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, POLITICO.COM: Well, number one, there weren't a lot of votes going his way which is a reason why he had to drop out. But I think those that were supporting Thompson tend to be very conservative, especially on social issues. So, you would think that, you know, Romney or Huckabee would probably benefit from that. A lot of people I talked to in the last couple of days say that they think Romney will be the chief beneficiary because he's trying to set this up as a race that he's the conservative against either McCain and possibly Rudy Giuliani as the more moderate in the race.

ROBERTS: Jim, he was touted as the great hope for the republican party. Why didn't Fred's campaign take off?

VANDEHEI: Talk about a boom and bust cycle for a politician. There was so much hype and so much potential for the Thompson candidacy, because of the void in the republican race. But it was wiped away almost instantly. I think for a couple of reason. One, he never put together the infrastructure that you need to run a national campaign. He didn't raise enough money. He probably didn't have a good enough staff to pull it off. But he also didn't seem to have the love of the game. He didn't want to be out there, you know, 20 hours a day campaigning, raising money, and doing the things you need to do to win some of these races. And there was so much dissension inside his campaign. It's hard to recall a campaign where so many people were talking to us on background and just so openly critical of how the campaign was being operated.

ROBERTS: Jim, the next big contest for the republicans coming up next Tuesday, it's Florida - Rudy Giuliani had called that his firewall. But the new polls have got him in second place now in Florida, even second place here in New York City, what kind of - New York state rather. What kind of shape is his campaign in?

VANDEHEI: Well, you think about it, you know, we've been having all these big races and he's been sitting on the sidelines through so many states and people largely have forgotten about him because he's not been part of the news cycle. He's not been part of really the debate outside of the formal debates. He has to win Florida. He's put so much money and effort into that state. If he doesn't win it, it's almost inconceivable that he could map out a route to winning the nomination. The fact that he's not even winning in New York where he was mayor of New York, obviously his profile is bigger and better there than anywhere is a sign for the troubles for this candidate. With that said, if he were to win Florida, that would really breathe new life in his campaign and really make him a central focus of the February 5th showdowns. And because there's so much fluidity and unpredictability in the republican side, it's anyone's race to win.

ROBERTS: Yes. It certainly does. That's going to be a crucial state for him. On the democratic side, it looks like the Clintons are continuing their campaign of compare and contrast, very aggressive against Barack Obama. Tom Daschle said that all these back biting risks the destruction of the party. Do you think that's overstating the case a little bit?

VANDEHEI: I do. John, you know, you followed this stuff for a long time. I don't think this is particularly nasty by historical standards. I think there's always a lot of back and forth, and a lot of sharp attacks, and especially when it's crunch time. It's crunch time for the democrats right now. What's mystifying is why Obama is getting involved in a tactical fight with the Clintons. They're the best at it. They've doing that for years. They've been defending every single aspects of their life in the record. They know how to go for the jugular. He was more effective when was trying to rise above that and try to push beyond the back and forth about what you said forward, I had this gummy guy that I had affiliations with in Illinois. That's not a good fight. I think for him, I think you'll increasingly see him. He'll defend himself against the attacks in the Clintons but I think he'll push back to where more of the rhetoric that we saw before.

ROBERTS: Yes. Well, at the same time, you can't allow your opponent to define who you are, though. Jim Vandehei this morning from Washington. Jim, thanks.

VANDEHEI: Enjoy the day.

ROBERTS: And remember, our political coverage continues tonight in primetime, join Soledad O'Brien and me tonight at 8:00 Eastern for CNN's "Election Center." Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, John Edwards says he's been struggling for attention in the democratic race. So, last night Edwards appear on the "Late Show with David Letterman." And granted Letterman an unusual request. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH LETTERMAN": Can I mess your hair up a little bit?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You want to?

LETTERMAN: You mind?

EDWARDS: I don't mind.

LETTERMAN:: Has it ever been messed up?

EDWARDS: No. No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: It looks nice that way too. The tossed look is in, of course. Edwards once famously paid $400 for a hair cut and there was a lot made of that on the campaign trail, right, John?

ROBERTS: Yes, it definitely was. But you know he contends because they had to pay...

CHETRY: The stylist, $1200 including the travel costs.

ROBERTS: Yes, travel cost and overtime and that sort of thing. So, it wasn't the actual hair cut. But don't forget that Bill Clinton had a very expensive hair cut once on Air Force One sitting on the ground at L.A.X. while the other planes were backed up waiting to take off. It happens to the best of us.

CHETRY: You got to look good. You're on the campaign trail.

Well, a country, a crisscross road trip inspired by a stamp collection ended with suspicions of terror. A nightmare for one citizen. We're going to talk to him, coming up.

And also, there are new warnings of what you eat, whether it's T bone or tuna. Dr. Sanjay Gupta with the risks about what you need to know. That's coming up ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: From red meat to blue fin tuna. There are new health fears surrounding both this morning that you want to know about.

CHETRY: Yes, many people's favorite food. CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here. First is the issue about tuna. There are some lab tests conducted by "The New York Times" and they found so much mercury in raw tuna that they say a couple of pieces could a week could be a health hazard. So much concern that they're actually talking about possibly suing to get sushi off of the market. What's going on?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Full disclosure. I have sushi here - I had tuna here last night. So, I was a little surprised about this as well when I read about this this morning. But they talked about actually six pieces per week at several different restaurants. If you ate that much, it would actually exceed your mercury numbers, which if you care about the numbers, it's about 49 micrograms. You should be having more than that. There's obviously people who should be more concerned about this than others, you, for example should be more concerned ...

CHETRY: We're told to stay away if you're pregnant in general.

GUPTA: Yes, I think most of the recommendations about 12 ounces a week, probably no more than that.

CHETRY: Is that raw, not of raw fish?

GUPTA: Any kind of seafood. Certain ones have more mercury in them. The blue fin tuna that we're talking about. Think of that bigger fishes tend to eat smaller fishes, tend to have more mercury in them. So you may want to stay away from those as a general rule.

For most adults, it's probably not going to be a huge problem. But adults can have problems overall with memory problems long term, cardiovascular health, if they're getting too much mercury in their diet. But you know, if you avoid it, you need a couple of servings a week will be OK.

ROBERTS: The entire time you were talking about fish, there was a little banner underneath so that said red meat risk. What does it deal with steak, red meats and colon cancer and metabolic syndrome.

GUPTA: Well, metabolic syndrome is an interesting thing. Because people have talked about this - we have the red meat on the set here. But the metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors which I find very interesting because people say, it's high blood pressure, it's cholesterol. There are actually a bunch of different risk factors that puts you at risk for heart disease, high blood sugar for example, obesity, high cholesterol. You can see some of those there.

What they found, very interesting is that if you were eating two servings a day of red meat, you had a 25 percent chance of developing this metabolic syndrome as compared to people who didn't. I think that's interesting because people always say how much is too much? Two servings a day. Three ounces to four ounces is a serving. That's a quarter pounder, for example. That's considered a serving. If you eat a double quarter pounder, you've gotten two servings already. That's probably too much in terms of metabolic syndrome. What's also interesting is that fried foods, just in general, if you're eating fried foods twice a day increases your metabolic syndrome risk. Diet sodas increase your metabolic syndrome risk as well by 34 percent.

ROBERTS: Really.

CHETRY: This is shaping up to be very bad news for people. Because you could eat this entire steak? ROBERTS: Oh, yes. Easily.

CHETRY: This is not a serving.

ROBERTS: To me that's a snack.

CHETRY: This is a pound.

GUPTA: That's a pound but you wouldn't do that every day.

CHETRY: You would be served this at a restaurant and eat it.

GUPTA: You would be served that in a restaurant and eat it. And if you're getting two of those servings a day over a long term, it's a problem. But let me just say a quick thing about the diet soda because I saw you raise you eyebrows. Nobody really knows why that is. People who drink diet sodas may have also have poor eating habits generally and diet soda is more of a compensation. Or it could be that aspartame in some way, which is the sweetener, causes some sort of reaction in the body. We're not really sure about that. But it is sort of interesting.

ROBERTS: Something to think about.

GUPTA: Don't eat too much meat.

ROBERTS: Because I had one of these last night.

(CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: Those thoughts making us hungry.

ROBERTS: We're not supposed ...

GUPTA: You're always hungry.

ROBERTS: If you got a question for Dr. Gupta, e-mail it to us, go to cnn.com/am. Sanjay answers your questions tomorrow, as he does every Thursday right here on AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: Thanks, Sanjay. I think.

Well, a billboard is turning heads. Advertising sex with two people under the cover. Some say it's racy, others saying it's dirty. We're going to talk more about it. Wait until you hear who put that billboard up, by the way.

Also, there's a cross-country road trip that was inspired by a stamp collection that ended with suspicions of terror. One American citizen facing hours of questioning and she was just trying to visit some states. We're going to explain ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RAMAK FAZEL, PHOTOGRAPHER: At a certain point, my paranoia also starts to kick in. I start to wonder to what extent am I being controlled. And is my mail being checked? M e-mail being checked?

CHETRY: That's Ramak Fazel. He loaded up an old van one day, he set off on a patriotic trip across America. Taking a camera with him, a stamp collection and a dream to explore his adoptive country. But before he knew it, that dream had turned into a nightmare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAZEL: My mom found them in the attic of her house in Ft. Wayne.

CHETRY: And she told him to do something with them. So the Iranian-born photographer took his boyhood stamp collection and hit the open road. He hopped in a van and spent the next three months crisscrossing America, visiting every state capital. He would snap a picture and then make a post card decorated with stamps from his collection.

In Des Moines, Iowa, he told the story of Herbert Hoover in the Great Depression and this rainbow of stamps a tribute to a hot air balloon festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The changing leaves in New England sent from Augusta, Maine and then there's this one made in Bismarck, North Dakota. Simple enough, but the stamps scattered here are worth $300 to collectors. The original value of 21 cents was just enough to cover the postage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAZEL: That's when I felt this collection had been liberated when I was using it in that way.

CHETRY: But Ramak was about to feel anything but liberated. That's right. The first sign of trouble came in Tallahassee, Florida where Ramak said something, "a little odd happened." The police officer followed him through his tour of the capital but it did not stop there.

And Ramak joins us now with more to explain what happened to him. One time, I guess in Annapolis, Maryland you were actually read your Miranda Rights, held for four hours and agents tried to speak to you in Farsi. Did they explain why you were being detained?

FAZEL: No, I didn't get an explanation of why I was being detained and it came as a big surprise to me that I had been detained and Mirandized. It was only towards the end of the trip that the pieces started fitting together.

CHETRY: That's when you were in Kentucky? What did they tell you there?

FAZEL: Well, in Kentucky, by then, I had been through about 15 states and I had been through different gauntlet of law enforcement agents, state and federal. And in Kentucky, one of the state police officers that had stopped me, he was a bit sympathetic to my cause and he showed me a document that had a detailed description of a conversation I had had earlier during the trip on a flight from Sacramento to Honolulu with a passenger sitting next to me. CHETRY: And what did you tell them?

FAZEL: I had told the passenger sitting next to me about my project. Because it was at the beginning of the project, I was quite eager to describe it, the details and share some of my project with whomever was willing to listen. And I told this woman about the visits to the capitals and apparently she took bits and pieces of my story and relayed these to somebody to law enforcement.

CHETRY: And at some point, I think it was Atlanta police who told you were on a list. Did you find out what list you were on?

FAZEL: No, I really didn't, Kiran. I wasn't able to ascertain the details of this list. And, you know, I had a feeling that something was floating around and so there was some kind of super attention trained on me. But the exact nature of the list still isn't clear. And I've written some letters to TSA trying to get clarification.

CHETRY: Trying to get some answers. So, you're an American citizen. You're of Iranian descent. You're working on really an art project that's actually on display now in New York City. How does that make you feel that everywhere you go you're being questioned about what might just be considered a tourist taking a picture if anyone else was doing it?

FAZEL: Well, it was, again, very surprising for me. But I was so immersed of the details of the project and so intensely concentrated that I couldn't let that become too much of a distraction. Otherwise, it would have derailed me.

CHETRY: Were you scared?

FAZEL: I was scared for my personal safety, but, then again, I have great confidence in our systems and in our institutions and I felt that in some way, I'd have to be protected and more than - there was a limit really to how much could happen to me.

CHETRY: And how are you hoping this was resolved? Have you spoken to any attorneys or have you been able to get any answers?

FAZEL: No. I hope, you know, Kiran, I hope and I still do continue to hope to resolve this on my own without having to revert to the help of attorneys. And I've written the letters and I've put in motion some FOIA, Freedom of Information Act requests and it's just a question of seeing when these come through and if they do come through what information I'm able to get.

CHETRY: And did you believe that you were being targeted because you're of Iranian decent?

FAZEL: Well, that's the only thing I could think. Because, you know, I was greeted in Farsi by a federal agent in Maryland and then in other states successively. Different law enforcement agencies asked me pointed questions about Iran, who I know in Iran and when I go to Iran and that sort of thing. CHETRY: Wow, all of this is the end result of an art project that's on display at a store front in Soho right now.

FAZEL: A store front for art and architecture here in Soho. So, I hope people can come and see that. And I hope it can be inspirational to the young people that if they have hobbies they can do it as young children, that's something that could continue later on in life.

CHETRY: Ramak Fazel, thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

FAZEL: Thank you for having me. Thanks, Kiran.

CHETRY: John.

ROBERTS: Well, take a look at this - is this billboard too racy for the road? One church says no. Why it decided to sell a sermon with sex?

And the latest on the market - what can we expect from Wall Street today. Plus, a look at a day in the life of a broker. That's a pretty anxiety-ridden profession right now. That's coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: A check of this morning's quick vote question. Should the government be doing more to avert a recession? We asked and you answered, 78 percent of you saying yes, 22 percent of you saying no. We're going to continue to tally your votes throughout the morning.

Well, one driver said he thought it was advertising a porno site. It was this billboard over Blanding Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. It's actually a billboard for a church. It shows four feet sticking out from under the covers and says pure sex on it. The pastor of the New Life Fellowship Church it's promoting a series of sermons at the church concerning the role of sex in Christian life. And he says attendance is way up.

ROBERTS: Particularly if they practice what they preach, right?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta here now with a look at what he's working on in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING. You've got a fascinating story.

GUPTA: Yes, a couple of things that caught my eye this morning. We talked about this diabetes story in gastric surgery. Could it actually be a benefit in terms of warding off diabetes? Very interesting results this morning. Also, that window washer. He fell almost 500 feet and he survived. We got some new details about how that happened. And exactly what he's going to go through now.

ROBERTS: Right. An amazing progress, right? They thought he was dead but never recovered.

GUPTA: Every now and then, doctors get a little miracle. He's one of them.

ROBERTS: Amazing. Looking forward to it. Thanks, Sanjay.

CHETRY: Thank you. Well, New York forcing restaurants now to make some menu changes, Sanjay. Of course, we talked about this with you yesterday too. The city says it's fighting for people's health. They want to put up the calorie count. Some people say it's just another example of a nanny state. Will it really help? Let me take a look, coming up.

Also, politics are personal. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue the war of words heading to the South Carolina primary. We're going to look at the latest point-counterpoint here. What Bill Clinton says about their high-stakes spat.

The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS (voice-over): Taken too soon. Hollywood says goodbye to actor Heath Ledger.

PATRICIA CLARKSON, ACTRESS: He was a very, very gifted young man, incredibly talented.

ROBERTS: From teen idol to proud father and admired actor. His life and the question surrounding his unexpected death.

Seeing red.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm overly concerned because I know my retirement fund is completely exteriorating.

ROBERT: Stocks skydive. The Fed throws a parachute. What's on top today?

And window washing miracle. A man sits up after a 500 foot, 100 mile an hour freefall down a skyscraper. Doctors said it was impossible. Now, he's out of the hospital on this AMERICAN MORNING.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: And thanks very much for joining us on this Wednesday, the 23rd of January. I'm John Roberts.

CHETRY: I'm Kiran Chetry and that is such an amazing story,

ROBERTS: Too incredible.

CHETRY: ... to fall 47 stories and live to tell about it. Sanjay is going to be talking to us about that a little later.

But meanwhile to another tragedy this morning and that's the death of actor Heath Ledger, one of Hollywood's rising young stars. They're going to be conducting an autopsy today to find out what caused his shocking and sudden death yesterday. New York City police say they are looking at the possibility of an overdose. Ledger was found yesterday on the floor of his New York City apartment.

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