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The Obama Factor; Big Races To Watch; Paying More for Holiday Travel

Aired November 3, 2009 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile here are some of the other stories we're watching right now.

Commuters in Philadelphia having to find another way to work this morning -- that's because public transit workers are now on strike. The union workers waited until after the last of the three World Series games in Philly before going on strike -- that was nice. The strike will affect about half a million people in and around the city.

A recall being ordered for half a million pounds of ground beef. The meat from Fairbanks Farm is linked to a possible E. coli outbreak that's being blamed for two deaths in New York and New Hampshire. More than two dozen other people have gotten sick. The meat is sold in stores on the East Coast Trader Joe's, BJ's and Giant. You can find a complete list on the Department of Agriculture's Web site.

One of the beloved beluga whales at the Georgia Aquarium is dead. Nico was a 25-year-old whale rescued from an amusement park in Mexico. The whale was staying temporarily at Sea World in San Antonio while the tank in Atlanta was undergoing an upgrade. Veterinarians are still trying to determine what killed Nico.

President Barack Obama, his name not on any ballot today but his performance and his popularity may face some big tests in state and local races.

CNN crews are covering some of the most important contests. Jessica Yellin is at a polling place in Alexandria, Virginia, where voters there will choose a new governor. And Mary Snow is in New Jersey where the president campaigned repeatedly for the Democratic incumbent. She'll also look at a conservative revolt across the state line in New York.

Let's begin this morning with Jessica -- excuse me -- let's go to Mary Snow instead first. Mary, I understand you can probably hear me a little bit better from Parsippany right now. Tell us what's going on.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, what's really being tested here is President Obama's political influence. Jon Corzine, the Democratic incumbent here running for re-election as governor, has really been struggling. And President Obama has invested political capital coming to the state three times, the latest visit just this Sunday.

As Jon Corzine and his Republican challenger Chris Christie, a former prosecutor, have been in a dead heat coming up to election day. What voters will tell you here is that they really don't see this race as being a referendum on national policies more so on local issues to the state, property taxes number one.

But what is being watched is to see whether or not the voters who supported President Obama in this blue state will come out once again and lend support to Governor Corzine. Now, the big wild card in this race is the third party independent candidate Chris Daggett. His popularity had been rising in recent weeks and that actually helped Jon Corzine who had been behind in the polls.

The big question now is whether those voters who were supporting Chris Daggett will vote for him today or go for either Corzine or the Republican candidate, Chris Christie in the end. Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. That is definitely the question. But I also want to talk about this congressional race, the 23rd District. Very interesting race in fact. How are things shaping up right now?

SNOW: Boy, Heidi, that is the race that has grabbed so much attention in recent days where the underdog - one-time underdog Doug Hoffman has now been in the lead. The conservative party candidate. He got backing from social and fiscal conservatives even big names like former Governor Sarah Palin as he contested the Republican candidate in that district in upstate New York.

Dede Scozzafava, who abruptly dropped out of the race over the weekend, and she then threw her support to the Democratic candidate Bill Owens. There are big names in that district. Yesterday, Vice president Joe Biden was there to campaign for Bill Owens. Fred Thompson on the Republican side campaigning for Doug Hoffman.

And the big question mark there too is where those undecided voters will go now that Scozzafava has dropped out. It's certainly being closely watched to see what will happen for the Republican party going forward with this division among the more conservative faction and the more moderate faction. Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. And I was just getting good at saying her name, too. Darn it.

All right. Mary Snow, thank you so much from Parsippany, New Jersey. We'll be watching things there all day long. Thanks so much.

Let's get back now to Jessica Yellin. She's standing by in Alexandria, Virginia. Because obviously, Jessica, a very big election for the state of Virginia today. What's going on in particular by way of the governorship?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, Heidi. Right now at a polling place where we have seen a steady trickle of voters moving in, nothing compared to the line of people waiting here at 5:00 a.m. last year to vote in the presidential election. A much different scene here.

But it's being watched closely around the nation because we are in the president's backyard. If we were to drive from where I am right now to the White House without traffic it would take about 20, 25 minutes. And so nationally Republicans are calling this a real referendum on President Obama, on his administration especially deficit spending, those kind of themes.

And the Democrats are insisting that this is much more about local issues. Transportation. Jobs. Those are the two themes that we have been hearing the candidates hit as they campaigned last minute over the weekend. First you're going to hear from the Republican Bob McDonnell and the next person you'll hear from is the Democrat in this race, Creigh Deeds. Let's listen.


BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We want a government that's more transparent. More user friendly. More accountable to you and that means looking at new ways to deliver government services in an effective manner. We cannot sustain $122,000 of national debt for every family represented here. Government must work better for you.

CREIG DEEDS (D), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: The election let's do everything we can to drive out every single vote. Because I know that if we do, we're going to win this election. And then we're going to take Virginia forward. Because it's not just about winning elections, it's about action. It's about progress. It's about what we expect from government.


YELLIN: Now, Heidi, President Obama has been here twice campaigning for Creigh Deeds, the Democrat in this race. So far the folks we have spoken to coming in here seemed to reflect the national trend. Democrats say they're voting local issues and Republicans say it's a message about the way President Obama is running the government -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. And you mentioned Republicans in that proximity to the White House. I understand Sarah Palin has also gotten involved.

YELLIN: That's right. She recorded a message that went out to Virginia voters over the weekend asking them to vote their values. And that's a reflection of the general theme here that the overreaching message we're getting is that Republicans here feel far more energized in general than Democrats seem to by their frustration that they haven't won here for quite a while, at least for the governor's race.

And also because of the growing frustration the Republican party has with the Democratic policies from the White House. So Sarah Palin adding her voice to the mix here. We'll see what happens. Polls close here at 7:00 tonight local -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. And we'll have it all of course coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. All of those results. Jessica Yellin from Alexandria, Virginia this morning. Thanks, Jessica.

Here's a look too at some of the hot ballot measures voters will be deciding on across the country today. Same-sex marriage on the ballot in two states. Maine votes on whether to repeal a law that legalized gay marriage and Washington state votes on a law that would give domestic partnerships the same right as married couples.

Medical marijuana already legal in Maine but with question 5 would greatly expand its use. Then in Ohio, voters have turned down gambling casinos four times and the subject is back again. Issue 3 would allow four casinos to be built with the state raking in one- third of the receipts in taxes.

Rob Marciano standing by now for the election day forecast. We already know it's nice everywhere. Go out and vote, right?


COLLINS: We have to give you some time.

MARCIANO: Yes, exactly. Just taking my thunder here. You know I've been very busy trying to find basically a needle in the haystack. Radar not showing a lot so that's good especially if you are getting out to vote. But there are places like Buffalo, and then New York City, upstate New York might see a little bit of moisture but it certainly isn't going to be enough to shy you away from the polling places.

Forty-six degrees in Chicago. That's maybe a couple degrees cooler than average but not so bad. Sixty degrees in New York, 70 degrees expected in Atlanta, 93 degrees in Phoenix, 80 degrees in Los Angeles. And there's what it looks like on the glorious national map. Just a couple of cool fronts. Not any real big storm. You know, last week we had some major storms roll through the midsection and eastern part of the country. So glad we got those out of the way. And they left behind a little bit of flooding. We'll talk more about that in the next block.

Meanwhile if you are going out to the polls, grab your shades and a light jacket maybe in spots. That's about all you'll need.

COLLINS: Yes. Very good. All right. Rob, thanks so much. We'll give you more time next time.

MARCIANO: Thank you.

COLLINS: All right.

CNN, make sure you join us tonight for special primetime election coverage with the best political team on television. One year since the era of President Barack Obama began. What is the mark he's made on the nation, socially, politically, historically? Primetime election coverage tonight beginning at 8:00 Eastern, only on CNN. COLLINS: The health care debate could move on the house floor soon but first Democrats have to finalize their bill. They're expected to reveal their final tweaks in the so-called manager's amendment today. It will spell out how their plan would deal with abortion funding and coverage for illegal immigrants. Democrats will post it online for 72 hours before pushing it to the floor.

Well as health care reform moves forward, so is opposition to the Democrat's plan. The tea party express moving through the Rockies today. It's a coast to coast bus tour meant to inspire rallies at every stop. Today's first destination is in Cheyenne, Wyoming then on to Colorado with stops in Fort Collins and Denver.

We have some poll numbers, in fact, on President Obama to share with you this morning. In a new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll, we asked how you thought he was handling the job of president? 54 percent of you say you approve. 45 percent disapprove. That's similar to the result from one year ago when 53 percent of voters chose him as president.

A short time ago the president meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel. They talked about things like the economy and also the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down. The White House also trying to convince Germany to send more troops to Afghanistan.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I should just note that Germany has been an extraordinarily strong ally on a whole host of international issues. We appreciate the sacrifices of German soldiers in Afghanistan and our common work there to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and to create the environment in which the Afghan people themselves can provide for their own security.


COLLINS: In less than 30 minutes, Angela Merkel is due on Capitol Hill. She will be addressing a joint meeting of Congress.

Planning on getting out of town for the holidays? Well, find out why you need to plan to pay more for those airline tickets.


COLLINS: The holidays, one of the busiest and most expensive times to travel. Well, guess what? You can expect more of the same this year. Airline surcharges have actually gone up from $10 to $20 each way around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Delta, American, United, U.S. Airways and Northwest have all said they boosted their surcharges because of peak demand and to match their competitors.

With airlines offering less for more these days, one of those services that have gone by the wayside is bereavement fares. Gerri Willis is here now to explain more on this. So, Gerri, remember these fares that basically it allows you to travel immediately without paying an arm and a leg if you should have to do that. What are airlines doing now?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, you can forget bereavement fares. They really have just gone away. Today you are lucky to get what they call a compassion fare. This is a five percent to 10 percent discount on fares.

For example, at Continental, the higher the fare, the higher the discount, up to 20 percent if the fare is over 1,000 bucks. United will give you a 10 percent discount across the board and they will also wave the last-minute booking fees.

American and Delta handle things on a case by case basis. They extended the discount depends on where you're flying to and when. The upside American doesn't limit discounts to specific family members. In short, they'll take your word for it that it's an emergency.

Now, some airlines including US Airways and JetBlue, they don't offer these compassion fares at all -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. So what to do if God forbid, I mean, you have a death in the family, you have to travel a long distance to get there in time for the funeral or a memorial, how do you do that then?

WILLIS: Well, any time you have to book these flights that are right now, you know, tomorrow, today, the folks at Fare Compare say there are great strategies to follow. Number one, negotiate with an airline manager. They may be authorized to work with you, get you a decent fare, wave expensive last-minute fees. You really have to speak those magic words. Ask what they call for them to wave the advance purchase rule so that you can get a fare that would be available a week, two weeks ahead of time, much cheaper.

Use frequent flyer points. This is really the perfect time to use them. You'll pay to redeem them obviously, typically 50 bucks. And if you don't have enough, buy enough miles directly from the airline to top off how much you have. Shop package Web sites. Sometimes, you can get a better airfare by buying a package deal from Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, maybe just dumped the hotel reservation.

But bottom line there are strategies if you have to buy a ticket at the very last minute really for whatever reason to get what you need to get going.

COLLINS: All right. Gerri Willis, sure do appreciate the information. The holidays also are going to be bringing about a lot of questions, I think, with airline travel.

WILLIS: That's right.

COLLINS: We'll make sure we stay close to you for that. Thank you, Gerri.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

COLLINS: Rob Marciano joining us now from the severe - did you find some severe weather?


COLLINS: OK. You've been working hard.

MARCIANO: Yes. Actually this is kind of interesting. A little something perked up in the western Caribbean. So there's Cuba. There's Honduras. Nicaragua and very close to Panama here. And early this morning, the National Hurricane Center put an alert out for this area of disturbed weather. Gave it a 30 to 50 percent chance of it becoming something tropical.

You know, we're still in hurricane season until the end of this month. So even though it's extremely quiet for the Atlantic basin especially, we're not quite done yet. So we'll see if this thing percolates. It kind of feels like it wants to head almost into the Pacific.

So I'm not terribly concern about it at the moment. Of greater concern even though we haven't seen a whole lot of rain on the radar cope the last day or two, the damage done in places like Arkansas. This is (INAUDIBLE), Arkansas, just to the west of Memphis. One of the tributaries that feeds in the Mississippi, got this dog wet and folks who travel around via boat.

Similar scenes up and down the Mississippi from what has been really a wet October. Shreveport saw 20 inches of rainfall for the month of October. That's a record. Little Rock saw 16 inches and St. Louis, Missouri, saw over a foot. So you get the idea. We're looking at rainfall that's already, you know, done the do basically.

And counties up and down the Mississippi continue to be under flood warnings even though the rivers are slowly receding. Good news. We don't expect a whole lot of rainfall in this area really for the next at least five days maybe longer than that. Certainly today we're looking at fairly quiet conditions here across much of the lower 48. Maybe just the Great Lakes seeing some showers at times but that's about it today. Looks good for election weather across the board. Heidi, back over to you.

COLLINS: All right. Rob, thanks for finding the weather. We'll come back a little bit later on. Appreciate it.

MARCIANO: All right. See you.

COLLINS: The suspected ether man in custody. He is blamed in a series of brutal attacks in several states. Now nabbed as a peeping Tom.


COLLINS: Time to check some of the top stories that we are following this morning. A man arrested in Colorado in a peeping tom case may be responsible for as many as 10 rapes in other states. DNA evidence links Robert Howard Bruce to a series of attacks in the 1990s carried out by someone police dubbed as ether man.

He was indicted in connection to five rapes in New Mexico last week. Bruce may also be responsible for other attacks in New Mexico and Texas. He's also accused of trying to blow up the home of a police officer who was scheduled to testify in that peeping tom case.

An Iraqi woman whose father allegedly hit her with his car because she had become too westernized is now dead. 20 year old Noor Almaleki had been in a coma in an Arizona hospital for nearly two weeks. Police say her father ran down her and her boyfriend's mother in his jeep as the women were walking across a parking lot. The other woman is expected to survive. The father who fled the scene was arrested in Atlanta last week and returned to Arizona to face justice.

Attorneys for John Allen Muhammad are expected to appeal the Supreme Court today. Muhammad was convicted of one murder but was behind a series of sniper attacks around Washington, D.C. that left 10 people dead. He's scheduled to be executed one week from today. His accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo is serving a life sentence.

Be sure to join our Anderson Cooper for a special look at the D.C. sniper case. It's an "A.C. 360" investigation, Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Schools are doing a much better job of identifying students eligible for free or reduced price lunches. That's according to a report by the Agriculture Department. The result showed 78 percent of schools identified eligible students by using government records of households already getting aid. But the report also notes there is a wide difference among the states.

Some of your favorite foods may carry a potential danger. A new consumer report study found high levels of a chemical known as BPA in almost all canned foods. BPA is used in protective linings and plastic packaging. We talked about it a lot here. But there are ways to limit your exposure. Try eating more fresh or frozen foods. Use only glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers and look for products that actually carry a BPA-free label.

Antibiotics and birth defects. A new study raising concerns over drugs prescribed to pregnant women. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now to talk more about this. Obviously, there's a lot going on when you're pregnant obviously. But if it's your first pregnant, boy this can be very, very scary.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, sure. Any pregnancy. Because your doctor prescribes these pills to you so you assume that they're safe, but this new study from the "Journal of the American Medical Association" calls into question whether there are some classes of antibiotics that may be linked to birth defects.

And we're talking some serious birth defects. Babies who are missing part of a limb, babies who have brain abnormalities or heart problems. And the study doesn't say absolutely that these antibiotics cause these problems but they say that there might be an association and that there needs to be more research into this.

COLLINS: So if you're a pregnant woman and your doctor is saying you need to take these, you're terrified to take them. What do you do? What's the alternative?

COHEN: Well, most of the antibiotics in the study actually were fine. And they didn't seem to cause any problems. So what you can do is if your doctor prescribes you an antibiotic. You can ask one question, you can say, doctor, does this antibiotic fall into the two classes of drugs that were found to be possibly problematic.

The first one is called sulfonamides and the second one is called nitrofurantoins. So you can ask. Does it fall into one of those two categories. If it doesn't, then according to this study, you're going to be, that's probably OK. If it does, you can say is there a different antibiotic that you could give me that isn't in these two classes.

COLLINS: OK. Understood. If there's risks surrounding these or even questions surrounding these type of drugs, why do doctors even use them for pregnant women?

COHEN: I asked an obstetrician that today. I said well if there's even a question about it, why would you prescribe it? He says sometimes an infection will only respond to one of those two types of antibiotics. And they said when a pregnant woman has an infection, you have to treat it to protect her and the baby and sometimes these are your only choices.

COLLINS: OK. Understood. Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. Thanks, Elizabeth.

And the nation's fourth largest city could it be on the verge of an historic first? Plus a look at the local races that are drawing national attention today on this election day.


ANNOUNCER: Live in the CNN NEWSROOM, Heidi Collins.

COLLINS: It's an off election year as you know but millions of Americans will be casting votes today for governors, local officials, and congressional members. Many of those races could have national implications.

In New York's 23rd Congressional District, partisan loyalties are put to the test. Prominent Republicans including Sarah Palin are backing conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman. Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava has dropped out of the race and has endorsed Democrat Bill Owens.

In New Jersey, incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine is in a tough battle to keep his job. President Obama visited the state five times to campaign for him. He faces strong challenges from Republican Chris Christie and independent Chris Daggett. The only other gubernatorial race is in Virginia. Will voters keep the top elected office in the hands of the Democrats or will President Obama's sliding popularity push them to elect a Republican?

In Houston, Texas, four major candidates hoping to lead America's fourth largest city. Roy Morales could become Houston's first Hispanic mayor and Annise Parker could also make history, if elected, she would become the first openly gay woman elected mayor of any major American city.

CNN's Ed Lavandera explains.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Annise Parker is a veteran of Houston's big city politics. She served on the city council, spent the last five years as the controller in charge of the budget. Before politics she worked in Houston's oil and gas industry. That's what gets the most attention. The footnote is that Parker is openly gay. She's been with her partner for 19 years and they have two adopted children.

ANNISE PARKER, HOUSTON MAYORAL CANDIDATE: I have always stood up for the fact that I am gay, and it's part of the resume I bring to the table. But it's just a piece of the package.

LAVANDERA: Houston voters haven't always been that accepting of gay political issues. A few years ago, Houston voters rejected a plan to offer benefits to same-sex partners of city workers. And 24 years ago, anti-gay candidates ran what was called the straight slate in an unsuccessful effort to unseat a mayor who backed job rights for homosexuals. Annise Parker was a young political activist then. She became president of Houston's gay and lesbian political caucus.

PARKER: Houston is a multiracial, multicultural, international city and I think my election will send a message to the world that -- just kind of, Houston is a city might surprise a lot of folks.

LAVANDERA: But in a mayor's race that some have called boring, Parker is in a tight three-way contest with architect and city councilman Peter Brown and attorney Gene Lock. The three candidates share virtually the same positions on the issues. Charles Kuffner, a Houston political blogger says that makes the election a personality contest.

CHARLES KUFFNER, HOUSTON POLITICAL BLOGGER: It's a matter of who do you really want in the driver's seat? I as a voter believe that any of the top three candidates would do a decent job. It's a question of which one do I think will do the best job.

LAVANDERA (on camera): None of the candidates are expected to get a majority of the votes on Tuesday, which means this race is headed into a runoff. The top two vote-getters will face off again in December.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Houston. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Voters could also write an historic footnote in Atlanta. These are the front runners among six candidates seeking the mayor's office. City Councilwoman Mary Norwood could become the city's first white mayor in a generation.

Here are a couple other races and an initiative catching our attention today. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg expected to win a third term today. The billionaire mayor is also expected to spend more than $100 million on the race. His opponent, William Thompson, Jr., one-tenth of that.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino faces a challenge from the city council president Michael Flaherty. "The Boston Globe" pitting the battle as an "incumbent's well-oiled political machine again versus an upstart's campaign for change."

And Ohio voters will decide if veterans will get a little something extra. The ballot measure calls for payments of up to $1,000 for vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes $5,000 for the families of troops killed in action.

Want to head over to the Severe Weather Center now. Rob Marciano standing by in front of Central Park there with a pretty nice looking Election Day forecast.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I think scenes like this, depending on whether you're in peak season for foliage or not, are going to be representative across most of the country.


MARCIANO: Oh, by the way, check out this fancy graphic out of the CNN Severe Weather Center. We have the voting balloons. Heidi, can you see the somewhat faded American flag there?

COLLINS: I can! That's fabulous art work. Did you do that?

MARCIANO: No. Sean Morris...


MARCIANO: Sean Morris on the illustrative pen (ph). Taylor Ward also, he's visiting from CNN International. Nice work there, Sean. Are you going to get out and vote today?

Yes. He's going to do his democratic duty -- or citizen-like duty I should say. Anyway, just like to give credit where credit is due. Proud to be part of the CNN Weather Team and proud to be an American on this Election Day.

COLLINS: Do you have a song? I'm waiting for you to break out into a song.

MARCIANO: No. COLLINS: Oh, all the producers are screaming no, don't do it. All right, Rob. We'll check back later. Thanks for the art, too, Sean.

Make sure you join us tonight for primetime election coverage with the "Best Political Team on Television." One year since the era of President Barack Obama began. What mark has he made on the nation? Socially, politically, historically? Primetime election coverage beginning tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Quickly now, happening right now in fact, you are looking at the joint session of Congress about to get underway. I'm being told that just a few moments from now, we'll be hearing the introduction of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Just as a reminder, this will be the first time, in fact, a German leader has addressed a joint session of Congress. So, we'll keep our eye on that for you and let you know what happens in Washington today.

Meanwhile, Warren Buffett is betting big on railroads. The investment guru is buying the nation's second-biggest railroad company. Susan Lisovicz is in New York now with details on this. It's pretty interesting. How big of a deal is this?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's big. I guess it would be the world's most expensive train set. Forty-four billion dollars. Warren Buffett Berkshire-Hathaway is buying Burlington Northern Santa Fe. And it says volume -- speaks volumes because it's the biggest acquisition that he's ever made since he's been at the company. He's been there for a long time.

But this is what Warren Buffett does. He may be the world's second-richest man, but he's absolutely miserly when he makes an acquisition. What he looks for is good companies, companies he considers good at a good price.

And that's what Berkshire Hathaway is. It has all of the companies under its umbrella. GEICO, the insurance company, Fruit of the Loom, we certainly know that for socks and other apparel, Dairy Queen, no explanation necessary. He owns big stakes in companies such as Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson.

In any case, Burlington Northern will join the Berkshire Hathaway family, and investors like it. Shares up 28 percent. Basically, that's limiting the losses that we saw at the open and throughout the trading session so far, Heidi, because there were concerns about banks overseas. But right now we're seeing modest losses for the Dow, NASDAQ and S&P.

COLLINS: OK. Understood. All right. We will watch closely. Quickly, I was curious because I know the railroad industry is not a dying business. Some people may talk about it that way. I think there would be people that disagree.

LISOVICZ: Certainly Warren Buffett does. Certainly, you know, the recession's hurt it because there is less demand for things, so there's less freight moving on the railroads. But he says -- using a poker term, he says it's an all-in wager on the economic future of the U.S.

And what's even more interesting, I think, is that he says this is also a green play. He says that railroads, for instance, this railroad last year moved on average a ton of goods, hundreds of miles on one gallon of diesel. So, it releases far fewer pollutants into the atmosphere. It saves on energy consumption. It diminishes highway congestion. It's green and he say also with rising gas prices, actually, truckers get hurt more than rails.

So, all around, it's a good play. He says we'll see. Spending a whole lot of money to do so.

COLLINS: Yes. Absolutely. All right. Very interesting. Susan Lisovicz, thank you.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

COLLINS: President Obama weighing options on Afghanistan. But will U.S. troops be ready if he decides to give them a go?

Also, we want to know what you think the U.S. should be doing in Afghanistan. You can check out our blog at We'll be reading some of your answers to that question. What do you think about President Obama's war strategy coming up in just a few minutes.


COLLINS: The health care debate could move on to the House floor soon. First, Democrats have to finalize their bill. They're expected to reveal their final tweaks in the so-called manager's amendment today. They'll spell out how their plan would deal with abortion funding and coverage for illegal immigrants. Democrats will post it online for 72 hours before pushing it to the floor.

British police make an appeal online to find Madeleine McCann. The little missing girl has been gone for quite some time now. Newly released images show how she might have changed and what she would look like now at age 6. McCann disappeared more than two years ago while on vacation with her family in Portugal. Police are asking Internet users to share the video online to help them get closer to her abductor.

North Korea may be working on another nuclear bomb. In a statement today, North Korea announced they've reprocessed thousands of nuclear fuel rods to get plutonium. That would be enough plutonium to add another bomb to North Korea's nuclear arsenal. The announcement may be an attempt to force the U.S. to agree to bilateral talks.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai says he's open to other ideas one day after being awarded a third term. Karzai is reaching out to opponents to help in the new government. That includes the Taliban. Karzai says he's going to try and stamp out the widespread corruption in Afghanistan that has plagued his time in office.

Quickly, happening right now, I want to get you back to the congressional floor. The joint session of Congress is getting ready to hear from German chancellor Angela Merkel. What's interesting about this as she makes her way down to the podium is that it's the first time that a German leader will actually address the joint session of Congress. So, there you go. Some of the live pictures there happening in Washington right now.

President Obama still weighing options for a new Afghanistan strategy. Later today, he's scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr takes a look at the delay and how it figures into the strategy itself.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Still no indication when President Obama plans to decide what to do about Afghanistan.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the decision still will be made in the coming weeks.

STARR: But Republican pressure is mounting on the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm concerned about this delay. I would hope that the president would make a decision and make it soon.

STARR: Privately, many senior military officials are anxious to see a decision from the president. With winter snows on the way, it could still be months before new troops could be in place.

One argument against a hasty troop decision -- waiting puts pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to clean up corruption in his government.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKING INSTITUTION: There's a certain argument for making our decision more patiently and keep leverage on the Afghans.

STARR: All this comes as the casualty rate is escalating. In the last three months, nearly 150 U.S. troops lost their lives. That's more than half of those killed so far this year.

The number of wounded also on the rise. One-fourth of all the wounded since the war began have come in the last three months. Roadside bombs still the number one killer, more so as the number of troops have increased.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Clearly, the IED threat has become worse over the -- in the six months since -- the six or seven months since the president made the decision to plus up in Afghanistan.

STARR: Some conditions have improved, U.S. officials say. Parts of the Helmand River valley and some approaches to Kandahar City are back in coalition control, although not the city itself. Overall, however, the U.S. military estimates 30 percent of the country remains under strong Taliban influence. (on camera): So, what if the president decided to send more troops? Army officials tell us there are three brigades in the United States that could be tapped for duty but still might not be ready to go until next year.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


COLLINS: In fact, it's been an issue we've been talking about quite a bit on this show. Today, we ask you on our blog, what do you think the president's strategy should be in Afghanistan? We've actually gotten quite a few responses. Want to go ahead and go to Heidi Mac and read them to you.

This from Valerie. "My husband and I are both in the Army. We would want nothing more than the president to just start withdrawal. Our soldiers' lives are not worth it, not one of those lives were worth it.

Jean writes, "I trust the president to make the right decision about the war in the right timeframe. He has advisors and information that the rest of us don't have."

And then Michael writes this: "There is no possibility of an easy U.S. victory, much less a useful one when Afghanistan is run by corrupt government and tribal conflict as it has been for a hundred years or more."

Once again, we always appreciate you weighing in. Today that question on what the strategy should be in Afghanistan.

The auto industry moving out of reverse. Ford just announced they made a huge profit, and they may not be the only automaker with some good news.


COLLINS: Cash for Clunkers may be history but plenty of people still buying cars. Is the worst over for the auto industry? Stephanie Elam is joining us now from's newsroom in New York. So, Stephanie, we saw those pretty big and unexpected profit margins for Ford yesterday. Other companies getting good news, too?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There's still plenty of questions out there, Heidi, about how quickly and how strongly the auto industry is recovering.

We could get a better indication of that today as the automakers release their October sales numbers. Overall, analysts predict sales will top 10 million vehicles on an annualized basis. That would be up from about 9 million in September, although still lightly lower than a year ago.

Now, General Motors expected to post the first year-over-year sales gain in 21 months. The company's also forcasting a gain in market share, and that would be for the third month in a row. Overcoming a slide in market share has been a key hurdle for GM as it shed four of its eight brands with sales numbers are not expecting to be up across the board. Both Ford and Chrysler could post declines for October, Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, when we look at GM and Chrysler, we know that they are basically still on the hook to taxpayers for billions of dollars. Could it turn around at those companies meaning we'll get our money back?

ELAM: Yes. That remains to be seen. Ford is the only one of the three companies that didn't take bailout money, and that's the reason why we don't include them in this group. But whether or not we'll get our money back, that's still a little gray right now.

But the GAO is out with a new report that concludes the Treasury Department is unlikely to recover the full investment in Chrysler or GM. We're talking about $62 billion in restructuring loans. That's not to say taxpayer won't get anything back especially if GM issues new stock as expected sometime next year.

In the meantime, the GAO wants to make the Treasury to make sure it's keeping a close eye on the investment on GM and Chrysler. It's recommending that Treasury hire people for that job in particular and put together a formal plan for divesting the government's ownership stake. Of course, Heidi, we'll be watching, and when those October sales numbers come out, we'll get them to you.

COLLINS: All right. Very good. Appreciate it. Stephanie, nice to see you. Thanks.

NFL commissioner Peter Goodell back on Capitol Hill this morning. This time, he's asking for a change in labor laws. Last year, the NFL tried to suspend two Minnesota Vikings players who used banned substances. But a federal appeals court let the players keep playing while a Minnesota court considers their case. Goodell says this undermines professional sports leagues' policies on steroid use.

It's something only one other German leader has ever done before her. Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing the U.S. Congress right now. Merkel is making a case for action on climate change. Earlier, she met with President Obama at the White House. The two talked about Afghanistan, the economy, and the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down. The last time a German chancellor addressed Congress was in 1957.

Pardon me. I thought she was the first ever.

Rob Marciano joining us now to talk more about the weather situation, which we keep seeing all this sunshine out there, huh? Except for where?

MARCIANO: Yes. There's a few places. We'll get to that. I didn't plan this beautiful panning of downtown Atlanta, but I guess we're getting it. Now we're stopping it.


COLLINS: Very good. All right, Rob. Again, waiting for the song. The patriotic song.

MARCIANO: We could do the Green Acres song. (INAUDIBLE) I'm hearing a not again. If they let our creative juices flow, Heidi, we really could make some award-winning television.

COLLINS: Yes. OK. All right, Rob. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Wake up a little cranky this morning? Well, it turns out that may actually help you get through the day. A new study out of Australia shows people in a negative mood are less gullible, better able to judge others, and have a better memory.

Didn't think we were supposed to judge others. Happy people, on the other hand were more creative, flexible, and cooperative. How about that?

A drunk driver nabbed by police turned in by a concerned citizen. But you'll never guess who actually called 911.


COLLINS: It's always funny when life imitates Halloween costumes. An Ohio man dressed as a breathalyzer test for Halloween ended up taking a breathalyzer before the night was finished. Here's his mugshot in his costume. According to the police report, this man, 18-year-old James Miller, was driving the wrong way on a one-way street. He was charged with DUI and underage drinking.

Staying with the theme now. A concerned citizen called police when she saw a drunk driver, but it turns out she was looking in the mirror. Jeanne Moos has more, including the 911 call that surprised even the emergency operator.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mary Stray did not stray from doing the right thing, turning in a drunk driver.


911 DISPATCHER: Clark County 911.

MARY STRAY, DRUNK DRIVER: Somebody's really drunk driving down Granton Road.


MOOS: She should know.


911 DISPATCHER: OK, are you behind them? STRAY: No, I am them.

911 DISPATCHER: You am them?

STRAY: Yes, I am them.

911 DISPATCHER: OK, so you want to call and report that you're driving drunk?



MOOS: The Wisconsin woman later told police she had seven or eight brandy-and-Cokes.


911 DISPATCHER: Are you still driving right now?


911 DISPATCHER: Do you want to stop driving before you get into an accident?

STRAY: Yes, I will stop.


MOOS: And she did with a blood alcohol level almost twice the legal limit.

(on camera): This isn't the first time that someone allegedly driving drunk has called 911. It happened just last year in Washington state.


911 DISPATCHER: 911, what are you reporting?

CALLER: I just don't know if I'm safe to be driving.

911 DISPATCHER: Why wouldn't you be safe?

CALLER: I'm pretty drunk. I don't feel good.


MOOS: In fact, he felt so bad he spoke to a KCPQ reporter without revealing his identity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Killing someone else is the last thing I wanted to do. I just think -- I started feeling really guilty about being on the road.

MOOS (voice-over): Guilt isn't always the motivating factor. Remember the Michigan police officer who called 911 high on pot he confiscated from suspects?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're dying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much did you guys have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. We made brownies and I think we're dead. I really do.

MOOS: He didn't die, but he did resign.

And for those who prefer to recline...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just had a ball with it. I don't usually drink and drive on it.

MOOS: ... Dennis Anderson's (ph) motorized recliner has been up for bid on eBay, complete with headlights, radio, and, of course, cup holder. This is the famous recliner that Anderson (ph) crashed into a parked car last year while driving drunk.

Other people have motorized their recliners. But lacking the cachet of infamy, they don't get bids in the $43,000 range.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's ridiculous, the price it's going for.

MOOS: Anderson (ph) isn't getting the money, but Proctor, Minnesota, police are auctioning it off. Though TMZ reports La-z-boy Corporation insisted they drop its name from the auction.

When it comes to drinking and driving, sometimes it's not just us versus them.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos...


MOOS: ... CNN, New York.



I'm Heidi Collins.

CNN NEWSROOM continues now with Tony Harris.