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CNN NEWSROOM

Afghanistan Decision; Farmers Share in the Bounty; The NFL, Players & Concussions

Aired November 25, 2009 - 10:00   ET

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


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: For two decades Paul Snow has been feeding the less fortunate. Now due to tough times the number of people in need is growing.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us now live from Hallandale Beach Florida where Snow is handing out Thanksgiving turkeys. Hey there John; nice to see you. We've been kind of watching this picture all morning long and that line is getting long.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's amazing. It stretches all the way back down that block there Heidi and they really expect to hand out about 1,500 turkeys here.

They started handing them out about 9:00 this morning. Florida Marlins Baseball Team is here helping out as well; giving out these turkeys. You see these birds they got here are a pretty good size; 20-pound turkeys.

It's really a sign of the economic times. A lot of these people in this line coming here and getting the bread and getting vegetables and fruits but a lot of people have never, ever been in these kinds of lines before. Have never had to do this but again a sign of the times.

Paul, you've been doing this for 20 years. The last couple years, Paul, you've really seen an increase in the number of people you've had to serve.

PAUL SNOW, GIVES OUT TURKEYS FOR THANKSGIVING: Just since recession I've seen 39 percent increase.

ZARRELLA: Thirty-nine percent increase.

SNOW: Yes.

ZARRELLA: Why do you do this?

SNOW: I don't know. I've been doing it so long. I volunteered one day 20 years ago when I was waiting for my disability.

ZARRELLA: And you've been here ever since.

SNOW: Yes. Since then I lost a leg and had a pacemaker put in.

ZARRELLA: And you still come out here and you're out here every week giving out meals and food. SNOW: Well, 12,000 families this year.

ZARRELLA: 12,000 families, Heidi. He's served this year.

COLLINS: Wow.

ZARRELLA: And the numbers, Paul telling me, when he first started doing this there were 11 families that came out here 20 years ago. So, pardon me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really appreciate it. Yes, because without him, I wouldn't be able to eat every month that I come and I get food here. So god bless us with a place like this that cares about people like me that live on SSI and have not a penny for food.

ZARRELLA: And you're going to have a good Thanksgiving now, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am.

ZARRELLA: Your name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Sharon. I don't have any family so this is the best.

ZARRELLA: Sharon, thanks so much.

Everybody, you know, in this line with a smile on their faces, Heidi, because of all of the good that Paul and the volunteers here do week after week and especially on the holidays. I see a lot of people are going to have a much better holiday than they might otherwise have had -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Oh, yes. No doubt about it. Boy, what a great story. We sure do love it. John Zarrella reporting for us from Florida today. Thank you, John.

CNN, your holiday travel headquarters on this very busy day before Thanksgiving when millions of people are driving and flying. We are tracking weather condition and airport delays all across the country. Meteorologist Rob Marciano is in the weather center with the latest.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COLLINS: We do have a couple new measures of the economy this morning to talk about. Apparently, Americans are opening their wallets again, according to the Commerce Department. Consumer spending rose a brisk 0.7 of a percentage point last month. That follows the decline of 0.6 of one percent just a month before. The increase in consumer spending considered an encouraging sign for the economic recovery.

Also, making economic news, fewer than expected are filing their first claims for unemployment benefits. The new number for last week, 466,000. The lowest in 14 months. Still a big, big number, however. We are also watching these numbers. Dow Jones industrial averages to the positive now just by about 20 points or so. Resting at 10,453. We'll continue to watch those numbers throughout the morning. It's the last day of trading before Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Preparing for the new strategy in Afghanistan. President Obama expected to announce his decision early next week. CNN's Elaine Quijano has more on how the Pentagon is moving ahead and the possible number of troops that could be involved.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the heels of the president's last scheduled war council meeting to review Afghanistan strategy, Pentagon planners are now expecting orders to send about 34,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, according to a defense official.

The planning calls for Army and Marine brigades as well as support troops, but top military officials have made clear getting any additional forces into the country will take months because of a lack of road and other infrastructure.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I anticipate that as soon as the president makes his decision, we can probably begin flowing some forces pretty quickly after that. But it is a bigger challenge than certainly was the case in Iraq.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIR: We had in Iraq a place -- a staging base in Kuwait. We don't have that in Afghanistan.

QUIJANO: The 34,000 additional troops would be less than the 40,000 sources say General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, wants. But one official says NATO allies would be asked to fill in that gap.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: If the president decides to commit additional forces to Afghanistan, there would be an expectation that our allies would also commit additional forces.

QUIJANO: For his part, the president vowed the Afghanistan war will end on his watch.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is my intention to finish the job.

QUIJANO: But questions persist about Afghanistan's shaky government and the ability of Afghanistan forces to take over security responsibilities.

(on camera): Can one realistically put a date certain on finishing the job in Afghanistan?

MORRELL: Well, I don't know. I think it's unknowable how long it will take, but I think we all have to work with the idea that we have goals, landmarks, things to shoot for to get this done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Elaine Quijano is joining us now live from the Pentagon with more on this.

So Elaine, we've been talking for a long time about when this announcement is going to come out and when the American public will learn how many troops will be sent to Afghanistan. What will happen next? Will we have an understanding as to how they came to the number and then of course where the troops will be used and where they'll come from?

QUIJANO: Yes. I mean, we have a sense already of this. Of course, a lot of the fighting as you know in Afghanistan is happening in the south and the southeast parts of that country. So in answer to your question about where these troops might go, it's very clear that a lot of these forces might be headed in those parts of the country.

Now, what happens next? Obviously the orders would begin then for troops to start flowing into the country but as we heard from Secretary Gates in that piece there, that's going to take some time. I can tell you that a senior military official told us that there is a plan in place for some testimony to kind of illuminate members of Congress and the public, of course, on how all of this is going to work.

And we know that General Stanley McChrystal is expected to testify at some point. We also know that Secretary Robert Gates, the Defense secretary, as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, will be testifying as well.

As for exact dates on that, all of that is still very much fluid at this point. But as you mentioned, the president is expected to make his announcement early next week sometime and then not too soon after that, Heidi, is when we might see these officials heading to Capitol Hill to testify.

COLLINS: Yes. Is there any talk, Elaine, about what the holdup is? I mean, it feels like we have a good sense of what the number is, we have a good sense of where the troops are going to go, how they're going to be used, why not just announce it?

QUIJANO: Well, you know, we heard from President Obama himself he wasn't going to do it this week, Thanksgiving week. There are a lot of logistics, I can tell you - there are conversations obviously that are still taking place and some moving parts still behind the scenes. That's a question perhaps the folks at the White House might be able to answer as well but from this perspective here at the Pentagon what they've been doing in the interim is to go ahead and look at that rough number, that 34,000, and figure out how exactly they can make that number work.

They are saying, look, don't hold us to that 34,000. That's just the approximate figure that we've been given and from that they are drawing up their plans in anticipation of what the president might announce next week.

COLLINS: All right. Elaine Quijano, sure do appreciate it from the Pentagon this morning.

Now, something to mention here, NATO may be sending close to an additional 5,000 troops to Afghanistan. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says 10-member nations are promising more troops. NATO, along with the U.S., make up the international security force in Afghanistan, the ISF. There are around 45,000 NATO troops there right now.

Onto health care reform. As Congress debates the final bill, lawmakers may want to consider a hotel in Florida in addition to the restaurant and gift shop, there's a health care clinic. But it's not for the guests. It's for the employees.

CNN's Jim Acosta with the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At this health clinic in Orlando, Florida, there's no such thing as no vacancy. It's located inside a hotel.

HARRIS ROSEN, ROSEN HOTELS HEALTH CLINIC FOUNDER: How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good, how are you?

ROSEN: OK.

ACOSTA: And run by the hotel's owner, Harris Rosen, who started the clinic 18 years ago to see if he could cover all of his employees and save money.

ROSEN: There is a - an apprehension, a fear, an anxiety on the part of most employers to step into an area they know very little about. But we did it and at a cost that were a fraction of what the national averages are. Why? We emphasize wellness.

ACOSTA: Rosen dumped his insurance company, hired his own doctors, nurses and support staff, all of it at little cost to his employees. But there's a catch.

ROSEN: If you smoke, Jim, you can't work for me.

ACOSTA: The employees have to follow Rosen's rules or risk losing their coverage. Smokers have to quit. Heavyset workers have to go on weight loss programs and so on.

ROSEN: So there is a bit of big brother looking over to make sure that you're following the - the regimen.

ACOSTA (on camera): And you're big brother?

ROSEN: Yes, and I don't like that very much because I - I'm not very much a fan of big brother, any big brother. But I am.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Chris Teague the assistant manager at one of Rosen's hotels lost 100 pounds with the clinic's help. (on camera): You're glad they nudged you?

CHRIS TEAGUE, HOTEL ASSISTANT MANAGER: Yes. Oh, yes. This changed my life dramatically.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The clinic's approach does have its critics who say it's an invasion of privacy.

JEFFREY BLOOM, TRIAL ATTORNEY: The idea of providing wellness care is wonderful, but if I choose not to go back to a follow-up care with - with a doctor, that's my decision.

ACOSTA: But it's not the critics who worry Rosen, it's Congress.

(on camera): You'd think with the health care system Harris Rosen has put in place here, he'd be a big fan of Democratic plans for health care reform. But the message at this health care hotel is quite the opposite. It's do not disturb.

(voice-over): Under the Democratic proposals in Congress, Rosen says he'd save money by shutting down his clinic, forcing his employees into a public plan and paying a government-imposed penalty.

ROSEN: I'd hate to close this facility down. It means so much to all of us.

ACOSTA: Including Harris Rosen, who seems to enjoy providing health care, whether it's in Spanish or French, more than he likes running the fanciest of his seven hotels.

ROSEN: Some of my friends will - will probably not be happy with what I'm about to say, but I do believe that it's a right.

ACOSTA: Jim Acosta, CNN, Orlando.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Farmers grew the crops but sometimes grew poorer when they sold them. Well now some are reinventing the way they do business.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Quickly, we want to make sure we get this out to you just as soon as we learn it here at CNN. We understand that President Barack Obama will be making that announcement regarding troop deployment to Afghanistan on Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m.. We're trying to get a little bit more information about where exactly that will be on television or which networks will be carrying it, if any.

So once again, at this point, what we know is that President Obama will announce the troop deployment plans 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday of next week. We'll get more to you just as soon as we learn it here.

Meanwhile, we also have a recall to tell you about. It involves 110,000 Toyota Tundra trucks from the 2000 through 2003 model years registered in cold weather states. Federal regulators say road salt can cause excessive corrosion to the truck's frame causing the spare tire mounted underneath to fall off. Federal regulators want the owners to remove the spare tire before taking the truck back to the dealer in order to be fixed.

In the Pacific northwest, some farmers are changing the way they do business so they can stay in business. They're banding together to shun the risky commodities market and take their crops straight to the customer. It's a winning approach on many levels. CNN's Jason Carroll explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fred Fleming's family has been working this land here in Lincoln County, Washington, for so long. President Grover Cleveland deeded the property to his great grandfather more than a century ago. Fleming jokes how he used to be addicted to traditional farming like his forbearers but not anymore.

FRED FLEMING, SHEPHARD'S GRAIN CO-FOUNDER: I'm a recovering conventional farmer. I'm 10 years into my program. My name is Fred.

CARROLL: He smiles now but for years Fleming worried and wondered why there wasn't a better way to sell his wheat other than the conventional way, selling it through the commodities market where prices fluctuate so much it drives some farmers to bankruptcy. So Fleming stopped doing things the old way.

(on camera): You are doing something different, right, Fred, in that you are marketing directly to those who want your product.

FLEMING: Right. We actually develop a relationship with our customers.

CARROLL (voice-over): Fleming formed Sheppard's Grain, a network of 33 farmers who bypass the commodities market, selling directly to customers.

FLEMING: It's sort of like what Starbucks did with coffee. They put pizzazz to it. What we're going is we're putting pizzazz to wheat.

CARROLL: Fleming got his friend and fellow farmer, Karl Kupers, to help, together deciding they would set their own prices based on production costs allowing for more stability especially in troubled times.

KARL KUPERS, SHEPHARD'S GRAIN CO-FOUNDER: And if you're going to be sustainable, you at least have to cover your cost of production. Agriculture doesn't play in that game. It hasn't played in that game. And that's -

CARROLL (on camera): You're playing a different game.

KUPERS: This is the uniqueness of Shephard's Grain. CARROLL (voice-over): It appealed to Mike Kunz when the recession hit his farm and felt the impact. He joined Shephard's Grain two years ago.

MIKE KUNZ, SHEPHARD'S GRAIN FARMER: It's a long-term plan that I think is, you know, showing more popularity and it's going to increase in the future.

CARROLL: And that approach has attracted customers across the Pacific northwest. (INAUDIBLE) say stable prices and a local connection equals more sales. Their customers like seeing a Shepherd's Grain label and tracing products back to their farmers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As we started marketing that around the area, sales have just exploded.

CARROLL: Higher sales and consumers knowing their farmers like they did years ago. Fred Fleming's great grandfather would be proud.

FLEMING: We excited my customer base. And they are truly what have our future in their hands. When they buy products from us then they can truly impact the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Farming networks are becoming more common around the country. Farmers say smoothing out the peaks and valleys of their crop sales is especially important in a bad economy.

I want to remind you of something we just told you here a moment ago on CNN. We have information now and have been able to confirm that the president will be making the announcement regarding troop deployment to Afghanistan on Tuesday night. It's going to happen at 8:00 p.m.. Apparently, that announcement is going to be made from West Point, the Army's academy there.

And obviously we will be carrying it live for you but just a reminder because we've been talking about it for a long time as to how many troops will end up being deployed to Afghanistan. The president making that announcement 8:00 p.m. from West Point on Tuesday night. We'll have it here on CNN.

The NFL gives into pressure and changes its policy on head injuries. Find out if the players' union think it's enough.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: On the eve of the first anniversary of the Mumbai terror attack attacks, Pakistan is charging seven men with planning and carrying them out. This comes from the defense attorney representing one of them. All of them could face the death penalty and all pleaded not guilty. At least 160 people died in the four-day assault last year. Nine of the attackers were also killed.

CNN has learned President Obama will go to Copenhagen, Denmark, December 9th. The president is going to attend at least part of the United Nations climate change conference. The White House previously announced the president would be in Oslo, Norway, December 10th to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

The man who brought large screens to arenas and helped revitalize part of downtown Washington is dead. We're talking about Abe Pollin, long time owner of the NBA's Washington Wizards. He built two arenas, the Capitol Center and the Verizon Center with his own money. The Capitol Center was the first major sports venue with luxury boxes and a big replay screen. And the Verizon Center was built in an area torched during riots in 1968. He Abe Pollin was 85 years old.

Hits, grabs, tackles, and injuries. All part of any game of football. The NFL has gotten a lot of criticism lately for the way teams deal with concussions and other head injuries. And now it's changing its policy. The league will soon require teams to get advice from an independent doctor for any player with a head injury.

Joining me now with players reaction to the new policy, Dr. Thom Mayer, medical director for the NFL Players Association. Dr. Mayer, thanks for being with us. I know that the NFL Players Association has approved this new policy. Tell us exactly what the agreement was that you reached with the NFL.

DR. THOM MAYER, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, NFL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION: Well, D. Smith, who is my boss, the executive director of the Players Association, is really passionate about the health, and safety, the welfare of our players. He empowered me to reach out to the NFL and my colleague, Dr. Elliot Pellman who is my counterpart with the league to begin discussions about how we could move aggressively to improve the, particularly the concussion care of the players.

So Dr. Pellman and I have been working for the past several weeks identifying independent neurologic experts that can give an opinion with regard to return to play decisions and how players will return once they've been pulled out of a game. So we're very pleased with that progress. And we expect more progress in the future.

COLLINS: So it doesn't even need to be a neurologist, correct?

MAYER: Neurologist, the neurosurgeon, someone who is could be an emergency physician, but all the CVs I've seen so far have neurologists or neurosurgeons, someone who is not just familiar with concussions but sports concussions and how best to manage them.

COLLINS: Yes. But the decision, the initial decision anyway about whether or not that player will be taken out of the game or off the field, will that still be made by team doctors?

MAYER: Well, we expect the neurologic consultants, the independent consultants -

COLLINS: Right.

MAYER: -- to be available to them to help make the decision on whether a player can return to play or not return to play. We have an analogy to that. Several years ago, we asked for an airway physician to be present at every game to make sure that in case a player was paralyzed or had a head injury and needed an airway that an independent physician is available for that. So there's a precedent for it already.

COLLINS: OK. And where does all of this come from? I mean, obviously as we mentioned in the introduction, football can be a violent game. Everybody expects unfortunately that there will be injuries. What is all of this center around?

MAYER: Well, it centers around I think the Players Association as I said D. Smith is deeply committed to making sure that in this inherently violent game that we are protecting our players as much as we can. My motto has always been they are players as patients and not players as players or players as property. So our desire is to make sure that we prevent as many head injuries as we can and to care for them both on the sideline management and in the post game management return to play decisions and I think both players association and the NFL feel an obligation to college players to high school players and peewee youth football players to set an example.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. But isn't this also about what happens to them in their lives after football?

MAYER: Well, all of our players are going to end up being retired players.

COLLINS: Exactly.

MAYER: The average span is several years. So we want to make sure that when they're sitting looking at their daughters, looking at their sons, looking at their grandchildren that they have been protected as best they can on a long-term basis and not just on a short-term basis.

COLLINS: Yes. And I know that the co-chairman for the NFL's committee on concussions, two doctors actually resigned regarding all of this. I know that you know them well. Do you think the new policy and the attention that it is being given is going to be enough and is going to help with the health of NFL players?

MAYER: Well, Heidi, you're an educated woman. You probably remember (INAUDIBLE) law (ph) in that all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare. This is an excellent move to try to help improve the health and safety of the players. That said, we're going to continue to move forward. I do know that from speaking with D. That he's very appreciative of Commissioner Goodell and I'm very appreciative of Dr. Pellman (ph), my counterpart working cooperatively to say we're going to do the absolute best to protect our players.

COLLINS: All right. Very good. Dr. Thom Mayer. Sure do appreciate your time. He is the Medical Director actually for the NFL Players Association. Thanks, Dr. Mayer.

MAYER: Thanks.

COLLINS: Looking for a reason to stay out of the mall for the next month or so? Well, you're going to love our next guest. He says holiday gift giving is a big fat waste of time and money.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Getting there for Thanksgiving, certainly most of the battle.

Here's what we know about the holiday travel weekend. AAA says about 38 million people are expected to travel in the United States; 33 million of them will go by car. Overall travel, up just a bit from last year, but way down from 2005. Fifty-eight million people made Thanksgiving trips then when the economy was much stronger.

Well, AAA predicts about 2.3 million people will fly over the Thanksgiving weekend. That is down from last year.

I want to check in and see how things are going at Reagan National Airport.

Pamela Brown of our affiliate station, WJLA is joining us from there.

Hi, Pamela. We were checking a little bit earlier at Reagan and things are under control. How do they look now?

PAMELA BROWN, WJLA CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, Heidi.

We've been here since 5:00 this morning at Reagan National Airport. Now, I'll tell you, it has been quiet all morning long. Certainly, a big difference compared to, what, a few years ago on the day before Thanksgiving. AAA says that's because more people are opting to drive rather than fly over the holidays.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): It's considered the busiest travel day of the year, but at Reagan National Airport, it looks just like a typical day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Deserted. Nobody here.

BROWN: Traveling by air is down 5 percent compared to last year, down 60 percent since the year 2000. Some say it's clear the economy is still taking a toll.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think people are being more cautious and not just traveling freely like they used to. They're thinking more about what they're doing and if it's really worth it.

BROWN: With added hassle of going through security and extra fees and surcharges, many travelers say their attitude toward flying has changed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not good. I mean, I feel like it's one of the most important times of the year to be with your family and to have to spend all of this extra money just to go home is kind of unfair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just had to pay $25 to check my bag. And that comes out of my own pocket. You know like, oh, I could have gone shopping.

BROWN: AAA says driving is still the preferred option for travelers this holiday season but not necessarily the better option. More than 33 million people are expected to hit the roads this holiday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a very uncomfortable mix out there. You've got people just trying to get out of town. You've got other people trying to get last the minute fixings for the turkey. So, you've got shoppers. You've got commuters. And then you've the people that are trying to drive away on their vacation.

BROWN: AAA says by mid-afternoon, the roads will be packed with those heading out of town and drivers coming home from work. So, your best bet is to leave as early as possible or wait for rush hour to wind down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Back live here at Reagan National Airport.

Now, weather could, of course, have additional impact on your travel plans today. We have learned that here are delays and cancellations at two major hubs. That's Miami and LaGuardia. That, of course, will cause ripple effect across the country, also could impact you if you're driving today. AAA suggests that you either leave as early as possible or wait until the rush hour is over.

Heidi, back to you.

COLLINS: All right. Appreciate it Pamela Brown there at Reagan National Airport in Washington. All right. Thank you.

And Rob Marciano has been watching all of the weather conditions along with our viewers at home, with our display at the bottom of the screen that we have. It's going to (INAUDIBLE) where you're traveling.

It sounds to me like, Rob, if not as many people are flying, then maybe the airplane itself won't be as crowded, right? Is that a good way to look at it?

MARCIANO: That certainly could be looked at that way. Maybe we've done such a good job of scaring everybody that they are staying home.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: It's like you telling everyone it will rain and they want to go and play golf. Yes, we've seen that before.

MARCIANO: There's no greater storm than the one we'll tell you it's coming to get up right now.

All right, Newark, Philly and LaGuardia seeing some delays there. Not a huge concern with weather. There are some visibility issues, some low clouds, some fog in spots. So, that's created some of that, also with volume. So, they're dealing -- they're dealing with that at the moment.

Here's the forecast weather map for today. A couple items of concern, one is this storm down across parts of southern Florida. This really has created some rough weather through south Florida and we have seen ground delay programs in effect there. But it looks they have since been lifted.

But rough weather certainly for the Keys, back to Miami and Fort Lauderdale. And in this storm, not terribly strong, and not a lot of moisture with it, so there won't be a lot of rain but there will be some cold air behind that and some wind. And I think we'll see some of that today. Just some spritzing, I think, for parts of the northeast today and tomorrow.

Again, not a lot of heavy, heavy rain. And then turkey always shows up typically across the Baja of Mexico, because that's where they celebrate Thanksgiving the most.

Talking about travel, I had the opportunity to go see things that a lot of people haven't seen both at Delta yesterday and then last week I did a tour of the Atlanta airport. You know, you go with lines. You go through security lines. Check your bag. And then you get on a plane, you don't really know what happens at the world's busiest airport.

Well, I got an opportunity to check out what happens behind the scenes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARCIANO: We're here at the world's busiest airport. Thousands of people and planes are coming and going every day.

Do you ever wonder how in the world do they make it work? Let's go take a look.

(voice-over): A quarter million passengers travel through Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport every day. So, first up, getting people to the planes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peak time of the day we move about 10,500 passengers an hour.

MARCIANO: Computer-controlled trams tunnel under the tarmac connecting the six concourses. And we were allowed beyond that to what felt like a secret train station.

(on camera): So, this is pretty much the "Wizard of Oz" behind the curtain here? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is -- this is the man behind the curtain here at (INAUDIBLE). We always have people standing by to respond to any time there's a problem.

MARCIANO (voice-over): Above ground, the runways are inspected three times a day for bad lights, wildlife or any debris that could get into an engine and bring down an aircraft.

JOHN RYAN, OPERATIONS SUPERVISOR: Good morning. I would like to start the air field inspection on foxtrot and echo, giving way to aircraft and holding short of all runways.

MARCIANO: While on patrol this day, a plane is in trouble.

RYAN: Let's going back to (INAUDIBLE).

MARCIANO (on camera): So, we're just sitting here on the tarmac doing our inspection and this plane declared an emergency, smoke in the lavatory. So, the fire department has been activated. They got to check it out, make sure there's no visible fire before they let it go back to the gate.

(voice-over): The airport has five stations equipped with some impressive gear.

(on camera): This is not your typical fire truck. It holds 3,000 gallons of water over 400 gallons of foam. This is specifically made for airplane crashes and/or emergencies.

Captain Cuprowski, why is this truck built the way it is? It looks like a tank.

CAPT. PAUL CUPROWSKI, ATLANTA FIRE RESCUE: If you had a plane come down and dismantle on the ground, we're basically in a war zone. But they're designed exactly for that. They're designed to go off- road. You don't even have to get out of the vehicles to extinguish fire.

MARCIANO: What you're looking at is what's called a piercing nozzle that actually can puncture the skin of the aircraft because you can't cut through it by hand and it sprays the fire inside the aircraft from outside it.

(voice-over): Luckily, that has never been used here. And the plane that reported smoke in the cabin, it was given the "all clear" -- just another day at the world's busiest airport.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARCIANO: All sorts of euphemisms out there.

An aircraft that dismantles apparently, Heidi, is their way of saying an airplane crash. Some of the things you didn't get to see there which was really wild on the tarmac and near the gate area is all the traffic via catering trucks, you know, luggage handlers. It is... COLLINS: Yes, the employees.

MARCIANO: It is really organized chaos. I didn't -- I didn't know really which end was up with but they seemed to get it done. And it was amazing to me that they were able to get, you know, 3,000 flights off the ground every day, relatively seamlessly with those five runways at ATL.

COLLINS: You've always wanted to be a pilot, haven't you?

MARCIANO: I have. Well, you know, it's in my blood. I'm kind of -- I'm kind of the ugly duckling of the family when it comes to that. Brother and father are both big airline pilots.

COLLINS: I doubt that. And I'm getting that wrap in my ear right now.

All right, Rob. Appreciate it very much. I know everybody is going to be watching closely the weather today, Rob Marciano.

Later on this morning, President Obama will participate in the annual White House tradition of turkey pardoning. This year's lucky turkey is appropriately named "Courage." He comes from a farm in Princeton, North Carolina.

And his owners have been playing audio recordings from previous Thanksgiving pardonings so that Courage will be ready for this morning's ceremony. You don't want to freak him out.

But an alternate turkey will be on standby just in case Courage is unable to perform his duties. After the pardon, Courage will fly to Disneyland where he'll serve as grand marshal of the Thanksgiving Day parade and will spend Black Friday settling in his new home in Frontierland.

Well, it's good.

Holiday shopping season is about to move into high gear. But one economist wants to put the brakes on your gift-giving. We'll take a closer look at what he calls "scrooge economics."

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COLLINS: Let's take a look at our top stories now.

We are just learning President Barack Obama is planning to announce a decision on U.S. troop strategy in Afghanistan on Tuesday night. That announcement will come in a speech at West Point. Defense officials tell CNN the Pentagon is making plans to send another 34,000 American troops to Afghanistan.

High winds are fanning the flames in California's Anaheim Hills. So far, a wildfire has burned 60 acres in that area. KTLA, our affiliate there, says about 120 firefighters stayed at the scene overnight. Fire officials say they have 10 percent contained as of this morning. So far, authorities have not ordered any evacuations and no buildings are threatened.

Many people are flying home to be with loved ones, and that includes the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis. This morning, the crew undocked from the International Space Station. And on this mission, they some restocking and maintenance. One of the astronaut's wives gave birth while he was in orbit so he'll be really excited to get home. The shuttle is due to land in Florida on Friday.

If you are counting the minutes until the official start of the holiday shopping season, we don't want to rain on your parade but we do want you to listen to this: the average American has 23 gifts to buy this holiday season. They'll spend $218 on those gifts on average, and 65 percent of the money they spend will be money they don't really have. The scariest statistics come from a book called "Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays."

Joel Waldfogel, the author of that book and also professor at the Wharton School of Business, is joining me now live.

Joel, thanks for being with us. We're going to call you Mr. Scrooge here for our purposes even though we know you're a very nice guy.

It is an interesting thing to think about, you know? Do people really want presents, or in this time of the economic troubles that we're having, do they want gift cards and, quite frankly, the money?

JOEL WALDFOGEL, WHARTON SCHOOL OF BUSINESS PROFESSOR: Well, you know, normally I'll only go out and spend $50 on myself if I can find something that's worth at least $50 to me. So, normally, 11 months of the year, spending provides a reasonable measure of satisfaction.

The problem with gift-giving is that, you know, when I go out to buy a gift, I'm operating at a huge disadvantage. I don't know what my recipient wants or what she likes. So, if I spend $50, I could buy something that's worth nothing to her.

COLLINS: Yes, that's sad, depressing. Not giving gifts, though, you know, let's be realistic. How many people are really not going to go out and buy presents? It happens once a year. Some people plan for it for months.

How do you get people to find some sort of middle ground here? Maybe that's what we should be talking about.

WALDFOGEL: Yes, sure. I mean, so -- I have -- I have done a lot of research on gifts that people received over the years and compared to the items they received that they purchased for themselves. And I've learned that the things they received as gifts, they appreciate or value 20 percent less for dollar spent than items they receive for -- I'm sorry -- purchase for themselves. And that's the basis for my concern about the inefficiency of gift-giving.

But having said all that, I'm actually not against gift-giving. I think, you know, there's a difference between how successful we are with people we know pretty well, people we see pretty often, and actually, we can do a pretty good job buying gifts for them.

COLLINS: Sure.

WALDFOGEL: So, I'm not against gift-giving. I think it works pretty well when we're doing it for people we know well, see often, and especially for kids. I wouldn't want, you know, kids to be crying around the holiday.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Yes, I know that would -- that would not be good.

When you came up with the idea, if you will, or just thought about it, enough to know that it could be something that's done a little bit differently. Was it when the economy is in the situation it is now, or did you kind of always thought this?

WALDFOGEL: I actually had this idea for about 15 years. So, it's not specific to good times or bad times. It's a general idea about how we allocate resources. You know, again, we, the economists tend to think that it works well and we make our decisions for ourselves...

COLLINS: Yes.

WALDFOGEL: ... and doesn't work so well when others are making those decisions for us.

COLLINS: We talk a lot, though, about consumer spending and what that will mean to the economy. What about the people out there who say, "Hey, you know what, this year, even though, I don't have my personal stash like I usually do for the holidays, I am going to go out there and try to pump money into the economy"?

WALDFOGEL: Well, you know, spending is good. But -- I mean, normally -- spending is good for seller in the sense that the seller gets a price that's higher than the cost and therefore some profit, and normally, the buyer gets satisfaction that's higher than the price and so walks away from the transaction happy as well.

With holiday gift-giving, though, the seller still gets what the seller wants, a price in excess of the cost and therefore some profit.

COLLINS: Yes.

WALDFOGEL: But now, the ultimate consumer, the gift recipient, isn't getting something that's nearly as satisfying as what usual expenditure creates. So, yes, it's good for the economy, but only sort of.

COLLINS: All right. Well, we appreciate the idea, reserving a brain cell for it as we say. Joel Waldfogel, appreciate that. Our friend, Mr. Scrooge and "Scroogenomics." -- thanks so much.

WALDFOGEL: Thank you. COLLINS: We want to take a moment now to get over to Jill Dougherty who is standing by at the White House with a little bit more information for us this morning.

We have been telling everybody, Jill, that we've been able to confirm that, yes, the president is going to make the announcement on troop deployment to Afghanistan on Tuesday night, 8:00 p.m. It's going to happen from West Point.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, West Point. They're going to be cadets there, members of the military. And that's the setting for this extremely important speech by the president on Afghanistan.

We were just talking with Robert Gibbs, the press secretary and he was shedding some light on how the president prepared for this and what he's going to say. He's now going to explain everything.

But he did say this, if there's one message, it's that the United States has been in Afghanistan for eight years and the U.S. is not going to be there for another eight to nine years. In other words, there is going to be an end to this as he put it. That it is unsustainable to think both financially and in lives to think that the United States could stay there for a very long time.

He did say that the answers that the president will try to give to the American public that's really on their minds, why are we there? What are the interests of the United States in Afghanistan? What's the decision making process as the president went through in reaching this decision? And again, this will be limited. There will be an end to this.

He also is apparently going to be talking about the cost. But when we tried to press Robert Gibbs on that issue, will the president actually get into specific numbers and how it will be paid for -- Gibbs is not going that far. But you can be sure that that's going to be one factor, Heidi, because -- as Gibbs himself said -- it is very, very, very expensive.

Another thing: President Obama is going to be meeting with members of Congress right before this address to the American people. He'll meet with them on Tuesday at the White House, will be discussing, I'm sure, many of these issues. He'll also be briefing international leaders as you might expect, and then, members of his cabinet are expected to go up to Capitol Hill and testify to various committees. So, it's a full-court press -- as I said -- for this extremely important address.

COLLINS: Yes. And one to talk about -- as you mentioned -- very expensive beyond the 3,000 American lives that were lost certainly on September 11th.

Jill Dougherty, we sure do appreciate that. We'll be following and watching on Tuesday. Thanks.

We're going to take a quick break here in the CNN NEWSROOM. We're back in a moment.

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COLLINS: Tomorrow night, a special CNN presentation to help instill that holiday mood, "CNN Heroes." Every day, people are changing the world.

On our Web site, you can learn about the amazing things these heroes are doing and how you might be able to help. Here to explain how our own Josh Levs.

Hey, good morning, Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Heidi.

Really, it's inspirational to see what these people are doing and sometimes in really difficult conditions and circumstances.

And this is the Web site right here, CNN.com/Heroes. We talk to you about who the top 10 for this year are -- here is one example.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRAD BLAUSER, CNN HERO: When we go out on these missions, I know sometimes my life is on the line. But I'm willing to take that risk because the lives of these children mean so much.

There is hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq who need these. When I do this, it's going to change the life of a child. I've become the source and supply of children's wheelchairs, but even more so the source and supply of hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEVS: That's Brad Blauser from Texas. He is helping -- he's thousands of miles from home from where his family is. He's helping Iraqi kids. An estimated one in seven Iraqi children ages 2 to 14 lives with a disability according to UNICEF and Brad Blauser, thousands of miles away from his own family is helping them.

And this is how you can help. At CNN.com/Heroes, just look at all of all the top 10. Click on how to help and boom -- we get you to their Web site. You now can make a contribution if you want to and you can get involved. You can get in touch with them.

And we are hearing from you as well about your heroes and what you think about all of them. We're having great discussions online right now. CNN.com/Josh at the blog, also Facebook and Twitter: JoshLevsCNN.

And, Heidi, really, it's a beautiful to see all of this and I'm looking forward to that show tomorrow.

COLLINS: Yes, definitely. And certainly not to downplay any of those things that they are doing, because really some incredible stories -- you got your own incredible story, Josh Levs. And we want to hear it. Josh Levs delivered his own baby boy a few days ago in his home and we want to hear. You were on the phone with 911. All the drama that you could possibly imagine actually happened to you.

LEVS: Well, when you're having a kid no one ever tells about this obscure thing called precipitous labor that we had never heard out.

Where basically my wife skipped labor and boom in our bedroom, she was straight into delivery mode. So, yes, I had the honor of ushering this beautiful child into the world, doing everything I could at the time. I would love to bask in fiction of it being Hero, it really is just me doing what I had to do and, you know, just trying to do everything right.

And I think I did what anyone would do. But at the end of it...

COLLINS: Yes.

LEVS: ... we have this beautiful, beautiful new son, second son.

COLLINS: Perfectly healthy, which is fantastic.

And, you know, this is your first day back on the job.

LEVS: Yes.

COLLINS: So, we want to take a minute to talk about it because when we got the e-mail we were freaking out. And you heard -- you were explaining the story in the makeup room so it was a fascinating story. Good for you. Congratulations to you and your family. It's good to have you back.

LEVS: Thanks, Heidi. It's good to be back.

COLLINS: Meantime, I'm Heidi Collins. Have a great Thanksgiving everybody. For now, CNN NEWSROOM continues after a quick break, with Tony Harris.

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