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Michael Brewer's Mother & Doctor Speak About Recovery From Fire; Obama's War Strategy; Hotel Runs Own Health Care Option

Aired November 25, 2009 - 12:00   ET

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


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And here's what we're working on for the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM.

A teen deliberately set on fire by other boys. The rest of my interview with Michael Brewer's parents about the horrific attack, and their son's incredible recovery effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALERIE BREWER, BURNED TEEN'S MOM: It hurts my heart to see him in pain, but it enlightens me at the same time to know that my son is strong enough to make it through on a daily basis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Another child disappears in plain sight. An autistic teen is finally found after spending days and nights on New York subways. No one even bothered to ask him why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Time now for your top of the hour reset. I'm Tony Harris in the CNN NEWSROOM.

It is noon in Miami where Michael Brewer's parent talk with me about that terrifying day, the day their son was set on fire.

A live look at the White House now, where the president is ready to reveal his Afghanistan war strategy, a prime-time address to the nation in the works.

And still at the White House, the Obamas host their first state dinner. I will talk with one of the guests about an affair to remember.

Let's get started. We're learning more today about the painful recovery process for 15-year-old boy who was set on fire. Michael Brewer is in guarded condition at a burn center in Miami. Hospital officials say he can only utter one or two words at a time. A group of teens allegedly set him on fire after a dispute over a video game, a bicycle and $40.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. CARL SCHULMAN, UNIV. OF MIAMI JACKSON MEMORIAL BURN CENTER: It burned about 65 percent of his body and most of the burns are deep second degree and third degree burns, which means the skin doesn't have its own capacity to regenerate, so he's going to need a lot of skin grafting operations.

We're actually pleasantly surprised that some of the wounds are healing in by themselves which will limit that to some degree and he's lucky in that he's spared in the face and the hands from an aesthetic and functional standpoint, but his major joints, elbows, knees and places where it's extremely functional, important for a normal activity, it's going to take a lot of work and a lot of therapy as these scars need to be constantly worked on to maintain his range of motion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: And this morning I spoke with Michael's mother about her son's difficult recovery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

V. BREWER, BURNED TEEN'S MOTHER: It's an roller-coaster ride. The -- the fear of the unknown, watching him swell with the edema and watching the swelling come down. The first time he spoke to us was joyous, but watching him struggle every single day, I'm proud of him. I'm very, very proud of him, because I don't think I could do what he's doing. It's incredibly painful. He -- it hurts just to take a drink of water. To go to the bathroom, he -- it takes him five to 10 minutes just to get from the bed to the bathroom because it hurts just to move.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Three teens have been charged with attempted second degree murder. All three have pled not guilty. You can hear more, much more, of my interview with the victim's parents later this hour.

Toyota, the world's largest auto maker, is facing an extensive and expensive fix. It is recalling some four million vehicles due to gas pedals getting stuck on the floor mats. The sudden acceleration has been linked to deadly crashes which have killed at least five people. As part of a two-step fix, Toyota will shorten the length of gas pedals in January, then replace those with new pedals in the spring. Toyota's also recalling its popular Tundra trucks. The frames on the trucks are prone to excessive rust from road salt which can damage the brakes and weaken the mount for the spare tire. The recall affects 110,000 Tundras, model years 2000 to 2003.

Iran's president is not offering much hope for three American hikers detained in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says it is up to a judge to decide their fate, but he says he hopes the punishment will not be severe. The U.S. says the hikers were innocent tourists who accidentally crossed into Iran from Iraq. The mother of one of the hikers spoke to CNN earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA FATTAL, MOTHER OF JAILED HIKER JOSH FATTAL: We are hoping that the Iranian authorities will show compassion and release our children as soon as possible. This has gone on way too long. It is just short of four months. I believe it's 117 days and we cannot imagine why it is such a protracted detention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Ahmadinejad's comments come just two days after an Iraqi official says he contacted Tehran to secure the hikers' release.

In Texas, the co-chairs of the Pentagon's Fort Hood review panel are visiting the scene of this month's shooting spree. Their review is not a criminal investigation. Rather they're looking at the way the military handles adverse medical or mental health information about personnel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. VERNON E. CLARK (RET), CO-CHAIR, FORT HOOD REVIEW PANEL: This is a DOD-wide investigation. The secretary Defense tasked us with finding the gaps that would -- that make us less effective than we desire to be. And to do that, we will look over a broad range of things, as we go through the discovery process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: We are getting more details now about President Obama's plan for announcing his Afghanistan war strategy. Let's go live to the White House now and CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.

Jill, if you would, what are you hearing? JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, first of all, on the date of this address -- long-awaited address, it's going to be Tuesday, as had been indicated for a while, next week. And the setting is West Point military academy, not the White House. It will be cadets and members of the military there in the audience and that is where the president is going to be laying out the strategy.

He's going to be explaining, we are told by the White House, the reasoning and the method by which he got to this decision. Obviously he'll be talking about some troop numbers, we understand, but a lot of it is really the strategy, the overall reason that the president believes it's important to be in Afghanistan. They -- in other words, according to Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, why the United States is there, his decision-making process and also the importance of the effort, but as Gibbs put it, it's not open-ended.

We've heard that before from Gibbs and from the president. But what they're saying is the United States has been there for nine years. It's not going to be there for another eight to nine years. Also the issue of how much it's going to cost. Robert Gibbs would not go so far as to say exactly what the president's going to say, but it is very, as he put it, quote, very, very, very expensive, $1 billion, as he went through it. It's basically $1 million per troop. So, that gives you the idea.

HARRIS: Wow.

DOUGHERTY: Also, Tony, there's going to be a whole rollout for this. They'll be talking with the allies. There will be members of Congress who will be meeting in the afternoon before the speech on Tuesday with the president here at the White House. Members of his cabinet will be testifying up on Capitol Hill, so you're going to get an entire plan to explain it and roll it out.

HARRIS: And Jill, you mentioned that there will be conversations with the allies. There are also indications that shortly after the president's announcement, the secretary of state may be on her way to NATO headquarters. What are you hearing about that?

DOUGHERTY: Yeah. Those are the indications. And the mission would be, of course, to talk with the allies, talk with NATO, because what the president wants is for NATO to fill in the gaps. If you have roughly, as we believe, 34,000 new troops going into Afghanistan, the request by General McChrystal was 40,000 and the idea would be that NATO could fill in the gaps with their own troops. The president certainly wants more of a commitment from the allies and indeed, from the international community, in general.

HARRIS: CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty, for us at the White House. Good to see you, Jill. Thank you.

And the president will make his strategy speech regarding Afghanistan next Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. We will carry it live right here on CNN.

And let us know what you think the U.S. should do next in Afghanistan. You can share your thoughts on my blog at cnn.com/tony or grab your camera. send us an iReport. You can do that cnn.com/ireport.

Flight delays, fear of the flu and of course, potential weather issues. It is time to head home for the holidays, and we're keeping track of what you may encounter along the way. We are back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: OK, it is that time, our random moment of the day. Today, let's make that moment -- watch this bone-crushing hit in peewee football. You ready? You ready? Oh! The six-year-old is ready for the big leagues, ready to play on Sundays. Slow-motion, you ready? Ouch! All right, the other kid goes flying but quickly bounces back up, shakes it off and is ready to go.

And here is a video that is going -- talk about viral, already over a million YouTube hits, the Muppets cover Queen. A new Muppet movie in the works. And there you have them, our random moments of the day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS: OK. You voted. Now join Anderson Cooper to see who will become CNN's hero of the year. Nicole Kidman, Carrie Underwood and Maxwell a just a few of the celebrities scheduled to appear in the all-star tribute. This is going to be terrific, tomorrow night. Dare to be inspired, CNN heroes Thanksgiving night, tomorrow night 9:00 Eastern and Pacific.

Let's get to Chad Myers now, he in our holiday travel headquarters. Chad, I got to tell you something, so far, fingers crossed and everything else, not bad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Not bad, because you know what, Tony, these planes are not full, just a kind of a random shot. We've got kind of -- this could be a viral video. I don't know what, maybe it's a virus video. Not too much going on there at Delta. That's the check-in counter. That's the self-service kiosk. The deal is I think that these prices on the planes never went down and we never got --

HARRIS: Yes, sir.

MYERS: ... $129 flights and so these planes are not full. I'll pull this up again, look, one, two, three kiosks not even being used. I think that's going to be the day. I think today is going to be a travel day when it comes to traffic on the roadways. Philadelphia has some delays at about two hours, Teterboro, LaGuardia and Newark, but everything there pretty manageable at least at this point.

I'd like to turn your attention to navtechtraffic.com or else just go onto Google earth, Google maps and you can go and you can pick up any roadway that you want to. On navtechtraffic, you can actually start your destination from where you're starting and from where you're going and they will tell you how many minutes of delay you're going to encounter on the way there. Every little dot there and I just checked the tunnel right there, 14 miles an hour. Don't you love riding in the tunnel when that choking traffic --

HARRIS: When you're barely moving?

MYERS: And you try to go, please, really, 14 miles per hour, do I have to go 14 miles per hour in this tunnel? I know there are vents, but sometimes I don't know where they are. Please suck some of this stuff out of here, I can smell the diesel. I can taste it.

Rain across parts of Florida slowing down the airports and I think in the afternoon probably hours, in the West Palm and all the way down into Miami. But other than that Tony, a think this is going to be a pretty decent day for travel, almost 6,000 planes in the sky. Ninety five percent of them are on time, that's a pretty good for a getaway Wednesday on this kind of a Wednesday. I think we might pick up some delays, some TSA, you know, longer lines when you get to 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00 hours tonight, because people are probably, a lot of them are still working today and they'll take an afternoon or evening flight, so the quicker you get to the airport, the faster you'll get through.

HARRIS: I was taking a sneaking a peek out the window here, at least at Atlanta and it's one of the major hubs that we're worrying about, it looks great.

MYERS: Do you see the UFO up there in the sky?

HARRIS: No.

MYERS: A big UFO there, it's a big round thing called the sun. We haven't seen it in so long, it is unidentifiable. I couldn't even find my sunglasses today, because I didn't need them for the past 10 days.

HARRIS: It's terrific, good stuff Chad, thank you, sir.

MYERS: You bet.

HARRIS: Thanksgiving turkey and swine flu not a good combo, traveling through the woods to grandma's. This holiday means close quarters for many of you and the added anxiety of getting the H1N1 virus.

Here's our Jeanne Meserve.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As if anyone needs another reason to stress about holiday travel, now H1N1 anxiety is part of the mix.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was this lady that was sitting, like, across the aisle from me, like, blowing her nose and I'm, all right, I'm glad we have that kind of distance, you know? Because I don't want to get sick and there's no way you can really get away from it when you're on a plane.

MESERVE: This animation from Purdue University shows how a sneeze propels germs around an airplane. Government health officials have a few simple words of advice for travelers. Wash your hands often. Don't touch your eyes or nose. Cover your cough. And, for Pete's sake, don't travel if you're sick.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Don't get on a crowded plane and -- and spread the wealth. It's time to stay home.

MESERVE: Airlines have briefed crews about H1N1. Air Tran even enlisted a former head of the Centers for Disease Control to answer employee questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I contract swine flu from loading bags?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maurice, the bags will not transmit the flu.

MESERVE: But flight crew vigilance has inconvenienced a small number of passengers. (INAUDIBLE) had an upset stomach and was taken off a United flight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The crew does not feel good about you flying because you might be sick. I didn't know they were all physicians.

MESERVE: It turned out (INAUDIBLE) did not have H1N1, but United says it removed her as a precaution to protect the health of other passengers. Despite the specter of H1N1 infection, many Thanksgiving travelers are undeterred and unconcerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something you got to live with and you just have to make some adjustments and you can't let it stop your life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. And there's no reason, you know, to get so uptight about it.

MESERVE (on camera): If you get on an airplane and the person next to you is obviously sick, you can ask to have your seat reassigned, but flights are so jammed this holiday period, there might not be another seat on your flight or the next flight or even the flight after that. So, you may end up with a very different kind of predicament. Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Reagan National airport.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Could the answer to health care reform be found in a hotel?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Get you caught up on our top stories now.

The White House says President Obama will announce U.S. troop strategy for Afghanistan next Tuesday night at West Point military academy in New York. Of course, CNN will bring it to you live.

Pakistani prosecutors have charged seven people in last year's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. This is video from that four-day siege that left at least 160 people dead. An attorney for one of the suspects said the defendants are facing several terrorism-related charges. They have all pled not guilty.

Encouraging news on the housing front and then some. Listen to this, home sales surged last month up 6.2 percent to their highest level in more than a year. Experts say if builders are looking for signs to start swinging their hammers again, this is it!

We will get another check of our top stories in 20 minutes.

After Thanksgiving lots of fireworks expected on Capitol Hill as the debate over health care reform gets cranked back up. One big worry, the price tag. But are there other, more affordable, options out there? Our Jim Acosta looks at a health care plan run by a hotel.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, as members of Congress close in on a final health care reform bill, they may want to check into a hotel we found down in Florida. In addition to the restaurant, swimming pool, and gift shop, there's a health care clinic. Only it's not for the guests, it's for the workers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

HARRIS ROSEN, ROSEN HOTELS HEALTH CLINIC FOUNDER: There is 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 cost of what the fraction of 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 regimen.

ACOSTA: But you're big brother?

ROSEN: Yeah, and I don't like that very much, because I'm not very much a fan of big brother or any big brother, but I am.

ACOSTA: Chris Teague, the assistant manager at one of Rosen's hotels lost 100 pounds with the clinic's help. You're glad they nudged you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, oh, yes. It changed my life dramatically.

ACOSTA: 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 a doctor, that's my decision.

ACOSTA: But it's not the critics who worry Rosen, it's Congress. You would 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. 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 probably not be happy with what I'm about to say, but I do believe that it's a right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And get this, Harris Rosen pays just $2,400 per employee every year in health care costs. That's about a third of the national average. He has an umbrella insurance policy and contracts with specialists and hospitals to provide catastrophic medical care that the clinic cannot handle. Tony?

HARRIS: Jim, appreciate it. Thank you.

Michael Brewer is the boy in Florida who was set on fire by a group of his teenage friends. Got a chance to talk to his parents this morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Doctors say the Florida boy who was set on fire last month faces a lifelong recovery as he struggles to overcome his injuries. Today Michael Brewer's parents and doctors spoke to me about his daily struggle. The 15-year-old was burned over two-thirds of his body and he is in guarded condition. Detectives say one teen poured alcohol on Brewer and another used a lighter to set him on fire. A third allegedly encouraged them to do it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: But, Valerie, we're looking at a picture of Michael published yesterday in the hospital bed and we're seeing his face. And I got to tell you, he looks good. Has he asked for a mirror?

V. BREWER: No.

HARRIS: He hasn't.

V. BREWER: He's -- he -- he -- we reassured him the other day that his face was not badly burned. He did have some burns on his cheek and his left eye, but they've all healed. He does not want to look in the mirror at himself yet.

HARRIS: Your emotions as you watch your son, your beloved, in a hospital bed recovering from these horrific injuries?

V. BREWER: It's been a roller-coaster ride. The fear of the unknown, watching him swell with the edema, watching the swelling come down. The first time he spoke to us was joyous, but watching him struggle every single day, I'm proud of him. I'm very, very proud of him, because I don't think I could do what he's doing. It's incredibly painful. He -- it hurts just to take a drink of water, to go to the bathroom, he -- it takes him five to 10 minutes just to get from the bed to the bathroom because it hurts just to move. It hurts my heart to see him in pain. But it enlightens me at the same time to know that my son is strong enough to make it through on a daily basis.

HARRIS: Physically strong enough. How is he emotionally? He, I understand, is able to speak a bit now. What has he expressed?

V. BREWER: He hasn't talked about it at all. He -- he talks about his cousins and his nieces and nephews and his sister. He looks forward to going home and having a normal life.

HARRIS: Dr. Schulman, how long before he can recover to the point where he leaves the hospital and begins to get back some sense of normalcy to his life?

SCHULMAN: It's hard to say exactly. Michael's still got a lot of major surgery ahead of him. A lot of rehabilitation and therapy. He's doing about as well as could be expected at this point in his recovery, but he's got a period of probably several weeks to a couple of months still left in the hospital, if everything goes well. But the recovery is lifelong. This is a truly life-changing event.

HARRIS: Is your son the type of child who can turn his event in his life, certainly a negative, into something that's positive? Will he be able to, you think, as well as you know him, to use this to possibly help others?

V. BREWER: I really believe he will be able to do that. It's going to take a long time to work through his injuries, his -- his mental status to make sure that, you know, first he's healthy. But that that is what I'm hoping for, that Michael will become the spokesperson for teen violence and also to help other burn victims.

My son is a very positive person. He always has been. And I'm hoping that he will continue to be a positive person. And with the help of the community, all the prayers and the cards and the letters that we've received from everyone, I'm sure, I'm sure, he will be able to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: The Brewers.

The teens accused of lighting Michael on fire are charged as adults with attempted second-degree murder. All three have pled not guilty.

Let's get you to cnnmoney.com now. Our Money team, as always, doing a terrific job of keeping you up with the latest financial news and analysis. Cnnmoney.com.

Three hours into the trading day, just ahead of Thanksgiving, and we are in positive territory, as you can see. The Dow is up 24 points. The Nasdaq, at last check, was up 5. Following these numbers with Susan Lisovicz.

Now, the incredible shrinking newspaper. The industry, battered by falling ad sales and circulation. To cut costs, "The Washington Post" will close its three remaining domestic bureaus in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The paper says it will focus its energies on covering the Washington area as a place to live and work.

If you're hitting the road this Thanksgiving, here's the good news. Gas prices are below $3.00 a gallon, but that doesn't mean last summer's pain at the pump is forgotten. That's for sure. Felicia Taylor has our "Energy Fix" from New York.

And, Felicia, still a lot of concern out there about future gas prices.

FELICIA TAYLOR, CNNMONEY.COM: Absolutely, Tony. Right now, though, the AAA says the national average price for a gallon of regular gas is $2.64 today. Now, of course, that's better than last summer, but Americans are really still looking for more fuel-efficient vehicles. In fact, the Consumer Federation of America says 78 percent of Americans do support higher fuel economy standards. But the group claims it's the car companies that aren't delivering enough fuel efficiency. Next year, there will be 1,040 EPA-rated cars and trucks. Only 44 get 30 miles per gallon or more. And that's just about 4 percent of vehicles on the road. The Consumer Federation calls that, quote, "an utter market failure" -- Tony.

HARRIS: Wow. And, Felicia, the Obama administration has made fuel efficiency a priority. Isn't the plan here to get more fuel- efficient vehicles on the road?

TAYLOR: Yes, absolutely. Proposed rules would require cars and trucks sold in the U.S. to average about 35.5 miles per gallon by the year 2016. With fuel economy to gradually start increasing in 2012. But the CFA wants even more than that. It's calling for fuel economy of 45 miles per gallon by the year 2020.

Now, that might actually be doable, but the industry says it's just a little too early to actually talk about it. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says that right now it's focused on 2012 through 2016 and those rules won't actually be finalized until the spring.

There's also the question of whether or not Americans are willing to pay for these more fuel-efficient cars. The new rules alone are expected to add about $1,300 to the cost of a new car. Advocates say, though, that consumers will be able to save enough on gas to eventually make up for that extra cost.

By the way, you can find out more about energy fixes on cnnmoney.com -- Tony.

HARRIS: Yes. Felicia, happy Thanksgiving if I don't see you tomorrow. Appreciate it. Thank you.

TAYLOR: You too.

HARRIS: President Obama will finally reveal his plan, as he put it, to finish the job in Afghanistan. His speech to the nation is set for Tuesday night.

While the president considers the Afghanistan war options, we are listening to you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CALLER: Hi, my name's Patsy from Pennsylvania. I feel that we should get out of Afghanistan. Years have proven that we are not going to change those people. I think we should tend to ourselves at home.

CALLER: Good morning, this is Brian. I'm in Colorado. Everybody's commenting on the war. What I feel we need to do, I think we all should have a better education and understanding of what's really going on over there before we start saying, send more, don't send more. And all I can do is say everybody should pray for our government and the government of the world that we all make the right decisions. The generals know what's going on over there. They say they need more. They have a reason.

CALLER: Hi, my name is Russell. I'm stationed in Pensacola, Florida. I'm getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan in a matter of two months. I believe that President Obama should continue to send more troops out there, and he should support us and the rest of the troops out there by giving the generals all the troops he requires and asks for. I don't believe we'll be able to accomplish a lot more unless we have the support we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Wow. OK. And we want to hear from you. You can still call in with your comments. Here's the number again, 1-877-742-5760. Or grab your camera and send us an iReport, cnn.com/ireport.

And if that weren't enough, you've got -- if you're not camera ready, you can just leave a comment on my blog, cnn.com/tony. Let us know what you think the U.S. should do next in Afghanistan.

The religious pilgrimage known as the hajj is underway. But looking a lot different this year. We are going to take you to the scene.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: A real damper today for millions on the road to Islam's holiest site. It is the start of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. CNN's Isha Sesay joining us live now from Mina, Saudi Arabia.

And, Isha, good to see you.

It looks like the weather has become a real factor in this year's hajj pilgrimage.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly has, Tony. Good to speak to you. The rain came down hard on this, the first day of the hajj. In fact, Tony, one Mecca resident we spoke to, told us, this is the heaviest rainfall they have seen during the hajj in 25 years. And it really soaked those pilgrims who were moving from Mecca to Mina, which is where we are. It left them absolutely soaked through and it also left parts of the tent city, which our viewers can see just behind me, in disarray. Tents were left leaking. There was some flooding, as well as power outages in some parts of the camp.

Now, to make it clear for our viewers at home, the pilgrims move to Mina and they spent -- they're meant to spend the night in prayer and reflection. But that, you know, won't be possible for some of those pilgrims, Tony, because conditions were so bad, they were forced to move to nearby hotels -- Tony.

HARRIS: Hey, and, Isha, if you would, what's next for the pilgrims tomorrow?

SESAY: Well, the pilgrims set off at dawn from Mina and they move to the plain of Arafat. This is the spiritual climax of the pilgrimage. This is the day they spend out in the open. A little translation from Arabic is, standing together before God. And what they do, they spend the day in prayer and meditation, asking for forgiveness for their sins. This is the day where pilgrims must be in Arafat, which is about five miles from here. They've got to be there before the sun goes down if their pilgrimage is to be accepted. If they're not there, Tony, their entire hajj is invalid.

HARRIS: Wow, the hajj pilgrimage, just an amazing scene. What a sight to see every year. Isha Sesay for us from Mina, Saudi Arabia.

Isha, good to see you. Thank you.

And let's get you caught up now on our top stories.

President Obama is set to announce U.S. troop strategy for Afghanistan next Tuesday night at West Point Military Academy in New York. CNN will, of course, bring you the president's prime-time address live.

Toyota is recalling at least 4 million of its cars and trucks. The automaker says the gas pedals can get stuck in the floor mats, and they need to reshape them. The recall covers models built between 2004 and 2010. The list includes Camrys, Priuss and Tacomas and some Lexus models, ES and IS models.

The mothers of three American hikers detained in Iran are calling on authorities to show compassion. They've released a video today telling their children to stay strong and pleading for their release. The hikers have been in custody now for 117 days. What's it like to attend a state dinner at the White House? I am going to find out from someone who was there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: A gobbler named Courage granted his freedom today. A free bird. A short while ago, President Obama gave the lucky bird a presidential pardon in the Rose Garden. And, look, did you see that, he spoofed (ph) the first daughter. The annual Thanksgiving tradition dates back to Harry Truman's presidency. Courage's next gig will really let him spread his wings. He is going to Disneyland to be grand marshal for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Then he will have a new home on the range, Disney's Frontierland. A little "free bird." We like that. Nice touch.

The menu, mostly vegetarian. The China, bipartisan. The first lady, sparkling. By all accounts, the Obamas' first state dinner was a smashing success. CNN's Tom Foreman has the red carpet guest list.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first couple entered with the prime minister of India and his wife. The president in a straight black tux. The first lady in a champagne gown. The creation of Indian-born designer Naeem Khan. She even had traditional Indian bracelets sparkling on her arm.

But the guest list was pretty dazzling, too. From the world of showbiz, directors M. Night Shyamalan and Steven Spielberg were on hand. So were actors Alfre Woodard and Blair Underwood. From the news media, Katie Couric, Brian Williams, Robin Roberts and CNN's own Fareed Zakaria and Sanjay Gupta, too. And from politics, General Colin Powell, New York Major Michael Bloomberg, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and a cast of other big players, at least one of whom, the energy secretary, went the wrong way.

In the tent on the South Lawn, all seemed to go right. The prime minister was the guest of honor, but all the focus was on the commander in chief.

OBAMA: It's been said that the most beautiful things in the universe are the starry heavens above us and the feeling of duty within us. Mr. Prime Minister, today we work to fulfill our duty, to bring our countries closer together than ever before. Tonight, under the stars, we celebrate the spirit that will sustain our partnership, the bonds of friendship between our people. To the future that beckons all of us.

FOREMAN: The guests dined on eggplant salad, roast potato dumplings, chick peas, okra, and prawns with a pumpkin pie tart for dessert. It was all served on China from the Eisenhower, Clinton, and George W. Bush years.

Jennifer Hudson was on the entertainment program. She told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux she practiced a lot.

JENNIFER HUDSON, SINGER: I've rehearsed my songs over and over again. I think I picked the perfect gown.

FOREMAN: Even though the White House kept that part of the program away from the TV cameras, it was, indeed, a perfect fit. Like everything else on this night, when politics played second fiddle to pageantry. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

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HARRIS: Got to tell you, by all accounts, President and Mrs. Obama's first state dinner was a stylish affair. The lengthy guest list included celebrities, musicians and politicians. And since my invite was somehow caught up in all the mail traffic to the North Pole, I had a special correspondent in the room, House Majority Whip and South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn was one of the lucky ones to score an invite.

Boy, Congressman, it's good to see you.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), MAJORITY WHIP: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

HARRIS: Hey, was this your -- and I know the answer to this, because you've been around. This is not your first rodeo. Was this your first state dinner?

CLYBURN: No. No, it was not. It was not. It was my first one with President Obama.

HARRIS: Were you -- were you at all nervous? I don't know, because I didn't get the invite, but were you at all nervous, or is this kind of thing kind of, you know, old hat for you at this point?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, I was very anxious about it, because this being President Obama's first, I wanted to see a very successful event, and that's what I saw. An outstanding event. The entertainment was great. Those prawns, they reminded me so much of Charleston shrimp. Pumpkin pie, reminded me of growing up over in Sumpter, South Carolina. And so there was just a whole lot there. And the native dancers reminded me so much of the international flavor. The entertainment was just outstanding. And, of course, Jennifer Hudson . . .

HARRIS: She's terrific, yes.

CLYBURN: With her usual (ph) good stuff.

HARRIS: Yes. What did -- who did you most -- I was going to ask you, but who did you most enjoy meeting last night?

CLYBURN: Well, I sat at the table with the director of the homeland security, the White House director of homeland security, and his wife. And one of the party -- the prime minister's party from India -- sat -- I sat next to him. I had a very interesting conversation with him.

But I was particularly interested in two young men at the table. They were brothers. One year apart. One of whom is on the -- I think it's the city council at a city out in the Midwest, with his brother, who's a C-17 pilot, was stationed at Charleston Air Force Base for about five years. He keeps a home in Somerville. And he is, of course, is of east Indian descent. I guess they were the most interesting people.

Spent a lot of time with Secretary Chu, who just made a very important announcement for Clemson University here in South Carolina. $45 million of stimulus money coming to South Carolina to help us build wind turbines to get involved in wind energy. So I spent a lot of time with Secretary Chu and his lovely wife.

HARRIS: Yes. Congressman Clyburn, I've got a couple of more serious questions to ask you here while I have you.

CLYBURN: Sure.

HARRIS: And I'd appreciate your thoughts on this. All indications are -- and you're watching the news accounts as well as we are -- all indications suggest that the president will announce an increase in U.S. troops to Afghanistan by about 34,000 give or take. We are hearing that it's likely to take place on Tuesday. It's going to happen on Tuesday, the announcement will be made 8:00 p.m. Do you have any early reaction?

CLYBURN: Well, I have been really keeping the president in my prayers over this. The fact of the matter is, I applaud him for taking his time with this decision. This is something that he must be comfortable with, irrespective of what the former vice president may say, what the polls may be saying. President Obama, on Tuesday night, will take possession of this conflict in Afghanistan and he must be comfortable with the direction that it takes. And so I applaud him for taking his time, being slow to speak, so to speak, and really being comfortable with -- with this decision.

HARRIS: Have you given any thought to how we pay for this? I know Senator Obey is talking about some form of a tax. A war tax. Is it time for us to have a serious conversation about paying for this war?

CLYBURN: Yes. Yes, it is. No question about that. I did have a long conversation last night with Congressman Obey, who is one of my best friends in the Congress. And we talked about this, not just taking ownership, but also paying for this.

The fact of the matter is, if we want to pay for everything else, roads and bridges and highways, we ought to be paying for this war. I think the problem that we have in our society today is that we undertook this effort in Afghanistan, and then we went off, dithering, if you please, in Iraq, and we didn't make any attempt to pay for this. The only people making sacrifices were those people on the battlefield. We should get serious about making the necessary sacrifices right here at home and pay for this war.

HARRIS: And, Congressman, thank you for correcting me. You're absolutely right, Congressman Obey, not Senator Obey.

It's great to see you again. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

CLYBURN: Thank you.

HARRIS: And thanks for your time.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.

HARRIS: Yes, it's good to see you.

And still to come in the NEWSROOM, a 13-year-old boy lives in New York's subway system for well over a week. How did he do it? And then why?

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HARRIS: For nearly two weeks, a missing autistic boy lived in plain sight on the New York subways. He is safe now, but his mother is outraged. She says police didn't make the case a priority because she's an immigrant. Our Mary Snow has the story.

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MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Marsiela Garcia rummages through her son's knapsack, showing what 13-year-old Francisco lived on for 11 days riding New York City subways. Along with potato chip wrappers and a Coke can is this sweatshirt he wore, seen on this missing person's poster.

FRANCISCO HERNANDEZ JR.: I was just scared.

SNOW: Francisco Hernandez Jr. offered few words. He has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. Because of that, his mother says exactly what happened to him remains a mystery.

MARSIELA GARCIA, MOTHER: I say all the time like this, he's never explained to me what happened in these days.

SNOW (on camera): He still hasn't been able to tell you what happened?

GARCIA: No. He just don't explain me. Look at him now. He don't express nothing.

SNOW (voice-over): Francisco says he didn't ask for help or communicate with anyone, which experts say is not uncommon for people with Asperger's Syndrome. His mother says Francisco never came home from school October 15th, fearing he'd get in trouble for something that happened at school. While she and her husband searched frantically and made up posters, the teen disappeared among the millions of people who ride the subways every day.

SNOW (on camera): How did you live? What did you eat?

HERNANDEZ: A sandwich and mostly whatever I could buy.

SNOW (voice-over): He had $11 with him, slept on the train, and used bathrooms in the stations.

SNOW (on camera): Here in Brooklyn's Coney Island, this is the last stop for several train lines. And 11 days after Francisco disappeared, a police officer found him on this platform. He says he recognized him after seeing a poster.

SNOW (voice-over): His mother says he looked skinny and was dirty. While she's relieved he was finally home, she expressed frustration with the police, saying they didn't do enough to help initially, so she turned to the Mexican consulate to help.

GARCIA: Because I'm Mexican. So I turned to somebody else to help me, because the police don't do nothing. So I try to found somebody else to help me. And -- and the Mexican consulate called to the police.

SNOW: The city's police commissioner was asked about the criticism and how the boy could have gone undetected for so long.

RAYMOND KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: Obviously, this search was not only focused on the subway system early on in the, you know, in the 11-day period. So, in my judgment, based on the information I have, I think we did everything that was appropriate.

SNOW (on camera): Francisco's mother says she worries her son may take off again and says she doesn't know where to turn to for help. She says her son did run away once before in January for a few hours before returning home. And at that point, he also ran away to the subway system. Why the subways? She says for some reason he seems to feel safe there.

Mary Snow, CNN, Brooklyn, New York.

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