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Australia's Worst Flooding; Snowstorm Heads to the East; Suspected Arizona Gunman in Court; Mental Health of Women After War

Aired January 11, 2011 - 10:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: 10:00 a.m. right on the button in the east coast, 7:00 a.m. out west. I'm Kyra Phillips. Glad you're with us.

Here's some of the stories that have us talking this morning. After years of speculation, the cell phone company Verizon expected to unveil its first iPhone. Up until now, Apple's smart phone was only available to customers of AT&T.

NASA scientists discovered a planet much like earth just outside our solar system. This is the rocky planet. It's the smallest to orbit a star other than our sun. Scientists say the discovery raises hope for finding life on a distant planet.

In northeastern Australia, the worst flooding in decades has turned horrific. 78 people missing after a wall of water slammed into one town and swept away cars and residents.

Yes, three quarters of the state of Queensland now declared a disaster zone.

Well, that paralyzing winter storm that rolled into the south now headed up to the east. It's linking up with another cold front for what could become a nor'easter. But the effects of snow and ice build up remain in the parts of the south, several roads and interstates around Atlanta just impassable due to the ice.

Temps are expected to go above freezing this morning, meaning that ice could stick around for a while. Similar story in other parts of the south, schools, businesses and governments closed across the region.

Rob Marciano, once again, getting a close-up look at all that ice and snow. He's just across the street in the CNN Center in Centennial Park. So how do the streets look, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The streets right here and downtown immediately, better than they were yesterday. But I can tell you, driving to this spot from midtown, the streetlights were much, much worse than yesterday. And in some cases roads closed because of the smallest of hills that become monumental mountains when you get a little bit of ice and snow.

As you mentioned, the temperatures aren't going above freezing, at least right now. We break this cloud cover up. We may see a little bit in the way of above freezing temperatures briefly but then we get colder beyond that. This is something you don't see much of either, the Atlanta five day. There you go. Temperatures - that isn't right.

Let's go to the watches and warnings. This is what you can expect across the eastern third of the country. We're looking at states, about 30 of them, that are under a watch advisory or winter storm warnings. That's the northeast. Temperatures struggling to get above freezing, not doing it, in Lexington, down through parts of Atlanta and the Carolinas where there's still some moisture and that's teaming up with Ohio and Indiana. And that storm system which has got some punch to it.

And the two of them are going to have a little party off the Delmarva this afternoon, combined strength and then roll across eastern New England with the potential of throwing down over a foot of snow in some spots, four to eight inches expected in Philadelphia, six to 12 in New York City. Maybe more. Nine to 15 expected in Boston. And if that low tracks further to the west, there's some indications this morning that it does that, you're looking at potentially more snow and potentially more in the way of wind.

We have talked to a number of people, downtown Atlanta, a lot of people come here for conventions. People from all over the country coming down here ill-prepared to just walk these sidewalks, which are extremely icy. A lot of them are just getting out on the street because it's a little safer to walk out there and not only you get better traction but some of the higher buildings, there's been chunks of ice that have been crashing down to the sidewalk. It's been very dangerous in that respect.

And then, of course, the interstates, especially 285, which is where the tractor-trailers have to go. They can't go right through downtown. They're jackknifed al over the place. We've got parts of those interstates closed, still, this morning. And that probably will be the case again tomorrow morning as temperatures dip below freezing again.

Yes, the Department of Transportation cameras have been very active and they're trying to get out there to do the best they can. But they're just not prepared for this sort of - there goes another one. I mean, stuff falling from the skyscrapers here in downtown Atlanta. Don't go outside if you don't have to. This is the second day - I can't believe this is the second day this city is shut down, Kyra. We may go day number three tomorrow.

PHILLIPS: Yes, and a lot of people have been asking what's the deal with Atlanta? They knew this was coming. Why didn't they get prepared? We don't have the resources like states that are used to this kind of weather. We only got a small number of plows and salt trucks. So they can't get all across the city, right?

MARCIANO: No, you can't spend $100 million on salt trucks and plows that are going to collect dust most of the time. The taxpayers wouldn't go for that. So the ones that are complaining that the streets aren't being cleared now, you got to look at the pros and cons of how you go about doing that. Places like charlotte and up through Raleigh weren't hit quite as hard as this but nonetheless they dealt with what they've got pretty well. Because they get it a little bit more frequently.

When you get a historic event like this, you just got to say, you're humbled by mother nature and you just got to be, you know, be patient with it and deal with it the best you can.

PHILLIPS: Rob, thanks.

MARCIANO: Well, let's head to Tucson, Arizona where the anguish is still very raw. And the heartache, well all too real. Just imagine the outrage when the accused gunman appeared for the first time in front of a camera and he looked like this, smiling in his mug shot, breaking into a joyous, almost taunting demeanor.

22-year-old Jared Loughner faced only a handful of charges related to Saturday's shooting rampage when he also appeared in court yesterday. Six people dead, 14 others wounded. And the apparent target, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords showing signs of improvement.


MIKE MCNULTY, REP. GIFFORDS' CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: There's such a small chance that someone who's been shot through the brain will recover that we all started out pretty much desperate with grief. But the reports have been stupendous and encouraging and everyone is hopeful, and frankly, those of us that know her will to go on are convinced that she is going to pull out of this.


PHILLIPS: Well, let's begin with CNN's Ted Rowlands. He's actually just outside the University Hospital there in Tucson. Any new news, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, nothing new from doctors here. They say that the same is good, actually right now. Because we're going into the third day where swelling typically in a brain injury patient can be bad. They say at this point they haven't seen any significant change in the swelling and they say that she continues to respond, which is obviously great news.

We are expecting a formal news conference at 10:00 local time and we're also expecting at that news conference to hear from some family members of the injured. That coming up at 10:00 local time.

PHILLIPS: All right. We'll wait for that and take it live for sure. Ted, thanks.

And talk about a fall from grace, former house majority leader Tom Delay sentenced to three years in prison for money laundering and conspiracy. Delay who was once considered one of the most powerful politicians in Washington was convicted of illegally funneling money from corporate donations through the Republican National Committee and into the hands of GOP candidates running for office in Texas. Delay's attorney spoke briefly after the trial. He says that they will appeal that ruling.


DICK DEGUERIN, TOM DELAY'S ATTORNEY: I told you what I thought I'd get sued. This will not stand.


PHILLIPS: Well, despite the sentencing, Delay will remain free pending that appeal. That process could take years.

Well, we've been talking today about Auburn winning the college football championship. Now I want to tell you about a college football player with a championship heart.

Rutgers Tackle, Eric Legrand paralyzed after making a tackle in this game last October. Now after surgery and weeks of rehab, ESPN reports that he has regained some feeling in his body. He actually talked to ESPN about his recovery.


ERIC LEGRAND, PARALYZED FOOTBALL PLAYER: I believe that I will walk one day. I believe it. God has a plan for me and I know it's not to be sitting here all the time. I know he has something planned bigger for me.


PHILLIPS: Wow. Well, the doctors first gave Legrand zero to five percent chance of neurologic recovery. His mom never told him that, by the way. She tells ESPN my son is not a percentage.

All right. All you Britney fans, it's official, pop princess has released a new single, bet you can't wait.



PHILLIPS: Actor Michael Douglas says he may have beaten throat cancer.


MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR: I feel good, relieved. The tumor is gone. But you know, I have to check out on a monthly basis now to maintain. Is that a total euphoria? I'll probably take a couple of months getting checked out to feel. It's been a wild six-month ride.


PHILLIPS: Well, this interview with NBC's Matt Lauer is the first time Douglas actually has spoken out about his recovery from cancer. He was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer back in August.

"Showbiz Tonight's" A.J. Hammer joins me now from New York. So A.J., I tell you what, the paparazzi was certainly very intrusive during his battle. You know, snapping pictures everywhere possible.


PHILLIPS: It's good to see how well he's doing right now.

HAMMER: It really is. Quite frankly, Kyra, I do think that the press attention is one of the issues that complicated his life when he was sick. He did talk a lot during the interview about how intrusive he found the coverage and how it affected his family.

Michael Douglas told Matt Lauer that he resented the imposition of the paparazzi, particularly how they would include his two young children when they were snapping pictures of him. And he also wasn't very happy with those tabloid pictures many of us saw where he was very gaunt.

He suggested - well, maybe they could have been touched on a bit and he said those pictures concerned his father, Kirk Douglas, enough that Kirk actually came to New York City to see Michael. He also said that he felt the tabloids had a macabre enjoyment of watching him go down.

Obviously I hope that wasn't true. Obviously, this is now great news. We do continue to wish Michael the very best in his continuing recovery from a scary and difficult time. And Kyra, the Douglass' just told "People" magazine that there has been some celebrating. I know they're being cautiously optimistic here. But the family did go out to dinner, according to Michael, a couple of nights ago after getting this clean bill of health. And Michael said that he even had a glass of wine with dinner saying it was his first since his diagnosis in August. Certainly reason to celebrate for that family.

PHILLIPS: Amen. Well, I know this is something you have just been waiting for such a long time. Your girl Britney Spears releasing her new song today. You can't wait!

HAMMER: I couldn't be more excited about this. She is back with a brand new song and, of course, if you haven't heard it yet, you may be wondering is the song any good? Well, let's roll out a little bit of it for you right now.


HAMMER: I like it. I think it's pretty good.

PHILLIPS: Would you hold it against her, A.J.?


HAMMER: Yes, yes. No, I think this is terrific. By the way, Kyra, this song shot to number one already on iTunes in multiple countries, including the U.S.. That's the cool thing about iTunes, it happens instantly. It was actually released a little early because there had been leaks, doesn't really seem to Be a problem.

I think Britney is going to have another hit on her hands with this, which is pretty considerable when you think of everything that she has been through. I don't want to call it a comeback. I think Britney has been back for a time now. But good for you, Britney Spears. I like the song. We'll see what happens with it.

PHILLIPS: All right. We'll track it. A.J., thanks.

Well, any information you want that's breaking in the entertainment world, A.J.'s always got it for you, "Showbiz Tonight" on HLN, 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

The mental health of women after war, many of our female vets are coping with combat stress, depression, a lot more. The new government study says it's more likely that their male counterparts will actually get the treatment. We're looking into it.


PHILLIPS: We're just getting news that's crossing our wires here. We can go on the record and report this, the National Oil Spill Commission releasing its final report on the Deep Water Horizon disaster, concluding it was "foreseeable and preventable."

There's been a lot of speculation about this. We've been talking about it now for a number of months. The report goes on to say "errors and misjudgments by the three major oil drilling companies, BP, Halliburton and Transocean all played key roles in the disaster. Government regulation was ineffective and failed to keep pace with technology advancements in offshore drilling.

We'll have more on the commission and what it says in this report, obviously throughout the day.

All right. A license to beg. One county in Florida actually considering it, it tops our look "Cross Country" this morning.

In Tampa, Hillsborough County officials thinking of requiring licenses and mandatory safety training for street corner solicitors. It came up at a series of meetings trying to stop or at least slow the growth of panhandling. Attorneys told county officials, the concept may not be legal. Newspaper vendors and charities aren't too thrilled with the idea either.

Then from nearby Venice, Florida, remember that orange-colored gator that we showed you last week? Well, skeptics which now include Florida's Fish and Wildlife Commission think that the reptile may not be an albino but rather a really good dye job. The mystery lives on.

Another update worth mentioning. Remember Ted Williams, the golden voice, homeless guy, discovered just a few weeks ago. He's back among the ranks of the gainfully employed. We love this story. His first voiceover spot actually aired Sunday for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Take a listen.


TED WILLIAMS: Kraft Home Style Macaroni and Cheese, cheesy noodles topped with golden brown bread crumbs. You know you love it.


PHILLIPS: I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of him. Such a great story.

Well, let's talk about women at war. Fighting a very different battle when they come home. We're talking about the minds of our female warriors and 20,000 of them who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. They are more likely than their brothers in arms to be diagnosed with mental health issues but they're less likely to get benefits for them.

That's according to a new government study looking at ways the Department of Veterans Affairs can better serve the women who are serving us. Anuradha Bhagwati is the executive director of the Service Women's Action Network. She joins us live from New York this morning. Good to see you.

You know, the study talks about combat stress, sexual trauma, brain injuries, these are realities as we know for so many women in the military. Why the gap in access to benefits?

ANURADHA BHAGWATI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SERVICE WOMEN'S ACTION NETWORK: Well, there are a couple of really useful tidbits of information from this study. I think the first is that, you know, while women veterans, certainly the military community understands that women's roles in combat have changed dramatically. Their services upon returning home have yet to catch up with that fact.

So especially in the V.A., which is broken up into the health administration and the benefits administration, you're seeing that especially on the benefits side, women veterans are not being served as well as they should be. A study indicated that more women with PTSD from combat are being denied service-connected compensation than their male counterparts.

And some of that is due to the fact that we have the combat exclusion policy in effect which prohibits women from being assigned to units such as infantry, armor, special operations units. But what we're seeing, of course, in Iraq and Afghanistan is that women are absolutely being exposed to hostile fire everyday, whether or not they're actually in these units.

Women's roles have dramatically, radically changed on the battlefield. We have women everyday as, you know, translators, members of convoy operations, linguists, military police and so on, regularly being exposed to hostile fire and coming back with the same wounds of war as men. We also see that women are engaged in roles such as female engagement teams in the Marine Corps, lioness teams in the Army, which is actually in direct violation of the combat exclusion policy. And commanders on the ground know this. You know, women are actually patrolling alongside infantry men day and night throughout Afghanistan.


PHILLIPS: Isn't that one thing, though, Anuradha, that the combat exclusion policy, has now been taken out, right, because of how we are seeing women getting involved in combat and have been for months and months and months in Iraq and Afghanistan? So now that's one good sign, right, that they are going to be able to have -

BHAGWATI: Actually -

PHILLIPS: It's not been wiped out yet? I thought it was.

BHAGWATI: No, the combat exclusion policy is still in effect. It's under review currently.


BHAGWATI: But I think it's going to take some time for that to be overturned or to be revised. But what we have seen is the V.A. has shifted its regulations when it comes to benefits for combat veterans who are not part of these combat arms units. So that the initial stressor that caused your PTSD in combat is easier to prove for your average veteran who's returning home with PTSD.



PHILLIPS: Does that include women?

BHAGWATI: And that service-connected claim. It does include women. Now, the problem in the past has been that V.A. used to depend on combat awards, you know, combat action badges, combat infantry badges, so on and so forth.

PHILLIPS: Right. And that's changed.

BHAGWATI: To prove that someone was in combat. That's changed because as we just discussed, women are exposed to hostile fire every day.

PHILLIPS: Got it. So slowly but surely it's moving toward getting rid of that combat exclusion policy by these little minor changes. That's good news, right?

BHAGWATI: We hope. We hope. Right. Absolutely. It's very good news.

PHILLIPS: And you definitely pointed out just the threats that women are up against, the same as men on a daily basis. But something else, too. We've talked a little bit about this, one of the newest concerns is MST, Military Sexual Trauma. And this was something that or this is something, rather, that's getting more attention and do you think enough is being done with regard to MST right now?

BHAGWATI: No, unfortunately, not enough is being done with respect to military sexual trauma. The V.A. unfortunately has not allowed any new regulations for survivors of sexual harassment or sexual assault. It's much harder for survivors of sexual trauma to actually get their service-connected claims passed by the V.A. so if you have PTSD or major depression from a sexual assault or harassment episode in the military, the standard of proof for you to get that service-connected compensation is much higher than it would be for a combat veteran who has PTSD or an equivalent condition.


PHILLIPS: So what do you think the V.A. needs to do?

BHAGWATI: It needs to reflect a change, much like it did for combat veterans, such that the stressor, your initial incident, whether it's an I.E.D. explosion or an incident of sexual assault or harassment is on the same plain so that you don't have to dig for evidence that you literally can't find because it was unsafe to report your initial harassment or assault.

We believe that it should be sufficient to have a V.A. diagnosis of PTSD or depression that your treatment post-service should be enough, in addition to your narrative about what happened to you in service. Unfortunately, the vast majority of claimants who file for service-connected compensation for military sexual trauma related conditions are denied.

And unfortunately, it leads to really tragic retraumatization among veterans and a complete disappointment among veterans in the system. It leads to women and men who are survivors of military sexual trauma under utilizing V.A. services and literally disappearing into the cracks.

PHILLIPS: Yes, that needs to be talked about more. It needs definitely closer examination. Anuradha Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, it's always good to talk to you. You're a great advocate for our vets, especially women. Appreciate your time.

BHAGWATI: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: We want to update you on a story that we were talking about yesterday. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanting to trim fat from the Pentagon budget. And he's eyeing the military's health care system and a possible fee increase for younger vets.

Under his plan, co-pays would go up for military retirees under 65 but rates for older retirees would stay the same. And health care for active duty troops still free. This would be the first price increase in over a decade. And Gates says that it could save up to $7 billion over the next five years. Keep in mind, troops (INAUDIBLE) care of the V.A. for battle injuries and mental health issues not affected here.

And this video just coming into the CNN Newsroom, vice president Joe Biden in Afghanistan greeting troops. The vice president also meeting with Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. He announced that U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan past 2014 if the war-torn country needs them. Biden is in the country to gauge security ahead of the planned troop withdrawal starting in July.

President George H.W. Bush leaves President Clinton a private letter. Some secret advice from the old president to the new president. That letter never seen before and it's been re-opened. We're going to find out what Bush 41 actually told the new guy from Arkansas.


PHILLIPS: All right. Stock market opening bell rang just about an hour ago. A check at the numbers, Dow industrials up almost 50 points.

A Verizon iPhone. The talk has been floating out there for years. The walk arrives in about 30 minutes. No more flirting between these two.

Checking in with Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange. This is huge for iPhoners. You have details we'll hear in the next hour?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Can you feel the excitement, Kyra? I know I can. I'll rattle off some of the details here for you.

Think of it is this way. With the new iPhone, all the old iPhone bells and whistles that you see here, like on this iPhone I'm holding, they'll be the same. Just think, the new iPhone is just going to be made for a different network, for Verizon. So, the pricing is expected to be the same as well as AT&T. The phone is about $199 or $299, depending on the memory you choose.

Now, the Verizon iPhone is expected to be available at the end of this month. But the huge question here is going to be the pricing on the data plan. I'm talking about for using the web, e-mail and apps. Right now, Verizon offers unlimited data for 30 bucks a month. It's expected to keep that pricing for the iPhone.

Now, keep in mind, AT&T charges less, about 15 bucks to 25 bucks, but what AT&T does is limit the amount of data you can use. So, you have to kind of weigh what's more important to you at this point about the pricing and who you want to go with, Verizon or AT&T. Kyra?

PHILLIPS: All right. So how big of a problem is this going to be for AT&T?

KOSIK: Well, analysts say it may not affect AT&T as much as you would think, at least not right away. For one, many AT&T customers are locked into a longer contract. They did this in June when the iPhone 4 came out. Also, the AT&T early termination penalty is about 325 bucks. And despite AT&T's network problems, many customers really are unlikely to move to Verizon because many say it's really just a big hassle to switch carriers at this point.

In all, 2.5 million people are expected to defect to Verizon. Now, it sounds like a lot, Kyra. But it really isn't much. AT&T probably has somewhere in the range of 90 million customers right now. And you know, we talk about AT&T and Verizon. But you know, the real winner in this whole game is likely to be Apple. Have you noticed its share price lately? It's at 342 bucks today. Shares up 207 percent since the first iPhone came out in 2007. So, it's really Apple that's coming out as the winner. Kyra?

PHILLIPS: All right. Finally for all the Apple fanatics out there, are we going to hear from Steve Jobs today, you think?

KOSIK: Great question. You know, he is the rock star, isn't he? The fact of the matter is, Verizon is heading up today's event. Apple's not commenting. No surprise there. But the rumor mill saying Jobs may show. Keep in mind, anything having to do with Apple, Jobs has tight control over, especially if it's launching new products, and Apple usually does its own launches. You never know if he's going to show up. There's a strong possibility. Kyra?

PHILLIPS: OK. Alison, thanks.

It's just about 10:30 on the East Coast now, 7:30 out West. Here's some of the stories that got us talking.

Auburn's Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton, more reason to smile this morning as his top ranked Tigers won college football's National Championship in Arizona last night. A last-second field goal as time expired. Auburn beat the Oregon Ducks 22-19.

Dr. Conrad Murray told officers that a sleepless Michael Jackson begged him for Propofol just hours before the singer died. New details from a police interview now coming to light as part of a preliminary hearing in the doctor's involuntary manslaughter case. Murray told police he eventually gave Jackson the surgical anesthetic, but a defense lawyer planted the seed that a frustrated Jackson may have poured the fatal dosage right into his juice, drinking it.

The former "hammer of Congress" gets a three-year prison term. Yesterday, a judge in Texas sentenced former House Republican leader Tom Delay. He was found guilty of circumventing campaign finance laws. Delay's attorney says they'll appeal both the sentence and conviction.

The U.S. presidency. It could be the most elite club in the world. Only 44 members so far. The power and influence of sitting and former presidents, enormous. A recent tradition is for the outgoing president to leave the incoming one a secret letter. A private note left in the Oval Office for the next most powerful person on earth.

Well, today, for the first time ever we're about to see one of those secret letters. It was from George to Bill. And author Brad Meltzer is back with us. In researching his new novel, "The Inner Circle," he actually got his hands on a letter from former president George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton in 1993. You're going to see it for the first time ever.

So, Brad, first off, before we get into what's in the letter, how did you actually get it? I mean, that's a piece of history.

BRAD MELTZER, AUTHOR, "THE INNER CIRCLE": Yes. You know, I was researching my book and I found out that George Washington had started his own personal spiring, which I found fascinating. And what he'd done is enlisted regular, ordinary people. So, what I did was, I said, I want to see -- I asked a guy who was an expert in the Department of Homeland Security, I said, could that spy ring exist today? Wouldn't that be a good plot for the novel? And he says to me, what makes you think it doesn't? And I said, wait, what are you talking about? And he says it was one of George Washington's greatest secrets. Why wouldn't he have it today?

So, then I said OK, I have to go to a good source. I heard the story that Ronald Reagan during his last moments in the White House basically slipped a message, a note, into the Oval Office desk. He gave that note to President Bush, and then President Bush left a note for Clinton, who left one for George W. Bush who left one for Obama. So, I went to George H.W. Bush and I said, could, in my novel "The Inner Circle," I said could one president leave a secret note to another and tell him about the secret spy ring still existing today? And what he sent me, instead of a reply, he actually sent me the letter he wrote to Bill Clinton.

PHILLIPS: All right. And we've got it. It's not too long, it's only three paragraphs. Should I of ahead and read it in its entirety?

MELTZER: You can read -- I can read you my favorite part, and you can read your favorite part.

PHILLIPS: OK! You start with your favorite part.

MELTZER: Okay. Here's the part I love. It says, "There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism. You may not think it's fair. I'm not a very good one to give advice. But just don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course." What I love most about it is the last line. "I am rooting hard for you." And that is vintage George Bush.

And what I love about the letter, especially when you look at where we are right now, George Bush had every reason at this moment to hate Bill Clinton. Right? When I first got the letter, I was convinced he sent me a secret code. Right? Because I asked him about the code for my novel.

I wanted to see if every fourth letter said, "I hate you, Bill." But what it said was, as you saw, was something so much more generous. What he was doing was saying "I'm going to put the country above my own personal feelings." That's not just a great president, that's a great man. That -- within we look at the discourse we're in today and the tragedy that's happened in Arizona, people say we need to be talking better. Here's how we need to be talking.

PHILLIPS: It's interesting because they went on to develop a very good relationship, still doing things together to raise money for devastating events across our world.

MELTZER: Yes. When I was researching the novel, one of the things that George Bush's office told me, they were so impressed once when Bill Clinton gave up his bed to George H.W. Bush to let him sleep in it. These guys have developed a real friendship. This letter is the first moment you see that friendship developing. The fact I could use it in "The Inner Circle," which is completely fiction, just blew me away. I really was appreciative that he sent me it.

PHILLIPS: And Brad, this is quite a switch from the letter that Reagan left, right? Because wasn't Reagan's short and sweet? "Don't let the turkeys get you down?" And he drew a turkey? Is that true?

MELTZER: Yes. That's what he wrote. He literally drew a turkey and said don't let the turkeys get you down. What you see here is someone who's reaching out and saying, listen, this will be a tough job. And he's saying I'm here for you, rooting for you. I find that amazing that of all the things he can say to Bill Clinton, he singles out critics and criticism. It shows you just hard it is to take that venom every single day. That is the most, to me, telling line of the letter. It's just how hard that job is but what a friendship that Bush has offered in this moment. I admire him so much for really being so generous like that.

PHILLIPS: What stories of intrigue you always have for us, Brad. You have such a charmed life. I tell you what, the most interesting things happen to you. The next book coming out, "The Inner Circle." Once again, I'm sure it will do extremely well. We'll be talking again about some other unique story or letter or something you come across in your writing. Always great to talk to you.

MELTZER: I appreciate it, Kyra. If I have it, you'll have it, too. You know that.

PHILLIPS: Sounds good to me!

MELTZER: Always good speaking to you.

PHILLIPS: Appreciate you, Brad.

Well, that ice and snowstorm that rolled across the South is taking aim at the Northeast now. We'll actually show you the problems it left behind and what could be in store for your region.



PHILLIPS: Midwest storm linking up with that snow and ice storm that just slammed into the South, creating what could be a monster nor'easter for the upper Atlantic states. Take a look at Charlotte, North Carolina this morning. Light mist has been falling, creating a lot of icy road conditions. Then Birmingham, Alabama still trying to recover from the snow and ice. Most roads are passable, but drivers are urged to still be really cautious.

Jacqui Jeras urging all of us to be cautious as well here still in Atlanta.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. People have been asking are you driving around, are you trying to stay safe? How are you getting back and forth to work? By the way, just so you know, we're all doing okay. And for the most part, we're all trying to stay in hotels because it still looks like this, a winter wonderland.


PHILLIPS: All right. Thanks, Jacqui.

JERAS: Sure.

PHILLIPS: Atlanta airport staff handing out blankets to travelers now. They've been stranded by this ice and snow. Air traffic across the East from Richmond, Virginia all the way to Palm Beach, Florida, slowed by this severe weather. In Atlanta alone, more than 3,300 flights have already been canceled since Sunday.

CNN's David Mattingly at Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson airport. How's it looking now, David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, if you want to get out of the world's busiest airport today, you'll have to first stand in line. That's what we're watching right now as this airport continues to come back to life.

This is the line right here, the very end of the line for passengers who have had their flights canceled are now trying to make other arrangements. Let's see how big this is. This is the end of the line, it comes this way, goes all the way across the concourse here, turns to the left, and then disappears off into the distance over that way. Actually, what we're looking at is just a fraction of this line as it continues to wind its way down at the other end of the terminal here. That shows you how many people are trying to find other arrangements to get back home after their flights were canceled.

Yesterday, Delta telling us they canceled 1,900 flights. Today they canceled 1,400. Right now, they're expecting to get just a couple hundred flights back in the air today. So, it's going to be very lucky passengers who actually make it to their destinations today. Everyone hoping that they win that lottery, but as you can see, Kyra, this is a long line, and it's going to require quite a bit of patience before this system gets back to normal. Kyra?

PHILLIPS: Okay. We'll keep talking. Thanks, David.

A couple of health stories we've been talking about this morning. If you're making your shopping list for Sam's Club, well, you can add a basic health service package now. It's not health insurance. It's actually a personalized health program. The plan's available on the Sam's Club Web site and will be in stores in the spring. For $99, you get a yearly subscription to a web-based program. It includes an at- home blood screening test as well. The test that tracks cholesterol, blood sugar, hemoglobin levels. You'll have to get a doctor on your own, though.

Spending too much time in front of the TV on your computer? Well, it can hurt your heart and shorten your life apparently. This new study is a warning sign for people who spend at least four hours a day watching TV, playing video games or using the computer for fun. Researchers say there was a little difference, even when people got off the couch and exercised.

And this was just released. A new economic outlook, and it's predicting strong growth for 2011. We're talking about it straight ahead.


PHILLIPS: Vice president Joe Biden in Afghanistan, talking about the possibility of an extended stay for troops there. Senior White House correspondent Ed Henry live with the story. Hey, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning, Kyra. The vice president suggesting, look, the U.S. might stay beyond 2014 if the Afghans will have us. Important to note, the context, though, is that he was still saying that the U.S. will begin withdrawing troops in July of this year and hopes to have all combat troops out by the end of 2014. So, he seemed to be suggesting that, look, if the Afghans need us to stay beyond a little bit longer for training, et cetera, fine, just as we've seen in Iraq. The bottom line is he made clear Afghans will be in the lead. And also he said the U.S. will not be, in his words, "nation building" in Afghanistan. So, something to keep a close eye on obviously.

Meanwhile, the president continues to shake up his schedule in the wake of that tragedy in Tucson. The president now will be heading to Tucson tomorrow for a big memorial service. Also likely going to meet with some of the families of victims, may even make a stop at the hospital where Representative Giffords is right now. Nick Shapiro, White House spokesman just putting out a statement saying, quote, "The president believes right now the main thing we should be doing is offering our thoughts and prayers to those impacted and making sure that we're joining together and pulling together as a country." Obviously, the details of his schedule will be a little bit fluid because while there's a hope that he may be able to stop by the hospital, obviously nobody knows for sure what the congresswoman's condition will be tomorrow and whether or not he'll be able to move forward. The last thing the president wants to do is get in the way of her recovery, get in the way of the families and their grieving process. But White House aides say he does want to be there show his support, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: You are also tracking this other report on the outlook for the economy?

HENRY: That's right, Kyra. It's coming from the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donahue, very powerful business group here. They've sparred with the president a little bit on issues like health care, government regulations and what not.

But today, Mr. Donahue is coming out with what he calls a "state of American business," an annual speech he does before the president delivers his State of the Union address. Basically says he sees strong economic growth in 2011, predicting a gross domestic product growth of about 3.2 percent. That's pretty strong, stronger than we've seen for sure. But Tom Donahue warning that if government continues to pile up too many regulations on -- like the Wall Street reform bill, for example, that passed and was signed into law a few months ago, that could still crimp economic growth in trying to turn around the job picture as well.

Important to note that President Obama, despite sparring with the Chamber of Commerce a bit in recent months is going to be delivering a big speech there early next month. That will be something to keep a close eye on, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Will do. Thanks, Ed.

HENRY: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: We'll have your next political update in just about an hour. And a reminder, for the lastest political news, you can go to our Web site 24/7,

Take a look at the Georgia Iditarod. It's a trusty sled dog, and his musher braving the wild icy landscape. This is what happens when the South chills out for a winter storm.


PHILLIPS: Right now, my car is frozen to the parking lot outside. But the winter storm that's nailed and paralyzed Atlanta and other parts of the South means fun, wonder and creative modes of transportation for many other Southerners.

Here's a warning, though. If you're a snow-hard northerner, you might roll your eyes a little at this story. Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's such an oddity down South...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is that? Snow?

MOOS: ... that when it happens, some Southerners act like they're flakey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's snowing! And I'm in shorts!

MOOS: It's as if they're witnessing a double rainbow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh, dude, it is snowing in Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're getting snow in Texas, y'all!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the heck?! Georgia?!

MOOS: Perhaps it was summed up best by a little girl playing meteorologist with a cone for a microphone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today we'll be introducing snow.

MOOS: Snow, meet the South. South, meet the snow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of snow, that there's some snow on everyone's boots, where they go.

MOOS: For some, it was their first snowfall ever.


MOOS: And we don't just mean humans. For man and beast alike, it was strange stuff, scary to put a paw on. Even goats in a buried doghouse seemed hesitant to come out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on out of there. Yes, that's awesome. Come on, Lily.

MOOS: Motorists were the ones who shouldn't have come out. This BMW got stuck, and its spinning wheels ignited the car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's on fire! Get out! Get out! It's on fire.

MOOS: A WXIA reporter doing weather live shots warned the driver, who did get out.

And while most cars spun out unintentionally, some did it on purpose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to show these folks how to do a proper Michigan doughnut.

MOOS: A Michigan doughnut in snowy South Carolina.

The novelty of snow...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): We've got snow in Georgia.

MOOS: ... inspired this guy to write an ode to the white stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I can't believe I see what I'm seeing.

MOOS: Folks skiing down the streets of Atlanta, a sled towed by a lawn mower in Huntsville, Alabama. (on camera) But skiing or getting dragged along by a lawn mower, that's kid's stuff compared to the way crazy New Yorkers play in the snow.

(voice-over) We don't recommend getting towed full speed down Park Avenue, but you have to hand it to those Southerners. They're creative.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good-bye, people!

MOOS: Who needs a sleigh when you can go dashing through the snow in a boat? For once, northerners and Southerners are in the same boat.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ... New York.


PHILLIPS: That does it for us. Thanks so for joining us. We'll see you back here tomorrow, 9:00 a.m. Eastern time.

Carol Costello joining us here in the CNN NEWSROOM. She'll pick it up right after the break.