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Washington to Give Out Rebate Checks to Help Boost Economy; Egypt Tries to Stop Palestinians from Crossing the Border; Extreme Weather Terrorizes California; U.S. Troops to Pakistan?; Heath Ledger's Death; Teen Hijack Plot?; Accused of Hate; Giuliani's Florida Push

Aired January 25, 2008 - 09:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Betty Nguyen in for Heidi Collins. And watch events come into the CNN NEWSROOM live on this Friday morning. It is January 25th.

Here's what's on the rundown.

So how much will your rebate check be, and when will you get it? Washington comes up way plan to pump up your pockets.

HARRIS: Chaos at the border. Egypt tries to stop Palestinians from crossing over.

NGUYEN: A snow jam -- check it out -- keeps a major freeway closed outside Los Angeles. When will I-5 reopen? Road to nowhere, in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Checks in the mail, money in your pocket. Tax rebates the centerpiece of a plan to boost the sagging economy. The legislation goes before Congress next week.

In the meantime, personal finance editor Gerri Willis is in New York with a look at what the plan means for you, and Ali Velshi traveling with the CNN Election Express talking about your economic concerns.

First to Gerri. Gerri, good to see you. I want my money. When do I get it and how much?

GERRI WILLIS, PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, hi there, Tony. You're going to have to wait just a little bit.

Look, Congress hopes to pass this legislation by mid-February. They could probably cut those checks by April, but that means you're not going to see it until May or June. So stop checking the post office box every day.

But look, you know, the IRS is busy with tax season right now. So it's going to take it a little longer than you might otherwise expect. Let's look at the numbers, though, and see just how much money you could be getting. Individuals earning less than $75,000 could get checks for $600. For couples, we're looking at $1200, they're limited on that, the ceiling is $150,000 earnings, and if you have children, you can get an extra $300 per child.

HARRIS: OK. So Gerri, what's the very first thing I want to do with that check?

WILLIS: Well, you know, I'm not really in favor of spending it. I think you got to pay off debt.

Look, Americans have a lot of credit card debt. As much as $9,659, imagine this. They pay almost 15 percent in interest. That's a lot.


WILLIS: And so (INAUDIBLE) alone they're probably paying 1400 bucks each year in just interest. You could cut that out right now. Put that money from the government to work paying down your credit card debt or even bills that you have.

HARRIS: I like that. You know, everyone knows that they really should have, oh, anywhere from three to six month emergency fund, right, in the bank.

WILLIS: Right.

HARRIS: But why is socking money away right now so important?

WILLIS: Well, you know, it's a recession. It's an economic slowdown, and one of the first things that happens in a slowdown is that employers start cutting jobs. They lay people off. And if that's going to happen you want to make sure you have money in the bank to cover rent, put food on the table, pay the mortgage, and a nice little nest egg will help you get through something like that.

HARRIS: Yes, Gerri. All right. For a moment, let's pretend here. I'm perfect.

WILLIS: Right. You are perfect.

HARRIS: Big stretch there. I've got no credit card debt. I've got my emergency funds in place. And I've still got some money coming in. What should I do with my money right now?

WILLIS: Well, you're immediate needs are sort of all resolved in terms of finances.


WILLIS: So now is a great time to invest whether it's a high yield savings account, maybe a stock market index fund. You know, stocks have been trading lower.


WILLIS: This is an opportunity. But this will allow you to grow your money, not just save it.

HARRIS: Right. But I still want to have -- just want to be careful here. Is there anything else I should be thinking about right now to protect myself?

WILLIS: Well, one good idea, particularly if you're in an industry that's consolidated. You're worried that you're going to lose your job in this recession. Think about getting a home equity line of credit. You can get a low-cost one or a no-cost one. You're essentially tapping the equity in your home. You obviously have to have a mortgage, a house and some equity.

But it will allow you to pay that mortgage, pay -- you know, put food on the table if the worst happened. And if you don't use it, that's fine. It's something that's in your back pocket. It's a little safety net for you, because I know people out there are worried right now.

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

Gerri, great advice and great help in helping us sort of dissect the plan right now. Much more Gerri Willis coming up next hour, viewer e-mails and then, I believe, in the 11:00 Eastern hour this morning, Gerri Willis betting on the "Daily Show" with Jon Stewart.


HARRIS: That's coming up.

WILLIS: It was a ton of fun.

HARRIS: OK. Gerri, see you then. Thanks.

NGUYEN: And she lives to tell about it. That's always a good thing.

OK. So that's Gerri's advice. But we want to find out what you're saying about tax rebates to boost the company.

Senior business correspondent Ali Velshi on the road listening to your concerns. He's aboard the CNN Election Express rolling through West Texas near Odessa this morning.

So, Ali, what are people saying about this economic stimulus deal? Are they buying into it? Are they excited about it?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, I was just -- listening to doom and gloom Willis there telling us about how you shouldn't spend the money. You should save it. You should, you know, pay off your credit cards. This is the point. She's right. A lot of Americans are carrying a lot of credit with a lot of high interest and the problem is that if you go and spend that money, you're not paying off your debt. But if you do pay off that debt, you're not stimulating the economy, you're not creating demand and you're not creating those new jobs that Gerri talks about. That's why you might continue to see job losses.

I'm hearing that down here in Texas and through the south as we go toward California, we're hearing people who are a little bit skeptical about whether or not this will actually stimulate the economy, and what's more, it's going to cost the government a lot of money.

Here's what one gentleman told me yesterday.


RICK TAUTE, CONCERNED ABOUT THE ECONOMY: Personally I think that money is going to be spent in two months or three months and we're going to be right back in the same position. I'm no economist by any means but in my opinion, I think it will be a quick injection of cash into the marketplace and after that I think unless something else is done that we're in essence going to write that check and it's going to be spent and we're going to be right back in the same position.


VELSHI: And that's a big check. We're not talking about one $600 or $1200 check. We're talking more than $100 billion. So if it doesn't do what it's meant to do, some people have described it as dropping money out of an airplane.

So I'm getting skepticism about this. What that gentleman told me was that -- what remains to be seen is what -- is something else. What else has to happen? We're still thinking that the Federal Reserve might cut interest rates again next week. We'll have to see what the market thinks of all this.

But right here, we're still hearing from people who are concerned about jobs, interest rates, their home prices, energy prices, and how much their food is costing. That's the feeling we're getting on the road.

So we're on day four now. We're heading toward California. We're a little -- more than half way and we're making good time, as you can see from the open road in front of me, and Betty, our driver Dale here is taking us all the way south.

Dale, say hi to our folks at CNN. Everything going OK or you?

DALE, CNN ELECTION EXPRESS DRIVER: Great. Everything is great.

NGUYEN: Ali, would you stop distracting him. He is trying to drive here. Goodness. My goodness.

VELSHI: That's right. Dale (INAUDIBLE)...

NGUYEN: Remind me never to drive while Ali is in the car.

VELSHI: He's taking us - (INAUDIBLE) miles he's looking after us. So we're in good shape.

NGUYEN: Yes, you are. OK. So keep your eye on the road and leave the man alone.

HARRIS: There you go.

NGUYEN: We'll talk to you shortly, Ali.

HARRIS: Oh boy.

NGUYEN: Thank you.

HARRIS: All right. The road to the White House heads south this weekend. Today candidates from both parties are focusing beneath the Mason-Dixon line. The Democrats are bracing for tomorrow's big primary in South Carolina. Republicans who faced off there last Saturday are looking ahead to Florida. That critical primary is scheduled for Tuesday.

Democrats downplaying a feud between the frontrunners today. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have shelved their sharp radio ads in South Carolina. Still the stakes are high and patience low.

CNN's senior correspondent Candy Crowley explains.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): She's back. After two days working February 5th states, Hillary Clinton returned to South Carolina. Her campaign dropped a controversial ad and her husband conceded to a concerned voter that maybe the Clinton/Obama food fight ought to end.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: That's pretty good advice. Probably good advice for me, too. When I was running I didn't give a rip what anybody said about me. It's weird. You know? But if you love somebody, you think they'd be good. It's harder.

CROWLEY: Perhaps the mood is changing as the South Carolina's campaign moves into its final days. The traditional time to return to message.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time we had a president who believes that leading an economic comeback is a full-time hands-on job. That renews or commitment to a strong and prosperous middle class.

CROWLEY: As the candidate revisited her economic stimulus plan, a Clinton radio ad suggesting Obama is a Republican sympathizer went off the air. It was a quick hit. Twenty-four hours. But the ad got lots of headlines, mission accomplished.

They have a new upbeat one now, it's called closer and guess who's closing? All nostalgic about the '90s.

B. CLINTON: We created more than 22 million new jobs, moved eight million people out of poverty, and turned our economy around. It's time for another comeback. Time to make America great again. I know Hillary is the one who can do it.

CROWLEY: Still campaigns never really chill out as Bill Clinton was so famously advised to do recently. There will be jabbing, it's just a little more artful.

H. CLINTON: I'm not show horse, I'm a workhorse.

CROWLEY: Hillary Clinton returns to New York tonight for a couple of fund-raisers, competing in the more than 20 contests. February 5th is not a cheap proposition. But never fear, super surrogate is here, on the ground in South Carolina, showing some signs of wear and tear.

B. CLINTON: I feel like a little scrambled egg this morning, but I'll try to make sense of what I came to do.

CROWLEY: Two more days until the South Carolina primary.

(On camera) Before anyone gets too excited about the new mellower campaign trail, by the end of the day an Obama surrogate was accusing Bill Clinton of manipulating the facts and the Clinton campaign was accusing Obama of not recognizing all accomplishments of the Bill Clinton years.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Columbia, South Carolina.


HARRIS: Boy, it all leads to a showdown in South Carolina, doesn't it? We are surveying the political landscape for tomorrow's primary.

Which Democrat has the most to lose? We asked the questions next hour.

NGUYEN: So here's one for you. Could southern stability be creeping into presidential politics? Well, come on. You all know better than that.

But things definitely weren't as bruising at last night's Republican debate in Florida.

CNN's chief national correspondent John King is in Boca Raton.

So John, did anyone gain an edge last night?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, there were no knockout blows, nothing perceived as a major gasp.

But here's one way you might want to judge the debate. Mike Huckabee already complaining this morning that he got about 12 minutes of airtime. He says Mitt Romney got 21 minutes of airtime. And that the Romney campaign, they believe the economy is by far his best issue and it dominated the debate discussion. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's good to see Congress working...

KING (voice over): Despite the high stakes or perhaps because of them remarkably polite.


KING: At times more economic seminar than debate.

The leading Republican candidates called the new bipartisan stimulus deal a good thing but said it doesn't go far enough.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just wish it went further.

GIULIANI: I would support it but it doesn't go far enough.

KING: Four days until Florida votes, John McCain and Mitt Romney lead the pack and the former Massachusetts governor did question his rival's history.

ROMNEY: I also support the Bush tax cuts. Senator McCain voted against them.

KING: The Arizona senator said he voted no for good reason.

MCCAIN: The fact is that if we had had the spending restraints that I proposed we would be talking about more tax cuts today.

KING: The struggling economy dominates now but Mike Huckabee recalled how his rival dismissed his alarms at a debate six months ago.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know people acted like I was the only guy at the U.N. without a headset that night. But the truth is I was the only guy on that stage who said it may be doing great if you're at the top.

KING: No one brought up Barack Obama. But McCain said he would relish debating Iraq with Hillary Clinton.

MCCAIN: I'm so proud of the job that the men and women in the military are doing there, and they don't want us to raise the white flag of surrender like Senator Clinton does.

KING: Romney was asked what it would be like to run against both Hillary and Bill Clinton?

ROMNEY: I frankly can't wait because the idea of Bill Clinton back in the White House with nothing to do is something I just can't imagine. KING: Giuliani running third despite targeting Florida almost exclusively. He credited his rivals with running strong campaigns so tried a little humor.

GIULIANI: I believe that I'm going to have the same fate that the New York Giants had last week. And we're going to come from behind and surprise everyone. We have them all load into a very false sense of security now.


KING: So no fireworks but it was a telling lesson in how the campaign has changed so dramatically in recent weeks, much less talk about who would be toughest leading the war on terror, no emotional clashes at all over illegal immigration. But Betty, more and more talk of the issue that is now number one, first and foremost, in the mind of voters here in Florida and across the country. That issue is the economy.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. Without a doubt.

All right. John King joining us live from Boca Raton this morning.

Thank you, John.

And for more on the presidential candidates and their next stops, go to It is your one-stop shop for all things political.

HARRIS: We're telling the story yesterday and it's much the same today. Southern California paralyzed by a brutal winter storm that just won't go away. Snow blanketing mountain areas for a fifth straight day. Hundreds of drivers were stuck on I-5, a major interstate.

Most were guided out yesterday, but part of the road remained closed with officials giving no estimate on when it might reopen. In lower elevations, rain is the problem. Some areas got more precipitation yesterday than in all of 2007.

At least one tornado touched down tearing off a roof of a building at a naval base. No one was hurt.

NGUYEN: Man. So you have snow, you have flooding, and a tornado on top of it?


NGUYEN: Rob Marciano, what is going on?


NGUYEN: Well, ahead, plugging a hole with a human chain. Egyptian troops try to hold back Palestinians at the border. We are going to take you there, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Good morning again, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A new evidence birth control pills containing a lethal form of cancer. The doctor's in the house next in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Shutting down the border, Egypt taking action now to stop Palestinians from crossing over.

Our Aneesh Raman is on the scene at the Rafah crossing.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is day three of an open border between Egypt and Gaza and as Egyptian authorities try to bring some semblance of control of the border you can see behind me one of the last places where Gazans continue to stream into Egypt.

Witnesses Gazans that have crossed say when Hamas broke down the wall, there were a number of areas for them to cross into Egypt. Those are now closing up. And behind me is either the or one of the last places where Gazans are coming through. They are also transporting supplies with a crane over that border area and they're joining the thousands more that are still in Egypt unsure of when they have to go back, what the rules are by the Egyptian government on the ground, and for that government, hugely complicating questions as they try to secure this area that is overrun in this part with Gazans in addition to dealing with mounting international pressure to end this situation.

Aneesh Raman, CNN, Rafah, Egypt.

HARRIS: Another bombing in Beirut. Lebanon's top anti-terror intelligence officer is one of four people killed in the attack. Thirty-eight others wounded. Authorities say it was a car bomb in a Christian neighborhood. The blast set a dozen vehicles on fire and ripped a giant crater in the road.

Look at these pictures.

Attacks of this nature have escalated as Lebanon's pro and anti- Syrian lawmakers fight to elect a president.

NGUYEN: Well, the FBI says he wanted to hijack a plane and then crash it. The alleged plot and the 16-year-old suspect, that's ahead.


NGUYEN: All right. So birth control pills, they may protect against a deadly cancer, and women might not even know about it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here with all these details and I tell you a lot of women out there are listening very closely.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, and rarely do I actually get to give good news.

NGUYEN: Finally, yes.

GUPTA: And this may be some good news with regards to ovarian cancer and the pill.

You know, Betty, I think anecdotically they sort of have known this for some time that there may be some benefit from actually using the birth control pill in terms of warding off ovarian cancer.


GUPTA: But now there's actually some pretty good evidence of it. Twenty-three thousand women were studied and actually it led to some sort of interesting results. Take a look at what the pill has done for people over time. Probably, Betty, prevented 200,000 cases of ovarian cancer. Very good news. And also 100,000 ovarian cancer deaths. And if you fast forward now, take it into the future, we'll probably prevent 30,000 new cases a year.

NGUYEN: Each year?

GUPTA: Each year. So this is...

NGUYEN: That is tremendous.

GUPTA: Really potentially good news.

Remember, ovarian cancer is one of the trickiest ones because the symptoms, if they're even present, can be very vague. Women may not know exactly what's going on. And by the time they go to their doctor with it, it's often late stage.

NGUYEN: Right.

GUPTA: Which is why this is so problematic. So the pill could be a benefit here.

NGUYEN: OK. So as we look at all this data, how long do you have to take the pill in order for it to be that effective?

GUPTA: Great question. I don't know if there's an exact answer to that. We looked into that as well. What we found was that two things. One is that the benefit seems to extend for decades even after you stop taking the pill.

NGUYEN: That's good.

GUPTA: So women in their 50s, 60s could still be getting benefit from the pill...


GUPTA: ...if they took it before. Also, if you took it for about 15 years, it seems to decrease your risk of ovarian cancer by about half. So those are rough numbers but -- to answer your question...

NGUYEN: But that's huge. Half?

GUPTA: That is huge, especially for this very, very deadly cancer.

NGUYEN: All right. Well, let's look at the down side, if there is any.

I mean what kind of problems could it be causing? You know, there are some that would say maybe lower sex drive? What are some of the things that people may not know about?

GUPTA: Absolutely one of them. And there are down sides. I mean this isn't for everybody still even with some of these benefits. There was always this talk about, does it make you gain weight? That's why more anecdotal that actual science.

NGUYEN: A lot of people heard that one.

GUPTA: People have heard that. There are also concerns about blood clots. That's probably more of a real one especially if a woman is a smoker and they take the birth control pills. They can get these clots in their legs which can sometimes break off and go to their lungs. And that's a real problem.

NGUYEN: Yes, it's true.

GUPTA: The other thing is breast cancer. So maybe decreased the risk of ovarian cancer, but what does it do for breast cancer?

NGUYEN: Right.

GUPTA: It seems to increase the risk while you're on the pill.

NGUYEN: Really?

GUPTA: While you're on the pill. But when she stopped taking it, the risk seems to go down again.

Why this all happens is unclear.


GUPTA: It must have something to do with the fact that it's a hormone and it changes the fuel in your body that fuels certain cancers. Takes away fuel one place, adds to another place. Who knows? But as far as ovarian cancer goes, it seems to be a good thing.

NGUYEN: Yes. But you weigh the risk of breast cancer. So I mean it's...

GUPTA: Right.

NGUYEN: Does one beat out the other? You know? Is it worth it? Then all of these things come to play.

GUPTA: You have to balance it all, as with everything, I guess.

NGUYEN: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you.

GUPTA: Thank you.

HARRIS: Making its mark this week. The economy and what a week it has been, starting with the Dow's a wild roller coaster ride and ending with plan to put money in your pocket. Tax rebate checks ranging from $300 to $1200 or more. They're part of a plan to give the ailing economy look a shot in the arm here.

The treasury secretary says the checks could be in the mail about 60 days after Congress passes the bill.

NGUYEN: Well, U.S. troops to Pakistan? Theirs for the asking. A live report from the Pentagon.


ANNOUNCER: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM on CNN, the most trusted name in news.

HARRIS: All right, coming up on the half hour. Welcome back, everyone, to the CNN NEWSROOM.

Hey, Betty. I'm Tony Harris.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Betty Nguyen in for Heidi Collins. Let's check out the big board, live to Davos, Switzerland, ringing a bell which will, due to technology, actually ring the bell on the New York Stock Exchange. That's the New York Stock Exchange CEO and a lot of officials in Davos, Switzerland to mark the 2008 world economic forum annual meeting, and as we look at the markets as they start to open today, there's a lot of hope especially after the stimulus package announced yesterday, that the Dow ended up 10 points. Good news. Considering it was way down earlier in the week. The NASDAQ up 44 points. We'll see how they do today.

Well, the check is in the mail. Money in your pocket. Tax rebates, the centerpiece of a plan to boost the sagging economy. The legislation goes before congress next week. So how much can you expect and when? Individuals earning less than $75,000 will get a $600 rebate, $1,200 for couples who earn less than $150,000. Now families get an additional $300 per child and those who don't pay income taxes but earn at least $3,000 will get a $300 rebate. The treasury secretary says the checks could be in the mail about 60 days after congress passes the bill. So look for a check sometime in the spring. Tony?

HARRIS: Good. All right. Well, U.S. troops head to Pakistan. It's possible if Pakistan wants them, live with Barbara Starr. Help us work through this. Pakistan's president very clear recently U.S. troops are not welcome in his country, if they're there to take on extremist elements in the tribal areas. So what's going on now? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has been very clear on that. You might ask yourself, why is the U.S. military doing, planning the possible planning, to send troops to Pakistan? Two days ago, we first reported that the U.S. military was looking at classified planning to possibly -- possibly -- send U.S. troops to Pakistan to help train the Pakistanis to fight al Qaeda, and other extremist groups there. The U.S. feels the Pakistanis are simply not getting the job done. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had a, at a press conference here in the Pentagon, went a step further, raised the prospects of possibly sending U.S. troops for combat missions. He was using the Pentagon very clearly to send a message to Pakistan, have a listen to has he had to say.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We remain ready, willing and able to assist the Pakistanis and to partner with them, to provide additional training to conduct joint operations, should they desire to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're talking about U.S. combat troops? Pakistani troops in the field, together, operating against the al Qaeda in the territories?

GATES: If the Pakistanis wanted to do that I think we could.


STARR: But you know Tony as we like to say here at CNN let's check the facts just a little bit here. You're absolutely right. President Pervez Musharraf absolutely ruled out combat troops on the ground. As for trainers, well, the pentagon is still just doing that not so gentle pressuring of the Pakistanis to accept U.S. trainers but on the ground in those remote tribal mountains where that training would have to take place, it's very clear U.S. troops might not be very welcome.

HARRIS: Barbara, the other question is why now. What's the real threat here that the secretary seems to be responding to?

STARR: He has been talking for some weeks about the growing al Qaeda threat in Pakistan long before the fascination of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. There is a growing safe haven for al Qaeda, but al Qaeda also according to U.S. intelligence officials is beginning to band together with other extremist groups in Pakistan posing an even greater threat to the stability of that country and, of course, that country and Pervez Musharraf are vital allies for the Bush administration in the war on terror. So that's the bottom line.

HARRIS: Okay. Our pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr this morning. Barbara, thank you.

STARR: Sure.

NGUYEN: Heath Ledger's family is expected in New York today from Australia's there are no details about the funeral, but a private viewing will be held at this New York funeral home today. A friend of the actor says a memorial may be held in Los Angeles as well. The funeral in Perth, Australia, ledger's hometown, the massage therapist who found the body, called Mary Kate Olsen three times before she called 911. Toxicology tests are being done to determine if Ledger died of a drug overdose.

HARRIS: The FBI says she wanted to hijack a commercial plane and crash it to commit suicide. He's 16 and hearing reports he could appear in court later today. The teenager arrested last night after flying from Los angles to Nashville on a Southwest Airlines flight. Authorities say nothing threatening happened during the flight but they say the teen had handcuffs, duct tape and rope. Reporting the teen wanted to crash the plane into a Hannah Montana concert in Louisiana, but an FBI spokesman says he has no information on that.

NGUYEN: That is just bizarre.

Well, a Louisiana community in turmoil over a simple racial hatred, and now an 18-year-old faces federal hate crime charges accused of taunting African-American protesters with a hangman's noose. Here's CNN Sean Callebs.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 18-year-old Jeremiah Munson was arrested long after the march in Jena, Louisiana ended on September 20th. Munson is now charged with federal hate crimes for tying makeshift nooses crafted from electrical cords to the back of his truck and repeatedly taunting marchers. At the time, the community was a racial powder keg. This is what the Alexandria police chief told CNN's David Mattingly when Munson was originally arrested.

CHIEF DARREN COUTEE, ALEXANDRIA, L.A. POLICE DEPT.: Obviously more of a prank than anything else. We think so, anyway. During this kind of atmosphere, pranks like that don't go over well.

CALLEBS: The chief says now he's pleased the fed's acted. Federal authorities say Munson conspired to threaten and intimidate African-American marchers. The Reverend Al Sharpton commended authorities saying "I hope this is a signal that the justice department will now take the hangman's nooses more seriously, if they have prosecuted the white students that hung the nooses in Jena, we may never have had to raise the national outcry." He's talking about an incident at Jena High School. Three students hung nooses from a tree escalating tensions that culminated with six black students beating a boy he was hospitalized he was so brutally beaten. The charges were later reduced. The white teens that hung the nooses weren't charged, rather punished by school administrators. That begs the question, why does the full weight of the justice department come down on Munson but not on the students? One simple reason. Age. Munson is 18, an adult. The students were juveniles. Listen to Donald Washington told lawmakers back in October.

DONALD WASHINGTON, U.S. ATTORNEY: Although the conduct is deeply disturbing and offensive, we decline to pursue charges after learning that the nooses had been hung by juveniles.

CALLEBS: Washington defends the action of its office saying it was made in accordance with long-standing policy. Here's a copy of the indictment. It details how Munson tied the nooses to the back of his truck then allegedly drove by the marchers. He faces not only a hate crime but violating the marchers' civil rights. The U.S. attorney in the case says, if convicted, Munson face as year in prison for the hate crime, up to ten years in prison for violating the marchers' civil rights. Sean Callebs, CNN in New Orleans.

HARRIS: The high prices of homeowner insurance for homes in Florida, Rudy Giuliani says he has an idea it will help him in the primary. And small town voters what they want to hear from the candidates, straight ahead.


NGUYEN: You got to see this one. Learning science and having fun to boot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's watching a molecular process happen here. He's creating a climactic event. It's incredible.

NGUYEN: You know what? He's just having fun. A fourth grader make as backyard blizzard. The story in ten minutes.

HARRIS: Rudy Giuliani calls for a national catastrophic insurance fund. Hmm. Will it help him stay afloat Florida? Here's CNN Dana Bash, part of the best political team on television.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A straw with one through a middle class neighborhood in Florida and typical tales like this.

JUAN BARCERAS, UNDECIDED REPUBLICAN: Actually a neighbor that I know that used to live a couple blocks down who actually moved to North Carolina. I think because of the cost of living.

BASH: The cost of living has skyrocketed for Floridians like Barceras, because of through the roof home insurance premiums.

BARCERAS: Back in the year 2000, I was paying about $2,000 a year, that included flood and the wind/storm, casualty everything included. Now I'm paying upwards of $8,000.

BASH: The insurance commission says hurricane weary insurance companies have more than tripled average premiums in the last seven years.

GIULIANI: People throughout Florida have been telling me how difficult it is to get insurance. How expensive it is.

BASH: Suddenly the GOP candidate with the most riding on Florida's primary is calling for a national catastrophic insurance fund to help.

GIULIANI: The federal government would be a backstop so the people could get insurance.

BASH: Mitt Romney and John McCain are two republicans lukewarm to the federal government stepping in, and Giuliani is now trying to capitalize with this new ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only one republican candidate has proven experience dealing with disaster.

BASH: But undecided republicans voters like Juan are skeptical, calls Giuliani's new pitch shallow.

BARCERAS: This problem didn't just you know arise this week or last month. This has been an ongoing problem for years here, and he really hasn't been talking about it.

BASH: He's openly frustrated saying no candidate is really addressing his economic concerns.

BARCERAS: But I still don't know who I'm going to vote for. I might just go ahead and vote for Ron Paul.

BASH: How come?

BARCERAS: You know what? Might as well.

BASH: Protest vote?

BARCERAS: Probably.

NGUYEN: You know what? It's not just Florida. There are tough times in a small South Carolina town. People there have important stories they want to tell the candidates, and CNN's Deborah Feyerick is listening.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ask anyone who lives in Allendale, they'll likely tell you there's nothing to do leer. No movie theaters, no bowling alleys even many of the doctors have left.

DEWAYNE ENNIS, ALLENDALE, S.C. ADMINISTRATION: At a local hospital, but no specialists at it. Some people have to drive as far as 50 to 60 miles to Augusta to get medical care.

FEYERICK: Dewayne Ennis is Allendale's administrator. The town was once on a main route for tour ifs heading to Florida. After i-95 was finished they stopped driving through here.

ENNIS: This building used to be a hotel. And this one also was a hotel over here.

FEYERICK: Basically, all of in a went away and Allendale got left with nothing?

ENNIS: With nothing.

FEYERICK: It's the poorest in South Carolina, the state's highest unemployment. Most kids here don't finish high school. Two factories recently closed. The economy and education are big issues here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: L-a-y-e-d. FEYERICK: Scotty Gray, a democrat and married and has an 8-year- old son was working at a nearby plant and is hearing things that make her anxious.

SCOTTY GRAY, ALLENDALE RESIDENT: We don't produce our machines better than china will, within ten more years we going to have to go to China or we won't have a job.

FEYERICK: She says she's okay financially even though they live paycheck to paycheck some weeks. For Paul and his family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like $2 million. There you go!

PAUL: Pay off my student loan.

FEYERICK: The opposite is true. He moved here several years ago with his mom and twin boys, because the crumbling school system was looking for qualified teachers. He takes home about $22,000. But is being crushed by his student loan.

PAUL BEVINGTON, ALLENDALE RESIDENT: There is no fun money. There is no slush money. The only reason, I mean, my boys have what they have is because mom helps out. Otherwise, we'd be in the next thing to a cardboard box.

FEYERICK: They democrats and fear a recession and the impact it will have on the boy whose have two years before college. For Barbara, that means giving that job -- back jobs to Americans.

BARBARA BEVINGTON, ALLENDALE RESIDENT: We're draining our resources and people here are doing without.

FEYERICK: Barbara's like most here, just looking for a president they think can turn it around and help make things better. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Allendale, South Carolina.

NGUYEN: And beginning next Wednesday, the candidates face-off in the California debat, the last debate before Super Tuesday. See it only here, January 30th and 31st on CNN, your home for politics. For more on the presidential candidates and their next stop go to It is your one-stop shop for all things political.

HARRIS: Aging stars admit to using it, but, beware.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are serious side effects associated with the human growth hormone for these individuals, including carpel tunnel syndrome, an elevated risk of cancer, diabetes.

HARRIS: Hollywood's obsession with image, up close.


HARRIS: What do you say? What do you say? What do you say we look at some of the most clicked on videos at this morning. Cincinnati, public schools, wow. Listen to this. Fired the entire staff of one elementary school. Everyone. Buy, see ya! A requirement set by the no child left behind act. This may be exciting but it is illegal, look at this, and a dredging ship, a tanker carrying orange juice, collided in Newark bay Thursday. No injuries reported. For more favorite videos go to for the most popular. Download it. Are we going to do the podcast? Both playing hurt today. Fighting on, soldiering on, we're going to podcast you later in the day. Go to and download the CNN NEWSROOM daily podcast, available to you 24/7.

NGUYEN: Considering how we feel, no telling what we'll say.

Meantime, Hershey is stopping production of a certain mint. Yes, there is criticism the candy contained drugs sold on the street. Icebreakers packs sold back in November but the candy maker was criticized because it came in dissolve about pouching the size of a nickel. Hmm, you think. Making them looked too much like tiny bags of illegal drug. Hershey agreed to pull the candy after authorities in Philadelphia says children could confuse it, a bag of cocaine, with the candy.

Have you ever wanted a snow day but the weather would not cooperate. Living in Texas, I tell you, I would have paid for a snow day, if I could. Well, an Oregon fourth grader solved the problem. He made his very own backyard blizzard. We have the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just hypnotizing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pierson didn't rely on any forecast.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Didn't just dream of a white wonderland. This fourth grader built his own backyard blizzard with his Christmas present. A 30 gallon air compressor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Comes through these two.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A pressure washer and a lot of research.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It splits up the water into really small, tiny droplets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The nozzle shoots out a perfect powder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will grow back up like a weed that you can't cut down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you increase that volume you can have twice the volume of snow. In one night his machine built three feet of snow and all day, two curious pups, enjoyed his own personal snow day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He may find it head-spinning but his mom and teachers understand, this is science.

ELIZABETH PEARSON: He's watching a molecular process happen here. He's creating a climactic event. You know? It's incredible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His snow dream started three years ago had he froze ice cubes for an ice track.

PEARSON: Didn't know, what in the world are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This year, mom understands.

PEARSON: We're past toys. We're into air compressors and spray nozzles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you think this three-foot berm is a lot, wait until next year. Forrest plans to double its size. All he needs is a bigger pressure washer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is like almost six feet of snow in one night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And while this is science, Forrest admits --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a lot of fun. It's fun to have people over and let them enjoy it, too.


NGUYEN: Forget the snow day. All this kid needs is a patent. We could all make snow.

HARRIS: Could we get him on bio fuel, on hybrid technology? Looking for 70 miles per gallon!

NGUYEN: Loving you for it. Make it so we all can come!


In the NEWSROOM, southern California stand still. A snow jam keeps interstate 5 shut tight. When will things get rolling again? An update ahead.


NGUYEN: So we've heard lots of allegations about big league athletes using performance-enhancing drugs to improve their game. What about big-time stars using the same drugs to stay young and beautiful? CNN David Mattingly reports.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Hollywood, it's all about image, and relatively young stars could be the latest wave of customers turning to performance enhancing substances. When people come to you what are they looking for?

DR. ANDRE BERGER, REJUVALIFE VITALITY INSTITUTE: Well, they come for generally two reasons. They want to feel better and they want to look better.

MATTINGLY: As the Rejuvvalife Vitality Institute in Beverly Hills this doctor sees a growing number of stars spending up to $15,000 a year on HGH, an injectable human growth hormone doctors claim can reduce fat, build muscle and boost energy. But when he used to see middle-aged patients, he's now getting callers from Hollywood's 30-somethings wanting HGH and rap artists inquiring about illegal steroids.

BERGER: If they feel, a part of being a rap star is looking buff and having big muscles, et cetera. So anything you can do to bring themselves to look like that is just going to enhance the whole image.

MATTINGLY: The Albany Times recently reporting citing unnamed sources the rapper known at 50 cent and R&B singer Mary J. Blige were illegally prescribed steroids or HGH. The "Times" did not say they lied or took the drug, Blige denied taking performance-enhancing drugs, 50 cent hasn't commented. Neither star accused of breaking the law. Fans could be take taking note. Markers for HGH therapy say it's become more than a billion dollar a year business, thank in part to baby boomers willing to spend big bucks to immolate the stars looks that never seem to fade. With this excitement also come some warnings.

DR. JAY OLSHANSKY, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, CHICAGO: There are serious side effects associated with human growth hormone for these individuals including carpel tunnel syndrome, an elevated risk of cancer, diabetes.

MATTINGLY: Jay Olshansky has studied anti-aging for 20 years and says HGH can only be prescribed legally for adults with a growth hormone or adults with muscle loss from age. Some critics say HGH is nothing more than a placebo.

OLSHANSKY: I think what many of these entertainers don't realize, all of the benefits can you get for free with exercise.

MATTINGLY: Older Hollywood disagrees. Suzanne Somers says HGH helped her make 60 the new 40. Sylvester Stallone, who at 61 is playing Rambo again, defends HGH as a way to reduce physical wear and tear.