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Stock Markets Tumble; Black Friday Sales; More Troops to Afghanistan; Taking Advantage of Deep Discounts; White House Christmas Tree

Aired November 27, 2009 - 09:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Where we are gel-free, at least for now. You all have a great day. The day after Thanksgiving.

Good morning, everyone. Here's what we're working on.

Happening this hour, the Dow opening and expected to dive. Big fallout from a tiny Middle East nation. And wet and windy weather across the northeast could affect your travel. We're watching it.

And depending upon the kindness of strangers. Parents facing hard times give up their kids short-term.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Heidi Collins. We've got a full plate for you this day after Thanksgiving.

Black Friday, beginning, we're keeping a watch on money from Wall Street and all the way to the malls and even to the military. We're going to begin with our Richard Quest, who will be with us momentarily. He's going to give us an idea about the ripple effect being felt because of debt in the Middle East.

And Adriana Hauser is at Macy's where the stores are already jam packed this black Friday. We'll be checking in with her. And our Elaine Quijano is at the Pentagon where already military commanders are ready to start pouring money and sending troops to the direction of Afghanistan.

So if you have been feeling better about the economy, here's an unsettling reminder of just how fragile the world's financial system really is. Stock markets across Asia have plummeted and Wall Street could be facing an ugly day as well. The reason, one of the world's financial hubs now says it is swamped with debt.

CNN's Richard Quest is in London to explain exactly what's happening. This is a huge shocker this morning.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is indeed a huge shocker. And it all relates to Dubai and the decision by the Dubai authorities to basically say that they will need more time for billions of dollars of debt on some prestige projects. Now you're talking about the famous bits of Dubai. Things like the Palm projects. Big buildings.

Two of the companies involved -- Dubai World and Nakheel -- say they can't -- basically, the Dubai authorities have said they're not going to bail them out. But it's not just that, Fredricka. It's the way in which the announcement was made. It was made on the eve of a gulf holiday.

There's no further details. And world stock markets have basically said we don't like the smell. We don't like what's going on.

WHITFIELD: So give me an idea, Richard. You know, is this tantamount to what we experienced here with Lehman Brothers or is this perhaps less severe?

QUEST: That is the most important question of the day. And I can answer it categorically. It is not Lehman Brothers all over again. It is not the start of mark two or mark three or mark four of this financial crisis. What it is is the ongoing ripple effects of countries, economies that are deep in debt, that are digging their way out.

It is the -- it is the enormous nature in which these countries are trying to sort through a morass of nonsense, trying to make sense, and ultimately, Fredricka, hopefully, get us out of it.

WHITFIELD: So one has to wonder, how did it even get to this point?

QUEST: And -- well, you know, it's like you and me and our checkbooks. We borrowed too much, we didn't think about paying it back. The bill came in and we've had to ask for more time to pay. And that's what Dubai World and Nakheel has done.

The difference here is that the great rich uncle, the Dubai authorities and through them, Abu Dhabi, had led us to believe that they would bail them out. In the final analysis, they didn't bail them out.

Now we can enmesh ourselves in the politics of this, but what's investors want now is certainty. Certainty. Just like you and me with our checkbooks and our credit cards, it's no good your dad or mum or uncle saying we're going to bail us out if ultimately they don't stump up when the bill arrives.

WHITFIELD: All right, Richard Quest, thanks so much. Of course, the big question is how will this affect Wall Street? CNN's Alison Kosik joins us for the opening bell, rather, at the bottom of the hour.

All right, it is the new black Friday. Not the busiest day of the holiday shopping season, and not necessarily when retailers' profits go into the black, but it is still an important indicator of the economy. And a chance for shoppers to grab deeply discounted items.

CNN's Adriana Hauser is at Macy's in New York. So how are things? I see a -- quite a buzz of activity behind you.

ADRIANA HAUSER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. We're here in Macy's in Heralds Square. And nothing makes you feel more like you're in the holiday shopping mode than being at Macy's. The crowd has picked up significantly since we got here.

When we got here, the doors opened at 5:00 a.m. There were hundreds of people lined up at the door, waiting to come in. This is at the entrances that we could see. And as the morning has progressed, it's getting more and more crowded.

People are actually bumping into one another hoping to find that great deal. The best deal, Fredricka, will happen in the first half of the day, in between 5:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Then the rest of the day will have more of your typical deal.

And here they are, determined to shop. But they are being cautious and they're going for the deals, not for any kind of shopping. The National Retail Federation estimated that 16 percent more shoppers would actually hit the stores, but they still expect a decline in comparison to last year -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: OK. So why a decline when a lot of the stores are trying to prepare, I guess, for fewer shoppers this year by stocking their shelves with even less?

HAUSER: Correct. We can review the numbers, Fredricka. According to the National Retail Federation, there's going to be a decline. They expect a decline of 1 percent in compared to last year.

This is better than last year, when we consider that last year we had a 3.4 percent decline. This time, consumers plan to spend 3.2 percent less than previous years. And yes, retail shops have prepared for this. They have less inventory. They started their discounts way earlier this time.

It's no longer the beginning of the shopping season right now. It started possibly right after Halloween -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right. Adriana Hauser, thank you so much, from Macy's in New York.

All right, let's find out what this shopping weather is turning out to be. Our Jacqui Jeras is joining us now. Folks are hitting the malls, they don't care what it looks like outside.


WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much, Jacqui.

Afghanistan battle plan now. On Tuesday, President Obama is expected to announce he is sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. And now it looks like NATO will follow suit. NATO's chief tells CNN he is urging allies to commit additional forces.


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think it's a bit too early to speak about concrete troop numbers, but I feel confident that all allies will step up to the plate and follow suit once President Obama has made his announcement.


WHITFIELD: So once President Obama gives the word, U.S. deployment is expected to shift into high gear. CNN's Elaine Quijano joins us from the Pentagon.

So, Elaine, is this more support for the U.S. decision helpful?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, you know, it certainly would be welcome news, Fredricka. We heard President Obama himself talk about having allies make a contribution here. The devil's in the details, though. We'll see what those numbers eventually are.

Now we are learning more about the military, the U.S. military's plans, Fredricka, once President Obama makes his announcement. We have learned that that first wave of additional U.S. forces is set to deploy to Afghanistan in late December. That's according to a U.S. military official.

Once the president makes his announcement, we've learned that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to get the paperwork to deploy some 1,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune and those Marines are really going to be the first part of what's expected to be roughly 34,000 additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan.

Now, how long is it going to take them to get there? Well, we know it will take months. Top military officials have talked about this. Why? Because of the difficult conditions that exist in Afghanistan.

Unlike Iraq, there aren't a lot of roads in Afghanistan. It's remote terrain. That means that the military really has to count on helicopters to move people and equipment around. On top of that, you've got brutal winter conditions there.

So you combine all of that together, Fredricka, it's going to take months for all of these troops to arrive on the ground in Afghanistan.

WHITFIELD: And the priorities once they do get on the ground?

QUIJANO: They're really looking at securing population centers, particularly in the south and the east parts of Afghanistan. Those are the areas, really, where the fighting has been going on. We know this. And securing really places where the Taliban has had a very strong hold.

Retaking those places, like the southeast city of Kandahar, for instance. And on top of that, they're also going to be looking at ramping up the training of Afghan security forces. Because, Fredricka, as you know, the eventual goal is for the Afghans themselves to take over their security responsibilities -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Elaine Quijano, thank you so much, from the Pentagon. Of course, CNN, Tuesday night, President Obama announces his decision on U.S. troops heading to Afghanistan. Our special coverage with the best political team on television begins Tuesday night, 7:00 Eastern Time.

All right. The story from the front lines. We're embedded with troops in Afghanistan. Their mission is to clear roadside bombs right now. Dangerous work with very deadly consequences.

And space shuttle Atlantis comes home. The landing in Florida in just 30 minutes from now.


WHITFIELD: You know what today means. It means braving the large crowds and taking advantage of the best shopping deals on this black Friday. But, of course, patience is key as well.

Our Nicole Collins is at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Virginia with what is being done there to make sure this isn't a black and blue Friday.

So, Nicole, how are things? I do see people behind you. That is a good sign.

NICOLE COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey. Good morning, Fredricka. Yes, absolutely. It is on. Let me tell you, the bargain hunters are out in full force, trying to snatch up all the good deals they can today to put under the Christmas tree.

But behind the scenes, a lot of preparation has gone in to making sure that this is a safe black Friday. The National Retail Federation issued new crowd control guidelines and retailers say really the key is communication with their staff, but especially with their customers.


COLLINS (voice-over): Shoppers lined up in stores and began loading their carts with discounted items in what is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year.

ANTHONY GRIFFIN, BLACK FRIDAY SHOPPER: Wonderful day so far. So far, I haven't did too much. I've been stuck in one store for probably about one hour.

COLLINS: And what are some of the must-have items this season?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm here for two laptops and a plasma TV.

COLLINS: And according to, the most popular toys this Christmas will be the Zhu Zhu Hamster, the Barbie Dream Townhouse, Mindflex, TRIO King's Castle, and Screecher, an interactive dinosaur. Video game consuls are also hot with many brand names offering deep discounts and updated technology. Knowing there will be a rush for these items, many retailers have taken precautions to ensure everyone's safety.

JOE LAROCCA, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: You'll find that they'll post when there's limited quantities. You'll see retailers doing a good job of signing those products well, encouraging the employees to interact with customers and let them know exactly what to expect once they get inside and what quantities are available, where to line up and where to check out.

COLLINS: Wal-Mart has made changes to its black Friday procedures following the trampling death of an employee at a Long Island store last year. Some of those changes lines starting inside. Sales items scattered throughout stores and some stores staying open on thanksgiving to avoid the so-called door busters and overzealous consumers.


COLLINS: The National Retail Federation expects shopper traffic to be up more than 16 percent over last year with a whopping 57 million people saying they will definitely hit the stores today -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Oh, well, that's good to hear, especially for a lot of retailers that have been hurting. So you told us what some of the big items are that people want to buy. What about the big discounted items? What might they be?

COLLINS: The big discounted items this year, look, there are $3 appliances at Target, $580 washer/dryer at Sears, but the problem with those is that they're limited. Sometimes in stores, you can find only two of those, so, you know, if you're not there at midnight, you don't get those deals.

So look throughout the day, you should be getting good deals on GPS systems, digital cameras, digital frames and LCD flat screens should be good deals all throughout the day. If you haven't had the chance to go out and hit the stores just yet -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: People love those electronics, those gadgets. All right, Nicole Collins, thanks so much, Pentagon City Mall.

A tree fit for a president. Isn't that what you were thinking when you saw that tree? The Obamas are getting ready to welcome their first White House Christmas tree.

And all systems are go for the shuttle Atlantis. You're looking at a live picture right now from the Kennedy Space Center. Clear blue skies. That shuttle is expected to land 9:44 a.m. We'll carry it live as it happens.


WHITFIELD: A look at our top stories right now. This is what we're following this morning.

A precursor to possible sanctions against Iran. The majority of countries on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution criticizing Iran for its nuclear program. The head of the agency says its investigations are at a dead end because of Iran's refusal to cooperate. He says it's possible Iran may be hiding another secret nuclear site.

The traditional casting of stones for Muslim pilgrims today, almost three million are taking part in the hajj in Saudi Arabia. This is the third day. Pilgrims cast stones as a symbolic rejection of temptation. It is also the start of the feast of sacrifice.

And the space shuttle Atlantis is on its way home. It is scheduled to land in about 20 minutes from now at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where there are clear blue skies. We'll bring that to you live. The astronauts are ending an 11-day mission. They took tons of new materials to the International Space Station and there are only five more shuttle missions actually planned.


WHITFIELD: All right. The White House will soon be all decked out in Christmas decorations. Mrs. Obama will receive the official Christmas tree this afternoon. It's an 18 1/2-foot Douglas fir from Shepherdstown, West Virginia. You see part of it right there.

CNN's Dan Lothian has more on the couple who grew it.


ERIC SUNDBACK, CHRISTMAS TREE GROWER: This is the baby here now. We've got to figure out how we're going to get this loaded.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Eric and Gloria Sundback, this is a holiday tradition. Growing a Christmas tree fit for a president.

E. SUNDBACK: You're helping make a Christmas for the whole country.

LOTHIAN: The West Virginia couple, both in their 80s, have grown four presidential Christmas trees. One for Jimmy Carter, two for Ronald Reagan, and now this 18 1/2-foot Douglas fir destined for the Obama White House.

E. SUNDBACK: What we really like this year is that it's going to a family. The children are there, the family is well-knit.

LOTHIAN: To provide the White House tree, a farmer has to be crowned by the National Christmas Tree Association. Then White House officials make a visit.

GLORIA SUNDBACK, CHRISTMAS TREE GROWER: They're looking for trees that have good form and for trees that have stronger branches, because they use a lot of decorations. LOTHIAN: And it takes a lot of hard work to grow that perfect presidential tree. Careful pruning, experimenting to get the right mix of characteristics, and a little tough love.

E. SUNDBACK: She had a word with the seed bed, you know, when she get up in the morning, get out see how things are going, well, fellas, do you want to be a Christmas tree now or you go wait until later and be toilet paper? And then that gets the tree growing.

LOTHIAN: These college sweetheart who've been growing trees for 50 years are hoping to shake the Obamas' hands when they drop off this holiday gift. But then it's back to work.

E. SUNDBACK: You don't want to let it go to your head, because you've got to come back out and work again.

G. SUNDBACK: That's right. You're right in the season.

LOTHIAN: But they say they're happy, knowing their gift will bring joy to the first family.

E. SUNDBACK: We open they enjoy it as much as we've enjoyed Christmas as kids. So if the tree is good and they enjoy it, that's what it's about.

LOTHIAN (on camera): The tree will be decorated and displayed in the blue room, where it will take center stage to a host of White House holiday celebrations.

Dan Lothian, CNN, the White House.


WHITFIELD: Wow. What a nice gift and what an honor it is to be the giver of the tree for the first family.

All right. The kindness of strangers and a safe haven for families in need. We'll show you how volunteer families give overwhelmed parents a chance to actually get back on their feet.


ANNOUNCER: Live in the CNN NEWSROOM, Fredricka Whitfield.

WHITFIELD: And now to Wall Street, where we're expecting a lot of red on this black Friday. Investors are bracing for a plunge in stocks after markets around the world plummeted overnight.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange with a preview of what's expected to be a pretty rough day for investors -- Alison?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, it really is expected to be exactly how you said it. Not much for investors to feel thankful for on this day after thanksgiving.

Wall Street bracing for a rocky session thanks to some confidence-shaking news out of the Middle East. Dubai World, that's the finance arm of Dubai, is considering postponing payments on its almost $60 billion in debt and those funds were used to fuel a construction boom over the last few years.

But the real estate crunch has hit the Emirate hard. World markets, especially, those in Asia tumbling overnight on the news. And we're expecting the Dow to fall off by 200 points or more. But it could have been worse a few hours ago. Futures were pointing to a 300-point plunge. Bank stocks expected to be hit the hardest with Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America all expected to slide by about 4 percent.

The picture, though, not so gloomy for the nation's retailers. Black Friday deals have shoppers across the country hitting the stores and retailers are cautiously optimistic that this season will be better than last year.

Meantime, AIG said late Wednesday, it's going to settle a long- running legal suit with former head honcho Morris Hank Greenberg. Each side agreeing to release the other from all claims, including those filed by Greenberg for future legal fees and other settlement costs.

All right. What you've been waiting for. A check on the numbers now. The Dow tumbling 150 points, not as bad as we expected, but pretty bad for first few seconds of the session. The NASDAQ lower by 59.

One of those days, we'll see how it goes. You know, we could wind up having some wild swings today, Fredricka, since Wall Street has a shorter session as we head into the weekend with trading ending 1:00 Eastern Time today. This half day after Thanksgiving is often the slowest trading day of the year, but that can exaggerate price moves on a day like this.

And with the news coming from Dubai, it's only going to be that much more exaggerated -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Wow, pretty volatile day, potentially. All right. Thanks so much, Alison Kosik. Appreciate it.

KOSIK: Sure.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk about those holiday shoppers. They're doing their part to help the economy. CNN's Sean Callebs is at a Wal-Mart in Marietta, Georgia, one of the retailers offering extended hours.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. It got off to a very hectic start here at Wal-Mart. A lot of people came in early this morning, around 5:00 Eastern Time, in search of great deals.

They had flat screen TVs less than $300, Blu-Ray disk players that were incredibly cheap, laptop computers. And, of course, the most popular video games. That's what brought people out. But what Wal-Mart and other stores want is once people come out for those great deals, they want them to load up their cart like what we see here, which is about anything else they can think of.

And here in the electronic section, it has been one of the busiest areas throughout the day. And what we're hearing from managers here at this Wal-Mart is this has been a very, very busy start to the holiday shopping season. We don't know how it's going to fare across the nation, but they say this one store has done extremely well.

We all know what happened last year, too. A big crush of humanity. People trying to crash into Wal-Mart in Long Island, New York. Well, they tried to make sure that didn't happen again this year. So Wal-Mart went to great lengths to make sure there was security in place and they had lines -- about 20 different lines where people could buy TVs or computers or whatever. We talked to one individual who got in line. I think he waited seven hours to buy a laptop and listen why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been here all night. I was trying to figure out if I could get a good deal, and maybe I, you know, hit the nail on the head.

CALLEBS: If you want that one item, you have to come out early. And you have this word of warning, "While Supplies Last." Here, this popular GPS item is moving quickly, but what we're told is the distribution center is told, look, we're running low on this, so they stock up so if you come in looking for it tomorrow, it should be here.

Sean Callebs, CNN, in Marietta, Georgia.


WHITFIELD: They have lined up everywhere across the country, well before daybreak. You're looking right now at live pictures. That's what it's like, trying to find a parking space if you're shopping at this particular mall in the Los Angeles area. Very similar to what you see -- oh, he's just passing a space, does he know that? Right there to the left.

You know, if you go to these shopping malls anywhere across the country, the toughest part of the battle is just finding a place to put your car. And you see folks there streaming out of their vehicles and heading on inside. As soon as we find out what shopping mall this might be, we'll be able to share that with you.

But KTLA is our affiliate. You can see the Wal-Mart there. That's at least one of the anchor stores to this shopping mall or shopping center. But the good thing is, no lines outside like you've seen in many other stores across the country before the doors actually open up.

Maybe on the West Coast, just similar to what you saw on the east coast, that Wal-Mart may have opened up at midnight just like many others to make sure you didn't have a crush of people just trying to get in. So that's what it's like at many stores across the country on this Black Friday, where a lot of retailers are hoping for a big boom in business.

All right, let's check with our Jacqui Jeras, see, I don't know, what the weather is going to be like as we troll those parking lots, trying to find that perfect space.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I know. It's that big dilemma. Do you bring the jacket? Do you not bring the jacket? Do you bring the umbrella? You know, you have one less arm then to carry stuff on your way out.

WHITFIELD: That's true. It's a drag having a coat when you're in the mall or in the store shopping.


WHITFIELD: And, you know, so many people by the dozen -- it's about eight minutes away, we understand. And dozens if not hundreds of people line up in parks around Cape Canaveral to get the sight of a shuttle taking off or landing, and because it is a clear sky today, so many folks are going to be able to see this for landing a beautiful sight.

JERAS: Yes for long distances, too.

WHITFIELD: Isn't that amazing?


WHITFIELD: Gosh, live pictures right now from the Kennedy Space Center. And, of course, when it happens, as we continue to watch its decent there, we'll bring it to you live. About eight minutes, maybe seven minutes now away from that shuttle Atlantis landing there.

Plus, lessons from a former fighter pilot. How the things that make for success in the cockpit actually can help you with success in regular civilian life.


WHITFIELD: A look at our top stories right now. The Space Shuttle Atlantis is on its way home, about roughly five minutes from landing. You're looking at a pretty grainy image right there, but remarkable still in its decent as it makes its way to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The astronauts are ending an 11-day mission. They took tons of new materials to the International Space Station. And, by the way, there are only five more shuttle missions that are actually planned. Of course, when this landing takes place at Kennedy Space Center, we'll be able to bring that to you live, where you will get a -- there you go -- a much clearer view of the shuttle making its decent there into the Kennedy Space Center. All right, a memorial service for a medical student who died inside a Utah cave is scheduled for tomorrow. 26-year-old John Jones died yesterday 28 hours after he got stuck in a cave popular with explorers. Police say Jones slipped back into a tight crevice, just as rescuers thought they were about to free him. So far, they have not been able to recover his body.

And this disturbing new report on diabetes. University of Chicago researchers say the number of Americans with diabetes will almost double in the next 25 years. They say the costs of treating those patients will triple to $336 billion annually.

CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us live in the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM.

President Barack Obama is set to unveil the new strategy for Afghanistan, including an expected troop increase. The announcement comes Tuesday night at West Point.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is in Afghanistan, embedded with American troops.


FREDRICK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A little more than six months ago, we were with the fourth engineer battalion when they first touched down in Kandahar. Airlifted directly from Iraq to Southern Afghanistan to help bolster the war effort against the resurgent Taliban. One of those making the move, Private First Class Kimball Han.

(on camera): What's your family say?

PFC. KIMBLE HAN, DIED IN ROADSIDE BOMB: My family, they're supportive. You know, when you make the decision to join the army, especially a time of war, you know, they support it and they know that we're doing the right thing.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Kimball Han was killed on October 23rd when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle. His was not the only casualty this unit has suffered.

(on camera): In all, the unit has already lost 11 men in just over six months here in Afghanistan. Most of them to improvised explosive devices. 17 soldiers have suffered so-called life-changing injuries, like losing limbs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only mentally, but physically. It's very exhausting to know that somebody that you were working with went down, and there was nothing you could really do about it.

PLEITGEN: One thing they can do, train new arrivals on how to evacuate the wounded after an IED strike. The hidden devices are now the number one killer of American soldiers in Afghanistan. And some of those in this unit that hunts IEDs say the only way to change that is by putting more boots on the ground. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm thinking we could use a lot more presence. (INAUDIBLE). They don't have enough time to place big IEDs.

PLEITGEN: The bomb that killed Kimball Han was a charge packed with several hundred pounds of explosives.

HAN: But I think we've been prepared. I think we've all done the training that's necessary to accomplish the mission that we have.

PLEITGEN: But making that mission less treacherous will be a challenge, one of the most critical challenges in this eight-year-long war.


WHITFIELD: And, of course, Tuesday, the president makes his formal announcements. And right now you're looking at Space Shuttle Atlantis coming in for a landing, right there at Cape Canaveral. Beautiful day.

Our Jacqui Jeras is also with us, watching this now. It comes in as a glider there, but, of course, the commander making an incredible steering attempt here on this landing at Cape Canaveral at the Kennedy Space Center.

Let's listen in a bit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The main gear touchdown. Pilot there were employing the drag chute. Nose gear touchdown. Atlantis now rolling out on runway 33 at Kennedy Space Center; wrapping up a 4,490,138-mile flight to the International Space Station.

WHITFIELD: And ending an 11-day mission to the International Space Station as well. This crew took tons of equipment to the space station and the astronauts there also completed three spacewalks, doing some repairs and enhancements to the International Space Station.

A little bit of history was made as well. One of the pilots is actually a surgeon. His wife had her baby here on earth, of course, so while he was there in space as part of the crew with the International Space Station and the Atlantis crew.

So there you see, a successful landing taking place in Florida on a beautiful, clear day.

Jacqui, you were watching this as well?

JERAS: Yes, we've been tracking it and watching the weather. We knew that conditions were going to be beautiful and clear, but we were a little worried about the wind. And if you look at that camera shot, it's kind of shaking a little bit, but it was just below the landing criteria, so they were able to get it in there today.

WHITFIELD: Perfect. Let's listen in if they have any final thoughts as they celebrate a nice, clean landing there at the Kennedy Space Center.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The 129th space shuttle flight and 31st to the International Space Station. Atlantis left Florida with 14 tons of spare equipment in its cargo bay and has returned now with the cargo bay completely empty.

This was the first of the shuttle missions devoted to stocking the station with spare equipment in anticipation of the retirement of the shuttle fleet in just five more flights now. The station now has replacement part parts.

WHITFIELD: All right, very good. This was the fifth shuttle flight this year and it's expected there, right now, where are only five other shuttle missions that are planned.

We'll be back right after this.


WHITFIELD: Focus, discipline, and relying on your wingman: all secrets to success for fighter pilots. And as our next guest has learned, secrets to success in life overall for those of us who are civilians, who don't have those stripes.

Rob "Waldo" Waldman is the author of "Never Fly Solo." Good to see you Lieutenant Colonel, right?


WHITFIELD: OK, so we understand to be a great pilot there is a discipline. There is certainly trust. How do we as ordinary citizens either want to reach out to someone and say you're my wingman or I want to be someone's wingman? And what does it mean to be a wingman?

WALDMAN: Well, like you said being a wing man is about trust. And I remember flying combat missions, 65 total, when you're strapped into an F-16 you're barely able to move you can't see your most vulnerable position which is behind you. So what we do as fighter pilots is we check each other's six which is 6:00 on a clock.

So but it's hard for me to check my own six but if I'm flying with you Fredricka and you're a mile to my right or left, you can easily look over your shoulders and call up the missiles to us. So it's about encouraging each other and calling out the missiles because we all have blind spots.


WALDMAN: So I need to build trust with you and be willing to hear you call out that missile and say you know what Fredricka things outside of the cockpit cares about me. I need to take action.

WHITFIELD: So it's in other words you're saying a mentor -- finding a mentor or being someone's mentor. But so many of us are so busy in our lives just trying to take care of ourselves and trying to take of your family members and now you've got to try and think of how can I help someone else?

How do you encourage someone to say you want to be someone's wingman and this is how do you it?

WALDMAN: Well, we have to embody the principles of courage and trust and accountability before we can ask for help. But I believe the most important words in life "I need help." So how do you do it at home? If you are...

WHITFIELD: And that's hard to say, "I need help".

WALDMAN: It's we all have egos. But mayday is the wingman's call of action so don't ever turn away a wingman, be careful there. Wing nuts trying to drag you down, be selective with who you're working with...


WALDMAN: But also volunteer. Review somebody's resume. Wing work; don't just network. Get out there and find out people who you know in your network that can help the person out.

WHITFIELD: So you're in your workplace. You're going about your regular routine. You've got your morning routine. Your afternoon duties et cetera. When do you make that time to even identify that someone could use my assistance or to say, you know what, I need help without looking vulnerable? How do you do that?

WALDMAN: Well, the key is don't call out for help until you build the relationships. In my book "Never Fly Solo" I talk about walking the flight line. When you're at work if you're in sales, connect with the people in tech support and customer service.

Right here at CNN you have makeup people, behind the scenes. What do they do? What does your marketing people do?

And when you build relationships with them when the missiles do comes and you ask for help, they'll be there for you.

The key is this, treat each other as people first and employees second and they will push it up and go to full power for you.

WHITFIELD: And you know we're giving thanks this weekend for a lot of things. People need to think about I don't necessarily need to be thankful of those material things...


WHITFIELD: ... but if someone else's effort, someone else's like ask hand extended to me to help me along and now you're saying it's time to return the favor.

WALDMAN: It's about being what I call a wing giver. In this economy, people are being shot at. Let's not get shot down. Let's give our wings away. And if you look at troops that are serving overseas, we just had Thanksgiving. WHITFIELD: Yes.

WALDMAN: Look in your communities. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. You might have a neighbor whose husband or wife might be deployed. Bring over a cake. Maybe they need some help.

You don't need to wear a flight suit to fly an F-16 to be a wing man. It's the little things in life that acknowledge our humanity and give each other coverage. That's the key.

WHITFIELD: Excellent. "Never Fly Solo", Lieutenant Colonel Rob "Waldo" Waldman, thank so much for helping all of us who are nonmilitary try to apply these military disciplines to our regular civilian lives and help everybody else in the interim.

Good to see you. Appreciate it.

WALDMAN: A pleasure to be here.

WHITFIELD: Very nice.

WALDMAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, we have a lot going on this morning. And we're going to check in with all our correspondents who are in place giving you details. Let's check in with our correspondents right now beginning with Alison Kosik.

KOSIK: I'm Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange where Black Friday means a sea of red for investors. All of this thanks to some big problems in the Middle East. Fredricka, I'll have more on Wall Street's sell-off in the next hour.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Elizabeth Cohen, in Atlanta. A new study shows the number of type II diabetes cases in this country is expected to skyrocket in the coming decades. What that means for you and the nation's health care budget at the top of the hour.

JERAS: And I'm CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras. Both coasts of the country getting a wallop, complicating their travel issues today. We'll have your forecast and details coming up.

WHITFIELD: Excellent thanks so much everybody.

Also ahead, letters to Santa Claus: one psychology professor says there may be a bigger message between the lines. She'll share the results of her six-year study.

And we'll take a close look at the so-called party crashers at the White House state dinner. A former White House social secretary weighs in.

And that's in fact the topic on our blog today. We want to hear your thoughts on the White House party crashers. Do you applaud what they did or do you think they simply went too far? E-mail us and we'll read some of your comments at the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: The economy has taken a toll on most of us, of course. Tens of thousands are struggling to find work. It can be especially hard for single parents juggling multiple kids, but there is help out there and it comes from complete strangers.


JENNIFER BANKS, UNEMPLOYED MOTHER: I didn't have any place to stay. No job. No kind of income coming in.

WHITFIELD (voice-over): Eighteen-year-old Jennifer Banks a single mother of two, found it impossible to support her toddlers. Desperate she decided to give them up so that she could take the time to get back on her feet.

BANKS: I kind of felt like I was doing them wrong, leaving them, but I realized that it was the best thing for them.

WHITFIELD: But Banks didn't want her kids ending up in foster care like she had been through. Instead, she handed them over to complete strangers temporarily.

AMY HARRIS, COORDINATOR, SAFE FAMILIES PROGRAM, ATLANTA: We take in their children while they work to become more stable.

WHITFIELD: Amy Harris is a coordinator of the Safe Families Program in Atlanta.

HARRIS: The majority of the situations have been homelessness or job loss. Our calls have probably doubled in the past few months of families in crisis.

WHITFIELD: So for an average of 45 days, parents participate in the program to work on becoming stable while their kids stay with unpaid volunteers like the Gordons.

KELLY GORDON, SAFE FAMILY VOLUNTEER: The biggest thing for us is thinking that maybe we can help transform a family; a family that might not have been able to stay together because of homelessness or something.

WHITFIELD: Kelly Gordon has a tough enough job raising her own three boys but whenever she's needed, she welcomes more.

Six kids from the Safe Families Program have come to stay in her home so far, including Jennifer's two.

GORDON: We love these kids. And then you send them back.

WHITFIELD: The program began as a local endeavor in Chicago but has since grown to include 12 other cities including Miami and Atlanta. And with more than 500 committed volunteers on board, child welfare officials are praising the program. B.J. WALKER, COMMISSIONER, GEORGIA HUMAN SERVICES DEPT: It's the way we would hope all to live is that there would be people who are willing to love and care for us, who are willing to help us rather than we have to depend on a program designed by government.

WHITFIELD: Jennifer Banks still doesn't have a job.

JENNIFER BANKS, UNEMPLOYED: I filled out a lot of applications online and stuff for hotels and all kinds of stuff. I'm just looking for anything. I can't find one.

WHITFIELD: But she did find a place to stay with relatives. So she took her kids back and despite all that she's been through, Jennifer remains positive thankful for the kindness of strangers.


WHITFIELD: Some pretty extraordinary work that folks are doing there.