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What About those AIG Bonuses?; Senate Health Care Battle; Afghan James Bond

Aired December 23, 2009 - 14:00   ET


RICHARD LUI, CNN ANCHOR: And new home sales unexpectedly plunging last month to the lowest level since April. Experts believe prospective buyers are waiting until spring before taking advantage of newly extended tax credits.

All right. Top story right now.

Remember AIG and their big IOU? Well, AIG was one of the huge companies that helped lead the U.S. economy toward the cliff -- or, rather, over the cliff. It took a huge government bailout, yet still rewarded executives with fat bonuses. They promised to return the bonuses by the end of this year because of a lot of outrage.

CNN's Randi Kaye reported on it earlier this year, when 2009 was still young.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Next stop on the tour? This multimillion-dollar estate with a stunning view of the harbor. It's owner? AIG executive James Haas, also involved in the company's derivatives business. He earned the nickname "Jackpot Jimmy" from a New York tabloid because of his fat bonus check, which he says he plans to give back.


LUI: All right. But how much is a promise worth? An inspector for the government bailout program says only about $19 million of the promised $45 million in bonuses has been returned with just over a week left in 2009. And in just a few months, the company plans to pay out another $198 million to employees.

Well, let's take a closer look at this with CNN's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, who joins us right now.

Ali, you know, on the street, a lot of outrage, a lot of hate towards these people and this company because of the payout of these bonuses. Are we ever going to see any of this back?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: No, I don't think so. Just remember that this is payouts to the division of the AIG that was really at the center of that collapse of that company and, in many people's opinion, to the collapse of the economy. But the bottom line is the government has not succeeded in being able to draw these bonuses back because they have had legal opinions that they don't have standing to do so.

So, what's happened is there was a threat by Ken Feinberg, the pay czar, to deal with the 2010 money that you were just talking about, the $198 million to be paid out, so that forced AIG executives to promise to somehow get $45 million of last year's bonus money, 2009's bonus money, back.

I'm not sure why they made that promise, because the people who got the money are not contractually obligated to give it back. So, some gave it back. Others just didn't. Some are going to way to see whether they get their 2010 money. But the government has never been able to make a strong legal case for this.

So, I'm surprised some of it's back. I don't think more of it's going to come back . And I'm very puzzled as to what the government is going to do with the $198 million more in bonuses that are due to be paid out in March of 2010, because most legal opinion says that those are pretty ironclad.

LUI: And the executives, some of them saying they deserved it for the hard work that they had put in for that company, no doubt, throughout the downturn. What's the response to that?

VELSHI: Richard, there are a lot of autoworkers who deserve to still be on the job. They weren't responsible for the downturn in the auto industry, but they're not employed, and that's the reality of the situation.

It is remarkably tone deaf for anybody at AIG to suggest that they deserved what they got. They were given retention bonuses, they are very high bonuses. It doesn't make sense.

It would have been the right thing to do, to give them back, but the reality is these people were contractually entitled to that money, and they have decided not to give it back. And their lawyers have told them that it is voluntarily for them to give it back, they are not obliged to do so.

So, some people did, some people didn't. Some have left the company.

But, honestly, there are a lot of people who I'm sure thought they deserved something different in their pay packet in 2009, and some of them are left with unemployment checks. So, perhaps AIG executives and people in this division should just tone that down a little bit.

LUI: All right. So you're saying clawback is going to be really difficult. The lawyers even suggesting to the executives, hey, you don't have to do that.

Does it make any difference whether you're still employed or you have left the company? Is there any difference there?

VELSHI: No. Well, yes, actually, I should say, because most of these were retention bonuses, so they were meant for people who were staying at the company. They were meant to keep you at the company.

So, if you are leaving the company, you have some legal obligation to forfeit some of your retention bonus. If you're staying at the company, you can then keep that money. And according to the legal opinion we've heard, there's nothing yet that is causing those people to give it back.

The issue here, as you just mentioned, is whether Ken Feinberg and the government does something that legally allows them to claw back, but that gets into sticky territory. Once you start making laws about things that were once legal, and you make them illegal without grandfathering it, they can make laws that say this can't happen again in the future, but these were all contractual retention bonuses, and there's not much that can be done about them at this point.

LUI: Ali, but what about embarrassing them to pay it back?

VELSHI: Yes. And that's what Andrew Cuomo is threatening to do, that he'll publish their names. It's an interesting tactic, and, sure, I think there are a lot of people out there who would say shame is a good thing for some of these people.

The only danger here, Richard, is you remember how hot things got around AIG and how angry people are about it. I think Andrew Cuomo has got to be very careful. The attorney general for New York has got to be very careful to make sure that he's not endangering anybody by putting those names out there.

It could start to become vigilante justice. There are a lot of people who, rightfully so, are angry about people who might be seen to be responsible for some of this economic collapse, and I think we have to think about that very, very carefully before we expose people's names, regardless of how justifiable your anger may be.

LUI: Tough for the government, tough for the company.

VELSHI: This is an all around bad situation.

LUI: Yes.

Ali Velshi, our chief business correspondent.

Thank you so much.

And, by the way, Ali will be hosting the 3:00 hour right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

So I'll talk to you a little bit about that show shortly. Thanks a lot, Ali.

VELSHI: OK, Richard.

LUI: And how is your BlackBerry doing right now? Better, we hope.

BlackBerry says all of its customers in North America lost service at some point last night. The same thing happened less than one week ago. No word on why that happened.

And just a few weeks ago he was heavily sedated in a hospital burn unit. Not out of the woods, doctors said, but now today, Michael Brewer is enjoying the stuff we all take for granted, the breeze on his skin, TV, Christmas plans with family.

The 15-year-old burned over two-thirds of his body in October, and cops say schoolmates set him on fire as revenge for snitching. Well, he left the hospital yesterday, but still faces months and months of rehab. We got an update from Michael's mother last hour.


LUI: Can you kind of describe what he has to go through? I mean, it looks so difficult, at least just from the pictures, itself, before he got released.

VALERIE BREWER, MICHAEL'S MOTHER: It is very difficult. You have to first remove all the bandages, and then he gets in the shower and washes off. And sometimes when the water hits him, it's excruciating.

You have open wounds, and the water hits it, the soap hits it. It's very painful. And then he takes gauze, and he has to wipe all his wounds and make sure that he gets any dead skin off. And he is very courageous for doing it by himself.

LUI: Amazing and courageous, as you said. You have been so consistent in saying how amazingly brave he has been through this situation. Can you expand on that?

BREWER: Well, he is amazingly brave, and he gives me -- he's such inspiration to me. Seeing him go through this, I know that the rest of his life he's going to have challenges, but nothing is going to ever amount to what he has gone through now and what he is going to go through for the next several months.


LUI: All right. Three teens have been charged as adults in that attack. All of them pleading not guilty to attempted murder.

Well, by this time tomorrow, if all goes as planned, David and Sean Goldman should be somewhere between Rio de Janeiro and New Jersey. Nine-year-old Sean's extended Brazilian family has dropped the fight to keep custody of him. That opens the way now, after five long years of red tape and heartbreak, for father and son to be reunited.

The court has given the Brazilian family until 9:00 a.m. local time tomorrow to hand the boy over. The boy's U.S. grandfather cautiously optimistic now.


BARRY GOLDMAN, SEAN GOLDMAN'S GRANDFATHER: I just feel, again, cautiously optimistic. I've been on the top of this roller-coaster so many times, to slide down the other side. As David has said many times, until the wheels are up on that plane, and Sean and David and the congressman and all are on it, it's not a done deal. And hopefully, that's going to happen soon.


LUI: Hot dogs and health care. Both are far less appetizing when you see how they are made.

And right now, they are grinding it out on Capitol Hill. But is it anything that you want?


LUI: Happening right now on Capitol Hill, the all-out effort to reform the United States health care and insurance industries. Far easier said than done, as you know. And boy, they want to get it done fast, or at least with enough time so senators can get back to their homes in time for the holidays.

Now, let's make that some of the senators, as in Democrats. Republicans would love to return to their districts with no health care bill in hand, but it appears Democrats have the needed 60 votes to move the measure forward to a final approval vote tomorrow.

We'll keep monitoring the Senate chambers and bring you the latest developments as we watch what is happening there live for you.

So, what do you think about this whole thing? There is a new CNN/Opinion Research poll that suggests Democrats have an edge right now over Republicans over one key measure.

CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger is live in Washington with a breakdown of that.

Gloria, what are you finding in those numbers?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we're finding the Democrats have maintained an advantage, and that's really good for them, sort of heading into this homestretch on health care. We asked people what direction each party in Congress would move the country, and take a look.

"Whose policies will move the country in the right direction, wrong direction?" Democrats still maintaining an edge, 51-42. Republicans, wrong direction, 53 percent.

So, that's not really good for the Republican Party because they've really made such a push on health care reform.

LUI: So, midterm elections, it looks good for them, is what you're saying, in 2010.

BORGER: Well, you know, the midterm elections are a long, long way from now. And the key thing to look at in these midterm elections, Richard, are these Independent voters. And let's take a look at Independent voters, because they're kind of cranky about both parties now.

We asked the question of Independents, "Whose policies will move the country in the wrong direction?" "Wrong" being the key word here.

Democratic leaders in Congress, 57 percent. And Republican leaders in Congress, 53 percent. You see that the public has grown more unhappy since August, and more unhappy with Republicans.

And we think that's because they haven't seen a lot from the Republicans about what they would propose in opposition to the Democrats. If you're an Independent voter and you generally don't like both parties, what you're saying is, OK, who's going to give me the best alternative? So they don't like what the Democrats are doing, but they're not quite sure what the Republicans are offering them that they would like.

LUI: And that is the key swing vote bloc there that you were talking about.

BORGER: You bet.

LUI: All right. Hey, you know, many liberals just angry with Joe Lieberman after that Independent senator from Connecticut forcing Senate Democrats to drop some key provisions earlier on.

What are the polls saying about his popularity?

BORGER: Well, you know, like lots of politicians, the more you see them, the less you like them. And I think that that's happened with Joe Lieberman.

If you take a look -- and again, this is a national poll, not a Connecticut poll. But you look at his favorables and unfavorables, you see that his unfavorable rating has gone up from 28 to 34. His favorable rating has gone down.

Now, again -- and lots of people don't know him, as you see in those unsure numbers -- but again, this is not a Connecticut poll for Joe Lieberman. Connecticut is really all that matters. And, you know, there are questions about whether he might actually run as a Republican in 2012 when he's up.

Our Dana Bash asked him about that and he kind of hedged on the answer to that question. So it will be interesting to see whether he decides to jump ship and run as a Republican.

LUI: And Gloria, so much can change in political years.

BORGER: Overnight.

LUI: Boy, this is a long time.

BORGER: Overnight it can change.

LUI: Gloria Borger, thank you so much for the latest polling there...


LUI: ... CNN/Opinion Research poll.

Want to give the gift of health this holiday season? Well, you can, and it will even fit in a Christmas stocking. Some health care providers are offering gift cards, usable, to pay bills and insurance premiums, or for specific services at eye doctors and dentists.

And with this superhero, the bad guys always get what's coming to them. You might call him Afghanistan's James Bond.



LUI: Rail service between New Jersey and New York and points beyond shut down this morning due to power problems. Amtrak and several New Jersey Transit lines went down for about three hours, stranding thousands of people in stations and on trains. No details on what caused the glitch.

Also, a close call last night in Kingston, Jamaica. An American Airlines jet tried landing in a rainstorm and ended up overshooting that runway. No one seriously injured, although 90 of the 150-plus passengers were taken to a hospital. A team of NTSB investigators are en route to the crash site to look at that.

And then for you, a five-year-old deal may be just a few hours from conclusion. New Jersey's David Goldman awaits to be reunited with his 9-year-old son. Goldman's ex-wife took the child to her native Brazil. She died, and the boy's custody was mired in a lengthy court battle there, but Brazil's supreme court ruled in favor of the U.S. dad.

Beating the bad guys and saving his country -- people in war-torn Afghanistan have a new superhero to look up to.

Here's CNN's Fred Pleitgen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The terrorists have stolen an experimental nuclear device.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And now they want to blow up Kabul. Only one man can save the day.

If you haven't guessed by now, it's the Afghan James Bond called "Secret Agent Nijat," the savior, a fictional hero in a country where violence is all too real. His identity is never revealed on screen -- until now. Afghanistan's 007 is played by a man called Qaseem Elmi.

QASEEM ELMI, PLAYS "NIJAT": He has to make sure that that bomb, that nuclear bomb, doesn't explode. PLEITGEN: Instead of an Aston Martin, Nijat drives a Toyota Camry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a problem, man. What can you do?

PLEITGEN: That's not the only difference. "This is not a Hollywood James Bond," the screenwriter says. "There's no alcohol and no love story. It's an Afghan James Bond."

"Nijat" is a low-budget movie. Production costs, $2,500. None of the cast has ever acted before. And the special effects, well, let's say they had to improvise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he's got a firecracker behind a sack of colored paint on a little dish you tape to his chest.


WALIED OSMAN, PRODUCER: We couldn't get rid of the smoke problem, so, instead, we had all the guys smoking cigarettes.

PLEITGEN: What started as a small project has gained momentum. The filmmakers say they want to take the movie to international film festivals.

It has an important message. Set in a stable and prosperous Afghanistan of the future, "Secret Agent Nijat" is only showed in shadows, so in a war-torn, ethnically-divided country, all Afghans can rally behind their hero.

ELMI: An Afghan could be an Afghan James Bond, could be working in such an efficient way, and could have the same kind of love for the country.

PLEITGEN: In the end, Nijat single-handedly defeats the bad guys and disarms the nukes.

OSMAN: Nijat's a fantasy that one man, our James Bond, can take care of the problem and save Afghanistan from another disaster.

PLEITGEN: So, Afghanistan's first 007 has to do more than just save his country. He must try to unite its people as well.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kabul.


LUI: You won't see their work on the big screen, and they probably won't get an Oscar for their efforts, but the roles these actors are playing could not have a bigger payoff. They are helping to save lives.


LUI: All right. Just in here to CNN, we are learning that convicted swindler Bernard Madoff moved last week to the medical center within a federal prison for an undisclosed reason.

Now, Madoff is in his early 70s. Spokeswoman Tracy Billingsly (ph) saying he had been transferred earlier, and she declined to comment on the reason, citing some privacy rules. You might remember here, Madoff serving 150-year prison term after pleading guilty to a more than $50 billion fraud scheme, that Ponzi scheme that we were telling you about.

Again, convicted swindler Bernard Madoff moved last week to the medical center within a federal prison for undisclosed medical reasons. He is in his early 70s.

If we get more information, we'll have that for you right here. We just got that in right now.

An about-face for a U.S. general in northern Iraq. We told you about Major General Anthony Cucolo saying he considered pregnancy among his soldiers an offense, possibly punishable by court-martial.

Well, he now says that's not the case. Cucolo says he would never court-martial a soldier who got pregnant or got another soldier pregnant, but he's not ruling out lesser penalties.

And we need to warn you, some of the images you're about to see may be disturbing. They're from an ultra-realistic war training facility in the Mojave Desert.

Our T.J. Holmes talks to the soldiers and the actors who are helping them face some of the worst stuff out there. And while the wounds shown in this story are fake and part of a training exercise, the images appear very, very real. So again, be warned as you watch this.


T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert Omalia has lost count of how many times his leg has been blown off by an IED. And here he is again bloodied by another insurgent attack Surrounded by Army medics scrambling to save him.

ROBERT OMALIA, FT. IRWIN ROLE PLAYER: I am really missing my right leg. So when they see an actual leg missing it hits them. You know, they see a leg and so they actually have to react and it's as real as it gets before they actually go off to combat.

HOLMES: Omalia is acting. He was born without his right leg, but throw in a little fake blood and special effects, and he is an invaluable teacher here at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. The mission here is to provide the most realistic experience for troops going into combat. It is so realistic that at times it can be shocking and disturbing to the soldiers.

OMALIA: I have seen every possible reaction. I've seen freezing, shaking.

HOLMES: And that's the point. SGT. FIRST CLASS MARK SHANK, FT. IRWIN MEDICAL TRAINER: Combat is stressful. I want to make training more stressful. The reason being is just that I don't want a kid to be out there and the first time he ever sees something really, really bad, it's in combat. Figure your life is 100 percent stress, and I want training to be 120 percent, 150 percent stress.

HOLMES: Omalia is among the group of private citizens, actors and soldiers, who serve as a role players at the NTC. Though he was never able to serve in the armed forces, he considers this his military service.

(on camera): You have found a way now to maybe not be in the military, but to affect the military, to affect what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan through this role.

OMALIA: Yes. It homes. I have seen people who have gone out to Iraq and Afghanistan and after this training they'll come back, they'll personally thank us for what we did this training, because this training has helped save some of the brothers and sisters out in combat.

HOLMES (voice-over): Other role players here include many Iraqi- Americans who occupy the replicas of Iraqi towns to give soldiers an authentic taste of how Iraqi citizens often interact with U.S. soldiers.

Samira Harry came to the U.S. more than 30 years ago.

SAMIRA HENRY, IRAQI-AMERICAN FT. IRWIN ROLE PLAYER: I am from Iraq, I love my country and I love this country, too. And I will do my best to help both countries.

COL. BENNIE WILLIAMS, 1ST BRIGADE COMBAT TEAMS/3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: I think that also, the role players here, they have a vested interest in this, also. And they know that if we are successful and if they help in our preparation, the people that benefit from this is the Iraqi people.

HOLMES: Key to giving the troops the best training are the Ft. Irwin soldiers who play the role of al Qaeda and other insurgents.

Abdul Qadeer calls himself the NTS's Osama bin Laden. In reality, he is a 24-year-old soldier from Maryland.

ABDUL QADEER, FT. IRWIN TRAINER/TERRORIST: I never imagined that I would be, you know, being the head insurgent coming here and then just -- I don't know -- taking over it and then telling other guys that -- go to blow up convoy, go step up an IED, go do suicide vests.

HOLMES: Despite being the most wanted man in the Mojave, in his year with the fake insurgency, he has never been caught by any unit that has come here to train.

QADEER: The secrecy is the biggest thing because when every unit comes here, they want to find me. That's their number one list. Is Abdul Qadeer, you are in charge of al Qaeda, we need to find you. I have heard every single battalion commander say, you get this guy, and we will give you a four-day pass the second you come back. We'll put you on leave for a week.

HOLMES: Today, he set a trap for the First Brigade...

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: He's just got a laceration on his arm, he will be all right.

HOLMES: ... an IED under a Humvee.

QADEER: I joke about it and everything, but it is a very serious situation out here where we who do have to train every soldier out here to be better at coping with insurgency and how they react to IEDs and everything like that.

HOLMES: But that IED is not the end of the attack. Soon an Iraqi police official arrives and one of Qadeer's suicide bombers tries to kill him.

QADEER: It is a difficult situation to put yourself in, because you are trained to be a soldier and then you have to right turn 180 and become an insurgent now. And the better we are, the better they are in country.

HOLMES: Qadeer is somewhere in the crowd during the attack, the most wanted man hiding in plain sight. And once again, he slips away.

T.J. Holmes, CNN, at the National Training Center in Fort Erwin, California.


LUI: You can catch more of T.J.'s special reports on the "WAR BEFORE THE WAR" tonight and find out about the training help they are getting from one of Saddam Hussein's former commanders. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on "CAMPBELL BROWN."

The White House is reviewing its condolence policy for troops who commit suicide, this following a letter from 46 members of Congress. Now in it, they urge the president to change the long-standing policy of not writing condolence letters to families of troops who kill themselves. Here is what the letter said, quote, "Whether a soldier died in combat, a car accident, or because of a suicide, nothing diminishes personal sacrifices each family endured on our country's behalf while their son or daughter, husband or wife, served in uniform. But, the lack of acknowledgement and condolence from the president, the commander-in-chief, can leave these families with an emotional vacuum..."

It is a very simple question, who is he? This Spanish government wants a name to go with the face before it gives this photo to President Obama. Here's what we do know -- he was a U.S. citizen, part of a U.S. volunteer brigade, the Abraham Lincoln brigade. They went to Spain to defend the elected government against fascists, this was some four years before Pearl Harbor and seven years before D-Day. He died in 1937 in the Battle at Bunette (ph). A Lincoln Brigade expert told me he has some clues behind this.


JAMES FERNANDEZ, ABRAHAM LINCOLN BRIGADE ARCHIVES: There's a possible that he's actually Cuban. An Alba board member, Sebastian Farber (ph), was going through his library of photographs and he found another photograph by the same photographer, (INAUDIBLE), of our same soldier beneath a banner that has the name of the Abraham Lincoln battalion and then below that something called the Centuria Antonio Guiterra (ph), which was a Cuban outfit that left from New York. They were Cubans that were living in New York and they left with non-Cuban soldiers to go to Spain to fight in the war. But there's a chance that this is an Afro-Cuban man and not an American man.


LUI: Interesting twist there.

Now to the war against drugs, it hits home against one slain Mexican Marine. He helped take down a drug lord, and his family paid the price.


LUI: He did his job and died a national hero helping the fellow marines helping to take down one of Mexico's most wanted drug lords. One week later, gunmen struck back at the family. Four people are now under arrest for what a Mexican prosecutor says was a revenge killing.

Our Rafael Romo has more.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN LATIN AMERICA AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): It was a solemn and somber memorial for a soldier who gave his life for his country. Mexico was honoring Melquisedec Angulo, a Marine in the Mexican armed forces who died last week in a raid in central Mexico.

Angulo was killed in a shootout with members of a powerful drug cartel. The leader of the drug cartel, Arturo Beltran Leyva, his brother Hector, and five of their associates were also killed. Only seven hours after the fallen Marine had been laid to rest in an apparently act of retribution, gunmen attacked his home in the Mexican state of Tabasco.

Authorities say the hit men killed his mother and three other relatives. Another family member was seriously injured.

FILEPE CALDERON, PRESIDENT OF MEXICO (through translator): This is a coward and despicable act. These reprehensible actions show how organized crime operates without regard to anything, killing innocent victims.

ROMO: For people in Mexico, this apparently act of retaliation is nothing new. Drug traffickers routinely kill police officers and government officials, especially those involved in anti-narcotic agencies. Many times, family members are caught in the crossfire, if not intentionally killed.

CALDERON: We will not be intimidated by unscrupulous criminals like the ones who have committed these atrocities. Those who act in this way only deserve to be repudiated by society and should pay for their crimes.

ROMO (on camera): President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug cartels when he took office in December of 2006. More than 14,000 people have died so far during his presidency.

Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


LUI: Let's get to the latest on our top stories.

By this time tomorrow, some senators could be home with their family celebrating the Christmas holidays and the approval of the democrat-backed health care reform bill as well. They have to clear yet another procedural hurdle that they are voting on this afternoon and then Senate democrats hope for final passage tomorrow morning.

BlackBerry back on after a severer service outage that lasted more than eight hours. It is the second service glitch in less than one week. The company estimates that all of its customers in the U.S. and Canada lost e-mail and Internet service yesterday, no word yet on what caused that problem.

And then after years of fighting through the Brazil's legal jungle, David Goldman is about to be reunited with his 9-year-old son. The boy's mother who was engaged in a lengthy custody battle with Goldman died last year. Sean Goldman has been living with his Brazilian relatives while his father navigated his way through the Brazilian courts for custody.

Credit cards, we've all got them, but many people are stuck with high interest rates or lousy terms and conditions. Now the government is announcing new lending rules to help you out. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with details.

Susan, this could affect millions of people and long-awaited the changes might be, too, right?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Richard. I mean, basically it applies to all consumer loan, and that is why it affects millions of us, whether it is credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, student loans. Unfortunately, it won't reduce the high rates, but it will help us understand those rates and terms.

And yes, we are going to have to wait a while, unfortunately, because they won't start until January 1, 2011.

So, if you get a less favorable rate or terms, lenders must tell you why. As of now, they don't have to and they frequently don't, but most of us know it's typically based on our credit history. If lenders don't explain, they must give you a free credit score which typically costs around $10. So lenders must get in touch with you after the terms are set, but before you are locked into a contract. This could give you some negotiating room or a chance to leave and use a different lender -- Richard.

LUI: And Susan, this is one step of many, right? The government also tightening rules for lenders as well, right?

LISOVICZ: Right, it's part of a bigger push. It's, in fact, part of a 2003 law with a lot of action recently. In May, you may recall that the president signed a law that limits rate hikes. Unfortunately, that does not go into effect until February, so the result is a lot of the lenders are jacking rates up ahead of February.

Also, lawmakers are currently debating the creation of a consumer financial protection agency which is part of a broader part of a broader financial overhaul working through Congress. The bottom line is lawmakers are looking for more transparency, more oversight, because no one wants to repeat the same mistakes that have cost us so dearly -- Richard.

LUI: You got that right.

All right, Susan Lisovicz there at the New York Stock Exchange, thank you so much.

LISOVICZ: Thank you, Richard.

LUI: Here is a head scratcher for you -- is one webcam more bigoted than another? It is putting the camera maker on the defensive.


LANCE CORP. SHANE CARULA: Hi, this is Lance Corporal Shane Carula (ph) here at VMA 231 Marine Attack Squadron here in southern Afghanistan, I'd just like to wish a merry Christmas and happy holidays to all my friends and families back home in Moscow, Pennsylvania. I miss you guys and I can't wait to see you. Happy New Year's.



LUI: Here is a question you rarely find asking yourself -- is your webcam racist? Sure, it sounds kind of crazy, but watch. This YouTube video went viral after a couple coworkers got together and they found out that a Hewlett-Packard's motion-tracking webcamera did not follow the African-Americans as well as it did the whites.

Well, HP's Tony Walsh says the company is investigating and that the preliminary finding is that the camera might have difficulty, quote, "... 'seeing' contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting." His words there. We will get a translator on what that statement means as soon as we can as well. Well, as always, Team Sanchez is back there working on the next hour of NEWSROOM, and here is Ali Velshi filling in for Rick, and he is in New York. What is coming up?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Richard Quest and I have been playing a lot with webcams and trying to do stuff, and his works fine and mine doesn't.

LUI: But not on you?

LUI: I'm wondering now. Now I am on to something. It is not a HP webcam, but I am just wondering maybe, you know?

Anyway, listen, Richard, I know what your work schedule and I'm going to be here all of the way through the holidays. And in some ways that's actually easy, because it is scheduled, it's routine, I know what I am going to do. But for the rest of the world, traveling, getting to see family, spending time with them -- it is surprising to me how many people get very stressed out about this. They really do get stressed over the holidays. So we are going to talk about that.

In addition to all of the interesting news out there, in the next hour, we are going to talk about how you deal with your stress over the holidays so you do not end up showing up with your family and being a basket case or upsetting everybody or getting into fights or drinking too much or smoking too much or eating too much. We're going to talk about how to handle the stress and the holidays. How to just enjoy it.

My solution? Just keep working.

LUI: And don't use webcams.

VELSHI: And do not use webcams. That is right.

LUI: Ali Velshi in ten minutes. Look forward to that, my friend.

VELSHI: All right. Thank you.

LUI: A Tennessee woman is arrested for bringing an inmate a bible. But it is not the word that got her in trouble, it's the deed. You see, jail guards judged the holy book by the cover, which looked funny by the way. They poked around and they found some pills and some tobacco hidden inside of the binding, inside the good book. Well, the lady has been charged with the introduction of contraband into a penal system, which carries a possible 15 year sentence.

Recycling pays, but the sweet smell of success is not always so fragrant. Case in point here, Blue Energy Products of Seattle taking the waste products from a nearby brewery and recycling it into perfume. But like anything else, it takes a little while. In the downtown in between, it down right stinks.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you want your wife wearing this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely.


LUI: Well, honey, you smell like hops there. The whole thing is called Sweet Anthem, by the way, and there's a scent for each gender, too, and no it does not go better with nachos or hot wings -- bah doomp doomp.

Special people, special animals helping each other. A hero dog -- its legacy and its clones were putting giving in focus.



LUI: Thank you, Chad Myers.

During this special time of the year, by the way, we are looking at people who help others. In today's "GIVING IN FOCUS," a retired Canadian police officer and his cloned dogs. It all started with a German Shepherd that found the last survivor of the World Trade Center collapse. A story from CNN photojournalist John Torago (ph).


JAMES SYMINGTON, TEAM TRAKR FOUNDATION: We arrived at Ground Zero within 14 hours of the towers collapsing. Canine resources were in short supply and we immediately began searching for survivors. Sometime late on the morning of September 12th, Trakr got a hint indicating that somebody alive was buried beneath the surface.

These rescue workers later pulled a woman, the last survivor, from the rubble and I'm extremely proud of the role that Trakr played in her recovery.

Trakr initially was trained as a police dog, trained to find live people, evidence and drugs. He helped locate hundreds of people, recovered over $1 million worth of stolen goods. But the culmination of his amazing career is finding the last survivor at Ground Zero.

When I first met Trakr and we first started working together, cloning wasn't even an option so it wasn't even a consideration until one day I happened to see a TV report and they were talking about a cloning contest.

Bioworks International was a company that was responsible for the cloning contest. In June, I received not one, but five amazing replicas of Trakr.

Come. Come. Good boys.

I tried to choose a name to pay tribute to who Trakr was. There's Trust, who's very focused. Solace who's extremely curious. There's Valor who is extremely courageous. Prodigy who's the problem solver, extremely intelligent. And then there is Deja Vu who is a cuddler, he's the lover of the group. All extraordinary dogs.

Meeting those puppies for the first time was amazing, it was moving, but it was also bittersweet. Because sadly, Trakr passed away in April peacefully at her home at the age of 16.

I respect that cloning is not for everyone. I train, foster and rescue dogs and I strongly encourage anybody who can provide a good home for a dog to go out and adopt a dog through a shelter or rescue group.

This is Trust, he's the oldest.

Team Trakr is not about holding on to the past, it is about continuing the legacy. I've launched the Team Trakr Foundation.

Come. Good boy. Sit.

An international, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing elite canine search and rescue groups to the United States and around the world. In essence, canine teams with no borders. The launching of the Team Trakr Foundation is simply my way of continuing an extraordinary journey of one remarkable dog, and I owe Trakr that.

There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about Trakr and I don't know if the puppies contribute to that or not. I just think he always had and always will have a special place in my heart. And these puppies are certainly going to complement that.


LUI: All right. Tune into CNN on Christmas Day for a special expanded look at what your friends and neighbors are doing to help others. Our "GIVING IN FOCUS" special begins at 1:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. Next up, we have the 3:00 p.m. hour of NEWSROOM. We've got Ali Velshi in for Rick Sanchez.