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American Morning

Transit Strikes Underway in NYC

Aired December 16, 2004 - 08:00   ET


I'm Miles O'Brien.

A developing story that could bring New York City to a standstill. Transit strikes are underway. It's still not the full possible nightmare, though. We'll find out when those strikes could begin and what could stop them.


Millions more people struggling to get where they need to go this morning because of ice and snow, which is causing accidents up and down the East Coast. We're going to look at your forecast just ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: And al Qaeda's number one man in Iraq in custody -- so why was he let go? The answer ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning.

We're glad you're with us on this Friday morning.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it is the end of the week. Many people were sort of dreading this day, certainly here on the East Coast and in New York specifically, because this was the deadline for the transit strike.

Let's get right to developments there, because, to some degree, there's a limited transit strike and the stand-off continues, although one side says they're willing to negotiate.

Let's get right to Allan Chernoff.

He's been following the story for us -- hey, Allan, good morning.

What does this mean, exactly, for the seven million commuters who rely on the system?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, for the vast majority of New Yorkers, it means that their commute is safe today and most likely will be safe over the weekend. The union is still threatening to strike against New York City's subways and buses. But what the union has said during the past hour is that they are going to begin striking against two private bus lines. These are bus lines that are in the process of being acquired by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, but they are private lines that serve the Borough of Queens. And they also have some lines that move into New York City, into Manhattan. These are express lines that go into Manhattan.

So, for the majority of commuters, things are still OK, at least for today.

Now, in the process of all of this, the union has rejected the latest offer from the MTA. That offer included annual raises of 3 percent for three years.

And during his press conference, the union leader was still talking tough.


ROGER TOUSSAINT, PRESIDENT, TRANSIT WORKERS UNION: The MTA has, through its actions and inactions, provoked our members too many times. We have been left with no choice.


CHERNOFF: At the same time, the union leader is saying he is prepared to continue negotiating with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. And we understand that he is on his way back to the Grand Hyatt Hotel where the talks were conducted overnight -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: So limited strikes against these private bus lines.

How many people does that affect, Allan? And could there be a ripple effect for the people who -- the rest of the seven million travelers?

CHERNOFF: Soledad, I don't know the precise number of commuters. These lines have -- they have about several dozen routes within the Borough of Queens and also there are about a dozen or so routes that would go from the Borough of Queens directly into Manhattan. So express lines.

Our understanding is that the bus drivers are going to complete their morning rush hour drive. So they're not going to strand anybody. They're going to complete those drives and then bring the buses back to their depots.

So at that point those two lines -- and they are the Jamaica and the Triborough bus lines -- at that point there will be strikes against these lines.

One other important point here, why would the union be striking these private bus lines? Well, the employees of these companies are not covered by New York State's Taylor Law, which prohibits civil employees from striking. So these employees will be on strike. They won't be penalized -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Allan Chernoff with an update for us.

Allan, thanks for explaining it all.

Jacqui Jeras is going to have the forecast for us in just a quick second.

First, though, other headlines.

Let's get to Carol Costello.


Good morning to all of you.

Several explosions reported in a heavily fortified green zone in Baghdad. It's coming a day after national elections. Voters show their ink-stained fingers, though, indicating they voted in elections for a 275-member Parliament. The ballot count is now going on. Election officials say it could be two weeks or more before the tally is complete.

A bit of embarrassment for Iraqi security forces. The country's deputy minister of interior told CNN the most waited man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was in custody last year but he was released by mistake. Security forces apparently didn't know his identity. A U.S. official could not confirm the story. And there have been several reports of missed opportunities in capturing the accused terror leader before.

It may not seem like it, but believe me, the 2008 race for the White House is on. I guess you knew that, though. A CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll asked who you favor in 2008?

Among Republican voters, nearly a third go with former New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani. Arizona Senator John McCain is liked by 22 percent. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice comes in with 18 percent.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton heavily favored by 43 percent. Former presidential candidate John Kerry and his running mate, former Senator John Edwards, each get 14 percent.

And here's something to think about if you're driving somewhere today -- the government says more of us are using our cell phones while we're driving, about 10 percent. That's up from 8 percent last year. And, get this, it's mostly young people and women on the phone while they're driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends drivers use their cell phones only during an emergency, which a lot of people find hard to follow -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

Thank you very much, Carol.

A real mess outside here in New York City. Heavy rain slowing down the morning commute. Fortunately it's not enough to freeze. And, fortunately, there's no full-fledged strike here.

But farther north, a different story, where icy conditions are the norm.

Let's check on the scene in Boston with Gail Huff of our affiliate, WCVB.


I'm Gail Huff just about 40 miles west of Boston this morning, in Westboro, Massachusetts, along the Massachusetts Turnpike, where traffic is moving a little bit slowly this morning. That's because we're in the middle of an ice storm.

Over the past couple of hours, we've had everything from rain to freezing rain, sleet to snow. It's put a glaze of ice over everything. Some schools are closed this morning and state police say they've had many accidents as a result of the slippery road conditions.

For WCVB, I'm Gail Huff -- now back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, we thank you, Gail.

We thank you, WCVB.

More on the situation.

Jacqui Jeras watching it in the Weather Center, of course -- good morning, Jacqui.


Boston is all rain now, as Gail mentioned. She's 40 miles west of there. We're still seeing a little bit sleet and freezing rain in the extreme northern Massachusetts, you can see temperatures are warming up here. We're getting rain pushing into that state.

You head up toward Portland and the snow is coming down. Visibility down to about a mile-and-a-half at this time.

Also, some very heavy snow over toward Syracuse. And Albany has been seeing freezing rain all morning long.

The good news is, though, that this is a very fast moving system. And this is our future cast. And it will show you that New York City starting to dry out. In the next two hours, we think you're just going to be seeing the cloudy conditions. We might even see a little sunshine.

Later on this afternoon, Boston, you should be done, say, around noonish, or through maybe early afternoon. And then overnight everything pulls out of the Northeast. In come the snowdrifts and the lake effect snow will be kicking up pretty significantly over the next couple of days.


S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, the government plans to spend $3 billion to fix New Orleans' levees. Will they withstand a category five hurricane, though?

We're going to ask the man who's in charge of rebuilding the Gulf Coast. That's Donald Powell.

M. O'BRIEN: Also, we'll talk to the Reverend Franklin Graham. In a year of disasters like Katrina, he'll tell us why volunteering is more important than ever.

S. O'BRIEN: And then later this morning, the mother who did this -- threw her baby, her 3-week-old baby, out of her burning apartment building, trying to save his life. They're both OK today. And mom and baby will join us live just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says rebuilding the levees is crucial to bringing people back to the City of New Orleans, so he says he's happy with President Bush's plan to add $1.5 billion to the rebuild budget.

Is that extra money going to be enough?

Donald Powell is the federal coordinator for the Gulf Coast recovery efforts.

He joins us this morning from Washington, D.C.

Chairman Powell, nice to see you.

Thanks for talking with us.


S. O'BRIEN: Let's take a look at how it's laid out, essentially. You've got $1.6 billion which is going to repair the breaches, correct the design flaws, extend the height of the levees; an extra $1.5 billion which would armor the levee system with concrete and stone.

$3.1 billion overall -- is that going to be enough to bring these levees to withstand a category five hurricane?

POWELL: At the completion of this work, the levee system in New Orleans will be better and stronger than it has ever been. I'm convinced that once this work is done, when you look at a Katrina type storm, that the latest system will be satisfactory to deal with a Katrina type storm.

S. O'BRIEN: There are people who will say but better and stronger than it's ever been is not so great when you consider how it really fell apart during the hurricane Katrina storm.

Don't you want to build to a category five and not just a, well, whatever category Katrina was, a category three, a category four storm? POWELL: Well, the levee system was not -- will not be the same once this construction has been completed as it was pre-Katrina. So the levee system will be much, much stronger and better than it was pre-Katrina.

S. O'BRIEN: Would you like to imitate, essentially, the Dutch system, which, by all accounts, costs significantly more; but, by all accounts, is really the world class system for protecting the region and, really, for building a system of levees that works?

POWELL: Well, part of the money that's been allocated will be a study, some $5 million plus. And that study will cover the entire hurricane protection agenda, including wetlands, barriers and the levee system pumping stations and canals. So we -- that phase should be completed within a year to 18 months and if it calls for the levee systems to be enhanced, I'm sure that that consideration will be looked at then.

S. O'BRIEN: And theoretically much more money could go into it.

Let's talk about wetlands for a minute, if we can.

What's the strategy there?

As you well know, wetlands and the lack and the defamation of the wetlands over time got a lot of the blame for how quickly the hurricane was able to just move into the region.

POWELL: True. There will be $250 million of this money that's been allocated toward the refurbishing of the wetlands. Also, part of this study will include wetlands and the barrier islands.

S. O'BRIEN: What do you do about the fraud? I mean clearly we've seen there's been fraud in the levee system, whether you're talking about inspectors who just didn't do their job or you're talking about contractors who built a 17-foot curtain, steel curtain, to only a depth of 10 feet, which didn't even reach to the bottom of the levee system.

What's the plan in place to protect this $3 billion?

POWELL: Well, the law enforcement folks in New Orleans are at work, plus the Justice Department has a task force on the ground in New Orleans. And the inspector general of the Corps will be also watching. So there will be lots of oversight.

S. O'BRIEN: When you hear Mayor Ray Nagin, who was at this press conference along with you yesterday, saying now people can really come back into the city, do you think he's being kind of premature?

What's the time line for actually getting this work done?

POWELL: Well, the time line -- the first phase will be done -- the target date is one year before hurricane season. And then the time line for the balance of it will be approximately two years. It may extend on to two-and-a-half years or possibly even three years. S. O'BRIEN: Do you think he's being premature, then, when he opens up the doors and says come on back, the levees are going to be repaired?

POWELL: I don't think so, because, again, the target date for the first phase will be 1 June 2006. So people can start planning to return to New Orleans and ballots can start planning to return to New Orleans.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you ever foresee a day when a category five storm will be protected against in New Orleans and the Gulf region, I mean outside of the City of New Orleans?

POWELL: I think it's important to distinguish between a level vive storm and the level of protection -- the protection of that storm. So, again, I look forward to looking at the results of a study to determine if more should be done.

S. O'BRIEN: Donald Powell is the White House's point man on the Gulf Coast recovery.

Thanks for talking with us, Chairman Powell.

POWELL: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Appreciate your time.

POWELL: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, the Reverend Franklin Graham is going to join us. He's going to talk about how people can keep the faith in tough times.

And Miles is getting ready to do a little comparison shopping with our friend from Daily Candy, Dannielle Romano. He went to the brick and mortar stores, she shopped online. Who won? We have our guesses.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back.

Welcome back.

You know, it's a true sign of affection for our next guest, Dannielle Romano, that we were willing to set her up like we just did, because we decided to do a contest. Truthfully, it wasn't very fair.

The idea was pretty simple.

By the way, welcome back, Dannielle.


M. O'BRIEN: She's with -- Dannielle.

She's with...

ROMANO: I'm putting on a brave face.

M. O'BRIEN: ... with

I'll just show you, this is my pile of goodies. And guess who's got the bigger pile? Just -- the idea was to get these items -- a pull-up bar, some sandals, a camcorder, a hockey stick and street hockey balls, and then this kind of bongo board thing.

That was the goal. The kids are not watching, so we can, you know, go through this. Yes.

ROMANO: I hope so.

M. O'BRIEN: So, my mission was to do it in the old-fashioned way, the brick and mortar way. She was going to do it online.

First, let me show you our adventures on the streets of New York.


S. O'BRIEN: Let's go.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's 11:36 when we begin our journey. Two swipes, $4 and we're in the subway station. Entertainment, $1, optional.

Our first stop is B&H Photo & Video. In and out with a video camera by 12:19.

Next stop, a sporting goods store 60 blocks uptown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirty-Fourth Street, Penn Station, Madison Square Garden.

M. O'BRIEN: We have time to read the paper, watch the people and savor the aroma.

We saw some nice art work and before too long found ourselves at Modell's Sporting Goods.

S. O'BRIEN: $8.99?


S. O'BRIEN: Deal-O-Rama.

M. O'BRIEN: And a pull-up bar.

S. O'BRIEN: $12.99?


S. O'BRIEN: Deal.

M. O'BRIEN: Five after one, two items down, two to go. All this shopping making us hungry. Sassy Sliders, that'll hit the spot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot download this. No way.

M. O'BRIEN: It's a good thing. Online much better for the waistline. It's cold. This is one thing you don't get online. Blades, Board & Skate -- looks inviting, they have heat. But we had business to do.

(on camera): They call it Vew-Dew, V-E-W, D-E-W, right?

(voice-over): We got a gnarly demo. How hard can it be? 2:30 now, burning leather to Tip Top Shoes. Sandals on our list.

(on camera): These are they.

(voice-over): 2:40 and we are done. A 15 minute cab ride home. What took three hours and 20 minutes in the real world might have taken a half hour online.

(on camera): A little tired.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, my back hurts. I enjoyed it, though.


M. O'BRIEN: All right, so -- and it didn't go so well on the online. But we did set you up, because we didn't give you much time, right?

ROMANO: That was the main constraint. Of course, you didn't show me sitting alone at my desk not eating cheeseburgers...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes...

ROMANO: ... not shopping and laughing, having fun...

M. O'BRIEN: Look at the things you missed, yes.

ROMANO: Yes, I clicked and it took very little time. It was highly efficient, but we didn't plan so far ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

ROMANO: And shipping really got us.

So if we start with the chin-up bar...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, we're going to start with the cheapest item, right?

ROMANO: Exactly. M. O'BRIEN: All right, the chin-up bar.

Let's put it up on the screen and we'll do the comparison here.

You got it for how much?

ROMANO: About $15.


ROMANO: But when I factored in shipping -- what's it called when you enter a contest you cannot win?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, I know.

ROMANO: And I think you had a -- well...

M. O'BRIEN: That's kind of a setup.

ROMANO: Yes, yes, yes.

M. O'BRIEN: But the bottom line there, five minutes versus 45. If time is the most important thing...

ROMANO: The online is huge when it comes to convenience. You like how I call it the online?

M. O'BRIEN: The online.

ROMANO: It's -- it didn't take any time. It arrived safe and sound. I didn't have to put on pants. I mean I did, but I didn't have to.

So chin-up bar was about $31.


M. O'BRIEN: Oh, this is a family show.

Let's go to the flip-flops now.

ROMANO: These flip-flops, which are hard to find in winter...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

ROMANO: You were able to find them. Luckily, they're a $20 item. I wanted them right away, so I paid $25 for the shipping.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, just $25 in shipping.

ROMANO: I more than doubled the cost by adding the quick shipping, but here they are.

M. O'BRIEN: Right.

ROMANO: And what if you hadn't found them? M. O'BRIEN: That's true, knowing it took a lot of phone calling to do that, which we didn't even factor in. Plus, that 10 minutes is misleading because that was built in. It just happened to be near another store we were (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

ROMANO: So you say there's cheating built in here that we're not revealing?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. Basically, there's cheating built in.

ROMANO: OK, that's fine.

M. O'BRIEN: I've said -- I told you, it's a true sign that we like u. We set you up. Yes.

ROMANO: Now we get to things that...

M. O'BRIEN: Let's do the hockey stick.


M. O'BRIEN: Now, this is the one where it's hard to get a hockey stick shipped to you, right?

ROMANO: It certainly is. You might imagine it's quite an expensive proposition. And you might notice there is no hockey stick over here.

M. O'BRIEN: But there is no hockey stick.

ROMANO: We went to FogDog, a great sports site, and we ordered one, a Bauer. I think we found a different brand...

M. O'BRIEN: Right.

ROMANO: ... which was actually what you wanted, right?

M. O'BRIEN: This is a Komo. No, I wanted the Komo.

ROMANO: OK, fine.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm a Komo kind of guy.

ROMANO: So it was a $23 junior hockey stick. We had to pay something like almost $20, $17 in shipping, making it a $41 hockey stick. And it's not here.

I think it was in that plane that we saw grounded in the mud yesterday.

M. O'BRIEN: It's in Charlotte. It's still in the mud.

Now, the Vew-Dew board.

Did you have any luck on that front?

ROMANO: What do you think, Miles? Do you see a Vew-Dew board here?


ROMANO: It's a $70 item.

M. O'BRIEN: I know the answer.

ROMANO: I was ready to cough up almost $30 or $40, $40 in shipping to make it a $110 item. And it hasn't even left the warehouse yet.

M. O'BRIEN: Really? Oh, that's...

ROMANO: Really.

M. O'BRIEN: ... you got a better price, though, because ours was $100. Yes.

ROMANO: So we would have come out ahead. And, again, you know, it's going to get there in time for Christmas. We just...

M. O'BRIEN: Right, tight, right.

OK, so finally, the camcorder, the most expensive item on our list. This is actually fairly comparable. Let's put -- this is the JVC camcorder for Connelly (ph). She's not home, so...

ROMANO: A wonderful item, which is going to be a great...

M. O'BRIEN: She's going to be a movie maker.

ROMANO: Plus, you're having a budding filmmaker on your hands.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

ROMANO: I did a Price Grabber. I found a cool site, highly rated in the merchant ratings -- I forget what it was even called. $280 was my cost.

Now, they offered a free like slower shipping, which I didn't take advantage of. And there was no tax for me. But $30 for the faster shipping made mine, what, $280 and $30 is $310.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. And we didn't put the tax in there, so this one is probably the most dramatic example of the advantages of...

ROMANO: Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: ... you know, because the tax and the shipping can be interchangeable at times.

ROMANO: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: And -- all right, so I think the verdict is maybe you do a little bit of both.

ROMANO: A little bit of both. We're not ready to give up our brick and mortar adventures...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes...

ROMANO: ... as we call them.

M. O'BRIEN: Our brick and mortar adventures.

And we did have a little bit of fun, as well.

ROMANO: I didn't get any cheeseburger.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, see if you can download a Sassy Slider.

Good luck.

That was good stuff, by the way.

ROMANO: I hate this contest.

M. O'BRIEN: My stomach is still rumbling.

ROMANO: It's a pyrrhic victory for you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Dannielle.

Your last day for the Christmas season. That doesn't mean it's your last day with us, because there are other gift opportunities coming down the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

ROMANO: All throughout the year.

M. O'BRIEN: So we'll be checking back with you.

ROMANO: Sounds good.

M. O'BRIEN: But we wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.

ROMANO: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks for helping us out.

ROMANO: You, too.

M. O'BRIEN: You gave us a lot of good ideas.

ROMANO: I hope so.

M. O'BRIEN: We appreciate it.


ROMANO: I think we got -- came up with some great content and I hope everyone, you know, feels a little more comfortable with the pressure of the holidays. M. O'BRIEN: Yes, and I'm being humble in my victory, don't you think?

ROMANO: I agree.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you.

ROMANO: The best.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, excellent job.

Excellent job.

All right -- Soledad.



S. O'BRIEN: In 1992, she made headlines for trying to murder her lover's wife.

Well, this Saturday night, 8:00 p.m. our series, "THEN AND NOW," with Larry King, takes a look at some of the news makers over CNN's first 25 years.

Here's a look back at Amy Fisher.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was dubbed "the Long Island Lolita," the fodder of tabloids and the center of a media tempest.

Amy Fisher was just 16 years old when she shot and seriously injured the wife of her lover, Joey Buttafuoco, in 1992.

She pleaded guilty and was sent to prison. Fisher was paroled in 1999, after serving seven years.

To escape the stigma of being recognized as Amy Fisher, she had plastic surgery. She turned down thousands of offers to capitalize on her fame, even a cool million to pose in "Playboy."

In 2004, her best-selling autobiography was released. "If I Knew Then" offers details of her affair with Buttafuoco and her time behind bars.

AMY FISHER: I was even raped in prison. I put this in the book so other people out there, when they read it, it's not that they feel bad for me, but they get the message of do not do the things I did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fisher met a man through an online dating service and became a wife and mother. She is now an award-winning columnist for the "Long Island Press."

FISHER: But I feel like I'm at a point in my own life where I'm happy, I'm stable, I have a great career. (END VIDEO TAPE)