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American Morning

President Bush's Iraq Strategy; Families Divided in New Orleans; Controversial Christmas Display in New Orleans

Aired December 01, 2005 - 07:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: You're watching AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. We are about an hour and 30 minutes into our broadcast this morning because we start at a new time.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We should alerted the media. We're on at 6:00 a.m. Eastern time. Oh, that's right, we are the media. Yes. Anyway, please join us, would you.

Carol's with us.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I haven't seen us. I have the news.

MILES O'BRIEN: Every morning bright and early, yes.

COSTELLO: And I do have the news.

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us.

While Iraq is preparing for new elections just two weeks away, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces are trying to sweep out insurgents in the province west of Baghdad. It's part of Operation Iron Hammer. Also the U.S. military says that operation along the Tigris River led to the arrest of 33 insurgents on Tuesday.

Turning on mike my microphone. Apologize for that. And it was totally my fought because I turned it off. But hopefully you heard those first two stories. Let me repeat this one though.

The U.S. military says an operation along the Tigris River led to the arrest of 33 insurgents on Tuesday and that is part of Operation Iron Hammer. It's taking part in a province west of Baghdad.

We know more this morning about where Supreme Court Nominee Samuel Alito stands on abortion, at least where he stood. The National Archives has released a 1985 memo he wrote. It calls for more state regulations, suggesting the states should take the lead on Roe versus Wade. Alito's confirmation hearings are set for next month.

His supporters says he has reformed, but Stanley "Tookie" Williams is still scheduled to be put to death less than two weeks from now. Williams is the co-founder of the notorious L.A. crips street gang. The California Supreme Court rejected Williams' appeal on Wednesday. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to hold a private hearing on the matter next week.

And a plan to go after kidnappers is being expanded nationwide. It's based on the way authorities in the state of Florida respond to child abductions. It coordinates regional law enforcement from bloodhounds to forensic experts. The plan was fine tuned after last year's killed of 11-year-old Carlie Bruscia. That abduction was caught on surveillance tape and the new plan goes national next year.

Back to you, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All right, Carol, thanks.

Well, Democrats by and large not really impressed with the president's plan for victory in Iraq. Delaware Senator Joe Biden has been a vocal critic of the administration's Iraq strategy and Senator Biden is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He joins us this morning.

Nice to see you in person, sir.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE: Nice to see you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Thanks for being with us.

BIDEN: Happy to be here.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: When you were talking with us last week, you said I want a plan.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Did you hear a plan yesterday?

BIDEN: No. But I heard something good. I don't want to be negative about all this. First of all, the president did two important things. One, he leveled with the American people about that things hadn't gone as planned, that we've made mistakes. And number two, that there's a long way to go.

What we didn't hear is, the policies that got us in trouble, how are we changing the policy. And we didn't hear anything about that. We didn't hear anything about what he's going to do differently in order to get political consensus, to build up the army, et cetera. He laid out the goals, said it's going to be hard, said give him time, but he didn't tell us how he was going to change the game plan to accomplish that.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, he certainly talked about what he saw was critical for victory. And I want to play a little chunk of what the president said yesterday.

BIDEN: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: For people who want a time line, does that go far enough?

BIDEN: Well, he just stated what the truth is, but didn't say there's a big debate about how do you train up the Iraqi forces, why don't you accept the offers made from France, Britain, Egypt and other nations to help more rapidly train them? That's big a big debate. The civilians at the Defense Department said, no, we can do this ourselves basically. Why don't we he said we need a political settlement in there. Well, why aren't we having a regional conference like we did in Afghanistan so the pressure is put on the Shia and put on the Kurds to make some concessions?

The goals he states are obvious. They're everybody's goals. But he didn't tell us how is he going to resolve getting them done and what's he going to do differently. Because he acknowledged things haven't gone as they planned because of the failure of policy. So what's the new policy, Mr. President.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: He talked about troops. Let's listen to a little bit of what he said about the training of the Iraqi forces.

BIDEN: Sure.


BUSH: Our goal is to train enough Iraqi forces so they can carry the fight. And this will take time and patience. And it's worth the time and it's worth the effort because Iraqis and Americans share a common enemy. And when that enemy is defeated in Iraq, Americans will be safer here at home.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Speaking of a common enemy. In his speech yesterday, the president kind of laid out these three categories, rejectionists, loyalists, and terrorists who are essentially citing it's not only U.S. troops but Iraqi forces as well. You've spent a lot of time there. Do you see those same categories?

BIDEN: He's exactly right. The loyalists or the old Saddamists who want to stay in power, the rejectionists are the ones that don't want any kind of unified Iraq, and the terrorists are the people or the jihadists who are coming from out of the country. All require different solutions. All are different enemies. All are not united except in being against us. And the president, once again, he set out a goal. But Mr. President, how are you going to more rapidly train Iraqi troops? What are you going to do? How are you going to train an officer corps? You haven't done it, Mr. President. What is it you're going to do to accomplish the goal. So we don't have a disagreement on the goals. Mr. President, what is the plan?

And, for example, I said in Afghanistan, what did we do? In Afghanistan we sat down with the Iranians, with the Pakistanis, with the Russians. His administration. We put together an organization. We had a meeting in Von (ph), we came up with a guy named Karzai. It's working pretty well. Are we talking to the Iranians? Are we talking to the Turks? Are we talking to the regional powers? What's the plan?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The president might say, listen, this is the first of a series of speeches and I pointed out in my opening line, practically, I'm setting up the pillars.

BIDEN: Well, that's good. I hope that's true.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: This is the opening salvo (ph) and I'm kind of laying it out and in the next several speeches I'll maybe draft in more specifically.

BIDEN: Well, I hope that's true. And I hope that for the nation's sake. But, Mr. President, we've been there two years. There used to be an old song, "What's the Plan Stan?." What is the plan? No one disagrees with the objective. At least I don't disagree with the objective.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: But Democrats don't necessarily have an alternative plan. You have . . .

BIDEN: Oh, yes we do. Oh, yes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, you have one and Congressman Murtha has one and Senator Kerry has one and I'm sure Ted Kennedy has one that he's I mean they're really not the same plan.

BIDEN: Well, in truth that's not (INAUDIBLE). No, no, that's a little unfair. The truth is that everyone has signed on to the position that I have set out for the Democratic caucus on what we have to do to train Iraqis, what we have to do to bring political consensus, what we have to do. What Murtha's finally said and what now Nancy Pelosi said, it's too late. Mr. President as I read what they're saying, Mr. President, you're not going to get it right, we don't have any confidence you're going to get it right. What the vote in the Senate was about last week, 79 senators said, Mr. President, we have no confidence that you have a strategy. That's why they voted the way and they laid out . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: But, you know, Hillary Clinton is contradicting what Congressman Murtha wants to do.

BIDEN: Well, everybody's been contradicting what Congressman Murtha wants to do until recently and now Nancy Pelosi said. What Jack Murtha, who's an incredible guy, said, basically he said, look, Joe, I mean, I'm he said, look, you guys who think there's still a chance for victory, I think he's blown it. Get our guys out of there. There's no more chance for victory.

I still think when the election coming up and a vote on the constitution coming up, there's a 50/50 chance we can get this right if we change the plan. If we bring in other countries as part of the political settlement to put pressure on the parties. Look, for example, we're going to vote they're going to vote on an constitution.


BIDEN: That no, that's going to be the election. December 15th they're going to elect their parliament. Then they're going to vote on a final constitution right about the end of January and February. That is either going to be a uniting document which is going to bring the folks together and have a political settlement or it's going to be the basis for a civil war. It's going to split the country fundamentally. Everybody knows that. The president knows it. I know it. Everybody knows that.

So what are we doing to bring the parties together? Why aren't we putting getting the Iranians to talk to the Shia, because the Iranians don't want a civil guy. They're bad guys, the Iranians, but they don't want a civil war. We talked to them when we were in Afghanistan. We ended up with an agreement. Why aren't we talking to the Sunnis to put pressure on the Sunnis and so on.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We'll see what the president says in his next round of speeches.

BIDEN: Well, he should be doing it now, should have been doing it six months ago, should have been doing it two years ago. Get with it.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Senator Joe Biden, thanks for talking with us.

BIDEN: Thank you.


MILES O'BRIEN: It's been roughly three months now since Hurricane Katrina hit. One of the many tragic consequences, hundreds of families still divided. Typically mom and a kid in a new city separate from dad who's back home working. AMERICAN MORNING's Dan Lothian is in New Orleans where he's tracked families caught in that bind.

Good morning, Dan.


Well, it's difficult to get an exact number as to how many families are in this situation, but certainly there are many who, while having to jump over all the hurdles caused by Hurricane Katrina, are now dealing with separation.


LOTHIAN, (voice over): While Kenny Rubenstein runs the family owned clothing store in downtown New Orleans, his wife Leslie, their three children, two dogs and a cat are more than 500 miles away living in Dallas.

LESLEY RUBENSTEIN, EVACUATED WITH CHILDREN: I think that's been probably the hardest part through this whole Katrina thing, being separated.

LOTHIAN: A family divided by Hurricane Katrina, connected only by phone.

KENNY RUBENSTEIN, SEPARATED FROM FAMILY: I talk to my wife two or three times a day.

LOTHIAN: And quick visits by dad every two weeks.

KENNY RUBENSTEIN: The visits there are nice, but they're nothing to having them here, definitely.

LESLEY RUBENSTEIN: It makes me really appreciate the people in the military because they're separated a lot more.

LOTHIAN: Just before Katrina hit New Orleans, they joined the masses who evacuated the city. They ended up in Texas. And with predictions that it would be months before anyone could return, they rented this Dallas home, settled down, enrolling their kids in school.

KENNY RUBENSTEIN: It was just more stable for them to once we got them there, to leave them there for the semester.

LOTHIAN: When the city reopened faster than some had predicted, Rubenstein returned to get the 81-year-old family business back on its feet. But things were still too unstable for the entire family to return.

KENNY RUBENSTEIN: My house needs little repairs. You know, my kids have allergies and other things and going through tearing up the wall and stuff like that and possible mold, it was better that they're there and they were in school.

LESLEY RUBENSTEIN: And I also didn't want to bring the children there to be in the middle of all that right now.

LOTHIAN: But it hasn't been easy, especially when the kids aren't feeling well like on this day, or when they have a lot of homework, or when it's bedtime.

LESLEY RUBENSTEIN: That's when I can tell they really miss their dad a lot more and so we have a lot more heart to heart talks about dad.

LOTHIAN: Being alone has been hard on her husband too.

KENNY RUBENSTEIN: I don't have her there to hug and hold. It's extremely quiet and lonely in my house.

LOTHIAN: A family driven apart by a storm, anxious to be together again at home.


LOTHIAN: Now there is some good news. The family has set an out date. They do plan to spend Christmas together, then will return to New Orleans for good right after that.


MILES O'BRIEN: It has to be tough in particular those kids, you know, missing their daddy, being away from their friends, school, everything.

LOTHIAN: It really has been difficult on them, although their mother says that it has been getting easier because they've found friends in the community. In fact, one son has even joined a soccer team. But she said initially, when they were separated, the kids would have something fun happen to them, something important happen to them at school, they would come home wanting to tell their dad and he wasn't there. So they would have to pick up the phone and call him.

MILES O'BRIEN: Oh, geez. Wow, that's tough. All right, Dan Lothian, thank you very much.

Let's get another check of the weather this morning. Jacqui Jeras in the CNN Center Weather Center.

Hello, Jacqui.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Andy's "Minding Your Business." What's coming up?

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, we're going to tell you about the latest Internet scam that involves the IRS and your tax refund. We'll explain coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


MILES O'BRIEN: That is three for three. Recognize all three.

SERWER: Big time entertainment.


SERWER: Right.

MILES O'BRIEN: You know, I think of you as "the wind beneath my wings" some day, Andy, you know? SERWER: I you were talking to Soledad there for a moment.

MILES O'BRIEN: Oh, yes, no, it was you.


SERWER: I'd rather you were talking to Soledad, actually.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: What have you got for us this morning?

SERWER: We're going to talk about this latest Internet scam. You know a couple weeks ago, Soledad, we told you the IRS had $73 million in unclaimed refunds. That got some Internet thieves thinking and now they are sending out an e-mail which proports (ph) to be from the IRS saying, guess what, you've got a refund coming to you, $572 refund coming to you, if you simply fill out this little e-mail and send it back to us, which includes your Social Security Number and your bank account, maybe that kind of stuff.

MILES O'BRIEN: As if they don't have that.

SERWER: I mean, please. Yes, as if they don't have that. You can see here it says That's a bogus website. Do not go there. This is called fishing, of course, this practice. And Citibank had a big problem with this over the past couple years.


SERWER: And they've kind of wound that down. The real website for the IRS is If you think you are due a refund, go there. Do not respond to this e-mail. Big trouble could ensue if you do. So be careful. I mean it's just it's really I know I talked to some people at Citibank when they had this problem. There's really nothing they can do about it.


SERWER: I mean people some other country are sending these e- mails out. It's very difficult to pull these . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You really should hesitate before you give anybody your Social Security Number. I don't know why they ask for it all the time, on every document practically. But, you know, I just leave it blank. I mean any time you have to give it to the government, they have it.

SERWER: Right. They already know.

MILES O'BRIEN: Exactly. Exactly.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

MILES O'BRIEN: Have you have seen this video? Have you seen the video of the window washer thing? SERWER: No, I haven't seen it.


MILES O'BRIEN: Which one. Of course, I say, have you seen this video. What a stupid question. Well, here, how about that video?

SERWER: Oh, no.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes. Now this is about 12 stories up in Denver yesterday. Scaffolding. There are two window washers on there.

SERWER: Going for a ride.

MILES O'BRIEN: They're not washing window right now, they're hanging on for dear life. Crashes into the high rise because they lost their anchor whatever you call it. Line.


MILES O'BRIEN: There were 35 mile an hour winds on the ground. So you can imagine what it was like, you know, 12 stories up. Plus, the tumbling effect of the skyscraper. So it was not the best day to be up there. Eventually the fire of course, the firefighters ladders go 10 stories and they're at story 12. So the firefighters went inside, knocked some windows out and managed to stop the swinging pendulum there.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, they pinned it down.

MILES O'BRIEN: And there was just minor injuries through all of this. But what a spectacle.

SERWER: Talk about holding on for dear life, I mean, right?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, that's got to be an awful experience.

MILES O'BRIEN: What do you think a window washer gets?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Not enough.

MILES O'BRIEN: Let's look it up. Whatever it is, it's not enough, right?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Not enough for that.

MILES O'BRIEN: It's not enough.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Right, not enough.

SERWER: They don't get big bonuses unless it's (INAUDIBLE). No, that's a tough job.

MILES O'BRIEN: That is a tough job. All right. No fear of heights there. Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, a Katrina themed Christmas display. Blue tarps, helicopters, rescuing people. Is it good humor or is it bad taste? We'll check in with the person behind it all in just a moment. Stay with us.


MILES O'BRIEN: It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Metairie, Louisiana. That's part of the New Orleans metro area. Take a look at this Christmas display that Frank Evans put together. Look a little more closely. Along with the red and green colors of the season and the snow, blue tarps, refrigerators that are trashed, people being rescued from roofs, the spray paint on the side of a house indicating if there are any fatalities inside. Frank meant all of this as I guess tongue in cheek approach to something that is very tragic. Well it turns out the people that owned the mall didn't like it so much and that display has been taken down. Joining me now from New Orleans is the designer, Frank Evans.

And, Frank, were you surprised when they came to you and said, you've got to take this thing down?

FRANK EVANS, HOLIDAY DISPLAY DESIGNER: Well, I was surprised when they told me to take it down, but I was even more surprised but the outrage of all the people who wanted it up. You know people apparently . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: Really? So you have a lot of support for it?

EVANS: Oh, plenty. They were all over the Internet, all over the radio, all over everything. You know, my phone won't stop ringing.


EVANS: They're really bothering the people at the mall. You know, the poor ladies in the office can't get any rest.

MILES O'BRIEN: Can't get any work done right now.

Tell me how you got this idea? Now you, in the past, we should tell folks, have done some edgy displays. It's kind of your theme. You one year when Edwin Edwards was headed off to federal prison, you included the federal prison there and said that was the Louisiana politician's retirement home. You did something about the Taliban one year. And then a presidential election thing where there was the Bush train finishing and the Gore train a train wreck.

So you this is part of a continuum for you. Of course, this year, this is something that transcends all those other things as far as how it affects New Orleans and people. So can you understand how they would be they might not take this in the humor it was meant?

EVANS: Yes, I understand and I certainly apologize to anybody I offended. But Mr. File (ph), who owns the mall, is a great guy and he gives me a free hand to decorate. He always wants a bigger and better Christmas and holiday display. So, you know, I thought it was appropriate. I didn't really use any of the elements that were really bad in the city. Just the blue roofs, you know, and everybody here knows the only thing FEMA could do is put on blue roofs.

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, I think the spray paint on the side of the house is kind of dramatic, because we all know what that symbolizes. And when you say . . .

EVANS: Right.

MILES O'BRIEN: You have a free hand, I think now you had a free hand.

EVANS: I had a free hand, right.

MILES O'BRIEN: The statement from the mall goes something like this, this is just a portion of it. It says, "it was never the owner of the concession's intention to hurt anyone's feelings. And although most people did enjoy the decorations," that's an interesting point, "a few customers found the display to be in poor taste."

Frank, do you feel you're a victim of political correctitude run amuck here?

EVANS: No. I just think you know, a few people I think when people come back to New Orleans, you know people are coming back every day and the people go through a grieving process and the people who have been here the longest, they, you know, they finally looked at the display and said, you know, I don't want to cry anymore and just laugh about it. And some people weren't to that point yet, I guess, and it might have upset them. So, you know, I had family members. My daughter lost her whole house. She helped me build the display and she enjoyed it. You know, she thinks it's funny. The only time she cries is when I sing Frog Man Henry's (ph) "I Ain't Got a Home."

MILES O'BRIEN: Oh, gosh. Do you have any regrets at this point about doing it?

EVANS: Not really. You know, I'm getting offers from all over the city to put the display back up in other places. Even the civic association in Lakeview, one of the neighborhoods that was most destroyed by the levee break, they lost all of their decorations in the storm and the flood and they asked me if I'd bring the blue tarp houses out to their display because they don't have anything. So, you know, I told them I don't know what's going to happen to the blue tarp houses. People even want to buy them now. But I'm going to build them a display, you know. When they get some electricity and a store window to put it in, myself and some of my buddies are going to go build them a display to get them back, you know, get them back and running out there. We might have to build a display in every neighborhood, you know.

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, a telling point there. When they get some electricity and they get open, which is probably why people are still a little sensitive. It's still very fresh.

Frank Evans, thanks for joining us from New Orleans today.

EVANS: OK. We're down in (INAUDIBLE). You know, this is a good part of the city.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Take care.


EVANS: OK. Bye-bye.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, if you're looking for unique gift idea for the kids, run of the mill toys won't do, well stick around for our special series "Online Gift Giving." Today we're going to tell about four websites for finding cool gifts for children. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.