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American Morning

Katrina Hearings; War Opinion Drive; No Xbox for Christmas?

Aired December 14, 2005 - 06:29   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up, Katrina failures in the spotlight once again today. Intense testimony expected on Capitol Hill. Top leaders from Louisiana will be on the hot seat. And we'll preview what they will face in Washington.
President Bush makes his final case for the war strategy in Iraq before the country's historic election. We'll take a closer look at the speech today.

And as the Iraqi election approaches, border guards snag a truckload of fake ballots, and there may be others out there.

ANNOUNCER: You're watching AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. We're glad you're with us here.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody.

M. O'BRIEN: It's 6:30 Eastern Time, bright and early.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes, it is.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

S. O'BRIEN: And cold, too. We're going to get to the weather in just a few moments.

First, though, another morning of heated testimony expected in Washington, D.C. over the government response to Hurricane Katrina. The mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana are both expected to appear on Capitol Hill.

Let's get right to AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken. He is in Washington this morning.

Hey, Bob, good morning.


And both can expect to get some, shall we say, adversarial questions from the members of this select committee. This is a committee, of course, that's surrounded in controversy.

Federal officials have had their time in the harsh spotlight of this committee, and now it's going to be time for the mayor and the governor.

Among other things, there's going to be a discussion about newly- released e-mails from the governor, Kathleen Blanco, which talk about advice that she got from one of her press advisories, talking about the kind of clothing she should wear, the type of spin that she should provide so she was not finessed by the administration.

Of course, that follows the release of e-mails from Michael Brown, who was the FEMA head, in which he described himself as a fashion god.

So, you can see that as the response has even slowed down more on Katrina on occasion, we can see that part of the reason, Soledad, is that this gets bogged down in politics.

S. O'BRIEN: Also, I imagine bogged down in politics, at least a little bit, is the White House e-mails, which Congress has requested. Where does that request stand?

FRANKEN: Well, there is a Democrat who is sitting in on the committee. Remember, the Democrats have not officially appointed members to this committee. Democrat Charles Melancon of Louisiana who is asking for a subpoena of White House documents. The White House, he says, is not cooperating, is stonewalling. Now the committee chairman, Tom Davis, says that he is going to have to decide what to do.

There's an advertisement that some of the residents of New Orleans has put out. And there were the words in here, "In the last three months we've become experts at waiting." We can see why.

S. O'BRIEN: A lot of people become experts at waiting. Bob Franken for us this morning. Bob, thanks a lot.

Lots of other stories are making news. Let's get right to Carol Costello for a look at those.

Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Good morning to all of you.

President Bush is making another speech on Iraq one day before Iraqis vote in parliamentary elections. That speech is coming in Washington later this morning. Administration officials say he will stress the need to train more Iraqi forces before withdrawing U.S. troops. CNN will have live coverage for you of the president's speech. That comes your way at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

In the meantime, fighting the war in Iraq could cost you even more money. Two lawmakers say the Pentagon is preparing to ask Congress for another $100 billion for war costs next year. The money would be in addition to the 50 billion Congress is about to send to the Pentagon. The request would push the price tag for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to nearly half-a-trillion dollars. The Pentagon also is reportedly behind a plan to place pro- American stories in overseas media reports. "USA Today" is reporting the program is costing about $300 million. It will use t-shirts and bumper stickers, in addition to newspaper stories. "USA Today" says a military official with the program says the pro-American messages would be placed without disclosing the U.S. government is behind the information.

Police in tiny, peaceful Woodstock, Connecticut, have arrested a man in connection with the death of a jogger. The body of Judith Nylan (ph) was found early Tuesday morning on the property of a performer who plays the character, Big Bird, on "Sesame Street." Police say the performer has absolutely nothing to do with her death. The suspect is scheduled to be arraigned later today. And as you might expect, murders rarely happen in that part of the world, such a peaceful, quiet place.

And apparently once the buffalo roam, they won't go home. About 75 buffalo escaped their pasture in Minnesota early today. Look at them. It's as big as the car -- the truck. Wranglers on ATVs and snowmobiles have been trying to corral them back ever since. The owner says the herd is mostly 800 to 900 pound cows, but it also includes five breeding bulls. And those suckers are big. They weigh a ton. That's 2,000 pounds each. The wranglers say they're hoping the herd will head back when they get hungry, because, hey, it's difficult to herd buffalo that weighs a ton.

Hey, Jacqui.


COSTELLO: You have experience with wrangling buffalo, don't you?

JERAS: Oh, yes, all the time back in the day.

COSTELLO: The day.

JERAS: I grew up in Minnesota.


JERAS: You see buffalo everywhere there -- not.


M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, the president's speech on the war in Iraq. Is the message getting across to the public? We'll go beneath the poll numbers with Bill Schneider.

S. O'BRIEN: Andy is "Minding Your Business" ahead. Still want your kids to buy an Xbox 360 for Christmas? You might be out of luck. We'll explain why ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, no. Really?

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, yes, really. M. O'BRIEN: Oh, no.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, the president is at the tail end now of a two- week hard sell for his policies on Iraq. And the question is, while many critics would say his speeches don't offer much new information, is it working with the American public? And some poll numbers would suggest it is.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider is in London this morning, and we'll explain why in just a moment. We'll leave that as a little bit of intrigue.

But in the meantime, let's look at some of the numbers. The latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll information would tend to indicate that people are listening to the president and believing what he says, right?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I wouldn't go quite that so far -- so far as that. I would say that his Iraq ratings have gotten a little bit of a boost. Last month, 35 percent approved of the way he was handling Iraq. Now it's 39 percent. But 59 percent still disapprove.

I would say he's getting some credit in the series of speeches he has given for being more realistic. He's talked about mistakes having been made, correcting course. And Americans appreciate the fact -- some do, many do -- that the president seems to be more realistic in his appraisal of the situation over there.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. The president even taking questions which seemed unscripted and unvetted at his last engagement, I think. Clearly the White House is sensitive to the notion that he's kind of in a bubble.

FRANKEN: Yes, that's right. He took some questions. He talked about the number of casualties on both the Iraqi and the American side. He seemed to state those facts very matter-of-factly, in fact. I'm using "fact" there a lot.

But the president seemed totally aware of the human cost of this war. And that, too, was part of this more realistic appraisal.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Another question we asked. How is Mr. Bush handling Iraq? That question, 39 percent now say they approve. Fifty-nine percent say they disapprove. It sort of matches those previous numbers.

And then there's another one. Does Bush have a plan that will achieve victory in Iraq? Thirty-eight percent say yes, 58 percent say no. What's the significance of those numbers?

FRANKEN: Well, that actually has gone down a bit over the last month. Last month, 41 percent thought he had a plan for victory. And here, the president presents a series of speeches, three so far. Behind him is the phrase, "plan for victory." His national security counsel produces a strategy for victory document. And now fewer people, fewer Americans say he has a plan that will win the war in Iraq.

Well, the whole point of these speeches has been to communicate to the American people that the United States is going to win in Iraq, whatever that means. And it's not entirely clear.

The theory behind it is, if Americans believe that the United States is going to win, then they'll be willing to support the effort and even tolerate these terrible casualties, because victory is in sight. But apparently, the president has not succeeded in getting that point across.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. Overall question of approval ratings for Mr. Bush on his handling of the job indicates 42 percent now approve, and that is a 5-point uptick from this previous period of time. Forty-two percent is not generally a good number, but the White House is probably happy to see it go in that direction.

FRANKEN: That appears to be not Iraq, but the economy. Americans are feeling better about the nation's economy. Gas prices have gone down a bit. Imagine, people are happy that they are still over $2.00, but they have gone down from what was once close to $3.00.

And the economy is chugging along. The number of jobs seems pretty good. Americans are feeling better about the economy. That improvement seems to be driven more by the economy than by Iraq. And as you mentioned, 42 percent is not a spectacular number, but it's just the right direction from the White House point of view.

M. O'BRIEN: And lastly, the reason you are in London, among other things, you were giving a talk, but you also had a chance to witness some Iraqi expats (ph) voting. Tell us about that.

FRANKEN: I went to an expatriate voting station here in London, and it was a remarkable sight -- people singing and dancing on their way to the polls. Whoever imagined such a thing?

They were really in a celebratory mood. They were all dressed up. They were in costumes. Children -- they brought their children there to show them what pride they took in casting their ballots. A little boy wrapped in an Iraqi flag holding up a purple finger.

When I interviewed people there and I asked them about whether they were -- what party they supported, whether they were Shiite or a Kurd, they all said the same thing: "I'm an Iraqi." They were making a statement not about the divisions of their country, or about parties or personalities, they said they were voting for their country. It was a statement of national pride.

And I should add, whenever there has been an election in Iraq, Americans are encouraged to believe that maybe, maybe that country will be a democracy, and the situation will improve. And the president gains confidence among the American people in his Iraq policy. M. O'BRIEN: All right, we'll watch the numbers after the election and see how that goes. Bill Schneider, thanks for being with us.

All right, we'll have the president's speech live here on CNN, 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, 8:00 Pacific.

S. O'BRIEN: Business news is just ahead. And Andy is "Minding Your Business."

What do you got?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Soledad, the Xbox 360 game console is sold out everywhere, except for one island. We'll tell you where that is.

Plus, Bob Dylan goes into space. You don't want to miss that. Stay tuned to AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: A little Coldplay this morning? You know, it is cold out, and maybe that...

SERWER: Is that why they're...

M. O'BRIEN: Is that it?

S. O'BRIEN: It all works.

M. O'BRIEN: Coldplay, cold morning. It's 4 here with the wind chill.

S. O'BRIEN: Degrees.

M. O'BRIEN: It's kind of a phony number, but it's 4.

SERWER: Oh, I thought you were talking about the time.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. It only feels like 4:00. It's after 6:00.

M. O'BRIEN: It's 4:00 on the West Coast.

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.


S. O'BRIEN: Lots to talk about this morning. Let's get right to Carol with an update on some of the news stories we're working on.

Good morning.

COSTELLO: Good morning. Good morning to all of you.

There is word this morning that federal air marshals may be expanding their role to keep you safe. A report in "The Washington Post" says special teams will start patrolling train stations and bus terminals, as well as ferry crossings. The report says the TSA wants to see how the marshals beyond just working on commercial jetliners.

The day before Iraqis vote on a new parliament, President Bush will be talking about his plan for victory again this morning. The president makes the last of four speeches aimed at building support for Iraq. He'll be in Washington today. CNN will have live coverage for you. His speech begins at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

The mayor of Houston, Texas, has a message for hurricane victims: There is just no more room at the inn. Houston found homes for about 100,000 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita evacuees, but the city is now putting up a no vacancy sign. The city is not issuing any new vouchers for its housing program.

Here's how the mayor put it:


MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON, TEXAS: Houston is getting full. We knew that we would reach this point in the early working group meetings that we had. Our apartment units are over 97 percent occupancy in our entire region, rapidly approaching 100 percent. So, we're making certain announcements today. And then, as part of this, I'll also call on FEMA to do certain concrete things.


COSTELLO: The Houston mayor wants FEMA to extend paying for refugee housing through next fall.

And quick fixing breakfast for just a second, because here is a story that will take your breath away. Take a look at this home video. Come on over here. Take a look. It's of a skydiving accident in Arkansas. Shayna Richardson, you see there? She's falling. She is the skydiver. Her parachute was not working the way it should, and, you know, you can say that's an understatement. She's pregnant. She actually learned that after going to the hospital after this incident. Talk about scary.

She made it through the ordeal and managed to talk with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."


SHAYNA RICHARDSON, SKY-DIVING ACCIDENT SURVIVOR: I don't remember hitting the ground. And they even said I was talking to people. After I landed, there were several bystanders who ran up, and I sat up and started talking and trying to get up. I don't remember any of that either.


COSTELLO: Maybe that's a good thing. Shayna is A-OK this morning. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" airs daily at 4:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. And you can hear more from this lucky woman. She will be a guest right here on AMERICAN MORNING in the 9:00 Eastern hour. Wow!

S. O'BRIEN: She hit the pavement. She landed in a parking lot, hit the pavement face first.

M. O'BRIEN: Fifty miles an hour.

S. O'BRIEN: Fifty miles an hour.

COSTELLO: And she looks absolutely fine, yes.

SERWER: She looks pretty good actually.

S. O'BRIEN: She looks great considering...

M. O'BRIEN: About 15 steel plates in there.

SERWER: Really?

S. O'BRIEN: And that was her second chute that failed to deploy. She had a chute that failed. Her second chute failed. And she said this was her first solo skydiving.

SERWER: I don't think she's going to do that again.

S. O'BRIEN: She says she is.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, she is.

SERWER: Oh, she is?

M. O'BRIEN: She is.

SERWER: Well, it will be interesting to hear from her later.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: I mean, that's pretty interesting stuff.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, she'll be interesting to hear from ahead this morning.

Business news now, though, first. The hunt is on for those elusive Xboxes.

Miles, do you want to listen to this?

M. O'BRIEN: I will be taking notes.

S. O'BRIEN: The hunt is on.

SERWER: Yes. Well, if you've been looking for one, Miles, you probably know, they're almost impossible to find the Xbox 360 game console made by Microsoft. It's pretty much sold out. It rolled out on November 22, and they've been selling like hotcakes, $400. You can get them on eBay. But, of course, they're way marked up. A lot of people don't like to do that. The company says it may be rolling out about 300,000 more. But most of those have been preordered. So, you're really going to be in a difficult situation.

Now, there is one place where you can get the Xbox, though. Are you listening, Miles?

M. O'BRIEN: I am listening.

SERWER: Japan. They're not selling...

M. O'BRIEN: I'm going.

SERWER: There you go.

S. O'BRIEN: Then there's that.

SERWER: They're not selling there. Well, you have to get a plane ticket. It might be actually more expensive than eBay.

They're not selling well in Japan at all. And that's probably because of customer loyalty to the Sony Playstation, which, of course, is made there. The new Playstation is not coming out until after Christmas. So buyers are probably holding back until next year.

M. O'BRIEN: So there's nationalism among gamers?

SERWER: We think so.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting.

SERWER: That is what the early indications are, as they say in the news business.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right.

SERWER: And then finally I want to tell you about Bob Dylan, who is going to be hosting an XM satellite radio show starting next year. That's right. Bob Dylan is going extraterrestrial. He will be playing music and answering e-mails. And the 64-year-old went electric 40 years ago this year. So, another step for the music superstar.

So, now it's Howard Stern, who is on Sirius, versus Bob Dylan on XM. Take your pick.

M. O'BRIEN: Daily?

SERWER: It's a weekly show for Bob.

M. O'BRIEN: Weekly.


M. O'BRIEN: A weekly show.

SERWER: Yes. So, it's a little different from Howard Stern.

S. O'BRIEN: I think that would be worth e-mailing Bob Dylan.

SERWER: He's going to be answering e-mails, right.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.


S. O'BRIEN: That would be really cool actually.


S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, DirecTV gets busted big time, a $5 million fine for violating the do-not-call list. Other companies. Up next, we're going to talk to the head of the FTC in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. A nice shot at just before the top of the hour.

Let's take a look at some of the stories at this morning.

The top story is this from Iran's leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying that the Holocaust -- he said this on Wednesday -- the Holocaust is a myth, apparently forgetting the six million Jews who were killed in Europe during the Nazi Holocaust in World War II. You'll recall just back in October he said that actually Israel should be wiped off the map, and then a little bit later also raised an outcry when he said, in fact, Israel should be transferred to Europe. That's a strange and bizarre suggestion.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, this is a man who, you know, some former hostages are convinced was one of the hostage-takers. This is a regime that seems hell bent on a nuclear program, if not weapons.

S. O'BRIEN: Big difference.

M. O'BRIEN: And now is sending fake ballots into Iraq. So, you know, put this all together.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. His predecessor was a moderate, and obviously we're seeing a big change in this new regime. So, this is the top story on

There's also another story for everybody who has been following this cell phone bandit.

COSTELLO: Oh, gosh! S. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, this young lady -- I don't know if we have a picture of her -- she now faces life in prison. She is 19 years old. And for knocking over four banks, she is looking at life in prison. She's...

COSTELLO: Supposedly her boyfriend arranged all of this, and they only got $48,000 out of this. I mean, is it worth your life?

S. O'BRIEN: Life in prison.

M. O'BRIEN: Here's the thing about that. Willie Sutton (ph) was the famous bank robber. He said he robs banks because that's where the money is. But the truth is that's where the hard time is. This is all federal offenses.

COSTELLO: You never get much money.

M. O'BRIEN: And you don't get that much. And it is hard time without a lot of latitude, because federal judges don't have that kind of latitude. So what a terrible thing.

S. O'BRIEN: Nineteen years old and her life is pretty much over.

M. O'BRIEN: Did you see the air marshal story? Did you see this thing? What do you think about this? Air marshals in bus stations.

COSTELLO: You know, there are only going to be two of them, though, for a bus station.

M. O'BRIEN: I know.

COSTELLO: And I'm just wondering how effective that will be.

M. O'BRIEN: Right.

COSTELLO: And I guess some of them you'll be able to tell it's them, because they're going to wear a jacket or something.

M. O'BRIEN: And they'll have bomb-sniffing dogs. That might be a tip-off.

But the idea is to redirect, redirect some of the air marshals to inter-modal transport, meaning...

S. O'BRIEN: It's been a complaint that people feel like...


M. O'BRIEN: Well, we don't even talk about it, yes.

COSTELLO: Aren't there a shortage of air marshals?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, no one knows how many they have. You know, that's a state secret, of course. So, we don't really know how many they have. And that is a legitimate question. Are there enough of them in the air? But the other issue is, where is the vulnerability? And you can say the ground transportation -- is this the way to address it? I don't know.

S. O'BRIEN: Who knows?

M. O'BRIEN: At least these guys, they get tired of flying. They probably deserve a break. And, you know, drive a bus.

COSTELLO: Well, they're going to continue to do that, too, aren't they? They are going to continue to be on planes.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, yes. It's a few that will be redeployed.

COSTELLO: And spread them around.

M. O'BRIEN: Redeploy in key cities.

COSTELLO: Interesting.

S. O'BRIEN: Not quite air marshal.

As we approach the top of the hour, let's get another check of the forecast for you.


JERAS: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts now.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Jacqui. I'm Miles O'Brien.