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American Morning

Questions on Capitol Hill About General Hayden; Embattled New Orleans Mayor Takes Fire Again; Texas Battered by Tornadoes

Aired May 10, 2006 - 07:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Instead of regular IRAs, some oil companies will have some of their tax incentives reduced to offset the loss of the $69 billion of tax revenues. So there you have it. That is your tax bill. And we don't have a comment from Britney Spears about what she thinks on this particular issue.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll work on it.

M. O'BRIEN: Good.

ANDY SERWER, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: No, but the AMT has crept into people who are...

M. O'BRIEN: It has.

SERWER: ... middle income because they haven't adjusted it.

M. O'BRIEN: It has and they've raised the threshold. So that is some good news stuff there.

S. O'BRIEN: Andy, thank you.

SERWER: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: A quick break, we'll be back in just a moment.


M. O'BRIEN: Checking our top story this is morning, severe weather in Texas. At least one twister touching down north of Dallas last night. Three are dead. New pictures coming to us as we speak from our affiliate WFFA. First light there. At least seven others injured. Six homes completely destroyed.

Parts of Florida still burning this morning -- large parts. More than 100 fires raging across the state. Heavy smoke forcing authorities to once again close down huge chunks of Interstate 95. Volusia and Brevard Counties where it is most trouble. They hope to reopen those sections about 90 minutes from now.

And embarrassment for the White House. Travel documents with specific details about the president's Florida trip found in a trash can, not shredded. Those documents are usually kept under wraps for security reasons, as you might suspect -- as you might hope.

Good morning to you. I'm Miles O'Brien. S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

The president's choice to head the CIA on Capitol Hill today, he's meeting with some key Senators. Several lawmakers have expressed concerns that the president wants a military man running a civilian agency.

Let's begin with Barbara Starr, talking with us from the Pentagon this morning.

Hey, Barbara. Good morning.


Well, still, yes. Questions on Capitol Hill about whether General Hayden, perhaps, should retire from the military before becoming CIA director if confirmed by the Senate.

Now, here at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying pretty much what you would expect, that he has no turf war, no battle with General Hayden. The people that say that they are at war are simply incorrect, according to the secretary, who spoke with reporters about all of this yesterday?


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yet, if you look at the debate and the articles in the newspaper and the comment that are being made, they are about theoretical conspiracies. They're about theoretical bureaucratic turf fights. They're all off the mark.


STARR: But, Soledad, that turf fight is really about who controls billions of dollars in intelligence spending, of course.

General Hayden back on the Hill today, expected to meet with Senator Arlen Specter, perhaps, one of the biggest critics of the National Security Agency's Domestic Surveillance Program that General Hayden once headed. So look for a little bit of news out of that.

And, again, perhaps more discussion from the Hill about whether Senators believe General Hayden should retire from the military before moving over to the CIA. -- Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: We heard from Secretary Rumsfeld just a moments ago He also made some pretty, I though, candid remarks about intelligence and Iran. What did he say?

STARR: Oh, it was quite interesting. He was quite candid on this point.

When asked why one should believe the intelligence about Iran, and its nuclear program, when, of course, the intelligence about Iraq proved to be so incorrect, so wrong. The secretary flat out said it was a matter of concern. He said when he looks at the situation about the faulty intelligence on Iraq, that he said you bet, it gives him pause. And he said that one had to be very careful about the intelligence about Iran and its nuclear program and its nuclear intent. -- Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us this morning.

Barbara, thanks a lot. -- Miles?

M. O'BRIEN: The embattled mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, taking fire once again with an election looming. The story from our CNN Gulf Coast correspondent Susan Roesgen. She joins us live now from New Orleans.

Susan, good morning.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles. Mayor Nagin says Doug Brinkley is just trying to sell books. But historian Brinkley says he's trying to find the truth.


ROESGEN (voice over): It was the week after the hurricane and New Orleans was under water. The Coast Guard, New Orleans police, even ordinary citizens were in boats and helicopters trying to rescue thousands of people trapped by the flood.

But where was New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin? City Hall was equipped to be the emergency operations center. But according to historian and author Doug Brinkley, Nagin was holed up there in the penthouse suite of the Hyatt Hotel.

In the new book "The Great Deluge," Brinkley says Nagin was overwhelmed by what was happening and, worse, he says Nagin was criminally negligent.

DOUG BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN & AUTHOR: Mayor Nagin hid up on the 27th floor of the Hyatt Hotel as far away from the morass and the anarchy as possible. He was putting -- in my opinion as a historian and doing research -- his personal safety and ego over people.

ROESGEN: Through a spokesman, the Mayor Nagin declined several requests to be interviewed for this story. But he told a local TV station he has no respect for Brinkley's work.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS MAYOR: The guy is obviously, you know, got a way of writing. You know? And I think he can get a job at the National Enquirer.

ROESGEN: The Mayor says Brinkley wasn't at the Hyatt Hotel with him and didn't know what went on there.

But six days after the hurricane hit, I walked up 27 flights of stairs and found the mayor in his suite overlooking the tens of thousands of stranded refugees at the Super Dome. NAGIN: You know, I keep trying to find resources. We're making calls. We are trying to find resources all across the country. I'm screaming at the -- excuse me. I'm screaming at governor and the president. You know? And the CIA could come in here any minute and wipe me out. So, but I'm going to keep doing it. And I'm going to stay here until people are out of here and the city is safe.

ROESGEN: Nagin angry about a meeting the day before, with Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and President Bush on board Air Force One.

Brinkley says that meeting led Governor Blanco to question Nagin's mental state. And he gave CNN this audio excerpt from his interview with the governor.


KATHERINE BLANCO, GOVERNOR OF LOUISIANA: When we met on Air Force Once, Nagin was just - he was falling apart. I mean, he was near a nervous breakdown.


ROESGEN: But others defend the mayor. New Orleans city councilwoman Jackie Clarkson was at the Hyatt for the first few days after the storm.

JACKIE CLARKSON, NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCILWOMAN: We all could have been criticized and we just did - there was no handbook. We just all did the best we could. So, I commend the mayor for the time that I was with him.

ROESGEN: Brinkley says Katrina called for courage and Nagin didn't show it.

BRINKLEY: I understand what courage is about. And I've written about it. Mayor Nagin, that week, had zero courage and cracked.


ROESGEN (on camera): Well now, with the run-off election for mayor less than two weeks away, Miles, some people are questioning the timing of the release of this book. But Doug Brinkley says, hey, I was working on it long before Christmas. It has nothing to do with the mayor's race.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. I'm sure there will be accusations of political motivation there. Susan Roesgen, in New Orleans, thank you very much.

Let's check back on the weather. Chad Myers has that.

Hello, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hello, Miles. It's going to be kind of an ugly day across a lot of the country today. I mean there's going to be a lot severe weather popping up. And we're even seeing some weather now into Nashville. We'll zoom here, now, moving toward Hendersonville.

Here's a live shot. Well, it was a live shot. You could actually see downtown about five minutes ago. Hard to see anything. I guess you can see the make out of the buildings there just a little bit. But raining very hard in Nashville this morning, expecting some slow downs there, especially ponding on the roadways up and down the freeway there.

As we get back out here to Little Rock on the way down to about Texarcana, and then a very big cell. This one has been rotating here, not that far from Durant, Oklahoma. There could be a tornado warning on that storm at any time.

So here we go, and here already early. When the sun comes out and heats up the wedge of air here, the warm sector of the storm, this area of the most severe weather.

The area in red will have severe weather. The area in the middle here, kind of painted in that pink there, that will be the heaviest area of severe weather. But certainly tornadoes possible, and probably probable, today. Had about seven tornadoes yesterday. There will be more than that today.


MYERS: And that's going to happen today, Soledad. It's going to kind of get ugly there in the central Plains.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, it sure sounds like it, Chad. All right, thanks for watching it.

MYERS: You bet.

S. O'BRIEN: Andy's minding your business, just ahead this morning.

What do you got?

SERWER: Soledad, I'm sure that you know, Sunday is Mother's Day. And it's coming up...

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, yeah. That's what -- I love Mother's Day.

SERWER: Yes, I'm sure you do. And we've got some good Mother's Day stories to tell you about jewelry, dining out with Mom.

Plus, Major League Baseball rolls out pink bats for Mother's Day. You'll want to see this. Stay tuned.


M. O'BRIEN: We have word of a border battle for you. No, it's not that border battle. This one is brewing over garbage. And it's another border entirely.

Concerns, now, that Canadian garbage, heading into the U.S., could possibly contain, not just dirt but dirty bombs. CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve explains.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michigan is making a stink over Canadian garbage. Trash picked up in Toronto is compacted into tractor trailer trucks, which hit the road for the U.S. border.

(on camera): Every day, about 350 of these trucks, crammed full of trash, come over bridges into Michigan.

(voice-over): About 700,000 tons of trash a year, all bound for U.S. landfills.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) MICHIGAN: We don't need trash from Canada. Canada should take care of their own bloody trash. It is that simple.

MESERVE: But Levin is concerned about more than garbage. He is concerned about security. He believes terrorists could conceal weapons of mass destruction in trash shipments and successfully smuggle them into the U.S. He cites a recent government report, which concludes "the likelihood of finding prohibited items is limited because compacted trash hinders the effectiveness of high-tech screening and low tech searches."

Trash filled trucks are run through radiation detection portals, twice in Toronto, and again at the U.S. border, where some trucks are pulled aside for a closer look, by customs agents, dogs, scanning machines.

A gamma scan recently revealed stowaways in a truckload of Styrofoam trays. Customs and Board Protection wouldn't show us the image of compacted trash. Levin does.

LEVIN: With trash it's just one black glob on the x-ray. There's no way to say, "Oh, look at that little black spot there. That's a biological weapon or that's a chemical weapon or that's an illegal drug." You can't determine it.

MESERVE: But Customs and Border Protection insists agents can use the scans.

ROBERT PEREZ, U.S. CUSTOMER AND BORDER PROTECTION: They are accustomed to seeing what those images of the waste should look like. If something isn't quite right, it will alerts to them to either look at it again, or more closely with that technology, or follow it to the municipal waste site.

MERSERVE: A very few trucks get that kind of inspection. As they unload, Customs agents poke around for illegal or dangerous items. Canadian officials say the theory of terrorists might conceal valuable weapons in trash trucks is, frankly, garbage.

DAVID MILLER, MAYOR, TORONTO: The idea that there's a security risk in Toronto's garbage is simply false. It's not true.

MESERVE: Canadians point out that toxic waste and other dangerous items come into their country from the U.S.

SHELLEY CARROLL, TORONTO CITY COUNCIL: The biggest problem facing the city of Toronto right now is young men killing each other. And they're killing each other with guns that were purchased legally in the United States. And find their way illegally across the border, northward. So if you want to talk about security, we've got an issue here.

MESERVE: On both sides of the border, the solution seems to be an old one. Don't throw your trash in my backyard.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Toronto, Canada.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. So why would Sumpter Township in Michigan want all that trash in the first place? Well, it's about the jack. It's $2 million in royalties, 65 percent of that Township's revenue comes from the trash.

S. O'BRIEN: Always about the jack...

M. O'BRIEN: Hence, it's all about the jack.

S. O'BRIEN: ... By the way, which segues very nicely in to the man that covers the jack.

SERWER: Yes. It's always about the Benjamin's. And there's big money in garbage. And it's been increasing over the years because we have to find a place to put it.

Shifting gears, here, completely, though, we're talking about Mother's Day coming up here, which, of course, is Sunday. And we want to talk about some of things you might be interested in buying mom.

Let's start off with jewelry. Gold prices going through the roof. Over $700 an ounce, a 25-year record. That means that costs to jewelers is up about 30 percent over the past year.

Now, they say they're not passing on all of those costs. Here we go again, with this stuff. They're only raising prices about 10 to 20 percent, OK?

M. O'BRIEN: So is this the Exxon Mobil gold division? Is this it?

SERWER: Sort of that like that.

U.S. consumers spent $18 billion on gold jewelry last year.

M. O'BRIEN: That's a big number.

SERWER: It is a lot of money. And so, Of course, if you are going to be looking for some bling for mom, dig deeper in your pocket.

Now, a lot of people go out to dinner on Mother's Day. In fact, for people who celebrate, six out of ten American households take mom out. Dinner is, of course, the most popular meal and the restaurateurs say it is the most popular day of the year to go out to dinner. So the average restaurant does more business that day than any other day.

M. O'BRIEN: So if you haven't booked your reservation...

SERWER: Forget about it.

M. O'BRIEN: Forget about it.

SERWER: Takeout for mom. Take out for mom. Here's some Chinese food for you.

And this is actually kind of the most interesting story, I think, of the morning in terms of Mother's Day, that is. Major League Baseball is going to be rolling out pink bats for Mother's Day. There they are, Louisville sluggers having a pick bat. This is for breast cancer awareness, the Susan G. Coleman Breast Cancer Foundation.

And a lot of major league Baseball players say they'll use them on Sunday, including Derrick Jeter, David Ortez, Jim Edmonds. And then they're going to sign them and auction them off.

S. O'BRIEN: That's so great. Good for them.

SERWER: I think they're really cool. I can't wait to see that. I'm really going to tune in on TV to see that.

M. O'BRIEN: To see Jeter with a pink bat.

SERWER: Pink bat.

M. O'BRIEN: He's in touch with his inner pink, obviously.

S. O'BRIEN: It pays. That pink's going to bring in some dough for the Susan G. Coleman Foundation.

SERWER: No, it's a great cause - a great cause.

SERWER: Pretty neat.

S. O'BRIEN: I knew I liked him.

M. O'BRIEN: You liked him before, the pink bats, though.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes, I did.

M. O'BRIEN: Other reasons to like Jeter.


S. O'BRIEN: Love that guy.

Hey, it looks like we're getting some really tough weather coming to us from Texas in the wake of these deadly tornadoes. We want to show you some of this new tape in Collin County, Texas.

Also, bring Chad in so he can talk a little bit about what we're seeing. Wow, you know what we're seeing there are just foundations, really, remaining, and not a whole lot else.

Tell us more about these tornadoes, Chad.

MYERS: Hard to tell without being on the ground, Soledad, what that building looked like before the tornado. If that was, in fact, a mobile home, this could still be an F-2 kind of tornado kind of damage.

But if - and the one on the left really did seem like a real structure, a real home, built on a foundation, with real sticks. That one right there. That looked like 2 by 4 walls and such. And if that's truly the case, then this would have to be a F-2, 3, maybe even a small F-4.

As they zoom out, I saw how wide the path of this was. Literally, it was like taking a buffer and buffering all the way across and taking everything out with it. It's also easier to tell, too, as the whether service crews go out how much of a tree is left. If the tree is stripped of its bark -- and that tree there looks like the dark is literally gone, leaving only white pieces in the middle - that can tell you F-3 or F-4 type damage.

This is one isolated super cell. It wasn't even in a tornado watch. But a tornado warning had been issued on this storm for 22 minutes when it arrived through this northern section here of Collin County.

Back to tape now. Hard to tell what the building is. There are a lot more buildings in this very long path, deadly Tornado. Three dead, six injured, and probably still an awful lot of cleanup to be done. And a lot of extra work today for people trying to clean up their lives, clean up their buildings, clean up their families.

And there you see -- I mean, so if the building there that we see to the left, that is damaged, was in fact a brick structure, obviously with walls. But if that was the same house that was damaged over there, this was clearly a F-3 to F-4 tornado.

Very wide; you can see how it scrapped -- it just scraped all the dirt. It scraped the grass off that path there to the right of where we're looking now, taking the right side of that very substantial home away there - Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Apparently, Chad, they're going door to door now to try to figure out if there are other casualties. And, of course, when the sun comes up, as you well know, that's really when you get a good picture of what's happened and also on the damage front and on the casualty front, as well. They've confirmed three dead, ten people taken to hospital. And they're just - I mean, look at the car it's just crushed under that. Wow.

MYERS: And we're going to have more tornadoes than this. There were seven tornadoes yesterday, Soledad. There may be 50 to 70 today. So, you know, and if you're in the upper Midwest - and I'll show you the zone here in a second - you really do need to keep a radio on. This is one of the days that you really need to be aware.

M. O'BRIEN: Chad, I'm kind of a broken record on this. But this occurred at a time when people were asleep. Is that correct?

MYERS: 10:30 central.

M. O'BRIEN: So many people had turned in.


M. O'BRIEN: Let's put in the pitch once more time for these weather radios, particularly in this part of the world.

MYERS: Yes, exactly. You can get them at Radio Shack. You can probably get them many other places. This is what it's called. But the technology that you want to find is s-a-m-e, SAME. It stands for the fact that you can program your county, and probably the county to your west in here.

Tornado warnings, flood warnings, especially if you live near a river, put the flood warning in here, too. You're probably going to need some kind of technical expert to get it. Sometimes the programming is difficult, but it's worth the read and it's worth -- the old warning system, the old boxes that we used to have, they used to go off - literally --

M. O'BRIEN: They would drive you crazy. They would.

MYERS: By the time the storm got to your house; you'd have kick it out to the hallway already and shut it off. They don't do that anymore. They only go off for you're county, the ones that you program and they're lifesavers. The $50 will save your life.

M. O'BRIEN: And what do we know, Chad, about the warnings in this particular one? When watches and warnings were issued in advance of these storm? Was it pretty good warning?

MYERS: Yes. It was. It was 22 minutes.


MYERS: The storm -- the warning went off at 10:08. The storm here, this is 10:30. The backside, the hook part of the storm, right there in Collin County, north of Anna, and that's when -- so they had 22 minutes' worth of notice before the storm actually hit the town.

And as we got back into the extra -- another county, east of there, they had more warning but the storm lifted by then.

M. O'BRIEN: A final thought here, this wreckage that we see here, this will help researchers, whatever, forecasters make some determination about what precisely happened there, how strong the storm was and whether that jives with the models. It's actually important for them to go through this.

MYERS: Absolutely. It was on radar. It was absolutely rotating and they knew it was rotating. The Doppler can sense rain drops going one direction and the other.

There you see the long path and there you see how the trees are stripped of leaves and bark and the ground there stripped of the grass. So there's a suction -- this at least 400 yards, 500 yards wide, as that path travels right on there, almost directly due east.

M. O'BRIEN: Chad Myers, thank you very much for walking us through that. Some tough pictures and a long road ahead for folks north of Dallas this morning.

S. O'BRIEN: And a long day ahead for people, as well.

M. O'BRIEN: Exactly.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad, thanks. We'll check in with you again this morning.

A short break and we're back right after this.


M. O'BRIEN: Deadly tornadoes rip a path of destruction through Texas, at least three are dead.

Part of a major interstate closed right now once again in Florida. A State of Emergency still in effect.

S. O'BRIEN: A criminal background checks on prom dates. Now, some high school seniors are going to have to go to the dance alone.