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American Morning

Wildfires in Yucca Valley; Bush & Merkel Off to Good Start; Pentagon Dumps Halliburton

Aired July 12, 2006 - 09:31   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm Miles O'Brien.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Brianna Keilar in today for Soledad.

Here is a look at what is happening this morning.

O'BRIEN: New fighting on a new front in the Middle East. This morning Israeli troops and tanks rolling into southern Lebanon, targeting Hezbollah fighters who kidnapped two kidnapped (sic) Israeli soldiers. Excuse me. Hezbollah likely to demand a prisoner exchange. Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, calling all of this an act of war.

KEILAR: A day after his unannounced visit to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in Iraq on a surprise visit. Rumsfeld is meeting today with U.S. troops and Iraqi leaders. And one of the things they're expected to discuss is how to reduce the increasing sectarian violence.

Attorneys for Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel say they will ask the U.S. Supreme Court today to overturn his murder conviction. The announcement comes just minutes -- came just minutes ago and Skakel is serving a possible life sentence for killing his neighbor when the two were teenagers.

O'BRIEN: Commuter trains running again in Mumbai, India, despite Tuesday's deadly attacks. At least 185 killed, 700 injured in those train bombings. Authorities suspect Islamic militants.

In Chicago, subway trains running as usual this morning following a derailment during last night's rush hour (INAUDIBLE), no terror threat here. Fire and smoke forced hundreds of commuters to evacuate and the -- so far just a few delays.

KEILAR: In California firefighters are evacuating dozens more people this morning as an out of control wildfire spreads. Flames have destroyed at least 30 homes and buildings in Yucca Valley, just east of Los Angeles. More than 1,000 people have already evacuated the area. The fire has so far burned 17,000 acres. And this is a good time now to take a look at our weather with Chad Myers. He is at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Chad, any good news perhaps? CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The winds are going to die off a little bit compared to yesterday. I guess that's something, but look at the heat already, Phoenix 91 and right up here, right up the Colorado River Valley and then back into the areas here, not that far from the fire, Yucca Valley now already 87 degrees and going up to probably around 105 to 108, and that's without the fire.

You get the firefighters close to that fire, it is even going to feel hotter than that today. So the winds were gusting to 40 today, they shouldn't get that high today.


O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad.

Are German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Bush new best friends? Some say so. Mr. Bush headed to Germany right now. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joining us from Rostock, that's where Air Force One will be very shortly.

Good morning, Suzanne.


So President Bush is going to be spending two days in Merkel's hometown, part of a political courtship, if you will, that both the leaders believe will ultimately pay off.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): President Bush's outreach is part of a strategy aimed at improving U.S.-German relations, which soured over the Iraq war under Merkel's predecessor, Gerhardt Schroeder.

CHARLES KUPCHAN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: There was no personal chemistry at all. With Merkel, there seems to be not just an agreement on policy, but a friendship that is developing.

MALVEAUX: That friendship is considered key to Mr. Bush's influence in the larger Europe.

KUPCHAN: Bush has focused on Germany, now that Chancellor Merkel is in office, as the key link to Europe.

MALVEAUX: Not only is Merkel Germany's first female chancellor, but she is the first to come from the former communist East Germany. Like Mr. Bush, she operates from the political right and identifies with his focus on freedom.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm talking to a very sophisticated leader who knows what it's like to live in a world that isn't free.

MALVEAUX: Unlike President Bush, Merkel is wildly popular at home, enjoying an 80 percent approval rating. Merkel has also scored points at home for publicly criticizing the Bush administration, specifically over the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

KUPCHAN: Merkel can only go so far in appearing to be a close ally of the president.


MALVEAUX: Because of course the Iraq war remains highly unpopular here. But Germany is taking the lead when it comes to Iran, backing President Bush's call to get tough, possibly sanctions if Iran does not abandon its nuclear ambitions -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux, in the middle of a construction project there in Rostock, Germany, thank you very much.

Growing fears in Phoenix this morning. Police searching for at least two separate serial killers. CNN's Rick Sanchez with more.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's what happened here at this car wash, and here at this back alley, and here at this bus stop that has so many Phoenix residents on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's scary. And they're right around where I work. So it's unbelievable to me. Every time I walk around the garage, I'm looking over my shoulders.

SANCHEZ (on camera): Residents in Phoenix are scared because there's a man in their midst who's both a serial killer and a rapist. Police say he's attacked 19 times since last summer. Five of his victims were murdered. Police aren't saying how many were raped.

SGT. ANDY HILL, PHOENIX POLICE: And what he's actually done is presented himself in such a way that he was non-threatening at first, or in such a way that people just kind of hold off for a moment. They don't feel threatened at that moment.

SANCHEZ: So that's his M.O., he comes up almost nonchalantly?

HILL: In most cases.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Sergeant Andy Hill has been after the so- called "baseline rapist" since last summer. This is what he says the rapist looks like. It's an artist rendering. The hair may be a wig, a disguise to throw off police. There's also this grainy black and white taken at one of the many crime scenes. Sergeant Hill took us to the site of the first killing.

(on camera): This was the last place he was seen.

HILL: Right.

SANCHEZ: So for all we know, he could have come up and just picked her up and said, hey, do you need a ride?

HILL: Don't know. He could have been hanging around a little bit. He might have been just talking to her. We don't know. But at some point he felt that again he had the opportunity to go ahead and abduct her, which he did.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Eight miles away, in a back alley, Sergeant Hill explains to us how a husband and wife were murdered.

(on camera): Over here, he killed Mr. Chou (ph)?

HILL: Correct. This is where his body was found.

SANCHEZ: Right in that area right over there?

HILL: That's correct.

SANCHEZ: But then he took her in the car and drove away?

HILL: Right, to another location where she was found murdered in that vehicle.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): And his most recent killing.

HILL: She was in the midst of her business at the car wash and however he started, we know that the suspect somehow begins to have some kind of contact. He then decided at what point he was going to do it, but he pulled a brazen attack and just rushed her and took her.

SANCHEZ: A serial rapist/killer on the loose is bad enough for one city, but it gets even worse. Phoenix is coping with two other crime sprees. Two months ago, someone started shooting people at random as they walked or rode their bicycles. Thirteen people so far, including this man, who's too scared to show his face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden I heard a loud blast and I realized I got hit with something.

SANCHEZ: Then there's another series of shootings that began more than a year ago. Twenty-five people shot, four killed. Could both shooting sprees be the work of the same person?

Police now concede they may be.

COMMANDER BILL LOUIS, PHOENIX POLICE: And we are now of the opinion that this is one series that began in May of 2005.

SANCHEZ: With temperatures hovering at 115 degrees in Phoenix, the real heat is squarely on police to solve simultaneous crime sprees that may be the worst in the city's history.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, Phoenix.


KEILAR: Imagine spending half your life behind bars for a crime you didn't commit. That's exactly what happened to a New York man wrongly accused of rape. He spent 22 years in prison and was released last week after DNA testing finally cleared him. So what's it like to be free again? Alina Cho here with the answer to that question.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brianna.

You know, Alan Newton was just 22 years old when he was convicted of raping a woman. He's 44 now, a lot has changed. Newton is learning there's a whole new world out there and getting used to it is going to take some time.


CHO (voice-over): Alan Newton says life is great. He's savoring it. Not day-to-day, but moment to moment.

ALAN NEWTON, WRONGFULLY CHARGED: It's like stepping into a commercial, you know, or a movie, because from what I see out here now is what I've been seeing on TV for 22 years.

CHO: That's how long Newton was locked up for a crime he didn't commit. In 1984 he was convicted of raping a woman after the victim identified him in a photo. More than two decades later, DNA testing, not available at the time of his trial, finally cleared him. And last week, Newton walked out of prison a free man, not looking back, he says, but moving forward.

NEWTON: I put that anger away. I can't grow with it. It would eat me up, tear me up inside and it would make me a frustrated person. You wouldn't want to be around me.

CHO: These days, everyone wants to be around Newton. Perfect strangers.

NEWTON: Thanks for your concern.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry you wasted so many years.

NEWTON: OK, but I'm back now.

CHO: And old friends from high school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad you're home, baby.

NEWTON: Thank you.

CHO: Newton says all of this attention takes some getting used to. First order of business, at age 44, getting a new birth certificate to replace his prison ID.

(on camera): How does it feel to have that?

NEWTON: I feel alive again.

CHO (voice-over): Next, Newton takes a trip to ground zero.

NEWTON: This is devastating.

CHO: He watched the events of September 11th unfold on television behind bars. He worked at the World Trade Center for what was then the New York Telephone Company. Much has changed. The little things, he calls them, like cell phones and BlackBerrys. They didn't exist back then.

(on camera): So, do you know how it works though?

NEWTON: No, I don't.

CHO: You've not really seen this, OK, so I'll show you.

(voice-over): When we take him to the mall, he's immediately drawn to the cars. Everything is bigger and faster, he says, and more expensive.

NEWTON: A pair of pants $125? Times have definitely changed.

CHO: Technology, the economy, even the coffee. He's heard about Starbucks but he's never tried it, until now.

NEWTON: Cappuccino. First time for everything.


CHO: For the record, he said it tasted like a milk shake. Now another first for him. For the first time in 22 years, Alan Newton will celebrate a birthday outside of prison. He turns 45 in just a couple of weeks, August 1st. In the near term he plans to get a driver's license, find an apartment, and look for a job. Down the road he hopes to finish college and maybe even go on to law school.

Brianna, he told me that he believes there are many, many more innocent people who are still in prison.

KEILAR: Such an amazing story. Thank you so much for that report, Alina -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: The Army has some bad news for folks at Halliburton. Andy will explain, "Minding Your Business."

And next, comedian Lewis Black in the house, and he's angry, but at whom? Safe to say nothing is sacred with him. Stay with us.





BLACK: And that's all I got to say.


BLACK: Isn't it great that we've reached that point? You don't even have to say "Dick Cheney, the vice president who shot his friend in the face while hunting."


BLACK: "Dick Cheney," everybody goes wha-ha! And we move on.



O'BRIEN: A little short-hand humor, it's kind of convenient. You know, better use of time. Anger, hyperbole, and general outrage, stock and trade for comedian Louis Black who you probably see on "The Daily Show" ranting here and there. He is here to plug his book, shamelessly, well maybe not so shamelessly.

BLACK: No, shamelessly.

O'BRIEN: Shamelessly, OK. Called "Nothing Sacred," it is now out in paperback. It's going to sell millions. He's here now.

Why do I need this book? I've got a lot of books on my desk. Why do you need this one?

BLACK: Well, you need that one because, you know, I haven't -- really, no one needs a book, you know, really. If I could download it into you, I would do it. I would just skip this.

O'BRIEN: Just sort of like the Dick Cheney thing.

BLACK: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: Just -- boom, just get it right in there.

BLACK: Now, it's just -- it's a book really for people who wonder why there's a group of adults of my generation, like Dick Cheney and George Bush and a number of guys who I sit next to in planes, and then a group of people like myself, and I basically -- we know why Dick Cheney and George Bush are what they're like. I mean, George Bush, who thinks he's from Texas, actually is from Connecticut, and he's a preppie.

And someone like myself comes from a completely different planet and I try to explain what that planet is.

O'BRIEN: Yes. What happened to you anyway along the way?

BLACK: It started with the bomb shelters, when you're...

O'BRIEN: Too much time in them?

BLACK: Well, no, my parents couldn't build one, because we're Jewish and they're not that mechanical. So like 7, 8, 9, when they started showing those pictures of the bombs going off, the atom...

O'BRIEN: Yes, the "duck and cover" stuff. BLACK: The "duck and cover," the atom bomb. And they would show things blowing up and then they'd say -- you know, so people in our neighborhood started building these bomb shelters in their back yard.

My family, the idea was that we would go into the basement together and stay there for two weeks until there was an all clear signal. And so that was when I began to realize something was desperately wrong because I didn't know what was worse, which was to die in the atom bomb or be with my family in a confined space for two weeks.


O'BRIEN: Either way you got problems.

BLACK: Either way it was terrible.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Let's -- you're angry, right? Is that for real or is that part of an act?

BLACK: No, I think there's a part of me that's -- I mean, I think it's tough to wake up every day with a big, boy, this is going to be the -- I mean, I try. I wake up and go, this will be a great day.

O'BRIEN: Maybe this will be it.

BLACK: Yes. I mean, and then I open the paper and it's over! Twenty minutes.

O'BRIEN: Just like that.

BLACK: Well, actually, it depends. My baseball team loses or I have got to make a reservation for something, I make a call or I just read the front page and then as a comedian, there are 30 things that I'll have to talk about because it used to be there was one thing to talk about. I mean, you guys, it's every -- it's like you have seen it.

O'BRIEN: It's kind of a barrage.

BLACK: It's out of control.

O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you this, though. Serious stuff these days, right? Is it harder to make comedic hay out of this?

BLACK: Well, now that it's reached a point of epically serious psychosis, no. It's pretty easy.

O'BRIEN: The bigger it is, the easier it is to make fun of.

BLACK: Well, when you figure that six weeks ago there was no problem with immigration and then you wake up the next morning and they're going, there are Mexicans everywhere! Run! Hide! You have kind of got to go, something is nuts, you know? And that as a comedian I talked to you about Halliburton for a long time and then we just said that we're going to have that story, I guess, I don't know if it came up yet.

O'BRIEN: It's coming up in a minute, yes.

BLACK: Yes. That Halliburton -- which is basically -- it lost 300 -- couldn't keep track of $300 million in Iraq without having to negotiate their contract. I mean, this stuff is writing itself. Now they're down $1 billion and now the government goes, well, maybe we should do something about this.

O'BRIEN: So really it makes it easy for you, all this.

BLACK: In a lot of ways it's become easier and a lot of ways its harder because I can't keep up. I wake up, one thing is in the paper.

O'BRIEN: So you are stressed just trying to keep going.

BLACK: I can't keep up with it. And I feel badly because everybody says I'm very topical. And I feel like I'm weeks behind.

O'BRIEN: It's hard these days. News moves fast.

BLACK: News moves fast and you guys -- and let me say this to CNN, you guys have got -- wherever this camera is, you guys have got to start, take the thing off the bottom of the page. You don't have -- take the words off the bottom of the screen! There are people talking here! Anger management, did you need it explained to you?

O'BRIEN: I don't think you like the crawl, is that right?

BLACK: I hate the crawl. It started 9/11, there's no need for it. They're missing -- here's who's talking. We don't want to you read, do we? We want to you hear you so we can wander around the house.

O'BRIEN: Pay attention to this man. Lewis Black. The book is "Nothing Sacred" out in paperback. Thanks for coming by.

BLACK: My pleasure. I hope they get rid of that.

O'BRIEN: All right. We'll get right on it.

KEILAR: All right. "CNN LIVE TODAY" is coming up next. Daryn Kagan is with us now.

What are you working on, Daryn?

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: What a powerful man, they took the ticker off.

KEILAR: I know, I think it is the first time that's happened.

KAGAN: But I'm wondering, who is Lewis Black's team? He said his baseball team loses. Did he leave?

KEILAR: I'm not sure what that is.

O'BRIEN: What is it?

BLACK: You can buy my team.

KEILAR: Apparently there are several. Team Black is large.

BLACK: The Nationals and the Orioles.

O'BRIEN: The Nationals and the Orioles he says. That's a problem.


O'BRIEN: Sorry.

KAGAN: Sorry about that. Maybe second half will go better for him.

OK. On a more serious note, coming up on "LIVE TODAY," talk of war from Israel. Israeli forces now fighting on two fronts to free captured soldiers. We'll have a live report from Jerusalem.

Also, live coverage from Chicago on a commuter nightmare. Details of a train derailment. The accident sent hundreds of passengers scurrying for safety through a dark, smoky tunnel. Join us at the top of the hour for more on those stories. Of course, any breaking news, you're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

Brianna, back to you.

KEILAR: Thank you, Daryn. And up next, Andy is "Minding Your Business" -- Andy.


Halliburton, we are in fact going to be talking about that coming up, the hot water is getting hotter and deeper. We'll tell you about that coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: What's going on on Wall Street, Andy?

SERWER: Let's go find out, Miles, go down and see what the Big Board has to tell us this morning, down a little bit, about 5 points, those Dow Jones industrials are. FYI, the Indian stock exchange, surprisingly perhaps to you, is up almost 3 percent today in the wake of those terrible bombings. I guess terror maybe has become the norm in a sense around the globe.

O'BRIEN: Maybe they're just making a statement, look, we're here, we're not going to be afraid. I'm reading stuff into this but I don't know.

SERWER: Yes, well, yes. And there's one big company, Infosys, that announced great results there. And now we want tell you about Halliburton, a story in The Washington Post this morning saying that the military will be discontinuing a multibillion-dollar deal with this company. Of course this is the deal that Halliburton has with the armed forces to feed, shelter and provide communications for soldiers in Iraq.

Audits, of course, have turned up what now amounts to $1 billion of questionable costs, some of the issues raised include the $45 case of soda, soldiers bathing in contaminated water, and double billing for meals. The company, Halliburton, vigorously denies those allegations still.

The armed forces, according to The Post, confirm that this one contract will be broken up into three, three different contracts with three different companies. Halliburton will be allowed to bid on one of those pieces and there will be a fourth company to oversee the other three, which sounds like we could be heading into another bit of a problem there.

O'BRIEN: That sounds like a prescription for trouble. Is it open bidding at this point? Will the contract bidding process...

SERWER: It seems that way, given that there will be different companies bidding on these pieces. According to one audit, the company -- the armed forces, excuse me, spent $7 billion, paid Halliburton $7 billion in '05 and is expected to pay them $4 billion this year.

So we are talking about a lot of money, and of course, this has been a very, very controversial point for the military.

O'BRIEN: And there aren't many companies that will do this. That's for sure.

SERWER: Yes, you're not going to have dozens of them.

KEILAR: People asking how do you lose track of $1 billion?

SERWER: Yes, well, you start with four, I guess. You know, it's hard to explain, Brianna.

O'BRIEN: I'd like to try sometime, just give it to me, see if I can lose track.

SERWER: Just give the rounding error, that's all I'm saying, right?

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Andy Serwer.

SERWER: Thanks, Miles.

O'BRIEN: A short break, we'll be back in a moment.