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American Morning

Charting a New Course; Democratic Leadership; Mideast Reacts to Vote

Aired November 13, 2006 - 8:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Searching for solutions. President Bush meeting right now with a group trying to find a new path for peace in Iraq.
If it walks like a duck -- the outgoing Congress goes back to work today, but what can the lame-duck legislature really accomplish?

And a dream delivered. A new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. takes a giant leap forward today in Washington, the latest entry on the National Mall. And the star-studded ceremony gets it all started on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning to you. It is Monday, November 13th.

I'm Miles O'Brien.

And Alina Cho is here.

Good to have you with us.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be here. Thank you, Miles.

You know, Soledad is making her way to the King memorial groundbreaking ceremony in Washington right now. She is co-hosting that monumental event.

CNN will have live coverage in just about an hour.

M. O'BRIEN: We begin with some news, though, right at the White House, and a big meeting today to find solutions in the fight for Iraq. Here's what's happening this morning.

President Bush and his foreign policy team will meet with the Iraq Study Group. That meeting set to begin right this moment. The group is led by former secretary of state James Baker, a trusted adviser to both Bush administrations, and Lee Hamilton, the former co- chair of the 9/11 Commission.

There's also talk of involving Iran and Syria to help solve the region's problems. British prime minister Tony Blair is backing that idea in a speech today.

The Democrats, about to take control of Congress, are floating their ideas for Iraq, including a phased withdrawal of troops in the next four to six months. The White House is rejecting that plan offered by Senator Carl Levin, who will head the Senate Armed Services Committee in the new Congress.

CNN's Kathleen Koch live from the White House to put it all together for us.

Kathleen, good morning.


That last idea very much still opposed by the Bush administration. It was advanced over the weekend by Senator Carl Levin on the Sunday morning talk shows, saying that basically it's time to let Iraq know that the U.S. involvement is not open-ended and that a phased deployment should begin in four to six months.

Now, another non-starter is that idea that you mentioned that will be advanced later today by British prime minister Tony Blair in a speech that would bring both Iran and Syria into these very dicey discussions about what to do with the continuing war in Iraq. Gordon Jondro (ph) a spokesman for the National Security Council, said that Iran and Syria first, though, have to stop meddling in Iraq, providing weapons and providing money to insurgents there before the U.S. can even begin considering opening discussions with them.

Now, still, over the weekend, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten insisted the White House is open to discussions about changing its policy in Iraq.


JOSH BOLTEN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Everybody's objective here is to succeed in Iraq. I think that's true of Democrats, as well as Republicans.

What the president has said is that we need to get fresh eyes on the problem. We need a fresh perspective. And that's why he has asked his Pentagon, General Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, conducting a review of all of our options in Iraq. He's asked his other national security agencies to do the same.


KOCH: Now, the president's meeting with the Iraq Study Group beings right now at this hour. And according to Jondro (ph), it will take the shape of a conversation. He says that the White House is very interested in having a dialogue with the Iraq Study Group, just as the bipartisan group is very interested in hearing what the president and members of his cabinet have to say -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Kathleen Koch at the White House.

Thank you -- Alina.

CHO: Democrats are getting ready to take the reins of power in the House of Representatives. They're trying to figure out who should take the lead. Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi is supporting Congressman John Murtha as her number two. CNN's Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill for us this morning.

Dana, good morning.


And, you know, Nancy Pelosi did not have to get into this struggle over who will be the next majority leader, who will be her number two. She could have easily decided to sit on the sidelines. Instead, she released a surprise letter last night that she wrote to Jack Murtha saying she wants him by her side. And she said the main reason for that is because she believes that Jack Murtha is a key reason Democrats took the majority.

You remember last year Jack Murtha rocked Washington by becoming one of the first leading hawkish voices to say it's time to get out of Iraq. Well, Nancy Pelosi said in that letter that that changed the national debate, helped Democrats make the issue a political issue, a winning one for them in the election.

And she said in her letter, "Your strong voice for national security, the war on terror and Iraq provides genuine leadership for our party. I am pleased to support your candidacy for majority leader for the 110th Congress."

Now, that is not welcome news for the man who is currently Nancy Pelosi's number two, Congressman Steny Hoyer. He has been working for months to try to lock up enough votes to be the next majority leader. But a lot of this is about personal relationships.

And Steny Hoyer certainly has a workable relationship with Nancy Pelosi, but it is also known to be frosty. At the same time, Pelosi and Jack Murtha are very close. Murtha is one of her closest confidants. And that is a point that Steny Hoyer made in a statement he released in response to this last night.

He said, "Nancy told me some time ago that she would personally support Jack. I respect her decision as the two are very close."

Now, this might be about personal relationships. It might be perhaps -- it might sound a little bit like inside the beltway or inside baseball. But it also could be, Alina, a signal as to how the Democrats are going to take the Iraq debate going forward and how it's clear from this Nancy Pelosi wants to make Iraq still central, not just the campaigning, but governing -- Alina.

CHO: It's clear that Iraq will be front and center.

You know, I'm curious. Pelosi and Murtha, as you mentioned, are close friends. They've known each other for 20 years. And loyalty is very big for Pelosi. But I'm just wondering, even with her support, does Murtha have enough votes to win?

BASH: You know, Steny Hoyer and his aides say that they believe he is in good shape, that he has locked up a lot of votes, he is considered a frontrunner. But the thing to keep in mind is, you never know.

This Pelosi endorsement could throw a wrench in it, and this vote is secret. This is a secret ballot. It takes place on Thursday. So you really never know until after it's done.

CHO: All right. Dana Bash on Capitol Hill for us.

Thank you very much, Dana.

BASH: Thank you.

CHO: More violence in Iraq today. A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a bus in northeastern Baghdad. Ten people were killed. This, after Iraqi police found 22 bodies on the streets of Baghdad on Sunday. A high-ranking Iraqi official tells CNN nearly 1,500 bodies were taken to Baghdad's central morgue last month.

To the west, in the Anbar province. Three American soldiers were killed over the weekend. And so far this month 29 members of the U.S. military killed in Iraq. 2,847 have died since the war began -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Some staunch Iraq war allies telling the U.S. it is time to talk with Syria and Iran to try to end the fighting in Iraq. Prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and John Howard of Australia say the U.S. should engage those countries to secure a broader Middle East peace agreement.

Meanwhile, in Iran, they are still assessing last week's U.S. election and the message they believe it sends to the world.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is there.


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It started at the end of October in the Persian Gulf with U.S.-led naval exercises aimed at stopping the smuggling of nuclear weapons. Days later, Iran responded, defensive war games were launched, three new missiles were test-fired, and tensions being Washington and Tehran seemed set to intensify.

But then something changed. The Democrats took control of Congress. It was a moment Iran's supreme leader simply could not ignore.

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER (through translator): The winning of Democrats in the U.S. elections is not solely a domestic event of America. It means the failure of pro-war and aggressive policies of the president of America.

RAMAN (on camera): You do get the sense here that tensions have simmered down just a bit. But of course, we want to find out from the people as best we can. We're going to ride one of these buses around Tehran and see what they say.

(voice over): On board, women are relegated to the back, separated by a bar. None were willing to speak with us.

But up front, Hamdi (ph) did. "Yes, of course," he told me, "the Democrats' win in the U.S. gives hope because the Republicans' confrontational policy may be pushed aside."

And along the ride even came this, a call from Babak (ph) for reconciliation between Iran and the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they make any relationship, it means economy in Iraq is getting better and the condition for the people, it's getting better. And the people, they want -- they want to make a relationship between Iran and America.

RAMAN: It's a long shot. The U.S. still considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism. And some analysts believe Iran could grow more, not less defiant after the Democrats' victory. It's not the talk of countries coming together, but not enough to discourage some in Tehran who right now see a chance for peace and are hoping it will pan out.


M. O'BRIEN: That was CNN's Aneesh Raman reporting from Tehran -- Alina.

CHO: Happening this morning, a major setback in the plan to sanction North Korea for its nuclear program. South Korea is refusing to take part in a U.S.-led plan to intercept North Korean ships suspected of carrying nuclear arms, worried the move could lead to an arms conflict.

Insurgent violence has reached a new high in Afghanistan. The number of attacks is up fourfold in the last year with more than 600 attacks a month. The violence has killed 3,700 people in Afghanistan this year.

Hundreds of homes are threatened by a wildfire in southern California this morning. One hundred homes have been evacuated.

The fire is burning in Lake Elsinore. That's about 75 miles east of Los Angeles. So far 125 acres have burned. Firefighters now have it 30 percent contained.

And a Los Angeles man is due in court today, accused of sending threatening letters to politicians and celebrities. The FBI says Chad Conrad Castagana (ph) -- I'll get it right -- mailed letters filled with white powder to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and TV host David Letterman, and Jon Stewart, among others. The powder turned out to be harmless.

M. O'BRIEN: Just steps from where -- excuse me -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, groundbreaking today for the memorial dedicated to him. It is on the National Mall in Washington between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, along the Tidal Basin. It is the first monument to an African-American on the National Mall. Four acres, multi-millions raised. About 5,000 people, including the president. And the former president Clinton will be at the ceremony this morning.

And CNN's live coverage of the groundbreaking ceremony is about 50 minutes away. It is co-emceed by Soledad O'Brien, normally seen sitting where Alina is sitting this morning.

We're very proud of her.

CHO: A high honor for her. Soledad, Oprah, Bush, Clinton.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

CHO: It will be...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, she belongs in that club.

CHO: Yes, that's right. She certainly does.

All right. Just ahead, President Bush reaches back in an effort to go forward. He's tapping some of the top minds from his father's administration. What does it mean for father and son and for the country?

And how far would you go to avoid breast cancer? One woman's drastic step to reduce her risk, that's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHO: Some of the top stories we're following this morning.

The lame-duck Congress reconvenes in Washington today for the first session since Democrats won back the House and the Senate.

And Democratic Congressman John Murtha is getting a big recommendation in his run for House Majority Leader. Murtha's office says House speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi is supporting Murtha over Maryland congressman Steny Hoyer.

All right. It's about a quarter past the hour. If you're heading out the door, you want to know what the weather will be like, Chad Myers is our man for that. He's at the CNN weather center with more.

Hey, Chad. Good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: A little bit wet across the West and snowy, as well.


M. O'BRIEN: The Bush White House getting some help from the Bush White House. The Iraq Study Group filled with members of the senior Bush administration. They're meeting as we speak with the current administration officials to try to see a path cleared to getting those troops out of Iraq in some sort of face-saving way.

Have you seen the "Newsweek" cover this week? Take a look at this. There's a long article in there. "Father Knows Best," it is. You see the senior Bush in the foreground and the son in the background.

Sally Quinn of "The Washington Post" joining us -- sister publication of "Newsweek," joining us from our D.C. bureau to talk a little bit about this.

Sally, good to see you on the program, as always.


M. O'BRIEN: I want to read just a little excerpt of this piece for folks and just to give you the gist of it. I think people get the idea just by seeing "Father Knows Best." But let's press on.

"These are 41's men. The removal of Rumsfeld, an ancient rival of Bush Senior's, from the Ford days, is a move toward the broad middle. The apparent triumph of pragmatism over ideology in Iraq was welcome news, at least to the public."

And, of course, 41, we're referring to the senior Bush.

How much of this is a real kind of a father-son struggle, do you think?

QUINN: I think it's an enormous father-son struggle. And I think that Bush 41 must be very conflicted right now. This has got to be a bittersweet moment for him, because he really has tried to help his son and gently advise him. And it just seems as though the president has not wanted to take his father's advice. And this has gotten more and more difficult over the last few years.

I know that the Rumsfeld situation has been a problem for six years because senior Bush did not like Rumsfeld and didn't think he should be the secretary of defense. And, in fact, right before 9/11, I think that Bush 43 had decided to get rid of Rumsfeld. And then 9/11 happened and the rest is history. But I think that once Bush, the president, lost the House and the Senate, I think he realized that he couldn't do without his father's help, particularly...

M. O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you this. Do you think that over the course of the Bush presidency there's been more of a dialogue between father and son than has met the eye?

QUINN: I don't think -- I think that they talk a lot on the phone, but, I mean, at one point Bush said -- somebody said, "Well, what do you tell him about the war in Iraq?" He said, "I tell him I love him."

And I know that they talk a lot on the telephone...

M. O'BRIEN: It's a nice sentiment, but it's not very good advice for the war in Iraq, is it? QUINN: Right. Right.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

QUINN: But I just have a feeling that it was clear to the father that the son -- clearly, he made Rumsfeld secretary of defense -- that the son did not want his father's advice on a lot of these things, and certainly didn't listen to his father's advisers. I mean, Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker were there in the wings, and Scowcroft was even vociferous about how he felt about the war in Iraq.

And it was kind of this whole attitude of "my way or the highway," and, you know, I felt the other day watching Bush that he was almost relieved in a way about losing the House and the Senate. I know that sounds weird, but it was as though, OK, now I really have permission. I can take my father's advice.

And also, that it's not all on him anymore. It's not all on the Republicans. The Democrats are going to have to take a lot of the responsibility now.

M. O'BRIEN: It's nice to share a little blame, isn't it, in some cases? And in this case, perhaps share some blame with his father.

I wonder why it took him so long to reach out this way. Did -- was -- did he have to have that election in order to prompt this?

QUINN: I think so. I think if the Democrats had not won the House and the Senate, that Rumsfeld would probably stay on, even though the Republicans were against Rumsfeld and wanted him out, because they've got 2008 to look forward to. And they see that the war becomes a bigger problem all the time.

I think the big loser here is Cheney, because Rumsfeld has been the face of the war for the last six years. And now with him gone and refusing to be the scapegoat, who are they going to look to? They're going to look to Cheney, because it's Cheney's war, too.

M. O'BRIEN: Only one scapegoat left, I guess, in some respects.


M. O'BRIEN: All right. Sally Quinn, with "The Washington Post."

Always a pleasure.

QUINN: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Alina.

CHO: Some of the stories we're following right now.

Live coverage of history in the making in Washington, D.C. Groundbreaking today for the new memorial dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My pal Soledad is co-hosting that event.

Also, a young woman breast cancer free takes a drastic step to ensure she stays that way. You'll want to hear this story.

Stay with us. AMERICAN MORNING will be right back.


CHO: In health news this morning, consider this: One out of every eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Now imagine having a family member with the disease. Your chances of getting it go up dramatically. So much so, one woman I met recently took matters into her own hands. She did the unthinkable to avoid getting breast cancer herself.


CHO (voice over): Lindsay Abner has her whole future ahead of her. But a year ago she received some news that changed her life.

LINDSAY AVNER, HAD PRE-EMPTIVE MASTECTOMY: My whole life and dream of what I wanted just shattered.

CHO: Doctors told her she had a defective gene that put her chances of getting breast cancer at 85 percent. Her mother, who is healthy now, was diagnosed with breast cancer when Lindsey was 11. Her grandmother and great grandmother both died from it before she was born. When Lindsay found out she was at risk, she imagined a lifetime of hospital visits and living in constant fear.

AVNER: Every single appointment, getting so hyped up beforehand, going, and then trying to calm myself down and just kind of take that sigh of relief that, OK, it's not cancer yet. I couldn't live like that.

CHO: So Lindsay, 23 and cancer free, made the unusual decision to have doctors remove both of her breasts, to take away what she called the ticking time bomb.

AVNER: I thought to myself, what are a few scars if this means kind of freeing my mind, as well as allowing me to live this rich, healthy, happy life?

CHO: Yet, she wondered, how would she look? Would she still be attractive to men? Her mom gave her some sound advice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I told her, you know what? She's a beautiful girl inside and out, and you know, she's going to make it.

CHO: Lindsay's doctor applauds her decision. She's had reconstructive surgery, and her chances of getting breast cancer are now one in 500. The self-described perfectionist has now learned to relax.

AVNER: OK, this isn't me as I was born, but I've never felt so comfortable in my own skin.

CHO: And her mother couldn't be more proud.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's my hero. She is.


CHO: I think they're each other's heroes.

You know, it is common among women at risk for breast cancer to also be at risk for ovarian cancer. And that is the case with Lindsay. But doctors say she won't have to worry about that until she's around 40. At that point, they say she should probably have her ovaries removed. But until then, they say, Miles, she can have as many children as she wants. She just won't be able to breast-feed.

M. O'BRIEN: Right.

CHO: But, you know, she says if there are two mountains to climb, she's climbed the first one, getting over breast cancer. Ovarian cancer is the next one, and she'll have to worry about that a little bit down the line.

M. O'BRIEN: Boy, talk about taking a problem head on and dealing with it and -- you know, what a great attitude about it.

CHO: Really courageous. You know, her mother wanted to do it years ago, and she said at the time no doctor would perform this.

M. O'BRIEN: They wouldn't do it?

CHO: They wouldn't do it.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. It's good they've come around on that.

CHO: That's right.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, Alina. That was an interesting story.

Some old toys, meanwhile, are getting a new look this holiday season.

Cheryl Casone is back with more on that.

Hello, Cheryl.

CHERYL CASONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm back. Etch-a-Sketch, did you have one?

M. O'BRIEN: Of course.

CASONE: Loved my Etch-a-Sketch.

M. O'BRIEN: Everybody has an Etch-a-Sketch, right?

CASONE: Yes. What did it look like? It was just red, square.

M. O'BRIEN: Little knobs. And, you know, if you did the knobs right, you can stair-step it up. Yes, red square -- yes. CASONE: The basics, right?

M. O'BRIEN: Right.

CASONE: Take a look at this. They are changing the Etch-a- Sketch.


CASONE: They're going to now -- it doesn't even look like it.

M. O'BRIEN: What did they do to it? What did they do to my Etch-a-Sketch?

CASONE: They completely are redesigning the Etch-a-Sketch. And it's got -- this is Dora the Explorer.

M. O'BRIEN: Dora the Explorer, yes.

CASONE: And then they're also going to do one with SpongeBob SquarePants. And they're also going to re-do Clue, a Simpsons' version of the game Clue. And then they're going to also have Monopoly with Times Square instead of the Atlantic boardwalk.

CHO: Is it pink?

CASONE: I hope not.

CHO: It looks a little pink.

CASONE: This -- oh, yes, this is the New York version. The Times Square version of Monopoly on the screen.

M. O'BRIEN: They have a lot of versions of Monopoly out there. I have the space shuttle version. It's very -- very...

CASONE: You do? Of course you do.

CHO: Of course you do.

CASONE: Yes, I'm shocked.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

CASONE: This is the man that walks around in a NASA T-shirt in Central Park. But, you know...

M. O'BRIEN: That's me. That's me.

CASONE: Anyway...

CHO: NASA spacesuit.

CASONE: Yes, really. Exactly. That's next.

But, yes -- you know, a lot of kids are actually getting rid of toys earlier in their, you know, years. And so video games are coming out. These traditional toy companies are trying to find ways to kind of get the kids to play with Etch-a-Sketches again. Maybe this is a version that will work. I don't know.

M. O'BRIEN: I don't know. When it's a traditional toy, just bring back the traditional toy, though. You know? I don't know if I need Dora the Explorer on there.

CHO: Yes, I agree. I like the retro.

CASONE: We're OK with that, right?

CHO: Yes.

CASONE: Yes, I know.

So -- all right. Have you guys been watching the tabloid wars of late with Reese and -- what was this guy's name -- Reese and Ryan.

CHO: Ryan.

CASONE: Ryan -- OK. The big divorce in Hollywood, Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillippe -- Phillippe -- whatever you say his name is.

M. O'BRIEN: Right.

CASONE: Anyway, here's the thing. The same publisher owns "Life & Style." Here she is on their cover. They also own "in Touch" magazine.

One person on each cover. Nice, huh?



CASONE: Nice, huh?

M. O'BRIEN: They're hedging their bets.

CASONE: They're hedging their bets and putting one person on either side so that you can just pick the one that you support.

CHO: Sell twice as many magazines.

CASONE: Right. And, you know, celebrity stuff, of course, makes magazines' huge dollars. So it's working.

CHO: Cheryl Casone.

M. O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see which one sells better.

CASONE: Right.

CHO: Thank you so much, Cheryl.

More rumors this morning about the health of Fidel Castro. Some officials in the U.S. say Castro's health is fading. We'll have the latest live from Havana ahead.

And another wildfire is moving toward a neighborhood in southern California. Residents are being told to get out while they can.

And are some people just born happy? New research on happiness and your health.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: It may be just a matter of time for El Presidente. Cuban leader Fidel Castro reportedly dying from cancer.

CHO: Under fire again -- a wildfire burning right now in southern California with residents and homes in the way.

M. O'BRIEN: And why are you smiling? How twins separated at childhood are providing new insight into what makes all of us happy or not.

CHO: And fit for a king. We're closing in on a star-studded ceremony for the new memorial dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. On this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning. It is Monday, November 13th. I'm Miles O'Brien.

CHO: And I'm Alino Cho sitting in for my pal Soledad this morning. She is co-hosting the King ceremony this morning on the National Mall. And that begins at the top of the hour.

Meantime, happening this morning, President Bush and his foreign policy team are now meeting with the Iraq study group to possibly chart a new course in Iraq. The group is led by former Secretary of State James Baker and Lee Hamilton, former co-chair of the 9/11 Commission. The study group is expected to make its findings public next month.

This comes as more blood is shed In Iraq. A suicide bomber killed ten people today when he blew up a bus in Baghdad. Earlier a car bomb near the Iranian embassy in the Green Zone. And on Sunday, two U.S. troops were killed in a suicide car blast. Three U.S. troops were killed Saturday in fighting in the Anbar province.

A summit at the White House, Israeli prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet with President Bush today. Among the items on the agenda, America's post-election Israel policy and how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. Iran's president has said Israel should be wiped off the map.

Congress goes back to work this morning to finish out this session before Democrats take charge of both chambers in January. For the so-called do-nothing Congress, there is much to do, including a free-trade bill with Vietnam. An orientation for more than 50 incoming House freshmen -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: The end may be near for Cuban President Fidel Castro. The U.S. apparently hearing reports the Cuban leader has terminal cancer and his health is failing fast. For the latest, we go live to CNN's Morgan Neill in Havana -- Morgan.

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, what this stems from is an Associated Press report citing unnamed U.S. officials that say they believe -- are speculating that President Castro has cancer -- terminal cancer of the colon, stomach, or pancreas. These officials, the same unnamed officials say they don't believe he would live beyond next year. hey don't say where they are getting that information from. Now, what do we know? Well, the president is obviously not in good health. The last public appearance we had from him was on July 26th. Since then we've had a summit of the non-aligned movement where more than 100 nations were represented in Havana. He did not make an appearance there -- something that would have been unthinkable were he in good health.

During that summit, he did receive a visit from Kofi Annan. Kofi Annan later saying that he appeared to be recovering and he looked strong. Officials here throughout have maintained that he is recovering and they expect to see him back on the job soon. Now, the most recent video we've seen, President Castro is seen wearing a track suit, reading a newspaper and walking. Although it's very clear that he's walking with some difficulty and a bit awkwardly. There have been no reaction so far to this speculation to this report out of Havana. Officials here regard details of the president's condition as a state secret. The last real word we had of any official details came on July 31st when a statement was read saying the president was recovering from surgery to stop intestinal bleeding and that was when he ceded power to his brother Raul -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: You mentioned his brother Raul, has he been publicly seen lately and has he commented one way or another about his brother's health lately?

NEILL: He has not made a lot of public appearances, but you have to be careful not too read too much into that. Raul Castro has always been a bit more of a behind-the-scenes operator. As far as commenting on his brother's health, no, he probably as much as anyone would regard that as a very closely held secret of the state -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much in Havana.

This morning, in southern California, firefighters are trying to get a handle on a raging wildfire. It's burning near Lake Elsinore about 75 miles east of Los Angeles. They have evacuated about 100 homes, while they work to try to contain it. CNN's Chris Lawrence is in Lakeland Village, California with the latest. Chris, good morning.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles. Those 100 families who had been ordered to evacuate their homes, they've all been given a go ahead to come back in now. Firefighters telling them it's safe for them to come back. And we've seen a definite change in this fire. When we first got out here about 2:00 in the morning, that fire was coming up pretty well over the mountains. You can see the flames really shooting up over there. That has died down a lot right now.

We may see a bit of a change in an hour or so when the sun comes back up. The winds will probably pick up a little bit. Some of the firefighters saying you might start to see to see flames kick up again. But, last night when the fire really got started, they were not able to send out air support. It was just after the cutoff time when the planes could fly. This morning those planes will be up, which will give them a great vantage point, not only to suppress the fire, but also to get a handle at looking at some of the tracks it made to get a better idea of how it started -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Chris, tell us at this point that the last fire, not too far from there that killed five firefighters, of course we know that was arson. This one, do we know?

LAWRENCE: Right now they don't. They said again, what they're hoping is, when the sun comes up in this area, they're going to get some eyes on it in the daylight, especially from the planes, they'll be able to get a better sense of like where the fire tracked, which is how they follow it back to its source. So, once the sun comes up, they'll have a better idea on that.

M. O'BRIEN: Chris Lawrence in southern California. Thank you. Alina.

CHO: How do you go from soldier to soccer mom? A lot of Iraq vets are struggling to return to normal lives still suffering emotional wounds from combat. CNN's Randy Kaye caught up with one mom trying to put the war behind her.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For more than a year Keri Christensen hauled tanks up and down the dangerous roads of Iraq.

KERI CHRISTENSEN, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: It was very scary. You always had to be on alert. You were always thinking, you know, is this going to be my last mission? Am I going to make it home?

KAYE: Today this mother of two from Illinois is back behind the wheel of her mini-van hauling her most precious cargo, four-year-old Olivia and eight-year-old Madison. But from the drivers seat, what Carrie sees, most other moms would never even want to imagine.

CHRISTENSEN: Trash bags, like if they're laying in the middle of the road or on the side of the road, to me, they could be IEDs.

KAYE: Since returning home, Keri says she sleeps an average of four hours a night and takes both sleeping pills and anti-depressants.

KAYE (on-camera): Had you ever experienced depression before in your life?

CHRISTENSEN: Not major depression like this, no.

KAYE: Keri says she's had imaginary conversations with her husband and dropped and rolled at the sound of a neighbor's nail gun.

CHRISTENSEN: To me, it sounded like a machine gun and I initially just got down on the ground.

KAYE (on-camera): Keri says she was diagnosed in Iraq with post- traumatic stress disorder. Trauma specialists say one in seven soldiers suffers returning from Iraq suffers from PTSD. But there are no statistics on how many are women, the caregivers in most families.

KAYE: Did you even have it in you to nurture your children when you got back, when really you were the one who needed the nurturing?

CHRISTENSEN: Not really, no. I know that's horrible to say, but I was so lost.

KAYE: At any point did you seriously consider taking your own life?

CHRISTENSEN: When I got home, yes.

KAYE: She says she was already experiencing anxiety or mild depression when she was reassigned to duty at the Kuwait airport because of a non-combat injury. She says that only made her feel worse.

CHRISTENSEN: Every day I had to walk pass the mortuary, and they had coffins stacked up that were empty, but you know, they were just waiting for bodies to come in. And we would see coffins being placed into a trailer that was a cooler and waiting for the next flight to come in to have the bodies shipped on the plane and taken home.

KAYE: Carrie says she also had been dealing with sexual harassment. The military tells CNN it found her allegation to have no merit. Then while in Kuwait, Carrie was arrested by military police for wrongfully consuming alcohol. She says she was just groggy from taking prescription medicine. A court Marshall found her guilty and she was reprimanded, an ordeal she says, intensified her inner trauma.

CHRISTENSEN: Amazing! My mother knows French.

KAYE: Carrie has decided to leave the military. In the year she's been home, she says there's been little improvement in her condition. There are still the nightmares and the phobias. No way to live for this suburban mom whose war at home, just like the one in Iraq, has no end in sight.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Oakwood Hills, Illinois.


CHO: And we will have much more tonight at 11:00 p.m. eastern. ANDERSON COOPER 360 takes an in-depth look at the problems facing troops. That one-hour special "Coming Home" airs tonight at 11:00 eastern right here on CNN.

M. O'BRIEN: Some of the stories we're following for you this morning -- honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Ground about to be broken on the new memorial on the National Mall.

And if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands for heredity. That story is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.




M. O'BRIEN: All this week we're paying a house call on your happiness. Trying to find out just who's happy and why. For example, new research showing that middle-aged women are less likely to be happy than most because they worry more about aging parents and other family members. But, is it nature or nurture that plays the bigger role into whether we are happy? Dr. Sanjay Gupta with the surprising story of identical twins separated when they were young.


Dr. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT voice-over): We'll begin with two brothers and one remarkable story. That's Roger Brooks on the left and Tony Milasi on the right.


GUPTA: These big-hearted identical twins were split up at birth. Milasi was adopted at six weeks and grew up surrounded by close friends and a loving family. Brooks toughed it out in an orphanage until he was four years old. After his adoption, he was raised by a single mom and bounced around 11 different schools and yet...

MILASI: I never looked at my life as a tough life. I was always happy.

GUPTA: When they were 24 years old, there was a chance encounter, a friend of Tony's spotted Roger in a diner in Miami.

ROGER BROOKS: And he thought I was Tony Milasi. He approached a table and says Tony?

GUPTA: A few phone calls later, they were reunited. The story was an international sensation.

MILASI: I said come on, mom, you called me long distance, what happened? She says they find your brother. I said what? Your brother, they find your brother!

NANCY SEGAL, AUTHOR, "INDIVISIBLE BY TWO": Twins have a lot to teach us about how happy all of us are? GUPTA: Nancy Segal has spent her professional lifetime studying twins. She is a twin herself and says 80 percent of our personality is genetic.

SEGAL: They're just guys who exude this warmth, and enthusiasm and optimism. Raised apart, where does this come from? It's their basic human nature.

GUPTA: A nature we all would be fortunate to have.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Atlanta.


M. O'BRIEN: Our week-long series on happiness leads up to Sanjay's primetime special. It is called "Happiness and Your Health: a Surprising Connection." It airs Sunday night, 10:00 Eastern, right here on CNN -- Alina.

CHO: We will be watching.

Another thing we'll be watching, "CNN NEWSROOM" Is just minutes away. Tony Harris is at the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead.

Hey, Tony. Good morning.

CHO: Alina, good morning to you. We have got these stories on the NEWSROOM rundown this morning. U.S. troops in Iraq, a group of distinguished Americans may help decide their future. The Iraq Study Group sitting down with President Bush today.

Washington's power switch, Democrats taking charge of congressional investigations. The Bush administration in the bullseye.

And pass on the pasta. We talked to an expert about an under- diagnosed illness. Chances are, you know someone with Celiac Disease. The problem is they may not know it.

Heidi Collins and me in the "NEWSROOM." We get started at the top of the hour right here on CNN.

Alina, back to you.

CHO: We won't miss a minute, Tony. Thank you so much.

Among the stories we're following right now, a star-studded lineup in Washington this morning to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including our very own Soledad O'Brien. A ceremony and groundbreaking for a King memorial takes place in just moment. We're there. Stay with us on this AMERICAN MORNING.


(NEWSBREAK) M. O'BRIEN: Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush in talks this morning with the Israeli leader. Iran's nuclear strategy high on the agenda.

And capital punishment, a look at one place in America where the gallows remain an option. We'll have much more AMERICAN MORNING in just a moment.