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American Morning

Out-of-Control Wildfires; Bush Meets al-Hakim; Rumsfeld Memo

Aired December 04, 2006 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Church and state. President Bush meets with one of Iraq's top religious leaders at the White House today, kicking off a week that could change the U.S. mission in Iraq.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Nature's fury. Wildfires devour homes and have residents on the run in southern California this morning, while the death toll climbs from the wicked winter storm in the Midwest.

S. O'BRIEN: Sick on land and sick at sea. Hundreds of cruise ship passengers infected with a virus, while fast food is at the center of an E. coli investigation.

M. O'BRIEN: And Hillary in '08. New signs she may want to return to the White House. The race for president heating up on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. It's Monday, December 4th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

We're glad you're with us.

We begin with those out-of-control wildfires raging in southern California. The biggest is burning outside Moorpark in Ventura County. That's about 30 miles from L.A. Gusty Santa Ana winds making this fire extremely unpredictable.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Chris Lawrence reports.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, right now these winds are just ferocious. Firefighters say at times it's been hard to stand up, they've been so hard. And at other times they've been blinded by all the swirling smoke and ash.


LAWRENCE (voice over): This fierce wildfire has destroyed at least five homes and scorched more than 4,000 acres in Ventura County, just north of Los Angeles.

DORANN LAPERCH, LOST HOME IN FIRE: We've lost all our personal belongings, my mom's and dad's wedding pictures. My dad's ashes were in mom's house. LAWRENCE: Fueled by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour, the fire has spread quickly through the area, forcing the mandatory evacuation of at least 150 homes. The fierce winds have been blowing for the past four days, making conditions on the ground very dry and providing a lot of the fuel for the wildfires.

And conditions aren't letting up. The Santa Anas are expected to continue into today, and fire officials warn that up to 3,000 homes could be threatened by the fire.

Fire officials urged residents to voluntarily evacuate. Those who chose to stay behind did the best they could to protect their homes.

MARGARET FIGUEROA, VENTURA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, RESIDENT: Well, I'm pretty OK. As long as I don't see flames over the ridge, I'm OK. I'm just watering down just in case.


M. O'BRIEN: That was Chris Lawrence on the fire lines there. We lost his live signal because the winds are so gusty there, even at this hour.

Nineteen deaths now blamed on that winter storm, by that way, that battered the Midwest, as well, as continue our look at the weather.

Now, four dead this weekend in Missouri, including two men in St. Louis who died of carbon monoxide poisoning after burning charcoal in their home.

Hundreds of thousands are still without power. Icy roads downed power lines, and broken tree limbs making getting around there still very treacherous -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: It is a pivotal week that could help pave the way forward in Iraq. And it begins this morning in Washington, D.C.

President Bush is in an unusual meeting with one of Iraq's most powerful political forces today. His name is Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. He is an opponent of the radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Tomorrow the confirmation hearings begin for Robert Gates. He's nominated to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

And then on Wednesday, the long-awaited report from the Iraq Study Group goes to the president. Members are expected to recommend getting Iran and Syria involved in the solution to Iraq's violence. And they're also expected to recommend a staged withdrawal of U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Two reports on all of this, this morning. Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House for us. Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon.

Let's begin with Suzanne.

Good morning, Suzanne.


As you mentioned, of course, President Bush has a very busy, busy week, a very important day as well, that meeting with al-Hakim. He is the leader of the largest bloc of those in parliament, Iraq's parliament. He also has his own militia group, and arguably, he is more powerful than Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

But what makes this meeting even more significant is that he is the rival to the Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American leader who is very powerful in Iraq. So hopefully becoming closer with al-Hakim will marginalize al-Sadr.

At the same time, he also has close ties with Iran. So this allows the Bush administration to try to impact or influence Iran's influence in Iraq, if you will, without having those direct talks which Bush administration officials have been quite against.

Now, all of this, as you know, Soledad, comes at a time when just over the weekend a leaked memo by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was released. It said that two days before he announced his resignation, that he believed that a major adjustment was necessary when it comes to U.S. policy in Iraq. This is quite the opposite of the "stay the course" message that we had heard publicly from Bush administration officials, including Rumsfeld.

Over the weekend, Bush administration officials, National security Adviser Stephen Hadley tried to downplay this memo, saying that, look, Rumsfeld was not endorsing any one particular change or a major change in policy.


STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It was a useful memo, and we used it in that way to trigger discussions. But this was not a game plan or a set of -- an effort to sort of try to set out the way forward in Iraq.


MALVEAUX: And Soledad, as you know, there are going to be a lot of options, recommendations on the table for the president in the next 72 hours or so. That's when the Iraq Study Group, that bipartisan commission, is going to be releasing its own options, its own ideas about what they think the president should decide. We're told that's going to happen in the next couple of weeks -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Two days and counting until that report.

Suzanne Malveaux for us from the White House.

Thanks, Suzanne -- Miles. MALVEAUX: Sure.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may be on his way out, but he's still being heard.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon with what might be the last snowflake, I guess -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Snowflake being a word that Rumsfeld's memos are sometimes called because they fall from the sky. Sometimes when they're least expected.

This one, as Suzanne says, shows that Rumsfeld was looking at some of the options but not endorsing any of them. But, in typical Rumsfeld style, much more candid in private than he is in public. And it shows that he, in his thinking, at least, seems to come down a lot more on the less troops in Iraq, not the more troops side.

For instance, among the proposals is, "Stop rewarding bad behavior," he says. "Don't send reconstruction to areas where this is violence." That's part of one of Rumsfeld's favorite sayings. If you want more of something, reward it, if you want less of something, penalize it.

He also suggests that they, perhaps, position more U.S. troops along the border with Iran and Syria, again reflecting his distrust of those two countries, and would seem to argue against with the idea that the U.S. ought to engage them more or rely on them too much for help. He wants to sort of block them out.

And then he also talks about this one, again, illustrative idea, the idea of modest troop withdrawals, what he calls taking the hand off the bicycle seat. And he sort of admonishes that the Iraqis need to do more, need to pull their socks up and step up. A part of the theme we're starting to see where the administration is actually blaming Iraq for the problems now after the long U.S. involvement.

The Pentagon, by the way, suggests that this memo was in response to President Bush's call for new ideas from all of his cabinet members and was not part of a preemptive strike by Rumsfeld. Merely a response to the White House call to take a look at what possible new things could be done. And in typical Rumsfeld style, he didn't endorse any of them -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: And what is interesting is it reads almost like a laundry list of possible ideas, as opposed to a focus thought on strategy.

MCINTYRE: Right. And none of the ideas was particularly analyzed. And interesting to me was that at the very bottom of the list he dismisses quickly the idea of a Dayton-like process. And a lot of people argue that the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the fighting in Bosnia is exactly the kind of thing that needs to happen in Iraq, particularly if you're going to talk about a political settlement first. You have to have that settlement, and how do you get it? M. O'BRIEN: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.


New details on a deadly crash landing by a Marine helicopter in western Iraq to share with you. The military says the CH-47 Sea Knight -- that's a twin rotor helicopter -- went down in a lake in the Anbar Province.

One Marine died, three still missing. The U.S. military is searching for those missing right now. Twelve passengers survived the crash landing and have been accounted for. The military does not think it was shot down -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: In New Jersey, 19 people are sick from E. coli. Two cases are said to be life-threatening.

A couple of Taco Bells in New Jersey, including this one you're seeing pictures of in South Plainfield, are now under investigation.

Let's get right to Stephanie Brown. She's on the phone. She's an epidemiologist with the Middlesex County New Jersey Board of Health.

Ms. Brown, thank you for talking with us.

Nineteen people affected overall. Can you give us the status of the victims right now?

STEPHANIE BROWN, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, MIDDLESEX COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH DEPARTMENT: Sure. Actually, it's the Middlesex County Public Health Department. And...

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, my apologies. Thank you.

BROWN: No problem. We started investigating this last Tuesday, the 28th. And as of right now, what we've received from various -- the hospitals in the area is 19 reports of E. coli. And the age ranges of the victims are from one year old to 23 years old.

Most have been either seen in the hospital or were seen as an outpatient, either in the emergency room or by their primary care doctor. Most are released from the hospital. And as of yesterday, we think that seven are still hospitalized and two are in more serious condition.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. We've been talking about this Taco Bell in South Plainfield, New Jersey, but it looks as if 11 people ate at that Taco Bell and the rest of the people, eight others, did not. So what would explain the E. coli in the people who did not eat at the Taco Bell?

BROWN: Well, actually, it's 11 people total ate at a Taco Bell -- Taco Bells in general. Of those 11, only nine ate at the South Plainfield Taco Bell and two others ate at other various Taco Bells in the area. S. O'BRIEN: Oh, I see. So you have a whole bunch of people who didn't eat at Taco Bell at all, you have two people -- you have several people who ate at different Taco Bells. What's the connection?

BROWN: We're not sure yet. I mean, through our investigations we're obviously tracking the types of food that people ate to see if there's any similarities. But at this point we really can't pinpoint whether it's from a Taco Bell, or that Taco Bell, or whether it's from another source.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think you'll ever likely know the source of this outbreak, or is it possible this will come and go and we'll never know? It seems like we're hearing so much about E. coli in just the last couple of months.

BROWN: Yes, E. coli is definitely a virus that's out there on a normal basis. But when you see larger outbreaks like this, it's more of a concern.

It is difficult to find out the exact source of these outbreaks. Usually we don't. But hopefully in this case we have enough similarities that maybe we'll be able to get to the bottom of it.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. I hope so.

Stephanie Brown is the epidemiologist with the Middlesex County Department of Health, joining us by phone this morning.

Thank you, Stephanie. We appreciate your time.

Another outbreak to tell you about also under investigation this morning. Nearly 400 passengers on the world's biggest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, hit with the Norovirus, which caused all kinds of gastrointestinal problems.

The ship is now back in Miami. It's being cleaned. Seven hundred people on a Carnival cruise came down with the Norovirus last month.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, more on the president's meeting today with a powerful Shiite cleric. Is the U.S. hedging its bets on Iraq's leadership?

Plus, it looks like Senator Hillary Clinton getting closer to making a run for the White House. The latest clue on her plans for 2008 ahead.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Some of the day's top stories we're looking at for you this morning.

The Red Cross now fears as many as a thousand people died in that typhoon that pummeled the Philippines. And the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, is telling the BBC that he thinks Iraq is more dangerous now than it was during Saddam Hussein's regime.

Almost a quarter past the hour. Let's get a check of the traveler's forecast, and, of course, the weather out West, as well, where they're battling those huge wildfires.

Good morning, Chad.



M. O'BRIEN: The White House may be hedging its bets as it tries to stop the budding civil war in Iraq. The president meeting today with the leader of the largest Shiite political faction. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is no friend of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

The meeting coming a few days after the president's summit with Maliki, where Bush called him the right man for the job.

Former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht joins me from Brussels for some analysis of this.

Mr. Brekt, good to have you with us.


M. O'BRIEN: To what extent does this undermine the prime minister?

GERECHT: Oh, I don't think it really undermines him. I mean, the American government has had contacts with SCIRI, al-Hakim's group, for quite some time, people inside the administration. Some have argued that, in fact, the relationship should have been closer. I tend to agree with that.

I mean, there is this notion out there that somehow we need to have a political solution to what's going on in Iraq. We didn't like the governing council. We didn't like Jafari, the first prime minister. We're having trouble with Maliki.

All of these folks have had trouble, but I think we aren't going to be able to, you know, get out of this by hoping that somehow the Iraqis themselves, without a great deal of military assistance from us, are going to be able to control what's going on there.

M. O'BRIEN: So how much political trouble is there, and to what extent would this meeting go to any direction towards solving it?

GERECHT: Well, I mean, I think it's a good idea for there always to be personal meetings between the president and al-Hakim. They had one in 2004. I think it was in February. I think it was a productive meeting. You cannot substitute for this type of face time. But I don't think this meeting is going to contribute to anything terribly substantive in solving the problems in Iraq or corralling he growing militancy in the Shia community, particularly Muqtada al-Sadr. I think that's highly unlikely.

But, I mean, it's a -- it's a good idea, but it doesn't get us away from the primary issue. And that is, that if you're going to see some type of return to stability or reduction in the violence in Iraq, it's going to have to be Americans who do it, not Iraqis.

M. O'BRIEN: Americans, not Iraqis. You don't think Iraqis should be empowered to do that themselves?

GERECHT: Well, they can't do it. I mean, Rumsfeld and General Abizaid, who's been the commander of Middle Eastern forces ever since the summer of 2003, have both tried to do more with less.

Every six months they've told us, we hope to have a reduction in forces, we're trying to make the Iraqis do more of this. This has actually, I would argue, been a very counterproductive approach that's made the violence worse. The insurgency which has provoked the Shiite militias, the death squads, kept getting worse because the Americans kept reducing their force presence.

I think the only way out of this at this time...

M. O'BRIEN: So do you think -- do you think the number of troops -- so you think you have to increase the number of troops? And is that the recommendation? I know you were a part of the Iraq Study Group and your advice was sought. Is that the advice you offered to the study group?

GERECHT: Yes. I mean, I'm doubtful that, from what we've heard and from what I know, that the study group is going to recommend a surge of troops. But I think what is likely to come out of the study group, we'll have to wait until the sixth, is essentially Rumsfeld's approach, which didn't work. And there's no reason to believe that doing more with less, trying to train up Iraqi forces, which has not worked at all since 2003, is going to solve this problem. And it likely, if that path is followed, will make the situation in Iraq much worse.

M. O'BRIEN: If you were running things, how many troops would you send in there right now to bolster things?

GERECHT: Well, I mean, I think the best advice that's been put out there has been by Frederick Kagan, who's a military historian at the American Enterprise Institute. He's gone through a very detailed study of this. And I think at minimum you're talking about 50,000 troops going into Baghdad.

Now, whether all these troops have to come from abroad or reallocation of forces inside of Iraq is a debate. But that you need a substantial number of troops to get a hold on what's going on in Baghdad, I think, is indisputable. M. O'BRIEN: Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute, formerly with the CIA.

Thanks for your time.

GERECHT: My pleasure.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, the race for 2008. What's driving more Democrats to drop hints that they might run for president, including Senator Hillary Clinton?

And digging out from the big weekend storm. Hundreds of thousands of people still without power. The death toll is rising.

We'll take a closer look straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: How convenient to have a gym at the McDonald's.

Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's fine with me. I mean, for all I talk about the stuff, I'm a big junk food aficionado. And when...

M. O'BRIEN: Really?

VELSHI: It's only when I research stories like this that I get a little bit of a shock.

McDonald's is -- has been testing for some months, actually, seven gyms. They're called R Gyms, for Ronald. And if they work out well, they're going to spread them across the country to their 5,500 PlayPlaces.

Now, the R Gyms, right now they're in California, Illinois, Colorado, Oklahoma. They're for kids age 4 to 12.

And you get on -- they've got a dance pad, one of those dance pads. They've got hoops. And if you get a basket, it says, "Good Shot." And they've got exercise, stationary bikes that give you sort of a video. They play a video while you're on it.

Now, critics say that this is image bolstering and that -- I did a little research. The average Happy Meal is 500 to 800 calories. If you burn about 175 calories an hour on a stationary bicycle, you can add three to five hours to your McDonald's visit for our kid to be on the stationary bicycle.

M. O'BRIEN: See you, kid.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. That's a long time.

VELSHI: Now, you were saying just before we got on, as many people do, is this McDonald's or the fast food industry's problem, or is this people's problems to understand that giving kids...

S. O'BRIEN: Or you could say, assume they're going to eat at McDonald's anyway. Isn't it better that they're getting out there and then playing hoops?

VELSHI: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: I mean, a lot of the problem with childhood obesity is that kids just sit on the couch.


VELSHI: Right. So if there's something to activity, it could be a good thing.

S. O'BRIEN: I mean, I'm not apologizing for anyone. I'm just saying.

M. O'BRIEN: But the marketing campaign to get kids to eat this is absolutely amazing. It's everywhere.

S. O'BRIEN: But we ate McDonald's as children.

M. O'BRIEN: Right. Right.

S. O'BRIEN: Right?

M. O'BRIEN: But not every meal, every day. It's not in the schools, hospitals.

S. O'BRIEN: You have this national -- you have this epidemic of kids eating it to the nth degree. That's the problem.

VELSHI: it's inexpensive, it's everywhere.

M. O'BRIEN: It's everywhere.

VELSHI: It's less of a trip, I think, than it was. I mean, it was still an occasion to me as a kid.

S. O'BRIEN: Right. But is that the parents' problem or is that McDonald's problem?

VELSHI: Well, I'll tell you what. We've got another problem to introduce to you.

Next August is the 30th anniversary of "The King's" death, Elvis Presley's death. So Hershey -- I didn't know this either -- Elvis, one of his favorite meals was a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, sure. Famous, yes.

VELSHI: So Hershey is doing a special edition peanut butter cream cup. It's going to come in three sizes, mini, standard and king-size. And in "The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" tradition, the label will have an instant win promotion and you can get a free trip to Graceland as a result.

I did not do the caloric intake versus time on a stationary bike calculation for that one.

S. O'BRIEN: It's a lot also.

VELSHI: I imagine. I imagine.

S. O'BRIEN: I've had a few of those...

VELSHI: They were pointing out that this will not be fried, as Elvis would have had it.

And there's a nice slim picture of Elvis on the...


VELSHI: We haven't got them yet, but yes.

M. O'BRIEN: If you did the math on that, you'd be all shook up, for sure.

VELSHI: There's an Elvis champagne coming out of Graceland.

M. O'BRIEN: Is there? A high caloric champagne?

VELSHI: Called All Shook Up.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, really?

VELSHI: That will be it for me.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: See you, guys.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, the Supreme Court takes up a case that could make for the biggest ruling on school desegregation in decades. We'll tell you about that.

Plus, the road to 2008. Senator Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats dropping hints they might run for president. I guess hinting the obvious here. But we'll check in on who's about to throw their hat into the ring.

Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Ahead to '08. New signs this morning that Senator Hillary Clinton is looking to return to the White House on the other wing, the West Wing.

S. O'BRIEN: Victory for the man who called President Bush the devil. Hugo Chavez is reelected as president of Venezuela. And there are other political earthquakes rippling across Latin America. M. O'BRIEN: And Morgan Freeman makes some magic in the supermarket and tries something new in the movie business. He'll tell us about the novel way he's releasing his movie ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning to you. It is Monday, December 4th.

I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Thanks for being with us.

Happening this morning, there's a big meeting on Iraq at the White House today. President Bush is going to sit down with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. He is the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite group. Hakim reportedly wants Iran to help control the unrelenting violence in Iraq.

Also today, President Bush officially sends Robert Gates' nomination to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Gates is nominated to succeed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the Gates' hearings will begin tomorrow morning.

Live pictures just in of those wildfires burning in California right now. The biggest one is burning outside of Moorpark, in Ventura County. That's about 30 miles from Los Angeles. The powerful Santa Ana winds are fueling the flames, which sometimes are going at 70 miles an hour.

Different story to tell you about in the Midwest. 350,000 people are still without power in Illinois and Missouri after that deadly winter storm. Freezing temperatures are to blame for four more deaths over the weekend in St. Louis -- brings the storm's death toll to 19. Two men died of carbon monoxide poisoning after burning charcoal in a wok trying to heat their home.

Landmark case dealing with race in the country's public schools goes before the Supreme Court today. Justices are going to decide whether it's legal for cities and towns to assign children to schools based on their skin color. School districts do that right now to achieve diversity in the classroom. The White House is against the policy, they say it's a quota system.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, it's no real secret Hillary Clinton is spending a lot of time thinking about running for the presidency. Over the weekend, one of her top advisers said the Senator is talking to some key New York supporters about a possible bid for the White House.

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley joining us from Washington to talk a little bit about this. Obviously, no surprise there, Candy, but we're just watching what seems to be inevitable steps. She remains at the top of the list of favorites, but that's also a dangerous place to be, isn't it? CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it absolutely is because everybody is gunning for you. I thought this story was interesting at this level. We obviously know that Hillary Clinton has been thinking about running for president for some time, but that this particular story should come out now.

And remember what we're talking about is that she's talking to New York politicos about, you know, what it would take to run, what the issues should be, that sort of thing. That comes out now, tells me that Barack Obama at this point is moving this race. He's gotten all the limelight for the past couple of weeks. This story would come out at this point from what is generally a really tight-lipped organization with Senator Clinton, so thought it was interesting at that level.

M. O'BRIEN: OK, you talk about a tight-lipped well-run organization. She has the best advisers money can buy in politics. Does Obama has a staff that is equal to that?

CROWLEY: Well, certainly he could attract a staff that is equal to that. I think he's in such preliminary stages at this point that while he is beginning to gather advice, there is not a staff that is certainly equal to Senator Clinton. But there are many people, Senator Durbin from Illinois comes to mind and he's a heavy hitter, that think that Barack Obama is just what the Democratic Party needs. So, he wouldn't have trouble attracting a Hillary Clinton-style staff. But he's got to kind of work a little further down the line.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about money. Senator Clinton had a pretty easy re-election bid here in New York. She had money left over. And that, she can apply that for towards her additional aspirations, whatever they may be. What about the others? Is she heads and tails above the other Democratic potential candidates?

CROWLEY: Well, something that's interesting to me is Senator Evan Bayh, who this week is going to set up his presidential exploratory committee, also has been raising a fair amount of money. I think he has about $10 million as opposed to Hillary Clinton's about $14 million left over from their very easy campaign. So, he has proven a pretty good fund-raiser. But, having said that, there's a finite amount of money out there and eventually backers are going to look to who can win. But, nonetheless, Bayh has been pretty busy and has given her a little bit of a run for her money.

M. O'BRIEN: That's more money than I would have expected that he'd have. Of course, the riddle for him is how he can figure out how a way to get his name recognized outside of Indiana.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. That's everybody's problem, whether you're Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa or whether you're even John Edwards, who already has a name because he was number two on the Democratic ticket. These two people, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are such headliners that there's no room on the marquis for at this point -- supporting players.

So, this is very difficult. It was hard enough when Hillary Clinton was out there on her own. But, at that point, people could kind of position themselves as, well, I'm not Hillary Clinton because there is some feeling in the Democratic Party among some that perhaps Senator Clinton has too much baggage to actually win a general election. So all of these other candidates could say, well I could be the anti-Hillary -- I could take that position. But you put Barack Obama in there and you move those people that are also running that don't have that kind of name recognition even further down the ladder.

M. O'BRIEN: Candy Crowley, thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: CNN "Security Watch" this morning, how much privacy are you willing to leave behind as you take your next flight? A revealing -- and we mean revealing -- new scanner is being tested right now. We're also learning more about how the government's keeping score on passengers.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve has more for us. She's live from Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C. Hey Jeanne, good morning.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Soledad. The government says it wants to keep us safe, but the question is, is it delving too far into our personal lives?


MESERVE (voice-over): With a bombardment of low-level x-rays, this so-called back scanner machine can detect weapons concealed on the body. It also reveals the body itself in exquisite and embarrassing detail. But, with new modifications, operators of the machines will now see only the body's outline.

And so, the Transportation Security Administration plans to begin pilot testing later this month at Phoenix and a handful of other airports. But privacy advocates say the more intimate images could still be stored and misused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Essentially they're putting a digital fig leaf on the image. The machine itself can still record all the detail and store that information for use at a later point.

MESERVE: The TSA disputes that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The images, once they leave the screen, will be gone forever. They will not be saved in anyway, shape or form.

MESERVE: Other details about travelers certainly are being saved by the government. For the past four years in secret, the government has compiled information on people entering and leaving the country, scoring the risk they pose by computer. And it plans to keep the data for 40 years. It is called the Automated Targeting System or ATS.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The job one for me is keep bad people out of the United States. That is what the people of this country expect. MESERVE: But privacy advocates are livid that the government will share the information with state and local governments, even government contractors. Travelers aren't aware of their score. getting the information on which it is based and correcting mistakes is cumbersome and lengthy.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY ANALYST: The concern with this is that innocent people will not just not be allowed to fly as a result of ATS, but also they'll be denied jobs, they'll be denied contracts and licenses, and other benefits as a result of being erroneously identified by the government as terrorist.


MESERVE (on camera): The Business Travel Coalition says it was stunned to learn of what it calls this massively intrusive program. Some Democratic members of Congress are up in arms as well and they are promising hearings.

Soledad back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: Jeanne Meserve for us this morning. Thank you, Jeanne.

You want to be sure to stay with CNN day and night for the latest and most reliable news about your security -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, the leftist shift in Latin America. As the White House focuses on Iraq, is it overlooking a big problem a little closer to home. We'll take a look.

Plus, we'll talk to Oscar winner Morgan Freeman. We'll ask him about his risky release plan for his new movie ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are three feet from my face.



S. O'BRIEN: U.S. foreign policy is focused right now on the Middle East, but there are sweeping changes happening much closer to the U.S. border. Over the weekend, Venezuela re-elected Hugo Chavez. Cuba's Fidel Castro's failed to show up at a party in his own honor. And the former dictator of Chile was given his final rites, his last rites. Pamela Falk is a professor of Latin American studies at the City University of New York. Nice to see you -- good morning.


S. O'BRIEN: Lots happening all at the same time. Let's begin with Venezuela. Hugo Chavez easily won re-election. Six-year term. Do you expect any change in the relationship with the U.S.? FALK: Well, one would hope. It's clearly been a very tense relationship, and this was a landslide. It really speaks to the fact that there is a popular anti-poverty program. He spent over a billion dollars in the region and a lot in Venezuela itself. And it also speaks to the fact that it is very popular to be Washington bashing and that's what he's done for a long time. It did lose him a seat on the Security Council, but it has played well within Latin America.

S. O'BRIEN: He's threatened to withhold the 11 percent of the U.S. oil imports that we get from Venezuela. Do you think there's any likelihood of that or is that talk, talk, talk?

FALK: I think it's alot of talk, talk, talk, a lot of sizzle, not a lot of steak. There has been a long-term relationship with the United States. He is exploring other oil sales. But I think for the most part they sell 50 percent of the oil to the United States. And Latin America is growing as a whole, so I think it's more to try to get the attention. He has tried to reach out to the United States. It hasn't worked.

S. O'BRIEN: All right -- let's tick through the other nations. Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega recently elected president. Here's a guy who headed the Sandanistas years ago. Hated by the U.S. What do you expect from his presidency. He says he's a new man.

FALK: Yes, exactly. He does say he's a new man, he's interested in reform. He's much more moderate, he' sort of a Socialist with a pinstriped suit on. And what he's done is come to Washington -- well, he hasn't come to Washington, he's presented himself to Washington as someone who wants to make relations better and the State Department has already sent someone down to meet with him. So, I think we'll see a different change, a different system. Whether he can actually run an economy after he ran one into the ground is another question. But, he's going to try.

S. O'BRIEN: Raul Castro -- Fidel Castro's brother. Fidel Castro doesn't even show up for his own birthday celebration making many people think that he is too near death's door. If Castro, Fidel Castro dies, what do you think is going to happen with the relationship between the U.S. and the government led now by Raul, hypothetically?

FALK: Well, Not much changes with Raul. And there really isn't a transition yet and that's what we have seen. Raul Castro is Fidel Castro but without the charisma. And so the real question that remains in the future is can Raul Castro hold it together with a military, but with a very young population, the demographics in Cuba is that most of the people in Cuba are born after the revolution.

S. O'BRIEN: Population exposed to the internet, television, seeing all the things that they don't have in Cuba right now.

FALK: Exactly. And so there will be an interesting change in Cuba. Raul Castro will not lead that change and until Castro is out of the scene, I don't think we'll see anything. S. O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a ten second question on Pinochet. Augusto Pinochet -- they've given him his last rites. he's 91 years old and on the verge of dying. Michelle Bachalet is now running Chile and her father was put to death by Pinochet.

FALK: Exactly, and she was tortured itself. So this is very close to home. It is a very dark period in Chilean history. And it is coming to closure and that is, unfortunately, without him being brought to trial. But I think there is a sense of closure because of that. And she stands for change in Chile as well.

S. O'BRIEN: She's made it clear -- she wants to move on. Pamela Falk is a professor of Latin America studies at the City University of New York. Thank you. We covered a lot of ground.

FALK: We did, Soledad. Thank you so much.

S. O'BRIEN: Appreciate it -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: We're going to head back now to that wildfire burning out of control outside Moorpark in Ventura County, California. It's about 30 miles from L.A.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Chris Lawrence joining us now. And the winds already -- well you see them right there, you can see exactly what's going on. Chris, give us the latest.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miles, this gives you some idea of what these firefighters are up against. Winds blowing about 30 miles per hour. But when these gusts kick up, they can kick up about 50 miles per hour. You can literally just see, push the fire you know a tremendous amount of distance. it is really something to see. And it really gives you some perspective of exactly how difficult a job it is for what these firefighters are doing.

What they're telling us now is that this fire is in a heavily populated area. That at some point, up to 3,000 homes could be in danger from this fire. We've seen hundreds of families pack up what they've got and evacuate their homes. We've also seen hundreds of other families decide to stick around and try to fight it. Literally watching people on their back hills and in the back of their homes with water hoses, trying to wet down their property so that when these flames kick up and when the winds kick up, sometimes it literally just picks up the fire and it drops these embers. And what that does is if that catches dry brush or some of these trees, it can literally spark.

So what the families are trying to do is just stay there with the hoses and try to wet everything down as best as (INAUDIBLE) this is the situation on the ground. If you want, we can now take you to the air to give you a slightly different perspective on exactly what this fire looks like. This aerial photo is coming from a helicopter shot, giving you a different perspective on what (INAUDIBLE)

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Those gusty conditions, obviously knocking Chris Lawrence off the air there right now as you look at the affiliate helicopter pictures from KABC. We'll get back with Chris hopefully they'll get that satellite dish secured and we'll get back with him very shortly.


M. O'BRIEN: "CNN NEWSROOM" just moments away. Tony Harris is at the CNN center with a look ahead. Hello Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning Miles. We have got these stories on the NEWSROOM rundown for you this morning. Incredible scene. A Los Angeles suburb waking up to a dangerous wildfire. 70 mile-per-hour wind gusts driving the blaze into homes literally.

Iraq war policy, a critical week. The Iraq Study Group reports to President Bush. The defense secretary nominee on Capitol Hill for confirmation. And a key Iraqi politician at the White House today.

Fiery speaker, fierce U.S. critic, firmly in control. Venezuelan's leftist president re-elected in a landslide. Join Heidi Collins and me in the NEWSROOM. We get started at the top of the hour right here on CNN. Miles, back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks Tony. Coming up on the program, actor Morgan Freeman talks to us about his new movie "Ten Items or Less." And if you miss it in theaters, don't worry. You'll be able to see it in a novel way a little sooner than you think. The risky release plan ahead.


S. O'BRIEN: Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman is trying something new with his latest movie. He plays a famous Hollywood actor researching an upcoming role by spending the day in a supermarket.

We got a chance to sit down together recently, talked about the big role and the change.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome. It's nice to have you.

MORGAN FREEMAN, ANCHOR: It's nice to be here with you.

S. O'BRIEN: Your character in the movie is never named, but he's kind of you in a way. Describe him for me.

FREEMAN: Well, he's sort of me. An aging actor who -- well, that doesn't describe me. I mean, the aging part does, but the second part which is he hasn't worked for about four years, and he's taken this little movie, maybe, maybe...

S. O'BRIEN: He's on the verge.

FREEMAN: Yes, on the verge of taking this little movie to play a store manager at a grocery store. And goes to a store to do some research. S. O'BRIEN: Not any store. It's a store in what we consider not a great neighborhood, which is I guess is in Carson.


S. O'BRIEN: So way out of his element.

FREEMAN: Way out of his element. He has no idea where he is. But he meets this lovely young cashier played by Paz Vega.

S. O'BRIEN: And she is one, really I guess where the title comes from, who runs the 10 items or less checkout line, and she is not kidding about 10 items or less. She's very aggressive about that.


S. O'BRIEN: The woman is going on a big job interview, very important to her because it's her way out, which she keeps referring to as an audition.

FREEMAN: Yes, well, it is an audition, in a way, when you go to a job interview. Everyone one is the same, you know. You have to present yourself. You have to be -- you have to feel confident, be ready to walk out feeling like, OK, I did my best, you know. And he is a performer, so he knows how to present.

S. O'BRIEN: Qwikstar (ph), which is your company, is going to take this movie two weeks after it runs, after it opens, and make it available on broadband. I mean, this, to me, seems like you'd have people in Hollywood saying whoa, whoa, whoa, this is not how it works, no, no, no.

FREEMAN: Well, not people in Hollywood like that, but you know, there are stores that will mass marketing for movies. In other words, you make a movie, it comes out, it does well and then goes on a shelf in places like Wal-Mart or Blockbusters.

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

FREEMAN: They feel a little threatened by this. But it's (INAUDIBLE). You know, we already have movies that are being downloaded. So it's just an addition.

S. O'BRIEN: It's the first one for your company, kind of a big test. Do you feel pressure on the acting front and on the company front too?

FREEMAN: Well, you always feel pressure on the company front. On the acting front, I'm an aging actor. I've gotten to the point where you go, and you do the work and then you walk away. If it does well, great. And if doesn't, it probably below the radar anyway.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, this one's great. I hope it doesn't go below the radar, because I love this. I think this is great. It's called "10 Items or Less."

FREEMAN: I loved it too.

S. O'BRIEN: And it's really, really good. It's really just a charming, nice film. Thanks for coming in to talk to us about it. We certainly appreciate it.


S. O'BRIEN: 10 Items or Less" opened in theaters on Friday.

M. O'BRIEN: Here's a quick look at what the "NEWSROOM" is working on for the top of the hour.

ANNOUNCER: Some of the stories you'll see in the "NEWSROOM": running from fire -- 70-mile-per-hour gusts drive a dangerous blaze north of Los Angeles.

Iraq, front and center this week in Washington. A key Iraqi political player at the White House today.

School desegregation. The supreme court hears two major cases today. Can districts use race to assign students to a particular school?

Your in the NEWSROOM at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 on the East Coast.


M. O'BRIEN: Live pictures coming to us. This is from KTLA, we appreciate that, in Southern California. We're about 30 miles due east of Los Angeles. Ventura County is the location. And you can just get a sense of the tremendous winds that are coming down those Santa Ana Winds, hot, dry winds, humidity only five percent, five percent today, as those winds whipping now into the 50-mile-an-hour range, perhaps going higher. Chad had said it would be a little bit better than yesterday, where winds were winds were gusting up to 70 miles an hour, but that will be a cold comfort for the firefighters on the front lines of this. A thousand of them trying to batten down this fire right now. A lot of homes evacuated, five homes destroyed already, and folks there very uncertain and unclear as to which way this one is going to head.

S. O'BRIEN: The blaze began about 2:30 in the morning yesterday morning, and in an area that used to be sort of a farm town, but has turned into a bedroom community, and has just been absolutely plowing through. As you can see, some of those flames just eating through that area.

We're going continue to monitor that story as we hand over our coverage to our friends at "CNN NEWSROOM." Tony Harris is there this morning, along with Heidi Collins.