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American Morning

Fight for Iraq: More Troops to Secure Baghdad; Bush Latin America Tour; Indonesian Plane Crash Survivors

Aired March 08, 2007 - 07:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: War divide. Democrats push again today to pull the U.S. out of Iraq, but one top commander says more troops are needed into next year.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: High anxiety. A sweeping investigation ordered in Indonesia after that stunning crash yesterday. And some tips for you how you -- how do you know if that foreign airliner is safe to fly?

S. O'BRIEN: And share the wealth. Ranchers passing on what they've learned to farmers to keep our meat and produce safe to eat.

We're live this morning from Indonesia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York on this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you, Thursday, March 8th.

I'm Miles O'Brien.

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

Thanks for being with us.

M. O'BRIEN: We begin in Iraq, where the new general in charge there says there is no military solution to the violence and no end in sight to the U.S. occupation. Early this morning, General David Petraeus facing off with reporters in Baghdad for the first time since he assumed command.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: Putting Iraq above personal and sectarian agendas will be critical as Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people grapple with some very tough issues in the months ahead.


M. O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr watching from the Pentagon.

Barbara, give all of this, is Petraeus asking the Pentagon for any additional assistance? We're hearing word of additional MPs, support. It brings the troop count on this troop buildup closer to about 29,000, maybe 30,000 troops.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is going to creep up a bit, Miles. No end in sight. At least no deadline being set for any end in sight at the moment.

The troop increase about 21,000 or so, perhaps another 4,000 to 5,000 in support for the combat forces. And now, yes, General Petraeus asking for about an additional 2,000 military police, extra military police, because with the security crackdown in Baghdad, he anticipates a significant number of arrests of new detainees, new prisoners that the U.S. will have to take charge of.

And now the Pentagon also saying, Miles, it is at least planning, planning on how it would keep this higher number of troops in place in Iraq at least through much of 2008. They have to start planning now so they can develop a troop rotation plan in case they need it -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: The general's news conference, Barbara, was interesting for what was not said as well. An important omission here. He did not mention Muqtada al-Sadr or the Mehdi militia, which is such a provocateur in all of this.

What does that mean? What should we take from this.

STARR: Well, that's -- yes, that's right. I thought it was very interesting.

You're not hearing -- it's been days since you've either seen or heard much about Muqtada al-Sadr, the Mehdi army that he runs, the Shia death squads, any of it. It's like it disappeared off the face of the earth.

In fact, all of these groups are now laying low in these opening days of the new security crackdown. They have basically gone to ground.

What the U.S. doesn't know is what's going to happen next. Many of the top U.S. commanders say they think they have gone to ground and they hope that they at least stay there long enough for some new security to take hold so that these militia groups and Muqtada al-Sadr cannot come back and instigate more violence. That if they laid low long enough, they'll basically be out of the picture.

But that, at the moment, Miles, may be more of a hope than a reality. Nobody is counting them out just yet -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: In just about an hour, President Bush is going to leave for a weeklong trip to five countries in Latin America. The president's going to make stops in Brazil, in Uruguay, in Colombia, in Guatemala, and in Mexico, he will be talking about poverty and also trying to change opinions that the United States has been neglecting its neighbors to the south.

White House Correspondent Ed Henry has a preview for us this morning. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush vowed to use his experience as Texas governor to make neighboring Latin America a top priority.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Should I become the president, I will look south not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental commitment to my presidency.

HENRY: Seven years later, that promise has become yet another casualty of the Iraq war. Now the president, looking for legacy items, is trying to make up for lost time with a seven-day swing through South and Central America.

BUSH: The fact is that tens of millions of our brothers and sisters to the south have seen little improvement in their daily lives. And this has led some to question the value of democracy.

HENRY: Fuel for the anti-American Venezuela strongman Hugo Chavez, whose education and health programs have won the hearts and minds of the impoverished in his nation as American development programs have lagged. Chavez has formed a close alliance with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and armed with massive oil revenue, wants to spread his brand of socialism.

The White House insists this is not an anti-Chavez tour, but the itinerary suggests otherwise, with stops in five democracies wringing Venezuela.

First, it's Brazil, where the president hopes to ink an ethanol deal to ease America's energy crisis, but also to weaken the influence of Chavez's oil reserves. In Uruguay, Mr. Bush wants to set up a free trade deal. Then on to Colombia to highlight the battle against narcoterrorists. More trade talk in Guatemala and Mexico, as well as the thorny issue of immigration reform.

The president's overriding message to those in poverty, the U.S. feels your pain.

BUSH: The trip really is to remind people that we care. I do worry about the fact that some say, well, the United States hasn't paid enough attention to us.

MICHAEL SHIFTER, V.P., INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE: Bush is in a very weak position. His political capital is depleted. There's a lot more mistrust in the region. And so he's got his work cut out for him.

HENRY: Is it too little, too late?

Ed Henry, CNN, Sao Paulo, Brazil.


S. O'BRIEN: AMERICAN MORNING is going to be coming to you live from Mexico for the president's visit there on Tuesday. Immigration, of course, certain to be a big topic of conversation between the two presidents, President Bush and the Mexican president, Felipe Calderon.

I'll be in Mexico taking a hard look at the issue and examining why so many people are so desperate to leave Mexico and come across the border into the United States. That's on Tuesday right here on AMERICAN MORNING -- Miles.


S. O'BRIEN: This morning in Indonesia, investigators are trying to identify those who were killed in that plane crash in Yogyakarta yesterday. At least 22 people dead. Amazingly, though, dozens more lived to tell the tale.

CNN's Dan Rivers spoke with some survivors. He joins us live this morning.

Dan, good morning.


You join me in front of what remains of GA Flight 200. You can see the white skeleton of the fuselage there that's completely burnt out. The top of it has disappeared completely.

Today we have been watching Australian and Indonesian officials start to log this field of debris, photograph and log every bit to try and work out what's happened. They have now found the black box flight recorder, and that's being taken to Australia for further analysis.

Meanwhile, today, I've been in the main hospital in Yogyakarta to hear some of the survivors' stories.


RIVERS (voice over): Looking at the ferocity of the fire, it is amazing anyone could have survived this crash. But they did. Two- thirds of the 140 passengers and crew made it out alive, some running away from the burning wreckage with barely a scratch. Others badly injured and burnt, carried away on stretchers.

Yanadi Frimulio (ph) tells me how his hands and legs were badly scolded when he brushed against the red-hot fuselage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I jumped awkwardly and my hand touched the side of the plane. But it was so hot, I fell to the ground when it was burning (INAUDIBLE) fuel. My body started burning. Luckily, I was wearing a leather jacket.

RIVERS: But Nonook Sufitri (ph) was barely injured, just the odd bruise and scratch. She says, "When I tried to escape from the plane, I fell down and people were trampling me, but someone helped me up and I jumped out of the emergency door." But Nonook (ph) wasn't just jumping for her own life. She's 10 weeks pregnant. She says, "When I was about to jump from the plane, I was worried about my baby, but I had no choice."

The pictures of the crash reinforce just how lucky she was. She simply walked away from the wreckage, got a taxi to take her to the hospital, where doctors confirmed her baby is fine.


RIVERS: A remarkable story that Nonook (ph) told me in hospital there. Thankfully, she and her baby are OK.

We now know from the airline that operated this plane, Garuda, that they've revised the death toll now to 22 dead. They say that there are 67 people in hospital with serious injuries, 43 have now been discharged. But there are still, Soledad, eight people missing.

S. O'BRIEN: Dan Rivers for us with an update.

Thank you, Dan -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, a horrible sight in Indonesia. Another airliner down. How you can know if that foreign airliner you are boarding is safe? We have some advice for you.

And how do you know if the food you're eating is safe? All these stories we've been hearing, it sure seems like it isn't. We'll tell you what's being done to keep you and your family health.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning right here.


S. O'BRIEN: Georgia truck driver Ed Nabors has a new handle this morning -- "Hey, good buddy. This is the Mega Millionaire." Nabors cashed one of the two winning tickets in Wednesday's record $390 million lottery. His take after taxes? We crunched the numbers for him -- a cool $80 million.

CNN's Rusty Dornin is live in Dalton, Georgia. That's just exactly where Nabors bought that winning ticket.

Good morning.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The convenience store, Soledad, is called Favorite Market. And it's certainly Ed Nabors' favorite market.

And this morning the gang's all here that was here the day that Ed bought his ticket. In fact, the woman who sold him his ticket is just right behind the register. He even referred to her in the press conference as "Granny."

They're all very happy for his fortune. He came in here to buy a cup of coffee, decided to buy $10 worth of tickets. And he won the big jackpot.

He told everybody -- it's in the local paper, and he told the news conference, he's going fishing. But before he does that, he has a few things he'd like to do for his family.


ED NABORS, LOTTERY WINNER: My daughter has wanted a House and to get out of the mobile home for a long time. And I think she just got it.


DORNIN: And he said he also would like -- he's got two other children and six grandchildren. He said he'd also like to help them with some things. He has a lot of people he would like to help out.

As for the folks here at the market, they will get $25,000. The manager gets half of that, and the rest of the employee will split it.

So happy days for everyone here in Dalton, Georgia, except, of course, for those who wish they had won -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: That would be me, among the other many, many people.

A quick question for you. You know, the people at that Mega Millions lottery said the first thing should do is get a lawyer, the second thing he should do is get an accountant. Has he done all that? Or has he just got that $80 million check and now he's going to go get his daughter a house?

DORNIN: Well, you know what? He's not talking.


DORNIN: He said that he doesn't want to talk to anyone. After that press conference, yes, basically he told everyone, look, I don't want to talk today, I don't want to talk tomorrow. I want to let this all sort of sink in and figure out what I'm going to do.

So what his plans are now, we don't know. He's keeping it a secret.

S. O'BRIEN: And if you think you're related to him, do not call him, is what he's saying.

Rusty Dornin for us this morning.

Thanks, Rusty.

What about the millions and millions of dollars spent by the rest of us who lost? Where does all that money go? A closer look now with AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Forget about hard work. The real American dream is winning the lottery. You pay your money and you get to dream of unheard of wealth.

NABORS: There's a lot of things I can do.

FRANKEN: No doubt about it. He bought his ticket at a small market and gas station, one of nearly a quarter million lottery sales points in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Each state spends the money in specific ways.

The winner in Georgia will be interested to know that of the $29 billion in sales since the state lottery began in 1993, 54 percent of that has gone to prizes. About 38 percent to education. The rest for overhead.

In New Jersey, home of the other winners, the take has been around $40 billion since the 1970 beginning. Forty percent of that has gone to education, as well as medical and rehabilitative institutions. Fifty-two percent has been for prize pay-out.

As for those multi-state ventures, Mega Millions and Powerball, each state contributes a percentage toward the jackpot and keeps the rest to pay the small winners and finance the government programs.

(on camera): Nationwide, there's that old criticism that they contribute to gambling addiction. Did you know that this is Problem Gambling Awareness Week?

KEITH WHYTE, NATIONAL COUNCIL ON PROBLEM GAMBLING: People have to understand that you need to set a limit and stick to it.

FRANKEN (voice over): Lotteries are now firmly entrenched, although some states are flirting with selling them to corporations.

Our Mega Millions winners could probably care less.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully it's somebody that I know.

FRANKEN: That store owner says he has plenty of merchandise he can sell the winner, but probably nothing that will match that Mega Million ticket.

Bob Franken, CNN, Washington.


M. O'BRIEN: About quarter past the hour. Chad Myers at CNN Center with a warning about some brutally cold temperatures still out there.


M. O'BRIEN: It is a story of horror, heroism and some good luck. Twenty-two died in that crash in Indonesia yesterday, but many others escaped. There were 140 on board in all. And those that escaped tell a harrowing tale of a plane landing too fast and too far down the runway.

It's the third Indonesian airliner to crash in a year and a half.

Should foreign travelers fly on a wing and a prayer, or can we all do some things to ensure we are flying safely?

Steve Lott is with the International Air Transport Association. He joins us from Washington with some tips.

Steve, good to have you with us.

Let's talk about what do you before you even select an airline. And one of the things you say is call a travel agent. A lot of people don't use travel agents anymore. Is that a good idea?

STEVE LOTT, INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSN.: That's true. Well, if you are flying internationally, it's probably not a bad idea. If you are going to an exotic location or a location you're not familiar with, it's not a bad idea to go through a travel agent. And they can provide good advice and help you through the process of choosing the best route and choosing the lowest price, and choosing an airline that provides good service and security and safety.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. So do some research online, then maybe call a travel agent along the way if you want to do both.

You say check with the embassy. What's the embassy going to do for you?

LOTT: Well, it's not so much the embassy, but check with the government. At the end of the day, the government provides -- its responsibility is to provide safety and security for air travel.

M. O'BRIEN: Now, when you say the government, the government of the airline? Is that what you're talking about?

LOTT: I'm talking about a foreign government.

M. O'BRIEN: Right.

LOTT: If you're traveling internationally, check with the government of the location that you are going to. It's important, because it's the government's responsibility, as I said, for civil aviation. So it's important to check with them. And there's also some other...

M. O'BRIEN: That could be hard to do for the average person. You don't just ring up Indonesia and say, "How is your airline business?" What do you do? How do you do that?

LOTT: Absolutely. Well, I mean, I would check with the Web site.

Again, go to the Web site of the embassy in Washington, or the other thing you can do is there's a United Nations organization called ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, that works with countries.

They actually set standards for countries to operate by. They set the safety standards. And they have a very good Web site that gives warnings and discusses current situations in countries around the world.

M. O'BRIEN: And now you say get the airliner safety -- airline safety record. How do you go about getting those kinds of statistics?

LOTT: Well, what's important is you need to look at how the airline is doing now. You know, if you look 30 years ago, and they had an accident, that's really irrelevant. What's important is what's happening today. What is their safety record today, just within recent history?

Again, you can do research through independent government agency- type sites. You can look at sites from the FAA, from the NTSB. You have to be careful on the Web, though, because you don't want to go to a ranking. There's no first place when it comes to safety.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about -- let's talk about what you do a little bit before you board, if you don't mind. I'm sorry to cut you off there.

LOTT: That's OK.

M. O'BRIEN: But one of the things Greg Hunter has been talking about all this morning is, you know, looking for the safety exit, paying attention to the briefing, the safety cards.

One of the things you also recommend is make sure the crew is trained. How would you know if the crew is properly trained?

LOTT: Well, again, it's almost common sense-type things. It's looking at, you know, is the crew going through the proper procedures?

There's -- as you know, flying is all about procedures, going through the checklist. And you can tell if the crew is take things seriously, if they are going through the checklist, if they're going through the safety process and procedure, if they're going -- you know, letting you know where the emergency exits are, going through evacuation procedures. Is the pilot doing the walk-around of the aircraft?

It's these types of things that are very important.

M. O'BRIEN: And finally, a lot of times when you fly overseas you end up on much older airliners. I always do this -- of course, I'm a pilot, I'm kind of a geek about these things. I also look at the door, and there's a little placard there it shows when the plane is built. And sometimes they're really old when you go overseas.

How worried should we be about that?

LOTT: Not at all. I think -- I think that's bit of a myth among travelers, in that, you know, you can have a brand new aircraft or an aircraft that's 35 years old. There's aircraft that are flying around the country right now that are 30, 35 years old, that are perfectly safe. In fact, they're just as safe, if not safer, than one that just came out of the factory, because airlines are required to go through regular maintenance cycles.

M. O'BRIEN: Are they overseas, though? How do we know about the maintenance overseas, though?

LOTT: That's the key. And that's where we come in, is that the airlines provide -- we started a program several years ago which is a safety operational audit, where we go in and we have independent auditors that look at our members and non-members to make sure that their operations and procedures are up to the highest standards.

M. O'BRIEN: Steve Lott is with the International Air Transport Association. They have got a good Web site with a lot more information. He just touched on the surface.

Check it out on the Web. Just Google his organization, IATA.

Thanks for being with us.

LOTT: My pleasure. Thanks, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, we have always known that vegetables are good for us, but what about all that news about contamination? It turns out that produce farmers can learn a lot from the beef industry about how to keep food safe.

AMERICAN MORNING will take a look at that straight ahead.


M. O'BRIEN: Did you hear about this, the town of Bloomfield, New Jersey?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I have.

M. O'BRIEN: Saying forget about it to "The Sopranos."

Did you hear about this?


M. O'BRIEN: Well, the show wanted to shoot its very last scene -- you know, the one where Tony probably gets offed.


M. O'BRIEN: You know, not to give it away, but that's what we think will happen, right? And that would put them in, you know, New Jersey hall of fame type thing. That would be up there with the Vince Lombardi truck rest stop, right? Well, everybody got excited about it in Bloomfield, except for the key person, the mayor. Mayor Ray McCarthy pulled the permits. He says he doesn't like the way "The Sopranos" portrays Italian-Americans or Joisey (ph). I don't know if he said "Joisey" (ph).


VELSHI: This is the problem.

M. O'BRIEN: This is the problem.

Local businesses have complained. The town has agreed to take up the issue again. HBO's mob drama begins airing its final nine episodes next month.

And we don't know whether Bloomfield will be there for the final scene.

S. O'BRIEN: I hope so. It would be go for them.

M. O'BRIEN: Of course it would. Of course it would.

S. O'BRIEN: They should do it.

M. O'BRIEN: But the mayor, Mayor McCarthy, apparently is married to an Italian-American woman who is very upset about the whole...

S. O'BRIEN: Actually, he's not the only person. And he's not the only person who feels like "The Sopranos" is inappropriate in some ways. But...

VELSHI: Well, other than getting whacked by the mob, the other thing that really matters to you is having a job. We've been talking all morning about economic things -- housing and retail sales -- but really you need a job to make things work.

We are expecting in about five or seven minutes a report on initial jobless claims. But the real number is going to come out tomorrow, the unemployment number. We are expecting it to be about 4.5 percent, and that's about as low as it has ever been.

Unemployment is not the problem right now. You can see that's our unemployment rate. It's been gradually going -- getting lower and lower.

Now, the "Beige Book," which I've been waving around all morning, talks a little bit about the employment situation right now in America. There's continued demand and increased pay for skilled and professional workers across the country. In fact, one report from the Philadelphia area says that employers in that region had to pay bigger raises than they did last year to retain and to hire new people.

Some manufacturing in the country is actually expanding, although not in homebuilding, not in auto making, and interestingly not in household appliances. But in other areas, including technology, there's been an expansion in manufacturing. And wages are increasing moderately.

Now remember, particularly for low-wage earners -- and we have been seeing those same-store sales come in all morning. A lot of the retailers that cater to low-wage earners are really getting hit hard, Wal-Mart and the like.

For low-wage earners, a lot of people are getting the benefit of these new minimum wage increases that came into effect. The federal minimum wage increase and a number of states which came into effect January 1st. So that could help in terms of wages -- people earn more, they spend more, good for the economy. Or they save more.

M. O'BRIEN: Boy, you really make this "Beige Book" sound interesting.

VELSHI: I know. I've got to tell you...

M. O'BRIEN: Excellent work.


S. O'BRIEN: Can I borrow that later?

VELSHI: Absolutely.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, Ali.

Coming up on the program, more of our series, "Safe to Eat".

Do you want to do it?

S. O'BRIEN: Sure. More of our series "Safe to Eat".

Go ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: We'll show you how cattle ranchers are now sharing what they learned about E. coli with produce farmers. The whole idea is to keep your food safe.

And are you buried in credit card debt? We'll tell you why Congress may be ready to step in and take on the banks.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here.


M. O'BRIEN: First our series, safe to seat. E. coli, salmonella, listeria, you'd think America was at war with its own food supply.

AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence is in Montvaile (ph), New Jersey. Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Atlanta.

Let's start with Chris. And we're talking now about how ranchers, who of course have dealt with E. coli in meat, are helping out produce farmers. How is that all working out. Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, no matter what kind of food you're talking about, there's a food chain involved. It starts outside here on farms like this one, and it ends when you package it up and bring the meat and the produce into supermarkets where people can buy it. In between, there are certain stages where the contamination can either be controlled or it can explode and just go wildly all over the country.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Herding calves and heifers is different than growing spinach on a farm. But cattle like these may hold the key to containing all kinds of contamination.

(on camera): What can the leafy green industry learn from the way the beef industry had to deal with E. coli?

BRUCE HAFENFELD, CATTLE RANCHER: I think that there's a lot to be learned from what we went through with the E. coli issue.

LAWRENCE: California cattle rancher Bruce Hafenfeld remembers the really bad days. By 1999, E. coli was making 70,000 Americans sick each year. About 60 of them were dying.

CHRIS WALDROP, FOOD POLICY INST. DIR.: So much emphasis was put on beef in the mid to late '90s, the other food industries haven't quite looked at it as rigorously as they need to.

LAWRENCE: Like beef, spinach has a middle step between farm and form, the processing phase, where factories bring in produce from dozens of farms.

HAFENFELD: They wash it in these big tubs. You get one contaminated head goes into the tub, it contaminates it all.

LAWRENCE: The beef industry figured out you can't sterilize everything. But it established choke points where contaminated products can be cut out of the food chain.

HAFENFELD: I think that's where you need to attack those kinds of issues.

LAWRENCE: The director of the Food Policy Institute says ranchers made a big decision to work together on safety. Individual companies pooled resources and invested in new technology.

WALDROP: The produce sector, I think they're going to look at those exact same things, and they need to put forth the exact same effort.

LAWRENCE: It costs millions, but Bruce says the effort pays off on the retail end.

HAFENFELD: Consumer confidence is everything.

LAWRENCE: And to bolster that confidence, some farmers feel it's vital to pass on what they've learned.


LAWRENCE: And some of the experts that I spoke with say there needs to be a lot of targeted research to find out exactly what is going on on these farms and what is going on where produce is packaged to find out where the holes may be -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Chris Lawrence, producing for us. Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get a little more on the safety of the food we eat. Chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta is at the CNN Center for us.

Hey, Sanjay, good morning to you.


S. O'BRIEN: Do you think we're just hearing about this more, or do you think there are actually literally more cases?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's interesting, Soledad, we did a little homework on that, trying to figure out how much of a problem this really is. We found that in a typical year, the numbers are pretty staggering actually, usually about 76 million illnesses. This is just one year, 325,000 hospitalizations. Approximately 5,000 people die every year. Typically there's about two to three big outbreaks a year, and 20 or 30 over a decade. So the numbers really don't seem to have gone up that much interestingly, although I thought they had as well. What does seem to have changed, though, is that produce -- and I think Chris was sort of alluding to this, produce numbers, produce outbreaks seemed to have increased with respect to what used to be mainly thought of as a beef problem or a meat problem. So you're seeing more in the produce and fewer in the beef and poultry.

S. O'BRIEN: So is it the produce makers side where really the problems are or the responsibility lies, or is it sort of the consumer side, which is you've got to figure out a way to make the food more clean when you bring it into the house?

GUPTA: Well, it's getting to these difficult questions. There's a lot of controversy over this. We've been investigating this a bit ourselves, you know, whether it is actually on the farms, for example. You're actually cutting the lettuce and then washing it in the bath right away, and then chopping it up. If that bath is contaminated, then all the lettuce gets contaminated. How do you prevent that from happening? Do you change the bath each time you wash a head of lettuce? If so, there's costs involved with that sort of thing. Is there a way to really prevent it? You know, when you talk about these huge farms -- is there a way to prevent any contamination whatsoever, because there's such an intermingling, if you will, between produce and meat, and beef and cattle. So it's a difficult question. I think people are working on this.

But one thing we have found is that it's probably no safer now than it was last year or a few years ago.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, that's not exactly encouraging. Every single time I rinse off a head of lettuce, I think I'm running cold water over a head of lettuce. What am I doing for E. coli? I mean, does it just rinse off, or should I be scrubbing it, or is there something I should be putting on it?

GUPTA: Well, first of all, it's interesting. A lot of people that we talk to who are sort of experts in this thing say buying a full head of lettuce, better than buying chopped lettuce. Why? Because when you -- after you wash it, you are still peeling off those outer layers, I imagine, Soledad, and that's doing a lot towards getting rid of that bacteria. So you are not ingesting it. So buying the full head of lettuce may go a long simply way versus chopped lettuce, and the same thing goes with other produce as well.

S. O'BRIEN: Finally, how do you keep -- you know, it was interesting, that family you profiled the other day where they had a son who never even tried the spinach, but got sick because other people in the family were sick. I sort of have not even started that you can spread -- you know, someone could be infected in the family, and pass it along to somebody else, who hasn't even tried the food. How do you protect people in your family, who may not even sample the contaminated lettuce or whatever it is?

GUPTA: It's so easy to do. There's a couple of things that really struck me. One is that, you know, when it comes to -- well, first of all, with meat, E. coli in meat will actually double every 20 to 30 minutes it's left unrefrigerated. The number of cells actually double. And the number of cells that it actually takes to get someone sick is just about 100 cells. That's nothing. I mean, you can't even see 100 cells. That's something you can easily transmit from person to person.

So, you know, after you wash the produce, washing your hands again, for example, really sterilizing everything in sight. And if someone develops any symptoms, such as a high fever, 101.5, dehydration and significant gastrointestinal problems, that's the time to go take them to see the doctor -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Sanjay Gupta for us always with great advice. Thank you, Sanjay -- Miles.

GUPTA: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, getting the credit card monkey off your back. These days it could be more like a gorilla, as the banks take advantage of folks when they're down and out of cash. What lawmakers want to do to change the equation.

Billy Bob Thornton. He's an actor known for playing oddball roles, to say the least. Well, in his latest movie he takes it to new heights, literally. We'll talk to him about his movie "The Astronaut Farmer" ahead.

You are watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning right here.


S. O'BRIEN: An update on those alleged barbie bandits. Remember these two 19-year-olds, Ashley Miller and Heather Johnson. Apparently they've been identified. Well, they were allegedly knocking over a Bank of America branch in Georgia. One more surveillance tape is emerging, and news from coworkers who say Ashley and Heather, well, they strippers. And after the heist, according to "The Atlanta Journal Constitution," they went on a shopping spree at Gucci, got their hair done. Now they're charged with felony theft and drug charges, too.

M. O'BRIEN: The teller got arrested, and there's another one involved, the teller got arrested. So there's four of them all involved in this alleged ring there, but...

S. O'BRIEN: And they said significantly over $500, which sounds like not nothing, but not $20,000.

M. O'BRIEN: I don't know. I think they just want to encourage -- they don't want people to know how much is in the drawer, so they don't say that.

S. O'BRIEN: Significantly over $500 -- whatever that means.


S. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, we all know how quickly credit card debt can add up, but even if you're careful with the plastic, you can still get smacked.

CNN's Deb Feyerick reports that now Congress is stepping in.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you've even paid down a credit card debt, then this will sound familiar.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: I look at the amount of money she's paid over the years, and it is just mind boggling.

FEYERICK: Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill telling a packed room how hard it was for her own mom who wound up buried by fees and interest rates. Fluke? Not likely.

(on camera): If you knew then what you know now, would you ever have charged your wedding on that credit card?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not at all.

FEYERICK: Wes Wannamacher (ph) $3,200 wedding debt ballooned to more than $10,000 in added interest and penalties. Why? Chase Bank hit him 47 times with extra fees for going over his spending limit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a feeling similar to riding in a submarine when the water pressure is really high, and every time the phone would ring, it gets hard to breathe, and you're not sure whether you should even answer it or not.

FEYERICK: According to the Government Accountability Office, the sixth largest credit card issues charged 35 percent of their card holders late fees in 2005. Credit card companies make the rules with no oversight and no regulation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If there were poisonous food or medication put on the shelves, no one would say read this, learn that it's poison and learn not to buy it. They would be taken off the shelves, and we want the same thing for credit.

FEYERICK: The credit card companies defended their practices, which are technically all legal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As long as they're meeting the conditions that we stated up front.

FEYERICK: Executives from Chase, Bank of America, and Citigroup saying credit cards give credit to people who otherwise would be shutout. They all left without comment immediately after the hearing. An industry spokesman explaining to consumers why it is the way it is.

KEN CLAYTON, AMERICAN BANKERS ASSN.: I think it's important for them to understand that this is a loan. It's an unsecured loan to millions of people every day only based on the promise that they'll pay you back.

FEYERICK: When Chase Bank found out Wes Wannamacher was testifying, they dropped the more than $4,000 he still owed, blaming it on human error.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Washington.


M. O'BRIEN: "CNN NEWSROOM" just moments away. Heidi Collins at the CNN Center with a look ahead.

Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Miles.

That's right, these are the stories we have on the "NEWSROOM" rundown today. House Democrats are revealing a timetable now to get U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2008. See the announcement live in the "NEWSROOM."

And a Florida city firing its town manager because Steve says he'll soon be Susan.

Doctors baffled -- after almost seven years, a Colorado woman wakes up from a coma and greets her family. Days later she falls into the coma again. We'll tell that you story as well.

Rob Marciano joins me in the NEWSROOM this morning. We get started at the top of the hour on CNN.

M. O'BRIEN All right, thank you, Heidi. We'll be watching.

Coming up, Billy Bob Thornton in the studio. He's been a bad Santa. He coached the Bad News Bears. But these days he has an out- of-this-world role. We'll hear from him coming up in just a moment.

Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: He's an actor well known for embracing edgy, eccentric, dare we say crazy roles. But now we can for certain Billy Bob Thornton is in fact a space cadet.

Check out this scene from his new movie "The Astronaut Farmer."


BILLY BOB THORNTON, ACTOR: Now this space suit will allow me to control the climate and pressure you need to be in space. It's kind of like having your own personal weather inside here. Because in space, it's very, very cold.

Are there any questions? Whoa. Well, why don't you just put your hands down, we'll just kind of wing it here, starting in the front. How about you?

QUESTION: Did you but it at Target?

THORNTON: No, I didn't but it at Target.


M. O'BRIEN: Billy Bob Thornton is here, sans space suit. You should have brought it. That would have been a nice look for you.

THORNTON: I wish they let me keep it, but they didn't.

M. O'BRIEN: When you got this script, what went through your mind?

THORNTON: Well, I guess my initial reaction was it fit the bill for what I wanted to do career-wise, because I'd always wanted to do my Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper role. You know, and to do one of those kinds of movies that was inspirational, and you know, sort of triumphant and everything, along the line of "Hoosiers" or "Field of Dreams," or you something like that. And this had everything. And plus when I was kid, we loved astronauts.

M. O'BRIEN: Sure.

THORNTON: You know John Glenn and everybody.

M. O'BRIEN: It's a generational picture, the John Glenn suit there. And you play a farmer named "Farmer" who literally builds an Atlas rocket with a mercury capsule right in your barn.


M. O'BRIEN: And that sounds so implausible. And you have to suspend disbelief a bit if you're in to the rocket science part of it. But it really isn't a story about rocket science in space so much as it is one man's determination to pursue a goal.

THORNTON: Yes, it's really a movie about dreaming, and how this society, these days, doesn't necessarily encourage that anymore. And it's about, you know, chasing your dreams, and trying to fulfill them so you don't live with regrets.

M. O'BRIEN: How much of a space nut have you been over the years?

THORNTON: At that time, when I was a kid, it was sort of new, you know, the space program, and they were just exploring all of that. So, guys like John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepherd, all of them, they were really big heroes to us, and they're like cowboys in a way, you know, space cowboys.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting. There are a whole group of entrepreneurs out them right now, many of them dot-com millionaires, who are trying to do -- not quite in the barn in the backyard as a farmer, are trying to build their own rockets and do just that, send civilians up to space. Do you think there is, truly -- I guess you sort of tapped into a desire here, that people would like to go there.

THORNTON: Absolutely. I mean, the talk is that not too long from now you can go just buy a subway ticket to the moon.

M. O'BRIEN: Would buy a ticket?

THORNTON: I would love to. I think I'd rather do it the way the astronauts did it. I would rather go up with two or three people or something like that. I don't know if I'd really want to go just on the bus.

M. O'BRIEN: As this whole movie is coming out, what's in the news now, sadly for NASA, is this poor astronaut-lover triangle and the woman driving across the country in diapers.


M. O'BRIEN: Do you worry about where NASA is now? It doesn't have quite have the luster of the John Glenn days.

THORNTON: Yes, it's unfortunate that the lady's story kind of took over there, because there was another story at the same time about a woman who had set a record for staying in space the longest or something, and the article is that big, and then diapers are that big.

M. O'BRIEN: Unfortunately. All right. Bill Bob Thornton, good luck with the movie. THORNTON: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: That Looks like a good flick. All right, here's a look at what CNN NEWSROOM is working on for the top of the hour for you.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN ANCHOR: See these stories in the "CNN NEWSROOM": A Bronx tragedy. Eight children and one adult die in a house fire.

President Bush flying to Latin America today. He'll visit five nations.

Surgery in Houston for this Iraqi baby. Doctors hope to repair nerve damage.

And that first step will be a doozy: a glass-bottomed view of the Grand Canyon.

More in the NEWSROOM, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, 6:00 out west.


M. O'BRIEN: Yes, it's Thursday, boys and girls. Young and old, we invite to you join us at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. for...

CROWD: Milescam!

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, crew. You're doing very well today. Good coffee rations for you guys. Send us your e-mail right now. You've got an hour to get them in, Whatever is on your mind. The ubiquitous question, are Soledad and I married? You can ask that one.

S. O'BRIEN: Could you stop saying that? And not because I don't love you, but people only hear the first half, which is yes, we are. And they don't hear the back half, which is, to other people. And so the number of people who now come up to me after the show and say I hear you're married to Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Hey, just for the record, you said it this time. I didn't.

S. O'BRIEN: Clarifying. Clarifying.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's look at the transcript. She said it, OK.

S. O'BRIEN: I love you, man.

M. O'BRIEN: SOB, not MOB. That's all the time we have for this edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Heidi Collins and Rob Marciano begins right now.