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American Morning

Blackwater Immunity: Contractors Strike Deal; Beach House Tragedy; Pain in the Joints

Aired October 30, 2007 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, welcome once again. It is Tuesday, October 30th.
I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you.

I'm John Roberts.

The Iraqi government accuses them of premeditated murder, but now Blackwater security guards may have struck a deal. Sources say the State Department granted them immunity in a case surrounding the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi citizens, even as the FBI was investigating the September 16th incident.

State Department Correspondent Zain Verjee is live for us in Washington with breaking details.

Zain, these contractors are being offered what's called limited use immunity. What exactly does that mean?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Well, it basically means that they were promised that they won't be criminally charged for anything that they say, as long as their statements were true. Now, State Department investigators from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security basically offered it to Blackwater guards even though they don't have the power or the authority to make decisions like that. That's something that's usually done in consultation with federal prosecutors.

Now, officials familiar with the matter told CNN that what this does is that it really complicates efforts to bring criminal charges in the case. The problem really is that the FBI won't be able to use statements that diplomatic security guards -- from interviewing the guards. The FBI has been trying to get a second state of untainted statements, but the guards can also say, look, we're just not going to do that, saying that, we have immunity.

Now, one U.S. government official says that this doesn't mean the charges can never be brought against them. Blackwater guards and other civilian contractors, as you know, John, are in a bit of a legal twilight zone. They're immune from Iraqi law, on the one hand, and they also can't be tried in U.S. military courts -- John.

ROBERTS: The secretary of state, Zain, apparently didn't know anything about this. How embarrassing is this whole thing for Condoleezza Rice?

VERJEE: Well, it would be pretty embarrassing. I mean, as the State Department spokesman says, that whatever arrangements were made were not sanctioned by the senior management of the State Department, meaning Secretary Rice. So if she really didn't have any idea about this, this would be extraordinarily embarrassing for her.

She sent a team to investigate overall security practices in Iraq and to prevent a repeat of what happened on September 16th. She moved really swiftly on their recommendations for better oversight and accountability -- John.

ROBERTS: Is the State Department having a briefing today, Zain?

VERJEE: Yes. They're having a briefing today, and we'll also be speaking to them a little bit in the morning as well. So we'll get more information from them.


VERJEE: But it's certainly created another major embarrassing situation.

ROBERTS: At the very least.

All right, Zain. We'll look forward to more from you this morning.

Zain Verjee, thanks.

Let's go over to Kiran now.

CHETRY: Well, now we know some of the names of the dead and we're hearing some new dramatic stories about those who did survive that beach house inferno in North Carolina that took the lives of seven college students.

Last night, hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight memorial at the University of South Carolina. That's where six of the victims went to school. A seventh went to Clemson university. Well, now parents want to know why that home went up in flames so quickly with more than a dozen young people inside.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Alina Cho is at our National Update Desk now with some new information about those who died and also the 911 calls.

And this morning, any closer to finding out a cause, Alina?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not just yet, Kiran. No definitive word. And it actually could be up to a month before we know for sure.

But there are several published reports this morning that the fire may have started in the back of the house. Possibly on the back deck.

Fire officials do not suspect foul play. We should mention they do believe it was an accident.

Also, for the first time, we're hearing those frantic 911 calls alerting authorities the house on North Carolina's coast was on fire.


DISPATCHER: 911, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Yes, I'm out on the beach. A man is screaming and jumped out the window of a house and is totally engulfed in flames.

DISPATCHER: OK, we've got people on the way. Thank you.


CHO: Now, the fire broke out early Sunday morning. The kids were there for a weekend getaway. It was supposed to be fun. Seven students died.

This morning, the father of one of the victims spoke to CNN affiliate WKYC.


TERRY WALDEN, ALLISON WALDEN'S FATHER: We've really come to grips with the fact that she is not coming back. That is going to be the hardest part.


CHO: Now, that was Terry Walden. He lost his daughter Allison in the fire. She was a beautiful 19-year-old sophomore at the University of South Carolina. She majored in exercise science.

Six students miraculously survived some of them by jumping out of the house as it was ablaze. Funerals, we should mention, are planned for this weekend. Kiran grief counselors are on hand to help thousands of students at two universities deal with this terrible tragedy -- Kiran.

CHETRY: And it's so heartbreaking to see that dad. I mean, it's just an unimaginable nightmare for the parents of these kids as well.

Alina, thanks -- John.


ROBERTS: Oil prices hitting a new high, settling above $93 a barrel.

Our Stephanie Elam in today for Ali Velshi at the Business Update Desk.

Is this showing any signs of a cap here? I mean, is it going to stop or keep going all the way to 100?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Not right now. Yes, not right now, John.

And remember when we used to think $100 a barrel was just out of the question? Not looking like that right now -- $93.53, that's where we settled last night. And taking a look at oil from where it was the day before, that's up $1.67.

It is trading lower in Asia overnight, so that's one little bit of a silver lining there. But we're looking at Mexico.

They're cutting some of the production, cutting back 600,000 barrels. That's affecting us. We've also got a weaker dollar, those tensions over in the Middle East all factoring in.

Also, today the Fed begins their two-day meeting. They're widely expected to go ahead and cut the Fed fund rates by a quarter of a percentage point. If that happens, that will bring it down. That will also help bring oil prices up even further.

Also want to let you know gas prices are up around 10 cents over the last two weeks to $2.87 a gallon. Oil prices are up nine percent since Wednesday.

We're looking for a lackluster open for now.

Right now, back to you, John.

ROBERTS: All right. Stephanie Elam for us this morning.

Stephanie, thanks very much.


CHETRY: Well, there's some new insight this morning into the cause of osteoarthritis, a painful joint disease that doesn't just affect older people. If you're 40 and even under you could also be at risk.

Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is at our Medical Update Desk in Atlanta.

Hi, Elizabeth. Good to see you.

Now, what exactly is osteoarthritis?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Osteoarthritis is just a type of arthritis, Kiran. And it has to do with the cartilage in your joints.

We all have cartilage that cushions the joints. That's a good thing. And as you age and as you get wear and tear, it can wear away.

You can get inflammation, and eventually what can happen is that that cartilage can disappear entirely, and then what you have is bone- to-bone contact. All that green stuff can disappear, and when those bones rub against each other, you can be sure that that is extremely painful. Now, you mentioned that arthritis can actually affect people under age 40, even though I think most of the time when people hear of arthritis they think of grandma. But it actually can happen to people much younger.

Now, why would some young people get arthritis? Part of it might be their family history. It might just run in their family.

Part of it is, if they're heavy, all that weight is going to put extra stress on those joints. And also, sports injuries. You get these weekend warriors out there, and maybe their joints just aren't ready to take that kind of stress. And it can also put wear and tear on that cartilage.

So you really have to be careful about doing all of these things carefully. And, of course, keeping your weight down is a terrific idea, too -- Kiran.

CHETRY: That's right. So those are some of the ways to avoid it.

Also, are there any, like, really effective treatments? I know there's a ton of things out there that advertise helping for arthritis, but is there anything that really seems to do the trick?

COHEN: Well, you know, certainly prevention is the best thing to do. So, again, those things like keeping your weight down and also, you know, exercise properly. Don't just go out there and go crazy one weekend and not sort of tone up your body for the rest of the time. You want to keep your muscles in good shape.

There are some alternative remedies out there sometimes. And some people find those useful, but you have to be careful. You want to make sure you're taking the right dosage.

And if you talk to your doctor, they can talk about -- there are some remedies that you want to use at certain points. You don't want to use them too early on in the game, but they might be useful later on in the game. So you really have to talk to your doctor.

CHETRY: All right. And try to change up those activities. I know people that just hit the treadmill and run and bang their knees every single day, as opposed to changing it up with swimming or something that's a little more low impact.

COHEN: Right, exactly.

CHETRY: All right, Elizabeth. Thanks a lot.

COHEN: Thanks.



CHETRY: Well, a beautiful shot this morning of New York's Central Park. A pretty day. A little bit cooler, finally calling off.

It's not Daylight Savings Time yet, by the way, so don't get confused by that, although some of our BlackBerrys and Palm devices have been confused. We have to wait until the first week of November, actually.

Well, welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

There is some controversy swirling around New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, first for proposing a plan that would let illegal immigrants get driver's licenses. And then he changed the plan over the weekend, so now there's some new criticism from immigrant advocates who say it would unfairly target illegals.

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer joins be now to talk about it.

Thanks for being with us, first of all, Governor.

GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK: My pleasure. Good to be here.

CHETRY: So your original plan would have given illegal immigrants the same driver's license as everyone else. And that was highly criticized. In fact, 72 percent of New Yorkers polled said they were opposed to that plan.

Then you announced a new plan over the weekend. The editorial board of "The New York Times" called it caving.

So are you caving or are you just listening to the will of the people?

SPITZER: Well, in a way, neither. What we are trying to do, first of all, is address a problem that the federal government has created, which is that there are one million people here in New York state alone who are not here with proper documentation, but they're here.

We want security. We want our roads to be safe, which is the initial impetus behind letting them get a license so we know who they are, where they are. They can get insurance, everybody is safer.

Security experts agree with that premise. Seven other states do it. That is the initial objective.

What we've tried to do is do it in a way that does not create a structure that makes them feel targeted, creates security. Now, what we did over the weekend was reach an agreement with the director of Homeland Security on a structure that he said would make the New York license among the most secure in the nation.

That is what we are trying to do, provide security, documentation, know who is here. And what we have accomplished, I believe, is a compromise that does all of those things.

CHETRY: Unfortunately, you're getting criticism from the other side now because the immigration advocates are saying that because this license that only illegals or undocumented would qualify for...

SPITZER: No. Can I interrupt for one second? Because that is a fundamental misconception. This is a license. One would be what we would call a Real ID license...

CHETRY: right.

SPITZER: ... that would satisfy the federal Real ID statute.

CHETRY: Which they can't qualify for if they're undocumented.

SPITZER: That's right, because they -- but another license that I would get that would be a New York state license that everybody would qualify for with documentation, but it would not be limited to illegal immigrants at all. It would...

CHETRY: Wait, hold on. You're saying you would get the one...

SPITZER: Absolutely.

CHETRY: ... that says right clearly on it, not for U.S. government use? That would be...


SPITZER: No, no, no, no, no. It would say not valid for federal ID. And the reason is I have a passport, I have all sorts of other documentation.

The other one might cost more. It will be different, more difficult to get.

There will be two separate licenses. One that satisfies a federal Real ID statute, the other that doesn't. It would not be one license just for illegal immigrants.

CHETRY: So you disagree with the assertion that, hey, if you can get a license that clears you to go to Canada, that clears you to travel with ease, why wouldn't you get that one, as opposed to the one where only illegals would qualify for?

SPITZER: Many reasons. And that has been the record that has been established so far.

A Real ID license that people will get if they want to have perhaps an easier time at an airport. Another one if you already have a passport. You will not need to pay the extra fees, et cetera. So, two separate licenses. Both valid, both legitimate.

CHETRY: Now, critics are calling the plan confusing and a bureaucratic nightmare. Is it practical to try to implement...

SPITZER: Sure it is.

CHETRY: ... three different licenses?

SPITZER: Sure it is.

CHETRY: And do you know how much it will cost?

SPITZER: It's really two. The third is for the Canadian border contact, something we call an enhanced driver license pursuant to the Western Hemisphere travel initiative, a very separate issue that is a very important step forward for the economy in Buffalo and along the Canadian border.

Really two. One, if you want to satisfy Real ID, another if you don't.

It is easy. DMV would have an easy time implementing this. The cost would be no greater than the cost of implementing Real ID anyway. And so that is going to be a federally imposed obligation on us, despite what we choose to do.

CHETRY: One of your most vocal opponents has of course been right here in the walls of CNN, Lou Dobbs. He actually went as far last week as to call you an idiot before apologizing for saying that on the air.

Let's hear what he said last night.


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: I really don't care anymore about what this governor, this arrogant abuser of his office -- and the just absolute disdain with which he holds both the truth and the citizens of the state of New York. This man is sitting here putting together a three-tier system in which he is going to give voter registration privileges to people he knows are illegal?


CHETRY: Do illegal immigrants get voter registration privileges?

SPITZER: Look, I'm not going to demean myself by getting into a back and forth with somebody who on TV spews venom, hate and fundamental misinformation. Of course not. He knows it.

This has absolutely nothing to do with voting. This is something seven other states do for security.

The director of Homeland Security has said we improve security by knowing who is there. As I said, it's beneath me, it's beneath my office, to, in any way, involve myself with Lou Dobbs. And I think his knowing spread of venom is beneath CNN as well.

CHETRY: Now, so just that we're clear, though, if you're undocumented you will not be able to vote even if you do get this ID?

SPITZER: Of course not. Voting is limited to citizenship. This is getting a driver's license so we know who is driving so that fewer accidents and more security. Security is what we are about. Understand, we got into 9/11 because people wanted to ignore the problem. We're not ignoring the problem of the million people here in New York. We're confronting it.

Confronting it by saying they're here, let's know who they are, give them licenses, let us forge a system that permits us to improve security, which is precisely what the federal government has said we would do. Seven other states have done it.

The sort of racist venom that has underlined much of the criticism I think is shameful because what we are really talking about here is security and how we run our society.

CHETRY: Governor Spitzer, I'm glad you came on our show and had a chance to share your side. We appreciate it.

Thanks for being with us.

SPITZER: Thanks. Thank you very much.




ROBERTS: A vice presidential hunting trip is making news again. Vice President Dick Cheney spent some time yesterday at the exclusive Clove Valley Rod and Gun Club north of New York City. That's where a "New York Daily News" photographer captured this picture.

It shows -- and you can just see it's sort of in the upper right- hand side of that open door there -- a confederate flag hanging inside a garage on the property. The Reverend Al Sharpton is calling that an insult, asking the vice president to distance himself from the hunting grounds, but the club had no comment. The vice president's staff said they weren't aware that the flag was on the property.

CHETRY: Well, if you hate office gossip, you're not alone. When it comes to what irritates most people at work, they say gossip number one. But it doesn't stop there.

There's a new research -- market research poll out that says colleagues who spend their day gossiping top the list of pet peeves, followed by surfing the net -- people who do nothing but surf the net and send out mass e-mails. Maybe it was the mass e-mail part that got on people's nerves. The "reply all."

How about messy colleagues or people who wear too much perfume or cologne? And those who use their speaker phones or talk too loudly on the phone, all of those topping the list.

ROBERTS: Well, we wanted to do our own survey this morning. We want to know what you think.

What's your biggest pet peeve at the office? Cast your vote at

Right now, 35 percent say gossiping. Some of the results are pretty similar. Twenty-seven percent say phone too loud, 21 percent too much perfume, 11 percent being messy. But because we only asked surfing the net, not sending out mass e-mails, only six percent of you said that is your biggest office pet peeve.

We'll keep tallying the votes for you this morning. We'll have a final vote for you just before we go off the air.


ROBERTS: A picture of Logan Airport this morning thanks to our friends at WHDH in Boston. A beautiful day up there. For the Red Sox, a Rolling Rally gets under way at noon today at Fenway Park, just like they did a few years ago.

Tuesday, October the 30th. I'm John Roberts. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: And I'm Kiran Chetry.

New this morning, the Iraqi government saying that private U.S. security firms are no longer above the law. Iraq has approved draft resolution that lifts immunity for private foreign security companies like Blackwater. Contractors from that firm are under investigation in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians. It would overturn an immunity order issued by Paul Bremer who ran the American occupation government until June of 2004.

They are planning funerals today for the weekend for seven college students who were trapped in the North Carolina beach house inferno. Officials have not yet released their names but families are telling us about some of the victims. One father tells our affiliate he lost his 18-year-old daughter, Allison Walden, in the fire. She was a sophomore at the University of South Carolina. Fire investigators are now on the scene trying to figure out why the flames spread so quickly with more than a dozen people inside. One neighbor says there was partying going on into the night. Also, reports of the fire may have started on the back deck.

The FEMA official behind a fake news conference is now out of a new job. Pat Philbin was FEMA's external affairs director. He was supposed to start a new job yesterday working for the Director of National Intelligence but that office has decided to drop him.

A week ago FEMA called a news conferences conference to discuss the California wildfires. The only problem, they gave a 15-minute warning and no actual members of the press were able to make it in time so FEMA employees asked the questions posing as reporters. Philbin says he accepts responsibility for what was a major mistake. The head of FEMA, David Paulison, called the incident an egregious decision. He issued a statement saying, "I am extremely displeased by what transpired and will make the necessary changes in order to regain confidence and credibility in the eyes of the people we serve." We're getting a look this morning inside of an alleged sweat shop in India where authorities say children as young as 10 were making clothes for the Gap. CNN has obtained these photos of the facility that was raided in New Delhi. Police say they found children working under grueling conditions for little or no pay. We talked to the president of the Gap on Monday AMERICAN MORNING. She told us the Gap stopped ordering from the shop as soon as it found out about the allegations and that products made at the alleged sweat shop will not be sold in stores.

ROBERTS: Signs this morning that there is some progress in Iraq. October could become the second straight month of declines in U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths; this after a series of bombings yesterday that killed 35 people. Our Nic Robertson joins us now live from Baghdad.

Nic, the big question of the day is, is this beginning to look like a trend?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the U.S. military here are guiding us again saying this is a permanent trend. It is definitely a lull. The commander of multinational forces here, General Ray Odierno said we have momentum here in the right direction but let's not forget this momentum could be reversed but the changes have been significant. The lowest U.S. death toll here since March last year; the lowest Iraqi security death toll since February of last year; roadside bombs down 60 percent; Iraqi civilian casualties down 80 percent according to Iraqi officials here. So the figures do look good. Iraqi government officials, though, are very worried if key changes aren't made, if key compromises aren't made between the different sectarian and political groups here then the lull could just evaporate, John.

ROBERTS: Nic, what are officials saying is behind the lull as you call it? Is it a success more U.S. troops on the ground? Is it the fact a lot of these neighborhoods on homogeneous as opposed to being mixed with different ethnic and religious factions inside some of the same neighborhoods?

ROBERTSON: Certainly when you talk to people in Baghdad you say isn't it safer now? There are fewer bombs now. It may be they say, but I can't go to my old neighborhood across the city. We are sort of divided along the sectarian lines. Perhaps there's some element to that in there. It depends where you look in the country. Different problems and different solutions apply. The surge, yes an additional 30,000 troops pushed out of bases into the city and into the hearts of communities and concrete barriers gone up and people only allowed into the area on foot. And that's brought security improving Iraqi forces. That's helped.

A change in tactics by the U.S. military to work with tribal leaders and back local militias has played a significant role and a cease fire by (INAUDIBLE) all of those have played a role. But it's that political reconciliation that political leaders are saying has to happen. The economy is still poor. And the conservative Iraqis high on employment. The economy is still poor. If those key elements aren't changed, compromises like getting more Sunnis into the Iraqi police is dominated by Shias then the lull could just disappear, John.

ROBERTSON: All right. And if they don't make any progress a lot of people will be wondering what it's all about. Nic Robertson for us this morning from Baghdad, Nic, good to see you. Thanks.


CHETRY: Well, your "Quick Hits" now. And investigation begins today into a massive explosion and fire at a chemical plant just outside of Des Moines, Iowa. That fire burned for hours as flaming drums shot out of the black of the -- back of the plant pouring black smoke everywhere. No serious injuries.

And some D.C. firefighters fighting for their lives this morning after they were trapped on the top floor of a burning road house. Investigators say they think oily rags stored next to propane canisters ignited that fire. Doctors placed one of the four firefighters into a medically induced coma to him overcome the third degree burns and the pain.

Well, feeling a little behind the times? What is making cell phones, Blackberries and even Tivos go haywire? That is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. Check out this picture. It's a train derailment in Clara City, Minnesota. One of the tanker cars was carrying hydrochloric acid and it ruptured. It sent a vapor cloud into the air. You can see some of the haziness from that cloud there. Schools were closed. Hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate. They were later then given the all-clear.

Tidal surges in Volusia County, Florida. This is all because of Tropical Storm Noel as well as another weather system causing strong winds and pounding waves in the area. Things could get worse for Florida as Noel progresses. And Noel also causing major problems already for Haiti. Here residents are struggling to get across a flooded river in the southern part of the island. Noel was expected to drop as many as 20 inches of rain on Haiti and the Dominican Republic. So a real mess there because of Noel.

ROBERTS: Noel? Yes. Terrible.


ROBERTS: This late in the season, too. We had some storms this late in active seasons but for a less active season, it's a little surprising. Where is it headed and what is it doing?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And it's been so quietly lately. I think that's why people are thinking hurricane season is over. Mother Nature has her own calendar as you know.

Take a look at the satellite picture. You know the problem with Haiti and the Dominican Republic, they've got some mountains there that are 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 feet tall. So that's right, mudslides always a threat there, 10 to 20 inches possible the last couple of nights.

Now the center's of it over eastern Cuba and let's take a look at the track westerly movement. It's shifting a little bit to the west and that should have folks who live in Miami, maybe a little bit more nervous or at least on guard. National Hurricane Center is contemplating putting up tropical storm watches later on this afternoon. We'll see if that happens.

You see the cone of uncertainty brings it closer to the Florida coast line. Already they're getting pounded there with wind and rain and big-time waves. These are current winds out of Daytona northeast at 20 miles an hour. Winds at Vero Beach, 22 miles an hour and expected throughout the day today. There are coastal flood warnings up. High surf advisories, high wind advisories as well. We've already seen a tremendous amount of damage up from Jacksonville to Charleston with flooding getting into some of the harbors there and even reports of one or two boats being sunk because of the battering waves.

Southeast quick check on what is going on with you folks. Frost advisories and freeze warnings, those tomato plants you try to get them ripe. The last days of the growing season may be coming to north of Atlanta. The blues there that's where it will be temperatures in the lower 30s in the blue area.

CHETRY: You're still growing tomatoes? That ended for us in September.

MARCIANO: Well listen, down in the south, you can grow them well into October. Nothing like a good old fresh tomato.

CHETRY: You're right.

ROBERTS: Rob, thanks.

The "CNN NEWSROOM" is minutes away now. Heidi Collins is at the CNN center with a look at what is ahead.

Hey Heidi.

Hey there, John. That's right. We have these stories coming up on the NEWSROOM run down this morning.

Dramatic 911 calls and survivors tell how they made it out alive of that deadly beach house fire.

Also, keeping them honest. Why is the state department offering limited immunity to private contractors in the killing of Iraqi civilians? We'll talk about that.

And should you or should you not get a flu shot? We'll run down a list of people who need one.

Join me in the NEWSROOM. We're going to get started at the top of the hour right here on CNN.


ROBERTS: Heidi, thanks very much. We'll see you soon.


CHETRY: Well, Boston is planning a big bash today. Of course they are celebrating their world champion Red Sox. David Ortiz and company came home to a heroes' welcome on Monday. World War II era amphibious duck boats are going to be carrying the team from Fenway Park to city hall today. They did the same thing back when the Sox reversed the curse of the bambino in 2004.

How about this welcome addition to the zoo there? How cute. Soon enough, tall enough to take on the green monster sometime soon. New England named this new little guy Sox. How about that? Adorable and now will forever be associated with the big win of 2007. That's the New England Zoo and that is the little baby giraffe. How about that?

Oh, Yes. There will be a new Joe in the Bronx next season. The Yankees have offered the manager's job to Joe Girardi. He won three World Series in four years as a Yankee catcher back in the '90s. As for his mentor, reports that Joe Torre may head to Hollywood to manage the Dodgers. Last night on the "Late Show," Torre joked that there are some outstanding issues that he needs to work out with the Yankees.


JOE TORRE, FORMER YANKEES MANAGER: I feel very comfortable with my decision. I think there is a problem that still exists now that the divorce has taken place.


TORRE: Is we're not sure who gets custody of Billy Crystal.


CHETRY: Billy Crystal is not sure, either. Torre won four World Series and made the playoffs in all 12 of his seasons with the beloved Yankees.

ROBERTS: A hole lot of packages tops your "Quick Hits" now. Fed Ex says its poised to crack its all time volume record this holiday season. About 11.3 million packages are expected to move through Fed Ex networks on December 17th. That's compared to about seven million on an average day.

Just what time is it anyway? That is what some people were left asking on Sunday. Daylight savings time usually ends the last weekend of October but a push this year to the first weekend of November has confused both people and computers. Some PCs, cell phones, and electronics automatically last weekend leaving a lot of folks literally behind the times.

Britney Spears' new album "Blackout" is out today. The question is it cause a thud or light up the charts? Our Lola Ogunnaike takes a look ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: She's back. Britney Spears new album "Blackout" hits stores today and despite painful meltdown signs the album could actually spark a legitimate comeback and there is controversy surrounding that, too. AMERICAN MORNING's Lola Ogunnaike is here now with more. Some of the controversy surrounding her album which have sort of leaked out over the Internet and some local papers as well apparently showing her in one of them sitting on a priest's lap?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Clearly, she is trying to court controversy. She has the Catholics.

CHETRY: Madonna?

OGUNNAIKE: Yes. It's o Madonna and it's so early '80s and so like a prayer and it's so not necessary. Because the album is actually good. It's getting solid reviews. She is sitting on a priest's lap. Clearly she is trying to generate headlines but, again, not necessary. Bill Donahue who is head of the New York based catholic lead come out against her and said she has already been deemed an unfit mother and now she's a bad entertainer and so he thinks the cards are stacked up against her.

CHETRY: But surprisingly I mean the reviews coming in, they're pretty rave. The Associated Press, I was just reading one that said this is not only a very good album, this is the best album she has ever done.

OGUNNAIKE: She's gotten three stars across the board. You know what she does? She stays away from the gang and lined up a great team of producers and has working with the Neptune's. She is working with a-list producers and a lot of oohing and ahing. This is an album clearly made for the club, clearly the after-party. My favorite line, if a blowup doll could sing, this is how the album would sound like.

CHETRY: Just because of how much manipulation goes on in the studio. There are a lot of singers that their career is successful based on their ability to pack in stadiums, people love to see them live?

OGUNNAIKE: She is not one of those people. She is about the choreographed dance moves and lip-syncing and the insane production level and managed in the past to produce all three. We saw that VMA performance. She missed on the choreography but the single "Gimme more" is actually really good and the clubs love it, it's doing well on iTunes and a hit on the billboard charts. She could actually bump Bruce Springsteen out of the number one spot.

You heard it here first. Next Tuesday we could talk about Britney Spears being number one. This is a comeback album. CHETRY: There was a part of you I'm sure who thought it would be sappy ballads and anger with her ex. Not much of that. One song and it wasn't.

OGUNNAIKE: One song called "Why Should I Be Sad" and that's about Kevin Federline and how he was in a club in Vegas spending her money and Ferraris and the garage she bought him. But she stays away from that it is not a masterpiece by any means. This is about the club, the after-party and not about Britney on the couch being weepy about her busted marriages, her bad hair extensions and her fashion faux pas. This is about a good time. The critics seem to like it.

CHETRY: Fascinating. Lola, thank you, as always.

ROBERTS: All that other stuff will be in the country album ahead.

We've been talking about Tropical Storm Noel and while no one wants to get hit by a storm normally we can count on hurricane season to help refill the reservoirs in the southeast but not so this. What started out as a dry summer has led to a dry fall and extreme drought across much of the southeast and the effects are widespread. We'll get the story from AMERICAN MORNING's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gary Mason is like a kid playing in the rain as we wide four-wheelers across his east Tennessee dairy farm. You don't mind doing this interview in the rain, do you?


LAVANDERA: The wetter, the better.

MASON: I hope you all get wet.

LAVANDERA: It's been six months since he's seen significant rainfall, but this water is hardly a drop in the bone dry bucket that used to be this five-foot-deep pond.

MASON: My bed is 80 years of age, and it's never gone dry.

LAVANDERA: This is a main water source for his 143 cows.

MASON: I wouldn't wish a hurricane on anyone, but it's going to take some kind of a front like that to come up through the Tennessee valley to help us get replenished.

LAVANDERA: The southeast drought is drying up milk production.

MASON: When it gets hot, the cows won't even come in here and stick their heads in and eat. They just -- they don't want to eat.

LAVANDERA: Less food means less milk. About 83 gallons a day less on Mason's farm. Which means, if the rain doesn't come soon, the price of milk could keep going up. Dairy producer Rob Mayfield says milk drinkers might see prices rise as high as $5 a gallon.

ROB MAYFIELD, MAYFIELD DAILY FARMS: We're hoping to see some slight decreases as we get into winter and more normal climate, more rain.

LAVANDERA: If the rain doesn't come?

MAYFIELD: We're in trouble if the rain doesn't come.

LAVANDERA: Back on the farm, Gary Mason's cattle herd comes in for milking. But each day without rain, that last drop of milk comes much faster.

MASON: We keep praying for rain, and we just need a lot of it. A lot of rain.

LAVANDERA: Ed Lavandera, CNN, McMinn County, Tennessee.


That little bit of rain they had while Ed was on the farm not enough to begin.

CHETRY: We remember, of course, the word or the phrase "don't tase me, bro." He won't be facing any criminal charges. You may remember this scene, right? It was back on September 18th in Gainesville, Florida where 21-year-old Andrew Meyer was zapped with a taser after refusing to pepper senator John Kerry with questions and when he was asked to leave and police had to escort him out and he was fighting all the way. Remember, he shouted "don't tase me, bro." Meyers' lawyer says his client has written letters to the university and its police department apologizing for his behavior.

Here is a quick look at what the CNN NEWSROOM is working on for the top of the hour.

COLLINS: See these stories in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Survivors struggle; dealing with the aftermath of a fatal beach house fire.

Found dead after answering an online ad. Charges expected today in a young woman's killing.

Pictures appearing to show children working like slaves. A sweat shop linked to Gap.

And wicked weather. Your I-report photos from Tropical Storm Noel. NEWSROOM, top of the hour, on CNN.


CHETRY: Is there an African lion in West Virginia roaming the woods? State officials are armed with raw chicken and a video camera are trying to figure that out because at least two people have reported swearing they have seen this lion. 250 to 300-pound full- grown lion at the foot of Cold Knob Mountain. Officials left 20 pounds of raw chicken for that lion. The chicken was eaten but they say it doesn't prove the lion ate it because they didn't catch him on camera.

Talk about nine lives. This cat has just eight now. Hailed as a hero for reviving this lifeless kitty. It happened after rescue teams saved him from a fire in Lansford, Pennsylvania. The whole thing caught a tape. The EMT running out with a cat on his arms and putting him on the ground and rubbing his belly giving him mouth-to-mouth at the same time but in this case for animals it was mouth-to-nose. It worked because the kitty was revived and did survive.

ROBERTS: Scary pictures of a cheerleader in Auburn, Washington didn't stand a chance against her own team. The cheerleading going out there to look at the banner. Boom! She gets run over by a stampede of football players and trying to get pumped by the game. The cheerleader suffered a bruised jaw but, otherwise, doing okay.

CHETRY: She is very lucky!

ROBERTS: Really lucky. Looked like they just kind of grazed her as she came by.

Well do you ever hear the joke about the department of redundancy department? The same kind of thing is happening in the state of Texas according to a lengthy new report issued by the Texas state library and archives commission, Texas issues too many state reports.

ROBERTS: They say the state agency puts out 1,600 official reports every year and only required to put out about 400. The report claims that thousands of staff hours and tons of paper work can be saved if you cut back on official reports. That new report by the way took 18 months to compile and is 668 pages long!

They will do three more reports to check to make sure the figures included in the first report was not missed.

CHETRY: That nothing was missed along with way. Well we're going to get a final check of our quick vote poll this morning. We asked you what's your biggest pet peeve in the office. 38 percent of you say it's when your co-workers gossip, six percent say it's when they surf the net, eight percent say messiness, 18 oercent too much perfume or cologne, and 29 percent of you say your biggest pet peeve aorudn the office is when people talk on the phone too loud or use speakerphone.

So the greatest number of people don't like gossiping.

CHETRY: That's right.

And everybody gossips.

CHETRY: That's right.

Everybody gossips.

CHETRY: Thanks to all of you who voted.

Thanks for joining us on this "AMERICAN MORNING." we hope to see you back here tomorrow.

ROBERTS: "CNN NEWSROOM" starts right now with Heidi Collins.

COLLINS: Good morning everybody. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Heidi Collins. Tony Harris is off today.

Watch events come into the NEWSROOM live on this Tuesday morning. It's October 30th.

Here is what is on the rundown. Keeping them honest. The state department cuts a deal with Blackwater bodyguards in the killing of Iraqi civilians. Who approved it? We're looking for answers.

Despite pleas for help when a North Carolina beach house goes up in flames, you'll hear the 911 calls and the latest on the investigation.

A young woman's online job search leads to her death.