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American Morning

Playing With Matches; Tropical Storm Noel; Fed Rate Cut?; Truth-O-Meter; Oprah School Scandal

Aired October 31, 2007 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Playing with fire. A kid playing with matches blamed for one of the devastating California wildfires.
Extremes across the nation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought we were going to be crushed.


ROBERTS: An earthquake rocks northern California.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just shook really fast. Really, really hard.


ROBERTS: And Tropical Storm Noel churns toward Florida.

Plus, trick or tramp (ph)?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got Cherry Pie girl, there's Vicki Bice (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tina the taxi driver.


ROBERTS: Sexy, rather than scary, for Halloween. With racy costumes not just for grownups anymore, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And good morning. Thanks very much for joining us on this Wednesday, October the 31st, Halloween.

And is this not the scariest costume you've ever seen in your life?

Good morning to you. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, you play a news anchor so well. I'm Kiran Chetry. Thanks for being with us.

We start off with a story that we brought you all last week, and that was, of course, the wildfires in California. Well now possibly new clues as to what may have started one of them. Our Alina Cho is standing by now with the latest information on a fire in L.A. county.

Actually, you know what we're going to do, we're going to go to L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Tony Moore right now on the phone.

Tony, thanks for being with us this morning.

TONY MOORE, L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPUTY: You're welcome, ma'am.

CHETRY: So we got some new information that apparently an adolescent or perhaps even a young boy admitted that he was playing with matches and that may have started one of the most destructive fires in California in your very county. What else can you tell us about what the investigation is gleaning so far?

MOORE: Yes. Sure. Basically what happened is, our arson explosive detectives have identified a suspect as responsible for starting what they are calling the Buckwheat Fire in Augadilse (ph), California. And basically the fire began just before 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 21st. And the fire quickly spread due to dry weather and high winds that we were experiencing around that time. And the fire burned approximately 12,000 acres by Sunday evening.

Now our arson explosive detectives, in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Fire Department investigators, immediately began their investigation. And during the course of the investigation, it led to a juvenile suspect. And after talking with that juvenile, he admitted to playing with matches and accidentally starting the fire in that area.

CHETRY: Tony, are there arson charges pending, even though it may have been accidental?

MOORE: What the detectives will do is they will put their case together and their information and what they do is they present that to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and they will decide whether or not charges will be brought and if any restitution as well.

CHETRY: The case is being presented, as you said, to the L.A. District Attorney. What is your opinion on whether or not charges should happen in this case if it is a young boy and if it is an accident, yet balancing that with just how destructive this was, some 65, 70 homes destroyed and more than 38,000 acres burned, as well as some injuries as well?

MOORE: Yes, you know, you just kind of have to look at the case and, you know, arson detectives will look at the totality of the case and really whether or not charges will be brought is the decision that the district attorney would make. And I'm certain they would look at, you know, the total destruction and everything. But they'd also look at it as far as the legal standards and whether or not it fits those standards to bring charges against the juvenile. So that ultimately rests with the L.A. County District Attorney's Office.

CHETRY: All right. Well, L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Tony Moore giving us some more information about the news this morning that indeed a young boy, whose name and age still not released this morning, admitting that he was playing with matches and that is what likely started this destructive Buckwheat Fire in L.A. County.

Thanks for being with us this morning, Tony.

MOORE: You're welcome, ma'am.

ROBERTS: As the investigations continue in southern California, northern California was rocked by the strongest earthquake in nearly 20 years overnight. A magnitude 5.6 quake hit the bay area. Its epicenter was about nine miles northeast of San Jose. Residents say they felt shaking and rolling as far east as Sacramento and one report says as far north as Oregon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just crazy. It was just, bam. We were all just chillin' here. We're doing our thing and the next thing we know, boom, boom. Windows started shaking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden everything just started shaking. At first it didn't seem like it was that bad, but then it just got a little stronger and then it just quit. Some people started panicking when it really started going, but then everything calmed down after that.


ROBERTS: The quake rattled homes, sent things flying off of shelves and drove people and their pets running outside. But so far no reports of any major injuries or even significant property damage.


CHETRY: All right. Well, south Florida on alert this morning as forecasters issuing extreme weather warnings for rough surf for much of the area as the National Hurricane Center monitors Tropical Storm Noel. High waves have been pounding beaches in Miami. Now the storm could pass near the Florida coast over the next few days.

Meantime, more than 40 people were killed in floods and landslides triggered by Tropical Storm Noel as it barreled across the Caribbean. As much as 20 inches of rain fell across parts of Haiti, as well as the Dominican Republic. Our Rob Marciano is live this morning in Miami Beach where the winds are creating waves, as well as dangerous currents this morning.

I can see the wind blowing you around. What does it feel like out there now, Rob? ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it feels like there is a strong tropical storm or hurricane that's pretty darn close. But in reality, Noel just a part of the equation to get these winds to Florida, which have been peppered by winds out of the east, northeast now for a good couple of days and they've been seeing some damage up and down this coastline. There's a strong area of high pressure well to our north and that is coupling with Noel, which is pretty weak at the moment down to our south.

But Noel certainly has done damage across parts of the northern Caribbean, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A large amount of rain. I think another five to 10 inches of rain still possible.

Most of the moisture with this system off to the east of the system and most of the winds also off to the north and east of this system. Another five to 10 inches possible. That could bring a total of rain across the island of Hispaniola up to 20 or even 30 inches. You're talking about a place that has mountains, 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 feet. That creates a big problem.

As far as Florida is concerned, with the approach of this system, although it's not expected to make a direct hit, there has been precautions taken. Homestead Air Base has evacuated 24 F-16s north to Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia. And Florida Light and Power has extra crews on standby in case some trees start to come down.

We actually saw the palm fronds, some debris if you will, driving into town because the winds at times, up and down the Florida coastline -- well yesterday for instance, in the keys, winds gusted over 50 miles an hour. And it's blowing pretty good right here with 20, 25, 30 mile-an-hour gusts, high wind advisories are up. We could see gusts to 40 miles an hour. And again, a tremendous amount of beach erosion with this system, Kiran, as well. Up and down this entire Florida peninsula, at least on the East Coast.

We'll talk more about Noel over the next couple of hours that's for sure.

CHETRY: You know, we also got the news from San Francisco, from the bay area there, about the strongest earthquake that they've had in that area since the Loma Prieta earthquake back in 1989. However, they're still not talking about a lot of damage or injuries this morning.

MARCIANO: Yes, the history of that, I'm unfamiliar with. That does sound to be a pretty strong statement. I can tell you this, the depth of it wasn't all that deep. It was just six miles deep. So general rule of thumb is, the more shallow the earthquake is, the more people are going to feel it, and the more damage it's going to do. Certainly a 5.6 in that area is going to shake a lot of people up and at least do a little bit of damage. We'll have to see once the sun comes up in the area what it all did last night.

CHETRY: All right, Rob Marciano in Miami Beach for us this morning, covering a lot of extreme weather. Thank you.


ROBERTS: Coming up now on eight minutes after the hour.

Terror watch new this morning. Judges in Madrid will announce verdicts in the deadly bombings of commuter trains in 2004. One hundred and ninety-one people were killed 1,800 were hurt. It's the worst Islamic terrorist attack ever on European soil. A three-judge panel at the Spanish national court will read out verdicts for 28 people accused of masterminding and carrying out the bombings. The top suspects could receive 40,000-year sentences, 40,000-year sentences each. The verdicts are coming in within the hour. We'll have a live report for you when they do.

The subject may have been Iraq and Iran, but the target was Hillary Clinton at last night's Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia. The party's front-runner got hit from all sides. It was certainly not the city of sisterly love last night. The New York senator has criticized for her vote last month in favor of a Bush administration effort to declare the Iranian revolutionary guard a terrorist organization and she was the main focus during a discussion of the war in Iraq.


JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have choices in this election. Very clear choice. If you believe that combat missions should be continued in Iraq over the long term, if you believe that combat troops should remain stationed in Iraq, and if you believe there should be no actual timetable for withdrawal, then Senator Clinton's your candidate.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Real key for the next president is someone who has the credibility of not having been one of the co-authors of this engagement in Iraq. And I think I am in a strong position to be able to say, I thought this was a bad idea from the first -- in the first place. We now have to fix it. We have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When it comes to where I stand, I have been explaining that to the American people. I stand for ending the war in Iraq, bringing our troops home. But I also know it's going to be complicated and it's going to take time. And I intend to do it in a responsible manner that is as safe for our troops as possible.


ROBERTS: Clinton went on to say that she is for pursuing al Qaeda in Iraq and she said she didn't know how that could be done without combat troops being stationed there. She was also accused of not giving a straight answer when asked about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.


CHETRY: Also new this morning, Congress cracking down on the Consumer Product Safety Commission after 20 million toys were recalled this past summer because of possible lead contamination, as well as other problems. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for the agency's acting head to step down.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: Is it too much to expect the government to live up to its responsibility to protect our children? We have a consumer protection agency to do that. We stand here today because we do not believe that it is too much for America's parents to ask. America's children deserve all of that and more.


CHETRY: Democrats say they want to double the agency's funding and give it more power. The White House says it supports modernizing and improving the commission, but opposes the Democratic plan saying it amounts to just new regulation.

Well, a temporary reprieve for a death row inmate in Mississippi. The Supreme Court granted 48-year-old Earl Wesley Berry an 11-hour stay just 15 minutes before he was scheduled to get a lethal injection. The justices are waiting to hear another case arguing that the deadly drug cocktail amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Berry kidnapped and beat a woman to death who was waiting outside of a church for choir practice. There's been only one execution in Texas since the Supreme Court agreed to consider the challenge to the use of the lethal injection.

Well, a fireball streaking across the runway. Take a close look at the upper half of the screen. There you see, that's a Japanese fighter jet. It crashed during takeoff on a test flight, burst into flames. The two crew members survived the impact. They ran from the burning wreckage. The airport says they were only slightly hurt.


ROBERTS: The Fed may cut interest rates today. Why does that matter to you? Our Ali Velshi at the Chicago Board of Trade this morning with details.

Ali, every time the Fed meets you somehow end up in Chicago. How does that work?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On Halloween. It's Halloween to most people. But in Chicago, here at the board of trade in the bond pit, the big event today is the Fed meeting. In about eight hours from now, the Federal Reserve is going to announce its decision on interest rates. And most people, John, think they're going to drop interest rates. The betting right now is a quarter of a percentage point.

Let's see where it stands. The Fed rate is 4.75 percent. The prime rate is always three percentage points high than that. So it's 7.75 percent. And so many of the loans that Americans carry are tied to the prime rate. So if the Fed reduces rates this afternoon, if they do cut it, let's say, by a quarter point or even more, like they surprised us with last time, here's what happened, the prime rate drops. So if the Fed drops rates by a quarter percent, so do the prime rates. So any of your credit cards or anything like that linked to prime goes down.

Other adjustable rates also end up going down. So adjustable rate mortgages, which many Americans are worried about them resetting to higher rates, well, they may be resetting to higher rates, but they'll reset a little lower than they otherwise would have. So it becomes a big discount for anyone in America who is carrying debt, who's got balances on credit cards, who's got a home equity loan.

And finally, one thing that we'll expect as well to happen if the Fed cuts rates is the U.S. dollar will sink again against major currencies. We're already looking at close to 50-year lows against the Canadian dollar, lows against the pound and the euro.

So those are the things we can expect to happen this afternoon and through the course of the morning. I'll be back with you, John and Kiran, talking about the effect of this rate cut, if it happens, on your wallet.


ROBERTS: Hey, Ali, quickly, what might the effect, at least related effect on the long bond by which long-term interest rates and mortgages are set and the price of oil because of the sliding dollar?

VELSHI: Both things will be affected. Here in the bond pit they actually trade those bonds that affect where mortgages are set. You will probably see a bit of a drop in those rates as well. And oil goes -- tends to become more expensive for Americans when priced in dollars when the dollar goes lower. So you will probably see by the end of the day higher prices on oil, gold, and other commodities as well.

ROBERTS: All right. So some good news, some bad news today.

VELSHI: Mixed news today.

ROBERTS: All right. Ali Velshi for us in Chicago at the Board of Trade. Thanks, Ali. We'll check back in with you in a little while.


CHETRY: Well, as if police don't have enough to look out for on Halloween, now they're on scarecrow patrol in one New Hampshire town. Police ordered a real life, store-wielding scarecrow, there he is right now, looks like a mixture of scarecrow, a pirate and perhaps a witch or something. Well, people complained it was just too scary. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LT. RICHARD DESMOND, MERRIMACK POLICE DEPT.: We have had some complaints of him waving a fake sword out towards the roadway, causing people to go in another lane. And that's very dangerous.


CHETRY: Well, the homeowner is the one inside the suit. He says a lot of parents saw it and they thought it was cool. They went to get their kids to show them. Even though a few may be running it for others, he says that he's going to be complying with the order. He doesn't want to scare people.

How much time does he have in the day, by the way, to stand out there in his witch pirate suit?

ROBERTS: Obviously enough to annoy some people. But, gosh, I mean, come on, folks, it's Halloween. Give it a break. Sorry I didn't have my orange tie. I left it in Washington.

CHETRY: Is it in your office or in Washington?

ROBERTS: No, it's in Washington.

The scandal surrounding Oprah Winfrey's South African school for girls is heating up. (INAUDIBLE) police are now involved in what they're saying today.

And we're putting the presidential candidate through the truth-o- meter test. Who was the most honest of the pack and who was making statements that are flat out pants on fire lies. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Seventeen minutes now after the hour.

It could be a turning point in the race for president. At least on the Democratic side. Rival Democrats let loose on the front runner in their seventh debate last night. They took on Hillary Clinton's candor, electability and her support for President Bush's sanctions on Iran.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm also not in favor of doing nothing. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and the Iranian revolutionary guard is in the forefront of that, as they are in the sponsorship of terrorism.

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The way you put pressure on this administration is you stand up to it. You say no.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This kind of resolution does not send the right signal to the region, it doesn't send the right signal to our allies or our enemies.


ROBERTS: So which candidates have it right on Iran and which ones are telling the truth? Bill Adair is the Washington bureau chief of the "St. Petersburg Times." He's the editor of We turn to him for the truth in the campaign in our effort to keep the candidates honest and Bill joins us now from Washington with his truth-o-meter

Good to see you again, Bill.


ROBERTS: You know, so Hillary's vote to designate the Iranian revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization was all the talk at last night's debate and certainly the campaigns have also been targeting her as well. Bill Burton, who's the spokesman for the Obama campaign, on October 21st said that Clinton gave Bush "a blank check on a critical foreign policy issue" with that vote. What does the truth-o-meter say about that?

ADAIR: We gave that one a half truth. And the reason was that we found in talking to experts that it's really an exaggeration to call this non-binding resolution a blank check. This was not a declaration of war. It was a sense of the Senate resolution and it just went -- it didn't go as far as many of the other Democrats are claiming it did.

ROBERTS: So the Clinton campaign has fired back at Obama for criticizing her vote, charging that he flip-flopped himself on Iran. In an October 25th memo the Clinton campaign said Obama "made the very argument he is now criticizing back in November 2006." What does the truth-o-meter say about that?

ADAIR: We also gave that one a half true. The reason there is much the same, that it's an exaggeration in that Senator Clinton is taking this out of context. This was a very long speech about Iraq. It was only a couple of paragraphs about Iran. The truth of this, we found, is that there really aren't that many differences on Iran between the Democrats. They're trying to make it look like there are differences, but there really aren't many.

ROBERTS: Yes. And as Bill Richardson chimed in toward the end of the debate last night, he thought that things were beginning to get a little personal. They shouldn't be attacking each other, they should be attacking the policies being put forth by the Republican candidates and the president as well.

On the Republican side of things, remember the Florida debate on October the 21st. Rudy Giuliani, who had a pants on fire a little while ago, said during this debate, "I brought down crime more than anyone in this country -- maybe in the history of this country, while I was the mayor of New York City."

ADAIR: We gave that one a mostly true and our . . .

ROBERTS: Oh, actually, it was a barely true. ADAIR: I'm sorry. Our reason there was that it was a stretch for him to say that he did it. Crime had been declining around the United States in all major cities and the decline actually began before he was mayor. And so we just felt that was an exaggeration.

ROBERTS: And crime had actually gone down to a greater degree in some other cities. And weren't you also suggesting that shifting demographics was as much responsible for the decline in crime here in New York City as were policies?

ADAIR: Exactly. There are a lot of things that come into play in crime. You've got the aging of the baby boomers, so there are fewer people in the age groups that commit crimes.

ROBERTS: All right. OK. Our last test for the truth-o-meter comes from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who said at the same debate, the signers of the Declaration of Independence were "brave people. Most of whom, by the way, were clergymen." What did the truth-o-meter say about that?

ADAIR: We call that one a pants on fire. That was not just off, that was way off. There were 56 signers, as Governor Huckabee said, but when we checked with historians, we found only one had been a clergyman and three had been clergymen before. But we decided that wasn't just wrong, that was pants on fire wrong.

ROBERTS: So at most then four signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen, which would not exactly be most, correct?

ADAIR: Exactly. That's way off.

ROBERTS: Bill Adair, always good to see you. And you know how much we love the pants on fire truth-o-meter finds. Thanks very much. We'll see you again next week.

ADAIR: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: Take care.


CHETRY: Well, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey getting some help from a threat (ph) over the school scandal investigation. We'll explain ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



Oprah Winfrey's school for girls in South Africa now mired in scandal after allegations that a worker at the dorm fondled students. Winfrey hired Robert Farley (ph), a former detective, to look into those allegations. Robyn Curnow joins us from Johannesburg, South Africa, this morning.

And we're seeing a lot of these allegations in the papers, but what are police saying about the investigation, Robyn?


Well the police, like this school, are being very tight-lipped about this incident. They do say they are investigating a case of abuse, but they will not specify if this is a case of sexual abuse. At the moment they say they are taking witness statements but that no charges have been brought.

What they also say is that most of their investigation is based on a report given to them by that American private investigator, who is also working in conjunction with a South African private investigator. This is what the police said to me earlier on.


SUPERINTENDENT LUNGELO DLAMINI, SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE SERVICE: Given by the (INAUDIBLE) experts was handed to us. And that based on those reports, we analyzed it and we came to the conclusion that there were criminal elements. And then we opened the case for investigation.


CURNOW: OK. So you can see the police not giving us a lot of information. Where we are getting our information is from press reports here in South Africa on the details of the nature of this incident. Press reports saying that a dormitory matron at the school is the focus of this investigation. That she is accused of grabbing a student by the throat and throwing her against the wall, of swearing at students, and more importantly, of allegedly fondling one of the students.

Now, understandably, Oprah is devastated by these allegations of misconduct. We do know that she's been in South Africa twice this month. She's spoken to parents. And we also know from the police that Oprah was present when that report was handed over to the South African police.

CHETRY: Yes, also some reports of her being tearful and actually giving out her own personal e-mail address and number and telling the girls if anything, you know, goes on, call me, because this was really a personal project for her where she wanted to make a difference in these girls' lives for the better, Robyn.

CURNOW: Absolutely. And I think it has been a big project for her. These girls are the poorest of the poor. She wanted to give them a chance and she's even quoted as saying that this is the kind of school she wished she had been able to go to.

But just remember, Kiran, this is not the first allegation of problems or criticisms against the school since it was opened. Throughout the year, in the press reports here in South Africa, there have been a number of exposes (ph) saying that the school is too strict, that it's run more like a military academy. A lot of bad newspaper banners in South Africa over the weekend called it "Camp Oprah," just alluding to the fact that many parents have complained that it's too strict. They can't see their daughters more than once a month and they don't have enough phone call time with their daughters.

But as for Oprah and the school, they say, well, the well-being of these girls and these students is, of course, of the utmost importance.

Over to you.

CHETRY: Robyn Curnow for us in South Africa. Thank you.


A look at a story coming up in our next half hour now that you just can't miss. Little girl's Halloween costumes looking more risque every year.

CHETRY: Yes, some of the ones that are actually marketed toward tweens, these are girls that are under teenage years, like 10 to 12 years old, a little bit too risque. Maybe even R-rated for some of the parents out there. We're going to take a look at some of the costumes this year. Lola Ogunnaike, we sent her out to take a look. Is this a growing trend?

ROBERTS: We'll have that and the headlines when AMERICAN MORNING returns.


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Today is Halloween, Wednesday, October 31st. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Aren't you looking all festive today?

CHETRY: What the heck, you have an orange blazer. A couple of times a year you can wear it.

ROBERTS: I dressed up like a boring old, you know, what this morning. I'm John Roberts, good morning to you. New this morning, an announcement overnight from the fires of Southern California. The Los Angeles County sheriff's department says a boy admitted to playing with matches and started the so-called Buckwheat Fire near Santa Clarita. It burned 38 thousand acres, destroyed 21 homes. Deputies did not reveal how old the boy is or what charges he could face.

Further north in the state, nature struck again last night. This time, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake shook homes and sent people running in the bay area. It's epicenter nine miles northeast of San Jose. It was the strongest quake since 1989. That was the one that shook the World Series and flattened the Nimitz Freeway. So far, there are no reports of major damage or any severe injuries though.

CHETRY: Blasting the Bush Administration over immunity for Blackwater was reported yesterday. But the State Department struck a deal with private security guards who were accused by the Iraqi Government of killing more than a dozen civilians. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy called the White House the amnesty administration saying quote "That goes equally for misconduct and incompetence." If you get caught, they will get you immunity. If you get convicted, they will commute your sentence. The State Department says that no senior officials ever sign off on a deal. A White House spokesman says the matter is still under review.

And also some serious doubts about the integrity of major league baseball's drug testing program this morning. Baseball teams reportedly given advance notice before players are tested for performance-enhancing drugs. The "New York Times" is reporting that team officials know when testers are coming up to two days ahead of time because the testing company asks for parking space at the ballparks. The union says the players though don't get advanced warning.

ROBERTS: Iraq and Iran dominating the debate among Democrats. The presidential hopefuls were on stage last night in Philadelphia and it seems all of the candidates had something to say about front-runner Hillary Clinton's stand on both countries. CNN's Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley has this morning's "Play By Play" from Philly.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Barack Obama called it the most hyped fight since Rocky versus Apollo Creed. After which, he took a jab at what he called politically convenient politics.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Senator Clinton in her campaign, I think, has been for NAFTA previously, now she's against it. She has taken one position on torture several months ago and then most recently has taken a different position. She voted for a war to authorize sending troops into Iraq and then later said this was a war for diplomacy.

CROWLEY: Looking to change the dynamics of a race dominated by Hillary Clinton. Her chief rivals stepped it up into their seventh debate questioning her consistency, her credibility, her electability.

CHRISTOPHER DODD, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Whether it's fair or not fair, the fact of the matter is that, my colleague from New York said to Clinton, there is 50 percent of the American public and say they're not going to vote for her.

CROWLEY: It was not the knock-down drag out that so many predicted but it was pointed. John Edwards willed on the sharpest blades, standing by his accusation of double talk.

JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER SENATOR, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton says that she believes she can be the candidate for change. But she defends a broken system that's corrupt in Washington D.C. She says she will end the war, but she continues to say she'll keep combat troops in Iraq and continue combat missions in Iraq.

CROWLEY: There was an edge to her, but Clinton played the front- runner's game. Refusing to engage with her Democratic opponents, she was aiming higher.

HILLARY CLINTON, SENATOR, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because I have stood against George Bush and his failed policies. They want to continue the war in Iraq. I want to end it. The Republicans are waving their sabers and talking about going after Iran. I want to prevent a rush to war.

CROWLEY: It is nearly impossible for a single debate to fundamentally change things, but this one kicked up enough dust for Bill Richardson to step in to defend Clinton. He suggested things were getting a little personal. Democrats, he said, should be positive. Candy Crowley, CNN, Philadelphia.


CHETRY: That's right, came from an unlikely source. It was Bill Richardson who was defending Hillary Clinton from the others at that debate. Interesting, we'll have some more highlights throughout the morning.

In the meantime, 36 minutes past the hour. Rob Marciano tracking tropical storm Noel. He's live in Hollywood, Florida, this morning. Hey Rob. It looks actually like you're getting the wind a little bit more than when we checked in with you about 20 minutes ago.


ROBERTS: It's coming up to 20 minutes to the top of the hour. Who is to blame for toxic toys getting into kids' hands? And what's the best way to prevent it? We'll take you to the newest battle brewing on Capitol Hill. And talk about Risque business. Just what are they selling at the mall, that's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING."


ROBERTS: 42 minutes after the hour. Toxic toys are at the center of a fight on Capitol Hill right now. Speaker Nancy Pelosi showed off the various recalled toys at a news conference on Tuesday. Democrats want to add millions of dollars to the consumer products safety commission budget, but the Head of the Commission says it will just add more legal headaches. CNN's Jennifer Eccleston is our D.C. girl with more on this battle. Jennifer, what is speaker Pelosi taking issue with?

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the key issue is CPSC Chairman Person Nancy Nord's refusal to accept two Democratic proposals that would actually expand her agency's budget and its authority. Nord says, the proposals are misguided and they won't solve her agency's problems.


NANCY NORD, ACTING CHAIRMAN, CPSC: There are provisions in this legislation that are going to increase litigation and result in this agency ending up being in court. I don't want to be hiring lawyers. I want to be hiring safety inspectors. (END VIDEO CLIP)


NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE SPEAKER: That is not what American parents want to hear. They want to know that we are doing all we can to ensure that safe toys, safe food and safe medicine are available for our children.


ECCLESTON: Several other members of Congress have joined Speaker Pelosi in asking Nord to step down and they want the White House to do the same, John.

ROBERTS: And what's the White House saying on both of these issues?

ECCLESTON: Well, it's standing by Nord and its criticizing Democrats for politicizing the issue of consumer product safety. A spokesman said the Bush Administration supports the modernization of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but called both provisions in the legislation cumbersome, and not in the best interest of protecting children.


ROBERTS: Yes. A little bit of extra regulation, something that this White House doesn't like. Jennifer, thanks very much. We'll check back with you a little bit later on.

CHETRY: Well, there was no love in the city of brotherly love during last night's Democratic debate. It tops your "Political Ticker" now. Barack Obama and John Edwards hammering Hillary Clinton on NAFTA, the Iraq war, and what they say is her politically convenient flip-flopping. Clinton shrugged it off, saying that she's a target because she's leading in the polls.

Also, one highlight came from Dennis Kucinich. She was asked by a passage in a book by actress Shirley MacLaine that says Kucinich had seen a UFO at her house.


QUESTION: Now, did you see a UFO?

DENNIS KUCINICH, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did, and the rest of the account -- it was unidentified flying object, OK. So, it's unidentified, I saw something.


CHETRY: Kucinich jokingly added that he was going to move one of his campaign headquarters to Roswell, New Mexico.

Well, let the games begin. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he would lobby to bring the 2016 Summer Olympics to Chicago if he is elected. He says he'll do it by reaching out to people he knows with the Olympics and attend IOC events. Chicago, by the way, is up against Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.

2004 independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is suing the Democratic Party. He is claiming they conspired to keep him from taking votes away from nominee John Kerry. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges that the DNC tried to bankrupt Nader's campaign by suing to keep him off of the ballot in 18 states. Nader received .38 percent of the vote in that election. Well, you can find all of the day's political news around the clock at

ROBERTS: Some shoppers at a new outdoor mall in Gilbert, Arizona are complaining about Risque billboards. The ads in question are large posters of scantily clad women at the Victoria's Secret store. Victoria Secret science are in a lot of shopping malls but opponents say in this case the pictures are bigger and more prominent.

CHETRY: OK. Well, prominent. That's what you're looking for in a billboard, right?

Well, a space station snag. Space walking astronauts discover a critical problem in the orbiting outpost; one could put future missions on hold. We're going to explain coming up.

Also, is it scary or too sexy or is it scary sexy? Short skirts, plunging necklines taking over Halloween and not just for grownups anymore. Some of these costumes marketed to little girls as young as 10. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Coming up to 49 minutes after the hour. If you're just joining us, here's a look at what's making headline this morning. Shaking the bay area, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck near San Jose last night. It shook homes and rattled things off of shelves and sent people running. But so far, there are no reports of major damage or any severe injuries. It was the strongest since the Loma Prieta earthquake back in 1989. The one that shook the World Series and killed 62 people. That quake measured 7.1.

People in South Florida keeping a close eye on tropical storm noel as it churns toward the United States. Tough winds of about 40 miles an hour. Its barely a tropical storm now, but there are high waves and dangerous currents on Florida beaches. Noel has cut a path of death and destruction through the Caribbean, causing flash floods, mudslides and more than 40 deaths.

Several senators saying that they may not vote to confirm Michael Mukasey as attorney general. They want Mukasey to say that water boarding is torture and not a legal interrogation technique. Water boarding is a simulation of drowning. Mukasey calls it repugnant but it have to study the legality of it, he says, when he gets into office.

One repair job leads to another in space. Astronauts notice a tear in the solar panel that they were rolling out at the International Space Station. There it is. They are in the screen. NASA is trying to figure out what to do about it. The next shuttle flight could be delayed if that problem is not fixed.

And Halloween is off tonight in San Francisco's famous district known as the Castro. The city says the celebration with outrageous costumes has gotten much too violent. Nine people were shot last year on Halloween night.


CHETRY: Well, ghosts and goblins all across the country are getting ready to go trick-or-treating. Of course, it's Halloween but this may give you a real fright. It seems the sexier the get up, the better and it's marketed not just for grownups. In fact, we sent our Lola Ogunnaike out to take a look.



TODD KENIG, OWNER, RICKYS: We got cherry pie girl. This is Vicki Vice.

OGUNNAIKE: Tina the taxi driver.

KENIG: Best role Chic-A-Dee.

OGUNNAIKE: Welcome to Halloween 2007. It gives a whole new meaning to trick or treat.

KENIG: 90 percent sexy in our items. 10 percent of the regular goods. (INAUDIBLE) If I had people coming in and asking for, I just want a basic old-fashioned Dorothy. We'd have that. We have a lot of it. They don't.

OGUNNAIKE: They want sexy snow whites, sexy Marie Antoinette, sexy Ghostbusters. Even innocent Dorothy and her friends have been given an extreme makeover. This is the cowardly lion.

KENIG: Yes it is.

OGUNNAIKE: Not so cowardly.

KENIG: No, no. She has to have some courage to wear that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, if one day of the year that you can wear a provocative outfit without any repercussion at all to your reputation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It's slutty but they're going to (INAUDIBLE) in the wrong way because they know it's Halloween. You're all doing it for fun.

OGUNNAIKE: Fine for older girls but tweens and their parents, skimpy costumes can be a problem. Even attracting major headlines and plenty of outrage. You see young girls coming in here looking for sexy outfits.

KENIG: Yes, in fact, we have problems with their parents. So, we make sure they're 18 years old. There's a mother who come back, why did you sell this playboy costume to my 16 years old? She wanted it. She had her mother's credit card. We have to reimburse them or change it. It gets a little crazy.


OGUNNAIKE: Kiran, some of these outfits are just insane, you know, and then some of the stores they're separated. You've got adult section, you got the kid's section but you can't tell the difference. One store I went to, the packages were marked "teen", and I said what's the difference? He said, these are cut smaller for underdeveloped girls. And I said, Kiran, well you know what, if the girl can't fill out the costumes they don't need to be wearing the costumes.

CHETRY: Yes, you said, earlier when we bumped into each other in the makeup room that it was really eye-opening to see that. Because, you hear about it a lot. But we also saw some of the website and this are some of the outfits. This is Halloween costume for tweens, and we're talking 8 to 12 years old and that one has a bare mid-rift, the other was a dragon lady and there you got major flirt.

OGUNNAIKE: Yes, major flirt. You know, hemlines are higher, necklines are lower, mid-rifts are exposed and again, you know, these aren't for just adults, they're for kids as well. And the funny thing is, the little girls like wearing these costumes. They actually fight with their parents and they want to wear these things. A lot of people are saying, a lot of parents are upset saying we don't have options. But there are some kids out there that, look I want to look like Britney, I want to look like Lindsay. People are blaming the hyper-sexualization of the culture.

They see these young girls working the pole in the videos, they see these girls running around in skimpy outfits on TV and they want to look like the stars out there, and as a result...

CHETRY: Or are there any cool options out there for kids that are really not showing too much?

OGUNNAIKE: Well you know what? There's a happy medium. What a lot of people are doing, they buy the sexy costumes but then they layer. So, sometimes they'll put on, you know, a tee shirt underneath so the tops aren't as revealing or they will wear leggings so you're not seeing the full bare leg, and that's the happy medium there. But as far as sexy costumes disappearing, it's not happening any time soon. This is a big, big business right now.

CHETRY: It's still not cool to be a ghost?

OGUNNAIKE: It's cool to be a sexy ghost but no floor length gowns. Up to the knee or higher. And some of the costumes, we were talking about it earlier there. There's a pizza slut costume out there for a sexy delivery woman. There's a sexbucks... CHETRY: Instead of Starbucks.

OGUNNAIKE: Instead of Starbucks for a sexy bare. So there you go.

CHETRY: May I ask, are you planning on dressing up for Halloween?

OGUNNAIKE: I think I'm going to be a sexy CNN correspondent.

CHETRY: So, you got the costume already. Good for you. Lola, thanks.


ROBERTS: 54 minutes after the hour now. Cancer and the food you eat tops your "Quick Hits". A new report just out from the American Institute for Cancer Research reviewed thousands of studies about food and cancer prevention. It shows the leaner you are, the less risk you're at for cancer. Our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has got details coming up at the top of the hour.

Who could forget this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't tase me, bro!


ROBERTS: So, what happened after taser boy calmed down? Now we know. The sequel to this viral video, that's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Two minutes before the top of the hour now. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" this morning and watching for big news from the Fed. He's at the Chicago Board of Trade this morning. You look so small down there, Ali. Hi.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is empty, Kiran. I'm in the bond pits here at the Chicago Board of Trade. But this will get very busy. It'll start within the next hour and get very busy in about seven hours down the road when that Federal Reserve decision comes about interest rates. This place will sort of explode in terms of energy no matter what the Fed does. Now, we're expecting a .25 percent cut. But let me tell you, the problem here, the issue that most Americans need to be concerned about today is whether or not we are heading into a recession.

Now, the poll that we did at CNN a few weeks ago indicated that almost half of Americans think we're already in a recession. Or we're not, but here's what makes you think that we might be in a recession. We have got housing continuing its slump. We've got oil prices and other commodities at record highs. We've got the dollar continuing to slump against other currencies which makes it more expensive for us to buy imported goods, and we have consumer confidence at two-year lows.

When the consumer, particularly heading into the busiest buying season of the year, the holiday shopping season, starts to get nervous about their job, their interest rates, their home and their expenses, they may start to pull back and that's the kind of thing that investors are worried about triggering a recession. The Fed rate right now is 4.75 percent that makes the prime rate 7.75 percent. We're expecting a .25 percent point drop and that this afternoon, and I'll be here through the morning and through the day covering that for you.


CHETRY: All right.

ROBERTS: Ali, thanks very much.

Look at the story coming up in our next half hour that you just can't miss. This is a very important one. Are you overweight, even just a little bit? A new study says it's more important than ever to lose any extra pounds especially around the waist.

CHETRY: Yes. That's where it seems that the problem area, an indicator for major health problems. Even a small amount of excess body fat can put you at risk for six different types of cancers. Elizabeth Cohen is going to explain that in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING, starts right now.