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American Morning

Tiger Embarrassed, Not Talking; Senate Starting Health Care Debate; War Tax Bill; Black Friday Spending; Human Trafficking in the U.S.

Aired November 30, 2009 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It's 8:00 here in New York on this Monday, November 30th. Glad you're with us on this AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Joe Johns, in for John Roberts.

Where has this year gone? It's unbelievable, isn't it?

CHETRY: I know.

JOHNS: Gosh!

CHETRY: Tomorrow it's December -- officially.

JOHNS: Let the snow begin.

All right. Here are the big stories we'll tell you about in the next 15 minutes.

Tiger Woods is now refusing to talk to police about his early morning car accident on Friday. The world's greatest golfer is turning to his Web site to acknowledge his embarrassment and plead for privacy. And now speculation is swirling about an alleged other woman somehow being involved. A live report from Tiger's neighborhood -- ahead.

CHETRY: Also, as President Obama preps for tomorrow's primetime address about Afghanistan, some Democratic lawmakers are worried about how to pay for expanding the war. In fact, some are proposing a war tax. Is that a good option?

We'll be talking to Congressman John Larson, who supports that surtax.

JOHNS: And the number of shoppers is up, but too many of them may just be browsing. So, is there still hope for retailers and the economy this holiday? We'll take a look at the intense battle for your dollars.

The shortest drive of Tiger Woods' career is getting him the most attention. The greatest golfer in the world is refusing to talk to police about his Friday morning car crash, calling it a private matter on his Web site, while admitting being embarrassed.

But there are still a lot of questions about what really happened in the moments before the accident and in the minutes after police got this 911 call from one of Woods' neighbors.


911 OPERATOR: What happened? What's wrong?

CALLER: I have a neighbor, he hit the tree. We came out here just to see what was going on. I see him and he's laying down.

911 OPERATOR: He hit a tree -- you mean there was an auto accident?


911 OPERATOR: Is he unconscious?


911 OPERATOR: OK. Are you able to tell if he is breathing?

CALLER: No, I can't tell right now.


JOHNS: You've got to wonder if that neighbor knew he was talking about Tiger Woods. He certainly didn't use the name.

Susan Candiotti is live outside Woods' gated community in Windermere, Florida.

Susan, it seems -- the less Woods says, the more speculation swirls.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's for sure, Joe. You know, by law, Tiger Woods didn't have to talk with police and he didn't. But then, why did he have them come over to the police -- have the police come over to his house more than once and then turn them away? I mean, investigators are saying this is all very odd, to say the very least.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Three times not the charm for investigators trying to get Tiger Woods to talk about his late-night driveway crash into a fire hydrant and a tree.

JON WERTHEIM, SENIOR WRITER, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": It is strange that we have seen these broken appointments.

CANDIOTTI: With questions swirling around him and the Florida Highway Patrol turned away three times, that has a lot of people even more curious. He issued a statement on his Web site, saying he wants to keep the incident a family matter. "This situation is my fault," Woods says, "and it's obviously embarrassing to my family and to me. I'm human and I'm not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn't happen again."

But what does that mean? Is he talking about an accident or something else?

WERTHEIM: That's definitely the line that gets the yellow highlighter. If this is a standard just random occurrence, if he flukily has a car accident, you know, you're not quite sure why he's making promises that something will or won't happen in the future.

CANDIOTTI: Fact is, by Florida law, Woods didn't have to talk with police. Instead, he did only what he had to do, provide them his driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Woods' lawyer handed them over but investigators left the house without coming face to face with the biggest name in golf.

Woods' agent gave CNN the following statement: "Although Tiger realizes this is a great deal of public curiosity, it has been conveyed to FHP that he simply has nothing more to add and wishes to protect the privacy of his family."

In his own statement, Woods also refers to his wife, police say she told them she bashed out the SUV's rear passenger window with a golf club to get him out of the locked car. "She was the first person to help me. Any other assertion is absolutely false."

Yet again, Woods doesn't explain what false assertions he means.

Last week, a story in the "National Enquirer" alleged Woods had been seeing a New York nightclub hostess. That woman arrived in Los Angeles Sunday to meet with Attorney Gloria Allred. She denied having an affair with Woods when she was contacted by "The Associated Press."


CANDIOTTI: Now, last week -- rather, today, we find out that the legal affair is not over. Investigators will still complete this investigation, even without Woods' direct input. He could, for example, be issued a traffic citation and authorities are deciding whether to seek a subpoena for his medical records -- John. Joe, excuse me.

JOHNS: All right. Thanks so much, Susan.

CHETRY: Well, the Senate finally starts debating its health care bill in just a few hours. But the number two Republican in the chamber, Senator Jon Kyl is already telling Democrats that the bill is no good and to start over.

Even with an uphill battle in front of them, Democrats are watching the clock.

Our Jim Acosta is live with more from our D.C. bureau.

I mean, that is unrealistic. I mean, the Republicans obviously don't have the majority. Is there any chance that they could scrap a bill and start a new one?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. That is not going to happen, at least not by the end of this year. They're going to press forward and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may have some Maalox moments between now and Christmas, and it won't because of the Thanksgiving leftovers.

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate later today on a final health care reform package, but the real question that's looming over Capitol Hill is whether that debate will ever stop.



ACOSTA (voice-over): If only the president could get a pardon for health care reform -- his signature initiative that's in danger of being plucked to death in the Senate. Already calls to delay the bill are coming in -- including one from a key Republican, once a close colleague of Mr. Obama's in Congress, who argues there are more pressing issues to tackle.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: The war is terribly important. Jobs and our economy are terribly important. So, this may be an audacious suggestion -- but I would suggest we put aside the health care debate until next year.

ACOSTA: Democrats are staring at their calendar with dread. After hoping to wrap up their work by December 18th, less than three weeks from now, congressional leaders are warning with members they may work weekends, right up to Christmas, fearing any delay on health care will kill the bill.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: We have to go ahead and conclude this debate. To stop now would be stopping on the edge of, I think, significant reform, which is so important for the country.

ACOSTA: And any amendment could drag down the bill in the Senate, from anti-abortion Democrats who want to restrict spending on abortion, to party conservatives who want to water-down the public option.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I would be very reluctant to support legislation that did not have a strong public option.

ACOSTA: Some Democrats aren't even sure the bill lowers health care costs, one of the president's chief objectives.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: We want to cover the uninsured -- yes. But we don't want to do it in a way that's going to drive up the costs for folks who currently have it. That's one of the biggest complaints that I hear from people.

ACOSTA: And with time winding down, health care will have to share the spotlight. There are congressional spending bills to keep the government running, an upcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen, and unemployment -- the one issue many Republicans hope to ride right in the next year's midterm elections.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The number one issue in this country is jobs, getting people to work.


ACOSTA: And now that the debate is moving forward, Democrats will need 60 votes to stop it. The political obituary for health care reform has been written before and Democratic leaders have had plenty of chances to leave it for dead, but there are no signs they are backing down, Kiran. They are pushing forward.

CHETRY: All right. Jim Acosta for us this morning -- thanks.

JOHNS: A developing story now, 700 miles off the coast of Somalia, where pirates have seized a Greek oil tanker in the Indian Ocean. A Greek coast guard official says nine pirates boarded the oil tanker Sunday morning and now have control of it. The ship was sailing from Kuwait to the Gulf of Mexico with 28 crew members on board.

CHETRY: Iran is sending a message times 10. On Friday, the United Nations demanded it cease all uranium enrichment activities. Iran's response: it now plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, explaining the decision.


MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We require multiple sites to produce nuclear fuel for us. We need at least 10 new sites.


CHETRY: One of Iran's vice presidents is telling state radio Iran had no intention of building 10 new sites until it was criticized by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

JOHNS: Plus, a new report by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says we let Osama bin Laden get away. It's blaming the Bush administration for not capturing or killing the terror leader three months after 9/11. The report says bin Laden was cornered in Afghanistan's mountainous Tora Bora region and had even written his will on December 14th, but there weren't enough troops to corner him.

CHETRY: And Secret Service agents have now interviewed the White House dinner-crashing couple twice. The questioning is taking place Friday and Saturday. No word on what was discussed, but a federal official says that the Secret Service is considering criminal charges against Michaele and Tareq Salahi -- something Democrats and Republicans seem to be supporting.


BAYH: It's not a laughing matter that people could get that close to the president and the vice president that aren't supposed to be there. So, the Secret Service has come out and appropriately said they're embarrassed. They're going to get to the bottom of it. You know, these folks could be like the -- what is the name -- Richard Reid (ph) who changes the way everybody travels through the airports because of this one guy.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: I think you have to have a strong deterrent against this kind of thing, and therefore, if it's a federal crime to lie to a federal agent, and these people didn't tell the truth about their invitation, then they should be, in some way, brought to justice here -- again, as an example to others not to do it. But clearly, the Secret Service as well as the White House protocol office have got to beef up their tactics.


CHETRY: A senior federal official tells "The New York Times" that he expects the Secret Service is not done questioning the couple.

Well, still ahead, Afghanistan, it's expensive, we know that. War costs a lot of money. But, is a war tax something the American people would with agree with?

We're going to be talking with one of the congressmen who proposed the legislation about why he thinks a war tax is necessary.

It's 10 minutes after the hour.


JOHNS: And this just into CNN. Remember that four-letter word laced tirade Serena Williams had at the U.S. Open? Well, she's just got the highest grand slam fine ever -- a two-year probation. More information as it comes in.

CHETRY: Well, after weeks of anticipation, President Obama finally scheduled to unveil his plans for Afghanistan in a primetime speech tomorrow. He's expected to call for an additional 34,000 U.S. troops. But some congressional Democrats are already voicing concern, not only about the mission there, but also the costs, and are proposing a war tax.

Joining me now -- Connecticut Congressman John Larson. He co- authored legislation for a war tax.

Thanks for being with us this morning, Congressman.

REP. JOHN LARSON (D), CONNECTICUT: Kiran, happy to be with you.

CHETRY: So, your bill would begin this war tax in 2011. It would impose a 1 percent surtax on anyone with taxable income.

LARSON: Right.

CEHTRY: And this would increase gradually up the income scale, as high as 5 percent for the highest income households.

Tell us exactly what this money would be used for. How would this work?

LARSON: Well, you know, at the top of your program, you were talking about the whole issue of health care. And clearly, we have struggled mightily to make sure that we're paying for health care. We already know that we have an excess of $1 trillion in costs for Iraq and Afghanistan that are unpaid for.

And so, what this is is a shared sacrifice act and what we call upon is a 1 percent surtax that will be imposed starting -- as you pointed out -- after the -- in December of 2010, going forward. And that the president can adjust this rate based on income for people earning in excess of $150,000 -- to pay for the cost of the war, if that war cost should continue to grow. Currently, the cost is, in Afghanistan, it's about $68 billion.

If we're going to pay for health care on an ongoing basis, if we're concerned about our future and the need for a shared sacrifice, then this is just simply a common sense approach. The only people we're asking to sacrifice in this war effort have been the men and women who serve our armed services and do so valiantly. They deserve the same kind of commitment here at home from citizens.

CHETRY: Well, let me ask you about this: Republican congressman that we spoke to in the last hour, Tom Price, called this proposal, quote, "cynical and irresponsible." He said, if you cut spending in non-defense areas, in non-defense discretionary spending, that you could actually cover the costs. This war has been called the top priority.

So, if you start taxing things that are, you know, top priorities -- I mean, where does it end?

LARSON: During the Second World War, we had issued savings bonds. People went out and actually collected valuables so that they could distribute. There was a notion of a shared sacrifice. There's been no shared sacrifice since the Bush administration. We think that this is the right step forward, in both making sure that Americans are participating in this and that we're not leaving this enormous debt on our children. Joseph Stiglitz said --


CHETRY: -- he agrees with you in some aspects of this, about the shared sacrifice. He calls it a missed opportunity, though, saying that this should have happened before. We're eight years into this war right now, Carl Levin saying that in the middle of a recession, I don't think you're going to be able to successfully or fairly add a tax burden to middle income people. What about the many who are struggling right now and barely hanging on, working part-time --

LARSON: Well, that's why the legislation has a waiver. And that the president has great flexibility and he can make the assessment that these are not -- this is not the time to levee the tax. It can be levied down the road.

But the idea going forward is that this war must be paid for. And also the bill would go on to exempt anyone in our military who is currently serving or any one of our fallen members of the military would be exempt from this tax.

But Kiran, as you look out and project as we're going forward -- Joseph Stiglitz has said that the Iraq war alone is estimated to cost around $3 trillion. These are initiatives that the American people -- we owe it to level to our troops and to the American people what the cost of these wars and then pay for them just like we do everything else.

CHETRY: Well, we don't pay for everything else, that's the problem. That's why we're in a $12 trillion deficit. And, you know, looking forward...

LARSON: You are right, we didn't pay for the Bush tax cuts. We didn't pay for this war. We didn't pay for the bailout of Wall Street and look at the problems that we found ourselves in. So...

CHETRY: Right. There are a lot of people, though, Americans are saying, look, I already pay federal taxes. I mean, when you add in the taxes that I pay to the federal government, to my local and state governments, I'm not even bringing home half my paycheck. Aren't they already giving the government money technically to protect us, to fight wars? Wouldn't this be a double tax?

LARSON: They are. But just like in World War II, people stepped up to the plate because they saw the importance of this. And I think both from the standpoint of a shared sacrifice and also from wanting to uncouple their children and grandchildren from this enormous burden that we're accumulating here. Yes, I think the policies of handing out tax cuts to the nation's wealthiest 1% were harmful and contributed mightily to this deficit, as did not paying for the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war over this process. At some point, that has to change. And this legislation hopes to do that.

CHETRY: Has the White House given you any indication as to whether or not they are supporting you on this effort?

LARSON: Well, they have not. They haven't had an opportunity to speak with the White House. But Chairman Obey, Chairman Murtha, a number of members of the house, Chairman Rangle, myself and others all agree, I think anyone that's a fiscal conservative looks at this and says, you know, it's long overdue that we step up and pay for these initiatives and both level with our troops, make sure we provide them with our support that they need. And then also, level with the American people on the cost of this war.

CHETRY: Congressman John Larson, great to talk to you this morning. Thank you.

LARSON: Good to talk with you.

CHETRY: Well, we want to know what you think if you're watching out there. Are you willing to pay a war tax? Sound off on our blog, go to Also, stay with CNN. We are going to have special live coverage of the president's speech on Afghanistan. That begins tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

JOHNS: So, this was our first big holiday weekend, holiday shopping weekend, I should say. And the question, of course, is whether it was good news or bad news for the economy and the retailers and whether some people out there got some bargains.

CHETRY: Was it good news for the shoppers either? We are going to find out. 19 minutes past the hour.


JOHNS: Partly cloudy right now, 31 degrees. Going up to 43 degrees. Obamatown. They're certainly going to be watching to see what happens with the president's speech tomorrow night, as will the rest of us. And Gerri Willis is here.



CHETRY: So, did you do any personal research on Black Friday?

WILLIS: I did no personal research on Black Friday.

CHETRY: I did some personal research.

WILLIS: I make it a habit not to shop that day.

CHETRY: I gave it a try this year, just to see.


CHETRY: We were in Walmart, 20 minutes just to park, we had to wait in line for shopping carts. I'm not kidding. They were handing out shopping carts. You had to wait in line for them. And every other cart had a humongous flat screen TV.

WILLIS: Where's my gift?

CHETRY: Oh, I got you a little something from the Miley Cyrus collection, but I'm not going to give it to you until Christmas.

JOHNS: I went to the Dollar Store.

WILLIS: Right.


CHETRY: Seriously, it was packed, Gerri. Does that translate into retailers going into the black?

WILLIS: No, no, no. Although, people spent $41 billion. Can you believe that? That's crazy. But when you actually look at the numbers, let's drill down here a little bit. 195 million of us were out, but that's only $343 per person, 29 bucks less than last year. So, yes, lots of people, but at the end of the day, you know, retailers are like, that was more ho hum than ho ho ho.

JOHNS: Were they just walking around?

WILLIS: What's that?

JOHNS: They're just walking around in the store? I mean, they're not spending money, just looking?

WILLIS: They would only buy if they thought they were really getting a good deal. That's the only reason they opened their wallets. People were really price conscious this year. But the good news for retailers, that is, is that people were spending online. Sales were up 11% at $595 million this year. So, that's very good. And a lot of people will be spending online today, because it's Cybermonday, which is the big day that retailers offer deals online.

But, let's take a look at a few of the things you should be careful about. I was mentioning earlier, you know, guess what, you don't want to shop on your son's laptop, necessarily, because that can be dangerous because it has a lot of spyware. Here are some other scams to watch out for, fake holiday ecards. If you get one in your email box, do not open it, throw it away. Because last year, if you do not know who it's from, last year there was a worm masked as a Hallmark card so you want to be really careful.

CHETRY: Okay, I get a Hallmark card every single day and I delete it.

JOHNS: Yes, me too.

WILLIS: Very smart. You are doing the right thing.

JOHNS: So that might be somebody trying to --

CHETRY: Put a worm on your computer?

WILLIS: Rip you off. Take your personal information. Also, watch out for sites with luxury and holiday jewelry. Those can be scams as well. And they even have like BBB logos, or Better Business Bureau logos on them, so you have to be very, very, very -- we will talk about it later.

Your eyes are telling the entire story, Kiran. And Christmas Carol songs, if you want a new ring tone for your phone, that's another big scam out there. Some of the websites are fake and they are stealing information from you instead of giving you what you want. So, be careful out there.

CHETRY: And why did you mention your son or daughter's laptop? They're more likely to have spyware on them?

WILLIS: You know, they're playing games and you know, they do a lot of things on the web, so they typically have more spyware than somebody else's laptop computer, which may be only used for business purposes.

JOHNS: And then they steal your credit card.

WILLIS: They steal your credit card, they steal your personal information. Before you know it, you can't even afford a Christmas gift much less do a lot of holiday shopping.

JOHNS: This is not good.

WILLIS: Well, we gave you the tools to fix it so you don't have to worry about it.

CHETRY: Thanks, Gerri. Gerri Willis, helping us out this morning. "Minding our Business." Meanwhile, if you're going to give this as your gift, which is the every single item on the 12 days of Christmas, probably not going to do it, but anyway...

JOHNS: Pipers piping, ladies dancing

CHETRY: Drummers drumming. Yes, the whole, the cows-a-milking. And everybody's moo-ing. Anyway.

WILLIS: Where do you put it? That is what I wonder.



CHETRY: If you wanted to buy every single one of those things -- although, I don't think they priced out. Right. How much money would you have to spend feeding turtle doves for however long they last.

JOHNS: Right. And you would think that if you were going to buy birds, you could eat them.


CHETRY: I'm not having turkey for thanksgiving, I'll be having a turtle dove.

JOHNS: I suppose you could have, you know, the chocolate turtles --

CHETRY: You've already dug yourself way too deep of a hole. The bottom line though, is, every year, the folks at P&C wealth management, they measure the cost of actually purchasing all 12 of the different items on the 12 days of Christmas song. So, this year, to buy all of the gifts, it would be $87,403, which is up $800 from last year. Why do you think, Gerri? I know, you know this one.

WILLIS: I don't know this one.

CHETRY: Because of the gold! The price of gold.

WILLIS: Oh, there's gold in there.

CHETRY: Five golden rings.

WILLIS: Well, you did not mention the gold rings. I'll go for it now.


CHETRY: The price of five golden rings up 43% compared to last year.

WILLIS: This is going to make it hard for you to buy us all gifts.

JOHNS: I know, it's too much. But I'll be there, with bells on, or something. Lots more ahead, the Afghanistan crisis, the president dealing with that, health care on the senate floor, the D.C. party crashers, which is just about the best story of the week. Talk to Leslie Sanchez and Jamal Simmons live coming up shortly.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. You know, it's a problem that's hiding in plain sight. Modern-day slavery. The State Department says up to 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. every year, usually women and children.

JOHNS: But this next story puts a new face on a global crisis. 30 men who say they moved halfway around the world for a shot at the American Dream, but were tricked into a life of forced labor. Sean Callebs joins us live now for part one of our A.M. original series, "No Way Out: Human Trafficking." And good morning, Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Joe and Kiran.

Think human trafficking is something that happens somewhere else? Think again. U.S. officials say it could be happening miles, even blocks from where you live. And they say right now there are an estimated 200,000 people who have been forced into modern slavery working in the United States, making it the fastest growing crime out there, only second to the drug trade.

We're going to bring you a story of these men from Thailand. They answering a help wanted ad hoping to improve their lives, but they got something entirely different.


CALLEBS: Chinnawat Koompeemay's nightmarish ordeal began four years ago.

CHINNAWAT KOOMPEEMAY, HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIM (via translator): I never imagined that this kind of thing would happen in the United States.

CALLEBS: Copymai, desperate to provide for his family, says he answered an ad from a job recruiter in rural Thailand. The recruiter promised an $8 hour a job in America, he says, picking tobacco in North Carolina. And he would get a U.S. visa.

KATE WOOMER-DETERS, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: When they heard that there was a job in the United States, and not just a job, but a job on a legal visa in the United States, I think that was really the golden ticket for them.

CALLEBS: But there were problems from the outset. First, he says, there was a payment up-front, $11,000, money he borrowed from loan sharks before he left his home in Thailand.

Once he got to North Carolina, Koompeemay says there was no work, no money, and his passport was seized by the recruiter, Million Express Manpower. Koompeemay says he and the other 29 farmers who came with him realized they were trapped.

KOOMPEEMAY (via translator): some of the men were so stressed out to the point they seemed suicidal.

CALLEBS: Koompeemay says he begged for work. And when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Million Express Manpower brought some of its employees to New Orleans.

He says the men were told to gut this condemned hotel and were forced to live there while doing the job, and all of this without pay.

KOOMPEEMAY (via translator): We couldn't find anything to eat. We happened to have some uncooked rice with us, so we trapped pigeons and cooked the pigeons to feed ourselves.

CALLEBS: Eventually they were brought back to North Carolina, where one night they say they escaped.

Louis Debaaka is the U.S. ambassador charged with fighting modern-day slavery.

LUIS COEBACA, AMBASSADOR AT LARGE TO FIGHT HUMAN TRAFFICKING: This is a hidden crime. The very nature of this crime masks it from us.

CALLEBS: Eventually, Koompeemay and 21 others sued Million Express Manpower under the trafficking victims protection act. The company never responded and the court said the evidence justified a default judgment of nearly $1 million.

WOOMER-DETERS: These men don't look like the typical trafficking victims. They're not women. They're not in the sex trade. They're not behind a barbed wire fence.

CALLEBS: Koompeemay has been reunited with his wife and two children. He asked us not to say where he's living, still concerned about the traffickers.

CALLEBS (on camera): You do feel lucky, even after everything you've been through, you feel lucky? KOOMPEEMAY (via translator): I do feel very lucky that I could turn crisis into opportunity.


CALLEBS: Forced to eat pigeons and his family was threatened by loan sharks back in Thailand. It was a brutal existence. But Koompeemay counts himself among the lucky. He is here now legally now with his family, Joe and Kiran, on something called a "T" visa. That is a special visa that has been set up for people who have been victimized by human trafficking.

CHETRY: All right Sean Callebs for us, just an unbelievable story. And you're bringing us more about this tomorrow. The victims don't always come from the other side of the glove. We're taking a look at the growing problem of young girls, young American girls, bought and sold as sex slaves in towns and cities across the country. That's tomorrow right here on the Most News in the Morning.

JOHNS: Checking our top stories.

A new study says early detection and behavior treatment can dramatically improve the quality of life for children with autism. Researchers at the University of Washington studied 48 kids who began getting treatments as early as 18 months old. They found within two years their IQs increased by an average of nearly 18 points, and close to a third of the kids were re-diagnosed with a less severe form of autism.

CHETRY: Tiger Woods wants a little privacy right now. An attorney for the golfing great letting Florida police know that his client has nothing more to say to them about his Friday morning car crash. Tiger is asking everyone to leave his family alone. He put out a message on his Web site saying that he is embarrassed about the situation.

JOHNS: And remember that four-letter-word laced tirade Serena Williams had at the U.S. Open in September? Well, she's just gotten the highest Grand Slam fine ever, 82,500 and a two-year probation. The decision comes from a committee of international tennis officials.

If you forgot what happened, Williams lost a match point on penalties and cameras caught her yelling at a line judge, appearing to say, "I swear to god I'm blanking taking this ball and shoving it down your blanking throat."

What a week it's shaping up in Washington. President Obama making a big announcement tomorrow on war strategy in Afghanistan. And later this morning, the Senate takes up the debate on its health care reform bill.

And then there's the matter of the White House dinner crashers and the serious questions being raised about the Secret Service and security. Joining me now from Washington is Leslie Sanchez, Republican strategist and author of "You've come a long way, maybe," and Jamal Simmons, former DNC communications adviser and principal of the Raben group.

And first Leslie, to you, when you look at this situation, Afghanistan is one of those things that this president ran on, saying it was the problem. He repeated that more or less back in March, and now he's actually taking ownership of the Afghanistan war in many ways by sending what we believe will be about 30,000 troops more to Afghanistan.

So, the question I'd ask you is, on the left, if he's getting a lot of criticism, isn't this exactly what his constituency voted for?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, absolutely. There was a lot of frustration during the campaign from the base and from the left. But there's no doubt, this is the boldest strategic move this president is going to make. If you include the boost he gave the troops in February, he's at essentially tripling the size of the American presence in Afghanistan.

There are numerous problems, and he allowed himself to be tossed around the last couple of weeks while we were waiting for this decision by the left. I think this decision is going to further alienate and splinter a base that was very frustrated.

He ran on the idea of Afghanistan, initially saying there needed more troops. But I don't think that the president knew he was going to paint himself into this much of a corner.

JOHNS: Jamal, I would ask you to weigh in on that, but also want to point out the numbers. The polling numbers show that there's a lot of disaffection with the whole notion of sending more troops to Afghanistan. The latest CNN/Opinion Research poll has 52 percent of Americans against the war with 45 percent for it.

Can the president flip those numbers, more or less? Do you think he can get more support by making a very good case for sending more troops to Afghanistan?

JAMAL SIMMONS, PRINCIPAL, THE RABEN GROUP: Nobody likes the idea of sending more Americans into harm's way. Nobody likes it. And I think, least of all is like Barack Obama who over the last 10 months, 11 months, has gone to meet with American families.

Remember those pictures of him at the Dover Air Force Base when soldiers were coming back from the wars, and he had to welcome their caskets back and talk to their families. It was a very somber moment. So you have this president who's faced with that.

And you talk to someone -- you listen to someone like Bob Graham, who I used to work for when he ran for the president. Bob Graham, who's now chair of a WMD commission, who says Pakistan is where Al Qaeda is. Pakistan is where -- they're the most likely place to transfer weapons of mass destruction to other places.

We've got to be focused one, on Pakistan, but we can't let go of Afghanistan, because in Afghanistan is where the Taliban were. If you let them come back, they'll give a safe harbor to Al Qaeda again.

So if we're focusing -- if we're focusing on Al Qaeda, we've got to focus both on Afghanistan and on Pakistan, and I think that's what the president has to really figure out how to sell the American people on. And I think if he owns it, if he believes it, if he understands the strategy, which is what these last few weeks have been about, then he can go to the American public and say, follow me.

JOHNS: Go ahead, Leslie.

SANCHEZ: That's the interesting part of this. We know from the leadership perspective, the joint leadership, Democrat and Republican are going to support with what this president is saying. You're exactly right. You have the insurgency. You have criminals that are cultivating the poppy trade. Nothing's changed in that. You have corruption in the government.

The president has to set out his case and build confidence in that sense. And Republicans will stand with this president on his foreign position.

I think the kind of part that's remarkable is the frustration is on the Democratic side. That's the difficulty.

JOHNS: So, now, there's talk on the Hill, of course, about a war tax, which it sounds like nobody likes. Now, will either of you say that you think a war tax is a good idea? Leslie, start with you?


SANCHEZ: Not at all. You know, I think Dave Obey and appropriations, it will be one of those things that he'll find he'll be the solo man in trying to push this tax.

JOHNS: Jamal? What do you think of a war tax?

SIMMONS: I think we've got to figure out how to pay for this. What's not going to be acceptable is the American public is an increasing amount of debt and deficit spending that goes on and we just stop worrying about the cost of these things.

So whether it's going to be a war tax or cut spending someplace else or pulling troops out of Iraq because money can be saved there that can be used in Afghanistan, they've got to figure out how to pay for this.

And the American public, if this is a national priority, we're also going to have to figure out how to do this responsibly.

JOHNS: Real fast, I've got to ask you about the Washington gate crashers at the White House. We all know what's happening now. We're moving into the holiday season where there are going to be Christmas parties.

Do you see this problem of these couple crashing the White House, India state dinner, as a future problem for people who are going to be showing up for holiday parties at the White House? Jamal?

SIMMONS: I'll go ahead and start.

I'm actually expected to go over there this week, and I'll expect there'll be some amount of heightened security that takes place at the White House right now.

I used to work in that complex. I had a badge to get into the complex, all of that. But I'll tell you, the day I left my job there, I had to stand outside with everybody else waiting for my Social Security number and my date of birth to be verified for the Secret Service.

So, I'm not particularly sure what happened with these -- with this couple, when someone said, oh, you've been out here too long, you look like you belong here, so we'll let you in. I just don't know that to be the case of the White House...

JOHNS: What do you think, Leslie?

SANCHEZ: Jamal and I agree on this, definitely. I think it is an area of concern. What we're likely to see is an increase in security, an increase in scrutiny of matching names and I.D.s because of this.

But the bigger question is we saw this type of security during the inauguration, all the festivities around the president, when there was a heightened sense of alert. Now, ten months later, it seems more lax. I think what we're looking for is consistency and transparency with respect to protecting our president.

SIMMONS: Actually, there have been some complaints during the inauguration from some of the donors who said they thought that perhaps there was a little bit of lax security around the president, especially because of the historical nature of this presidency. Other people have talked about that.

This is actually a really serious problem wrapped in a nutty story of a reality TV couple. But protecting this president and the White House and his family is important.

SANCHEZ: And an interesting thing, real quickly. The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security looked into this issue after those inaugural complaints and basically the Secret Service was exonerated from that.

But the question is, is it time for the IG to go forward and look at this more thoroughly? I think that's what a lot of lawmakers are going to be wondering.

JOHNS: Leslie and Jamal, thanks so much. And we will be watching it very closely, because it very could affect the way people get around, at least the White House complex, including the media, by the way. Thanks so much to both of you.

(LAUGHTER) CHETRY: It's true. If they're under scrutiny, you know the entire process, which many people say is laborious to begin with, is going to be even longer.

JOHNS: That's right.

CHETRY: All right, we'll see what happens.

Who is the most influential conservative in the nation? And which president should be added to Mt. Rushmore? There's a new poll out. they asked people and some very interesting responses.

It's 42 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Coming up on 45 minutes past the hour right now. We fast forward through the stories that will be making news later today.

Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski could be released from a Swiss jail. If he is, he'll be taken to a chalet where he'll remain under house arrest. A court will eventually rule about whether or not Polanski will be extradited to California to face sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl more than three decades ago.

JOHNS: At 9:30 Eastern, Wall Street kicks off the trading day. Investors are hoping to gain back some ground after the financial mess in Dubai sent the DOW tumbling 154 points Friday. Right now, futures are down slightly.

CHETRY: Later today, the Obama administration will announce a new effort to help families faced with foreclosure. A Treasury spokeswoman says the goal is to increase the rate that troubled home loans can be converted into new mortgages with lower monthly payments. Officials say they are now going to provide more resources to borrowers and call out mortgage companies that aren't doing more to help.

JOHNS: And at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, the Capitol Christmas tree will arrive in Washington it comes from Arizona and was driven across the country on a truck fueled by biodiesel. The decorations, about 5,000 of them, were made by Arizonians as well.

CHETRY: Well, whatever you think Rush Limbaugh it's hard to doubt his conservative poll this morning. A new poll by "Vanity Fair" and "60 Minutes" found that Americans consider the talk radio show host the most influential conservative voice. The poll also finding John F. Kennedy is the president Americans would most likely see added to Mt. Rushmore, Ronald Reagan came in second.

There you go and behind Rush Limbaugh by the way for most influential conservative voice, Glenn Beck. And then two politicians, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, tying for third with 10 percent each.

JOHNS: Sarah Palin makes me think of Alaska, which makes me think of snow, which makes me think of the extreme weather center and Mr. Marciano, is who was coming up next, in fact.

CHETRY: That's right. It's the last day today of hurricane season, but a cold front is moving east. Could we see some snow? Rob will tell us coming up.

It's 47 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: I just want to say thanks...

JOHNS: Yes, I know that.

CHETRY: ... as if we weren't depressed enough, it's a Monday morning, but why are we playing this song?

JOHNS: Well, it's Cat Stevens. And I was thinking it was Elton John for about -- sorry, I don't know.

CHETRY: I mean, couldn't we just play, "Oh, Baby, Baby it's a Wild World" one, right now?

JOHNS: Right, right...

CHETRY: Anyway...

JOHNS: Well, there you go, New York City, 40 -- what is that, 54 degrees...


JOHNS: ... cloudy.


JOHNS: And not a bad day here.

CHETRY: No. From what I'm hearing, I understand, this was a request from Rob Marciano. He requested this song.

JOHNS: Oh really, so Rob, you're a Cat Stevens fan?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Formerly known as -- didn't he change his name? I didn't request that. But...

CHETRY: Yes, he did change his name to...

JOHNS: To what? Oh, that's right he did.

CHETRY: What's his name now?

JOHNS: I don't remember.

CHETRY: Youssef Islam is now his name.

MARCIANO: That's right. CHETRY: There you go.

MARCIANO: Nice work. You would think if I requested that song, I would have that trivial pursuit information but...

CHETRY: You just know him as Cat.

MARCIANO: Exactly. Anyway, it's not that requested song but certainly not a get up and go. I mean, you're not going to play that song in an aerobics class. That's for sure.

All right, listen, we've got some snow, yes, but it's in New Mexico, of all places, and we have seen a snow shortage across the Great Lakes. This is the time of the year where the lake-effect snow machine starts to get cranked up and we just haven't seen them much at all. As a matter of fact, Syracuse has broken a record, as far as not seeing it in over 270 days, not since February of last year.

A sliver of moisture, this doesn't have a ton of snow with it. You have to go to extreme upstate New York and into part of northern New England to really see some snow. There will be a little bit of lake-effect snow behind this front, but not a ton.

There will be some rain, some of it not today, but I think over the next couple of days, could see some flooding potential across the Gulf Coast states, including Houston; 59 there today for a high; 54 degrees is expected in New York and 43 degrees in Chicago. So behind this front, it certainly will be chilly

Last day of hurricane season. We had a few storms, yes, but not many. Ida, the last one, certainly a below-average season and that was the forecast, mostly due to El Nino.

And here's how the numbers are racked up nine tropical storms, the average is 11. Three hurricanes, the average is six. And two major hurricanes, we did have two but they didn't last all that long.

So pretty much on sked this year for 2009 hurricane season and we hope to bring in 2010 or end 2010 the same way -- Joe, Kiran back up to you.

CHETRY: Not bad. And listen, if we had one more hour, we'd play your other request by Engelbert Humperdinck -- alas, we are out of time.


MARCIANO: All right, guys.

CHETRY: Bye, Rob.

It's 52 minutes past the hour, we'll be right back.


CHETRY: How about this one for a stocking stuffer? The Pope is out with a new CD for the faithful. Don't expect him to be singing. He's not belting out any tunes. But the CD's producer says that he sees similarities between his Holiness and the hottest hip hop stars.

That's right, our Zane Verjee now on the Pontiff's new project.


Watch out Britney; here comes the Pope. The Pontiff is getting ready to storm the charts this Christmas, but it's not gun and rosaries, but hymns and litanies.


VERJEE (voice-over): Nirvana, Guns and Roses, and the Pope? This year, the same label that brought you those first two is trying something a little different.

A hot new CD starring, that's right, Pope Benedict XVI.

RICHARD FERNANDEZ, GEFFEN RECORDS: It's one of the main albums that we're putting out, if not the main, out of all the releases going into Christmas. And we have really high expectations for it.

VERJEE: Album producer Vincent Messina says he wanted to do it because he sees parallels to hip hop music.

VINCENT MESSINA, PRODUCER OF "ALMA MATER": When you pronounce the magic word litanies, I thought right away of how repetitive they are, how hypnotic they are. And then, again, I thought that there's nothing closer to hip hop or reggae music, which I really like a lot.

VERJEE: But if you're expecting an hour of His Holiness belting out tunes, you're going to be disappointed. There's plenty of papal chanting, but the Pontiff only sings on one of the tracks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody in America and here will know who Simon Cowell is, and as people who actually have to write music, we've decided there will be less "x" factor and this would be the cross factor.

VERJEE: The reviews haven't been exactly glowing. Some critics say the Pontiff shouldn't quit his day job, which is just as well, really. This, after all, is his busy time of year.


VERJEE: So keep an eye on that number one spot this Christmas. It's Pope versus pop.

I don't mind finding the Best of Benedict CD in my stocking -- Joe, Kiran.

CHETRY: There you go. You can download it on your iPod, listen to it anytime you want.

JOHNS: Yes. I'll run right out. CHETRY: So now I know what to get you.

It's 3 minutes before that top of the hour. We'll be right back.


JOHNS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

President Obama preparing for a possible surge of troops to combat surging violence and danger in Afghanistan. Stay with CNN we'll have live coverage of the president's speech. It begins tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

CHETRY: And that's going to do it for us today. Thanks so much for being with us.

Continue the conversation on today's stories by going to our blog,

JOHNS: All right. So stay with us here on CNN, CNN's Heidi Collins is in the "NEWSROOM" right now.