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Gingrich Surging; New Sandusky Accuser; Geithner In Paris To Talk Debt Crisis; Obama: "Make Or Break" Time For Middle Class; Pentagon Acknowledges Drone Lost to Iran; Syrian President Denies Recent Bloody Crackdown; Couple Writes Book about Year-Long Move to Croatia; Running Away to Home; Class Size: Smaller Isn't Always Better; Occupying a New Office

Aired December 07, 2011 - 08:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Newt Gingrich opening up a double- digit lead in the national polls, but life at the top has its challenges. Now, conservatives are coming after him.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Alec Baldwin has got an addiction to "Words with Friends."

I'm Christine Romans.

How his love for the cell phone game cost him his airline seat -- on this AMERICAN MORNING.


COSTELLO: Good morning to you. It is Wednesday, December 7th.

ROMANS: All right, up first this hour: Newt Gingrich stunning surge in the polls.

Look how far the former House speaker has come. According to Gallup, he trailed Mitt Romney by nine points in the first week of November, with only 13 percent of the vote, in the first week of November. Two weeks later, he jumped to 22 percent, one point ahead of Romney.

Fast-forward to the first week of December, Gingrich now holds a commanding 15-point lead.

CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser has been watching this chart. He's live in Washington this morning.

Paul, a 24-point jump in just weeks. Wow.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, truly incredible. And that's the national polls. What about in the states? Remember, this is a battle for states and their delegates. And it seems Gingrich is picking right at the right time four weeks to go until Iowa.

Look at this right here, this is CBS/"New York Times" poll in Iowa. There's Newt Gingrich 14 points ahead of Romney. There's Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas, and Rick Perry, the governor of Texas lowered down. An ABC/"Washington Post" poll, same thing in Iowa.

Here's South Carolina, this is the first southern state to vote and the third state overall, again, Newt Gingrich, by far, the frontrunner in South Carolina.

One caveat here, though -- remember, in all these polls, a lot of these likely voters in the caucuses and primaries are saying we still may change our minds, four weeks to go until the first votes, Christine.

COSTELLO: So, is that giving Mitt Romney any hope? Because if I'm Mitt Romney, I'm pretty depressed right now.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, Carol, you're absolutely right. Here's what Romney told us and told reporters yesterday in Arizona, that we're going to see a lot more of him on the campaign trail. Take a listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll be on the air a good deal more than in the past, doing the very best to communicate to the American people why I'm running for president, hopefully getting their support. And, you know, I know the beginning is going to be, what, January 3rd. But this will take longer than a week or two to sort out.

My expectation is this going to be a campaign that's going to go on for a while and I expect to win it.


STEINHAUSER: Here's the advantage Romney has, though. He's got the organization, he's got the structure in the states to get out the vote efforts.

You know what? Gingrich now trying to play catch up there, trying to get his people in place in these early states. So, that could help Romney, four weeks to go until these first votes in Iowa -- Christine.

ROMANS: And you wonder if the Romney camp wants to change tack or they want to wait for Gingrich to do something wrong, to make a mistake, you know, to see just how ephemeral those gains are, because a lot of people are saying, they could be pretty undecided.

COSTELLO: Well, I think Mitt Romney has changed his strategy a little. He's talking to the media more. Granting interviews, something he hasn't done in the past.

STEINHAUSER: Exactly. He's telling us there that we're going to see more of him on the campaign trail and talk shows. Stay tuned. Four weeks until those first votes.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Paul.

And stay tuned to CNN all day for the best political coverage on television. GOP candidate Ron Paul joins us live in the 3:00 p.m. hour of "CNN NEWSROOM." Starting at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry both sit down with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." And then at 6:00 Eastern, Michele Bachmann goes one-on-one with John King. And Donald Trump makes an appearance on "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" at 9:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

COSTELLO: I'm exhausted already.

ROMANS: I can't wait.

COSTELLO: I can't either.

President Obama taking his push to extend a payroll tax cut on the road. He was in Kansas stressing how he thinks a deal is vital to your paycheck and the American Dream.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stack the deck against middle class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple. We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. I am here to say, they are wrong.


ROMANS: Failure to reach a deal by the end of the year could cost you $1,000. And the countdown is officially on. President Obama turning up the pressure on Congress to extend the popular payroll tax cut with a countdown clock posted on, the Web site.

Now, two senators, Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Claire McCaskill, they are offering a compromise to extend the savings for millions of Americans, their bipartisan compromise. It takes -- it still includes a millionaire's tax to pay for it, but that's a big deal breaker for Republicans.

But small businesses would get out of paying of it. They put a carve-out in there so that small millionaires would not have to pay this surtax. The senators joined us earlier on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROMANS: You're making this exception to the millionaire surtax and you're hoping that's going to make it more palatable to conservatives.

Senator McCaskill, is that enough to get the bipartisan votes you need?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: I hope so. We're trying to find that compromise, it's hard to find around here because too many people are worried about the politics and not about the policy. We want to make sure people don't have a tax increase next year, but we want to carve out those small businesses.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It does not raise taxes on middle income families and it does help to create jobs. We need a way to break through the partisan divide in Washington. It simply gets us nowhere and it's discouraging to employers and the American public at large when we keep having these partisan votes.


ROMANS: Another bipartisan moment. Senator Claire McCaskill wished Susan Collins a happy birthday today. We will, too. Happy birthday.

COSTELLO: Happy birthday.

Also new this morning, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is again denying he's any way responsible for the bloody crackdown against protesters in his own country. Speaking to ABC's Barbara Walters, Assad insisted he still has the support of his people. He also said he doesn't believe reports of protesters being tortured or killed.


BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard?

PRES. BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: They're not my forces. They are military forces belong to the government. I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country.

WALTERS: No, but you have to give the order?

AL-ASSAD: No, no, no.

WALTERS: Not by your command?

AL-ASSAD: No, no, no. We don't have -- nobody, no one's command. There was no command to kill or to be brutal.


COSTELLO: According to the United Nations, Syria's nine-month crackdown on protesters has killed 4,000 people.

ROMANS: New developments this morning in the Penn State sex abuse scandal. A 19-year-old man has now come forward with new allegations that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted him when he was just 12 years old.

COSTELLO: And this accuser claims that Sandusky gave him alcohol first.

Joining us now is "Patriot-News" reporter and CNN contributor Sara Ganim.

Sara, good morning.


ROMANS: What do we know about this newest victim?

GANIM: Well, what we know about this man is that he's coming forward with some allegations that we have not heard before. Not totally consistent with some of the other stories.

What he says is that when he was 12 years old in 2004, he was staying at the Second Mile facilities in a dorm-style camp. And was in a pool situation with Jerry Sandusky and other children and was separated from the other children, taken by Sandusky on a tour of the football building on Penn State's campus and then taken to an office where he was given whiskey and talked to Sandusky about his life and how he ended up in the Second Mile camp and then was assaulted, allegedly.

ROMANS: (AUDIO BREAK) about how this accusation fits in with the profile that we saw in the grand jury report, does it?

GANIM: Well, you know, there are some things that are consistent and some things that aren't. And, of course, you know, the attorney who represents this man says that he's trying to corroborate his story by going to the football building and looking for this office and seeing whose office it is, what might be in there right now.

And, you know, there are allegations in that grand jury report of Jerry Sandusky giving or allowing one of the victims to -- giving him money to buy pot, to buy marijuana. So, that's somewhat consistent.

But this is the first time we're hearing of an allegation of providing alcohol and this is the first time that we're hearing that something might have happened in an office. A lot of other incidents are alleged to have happened in that football building, but all of them in that building are alleged to have happened in shower incidents in the locker room where, you know, it would start with a naked shower and progressed to something else.

So, this is a little bit different than that.

COSTELLO: Sara Ganim, thanks to you.

ROMANS: All right. Alec Baldwin kicked of an American Airlines flight at LAX for playing that game "Words with Friends."

COSTELLO: It's addicting, Christine.

ROMANS: Afterwards, he fired of a bunch of angry tweets, including one with the hashtag, "there's always United."

COSTELLO: Some passengers have a slightly different version of what happened because Alec Baldwin says, oh, the plane hadn't even taken off yet and they're telling me to turn off the game.

ROMANS: And he was insulting the flight attendants saying that they were being overbearing and just criticizing them.

COSTELLO: Yes, and then supposedly he stood up while the plane was taking off and slammed the restroom door but many other passengers in first class, including boxing champion Oscar de la Hoya. Listen to his account.


OSCAR DE LA HOYA, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BOXER: I actually felt Alec Baldwin, I mean, he was turning off his devices and, I don't know, he just got a little angry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was on his phone and didn't want to get off the phone, and then he snuck into the bathroom and became a little bit irate and they had to remove him from the flight.


COSTELLO: The airline says they're looking into the incident.

Just when you thought the Cain train had left the station for good, it seems to be rolling back, again. Former GOP hopeful Herman Cain is talking to BET. We'll give you a sneak peek.

Plus, we'll chat live with the man who spoke with Cain.

ROMANS: And new developments in the case of an American spy drone that crashed last week in Iran. Why U.S. officials are now calling this a devastating intelligence loss and who might want those military secrets.

COSTELLO: And snow. Yes, reality hits us right in the face. Snow expected to hit the Northeast later today. Rob Marciano tracking the storm for you.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It's 11 minutes past the hour.


COSTELLO: And welcome back.

Herman Cain will appear in a news documentary tomorrow night on BET. It's Cain's first and only interview on black America, taped just before he bowed out of the GOP presidential race. Here's a peek.


EMMETT MILLER, BET NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Describe your relationship with the black community?

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I stayed in touch with it while I was climbing the corporate ladder. Reunited with the church that I grew up in, that got married in. The relationship is one of respect, because they know where my heart is. The people that know me, the people that go to church with me, they don't see me as that Republican walking in the door. They see me as Herman Cain, a fellow brother.


COSTELLO: Joining me now is BET correspondent Emmett Miller.

Good morning.

MILLER: How are you?

COSTELLO: I'm great. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Your special is called "The Curious Case of Citizen Cain." It's a great title. Why did you call it that?

EMMETT MILLER, BET NEWS CORRESPONDENT: He works his way through school. He went to a traditionally black college, but some point, he veered of from other folks in the 1960s. Other leaders, other black leaders in the 1960s were going for civil rights, and he made something of himself with respect to business.

He becomes the leader of the National Restaurant Association. He suddenly becomes the first black candidate to lead a GOP field in a presidential race. And he really did have something to say. We delved into his past. We looked at some of the things he'd written about. His book in 2005 called, "They Think You're Stupid" reads really like a Republican manifesto of sorts.

COSTELLO: Yes. We just heard, you know, in that sound bite we played from Herman Cain. We heard Cain described his relationship with the black community, and it sounded pretty harmonious. He said he was just a fellow brother. Was the relationship between Cain and the black community really that simple?

MILLER: I wouldn't call it simple, I would call it strong. I would call it very deeply rooted. But there's the phenomenon that you're seeing now. You're seeing now someone unlike any other black leader in the conservative movement that's come forth. This is no Allen West, you know? This is no Alan Scott. This is no Tim West.

This is a man who really did have deep ties to the black community. He's going to the same church that he went to as a child. He goes to a traditionally black college, yet, some of his ideas about where blacks are headed and how they've gotten there are stunning.

COSTELLO: And that leads into another clip from your interview and I want to play that now where you talk about a portion of his book where he calls the work of black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Julian Pond a scam. Let's listen.


MILLER: The self-appointed black leaders in conjunction with some unfortunately unscrupulous church leaders have convinced many blacks that white racism is the cause of their problems.

HERMAN CAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And white racism isn't the cause of many of the problems. And that's the point I was trying to make.

MILLER: But a scam?

CAIN: You can call it scam. You can call it -- pick whichever word you choose. They've misled too many black people.


COSTELLO: So, he says racism isn't the cause of many of their problems, but it's the Cain's scandals piled up during his run for the president, Cain sort of did, I don't know if I call it about face, but I'll use that term for lack of a better one. He did about (ph) turn about racism. Do you agree with that?

MILLER: I think necessarily in the situation that he was in what his ideas were that if the Black community relied on racism, as per the Democratic Party and let that guide their decisions, then they would never make it out of the cycle of depravity that they found themselves in. And what Cain did at the end of his race here was literally let some of his past come back and take him down.

But, there really is a story to be told here about who this man was, what his ideas were, and that furthers the discussion in the black community about exactly where we are, who we are, and why we vote the way that we do. And that story was never really told. That's the story we want to tell.

COSTELLO: Yes. I was just going to ask you, you know, as far as black conservatism is concerned, did Herman Cain make it more palatable for African-Americans to feel comfortable about speaking out about their conservatism or did it work the other way?

MILLER: I don't think that was his goal to make it more palatable for them to discuss conservatism or to be conservative. What he really wanted to do was bring to light a certain side of the argument what hadn't been told. A certain side of the argument that said that we don't necessarily have to view (ph) to democratic ideals, and that, there is a voice that's being illuminated now that says that the Democratic Party literally has corralled blacks to keep their vote.

He called it the democratic plantation. And he said that we've got to get off the democratic plantation if we ever want to make it anyway.

COSTELLO: His catastrophic fall. I mean, what does that say to you? What happened there? MILLER: There's an old saying that you can't throw out the wise man with the wisdom or you can't throw out the wisdom with the wise man, and I think, you know, if people had tried to paint Bill Clinton as being a nothing just because he had sex in the Oval Office, there were people that weren't really -- didn't really view to that view either.

In this case, Herman Cain is a very rich man. Herman Cain is a man that has an enormous amount of personal vibrato (ph). So, who knows whether or not his personality in that arena may have brought down what could have been a very incisive discussion about what his ideals were politically. Who knows, and we may never know.


MILLER: But I think it says that people are multifaceted, and this man certainly was multifaceted. We'd like to illuminate that other facet. The facet that speaks to the Black community that they may not have heard.

COSTELLO: Emmett Miller, I can't wait to watch the documentary. Thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

And in case you're interested, too, the "Curious Case of Citizen Cain" premieres at 9:00 p.m. eastern time. That's tomorrow night on BET.

ROMANS: All right. Snow is expected to hit the northeast later today. Rob Marciano in the Extreme Weather Center monitoring this system. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. It all started with that cold air that drove down into the Mexican border. Here are some of the numbers out Of New Mexico. Yesterday morning, minus 21 in Estancia, El Moiro minus 12, Las Vegas, New Mexico seeing minus nine. And right now, temperatures are close to -- El Paso right now is 24.

Temperatures in 40s and 50s across Southern California, the freezing mark in Houston. Meanwhile, it's 55 degrees in New York City. Now, a couple of hours ago, it was 61. So, a rain, a mild rain at least right now. We're going to see colder air filter into this later on today. New York to Atlanta -- Atlantic City we're looking at right now, just light to moderate rainfall, but that will be on the increase.

Memphis, meanwhile, a couple of inches of snow around the Memphis area. Some icy roads or at least the bridges and overpasses, and some snow actually falling across northern parts of Mississippi. Winter weather advisories out here for a couple of inches of snow, mostly accumulating on grassy surfaces, but certainly some slick spots along secondary roadways and bridges.

And then, the timing of this comes tonight and really tomorrow morning with a changeover from rain to snow begins across the northeast, but notice we don't have a whole lot painted here for the metro areas and the I-95 corridor nor the coastline. That will mostly be in the form of rain, but you go off inland a little bit north and west of the cities, four to eight inches possible in some spots.

We are seeing some travel delays already this morning. We'll see these on the increase not only today, but tomorrow as well. Philadelphia and New York City seeing anywhere from 30 to an hour and a half as far as delays are concerned.

That's a quick check on weather. It is 22 minutes after the hour. AMERICAN MORNING is coming right back.


ROMANS: It's 25 minutes after the hour. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

In Paris, treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, says he is confident that EU leaders will be successful in their negotiations to tackle the debt crisis there. Those negotiations begin Friday in Brussels.

A check on the markets right now. U.S. stock futures are retreating, turning a little bit mixed at the moment. They were up earlier because of optimism the EU leaders will hammer out a solution to that meeting, and actually, potentially, double the size of its bailout fund and change the constitution of that to make it stronger.

A new credit report is digging deeper into your financial history. A company called CoreLogic has introduced a new credit file based on its massive database of information. It includes whether you paid your rend or utility and cell phone bills on time, among a lot of other things. This is information that's not currently considered by the credit bureaus.

Bottom line for you, though, if you make payments on time every time, your credit score will work for you and not against you. But beware, there's a lot more information about you being perused by your creditors and banks right now.

You don't have to tell cell phone users, but for a second year in a row, Consumer Reports says AT&T is America's worst mobile carrier. Oregon-based consumer cellular that got the highest marks. AT&T says it's committed to getting better and better.

And next, it's not Iowa, it's Croatia. We'll talk with author, Jennifer Wilson, and her husband about their family's odyssey in her new book "Running Away to Home."

AMERICAN MORNING back right after the break.


COSTELLO: And welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's 30 minutes past the hour. Time for this morning's top stories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO (voice-over): Newt Gingrich opening up double-digit leads over Mitt Romney in three new national polls. Gingrich sits down with Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room" tonight at 4:00 p.m. eastern on CNN.

ROMANS (voice-over): President Obama saying it's a make or break time for the middle class. The president traveled to the Republican heartland of Kansas yesterday to talk about the fragile U.S. economy, how to fix it. He called on Congress to extend the payroll tax holiday that has saved Americans $1,000 in take-home pay this year.

COSTELLO: A new accuser coming forward saying former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted him when he was 12 and gave him alcohol. Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse, involving eight other young boys. A preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday.

ROMANS: Whether it was shot down or a malfunction brought it down, a top secret U.S. spy drone that crashed last week in Iran, it may now be an open book.

COSTELLO: Yes, officials concede if there was anything left of the unmanned aircraft the technology is likely in the hands of the Russians or the Chinese by now. Chris Lawrence live at the Pentagon for us this morning. Chris, by most accounts this is a, this is pretty much a devastating intelligence loss for the United States.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Carol, a U.S. official is now telling us that the guidance system failed and that is what brought the plane down. They briefly considered sending a team in to retrieve it, but the White House said there would be no boots on the ground in Iran. They also disregarded a plan to destroy the wreckage from the air.

Now, they say the drone has been significantly damaged and they say Iran is now trying to figure out what to do with it next.


LAWRENCE: When the U.S.'s newest stealth drone crashed on the wrong side of the Afghanistan-Iran border it may have sparked a shopping spree for America's potential adversaries.

PETER SINGER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I'm guessing there were several people who tried to buy airline tickets to Tehran from Moscow and Beijing in the last couple of days.

LAWRENCE: Analyst Peter Singer says if the RQ-170 is relatively intact, the Iranians will likely give the drone to China, who can unlock its secrets and sell the completed technology back to Iran.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, RETIRED AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: The Chinese probably have one of the best technology gathering espionage services in the world, if not the best.

LAWRENCE: Retired Air Force intelligence officer Colonel Cedric Leighton says the missing drone is faster, smarter, and stealthier than commonly used drones like the Predator. On radar, the Sentinel comes across as being something other than what it actually is.

LEIGHTON: They show up very briefly, if at all. They show up in perhaps something they could be disguised in a flock of birds or something like that, or another type of aircraft.

LAWRENCE: The Sentinel flew surveillance over Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. Military officials say if the drone's technology is compromised, other nations will likely devise better defenses against it.

LEIGHTON: And if they emulate us, we will find it much more difficult to go after them and to go after the defenses, as well as the assets that they're trying to protect. In the case of Iran, that would perhaps be their nuclear weapons systems.


LAWRENCE: Now, if all this sounds far-fetched considering there may be nothing but fragments left, remember this. Back in 1999, one of America's first spy planes was shot down over Serbia. Balkan military officials say Chinese agents bought up pieces of that plane from local farmers. And when China introduced its own stealth plane earlier this year, a lot of experts say it borrowed elements from American technology. Christine?

ROMANS: Wow. You would think, though, Chris, if Iran had this thing, they would be showing it off, maybe on state television.

LAWRENCE: You would. We haven't seen any pictures of the actual wreckage, only the Iranian claims. But they may be trying to, you know, pump that up a little bit. You know, if the U.S. officials are saying they've got nothing but fragments and rubble and the Iranians are saying, no, it's relatively intact, they may not want to show that crash site, which, you know, may prove the lie.

COSTELLO: Interesting stuff, and disturbing at the same time. Chris Lawrence, thank you.

Syrian president Bashar al Assad declaring, quote, "We don't kill our people." He made that statement to ABC's Barbara Walters when pressed about the crackdown on bloody protesters in his country.


BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard?

BASHAR AL ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: They are not my forces. They are military forces that belong to the government. I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country.

WALTERS: But you have to give the order.

ASSAD: No, no, no. WALTERS: Not by your command.

ASSAD: No, no one's command. There was no command to kill or to be brutal.


ROMANS: Our Ivan Watson is live in Istanbul, Turkey. What do you make of this denial? He's always said it was criminal and rogue element, never his forces, there was never an order. But who is in charge of his military then?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you listen to and you trust Bashar al Assad's narrative, he has nothing to do with the killing that has taken place in his country. He claims the majority of the more than 4,000 people killed over the last seven months, according to the United Nations, are supporters of his government. And that directly contradicts the accounts of human rights organizations and the United Nations, neighboring government, and the Arab League of States, as well, who have all pressed for sanctions against his government and accused Bashar al Assad's regime of crimes against humanity.

It's not the first time we've heard him deny these accusations. He's gone so far as to even say that he met with the father of a 13- year-old boy whose mutilated body became a rallying cry of fury for many opposition protesters and claimed that that boy was not even tortured at all.

So, we have completely contradictory narratives here that really don't fit with the eyewitness accounts that we have heard from Syrian refugees and members of the security forces that are streamed across the border from Syria over the course of the past half-year who have said to us, we were given orders to shoot unarmed demonstrators. Back to you.

ROMANS: He told Barbara Walters when she asked him about that boy, he told here, I don't believe you. She said, we've seen the pictures and we have all of this evidence that this child was tortured and killed, and he said, "I don't believe you."

WATSON: It does seem that he has a problem accepting reality or that his strategy is just a deny, deny, deny. But the problem is the situation on the ground shows real signs of spiraling out of control. The Syrian state news agency claimed that there was a battle on the border between Syria and this country, Turkey yesterday. Turkish officials have denied that.

But there have been reports of very disturbing sectarian murders and kidnappings in one very restive city Homs. The general secretary of the Arab League has warned of sectarian sedition. So as he denies that this bloodletting is taking place and that his security forces may have a big role in it, Syria seems to be inching closer and closer towards a terrifying sectarian conflict the likes of which we've already seen in Iraq and that we saw in Lebanon in the 1980s.

COSTELLO: Ivan Watson reporting live for us this morning, thanks.

ROMANS: All right, still to come, would you sell all your worldly possessions and then name your own price garage sale and leave the American dream to go to the old country that your forefathers left?

COSTELLO: It's Italy for me, so, yes.

ROMANS: To live with your kids. This is Croatia. It's chronicled in the new book "Running away to Home." Author Jennifer Wilson and her husband join us with their epic voyage and what they rediscovered about themselves, their family, and the real American dream. It's 38 minutes after the hour.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Jennifer Wilson found the American dream in Croatia. She and her husband and two little kids left their life in Des Moines, Iowa behind and they spent a year in Croatia in her family's ancestral homeland. Surprisingly that's where they rediscovered their renewed love for themselves and for each other as a family. Jennifer writes about their journey of discovery in the book "Running Away to Home." Jennifer Wilson and her husband, Jim Hoff, join us this morning.


ROMANS: I love this idea of this typical American family in Des Moines, two kids, two jobs. You got the big life. And then you sell everything in a name your own price garage sale and move the family to Croatia. Are you crazy?

WILSON: There's a little more backstory. You know, Jim and I were feeling restless. We were not connecting with each other or the kids. We were just moving all the time, whether it was shopping at the big box store or going to this practice or that rehearsal.

And about that same time when the restlessness hit, the last of my immigrant relatives passed away. And a sister Paula was almost 100-years-old, and I got her personal papers. In them she talked about this little village in northern Croatia where the family came from, and I started getting obsessed with this idea of what it would be like. The more I learned about this place, the more it just seemed suspended in amber for the past 100 years, and I thought what would the ancestors have to teach me and my family about family and about how to get through hard times? The recession was hitting about that time and we just felt like we needed a reset.

ROMANS: And Jim, you said you looked and you lost half of the 401(k) anyway, the stock market crashed. Maybe it was a sign that you should do something new.

JIM HOFF, AUTHOR, "RUNNING AWAY TO HOME": Yes. I mean, we figured that if anything it would be good practice if things were going to get worse before they got better. ROMANS: What did you find? Tell me about this town. There's a reason why our ancestors left the old country and built an American dream here. We sometimes get restless with the American dream. Sometime it takes a real gut check to remember that we can still make it here.

WILSON: Right. You know, one of the things that we learned is gratitude for the real bravery and courage it took for our ancestors to come to this country. And we sort of rediscovered that. They've been through tough times in Croatia and the surrounding countries. It's been hard and, so, we sort of learned just what, just what the great-grandparents saved us from by coming here and we have to live with gratitude because of that. It was a big lesson for us there.

ROMANS: In the end, the people in this village, Jim, said you are the most Croatian of everyone. And you are not Croatian.

HOFF: I was the only person that lived a substantial part of their time that was absolutely not Croatian. I just, I kind of fit in right away. I don't know why.

ROMANS: He's adaptable.

WILSON: He is. He is very relaxed, open minded Iowan.

ROMANS: You are telling your little kids, we are leaving your soccer practices and ballet and school and leave what most people strive to achieve and go to a town that has sheep around the post office and moonshine, apparently.

WILSON: The clear liquid of the gods. You know, Sam and Zaddie. She was only four when we started talking about this, and she was just happy to be with her parents all the time.

ROMANS: She said, you know, I'm in day care now, really, because you both work and I'd love to be with you 24/7.

WILSON: That's right. And it brought home to us how important it was that they were still young and needed us so much. It was time to focus on family time.

ROMANS: Most people can't do a reset like this, it's just not, I mean, they just can't. What about, Jim, is this something, is there something you can tell families who feel like maybe they are caught in this just cycle of paying attention to your job, paying attention to your career and paying attention to your friends and trying to achieve stuff and you kind of lose sight of your family.

HOFF: No, what you're saying, I was -- I was leaving early for work and I was coming home late and there wasn't, you know, seeing your kids from 6:30 until 8:00 and putting them to bed. So I mean just getting home early and taking -- taking some time and having dinner with them, I mean, that would be the simple thing to take home. Because not everybody can have a cattle on their ground floor of their house.


ROMANS: Will there be another trip for you guys? I mean, you've gotten great reviews. I mean, Book List said that this is -- you know this is -- this is something like, in comparison to Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence", which is you know a classic sort of travel log that --

WILSON: And you know, Christine, everybody is saying that Croatia is the New France, so, really, it's -- it's a good idea to just go back to Croatia, I think.

ROMANS: But do we have to go to Croatia to find ourselves, again? I mean, you've done it, but I mean, what can people take away for the reset for their family, I guess?

WILSON: Right, you know, I don't -- I don't think you have to spend nine months in a compact car with your family of four to reset your lives. But I do think that it's -- it's -- it's an important thing to stop, slow down and just make eye contact with your kids or you partner and ask how it's going that day.

And it really has a way of slowing down and resetting your day. And I think one day at a time, you just try to kind of come back to those things that are important to you.

ROMANS: Is the American Dream dead that's the big conversation. Now the American Dream is dead, it's behind us. You've been to where it started from. Where people left to get it?

WILSON: I think the -- I think the American Dream is changing. And it should change. And -- and connecting with the places where we're from is a good place to start. I mean, we can't forget that we came from lots of countries and we have to remain connected with them, too. They're also part of our family.

ROMANS: All right, Jennifer Wilson, Jim Hoff, nice to see you. The book is called "Running Away to Home." Thank you so much for sharing your story and going to Croatia to find it all again, right.

WILSON: Thank you for having us.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

Still ahead. 99-1 shot. A woman goes from Wall Street protester to Wall Street professional. That's right.

Its 46 minutes after the hour.


COSTELLO: Fifty minutes past the hour. Welcome back.

Many schools across the country are faced with overcrowding problems. Yesterday we showed you one New York school so packed they had to use the attic and the basement and bathrooms as classrooms, but smaller class sizes aren't always better. Under crowding is a problem, too.

ROMANS: Yes we want to tell you about the unique challenges of schools with diminishing student populations like this one in Vermont. Take a look.


ROMANS (voice-over): This is what many schools look like around the country, classes in trailers and attics and halls. The overcrowding is overwhelming and angering parents.

But, in the cow patches of Vermont, class sizes are at an all- time low. So small at Weybridge Elementary School that 5-year-old Dylan Stowe is the only child in kindergarten this year.

TIFFANY STOWE, MOTHER OF DYLAN: I really like that they get a lot of individualized attention. That teaching can be specific to where they're at. The teacher can really meet them where their need is. They feel very safe and also very confident. And asking questions.

ROMANS: Vermont has the smallest class sizes in the country. The product of an aging population and a low birth rate. Weybridge students get home cooked meals and one-on-one time with teachers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then can we read "Clever Happy Monkey".

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And extraordinarily important part of teaching is being able to listen to children. Understand how they're thinking and how they're constructing information.

ROMANS: The State of Vermont has asked all of its communities, whether they can afford all these small schools and the hefty tax bill that comes with them. Weybridge, a town of dairy farmers spends about $17,000 per child when the national average is under $10,000.

But Weybridge residents say their school was more than just a costly building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once the school closes, there really isn't a center. There's no commercial district in Weybridge. And very few businesses at all. And so, the center of activity, community activity is the school.

ROMANS: Weybridge combined classes to create a critical mass, but a quarter of the school's children graduate this spring. Dylan's teacher worries too few students limits learning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sometimes having a smaller class is harder. The number of children as that decreases, also decreases the amount of -- I describe it as fire power or brain power in the classroom.

ROMANS: Dylan likes all the attention, but still would like to see a few more kids his age.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me here and another kindergartner here and anther kindergartner over here.


ROMANS: That guy is adorable. Every community in Vermont is proposing solutions to the diminishing school population there ranging from finding ways to attract more young families to the state to importing students from China really whose parents are willing to pay to get an American, rural education.

COSTELLO: It's unbelievable. But imagine that you're the only kid in the class. It would just be lonely. I know you're with the teacher a lot.

ROMANS: But you'd really look forward to recess when you can play with the other kids, too.


COSTELLO: And there's so much older than he is.

ROMANS: Almost harkens back to this old one-room school houses at the turn of the last century, right when you had a couple of kindergartners and they met with the teacher for a little bit and get to have all of these kids of different ages in the same structure but only a few of them. That's what you have here.

COSTELLO: That's so different from what I found in Queens at Forest Hills High School where there were more than 35 kids per classroom, they had to go to school in shifts where there is a terrible overcrowding problem.

ROMANS: It shows you that the challenges in the American education system are so different and diverse depending on where you are. It really -- and it shows you how those problems have to be solved right there on the ground where they are because they are all so unique.

COSTELLO: Yes. Still to come, meet a down and out occupy protester who is now occupying a Wall Street office.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. Its six minutes until the top of the hour.



Tracy Postert joined the Occupy Wall Street Movement back in October. The New York woman felt she simply had no place else to turn.

COSTELLO: Yes. That even though she has a PhD in bio-medical science, she just could not find a job. So she headed to Zuccotti Park and went to Wall Street protester to Wall Street professional.

Chris Knowles (ph) has her remarkable story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS KNOWLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Somewhere in this gathering of the so-called "99 percent", there is one who would soon join the 1. She just didn't know it yet.

TRACY POSTERT, FORMER OCCUPY WALL STREET MEMBER: There were some days when it was a carnival or lots of music, drumming, costumes, marching, protesting.

KNOWLES: Tracy Postert says she jumped right into the Occupy Wall Street movement all in banging drums and washing paint and dirt- covered sidewalks. In the past few years the biochemist says she's found herself at times unemployed and underemployed until a few weeks ago when she says she decided to change her protest sign to a job wanted sign and bunkered down in Zuccotti Park with a handful of resumes.

POSTERT: Passersby would say, "Get a job." And I wouldn't have a really good response to that. I wanted to say, well, I'm trying to get a job. But you can't really prove it. So I just said, "Why don't I make a sign and hand out my resume at Occupy Wall Street. that is proving that I'm actively looking for a job.

KNOWLES: In two days she says someone spotted her, exchanged e- mails and a job offer followed. That someone, a top executive at a Wall Street financial firm, in other words, the enemy.

WAYNE KAUFMAN: It might sound like it's a fish out of water story or a square peg in a round hole, but it's really not.

KNOWLES: Tracy, how is your new boss?

POSTERT: I like him.

KNOWLES: For now, Tracy is researching early stage biotech companies for the firm. She says she plans to take a test that will allow her to become a broker and a full fledge member of the one percent. So, what are her former occupiers saying?

POSTERT: I have been accused of being a traitor to both sides. Some people are saying that the whole time I was at Occupy Wall Street I was really a Wall Street insider.


KNOWLES: So, Tracy says she may be protesting, again, if she can find a cause worth protesting. She says her co-workers there at the firm have embraced her.

ROMANS: Yes, they want somebody who can think outside the box so they can make money. That's the whole point.

All right. Chris Knowles, nice to see you.

KNOWLES: Sure. COSTELLO: Let's head to Atlanta now and Don Lemon. Good morning, Don.