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Paula Zahn Now

Interview With Delaware Senator Joseph Biden; First Partial Face Transplant Performed in France; Supreme Court Takes Up Issue of Parental Notification For Abortions

Aired November 30, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us.
Tonight, the war in Iraq through the eyes of one of the president's toughest critics and a possible contender for the White House.

After weeks of pressure about Iraq, the president has a plan.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission.


ZAHN: So, what are his critics saying now?


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Are we going to trade a dictator for chaos?


ZAHN: So, what's in the plan, and will it really bring the troops home?

An amazing medical first -- face transplants are real.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a wonderful step forward for European science and medicine.


ZAHN: They have done a partial one in France. Can a full-face transplant be far behind? And why would anyone take such a chance?

Stealing the house -- dramatic undercover footage of criminals at work, fortunes disappearing from construction sites, and all of us paying for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hid out in the house and watched them load 80 sheets of that plywood.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighty sheets, and it took them less than two minutes.


ZAHN: Tonight, a man who's job is to catch a thief.

And we start tonight with today's biggest story.

Faced with declining poll numbers and a crucial Iraqi election that falls on December 15, President Bush went to the Naval Academy today for a high-stakes speech, hoping to convince everyone he has a clear plan for victory in Iraq.

In our control room, we're getting ready to bring you exclusive reaction from Democratic Senator Joe Biden. And our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is standing by to compare what the president said with what the situation is on the ground in Iraq at this hour.

But I want to start with White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux with the president's own words.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Iraqi elections a little over two weeks away, President Bush is trying to rally American support.

BUSH: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander in chief.

MALVEAUX: But battling growing criticism of the Iraq war and calls for U.S. troops to come home, Mr. Bush also signaled an eventual withdrawal.

BUSH: We will increasingly move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate, and conduct fewer patrols and convoys.

MALVEAUX: But, keeping with his strategy, he refused to say when.

BUSH: These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington.


MALVEAUX: The president's speech before the U.S. Naval Academy was billed by the White House as the first in a series of four, aimed at better explaining the U.S. mission in Iraq. But some dismissed it as little more than administration spin.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, the speech was like the Sherlock Holmes dog that didn't bark. It didn't say a lot of new things. He did not lay out an aggressive or bold new plan for Iraq.

MALVEAUX: But the president did give new details about the state of Iraqi security forces and acknowledged shortcomings in their initial training.

BUSH: The civil defense forces did not have sufficient firepower or training. They proved to be no match for an enemy armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. So, the approach was adjusted.

MALVEAUX: Ahead of the president's speech, the White House released a 38-page declassified document on its Web site entitled "National Strategy For Victory in Iraq" to show Americans the administration has a plan. The administration's hope is that that plan will generate some successes before the U.S. congressional midterm elections.

GERGEN: The window is going -- is closing on him already, and it's going to come slamming shut pretty hard as -- on the eve of the elections in 2006.


ZAHN: And Suzanne Malveaux joins us now.

We just heard David Gergen refer to this speech was the -- as the dog that didn't bark. Was there anything new in it?

MALVEAUX: Well, there was very little that was new, Paula, in this.

We did learn a little bit more about the nature of the enemy, as the president likes to call it. He says that there are rejectionists, those Sunnis who reject the current government. There are Saddamists, who believe that Saddam eventually will come back to power -- at least, they hope so -- and, of course, the terrorists who are associated with al Qaeda, different approaches the administration deals with each of these groups.

We also heard a little bit about the fact that some of the ways that the U.S. works with these Iraqi forces, ways that worked, ways that didn't work. But, when it came to specific detailed strategy, an exit strategy for U.S. troops, didn't hear much about that at all -- Paula.

ZAHN: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much for the update.

Meanwhile, the president's whole plan hinges on when and whether Iraqi security forces will ever be able to take their own fight to the enemy.

We asked senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre to look into what the president said about the Iraqis' progress and compare it with what's actually happening on the ground.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): President Bush argues Iraqi security forces are on track to meet a key milestone, the ability to take the lead in defeated insurgents. And he cited the recent operation in Tal Afar in western Iraq as proof.

BUSH: The assault was primarily led by Iraqi security forces, 11 Iraqi battalions, backed by five coalition battalions providing support.

MCINTYRE: True enough, say U.S. military sources. But critics point out, those Iraqis all reported to an American commander and could not operate alone.

JAMES FALLOWS, "THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY": It was indispensable to have U.S. logistics support, U.S. planning, U.S. intelligence, all sorts of things that no one imagines the Iraqis are going to have, you know, next year, or the year after that, or for many years in the future.

MCINTYRE: Mr. Bush argues, it's not necessary for Iraqi battalions to be self-sustaining to take the lead.

BUSH: As a matter of fact, there are some battalions from NATO militaries that would not be able to meet this standard.

MCINTYRE: That's also true. Many smaller NATO countries lack the basic airlift and logistics support to deploy far from home.

BUSH: Iraqis now have a small air force that recently conducted its first combat airlift operations, bringing Iraqi troops to the front in Tal Afar.

MCINTYRE: It is, however, a very small air force, just three U.S. donated C-130 cargo planes, four squadrons of reconnaissance aircraft, and a handful of helicopters, used mostly for training.

And, then, there are the numbers.

BUSH: Now there are over 120 Iraqi army and police combat battalions in the fight against the terrorists, typically comprised of between 350 and 800 Iraqi forces.

MCINTYRE: If you do the math, that's between 42,000 and 96,000 troops in the fight, as opposed to the larger number the Pentagon cites for total Iraqi forces, 212,000.

And, then, critics say, there's the makeup of those forces. SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: There are ethnic divisions. There are today battalions that are almost exclusively Kurdish or Shia. It is not yet a coherent, fully integrated national army. That's a long task ahead.


ZAHN: So, Jamie, the president's critics were out there saying he didn't give us any specific timetable for when U.S. troops will be completely out of Iraq. But he did make it clear when some of the first troops will be moving out, didn't he?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, there's been a plan all along to rotate some of the troops out as soon as these December elections are over. So, we will see probably 20,000, 25,000 troops come back in early 2006.

Then, the question is, how much farther can they go down from there? And, while nobody is saying it publicly, there is a plan to cut as many as 30,000 or 40,000 troops, if things go well -- Paula.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre, thanks so much.

Now we turn to the political reaction to the president's speech today. Republicans, for the most part, are applauding. Major Democrats, like Senator John Kerry, dismiss the speech as nothing new, which makes Senator Joe Biden's comments a real eye-opener.

The senator from Delaware is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. And he joined me earlier.


ZAHN: Are we any closer to getting out of this war tonight than we were at this time last night?


ZAHN: How?

BIDEN: The president has acknowledged how difficult it's going to be, indicated the mistakes that we have made, and indicated what his goal is.

That, hopefully, will give us some confidence in the American people to give him a little more time to get the job done. Secondly, he's acknowledged we're going to change the mission next year, depending on the conditions, the mission being we're not going to lock down the whole country. We're going to curtail what we do. We're going to focus on al Qaeda. We're going to focus on terror. And we're going the turn over responsibility in the cities and patrols and the like. That means many fewer troops.

ZAHN: The president made several references to 9/11, to al Qaeda, and to Iraq being the central front on the war on terror in his speech. Let's listen to this small part together. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This is an enemy without conscience, and they cannot be appeased. If we're not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders.

By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people.


ZAHN: And, Senator, the president went on to say that we will not permit al Qaeda to create a safe haven for terrorism, a launching pad for attacks on America. Are you fearful of that happening?

BIDEN: Yes, that's a concern. This is -- can become a Bush- fulfilling prophecy.

Remember, he told us that's what it was before the war. It never was that before the war. It is in danger of becoming that now, if chaos ensues and Anbar Province becomes an Afghanistan.

But, look, the president said three things in his speech beyond that. He said, we have three enemies. He said, we have the insurgency, the old Baathists. He said, we have those thugs that wander around out there who were left out of the prisons. And, he said, we have al Qaeda. There are three different enemies.

What happens here is, we conflate them all and act as if they're all about 9/11. Two of them have nothing to do with 9/11. And the one that had something to do with 9/11 wasn't in existence in Iraq before 9/11.

ZAHN: So, are you accusing this president of playing the 9/11 card?

BIDEN: No, because now it is true. Now it is true that they are there. The president created that circumstance. The policy we engaged in created the circumstance, not going in with 300,000 troops, going in with too few troops, going in with too few police, assuming we would be embraced by the Iraqis as liberators, all those misconceptions that many of us, including me and Dick Lugar, laid out six months before we went to war.

All of them put us in a position now where we have chaos as a possibility, and we have infiltration for real from jihadists and al Qaeda into Iraq. And they will -- if we were to leave precipitously and not leave a standing government, that will become a launching pad. So, the irony of all ironies is, what didn't exist before exists now. It's real. It has to be dealt with.

ZAHN: Just last week, you said you were fearful that we had lost this cause in Iraq.

BIDEN: I -- I said... ZAHN: And you still believe that tonight?

BIDEN: I still believe that tonight.

It doesn't -- I also said, we can win it. The president didn't say today, we have sufficient number of Iraqis trained so that we can leave and they will be secure, right?

ZAHN: No, he did not.

BIDEN: So, the question is, what's that number, Mr. President, and what are you doing to get to that number, Mr. President?

ZAHN: Well, the president made very clear, there are a lot of variables on the ground that...

BIDEN: But...


ZAHN: ... change that equation.

BIDEN: But name me one thing he said that he's doing specifically. Is he taking up any other countries on their offer for help? Did he...

ZAHN: He didn't say that.

BIDEN: He didn't say that.

ZAHN: But he did make it very clear that he feels that they have made adjustments in the kind of training...

BIDEN: Well, they have.


ZAHN: ... Iraqi troops.

BIDEN: By the way...

ZAHN: And he thinks that that is a good thing.

BIDEN: They have made adjustment. And it is a good thing.

The issue is not whether or not we're going to leave Iraq eventually. The issue is what we're going to leave behind. Are we going to trade a dictator for chaos? That's in our hands right now.

ZAHN: On to the politics of all this.


ZAHN: You would have to agree, Democrats are all over the place on this issue. Does that hurt you...


ZAHN: ... for the upcoming presidential election?

BIDEN: By the way, the truth of the matter is, the Democrats are not all over the place on this issue.

ZAHN: There's not a unified voice on this.


ZAHN: In 30 seconds tonight, can you tell us what the Democratic position is...

BIDEN: The Democratic position...

ZAHN: ... on the further prosecution of this war?


Mr. President, number one, get the rest of the countries in on the deal to put pressure on the Sunnis and the Shias and the Kurds to have a consensus constitution, because they don't have one yet. If you don't get a political settlement, we're in trouble.

Mr. President, take up other countries on their offer to help train Iraqi forces. Number three, Mr. President, get the donor countries to come forward with the money to supply the Iraqis, so they have the capability of going in and doing the job we're doing now.

Number five, Mr. President, make sure you go out there and you reach in, have a regional conference, so that you get a regional solution here, like you did in Afghanistan, Mr. President.

Mr. President, you can do this. Thanks for telling us the truth now. But now get on with the business of not doing this alone.

ZAHN: Senator Biden, really appreciate your dropping by tonight.

BIDEN: Nice to be with you.

ZAHN: Thanks so much for your time.

BIDEN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Appreciate it.


ZAHN: And there's another big story in Washington today. Demonstrators were outside the Supreme Court, as the justices heard a very important case about teenagers and abortion. Today, the justices actually let us listen to what was happening inside. And we're going to let you join in on the process as well.

Later, an incredible medical breakthrough -- doctors have actually transplanted part of a person's face. Are complete facial transplants far behind? And who would want to get one?

And do you recognize this beach? It's the setting for one of the hottest shows on TV. So, why are the people who actually live here really angry?


ZAHN: Tonight, a woman in France has a brand-new face, thanks to the world's first partial face transplant. She had the operation on Sunday. And, just a couples of years ago, this was something you would only see in the movies. But it's reality now, and it is extremely controversial. Think of what could happen if doctors started offering face transplants just to improve your looks.

Brian Todd has been working on this story, and he has all the details for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Until now, it was the stuff of science fiction. Eight years after the movie "Face-Off" popularized the notion of swapping faces, doctors in France announced the world's first partial face transplant, replacing the nose, lips and chin of a 38-year-old woman who had been mauled in a dog attack -- the grafted tissue harvested from another woman who had been declared brain-dead, a procedure that has been researched extensively in the U.S., but not tried yet.

DR. JOHN BARKER, DIRECTOR OF PLASTIC SURGERY RESEARCH, UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE: If a person -- for example, a burn victim, whose, you know, half of their face is burned, the procedure consists of removing what is burned and replacing it with transplanted tissues.

TODD: Dr. John Barker is director of plastic surgery research at the University of Louisville. His teams want to do a full facial transplant, but they're not as close as Dr. Maria Siemionow of the Cleveland Clinic. She heads the only team to have board approval for a complete facial transplant, and she's now screening potential patients.

Neither Dr. Siemionow, nor the doctors at Louisville, would comment on the operation in France. But officials at the Cleveland clinic tell CNN, when a full facial transplant is done, an incision will be made around the entire face. The skin flap will be lifted and replaced with another face." They say, initially, they only plan on transplanting skin, not facial bones or muscles. And they only want to perform the surgery on patients who are burned or are otherwise severely disfigured.

(on camera): In other words, officials at the Cleveland clinic say they never want to see a facial transplant done as elective surgery, for someone who simply wants another face. Even if someone tries that, they warn, you very likely will not look like your donor.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ZAHN: Nevertheless, you can just imagine the impact of this.

We asked an official at the Cleveland Clinic if she's worried that, in the future, we're going to actually see counterfeit clinics popping up, where illegal and less safe facial transplants would be performed. She said they're not even thinking about that possibility right now.

Still to come in this hour, an issue that is so divisive, it actually went to the Supreme Court today: Should teenagers be required to tell their parents if they're getting an abortion?

And, a little bit later on, some amazing undercover pictures of one of the most common crimes in the country. Check out how brazen these thieves are. Don't try it, though, because, as you can see, tons of cameras might be trained on you.

Twenty minutes past the hour -- it's time for Erica Hill at Headline News to update the hour's other top stories -- Erica.


Well, you may want to say a not-so-fond farewell tonight to the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. We are all happy to see this one go. It was a record-breaker, 26 named storms, devastation from Florida to the Yucatan, and more than 1,500 deaths. Plus, it may cost $200 billion just to undo Katrina's damage alone.

California's highest court says it won't stand in the way of the execution of the founder of the Crips gang. That's one of the nation's most infamous gangs. Stanley "Tookie" Williams is scheduled to die 13 days from now for murdering three people in 1979. He claims shoddy forensic testing led to his conviction.

Federal drug agents have arrested 78 people and seized 78 kilos of heroin smuggled into the U.S. inside artwork, furniture, and clothing. The investigation into a Colombian drug ring was known as Operation High Step, because some of the drugs were found in dancing shoes.

And, on December 20, the wait at airport security might -- might -- get a little bit shorter. On Friday, you can look for the Transportation Security Administration to loosen some of the restrictions on just what can you take aboard planes. Among those things that may be allowed through, scissors under four inches long. And some tools under seven inches should now be OK in your carry-on. But don't quote us on the possible shorter wait -- Paula.


ZAHN: I won't.


ZAHN: Erica Hill, thanks so much.

And, coming up next, after years of keeping a secret, a young woman gets involved in one of our country's angriest and most political battles.


AMANDA, RESIDENT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: Having an abortion has absolutely made me political.


ZAHN: Coming up next, the case that brought a lot of people to the Supreme Court today -- and we're going to actually get to hear what the justices said inside the court.

And, then, a little bit later on, a crime that's probably happening just down the street from where you live, no matter where you live -- and it is costing all of us a bundle.


ZAHN: So, if you have a daughter who is under the age of 18 and she wants to have an abortion, should she have to tell you? Well, it's a controversial question that is part of one of the most contentious issues in this country.

And, today, the Supreme Court took up that question.

Here's chief national correspondent John King.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The scene outside reflected the stakes inside, the first abortion case before the Supreme Court in five years and the first since Bush appointee John Roberts became chief justice -- at issue, a New Hampshire law requiring a minor notify a parent before receiving an abortion and whether lower courts were right to invalidate the entire law because it does not provide an exemption if the health of the minor is at risk.

At the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood attorney Jennifer Dalven challenged the state's assertion a judge could quickly grant a waiver in health emergencies.

JENNIFER DALVEN, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION ATTORNEY: Once a minor arrives in the emergency room, it is too late for her to go to court.

KING: In his few comments, Chief Justice Roberts sounded sympathetic to the state's argument that the broad parental notification requirement should be allowed to take effect, even if the court rules the language dealing with health emergencies is inadequate. JOHN G. ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: Why should you be able to challenge the act as a whole if your objection is so narrowly focused?

KING: The New Hampshire case is not a direct challenge to the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling, but it could change the legal standard for challenging other abortion restrictions.

AMANDA: Having an abortion has absolutely made me political.

KING: New Hampshire resident Amanda is 20 now and a senior in college. For six years, only a tiny circle of friends and family knew her secret, but she decided to speak out because she views New Hampshire's law as part of a dangerous trend.

AMANDA: I believe that these laws are being put on the books by anti-abortion folks in order to erode access to abortion. I believe that they have nothing to do with strengthening families.

KING: A signed copy of the law hangs at New Hampshire Right to Life headquarters, where its supporters promise to try again if they lose at the Supreme Court.

BARBARA HAGAN (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE REPRESENTATIVE: If the court says no, then we do what we do when we get struck down. And we go back to the drawing board. We take into consideration why the court struck the law down, and we retool the bill, so that it can be law.

KING: In Wednesday's arguments, Justice David Souter, who once served as New Hampshire's attorney general, suggested the state legislature appeared determined to test the limits.

DAVID SOUTER, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: They deliberately said, the only statute we want is one without a health exception.

KING: Which is why this case is being so closely watched by all sides of the abortion debate.

HAGAN: I think it will energize it, either way, because there will be a significant domino effect if New Hampshire's law is struck down.

KING: Exemptions allowing abortions when the health or life of the mother is at risk are key to existing Supreme Court precedent warning against any undue burden on obtaining an abortion. That standard was shaped by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was on the bench for Wednesday's arguments, but who soon could be replaced by Bush nominee Samuel Alito, who both sides in the abortion debate believe is more open than O'Connor to abortion restrictions.

John King, CNN, Washington.


ZAHN: And joining me now to debate this case, Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council, which favors parental notification laws, and writer and activist Jennifer Baumgardner, who opposes them.

Welcome to both of you.

So, Charmaine, you happen to be the mother of five children. And you know that so many young girls really don't want their parents to know. Why do you think parental notification is critical?

CHARMAINE YOEST, SENIOR POLICY FELLOW, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, look, Paula, my daughter is 12 years old, my oldest daughter, and she wants to get her ears pierced right now. She can't go off and get her ears pierced without me signing a permission slip.

This is a major medical surgery that we're talking about letting children make a decision for themselves about. This isn't about abortion. It's not about overturning Roe vs. Wade. It's about the rights and responsibilities of parents to know what's going on with their kids.

ZAHN: So Jennifer, why shouldn't parents know?

JENNIFER BAUMGARDNER, WRITER AND ACTIVIST: Well, I'm really sensitive to what she's saying, because I do think that girls are in a crisis, usually with an unplanned pregnancy at a young age like that, that they do need their parents support. And it's just that restrictions don't work. And I can say this from personal experience. When I was 15, my sister was 16, she got pregnant. My parents would have supported her, absolutely.

ZAHN: Your parents happen to be pro-choice.

BAUMGARDNER: They happen to be pro-choice. My dad's a doctor. She didn't even have the money for the abortion, we had to jump -- we had to do such extraordinary things in order for Andrea (ph) to get her abortion without telling my parents, because it's a parental notification state in North Dakota.

ZAHN: You actually went to the judge to be excluded from the state law, which allowed you to travel across state lines and have an abortion.

BAUMGARDNER: Right, and that is what young women do. I mean, if having these laws in place actually encouraged girls to tell their parents, I think I would be more open to them. But I've seen how they just don't work. They're punitive at a moment when we just need to have more support.

ZAHN: Well, what about that, Charmaine? The fact that even with this law in place, her sister was able to have an abortion by getting an exclusion?

YOEST: Well, Paula, I think this is very important because one thing I want to point out before I address that question is that 80 percent of American people support parental notification laws. So what you're looking at, it's even parents like Jennifer's who classify themselves as pro-choice, want to know what's going on with their kids. And just because Jennifer at 15 helped her 16-year-old sister get around the law, when her parents would have, I'm sure, as she's saying, would have been supportive, doesn't mean that's a good way to go for public policy.

ZAHN: OK, Jennifer, why don't you make that clearer? Whether your opposition is to the notification itself or your opposed to it because you simply don't think it works?

BAUMGARDNER: I simply don't think it works. I want girls to have the support of their parents. These restrictions don't encourage them to do so.

YOEST: Can I jump in here with another point about the public policy? Jennifer, you're making my point on another front, which is that you did manage to secure an abortion for your sister by going to a judge. In the New Hampshire case that was before the Supreme Court today, there is a judicial bypass. So this is about notification, it's not about an abortion.

BAUMGARDNER: But it's removing a health exception.

ZAHN: Let me ask you this, Charmaine. Is there a way you think that would make this more effective?

YOEST: More effective? I think it's a very good law. In fact, the attorney general who argued today was saying: look this is set up in such a way that there are safeguards for people like Jennifer who want their abortion rights protected.

You can go to a judge, you can still get an abortion. But the vast majority, as you said, the vast majority of young girls do tell their parents. You know, the other thing, if I could throw in here, is that there's been research that shows that again, the majority of young girls who do get pregnant are impregnated by adult men. So what you're looking at it is a possible situation here of real abuse, and so by creating this secrecy around abortion, you may be actually furthering abuse of a young girl.

ZAHN: Jennifer, you get the last word.

YOEST: By not bringing parents in to protect her.

BAUMGARDNER: I just want to say, I'm very supportive of finding other ways to encourage girls to go to their parents, because I do think that they do need that support, but not legislative, punitive ways. I know something called the abortion conversation project. They're actually developing language and resources so girls will be encouraged to tell their parents in their own terms and in their own way, and I think it's very healthy.

ZAHN: All right you two, we've got to leave it there tonight. Jennifer Baumgardner, thank you so much, and Charmaine Yoest, appreciate your time.

So, we move onto another question tonight. Have you ever driven past a construction site and wondered how easy it would be for someone to help themselves to everything that's stacked up? Well, a lot of people do more than wonder.


MARK STEPHENS, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: Here goes one of their guys. Come back for a second one. There's the second one.


ZAHN: From air conditioners to building materials. And even grass for the lawn. Nothing is safe from construction site rip-offs. Seeing's believing next.

And a little bit later on in the hour, have you seen this MTV hit show, "Laguna Beach?" Find out why so many people who live there wish no one had ever seen it.


ZAHN: Right now we're about to show you a crime that's on the rise and is very likely taking place in a neighborhood near where you live, maybe even as I'm speaking here tonight. And I think you're probably going to be outraged when you see the surveillance video in this report on how thieves are preying on construction sites and ripping people off before they can even move into their new homes. Here's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This crew is really cleaning up at this construction site near Houston, Texas. But they're not a construction crew, they're construction thieves.

STEPHENS: You see some crazy stuff.

KAYE: Houston Private Investigator Mark Stephens spends his nights huddled in the bushes, or hiding behind binoculars in a car. He's built a business on the construction theft boom and has the tapes to prove it.

STEPHENS: Really is a nationwide epidemic.

KAYE: Stephens' tape library will make any home builder cringe -- appliances, furnishings, front-end loaders, plywood. There one minute, gone the next.

STEPHENS: I hid out in the house and watched them load 80 sheets of that plywood, 80 sheets, took them less than two minutes.

KAYE: Stephens caught this guy stealing a tree, then chased him, first on foot, then by car.

STEPHENS: They took a 30-gallon oak tree and you notice it was raining. They dug it out of the ground, and they got landscaping materials, and they're just dragging it down the street. KAYE: When it was over, Stephens got the tree back. The man was never formally charged, but he was fired from his job as a salesman for a home builder.

(on camera): Some of these thieves will pay the price in the end, but guess what -- so will you. The National Association of Home Builders says construction theft costs the industry $4 billion a year. That adds about one and a half percent to the cost of building a home, money right out of your pocket.

(voice-over): Michelle Ellisor's (ph) new home outside Houston was a target for construction thieves. Just before her family moved in, their dream home was hit. Their air conditioner stolen.

MICHELLE ELLISOR, HOME OWNER: Yes, we were like, really? Because they're so big and there's two of them, and so, you're thinking, how did they get that out and nobody seeing them?

KAYE: Like most construction theft cases, the thieves struck in the middle of the night. No lights, no witnesses, no chance of getting caught. The contractor replaced the $3,000 air conditioners at his own expense, since the Ellisors hadn't moved in yet. But the experience still haunts the family.

ELLISOR: I always had thoughts that maybe someone's lurking around.

KAYE: Stealing air conditioners isn't cool, and Mark Stephens, a 19-year veteran of the Houston Police Department, doesn't like to see criminals get away.

Watch this sting. Stephens set up night vision cameras and baited a trap at this construction site with two shiny new air conditioners. The bad guys bit the first night.

STEPHENS: He came through the vacant lot and then he walked underneath the camera. The camera was set perfect. Here goes one air conditioner. Go back for a second one. And then they're gone. Took them, what, 20 minutes, 15 minutes?

KAYE: Turns out they install air conditioners for a living. Stephens tracked down one of the thief's addresses and caught him on tape again, removing the stolen air conditioner from his own garage, preparing to install it at another home.

STEPHENS: They're selling it to, you know, families that have no idea that it's stolen. But they're charging full price so they're making a killing. They're really making a killing.

KAYE: Stephens' videotape landed the guy in jail, charged with theft.

STEPHENS: Open up the back for me.

KAYE: And jail is also where this yuppie couple spent the night after Stephens caught them driving their Range Rover stealing sod. STEPHENS: You know this is stealing, right?


KAYE: The dentist and his wife had about $100 worth of grass in their SUV.

STEPHENS: You live in, what, a $200,000 home at least? And you're driving a Range Rover but you're stealing grass? Why not just buy some more grass?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because we -- I know there's no excuse. I just -- I talked to the Evergreen Houston today, I mean, I know, I'm sorry. It's wrong. I'm sorry. I've just -- can we write a check to the trim maker?

KAYE: Not even a check could buy them out of this trouble. They pleaded guilty to theft and got probation. Now, stealing sod may sound trivial but the cost of construction theft add up.

Georgia builder Don Gale.

DON GALE; BUILDER: They broke into a house, they came in here about 10:00 at night. Broke into a house. And they stole cabinets, counter tops, light fixtures, some heating and air parts, it was probably a $12,000 to $20,000 theft.

KAYE: And it's not just the cost of replacing what's stolen. Builders like Gale also have to repair the damage thieves cause when they break into the home and rip out what they want.

KAYE: How do you feel knowing that people are coming in and doing this? Do you feel violated? Are you angry?

GALE: It could take somebody as small as myself and put us out of business. It's difficult. You can't claim virtually every theft on insurance or you're going to become uninsurable.

KANE: Some builders have resorted to electronic surveillance at construction sites and fancy gadgets and expensive equipment like front-loaders to prevent thieves from starting them up.

But the fact is more homes are being built every day. That sounds like job security for construction crooks unless, of course, private investigator Mark Stephens is lurking nearby.

The easiest way to catch a crook is to figure out where he's going and get there first. And that's what I do.

KANE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Grayson, Georgia.


ZAHN: Now, there are some things you can do to protect your new home site. You can ask to have appliances delivered in an unmarked truck, wait until the last possible moment to have them delivered, and have your builder store materials somewhere where they can't be seen on their on the road.

Moving on now, would you be offended if a TV network came to your home town and then turned it into a setting for a scandalous reality show?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MTV is perverting the true essence of this town and profiting from it.

ZAHN: Lots of people quite unhappy with "Laguna Beach" but oddly enough, a famous televangelist isn't. Find out why.


ZAHN: So, what happens when a television network comes to town, unpacks its cameras and makes a hit reality show about the secret lives of teenagers who live there? Well, a lot of people in one California community are saying, there goes the neighborhood. Here's Dan Simon.


DAN SIMON; CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Laguna Beach, the ocean isn't the only thing making waves here. MTV's wildly popular television show "Laguna Beach" has rocked the shores of this coastal community.

In the show, MTV gives audiences a first-hand look into the drama-filled teenage lives of the rich and beautiful, drama that includes sleeping around and hard partying ways.

This show, which has gone through only two seasons, has become such a hit that many of the cast members are now bona fide celebs. Some moving to Los Angeles and hiring top-notch agents. Laguna Beach is attracting a whole new set of tourists.

Katie and Nick from Louisiana, envious of the real-life characters.

NICK THOMAS; TOURIST: They get everything they want. They get to do everything they want. Their dreams come true. They get to make CDs, have a fashion line made for them.

KATIE LINYARD; TOURIST: I'm a big fan. We had Laguna Beach parties every Monday.

SIMON (on camera): MTV certainly could not have found a more picturesque setting for its show. Laguna Beach is one of the most beautiful places you'll ever see. But that doesn't mean everyone here is thrilled with the show. According to some folks, the network is trashing the town's reputation.

HOWARD HILLS; LAGUNA BEACH RESIDENT: It doesn't portray our community the way we know our community. It has very --

SIMON: Attorney Howard Hills says the community of 25,000 is about the arts, culture and down-home family values. Not everyone here, he points out, gets a BMW from their parents, lives on a hilltop mansion, or has fashion magazine looks.

Worse, perhaps, he claims local teens, with the consent of their parents, are going to extreme measures to try to get chosen for the show.

HILLS: We know of examples of young women getting plastic surgery in the hopes that it would improve their chances of maybe getting on the cast.

SIMON: Community activist Derek Ostenson would like to see an outright MTV boycott.

DEREK OSTENSON; LAGUNA BEACH RESIDENT: MTV is perverting the true essence of this town and profiting from it. They're changing it into something that it's not: into a hyper-materialistic, hyper- superficial and hyper-soap opera dramatic television show.

SIMON: But others seem to subscribe to the old adage, there's no such thing as bad publicity. Televangelist Robert Schuller and his wife Donna had no problem with their daughter Christina being part of the show, who they say provided a dose of good and moral behavior.

REV. ROBERT A. SCHULLER; CHRISTINA SCHULLER'S FATHER: My daughter and her friend, Morgan, on MTV, in one of the shows, had a conversation about them being virgins and how happy and glad that they were, that they were virgins.

SIMON: They say the show actually gave a voice to a segment of the teen population.

DONNA SCHULLER; CHRISTINA SCHULLER'S MOTHER: One of the beautiful things, for us at least, is that it allowed our daughter to show that, yes, you can be attractive and popular in school and you can still be a normal kid. But you don't have to go way overboard and become this huge, you know, party animal.

SIMON: "Laguna Beach" is about to start shooting its third season. For critics, this growing controversy may have the unintended effect of boosting the program's ratings. And the show's status is sure to bring more curious fans to this seaside colony. Dan Simon, CNN, Laguna Beach, California.

ZAHN: I think we can all agree that sunset was spectacular, as was the beach it was setting on.

We called MTV and they declined to comment or make anyone available who is involved in actually proceed producing the show.

We're getting lots of e-mails about tonight's stories. Before you check that out, Erica Hill has tonight's HEADLINE NEWS BUSINESS BREAK.

ERICA HILL, CNN HEADLINE NEWS: Paula, stocks were mixed today. The Dow dropping 82 points, while the Nasdaq was about even, despite a sunny report on the nation's economy. A second look at third quarter growth shows the economy moving ahead at its fastest rate in a year and a half, and that's despite Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Gross domestic product grew at 4.3 percent annual rate. That's half a point better than the original estimate.

But looking ahead, you will see some prices going up, namely bananas. Chiquita saying Tropical Storm Gamma flooded some 4,000 acres of its farm in Central America and that means shortages next year.

Does this one sound familiar? People are living longer, having fewer kids so the retirement age might have to go up. Sounds familiar, but this time it is not the latest warning about Social Security in the U.S. Instead, this from a new report out today on Britain's pension system, warning Brits may have to wait until they're 69 now to retire.

And Sotheby's says this portrait of George Washington sold at auction to an anonymous bidder for $8.1 million -- under the $10 to $15 million estimate, but still a hefty price tag.

And Paula, those are your BUSINESS BREAK headlines. Back over to you.

ZAHN: Erica, thanks so much.

In just a minute, I'm going to turn the show over to you, the viewers. A lot of you have e-mailed us about the president's speech on Iraq today. And about last night's story on the judge who hands out very creative sentences. Not everyone was complimentary.


ANNOUNCER: In the hours after the 1996 bombing in Atlanta's Olympic Park, security guard Richard Jewell was recognized for his courageous act.

RICHARD JEWELL, OLYMPIC PARK SECURITY GUARD: We got about 150 people off the grass area right directly in front of the bomb before it exploded.

ANNOUNCER: One person was killed in the bombing and more than 100 were injured. Jewell was credited with saving lives and was instantly hailed as a hero, but his 15 minutes of fame turned into what he claimed a nightmare. Jewell was wrongly linked to the bombing and became the target of insane anti-media scrutiny.

QUESTION: Did you do it?

JEWELL: No, sir, I didn't do that's.

ANNOUNCER: Twelve weeks later, he was cleared by the FBI. Jewel turned the table on several media outlets, including CNN, and filed a series of lawsuits in which many of them settled. Nine years later, Eric Rudolph confessed to the Olympic Park bombing and Richard Jewell finally feels vindicated.

JEWELL: It begins a new chapter in my life with hopefully some closure in the case.

ANNOUNCER: Jewell is now a police officer in Pendergrass, Georgia.

JEWELL: Firemen, EMS, police officers -- we just want to be remembered for doing a good job. That's what I did that night.

ZAHN: And you can catch up on some other former newsmakers this Sunday when Larry King hosts the CNN ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: THEN AND NOW -- that's Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Now, it's your turn. We want to hear what you have to say about some of the stories we've been covering. We got a lot of e-mail about the president's plan for victory in Iraq, both pro and con. Laura wrote us that her husband is "in his second tour in Iraq and supposed to be getting out of the Army this past October. I say, Hey President, bring my husband home. We are eagerly waiting to get on with the rest of our lives."

But we also got this from a viewer in Texas. "President Bush is right. I think that freedom doesn't come cheap. I do believe it."

And we also heard from many of you about last night's story featuring the Ohio judge who has a history of handing out some very creative and controversial sentences. Judge Michael Chickonetti once ordered a man who called a police officer a pig to actually spend some quality time with the real thing in a pen in a public setting with a pig. And earlier this month, he actually sentenced a woman who abandoned 35 kittens in public parks -- nine of them ended up dying -- to spend the night outside herself in the snowy woods.

Well, here's what Ruth in North Carolina wrote to us about that -- "I think many of the sentences he gave are absolutely wrong. Certainly condemning that young woman to sit alone in a park regardless of how many policemen it took to guard her, was absolutely evil. How much better for her have served in an animal shelter, a vet's office, or some related animal care center. All this judge's punishment did was to make her despise authority."

We'll pass that suggestion along to the judge. I know he often takes suggestions from the public and he also knows that whenever he hands out one of his creative sentences, he will get lambasted from time to time.

Remember, we want to get your take on what we're doing here. E- mail us at Look forward to your responses.

That's it for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for being with us. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts in about 6 seconds from now. Jerry Lewis is his guest for the hour. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night. Good night.