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The Situation Room
Thirty Killed In Iraq Suicide Bombings; Those Serving In Iraq Celebrate The Holiday Far From Home; Toxic Spill In China; Islamic Prisoners May Plot From Prison; Filmmakers Bring People Together In The Balkans; Controversial Movie About Oil; Macy's Parade Mishap; Diamond Ad Campaign; Xbox 360 Mania
Aired November 24, 2005 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer is off. We begin with the day's headlines here at home. Zain Vergee joins us from Atlanta with that -- Zain.
ZAIN VERGEE, CNN ANCHOR: Ali, Macy's department store says it's saddened by today's accident during its Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, and it says it's working with city officials investigating the incident. Two sisters were injured, when one of the parade's balloons snagged a light post and caused debris to fall into the crowd. Both were taken to a New York hospital and later on they were released.
Now, Ali, it's not something to brag about, but the Los Angeles International Airport has the worst runway safety record of the country's 25 busiest airports. The Associated Press is reporting that a review of federal aviation records show commercial jets have come close to crashing at LAX at least twice since 1999. Its runways are tightly packed and landing airplanes must cross the same runways used for takeoffs. But the airport is planning renovations.
Heavy Thanksgiving traffic may have contributed to yesterdays' horrific commuter train crash near Chicago. The NTSB's acting chairman says the accident may have happened because drivers were just rushing to get out of town for the holiday weekend. At least 10 people were hurt when the commuter train slammed into several cars stopped at a railway crossing. Investigators plan to interview the train's crew tomorrow.
And President Bush is saying thank you to the U.S. military's men and women this Thanksgiving day. This morning Mr. Bush telephoned ten people from each branch of the military. They were in various locations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president thanked them on behalf of the American people before enjoying a turkey dinner with his family at his corporate Texas ranch. Ali?
VELSHI: All right, Zain, we're going to take it overseas now. Stay with us, we'll be back with you in a just moment.
Over to Iraq, now: A suicide car bomb strikes outside a hospital near Baghdad. U.S. military and Iraqi police say as many as 30 people were killed, dozens more were injured. Our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson has the latest for us from the Iraqi capitol. NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're not clear exactly what the target was in that attack in (ph) hospital. What we know is that an insurgent drove a car full of explosives up to the checkpoint outside the hospital, detonated those explosives, according to the Iraqi police. Thirty Iraqis killed -- 23 wounded -- most of them civilians.
But we also understand from the U.S. military that they had a small civil affairs unit, four officers, visiting the hospital to make an assessment of the hospital's needs. Those four soldiers injured in the blast. Not clear if they were caught up or whether or not they were actually the targets. Later in the day, a little further south of Mugdadiyah, about 100 kilometers south of Baghdad in the town of Hilla, another attack -- that's about 65, 60 miles south of Baghdad -- another attack, this time in a marketplace.
Three people killed, 30 wounded when a bomber detonated a car full of explosives in a crowded market. Not clear what the target was there, but it went off very, very close to a police office. And, in Baghdad today, four targeted assassinations, separately "shoot to kills" of the police officers, three police officers, and one Iraqi army officer. Back to you.
VELSHI: That's Nic Robertson in Baghdad. Now, U.S. troops in Iraq are doing their best to celebrate this holiday despite the continuing violence. CNN's Aneesh Raman is embedded with troops in central Iraq. Now, we've been asked not to disclose their exact location.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanksgiving day, a holiday for those back at home, but for U.S. troops in Iraq, it's another day at work, it's another Thursday. They're out on patrols. But, they are getting some Thanksgiving meals at the forward operating base we're at; turkey as well as stuffing, all the amenities of Thanksgiving.
For some of them it's their first Thanksgiving away from home. For some of them it's their second. Joining me now is Specialist Tyler Tribble from Santa Rosa, California. It's your first Thanksgiving away from home in a combat situation like this. How difficult is it to be away for the holidays? And do you guys deal with it here?
SPEC. TYLER TRIBBLE, U.S. ARMY: It's not the funnest, you know. We'd all like to be back home with our families. But, we just kind of come together, you know. Everybody comes together, we're pretty much family out here, so...
RAMAN: And there's a lot of talk back home about what the morale of troops is. Those saying it's high, those saying it's low. From your point of view, as a soldier, how is morale right now?
TRIBBLE: The morale, it's there, but we've been here a long time. We're tired and we want to go home. But, we still got our heads in the game. We're doing it. We still got a morale, you know? We're ready to go home though, you know. RAMAN: Well, thank you for everything you're doing out here, to you and all the troops here. Again, a day to take a break, to take some time, if not a full day, to think about what's going on back home, to think about each other. But, again the fight in Iraq continues. Holidays here can last mere moments. Aneesh Raman and CNN, Northern Babal Providence, Iraq.
VELSHI: Now, an environmental nightmare is unfolding in China. And now officials in Russia's Far East are scrambling to prepare as a toxic slick on a key river heads their way. Zain Verjee's live at CNN's center in Atlanta, with latest on this, Zain.
VERGEE: Ali, right now that slick is passing through Chinese city of Harbin. And officials have been forced to cut off water to its almost four million residents.
VERJEE (voice-over): Experts from Russia are carefully checking the waters of Amur River for any signs of benzene. A 50 mile slick of the toxic chemical is heading this way, and officials are preparing to shut off water to the 650,000 residents of Khabarovsk, which draws from the Amur. Extra supplies of bottled water are being brought into the area in anticipation, and some people are filling their own containers for fear of being left dry.
It's a scene that's already playing out up river in Harbin, China where the toxic slick arrived today. Harbin draws its water from the Songhua River, a tributary of the Amur. Both Harbin and Khabarovsk are downstream from the Chinese province of (ph) where an explosion at a chemical factory 11 days dumped large amounts of benzene, which is an industrial solvent used in gasoline, into the river.
It's known to cause cancer and even short-term exposure to it can cause dizziness and unconsciousness. Five people were killed in the explosion, and tens of thousands who lived nearby had to be evacuated. With little warning before the taps were shut off, residents of Harbin scrambled to prepare.
The government trucked in water. The store shelves were picked bare of bottled supplies, and wells were quickly dug to find new safe sources of water. Many are simply choosing to leave town until the crisis is over. But, getting out isn't necessarily easy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There are no tickets available today to Beijing. No tickets today.
VERJEE: Some are criticizing the government for not providing information quickly enough. But there's little panic, and residents are making do as they wait for the crisis to pass.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm not so worried, but I hope the government can deal with it properly and tell us the truth. And we hope all of us will be safe.
(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: Russian officials have also complained about a lack of information, although China is pledging close cooperation. The Chinese media say the toxic slick is likely to reach the Russian city of Khabarovsk within two weeks - Ali.
VELSHI: Zain, there might be some question about the fact that China is growing so quickly. Is it growing faster than its ability to keep up with the kind of regulations and safety mechanisms that are needed to prevent this sort of thing?
VERJEE: Yes. That's one of the issues -- that China's economic growth is creating this sort of environmental damage. And there are many complaints that China is just not maintaining its safety standards. You were just in China. This is a country of a billion people, and there are always water shortages. There have been protests recently in rural areas, people complaining and marching and say look, our rivers are polluted. What can we do? Help.
VELSHI: Zain, thanks very much. We will continue to check in with you through the course of the hour. Zain Verjee at CNN center in Atlanta.
Coming up -- terror behind bars. We'll look at allegations of inmates plotting attacks in the name of Islam, from inside prison walls. Also, we'll take you live to New Orleans. Still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina. But, many there are thankful nonetheless. Plus, a controversial new film about corruption and deceit in the oil industry. We'll hear from some of the stars of "Syriana."
VELSHI: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. When authorities nab criminal suspects, Americans should feel safer. But, the government says a terror plot was hatched inside a prison by an inmate who recruited others to join his deadly cause. Our Justice Correspondent, Kelli Arena was given exclusive access to California State Prison in Sacramento.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): The government says a terrorist plot was masterminded behind these prison walls. Inmate Kevin James allegedly formed a radical Islamic group here, known as JIS, recruited another inmate, and planned an attack on U.S. military personnel in the Los Angeles area.
Was this a one-time affair, or, are there other inmates conspiring to do America harm? Prison officials here admit the environment is right for terror recruitment, but they say that has more to do with the people behind bars, than prison practices. Prison Investigator, John Mayhew, explains.
SGT. JOHN MAYHEW, PRISON INVESTIGATOR: You get someone that doesn't really have anything -- they'll embrace those individuals and they'll bring them into their group, take care of them in the prison, and then they will set their beliefs upon them.
ARENA: James regularly attended Muslim services at the prison. He has pled not guilty to the charges against him. The imam here says he was shocked by those charges and says Islam can be a positive force.
IMAM GIUMAA A-SHAWESH, PRISON CHAPLAIN: A lot does not change conditions, circumstances, or people, until those people have the guts, have the will to make a change within themselves.
ARENA: But, some inmates warned there are many so-called Muslims in prison who corrupt Muslim teachings.
LATEEF ABDUS SABUR, INMATE SERVING LIFE SENTENCE: The Koran is clear, but man can be confused.
ARENA: Investigators can attend services religious services if they have suspicions and they are more closely examining the chaplains who preach to inmates.
WALTER ALLEN, ASST. SECY. CORRECTIONAL SAFETY: One of the things we're professing is that the imams that work with us are good people, they are providing an adequate service to our inmates. But, that's an area of concern that in terms of who we select to come in here ...
ARENA: Prison investigators admit they were unaware that James' alleged terror even existed. In fact, it wasn't until arrests were made following a series of gas station robberies that evidence led back to this maximum security prison. Investigators say they are sometimes overwhelmed trying to track more than 200 inmate gangs and so-called disruptive groups in an ever-changing prison population.
OFFICER GRANT PARKER, PRISON INVESTIGATOR: It's a never ending rotation with these guys. We'll have ten guys who will parole over the weekend, we are going to get a bus of 15, you know, three times this week.
ARENA: Inmate phone calls and mail are routinely monitored. And the FBI is now translating some inmate letters written in Arabic. Any and all communication between inmates like these notes, which are easily hidden and passed around, raises concern.
RODERICK HICKMAN, DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS SECY.: You have to take this threat perspective into your day to day activity in a way that we didn't in the past.
ARENA: But, officials say nothing beats good intelligence, and admit that's hard to come by. Nearly half the inmates here are lifers, with little to gain from cooperating with investigators. Kelli Arena, CNN, California State Prison, Sacramento.
VELSHI: Still to come in THE SITUATION ROOM, diamonds are forever, but do you know why? A look behind one of the most successful campaigns in advertising history. Plus, they survived one of the worst disasters ever to hit this country. We'll show you how people in New Orleans are making this Thanksgiving a happy one.
VELSHI: There are many kinds of wartime casualties. Family ties and friendships are often broken. In the war-ravaged Balkans, filmmakers have come up with a creative way to try to bring people back together again. Here is our Senior United Nations Correspondent, Richard Roth.
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It's more real than reality TV. Videotape reconciliations to start the healing in the former Yugoslavia.
The filmmakers randomly convince people to talk to their camera, with a message to former loved ones. The tape is delivered to its target by the directors, usually someone on the other side of the multi-ethnic fight.
KATRINA REJGER, CO-DIRECTOR "VIDEO LETTERS": We said, we have a video letter for you, but we never who is the sender.
ERIC VAN DEN BROEK, CO-DIRECTOR, "VIDEO LETTERS": And, in many cases, there is the stories like, I heard that you killed that person, did I ever know you?
ROTH: Emil, a Muslim Serb, fled ex-Yugoslavia for the Netherlands and never contacted former best friend Sasha, a Serb, because he heard Sasha was suspected of committing a murder.
REJGER: When we went to see Sasha, Eric asked him, "Do you miss your friend, Emil?" And Sasha almost started to cry, he missed him so much.
ROTH: And the video letters usually succeed, with reunions. Yesman and Georgia used to share a home.
VAN DEN BROEK: It took some time before she opened, and she opens the door and she closes it and she starts to scream in the back, like, I'm a woman, I need some makeup, and then and she was kind of thrilled, and then she opened the door again, and they really hugged, and, I mean, it was really, really nice to see this happening.
ROTH: There are some reconciliations that won't happen.
REJGER: We tried to show the people by making these video letters that they should stop being afraid.
ROTH: The letters may be working. The films are the first programming to be broadcast in all six former Yugoslav republics. Richard Roth, CNN, New York.
VELSHI: Zain Verjee joins us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta, with a closer look at some other stories making news around the world. Hey, Zain. VERJEE: Hey, Ali, the former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet has been indicted on Human Rights charges. The case stems from the deaths of three dissidents in the 1970s. This is the third time in five years Pinochet has faced such charges. The two previous cases were thrown out by judges who ruled that he was too ill to stand trial. He turns 90 tomorrow.
Colombia's government is working to evacuate about 9,000 people after a 14,000 foot volcano erupted earlier today. The Galeras volcano spewed smoke and ashes into the air. People in the nearby town of Pasto are being urged to leave. Authorities fear that the volcano will continue to erupt. At least nine people were killed when the volcano erupted back in 1993.
A Moscow court has rejected a lawsuit over the popular U.S. TV series "The Simpsons." A man had sued a Russian TV station that aired the show. He claimed that the cartoon was a bad influence on children and exposed them to pornography and violence. After nearly three years of litigation, the court ruled that the claims were just groundless. The man says he'll appeal to a European Human Rights court.
And, Elton John says he plans to marry his long time partner, David Furnish, on the 21st of December. That's the first day same sex couples can unite under Britain Civil Partnership law, which effectively amounts to marriage. John says the ceremony will be low key with only the couple and their parents attending.
And, Ali, I'm just about packing up here and getting ready to stuff face with food. But, I came across some interesting research that says that a good helping of cranberry sauce could offer some real benefits for people's teeth. It says that it can prevent tooth decay and cavities. So, I'm off to eat a whole lot of cranberry sauce and cancel my dental appointment.
VELSHI: You apparently don't even have to brush your teeth. You can just have your turkey and cranberries and go right to sleep.
VERJEE: No, no, no. Brush my teeth I will do. But, having a multitude of cranberry sauce tonight, I think I will.
VELSHI: It's been great spending the day with you.
VERJEE: No, it's been a pleasure. And you've done a great job, I don't care what they say about you, I thought you were great.
VELSHI: Never mind all those e-mails. We will talk to you later, Zain.
VERJEE: Tell your family to start writing in, Ali.
VELSHI: That's right, exactly. Zain Verjee in Atlanta, off for Thanksgiving dinner.
Just ahead, in time for thanks in New Orleans. Despite all that the hurricane victims there have been through, we'll have a live report on a holiday there that's unlike any other the city's ever known.
Also, a new film starring George Clooney is stirring some controversy. It takes on the global oil industry. But, does it also take on President Bush? We'll tell you in a minute.
VELSHI: On this holiday, a story of thanks and giving. Today, thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors are in the midst of people and places that are still foreign to them. Others may have returned home to what's left of home. But, for all of them, a question that many of us can learn from -- how to give thanks when so much is gone. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in New Orleans -- Ed.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ali. We've spent a lot of time on the streets today and, by all accounts, it's just a very different type of Thanksgiving that was celebrated here in the New Orleans area today. We've heard so many people talk over the last couple of weeks of the anguish and the hardship that they've endured. And, the theme that we've heard over and over the last couple of days, and leading up to this holiday is that this is finally the first chance that so many people have had just to feel normal.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Toni Frazer is far from her own family's Thanksgiving feast in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But she and this small team of volunteers say there's too much work left to do in New Orleans -- No time to sit down and eat.
TONI FRAZER, VOLUNTEER: We took a group vote. We're a big family. And we said, no, we want to go out and help other people on this day. We can have our Thanksgiving dinner another time.
LAVANDERA: But, many New Orleans residents, like Laurie Power, need this holiday. A trip to the grocery store for a family dinner is an escape from weeks of sadness.
LAURIE POWER, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Thanksgiving in New Orleans this year is just something to be normal. For all of us to be normal this year. This has been a terrible year.
LAVANDERA: Across the city there were signs of typical Thanksgiving traditions: a turkey day race, church groups feeding the needy, then there are the moments that remind you this is New Orleans, and this isn't a typical Thanksgiving. Families drive by the 17th Street Canal where the levee broke. They walk around quietly, reflecting on what was lost.
And you see Gay Fulton, who lost her home in the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, and has been living in Baton Rouge. She and a group of others returned to enjoy a dinner with almost 2,000 first responders. There's no other place she'd want to spend the day.
GAY FULTON, EVACUEE: I don't know if I'll be able to live in the same place or not, but I do want to come back to New Orleans. LAVANDERA: Thousands of workers and volunteers from around the country are spending this day, away from their own families, helping the Gulf Coast rebuild. In New Orleans a little musical flavor is the best way to show gratitude.
VELSHI: That was Ed Lavandera reporting on that story from New Orleans
My next guest has been working very hard to make Thanksgiving as normal as possible for many people in Louisiana. The Reverend Al Sharpton and other ministers provided Thanksgiving dinner today in Baton rouge for Katrina survivors. Sharpton says it's his way of reminding them they are not forgotten. Reverend Al Sharpton joins us now from Louisiana. Reverend, thanks for being with us. Tell us a little bit about what you did today.
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Well, we spent the day in Baton Rouge, helping to serve turkey dinners and really to commune and have dinner with some of the evacuees.
Yesterday, Louisiana State Senator Cleo Fields brought members of the National Action Network out to the FEMA camps to give out food, because this is the first Thanksgiving many of them will have not with family members, all of them without -- not with their homes.
And we wanted them to know that we would come after the original crisis and really stand with them, and show them our love and support. It is a moral outrage to me what happened, but in the middle of the moral outrage, people need to know that they will not be forgotten, and that some of us will not cut and run. We'll be here until the city of New Orleans is rebuilt and until their lives are restored.
VELSHI: What part's the moral outrage?
SHARPTON: I think the moral outrage is the aftermath, and the lack of reaction by government, I think the neglect of government, I think the whole question of why the levees were not rebuilt in the first place, I think also during this holiday, as we keep seeing the moving of a deadline of how long hotels and motels will be paid for for the evacuees.
Can you imagine two or three days before Thanksgiving being told by FEMA you may have two weeks to get out to get out of a hotel or motel, some of them not knowing where that means, where they will go? Then, the deadline extended, then extended again. It is not the best way to go through a holiday.
Already you are dealing with the trauma of family members being dislocated or you being distant from them, the trauma of not being in your own home, and then the instability of where you may end up. It was not a good time, and we tried to bring the best of times that we could to let them know they will not fight these battles alone.
VELSHI: Now, Reverend, in and amongst all of the -- those kind of problems that have been faced after the hurricane, we heard yesterday that Mardi Gras is back on. It's something a lot of people expected to be the case, but it sounds like there's a real plan on the ground. Tell me a little about whether you think that's a good plan, and that's a good sign, and is it reflective of the kind of progress that's now being made?
SHARPTON: I think that it's good. I think that progress is being made, and I think that people are trying to return to a normal level of cultural festivities. I just hope that it is not used politically to cloud the very serious problems people face.
When I talked to the people in the FEMA camps yesterday in Baton Rouge, when I talked to people here in New Orleans tonight, when I talked to people in other parts of the country -- I went to one of the FEMA motels in New York before leaving. They want normalcy, but they also do not want people to forget their plight.
And we should not in any way not return to normal festivities, but we should not use that to try and act as though everyone that's been effected and impacted is back to normal, and that there are not serious problems that's going to take serious efforts to resolve. So if it is a step toward healing, yes; but if it is to cover up the scar, then I think that is not good.
VELSHI: What's your message -- as we leave this, what's your message to anybody listening to this about what they have to remember about what's going on in Louisiana right now?
SHARPTON: I think that it's a two-fold memory. We ought to remember that we face some of the worst devastation we've seen in American history. We've seen, in my judgment, some of the worst examples of government neglect.
The news is that Americans came together across racial and economic and religious lines, and helped pull together. So in the worst of what someone as an activist like me would say happened, the best of Americans came forward, and that good spirit permeated throughout even Thanksgiving day today. Out of bad, good can come if we're determined to make it happen. Of that, we can give thanks.
VELSHI: Are you worried that Katrina victims are falling off the radar in the country, that there is a fatigue about the things that we're hearing from Louisiana?
SHARPTON: Oh, absolutely. I'm very concerned about that. They're concerned that as the media focus goes to other things, and as the government looks at other things, will they be forgotten? I mean, we saw hundreds of millions of dollars raised, and then a virtual eviction notice given from FEMA.
A lot of us are concerned that in the darkness of the media light going elsewhere, they will be forgotten, forgotten where they are still living in very unstable conditions. But then some of us will make sure they are not forgotten, and some of us will make sure that those in levels of comfort, particularly in Washington, and in Baton Rouge, remain in a level of discomfort until those that are uncomfortable as a result of Katrina have been returned to their comfort.
VELSHI: Reverend Sharpton, thanks for spending your Thanksgiving with us and with people less fortunate than you. Good to talk to you.
SHARPTON: Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you.
VELSHI: And to you. Reverend Al Sharpton from Louisiana.
Up next, controversy on the big screen. A new film about big oil -- is it a veiled attack on President Bush. We'll find out what star George Clooney has to say about it.
Also, the slogan that sold millions of diamonds. I'll have the story on a marketing campaign that could go on forever.
VELSHI: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from the Associated Press. These are pictures you are likely to see in your newspaper tomorrow.
In Hebron, an Israeli soldier pushes a Palestinian boy as soldiers try to clear the area around a checkpoint the children pass daily on their way to schools.
In Moscow, pictures of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin hang on the streets. It's part of an exhibition entitled "Made in the USSR."
In Kudriya (ph), Iraq, a U.S. Army captain examines a local child during a community health outreach program.
And in Karabila, Iraq, unwinding during a war. U.S. troops get a little time to play football on Thanksgiving. That's today's hot shots. Pictures worth 1,000 words.
Well, it's no secret that actor George Clooney has strong political opinions, but some conservatives charge that the new film he stars in amounts to Bush bashing. CNN's entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas joins us now live with more on the movie. Sibila, good to see you.
SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Nice to see you too, Ali. Well, Clooney's film hasn't even rolled out in many theaters, and already it's managing to ruffle some feathers.
At the heart of "Syriana" is this controversial question: How far will America go to guarantee its supply of oil?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's running out. And 90 percent of what's left is in the Middle East. This is a fight to the death.
VARGAS (voice-over): "Syriana" weaves a complex tale of corruption and deceit in the global oil industry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way a company like Helene (ph) pulled off a deal like this without paying somebody off.
VARGAS: That energy companies are capable of misdeed may not shock some audiences.
ALEXANDER SIDDIG, CO-STAR, "SYRIANA": I don't they will have too much trouble believing that this goes on because we've just seen Enron.
VARGAS: In fact, according to a Gallup poll in August, 62 percent of Americans view the oil and gas industry negatively. But what may be more controversial is how "Syriana" depicts American foreign policy in the Middle East, motivated first and foremost by the thirst for oil.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to create a parliament. I want to give women the right to vote.
VARGAS: A reform-minded sheik becomes the target of a CIA assassination plot after he runs afoul of American oil interests. The film's co-stars say the movie isn't pushing a political agenda.
GEORGE CLOONEY, CO-STAR, "SYRIANA": Yes, I think the message is ask questions.
MATT DAMON, CO-STAR, "SYRIANA": It doesn't try give you an answer. You know, it's not a partisan rant.
VARGAS: But some conservatives beg to differ.
JASON APUZZO, EDITOR, LIBERTAS: I think Hollywood brings its agenda to this topic. And, you know, they're free to do it. It's just that there seems to be no diversity, no variety in terms of the content. I think that's what's so troubling to people. It's the same opinion drummed in over and over again.
VARGAS: The film was financed by Participant Productions, a company which says it's goal is to make socially relevant films.
JEFF SKILL, FOUNDER, PARTICIPANT PRODS.: I think this one is not that controversial. Our dependence on oil is causing a lot of problems here and everywhere else. And the message for folks watching the film is that maybe there's a better way to go about this.
VARGAS: And George Clooney, who stars in the film and produced it, insists "Syriana" is not a veiled attack on President Bush. He says rather, it's an indictment of the system. "Syriana," by the way, is playing in limited release right now and opens nationwide on December 9th -- Ali. You know there's going to be a lot more discussion about this film when it comes out.
VELSHI: Yes, and one wonders whether -- if you think a film is politically motivated, or you are on the other side of that political fence that you think its on, almost better to say nothing. Because this kind of controversy and this kind of discussion which causes us to talk about it is almost always good for the film, one way or the other.
VARGAS: Absolutely. And it is already getting Oscar buzz, as well, as well as George Clooney's performance. So, I think it's going to do very well, and it might not have done so well too, because it's an extremely complex. But certainly, like you've said, the fact that they are talking about it, and they are, you know, making controversy around it is definitely going to help the film.
VELSHI: Spread some word that I have got some kind of crazy political bias, Sibila.
VARGAS: All right. You got it.
VELSHI: Good to see you, happy Thanksgiving. Sibila Vargas in Las Angeles.
Well, it was among their worst fears. Organizers of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade hoped that the fanfare and festivities wouldn't be marred by an accident. But the tightly choreographed parade didn't go as planned. Here's CNN's Mary Snow in New York.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What, this balloon?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It hit that light post.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody got hit.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This video shot by a spectator is now something the city plans to examine to find out why a rope from the 500-pound M&M balloon got caught on a lamppost. The top part of the lamppost toppled on two sisters visiting from Albany. One is 26 and uses a wheelchair. Officials say she received six stitches after being hit on the head, and that her 11-year-old sister suffered minor abrasions.
CINDY SCHREIBMAN, PARADE EYEWITNESS: You could hear, "Oh, my goodness. Oh, my gosh. I can't believe it. It happened again. It happened again." So there was a lot of commotion along the parade route.
SNOW: The accident was reminiscent of one in 1997, when a balloon toppled a lamppost and injured four people, including a woman who was left permanently brain damaged. The following year, the city and Macy's, which organizes the parade, came up with new safety guidelines. Part of them included lampposts redesigned so that this kind of accident won't happen.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK: You take a look at most light poles, they go out into the street. This was designed to run parallel to the street so nothing would catch on it. And we'll have to take a look and see whether in retrospect that was the right decision that was made back then. SNOW: Macy's says there were 62 people handling the M&M balloon and that all but four worked in previous parades. Only team leaders are required to go through training before the day of the parade. Handlers do not. But Macy's says that didn't play a part.
ROBYN HALL, EXEC. PRODUCER, MACY'S: The experience definitely didn't play a part. Weather played a part. We have to analyze it before we can say.
SNOW: Winds, say officials, were also within the range of what is considered safe for these parade balloons to fly.
(on camera): Mayor Bloomberg says the city will look at videotapes and still photographs as part of its investigation to determine if anything needs to be changed for next year's parade. Mary Snow, CNN, New York.
VELSHI: Well, up next, diamonds are a girl's best friend, but that's not the line that's encouraging so many future grooms to spend and spend big. It's a marriage of words and marketing.
And later a turkey that people can't seem to get enough of online. It's not too late to grab some for yourself.
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ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): As the world kicked off 2005, memories of a massive tsunami still lingered in our minds. Memories swept away by additional, epic natural disasters. From hurricanes to earthquakes, Mother Nature made us recognize her power, and for this, we recognize her as a candidate for "Time" magazine's person of the year.
NANCY GIBBS, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "TIME": In the first weeks of the year, our attention was still completely riveted to this astonishing, unfolding story of loss and shock and aid, and rescue, and that certainly was the defining story at the beginning of the year.
Then, the hurricane season here that was like none other we'd ever had, and then finally the earthquakes in Pakistan. From beginning to end, the year seemed to be a year of disaster.
JAN SIMPSON, ASST. MANAGING EDITOR, TIME: Well, I think a lot of people have said that because of the way Mother Nature has effected the year, people have stepped back, and reflected on what's important. I think it's given us -- all of us -- a lot to think about in how we're living in this world.
VELSHI: The holiday shopping season kicks off tomorrow, and if you're in the market to buy some bling for that someone special, don't be surprised if three very familiar words keep ringing in your ears. "Diamonds are Forever." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
VELSHI (voice-over): It's not just the diamonds that last forever. This slogan's been around since 1947. It's part of a campaign of memorable and effective one liners, made up by an expensive marketing approach that has at least some men saying I will.
(on camera): Two months salary too much to pay for something that lasts forever?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no. Not if you love the girl enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And money's not an object to me when I'm making someone feel good. And on top of that something that will last forever for something that is two months salary? Hey, you are going to work until you die anyways.
VELSHI (voice-over): Money can't buy endorsements like that. Or can it? How about a couple of million dollars a year, paid for by the Diamond Trading Company. It's part of the legendary diamond giant, De Beers.
KAREN BENEZRA, EDITOR, BRANDWEEK: Fairly significant from the standpoint of spending $200 million a year worldwide, but compare that to McDonald's, compared that to Coca-Cola, drop in the bucket.
VELSHI: A drop in the bucket? More like Chinese water torture. That same message year after year after year. And it all started at the N.W. Ayer building in Philadelphia. That was the ad company for De Beers. Copy editor Francis Garrity (ph) worked late one night to come up with the perfect slogan for them.
LINDA KAPLAN THALER, AD EXECUTIVE: She could not come up with a line. She wanted it to be something bold and beautiful and something that would go on for eternity, like diamonds. And she fell asleep, and when she woke up, in her handwriting was the line "a diamond is forever."
VELSHI: Linda Kaplan Thaler runs the ad company in New York that took over N.W. Ayer a few years ago. She says when you buy a diamond, you buy the mystique.
THALER: You don't have one for rubies or sapphires or emeralds, and they are far more precious gems. They are rare, they're resilient, they're beautiful, but nobody says, my God, I hope my husband gets me, you know, a ruby for Christmas.
VELSHI: And the mastery? Telling men exactly how much to spend on a diamond engagement ring. The average American man ties the knot for the first time at the age of 27. The average 27-year-old American man makes about $30,000 a year. So, if the average American guy believes the ads, he needs to find a $5,000 ring and he needs it to look good.
(on camera): And that's why any day, any time of year, you'll find men jamming the stalls of the diamond district here in Manhattan, looking for this, the perfect diamond. This is a place because of its bustle and congestion thought to offer a better deal than the fancy boutiques. But in end, the message that men get when they're here is the same. It's worth it. She's worth it. After all forever is a long time.
(voice-over): Like the ad says, there are only two things that last longer than time. Love is one of them. Can you guess what the other one is?
VELSHI: Well, still ahead, if a diamond is not your speed, how about an Xbox? We'll update you on Microsoft's offers (ph) to unseat Sony from the gaming throne.
Plus, it's the holiday hit that's burning up the Internet. We will show you why. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
VELSHI: This is totally what all the fuss is about. This is the Xbox. Please, stop sending me the e-mails and asking me if I'm going to send it to you. I don't own this; this is CNN's.
Some people will do just about anything to get their hands on one of these: risk their job, wait in the rain, even ante up loads of cash. But as Mary Snow explains from New York, that's just the kind of extreme urging that the makers of the new Xbox want.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four at a time, guys. Four at a time. Let's do some lines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three, four.
SNOW (voice-over): It's amazing what people will do to get their hands on an Xbox.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I called in sick today. I was supposed to be at work today. I'm out one day's pay, and I still have no Xbox 360.
SNOW: Since it was released at midnight early Tuesday morning, many have lined up in the cold and rain to get them out of the stores and into their homes.
BRAD ANDERSON, CEO, BEST BUY: Well, Xbox 360 is one of the biggest things that's happened to this industry in a long time.
SNOW: Two versions of the Xbox cost $299 and $399. But since they've been nearly sold out of most stores across the country, some sellers on eBay are hawking them for thousands of dollars. It's just the kind of must-have mania Microsoft wants. The company is betting the box that will be able to beat out long-time gaming rival Sony at the number one position. ROBERT BACH, CHIEF XBOX OFFICER, MICROSOFT: Certainly our goal with Xbox 360 and our new games is to be the worldwide leader in this business. That's been a goal since we got into the business. Our first version of Xbox was a great first step. This is the logical follow-on, and we think the opportunity to be number one.
SNOW: So, Microsoft is sending out its top executives to promote the console, spending some $2 billion in marketing, and hopes celebrity support will help the company sell some three million units in 90 days. All this, even though Microsoft apparently loses money on each box sold.
A report by market researcher iSuppli says Microsoft loses at least $153 on each Xbox itself, based on the cost of components and assembly. So Microsoft's game plan is to make the unit profitable over the life of the machine. Also important, dominance in the very lucrative market for games, some costing as much as $60. Mary Snow, CNN, New York.
VELSHI: All right, let's have a look at how Xbox sales are going online. Internet reporter Abbi Tatton joins us with this. Abbi, if this were mine, which it isn't, how well could I do for it?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: You could do pretty well tonight. You can get them online tonight, but it's either going to take you a lot of cash or a lot of patience or probably both. Xbox's official site says in stores now. As we've heard from the package, that's not quite the case.
If you go to online retailers like walmart.com today, click on it, you're getting a message that says product not found. Other sites like Circuit City, they are telling you to keep checking back. The sites that will take your money -- this is ebgames.com -- are warning you of a very long wait. They're saying it could be up to March 2006 before you receive your product.
Now, you could go to an online auction site like eBay.com and start bidding, those auctions closing tonight. In the last few minutes, around $700. That's about double retail.
If you want it right away, you can get a buy it now price for somewhere between $1,000 and up to $5,000. This seller, who is proving that she has one is selling for an online buy it now price of $5,000. Ali, so keep hold of that one.
VELSHI: I will, absolutely. Abbi, good to see you. Happy Thanksgiving to you. And to all of you out there, we leave you with a turkey that is fighting to stay alive this holiday and burning up the charts on the Internet. It's from American Greetings and it's gotten more than 33 million hits so far. And now, it's getting play in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I'm Ali Velshi. Happy Thanksgiving.
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