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Wintry Weather Hits U.S.; Saudis Pardon Rape Victim

Aired December 17, 2007 - 09:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I am Heidi Collins. Good morning to you, everybody.
We're watching events come into the NEWSROOM live on this Monday morning, it's December 17th.

Here is what's on the rundown. Snow, cold and wind, people from the Great Lakes to New England dig out from a blustery winter blast.

Outrage from the West over the treatment of women. Now the Saudis have second thoughts. A rape victim sentenced to 20 lashes, now pardoned.

One-time Democrat, now he's got his independent streak on and backing a Republican for president. Joe Lieberman's curveball in THE NEWSROOM.

Winter is still a few days away but it's on the doorstep of much of the country this morning. From the Great Lakes to New England, a major storm dumps snow, sleet and freezing rain. About a foot of snow has fallen from Chicago into Michigan. Hundreds of school districts are closed. The storm is also blamed for at least four deaths.

In Massachusetts, the roof of this drugstore buckled under the wind and the snow and the freezing rain. One customer was slightly hurt. For the most part, the snow is over for today, but the problems, as you can see, will certainly linger.

Let's head into the Great White North now. CNN meteorologist Reynolds Wolf has been out in the cold and snow all weekend long. He is in Syracuse, New York, this morning, and again, you drew the short straw, Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No, that's not the way to look at it, not at all. This is a great story, a wonderful story, and the first significant snowfall for parts of Upstate New York and much of the Northeast, which is certainly beautiful to see. It's still falling now. In some places around Syracuse had up to 17 inches of snow. We're expecting maybe another inch, maybe two. This is not from the nor'easter. The nor'easter is moving way out to sea.

But we're getting a northwesterly breeze off the lakes and this lake effect activity has just been dazzling, just coming down and just a beautiful thing to see this morning. I will tell you, though, what has happened here in Syracuse in terms of the snowfall is just one tiny, tiny bit of that bigger storm picture that has affected millions of people.


WOLF (voice-over): The furious storm blew from Michigan to Maine. Ten inches of snow in Michigan. Up to 18 inches expected in New England. Hundred of flights canceled in Chicago and over 100,000 without power in Pennsylvania. A roof of a drug store in Boston collapsed under the weight of the snow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw the exterior wall start to buckle and everything was like a domino effect coming down.

WOLF: In Cleveland, the Browns battled the Buffalo Bills in the middle of a blizzard, while snowplows were out in full force in Vermont. At least three traffic deaths were blamed on the storm and in some places, visibility was so bad you couldn't see the car in front of you. You couldn't see many Christmas shoppers either. Early reports suggest blizzard dealt the holiday sales a heavy blow.

But fans of teen singer Hannah Montana were not disappointed. Her concert in Rochester, New York, went on as planned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We would go through a snowstorm to see her. Very definite.


WOLF (on camera): It's funny, isn't it, Heidi, how something so pretty can cause so many problems and that was the case for much of the Northeast. Now, here in Syracuse, they've done a fantastic job with the roadways. Obviously, still work cut out for them, still have more snow that is falling. We've still got an icy glaze on the road, but they've done a really good job keeping things nice and clear. Still, this morning, during rush hour, we got a lot of people that didn't have the choice of staying in, they had to get to work. With all of the cars with these slippery roads certainly not a very good mathematical equation. Put those numbers together, the rush of the people and congested roadways, those congested roadways, there could be some issues, not just this morning, not just through the afternoon but also tonight. That's the latest we have from here at Syracuse. Snowy Syracuse that is. I'll send it back to you in Atlanta.

COLLINS: And such a positive spin you put on that for us, Reynolds. We appreciate that.

WOLF: Oh, it's fantastic, it's beautiful.

COLLINS: It's pretty. It is pretty.

WOLF: You bet.

COLLINS: We'll check back with you later. Thank you, Reynolds.

The view not really great in New Hampshire there, dozens of motorists spent their Sunday going absolutely nowhere. Their story now from Michelle Rutherford, she is with CNN affiliate WHGH. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE RUTHERFORD, WHGH CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For sledders, snowboarders and tubers of all ages, the day was a snow lover's dream.

Tell me, how much fun is this?


RUTHERFORD: But it was a nightmare for people doing their sliding out on the roads.

CHRISTINA KAFFEY, STRANDED MOTORIST: I hit a patch of ice back there and it slid sideways and I couldn't control it. Even in four- wheel-drive, it had no control at all. It just kept rolling.

RUTHERFORD: Sunday's nor'easter rolled into southern New Hampshire around 4:00 a.m., dumping nine inches on Nashua's already eight to ten inches of snow on the ground. Snowplows plugged away to keep lanes clear but near whiteout conditions made it tough to see ahead or look behind.

TROOPER WILLIAM BARASSI, NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE POLICE: What you see is what you get. We're dealing with some pretty treacherous conditions and encouraging people to stay off the roads if they can.

RUTHERFORD: The heavy snowfall, high winds and bitterly cold temperatures weren't enough to stop holiday shoppers getting those last-minute must-haves.

BOB HILL, SHOPPER: We just had a baby on thanksgiving. My wife and I's first and weren't been able to get everything done as early as we wanted to.

RUTHERFORD: But unless your vehicle is aerodynamically designed for slipping and sliding, here's two words of advice.

KAFFEY: Stay home.


COLLINS: All right, so more on the wind and snow in the Northeast now. Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider is live in the severe weather center. Stay home, probably some of the greatest advice for those parts of the country.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, and I think a lot of people are still at the airport, trying to get where they're going.


SCHNEIDER: We have massive delay this is weekend. And now you're looking at Flight explorer in and around the New York City metropolitan area. And yes, there are a lot of flights, a lot of congestion and still delays. This is a love look at our Flight Explorer. It shows you the real time planes in the sky at this time. I'm going to walk over here to show you where we have airport delays at this hour. I was here yesterday and we had delays that were three and four-hours long. Now we have a two-hour ground delay at La Guardia Airport. At least that's just one. We had about two pages of them yesterday.

Well, it's no doubt we'll have delays and travel problems when you have snowfall totals like this, almost two feet of snow in many locations, especially in and around the Upstate New York area and into Michigan and also into Indiana.

Currently, the snow is falling as Reynolds mentions in a lake effect fashion, coming in off the lakes, that's where we're getting it near Binghamton and Syracuse at this time. Light snow falling. The current temperature, though, is brutally cold. Look at these numbers in the 20s and teens in Boston. We now have 19 degrees, 26 degrees in and around Detroit, and the wind is absolutely fierce, this is real time data for you as well, showing the winds coming in from the north, bringing a lot of wind to the area. Wind and snow.

I want to show you an I-Report now that we can take a look at, and it shows you some snow falling from the trees, this is from Sandi White in Chase Mills, New York, another area hard-hit by the winter wallop. Nice looking pictures there. Thanks for sending that in.

Heidi, it's so cold out there that the wind chill factor feels like it's four degrees in Buffalo but in Albany, feels like it's negative 5. That's the combination of that wind and the bitter cold temperatures.

COLLINS: Oh, nasty, very nasty. All right, Bonnie, we know you'll stay on top of it, thank you.

Severe weather also to the south over the weekend to tell you about. A tornado with wind gusts up to 109 miles an hour hit Pasco County, Florida. The twister hit metal framed tents at a jail and destroyed one of them. More than 200 inmates were there, just before the storm. No injuries, though, reported.

The storm knocked out power for several hours for thousands of Tampa area customers. Three possible tornadoes struck south Georgia. Trees are down, the roots ripped from some of the homes but again no injuries reported.

Country first, party second. The message from Senator John McCain a short time ago. He got an endorsement from across the aisle, if you will. Senator Joe Lieberman backing McCain's bid for the presidency. You saw the endorsement here live on CNN. We'll hear from Mary Snow shortly on this. Meanwhile on the Democratic side, John Edwards set to pick up an endorsement today, Iowa's first lady, Mary Culver expected to announce she is endorsing Edwards' bid for the presidential nomination. Edwards is locked in a tight three-way contest now with Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Iowa. The state caucuses are January 3. Culver's husband, Iowa Governor Chet Culver, is making it clear he will stay neutral.

With the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary getting close, endorsements are coming in left and right. Over the weekend the "Des Moines Register" endorsed Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton for the Iowa caucus. McCain also picked up an endorsement from "The Boston Globe" and on the Democratic side, they're backing Barack Obama. The New Hampshire primary is set for January 8th.

Ron Paul on a roll, supporters pushing the Republican presidential candidate to a one-day fund-raising record. Six million dollars, according to his campaign. Here now Mary Snow, part of the best political team on television.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They marked the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party to rally for Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul and call for a modern day revolution. They raised millions in a single day online and gathered in Boston to make a statement.

RAND PAUL, RON PAUL'S SON: Well, I think my dad, Ron Paul, has always been one who believes there are times in our history when we have to say no, no to a government that's run away.

SNOW: Rand Paul represented the image of his father, whose image was never far away. His followers weren't deterred by the sleet and snow or by Paul's underdog status in the presidential race. If this is a revolution, then Linda Hunnicutt is its daughter.

She calls herself the Granny Warrior and travels in this bus to spread Ron Paul's message.

LINDA HUNNICUTT, RON PAUL SUPPORTER: How many other candidates would you know of that would have people come out and stand in this mess, drive from North Carolina up here? I mean, it's just phenomenal. Ron Paul cannot lose. Even if he loses, he wins, because he's opened up the box.

CROWD: Ron Paul!

SNOW: Paul's call to end the Iraq War and libertarian views are what attracts these followers. And while his number have been stronger in fund-raising than polls, some of his supporters say their revolution goes beyond the presidential election.

STEPHEN DUPONT, RON PAUL SUPPORTER: Ron Paul, he is a conduit, but the grassroots and the actual support, it runs deeper than that. It's throughout the whole United States.

SNOW (on camera): Some supporters say they would like to see Ron Paul run as an independent if he doesn't win the republican nomination but that's something Paul has repeatedly said he wouldn't do and if he doesn't, some of the grassroots organizers here say they would use their fund-raising ability to help candidates in state races. Mary Snow, CNN, Boston.


COLLINS: To Iran now, a special delivery for Iran, nuclear fuel. Russia sent the first batch over yesterday. It's part of a $1 billion contract to help Iran build a nuclear power plant. But the U.S. and others are worried Iran could eventually build nuclear weapons. Russia says Iran has promised writing the fuel will only be used at this site and the International Atomic Energy Agency is also watching closely. Two weeks ago a U.S. intelligence report said Iran stopped working to develop nuclear weapons in 2003.

A rape victim punished and now Saudi Arabia's king says no. It's a case that has stirred international outrage.


COLLINS: Some call it barbaric. A rape victim sentenced to prison and 200 lashes. But Saudi Arabia's king stepped in this morning. CNN's Isha Sesay is also in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the beginning of the hajj pill pilgrimage. She joins us now live. This was quite a decision, Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes indeed, Heidi. This case has attracted international criticism and has of course really shown the spotlight on the treatment of women under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic law. When this case first came to light, widespread debate and uproar around the world, when it emerged that this woman had been sentenced to 200 lashes and to six months in prison.

In light of that international criticism, it appeared, we heard a couple of weeks ago that the Saudi authorities would review the case. Then on this day, on this Monday, we now hear that King Abdullah has now pardoned the girl from Qatif, as she is popularly referred to here in the Saudi media. Heidi?

COLLINS: Isha, is there any talk of this possibly being a case that would set precedent, should anything like this ever happen again in the country?

SESAY: Well, it's very interesting you should bring that up, because this is one of the points that has come up again and again and people we've spoken to and we to spoke on it some Saudi journalists. And one point they want us to stress to viewers, this victim was pardoned. It's not that the verdict was quashed. She was pardoned.

And the Saudi Justice Ministry is quoted as saying that the king made the decision not because he doesn't have the faith in the country's judges but it was a move seen to placate the people, alleviate psychological suffering by the people. Whatever that means. That's a quote we're getting from the Justice Ministry.

But as we say, she has been pardoned. The verdict hasn't been quashed. To many people, no progress has been made here. There's not dissent for other victims of sexual assault, they will receive different treatment at the hands of Saudi law officials, should we say. Heidi? COLLINS: Certainly generated a lot of discussion as you said, all over the world. CNN's Isha Sesay live this morning from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Isha, thank you.

The leader of the band has died. Singer/song writer Dan Fogelberg lost his long battle with prostate cancer. He was diagnosed three years ago. Fogelberg had success in the '70s and '80s with soft rock hits. I'm sure you remember "Leader of the Band" or "Same Auld Lang Syne". Dan Fogelberg, just 56 years old.

A Jewish family targeted by hate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To see this is just, it's nauseating. It makes me sick to my stomach.


COLLINS: The shock of swastikas in THE NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Video games. You know your kids want them this holiday season but parents, do you really know what you're buying? CNN's Fredricka Whitfield takes a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have a lovely holiday.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Flying off the shelves, Playstation, Wii and "Halo." When you buy any one of the hottest items on America's holiday wish list ...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The orange box game.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Halo" and the "Heavenly Game."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's the Mario.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't remember the names. I just know it's something, something rabbit.

WHITFIELD: Is it clear to you the images and the messages on these video games before the purchase?

This is pretty overwhelming, yes?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Especially for us.

WHITFIELD: Why is that? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't play video games.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's why they have the ratings and stuff like that on them so you know what to get, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I purchase a game, I always let my brother or their dad watch the game or they'll play the game first, and make sure it's not X-rated or anything.

WHITFIELD: A national poll indicates 72 percent of parents don't know what's inside the packaging of these games. Fingers firmly on the controller, 12-year-old Reginald Miller, along with his nine-year- old sister, Diamond, are hooked. The reason, shockingly clear.

So tell me about this game. Why do you like it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you get to kill people.

WHITFIELD: Speaking of making a killing, this is an $8 billion a year industry, outpacing the movie business. Game editor for "Paste" magazine Jason Killingsworth, no kidding, Killingsworth, says this is hugely popular among all ages.

JASON KILLINGSWORTH, "PASTE" MAGAZINE: The Entertainment Software Association did a demographic test awhile back and found the average gamer age is 33. The because people who are making these games are, you know, older and you get the sense that they're making them for their peers, that they're not necessarily making them for their, you know, younger nephew, per se.

WHITFIELD: He showed me.

(on camera): All right, this is video gaming for the novice one, that would be me.

(voice-over): Why it's all so in demand.

KILLINGSWORTH: Some of the games are so realistic, it's incredible.


KILLINGSWORTH: Yeah, that was that was rough. You can learn a lot just by looking at the rating on the game.

WHITFIELD: Oh, yeah? Labels mostly on front knocked "E" for everybody, "M" for mature and "T" for teens. Sound simple enough.

KILLINGSWORTH: In some of the games you can actually turn the gore on and off. And a lot of parents, you know, probably don't realize that. With "Assassin's Creed" probably the most popular game of this holiday season you can actually turn the blood off.

WHITFIELD (on camera): You won't know that until you make the purchase and open the package.

KILLINGSWORTH: Right. It's true. It's not advertised.

WHITFIELD (voice-over): Despite some of the fail safes there are a few kinks to work out but for now, choosy consumers can still deliver this holiday without anyone calling them a video killjoy. Fredricka Whitfield, CNN, Atlanta.


COLLINS: Just days after Hanukkah, a Florida family wakes up to find hate graffiti all over their home, their spirit broken. Vanessa Medina of affiliate WSVN has the story.


VANESSA MEDINA, WSVN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nothing can wash away the hurt of the family that lives inside this home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To see this is just, it's just, it's nauseating. It makes me sick to my stomach.

MEDINA: The family waking up Sunday morning to a sickening sight, images of hate spray painted on their home, driveway, garage, even mailbox.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just was so overcome I just start crying.

MEDINA: The shock and horror of seeing red swastikas just too much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never seen my father cry.

If you look at this side of the house it's very, very graphic, very obvious.

MEDINA: Obvious and foul. Messages of "Heil Hitler," "Burn in Hell," repulsive to neighbors, too.

GABRIEL JARDIM, NEIGHBOR: Hate crime. For me, is for the entire community.

ALAN HARRIS, NEIGHBOR: I was almost two blocks away and I could see the red swastika from that distance and I was pretty appalled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This has to be an awful lot of I think internal hatred for someone to do. .

MEDINA: A family hurt, fortified someone would target their religion, deface their home, their once safe haven.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's horrible to see that my room is right there.

MEDINA: The words, the symbols will soon are painted over, but the wounds this family says will last forever.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS: Police are investigating the case as a hate crime and the FBI, also involved, says some of the graffiti was painted on public property.

To Iraq now, progress on the ground in Afghanistan, are they losing ground? Could the U.S. military shift forces to help out?


COLLINS: Welcome back, everybody. 9:30 Eastern on this Monday morning. Good morning to you.

For much of the country, varying degrees of misery, it seems frigid temps roll in, snow tapers off and problems pile up. Snow from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Coast. About a foot of it in Chicago. Even more in parts of New York and New England. Travel has been snarled, both by ground and by air. A jetliner skidded off a runway near Providence, Rhode Island. Nobody was hurt in that but across the nation, at least four deaths are being blamed on the storm.

In Chicago, a snowplow driver is being praised for pulling a woman from a burning car.


DEMETRIUS DUPLESSIS, SNOW PLOW HERO: I got out of the truck and I ran over to the young lady in the car, and she was on the cell phone, so when I kept yelling, get out of the car, get out of the car. The car is on fire. She just looked at me and started to lock the door. So I smashed the door open and smashed her out.


COLLINS: The woman, who was on her way to take a college exam says she didn't realize her car had caught fire.

Remind us of news that is happening where you are. Send us your photos, go to and click on I-report or type right into your cell phone.

We'll take a moment now to check the big board here, the New York Stock Exchange just about to ring the opening bell there.

Last week was a pretty volatile week. You probably remember very, very well. There you are. Opening bell. We'll hoping to fare better this week but Friday things looked down, closed down about 178 points or so. We rested at 13,339 of Dow Jones Industrial averages. So, we'll be watching those numbers for you. Susan Lisovicz is going to join us a little bit later on to talk more business news. Keep your fingers crossed there.

All right, overseas, changing of the guard in Iraq. British troops formally hand over control of Basra, their last region in Iraq. We've been talking about this for some time. The Brits mission now, training security forces and helping rebuild Iraq's economy. The handover means half of Iraq's 18 provinces are now under the control of Iraqi forces.

Resurgent Taliban mounting more attacks in Afghanistan. Forcing the U.S. military to review its mission there. CNN's Jamie McIntyre is here now with more on that story. Good morning to you, Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. We know, it's no secret that while things have been getting better in Iraq, in Afghanistan, they have not. There are so many things not going right with the NATO-led mission. The slow pace of reconstruction, the rise of attacks and violence, the problems with lack of governance, and then of course, the drugs. It's all the kinds of concerns that I heard from when I sat down recently with NATO's former top commander.


MCINTYRE: When I accompanied General James Jones on his final inspection tour of Afghanistan a year ago, the top NATO commander was upbeat, insisting the potential for success was high. One last quick question. Are you winning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we are. I think we're moving in the right direction and certainly in a lot of areas.

MCINTYRE: Now a year later, it's a far different story.

GEN. JAMES JONES, FORMER SUPREME NATO COMMANDER: I'm a little disappointed in some of the things I've seen in the last six or seven months.

MCINTYRE: Afghanistan is no longer moving in the right direction, and the reason, in a word, is drugs.

JONES: Afghanistan, if it's not a Narco state, is headed that way.

MCINTYRE: Should the drug problem in Afghanistan become a NATO priority, a NATO mission? It wasn't when you were in charge.

JONES: My friends over there won't like this, but I do think that if we fail in Afghanistan, NATO will be, will be viewed as having failed.

MCINTYRE: Jones admits some NATO allies feel taken that they signed up for peacekeeping and are now embroiled in an all-out war.

JONES: I think we're on a risk of backsliding and coupled with the failure of the Pakistani strategy with regard to the tribal areas.

MCINTYRE: That strategy was to cut a deal with Taliban sympathizers in return for a promise not to interfere in Afghanistan. Jones was told about it in one of his last meetings with senior Pakistanis.

JONES: My answer to them was good luck. It sounds like, sounds like wishful thinking to me. MCINTYRE: And it turned out to be.

JONES: And it turned out to be.


MCINTYRE: Now U.S. commanders say a number of attacks along the border with Pakistan have actually dropped as other violence has gone up. They attribute that to efforts from the Pakistani military. But as I said, so many things not going right in Afghanistan and it really come down to this problem of the drugs funding the warlords over there. And the U.S. is the only one that believes that they ought to be carrying out an all-out poppy eradication program, the government of Hamid Karzai still opposes that.


COLLINS: You know, Jamie, there's quite a bit that has been written about all of this, this morning as well. I do wonder, when were talking about the shift militarily, if possibly that could happen. How likely is the United States attempt to provide more troops for Afghanistan in this coming year?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, it would depend a lot on what happens in Iraq. Right now, the U.S. just doesn't have the troops to send to Afghanistan. If there was a significant drawdown in Iraq next year, the U.S. could possibly increase its presence in Afghanistan. But you know, it's not so much the numbers of troops but how they're being used. For instance, the NATO troops, some of them still have these caveats. Those are restrictions on how they can be deployed and makes it very hard for NATO to confront the Taliban effectively militarily, and also, they're just short of some equipment, not that much, but just things they really need, like helicopters.

The U.S. knows that there are more helicopters in NATO, but they can't seem to get NATO to commit to them, that's one thing that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was really pressing in these latest rounds of meetings with his NATO allies in Scotland over the weekend.

COLLINS: Yes, interesting meetings there. All right, CNN's Jamie McIntyre. Thank you, Jamie.

Afghanistan's youngest victims, human rights groups say children are forgotten in the middle of a war. That story still ahead right here in the NEWSROOM.

But first, let's take a look at some of the most clicked on video, on Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul threw his own Boston tea party, if you will, to mark his anniversary. He's also raising money, and what's a copy of the Magna Carta worth? Well, auctioneers are hoping it will fetch as much as $30 million. Wow. And a web cam and a satellite link enabled a father to see the birth of his daughter while stationed in Iraq. More of your favorite video just go to and when you're there, don't forget to download the CNN daily podcast. It's all there on Country first, party second. The message from Senator John McCain a short time ago. He got an endorsement from across the aisle. CNN's Mary Snow is in Hillsboro, New Hampshire with more on this. Good morning to you, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. And Senator McCain saying he's welcoming this endorsement, saying he's not using it to feel overconfidence or exuberant, saying there's still a long way to go before the first primary here in New Hampshire, but he is hoping that this endorsement today from Senator Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, will really help convince undecided voters independents, specifically, in the New Hampshire Primary. Senator Lieberman was here earlier today, announcing his endorsement.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, ENDORSES CANDIDATE JOHN MCCAIN: You know, I know it's unusual for a Democrat to be endorsing a Republican. It's even unusual for an independent Democrat like me, to be endorsing a Republican. You know, political parties are important in our country, but they're not more important than what's best for our country. They're not more important than friendship. They're not more than important than our future, and that's why I'm proudly here to urge Republicans and Independents in New Hampshire to come out on January 8th and make John McCain the next president of the United States.


SNOW: Now Senator Lieberman, who was the vice presidential Democratic candidate back in 2000, said that he didn't really expect to make an endorsement until after the primaries, but that Senator McCain had asked him to endorse him and he said, he felt that he was doing the right thing. That he felt that he was the best candidate. Two of the themes that they are really stressing, national security. Senator Lieberman has been a very vocal supporter of the Iraq work and also the theme of bipartisanship, saying that that will be needed in order to break the log jam in Washington D.C.


COLLINS: Well, when we look at all of this sort of big picture, Mary, how much of a shot in the arm is this endorsement for Senator McCain?

SNOW: In New Hampshire, what the McCain Camp is really banking on, is that this could be a shot in the arm for gaining independent voter's and convincing them. And what Senator McCain even said is, he's hoping that this endorsement will give them a second look. You know, he has not been the front-runner here. He has been gaining in the polls here in the states of New Hampshire, but he said he's being very realistic about this and hoping that they'll take another look at him for this endorsement. And that is key to him, because in 2000, he won the primary here in New Hampshire, largely because of his support of independent voters.

COLLINS: It's pretty interesting. All right, CNN's Mary Snow for us live this morning in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. Thank you, Mary.

Flu shots for preschoolers, it is now the law in one state. The reason why? Coming up in just a moment.


COLLINS: You already know to catch us weekday mornings from 9:00 a.m. until noon eastern. But did you know and there's music, you can take us anywhere you go on your iPod and hey, you know, you can ask for an iPod for the holidays if you don't have one. And then, you can download our podcast, fabulous, CNN NEWSROOM podcast is available 24/7, right on your iPod.

Flu shots for preschoolers, the law now in New Jersey. The first state in fact, to mandate childhood vaccinations against flu and pneumonia. So, we want to talk about it more with medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen who is joining me now. Well, this is interesting.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is interesting. And one of the things that makes it the most interesting is that it's going to be really hard to get out of this requirement, because in some states, you can get out of the requirement simply by saying, you know, what I've got a philosophical objection to vaccines and that's it. But in New Jersey, you've got to say that your doctor has to say, there's a medical reason for your child not to get a vaccine or you have to say your bona fide religious reasons for not getting a vaccine. So, let's take a look since it's not just flu shots that the state of New Jersey is going to start requiring for preschoolers.

Anyone who wants to go to day care or to a preschool, they're going to start requiring a flu vaccine and a pneumonia vaccine and for sixth graders they're adding to the list of required vaccines, meningitis and also a booster for tetanus, pertussis and diphtheria. Now, obviously, some parents are not so happy about this. They don't like the fact that you can't opt out basically and they are protesting it.

COLLINS: Yes, I bet they are. Well, what about the parents who are concerned about mercury? We've heard a lot about mercury in some of these vaccines.

COHEN: Well, there is thimerosal, which is the preservative that contains some mercury in some flu shots. Now, most childhood vaccines got rid of them but they are in some flu shots so parents are concerned, you can say to your doctor, some have it, some don't. Can you give me the ones that don't?

COLLINS: OK, what about different states though. I mean, it depends on where you live. The rules are different.

COHEN: Right, the rules are different depending upon where you live and also, the rules are different about what you have to do if you want to opt out. So, if you want to know, you can go to and there we have a comprehensive review of all of the rules in all the different states. We have a link to all of those rules.

COLLINS: All right. Well, we will be watching this one to see what the fallout is or what some of the benefits would be, a little later on.

COHEN: In many case, might call a suit.

COLLINS: Yes, that's what were thinking. All right, thanks so much, medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Death in an in-door play area. Police say, a 3-year-old boy died after adults fell on him.


COLLINS: Welcome back, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. Getting paid for your holiday greetings? Just watch which one you use.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got tired of everyone saying Happy Holidays, when Merry Christmas is really what it's all about.


COLLINS: One store, putting its money where your mouth is.


COLLINS: A grieving mother wants justice for her dead son. The 3-year-old died Saturday at an indoor play place in Washington State. Police say two adults landed on top of him while they were all playing on an inflatable jumping toy. The boy's mother says the play place did not have enough supervision.


REBECCA PIERCE, MOTHER: It's been an absolute shock. You know, you want to wake up from the nightmare and this nightmare you'll never wake up from. There will be more charges filed as far as I'm concerned. My son was taken from me, to hell with everybody else.


COLLINS: The coroner ruled the death an accident. The play place does include an all ages jump time and requires users to sign a liability waiver. The company has offered condolences to the family.

Play time, school time, and in some cases, a lifetime cut short by war. CNN's Nic Robertson looks at the dangers facing Afghan children.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More than 70 people killed, 60 of them children. The attack last month in the relatively secure Baghlan province was Afghanistan's single deadliest insurgent attack since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001. The suicide bombers were targeting visiting politicians, but children invited to greet them bore the brunt of the blast. It proved a wakeup call to protect the country's children. Human rights groups called on the government to action.

HANGAMA ANWARI, AFGHAN IND. HUMAN RIGHT COMM: (INAUDIBLE) education took very urgent and strong stand and like announced to everywhere in the country that they are not allowed to use children for such programs.

ROBERTSON: At a U.S. military hospital, 12-year-old Rasim Khan is struggling to combat his wounds. He found an unexploded artillery shell in his school yard. "We were playing during recess" he says, "and then the rocket exploded. I got fragments in my left leg." His case is not unique. Medics here helped plenty of war-wounded Afghan children, but across the country, no one knows how many are becoming victims of the war.

The Afghan government doesn't have precise statistics over how many children have been killed or injured through fighting and unexploded weapons, but as violence increases in some parts of the country, the assessment is the children's casualty rate is climbing. It is becoming such a concern, human rights groups are trying to figure out how to track it.

ANWARI: We are trying to set up (INAUDIBLE), together with the United Nations, mainly UNICEF, United Nations Children's Fund, a mechanism of monitoring the situation of children under all conflict.

ROBERTSON: Also, a growing worry, the Taliban's tactics are targeting schools, undermining the government emphasis on education.

CATHERINE MBEGE, UNICEF: This year alone, we have more than 200 schools, where we have had attacks, either they've been burned or the teachers have been killed or students have been killed.

ROBERTSON: More than 300 other schools forced to close for security reasons. All at a time when the plight of children here seems to be falling off the international agenda. UNICEF, an organization dedicated to helping children, is struggling to get barely one-half the $80 million funding they need here.

MBEGE: This is not the time to abandon Afghanistan. The children of this country needs the international community's continued emphasis, to ensure that their needs are met.

ROBERTSON: And right now, they need protecting more than ever. Nic Robertson, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.


COLLINS: We want to get you back to the weather that we're following this morning. Now, crank up the snow blower. A big storm shuts schools, cut power and slows air travel. A live update ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: We have some news into the CNN NEWSROOM here now, regarding a fire in Maryland. It looks pretty bad. T.J. Holmes is watching the story for us and joins us now. Hi there, T.J.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning there, Heidi. It looks pretty bad. I don't know how bad it is yet, being described as a three-alarm fire. I say I don't know how bad, because we don't know of any injuries involved in this fire just yet. But this is in Beltsville, Maryland. You see the scene here, as we see the scene, firefighters trying to take on this fire which has jumped through the roof of this, what appears to be an apartment complex there in Beltsville, Maryland.

With the mercy of the live camera here and the discretion of the operator there of what we see. But it's obviously showing, just here a close up of the firefighters working this fire, but some of the wider shots, we were able to see a pretty significant size, what appears to be an apartment complex, several buildings around it.

But just one, it appears right now that's on fire. Again, described as a three-alarm fire. We don't know what started this fire or even how long ago that the firefighters have been fighting this thing. But that's what they're up against right now. You see all the smoke and the flames coming out of the roof of that building. Again, the key here, we do not know of any injuries, any deaths, anything like that associated with this fire just yet and don't know the cause. We're keeping an eye and trying to work to get more information. When we do, we certainly will bring it to you.


COLLINS: All right. Yes, it looks pretty windy there too. That can't be helping very much. All right, T.J. let us know when you find out, thanks.

Solving the autism puzzle. Clues can be found in a baby's brain. CNN's Kara Finnstrom explains.


UNIDENTIFIED BOY: I go first, and then, you go second and you go third.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Like most people who meet J.P., I wouldn't have suspected it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got to pick one of this thing, then I got to move the "P" over here?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Yes, a "P" comes next, mom?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Early intervention is what pulls your child out of that deep, dark hole, and brings them to the other side. It's what can give your child a normal life.

FINNSTROM: The dilemma? Figuring out how to catch autism at its earliest stages and treat it.

DR. CYNTHIA CARTER, UCSD THERAPIST: The child never referencing his parent, never saying "Isn't this great"? Never smiling.

FINNSTROM: Well, many parents and doctors haven't recognized red flag behavior like these until age 2 or later. A push is under way to start screening as early as one year. Now UC San Diego researchers are using brain scans to study what may be another set of warning signs. Physical changes in the brain.

DR. ERIC COURCHESNE, UCSD RESEARCHER: Autism is due to early brain overgrowth. What causes that early brain overgrowth is probably the key to understanding the cause of autism.

FINNSTROM: Dr. Eric Courchesne's early research suggests the areas of the brain responsible for language, social and emotional development are growing erratically.

COURCHESNE: And one example of an autistic 3-year-old boy, the brain size is tremendously enlarged as compared to the typically developing boy.

FINNSTROM: By just looking at the brains of 2, 3 and 4 years old, Dr. Courchesne says his team could predict whether they were autistic more than 90 percent of the time, but he believes real answers lie in the brains of babies.

COURCHESNE: It's in the creation of brain circuitry in the first two years of life that something is going wrong. And we want to know what that is, we want to know what genes are responsible for it.

FINNSTROM: So, in the first of its kind effort, backed by the National Institutes of Health, San Diego Pediatricians are now giving out this questionnaire to parents of their baby's first year checkup. The questions on it are simple like do you know when your child is happy? Babies found to be at risk could take part in this ongoing study. Dr. Karen Pierce says researchers will scan the baby's brain for responses to social and emotional cues, run other tests, and track them.

KAREN PIERCE, UCSD RESEARCHER: When they turn 3, we know who has autism and we say, Ahah, and when you look backwards and collect all the data.

FINNSTROM: For the babies, this could also prompt early treatment. Scans of J.P.'s brain at 3 1/2 showed it was the size of most 7-year-old brains. Therapy eases his symptoms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look what I can do.

FINNSTROM: The hope is by studying the brains of autistic children, scientists may gain the understanding ultimately needed for a cure. Kara Finnstrom for CNN, San Diego.


COLLINS: So, how do you greet people this time of year? Think hard, because it could actually be worth some money. At least at one store in Tennessee. Here now, Anna Marie Hartman of affiliate WMC.


ANNA MARIE HARTMAN, AFFILIATE WMC: When Christmas rolls around, stores in downtown Collierville are decked out with decorations. The local banners say "Happy Holidays" but inside the Hewlett and Dunne booth barn.


HARTMAN: Merry Christmas is the holiday greeting of choice.

BUCKNER: We got tired of everyone saying Happy Holidays, when Merry Christmas is really what it's all about. It's about Christ and so, we wanted to make a stand on that.

HARTMAN: Here, Christmas is about more than selling boots and belt buckles. For the second year in a row, Hewlett and Dunne is encouraging customers to say Merry Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Merry Christmas. Come back and see us.

HARTMAN: Collierville native Milton Mann appreciates the sentiment and the incentive to say it.

MILTON MANN, COLLIERVILLE, TENNESSEE RESIDENT: You go in and say Merry Christmas and anything you purchase, you get a 5 percent discount.

HARTMAN: And a free button to boot.

BUCKNER: And they say it's all right to say Merry Christmas.

HARTMAN: The Merry Christmas campaign has become a holiday tradition.

BUCKNER: We want people to know that it's not all about spending money.

HARTMAN: It's about preserving a holiday message with a phrase that's been around longer than 85-year-old Milton Mann.

MANN: And I'm glad to see the tradition carried on now. I think it's excellent.


COLLINS: The store owner says he wasn't looking to boost fails with the promotion and he has not.