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CNN NEWSROOM

Missions In Iraq; War & Politics; The Quran In Court; Driving Vs. Flying

Aired May 25, 2007 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris. Stay informed all day in the CNN NEWSROOM. Here's what's on the rundown.

Ready, set, gas and go. Summer driving season getting in gear with the Memorial Day weekend. Pack your bags and your wallet for record high gas prices.

COLLINS: Back in public view. Anti-American cleric Muqtada al- Sadr emerges in Iraq and he's got a message for U.S. troops, get out.

HARRIS: A communist dinosaur marking a golden milestone. The trauve (ph) turns 50. We take one more spin before they're extinct.

It is Friday, May 25th, and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Packing up and getting out. Millions of American are doing that right now, hitting the road this Memorial Day weekend. I'm about to be one of them, right there in all that traffic. It is the unofficial start of summer and one of the biggest travel holidays of the year. Hey, the music, Tony.

HARRIS: There you go.

COLLINS: But before many of you go elbow to elbow on the beach -- make sure you say out of my way, OK -- you'll go bumper to bumper on the highways. Roads and airports are expected to be jammed with about 38 million travelers this weekend, according to AAA. That is an increase of almost 2 percent, somewhat surprisingly, from last year.

HARRIS: Most of those travelers, more than 32 million, will be driving. That is up 1.8 percent from last year, despite record high gas prices. The average price of a gallon of gas is now about $3.23.

Oh, do your thing, Heidi Collins. You're loving the music, aren't you?

That is -- split screen, split screen -- that's down slightly from yesterday. So how high does gas have to go before Americans cut back on their driving? A "Washington Post"/ABC News poll found Americans won't put it into park until prices hit $4.38 a gallon.

COLLINS: See, that doesn't surprise me at all. I would imagine possibly even higher. HARRIS: Yes, I think I'm with you on that.

COLLINS: People are driving. They're driving no matter what.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COLLINS: Want to show you an annual event that is really wonderful, especially at the very end when they throw their hats. The United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. You're looking at Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He will be delivering the commencement today. We are, I believe, right now what is happening is they have announced him, as I think I can hear. Should be a 19 gun salute. Then they're going to have a fly-by. I'm guessing, not positive, guessing it might be the Blue Angels. Hey, are we going to the sky shot?

(SINGING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM)

COLLINS: Well, I'm glad we caught that. Kind of a little surprise there. Now they'll probably look to the skies and hear some sort of fighter jets go over. Probably the Blue Angels. They kind of go to Annapolis fly (INAUDIBLE), you know, the Naval Academy.

So, again, Defense Secretary Gates will be giving that commencement. We'll keep our eye on it for you.

The search for missing U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Thousands of troops taking part. Thousands of people questioned. Now we learn of two confessions tied to the initial ambush. CNN's Arwa Damon is imbedded with U.S. forces taking part in the search and she joins us from Yusufiya.

Arwa, good to see you. Tell us about the search today if you would.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, there have been multiple missions ongoing today, but let me tell you about a couple of them.

The first of them being a mission conducted by the 123 Stryker Battalion. Two companies of soldiers air assaulted into an area about 11 miles south of Yusufiya searching through the fish farms there. Again, looking for clues to lead them to those missing soldiers.

Now this was a very swampy area. It has not been used in quite some time. And what they did find was some 3,000 pounds worth of explosives and ammunition hidden in 55-gallon drums.

In a separate, also intelligence-driven mission, elements from the Fourth Battalion, 31st Infantry Regimen, conducted an operation along with Iraqi army soldiers about two miles south of where the May 12th attack took place. They were searching and questioning people around what they believe could have been a possible crossing point across the Euphrates River. The U.S. military is now saying that they are slowly putting together the pieces of this puzzle, trying to figure out exactly what happened on that morning and where their missing soldiers were taken and, of course, where they might be right now.

Tony.

HARRIS: Arwa, two confessions, we're learning, tied to the initial ambush. What can you tell us about that?

DAMON: Well, Tony, those two individuals have actually been in U.S. custody for quite some time now. In fact, about a week to 10 days ago we were reporting that there were two individuals that the U.S. military had in its custody that had confessed to being directly linked to the attacks. Since then, another two individuals have also been in U.S. custody. They, too, are believed to be directly linked to this attack.

And what we're seeing here is this pattern. When the attack first took place, the military rounded up hundreds of detainees, questioned them. And then based on that intelligence that they've been gathering, they've been going out and conducting these targeted missions.

And they're building upon the intelligence they had. And what they're saying is that they do believe they are getting closer to putting together the pieces of this puzzle. In fact, today's operation along the Euphrates River netted 22 detainees.

Tony.

HARRIS: CNN's Arwa Damon for us.

Arwa, thank you.

COLLINS: Out of the shadows, back on the offenses. Radical Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr makes a dramatic return to the public stage in Iraq. He spent the last several months out of view while the U.S. led a security crackdown. Al-Sadr has one of the most powerful armed factions in Iraq. He showed his defiance today with a fiery sermon at Friday prayers. He denounced the U.S. and its military presence in Iraq.

HARRIS: Tensions climb in the Middle East. You're about to see the latest flash point between Israel and the militant group Hamas. A Palestinian security source tells CNN, an Israeli air strike targeted a Hamas training facility. It is just one block from the home of the Palestinian prime minister. Israel says Ismail Haniyeh was not a target. Three people were wounded.

COLLINS: Don't eat that fish. At least that frozen monkfish. We have some right over here. No. A California company is recalling frozen monkfish products in Illinois, California and Hawaii. Two people in the Chicago area got sick after eating it. Company officials say the fish was imported from China and labeled monkfish, but they believe it may really be pufferfish, which contains a potent toxin like in, you know, "Nemo." The fish is individually packaged in clear packaged sleeves, but the boxes contain no lot numbers.

HARRIS: And playing in the sand, but it was no backyard sand box that prompted a dance by this curious toddler. Hey, look at that. All caught on surveillance tape at Kansas City's Union Station. The boy darted under security ropes to play on a colorful sand sculpture created by eight Tibetan monks. It took them two days to create it. But no worries for the boy. The monks say they will recreate the sculpture and offer bits of the destroyed design as a blessing to visitors. I love that.

COLLINS: See, that's how they roll (ph).

HARRIS: Yes.

COLLINS: Underwater and overwhelmed. Texas flooding, coming up in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Army brain drain. More officers leaving the ranks. The story behind the dropouts in the NEWSROOM.

How about this? This is the driving quiz. Seems a lot of people are flunking this. Let's try this one on for size. A diamond-shaped road sign. Quick, what does it mean?

COLLINS: Yield.

HARRIS: A warning about driver I.Q., yes, a diamond shaped. More of this coming up in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: We don't have any idea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Welcome back, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. You're in the NEWSROOM.

Here's a question for you, Memorial Day weekend travelers, driving or flying? Which is cheaper? We'll have expert advice, coming up in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Dollars but no deadlines. A war spending bill with no timetable for leaving Iraq is on its way to President Bush. It provides almost $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill also includes benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, but allows President Bush to waive them. Democrats dropped their demand for a time line for withdrawal from Iraq, but they vow to keep up their fight against the war.

COLLINS: War and politics. Democrats top presidential contenders voting against the war spending bill. Will it help or hurt come November 4, 2008? CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider in Washington this morning, joining us now.

Hi, there, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Heidi.

COLLINS: I guess we should start by sort of doing a breakdown, if we could. How did Hillary vote? How did Obama?

SCHNEIDER: No. No. They both voted no, though they indicated earlier yesterday some uncertainty about how they'd vote. But, in the end, they voted the way I expected, most people expected them to vote, against the supplemental funding bill, which, of course, gave the president a victory. It passed the House and Senate. He's indicated that he would sign it.

It passed. There's been a lot of criticism from the Republican National Committee of these two senators, who are both, of course, Democratic presidential candidates. Republicans are calling it the shameful switch because both of them have indicated in the past they support the troops.

But keep this in mind, the bill passed. If it had not passed, there might be a crisis. The president would argue that the troops were being deprived of necessary money. But the bill passed. So I think that any sense of crisis that they could be held responsible for probably is not going to materialize.

COLLINS: So would they have voted differently if they thought it wasn't going to pass?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's an interesting question. I don't know. I imagine they would have voted the same way because, you know, they had voted to fund the troops in the past, but with a deadline for withdrawal. The president vetoed that bill. So they could argue, well, we have voted for funding the troops with a deadline that most Americans actually do support. And, of course, the time when they're going to be held accountable to Republicans is a long time away. Immediately, they're going to be held to answer by their fellow Democrats who are overwhelmingly critical of this war.

COLLINS: Right. But it is a tough spot to be in. I've heard both of these candidates before say something to the effect, of course we support our troops. We don't support the war in Iraq. How do you do both, especially as a presidential contender, and not look a little questionable?

SCHNEIDER: Oh, I think that they can argue, and they have argued many times, that they support the troops. They're going to keep them funded. At the same time, they want a deadline. They want to tell the troops an end is in site and they're going to come back home.

That's an argument that they've made many, many times in the past. They have voted to support funding for the troops, as I said, but with a deadline. And Americans want it both ways, too. Our polling shows that Americans support funding the troops, but they also want a deadline for withdrawal.

COLLINS: Some of them. What about -- what does this mean now that the vote has gone this way? What will they do next by way of Hillary or Obama or the other presidential contenders on the Democratic side?

SCHNEIDER: Well, there are more votes to come. The Democrats who supported this have said that there are going to be more amendments attached to defense spending bills, perhaps in the next few weeks. And there's going to be another accountability point in September when General Petraeus reports on the progress of the troop build-up. And they're going to probably have another vote similar at that time.

And that's the time when a lot of Republicans, and of course they overwhelmingly supported this measure in both the House and the Senate, but a lot of Republicans have said to the White House, we'll give this policy until September. If we don't see clear, definable progress by September, we don't know if we can hold on to supporting this policy any longer than that.

COLLINS: Yes, General Petraeus' report shaping up to be very, very important for that month.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

COLLINS: All right. CNN's Bill Schneider.

Thank you, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

HARRIS: And still to come this morning, a question of faith.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SYIDAH MATEEN, MUSLIM-AMERICAN: If you were going to court and you're a Christian and the judge says, put your hand on the Quran so you can take an oath, what would you do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Laying out the law for all religions, ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Friday getaway day. Just ahead of a long Memorial Day weekend. Let's take a look at the big board. New York Stock Exchange. The Dow, OK, this is good, up 43 points, 44 points. The Nasdaq, we understand, up 14 points. We're checking all of the business headlines on this Friday getaway day, just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, with Susan Lisovicz right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth. Words to swear by even on a Quran. CNN's Kelli Arena with a court fight over holy scriptures.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Syidah Mateen always believed it was her right as an American and a Muslim to swear on a Quran in court. SYIDAH MATEEN, MUSLIM-AMERICAN: If you were going to court and you're a Christian and the judge says, put your hand on the Quran so you can take an oath. What would you do?

ARENA: Appearing as a witness in a domestic violence dispute, she faced that very situation, but in reverse. Asked to take an oath on a Bible, she requested a Quran.

MATEEN: I actually thought they had them. So it was just an innocent question.

ARENA: But the court didn't have any, so she went to her mosque and raised money to donate some. The donation was rejected.

CHIEF JUDGE JOSEPH TURNER, N.C. 18TH DISTRICT COURT: It has been the practice to use a Bible throughout the history of this state.

ARENA: And today, the Qurans sit unused on a shelf. Mateen says she was a victim of religious discrimination and sued.

SETH COHEN, ACLU ATTORNEY: This country was founded on freedom of religion. And that's freedom of all religions.

ARENA: North Carolina state law said that one way a person can be sworn in is to, "lay his hand upon the holy scriptures." Two senior judges in Gilford Country decided that holy scriptures meant the Bible. But today, a superior court judge ruled for Mateen, deciding that from now on residents should be able to use other holy books. Civil liberties advocates were looking for just this kind of decision.

JENNIFER RUDINGER, NORTH CAROLINA ACLU: The government can neither favor any particular set of religious value, nor can the government discriminate against other religions or people of different faiths.

ARENA: Mateen, who unintentionally landed in a controversy over one Quran, now finds herself caught up in a much bigger one, over religion in America.

STEVE NOBLE, CHAIRMAN, CALLED2ACTION: This is just part of a larger war on Christianity as a whole, whether it be in the schools, in the courthouses, in the media, in the shopping centers.

ARENA: Mateen and her lawyers argue that's never been their intent, but they were simply looking for justice.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Greensboro, North Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Reports out of Japan and South Korea saying several short-range missiles were fired into the Sea of Japan. North Korea has launched several test missiles in the past, including a long-range model which experts believe could reach parts of U.S. Last year it rattled the world by conducts its first nuclear weapons test. Rushing relief to Lebanon. A convoy of Red Cross trucks crossing from Syria today with food and medicine for Palestinian refugees. Thousands of civilians caught up in fighting between the Lebanese army and al Qaeda-inspired militants. Military aid also being rushed to Lebanon by U.S. and Arab allies. The first American military flights arriving today. U.S. military officials say the cargo includes ammunition for the Lebanese military. They say the material came from U.S. stocks in Kuwait but will not hurt the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HARRIS: Life in the fast lane again. A major freeway reopens ahead of schedule and under a cloud of concerns. We'll explain in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Women on the fast track. Boy, that's for sure. For the first time ever, three women battle at the Brickyard. We'll tell you all about it ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Bottom of the hour. Welcome back, everyone, to the CNN NEWSROOM. Good morning. I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: And I'm Heidi Collins.

Want to tell you about this story we're learning a little bit about right now. Just because it is such an incredibly busy travel day, this shot live from our affiliate in L.A. KABC. Here's the deal. We are learning that the FAA has confirmed -- they have a TRAC (ph) system. It's the Track and Radar Approach Control. It helps, obviously, with air traffic control. It handles about 21 airports throughout southern California.

Apparently the computer went down just for about 25 minutes or so. But sort of left a backup, you know, got things running behind a little bit. Apparent the system is back up and running, but you never know what that could mean for delays as we go through this very, very busy travel day. We'll keep our eye on it for you.

HARRIS: On the road or in the air? CNN's Greg Hunter looks at the best ways to travel and save.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's convenient to drive on vacation. You have your car right there, you have your family right with you. But with a price of fuel going sky high, is it really cheaper to drive?

When should you fly versus drive? One general rule of thumb, if your destination is less than 300 miles, travel experts say it's generally cheaper to drive. Other considerations, how many people are traveling with you. If it's just yourself, it might be cheaper to fly. But if you're traveling with a family of five, that's really going to bump up the cost of flying.

Senior Travel Editor Mark Orwell (ph) says before booking anything, spend at least an hour on the computer comparing prices.

MARK ORWELL, SR. TRAVEL EDITOR: Hotels, cars, cruises --

HUNTER: And check out more than one travel site such as Kayak.com, AAA, expedia.com. Flying may be faster but there may be hefty ticket prices and delays. Driving now means high gas prices, wear and tear on your car, insurance, hotels and meals.

ORWELL: Driving can really cost a lot of money. So you have to really figure out all of those little additional costs to make sure that you can still afford it.

HUNTER: To find out whether driving beats flying, next week we're driving from Columbus, Ohio, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And like others driving this holiday weekend, we'll try to save money where we can.

ORWELL: Some people will actually make their vacation a few days shorter so they don't have to pay as many hotel nights. Instead of eating at a four-star, five-star restaurant, maybe you're going to be eating at a coffee shop.

HUNTER: So next week, "American Morning" hits the road to do traveling, do the math and tell you how to navigate your summer vacation.

Greg Hunter, CNN, Great Neck, New York.

HARRIS: And like Greg says, you can follow his trip next week on "American Morning" starting Monday, 6:00 a.m. eastern.

COLLINS: Running the rapids in Colleen, Texas, but this is not a river. It's actually a highway in the central Texas city, flooded after heavy rains moved across the street. Colleen police say every section in the city was flooded. Power lines knocked over. Cars sent floating down the streets. Despite all the high water and this dramatic rescue, no injuries reported. That's pretty amazing.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: Developing story at the Pentagon this hour. Let's get to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. And, Barbara, looks like China apparently upgrading its military.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You bet, Tony. At this hour Pentagon officials are actually on Capitol Hill briefing members of Congress on a report that has just been released here. This is the Pentagon's annual report on Chinese military power. This is something that is a long-awaited report that everyone scours very carefully. China, one of the world's economic power houses, upgrading its massive military might.

The report is of -- pretty thorough review of what China is up to. And some of the highlights, China now has about 400,000 troops, opposite Taiwan, it has about 900. Short-range missiles on the Chinese mainland, opposite the strait of Taiwan. Those missiles are being upgraded about 100 additional missiles, the report says, every year that China is putting their missiles with greater accuracy with longer-range.

China also upgrading its ICBMs. It's intercontinental ballistic missiles, especially the ones that are mobile and solid fuel. That means they are very difficult to detect. That is something as well that the U.S. is watching closely. The report also details China's weapons purchases, a number of ships and other weapons that China, over the last year or so has bought from Russia.

But they continue to say that one of the greatest concerns they actually have is this past January, China successfully tested an anti- satellite missile. That means it put a missile up in the air that did successfully shoot down the satellite, one of their own satellites, but that puts the satellite business at risk around the world. So a lot of concerns today being expressed in this report about exactly what China is up to with its military force. Tony?

HARRIS: Natural follow-up here. What does all that mean for Taiwan?

STARR: Well, what does it mean? China, of course, upgrading both it's offensive and defensive weapons systems and it's overall military power. What's the bottom line? Officials say China on the whole, continues to mainly be concerned with its own security and stability in the region.

Because it's an economic power house, what the Chinese leadership really wants is to keep things calm. They don't want any insecurity in the region. That's a good sign. There's no evidence that China is about to attack Taiwan. But it's something that they watch very carefully. And if you want to consider just what an economic power house China is this year, what this Pentagon report also notes is that in the year 2006, last year, China signed more energy contracts than it ever had before. Especially with Saudi Arabia and African nations.

So you know, as much as people worry about Chinese military might, they also are looking at China as an economic and business power house. Tony?

HARRIS: Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr for us. Barbara, thank you.

STARR: Sure.

COLLINS: I want to go ahead and take you back to the story we were following out of LAX, L.A.'s airport having a little bit of a problem with their Tracon system. It's the tracking radar approach control.

Apparently it was off-line for 25 minutes or so this morning. But apparently we are learning it is back up and running. Not sure what the impact on flights is expected to be on a day like this, where we've been talking pretty much all long about travel plans and a lot of people moving around the country for the Memorial Day holiday. We want to bring in Tony Vella. He is with the Local Air Traffic Controllers Association. Tony, thanks for being with us. Tell us a little bit about what has happened and if, in fact, it will have any impact on the travel day.

TONY VELLA, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSN.: Yes, there are probably some sort of impacts throughout the country. Last night, about 2:00 in the morning, the FAA was trying to accomplish a software, electronic automated upgrade. And apparently as they did that, they were having some trouble with bringing the electronic mapping system that we use on our radar scopes, that is super imposed on those scopes. And that provide us with all of the range information that we use in order to guide pilots to and from the airports. There are en route guidance that we can help them with help as they transverse the airspace. So essentially what we look at is a scope that we can see the airplanes and we can talk to the pilots but we don't know how to get them to where they're going because it's not depicted on our radar scope. It's kind of like driving down the freeway with no lines, no guard rails no, lights.

COLLINS: Yes. Which sounds very, very scary. But, obviously if the people at home understood air traffic control a little bit better they would know, and correct me if I'm wrong, there's always a back-up system that those types of pieces of information come in then from another tape of Tracon-type of base, if you will, right?

I mean, there's a back-up system that will help with that?

VELLA: No, that's a stand ...

COLLINS: No.

VELLA: ... alone system. Once ours goes down, if our system goes down, the system is down.

COLLINS: OK.

VELLA: Now, what happens is at a certain point in time, the airspace itself gets transferred, the responsibility for that gets transferred to another facility.

They don't have the intricate mapping system or the ability to guide airplanes the way that we do. That's why the FAA slowed the system down to what they call ATC-0. Virtually no airplanes in the airspace because there is not the equipment available that we would need to guide those airplanes in and out of the airspace.

We were lucky in that it happened at a very opportune time in the morning. What happened was at 5:00 or 5:15, when they went to refresh the system, which they do every morning, and that's pretty much like rebooting your system for your computer. That's when everything went black, as far as the mapping system went. And at that point is when they went to ATC-0. It took about an hour or so to get the system up to some degree. However, as of about 20 minutes ago it was not completely up.

COLLINS: Wow. This is completely different information that we're getting here. So I appreciate you updating us, Tony, very much. Say that one more time for me. You said it took about an hour for them to try to get up and running but still about 20 minutes ago it's not fully operational?

VELLA: Correct. And to just to give you a quick example of what's going on or what was going on at least 20 minutes ago. Normally, in the airspace directly around Los Angeles airport, for example, there were four air traffic controllers, monitoring radar scopes that are watching airplanes come in and going out of the Los Angeles airport itself. That was reduced down to two air traffic controllers because two of the scopes that we normally use still did not have their mapping available.

COLLINS: OK.

VELLA: Now the one -- two controllers were responsible for all airplanes coming into Los Angeles and out of Los Angeles.

COLLINS: OK.

VELLA: The FAA has to slow those airplanes down. They have to limit and restrict them so that one controller can handle all that. That impacts the as the efficiency of the system. It may still be safe but it's safe because the airplanes have to slow down. Airplanes have to sit on the ground waiting to leave, and airplanes that are trying to land have to circle and hold and wait for their turn.

COLLINS: Yes. I bet that can be pretty frustrating. Especially -- it's rotten timing, isn't it? On the busy travel day, today.

VELLA: It is typical timing for the FAA.

COLLINS: OK. Alright. Tony Vella, we the Local Air Traffic Controller's Association. We appreciate you breaking that down for us. Thanks again, Tony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY FORTIN (PH), CNN CORRESPONDENT: Memorial Day weekend is finally here. I'm Judy Fortin with some safety tips on safe grilling, coming up.

I'm Susan Lisovicz at the New York Stock Exchange. It's all but guaranteed now, the first hike in the federal minimum wage in a decade. The numbers, next on NEWSROOM. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Before you fire up that grill this Memorial Day weekend and you do plan to fire up the grill, don't you? Well, you need to check this out. Our Judy Fortin joins us live with safety tips. Judy, good to see you. Where are you?

FORTIN: I'm in my own backyard, Tony. I always wanted to work from home. So I had to get up pretty early this morning. Check out what I've got up on the grill already. Here we are, what, about an hour from lunchtime. We've got some sausage for those people who are not interested in having the burgers, the chicken. I've got the kabobs and I've got the hot dogs going, too. But no matter what you're doing this long holiday weekend, there's one thing we all have in common. We don't want to make anyone sick.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FORTIN (voice over): The sizzle and the smell are hard to resist, but raw meat and poultry can harbor bacteria that can lead to food poisoning. Experts recommend taking some precautions before firing up the grill.

PAGE LOVE, DIETITIAN: Getting out there with your scraper and some good soap and water and making sure that grill surface is very clean before your putting meat on. And making sure you don't cross contaminate with different kinds of meat.

FORTIN: Dietian Page Love urges chefs to keep raw meat cold until just before cooking.

It's very important to make sure that you keep meats that need to be refrigerated in the refrigerator, really, as close to grilling time as possible.

FORTIN: Use a meat thermometer to make sure the food is thoroughly cooked.

LOVE: USDA actually recommends 160 degrees. So checking your meat to make sure it's cooked in the middle up to full temperature for food safety killing organisms.

FORTIN: To reduce the risk of fire or explosion, do a safety check on the grill itself. Keeping the unit at least ten feet away from your house or any other building.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FORTIN: And, Tony, I know this sounds like common sense, but when you're done cooking the food, make sure you put it on a clean platter and not the one that held the raw meat. By the way, want to come to lunch?

HARRIS: Yes! Did you see Heidi's hand here? Heidi, there's Heidi, she's coming along, too.

COLLINS: Starving.

FORTIN: You guys are getting hungry, I bet.

HARRIS: Already. Has there been any thought, any word about parks sort of banning grilling because drought conditions seem to be everywhere. Except the plains.

FORTIN: Well, I was wondering the same thing, too. I was wondering the same thing. So I called the National Park Service and there are actually are some bans on open flames. For instance, Horseshoe Bend National Park in Alabama. You can bring your own camp stove but they don't want you firing up a charcoal grill. Also, Cumberland Island in Georgia is another location. Gulf Islands in Mississippi and Florida. And, Tony, get this, if you go to Cumberland Gap in Kentucky, Tennessee or Virginia they want you to make sure they have a clean grill because there are too many bears out there. They don't want the bears getting to your food on the grill. So, just in case you're heading to those areas, it's good to know.

HARRIS: Good to know.

COLLINS: It's always about the bears. It comes back full circle to the bears.

HARRIS: And, Judy, the backyard looks great. The flowers look wonderful.

FORTIN: Thank you. Thanks so much ...

HARRIS: Thanks, Judy.

FORTIN: ... you're welcome to come over any time.

HARRIS: Thank you.

COLLINS: Working from home a great idea. Thank you, Judy.

Congress pass the first minimum wage hike in a decade. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange to tell us why there's so little fanfare now after years of resistance. Good morning to you.

(MARKET REPORT)

HARRIS: Still ahead in the NEWSROOM this morning, women on the fast track for the first time ever. Three women battle at the brickyard.

COLLINS: What's that?

HARRIS: Better have plenty of caution flags. Oh! He did not say that, did he?

COLLINS: Oh my -- roll the Danica Patrick package.

HARRIS: These are jokes, people, relax. The story ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Any time, how about that Danica Patrick? Great driver, not bad on the eyes, either.

Women, start your engines. It is unprecedented, more women than ever seeking the checkered flag at this weekend's Indianapolis 500.

CNN's Larry Smith reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LARRY SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time ever, there will be three female drivers in the Indianapolis 500.

SARAH FISHER, 6TH INDIANAPOLIS 500: It's really neat to be a part of that because it shows that, as a sport, we're on the same level as the business world, where women are CEOs, women are leaders and to have a sport that can do that, I'm really glad to be a part of it.

DANICA PATRICK, 3RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Three people, four people, five people, I don't know if there's really that much of a difference in it all. Probably, you know, when it gets to something like ten, that will be pretty significant. That's a large -- that will be almost a third of the field. That would -- that would definitely be a big day.

SMITH: Danica Patrick is one of the most popular drivers on the Indy car series. She'll be joined by Milka Duno and Sarah Fisher. Racing at the Brickyard is nothing new for Fisher, who's competing in her sixth Indy 500. And Duno is a 35-year-old from Venezuela, who will be competing in just her second series race. Oh, yes, she's also a naval engineer with four masters degrees.

MILKA DUNO, 1ST INDIANAPOLIS 500: It's going to be huge because this is so, so special race, it's the biggest in modern race and the biggest event in the world in this sport. And it's going to be fantastic. This is happy.

FISHER: I talked to Milka quite a bit because she's new and she's a rookie and you know, it's really a tough thing to come to the Indianapolis 500, especially for your second race. So, you know, I've told her if she needs any help, more than welcome to come over to the bus and have a chat or you know, ask any questions. But we are competitors at heart and that's the big picture.

SNITH: Being competitive is what motivates Patrick, who's still looking for her first career win.

PATRICK: Last year was a year that was very difficult. There was two teams that seem to be dominating not only the Indy 500 but all the races. And that's no fun. This year the chances are very good. I have experience under my belt, I have a team that's knowledgeable, I have some allies out on the track. So, I think that in the end, this year might be the best shot I've had yet.

SMITH: But whether or not Patrick, Fisher or Duno actually win the race may not be what makes the biggest impact for women in this sport.

FISHER: It's more important that women compete consistently at the top level. You know, it's not just one race that means the world to the entire sport of racing. You have to consistently compete up front in order for it to mean something. SMITH: Larry Smith, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: A radical returns, Muqtada al-Sadr emerges in Iraq today. The firebrand cleric has a message for the United States. Hear it in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Road warriors abandoning the office for the beach and beyond, and paying high gas prices to get there. Memorial Day getaway, coming up for you in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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