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Former Senator Jesse Helms Dead at 86; Wildfires Closing in on Two Coastal Communities in California; Hostage's Homecoming: Betancourt's Return to France

Aired July 04, 2008 - 11:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning again, everyone. You're informed with CNN.
I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: Hi there, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. And happy Fourth of July to you.

Developments keep coming in to the CNN NEWSROOM on this Friday morning.

Here's what's on the rundown.

Hundreds in California flee their homes overnight. Wildfires closing in on two coastal communities.

HARRIS: A short time ago, a Parisian homecoming. The French president rolls out the red carpet for a freed hostage.

COLLINS: An icon in conservative circles despised by the left. We're just learning of the death of retired North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. His legacy -- in the NEWSROOM.

Jesse Helms earned the label "firebrand." His outspoken, conservative views polarized North Carolina and U.S. voters for decades. Helms served five terms in the U.S. Senate, retiring in 2003 due to poor health.

Helms was born in Monroe, North Carolina, son of a police chief. His strict, Baptist upbringing helped forge his conservative views. Helms once said his job was to "derail the freight train of liberalism."

Jesse Helms died today at the age of 86. No immediate word on the cause of death.

CNN's Ed Henry joining us now by telephone.

So, Ed, talk a little bit about Jesse Helms and the legacy he leaves behind.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Heidi, it's quite interesting that right now there's so much talk about race in politics with Barack Obama expected to be the first African-American nominee of a major party for president. Race was such a divisive issue in Jesse Helms' Senate battles.

He had two Senate battles with Harvey Gant, an African-American Democrat. The left, one of the reasons why they really did despise Jesse Helms was they felt that he used race as a wedge in those campaigns to narrowly defeat Harvey Gant.

But when you look beyond that, he also was a real hero of conservatives for pushing issues like abortion, lashing out at federal funding for what he believed to be indecent art (ph), for example. And there were so many battles on the Senate floor that he was at the center of.

And as the chairman in his later years of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he really used that as a platform to push his conservative views all around the world. But I can tell you, as well, having covered him for a long time on Capitol Hill, he was crusty, he was cantankerous, but still sort of a happy warrior in politics. And he could challenge you.

I remember running a story one time about -- in his later years about how he was in sort of declining health and there were questions about whether he would have to step down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He called me and chewed me out, said that we had made a mountain out of a molehill, he said in his southern drawl.

But, you know, at the end of the phone conversation, it was the last thing -- in the sense that I relayed that because he just loved to battle. And while, yes, he'll be mourned by conservatives, he'll be mourned by many people in politics because in his later years, in fact, he started reaching across the aisle -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, I want to talk to you about that definitely, Ed. But, you know, you probably shouldn't be surprised that he was going to call you out, because he started out this whole career as a journalist, actually, and then...

HENRY: He was.

COLLINS: ... when he got into his life of politics, one of the things that I have here that he said as a quote was, "My goal and my wife Dot and I decided that I would run was to stick to my principles and stand up for conservative ideals."

But at some point, Ed, in his career he did begin to change his tune.

HENRY: He did, absolutely. In his final years.

Now, to be clear, he never backed down from his conservative principles, but in his final years in the U.S. Senate, what was really interesting is he developed a bond with more liberal politicians like Madeleine Albright, for example, Bill Clinton's secretary of state. Since she was on the world stage as well, they formed this bond where they started working together, having lunch together regularly, and working together to battle AIDS in Africa, for example, something that liberals had championed a bit more. He said, look, I don't care if it's liberal or conservative, we need to help people who are dying in Africa, we need to help people around the world who are dealing with poverty. And he also developed a bond through that work with Bono, the rock star.

And so I remember some amazing moments where you'd have this conservative icon, Jesse Helms, with either Madeleine Albright or Bono, two more unlikely people I've never seen. But Jesse Helms, this crusty hold North Carolina conservative, and Bono, this more liberal rock star, it was quite a partnership.

But, you know, throughout his career, he did uphold those conservative principles. I think it's interesting, you know, overall in the grand scheme, and I think it's interesting that his death comes so close just in the last couple months of the death of William F. Buckley, the founder of the conservative "National Review."


HENRY: I think now just in the last couple months, we have two real conservative icons who have passed -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Absolutely.

All right. CNN's Ed Henry for us on more of the life and times of Senator Jesse Helms.

HARRIS: Now let's talk about the wildfires out West. Big Sur, beautiful Big Sur, and natural beauty, a natural disaster right now. The California town facing a ferocious wildfire.

CNN's Dan Simon is watching the flames.

Dan, good to see you. And we've been hearing that the firefighters are just flat-out exhausted and they need a break.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly do. They're going to be having a safety briefing today, Tony, to talk about how to stay sharp on the job, because they've been working for 14 days straight, and no doubt they are tired.

Tony, we talked earlier, and when you have a fire of this magnitude, you're going to have times when things are really dangerous and you're going to have times when things are a bit quiet. Right now, we are in one of those quiet modes because there is really no wind to speak of.

That said, you can still see some flames behind us, this here a canyon. And firefighters keeping a close eye on this spot to make sure that the flames don't jump this highway that we're standing in front of and hopscotch into an area where there may be some homes.

This area still under a mandatory evacuation order, but as is usually the case, not everyone has left. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SIMON (voice over): Boarding up windows, something people usually do for approaching hurricanes. But Dave Egbert thinks it may save his house from catching fire.

DAVE EGBERT, BIG SUR RESIDENT: I've been putting up this plywood because that's going to help protect the house from any radiant heat. That's the big thing I'm trying to do right now. I've busting butt on this all day.

SIMON: Egbert shouldn't even be here. Big Sur and its 1,400 residents are under a mandatory evacuation order. But he says this house is also how he makes a living and will do anything to protect it. He uses his garden to host a syndicated TV show about how to grow plants.

(on camera): Why are you staying?

EGBERT: Because the house is all I've got. I've got -- I'm sorry. I've got to protect it. That's what I've got to do.

So if I don't have a house, I don't have a livelihood. So I've got to keep the house going as long as I can.

SIMON (voice over): Egbert knows more than most about protecting homes. He's also a volunteer firefighter.

EGBERT: I'm trying to do a balancing act, serving the community as I can, and then trying to defend my home as I can.

SIMON: The fire is making an aggressive move not only toward homes, but Big Sur landmarks like the famous Ventana Inn Resort. The hotel undergoing an $18 million renovation. Fire crews in place to douse any flames that may erupt here.

(on camera): So what happens if you've got embers that start coming this way towards the inn?

CHRIS AURINGER, FIREFIGHTER: Well, there's a lot of debris and litter on the grounds that can catch fire and transfer fire to the structure, so we're going to remain in place.

SIMON (voice over): The fire raging for almost two weeks. Many of the 1,500 firefighters have been here since the beginning.

This woman making the most of her break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're supposed to get a number of secondary resident that they were supposed to do.

SIMON: As for Dave Egbert, he says he would never want to live anywhere else.

(on camera): What is it that you love about the Big Sur?

EGBERT: Well, of course the beauty of it. You know? And it's kind of ironic that the beauty is the thing that also could destroy us, because you have these real steep mountains covered in brush and trees, and that's the beautiful thing about Big Sur, how it is so steep and descends to the ocean, but it also makes it incredibly difficult to fight fire.


SIMON: Fire crews making a little bit of progress on the containment figure, still a very low number, however. It's just five percent contained.

And Tony, they're saying that this fire won't be totally contained until the very end of July. So still a lot of work to do. We should also remind everybody that this is the Fourth of July, and normally there'd be a lot of tourists here on the Big Sur coast.


SIMON: But this place obviously empty, and a rough time for all the merchants and the hotels out here.

HARRIS: And we should also remind you to move away from the road. That truck was a little close to you, Dan.

SIMON: OK. All right.

HARRIS: Dan Simon, Big Sur.

Thanks, Dan. Appreciate it. Thanks.

SIMON: Thanks.

COLLINS: Yes, being the Fourth of July, obviously a lot of fireworks going to be going off, and a great time had by everybody. But I think probably in that area, even though there's no fireworks ban, which was an interesting thing that we learned just yesterday when the governor said no, we're not to ban the fireworks...

HARRIS: That's right.

COLLINS: ... leave it to the professionals, though, you know, if you can.



HARRIS: You know, she spent more than six years as a hostage in Colombia. Now Ingrid Betancourt is back in France, her second home, and she is getting a hero's welcome.

Jim Bittermann live from Paris.

Jim, we were able just to hear just a bit of Betancourt's comments, able just to get a few on the air last hour. Maybe you can share more of what she had to say from the airport. JIM BITTERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was quite an emotional meeting even at the airport. I mean, this woman who was suffering at the hands of rebels, chained to a tree for three years, and just went through a terrible ordeal, is amazingly well- spoken. And she came to the airport, arrived at the airport in France, a military airport outside Paris, and was just saying unbelievable things about her love for this country and the fact that she was able to follow the messages of support that she was getting.

Apparently, her captors allowed her to listen to the radio while she was in captivity. So she knew about the efforts that were being made on her behalf, and she said those efforts kept her alive spiritually and physically.

Here's the way she put it.


INGRID BETANCOURT, FMR. COLOMBIAN HOSTAGE: I have been dreaming for seven years for this moment. It's a very, very moving, important moment for me to be here in France, to be with all of you. I owe everything to France.


BITTERMANN: OK. And now she is going to go -- she's going to appear at the Elysee Palace in just a few minutes from now.

There's a crowd of about 300 people at the presidential palace here in Paris. They've gathered there in a reception area. The president is going to introduce her. There will be a little bit of a ceremony.

And a little later on today, there will be a news conference that she'll be talking to the press a little later on. And she's also expected at some point over the next day or so to check into the hospital, the Valdegras (ph) Hospital, the big military hospital here in Paris, for a thorough medical examination.

I think you can see some of the people on hand greeting Ingrid Betancourt and President Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace this afternoon -- Tony.

HARRIS: Jim Bittermann for us in Paris.

Another great day for Ingrid Betancourt and her family.

Another reminder here. This is pretty special. An HBO documentary looks at Ingrid Betancourt's kidnapping and her family's six-year struggle to free her. HBO's "The Kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt," see it on CNN Saturday night, 8:00 Eastern.

COLLINS: Doctors say three American hostages freed from that same Colombian jungle are in good physical condition. They men have been undergoing medical tests and reuniting with their families since they arrived on American soil late Wednesday. The U.S. military contractors were taken hostage when their drug surveillance plane crashed in 2003. They were among 15 hostages freed in a dramatic rescue operation by Colombian forces.

HARRIS: A popular event puts the spotlight on New Orleans -- the Essence Music Festival in a city still struggling from Katrina.


HARRIS: A major event kicks off in New Orleans today. The Essence Music Festival puts the spotlight on a city still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Fredricka Whitfield live from New Orleans.

And Fred, if you would, tell us about this festival. It is so much more than just about music, isn't it.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is. And, you know, right now, it's very noisy. They're still preparing in part at this convention center, which is where the free portion of the Essence Music Festival takes place.

Lots of dialogue here. And then down the street at the dome is where a lot of the concerts will be taking place in the evening.

But the overall theme here is reclaiming the dream, self- empowerment. That applies to your wallet, your home life, and it also applies to health care.

We know that there are great disparities in this country, particularly between black Americans and the rest of America. There's not enough access or affordability when it comes down to a number of black patients in this country. It's why they are getting fewer checkups, fewer operations and other lifesaving treatment in this country comparatively to the rest of America.

So, we wanted to tackle that. And so will the Essence Music Festival during the many seminars and panels here.

We have invited two premier doctors from Tulane University, Doctors Sabrina Bent -- she's an associate professor, and also a director of pediatrics anesthesiology. And Dr. Corey Hebert, assistant professor of pediatrics and a medical director for the Louisiana Recovery School District. Both have made huge sacrifices here and have made giant contributions to the health care of this city.

And Doctor Bent, it's so weird calling you "Dr. Bent," because, Sabrina, you and I have known each other for years, but I'll call you "Dr. Bent" here.

You know, you made a huge sacrifice. You lived in Houston, you're a practicing physician there. You made the decision post- Katrina to come here. And you and Dr. Hebert have talked about this being like post-war trauma. Give me an idea of the comparisons of particularly black health care here versus what you left in Houston.

DR. SABRINA BENT, TULANE MEDICAL CENTER: It seems like here people presented more severe cases of disease and late presentations. And when I ask them when they come to surgery, when's the last time you saw your primary care doctor about your hypertension or other chronic medical problems, it's been since before Katrina. And so this is difficult for most patients to deal with their chronic diseases, have acute problems that are extremely severe.

And then they cam to the hospital in desperate conditions for treatment. And we're here to help them and we're real happy to do that.

WHITFIELD: And Dr. Hebert, that really does underscore part of the problem. We're already talking about a good segment of the population here in New Orleans who already were not getting good or adequate health care. And now you remove a number of the clinics and the doctors' offices, and you only have a few, a handful of hospitals here. They're coming to you for pretty ordinary treatment, aren't they?


WHITFIELD: If they're coming at all.

HEBERT: Absolutely. I mean, the ERs are being the full workforce for primary care in New Orleans, which is not a good thing, because number one, it's expensive, and number two, there's no follow- up. So these patients are living in a basically Post-traumatic Stress Disorder situation, and it's an everyday thing.

Imagine, you know, our soldiers that were in Vietnam. They came back from Vietnam and they had post-traumatic stress in their suburban homes. Imagine if they still lived there. That's what the people in New Orleans are dealing with there, the fact that they live in basically war-torn areas, ad that has to deal with the associations with their psyche in a big, big way.

WHITFIELD: And it trickles down into generation after generation. You've got young people who are lacking so much, and they're also dealing with real mental, you know, fragility, too, a result, right?

HEBERT: Absolutely. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as just depression. You lose your home, you lose all of your worldly possessions, then people expect you to come back and then start to just rebuild your life from nothing. It's very difficult. And people are really starting to snap now, but the point is that we do have a lot of people that are working to get this better.

WHITFIELD: And Dr. Bent, as we wrap it up, do you see New Orleans' black health care here, with the black patient here, as a microcosm of the rest of the country or is this really just very unique? BENT: I think this is a very unique situation in New Orleans because this has never really happened in history, to have such a destruction of hospitals and hospital care. And we as physicians have to step up to the plate to try to come here and help revitalize the city and help reform it. And that's what me and my family are here for.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dr. Sabrina Bent, Dr. Corey Hebert, thanks so much.

Both of Tulane, making huge investments here in New Orleans, and really to the entire medical community, because it is taking, Tony, as we have seen a lot of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's reports, it's taking an extensive, you know, reach into the medical community across the country to really help kind of patch up the health care here in New Orleans as well.

HARRIS: Yes. Well put.

Boy, this festival about so much more than music. Fred -- and the music is great, by the way.

WHITFIELD: We'll be here for the entire three days tackling all kinds of hard-hitting issues like this.

HARRIS: All right. Great. Thank you. Good to see you, Fred.

We're going to take a break. Back with more CNN NEWSROOM in just a moment.


COLLINS: Less than an hour ago, American champ defending his crown. Joey Chestnut aiming to win his second straight Nathan's hot dog eating contest today.

CNN's Allan Chernoff -- his reports always come with mustard -- is in Coney Island.

Pretty loud and crazy there, huh, Allan?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Heidi.

You know, competitive eating is the most extreme of extreme sports, which is the reason that the eaters this morning, I understand, woke up actually sweating mustard. Why? Because of this...

It's all about this, the Mustard Yellow Belt. This is the prize, and the prize is now on American soil thanks to an incredible performance last year by Joey Chestnut, who defeated Takeru Kobayashi, the six-time champion, defeated him by consuming 66 hot dogs and buns in only 12 minutes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHERNOFF (voice over): To competitive eating fans, Joey Chestnut is nothing less than an American hero. Chestnut is a hot dog-eating machine who recaptured American glory last July 4th by defeating Japanese eater Takeru Kobayashi. A victory over the six-time champion that returned the Mustard Yellow Belt to American soil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In first place with 66 hot dogs and buns, Joey Chestnut!

CHERNOFF: Walking down New York's Canyon of Heroes, home to ticker-tape parades, Chestnut can still taste his triumph.

JOEY CHESTNUT, NATHAN'S HOT DOG EATING CHAMPION: I know people have told me that they were proud, they were proud that day.

CHERNOFF: Proud that you're an American.

CHESTNUT: Yes, proud that an American was able to win.

CHERNOFF (voice over): In these dark days of skyrocketing gas prices, mortgage foreclosures and plummeting stocks, at least America has Joey Chestnut.

GEORGE SHEA, MAJOR LEAGUE EATING: In dark moments, we need someone to stand up and be a leader. And Joe has done that. And he has broad shoulders, and he is taking on the burden of a nation.

CHERNOFF: A victory that was inspiring even to Michelle Obama claim-eating (ph) fans, who believe her controversial "pride" comment was clearly a reference to Joey Chestnut.

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country.

SHEA: When I heard Michelle Obama say that, I was thinking, she's talking about Kobayashi losing and Joey winning. It made perfect sense to me.

CHERNOFF: With proven performance comes pressure to repeat. America's pride now rides on the jaws and esophagus of Joey Chestnut, especially since Kobayashi is hungry to restore honor to his nation.

TAKERU KOBAYASHI, FMR. HOT DOG EATING CHAMPION (through translator): I feel like this is the Olympics, and that's how I feel about competitive eating.

CHERNOFF: To defend his title, Chestnut has been training diligently, speed-eating twice a week for the past three months.

CHESTNUT: Every time I go to sleep, I'm thinking, did I push myself hard enough today during practice?


CHERNOFF: Joey Chestnut, a man clearly obsessed with eating competitively for his nation. Now, the champion that is Joey Chestnut this year is promising to match his feat of last year by eating this many dogs, 66 hotdogs and buns, except this year the contest rules are different. Only 10 minutes long. So, they've saved two minutes off the contest. Chestnut is hoping to match his feat last year -- Heidi.

COLLINS: It's so exciting, Allan. I love it.

And just as a reminder, though, I guess they don't start eating until about 12:40, but the whole thing kicks off in about 30 minutes. The run-up to the hot dog eating contest.

Allan Chernoff, appreciate it, live from Coney Island today. Thanks so much.

You might want to check those burgers you may be planning to grill today. Kroger has just expanded its ground beef recall. It now includes products packaged in Styrofoam trays with sell dates between May 17th and July 5th.

E. Coli suspected. Throw the beef away or take it back for a refund. The recall involves most Kroger stores, but not all. Ground beef sold in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, is safe to eat.

The Fourth of July filled with hidden dangers from the picnic table to late-night fireworks.

Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here to keep you safe.

All right. We have a lot of ground to cover today.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're going to start with your stomach.


COHEN: And we're going to start with...


COLLINS: A whole different segment we could do.

COHEN: That's right. We could go on for hours.

Well, Heidi just talked about the meat recall because of E. coli. Well, that's not the only meat that has E. coli. Unfortunately, it shows up in meat that is on the shelves sold and eaten.

So let's talk about ways to make sure that your burgers do not have E. coli in them.

First of all, preheat your grill for 20 to 30 minutes. That'll help. Make sure that you use a meat thermometer and that it registers to 160 degrees so that you will try to kill the E. coli that way.

Refrigerate while you marinate. Do not marinate meat overnight sitting on the counter.

COLLINS: Ugh. People do that?

COHEN: That's disgusting. People do that. Bad idea. Change plates. If you just put some raw hamburgers on a plate and then you take it off and there's juice there, don't put salad on top of that. Eeew, yick. But people do, do that. And also, wash hands, wash hands, wash hands so you don't contaminate other food.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. So we should probably talk about the tomatoes. Where are we at with the tomato issue?

COHEN: Right, because the last thing you want with your E. coli hamburgers is a salmonella tomato, right? I mean, that would be quite a feast.

COLLINS: Eeew, sounds tasty.

COHEN: Sounds yummy.

So, let's talk about what tomatoes you should be eating and not eating. First of all, don't eat these: Roma and red plum tomatoes. You see the picture there, and red round. Those have been associated with the salmonella outbreak. These the FDA says are OK: Cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes. Both little tomatoes where the vine still attached and home-grown tomatoes. So that's the tomato news this year.

COLLINS: OK, very good. Always we have to talk every year about fireworks safety.

COHEN: Right, because every year people do dumb things.

COLLINS: Just let the pyrotechnic professionals do it, right?

COHEN: Right. Let the professionals handle it. That's the easy way to do it.

COLLINS: So much easier.

COHEN: It's so much easier.

COLLINS: You just sit there and watch.

COHEN: But, if you are inspired to do your own pyrotechnics, let's talk about some steps that you need to take. First of all, have water handy so if all hell does break loose you'll at least have water. The shooter should wear safety glasses. Keep spectators at a distance. Sounds obvious, but some people don't do that. Also, don't try to alter the fireworks, just use them as they are. And never re- light a dud. And here's one: Do not set your friend's hair on fire. That's what my producer did when she was 12.

COLLINS: Oh, really?

COHEN: Yes, she singed her friend's hair. So stay away from your friend's hair.

COLLINS: Danielle, did that?

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no, no. Someone else. I wouldn't say her name on television.

COLLINS: She remains anonymous.

COHEN: She remains anonymous. She'd kill me if I said her name.

COLLINS: OK, I'm going to find out.

COHEN: But she did do it.

COLLINS: All right. Thank you, Elizabeth, appreciate it. Good reminders.

HARRIS: Our CNN hero helps get needy children in rural areas to the doctor. Children's Health Fund estimates up to 25 million American children under the age of 18 lack access to health care. But not if you're in Alabama and not if Russell Jackson has anything to do with it.


RUSSELL JACKSON, CNN HERO, MEDICAL MARVEL (on camera): There's a lot of folks that are going without in this country. I found that people of all races were suffering from poverty. In the rural areas there are no cabs, there are no buses. Millions of children have no access to medical care when they need to reach it.

I made the decision that I was going to leave my job as a firefighter and I was going to start driving kids to the doctor full- time.

(voice-over): I'm Russell Jackson and I make sure that thousands of Alabama's rural children get to the doctor.

(on camera): How's everybody doing this morning? All right. We all ready to head into the doctor?

(voice-over): The volume of phone calls in the first year was beyond anything that I had expected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Key One Transport. How may I help you?

JACKSON (on camera): Families saw our vehicle and would call and say, who are y'all? What do you do? They would sometimes cry or they'd just shout with joy, you know, hallelujah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without it, we would be lost and always depending on a ride.

JACKSON (voice-over): When I started the program, it was just myself and my little Chevy Blazer. And I drove up and met that first young man with that million dollar smile.

(on camera): Look at you. How big you've gotten. Gollee! How are you, mom?

(voice-over): Julian (ph) had never talked, he had never walked.

(on camera): That's awesome, buddy.

(voice-over): I saw so many lives changed, so many determined children and parents who wanted to beat the odds. To know they'd beat it all because of a simple ride. That how many other kids around the country aren't experiencing the same success stories?


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: July is the last month to nominate someone you know as a CNN hero for 2008. Go to

HARRIS: OK. And once again, your nominated hero could be seen right here on CNN and honored at an all-star tribute Thanksgiving night. And once again, as Anderson just mentioned, July is the last month to nominate someone. Just go to


HARRIS: Jesse Helms earned the label "firebrand," that's for sure. His outspoken conservative views polarized North Carolina and U.S. voters for decades. Helms served five terms in the U.S. Senate, retiring in 2003, due to poor health. Helms was born in Monroe, North Carolina, son of a police chief. His strict Baptist upbringing helped forge his conservative views. Helms once said his job was to, quote, "derail the freight train of liberalism."

Jesse Helms died today at the age of 86. No immediate word on cause of death. And Kathleen Koch just forwarded us a statement from the White House. The White House statement reading, America lost a great public servant and true patriot today. We are anticipating a statement from the president later today.

COLLINS: South of Big Sur, California. Another wildfire threatening homes now. It's burning on the edge of a Goleta, a town near the seaside city of Santa Barbara. The fire is the state's top priority because of the immediate danger to residents. Mandatory evacuations ordered overnight for mountain home communities.

Rob Marciano tells us a little while ago that the gusting evening winds called sundowner winds, have been making it pretty tough for firefighters to get a handle on this blaze. Want to head over to Rob right now.

And, boy, that's what we've been talking about for days and days. Now we're getting word from our correspondent there, Dan Simon, that you know obviously, the firefighters are completely exhausted.

HARRIS: Exhausted, yes. (WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: Hey, let me take a moment to offer a bit of a clarification now coming from the White House. Spokesman Scott Stansell wanting to clarify the earlier statement that it was actually from him. I don't think I suggested that it was from the president.


HARRIS: But, Scott wanting to make sure that it's absolutely clear that the statement which reads, America lost a great public servant and true patriot in Jesse Helms today. That statement, in fact, was not the statement from the president. That will come later. But that statement from White House spokesman, Scott Stansell. We expect the president's statement, again, later today. And the president was informed of the death of Jesse Helms at about 11:20 a,m. Eastern time by the Deputy Chief of Staff. Again, the president will make his formal statement and send that along later this afternoon.

Saving lives in a war zone. It goes on holiday or not. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, spending independence day with U.S. soldiers at Camp Spiker near Tikrit, Iraq.

And Frederik, we are certainly hoping for the lightest of light traffic days, if you know what I mean.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I certainly do know what you mean, Tony, and certainly the soldiers here at the Combat Support Hospital at Camp Spiker are hoping for exact through same thing.

So far, they've had a couple of patients here in the emergency room, which is where I am standing right now. This is the room that all the patients that come into this hospital, this is really the first place that they go, whether they come by helicopter or whether they come by ambulance. So far, there has been a couple of patients, it's really minor things going on, nothing major today. And certainly the soldiers here are hoping that it will stay that way.

And I was able to spend a couple of hours on the night shift leading into the fourth of July, last night. And Let me show you what happened then.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The night before Independence Day in an American Combat Support Hospital near Tikrit. Captain Ricky Kue and a team of doctors and nurses are working to stabilize an Iraqi soldier who was severely injured trying to stop a suicide bomber from blowing up an Iraqi hospital.

CPT. RICKY KUE, U.S. ARMY: He's essentially sustained injuries where he lost both his eyes traumatically. Injuries to his left upper extremities, left leg, ended up getting both of those extremities amputated. Both of his eyes removed because of the trauma.

PLEITGEN: They'll get very little sleep on this fourth of July. But the soldiers say this Iraqi man reminds them of what they're fighting for.

KUE: Well, every day is Independence Day feeling when you're here, you know, getting to do what I get to do. It's that feeling of being able to practice what we get to celebrate every Fourth of July.

PLEITGEN: Medevac helicopters regularly land at the 345th Combat Support Hospital. But the soldiers say things have slowed down recently and the wards are practically empty. Even so, on Independence Day, many of the hospitals see their mission in sharper focus.

LT. COL. WALTER BEHNERT, U.S. ARMY: There are days like Memorial Day, Fourth of July, that are reflective on why we're here and sort of kind of bolsters our pride in our country. So, we do celebrate that like I said, in our own way.

PLEITGEN: Still they say, even with a lull in casualties, they know they can't afford to let their guard down. On quiet days, they organize blood donation drives in case they ever run short. And on the eve of Independence Day, we can see why.


PLEITGEN: And, you know, units like the Combat Support Hospital here at Camp Spiker, really all over Iraq and Afghanistan, are so important to the campaigns there. And really it is business as usual here at the hospital. Nevertheless, there is going to be a party tonight. A Fourth of July party which some of the staff is going to be able to attend. Not all, but some of them of course, are going to be on duty here. As you said, it goes on like any other day for most of the soldiers here in Iraq -- Tony.

HARRIS: All right. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen for us. Frederik, thank you.

COLLINS: A suspected Taliban operative arrested in South Korea. Authorities arrested the man at a chemical factory in Seoul. He is accused of helping export tons of chemicals used to produce heroin. At least eight other people are under investigation. Authorities say the man in custody is from Afghanistan. They say he denies being a member of the Taliban, but he admitted working for the group.

Iran threatening war. This dire warning from the head of the country's Islamic revolutionary guard, Mohammad Ali Jafari, says war could break out if there is a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. U.S. intelligence agencies recently concluded Iran abandoned secret efforts to build a nuclear bomb but President Bush, not so sure. He maintains all options are on the table in dealing with Iran's nukes.

HARRIS: Presidential politics this July 4th. John McCain takes a break from the campaign trail while Barack Obama heads west. He takes part in a parade and picnic in Butte, Montana. Only two Democrats have carried the state since 1948. John McCain is spending the day at his family compound outside Sedona, Arizona. He is just back from Colombia and Mexico. McCain's web site asks everyone to remember the troops this Independence Day.

A soda maker has his own presidential poll.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's blue against red. Barack O'Berry versus John McCream.


HARRIS: Which candidate is top pop? Which one is fizzling? Soda sampling in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: A major new development in a massive copyright infringement case between Viacom and Google. Steph Elam is in New York with more on how this case can actually affect almost any of us who use the internet.

Hi, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's true Heidi. If you've gone on the internet, this may actually apply to you. What's happened here is a federal judge this week, ordered Google to turn over user records to Viacom and the reason they want them is because those records show which users watch which videos on YouTube.

Now, Viacom is suing YouTube for illegally posting content that the entertainment company owns. And that includes stuff like, as you see there, the Daily Show, the Colbert Report and MTV, which airs those music videos that are just staples of YouTube, they're just perfect for YouTube. The company wants to know how exactly how much was watched and by how many viewers.

But caught up in the legal battle are concerns about internet privacy. Think about it. The viewing habits of tens of millions of people could be exposed here and the judge required Google to turn over the user names of every person who watched a clip on YouTube. So, like I said, it's about everybody.

COLLINS: Yes, it is. So, if I knew how to do this. What if I posted a clip from the Daily Show to YouTube? Do I have to seriously be worried about a lawsuit now?

ELAM: Well, first of all, think about it. Even if you did, Heidi, know how to do that, there are too many users to go after all of them. The numbers are out of control.

COLLINS: Yes, you can't enforce this.

ELAM: We're going to sue America. I mean, that would just be incredibly hard. So, the "New York Times" estimates that 82 million people watched over 4 billion clips on YouTube in just April alone. Some experts say pretty much every internet user has visited YouTube. So it's so hard to even imagine how Viacom could even think about going after specific users. And where would they start?

On top of that, Viacom's top lawyer says the company won't use the information to prosecute individuals. The information would be limited just to this lawsuit against Google. Both companies say they want to work out a compromise to protect our anonymity.

Of course, financial markets closed today for the Independence Day holiday. And that was probably a good thing because the DOW lost about -- well for the week it was down, but lost about 15 percent so far this year -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, all right. We know all about that.

All right, Stephanie Elam, nice to see you. Happy Fourth of July.

ELAM: Happy Fourth to you, too.

COLLINS: Thank you.

HARRIS: Which candidate is top pop? Which one is fizzling? Straw poll. Soda straw poll. I'm so clever in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Candidates soda wars. Connecticut voters sipping from a presidential straw poll.

Reporter Jim Altman, of affiliate WTIC, has the story.


JIM ALTMAN, WTIC REPORTER (voice-over): Who has the most political pop in town? Barack Obama?


ALTMAN: John McCain?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That dependent on foreign oil...

ALTMAN: Or perhaps -- it's Rob Met.

ROB METZ, OWNER, AVERY'S BEVERAGES: These elections we're having, it's historical. It's exciting, and we wanted to be involved in it.

ALTMAN: The buzz in New Britain is over what's sizzling in his factory.

(on camera): Avery's Soda has launched their own 2008 presidential straw poll. It's blue against red. Barack O'Berry versus John McCream.

(voice-over): You heard it right. Bottle after bottle, taste after taste. They're shaking up this political season which can be rather refreshing. Obama is a blue raspberry, McCain a red cream.

METZ: We decided we're going to have our Avery Straw Poll and let folks choose the flavors of soda based on either what they think tastes good or their political leanings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like the cream better.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the blue because Mommy's a Democrat.

ALTMAN: So far, Connecticut is staying true blue. The Barack brand holds an early lead but there are those using their moxie for their candidate.

GOV. M. JODI RELL (R), CONNECTICUT: You know, red cream, John McCream. This is the one to purchase.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT ATTY. GEN.: Red is a nice, decent, color. But blue is a winner for change. I like this product so much, I might buy the company.

ALTMAN: It's a buck a bottle to cast your vote. And few rules apply after that.

METZ: The only strong rule that we have is that unlike a lot of precincts in Connecticut, we prefer all of our voters are living and breathing. Vote early and vote often. Polling officials can be bribed.


COLLINS: Getting a jump on the Fourth. Visitors got a rush at Mt. Rushmore last night with the park's annual fireworks display. More than 5,200 shells were shot off during the show. The event also included military fly overs and presidential portrayers, smaller ones though, not really in stone.

You know, that's Rob Marciano's favorite fireworks display. Wants to go there, he's never been able to make it. All right, well there you have it. Happy Fourth of July, everybody.


COLLINS: CNN NEWSROOM continues just one hour from now.

HARRIS: "ISSUE #1" with Gerri Willis and Ali Velshi, coming up next.