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American Morning

Duke Investigation; Gas Gauge; Sago Mine Hearing

Aired May 02, 2006 - 09:00   ET


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jason Carroll in Durham, North Carolina. Should Duke's lacrosse team ever compete again? I'll tell you what two committees think they should do coming up.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ed Henry at the White House, where the president is facing pressure from a new poll suggesting most Americans don't believe he has a plan to deal with the energy crisis.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jeanne Meserve outside FEMA headquarters, where we're seeing a lot of new faces these days. I'll explain why.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Joe Johns in Buckhannon, West Virginia, where a public hearing into the Sago mining disaster is scheduled to get under way at this hour. It's a chance for the families of the victims to get some answers.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Costello in New York. One million-plus turn out in protest, but will it be enough to reform immigration? We will explore that issue on this AMERICAN MORNING.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.


Some new developments now in the Duke lacrosse team investigation. A report from the university paints the lacrosse team as troubled, to say the least, with the deplorable disciplinary record, but nevertheless, the games will go on according to the committee that wrote this report.

CNN's Jason Carroll live now from Durham, North Carolina, with more on this.

Jason, good morning.

CARROLL: Good morning to you, Miles. And not only did those commits find the team's behavior deplorable, they also said university officials didn't do enough about it.

Some of the other highlights from the report, they also found that a large number of the players were socially irresponsible, that the players needed strict monitoring because of their alcohol-related problems, but they also found that the team performed well in both academics and athletics. And in addition to that, the committee also recommended that there should be a code of conduct for the athletes, and they also said that the university, specifically university administrators, need to be strict in term of how they enforce that code of conduct -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Jason, let's factor going more to the specific issue, the Duke rape investigation. In the midst of all that, there is a district attorney up for reelection. Election Day happens to be today. A lot of accusations on the other side that Mike Nifong, the D.A., has used this case as a way to bolster his campaign. Give us a sense of the tone there today on this Election Day.

CARROLL: Well, let me go back to yesterday. In fact, one of the defense attorneys in the case filed a motion basically asking for the D.A. to be recused from the case, saying that he was using it for political gain.

I spoke to the D.A. about that, about the tone and what he felt about it. He says for the past 20 years he's been taking shots from defense attorneys. He said this was no different. He said a lot of this is just posturing on the defense's part. He says he feels good about the election, though -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Jason Carroll in Durham.

Thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, from the largest city to the smallest town, high gas prices hitting just about everybody. Let's check in and gauge the latest gas prices -- $2.92 across the nation for unleaded regular. A month ago it was $2.55.

What's with the bongos?

A year ago, $2.23. I mean, why bongos?

Anyway, the energy secretary says it's a crisis. He's not the only person in the administration to use the "C" word.

Let's get right to CNN's Ed Henry at the White House.

Hey, Ed. Good morning.

HENRY: Good morning, Soledad.

That's right, White House spokesman Scott McClellan has now become the second senior Bush official to use this word "crisis" to describe the situation, as you noted, following Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, who also said it could take up to three years for these high gas prices to come back down substantially. Political pressure only building on this White House with a new CBS poll out this morning showing eight in 10 Americans don't believe the president has a clear plan to deal with this crisis, and even when Republicans unveil a plan like the Senate Republican proposal to give out a $100 gas rebate, the public seems to think that's just a Band-Aid.

Take a listen to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist a little earlier on AMERICAN MORNING defending that idea.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: That is one way to basically say we're going to remove the federal gas tax for a period of time over the next nine months, and that's how the $100 is arrived at. But, I think the critics are right in the sense that that can't be, nor is it, the only point that we're making. We have to address the supply and demand.


HENRY: The White House also stressing there is no easy solution. This is a problem that's been building for decades. But a little later this morning, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is going to that the president has made this problem worse. He will charge that this White House has been run by oil men who have been too cozy with the oil industry -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, the fallout, as you well know, Ed, is that the electorate's furious. But the question is, so do you think Republicans get more of the blame? Do you think Republicans and Democrats are going to share the blame as you head into election season? What do you think?

HENRY: A little early to tell, but the snapshot from this new CBS News poll suggests that 47 percent of the public believes Democrats could do a better job on gas prices, only 20 percent thinking Republicans can do a better job. And what's worrisome for Republicans is, as you noted, Soledad, two big things. The public is angry right now, and the Republicans are the ones that are in power, and they don't seem to have, secondly, a plan really to solve it. That's a recipe for some difficulty in November -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, an angry voter is a scary voter, isn't he or she?

HENRY: That's right.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Ed Henry at the White House for us.

Ed, thanks, as always.

The high price of gas did a job on one Tennessee school system. School buses in Rhea County -- take a look at this -- they're moving today, but over Friday and Monday this week and last week they had to cancel classes. They saved on fuel costs by doing that.

The system estimates that they saved actually somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000 by just having the kids stay home, keeping the buses parked. Apparently, these gas days were actually snow days that had been built into the calendar already and had never been used -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: A sobering report out this morning on what might happen if the bird flu pandemic hits the U.S. It comes up with a -- it comes up with a response plan. An early copy of the report includes quarantines and limits on travel, but no mention of borders being shut down. The White House expected to release full details tomorrow.

The families of the 12 men killed in the Sago Mine disaster are about to speak about the tragedy today.

CNN's Joe Johns live now from Buckhannon, West Virginia, with more on that -- Joe.

JOHNS: Miles, four months to the day after the alarms went off at Sago Mine, we now sit down here at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, West Virginia, for a hearing on what went wrong at Sago. What we are hoping for is at least a glimpse into what investigators have learned so far in this lengthy investigation.

We do expect shortly for a number of politicians to speak, including Joe Manchin, the governor of West Virginia who has been so instrumental in trying to keep this thing public. After that, down to business.

No fewer than nine representatives of International Coal Group are on the witness list and are expected to take questions, including from at least a representative of the families of the miners. We do expect also some statements from some of the families of the miners.

This is not the end of the investigation by any means. It will go on for a couple of days. We are told the investigation is not expected to conclude until around January 1st.

Miles, back to you -- I'm sorry, July 1st.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much.

Joe Johns in Buckhannon, West Virginia -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Back to work for a million immigrants, legal and illegal, and their supporters who walked out of work, took to the streets yesterday.

Let's get right to Carol Costello. She's live in the newsroom with more on this story.

Hey, Carol. Good morning.

COSTELLO: Good morning, Soledad.

Good morning to all of you.

The biggest turnouts were in Los Angeles and Chicago, but in cities like Atlanta and in cities across Texas the crowds were smaller than expected. Still, one million-plus gathered across the country. The question, did it really disrupt business?


MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: I am so proud to be an American! We are all proud to be Americans today. Fly your flag with pride!

COSTELLO (voice-over): Flag-waving immigrants, legal and illegal, turned out in force for two major rallies in Los Angeles. In all, some 600,000 demonstrators hit the L.A. streets Monday. The city's mayor insisting there's strength in those numbers, saying their voices must be heard.

VILLARAIGOSA: We say to the Congress, listen to us. We are America! We want to be a part of the dream. We love this country!

COSTELLO: In Las Vegas, a day and evening of demonstrations, with some 10,000 people punctuating the day's massive protest. Many of those at the evening rally worked during the day, and hit the streets after they clocked out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are at a crossroads.

COSTELLO: It was billed as a national day without immigrants. And many heeded the call to flex their economic muscle by staying home from work, from school and out of stores.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's important that we do a boycott today, to show that we are important.

COSTELLO: A sea of protesters from sea to shining sea. In Chicago, more than 300,000 marched to a rally in Grant Park. Attendance was down as much as 33 percent at predominantly Hispanic schools.

In Denver, a two-mile march to the state capital drew more than 50,000 demonstrators.

In New York, protesters formed a series of human chains in the city's five burroughs, then marched to the federal courthouse in Manhattan.

In South Florida, several thousand protesters gathered in Homestead, which has a large Mexican community.

And in San Francisco, an estimated 55,000 people took to the streets. Many businesses in the traditionally Mexican mission district were closed.

LUCY HOROWITZ, PROTEST SUPPORTER: I think the people who come here illegally in order to support their families back home, in order to make a living for themselves, are very brave and noble people, and I admire them enormously.

COSTELLO: But not all immigrants agree with Monday's action. One group spoke out against the mass protests and the reasons behind them.

COL. ALBERTO F. RODRIGUEZ, U.S. ARMY (RET.): We're all here today to tell those illegal protesters, you do not speak for me.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO: But he was one voice in a sea of protesters. There were several other counter-protests with gatherings as large as 200.

As for the impact, well, businesses across the country were impacted, but only in the short term. And, you know, they were only affected for maybe one day. Tomorrow and the next day they're expected to make up all the business they lost because of these protests -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Carol Costello, thank you.

Let's get right to the forecast, 11 minutes past the hour. Jacqui Jeras is in for Chad this morning.

Hey, Jacqui. Good morning again.


And good morning, everybody.


S. O'BRIEN: Oh, I love when you use the word "fabulous".

She says fabulous.

JERAS: Fabulous, with a capital "F".

M. O'BRIEN: A meteorological term, right? Fabulous.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. And one I understand.

Thanks, Jacqui.


S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, the hunt for one of the most wanted terrorists, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and word this morning that U.S. troops may have just missed catching him. We're live at the Pentagon with the latest on this story.

M. O'BRIEN: Also, FEMA on the ropes and on a deadline. Some last-minute hiring with the storm seas looming. We'll look at the agency's plan to stop a brain drain.

S. O'BRIEN: And Rudy Giuliani, is he testing the waters for a White House run in 2008? He's in Iowa now, focused on 2006. We'll tell you what he's saying.

That's ahead.


M. O'BRIEN: "Emergency Management," it is FEMA's middle name, and right now that's the agency's biggest problem, not enough managers to cover the emergencies. Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve live now from FEMA headquarters in Washington.

Hello, Jeanne.

MESERVE: Hi, Miles.

FEMA is trying to pay attention to the fundamentals. One of them, hiring enough people and the right people.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

MESERVE (voice over): This is the new blood, new hires FEMA hopes will resuscitate the agency.

MIKE HALL, DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES, FEMA: If we're going to be better tomorrow than we are today, it all begins with people.

MESERVE: FEMA's people or, more precisely, a lack of them, were blamed in part for the agency's bumbling, stumbling response to Katrina. Government report said a brain drain in the years prior to the storm had left FEMA unprepared.

Mike Austin, a 20-year FEMA employee, was one of those who exited. Now he spends his days doing pen and ink drawings.

MIKE AUSTIN, RETIRED FEMA EMPLOYEE: We all want to feel like we're part of a winning team. We want to feel like what we did, who we were, what we were was important and appreciated.

MESERVE: But Austin didn't. He says politicized leadership, budget cuts and organizational reshuffling drove him and others away.

The barrage of bad publicity since Katrina has further sapped morale, some insiders say, and the exodus of experienced personnel continues.

LEO BOSNER, FEMA UNION PRESIDENT: People now are either on the way out or a lot of them wishing they had a way out, to be honest with you.

MESERVE: Just last week, at least two high-ranking veteran employees left the agency.

Although after a long search, a FEMA director has been nominated. Many top positions are still open. There is no permanent director of operations or director of response or director of recovery. There are no permanent directors in half of FEMA's 10 regions. Not surprisingly, FEMA is now on a hiring binge.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We're on a path now to get about 95 percent of the vacancies filled in the department by June 1. MESERVE: As of right now, about 85 percent of permanent full- time positions are filled.

HALL: For every position that we've got advertised, we are getting hundreds of applications. And so, I think that we're building a very dynamic workforce.


MESERVE: FEMA hopes to make its target and says it is trying to hire people with experience, but there are experts who question whether the new hires will get the training they need to be ready when the first hurricane comes ashore.

Back to you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Boy, that's for sure, Jeanne. Not a lot of time. We're talking about a June 1st season coming up. It will be hard to get them up to speed.

Obviously, FEMA has a morale problem. Is that the only reason we're seeing such an exodus there?

MESERVE: No. Money another big factor.

People tell me that there are a lot of contractors either doing business with FEMA or who want to do business with FEMA, who will pay a lot of money. So, there are some people inside this building who can walk out the door and make two and sometimes three times their current salaries. So, it's a big incentive for them to leave -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: So, they work for the private sector as a contractor to the government, make a lot more. OK.

MESERVE: That's right.

M. O'BRIEN: Jeanne Meserve, thank you very much.

No break from global warming. Greenhouse gases have increased.

The federal government reporting more carbon dioxide from cars and power plants went into the air in 2005, more than 2004. But 10 states and two cities say the federal government not doing enough to stem the climate change. The 10 states, along with New York City and Washington, D.C., suing the Environmental Protection Agency to prompt government action.

The roof of the world is leaking. China's glaciers in Tibet are melting as a result of global warming. That will lead to drought and more severe sandstorms, it's believed.

You're looking at a satellite image of the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalayas, where this so-called roof of the world is.

China reports its average temperature is now two degrees higher than it was 25 years ago.

S. O'BRIEN: The man who was once called America's mayor might be taking steps to become America's next president. Ahead this morning, we'll tell you about Rudy Giuliani's trip to Iowa and why everybody is watching it to see if it turns into a road to the White House.

And then coming up next, do you eat microwave popcorn? We'll tell you why doctors are now taking a closer look, not at the popcorn, but at the bags you microwave it in.

That's ahead. Stay with us.


S. O'BRIEN: In this morning's "House Call," oh, it is hard to resist that scent of microwave popcorn. Americans eat more than 17 billion, with a "B", quarts of popcorn every year. But as Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells us, scientists are now taking a second look, not at the popcorn, but at the packaging.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A lot of us like butter with our popcorn, even if it's in the form of artificial flavoring. But fluorotelomers? A recent FDA study found that a fluorotelomer -- that's a coating -- used to make microwave popcorn bags grease resistant is seeping into popcorn.

GLENN EVERS, FMR. DUPONT SR. SCIENTIST: On the food ingredients list it does not contain popcorn, butter and fluorotelomers.

GUPTA: Former DuPont senior scientist Glenn Evers recently brought a 1987 internal memo to the government's attention. The company memo warned that more of the chemical was coming off the paper than originally thought.

EVERS: Even before we cooked the popcorn, the butter already is contaminated with a paper fluorochemical that will be absorbed into your blood and stay in your blood for a long, long time.

GUPTA: FDA scientists say popcorn is still safe and there's no concern, especially in the small amounts of fluorotelomers that generally show up. But the FDA also acknowledges that in recent tests, the chemical similar to the coating found on nonstick pans did come off popcorn bags at a higher rate than almost any other way one might encounter it.

Now another government study complicates the picture a little bit. An independent scientific review board for the EPA found perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which can be extracted from the chemical fluorotelomers, does cause cancer in animals and is likely to be carcinogenic to humans. Further testing is already under way.

We called DuPont, which makes the grease-resistant coating for many popcorn bags, and this is what Gary Spitzer, who is business director at DuPont said in the phone interview: "We are very confident in the FDA study, and we feel consumers should feel safe about using the product, too."

The company has promised to reduce emissions of PFOA from manufacturing plants. And now the popcorn council says companies are moving away from using this coating on their bags. But if consumers are still concerned about potentially harmful chemicals getting into popcorn, the Environmental Working Group offers this solution.

LAUREN SUCHER, EWG: Just take a brown paper lunch bag, put in about a quarter cup of regular, good old-fashioned kernels of popcorn. That's probably about a couple spoonfuls of popcorn. And then you want to fold your lunch bag and place two staples just to keep the popcorn from jumping around your microwave.

You want to keep the staples kind of far apart from one another. Then place the bag in the microwave and pop.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Atlanta.


S. O'BRIEN: That's some good advice there.

The FDA is studying PFOA in food packaging. For now, they're saying it's safe to use. PFOA is found in the blood of 95 percent of the world's population, and so pervasive that it's even in polar bears. But, and here's the big "but" in this one, scientists still don't know exactly how it gets there.

The U.S. might have missed out another chance to catch Iraq's most wanted terrorist. Coming up this morning, we are live at the Pentagon with the very latest on the hunt of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

And remember those children accused of starting those brushfires in Florida? It looks like the parents could end up paying the price.

We'll explain just ahead. Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Get the latest news every morning in your e-mail. Sign up for AMERICAN MORNING "Quick News" at

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, Keith Urban. We told you The Boss headlining at jazz fest. Well, Keith Urban, the country superstar, he is going to be headlining as well. We'll talk to him about why -- why is this Aussie so passionate about the Gulf Coast? We'll ask him just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's see, The Boss, Keith Urban, and they call it jazz fest. I'm confused.


M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's check in with Carol Costello in the newsroom.

COSTELLO: I believe the opening bell is just about to ring on Wall Street. It's going to happen in five seconds. I just know it.