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American Morning

Cedar Rapids, Iowa Underwater; United Airlines Matches American Airlines Bag Charge; Easing Gas Pains at the Pump: Is it All Just Talk by the Candidates; Democratic National Committee Strapped for Cash; The Stories of Detainees from Inside U.S. Camps

Aired June 13, 2008 - 07:00   ET


MARK HALPERIN, SR. POLITICAL ANALYST, "TIME": One of them is don't go for it if you got no business being involved. I think they both -- they both got pretty good candidates.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Stick to writing, Mark.

HALPERIN: They both got pretty good candidates to choose.

PHILLIPS: All right. Mark Halperin, great to see you. Have a great weekend.

HALPERIN: Thank you, too.

PHILLIPS: All right -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush will soon be on his way to Paris, as we cross the top of the hour, after meeting this morning with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. The president and first lady, by the way, got a rare look inside the Vatican Gardens, a spot usually reserved for the Pope's private prayer.

Breaking news happening right now in China, an explosion at a coal mine has trapped 43 miners underground. Chinese state media says explosives accidentally detonated deep inside the mine located about 500 miles southwest of Beijing. About 15 workers escaped, but the condition of the workers trapped is still unknown.

And gas prices hitting a new record overnight. More than $4.06 a gallon according to AAA. Twenty-seven states now paying more than $4 a gallon.

Turning to breaking news in the epic flooding in the Midwest, getting much worse this morning. It may be worst of all in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Streets drowning under as much as six to eight feet of water. Hundreds of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. At least one rail bridge collapsed.

Right now, power is out to much of the city forcing hospitals to run on generators. Iowa's governor and the director of FEMA are headed there today.

CNN's Betty Nguyen is live on the flood lines in Cedar Rapids for us this morning. And Betty, it looks like the latest casualty of this flood is a hospital there in Cedar Rapids. BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Mercy Hospital. In fact, they had to evacuate all 176 patients because of the floodwaters. We have some new video coming into CNN that shows you some of the patients getting on buses and heading to local hospitals.

But back here where I'm standing, I'm in about a little over a foot of water. Downtown, 19 blocks this way. So that tells you how fast and furious and how far these floodwaters have traveled.

Now, to my left, these homes are underwater. I just saw an Expedition that was up to its roof in the water, and where I am, this is a 500-year flood zone. So this is not expected to happen here.

Just in a couple of hours we're being told that the river is supposed to crest, and that is going to crest around 32 feet. That is a record. The latest record was back in 1929 originally set in 1851 at only 20 feet. We're looking at 32 feet today. This is a record flood.

On top of that, it's putting a strain on the water system. It's only working at about 25 percent capacity. So what they're doing is they're asking residents not to use the water unless they absolutely have to. For drinking purposes only. If they don't, they could see a shortage within just a couple of days.

I want to give you some numbers now. There have been 7,000 homes and businesses evacuated. That's affected 19,000 people, and it rained again overnight. It's not over yet. And as we've been watching here today, the water is continuing to rise, and we are again expecting that river to crest in just a couple hours from now. So we'll be watching it for you, John.

ROBERTS: Betty Nguyen for us this morning at Cedar Rapids. Betty, thanks.

Eight seconds of chaos. That's how survivors are describing the tornado that killed four boy scouts in Iowa. About 100 people held a candlelight vigil for the victims in Omaha last night. The four young boys were inside a shelter in the direct path of the tornado. Dozens of scouts are being called heroes today because of how fast they responded to the disaster.

Moments after this shelter was reduced to rubble, the boys used skills that they learned in an emergency drill just a day before. They dug fellow scouts out from under the bricks and used shirts at tourniquets on the injured.


ZACH JESSEN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: All of a sudden the door flies open. Scout master yells, get under the tables, get under the tables, get under the tables.

BLAKE WALLING, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I saw people doing CPR, and I saw people lifting up stuff to pull other people out. Half of the people were half in the rubble and half out, and there were people bleeding and we helped them.


ROBERTS: At least a dozen people are still in the hospital this morning -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, Attorney General Michael Mukasey says that military trials for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay will go forward despite a major Supreme Court ruling against the Bush administration. The high court says that the 270 or so detainees can now challenge their indefinite imprisonment in U.S. civilian courts. Mukasey says that it doesn't affect military commission trials of so-called enemy combatants such as alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. President Bush commented on the ruling from Europe.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will abide by the court's decision. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it. It's a deeply divided court, and I strongly agree with those who dissent it. And their dissent was based upon their serious concerns about U.S. national security.


PHILLIPS: Now, the court's conservative wing accused the majority of meddling in a wartime matter with Justice Antonin Scalia saying that the ruling will "almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

And here's more on the prison at Guantanamo Bay in an "AM Extra" this morning. The naval station in Cuba became the central prison for unlawful enemy combatants back in 2002. It currently holds some 270 detainees as we mentioned, and some have been there for most of the six years. Just 19 have been identified for trial by military commission.

And preliminary hearings began last week for five of them all suspected senior al-Qaeda operatives including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that alleged mastermind of the September 11th attacks -- John.

ROBERTS: New this morning, the Iraq war could end up costing taxpayers $2.7 trillion by the time it's over. Experts telling Congress the high cost of providing health care and other long-term benefits to injured veterans is one of the reasons. Many soldiers who recently completed their service are facing foreclosure and unemployment. Back in 2003, you'll remember, the Bush administration originally estimated the war would cost between $60 billion and $100 billion.

The House agrees overwhelmingly to extend unemployment benefits to 13 weeks, but it may not get through the Senate as easily. And President Bush is also threatening to veto and saying it wastes money in states where unemployment is low. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the bill would be a good economic stimulus because she believes the money would be spent quickly. And brand new numbers out on home foreclosures this morning. According to RealtyTrac, 73,000 homes were repossessed in May. That's a jump of 150 percent compared to the same time last year. May was also the 29th straight month that foreclosures increased compared to last year.

PHILLIPS: Ali Velshi, are you going to tell us how much more we have to pay when we fly?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's going to be roughly 20 bucks more, but you know it's been adding up. It's unbelievable.

We are in June, so we're not even halfway through the year yet, and we have had 19 attempted increases in airfares because of fuel surcharges since the beginning of this year. Thirteen of them have been successful, including, unfortunately, this last one that I'm about to tell you about.

A $20 fuel surcharge started by American Airlines, now matched by Delta, Continental, Northwest, United and U.S. Airways. This is confirmed by We check in with them and then we call the airlines to confirm whether that's actually happening.

It's been a dodgy situation because Farecompare will tell us that, you know, they've seen in the fares that there's been an increase of $20. We'll call the airlines and they'll say, well, we don't really know anything about a fare, and it will take us about, you know, 12 hours to get everybody to admit they've actually done it.

Because what the airlines try to do is put in this fare increase and see if the others will match it, and if they don't they pull it back. So that's why there have been 19 attempts, 13 of them have been successful. Largely now, when one increases, the other ones do. But we've seen a pullback on air travel.

Now, another reason to pull back on air travel is you're now going to be charged for your first bag. We know that was happening on American Airlines, $15 a bag. United is matching that $15 a bag charge for your bag if you're in domestic and U.S. Airways will be doing that within a couple weeks.

So again, another bad sort of charge that is catching on with all the airlines. Not very good. But most of them all charge for the second bag, by the way, so you're going to get charged for that second one.

ROBERTS: Kyra is flying today.

VELSHI: Yes. You've got two sizable bags.

PHILLIPS: On Friday the 13th, did I mention that?

VELSHI: Friday the 13th.

PHILLIPS: Not that I'm nervous or anything. VELSHI: That's the least of your problems these days on the airlines, let me tell you.

PHILLIPS: That's true.

ROBERTS: She is a woman with a lot of baggage, at least today.



VELSHI: Listen, we're going to talk --

PHILLIPS: Hey, it takes one to know one.

VELSHI: We're going to talk a lot more about the airlines and those fees and how it affects you and what the prognosis is for the future on "Your Money" Saturday at 1:00 and Sunday at 3:00, because you're going to want to know how to plan your trips for the rest of the year.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that, thanks.

Plenty to talk about, but why are this play of talk at least, but what about action? We're going to look at what the Obama and McCain campaigns are promising to do as president and the chances that they can deliver on that.

PHILLIPS: Barack Obama has raised millions of dollars to support his presidential bid, but donors aren't being nearly as generous to the Democratic National Committee. We're going to tell you what that could mean for their convention this summer.

ROBERTS: And disaster zone. Flooding in Iowa threatening homes. The water now covering 100 streets in one city. What's happening today? We're following it for you.


ROBERTS: Easing your pain at the pump from a gas tax holiday to a windfall profit tax on oil companies. Barack Obama and John McCain say they have a plan. But can they really do anything about gas prices or is it all just talk? Here is CNN's Carol Costello.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were talking the talk again.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE: Give Americans a little relief from the gas tax.

COSTELLO: Ah, the gas tax holiday. A summer-long suspension of the federal gas tax. A plan that might save you on average 18 cents a gallon. MCCAIN: If you want to call it a gimmick, fine. You know the economists, they're the same ones that didn't predict this housing crisis we're in.

COSTELLO: But what critics call a gimmick is having a tough time of it in a Senate committee. Yes, the Senate, right now.

Months ago back in April when McCain's idea was born, he introduced Senate Bill 2890 to provide for a fuel tax holiday. Today it's that old "Schoolhouse Rock" song describes it --


MUSIC: I'm just a bill. Yes, I'm only a bill, and I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill.


COSTELLO: And analysts say that its sitting only proves that it's a gimmick. After all, they say, John McCain is a presidential candidate. There are 49 Republican senators and the support of independent Joe Lieberman on this issue.

PROF. LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF INDIANA: The question arises if he can't get a bill passed out of the Senate while he's a presidential candidate and his colleagues have lots of incentive to help him, why should people believe that as president he'll be able to get anything done?

COSTELLO: Sabato throws the same dog at Senator Barack Obama. He's for a windfall profit tax on oil companies. A few days ago an energy bill that included a 25 percent tax on unreasonable oil company profits died in the Senate, even though Obama expressed support for the measure.

SABATO: The truth is that presidential candidates always try to get the voters to believe that if they will only elect them president, all of their problems will be eased or even disappear, if only it were that easy. It's not.

COSTELLO: But politicians seem to believe. Neither candidate is giving up on their idea.

MCCAIN: Does anybody here who would like to have that relief from their gas tax? Yes, thank you. Most Americans want that.


COSTELLO: You could argue once you become president you'd have more clout. But cash-strapped Americans are frustrated by the stalemate in Congress and they're looking for a sign that someone can reach across the aisle and get something done -- John, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Carol Costello, thanks so much.

Well, who's really being held at Guantanamo Bay and how did they end up there? Christiane Amanpour talks with a reporter about his special investigation into Gitmo detainees.

Plus, new pictures just in of extreme flooding in Iowa. We'll show them to you and check in with Rob Marciano to see when nature's fury might subside out there. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


PHILLIPS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning."

Extreme flooding in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, right now. Nine rivers in the state either trying to break records -- well, they're actually tying or breaking record flood levels right now. More than half of the state's counties declared disaster areas.

Rob Marciano keeping an eye on it. He's live in Aspen this morning. Hey, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Kyra. Here in the mountains record snow pack had led to flooding worries, but it's been so cold here a lot of that snow is locked up in the mountains, so much so, they're actually still skiing in some of the spots around here.

Let's talk flooding. Adding insult to injury across parts of the Midwest, we had 22 tornado reports yesterday over some spots that have saturated soil and rivers that are already over their flood banks. Take a look at some of this Google Earth imagery while we show you some of that video.

These tornadoes stretching across parts of Kansas in through southeastern Iowa where some of the worst flooding is, across the Mississippi and up towards Wisconsin as well. We do have a severe weather threat today as well.

Those are river gauges, by the way. The purples, where major flooding is happening, and those tornado reports some of those went right over those river gauges that are showing some major, major flooding. And we won't see this subside for several days to come, not until next week will all this water get down past the Mississippi and into the gulf of Mexico.

All right. We do some action on the radar scope this morning. Tornado watch in effect until 9:00. It looks like it was just dropped across parts of Michigan. That's good news.

Still severe thunderstorms just south of Chicago slicing across just south of Iowa. Looks like most of Iowa should be dry today, but the flood warnings continue across many states in the Midwest and many counties there. The Mississippi and Missouri tributaries will have a hard time draining, John, as more rain is in the forecast, especially for Missouri here over the next couple of days. Back to you in New York.

ROBERTS: All right. Rob, thanks very much. Barack Obama's running a historic campaign, but the Democratic Party may have to crown its nominee a cash poor convention. We're going to look at the DNC's money woes.

PHILLIPS: Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, the great grocery challenge.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do we synchronize our list.




PHILLIPS: Our Washington whiz kids stop talking politics and start talking price per pound.


VERJEE: $29.99 a pound?


PHILLIPS: The corner grocery, the upscale market, and the buy in bulk mega store.


MCINTYRE: White chocolate, Pentagon.


PHILLIPS: We're loading up the carts, doing the math, and checking receipts. The final tally just ahead. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: Twenty minutes now after the hour. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton set fund-raising records, but the Democratic National Committee has been left out in the cold when it comes to cash. And party officials are concerned about the effect on this summer's convention in Denver. CNN's Jim Acosta has got the story.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kyra, convention planners here in Denver are relieved the primaries are over. That's because they no longer have to compete with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to raise money for the convention.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The upcoming Democratic National Convention is so strapped for cash, event planners have already canceled dozens of big parties for delegates, including a bash for party bigwigs at the Denver Zoo. The chief fund-raiser for the convention, Steve Farber, told us what the big corporate contributors are telling him. It's the economy.

STEVE FARBER, CHIEF DNC FUNDRAISER: Our earnings are not where they should be. Under a good economy --

ACOSTA: Corporations are saying this?

FARBER: Corporations are saying that, so we're going to cut back a little bit.

ACOSTA: The convention's host committee hoping to raise $40 million by mid-June is nearly $15 million short. Not only has Farber had to fight for the same contributors donating money to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Now that the primaries are over, he says one Clinton backer won't pony up for an Obama convention, so he's looking for alternatives.

ACOSTA (on camera): Ever thought of just picking up the phone and calling Oprah?



FARBER: Or have others? You know, it's a thought, Jim, and that may occur to them.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Denver's Democratic mayor wants to take a page from the presumptive nominee's book by focusing on small time donors to make up for the fund-raising shortfall.

MAYOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), DENVER: There's a lot of people in this country that would love to, you know, send $25 or $50 to support a political convention for a cause they believe in.

ACOSTA: Campaign watchdog groups hope Democrats and Republicans are careful in how they pay for their parties, like with corporate and special interest money.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, CENTER FOR RESPONSE POLITICS: By allowing for soft money to fund the conventions, the parties are really stepping all over their message. Particularly Obama's, but also arguably McCain's, as the person probably most well-known for sponsoring the ban on soft money or promoting the ban on soft money to the parties.


ACOSTA: Denver Democrats have even crossed party lines raising money from big Colorado Republicans like Pete Coors, of the Coors Brewing Company, which is why Democrats insist their list of potential donors isn't tapped out just yet -- John and Kyra.

ROBERTS: Jim Acosta for us. Jim, thanks very much. PHILLIPS: Former detainees talk about life behind bars at Guantanamo Bay. It's part of a special investigation, and we're going to talk with the newspaper reporter behind it.

ROBERTS: And where to shop and drop the least cash. We sent out the beltway team to find the best deals for you, and Jamie McIntyre had enough left over to buy a Pentagon cake. Uhh? Tips to get around sticker shock, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


PHILLIPS: Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour got an exclusive interview with Tom Lasseter from the "McClatchy" newspaper. He interviewed more than 60 former detainees from various U.S. prison camps across the globe. Take a listen.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This Sunday the "McClatchy" newspapers will unveil an unprecedented investigation, interviewing dozens of former inmates at Guantanamo and other U.S. detention centers. People who were released. The investigation took place over eight months in 11 countries on three continents, and the reporter was Tom Lasseter, who joins me now.

Tom, we're seeing some of the pictures of some of the detainees who've been released who you've interviewed. The United States government says it's the worst of the worst who are in detention. What did you find?

TOM LASSETER, MCCLATCHY FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: We found that in a myriad of cases the United States picked up the wrong guys. They picked up the wrong guys at times because they had given financial incentive to local warlords, essentially bounty hunters, to present people as militants. They got the wrong guys because oftentimes there were tribal rivalries in Afghanistan, a country that's had decades of invasion and civil war where a great many people have old scores to settle.

AMANPOUR: So just to get it straight, of the 66 odd people that you interviewed, how many would you say were the wrong guys?

LASSETER: Well, we found that about half of those 66 were low- level essentially Taliban grunts, if you will, or very young volunteer who had come over from Pakistan, who by virtue of who they were really wouldn't have had much to offer in terms of high-grade intelligence on international terrorism.

AMANPOUR: How do you know?

LASSETER: Well, in some cases just by virtue of who they were. If you're talking about a 16-year-old kid from Pakistan, for example, who was swept up near Kunduz after the senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership had escaped, you're getting guys who know how to pull the trigger of an AK-47, but, you know, have not been debriefed by senior al-Qaeda leadership. AMANPOUR: Give me an example or give me one of the stories of what happened to one of these people you call grunts.

LASSETER: By far, I think the more compelling cases were Afghans in which we found that they were not associated with any militant groups or activities at all. Some of whom who, while at Guantanamo, faced harassment from fellow detainees who were Taliban or al-Qaeda, and would target these guys, you know, because they had worked for the U.S.-backed Karzai government.

AMANPOUR: So in other words, some of the people who are dragged in by the United States and its allies were actually people who had worked for the United States.


AMANPOUR: And its allies.

LASSETER: Yes. For example, we interviewed a guy by the name of Mohammad Akhtiar (ph), who, at the time he was detained, was recruiting people for the Karzai government. And because of that local militant leaders wanted him pushed out of the picture in Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan.

And he was actually assaulted at Guantanamo at Camp Four, you know, as he was taking -- as he was washing for prayer. Was assaulted by a group of other detainees who were militants who, and this is by the account of several other detainees who were there at the time, yelled, you know, Allah Akbar (ph), God is great, and affect him.

AMANPOUR: Your series draws some pretty strong conclusions about the consequences of dragging in what you say were the wrong people. What conclusions have you drawn about the United States and its security over this?

LASSETER: Well, at times we created enemies. We got the wrong guy, but by the time he had gone through Bagram and Kandahar and Guantanamo, and had been housed near, you know, radical imams and jihadist fighters, you know, was actually the right guy by the time he was released. It had been radicalized by Guantanamo, which had in many ways become a sort of a school for jihad.

AMANPOUR: And what did you find in the region? The sentiment was the United States after all this?

LASSETER: Well, it bred a great deal of resentment in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Kuwait. In talking with local leadership and getting places like Afghanistan, people who are our allies, they complain very bitterly that it made their jobs all the much harder as detainees came back into the local population and, you know, told people of --

AMANPOUR: What had happened to them.

LASSETER: Of what had happened. It's true.

AMANPOUR: So it turned people against the United States.

LASSETER: Sure. Certainly people from large tribes, Afghan officials complained that it made it very difficult for them.

AMANPOUR: Tom Lasseter, thank you so much, and we look forward to reading the entire series.

LASSETER: Thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: Thanks for coming.

LASSETER: Thank you.


PHILLIPS: Now the Defense Department released this statement with regard to mistreatment of detainees.

"Our policy is and always has been to treat detainees humanely. All credible allegations of abuse are thoroughly investigated and individuals are held accountable for their actions. 13 major reviews of detention operations have not found any policy that ever condoned or tolerated abuse of detainees."

"The closing chapter of the Manchester Manual teaching al Qaeda operatives how to operate in a prison or detention center. It directs detainees to insist on proving that torture was inflicted and to complain of mistreatment while in prison."

ROBERTS: Just crossing the half hour now. Let's recap some of the top stories that we are following this Friday the 13th.

Pounding rain pushing floodwaters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa even higher. The heart of the city is now under water. Thousands have been forced to leave their homes. So far 55 of Iowa's 99 counties have been declared disaster areas. And nine rivers are at or above historic flood levels.

Several wildfires burning right now in northern California. At least 10 homes destroyed and thousands of others are in danger. Close to 20,000 acres have been wiped out. Crews say heat, high winds, and extremely dry vegetation are fueling the fires.

The salmonella outbreak in tomatoes is spreading today. The government now says 23 states have reported 228 cases. Still no word on the source of the bacteria and health officials say tainted tomatoes could still be on the market.

The FDA says tomatoes in California and 26 other states have been cleared as safe to eat. Those from 19 Florida counties are listed as safe as well.

You can see a list of those states and counties at

A general election campaign has finally kicked into high gear. For many, the journey to this point has been about more than just politics or policy. It's been about emotion.

CNN's special correspondent Frank Sesno joins us now live from Washington with more on that.

Good morning, Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Yes, a lot of emotion, especially for African-American voters. This is simply uncharted territory and as we think ahead, we should also think back.


SESNO (voice over): When Barack Obama started this campaign, he acknowledged he was a blank canvas on which anyone could paint anything.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America.

SESNO: For none have the brush strokes been more intricate or emotional than for African-Americans. An early win in Iowa, overwhelmingly white, launched the campaign.

OBAMA: They said this day would never come.

SESNO: Yet many black voters were still skeptical.

WILLIAM BOONE, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: Initially even the black community at large was not that excited or even hopeful that Obama could sustain this run for the primary.

SESNO: A few weeks later in South Carolina black voters weighed in decisively.

OBAMA: Yes, we can!

SESNO: Obama's big win in South Carolina prompted what many took as a dismissive jab from Bill Clinton.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in '84 and '88.

SESNO: The race suddenly was about race. It echoed through lapel pins, Jeremiah Wright, working class whites.

Rapper Jay-Z's refrain became Obama's refrain. He minimized race even as he connected with it.

OBAMA: When you're running for the presidency, then you've got to expect and you know, you just got to kind of let it -- you know?

SESNO: Meanwhile, Clinton supporters were brushing off a different set of emotions.

LISA HAWKINS, CLINTON SUPPORTER: I feel like a traitor to my race or made to feel that way.

TENE DAVIS, CLINTON SUPPORTER: I am not going to jump ship just because a black candidate is running for president. I have been waiting for Hillary Clinton to run for years.

SESNO: For many it was just surreal.

On the trail and on the air, new voices and new faces, new politics, new emotions.

CHRISTINA NORRIS, OBAMA SUPPORTER: You know, you can't even describe it, you're just so excited.

SESNO: Now barring a huge price, it's Barack Obama versus McCain. This campaign, not for the nomination, but the White House itself. Not a dream anymore.


ROBERTS: And Frank, can we expect to see more of this politics of emotion and see it accelerate as we head toward November?

SESNO: Unquestionably, because as I said, this is now about the White House. And the interesting thing is where the African-American vote is very significant, there are some states that are in play maybe that haven't been before. Virginia was an early stop for Obama right after he clinched the nomination, for example, and take a place like Georgia.

And Georgia -- the Obama campaign thinks there may be half a million or more eligible black voters who are not yet registered. So the emotions and the politics come together in a very big way now.

ROBERTS: Yes, he had a huge turnout in Georgia for the primary. So let's see if that translates to the general.

SESNO: Exactly.

ROBERTS: Frank Sesno, it's always great to you see. Thanks for coming in today.

SESNO: Thanks, John.

PHILLIPS: Well, Congress is getting tough on oil traders. Many people in Congress think that speculators are actually the ones driving up the price of oil. So a new bill would crack down on oil trading by beefing up the agency that -- oversees it giving it more money and more manpower.

Earlier this week Democrats tried to tackle high oil prices by going after oil companies' profits with a windfall tax. But Republicans blocked that measure.

And the great American lager may be about to change passports. Missouri senators are trying to stop the $46 billion sale of Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch to a Belgian brewer. They want Attorney General Michael Mukasey to start with an anti-trust investigation, but experts say there's no legal reason to stop the sale.

The Belgian company is promising not to cut jobs or close the breweries.

Now over the past year we've been following use on the potential health risks of chemicals in some plastics, in particular phthalates compound -- those - actually phthalates are the compound that make plastics flexible and resilient.

Well, now a new study is pointing to that new shower curtain smell saying it could be toxic. The warning comes from the Virginia base Center for Health, Environment, and Justice and it claims certain vinyl shower curtains made with PVC release toxic chemicals into the air that could lead to liver damage and damage to the central nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems.

They're calling on chains including Wal-Mart and Target to phase them out.

ROBERTS: Catastrophic flooding in Iowa. More than half of the state's counties now declared a disaster area as streets remain under feet of water. Look at those pictures there. An up front look at the impact.


PHILLIPS (voice over): Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, tightening the beltway.


PHILLIPS: Jamie, Zain, and Tom set off on the great grocery challenge.


PHILLIPS: Who will come out on top? The big box boy? The corner grosser? Or the health nut?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Could I try the oldest cheese you have here?

PHILLIPS: The results of the great grocery challenge just ahead.

You're watching the most news in the morning.


PHILLIPS: Well, it's "ISSUE #1" this election year, the economy, and we're attacking it from every angle, of course. First it was the great commuter races.

ROBERTS: Three of our beltway correspondents taking on some of the worst rush hour traffic in the world looking for ways to save you money and time. Well, today, they're trying to get over the sticker shock at the supermarket.

PHILLIPS: So once again let us introduce you to our contestants.

State Department correspondent Zain Verjee.

ROBERTS: Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

PHILLIPS: And Tom Foreman, our raw politics guy.

And off they go.


FOREMAN: If you have been to the grocery store lately you know pretty much getting groceries involves taking out a loan. So I'm going to go to my local store and do the best I can to get a bang for my buck.

VERJEE: So I will be going to whole foods and look for the healthy organic stuff.

MCINTYRE: And I'm going to try to save the American way by buying big in bulk at my neighborhood warehouse store.

Should we synchronize our lists?

FOREMAN: Yes. Let's do it.


MCINTYRE: Milk, bread, cereal, meat, eggs, cheese, veggies, crackers.

VERJEE: Soda, dessert, and a prepared meal.

FOREMAN: All right. Let's go. Let's go.

VERJEE: See you back at the bureau.

MCINTYRE: OK. We're here at Costco. It's a warehouse store, and we're going to save a lot of money. Milk, $3.09 a gallon. That's cheaper than gasoline. 2 percent for $3.79.

VERJEE: So you can have skim milk. This costs me $3.89.

MCINTYRE: Two packages of 18. Still $3.99. Pretty good deal.

VERJEE: Twelve eggs, $3.89.

FOREMAN: Medium eggs here for $1.89.

VERJEE: Could I try the oldest cheese you have here?

MCINTYRE: The average grocery store you buy cheese if you want to make something, here you buy cheese if you want to build something out of cheese.

VERJEE: $29.99 a pound?

FOREMAN: Look at all these cheeses.

VERJEE: And who can resist trying the aloe vera face and body lotion?

MCINTYRE: It's hot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now why did you put it in your mouth when I told you it's hot.

MCINTYRE: Of course. What are these? Spinach and feta cheese. Mad crock energy drink. Sounds good.

One great thing about these stores is they have some great specialty items like this white chocolate Pentagon. The beat I cover. Zain and Tom will find nothing like this.

FOREMAN: And so we're all finished. How did you do?

MCINTYRE: Well, Costco is a marvel, but I got some great deals but I had to buy more than I wanted of some things.

FOREMAN: But a sort of limited selection compared to what I had here. I got sort of all-American shopping here. Good buys on a variety of items.

VERJEE: You got bulk, you got variety, but I got the most healthy foods.

FOREMAN: What did you spend overall?

MCINTYRE: $95.24.

FOREMAN: Nod bat. $64.38.

VERJEE: $80.09. Pretty comparable.

MCINTYRE: All right. So I paid the most but I got these Belgian chocolate Pentagon.

FOREMAN: You can't go wrong with that. Let's eat.


ROBERTS: Nothing like a Belgian chocolate Pentagon.

PHILLIPS: There you go. I know who likes chocolate. Our Zain Verjee loves chocolate. One of our -- oh nice melons behind you there.

ROBERTS: Whoa. Whoa.

PHILLIPS: Whoops, I'm sorry. Was that a personalized -- was that a (INAUDIBLE)

VERJEE: Kyra. No, darling. Everybody loves it when you say that. They like that.

PHILLIPS: OK. Fabulous.

VERJEE: I couldn't find -- I couldn't find a chocolate State Department around here, but I did have a great time. I got to have a lot of nibbles around the store. You know I'm a pretty healthy person, too, right?

PHILLIPS: You like to eat.

VERJEE: Other than the fruits, you know, there's -- I like to eat, and I was actually, you know, picking out a little bit of breakfast. I've got myself this chocolate croissant. I couldn't resist a little bickie(ph), an all natural hand iced flip-flop butter cookie, and a little Danish to end the morning, you know?

So that's what we like around here is the healthy stuff.

PHILLIPS: I want to know if you beat the boys.

VERJEE: And it's all good fun.

PHILLIPS: Did you beat the boys?

VERJEE: No. I -- well, I think I beat the boys after reviewing the tape. I felt as though I did because simply -- because I was just much more healthy. I mean don't I look like a healthy person? They got the bulk. They got more stuff. I could have done that, but I went for the more exotic interesting tastes around here.

So one other thing, Kyra...

PHILLIPS: Doesn't Zain look healthy, John?

ROBERTS: Very much so.

VERJEE: He has to say that because Lord knows what you'll say. But Kyra, the store here says that they adore you. They love you, and they wanted me to give you this this morning.

PHILLIPS: Oh. They're beautiful.

VERJEE: Nothing -- nothing for you, John, but these are for Kyra, and, you know, they invite you here anytime.


VERJEE: Fruits, melons, anything you want.

ROBERTS: She is obviously very appreciative of their produce already. So I'm sure she'll appreciate the flowers.

PHILLIPS: Yes. VERJEE: We're -- Kyra, we're trying to figure out what the next race is, and I absolutely have to really win this time hands down. So I was thinking maybe where we can get the best manicure and pedicure.

ROBERTS: There you go.

VERJEE: And I hope I win that.

ROBERTS: No contest.

PHILLIPS: Hey, I'm going to participate in that one and then we'll get the massage and facial also.

ROBERTS: Zain, a lot of fun.

VERJEE: I think so. I don't think Jamie and Tom can beat us on that.

ROBERTS: Thanks very much, Zain.


ROBERTS: The world wide resources of CNN in action today. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta traveled all the way to Cameroon for the next "PLANET IN PERIL" series. He's going to tell us about life in the jungle.

Plus Iowa inundated. More than half of the state's counties now declared a disaster area as floodwaters rise. Our Rob Marciano was watching the latest and he's going to join us live next.

You're watching the most news in the morning.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the most news in the morning.

Water up to their waist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The floodwaters reaching up to the front doors of some homes. Our Rob Marciano is keeping an eye on it this morning. He's live in Aspen, Colorado this morning where they may be experiencing some water problems of their own coming up over the course of the summer.

Hey, Rob.


ROBERTS: Yes, they certainly do. But I trust, Rob, that you'll do some personal investigation of just what sort of quality the skiing is this June, yes?

MARCIANO: Listen, if that's what you want, that's what you'll get.

ROBERTS: OK. We need...

MARCIANO: You say jump, I say how high. ROBERTS: We need to get you out there. OK. Let's hear about that on Monday, all right? Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: All right.

PHILLIPS: We're (INAUDIBLE) "Paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta" this morning long distance. Sanjay is going to tell us what he's doing in Cameroon for the new CNN "PLANET IN PERIL" series. That's coming up next.

You're watching the most news in the morning.

ANNOUNCER: "Business Travelers Advisory" brought to you by...


PHILLIPS: CNN is traveling the world again to follow up on our "PLANET IN PERIL" series and this morning we check in with our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the west African nation of Cameroon reporting on the medical implications of life in the jungle.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Hey, guys. I'm reporting to you from deep in the forest of Cameroon for "PLANET IN PERIL."

We've been tracking for about three hours, following hunters around here in the forest as they try and find some meat, some food, to sustain their family.

Take a look behind me over here. You see an animal hanging from a snare. That is a porcupine. That is very good news for the hunter who caught this particular porcupine because it is going to provide food and protein for a family of about nine people in his village. Very good news.

You also have Matthew and Moslin over here who are global viral forecasters. They're traveling with the hunters trying to educate them about how to do safe hunting practices.

There are really two concerns. Is there too much hunting going on? Is there hunting going on to the point where you actually get animals that require the protected status? That's one concern.

But also from a health perspective, could these animals actually transfer pathogens and viruses from animal to human? Things like Ebola, HIV, Marburg, SARS, even malaria as a pathogen. And it's happened in the past. Some of them happens in jungles right here in Cameroon.

The goal of Matthew and Moslin, these global viral forecasters, is to try and intervene before that happens again, try and prevent the next pandemic.

We're going to continue trekking here through the forest of Cameroon. We'll have much more to report. I'll get it to you when I get it. Back to you for now.


PHILLIPS: Great stuff. Sanjay Gupta for us this morning out of Cameroon.

And keep your eye out for a new "PLANET IN PERIL" series, "Battlelines." That's coming up this fall.



SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: I have complete trust in Senator Obama's judgment in this regard, and I can't wait to help President Obama swing some really strong punches for change.


ROBERTS: That is Missouri senator Claire McCaskill talking about possibly being on Barack Obama's vice presidential short list.

Meantime, Barack Obama is on a national tour talking tough about John McCain and the economy, but Senator Obama is taking hits of his own on that issue and more.

Let's talk about that today.

Robert Gibbs is the communications director for the Obama campaign. He joins me now this morning from Chicago.

Robert, good to see you. Thanks for being with us.

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN COMM. DIR.: John, nice to be with you, and hope you're doing well.

ROBERTS: Yes, I am, doing fine, thanks.

The McCain campaign is now targeting a second member of your vice presidential search team, Eric Holder, the former deputy attorney general, for his part in the 2001 pardon of financier Marc Rich.

Are you going to resist calls for Eric Holder to step aside?

We should remind reviewers that Jim Johnson, who led that search team, stepped aside earlier this week.

GIBBS: Right.

Well, look, I think Eric Holder, obviously, is a very honorable man who's worked the majority of his life in law enforcement. He has done nothing wrong, and I think this is sort of gone a little bit out of control.

I think, you know, not to get into guilt by association or things like that, but let's look at who John McCain has vetting his vice presidential prospects. He's a former lobbyist and the head of the legal team in the Reagan White House during the Iran contra hearings.

Obviously, I think this has all gotten a little out of control. I think what we need to do is get back to running these campaigns in a little bit more of a sane way, and I think Eric is a very honorable person. And he'll stay with the team.

ROBERTS: All right.

John McCain's latest line of attack on this and other issues is to question Senator Obama's judgment, and he's taking aim at some comments that he made on CNBC yesterday that the problem with gas prices is not that they're at $4, but the fact that they got there so quickly.

McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said, "Barack Obama's support for higher gas prices and higher energy taxes is just another example of his weak economic judgment."

The criticism here, Robert, is Senator Obama is out of touch with people who are being squeezed by gasoline prices at $4, people who are suffering in these tough economic times.

GIBBS: Look, John, a couple of things here. First of all, you should go back and watch the tape and actually listen to the question that preceded this and John Harwood of CNBC asked Senator Obama about the transition to alternative energy, and Barack Obama says he wishes we would have made those investments 10 or -- five or 10 or 20 years ago so that we can -- we could have gradually eased into an economy that is more dominated by alternative energy.

He's not out of touch with gas prices. When George Bush took office gas was $1.46 a gallon. In those intervening eight years John McCain has voted against raising fuel economy standards that would decrease the demand for gas and voted against a tremendous investment in alternative energy.

So we'll be happy to compare our record to John McCain's any day of the week. Barack Obama's not out of touch. John McCain is. What we need is change in America. What we need is a country and a commitment to becoming less dependent on foreign oil. And that's what Barack Obama will do.

ROBERTS: This whole line of attack by the McCain campaign is to target these independents and disaffected Hillary Clinton voters.

Tomorrow he's going to be holding a town hall with Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, as one of his closest advisers.

Is Senator Obama vulnerable? Is he at risk of losing those disaffected Clinton voters?

GIBBS: Look, a new poll out this morning shows that 45 percent of Republicans are not satisfied with John McCain as the nominee. I think he's got far more work to do in his own party than he does poaching Democrats or looking even for independents who believe somehow that voting with George Bush 95 percent of the time is the right way to do things.

I don't think there's any doubt that -- this party, the Democratic Party, will be united. It's going to come together because John McCain's policies are the same tired, worn out ideas of George Bush that we've tried over and over again. And we see the result. You know? We've got record jumps in the unemployment rate. We've got millions of people without health care. Millions, millions more watching their premium skyrocket. The same old worn out tired ideas haven't worked for eight years, they won't work in the next four.