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American Morning

Barack Obama Lands in Iraq and Meet With General Petraeus and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; Do-it Yourselfers Build Their Own Electric Cars; Beijing Limiting Traffic to Cut Pollution; Female Soldier from Texas Missing Has Been Found Alive, But Injured; All Eyes on Tropical Storm Dolly

Aired July 21, 2008 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Barack Obama lands in Iraq overnight. How his plan for a pullout is being received this morning.
Plus, Mojave Desert Storm.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a really (ph) expensive army laser tag.


ROBERTS: The troops are real. The enemies are actors. A documentary takes you to Iraq without ever leaving home, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Fascinating look at a different perspective on war coming your way this morning. Thanks for joining us. It's the 21st of July, Monday, as we get to a brand new week. Good morning to you. Hope you had a good weekend.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: You, too. And we start off with some breaking news.

Senator Barack Obama is in Iraq right now. He arrived in Baghdad overnight, part of a congressional delegation that includes Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Senator Obama is expected to meet with General David Petraeus and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The senator has pledged to end the war if he is elected and to send more troops to Afghanistan. He also met with troops and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul over the weekend. Last week Obama criticized Karzai's government for not doing enough to organize the country.

And Iran could face new sanctions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the country has only two weeks left to accept an incentives package for ending its nuclear activity. Rice says the country wasn't serious during talks with the U.S. and other nations in Switzerland over the weekend.

And the U.S. Air Force B-52, one of them crashed off the island of Guam. And now, the search crews are look for six crew members. No survivors found yet. Rescuers did find an oil slick but have not located the wreckage. Right now, they're searching an area 30 miles northwest of Guam where they think the plane went down.

ROBERTS: Back to our top stories this morning. Senator Barack Obama is in Iraq right now. Obama has called for an end to combat operations within 16 months of becoming president. But his rival, Senator John McCain, says the withdrawal should be based on progress, not a fixed timetable.

Our Morgan Neill is live in Baghdad for us this morning. What are we hearing of the visit so far this morning, Morgan?

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're told that Senator Obama will meet with the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, with the U.S. ambassador here, Ryan Crocker, and with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He is fresh off a trip to Afghanistan where Obama says U.S. efforts will shift their focus if he becomes president.

But there's one topic that's sure to dominate his visit here. Senator Obama's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.


NEILL (voice-over): Barack Obama comes to Iraq fresh off a pledge to end the war.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future and to reach the political accommodation necessary for long-term stability. That is victory. That is success. That's what best -- that is what is best for Iraq.

That is what is best for America. And that's why I will end this war as president.

NEILL: But Iraq's government says pulling out too quickly could be a grave mistake.

ALI AL-DABBAGH, IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: That is coming to the White House, would not as this reality, and then accordingly to decide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that a message to Barack Obama?

AL-DABBAGH: I think so, yes.

NEILL: Obama's rival, Republican nominee John McCain, says he opposes a timetable for withdrawal. But that worries many in Iraq as well, where the specter of an indefinite U.S. presence brought talks on a long-term security agreement to a standstill. So the next president will have to deal with a country that both wants and fears the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Levels of violence are at their lowest since 2004, but the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, consistently warns that security gains are both fragile and reversible. And the next U.S. president will have to deal with an increasingly assertive Iraqi government, one that's been praised for offensive in Maysan province, Basra and Sadr City.


NEILL: And that's what U.S. officials say they've been working toward all along, more independent, capable, assertive Iraqi government. But that also means that the next U.S. president will have to deal with the government that's more insistent on its own goals, more cognizant of its own political realities -- John.

ROBERTS: Morgan Neill for us this morning in Baghdad. Morgan, thanks so much.

Also breaking this morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki distancing himself from comments that he made over the weekend in an interview with a German magazine that appeared to support Barack Obama's 16-month troop withdrawal plan. The Bush administration called the prime minister's office to get clarification because the two governments had just announced an agreement over American troops a day earlier.

An Iraqi spokesperson said al-Maliki was mistranslated and was not enforcing any specific plan. The magazine however is standing by its interview and a separate CNN translation of Maliki's comments does appear to show support for Obama's plan.

CHETRY: The "Most Politics in the Morning" now. Senator Joe Lieberman criticizing Barack Obama's position on Iraq saying that he's choosing to lose the war by planning to withdraw combat troops.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Senator Obama was prepared, he announced it early last year, to begin pulling American troops out one or two brigade as month, so that in March of this year, 2008, all American combat troops would be out. If he had done -- if Barack Obama had carried out the policy he wanted in Iraq, Barack Obama couldn't be in Iraq today because it wouldn't be safe. Al-Qaeda and Iranian extremism would be in charge of the country.


CHETRY: Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, is a McCain supporter and he credits the troop increase with making Iraq safer.

Evangelical leader James Dobson appears to be softening his stance on John McCain. In today's pre-taped radio show, Dobson will say that he's not supporting McCain now but he may at some point. He says neither candidate shares his exact views, but McCain is much closer and Barack Obama contradicts and threatens everything he believes in.

John McCain spent his Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium watching the Yankees beat the Oakland A's with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. That had some people speculating that Giuliani could be McCain's running mate. Before the game, McCain was on the field signing autographs and talking with the managers of both teams.

ROBERTS: We are watching two storms churning into the Atlantic this morning. Tropical Storm Dolly expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico today. It could develop into the first hurricane to hit the United States in more than two years. Meantime, Tropical Storm Cristobal is headed away from the North Carolina coast leaving behind some rough surf.

Reynolds Wolf watching it all and he's going to join us later on with an update.

Serious concerns meantime about air quality as the Olympic Games draw near. But is China's new plan to cut the dirty air too little too late? We're live in Beijing straight ahead.

CHETRY: From gas guzzler to gas free.


LEFTERIS PADAVOS, BUILT ELECTRIC CAR: What you see here is available existing technology. This is off the shelf stuff.


CHETRY: Do it yourself or find a solution to the high cost of fuel.


PAUL SCOTT, ELECTRIC VEHICLE ASSN. OF SO. CALIF: It's the only way to drive. You know, electricity instead of oil.


CHETRY: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: No, we're not at a wedding, it's the "Most News in the Morning."

The average price of gas, $4.07 a gallon this morning. And a lot of drivers are looking for a way around the prices at the pump. Thelma Gutierrez caught up with one group of drivers who skipped the gas station by building their own electric cars -- Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, John, the first all- electric vehicles aren't expected to hit the road for another two years. But some drivers say they're not willing to wait.


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): It was supposed to be the great electric hope. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: The electric car is here.


GUTIERREZ: GM's EV1 that went away about as quickly as it came. If Detroit wasn't going to build an electric car --

LEFTERIS PADAVOS, BUILT ELECTRIC CAR: It's just different components being used in the car.

GUTIERREZ: -- average Americans would. People like Lefteris Padavos, a professional photographer, who converted his '71, 1914 Porsche. Daniel Pelosi (ph), an electrical engineer, whose Ford Station wagon is now all electric. And Greg Connick (ph), a Web designer who turned his '95 Honda Del Sol convertible into an electric sports car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's a blast to drive.

GUTIERREZ: They are do-it yourselfers who basically thought themselves how to convert gas cars to all-electric.

PADAVOS: This is not rocket science. What I tell people what you see here is available existing technology. This is off the shelf stuff.

GUTIERREZ: The cost, about $8,000. And you can forget any storage space. That goes to the batteries.

PADAVOS: The first thing that needs to come out would be the gasoline engine as well as the radiator and the muffler.

GUTIERREZ: He has eight batteries under the hood and 14 others in the trunk. The car's range, 70 miles between charges. It takes about three hours to charge the car.

PADAVOS: It's costing us about 1.6 cents per mile.

GUTIERREZ: When you add it up, Lefteris says that's about 300 miles for under $5. He has no complaints about performance. Each month, the Electric Vehicle Association of Southern California meets to compare cars and notes.

PAUL SCOTT, ELECTRIC VEHICLE ASSN. OF SO. CALIF: It's the only way to drive. You know, electricity instead of oil, much better. It's all domestic. It's clean.

GUTIERREZ: With gas prices now above $4 a gallon, these drivers are trying to send that message to automakers scrambling to come up with fuel-efficient vehicles. For Lefteris, it's all about freedom.

When was the last time that you actually cared about the price of gas?

PADAVOS: I can't remember. I don't know. In our group, we call it passing gas.


GUTIERREZ: The cost of converting your car yourself could run about $10,000, but if you pay to have someone do it, that can cost up to $20,000. Those are not cheap -- Kiran, John.

ROBERTS: Thelma Gutierrez this morning.

Hello Dolly, as Tropical Storm Cristobal leaves, Tropical Storm Dolly heads into the Gulf of Mexico today. She should. She could become the first hurricane to hit the United States in two years. The forecast ahead.

CHETRY: Tough times have people looking in uncommon places for answers, including psychics.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are many more questions about property, real estate. Do I quit my job and freelance?


CHETRY: And new investment strategy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just took my money out of the bank and reinvested it in James Brown.


CHETRY: New ways to deal with the ups and down of the economy. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: 14 minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." Some of the stories that we're watching for you on the CNN news grid today.

Scott Peterson is going to be in court to answer civil charges in the death of his pregnant wife Laci. Peterson is already in prison facing the death penalty after being convicted of killing her. Laci's family is suing him for wrongful death.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey is going to be talking about the treatment of terror detainees today. He's going to be speaking to a Washington-based think tank about the legal approach to the conflict with Al-Qaeda.

And President Bush is going to meet with the U.S. Olympic team. At 10:05 Eastern this morning, he's going to take a few pictures, have some words of encouragement for our athletes, before they get on a plane and leave for Beijing. The Olympics start in less than three weeks -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, it's almost quarter past the hour now. Reynolds Wolf in for Rob Marciano tracking weather for us. We have Tropical Storm Dolly, right, churning near the Gulf of Mexico this morning.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You are right. It's right near the Yucatan Channel, which is between Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba. This started off just earlier in the week, last week.

This is a few scattered clouds moving across parts of the equator now as it makes its way through parts of the, let's say, again near the Yucatan Peninsula. The current position about 60 miles from Cozumel, Mexico.

However, what's interesting with this if this storm makes its way into the Gulf of Mexico, there's a very good chance the storm could strengthen and become something more, say, a hurricane. And that is precisely what the National Hurricane Center thinks is going to happen.

In fact, as we go from 2:00 p.m. Monday, into 2:00 a.m. Tuesday, where most of the strengthening with maximum sustained winds reaching 65 miles an hour. The current forecast brings it with winds of 75 miles per hour by Tuesday afternoon. But there's always the possibility it could strengthen a bit faster, slow down, pull up stationary.

There are many variables with this storm system, so we're going to watch it very carefully. But right now, if it holds its present course, there's a very good chance it could hit parts of south Texas, including South Padre Island and into Brownsville.

Not the only system we're watching though. The next one would be Cristobal. Whatever choice we have in terms of the pronunciation, this storm has been a mess right off the coast. Not well organized. Bringing some heavy surf to parts of the outer banks.

Right now, the storm is centered about 108 miles from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. And the current path from the National Hurricane Center brings the storm to the east and northeast at a very quick rate. In fact, as we get to Tuesday afternoon and then to Tuesday, I'd say back into Wednesday, rather, we're going to expect the storm to pull into deeper water, cooler water. It should begin to die out as it travels the north. There are still rip currents and rip tides can be expected for much of the northeast.

That's a look at your forecast. Let's send it back to you in New York.

ROBERTS: I guess in a pure Castilian, it would be Cristobal,

WOLF: I would think so. I would think so. We've heard so many pronunciations over the last 24 or 48 hours. We're going with anything at this point.

ROBERTS: All right. CHETRY: Let's nickname him Cris.

WOLF: Sounds great to me. Why not?

ROBERTS: It's our Reynolds Wolf this morning. Reynolds, thanks very much.

WOLF: You bet, guys.

ROBERTS: Barack Obama in Iraq this morning as part of an international tour designed to boost his foreign policy credentials. We'll talk about his trip and whether it will help him reach that goal.

CHETRY: Also, there's a new pollution plan in China that begins this morning. They could never pull this off in the U.S., but we're going to find out what license plates and dirty air have in common. Live in Beijing, you're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: 19 1/2 minutes now after the hour. Three weeks until the Olympic Games' opening ceremonies in Beijing and some serious concerns about air quality there. American athletes may wear special masks to help breathe the polluted air. But Chinese officials insist they're not needed, saying there's a new plan to help clean the air.

One idea that reducing automobile pollution. Cars with odd number license plates will drive on one day. Even numbers will drive the next.

Our John Vause is live in Beijing for us his morning where the plan is already under way. And John, I guess there's some question as to whether or not this is going to work?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, John. But let's just take a look at evening rush hour here on Monday. This is the second main road. Many people are heading home after this first full working day at this huge traffic.

I've got to be quite honest that something looks pretty good. This is a big difference compared to this time last Monday. Officials say they've taken a million cars off the road, in fact more than a million, and now stay off the road for the next two months. And as a result, pollution should be dramatically reduced.


VAUSE (voice-over): Eighteen days before the Olympics and Beijing still can't breathe easy with this sprawling city of 17 million waiting to its usual heavy haze of pollution. To clear the air, hundreds of factories in the capital and beyond are now closed. Others have cut production. More than a million cars are off the road, and work on all construction sites is on hold.

Thousands of workers have been sent home and unpaid vacation many say they didn't want.

We wanted to work hard for a long time, he says, but because of the Olympics, we don't have jobs anymore. No work means no pay, says another.

The government has opened new subway lines and put more buses on the roads and has lowered the cost of fares. It's a last-minute drastic scramble to reduce pollution, a plan that has no absolute guarantee of success.

MALCOLM GREEN, BRITAIN LUNG ASSOCIATION: To my knowledge this has never been done before. Somebody take a city and hugely reduce the amount of polluting sources, with cars and factories. And it will be fascinating to see what does happen.

VAUSE: Olympic officials admit they're hoping for a good breeze and some good rain to wash the air clean. If that doesn't happen, pollution levels might stay stubbornly high.

GEORGE THURSTON, NYU, ENVIRONMENTAL MEDICINE: And if they put on the control measures, my expectation is it will still be probably at least double what the pollution levels would normally be in a city like New York.


VAUSE: Now all of this is just a quick fix for the Olympics and the Paralympics after mid September. The factories fire up. The construction restarts. All the cars will be back and so will the pollution -- John.

ROBERTS: John Vause for us this morning live from Beijing. John, thanks very much.

And a look now at some of the other preparations that China is taking for the Beijing games in an "AM EXTRA."

In addition to the new subway lines that John mentioned, 2,000 more buses will help carry millions of additional people using public transportation because of traffic restrictions. There will be about 10,000 cameras monitoring the major roads to catch drivers who are not supposed to be on them. The military also has an elite anti-terrorism force, numbering 100,000 strong and carrying some high-tech weaponry, including surface-to-air missiles.

CHETRY: Well, Barack Obama lands in Iraq and he's getting tons of coverage about this trip. So how does John McCain get his message through? We have a look at his plan and his strategy, still ahead.

The Iraq war, here in America.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the Mojave Desert in southern California, the Army had constructed a fake Iraq.


CHETRY: A military training facility creates a faux war to prep troops on U.S. soil. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." Senator Barack Obama in Baghdad this morning for talks with Iraqi officials and U.S. commanders. So how much can the trip boost Obama's foreign policy credentials and can John McCain break through the noise to get his message through?

Lisa Lara is a reporter for "The Politico" and she joins me this morning from Washington. Lisa, good to see you.

LISA LERER, REPORTER, "THE POLITICO": Hi, thanks for having me.

CHETRY: So how much does Barack Obama stand to gain from this trip? How much will this help him, I guess, come November?

LERER: This could help him quite a bit. This is a trip to show American voters and the world the commander in chief side of Barack Obama. Polling shows that a majority of Americans think Barack Obama would change America's image in the world, but they see John McCain as a stronger commander in chief.

So this is Obama's attempt to show Americans that, yes, he would make a great commander in chief. He's meeting with troops. He's meeting with foreign leaders, and he's hoping that those pictures go a long way to convince American voters.

CHETRY: Well, he's certainly getting his message out. All three of the main network anchors are there covering his trip in person, doing their shows from the region. You have John McCain who has been several times. He has been eight times to Iraq and four times to Afghanistan since 2000 -- without nearly the amount of coverage. Why is that?

LERER: Well, because, I think as the media is sort of fascinated by Obama, he's a new character on the scene. And even more fortuitously for Barack Obama, world events have seemed to agree with him.

There was an attack in Afghanistan which is actually good for him because he's been saying that Afghanistan should be the focus of much of our fighting. Much of the U.S. is fighting the war on terror. And al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, came out in support of his withdrawal plan, which he later retracted but that message is still out there.

CHETRY: You know, John McCain is trying to get his message out, too, that you couldn't even be talking about quickly withdrawing troops if it weren't for the fact that the so-called surge of troops worked and made Iraq safer and wanting to point out that he is the one who originally supported that. Let's listen to what Joe Lieberman said this weekend about John McCain. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: If Barack Obama had carried out the policy he wanted in Iraq, Barack Obama couldn't be in Iraq today because it wouldn't be safe. Al-Qaeda and Iranian extremists would be in charge of the country.


CHETRY: Is their message getting through, Lisa?

LERER: You know, it's an interesting question. I think they're going to have a tough time selling voters on that message. I think a lot of folks here looking toward the future and this is a change here. And I think people at home were saying, listen, we don't' want be in Iraq. Al-Maliki said they don't want us there. So what are we doing there?

And that's the kind of thinking that I think will lead towards favoring Obama.

CHETRY: He's going to be facing a tough challenge when he visits Israel and also he's going to be meeting with Palestinian leaders as well. A lot of things have gone on there. There are some concerns, I believe, among Israeli leaders about Barack Obama. Some of the talk that -- about having conversations with Iranian leaders with no conditions. He said that at one of the debates and some of the other questions. How does he overcome that?

LERER: Well, he's doing his best. Israel is a really interesting stop on this trip because obviously it's a major U.S. ally. And unlike in other big U.S. allies in Europe, Israelis overwhelmingly don't favor Barack Obama, which is a change, because if there was a world election, Obama would win in a landslide.

So he's trying to show them that he is concerned with Israel. He's concerned with Israel's national security. He's brought along Dennis Ross, who's a really popular figure there. He was an ambassador for Clinton. He's very involved in some of the peace negotiations. So he's trying to send that message to Israelis and by, you know, by extension, American Jews who he's had a tough time winning over as well.

CHETRY: He also sort of has a challenge on the other side of the coin, too, with the Palestinian leaders. He made some comments about undivided Israel that got many Arab leaders upset. What's his challenge there?

LERER: He did.

CHETRY: Undivided Jerusalem, rather.

LERER: Right, an undivided Jerusalem. He did. He's in a tough spot. I guess it's a good -- I guess it's a good audition for president because he has to make everyone happy and that's a really hard thing to do. Fortunately, of course, it's only Americans who vote. So he really has to worry about targeting folks at home.

CHETRY: All right. Lisa Lerer for us from "THE Politico." Thanks for being with us this morning.

LERER: Thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: It's just coming up to the half hour now, and here's a look at some of the top stories we're following for you this morning.

Breaking news, Tropical Storm Dolly moving over the Gulf of Mexico today. It could become a hurricane by tomorrow, and it could become the first storm of the season to hit the continental United States.

It's the first time since World War II the government will begin a military war crimes trial today. Salim Hamdan was once a driver for Osama bin Laden. He is charged with conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

The government admits that he is not a so-called high-value detainee. One military law expert says people will be watching for misstep that could declare the trial unfair.

And a female soldier from Texas missing from Fort Bliss since Friday has been found alive but injured. According to her sister, Army Private First Class Jeneesa Lewis was stabbed twice in the legs, beaten and choked. Her husband, Clinton W. Lewis, has been arrested and charged with kidnapping. Police in El Paso say there were signs of foul play in the couple's apartment.

General David Petraeus says al Qaeda may be switching its focus back to Afghanistan. He says fighters are heading to the border with Pakistan in order to crossover into Afghanistan. Both candidates are talking about redeploying troops there. And as Elaine Quijano tells us this morning, military officials are dealing with renewed violence in the country.


ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the region where terrorists planned the 9/11 attacks, the threat is gathering again. And the Pentagon's top military officer worries that threat growing steadily along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border could emerge stronger than before.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN OF JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: They are joining a syndication of various extremist and terrorist groups, which provides for a much more intense threat. Internal to Pakistan as well as the ability to flow greater freedom to flow forces across that porous border.

QUIJANO: Already in Afghanistan, the Taliban have stepped up the fighting with deadly results for American troops. A week ago in the remote eastern province of Kunar, nine American troops were killed by insurgents firing machine Guns, mortars and rocket propelled grenades. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, acknowledge violence is up, but he stopped short of saying the U.S. was losing the fight.

MULLEN: I would say the progress is mixed there, but I am not concerned at all at this point that we're losing in Afghanistan.

QUIJANO: For the presidential candidates whose campaigns have differed sharply on Iraq, both men agree on the need for more help in Afghanistan.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I believe U.S. troop levels need to increase and I've, for at least a year now, have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Our enemies are on the offensive and it's precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to victory over the Taliban.

QUIJANO: Complicating the picture, Pakistan where extremists continue to find sanctuary.

(on camera): U.S. officials say Pakistan's government is working to rein in the terrorists but say more needs to be done. A point that candidates agree on as well. Elaine Quijano, CNN, Washington.


CHETRY: Elaine, thanks.

Well, Alina Cho joins us now with some other stories new this morning.

Good to see you this Monday morning.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, guys. Hope you had a nice weekend. Good morning, everybody.

New this morning, it could be the latest case of the human form of mad cow disease. A patient in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is being tested right now. There have been only three cases of the human form of the disease in the U.S. in the past several years. And health officials say it is highly unlikely the Massachusetts patient has it.

A new tax on cigarettes. It seems to be helping people kick the habit. Several programs in New York City are seeing more people sign up and many say their main motivation is the city's $1.25 tax increase per pack. That means 10 bucks a pack in some cases in New York City. The tax took effect on June 3rd. The Centers for Disease Control says a tax increase, well, it's one of the most effective ways to get people to quit.

And it was close, but the "Dark Knight" set a new record at the box office this weekend. The latest Batman movie earned more than $155 million in its first three days. The movie, of course, got a lot of buzz from Heath Ledger's portrayal of the joker. And overall, this was the biggest weekend ever at the movies with $250 million in total ticket sales. And here's a look at some of the other top opening weekends in this "AM Extra." Take a look. "Spider-Man III" now second. It pulled in more than $150 million in its opening weekend last year. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" is third. Almost $136 million. And "Shrek" the third, bringing in nearly $122 million during its opening weekend last year as well. Big movies in the past couple of years. I can't say I'm surprised, though.

CHETRY: You know, apparently, some parents are nervous as well because this one is not along the same vein as "Shrek" the third. They're trying to convince going to see it with their kids.

CHO: $18.5 million in midnight showings alone.

ROBERTS: So, my 22-year-old son went to a 6:30 showing on Friday night. My daughter went to a 1:00 a.m. showing. She's 16.

CHO: Oh, yes. There you go. And you? You missed it?

ROBERTS: I haven't seen it yet. She came home at 4:00 a.m.

CHO: Oh, wow. Wow. So, it's a long movie, too. Well, I'm sure it's good. It has gotten a lot of buzz.

CHETRY: It's the best excuse to miss your curfew. Hey, that's when the movie ended. Sorry, dad.

All right, thanks, Alina.

CHO: You bet.

CHETRY: Well, Dolly's coming. The fourth named storm of the Atlantic season is churning toward the Gulf of Mexico. And she could become the first hurricane to hit the U.S. in two years.

Tough times have people looking in uncommon places for answers, including psychics.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are many more questions about property, real estate, do I quit my job in freelance.


CHETRY: And new investment strategies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just took my money out of the bank and reinvested it in James Brown.


CHETRY: New ways to deal with the ups and downs of the economy. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. You know, a lot of people are worried about the economy and they're turning the things to make them feel better.

Our Richard Roth headed on a journey to find out what people are doing to deal with these tough economic times.

Hey, Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, more people are cutting back on their driving to save gas money. Others are clipping more supermarket shopping coupons. I get nervous when I think about the clipping. But what about coping? Some seek liquid salvation while those who can afford it, live a little.


ROTH (voice-over): On a hot summer day, people trek to this 70- year-old grotto in the Bronx, New York for the water. Traditionally, people believe the water produce miracles. Now, more people are praying instead for peace and calm in turbulent economic times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like a real drastic change with the gas prices.

ROTH: If you can't be led to this spiritual water, more Americans are flocking to spirits themselves. Tarot card reader Susan Levitt in San Francisco reports a surge in people looking for divine intervention.

SUSAN LEVITT, SPIRITUAL COUNSELOR: There are many more questions about property, real estate, do I quit my job in freelance.

ROTH: So, clients are not asking will I ever get married.

LEVITT: Supposedly that when times are tough, the three biggest businesses are psychics, cosmetics, the woman will buy a lipstick to feel better, and luxury item because the top three percent will still be buying their Bentleys.

ROTH: Ah, Bentleys. Not everyone is suffering. If you can't afford to buy a car these day, just rent a Bentley for $3,000 a day from Beverly Hills rent a car, showing off their exotic fleet for their new New York agency.

GARY LERANIAN, LUXURY CAR RENTAL MANAGER: I think from a stress relaxation point, these are the toys you use when work goes bad anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, 4000. Thank you, sir.

ROTH: For those down about the down economy, the auction of singer James Brown's memorabilia made bitter scream "I feel good." JEFF ALLEN, BROWN'S FORMER AGENT: All of these things have value in them and continue to grow in value. So I didn't -- I just took my money out of the bank and reinvested it in James Brown.

ROTH: Collectibles may be the third market place.

ITSI ATKINS, AUCTION BIDDER: And anything that's great and associated with greatness will find its market, you know? It will do better than Bear Stearns.


ROTH: James Brown was known as the hardest working man in show business. Many viewers, Kiran, must feel in this economy they're performing like the hardest man or woman in their business.

CHETRY: Yes, exactly. Now, you talked about how people go to psychics in these tough times. What did she say? Anything predictions about the future?

ROTH: Well, this is the Year of the Rat, which I believe means money, money, money. She's reporting that everyone -- there's a boom in business. And people are really focusing instead on what is going to happen with their job and their mortgage, less about their husband or girlfriend or wife. And she treats, I say treats, a lot of ex-CEOs from the Internet boom. So, business has been up.

CHETRY: Richard Roth, good to see you this morning. Thanks.

ROBERTS: 40 minutes after the hour. All eyes on Tropical Storm Dolly today. She is expected to hit the Gulf of Mexico today and she could become a hurricane. Reynolds Wolf has got the updated storm track for us ahead.

CHETRY: Sweetening the deal. How about a brand new car with that house?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm hoping that it makes people say, oh, let me go take a look.


CHETRY: See the incredible lengths people are going because they can't sell their homes. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: Feel Miami from Will Smith this morning as we're looking at over Biscayne Bay. And our thanks to our friends at WSBN for that shot. 84 degrees right there now. Feels like 92 already. And it's 45 minutes after 6:00. Going up to a high of 89 today with some scattered thunderstorms. Typical Miami weather for the middle of July. CHETRY: That's right and churning just a little bit below Miami is Tropical Storm Dolly. Reynolds Wolf is keeping track of both Dolly and Cristobal for us.

And you issued a slight correction as well. There was a hurricane, Umberto, in 2007, not a big one that hit the U.S., so...

WOLF: You are correct.

CHETRY: ...You may have forgotten about poor Umberto.


ROBERTS: Anything else pouring out there, Reynolds, or is that all you got this morning?

WOLF: We've got Fausto. Fausto is over in the Pacific. With Fausto, thankfully, little bit of a fish storm, not affecting anyone. That's certainly the good news with Fausto.

ROBERTS: All right. Reynolds, thanks so much. We'll check back with you soon.

CHETRY: Thank you.

WOLF: OK, guys.

ROBERTS: Saving money on gasoline, with prices near all-time highs. You may think that it can't be done. But in some stations, it doesn't matter what you drive, it's how you pay that can save you cash.

CHETRY: The Iraq War here in America.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the Mojave Desert in southern California, the Army had constructed a fake Iraq.


CHETRY: A military training facility creates a faux war to prep troops on U.S. soil. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: 49 minutes after the hour. Real troops in a fake Iraq. The Army is giving soldiers some realistic battle training right here at home. CNN entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson takes a look at a new documentary that goes behind the scenes of that training.


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, troops heading to Iraq are training at a unique facility in the middle of a California desert, using their imagination and a little Hollywood magic.


ANDERSON (voice-over): Fierce fighting, angry crowds. This may look like the war in Iraq, but, in fact, these battles are being fought on U.S. soil orchestrated by the Army.

JESSE MOSS, CO-DIRECTOR, "FULL BATTLE RATTLE": I think too strange to be true that in the Mojave Desert in Southern California, the army had constructed a fake Iraq.

ANDERSON: The new documentary, "Full Battle Rattle," goes inside the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where Hollywood-like sets have been erected creating faux Iraqi towns where simulated war is waged.

(on camera): The film was shot here, in the fake village of Medina Wasl, populated by Iraqi actors, but real American soldiers. Put them together and you've got training meant to prepare the troops for the real thing.

(voice-over): Three-week cycles, 10 times a year, soldiers en route to Iraq live in this pretend world, complete with a coffee shop, hotel and marketplace.

(on camera): This village looks very realistic. Take this Sunni mosque, for example. But when you get a little closer, this hollow wall is one indication not everything is as it seems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a big expensive army laser tag.

(voice-over): Lasers used instead of bullets. Pyrotechnics versus real explosives. Prosthetics and fake blood to resemble injuries.

TONY GERBER, CO-DIRECTOR, "FULL BATTLE RATTLE": There's no amount of preparation that can prepare these young men and women for the actuality of battle. But maybe it mitigates some of the fear.

ANDERSON: The film follows not only the Americans' experiences, but the Iraqi natives, who act out scenarios crafted by a team of writers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your occupation is going to be an Iraqi police officer.

ANDERSON (on camera): Nagi Moshi fled Iraq to live in America. He's been working at the training center for three years and sees the value of these exercises for soldiers.

NAGI MOSHI, IRAQI ACTOR: They make a mistake over here to not do it over there. Because when they do it over there, they're going to cost them a lot.

ANDERSON (voice-over): A sentiment shared by everyone in this simulated reality. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: "Full Battle Rattle" is now playing at New York's film forum and will expand to Seattle, San Francisco and possibly more cities soon. John, Kiran?

ROBERTS: Breaking news, Obama in a war zone arriving in Iraq overnight after fresh promises to end the war.

And, buy a home, get one free. How about a hybrid to sweeten the deal?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm hoping that it makes people say -- oh, let me go take a look.


ROBERTS: Some drastic deals to unload homes. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: "Most Politics in the Morning" now. A look at your Monday morning "Political Ticker." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she knows who she's voting for this November but she's not going to tell. Rice sat down with our good friend Wolf Blitzer, giving no hint about who she'll pick. Rice did say she has no interest in running for vice president.

Well usually in Colorado for the fresh powder, many famous faces are planning to head to Denver for the Democratic national convention. Lot of A-listers and B-listers and so on down the alphabet supporting Barack Obama. Stars including Scarlett Johansson, Kanye West, Spike Lee and Ben Affleck say they're headed to Denver.

For more up-to-the-minute political news, head to

ROBERTS: Former Vice President Al Gore saying that he can do more for the environment as a private citizen. The former vice president told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he cannot be talked into a government post even if Barack Obama does win the presidency.


AL GORE (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: But I personally feel that my own best role is to try to bring about a sea change in public opinion because one of the big challenges our country has faced is that policymakers who know the right thing to do run up against the wall set up all around them by the lobbyists and special interests and the defenders of the status quo.

And the only way we're going to break out of this crab is by mobilizing public opinion with a clear vision of exactly what is at stake for our country. I think that's my highest and best use in public life.


ROBERTS: Last week, Gore challenged the United States to switch all of the nation's electricity production to wind, solar and other carbon-free sources within a decade.

With the drilling debate, one of the top issues on the campaign trail, our Ali Velshi is on an energy hunt. So we sent him from Manhattan all the way to northern Alaska. He's trying to find out if we're sitting on a potential cure for high gas prices in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Well, the conflict here is do we go into a place because there's oil available or do we say some things are just off limits? And that's what it comes down to.

In the National Wildlife Refuge, a lot of it would be left alone and, in fact, an area about the size of South Carolina would be left alone. An area of the state of Delaware would be drilled on.

But the concern is there are caribou. There are native people who live here, who live off the land, subsistence, you know, hunting, and, you know, should we be tampering with things that are that pristine?

That's the debate at the moment. There are some people who say we need every bit of oil that we can get, so we should. And those who say, you know, maybe we should think about conserving.

ROBERTS: Be sure to join Ali and the rest of the CNN Money Team today at noon Eastern. Ali is going to be on location reporting from Alaska this week in his continuing energy hunt. That's at 12:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

CHETRY: AAA this morning says gas prices are down just a pinch. It's the fourth consecutive day we've seen a slight drop. But we're still above 4 bucks a gallon nationwide. That's hard to swallow, especially when you're paying by credit card, because when you do that to fill your tank, the gas station then has to pay the credit card company a fee. Now, some gas stations are saying that if you pay in cash, they'll pass those savings on to you.

Our Jim Acosta following "Issue #1."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Regular, fill it up, cash.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Better stop at the ATM before pulling into this gas station in New Jersey.

PAUL KELLY, SUNOCO GAS STATION OWNER: What we're trying to do now is to give our customers a savings. ACOSTA: That's because the owner, Paul Kelly, is offering a big ten-cent discount to drivers carrying cash. He says he's tired of being charged a fee by the credit card companies every time a customer pays with plastic.

KELLY: If we pay 3 percent on average, or even a little less than that on a credit card fee at $4 a gallon and I'm making 12 cents a gallon. That's my entire profit.

ACOSTA: On a gas purchase totaling $100, roughly $3 would go to the credit card company depending on the card.

SAL RISALVATO, N.J. GASOLINE CONVENIENCE & AUTO ASSN.: The world is fixated on the oil companies, the price of oil, the price of gasoline. And while everybody is fixated on that, the credit card companies are quietly laughing all of the way to the bank.

ACOSTA: Sal Risalvato, who represents gas station across New Jersey, says the so-called interchange fees can be crushing.

RISALVATO: Many dealers just cannot stay in business any longer.

ACOSTA (on camera): According to one trade publication, nationwide nearly 3,000 gas stations have closed in the last year. This one on the Jersey shore won't even reopen. The land is being offered up for townhouses.

(voice-over): The credit card companies' response -- don't blame us. In a statement an industry spokeswoman says, "The oil companies restrict what the gas station owners can charge per gallon. The oil companies are squeezing them." Still, late last month, Visa announced it was lowering its fees on fuel purchases.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every little bit helps?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. You've got to save, every time you can.

ACOSTA: Back at that gas station, we found the cash discount got some customers revved up. But one man who didn't read the sign paid the price as in the credit price.

You're now having to pay ten cents more a gallon because you swiped your credit card.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. No, I don't think that's fair.

KELLY: It's a matter of survival for us.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Last year, convenience stores alone paid $7.6 billion in credit card fees. So, what's happening at the nation's gas stations may spread to other retailers, putting a whole new premium on plastic.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Lavallette, New Jersey.


ROBERTS: We are just now coming up to the top of the hour. And here are this morning's top stories. Breaking news out of Iraq today. Barack Obama in Baghdad this morning, his first on-the-ground inspection of the country since launching his bid for the White House. Also joining him on the ground, Senators Jack Reid and Chuck Hagel.

Two storms, we were watching both of them closely this morning. Cristobal is brushing past the Carolina coast and Dolly churning in the Caribbean. A full forecast straight ahead.

An Air Force B-52 has crashed off the coast of Guam. Two people have been recovered from the water. No word on their condition. Search crews are still out looking for the remaining four crew members.