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American Morning

Senate Bill Approves FDA Power Over Tobacco; Iranians Vote in Presidential Election; Studies Show Hate Groups in America on the Rise; What Iran's Elections Mean for America; The Backlash Over Hyper- Parenting; Madonna's Adoption Approved; Obama Excuses Girl's Absence From School; One Way to Recycle Shipping Containers; GOP Oil Drilling Rallying Cry Returns; Mexico's Drug War May Be Targeting Police

Aired June 12, 2009 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a good Friday morning to you. It's the 12th of June. Thanks for joining us on the "Most News in the Morning." I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kiran Chetry. Glad you're with us. We're following several developing stories this morning. We're going to be breaking them down for you coming up in the next 15 minutes.

For the first time in history, Congress is about to give the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes. We have with us CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's going to break down what is in this new legislation and what it could ultimately mean for you.

Also, it's Election Day in Iran and voters are deciding whether or not to keep hard-line leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power for another four years, or replace him with a reformer who has energized young voters and wants better relationships with the West. We are live on the ground in Tehran. CNN's Christiane Amanpour is there.

Also, James von Brunn, the suspect in the Holocaust Museum shooting, has now been charged with murder. He could face the death penalty. Right now, the white supremacist is in critical condition after he was shot in the head. This morning we are looking into the concern about others who share his beliefs.

ROBERTS: We begin this morning with the government about to get sweeping and historic new powers to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products. The bill passed the Senate by an overwhelming majority yesterday marking the end of an era when big tobacco held a lot of power and could sway Congress. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to break down how this may help reduce the 400,000 smoking-related deaths in this country.

But first, details of the landmark legislation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 79 and the nays are 17. The bill as amended is passed. ROBERTS (voice-over): With that historic eight-second announcement, a 50-year battle with big tobacco is all but over this morning. The legislation will now go back to the House for final passage then on to the desk of President Obama, himself a smoker, who said he will sign it.

The FDA gaining sweeping powers to regulate how cigarettes and other tobacco products are made and marketed.

"Miracles still happen." That was the reaction from Senator Ted Kennedy, the bill's sponsor. He's battling brain cancer and couldn't be there to witness the vote.

Here's what's in the Senate measure. Within three months, candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes banned because of their appeal to children. Within 12 months, new warning labels will be required, covering up to half the packaging.

Also in a year, tobacco companies will be banned from making cigarettes branded as low tar, light or mild. And the FDA now gaining the power to force big tobacco to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes. That could make it a lot easier for the 20 percent of Americans who still smoke to stop.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Joe Camel will be given a life sentence and put away forever.


ROBERTS: President Obama could sign the legislation into law as early as today, and the White House says he is eager to do just that.

CHETRY: And CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, joins us now with more on this situation. So when you take a look at this law, if it does become law, how significant do you think it will be in reducing smoking-related deaths in this country?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it is hard to overestimate how big a deal this is. I think it's pretty amazing on people who've been fighting this battle for sometime, really have been focused on this.

A couple of stats that I think are really important. Thirty-six million dollars a day spent in marketing cigarettes. A lot of that to kids as you point out in your piece, John. So a lot of that will be going away, I think, if this legislation gets passed.

A lot of smokers who become adult smokers, 90 percent of them start before the age of 19. So, you know, I mean, this is -- it's hard to say how big an impact it's going to have. I think if you just think about the stats, it's going to be huge.

ROBERTS: And what do you think this will do to health care costs?

GUPTA: You know, it's the single biggest preventable cause of disease when it comes to lung cancer, all sorts of breathing problems like emphysema. They say about $200 billion a year is spent on health care cost related to smoking, taking care of these sorts of problems. So, you know, I think it's going to be huge.

We're not going to see that obviously immediately but pretty quickly, I think.

CHETRY: You know, people who are critics of this in general and not just those who, you know, support big tobacco but those who say, wait a minute, you know, isn't it up to us to make health decisions right or wrong? I mean, what can be regulated next? Saturated fat also kills us.

GUPTA: Right. Right. And that's part of the reason this has been a huge battle for so long. I mean, this has been a decades-long battle as you know and because of those very reasons that you're pointing out. But the people who are proponents of this will say, look, these are some of the benefits you're going to get almost immediately when legislation like this pass.

You look at the smokers themselves and you say, OK, if you start to cut down on cigarettes or at least, or even stop altogether, within 12 hours you cut your carbon monoxide levels. Within a month, you start to reduce your risk of heart disease. Within a year, you start to reduce your risk of breathing problems. Seven years later, you can cut your risk of developing lung cancer by almost half. So all the good things sort of come of this and again, a lot of that in kids.

ROBERTS: You know, David Kessler, the former FDA commissioner back in the 1990s, was trying to get this sort of control for the FDA. The Supreme Court struck him down in the year 2000.

GUPTA: That's right.

ROBERTS: But the knock on him was that he wanted to regulate cigarettes out of existence. Do you think there is the potential for this bill to do that?

GUPTA: Not the way it's crafted now. I mean, I think it's going to have a significant impact, but will probably not and still being tinkered with as you eluded to in your piece, John. This is the Senate. Still got to go to the House. And then, you know, President Obama, who himself is a smoker, as you pointed out, is going to have to sign it. So I think there are people who would like to see it going a lot further. So -- but, you know, it's a huge stride.

ROBERTS: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, it's great to have your input this morning.

GUPTA: Thanks.

ROBERTS: Thanks a lot for being with us, Doc.

CHETRY: Good to see you.

Well, also developing right now, voters in Iran are going to the polls to elect a new president. The country's hard-line incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is facing a serious challenge from the leading reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who's open to improving relations with the United States.

Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour has been reporting from Tehran, where tens of thousands of people attended rallies in the campaign's final days. And she is live with us from Tehran this morning.

And, Christiane, tell us what the atmosphere is like on the ground right now?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's an exceptionally high, unprecedented high, turnout and that is going to favor the chief challenger to President Ahmadinejad, Mir Hossein Mousavi. It was always expected that his best chances were if people turned out, and they certainly have.

The polls opened at 8:00 a.m. here, with six and a half hours to go. And from the very beginning, we've seen long lines waiting to go and cast their vote.

People have been standing here in the very, very hot sun. They're carrying umbrellas to shield themselves. They're trying to drink some water, and they've been waiting anything up to three hours- plus to be able to cast their vote.

In our very unscientific and brief exit polling that we personally have conducted in terms of asking people who they voted for, heavily outnumbered are the people who voted for -- or rather the people who voted for Mousavi heavily outnumbered those who tell us they voted for President Ahmadinejad.

This could be the first time a seated president is not reelected in the 30 years since the revolution. This is the second election since the revolution, and each and every time, every president has gone on to serve a second term.

Anyway, people are telling us that what they really object to is the fact that the economy has been mismanaged and many have said is heading to the brink of disaster. And most people here are telling us that also international relations play a big part in that. They resent the fact that over the last four years particularly their country is held in such contempt and ridiculed in derision by the rest of the world. So that's what people are telling us as they go to cast their vote -- Kiran.

CHETRY: So, if this leading reformist candidate does end up winning the election, what is the chance that we'll see a major shift in relations with America in Iran?

AMANPOUR: Well, first, it has to be said that foreign policy is conducted by the Supreme Leader here, Ayatollah Khamenei. He's the one who's in charge of that and in charge of any opening to the United States. Both candidates have said, in fact, all candidates have said including President Ahmadinejad, that they are for opening relations with the United States. Each and every one of them said if they see real change, then they, too, will respond with change.

But the real power and that foreign policy and relations with the U.S. stands in the hands of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. So that is going to be discussed after this election.

What we also know is that people have been telling us whether they're young people, whether they're old people, that they do want to make better relations. They want to have relations with the United States, and they hope that that is something that's going to happen after this election, Kiran.

CHETRY: It's certainly something we'll all be watching closely here in the U.S. as well. Christiane Amanpour on the ground in Tehran for us. Thanks so much.

And we're also going to have much more on Iran's presidential election. In just a couple of minutes, we'll be talking with Middle East expert Fawaz Gerges here on AMERICAN MORNING.

ROBERTS: Could I just point out how extraordinary it is to have Christiane Amanpour live outside of a polling place in Tehran this morning during the elections?

CHETRY: It really is.

ROBERTS: Pretty incredible.

CHETRY: It really is something that we wouldn't have seen a few years ago.

ROBERTS: All right. Stay with us because we've got a lot more on the Iranian elections coming up.

Also new this morning, North Korea is igniting new fears that have virtually the entire world watching. An American official says there are indications that Pyongyang may be preparing for another nuclear test. North Korea carried out its second nuclear test last month. The United Nations Security Council could vote today on possible sanctions against North Korea.

Photos that allegedly show the abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq will no longer be made public. A federal appeals court yesterday reversed its order, forcing the government to release the photographs. The administration had originally said it would hand over the photos but last month reversed course saying releasing the images could put U.S. troops in harm's way.

It's now coming up on nine minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Hello. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

The number two Republican in the House is comparing President Obama's economic policies to those of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. House Republican Whip Eric Cantor is accusing the president of micromanaging the auto industry to win points with Democratic political allies.

The Virginia congressman telling "The Asssociated Press" that the White House has stripped credit holders of their rights, and that he says the plans for the auto industry are "almost like looking at Putin's Russia." Democrats firing back saying Republicans should stop the name calling and help the economy turn around.

Well, the World Health Organization has declared the H1N1 virus or swine flu now a global pandemic, the first one in 41 years. It's the most serious category there is. It also speeds up the production of vaccine.

The CDC says that declaration will have little effect in this country. It's because the agency has already been treating the outbreak like a pandemic. The swine flu has infected nearly 30,000 people in 74 countries.

Now New York City mounting an aggressive campaign to kill nearly 2,000 Canadian geese in the hopes of avoiding the type of collision that forced the US Airways plane to land in the Hudson River. The hunt to capture then gas the (INAUDIBLE) birds will take place at dozens of city parks within about five miles o the airports within the next few weeks -- John.

ROBERTS: More now on Iran's presidential election. There are four candidates running, but the real contest is between incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the leading reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Joining us now for a closer look at the vote and what the outcome could be here for the United States, Fawaz Gerges. He is the Middle East scholar at Sarah Lawrence College. He's also the author of "Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy."

So, Fawaz, great to see you this morning. Could Ahmadinejad really be on the ropes today?

FAWAZ GERGES, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: He really could be. I mean, I think what we need to understand, John, the elections are a referendum on Ahmadinejad, the current president. His failed economic and social policies for the American viewers -- the unemployment rate is 30 percent. Thirty percent unemployment -- the largest in the third world.

Inflation is double digits in Iran. We focus on the United States a great deal on his inflammatory rhetoric on the Holocaust, on nuclear weapons. We tend to forget that Ahmadinejad has basically done a great deal of damage to the Iranian economy, on social policies.

ROBERTS: It's basically bread-and-butter issues.

GERGES: Absolutely. I mean, the elections in Iran are on domestic issues, on the economy, and women rights. I mean, the irony -- please -- ROBERTS: Well, I was just going to say a couple of months ago, it looked like Ahmadinejad was going to cruise to re-election, and suddenly Mir Hossein Mousavi comes up from behind. He's got this green revolution. Everybody out there in the streets of Tehran and across the country dressed in green, which is the color representing their candidate. What happened?

GERGES: I think what has happened is that in the last weeks, the momentum has shifted in favor of Mousavi. Two reasons -- I think the driving force behind Mousavi, Hossein Mousavi, the former prime minister, is his wife, Zhara. Z-H-A-R-A.

ROBERTS: Really.

GERGES: Who is Zhara? Zhara is a scholar, an artist, a former chancellor of a university in Tehran. She has inspired the female vote. The female vote, John, is one of the most critical and most pivotal votes in Iran. Women have become really now a critical player. In fact, the woman vote will likely break or make Ahmadinejad. And thanks to Zhara in particular.

ROBERTS: So if Mousavi becomes prime minister -- or becomes president, rather -- what does that mean for the United States?

GERGES: John, I mean, one point must be made very clear. The president, the elected president is not the commander in chief. He does not make decisions of war and peace. The major player, the major decision maker is the unelected Supreme Leader. That is Ali Khamenei along with a security council, National Security Council composed of dozens of decision makers.

But I would argue even though the president is not the decision maker, the commander in chief, the style of the president, the posture of the president, let's remember, Ahmadinejad has done a great deal of damage into relations between the West and Iran, his inflammatory rhetoric, his denial of the Holocaust, his aggressive style.

ROBERTS: So bottom line, would things be better under Mousavi?

ROBERTS: Absolutely. In particular, John, not only if Mousavi is elected, in particular if he wins with a, you might say, social contract. If Iranians elect him by, let's say 10 percent, even the Supreme Leader, even Ali Khamenei could not basically ignore the popular will.

ROBERTS: And on that point, do you think that the election will be all over and done today? Because under Iranian law, you got to get a simple majority, 50 plus one percent. Do you think that either candidate will get that today or will there have to be a runoff?

GERGES: Well, Iranians have surprised us many times. This is really, John -- I mean, the state, we have a stereotype of Iran, Islamic Republic. One of the most dynamic societies in the Muslim world.

I mean, think of the woman movement -- the largest woman movement in the third world in Iran. So Iranians we hope that today the elections will be decided today in favor of the reformist candidate, Mousavi. I'll take a runoff. If there is a runoff, Ahmadinejad will likely go under.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, we'll see what happens today. We'll be watching it very closely.

Fawaz Gerges, it's always great to have you come by. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

GERGES: A pleasure.


CHETRY: Well, we were all horrified certainly at the attack that took place at the Holocaust Museum this week. But is hate really growing in the United States? We're going to talk about that with Jason Carroll in just a moment.


CHETRY: Well, this morning, we learning more about the 88-year- old white supremacist charged with murder in the Holocaust Museum shooting.

James von Brunn still in critical condition this morning. Prosecutors say they found a hate-filled note in his car. In it, he called the Holocaust a lie and also said that President Obama was created by Jews. Police officer revealing that Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, the one who was shot and killed, opened the door for von Brunn before he was shot.

Well, yesterday's -- Wednesday's crime is certainly a shocking and deadly reminder that hate in America is still alive and well.

CNN's Jason Carroll joins us now. And there seems to be a bit of a debate. Are we just hearing about it more? Or is it just easier to get your hate-filled rants out there because of the Internet?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Part of that is true. Part of that is true. But, you know, one thing we have to realize this is a part of our past. It's definitely probably going to be a part of our future as well.

You know, you look at what happened just last month. That's when the Department of Homeland Security released a report including the election of the country's first black president along with a poor economic climate are driving forces for extremist recruitment. The Holocaust Museum shooting, a reminder of just how deadly this people can be. The question -- how do you find them before they strike?


CARROLL (voice-over): James von Brunn made no secret of hiding his hatred publishing a book, "Kill the Best Gentiles!" which denied the Holocaust and praised Hitler, creating an anti-Semitic Web site called the Holy Western Empire. Experts say it's a bitter taste of what's really out there.

BRIAN LEVIN, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF HATE AND EXTREMISM: The Internet really provides a virtual town square for the hate movement.

CARROLL: Brian Levin is director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Levin says a key to understanding the problem of identifying extremists is knowing where they spread their message. One study showing the number of hate Web sites have grown from 150 in 1996 to more than 10,000 in 2009. Experts like Levin say virtual extremism has replaced the need for a real leader.

LEVIN: The lack of charismatic leaders like we had in the past has made it such that a lot of these large groups seldom can't keep their members as tightly reined. So these folks go off to their own orbit and start their own hate groups.

CARROLL: Small groups or individuals armed with a computer can write and influence without holding a rally, burning a cross, or breaking any laws.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW: Well, the Supreme Court has said that violent speech isn't that protected like other forms of speech. The only good thing about some of these groups is that, in fact, they are open, that we know about them.

CARROLL: Some terrorism experts say because there are so many extremists not monitored because they're not appearing to be breaking any laws, law enforcement may not know about the deadly ones until it's too late.

BILL ROSENAU, TERRORISM EXPERT, RAND CORP.: I think a lot more work has to be done to understand the kind of dimensions of the problem before we decide what's necessary to be -- to do to sort of counter it.


CARROLL: Well, von Brunn is probably what experts call a lone wolf, meaning, he appeared to be acting alone. But terrorism experts say the real threat is probably from very small groups of people, groups of three or four who don't have international connections, who don't have connections with other extremists, who operate well below the radar. Those tiny groups are the ones that are very difficult to monitor.

CHETRY: Yes. Scary situation for sure.

CARROLL: Very much so.

CHETRY: Jason Carroll for us this morning. Thanks.

ROBERTS: It's twenty-three and a half minutes after the hour. I got a question for you. What's this?

CHETRY: Helicopter?

ROBERTS: Helicopter. The sound of a helicopter parent.


You know, helicopter parents that are always hovering over their kids, guiding every aspect of their lives.

CHETRY: I don't know any of those. I don't know any of those.

ROBERTS: Never heard of such a thing. Well, the helicopter parent, of course, has been like the whole thing for the last couple of years. But is bad parenting coming back in again?

CARROLL: God, I hope not.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll find out. You'll be surprised when you find out. Carol Costello coming up with that in just a couple of minutes. Stay with us.


ROBERTS: Well, you can spot them just about anywhere. You can hear them too -- that whoop, whoop, whoop of the rotor going around in the playground, in the store, at school. They're helicopter parents hovering over their children, scheduling almost their entire day from sunrise to sunset.

CHETRY: Hmm, so, is there a point when those good intentions maybe go too far? Has over-parenting become passe?

CNN's Carol Costello live in Washington. She's "Just Sayin'" maybe there's some backlash over the hyper-parenting.

You know, Carol, you made me start to look within myself, sadly. I'll tell you more on that later.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I knew you were sounding a little defensive, Kiran. But I think a lot of mothers can relate to that, because, oh, to be a perfect parent and raise the perfect child.

For the past two decades or so, that has been the goal. And moms have really taken it to heart, managing every aspect of their child's life to achieve perfection. Well, now, there is a growing number of moms who had it with this type of parenting. They're just saying, "I'm a bad mom and I'm proud of it."


COSTELLO (voice-over): Back in the day, it was a cinch to know what a good mom was -- we had Donna Reed. Reed embodied 1950s motherhood, always there, wise, and involved from afar and exceedingly well-dressed.


DONNA REED: Drink your juice.


COSTELLO: Today, it's difficult to define what exactly an ideal mother is. It's as if we've taken Donna Reed's image and put it on steroids. Carl Honore wrote the book "Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children From the Culture of Hyper-Parenting."

CARL HONORE, AUTHOR, "UNDER PRESSURE": We've kind of professionalized parenting. There's a feeling now that on the front line of child rearing, that raising a kid now is all or nothing.

COSTELLO: And for Melissa Chapman, it was all or nothing.

MELISSA CHAPMAN, MOTHER: Monday was dance. Tuesday was art. Wednesday was piano. Thursday was gymnastics. We're also going to do Girl Scouts.

At one point -- at one point, I wanted to be a Girl Scout leader. I was like -- I should have shot myself in the head.

COSTELLO: She just didn't want to make any mistakes, and yet she still wondered whether she was a good mother. And she's not alone.

So many mothers feel her pain, blogs have started popping up, rebelling against the notion moms have to be perfect to raise perfect children. Take a look at this one. It's called "Her Bad Mother." Bad is the new good.

This loud-and-proud bad mother writes, "I have left my children alone in the bathtub. I have spanked my daughter, I drink, I curse." "Just Sayin'," does this mean over-parenting is over?

AYELET WALDMAN, AUTHOR, "BAD MOTHER": I don't think it's over. Look, you know, I think it's -- we're not going to turn on a dime here. But I do think there's a backlash against over-parenting.

COSTELLO: And Waldman ought to know. In 2005, she was viciously publicly attacked for writing in an essay that she loved her husband more than her children.

WALDMAN: OK. So fast forward now four years. Can I publish this book called "Bad Mother," and the conversation and the response is totally different. And I think in this weird way, the world has kind of caught up to what I was saying.

COSTELLO: She could be right. Remember Melissa Chapman? She says she no longer overschedules her kids. And she actually talks to her husband. And guess what? She knows she's a good mom now.


COSTELLO: Doesn't hover them any longer. She doesn't hover over her children any longer.

Now the economy may also be forcing the issue. Parents now can't spend all that money for their kids to take dance and soccer lessons and all the rest. Instead, the kids stay home. They play with their siblings. They use their imagination.

We want to know what you think. Is over-parenting over? Do you see signs out there?

Please write to me on my blog. It's at I really want to hear what you say about this topic because, as you know, Kiran, it's very emotional topic for mothers. Because you do want to be the best mother you can be, but you have to -- you have to have your own life, too.

CHETRY: That's right.

COSTELLO: And a relationship with your husband.

CHETRY: Right. Who?


That always hits the back burner, doesn't it? But it's funny, though, because people are very defensive about it. You were saying that these blogs are cropping up.

And there are some, you know, social historians or people who discussed family issues that say over-parenting is different than helicopter parenting. That helicopter parenting is, all right, you're always there, you're always sort of involved. Over-parenting means you don't let their kids take their own consequences for their actions. So, they're different.

COSTELLO: I think it's blended together, though, somehow in the past two decades in that, you know, now parents not only, you know, schedule their children to death with soccer practice and dance lessons because they want to expose their children to different things so they become a whole person. And then you end up, like, filling out their college application for them, getting them to certain colleges.

CHETRY: Exactly.

COSTELLO: So, I think it has all become one big thing.

ROBERTS: I have no idea what you're talking about.

CHETRY: I still remember my mom going, "This is the last time I'm gluing your science project." But she did it the next year, too.

ROBERTS: Love of Melissa Chapman said, "Though I signed up to be a Girl Scout leader (INAUDIBLE).

Carol, thanks so much for that.

CHETRY: Thanks, Carol

ROBERTS: We're about 31 minutes past the hour.

Checking our top stories now. Administration officials say the president has all but abandoned plans to have Gitmo detainees who have been cleared for release live in the United States. The plan to resettle the former prisoners faced bipartisan opposition in Congress.

The CIA believes the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, is still in Pakistan. Director Leon Panetta says he hopes Pakistan's recent crackdown on Taliban militants will help them close in on the al Qaeda leader. Panetta says finding Bin Laden remains one of the CIA's top priorities. And of course, that recent audio message from him countered claims that he was dead. He would seem to be very much alive.

A wave of powerful storms sweeping through north central Texas. In Dallas, some 5000 homeowners were urged to evacuate because of flooding concerns. Some parts of the city had eight inches of rain. The storms also forced some 400 flights to be cancelled at the Dallas- Fort Worth Airport.

CHETRY: Well, it's time now for the weekly segment we call "Wingnut of the Week." It's a title that independent analyst John Avlon gives to someone on the far right and far left who he says is trying to divide us rather than unite us. His motto - "The center is under attack, and it's time to take it back."

John Avlon is also a columnist for He joins me now.

So each week, you get a chance to sort of listen to the chatter out there and sort of figure out what's going on. Who won the -- I guess you could say won -- the week's distinction of wingnut on the left?

JOHN AVLON, COLUMNIST, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: On the left this week, we had President Obama's former polarizing pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who reemerged into politics this week with some controversial comments. Let's take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you spoken to him since he's been in the White House?

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office.


AVLON: There you have it. What he said was "them Jews" are keeping President Obama from speaking to him.

CHETRY: Then, the interesting thing is -- so after that statement he made to the paper, generated a lot of controversy yesterday -- he actually tried to tamp down that controversy saying, OK, I wasn't meaning all Jewish people, I just meant Zionists.

AVLON: That's right. It was just Zionists not Jews. And in the same interview, he said he had no regrets for any of the comments that he'd made previously -- "The chickens are coming home to roost after September 11," "the God damn America comments that were played endlessly over the 2008 cycles."

So, for this and many other comments, I think Jeremiah Wright gets a Hall of Fame Wingnut of the Week.

CHETRY: Especially coming in a week where we saw the attack at the Holocaust Museum and this -- we've heard a lot of anti-Semitism out there this week. I mean, what's going on with that?

AVLON: That is one of the real issues here. I mean, when politically-motivated hate has been resurfacing in our politics over and over and over again, and it shows the cost of -- when people stokes these fires of hate, when they intentionally try to polarize to make a political point, there's a real cost to that. And that's something for us to remember this week.

CHETRY: And also wingnut on the right, who did you pick for that one?

AVLON: Pastor Wiley Drake, someone not nearly as well known nationally as Jeremiah Wright, but someone who this week said that he is praying for the death of President Obama.

Let's take a listen.


REVEREND WILEY DRAKE, PASTOR, FIRST SOUTHERN BAPTIST CHURCH: If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death, that's correct.


CHETRY: Right. Because he was asked again by the interviewer, Alan Colmes, what do you mean by this? And he again repeated it and stood by his comments. We haven't heard a lot about Pastor Drake in the past. How influential is he? And what is his history of making remarks like this?

AVLON: Well, he's the senior vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 2008, he was Alan Keyes' vice presidential candidate on a fringe third-party ticket.

So this is somebody who has tried to get himself out more and more in the arena. He said what provoked these comments was statements that he thought that God answered his prayers to kill abortionist George Tiller. And now, what he's calling the usurper in the White House via Hussein Obama is the recipient of his prayers.

This is something that should make every American just furious. CHETRY: And the thing that, I guess, comes so shocking is that both of these are supposed to be men of God. Both of these gentlemen. They're supposed to be men of God and they're supposed to be talking about being Christians and talking about, you know, loving everyone like you love yourself. What type of damage does it do when that's the discourse out there?

AVLON: I think it does a great disservice to good people of faith who had a profound influence on our politics over our history. And these folks show that the damage you do when you reach the pulpit and you use that to polarize and divide and stoke some of the worst instincts in humanity, that's not very Christian at all.

CHETRY: All right, John Avlon. We want to remind people, by the way, that we'd love for you to join the discussion about who you think may qualify for "Wingnut of the Week" each week. He has a blog, and he also is twittering about it. So you could send him your suggestions about who you think should be next week's "Wingnut of the Week." It's all at

John, great to have you as always. See you next week.

AVLON: Thank you.

CHETRY: Thirty-six minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

A quick check now of the AM Rundown. These are stories that are coming for you in the next 15 minutes.

It might be the best excuse ever. Little girl skipped school to see President Obama. And he actually stopped the show to write her an absence note. It's one of those popular stories online. We'll show you the exchange. It's pretty cute.

Well, a "drill here, drill now" was a huge platform issue for the McCain camp during the campaign. But with gas prices back on the rise, will Democrats also join the charge to drill for oil in environmental battlegrounds?

And we're live in Acapulco with a hot spot for American tourists. But now it's one of the new front lines in Mexico's drug war. Our Ed Lavandera brings us a closer look, still ahead.


ROBERTS: Looking forward to that, Kiran.

A legal victory this morning for Madonna. Just hours ago, Malawi's high court ruled that the singer can adopt the 3-year-old girl named Mercy. The hearing comes about two months after a lower court rejected Madonna's petition to adopt the little girl whose mother died shortly after childbirth. This morning, we are tapping into the global resources of CNN. Our David McKenzie is live in Nairobi, Kenya for us this morning.

Why the turnaround in the Malawi courts, David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Well, good question. Why the turnaround?

A few months ago, Madonna was in the country, the southern African country, trying to adopt Mercy James, a young Malawian girl. She joined David Banda, a Malawian orphan who she had early adopted. But, in that case, the lower court had turned down her request. It caused a storm of controversy around the world with many people saying different things, whether she was using her power and influence to get this child, or whether it was just a problem with the Malawian courts.

Now it seems the high court in the southern part of the country has said that she can adopt that child, and it would be a legal victory for Madonna. I spoke, John, to one of the organizations who had been against adopting. They seemed to have turned around completely, saying, at least now they have some legal precedence for this that the high court has ruled in the matter saying that there are other factors at play.

It might be because Madonna has a major charity in that country helping orphans and vulnerable children. So, certainly, Madonna's people will be happy. So far no comments from them. And it seems, at this stage, this court will come to a close.

ROBERTS: Sure. A lot of discussions took place between the last time and now. David McKenzie for us in Nairobi, Kenya this morning.

David, thanks so much for that.

It's now 42 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. We're coming up now on 45 minutes after the hour. Let's fast forward to some of the stories that will be making news today.

It is the biggest change in television since it went colored. TV stations across the nations today are cutting their analog signals to go entirely digital. The FCC has sent 4,000 operators standing by to field calls from confused viewers. It's estimated more than two million American households are not ready to make the switch. But if you're watching us, you made the switch a long time ago because we've been digital for a long, long, long time.

This morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, a House Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the thousands of dealerships being closed by General Motors and Chrysler. Lawmakers will also look at the restructuring plans of both bankrupt automakers.

And at 11:15 Eastern, Vice President Joe Biden makes another stop on his road to recovery tour. This morning, he'll be in Kalamazoo, Michigan, at an event to highlight the roadwork that's being done along Interstate 94 with federal recovery money.

CHETRY: Well, this is probably the best excuse note that we've ever heard about. It was a little girl in Wisconsin --

ROBERTS: Top ad.

CHETRY: Yes, right. Little girl in Wisconsin. And she got bailed out, I guess you could say, by President Obama. Ten-year-old Kennedy Corpus skipped school yesterday so that she could go see the president with her dad. Well, he ended up getting a chance to ask the president a question, and that it didn't take long for talk to turn to his daughter.

Check it out.


UNIDENTIFIED FATHER: I'm fortunate enough to be here with my 10- year-old daughter, who is missing her last day of school for this. I hope she doesn't get in trouble.



OBAMA: Do you need me to write a note?


No, I'm serious. What's your daughter's name?


OBAMA: What?

UNIDENTIFIED FATHER: Her name is Kennedy.

OBAMA: Kennedy, all right. That's a cool name.


CHETRY: Well, President Obama went on to actually write that note to Kennedy's teacher. There she goes. She gets to get up and take it, and personally handed it to her as you saw there.

So as for what it said, "Please excuse Kennedy's absence, she's with me -- Barack Obama.

How cool?

You'd probably learn more from that experience than, you know, your last day of school. All you do is sign your books.

ROBERTS: She should take that and show it to the teacher, then put it in the frame and keep it forever.

CHETRY: Pretty cool.

ROBERTS: What a great little present.

Forty-six and a half minutes now after the hour. We'll be right back after this. Stay with us.


REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): An estimated 18 million shipping containers are being used to carry products around the world. But because the U.S. imports more than it exports, many of those containers end up gathering dust.

David Cross was a merchant marine when he thought of using shipping containers as a building material. Having seen the containers weather storms at sea, he teamed up with engineers Stevan Armstrong to form the business, SG Blocks.

STEVAN ARMSTRONG, SG BLOCKS: There's no question. They're strong. The loading conditions they see are incredibly greater than they'll ever see in a static environment on an earthquake or hurricane-type forces.

WOLF (on camera): And you know, not all of these are in pristine conditions. Some of these have a little bit of wear and tear. But the idea is to fix them up and some day this structure could be a house.

(voice-over): Reusing containers is often faster and cheaper than starting from scratch, making homes more affordable than the traditional construction. The company built its first home in South Carolina.

(on camera): Is it kind of weird. I mean, you're living inside of a house that it was once made containers that have been all over the world. I mean, part of your house has been in China.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's nice. That's the closest I'll get to the Great Wall of China.

WOLF (voice-over): According to Cross, it takes 95 percent less energy to refurbish containers than it does to melt them down. The movement is spreading, with containers being used in designs all over the world. And Cross is happy to play along.

DAVID CROSS, SG BLOCKS: My children tell their friends at school that their father works with the biggest Legos in the world.

WOLF: Reynolds Wolf, CNN.



ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

We knew that it wasn't going to last. That it was too good to be true. Oil and gas prices spiking again, straining Americans' wallets and threatening the economic recovery. It's got Republicans in Congress sounding a familiar refrain about expanding domestic oil drilling. And Democrats now are joining in.

CNN's Jim Acosta following that for us this morning.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, one of the saving graces of this recession has been the low price at the pump, but not anymore. High gas prices are making a comeback, and so is a popular battle cry from the 2008 campaign -- drill, baby, drill.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Americans are once again feeling gas pain. With the average price in some states approaching $3 a gallon, both parties in Congress are calling for new oil drilling, in some familiar environmental battlegrounds.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: If we're going to deal with that problem, we've got to be able to produce more energy here in America. That means more exploration for oil and gas.

ACOSTA: House Republicans are pushing a new energy bill that seeks to drill offshore in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge in Alaska known as ANWAR.

AUDIENCE: Drill, baby, drill! Drill, baby, drill!

ACOSTA: During the campaign when gas soared to $4 a gallon, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin tapped into the public's petro fears and open up a political gusher.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: We'll drill here and we'll drill now.

ACOSTA: If we get back to $4 a gallon, it seems like it's going to be tough to hold back the forces of drill, baby, drill.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Well, that's the oil boys' mantra. And, of course, they can never drill enough.

ACOSTA: Florida Senator Bill Nelson is fighting fellow Democrats who would like to open up millions of acres to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as part of their energy bill. Nelson argues that would threaten his state's pristine beaches and military testing in the gulf.

So you don't think drilling offshore is going to lower the price of gas?

NELSON: Absolutely not. I mean, if you did find a major oil find, it's going to be ten years before that would be coming to market. So that does nothing for the price of gas now.

ACOSTA: In the move to solve his state's budget crisis, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing for oil drilling off the beaches of California, something not seen since a massive spill slimed Santa Barbara 40 years ago.

As a candidate President Obama tried to answer the cries of "drill, baby, drill."

OBAMA: What kind of slogan is that? I mean -- you know, I can see if you're, like, cheerleaders for ExxonMobil.


ACOSTA: The White House says President Obama is open to some new domestic drilling as long as it comes with other energy alternatives.

John and Kiran?

CHETRY: Jim Acosta for us this morning. Thanks so much.

Coming up, it's a wonderful resort town. Everybody loves Acapulco. Now it's unfortunately become the scene of growing drug violence in Mexico. Our Ed Lavandera is there. Trouble in paradise.


CHETRY: Coming up on four minutes before the top of the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. There's a violent drug battle that's flaring up again on our border with Mexico. Authorities there say that gunmen opened fire at a crowded taco stands, threw a grenade and fired at gas tanks. It caused an explosion that killed a police officer and also took the life of a 15-year-old boy.

Investigators say they believe these attacks were targeting the police there that Mexico's president is vowing not to allow attacks on police to derail the fight.


PRES. FELIPE CALDERON, MEXICO: Every day, honest policemen, soldiers and public servants risk their lives and their integrity to give the future generations of Mexicans a country free of violence, a secure Mexico. A Mexico that is not in the hands of criminals.


CHETRY: All right. So what is the violence doing to Mexico's tourism industry? To get a true picture, we're in one of Mexico's most prized vacation spots. It's Acapulco. And the bliss on the beach you'd expect to witness here is gone. That's where our Ed Lavandera is now.

And, Ed, how intense is the military presence in Acapulco right now, and the fears for people who came there for vacation? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kiran, when he arrived here, I expected to see much more military presence than we have seen. There is some, not as grim as I expected, but you know, there's a great concern here that Acapulco might be sliding into a dangerous and treacherous territory and turn into a place like Juarez or Tijuana.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): At first the streets of Acapulco looked normal. But then, they appear, a truck full of army soldiers sent in by Mexico's president to keep peace on the streets of this tourist playground. For Jillian Lang, it's a reminder that life is far from normal here.

JILLIAN LANG, AMERICAN TOURIST: The military driving back and forth. It doesn't make me feel any more at ease. If anything, it worries me more. It reminds me of everything that's going on there.

LAVANDERA: Lang is visiting from California, one of the few non- Mexican tourists we found in Acapulco. She arrived just as the city was in the midst of violent clashes between drug cartels and Mexican authorities. The rampage ended with some 20 people killed, including several Mexican soldiers and police officers. That violent shootout took place less than two miles away from the cafe, where we met Jillian Lang.

(on camera): We just found the street where the shooting took place between cartel members and the Mexican military. And what struck us was at the entrance of the road here, a shrine to the Virgin Mary, they tell us the shootings took place down this way on this road. And we're going to take you there now.

(voice-over): This isn't a street you'll see pictured in Acapulco tourist brochures. It's a sorted looking neighborhood in an area with rundown hotels and shanty buildings.

(on camera): So we've gotten as far as we're going to get on this road. There's a blue crate and part of a tree blocking the way. And what you can't see is over there behind those trees where three members of the Mexican military who say this is as far as we can get. And as soon as we pulled up, they pulled masks over their face. They didn't want to be seen on camera.

(voice-over): As we look around, we noticed behind the wall several large hillside villas with swimming pools, a hint that behind the rough facade, people with much more money live here.

Federico Martinez lives just a few houses away from where the gun fire broke out.

"I didn't know Narcos lived in this neighborhood," he tells me. "I don't know the men involve in the shootings. It doesn't bother me."

But the threat of violence is bothering foreign tourists. These men work the beaches, and they tell us American tourists have disappeared. Beaches are mostly empty. This gem on the Pacific Coast has lost its luster.


LAVANDERA: And now, Kiran, those guys that we talked to, they're on the beach yesterday. Even they said that they are in a scared situation. They feel frightened here on the streets of Acapulco. And there's one federal government official here in Mexico told me this week, Acapulco right now is in a very delicate situation.


CHETRY: Ed Lavandera for us this morning in Acapulco. Thanks so much.