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American Morning

Two Killed Fighting Raging Wildfire; Cheney Slams Obama; Jaycee Dugard Reunites with Family; Some Colleges Making SAT Optional; British Government Denies Oil Motive for Lockerbie Bomber Release; American Take Up Gardening; Some Colleges Require Students to Have Health Insurance

Aired August 31, 2009 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Crossing the top of the hour now, it's 8:00 Eastern. It's Monday, it's the 31st of August. Thanks for joining us. I'm John Roberts.


We're following several breaking stories this morning. First a look at what's on the agenda. We'll be breaking this down for you in the next 15 minutes. It's bone dry, brush, flames, a volatile combination right now outside of Los Angeles where firefighters continue working overtime trying to contain an out of control wildfire. It's only about five percent contained right now. Overnight, the fire taking a grim turn killing two firefighters. We're live, Rob Marciano is along the fire lines with more on the challenges.

ROBERTS: Former Vice President Dick Cheney unplugged again. This time, offering his insight and no excuses on detainee interrogation practices by the CIA. We will play you what the former vice president said.

CHETRY: Also, lost at sea for more than a week. They survived on crackers and bubble gum, drinking water meant to hose down their boat. It's an amazing story of survival. And you'll hear it from one of the men who lived to tell about it -- just ahead.

We begin though with breaking news and a critical situation that's unfolding right now in the mountains above Los Angeles. Firefighters are racing to contain a wildfire that's now claimed two of their own.

Late last night, officials confirmed that two firefighters were killed when their truck rolled off of a road. The two men are among 2,800 firefighters that are battling the flames that have already torn across thousands of acres, and this morning, thousands of people have been told to get out.

Our Rob Marciano is live in Sunland, California, which is outside of Los Angeles.

And they're waiting for light of day, right, and then they're going to get some of those aircraft in the air, trying to dump fire retardant and water.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that certainly helps things out once the sun comes up, but that's not for several more hours. We're in this community of Sunland. It's just south of the Angeles National Forest.

Back behind me over that ridge is where the fire has been burning all morning. It kind of comes and goes, but the glow has been steadily marching in this direction. This is one of several communities that the firefighters are worried about, heavily populated not only here but also up in the mountains. We've got Mount Wilson which has a tremendous amount of television, radio and emergency communication systems up there, and they say that is likely to be affected very greatly if not completely destroyed by the fire. They're worried about that also.

They've been battling this thing all weekend long. It kind of exploded over the weekend. Almost 3,000 firefighters are working this thing, two of which lost their lives yesterday.


MARCIANO (voice-over): The grim news came late last night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, prayers for that family, of our two brothers that we lost.

MARCIANO: Two firefighters killed when their vehicle rolled down a mountainside, part of a treacherous battlefield in these hills north of L.A., where the easiest approach is often from the sky -- helicopters and planes attacking what seems to be an endless wall of fire.


MARCIANO: On the ground, more than 10,000 homes sitting in the fire's path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, all we can do is hope for the best.

MARCIANO: Police blocking off neighborhoods and ordering thousands of people to evacuate. A warning the governor urged them to take seriously.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: This is a huge and is very dangerous fire.

MARCIANO: Not everyone listened, some like this man stayed behind, armed only with a garden hose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying my best.

MARCIANO: But most grabbed what they could and left the firefighting to the professionals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Left them a shovel and our hoses.

MARCIANO: But nearly 3,000 firefighters in the fight taking mostly defensive positions, digging in and letting the fire come to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The weather, the fuels and the topography are dictating our firefighting actions.

MARCIANO: Their biggest problem this time, not wind but unrelenting heat and too much fuel. The area hasn't seen a major fire in 60 years and is loaded with dense brush. Up north, wind becoming a very serious threat. Eerie pictures from the town of Auburn near Sacramento where a number of homes and buildings burned to the ground. That fast-moving fire is eating up 500 acres in just a few hours.

Back near LA., neighbors can only gather on corners and wait, hoping to avoid the same fate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still fires here and like I said, we've got a fire coming down the canyon behind us here, too. So, we're pretty much surrounded.


MARCIANO: Certainly surrounded. If the flames don't get there, the smoke and ash certainly have. It's been falling on us all morning and stretching into the city of Los Angeles as well.

Incident fire commander said over the weekend he has never seen a fire explode like this one had without the Santa Ana winds. We haven't seen those winds blow, but a bit of a catch-22. Sometimes, if the winds are blowing, at least it increases the visibility and lets you see those fires so you can target them better both on the ground and from above.

All right. What's the weather going to do over the next couple days? We have a red flag warning in effect for today for the heat and low humidity. That will probably be extended tomorrow. The heat is going to continue today, tomorrow, a bit of a sea breeze kicks in on Wednesday and then strengthens as we go through Thursday and Friday.

So, still the next 48 hours, John and Kiran, are not going to be improving at all as at least on the weather front, but with more manpower coming in here by the hour, they'll hopefully get a handle on this thing. But estimates right now -- probably at least a week before they have some sort of containment.

Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: A really tough situation there, Rob. All right. Thanks.

ROBERTS: It is back to work for President Obama. He and his family are back at the White House this morning. They arrived yesterday and after a week on Martha's Vineyard. The president's attention now shifts to the long list of the battles in Washington.

First up, a new slam from former Vice President Dick Cheney -- this time, for an investigation of interrogation tactics used by the CIA during the Bush administration. Here's part of what Cheney had to say on "FOX News Sunday."


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's an outrageous political act that will do great damage long term to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions without having to worry about what the next administration is going to say.


ROBERTS: Elaine Quijano is live at the White House for us this morning.

Any reaction yet from the White House to the former vice president's charge that this was an outrageous political act?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not just yet, John. We are waiting, in fact, to hear from senior officials to see what reaction, what response they might have to the former vice president's comments, but certainly, Mr. Cheney's remarks are raising continued questions about the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The former vice president's remarks coming just days, as you know, after that 2004 CIA inspector general's report came out. That report -- which among other things -- described how CIA interrogators went beyond the authorized rules governing such things as waterboarding.

Now, Mr. Cheney called those techniques good policy and said that he was comfortable in cases where interrogators may have gone outside the authorized methods. He said that the attorney general -- his decision to go ahead and appoint a prosecutor to review CIA cases -- does nothing to fit with President Obama's claim that he wants to look forward and not backwards.

Take a listen.


CHENEY: But my concern is that the damage that will be done by the president of the United States going back on his word -- his promise -- about investigations of CIA personnel who have carried out those policies is seriously going to undermine the morale, if you will, of our folks out at the agency.


QUIJANO: Now, we should note that the president, himself, has maintained for weeks now that his attorney general operates independently and, in fact, administration officials continue to echo that as well, that, in fact, any decisions made by Attorney General Eric Holder are ones that he, himself, decided were necessary without influence from this White House -- John?

ROBERTS: Elaine, John Durham is the special prosecutor who's been appointed by Eric Holder to look into all of this. Did the former vice president say anything as to whether or not he would speak with Durham?

QUIJANO: Yes. He did. He said, in fact, it will depend on the circumstances and what he thinks their activities are really involved in. The former vice president said that he's been very outspoken on this and he said that, quote, "It won't take a prosecutor," end quote, to find out what the former vice president thinks.

ROBERTS: Elaine Quijano for us at the White House this morning -- Elaine, thanks so much.

CHETRY: Also new this morning, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge may be trying to soften the blow from his explosive words about raising the nation's terror alert. Speaking for the first time since suggesting in his new book that he was pressured to raise the alerts because President Bush's approval ratings went up, Ridge says he did not mean to suggest Bush administration officials were playing politics with the nation's security before the 2004 election. His book, by the way, comes out tomorrow.

ROBERTS: And a major problem is reportedly facing the U.S. intelligence community. The "Washington Times" reporting there was a lack of translators who specialized in regional Afghan languages critical to fighting terrorism eight years after the September 11th attacks. They said an intelligence committee found that the nation's ability to understand these languages is, quote, "essentially nonexistent." The CIA says it is making progress but that more needs to be done.

CHETRY: It was a blood bath at the box office this weekend. "Final Destination," the first pick for moviegoers, the 3D horror flick took in more than $28 million. Slipping to number two, Quentin Tarantino's ultra-violent World War II flick "Inglourious Basterds," and at number three, Director Rob Zombie's slasher sequel, "Halloween 2."

ROBERTS: Well, imagine being lost at sea in a fishing boat -- lost for long enough that your family tells your child, Daddy's not coming home, and then suddenly, Daddy is found, rescued at sea. We'll be talking to him coming right up.

It's 10 minutes now after the hour.


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

Tressel Hawkins set out to sea just to do some fishing, hoping to catch a couple marlins with two friends more than a week ago. But they got a lot more than they bargained for. When late one night, they had fallen asleep and the next thing they knew their boat capsized. They were not found for eight days.

And many say the fact they were found at all is really a miracle. They say what kept them alive, eating crackers, rationing bubble gum and a little of country boy know how.

Joining me to talk about his amazing survival story is Tressel Hawkins. He joins me on the phone this morning.

Thanks for being with us.

TRESSEL HAWKINS, RESCUED FISHERMAN (via telephone): Good morning. How are you doing?

CHETRY: Good morning. First of all, tell us how you're doing. Eight days at sea. You guys were clinging to your capsized catamaran. How are you this morning?

HAWKINS: I'm fine. Actually, I'm feeling a lot better. We just had a -- got home from the hospital and everything yesterday, and they had a party for me and a couple news crews and a lot of friends and family welcomed me to the house. I'm just kind of over-exerted myself yesterday so I'm trying to take it easy this morning.

CHETRY: Yes, as I understand it, understandably -- you know, everyone wants to wish you guys well. You know, I'm sure they were worried that you guys were going to even make it back at all because after searching, what, search area about the size of Minnesota, eventually, the coast guard gave up on you guys, right?

HAWKINS: Right, exactly.

CHETRY: So, how did you make it?

HAWKINS: We just keep prayers -- you know, just kept praying and we kept hope alive. Even though hope was managed to tread down to a little bit of string -- I mean, that little bit of string could be just as strong as the rope that you hung on to the first time you got started.

CHETRY: Yes. You were with your two buddies James Phillips who's 30, Curtis Hall, 28. And you're 43. You guys basically tried to buoy each other, keep each other's, you know, spirits up. In terms of practical purposes, you had a couple crackers. You had some beer. And you had what amounted to three gallons of fresh water that you guys would be using if you caught any fish to sort of rinse off the fish slime.

How did you guys figure out what to do with those rations and how to keep each other alive?

HAWKINS: Well, Curt was the one responsible for the rationing. Even though we didn't agree with him, we, you know, had to -- we had to go by those rules because it was the most practical for us to, you know, survive. And with it being that, you don't really know when you're going to get rescued, you have to ration down to the bare essentials.

And he stuck to his guns on that. And like I said, even though we didn't like it, we agreed to it and that's what we did. And, you know, that's what it takes when you're out there in a situation like that -- self-determination is something you really have to uphold.

CHETRY: Yes, I understand. Now, can you just give us a little bit of explanation on how it was that this happened in the first place? How did the boat capsize?

HAWKINS: We were -- just made it down to the old area we were going to fish and, you know, just checking out the sights and getting all set up for the next morning. And we got everything set up and we were, you know, unwinding, getting ready to go to sleep. It was probably about 11:00, 11:15 that night and we bed down in about 12:30.

So, we went -- I went to roll around, you know, trying to adjust my bean bag to get a better night's sleep and put my foot on the ground and realized the water was up probably about knee high in the boat. And it just kind of woke me up real quick and I jumped up, called James. James called Curt. And we were trying to extract the water as fast as we could...


HAWKINS: ... but it was a little too late.


HAWKINS: It's probably about five seconds, the boat rolled over.

CHETRY: Wow. And so, you guys -- the coast guard says you guys survived by doing one very, very smart thing among many, but that was staying with that capsized boat and clinging to that. And just quickly, as we said, there was a search area, about 86,000 miles I believe -- the size of a state, you know, of Minnesota -- trying to look for you, the coast guard. They had to give up. They said that they, you know, were not sure they'd ever find you. In fact, as we understand it, they informed one of the little boys, you know, daddy's not coming home.

How did this other boat -- this was a pleasure craft -- how did they spot you and how did you get their attention?

HAWKINS: Well, we had had some shirts, T-shirts, and we tore off some railing that was on the boat and tied those T-shirts to the railing so we actually have like a flag on the pole, if you will. It kind of stood up another four and a half feet, because we were standing by about -- maybe about eight feet off the water that you can see us, even being on top of the little boat that's being -- you know, the boat that was turned upside down. And the only way that we really caught their attention is by, you know, just getting out there and just waving those flags and jumping around and just really -- just trying to call some kind of attention to a -- to where they could see us at that distance that they were at.

CHETRY: Wow. It's really a miracle. That's what many are saying that you guys survived this.

Well, congratulations. I'm glad that you're home safe and sound. Quickly, before we leave, are you going to fish again? Are you going back out on the water?

HAWKINS: Oh, yes. I would love to do it this weekend, but we made a pact when we made it back to the house that we're going to put the poles down for the rest of the year and try to do something else, maybe go deer hunting or something like that.


CHETRY: All right. If that's safer for you, then go for it. But anyway, it's wonderful that you guys managed to make it and I'm sure your family is probably not letting you get back on the boat at least for this season.

Tressel Hawkins, good luck and thanks so much for joining us this morning.

HAWKINS: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Maybe shuffle board.

CHETRY: I thought he was going to say golf.


ROBERTS: ... or something. And even golf might be too dangerous in this stage of the game.

Eighteen minutes now after the hour. We're learning more about the case of Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was found after spending 18 years in captivity. What were the first words she said to her mother and why are police conducting a further investigation of Phillip Garrido, the man who had her imprisoned? Our Ed Lavandera has got all the details coming up right after the break.

Stay with us.


ROBERTS: We're back with the "Most News in the Morning."

New details emerged today about Jaycee Dugard's 18-year kidnapping ordeal and her reunion now with her family. Meantime, authorities are expanding their investigation of her alleged abductor, Phillip Garrido, looking for clues to link the convicted sex offender to other crimes, including numerous murders.

Our Ed Lavandera is following the story for us. He's live in Antioch, California this morning.

Hi, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Good morning, John.

Well, investigators will return here again to the home of Phillip Garrido in Antioch, California. They have spent the weekend here, combing through the crime scene -- even expanding it into the house next door.

But as for Jaycee Dugard, we understand she has spent the weekend reuniting with family and it has been an emotional weekend.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Jaycee Dugard appeared to have settled into an unimaginable routine during her 19 years of captivity. Behind the scenes, she lived in this messy backyard prison. But to the outside world, she was the creative force behind Phillip Garrido's printing business, designing business cards for clients all over the town of Antioch.

Deepal Karunaratne describes her as intelligent with an attention to detail.

DEEPAL KARUNARATNE, GARRIDO BUSINESS ASSOCIATE: She was always having a very pretty smile on the face. She comes and talking to me and is always smiling. And she's very pretty girl, very pretty young lady.

LAVANDERA: Even Dugard's daughters appeared to live a normal life. These are pictures of the young girls obtained by CNN. The 11- year-old went by the name of Angel; the 15-year-old, Starlet. We've blurred their faces to protect their privacy. The pictures were taken two weeks ago at a birthday party for Cheyvonne Molino's daughter.

Molino says Garrido called Jaycee and the daughters, "My girls," and often brought them to Molino's rec yard, delivering bottles of water on hot days.

CHEYVONNE MOLINO, GARRIDO BUSINESS ASSOCIATE: They made it seem like they were living like wolves or jungle kids in the backyard, you know, dungeon. Perhaps that is it. But they didn't give the visual to me that they were. They were polite. They were well- mannered.

LAVANDERA: Molino says Angel and Starlet were huge fans of Hannah Montana. She says Jaycee dreamed of becoming a model, always clean and well-dressed. No hint of the tragic reality.

Investigators have expanded the crime scene at Phillip Garrido's home. They brought cadaver dogs to search the property next door. Authorities are looking into whether Garrido could be connected to a string of murders in the 1990s.

JIMMY LEE, SPOKESMAN, CONTRA COSTA SHERIFFS DEPT.: What we also know is that Phillip Garrido had access to that property. He used that property and it looks like he lived on that property in a shed.

LAVANDERA: As we've scoured Garrido's hometown looking for clues, we found this in a hardware store: the name Phil G. on a donation card. On August 17th, this receipt shows Garrido bought a pressure switch and then left a $2 donation to the Children's Miracle Network.


LAVANDERA: And, John, we found that to be an eerie irony considering what Garrido is charged with here. As for Jaycee Dugard, we understand that her location is still being kept a highly secret situation. We understand she's moved around the area a couple times to make sure she is not found and is able to reunite peacefully and quietly with her family -- John?

ROBERTS: Such a bizarre story. And then, you know, again, the question: Where do you begin with reintegrating her back with her family and, you know, putting her back in school and all this stuff? So many questions remain unanswered.

Ed Lavandera this morning in Antioch, California -- Ed, thanks so much - Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, we all remember studying for the SAT, watching that -- the grade that you got, the points and saying, "Oh, no, did I study hard enough? Did those SAT classes pay off?

Well, what if kids don't have to worry about any of that anymore? Our Carol Costello has a special piece for us this morning about whether or not the SAT may some day become optional.

It's 25 minutes past the hour.



CHETRY: Oh, if you're up in Vegas, it's about 84 degrees and fair right now, although probably everyone is sleeping by now. Meanwhile, though, it's going up to a high of 103 degrees. It's going to be nice and sunny in Las Vegas today.

And welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 27 minutes past the hour.

To most high school kids taking the SAT -- can sometimes be like getting a root canal right? The whole experience is a little nerve-racking. And for parents, those SAT prep courses can be pretty pricey.

Today, as our new series "Educating America" begins, our Carol Costello found out that many colleges don't even consider SAT scores that important anymore. She joins us now from Washington.

Really, Carol?


CHETRY: Not that important. Do you remember all the -- oh, gosh. I can't even you -- you had to go through all the definitions of all the words, right? I'd fall asleep right after through the A's (ph) and my parents would say you can't go outside and sled until you get through the B's. And, you know, there it went. I don't know how much it helped.

COSTELLO: You ask anyone who took the SAT and they remember their score, they remember where they were, they remember how they were feeling. I mean, we place a lot of importance on this test, all of us. And it's intergenerational.

We place so much importance on what our child scores on the SAT. We know a high score can at least get them in the door at an elite selected university. But what does that perfect 2,400 or even a lesser score really tell you about what your child is capable of? Some are beginning to wonder.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Never has one test caused so much angst, that's A-N-G-S-T, a feeling of anxiety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you nervous? Are you excited?


COSTELLO: Hence, this class, designed to beat the test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's enough to get D over E.

COSTELLO: Parents pay the Princeton Review and other organizations anywhere from $600 to $8,000 for special classes or private tutors so their child can literally beat the SAT.

Sixteen-year-old McKenna Baskett from Missouri is spending her summer in SAT class.

BASKETT: I'm really a bad test-taker and they're really hard questions. So, I'm just -- I'm hoping I can get through it.

COSTELLO: Imagine, all of this A-N-G-S-T for a test that many say doesn't even measure how smart you are.

ED CARROLL, THE PRINCETON REVIEW: There's a whole word list you can do.

COSTELLO: Ed Carroll tutors students to take the test.

CARROLL: There are people who think naturally and incorrectly that the SAT is a measure of intelligence. It never was. The only thing that the SAT is really good at is predicting how well you do on the SAT.

COSTELLO: Carroll says it's not that students need to take special courses to ace the SAT, but once the student realizes there are patterns involved, sort of like Sudoku, it's a whole lot easier.

CARROLL: A squared plus B squared equals C squared foot. It's Pythagorean Theorem. On this test, the numbers that you'll see most frequently, three squared plus four squared equals five squared. So, if I tell student, three, four, five, that's what you need to know. You don't need to know the whole Pythagorean Theorem.


COSTELLO: Lawrence Bunin oversees the SAT for the College Board.

BUNIN: The SAT is a test of the basic skills that one needs to succeed in college.

COSTELLO (on camera): Does it show you how smart a kid is?

BUNIN: Well, it shows you how much they've learned in school.

COSTELLO (voice-over): But many universities are now saying the SAT says very little about what a student can do. Some 800 of them have now made the SAT optional for most applicants, including eight this year -- some of them highly selective, top tier liberal arts schools.

(on camera): Would you like to see the SAT go away?


Am I clear?

COSTELLO: Shawn Toler, the principal at the KIPP school in Baltimore for inner city kids says the deck is stacked against lower income children. They're generally not able to attend elite high schools or afford expensive tutors. According to the College Board's own stats, in 2009, kids whose parents make up to $20,000 a year scored an average 1321 in a scale of 2400. If a kid's parents makes above $200,000 a year that score shoots up 381 points to an average of 1702.

LAURENCE BUNIN, THE COLLEGE BOARD: What you're really seeing is that the playing field isn't fair. It is not the SAT that's the problem. It's any measure of educational achievement is going to show the same thing.

COSTELLO: But if the playing field isn't fair to begin with, educators like Principal Toler wonder why a perfect 2400 on the SAT seems to matter so much.


COSTELLO: Now, keep in mind universities use the SAT as one indicator of what a child will be capable of in college. Still, with some 800 universities now making the SAT optional for most applicants, we will we soon see the day the SAT goes away?

Tomorrow we'll explain why critics say that is unlikely. Too many people, they say, are making way too much money off the SAT. And let's face it, the majority of universities still consider the SAT pretty important when it comes to admitting your child to college.

And we want to know what you think about the SAT. Is it valuable? Is it fair? Should it go away? Go to and post your comment on my blog. We've been getting some pretty good comments so far - Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, we've got to read some of those tomorrow. Carol Costello for us this morning, thanks.

ROBERTS: To a developing story out of London this morning, the British government is denying a deal was made with Libya for the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdul Baset Al-Megrahi.

The Scottish government freed Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds. He is in the end stage of prostate cancer. And then a huge international back lash when he got a hero's welcome in Libya. The White House called it "outrageous and disgusting."

Now British officials are fighting a headline in Britain's "Sunday Times" that reads "Lockerbie bomber set free for oil." Part of that alleged deal a multimillion dollar contract for British Petroleum.

Our Phil Black joins us now with more. He's live outside of Number 10 Downing Street in London. Phil, what's this all about?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, ever since Al Megrahi was released by the Scottish government, there has been growing suspicion here that his freedom was in some way linked to trade benefits for Britain.

The British government has gone out of its way to really deny these reports, but, still, this suspicion persists and continues, and it continues to do so with these latest reports over the weekend newspapers.

And they take place just as new images are released from Libya that show the Lockerbie bomber being treated in hospital.


BLACK: This is the Lockerbie bomber in a hospital, on a drip, breathing through an oxygen mask. Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi looks like a dying man according to a British journalist invited to his bedside who was unable to independently verify the state of Al Megrahi's health.

Asked if he his release from prison in Scotland was linked to British trade deals, he would not or could not offer an answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel you were released because of a commercial deal with Britain and Libya?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's too sick to answer.

BLACK: But that is the question that is still being asked in Britain, especially after this story in this story "Sunday Times" newspaper. Its headline, "Lockerbie Bomber set free for oil."

JACK STRAW, BRITAIN JUSTICE SECRETARY: The "Sunday Times" headline suggesting that the Lockerbie bomber Al-Megrahi was released as a result of a deal for oil is wholly untrue. There was no deal over the release of Mr. Megrahi.

BLACK: The paper says an oil exploration deal between Libya and British company BP was only ratified by Libya's parliament after the British government agreed a prisoner transfer deal between the countries would not exclude Al-Megrahi specifically.

Britain's Justice Secretary Jack Straw admits the government had pushed for Al-Megrahi not to be eligible for transfer under the agreement, but Libya refused and Britain relented.

But the deal always allowed for the Scottish government to veto any transfer. Al-Megrahi's application under the transfer agreement was refused by the Scottish government. Instead, he was released under Scottish law on compassionate grounds because he's dying of cancer.

Scotland's first minister insists justice was his government's only consideration.

ALEX SALMOND, SCOTTISH FIRST MINISTER: If you're to make a difficult, controversial decision, a challenging decision, then for goodness sake, let's take it for the right reasons. And the right reasons were to release a dying man on compassionate grounds.


BLACK: This report is damaging but it is not a smoking gun. And for the moment the British and Scottish governments seem to have their stories in line together.

But this probably isn't the end of it. Opposition politicians here are calling for an open inquiry. They say there is now so much suspicion, and the information is being leaked out slowly, and there appears to be so much secrecy, that there now needs to be an open inquiry to determine just what Libya and Britain have been talking about in recent years and to what extent Al Megrahi has figured in those discussions -- John?

ROBERTS: This story is likely to go on for a while given the controversy surrounding Megrahi's release.

Phil Black for us outside Number 10 Downing Street this morning. Phil, thanks so much.

CHETRY: Still ahead, Christine Romans is going to be joining us. She talked about how people were buying seeds. Well, this has now slowly made its way into gardens, and now people are growing their own veggies. It's a growing trend as well.

Christine tells us how much money you really save by deciding to grow a green thumb.

It's 36 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Oh, look, they took the luxury hotel from Las Vegas and stuck it in Memphis.

It's partly cloudy, 63 degrees there right now. Later on today sunny with a high of 80. Going to be a beautiful day in Memphis, Tennessee.

CHETRY: Beautiful day to get out there and do some gardening perhaps? It's 40 minutes past the hour. Our Christine Romans join us right now, and this is a trend that you had talked about earlier that's really taken off. People are growing their own veggies.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There's nothing more opposite to instant consumer gratification than growing a garden, because earlier this summer we saw that people were buying seeds, and they were buying gardening equipment. I thought. is this a trend that's going to last? And people really did follow through, some 8 million first-time gardeners. Here's why.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some nice ones back there.

ROMANS: Here are the real green shoots in the economy. Karen Simonson and Grezella Feliciano work together in the business office at the Queens Botanical Gardens. Before this spring there wasn't a green thumb between them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since we didn't know how to do it, we figured if we'd do it together it would, you know, save time and just be easier for both of us.

ROMANS: With help from Simonson's daughter Rebecca, they found abundance in a recession.

REBECCA AGURTO, GARDENER: I planted the tomatoes and the string beans and the peppers.

ROMANS: Theirs is one of 43 million food gardens this year. The National Gardening Association says 19 percent of the households growing their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs are doing it for the very first time.

Vegetable seed sales are up 30 percent. Ball, the popular making of canning supplies, also saw sales jump 30 percent. And one of the oldest seed catalog companies, a 19th and early 20th century stalwart, is finding new and newly frugal 21st century gardeners.

GEORGE BALL, W. ATLEE BURPEE & CO.: It's not that a vegetable is going to make you money. It's that you're not going to spending that money in the produce section or the farmer's market or the supermarket.

If you spend say a hundred dollars on vegetable seeds, you're going to save $2,500 on average in savings at the supermarket. That's money you can spend on your child's college fund or, you know, buy something, or get the house down payment further advanced.

ROMANS: Saving money, taking control, getting back to basics, and bringing green to your green.

DAVID ELLIS, AMERICAN HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY: You're controlling how you're growing it. And often, home grown produce, which you can pluck right off the vine, is very -- is really much tastier than vegetables that have been harvested a couple of weeks ahead in the supermarket.

ROMANS: New gardener Simonson says fresh and pesticide free produce is what got her gardening in the first place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Having my daughter, I've become a little more conscious about what she eats. And being that she's eight years old right now, I thought it was a good activity for us to do together.

ROMANS: And recession or no, next year they'll do it again.

Christine Romans, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: And Google saw a spike in searches for canning recipes.

And it's happening right now, zucchinis, cucumbers, corn, tomatoes. If you go online, some of the most popular things right now are salsa recipes. Everyone is trading salsa recipes.

And a lot of people who have never done this before are now doing it. Millions of people who have never gardened before are getting their hands dirty.

And a couple reasons -- it's the green movement. People want to grow their own vegetable. It started back with some food scares, some spinach scares a couple years ago. Then the recession kicked in, and people want to take a little bit control.

And also the experience with their kids. They're not going on a big vacation this summer, staying home, going to plant a garden, going to show their kids, you know, what you can do with your money.

CHETRY: That's pretty cool. And, as you said, so much left over. You do the tomatoes, I do the cumbers, and we swap. I'd like some tomatoes. Does anybody out here have some tomatoes? They're coming in. ROBERTS: Only thing I'm growing is a lucky bamboo. But your welcome to it.

Rob Marciano is out in the fire line in California and he has the latest on that, as well as a hurricane in the Pacific. And is something else going on in the Atlantic Ocean that we have to be worried about? Rob has all the information coming right up.


ROBERTS: It's 46 minutes after the hour. We're back with the Most News in the Morning.

In California this morning, firefighters are battling out of control flames north of Los Angeles. A huge wildfire has already swallowed about 66 square miles. Two firefighters are dead, and right now thousands of homes still at risk.

Our Rob Marciano is live this morning in Sunland, California. He's got the latest on the fires and some tropical weather in both the Pacific and the potential forth in the Atlantic. Rob, good morning.

MARCIANO: Good morning, John.

And some are hoping that some of the tropical activity will bring some rain here. I think there is a slim chance of that happening.

This is the dry season. It is the fire season, and they've got one doozie on their hands here in southern California -- 45,000 acres have burned, and really exploding over the weekend, dry conditions, certainly. Hot conditions, you bet.

Winds haven't been that big of an issue. Matter of fact, the incident fire commander has said that he has never seen a fire growth rapidly without Santa Ana winds blowing.

But part of the reason is is that this particular area hasn't seen a major fire in over 60 years, so there's plenty of fuel to be burned.

They are battling up on the ground, almost 3,000 firefighters fighting on the ground. From the air, a dozen or so fixed wing and helicopters dropping. You even got the DC-10 tanker dropping water and fire retardant on this thing, trying to get a handle on it.

Burning in the Angeles forest behind me. At times you can see that bit of a glow. The flames flare up from time to time. But what has been constant not only here but in the communities around the area is the fall of ash and smoke. It is very, very difficult to breathe.

They are battling this thing from the north. The town of Atkin up there, to our east is Pasadena. In between is Mount Wilson, and that observatory obviously a precious commodity.

But also up on Mount Wilson about 5,700 feet high, a number of over 20 television transmitters, over 20 radio station transmitters, and also fire and police communication equipment up there. That is under critical threat right now, and they have a strike crew in the event it gets close. But they don't feel real good about that particular area surviving.

All right, let's talk about the weather. We have a red flag warning up again today not for the wind but the heat and low levels of humidity. The wind will not be an issue, but at times it's so not windy that the smoke actually gets in the way.

All right, let's talk about what's going on. Hurricane Jimena is South of Cabo, a category four right now expected to hit Cabo later on tomorrow night as a cat three and then stall.

We're hoping some of that moisture gets to southern California. I don't think it's going to happen. At best it gets into California and Arizona. So the tropics on the west side here not necessarily helping this fire. Weather is not going to be a factor, at least rain is not going to be a factor here.

And then, John, as you mentioned, we have a high potential for seeing something develop in the southern Atlantic. Right now it's east of the Leeward Islands, but the National Hurricane Center is thinking that has a better than 50/50 shot of developing into our next tropical depression and potentially a tropical storm.

But here in southern California, they know they're not going to get any rain. They can only hope for cooler temperatures and more humidity. That not expected until at least Wednesday of this week.

So the next 48 hours will continue to be quite the battle, and only 5 percent contained. They have -- they are far from getting their hands wrapped around this thing -- John?

ROBERTS: It's a tough fight they got out there. Rob Marciano, this morning. Rob, thanks so much.

CHETRY: All right, it's 49 minutes past the hour right now.

Brianna Keilar is taking a look at a new cost that you'll have as a student for some colleges, University of Maryland one of them. It has to do with health care and how it actually could end up saving your family money in the long run.


CHETRY: A pretty shot of Seattle this morning. It's 52 minutes past the hour right now. It's clear in Seattle, 61 degrees. A little later it's going to be sunny, 79 degrees.

Welcome back to the most news in the morning. If you have a son or a daughter leaving the nest and heading to college soon, you know it's back-to-school time of course. So besides the required readings and the papers, many freshmen are also going to be required to have health insurance this year.

CNN's Brianna Keilar is live in Atlanta. You found one school, my alma mater, by the way, offering fairly affordable health insurance for incoming students.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, the University of Maryland, go Terps, Kiran.

And like many other colleges, UMD was able to negotiate an inexpensive plan with a private insurer because college age students are typically a pretty healthy bunch.

But let's face it. On top of tuition and housing, additional expenses can be tough for some parents and students to shoulder.


KEILAR: Freshmen move-in day at the University of Maryland, thousands of students jamming into teeny, tiny dorm rooms. This scene repeats itself every August here, but something is different this year. Like a growing number of colleges, UMD is requiring students to have health insurance, starting with this freshman class.

KEILAR (on camera): Do you think there's going to be a lot of germs?

MELISSA EPSTEIN, STUDENT: Absolutely. I brought a big container of hand sanitizer and plan on using it.

KEILAR (voice-over): Dr. Gail Lee, the clinical director of the school's health center, says without coverage students can suffer academically.

DR. GAIL LEE, CLINICAL DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND HEALTH CENTER: It can affect their ability to stay in school. It can affect their -- the fact that they might have to go to work to pay off their medical bills.

KEILAR: Historically, Lee says, one in 15 UMD students have been uninsured. But now if freshmen don't prove they have health insurance, the university automatically puts them on the student plan.

LEE: It covers a lot of things that we think are important for students. For example, it covers immunizations. It would cover them if they are a study abroad student.

KEILAR: For previously uninsured students, it's an added cost of about $100 per month, increasing in-state tuition and fees by 8 percent. But for some families, like the Epsteins, it's a bargain alternative to keeping their freshman daughter Melissa on the family's out of state insurance.

KEILAR (on camera): Why the student plan for Melissa?

HOWIE EPSTEIN, MELISSA'S FATHER: We were able to save probably about $400 a month by putting her on a separate plan.


KEILAR: So a deal really there for the Epsteins, but what about those poorer students for whom tuition is already a struggle to pay? The university says it is looking into ways to subsidize insurance for those students, but for now they have to cover the cost with loans if they can't afford to pay out of pocket -- Kiran?

CHETRY: It's very interesting. You say that this is a trend that's growing among other schools as well?

KEILAR: Yes, that's right, a number of other schools, the University of North Carolina system among them, and all across the country. A lot of them saying if you're going to be a student here, you have to have insurance. We don't want you having to drop out of school because you have some health concern that gets in the way of your studies.

CHETRY: Right, very interesting. All right, Brianna Keilar for us this morning. Thanks.

ROBERTS: Big day for the United States at the Little League World Series. We've got the news coming up for you right after the break.


ROBERTS: We're back with the Most News in the Morning.

In Washington where we start as we fast-forward through the stories that will making news later on today. Right now Senator Ted Kennedy's gravesite again open for public viewing at Arlington National Cemetery. The site features a two-and-a-half foot cross and a marble marker.

CHETRY: And in this final make-or-break week for health care there are a number of town hall meetings that are taking place across the country today. There is going to be one in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and also Olympia, Washington. And we'll be watching all of them for you.

ROBERTS: And it's another story that we'll watching all day. Hurricane Jimena is now a dangerous category four storm churning just off Mexico's Pacific coast, expected to hit Cabo sometime maybe later on today. Hurricane watch in effect for that portion of Baja California.

CHETRY: It was a big comeback for the little kids from Chula Vista, California. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit, beating Chinese Taipei to win the Little League World Series. The final score, was 6- 3.

And by the way, the fifth straight year that a U.S. team has won the Little League Championship, and that hasn't happened since the 1960s. California also having some special bragging rights here. They have six Little League World Series titles. They have more than any other U.S. state, so congratulations.

ROBERTS: Well done, folks.

CHETRY: And meanwhile, continue the conversation on today's stories. You can head to our blog fix.

ROBERTS: We've been asking people today whether they think the SAT is something that should continue, and getting a lot of good comments on that. So make sure you go to our blog and see what people have to say.

That's going to do it for us. Thanks so much for joining us this morning. We'll see you back here again bright and early tomorrow.

CHETRY: That's right. In the meantime, the news continues. Here is CNN "NEWSROOM" with Heidi Collins.