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Dangerous Heat and Tropical Threats; Petraeus Vows to Win War; Candidates Gone Wild; Former Hot Dog Champ Arrested at Annual Contest; 20-Car Pileup Mars Coke Zero 400 at Daytona; Stock Market Looking Bearish; Madonna Starts Charity to Aid Malawi; Meet the Fusionists

Aired July 5, 2010 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It is Monday, July 5th. Thanks for being with us on this AMERICAN MORNING, the day after the July 4th weekend. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: If you got today off, enjoy it. I'm John Roberts.

Lots to talk about this morning -- let's get you right to it.

From Boston to Raleigh -- you want to know about this -- the east coast is bracing for a six-day long heat wave. The high at New York's JFK Airport already hitting 100 degrees for the Fourth of July holiday, that was yesterday, of course, and that's just a taste of what's coming in the days ahead.

Also, the CNN weather center is watching the Caribbean where there's a 50/50 shot that we'll have another tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours. And that that may not be the only trouble on the horizon. We're going to get the full breakdown from the extreme weather center coming up.

And the feds shutting down another part of the Gulf of Mexico to fishing -- an economic catastrophe for fishermen and for BP, which is releasing new numbers about the staggering cost of this disaster. So far, it's now being in the multiple billions.

And, up first, the east coast is facing nearly a week of triple- digit temperatures. Reynolds Wolf is tracking it all from the extreme weather center for us this morning.

So you guys were talking about this cyclone that could turn into the next named storm, but on top of that, this heat wave.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm telling you, I think it's going to be the first direct impact on us -- it's going to be the heat. But, again, we always watch the tropics, especially this time of the year because it does tend to heat up.

What we're seeing in terms of the heat that we're going to feel in places like the northeast, like say up towards New York and Philadelphia, it will be absolutely brutal over the next couple of days. The heat index will range anywhere from 98 to 101 through Wednesday. For Philadelphia, a little bit warmer, anywhere from 98 to 106 through Wednesday.

Folks, plain and simple, just use common sense. If you don't have to be outside doing any heavy lifting, any extreme work, by all means, don't. Make sure you drink plenty of liquids. Water is the best choice.

Stay inside and stay cool during the peak heating hours of day. And the hottest time is going to be from late morning all the way to late afternoon. By all means, do so.

Let's show what else we have. What we're going to be dealing with will be the heat -- not just in places like Boston and New York, but, again, through the Mid-Atlantic and Washington, going up to 99 degrees. And the heat in D.C. may ill stay through Friday. A little bit of a cool-down in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Ninety-four in Dallas, 82 in Denver, 105 in Phoenix and 103 in Vegas, 68 in San Francisco.

A little bit of a cool down possible for parts of the central plains due to the frontal boundary. And then as we make our way through parts of the, well, Caribbean, here's the situation. We've got some good news with this system. This is one area of deep concern for us because of the deep convection. We've got the rotation that looks pretty significant for the time being.

But just in from the National Hurricane Center, they have lowered the possibility of this storm developing into a tropical storm, a named storm, from 50 percent to about 40 percent. That's great news. But also keep in mind that when it came to Alex, Hurricane Alex, that made landfall last week in parts of Mexico, the probability of that went from 20 percent to 30 percent, back to 20 percent then to 50 percent.

Some fluctuations in the percentages if this will develop or not are expected to change. So, it's good news that it looks like it may not be quite as significant. But still, everything is up in the air when it comes to the tropics.

Let's send back to you in New York.

ROBERTS: Bottom line, I guess, Reynolds, we'll just keep watching it and see what it does.

WOLF: You got to be vigilant, absolutely.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks, Reynolds. Good to have you on the job today.

We're in it to win it. That's what General David Petraeus said yesterday on the Fourth of July in Kabul as he officially took command of the war in Afghanistan. The man widely credited with turning around Iraq is coming to Afghanistan during a low point fresh out the deadliest month for coalition troops in the nine-year fight.

Our Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us this morning.

And, Barbara, General Petraeus is capable a commander as this country has ever produced, but so many challenges in Afghanistan.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John, and this first one may be overcoming public skepticism in Afghanistan in the NATO alliance. And here in the United States, about the ability to achieve the basic objectives of the war.

General Petraeus took command with a very ominous warning.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER NATO FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: After years of war, we have arrived at a critical moment. We must demonstrate to the Afghan people and to the world that al Qaeda and its network of extremist allies will not be allowed to once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on the Afghan people and on freedom-loving nations around the world.


STARR: Now, aides say General Petraeus is going to, if you will, keep his head down for the next 30 days, assemble a staff, establish his command, decide very importantly what he wants to do, if anything, about changing those rules on the ground about when troops can shoot. We're waiting to see what he decides about that. All of that over the next 30 days for General Petraeus.

We'll see what the Taliban plans to do over the next 30 days -- John.

ROBERTS: Barbara, we all remember what happened to General Stanley McChrystal. He and his team are being a little too candid in front of a reporter. We understand that there are new press rules to accompany this change of command with General Petraeus?

STARR: Yes. Well, you know, the Pentagon says it's not related to the General McChrystal and the "Rolling Stone" issue. But the fact is late last week, some days after all of that, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates issued a scathing memo to the U.S. military saying, watch your mouth. Basically, telling them that if they want to talk to the press, they have to get permission.

Let me just read you a little bit of what the secretary had to say. Quote, he said, "I am concerned that the department has grown lax in how we engage with the media. We have far too many people talking to the media outside of channels, sometimes providing information which is simply incorrect, out of proper context, unauthorized or uninformed."

Not the first time, as you know, John, from years of covering Washington, we've seen this sort of thing. When the going gets tough, usually at some point, somebody says to the military, White House officials, senior staff, somewhere in the government, more goodness sakes, stop talking to the press.

For our part, we'll keep poking around and covering what the U.S. military is doing. And if anybody wants to have unauthorized contact with us, it's Maybe a government holiday, but AMERICAN MORNING is here in the Pentagon.

ROBERTS: All right. Glad to have you with us this morning as well, reporting for duty this morning. Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

CHETRY: Well, at such a critical time in Afghanistan, Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, is trying to clean up and survive the political mess over comments that he made about the war.



MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: Keep in mind, again, for our federal candidates, this is a war of Obama's choosing. This is not -- this is not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.


CHETRY: If you missed it there because the audio was a little hard to hear, Steele said that Afghanistan was a war of President Obama's choosing, a war that was launched when the president was still an Illinois state senator.

Well, now, some of the party's most influential voices are telling Steele to step down. GOP leaders, some who were in Afghanistan for Fourth of July weekend, are trying to get as far away as they can from his remarks.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think the statements are wildly inaccurate. I think that Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Dismayed, angry, upset. It was an uninformed, unnecessary, unwise, untimely comment. This is not President Obama's war. This is America's war.


CHETRY: Congressman Ron Paul, one of the most independent voices of the party, praised Steele for speaking what he said was truth about the war.

ROBERTS: Well, it is still four months to the midterm elections, but already, campaign ads seem to be everywhere. Some of them are going viral on the Internet.

Take a look at some of the best just ahead.

It's 8 1/2 minutes after the hour.



ROBERTS: Eleven minutes after the hour.

It is only July, but across America, already, campaign ads for the upcoming midterms have gone viral.

Jim Acosta joins us from Washington this morning with an entertaining and up-close look at why they are getting so much attention. And when you look at the first one that's up, you say no wonder they're getting so much attention.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. It's all about hits, and they are racking up big hits over at the Pamela Gorman campaign in Arizona. We'll explain about that.

Members of Congress are on break this week, but that doesn't mean Americans are getting a vacation from their politicians. With midterm elections past approaching, candidates are finding all sorts of new ways to target voters.


NARRATOR: Meet Pamela Gorman.

ACOSTA (voice-over): If the campaign season is starting to feel like open season, it's because the ads are already locked and loaded.

NARRATOR: Rated 100 percent by the NRA, conservative Pamela Gorman is always right on target.

ACOSTA: Republican Pamela Gorman has racked up more than 100,000 views on YouTube with this spot, showing the Arizona congressional candidate and her son taking target practice in the desert. That's Gorman sporting an old Tommy Gun.

PAMELA GORMAN (R), AZ. CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We'd never imagine in a million years it went as far as it did.

ACOSTA: We caught up with Gorman between fundraisers in California. She thanks left-leaning bloggers and the talk show hosts for helping her ad go viral.

GORMAN: I think most of it is getting passed on by people that probably wouldn't agree with my conservative politics. And if they really stop and thought about how much they're helping me by doing so, they might stop.

ACOSTA (on camera): Are you packing heat right now?

GORMAN: I'm in California. I don't think anybody but criminals have guns in California.

RICK BARBER (R), ALABAMA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: You revolted over a tea tax. ACOSTA (voice-over): Republican Rick Barber calls for revolution with this ad featuring actors playing the Founding Fathers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gather your armies.

LARRY SABATO, UVA CENTER FOR POLITICS: I know Thomas Jefferson. He's a friend of mine. And the guy in his ad is no Thomas Jefferson.

ACOSTA: Laugh all you want, Barber may be on to something.

SABATO: It's the year of the Tea Party. It's actually a good visual way to connect with the kind of people who may very well vote in a Republican runoff. That's what he's in.

REP. TOM PERRIELLO (D), VIRGINIA: I know times have been tough for Virginia families --

ACOSTA: Even incumbents, like Democrat Tom Perriello, are trying to go viral wit this ad showing the congressman getting more than just his hands dirty.

PERRIELLO: I fought to add new jobs at dairy farms. I protect jobs here in law enforcement.

ANNOUNCER: Warning: the following is a paid advertisement from J.D. Hayworth.

ACOSTA: In this ad, John McCain accuses his challenger, J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman who went on to host the late-night infomercial, of selling fringe ideas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or a Kenyan safari to find Obama's lost birth certificate. It will be great that people can confirm who they say they are.

ACOSTA: Duck and cover. Election year is only just beginning.

GORMAN: I'm Pamela Gorman, and I approve this message.



ACOSTA: At least she approves it.

And the ads will keep on coming, that's because candidates are expected to spend more money than ever before in the upcoming midterms after the Supreme Court opened the flood gates on political contributions from corporations and special interest groups. And they will go right up until Election Day, John.

ROBERTS: Some pretty interesting ads you got there. The Pamela Gorman one certainly grabs your attention, but I like the Tom Perriello one for the humor.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And, you know, I was talking to Larry Sabato about the who is down in Charlottesville, in Perriello's district, and he thinks Perriello may step in it all right with his votes for health care and cap and trade. Those are going to be very difficult votes to defend come the midterms. And it may be an ad like this to sort of take the focus off of some of those unpopular votes, John.

ROBERTS: Yes, they may find it difficult to laugh his way out of all that.

ACOSTA: That's right.

ROBERTS: Jim Acosta this morning -- Jim, thanks very much.

ACOSTA: You bet.

CHETRY: Well, still ahead: big stars, big giving. Coming up: Madonna goes back to Malawi to help a group of young girls, and our Alina Cho sits down with her to explain why she's so passionate about this cause.

It's 15 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Well, new this morning, for the fourth year in a row, competitive eater Joey Chestnut, who you saw Friday right here on AM giving our senior writer Rick some tips on how to chomp some dogs. He won the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. Chestnut won by throwing back 54 hot dogs in 10 minutes. It's 14 short of his world record from last year, that was 68. Chestnut, though, retains the Mustard Belt, pockets $20,000 and, of course, some heartburn. He was already chugging the Pepto right there. He said because it was so hot and it was right at 12:30 in the afternoon that this happened. And the sun was beating down on the contestants. He thinks he was a little bit dehydrated, so that's why he couldn't --

ROBERTS: Even with all the water he was dipping the hot dog bun in.

CHETRY: Yes. He said he was dehydrated beforehand because they can only drink so much water because they don't want to fill up their stomachs. And because it was so hot, he said he got dehydrated.

ROBERTS: I would think any excuse you can come up with for not having to eat 68 hot dogs is probably a valid excuse.

CHETRY: That's true.

ROBERTS: The real drama yesterday, though, on Coney Island came from Chestnut's longtime rival, Takeru Kobayashi, who was arrested -- yes, arrested -- at the Coney Island event. Kobayashi rushed the stage just after the contest saying, "Pay attention to me. Pay attention to me!" He was nabbed by the NYPD. He'd been watching from the stands because of a contract dispute with the official governing body, Major League Eating. Yes, there is one. Kobayashi's handler says the former champ wanted to prove that he's better than all the other competitors. We're not quite sure how he was getting that point across, though. Instead, he was charged with trespassing and two misdemeanors, including resisting arrest.

But he didn't need any Pepto-Bismol.

CHETRY: No, he didn't.

ROBERTS: Although, after spending the night in jail and eating the food there, maybe he does.

CHETRY: Maybe.

Meantime, take a look at this. It was a 20-car pileup at the NASCAR's Coke Zero 400 this weekend at Daytona. Rain could have been a factor. Storms delayed the start of the race by 90 minutes. And another cause, Daytona's bumpy old track, it's being ripped up and replaced before the next Daytona 500. Spring Cup Series point leader Kevin Harvick, by the way, steered clear of the wreck. He ended up winning the wild race.

ROBERTS: Our Christine Romans is minding your business this morning.

We've got some good news for you today. The stock market is not going to go down. The reason why? It's closed today.


ROBERTS: Good morning, Christine.

ROMANS: We love the certainty of that trend at least in the stock market.

ROBERTS: It is kind of like Congress on break, too, right? So they can't do anything to screw up the country.

ROMANS: Yes. They also can't pass those unemployment benefit extensions.

ROBERTS: That's true.

ROMANS: Which is something that is really bugging people. But, look. Car crash video is something I could show over this entire report here for you, because it's been a really rough couple of months for stock investors. In fact, we are talking about a bear sighting for July now. The Dow Jones Industrial average down 14 percent since its peak hit in April. Remember? Stocks went up 80 percent pretty much straight, and then went down straight. Down 14 percent.

The S&P 500, that's the broader gauge. The stocks in your retirement plan are probably most likely to look like the S&P 500. A broader bunch of stocks down 16 percent. The NASDAQ down 17 percent. Technically, anything that's down from the peak of 20 percent is technically a bear market. And sometimes when that happens, you see more selling and more concern. What's the problem here? It's all the things we have been talking about. The crisis in Europe. Europe is a huge customer for American goods. That just adds to the uncertainty of companies who maybe don't want to add jobs here if they are worried about their biggest customer in trouble.

The sluggish job market, we still have nine and a half percent unemployment, and millions of people who have simply dropped out of the job market and aren't even looking anymore.

And the weak housing market. We're still trying to see if the housing market's going to be able to find legs on its own without the benefit of the government helping with taxpayer money for first-time home buyers.

So we have a lot of things to get through. That 80 percent rally that we saw in stocks was pricing imperfection. Now this summer, everyone's saying, "Oh, wait. It's probably not going to be a perfect global economic recovery. Now what?"

So there you go.

CHETRY: A lot of problems.

ROMANS. Yes. And the stock market is reflecting that. That's why we look for the bear. 20 percent decline, technically, from the April high would be a bear market. Not there yet, but a lot of people are looking for it.

ROBERTS: I know where there's a lovely, shiny brass bowl if you want to go find one of those.

ROMANS: A shiny brass bowl?

ROBERTS: Maybe it's bronze.

ROMANS: A bronze bowl.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Christine.

Madonna, she's already adopted two children from Malawi. Still ahead, find out why the material girl is headed back to the country this time, and why she's asking for your help. 22 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: The top stories coming your way in just about five minutes, but first, an AM original, something that you'll see only on AMERICAN MORNING. Madonna still pushing boundaries. The superstar has a new cause these days.

CHETRY: It's one that she says it changed her. And she's talking about it with our Alina Cho, for her special series, "Big Stars, Big Giving." ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no doubt that Madonna is iconic. A pop icon, a fashion icon. A bona fide superstar. She fully admits that early on she spent a lot of time thinking about herself. But these days she's committed to Malawi. A small African nation where two of her children were adopted. In fact, she cares so much, she's broken ground on a school there to empower girls whose feature could be bleak.


CHO: She's a woman who only needs one name.

So you're Madonna.

MADONNA: No, I'm not.

CHO: Yes, you are.

Madonna has spent most of her life being provocative. But these days nothing is more important than her children. Two of them adopted from Malawi, small African nation where more than a half million children are orphaned by AIDS.

All of those orphans. I mean, a million --

MADONNA: I would love to take them all home. Yes, if I could.

CHO: Because she can't, and because she's Madonna, she made a documentary about the country.

MADONNA: People always ask me why I chose Malawi. And I tell them, I didn't. It chose me.

CHO: She also founded the charity Raising Malawi, to help the orphans she can't bring home.

MADONNA: We found and met a lot of people who were sick and dying of HIV with no medical help. And it just felt like a death camp. And it was astonishing. And so, on the other hand, though, everybody that I met was also incredibly brave. So it is a very confusing paradox.

CHO: It's an interesting dichotomy, because I know Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa. As much suffering there is there, there's a certain spirit to the people.

MADONNA: Yes. There is. Because on the one hand, I went there and thought, I have to help, I have to save these people. And then I thought, wait a minute. I think it's the other way around. I think they might be saving me.

CHO: Why do you say that?

MADONNA: Because they help you to get a sense of appreciation for life. For what you have. CHO: A new appreciation for life, and a new sense of responsibility. Her latest project? Breaking ground on a $15 million boarding school. The Raising Malawi Academy for Girls, slated to open in 2012.

MADONNA: I never intended to go to Malawi and just sort of dump a bunch of aid on people and flee the country. It has always been about partnership.

CHO: And she's putting her money where her mouth is. Every dollar donated to, Madonna will match.

So you just said, hey --

MADONNA: Match my dollar.

CHO: I'll keep going?

MADONNA: Match my hundred grand. Yes.

CHO: Make that $1 million and counting.

MADONNA: My biggest asset as a human being is, I would say, my resiliency and my survival skills. I'm like a cockroach. You can't get rid of me.

CHO: But that's helpful in philanthropy.

MADONNA: It is. You have to be pretty tireless.

CHO: Her tenacity was on display back in 2006 when many people, both in Malawi and around the world, accused her of using her celebrity and her money to buy an adoption. She won. David, now 4, calls Madonna "Mom."

MADONNA: It seems a lot of the things I do end up being controversial, even when I don't mean them to be.

CHO: Right. Does it hurt your feelings?

MADONNA: Hurt my feelings. I don't know if it hurts my feelings. I'm pretty prepared, often, for some of the things I say and do. I know this is going to freak some people out. But then other things I do, like adopting a child who's about to die, I don't think I'm going to get a hard time for it, and I do.

CHO: Yet, Madonna says she'll take the criticism if it means one more child in Malawi gets to go to school, survive and thrive.

Do you ever get overwhelmed by all the work that need to be done? Because it seems like you help one kid and there's 1,000 more standing in line.


CHO: And it can be overwhelming. MADONNA. Yes, it can. Sometimes it stops you dead in your tracks and you think, "Oh, my God, I can't do this." But then I see the success rate. I talk to the people in Malawi whose lives have been changed. And that just helps me and keeps me going.


CHO: Madonna continues to travel to Malawi periodically to check on the progress of the school she's building. She most recently went back in April to lay the first brick. And she looks forward to returning when the school opens in 2012. John? Kiran?

CHETRY: Great stuff, Alina. Thanks.

Meanwhile, we check our stories, now at half past the hour. Three mortar rounds hit inside of Baghdad's Green Zone Sunday. It happened during a visit by vice president Joe Biden and his wife Jill. No damage or injuries were reported. This happened at 10:30 p.m. local time.

This morning, the vice president met with Iraqi leaders during his trip. He said that Washington's plan to withdrawal US forces from Iraq will continue as scheduled.

ROBERTS: US Army general David Petraeus is now officially in command of NATO forces in Afghanistan. In a speech during Sunday's ceremony, the general said NATO's strategy in the war-torn nation has not changed, adding that this nine-year-old war, now the longest in US history, is at a, quote, "critical moment."

CHETRY: Also, the oil spill adding more hardships on top of the already difficult economic situation. More of the Gulf is now off- limits to fishing. Over the weekend, authorities closed nearly 1100 square miles of federal waters off of the coast of Louisiana. It means nearly a third of the Gulf is now closed to fisherman.

ROBERTS: BP also announced this morning the oil spill has cost the company more than $3.1 billion. The oil giant that is come under heavy criticism on the safety procedures on the deepwater how rise up, but we are learning that's not the only place BP's safety operations have been questioned.

Our Alan Chernoff is live in New Orleans this morning, and Alan, you've been investigating a tragic incidence a long way away from the Gulf in Prudo Bay, Alaska.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, John. It's the story of Michael Phelan who was killed while working in BP operations in Alaska. His family says he never should have died. They said BP has been uncaring and insulting by blaming Mr. Phelan for his own death.


CHERNOFF: Oil worker Michael Phelan, father of three, was killed last November at BP's Prudo Bay Alaskan operations when his pickup truck pinned him gins the pipeline he was inspecting. This was a tragic accident BP told CNN. "Our hearts and thoughts at the time and since are with Mike Phelan's family and friends."

By Dianne Phelan says she hasn't felt any compassion from BP.

DIANNE PHELAN, WIDOW OF BP SUBCONTRACTOR: I would say they have been callus and lacking in their safety. To me it even seems they don't have confident help.

CHERNOFF: Phelan was an employee of a BP subcontractor which allowed employees to work under BP's control in Prudo Bay. His family says Michael was very safety conscious, as illustrated in this video he sent home from the BP worksite.

DIANNE PHELAN: It didn't make sense as to what they were telling us happened. My husband has been in the oil refinery business for over 35 years. He's received numerous safety rewards.

CHERNOFF: The truck that killed Phelan was found in drive, and BP's investigate report laid the blame for the accident squarely on Phelan. "An inadvertent decision error or memory error allowed the running vehicle to be left in drive. Exiting the running vehicle was done without conscious thought."

The Phelan family was stunned.

MICHAEL C. PHELAN, SON OF BP SUBCONTRACTOR: When you turn around and disgrace him like that, it is hurting, it angers people, I'm just at a loss of words for it, actually. That's how angry I am.

CHERNOFF: How can a man be hit by his own truck after he stopped it and had gotten out? A sudden unintended acceleration would have been most likely in high four-wheel drive mode, but a BP investigator found the vehicle in four-wheel dry low position.

The BP report concluded Mr. Phelan was probably operating his vehicle in four-wheel drive high after investigators made the assumption that first responders entering the vehicle may have brushed the four-wheel drive shifter to move it from high into low.

And Phelan's family says there are other disturbing things in the report. The emergency kit first responders used had no oxygen mask. A bag valve mask was not available in the medical oxygen response kit, says the report, though there's no evidence that would have saved Phelan's life.

MICHAEL C. PHELAN: Not having a gas mask, an ox general mask, for somebody if they went down, that just -- I just can't even explain it.

JOHN PHELAN, SON OF BP SUBCONTRACTOR: It seems that they do whatever they can to cut corners and make the most of their money and they don't care about the employees that are working for them.

CHERNOFF: A group flew John and Michael to Alaska to retrieve their dad's body. They say the company only allowed them 15 minutes to speak to their dad's coworkers who were on the scene before they were flown out. MICHAEL C. PHELAN: We had to be really quick with it.

DIANNE PHELAN: Still to this day, we have had no contact from BP whatsoever. They have never even called and said anything to the family.

CHERNOFF: BP tells CNN its investigation was thorough and it cooperated fully with Alaska's occupational safety and health office. Mistras group says "Michael Phelan's death was a tragic accident and our condolences go out to the Phelan family."


CHERNOFF: To magnify her pain, private attorneys have told Mrs. Phelan she's limited to seeking a claim only under the Alaska's workers compensation law. Under that law, she should receive $528 a week, a fraction of what her husband had been earning. Both BP and Mistras Group denied CNN's request for an interview. John?

ROBERTS: So the son said he was stunned when he heard the report the car lurched forward because it had been in drive. Do they not leave the father would have put the car in drive as opposed to park? What do they think may have happened?

CHERNOFF: Precisely. They believe there's no way their father would have done something like leaving the vehicle in drive.

Now, up in Alaska, apparently, you are supposed to leave the vehicle on because, obviously, it is not easy to get a vehicle to turn in that type of a cold weather, but they say -- they think he probably left it in a neutral position, and they don't understand why BP is so certain that it was left in drive.

ROBERTS: A lot of history about this. Alan Chernoff, thanks.

CHETRY: Still ahead, we'll talk about the immigration debate and whether or not comprehensive reform is something that can get done as the president promised. We are speaking with Jorge Ramos. We'll get his take coming up. It's 36 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. It's 39 minutes past the hour.

The push for immigration reform is underway. Last week President Obama called for securing the borders and also paving the way for 11 million immigrants to become legal citizens.

But with so much on his plate, many are asking why now? And in the political climate, is this a realistic goal? The Latino community wants to know why so late?

Joining us this morning, a prominent voice in the Latino community, Jorge Ramos. He wrote the book "A Country for All." This is an immigrant manifesto. Congratulations on the book, by the way. I want to ask you, because you had a chance to sit down with the president back in 2008. I want everybody to listen to what he told you about immigration reform.



BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I'm promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.


CHETRY: Unfortunately, that's a broken promise. He was not able to do it in his first year. Do you think that with so much on his plate, this is taking a back burner?

RAMOS: Well, probably. Within the Latino community, it is called Obama's promise. He promised he was going to do that during his first year in office, and nothing has happened. I understand that he wants immigration reform. It is very clear, but he doesn't have the 60 votes.

But on the other hand, I'm sure you listened to his speech last Thursday. It was even a great speech sometimes, but we need much more than that. We need action. He could have stopped deportations for students and the parents of U.S. citizens. He could have called a summit at the White House or presented his own immigration bill. Nothing happened.

CHETRY: Do you think he's tackling it the right way, though?

RAMOS: We need immigration reform. It is not only border security. That's a must, but at the same time we have to do something with the 11 million immigrants in the country.

I just came back from South Africa covering the World Cup a few days ago, and it is amazing what they have done in 16 years against segregation. But it is shocking to see places like Arizona is going exactly the opposite way.

Something has to be done with 11 million immigrants. It is incredible that the most powerful country in the world is persecuting 11 million people.

CHETRY: So this is interesting that you call it persecution. We asked a question, this is a CNN research poll from last month. We said, should the main focus of U.S. policy on illegal immigration be, one, a plan to allow people to become legal residents of the U.S., and 38 percent said yes to that.

Or should the main focus be deporting them and stopping more from coming to the U.S.? And 60 percent appeared to be supporting that, at least in our polling. Why do you think that the public perception and the public feeling on immigration is so different than what you are saying?

RAMOS: We are living in a difficult time. If you ask one of the 50 million people who don't have a job right now if they want immigrants to come into the country or to be legalized, it will be very difficult.

What they have to understand that most immigrants, I mean, they contribute much more to this country than what they take away from this country. And I think we have to talk about the fears. Many people think immigrants bring crime to the country. The Department of Justice clearly concludes that crime has been going down in the last decade, not only around the country, but especially in Arizona.

So once people understand that immigrants bring jobs to this country, they pay taxes, they are a great influence to this country, and that crime is going down because of immigration, then maybe those polls would be changing.

CHETRY: Do you think this is a false argument? This is what representative Lamar Smith of Texas said. He said, quote, "We could cut unemployment in half by simply reclaiming the jobs taken by illegal workers. The president should support policies that help citizens and legal immigrants find the jobs they need and deserve rather than to enforce immigration laws."

He seemed to think that the sentiment would be if you got deported people who are taking up jobs right now it would help the unemployment rate. You don't believe that argument?

RAMOS: That's his opinion. Facts are completely different. I was just reading a UCLA study. They conclude if we legalize millions of illegal immigrants, it would bring $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy, and within three years, they would create a million jobs, 900,000 jobs.

So immigrants, they are great for this country. They are great for the economy. They are bringing crime down. So I think we just have to get our facts right.

And once we do that, we have to move on immigration. Something has to be done. It is incredible that we are treating 11 million people like that. It is a civil rights issue, and we have to fight that right now.

CHETRY: Another thing that keeps happening is that the president has a certain agenda. Obviously, he has things he wants to get passed, and then you see all of life getting in the way. We had the huge recession and that take the focus off the immigration issue, the Gulf oil spill, on and on.

And now we are up against midterm elections where in some cases people don't want to take on anything that would jeopardize their election. Do you think this is something that's going to get done? RAMOS: It has to be done. It has to be done. The time is now. We can't keep on waiting. The last legalization process was in 1986 done by Ronald Reagan.

I understand the reason Barack Obama wants to do it, but I understand he is not getting help from Republicans. Where has John McCain? He was for immigration reform. Where is he right now? What happened to Lindsey Graham?

Definitely, President Barack Obama needs Republicans and it has to be done. We can't keep on postponing this. It is going to keep on growing every single day. Thousands of immigrants keep coming to this country.

For instance, as long as there are people in Mexico making $5 a day and they can make exactly the same amount here in a few hours, they are going to continue coming. So we have to tackle this problem now or it will keep on growing.

And if then there's a lack of action from the White House and the Congress, then states like Arizona are going to be trying to take this matter into their own hands.

CHETRY: All right, well, it's very interesting to get your perspective this morning. The book is called "A Country for All". Jorge Ramos thanks for joining us this morning.

RAMOS: Thank you.

CHETRY: It's great to talk to you.

RAMOS: Thanks.


ROBERTS: Thanks Kiran.

And it's going to be hot, dangerously hot in many parts of this country. Our Reynolds Wolf has got this morning's forecast right after the break.

Stay with us.


ROBERTS: It's 77 pleasant degrees right now as we wake you up in New York City at 12 minutes before 9:00 Eastern. But later on today, it will be oppressively hot. If you thought it was hot yesterday, just wait until you see what you're in store for, for the rest of the week; 98 degrees is today's raw temperature high, with the humidex will push it well over 100.

CHETRY: Oh, yes, time to cool off for sure. It's 48 minutes past the hour. Let's get a check on the morning's weather's headlines. Reynolds Wolf is in Atlanta. And wow, we are -- we are going to need to crank up the AC or jump in a pool, or do something. But it's going to be ridiculous.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. Up at Yankee Stadium today, it's going to be warm. The same deal in the Bronx. It's going to be very hot for you in Yonkers too. The heat index range anywhere from 98 to 101 and that's going to be the situation you'll be dealing with from today through Wednesday. Temperatures should cool down a little bit maybe a few stray showers by the end of the week, but that's then.

And this is now. Same deal in Philadelphia, heat index from 98 but a little hotter in a few spots going up to 106. That will be the situation through Wednesday. And you're going to see these heat spill on down through parts of the Eastern Seaboard. Raleigh or even in Washington, D.C., Washington, it's expected to rise to 100 degrees for the day; 85 in New Orleans, 85 in Tampa; much cooler in Miami, cooler in Miami than Tampa, than D.C., New York and Boston.

Try wrapping your head around that one.

82 for Denver and 82 in Kansas City and you're going to see some fairly cooler temperatures in parts of the Central Plains, especially into the afternoon because we're going to see the development of some cloud cover and with that, the chance of a few scattered showers and even some thunderstorms.

Do you want to talk about storms? You want to talk about some massive development possible? We'll let's go right into parts of the tropics. Well, not that one, but this one. There you go. We are seeing some storms that are popping up in terms of thunderstorms, but tropical storms may be a possibility with this cluster that we're seeing just to the east of the Yucatan peninsula.

Well, we are keeping a very sharp eye on it. This system, this thing has about a 40 percent possibility according to the National Hurricane Center of becoming a named storm. If it does become a named storm, we've already gone through A. We've had Alex actually landfall in parts of Mexico, this maybe be Bonnie. Bonnie could be the second one. So we'll watch it for you very carefully.

A few other spots of concern: northern Gulf, just the east of Florida and also, we're seeing something toward the inter-tropical convergence zone. No big surprise. It's the season to see these kinds of development but it's a little bit early to see it this active in the tropics.

That's the latest on your forecast. Let's kick it back to you in New York.

ROBERTS: Reynolds thanks so much.

WOLF: You bet.

ROBERTS: It's a man cave that's more like a bat cave. Up next, the gadget that one man is building in his basement that he hopes will help him save the world.

Stay with us.


ROBERTS: It's seven minutes until the top of the hour.

On the path to better, greener power, there are a lot of options out there. Of course, solar, wind, hydroelectric, but for a small and very devoted group of scientists, the way to move ahead is nuclear fusion. And believe it or not, that tech-savvy guy next door may just be trying to harness the energy of the sun in his basement.

Our Carol Costello introduces us to one of these amateur scientists in this "AM Original".

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, they're called fusionists. It's hard to pin down an exact number, but it's believed there are 38 people in the United States who have no scientific background, but have managed to create fusion in their basements or in a warehouse.

Why, you ask? To save the world.


COSTELLO (voice-over): A warehouse in Brooklyn, inside, a dream that if realized could change everything.

MARK SUPPES, AMATEUR NUCLEAR PHSICIST: You can hear it sound like a jet engine.

COSTELLO: This is Mark Suppes, a web designer for Gucci by day, an amateur science junkie or fusionist by night.

SUPPES: You can hear it kind of getting higher and higher.

COSTELLO (on camera): So you see --

SUPPES: The anticipation is building. Are you excited?

COSTELLO: I am excited.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Suppes has built a nuclear fusion reactor, a machine he hopes one day will imitate the sun's power and power our world.

(on camera): So what is the hope? What is the goal?

SUPPES: The hope and the goal are that -- this will lead to a viable energy technology that will one day replace coal and oil.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Suppes's dream is not new. Nuclear fusion has long been considered the holy grail of energy production. Atoms are forcibly joined releasing energy. Produce enough and you get Suppes's dream.

The problem, even the world most brilliant trained scientists haven't figured out how to do it in a way that creates more energy than it consumes.

(on camera): Professor, meet Mark.

(voice-over): Professor Bob Park admires Suppes's passion, but says that the reactor is primitive compared to the sophisticated gigantic reactors physicists use now. Still --

PROF. ROBERT PARK, PHYSICIST, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: There is always that possibility that he might come up with a little trick that nobody else has thought of.

COSTELLO (on camera): You can figure it out.

SUPPES: I mean I'm not saying that I can figure it out, necessarily, but I think it can be done and I think that I can be instrumental in doing it.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Suppes has spent $37,000 of his own money and two years of his life to create this nuclear fusion reactor.

SUPPES: The first step is we suck out the air of the chamber.

COSTELLO: He bought the mechanical parts on eBay. As for the necessary ingredients like the isotope element deuterium (ph) --

(on camera): Where do you buy them?

SUPPES: There's a company called (INAUDIBLE) and tri-gas in New Jersey.

COSTELLO: So you bought the deuterium in New Jersey?


SUPPES: Yes. And they FedEx it -- they FedEx it over.

COSTELLO (voice-over): After a series of steps, Suppes makes fusion. He says it happened inside that tube with the glowing purple star.

(on camera): Some people might just imagine, you know, Jerry Lewis in the lab, you know, the crazy scientist. Is that who you are?

SUPPES: Minus the hair.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Suppes just might be a little crazy but he is passionate about changing the world.

(on camera): How would you like to go down in the history books?

SUPPES: I want to go down as the progenitor of the fusion era.


COSTELLO: Suppes' next step: raising $200 million to $400 million to build a bigger reactor, the kind you need to solve a scientific problem that no trained physicist has ever managed to do in 50 years -- John, Kiran?

CHETRY: They're still trying. They're working out the kinks.

ROBERTS: You know, he has that little purple sun right there in his fusion reactor that he bought on eBay.

CHETRY: That got delivered from New Jersey. But, hey, you know what? He could be on to the next big thing.

ROBERTS: You know --

CHETRY: It takes a little ingenuity.

ROBERTS: You know, what were people saying about Edison when he was trying to invent the light bulb?


ROBERTS: You know?

CHETRY: And now look. We use one every day, at least.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back.


ROBERTS: That's going to wrap it up for us. Thanks so much for joining us this morning. Have a wonderful holiday Monday. We'll see you back here again tomorrow.

CHETRY: Meantime, the news continues; "CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips, starts right now.