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Historic Drought Hits Half of U.S.; Lake Drained in Search for Iowa Girls; Why McCain Picked Palin; Nelson Mandela Celebrates 94th Birthday; Mitt Romney Campaigning in Ohio; Federal Regulators Investigating Car Troubles in Fords, Mazdas

Aired July 18, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: The dust bowl of 2012. More than half of the country is already a disaster area with little rain in the forecast.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Full throttle danger. Federal regulators launch another investigation into sticking gas pedals. This time in Fords and Mazdas.

SAMBOLIN: And here's one gutsy getaway. Take a look at this. A suspect gets the best of a police officer, then takes off in her cruiser.

BERMAN: Cops aren't going to like that.

SAMBOLIN: That is very bold. Very bold. Can't wait to share the ending with you.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Also this morning, Mitt Romney is in Ohio. So is Bobby Jindal, so is Jeb Bush.


BERMAN: Coincidence? It is sort of a parade. All about the veep stakes. Also the key state of Ohio. We'll have more on that coming up.

SAMBOLIN: And it's also nelson Mandela's 94th birthday. We're going to hear from former President Clinton who just just visited with the icon in a CNN exclusive. And that's coming up.

BERMAN: But, first, Zoraida, the big story affecting so much of the country, the weather and these devastating drought conditions that have turned half of the U.S. into a disaster zone. The Department of Agriculture is declaring natural disasters in 1,000 counties across 26 states. And blistering temperatures are making conditions even worse.

Across the Midwest, temperatures have topped more than 100 degrees. And heat advisories are reaching up into the mid-Atlantic regions. The bone dry conditions have completely destroyed vast stretches of farmland, especially hurting corn, soybean plants. One analyst is estimating 75 percent of the corn crop at the heart of the drought-stricken region has been completely wiped out.

This is already having disastrous effects on the entire country. Corn prices have surged 45 percent. And they're expected to jump even higher. That means the price of everything from food, groceries, fuel, they could all skyrocket.

Christine Romans from Iowa, we'll have more on the business angle in just a moment.

But, first, Alexander Steele is in Atlanta. This, of course, a big weather event. We all want to know what's going on.

Any rain in sight?

ALEXANDRIA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No. There really isn't. But, you know, one interesting thing, you look at the corn crops and you see how parched they are. You think, well, corn -- maybe I won't eat corn.

Forget that. It so permeates that. Corn and those corn crops are in everything from makeup to tires. So, really, I can't wait to hear Christine's report.

Looking at the vegetation health, all you need to know, wherever the brown is that's how abnormally dry we are in terms of the vegetation abnormality. You can see from St. Louis to Indianapolis. You know, it's really important to know that the intense heat waves and, of course, the lack of rain do go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive. They work completely with each other. One certainly exacerbates the other.

We've had incredible heat waves -- places like Washington, D.C. We'll go down for sure in July, the warmest July we've ever seen.

So, here's the outlook. This is the biggest problem. As we look toward the months ahead for September, you can see the brown showing, the tendency to continue to be drier than normal.

And drought begets drought. Intense heat begets the intense heat. It all is really a big cycle. And once you get in it it's really hard to get out of.

This is the precip outlook as we head through September. Drier than average in the Northwest. But you can see a few chances for wetter. But as an aggregate, equal chances of it being average. Because it's so hot, and look at this, temperatures as we look toward the next few months above average for so much of the country.

Now, if we line up that drought map, these almost go hand in hand. So, unfortunately, certainly the heat continues, exacerbating from Washington, St. Louis and through the Midwest. The throughout that we already have.

So, one certainly works with the other. And it doesn't look like we've got any good shape coming any time soon.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alexandra, thank you very much.

So, now, let's talk about how this drought could affect your wallet. No matter where you live.

Christine Romans was working the phones for us very late last night.

And, you know, we heard Alexander say there is corn in everything, right? It's not just about food, she said. It's about, you know, makeup and tires. But we're talking about food, and livelihood and farmers.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Totally. You always hear about how oil runs the world's global economy. But corn does, too. Because corn is -- this is something you're going to see, folks.

I mean, global food prices are going to rise. We've already been seeing it overall. Food -- higher grain prices feed into beef, pork, poultry, cereal, processed foods. We burn corn for fuel, ethanol. We use corn in all kinds of different -- all kinds of different manufactured products.

And then you've got soybeans. You've got hay. Hay fields are drying out. Farmers who have livestock are now actually plowing under -- or actually cutting down their driest parts of their corn fields and starting to feed that to their animals as well.

So, this is from livestock to -- look, the most important thing here, yes, corn is in makeup. The most important thing here is food.


ROMANS: The world is fed by this bread basket of the United States.

I want to show you sort of a NOAA map of the dying vegetation over the past few months. I mean, July is a month if we saw rain every single day from here on out, maybe you'd have better crop yields. But look at this orange. This is where you've seen just scorching of this very important part of the country where you see so much of our food is grown.

Now, my family is from Iowa. We've been farming in the northern part of Iowa 1956 to 1990. My grandparents farmed their farm.

I talked to my grandma last night. She's just almost tearful about the farmers around her who got thousands of dollars of seed in the ground. And now, they're watching as the rain comes a little bit to the north, a little bit to the south, but not enough rain. Even if it rained every day from here on out in July, they would not be able to save this crop.

You walk down the fields, right? You see green. And so, to the outside person in parts of Iowa, it looks all right.

You peel it back, there's nothing there. Corn cobs are not growing. There's no kernels on the corn. It's a bust for a lot of these farmers.

BERMAN: We are all hoping for rain for all of them, including your family.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Thanks very much, Christine.

All right. Federal regulators launching an investigation after receiving close to 100 complaints about sticking gas pedals in Ford and now Mazda vehicles. Those accelerators have caused one death and nine injuries. And the investigation involves about 730,000 vehicles.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is focusing on just two models, the 2001 through 2004 Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute SUVs with V-6 engines.

SAMBOLIN: And new questions about airport security procedures after a major breach. This is at an airport in Utah.

Authorities say a SkyWest pilot wanted for allegedly killing his ex-girlfriend last week tried to steal one of the airline's jets. It was a botched getaway. He managed to start the plane. But he clipped the terminal building before rolling through a fence into parked cars. The pilot, 40-year-old Brian Hedglin, was found dead inside the plane. It's an apparent suicide.

BERMAN: Swiped planes, swiped cop cars. Amazing video from Columbus, Ohio, of police responding to reports of shots fired. So the cops arrive at the scene. They briefly detain a suspect. He escapes.

You're going to see him here sprinting to the officer's patrol car. There he goes. He's running to the car.

You have to watch. He gets in the car here as the cops are no doubt chasing him. Turns it on or may already be on. And speed away. And the officers fire at him.



POLICE OFFICER: He broke away from me when I grabbed a hold of him.


BERMAN: The man eventually crashed the cruiser and was arrested. Police are looking for another suspect in the shooting.

SAMBOLIN: The FDA approving a new controversial diet drug under a new name. Qsymia, formerly called Qnexa, has produced dramatic weight loss in clinical trials. We told you all about this yesterday. It's only approved for overweight people with a body mass index greater than 27. However, doctors can describe it to anyone. And there is concern it will be overprescribed to people who just want to lose a few pounds. Potential side effects include increased heart rate and birth defects.

BERMAN: New York Knicks fans said this morning. You may say Lin-consolable -- thank you very much -- after the departure of Lin- sanity. Jeremy Lin is packing his bags and heading to Houston. The Knicks declining to match the Rockets' offer of $25 million over the next three years. They had until midnight last night to keep Jeremy Lin around.

The Big Apple's love affair with the 23-year-old point guard over after just 26 games. It's amazing. Lin sent out a couple of tweets overnight saying, first, "Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again." He was cut by them last year. It's amazing.


BERMAN: Another tweet, "Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year. Easily the best year of my life." No longer a Knick but still a match (ph) you might say.

SAMBOLIN: I was shocked he said the best year of his life?

BERMAN: He did really well. He was starting 25 games. Lin- sanity. Can't get much better than that.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It is nine minutes past the hour here.

A peaceful lake in Iowa is an active crime scene this morning. All hands searching for two girls who went missing after a bike ride. You are taking a look at their pictures. Coming up, find out what happened when police dogs tried to track their scent.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 13 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

This morning in Iowa, a serious story. Authorities now draining a lake in the search for two missing young girls: 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 10-year-old Lyric Cook.

They disappeared last Friday. Their bikes were found at the edge of Meyers Lakes in Evansdale. FBI scent-tracking dogs are searching the area.

The mother of one of the girls says the dogs stopped right at the lake's edge as soon as they began their search.

Jim Spellman is live in Evansdale.

Jim, what's the latest right now from authorities?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, there's two tracks going on in this investigation.

One is sort of the search and rescue effort. Towards that end, they are draining this lake. They don't expect they're going to find anything significant in this lake. They just want to be absolutely sure to rule that out.

By later today or tomorrow, this lake should be drained. They should have whatever answers the lake may give them.

On the other track, the law enforcement track, as you mentioned FBI scent dogs came in. They lined up family members so the dogs could eliminate their scent. Then they took smell from the girls' shoes and used that.

We know they got this scent and they ended near the lake in a wooded area. We don't know if that's ever going to really become a significant part of this investigation at this point. But as every hour and day goes on, the family is more convinced that the girls didn't get lost, that there wasn't an accident. But rather that some sort of crime has taken place.

Take a listen to Lyric Cook's father.


DANIEL MORRISSEY, FATHER: Obviously, something bad has happened. I -- I believe that it's not an accident. It's -- it's something -- it's something, and that's what we're trying to find out.


SPELLMAN: The family has been questioned by police. Some of them have taken polygraphs. Police say they're completely cooperating. They really need some sort of break to get this case moving, John.

BERMAN: Jim, thanks so much in Iowa.

This has got to be so hard on these families. And later this morning, we'll be talking live with the parents of 10-year-old Lyric Cook. That's ahead at 6:40 a.m.

SAMBOLIN: I can't imagine that.

Fifteen minutes past the hour.

Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans with this morning's top stories.

Good morning, Christine.

ROMANS: Good morning you two.

A crisis unfolding across half the country right now. Millions are praying for rain, trying to weather the worst drought to hit this nation in more than five decades. Cropped ruined on farms across the heartland. State leaders scrambling to come up with aid plans for farmers. But at this point, appears many livelihoods could be lost and certainly food prices will spike.

Federal regulators investigating nearly 100 complaints about accelerators getting stuck in Ford and Mazda SUVs. They're trying to determine whether those gas pedals caused one death, nine injuries and nearly two dozen accidents. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says more than 700,000 vehicles and two models are involved, the 2001 through 2004 Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute SUVs with V-6 engines.

A man accused of shooting up an Alabama bar near the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa, facing 18 counts of attempted murder. Police say the suspect, 44-year-old Nathan Van Wilkins turned himself in yesterday. Seventeen people were injured, four critically. Surveillance video allegedly shows Wilkins with a gun outside the bar where the shootings took place. He's being held on a $2 million bond.

Olympic officials in London turning to the TSA to help shore up security for the games. Media reports out of London say U.S. agents from the Transportation Security Administration will be arriving next week and will be stationed at British airports. Olympic organizers are getting hammered for not having enough security on hand for the games. The British military also trying to help plug the gap by supplying 3,500 extra personnel -- Zoraida and John.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

It is 17 minutes past the hour. And we're getting an early read on your local news that is making national headlines.

We're going to start right here in New York with the "New York Daily News". Kerry Kennedy, the ex-wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is blaming a seizure for her car accident last week. So she was driving to a gym when her 2008 Lexus hit a tractor trailer. And apparently she just kept on driving. This was last Friday morning this happened on a Westchester County highway.

What she's saying is that she had a seizure that was caused by a brain injury. And she also said -- I thought this was interesting -- that when she was stopped by the police officer, she says, "It is theoretically possible that I might have taken an Ambien rather than a thyroid pill."

BERMAN: That no doubt set off alarm bells with those cops.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, absolutely. But they did test her for drugs. And she said that all the results came up negative. That's what she is saying. And doctors say they believe the crash was caused not by the sleeping aid but rather a complex partial seizure.

BERMAN: There's so much interest in the Kennedys all around the country, especially in these parts. That courtroom in this tiny town was packed yesterday for this hearing.


BERMAN: All right. Here's a picture that will chill any fast food lover like me. This apparently from a Burger King in Ohio.

An employee took this picture standing on lettuce in a Burger King. He put it online saying this is what -- this is what your food looks like inside this Burger King.

The officials somehow at this store tracked him down. Apparently he was an Internet user who used some geotagging to find out where this guy worked, where he was located. Guess what burger king did to him? They laid him off. They fired him.

Not a good way to keep your job if you want to keep it -- standing in the lettuce.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh, terrible. Disgusting.

All right. And even if you do that, don't send it out.

BERMAN: Right. Keep it to yourself. Send it to your friends. Don't post-it online.

SAMBOLIN: So, for an expanded look at our top stories head to our blog,

BERMAN: And coming up, poised at the edge of a fiscal cliff. Fed Chief Ben Bernanke's dire warning for Congress. That's coming up.


BERMAN: All right. Minding your business this morning.

Your market check now. U.S. stock futures are trading higher. That is nice. European markets up, too.

SAMBOLIN: That's despite Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke stopping short of announcing another round of stimulus for the economy, which everyone was hoping for.

Christine Romans is here.

What else did Bernanke have to say?

ROMANS: Look, markets want Bernanke to say I got some new, shiny object that's going to help keep global growth going. And Bernanke says, no. I need to make sure that Congress doesn't make any mistakes here.

Ben Bernanke talking about a frustrating slow recovery in the jobs market. I've heard him say this many, many times.

But he also talked about the fiscal cliff, so-called fiscal cliff. That's when we have huge spending cuts and huge tax increases, all at the same time, that slam the economy early next year. Congress really has to get its act together on that. This is what he said.


BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The most effective way that the Congress could help to support the economy right now would be to work to address the nation's fiscal challenges in a way that takes into account both the need for long run sustainability and the fragility of the recovery.

Doing so earlier rather than later would help reduce uncertainty and boost household and business confidence.


ROMANS: That's about as fiery as you're going to get from a Fed chief. They don't like to make that foray into politics. You can take that 19 seconds I just gave you there as a warning from the Fed chief to Congress that they stand in direct opposition to what's good for the U.S. economy. So, that's a warning from Fed Chief Ben Bernanke.

Next hour, I'm going to give you -- I'm going to take apart the fiscal cliff for you. I'm going to put it on a magic wall. So, stick around, everybody, if you haven't run out the front door to go to work.

BERMAN: Those members, by the way, had this grim faces on, you know, when he was saying that. They didn't look happy he was talking like that.

ROMANS: I know. We're going to hear more from him today. He's got a second day of testimony on the Hill. So, there will be Q&A. Well, I think so. We'll see if he reiterates that and if they can get more out of him on that.

Second story I want to tell you about is a Wall Street Journal report about Peregrine Financial. Remember I told you about this? This is this futures and currency brokerage firm that the CEO tried to kill himself in the headquarters -- in the parking of the headquarters.

All these farmers have their -- this was a couple weeks ago. All these farmers have their -- oh, gosh. If you're not dealing with this horrible drought, you've got your brokerage account is now frozen.

Anyway, "The Journal" has a really interesting story we're trying to chase down. The CEO there writing some letters, apparently saying he used these clients' money to build this headquarters, to pay fines and fees to the government, to basically run his operations and boost the capital of Peregrine Financial.

That guy whose face you're seeing now, this guy is basically an elder statesman of the futures industry. So, the futures industry, agriculture futures industry shaking to its core. First, MF Global. Then PFG. They call it PFG Best. Really, really scary stuff.

So, we've got calls. And we're trying to authenticate those letters. It's in the "Wall Street Journal."

BERMAN: The secondary tragedy is this hurting the farmers there in the drought.

ROMANS: Can you imagine?

We've been talking -- CNN has talked to some farmers who -- some people who first they had MF Global accounts. And then they had Peregrine Financial accounts. Both have been closed. Think if you're a farmer with a brokerage account, you can't get access to the money because they're trying to unravel the mystery of where the money went.

So, real tough stuff there.

SAMBOLIN: In the worst time.

Thank you so much, Christine. We appreciate it.

Twenty-six minutes past the hour here. It might be the choice that made the difference in 2008. Coming up, what Senator John McCain said recently when asked, why Sarah Palin?

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop, on your mobile phone. Just go to


BERMAN: All dried up. Farmers suffering along with their crops in the sweltering heat.

SAMBOLIN: Two presidents celebrate a milestone. This is a CNN exclusive with former President Clinton and Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday.

BERMAN: And not a banner day at Penn State. Someone spending a few bucks there to make a point about the late Joe Paterno's reputation.


BERMAN (on-camera): Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're very happy that you're with us this morning. Thirty minutes past the hour. This morning, more than half of the U.S. is battling a devastating drought, the worst to hit the country in more than 50 years. Take a look at that map. Disaster areas have been declared in 26 states.

Conditions are destroying farm crops. One analyst estimates 75 percent of the corn crop in the drought region has been wiped out. And that could drive up food and fuel prices. Alexandra Steele is live in Atlanta for us. And Alexandra, what's the latest on the conditions? Any reprieve?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Well, no, not really any improvement. You look at the corn crop. We're talking so much about the corn crop, but you're not just thinking of summer salad or corn on itself. Corn is in everything we eat and we use and we do from makeup to tires. So, Christine Romans going to talk about kind of the extensiveness of the financial impact.

But here's a look -- this is kind of an interesting map, the vegetation health. Anywhere you see the brown shows how poor the vegetation health is. You can see from the Midwest which places like Iowa, Indiana have seen the worst drought they've ever seen, almost, certainly, at least since the 1950s. And then you can see through the Ohio Valley and even into the Midwest.

But the problem is, of course, this heat that we've seen, the heat exacerbates the drought. But even if we've gotten normal rainfall, the heat has been so intense it would be drying out the topsoil anyway. What we need is the slow drenching rain. Too late for corn crops, perhaps, well maybe not for soybeans. But the problem is what we're getting now are these cold fronts coming through.

They're dropping the temperature from such an intense record level. But they're doing it with showers and thunderstorms and severe weather. So, it's the opposite of what we actually need. So, looking at the future, talking about what's in store, is more rain in store, the answer really is no. Drought begets drought. Heat begets heat. And the weather is so cyclical.

When you get into a pattern, it's very hard to get out of it. Now, this is through September, the propensity and the likelihood for drought conditions to remain. And you can see coast to coast. In terms of the outlook for wet weather, not a lot. Certainly, not excessive rain by any means for the greater portion of the country.

And in terms of the heat, when you look at this compared to the drought map, it almost mirrors it, above average temperatures. So, guys, the continuation of just a baking nation with really no letup in sight and certainly not the type of rain we need.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Alexandra.


BERMAN: All right. The two Americans held hostage in Egypt for three days have been reunited with their families. Pastor Michel Louis and parishioner, Lisa Alphonse, were kidnapped at gunpoint. a local tribe member boarded their tour bus. He was trying to use the Americans as collateral to have his jailed uncle released from an Egyptian prison. Pastor Louis talked to CNN about what it was like being a hostage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REV. MICHEL LOUIS, KIDNAP VICTIM: The only thing we eat is bread, a bread with eggs. We drank some teas and water. Each night, we sleep in different place. I can't tell you where those guys put us.


BERMAN: Both Americans were released unharmed and credit faith in God for their survival. Egyptian authorities say they did not give into the kidnapper's demands.

SAMBOLIN: South Africans honoring former president Nelson Mandela who turns 94 today. More than south Africans honoring him. He's too frail to make public appearances. The former president, Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, visited him yesterday. Later, Clinton talked to CNNs Robyn Curnow about Mandela, the president and the man.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I learned a lot about living from him, about living with adversity, living with setbacks, living with disappointments, and living without anger. So, quite apart from all the magnificent contributions he made to free his country and to inspire the world. I learned a lot about life from him.


SAMBOLIN: Mandela's fight against apartheid in South Africa, his decades in prison, and then his emergence to become the country's president made Mandela an international hero. President Obama says his life continues to be a beacon for all people who strive for dignity, justice, and peace.

BERMAN: Indeed, it does. Indeed, it does. Happy birthday.

When it comes to life in the White House, eight years was enough for George W. Bush. The former president sitting down for a rare interview with the Hoover Institute. Talking about politics, Mr. Bush says now that he's crawled out of the swamp, he's not crawling back in. But he says it was pretty cool while it lasted.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really don't want to be in the public eye anymore and feel a certain sense of liberation not being up there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You like it better?

BUSH: I really do. I mean, look, eight years was awesome. And, you know, I was famous and I was powerful. But I have -- I have no desire for fame and power anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: You know, I covered him for a long time. And I've never seen someone who can better separate work and play and work and relaxation. I'm sure he is enjoying his retirement. No question about that. The former president also explained why he's been reluctant to publicly express his views since leaving office.

He says it could undermine the current president, and he doesn't want any part of that.

SAMBOLIN: I saw him recently at a Texas Rangers game. And yes. He was having a pretty good time.


BERMAN: Loved his baseball. Loves it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Senator John McCain says Mitt Romney's tax returns have nothing to do with his decision to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. He says she was simply a better candidate. McCain staff received more than two decades' worth of Romney's returns when the former Massachusetts governor was being vetted as a possible vice president.

Democrats are questioning whether McCain saw something questionable back then in those returns, but the Arizona senator is vehemently denying that.

BERMAN: And here, a high flying statement concerning the statue of Joe Paterno that stands outside Penn State's Beaver Stadium. A small plane flew around the campus yesterday with this banner. It said, "Take the statue down or we will."

It follows the release of Louis Freeh's report that accused the legendary Penn State football coach of helping to cover up child sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky. Many want that statue dismantled after Sandusky's conviction of child rape charges.

SAMBOLIN: And two hooded gunmen picked the wrong place to rob on Friday night.

BERMAN: Sure did.

SAMBOLIN: Check out this surveillance video from the Palms Internet Cafe in Ocala, Florida. Look in the background. Look at that 71-year-old Samuel Williams (ph) springing into action to help two other customers that were being held at gunpoint. Love this. He pulls out his licensed handgun and opens fire on the gunman.

They can't get out of there fast enough. One of them was hit. Both were taken into custody by police and charged with attempted robbery with a firearm and felony criminal mischief.

BERMAN: He looked like he knew how to use that. He wasn't messing around there at all.


SAMBOLIN: Seventy-one-year-old Rambo. I love it.

BERMAN: All right. You have to check this out. One minute, he's driving. The next, he's in a free fall in an elevator shaft.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh.

BERMAN: More on this bizarre parking garage crash coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Top of the morning to you, Washington, D.C. Happy to see you looking so good. It's 81 degrees right now, but a little bit later, folks, 101 degrees. There are some isolated thunderstorms. Consider yourself lucky because the country is in a drought. Welcome back to EARLY START. We're very happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. You know, we were just looking at Washington there. One building you never see when you look at Washington, the Naval Observatory, which is where the vice president lives which is what we'll be talking about here this morning, because the veepstakes what everyone in politics is talking about.

Today, Mitt Romney is in the crucial swing state of Ohio. He's not the only one there, though. Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, will headline two events, while former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, will also make his first non-fundraising outing in the Buckeye State.

Both men have been rumored as potential running mates for Romney, keeping (ph) Jindal a much better shot than Jeb Bush does.

CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser, is live in Washington right now. Paul, I've seen a lot of veepstakes parades but never one like this. These guys, Jindal, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman, they are all doing so much work now for Mitt Romney. And I think it feels like more than just a tryout. What's going on here?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It could be more than just a tryout. It's got people like you and me and others buzzing about this. Remember, last week or two weeks ago, you had Jindal and Tim Pawlenty who also may be on whatever short list there is. They were doing a rebuttal bus tour through Ohio.

You have Rob Portman, the hometown senator who is another person who's thought to be high on that list. He was there on Monday when President Obama was there down in Cincinnati. He was there to kind of bracket or rebut (ph). And take a look. Here's a possible short list.

Listen, John, you know I know that the only people who really know who's on the short list are Romney, his wife, Ann and maybe Beth Myers, his trusted aide, is doing search. They're not talking, but these four gentlemen seem to come up a lot. Portman, of course, the hometown senator from Ohio. Pawlenty, the former governor who ran against Romney in the nomination battle.

Bobby Jindal from Louisiana and Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman from Wisconsin. John, you mentioned, Ohio a smart place to do it. Of course, four years ago, let's go back four years ago. John McCain, where did he introduce Sarah Palin? Dayton, Ohio. So much on the line for Ohio. You know, no Republican president has won the presidency without taking Ohio in modern times.

That's why everybody's buzzing. And one more thing. Another important state for Mitt Romney, New Hampshire. He's there on Friday. He's got an event there on Friday. Another very important state to him. Maybe it'll come there. But I think most people think it's going to come after he comes back from the Olympics and that international trip, John.

BERMAN: 2000 and 2004, New Hampshire decided by like one point. Virtually nothing there. Now, Mitt Romney has sort of refocused his message the last few days. We've been talking a lot about taxes, his taxes.

We've been talking a lot about Bain. I was hearing from a lot of conservatives overnight who were very happy with what he managed to pull off in Pennsylvania yesterday, and I think we'll hear more of it in Ohio today, Paul.

STEINHAUSER: You got it, and you're right. There's been a lot of criticism against the Romney campaign. Lately, they're not fighting back enough against these attacks from the Obama campaign. So, you've seen Romney and his campaign very forceful the last two days. What are they doing? They're attacking President Obama over what they say is his political cronyism.

Helping out contributors at the expense of the middle class and they're going after a comment the president made the other day in Virginia, last Friday in Virginia, where he was talking about government's role in helping business. They say it is an insult to businessmen and women and entrepreneurs. Take a listen to Mitt Romney yesterday in Pennsylvania.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, the president's looking around for someone to blame. And recently, I became the reason for all our problems here. That was a surprise to my family and me, but he's always looking for someone out there. President Obama attacks success, and therefore, under President Obama, we have less success, and I will change that.


STEINHAUSER: That comment yesterday in Irwin, Pennsylvania, right outside of Pittsburgh. Another state that Republicans haven't won since 1988, but the Romney campaign has in their sights. And as you mentioned, he's right back there in Bowling Green Area Ohio today, John. BERMAN: Wasn't just his tone, Paul, but also the message the conservatives say they like to hear right now. Thanks. Paul Steinhauser in Washington.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-five minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans with our top stories.



ROMANS (voice-over): Half the country suffering through a historic drought this morning. Millions are praying for rain. This is the worst drought to hit America in more than 50 years. Crops destroyed throughout the heartland. Livestock is stressed now, too. State leaders are scrambling to come up with assistance for farmers, but at this point, it appears many livelihoods could be lost. Food prices will almost certainly spike.

Authorities in Iowa draining a lake this morning in the search for two missing little girls, cousins, eight-year-old Elizabeth Collins and a 10-year-old Lyric Cook (ph) disappeared last Friday. Their bikes found at the edge of Meyers Lake in the town of Evansdale.

It could take up to three days to drain the lake sufficiently to determine whether the two young girls may be in that lake or find any other evidence there.

America's war on drugs moving to the high seas. A major drug haul in a joint operation by the U.S. navy and coast guard. Almost four tons of cocaine and marijuana. The drugs just brought ashore in Jacksonville, Florida. Authorities say they're worth about $93 million wholesale. The street value of the drugs, a quarter of a billion dollars.

Democrats failing to muster enough votes to bring the disclose act to a full debate in the Senate. The measure would require groups to disclose the names of donors who give more than $10,000 during election cycle. Right now, many non-profits and unions are not required to publicize those names.

President Obama calls that wrong. Even though the non-profit group, Priorities USA, backs his campaign and is not required to disclose donor names.

Two New York City garbage workers escaped serious injury when an SUV plunged five floors down an elevator shaft. Yes. One worker was behind the wheel of the vehicle which landed upside down on top of an elevator on the ground floor. The other worker was inside. Both were hospitalized. Fire officials say their injuries are not life threatening.


BERMAN: Lucky. ROMANS (on-camera): that was something, you guys. Wow.

SAMBOLIN: That's a scary moment, huh?


BERMAN: Going down?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh. All right. Thank you very much, Christine.

Oh, 47 minutes past the hour. Michael Vick speaking out, talking about why he fought dogs. The convicted dog fighter in $100 million starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles spoke to Piers Morgan last night about the lowest moment of his life. You know what that was? Telling his son that he was going to jail.


MICHAEL VICK, QUARTERBACK: What can you tell a kid that's four years old, four and a half years old? You know, don't understand exactly what dog fighting mean. Don't understand why his dad's going to jail. Toughest moment of my life. Tougher than any football game that I've lost. Tougher than any sack that I've taken.

Any amount of money that I've lost. On one end, I love dogs. On the other hand, you know, I was in love with the competition behind it. And, you know, for some reason, I couldn't really see, you know, the meaning behind it all, why I was really doing it.


SAMBOLIN: Vick says he has left the past behind and finally feels free. He's worked really hard to redeem himself.

BERMAN: That was a riveting interview. In jail where he was, prison seems to have had a serious impact.


BERMAN: All right. Coming up, iceberg straight ahead. An iceberg the size of a big city, and it's drifting right now in the ocean where? We'll tell you just ahead.

And if you're leaving the house right now, look out for those icebergs. And you can watch us any time on your desktop or your mobile phone. Just go to

SAMBOLIN: They're not that close.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Welcome back to EARLY START.

BERMAN: It's getting down with EARLY START. SAMBOLIN: I'm enjoying it. Yes. Fifty-two minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with John Berman. We're taking a look at what is trending on the web this morning.

BERMAN: And first up, we're going to follow up on a story we talked about yesterday and this amazing photograph taken in Washington, D.C. at the D.C. War Memorial.

SAMBOLIN: So romantic.

BERMAN: Such a romantic. Such a beautiful photograph. Photographer and amateur, Angela Gollick (ph), took this picture and she posted it online. She thought what she saw was a wedding proposal. And what she was doing was looking for this couple, their names, so she could get them their photos.

It went viral. Everyone talking about it. They're both in the air force, right? So, the air force puts out a statement yesterday saying, no. This was not, in fact, a wedding proposal. The wedding proposal happened weeks ago.

This couple who still wants to remain nameless, they want to remain nameless, they were looking for possible wedding sites, walking around Washington. And they just happened to be kissing, which when you think about it is just as romantic.

SAMBOLIN: Look at that. All lit up. It is so fantastic. I hope they get copies of these pictures blown up.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: I like the first story better, actually.

BERMAN: I think they're both nice. Good luck to you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Listen, Greenland, we have a problem. A huge problem. It's a massive iceberg about the size of Manhattan. It has broken away from a glacier. The glacier is roughly 46 square miles. This is Greenland. It's called the Peterman glacier. It's a prominent sheet of ice. Scientists, of course, blame global warming. Do you believe in global warming?

BERMAN: I think there's tons of evidence that it's getting hotter out there.

SAMBOLIN: Some people don't, but that's what they're blaming. They say the climate change and the rising ocean temperature made this break away. It's not the largest on record.

BERMAN: No. It was like four years ago, there was one or two years ago.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Isn't that incredible? I thought that was funny. Two years ago, an ice chunk four times the size separated from the Greenland glacier.

BERMAN: Big icebergs. I'll take my ocean on the rocks, as it were, right?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh.

BERMAN: All right. The famous dog uggie. The scene stealer from the Oscar winning silent film, "The Artist" at it again. Here's Uggie at a padres game, supposed to bring the ball to the ump, but runs right by the ump and brings a ball to the mascot, the swing fryer (ph). I think Uggie knew what he was doing there. Seriously.

SAMBOLIN: At first, I thought that the mascot was a dog. And you know, he felt the camaraderie, but then, yes --

BERMAN: I actually saw "The Artist" for the first time the other day. They don't talk in it. I know that they don't talk.

SAMBOLIN: It's a silent film.

BERMAN: I know.


BERMAN: I knew that sort of, but I fell asleep. But I kept waiting for something to happen, but there was no talking.

All right. Coming up, this morning's top stories. No talking in "The Artist." Plus, other big stories. And this, Jeremy Lin, his parting words to the New York Knicks. You're watching EARLY START.



BERMAN (voice-over): Modern day dust bowl. More than half the country is already a disaster area with little rain in the forecast.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Pedals to the metal. Federal regulators launch another investigation into stuck gas pedals. This time in Fords and Mazdas.

BERMAN: A chaotic car chase. Take a look at this. A suspect gets the best of a police officer, then takes off in her cruiser.

SAMBOLIN: She must have left that car running.

BERMAN: Yes. That's going to leave a mark, I think, in that office's record.


BERMAN (on-camera): Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): We're really happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is just about 6:00 a.m. on the east, so let's get started -- or let's not get started. Later this hour, we'll be talking to family members of those two little girls who went missing after a bike ride near a lake in Iowa to get the latest on the search there.

BERMAN: Also this morning, Mitt Romney is in Ohio. Bobby Jindal is in Ohio, so is Jeb Bush. Hmm. Suspicious? This is all about the veepstakes. We'll have tons on that coming up.

SAMBOLIN: So much going on in the last couple of days.

So, first, our top story this morning. It's devastating drought that has now turned more than half of the United States into a disaster zone this morning. Look at that map that we have for you. The Department of Agriculture is declaring natural disasters in 1,000 counties. This is across 26 states, folks.

And blistering temperatures are making conditions much worse. Across the Midwest, temperatures have topped more than 100 degrees, and heat advisories are reaching up into the mid-Atlantic regions. The bone dry conditions have completely destroyed vast stretches of farmland, especially hurting corn and soybean plants.

One analyst is estimating 75 percent of the corn crop at the heart of the drought sticking (ph) region has been wiped out. This is already having disastrous effects on the entire country. Corn prices have surged 45 percent, and they're expected to jump even higher. So, that means the price of everything, from food and groceries to fuel could skyrocket.

Christine Romans is standing by. She's going to have much more on the business angle in just a moment here, but Rob Marciano is live in Burnettsville, Indiana.