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AMERICAN MORNING

Where are Gas Prices Headed?; In Sting, Two People Nabbed Trying to Sell FEMA Trailer

Aired April 20, 2006 - 08:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We went to fill up the old rolling zip code yesterday, the Yukon XL, the price in the $90 range. It's a 30-gallon tank, three dollars-plus a gallon. Do the math. It's not pretty. So where are we headed? At $72-plus per barrel and headed upward, and we're not even in the worst part of the season for all of this. We're headed for trouble. Joining us from Chicago to walk us through it all is Phil Flynn, vice president and energy analyst for the Aaron Trading Corporation.
Phil, any end in sight?

PHIL FLYNN, ENERGY ANALYST: Miles, I hate to tell you, no. In fact, those Julia Roberts tickets might be a little bit cheaper than filling up the tank here pretty soon. Yes, there is no end in sight. I think it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but what we're seeing here in the futures market, with oil prices at all-time high and demand still running pretty strong, and gasoline supplies evaporating almost overnight, it's going to be a very difficult summer, especially in the first part of the summer.

O'BRIEN: Well, eventually, eventually, if my college economic classes are still fresh there in the gray matter, eventually the demand will drop as the price goes up, right?

FLYNN: That is the secret. In fact, in yesterday's Department of Energy report, we saw maybe the first sign that gasoline demand is starting to trail off. Up until now, despite the fact gasoline prices have already been substantially higher than they were last year, the demand for gasoline was still growing at about 1.5 percent above a year ago, but yesterday that sort of dropped back a little bit. Now we're only growing by about less than a percent from a year ago. So, hopefully we are starting to see a little slowdown in demand. But if we don't get that slowdown in demand, the challenge is the refiners have to make to meet demand is incredible, and it means a lot higher prices all summer maybe.

O'BRIEN: All right, so we have an insatiable thirst for oil. We know all about that, with our SUVs. What is interesting, and as we see this U.S./China summit unfold today in Washington, what's happening in places like China, emerging economies, lots of people who rode bicycles, now either on motor scooters, or perhaps moving into vehicles, cars, and that's just the start of things. How much of an impact is China and other emerging nations having on this?

FLYNN: It's such a huge impact I can't tell you. In fact, it's probably the major impact in world oil prices being what they are. We can talk about all the geopolitical concerns and the war in Iraq, and yes, that all comes into if. But really, this has been a story of demand growth in China. And what people are starting to realize, is that if you look at the upside potential for China demand over the next 10, 20 years, there's not going to be enough oil left for anybody else, or at least that's what it appears, and that's why this is becoming an issue right now.

China has been extremely aggressive trying to secure oil supplies around the globe, so much so that the Bush administration is a little bit worried that there they're being almost too aggressive, and may set off a race for oil supplies similar to what we saw during the space race back in the '60s.

O'BRIEN: Phil, we're running out of oil, there's no question. That's a given. It's a finite supply. We can go back and forth as to what the timeframe is. Are we being stupid in the way we are just drinking it up as fast as we can?

FLYNN: I don't think we're being stupid, because really, you know, the story behind high oil prices is strong economic growth. So we want strong economic growth. I think the higher prices are going to make us smarter about how we use oil, and that wouldn't have happened if economic growth was slow and oil demand was low. There's an old saying in the business I'm in: The best cure for high prices is high prices. And high prices are going to bring in new technologies, they're going to make them feasible. And at some point - we're planting the seeds for relief, but it's not going to happen overnight.

O'BRIEN: Should the government be helping this process along right now, though? Or is this something -- are you a laissez-faire guy?

FLYNN: I think the government has done too much damage already, to be honest with you. I think they're partly to blame for why gasoline supplies are as tight as they are this year. You know, they have to be careful. They've caused a lot of damage in the marketplace now. I don't think they have a concept of what's really going on here. And we have to be very, very careful not to hinder oil companies, but to try to help them to compete with places like China and India. Because if we don't, we're going end up in-sourcing our oil from places like China, and not just OPEC.

O'BRIEN: Energy analyst Phil Flynn, thanks for joining us -- Betty.

FLYNN: Thank you.

NGUYEN: A disturbing arrest in Louisiana, two people nabbed there in a sting for trying to sell a FEMA trailer.

CNN Gulf Coast correspondent Susan Roesgen is live in New Orleans with the latest on this. Tell us about it, Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, want to buy a black market FEMA trailer at a bargain-basement price? That's basically the pitch that detectives say they got from two men who had something a lot of people here want.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN (voice-over): For many people in Louisiana, these trailers on a FEMA lot might as well be gold bricks. Thousands who lost their homes in Katrina have waited months to get one. And police say two guys from Texas saw that as an opportunity.

The police in Slidell, Louisiana got a tip that Rolando Aguillar (ph) and James Kyle Wiggenton (ph) were offering to sell a stolen FEMA trailer for $5,000. How did they manage to steal one from a FEMA lot? Simple. Police say Wiggenton worked there.

CAPT. ROB CALLAHAN, SLIDELL POLICE DEPT.: One of the two gentlemen is actually a FEMA contractor. His job is to deliver these trailers to people -- the victims of Katrina in the Slidell area. And I guess on his off job, he was actually selling these trailers to make a profit for himself.

ROESGEN: Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, calls the arrests disheartening.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECY.: So we will occasionally find bad apples at FEMA or in other institutions. All we can do is be vigorous in trying to weed them out and make sure that they get punished when they do.

ROESGEN: The police don't know if other trailers were stolen, but they say the FBI is involved, and more arrests could be coming.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: If other trailers were stolen, were other people involved in this theft?

ROESGEN: Possibly, Betty. That's something that the FBI and the police are looking into. We tried to reach the lawyers for the two suspects who were arrested. We weren't able to reach them. Both men bonded out of jail this week, and apparently they're back in Texas.

NGUYEN: Really? OK, Susan Roesgen, thank you for that report.

(WEATHER REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

O'BRIEN: It's Thursday, which means it's Miles-cam day. Take a look. Let's go live to my office, fourth floor.

NGUYEN: Pretty clean, Miles.

O'BRIEN: We've still have the bowl of Grapenuts there, which I haven't cleaned out. But going to work on that later.

SERWER: Science experiment.

O'BRIEN: Yes, we're going to see -- we're trying to grow penicillin in my office.

So anyway, here's how this works, folks, for those of you not regular viewers. Now is the time to send a question to me if you have one. Am@CNN.com is the place for that. Later, at 10:30 Eastern Time, I will be on the Miles=cam on the pipeline product. CNN.com/pipeline is the place for that. We'll give you a preview of some questions and answers right at the end of this program, just to give you a sample. But the Miles-cam goes live with me in that seat at 10:30 Eastern Time.

It's any question, anything they want to ask.

O'BRIEN: Anything you want to ask. Absolutely anything.

NGUYEN: That could be scary, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely anything.

NGUYEN: I bet you get al kinds of questions.

O'BRIEN: All right. We have a very sane audience out there. And then there are others in the audience, too.

NGUYEN: There's others?

SERWER: Viewers from prison.

O'BRIEN: We like them, too. Listen, it's a demographic, and we want them, all right.

(MARKET REPORT)

NGUYEN: Coming up, a religious group that says it's getting a bad rap from Hollywood. Find out why the Catholic society Opus Dei has a beef with the makers of "The Da Vinci Code." And later, actor William Dafoe's latest role should seem awfully familiar if you've been following the news lately. He'll join us live in studio to talk with Miles about his new movie "American Dreams."

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Millions of people are anxiously awaiting "The Da Vinci Code" movie, the Tom Hanks film based on the bestselling novel. There's one group, though, that is not looking forward to the film. The Catholic organization Opus Dei is unhappy with how it's being portrayed.

Here with me is Brian Finnerty, spokesman of Opus Dei. Thanks for being with us...

BRIAN FINNERTY, SPOKESMAN, OPUS DEI: Thanks, Betty. NGUYEN: ... this morning. OK, first of all, this movie is based on the book, which is fiction. So what are you so worried about?

FINNERTY: Well, the problem is, the movie has been marketed as if -- or the novel was marketed as if it was really factual. And the worst thing about novel isn't really what it says about Opus Dei, but what it says about Christianity and the Catholic Church. The idea is that Christianity is a big hoax propagated by the fourth century Roman emperor Constanine. And any historian will tell you that all the premises in the novel are really completely ridiculous. So we're trying to get the word out about what Opus Dei and the truth about Christianity and the Catholic Church.

NGUYEN: OK, well, let's get to that. Specifically, how does this book unfairly characterize Opus Dei? Specifically?

FINNERTY: Sure. Well, the book -- the main character in the book is this murderous albino monk who runs around killing people in search of the Holy Grail. And the reality is that there are no monks, albino or otherwise.

NGUYEN: No monks period?

FINNERTY: No monks period. Yes, people dress up like you and me. Pope John Paul II canonized the founder of Opus Dei. He called Opus Dei's founder the saint of ordinary life, because Opus Dei places stress on the idea of whatever you do, everything in daily life, can be a way of coming closer to God. So the portrayal in "The Da Vinci Code" is just really the opposite of who we really are.

NGUYEN: What is the group all about? There's 87,000 members worldwide, 3,000 here in the U.S. Is it a secret society?

FINNERTY: No, it's not a secret society. We're...

NGUYEN: So no secret hand shake, no secret knock?

FINNERTY: No secret hand shake, no secret know. We really are trying very hard to get the word out about who we are. What Opus Dei -- Opus Dei is like a personal trainer for the spiritual life. Let's say you're going to mass on Sunday, you're looking for more and you're saying, gee how can I get more help in trying to live life as a devout Catholic? And Opus Dei is there to try to help people do that.

NGUYEN: And in order to get that message out, you have also created a video, which shows the true life of Opus Dei members. You're also asking Sony to put up a disclaimer before the movie talking about that this really isn't the true, factual Opus Dei society.

Now, I want to read to you the response from Sony about that. They say, "We have no plans to reveal any details regarding what is or isn't in the film until the release. We have indicated to Opus Dei in the past that we view 'The Da Vinci Code' as a work of fiction, and at its heart, it is a thriller, not a religious tract." That's by Jim Kennedy, the spokesman for Sony Pictures. So if you don't get that disclaimer, are you going to take legal action?

FINNERTY: Well, what we're going to do is continue to press forward the case that -- we're going to ask Sony to try to be fair, to try to be fair to the Catholic Church in the same way you could expect them to be fair to any other religious or ethnic group. So, yes, it's very nice that that the spokesperson says it's a work of fiction, but it nice if the people who go to the theaters realize that this is not based on reality, as well.

NGUYEN: But don't you think that? I mean, the book has been out for a while. We've done so many stories on all the media, and talked about it for so long. I mean, don't you think people get it that it is an act of fiction?

FINNERTY: Well, the problem is that we receive so much mail, for example, hate mail directed towards the Catholic Church, and saying we visited your Web site, opusdei.org, but we don't care what you say, I believe the novel. And the problem is, there is a lot of people out there. You know, you have the sex abuse scandals, you had a lot of things.

There is a certain amount of distrust of institutionalized religion, a certain amount of distrust of the Catholic Church. And the whole novel has been marketed as somehow being factual. So I think it's the least that Sony could do to be up front with people, to extend the same courtesy to the Catholic Church as you would expect for any other religious or ethnic group.

NGUYEN: So quickly, for folks watching this movie, for people hearing about it, when they hear Opus Dei, what do want them to think of?

FINNERTY: I want them to think of -- you can find God at your desk. Your desk is like an altar. Taking out the garbage, that can be a way of coming closer to God in your daily life. And Opus Dei is an institution within the Catholic Church which is there to help do you that.

NGUYEN: And there's no secret about it.

FINNERTY: No secret about it. Very happy to talk about it.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. Brian Finnerty, spokesman for Opus Dei. We appreciate your time today. Thank you.

FINNERTY: Thank you, Betty.

NGUYEN: Miles.

O'BRIEN: In a moment, the top stories, including, in just a few moments, the Chinese president, Hu Jintao arrives at the White House. Of course we'll be there live.

Plus, a huge immigration bust to tell you about, rounding up hundreds of undocumented workers and their bosses.

Then, how a cab driver could be a key witness in that Duke rape investigation.

A look at what the latest staff changes mean for the Bush administration.

And check out the weather. Coming at you right now. Snow. Yes, lots of it. A blizzard in the spring. We'll tell you where and why on this AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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