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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Iraqi Government on Verge of Collapse?; Mammoth Blaze in Utah Threatens Hundreds of Homes; Burying the "N" Word; What's a Wife Worth; Foreclosure Scams

Aired July 9, 2007 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Glad to have you with us tonight.
Iraq in crisis: Is the U.S.-backed government on the verge of collapse tonight?

Also, why would you give homeless alcoholics apartments paid for by taxpayers, and then let them drink as much as they want to?

And a jury decides that losing a wife is worth $4,800. What kind of justice is that?

We begin in Iraq tonight, though, because it just looks bad there tonight for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He is in charge of the democratically-elected government that the U.S. is counting on to control the violence. But, tonight, there's talk of a no-confidence vote, which could bring down his government.

As one Iraqi official puts it, that would create a hurricane in Iraq. And, tonight, Iraq's foreign minister is warning that a U.S. pullout could lead to the breakup of Iraq and war spreading throughout the region.

And, as the political crisis plays out in Baghdad, President Bush is facing one of his own. Congress is finally back from its holiday break, and more and more powerful Republicans are turning their backs on the war. And some key members of the administration may be doing the same.

Let's get started with the very latest from Hala Gorani in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whether Nouri al- Maliki's government will survive has major implications on the passage of crucial laws the U.S. considers benchmarks of political progress in Iraq.

The Shiite prime minister is weakened and isolated. In this country where politics and religion are so closely intertwined, Sunnis are boycotting Cabinet meetings and parliamentary sessions, and so are Shia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Despite the visible cracks in al-Maliki's government, his spokesperson says, all is on track. ALI ALDABBAGH, IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: We are quite sure we will do it. And, I mean, boycotting or not attending the cabinet won't stop the train to move. The train will move, but you may slow it.

GORANI: But Iraq's Sunni vice president says his people resent being left out of any meaningful decisions.

TARIQ AL-HASHIMI, IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT: I am being marginalized heavily, severely, in fact. It is not only myself and my colleagues, my two colleagues on the presidential council, the president, as well as the vice president. This council has been marginalized, in fact. And it's hardly saying that we were, over the past year, we were a partner in decision-making.

GORANI: Al-Hashimi says that, while the Sunnis have no plan to introduce a motion of no-confidence against the prime minister, he will not hesitate to leave the government unless he gets guarantees that his party will be included in executive decisions.

And Maliki's former Shiite allies in Muqtada al-Sadr's party tell CNN, the prime minister has turned against them and that his government is doomed.

So, while the al-Maliki cabinet may approve laws like the recent one on sharing the country's oil revenues, a significant proportion of the Iraqi population might not consider them as legitimate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, Hala, coming on an incredibly violent weekend, with hundreds of people killed, you now have some key members of the Iraqi government actually suggesting that civilians should arm themselves.

How seriously is that idea being taken?

GORANI: Well, this is just an idea that was expressed by the Sunni vice president, who you saw there in that story, Tariq Al- Hashimi. Now, under Iraqi law, every household has the right to have a weapon. And pretty much everyone does in Iraq.

And, already, you are seeing in some neighborhoods over the last few years people protecting themselves and their families with their weapons. What Tariq Al-Hashimi is proposing is to take it a step further, is to arm, train, and provide funds to ordinary Iraqi civilians to protect themselves, because he estimates that there is a security vacuum in this country. And he also looks forward to when the Americans leave, and said, then who is going to protect these people?

The question is whether this will turn these groups into militias. He said, no, because they would have to adhere to rules of behavior -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, everybody wondering just who would police that, given the strength of the current Iraqi government. Hala Gorani, thank you so much for that update.

Meanwhile, a shaky Iraqi government is only one problem President Bush is facing tonight. The White House is struggling to put out a fire caused by a report in "The New York Times." It says there is now a debate inside the administration over whether it's time to announce plans for a gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

For the latest on that, let's go to White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There is robust debate and questions within the Bush administration over what's next in Iraq, if, come September, the so-called U.S. troop surge doesn't bring peace.

But aides deny there is debate over whether to start withdrawing U.S. troops.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is no intensifying discussion about reducing troops.

MALVEAUX: But President Bush is running out of time to prove his Iraq strategy is working. He's got until week's end to submit a progress report to Congress. And the news looks grim. Even the White House seemed to concede, the Iraqi government's report card for meeting its political goals will be disappointing.

SNOW: I'm not sure everybody is going to get an A on the first report.

MALVEAUX: Lawmakers, including those in the president's own party, are running out of patience. A handful of prominent Republicans have recently publicly turned against the president's Iraq strategy.

But the White House said, the president will not hint of any timetable to withdraw troops.

SNOW: You won't have to, you know, go out and buy new watches this week or set your calendars. There will be no red squares on the calendar at the end of this week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: The discussions that are taking place here are really about the possibility of an alternative policy. Secretaries Gates, as well as Rice, have put on the table in the future the possibility of redeploying troops, of withdrawing U.S. troops, but there are really no specifics here.

And the problem the administration has right now is, they -- they figured they had until after Congress' August recess to put together something, to put it forward. Now they seeing that timetable greatly accelerated -- Paula.

ZAHN: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much for the update. Appreciate it.

President Bush also dealing with shaky support, as we mentioned, from the war from within his own party. In the past few weeks, three Republican senators have backed away from the war, Richard Lugar of Indiana, George Voinovich of Ohio, and, just like Thursday, Pete Domenici of New Mexico. Will even more Republicans follow them this week?

Joining me now, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

So, Candy, how many more Republicans are expected to bail on the president?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, either any number, or they are going to decide to wait until September.

But the fact of the matter is that, once Richard Lugar was out there, a highly respected member of the Senate, an expert in foreign relations, it really broke open the dam -- Pete Domenici another one with a good deal of heft up on Capitol Hill.

And what they have done is give others cover. They have been out on -- for the recess, getting quite an earful, I'm sure, from their constituents. So, anything might happen at this point.

ZAHN: Dana, I want to read something now that appeared in a "Washington Times" editorial today -- quote -- "They are poll-driven politicians who want to hold on to power, and the polls indicate that many Americans are decidedly unhappy about the direction of the war" -- Americans overwhelmingly opposes to this war.

Is this about saving seats?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, everything here, when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, is about political survival. There's no question, and that some of the Republicans that Candy was just talking about are up for reelection, some of the Republicans who have defected recently, like Pete Domenici, even Gordon Smith.

But then there are others, like Candy was saying, like Richard Lugar, who is about as safe as he can when it comes to his seat, that isn't up for reelection. So, it's not just that. Members of Congress here, when you talk to them, even more so recently, they say that they are looking at the polls.

And, more importantly, they're listening to their constituents back home. And they are definitely getting the sense that the tide has changed dramatically back home, and that it is their responsibility to try to figure out a way to change course, and to pressure the president in a way that they haven't been able to do, and, frankly, for most Republicans, haven't tried to do so far.

ZAHN: Candy, some speculation that the president is going to try to get out in front of this, this week. What are you hearing?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, I'm hearing the same thing that Suzanne just was reporting just a little while ago.

You know, somehow, the president is -- you know, as we all know, has been very dug in on this. But the big fear now at the White House is that it will get away from them, that they will cede the territory, if you will, to Capitol Hill.

And, so, the idea is how you give something without giving away what the president feels is the wrong thing, which is deadlines or guidelines for when the troops ought to begin to be pulled out. So, they are walking a very fine line here, trying to keep control of this argument. And, at the moment, as you know, when there are more and more defections, they are really in danger of losing control of the Iraq war at this point.

ZAHN: Dana, you have talked with a lot of people today. Do they really think that the president can stop these defections, without presenting a whole new plan to the American public?

BASH: Can the president stop defections? Absolutely not.

You know, there's -- there's -- there's no question that the president's capital up here is pretty much spent. It just doesn't exist, especially when it comes to the war in Iraq.

But question then is, what exactly does defection mean -- defections mean, Paula? And that is really what is going to be most interesting to watch in the coming weeks, because, yes, we have these Republicans coming out and saying, time to change strategy, and there are some broad ideas of how to do that.

But, when it comes to what Democrats, who run the place up here, want to do, which is set a timeline, a strict timeline, for withdrawal, these Republicans who have come out recently, they say, they are not going for that.

So, we very well could be at the point where senators go home for August recess, and they are still deadlocked; they still won't be able to potentially find those 60 votes needed to come together on what exactly the plan should be that they're going to try to impose on the president to actually change course in Iraq.

ZAHN: What a long summer it might be.

Dana Bash, Candy Crowley, thank you both, two members of the best political team on TV.

So, coming up: What would you say to a program that puts homeless alcoholics in taxpayer-funded apartments, and lets them drink all they want? There's a program under way now in Seattle. But could they really be on to something that other states might seriously consider?

Also, 300,000 acres burned in Utah, the worst wildfire there ever -- are they making any headway against it tonight?

And a symbolic funeral today for a symbol of racism -- burying the N-word.

We will explain when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Still ahead here tonight, why did a jury put a cash value on someone's wife, and why just $4,800? We will explain a little bit later on.

Meanwhile, dangerous heat is baking the country tonight. The high temperatures have now moved to the East Coast, forcing a lot of people to seek relief at cooling centers, like this one in Baltimore, where the heat index is now approaching 100 degrees. A code red heat alert is in effect there until tomorrow.

And, across many Western states tonight, searing heat and high winds are also fueling hundreds of wildfires, including a mammoth blaze in Utah that's threatening hundreds of homes.

Thelma Gutierrez has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Idaho, 145,000 acres charred; Nevada, 154,000 acres.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire is going to hit the freeway here in about five minutes.

GUTIERREZ: Utah, a staggering 332,000 acres up in smoke, and still burning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We -- just can't stop it. We get fire lines put it. Two heads will pinch together, blow over our fire lines, and we're off running.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): Within the past 48 hours, the National Interagency Fire Center reported an explosion of fires across the West, with 1,100 new wildfires.

(voice-over): Right now, 12 states, from South Dakota to Arizona, are fighting wildfires. According to the agency, 99 percent of those were started by dry thunderstorms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any lightning or any spark we have at this point is going to spell fire.

GUTIERREZ: Disaster for firefighters.

In Utah, take a look at what happened when wind stirred up the flames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are a very bad omen for firefighters.

GUTIERREZ: And residents, who had to flee for their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire came right over these -- that hill, with the wind blowing, and we had about 30 seconds to get out of here.

GUTIERREZ: Ranchers were forced to evacuate their cattle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have got 900 head of cattle out here.

GUTIERREZ: A 100-mile stretch of Interstate 15 in central Utah was closed for a time. Authorities have warned that homes and bridges near the town of Milford are at risk.

In Arizona, six wildfires are burning, one dangerously close to the Kitt Peak Observatory.

In California, near Santa Barbara, firefighters launched an aggressive air assault, but this chopper crashed on takeoff, before making a water drop.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We started running to duck from all the debris that was coming our way from the prop breaking off.

GUTIERREZ: The pilot and co-pilot survived.

In South Dakota, flames raced out of a canyon in the Black Hills, killing a homeowner and destroying 27 homes. Even though more than 830,000 acres are currently burning in 12 Western states, officials say we are actually only slightly above average for this time of year. But we are just about to enter the most severe part of the fire season, and no one knows for sure what's in store.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And there is a hot controversy raging tonight in Seattle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ted Rowlands in Seattle.

And this is Ed, one of 75 chronic alcoholics that were living on the streets of Seattle. But, now, thanks to taxpayers, Ed and the others have a place to live. It is a controversial project, though -- the reason, Ed and the others can still drink as much as they want.

A very interesting story -- it's coming up next on PAULA ZAHN NOW.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And also ahead tonight, a funeral where no one is mourning -- the symbolic burial today of the N-word. But is it really gone?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back.

Tonight, we are about to bring open a story that's kind of hard to believe. I'm talking about taxpayer-funded apartments for homeless alcoholics in Seattle, where they can drink as much as they want to, as long as they do it in their rooms.

Well, critics call that the worst kind of enabling they have ever seen. And this program may soon be in your neighborhood, because other cities, including New York, are looking into similar housing for homeless alcoholics.

We sent Ted Rowlands to Seattle to find out how it's working.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DARRYL, ALCOHOLIC RESIDENT: Your cupboard is almost as bare as mine.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Darryl and Ed are drinking buddies, Vietnam vets who used to sleep on the streets. But, now, thanks to taxpayers, they live in this Seattle apartment building.

DARRYL: I don't have to bother people to panhandle. And I don't have to worry about where I'm washing my clothes.

ROWLANDS: And he doesn't have to worry about drinking, because the rules in these publicly funded apartments are simple. As long as you're not violent and don't disturb the neighbors, you can drink as much as you want.

That doesn't sit well with critics.

JOHN CARLSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I call it bunks for drunks. And I don't know why the federal government or the state, county or local government should be using your money or my money to help drunk people stay drunk.

ROWLANDS: The building opened about a year-and-a-half ago for 75 of Seattle's worst homeless drunks, defined as the ones that cost taxpayers the most with emergency room and jail visits.

The idea is that the $13,000 it costs taxpayers annually per resident in these apartments is much less than it costs if they live on the street.

DARRYL: Since I have been here, I haven't talked to a cop once. And that's 16, 17 months.

ROWLANDS: There are still health problems. In the first year, there were more than 200 ambulance calls to the building. Overall, however, according to at least one hospital, bringing the alcoholics inside has made a difference. DR. MICHAEL COPASS, HARBORVIEW MEDICAL CENTER: Every one of them has dropped his number of visits from three a day to one a week.

ROWLANDS: Visits to the liquor store haven't stopped for Darryl and Ed, who say they take the bus almost daily to buy their booze. Darryl, who has had two heart attacks, says he will drink this entire bottle of vodka in one day.

DARRYL: Yes, before 10:00, probably.

ROWLANDS (on camera): Critics of this program say that you are being rewarded, basically, for bad behavior.

DARRYL: No.

ED, ALCOHOLIC RESIDENT: I don't believe that's right.

DARRYL: No.

ED: No. We're not getting rewarded for bad behavior.

CARLSON: It's worse than rewarding. It's enabling it. It's making the ultimate of all value judgments, that there is no value to be placed on getting sober. Go ahead. Get drunk. Stay drunk.

BILL HOBSON, DOWNTOWN EMERGENCY SERVICES CENTER: We get that thrown at us a lot, as you might -- you are enabling alcohol -- you're encouraging alcohol consumption -- 180 degrees the opposite direction. We are a licensed drug-alcohol treatment agency.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Program administrators defend the idea of letting the residents drink, saying traditional methods have not worked with this group, and there are counselors on duty to give help to anyone who seeks it.

Ed, who keeps his cardboard panhandling sign in his closet, says he drinks less than he did on the streets. Darryl claims he used to drink a gallon of vodka a day, and is now down to a few bottles a week.

Both men say they never would have agreed to live here if they couldn't drink, but want people to know how grateful they are.

DARRYL: Rather than us being out underneath the bridges, or sleeping in the bushes, and then dying -- and dying from exposure, this city opened up their hearts.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Seattle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Here is another thing to add: Ed, who you just met in Ted's piece, has been sober for eight days now.

And let's go to our panel to talk about whether they think this works. With me now, Ryan Smith, entertainment attorney and co-host of "My Two Cents" on BET, Mark Smith, who is a constitutional attorney and commentator, and who has little pink elephants on his tie tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Nice tie there.

Also Lauren Lake, criminal defense attorney and TV host.

Welcome, all.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: So, explain to me why you think it makes sense, at our expense, to put 75 alcoholics in this facility, and let them drink as much as they want to?

RYAN SMITH, CO-HOST, "MY TWO CENTS": Well, first of all, you are talking about chronic alcoholism. So, you can't change chronic alcoholism without giving somebody a safe place to recover. So, the point is to get them...

ZAHN: Safe place to recover? How are they going to recover if they are allowed to drink as much as they want?

R. SMITH: Well, that's the thing. It's not much that they can just drink as much as they want to. But they have treatment facilities there. They have people that can talk to them about recovery.

The key is get them out of the streets and get them off the street corners, where people are drinking just to stay warm. I mean, it's -- it's...

ZAHN: You certainly have compassion for homeless or alcoholics. They should not be out -- our country...

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SMITH, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR & CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: Of course...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: ... should not treat them so savagely that they are living on street corners.

MARK SMITH, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR & CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: That's right.

ZAHN: Right?

M. SMITH: That's right.

But think about why these men are homeless in the first place, is because they are drunks. It's because they drink so much, that they can't hold down jobs and provide for the basic necessities of life. So, to me, the best thing you can say about this program, frankly, is, I guess it detracts from drunk driving, because they get to drink at home.

But the fact is, taxpayers...

(CROSSTALK)

M. SMITH: ... taxpayers should not be subsidizing these guys' homes because they like to drink, and then allow them to drink.

LAUREN LAKE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: But we are paying anyway. We are paying anyway. And you know that.

When they go through the system, we are paying for it. When they are incarcerated, we are paying for it.

M. SMITH: Then why...

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: Every police officer that they have to deal with, we pay that police officer.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: And what I also don't like what you said is, these people may not be homeless because they are drunk. A whole bunch of Americans are one paycheck away from being under the bridge. So, don't say...

M. SMITH: Oh, come on. Come on.

LAKE: ... oh -- it's not in your world, but, trust me, they are.

(CROSSTALK)

R. SMITH: Exactly.

LAKE: They are.

(CROSSTALK)

M. SMITH: Let's get real.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Let's go back to any arguments you can make about the cost of this, because what you are saying is true. Society absorbs the cost of taking care of these folks...

LAKE: Absolutely.

ZAHN: ... in our emergency rooms.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And we are going to put up the cost of what it costs to run this program in Seattle. It took about $11.2 million to build the facility, nearly $1.1 million to house the 75 residents per year.

Where are the savings here, folks?

R. SMITH: Well, they're -- it's costing $11,000 a year to put the people up. But it costs $100,000 or so dollars to get them housed in the jails, in the hospitals, things like that.

And, also, we keep forgetting, the key is recovery. It is like people act like people want to be alcoholics; they want to be chronic alcoholics.

LAKE: Exactly.

R. SMITH: That is not the way it is.

LAKE: Our own president...

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: ... an issue with drinking.

R. SMITH: Exactly.

LAKE: Let's really keep it real on the panel today.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: This is a disease.

ZAHN: Did you just use that in the present tense?

LAKE: No, I said "had."

ZAHN: Oh, OK.

(LAUGHTER)

LAKE: And I said, you know what?

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: What most alcoholics say that it is a present tense. It doesn't end. You deal with it every day of your life.

But my point is, we don't have chaise longues and Jacuzzis in the rooms.

R. SMITH: Right.

LAKE: This is a place, a roof over their head...

R. SMITH: Right. LAKE: ... so that they can then begin to maybe start a life, or at least have shelter.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: Where are we in this country where we don't want people to have shelter?

(CROSSTALK)

R. SMITH: And it's not giving them free drinks.

M. SMITH: Let them have shelter. No problem with letting them have shelter. But why on earth are you allowing them to engage in conduct that made them homeless in the first place...

M. SMITH: Because they are not going to go...

M. SMITH: ... which is irresponsible behavior of drinking?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: We're never going to agree on what the roots of the homelessness are.

But the fact is, you know you can't turn on a switch and have -- allow people medically to quit drinking.

LAKE: No.

R. SMITH: Right.

LAKE: And drinking is legal in this country, so it is not that they are engaging in an illegal activity.

R. SMITH: Right, which is why you have to give them a safe place to recover.

And that's what gets lost in all this, as if they are just sitting in their rooms drinking all day long. There are getting AA meetings. They are getting -- there's a nurse on staff. There are people that support them in their recovery.

LAKE: Yes.

R. SMITH: We just saw a man who is eight days sober. You change it a day at a time. And you don't just magically snap your fingers, and the problem goes away.

ZAHN: You don't find that as very compelling evidence of how this program might be working for some?

(CROSSTALK)

M. SMITH: No. The benefit to the drunks is that you give them free housing, so they're no longer homeless. But a condition of them getting their free housing should be no drugs, no alcohol, get clean. If you are not clean, you're back on the streets, but you're not getting subsidized by taxpayer dollars if you don't behave properly.

(CROSSTALK)

R. SMITH: All due respect to that, all due respect to that...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: How about creating some restrictions, or at least some constraints, so people know there's a goal...

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: I'm not against that.

R. SMITH: Well, all due respect to that, people don't under -- that's not understanding chronic alcoholism. You can't just say to people, don't drink or you don't come in here. You know what they're going to choose? They're going to...

LAKE: On this very day. But what you can say is that, over time, you must receive the counseling.

I say, require the counseling, and then have a period of time, whether it be three months to six months, where then you have to begin to wean yourself off. I don't disagree with that.

R. SMITH: I say it's a great -- it's a great program right now. It's just starting. They haven't gotten the results in. Let it live. Let it go. And let's see what happens with it. But, right now, it's getting people sober.

ZAHN: And I have got to let it go right now, because I have got to move on...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Ryan Smith, Mark Smith, Lauren Lake, glad to have all of you with us tonight.

Still ahead: a symbolic end -- end, that is -- to the N-word, but can a public funeral for a racial slur really make any difference at all?

Also, how much is a wife worth? According to a jury in Chicago, about $4,800.

You guys understand that one?

(LAUGHTER)

We're going to try to explain the logic behind that. And then coming up, the mortgage mess, what you can learn from one couple who thought they had found a way to avoid foreclosure you are, only to end up paying rent to live in their own home. We'll explain. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Ahead in this half-hour, what kind of justice systems decides that a wife is worth $4800 -- $4802.87, actually?

And one family's desperate attempt to save their home from foreclosure turns to disaster. We're going to show you how you can avoid the same setbacks.

And then coming up at the top of the hour, Larry King tackles the mystery behind the wrestling star, or the death of wrestling star, Chris Benoit. His guests include some of Benoit's closest friends.

Well, as you all know, the "N" word is all over the place, all over hip-hop music, it's used in comedy, even in casual conversation. And just a few months ago, a national controversy erupted when comedian and former "Seinfeld" star, Michael Richard, used the slur during a rant at an L.A. comedy club.

Well, today hundreds of people marched in Detroit to symbolically bury the "N" word. The march was staged as part of the NAACP's annual convention. It ended in a funeral that included a plywood casket and a wreath of black roses. But, will this mock burial of a hateful word really put an end to its use? Let's pose that question to our panel.

Roland Martin is a CNN contributor, Jason Whitlock is a columnist for the "Kansas City Star," Niger Innis is the national spokesperson for the Congress of Racial Equality and a political consultant.

Welcome all. Does this mock burial mean a darn thing to you, Niger? Is it going to make any difference at all?

NIGER INNIS, CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY: It doesn't mean much at all, Paula. Look, if had jumped into a time machine and gone to Alabama in the 1940s, 30s or 20s, and said: we're going to ban the "N" world, that wouldn't have done a darn thing to end the culture of segregation that was oppressing black folk, lynching black folk, raping black folk, disenfranchising black folk.

Fast forward to today. The issue that is oppressing blacks more than anything else, culturally within our society, is this criminal chic that is pumped out of a certain element within hip-hop. Roland is laughing because he knows, he's heard it before, and he know it's true. And the fact is NAACP putting to bed the "N" word is not going to change -- we have to -- the way we challenge segregation, we have to challenge the culture chic culture, I think Jason calls it "the of death" that is permeated by multibillion dollar media empires and corporations.

ZAHN: Well, that's certainly, that money is fueling all of this. Jason, I want to have you to listen to something that rapper D-12 had to say about how he will continue to use the "N" word. Let's listen.

Actually, that was rapper Denaun Porter saying: "I'm not going to stop saying it. The NAACP can walk down the street with torches in their hands, but it don't mean kids are going to listen to them."

Do you think young kids will pay attention to this?

JASON WHITLOCK, COLUMNIST, KANSAS CITY STAR: Well No, but I think what it is, it's kicked off a discussion and it's kicked off, I think, an awakening in black people that we need to examine our own culture of disrespect.

I think it's a positive step. I think this -- you know, saying it does nothing would be the equivalent of someone going back in time and saying: What's Rosa Parks doing arguing about a seat on a bus? It always starts from small steps and then larger things grow out of it. We first have to capture people's minds and examine the fact, hey if we continue to disrespect ourselves, we're going to get disrespected by the rest of society. So, I think it's a very positive thing. I'm very proud of the NAACP. I think it's a small step. I think it's the right small step. It's going to take baby steps to change this culture -- this death culture, this prison culture that we're locked into.

ZAHN: So Roland, we have heard a bunch of people say they will continue to use this in casual conversation, that this isn't even a small step because no one's ever going to police it and the "N" word will live on. What do you think?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first and foremost, you have those people who say "I am" going to continue to use it and you have those who say: I will not" who will not continue to use it. But then you have those people who say: I am not going to use it.

What we're talking about is a matter of self respect. And so when people justify it by saying it's a term of endearment, you know, they don't understand, you know, what they're saying, they're not recognizing that. And also, let's deal with something, here.

You know, Niger immediately went to the whole issue of hip-hop. Hip-hop did not create the use of the "N" word. OK? African- Americans have been saying it for a long time. When I ran the "Chicago Defender," we put it on the front page a number of months ago, saying it's time for us stop it. This is about awareness, this is about telling people, no, you don't have to hate yourself by trying to use this word. It is a start. That is the most important thing. And there are a increasingly a number of people who saying: I am not going to use it. They're becoming more self-aware. And again, it's a matter of building upon that. But, we should not dismissing this and just simply saying: Oh, it's all about hip-hop. It is not. There are African-Americans, everyday, who don't rap, who don't sing, who are using these words, who are actual preachers, who are lawyers, who are doctors. We must stop using the word completely. ZAHN: All right. But the truth is, you still have to confront the fact that there are highly popular folks out there, like Dave Chappelle, that use the "N" word freely. Check out just a small part of his routine, right here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE CHAPPELLE, COMEDIAN: Hey, why don't you jungle bunnies turn that music down? (BLEEP) make me sick. (BLEEP) (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he just call (BLEEP)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Awesome!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: All right, Nigel, you're laughing, because he makes it pretty cool for whites and blacks to use the word? No? So why you laughing?

INNIS: No. Well, first of all, because it was funny. But second, because it was very -- it was a critique, actually. It was a critique of these white wannabe rappers, if you will, imitating this culture of death, this criminal chic culture that is a multibillion dollar industry. I mean, I agree with Roland, rap did not create the "N" word and the use of the "N" word, but the questions is what are our kids, our sons, our daughters, our nieces, our nephews, what will they be downloading into their brain tonight?

ZAHN: All right, quick closing thought from Jason, 10 seconds, and then Roland you get the last word.

WHITLOCK: Well, we have to fight on many fronts. We can address the "N" word, we can address hip-hop. You know, the Civil Rights movement, there was bus boycott movement, there was lunch counter movement, there's a number of things we can do and we need to do them all. But this is a good beginning.

ZAHN: Roland, you get five seconds.

MARTIN: Paula, it boils down to self-respect. When you respect yourself and you respect your ancestors, you don't use the "N" word, simple as that.

ZAHN: That was good. That was five-and-a-half seconds.

INNIS: He's a real pro.

ZAHN: Always nails it. Roland Martin, Niger Innis, and Jason Whitlock. We even made our commercial tonight. What about that?

We have found a court case that sounds like it came out of the Dark Ages, a jury actually says a wife is worst $4,800.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GERMAN BLINOV, DEFENDANT: ...$5 and my, you know, bed is thousand dollars, you know and it sounds like my woman is $4,800. That's you know, -- I'm surprised, extremely surprised that in America, it still exists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: He's not the only one. How did it come to this? We'll explain when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight, a jury verdict that put a price tag -- yes, that's right, a price tag -- on just how much a wife is worth. And it's not just the exact dollar amount that's going to have you shaking your head, critics say it's an example of how the legal system treats women, as no more than just a piece of property.

Kyung Lah reports from Chicago and how a jury fixed the price of love for two men vying for one woman's affection.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK SINATRA, MUSICIAN (singing): Every time it rains it rains pennies from heaven...

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A dalliance with a married woman infamously landed budding crooner, Frank Sinatra, in police custody in 1938. Adultery was a crime back then in some parts of the country. In modern-day Chicago there is still a price to pay.

ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, PLAINTIFF: I blamed him. I thought he was the reason, you know, my family fell apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Friedman.

LAH: Arthur Friedman and his wife, Natalie, had been together 10 years.

A. FRIEDMAN: I loved her and I still do.

LAH: They raised two children in Chicago's north suburbs. And became friends with a nearby family, the Blinov's. But Natalie told him she was leaving him for his friend German Blinov.

A. FRIEDMAN: I got angry. I got angry because that was somebody that I considered my friend. It was somebody that I trusted.

LAH (on camera): So, what did you do at that point?

A. FRIEDMAN: At that point I stared looking for options.

LAH (voice-over): Friedman and his lawyers came across an Illinois law called the Alienation of Affections Act and sued German Blinov for stealing his wife's affections.

BLINOV: He, for one -- for, for the fact that he actually lost somebody else's feelings?

LAH: Blinov's attorney says the 60-year-old law, while brief...

ENRICO MIRABELLI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Five point four. There's only four sections.

LAH (on camera): Three pages.

(voice-over): Places a monetary value on a wife.

(on camera): So it's antiquated, in your opinion?

MIRABELLI: Most antiquated, and it should be liquidated.

LAH: But this case made it all the way to a Chicago courtroom, a jury found in favor of Arthur Friedman ordering his former friend to compensate for the loss of his wife. So, How much was that worth? Only $4,802.87.

BLINOV: My table is $5 and my, you know, bed is thousand dollars, you know and it sounds like my woman is $4,800. That's you know, -- I'm surprised, extremely surprised that in America, it still exists.

LAH (voice-over): How did they come up with this figure? Friedman wanted $48,000, money he says his wife would have made and contributed to the marriage. But jurors averaged what they thought he deserved for losing Natalie.

(on camera): What does this say to other women in our society, do you believe?

NATALIE FRIEDMAN, WIFE: That you're your husband's property. They can go to court and ask for money to be paid for you.

LAH: The wife feels, though, like she is property being bickered over.

A. FRIEDMAN: Well, I feel sorry for her, you know, for the way she feels and that certainly wasn't my intent.

LAH: So, this is a modern-day duel for you, in a way?

BLINOV: That's what it is. That's what it is.

LAH (voice-over): Blinov and his attorney say they're filing an appeal and intend to keep fighting. Friedman says even if the legal fight continues, he's now able to move on.

(on camera): Winning really made a difference?

A. FRIEDMAN: A whole lot. Yeah. A whole lot of difference, like a big stone was lifted off -- you know, off my chest.

LAH (voice-over): Natalie Friedman says she's moving forward with her divorce, humiliated by this civil suit between these two men. N. FRIEDMAN: Who has the right to put a price tag on a person?

LAH: Feeling as if she's caught in the laws of a prior time.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Blinov's attorney says he may file an appeal as early as tomorrow. In case you were wondering, Illinois happens to be one of eight states where spouses can sue for loss of love.

Moving up on the top of the hour, here. You know what that means, LARRY KING LIVE, right around the corner.

Hi Larry, haven't seen you in awhile.

LARRY KING, LARRY KING LIVE: It's been awhile, Paula.

ZAHN: Well, I have seen you on TV, I just haven't been able to chat with you.

KING: I've seen you...

ZAHN: All right, so who's join you tonight?

KING: Coming up, Paula, the life and untimely death of wrestler, Chris Benoit, and his wife and young son. Among the guests an all- star panel of past and present wrestlers including John Cena and Bret Hart and Chris Jericho and Ted Dibiase. We'll also hear from an attorney for Chris Benoit's doctor and others.

ZAHN: Yeah, some strange theories out there, Larry, about what may have contributed -- steroids, a lot of ongoing debate about that, so we'll be listening for all of that.

KING: It's something -- as much as you try to speculate, it's impossible to figure out.

ZAHN: Yeah, it's very, very sad. See you in about 11 minutes.

KING: You got it. OK.

ZAHN: All right, thanks. We're going to turn our attention right to the mortgage mess and how one family facing foreclosure ended up renting the home they own. That's right, renting it. We're going to show you how to avoid a foreclosure disaster just like theirs. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As the housing market struggles, at least one economist thinks that some 300,000 American families could lose their homes to foreclosure -- a pretty scary thought. So, tonight, I want you to meet a couple who saw disaster coming, but thought they had found a surefire way to head it off. Personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, has one family's story, tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR (voice-over): Rhonda Schnisler (ph) and Hank Gribensk loved their home in Loxahatchee, Florida. They hoped to pass it on to their children one day, but that day may not come.

HANK GRIBENSK, DEALING WITH FORECLOSURE: It's a worry every day.

WILLIS (on camera): Rhonda and Hank fell behind on their monthly mortgage payments and struggled to keep their heads above water, then found what they thought would be the perfect solution in an unlikely place, their mailbox.

GRIBENSK: Countrywide already filed for a foreclosure, so that made it public record. Soon as that happened, flyers came from everywhere, "stop foreclosure, we can help" and then the flier from the Florida Housing Council came and that was best written flier out of all of them.

WILLIS: How did they come off to you in their flier?

GRIBENSK: Well, I -- as soon as it said Florida Housing Council, I associated with Florida.

WILLIS: The state.

GRIBENSK: Right. And then in there it said "through federal guidelines." So, with that I figured, OK, this something government- wide that would help.

WILLIS (voice-over): To Jack Moussa, the company's founder and managing director, the name isn't misleading; in fact he says it's straightforward.

JACK MOUSSA, FLORIDA HOUSING COUNCIL: It's not a government agency. There's "Florida Roofing" that -- does not make them a Florida state company? It's just a name.

WILLIS (on camera): And how does it help people?

MOUSSA: If there is a need for financial restructuring, debt management, we would be called upon and we provide a service.

WILLIS (voice-over): As promised, FHC stopped the foreclosure process, but Rhonda and Hank paid a price. They became renters in their own home.

GRIBENSK: We got a letter which stated that we were now renters and that we were so far behind in the rent that they were going to evict us if we didn't come up with...

WILLIS (on camera): Wait a minute, so you get a letter in the mail that you are now renters?

GRIBENSK: Right.

RHONDA SCHNISLER, DEALING WITH FORECLOSURE: Yeah.

WILLIS: And what was that like?

SCHNISLER: You wouldn't want to be in this house.

GRIBENSK: We were not happy.

SCHNISLER: No.

GRIBENSK: We were not happy when we got that letter.

SCHNISLER: I was crying hysterically.

WILLIS (voice-over): The tears and the heartache could have been avoided if the couple had read and understood the fine print of the contract they entered into with FHC.

GRIBENSK: He didn't say anything about signing over the house to him, deed-wise. All we were doing was signing a contract to hire his company to help us out of foreclosure proceedings. That was it.

WILLIS: In fact, that wasn't it, not even close. What they had signed was an agreement to put their home into a trust and to make payments through FHC for one year after which they had the option to repurchase their home.

DAVID SILVERSTONE, COUPLE'S ATTORNEY: It said that in order to get their house back after a year, they had to repay a $26,000 fee plus 50 percent of the equity in the home.

WILLIS: According to the lawsuit Silverstone filed on behalf of the couple, this would give FHC a 300 percent return on their initial investment.

SILVERSTONE: We're saying they violated Florida law. We have an Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, they violated Federal Truth in Lending laws. We have a Usury Law, here in Florida. Those are the main statutes they're violating.

WILLIS: This isn't the first time that FHC has been sued for the way it does business.

(on camera): Why are so many people suing you and saying that your action is unfair and misrepresents your intent?

MOUSSA: Every one of these clients that have sued, they have lived through our agreement in full, which -- during which time, we have subsidized their payments. Every agreement is only entitled to one year. After the year expire, then we called upon them to resolve the interest in the trust, they have come up with suits that this is illegal and it's coercive and we didn't know what we did.

ADAM SKOLNIK, ATTY FOR FLORIDA HOUSING COUNCIL: The language is written in plain English. There's no quote, unquote legalese in any of the documents. It's actually written on what's been known as a fifth grade level.

WILLIS (voice-over): Here is an excerpt from the contract:

"For the purpose of acquiring beneficial interest in a Title- Holding Trust (hereinafter "The Trust"), in which a third-party Corporation trustee shall hold title to the subject (t)rust property...et cetera.

For now, Rhonda and Hank are still in their home. Their lawyer is trying to get the transition with FHC declared null and void and unenforceable.

GRIBENSK: I get angry, but we'll make it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: All right, so whether you think these documents are written at fifth grade level or at graduate school level, there are certainly some red flags consumers need to be aware of. What should they look out for?

WILLIS: Absolutely, Paula. You really can protect yourself if you would pay attention to just a few red flags. No. 1: Avoid those people who call themselves "foreclosure rescuers" and require that they get the deed from you to help you out. Chances are they just want to take your house. If anybody offers to negotiate to your lender for a fee, forget about it. You can do that yourself, you don't need anyone to represent you to your lender. And finally, for profit foreclosure assistance, forget about it. You can find assistance from a not-for-profit, someone who's not going to charge you a fee, and get some real help, fast -- Paula.

ZAHN: Gerri Willis, we always appreciate your help.

WILLIS: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thanks.

Coming at the top of the hour, LARRY KING LIVE, the growing mystery surrounding the death of wrestling star, Chris Benoit. Larry's guests include some of Benoit's closest friends. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: That's it for all of us. Night-night. LARRY KING LIVE starts right now.

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