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Political Youth; Green Candidates; Airlines Mergers and Ticket Prices

Aired February 23, 2008 - 13:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A look at the top stories straight ahead.
YOUR MONEY is next here is a preview.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST, YOUR MONEY: Thanks. Coming up on YOUR MONEY why young people's enthusiasm about politics won't necessarily make a difference in the election.

Also, ahead, how green is your favorite candidate? We will tell you what each presidential hopeful has in store for the environment.

And air traffic control, what a merger between two major airlines could mean for the price of your next flight and for your frequent flyer miles. We are ready to get started after "Now in the News."

WHITFIELD: Hello again. I'm Fredericka Whitfield. The first-ever crash of a B-2 stealth bomber is under investigation at this hour. It happened in Guam earlier today. The air force says the two pilots on board ejected safely. One of them is still being hospitalized.

That nasty winter storm is moving offshore after dumping up to nine inches of ice and snow across the northeast. Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed.

We will update the top stories at the bottom of the hour. Now time for YOUR MONEY.

ROMANS: And welcome to YOUR MONEY, where we look at how the news of the week affect your wallet. I'm Christine Romans.

Coming up on today's program, young voters are out in full force this primary season. Why that doesn't necessarily mean they will hit the polls come November.

Plus, the election and the environment, which candidates really have green roots and which ones are just talking the talk.

And, what's really putting a drag on the way you spend your cash.

But, first, even with more concerns other the economy, Wall Street ended the week quietly. The big headline was oil which reached new record highs closing about $100 a barrel for the very first time. That's weighing on the stock market and of course on the minds of consumers. Ali Velshi is joining us from the leading crude oil producing state, Texas. He traded in his oil barrel this week for a bus.

Hi Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN HOST, YOUR MONEY: Christine, they don't want to stay together too long but Ii am enjoying the Texas sun. I got the hat, traded in the oil barrel for the hat. We are here at the University of Texas in Austin, which was a site this week of a major debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. You are absolutely right in what you say.

I think everybody is excited about this election. But students in particular, they really, really are very publicized. We have been talking to people across this campus about the issues that they are concerned about, particularly as it affects their money. If you are a student, it is not just your future but what you pay for your education, where you get the money, how you get the loans. It really does trickle all the way down.

We are going to be spending the next week or longer in Texas. This state is going to be crucial in deciding who the next Democratic candidate is and the next president. There is so much about Texas that is so interesting. It is such a big state; it is like a country in one state, Christine.

ROMANS: You are right. We don't know yet who will win the White House. We do know that the youth have been served in this election, led by Senator Barack Obama. Young voters are participating in politics, focusing on their money like never before. Karen Tumulty joins us now; she is the national political correspondent for "Time" Magazine in Washington. Karen thanks for joining us.

KAREN TUMULTY, NATL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME:" Thanks a lot. I'm envious of Ali. Texas is my home state. I do hope at $100 a barrel that is a fuel efficient bus you are in.

ROMANS: I have no comment on that. I will have to ask Ali. Let me ask you first. There is a lot of enthusiasm on the campuses. We have seen enthusiasm before though in primary seasons. Does it necessarily translate into action and the polls come November?

TUMULTY: It doesn't. The youth vote is one of the very, very hardest votes for politicians to bring out. They came out big in 1972 when 18-year-olds were first given the right to vote. The Vietnam War was raging. That was certainly an issue with the draft going on that the youth could relate to. They came out for Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1982. But other than that they have been a very difficult population to get.

We have seen them in large numbers in some of these primaries, largely because of Barack Obama. The campaign has tailored both its message and a lot of its campaign techniques to bringing out these voters. One question is whether they are coming out because they are excited about the election or because they are excited about Barack Obama.

VELSHI: Well, Karen, I want to play for you a tape of some people we spoke to yesterday. We wanted to ask them that. Is it just our perception that people, including youth, are particularly involved, or what is it that's getting them to be so involved in this election? Take a listen to what we heard when we talked to some people here on the campus.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are talking about a new type of politics that can energize young people, some of these kids, especially, 18, 19, 20-year-olds; they haven't known anything else but Bushes and Clintons in the White House. I think it is critical not only to getting them out to vote now and getting them involved in the political process, I think it is going to be very disillusioning for a lot of people if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination.


VELSHI: Karen, you would know this from having studied here on this campus, Austin is an unusually liberal town, a very big high-tech component, a campus like this we are running into a lot of Barack Obama supporters and a lot of Democratic supporters. There is a sense that people think they are connecting to the process. Is this reflected around the country or is this sort of unusual to large campuses like this?

TUMULTY: No. I think it is absolutely true. Remember, people of every demographic are turning out in absolutely huge numbers. So while the youth vote is up significantly, so is everybody else. I think it is interesting, for instance, the Obama campaign, starting in Iowa, has been appealing not just to 18-year-olds but even 17-year-olds a lot of these states will allow you to vote in the primary, if you are going to be 18 by election day. This is a small slice of the population, probably. In an election that is this close, nobody can afford to ignore anybody.

ROMANS: It's interesting because those 18-year-olds, those first-time voters this time around were born back in 1990. You think about your money and the economy and the changes in technology and even how vastly different a college education is today than it was 100 years ago when Ali and I were in college. This is a really interesting demographic. How does your money and the economy play in for this young voter?

TUMULTY: You know, I think that on a number of levels. You hear these candidates talking a lot more about things like the student loan program than you have ever heard in a presidential campaign. I also think that these are people who are coming into the workforce with a different set of expectations. They expect to have not go to work for a big company and retire with that big company but to maybe have five, six, seven, eight jobs over the course of their career.

So things like port ability of health care, secured retirement, things like that have a different meaning, a different residence with this part of the population than with the older cohorts.

VELSHI: We are going to talk a little bit about that in a few minutes, Karen. We are going to speak to some students from the campus about those joint concerns you just talked about, their loans, the way they financed their education and for that matter what happens once they graduate. It is good to talk to you, Karen; I will send your regards to the University of Texas.

ROMANS: Stick around, everyone else so you can continue to watch Ali model his 10-gallon hat from Austin, Texas.

Ahead on YOUR MONEY, more from Ali and CNN's election express. Plus talk is getting cheaper for some cell phone users. We will tell you all about it next.



UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I am supporting Hillary because I believe we need to fix our image in the world. We have done a lot of harm in these last seven years and I think it's going to take senior statesmen to take care of it.


ROMANS: The voices from the campaign trail in Texas where there is quite a battle going on between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Ali Velshi is there riding with CNN Election Express talking about your vote, talking about your money, how it all goes together. Today, he is in Austin. Hi, Ali.

VELSHI: Hey, Christine, the Election Express is right behind me. A few weeks ago, I went across the country from South Carolina to Los Angeles. Now, we are spending some time in Texas. All eyes are on Texas. It is a key primary state in particularly the democratic contest; it is down to the wire. Here is the interesting thing.

From those two things we just heard. You might think we only spoke to Democrats on this campus. That's not true. We, in fact, have two sophomores with us, both from Texas. Lindsay is a Republican. Adam is a Democrat. We want to talk to them about the things that concern them about this election generally speaking. Are you worried, first of all, most Texans and most Americans are worried about the economy. Are you?

LINDSAY WETESNITK, UNIV. OF TEXAS STUDENT: I think there are some points we can improve on but as a whole, I think we are doing OK right now.

VELSHI: You are not all that worried. What about how it concerns you as a student in terms of financing your education? Do those things worry you?

WETESNITK: I am worried about tuition increases, definitely. I think there are the student loans and stuff that are out there that are going to be able to help me get through it.

VELSHI: Christina, as you were saying, I think they paid us to go to school. These guys pay a lot more. Adam, you were watching the Democratic debate and issues about student loans and things like that did come up. Do those things concern you?

ADAM NGUYEN, UNIV OF TEXAS STUDENT: Not at the moment. I am on financial aide, but, like Lindsay said, increases in tuition would scare me in the fewer future.

VELSHI: What about after school? Is the economy a concern to you?

NGUYEN: I am not sure.

VELSHI: Adam is studying -- he wants to be -- you want to be an architect.


VELSHI: And Lindsay is studying fashion design. So you are both in careers where you think there is a good future for you. So you are not losing a lot of sleep over the economy. What makes you make your decision about who you want to vote for?

WETESNITK: A lot of big issues, immigration, the war in Iraq. Those are the two main issues I am going for. Everything else kind of on the back burner.

VELSHI: You are from San Antonio. As you get further south in Texas, immigration becomes a bigger issue. We are going to be in San Antonio over the course of the next week. Texas really is a country unto itself. It is so big. There is so much going on here. What is your major concern about this election and who are you voting for and why?

NGUYEN: My major concern is immigration and universal health care which is split between the two candidates. I am still, I guess, on the fence between the two. They each have their pros and cons. I have a week to make my decision.

VELSHI: Have you decided who you are voting for?

WETESNITK: Me and my family have all pulled together for Huckabee.

VELSHI: All right. Thank you for both of you for spending time telling us what's going on?

Christine back to you from the University of Texas.

ROMANS: All right. Ali Velshi thanks so much. Here in the studio, Jennifer Westhoven, big, big week for oil, reflects Ali's 10- gallon hat. We have both been covering commodities for a long time. It was a big week for oil.

JENNIFER WESTHOVEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is great for Texas. For drivers, this is really tough. There has been some forecast that gas prices might come down. Now, sky high oil prices soared again, so back over that $100mark and staying there. There are lots of factors going into effect, the falling U.S. dollar, threats from OPEC, refinery problems. Oil prices came down a little bit since then. It is going to put a lot of pressure on gas prices and energy pills.

ROMANS: Could our phone bills be going down or at least more predictable for our cell phones?

WESTHOVEN: They might be. This doesn't really work if you have a family plan. If you have a single line plan, the $100 unlimited calling plan, as long as you are calling inside the U.S. Typically, in the back, you would buy 1,000 minutes, 2000 minutes. If you go over, you pay for the teeth for every one of those minutes. These plans have no limits. Some have them also have unlimited text messaging. It could mean that if you are just one person with one line, this would really encourage you to drop your land line.

ROMANS: That's interesting. I have already done that, because I have my land line tied in through my internet and cable. It is terrible. What about Blockbuster?

WESTHOVEN: This is really interesting. This investor rating service says there is going to be a domino effect from the mortgage meltdown that could wipe out a lot of companies that have been operating on the edge, including Blockbuster, Krispy Kreme, Kohl's. It wasn't so long ago that a company that was in hard times could just borrow its way through a hard time. But not now, because of the credit crunch, banks have had so many losses in the sub prime mortgage mess, they are afraid to lend money out. It is a big deal.

VELSHI: Jennifer, one of the interesting points about that, from the perspective of anybody who is investing is that a lot of companies will have trouble. If the company has a history of having managed itself well, they may stand a better chance of getting that financing. If these are companies that have been in trouble, sharper image is a perfect example, this is a company that has sort of been in trouble for a long time, when push comes to should have and you are really in trouble, it is hard to get that loan. If you are an investor, look at companies even if they are having tough times. Have they been able to hold out in good times?

WESTHOVEN: Also, watch out for the velocity that this takes on. There are some analysts that say, this is going to wipe out good companies, as well as bad, companies that are going through a downturn, it is going to take them out too.

ROMANS: We have been talking about the credit crunch.

Sure, go, Ali.

VELSHI: I want to ad, when Jennifer was talking about the cell phone, didn't you give up your land line?

WESTHOVEN: Yes, it's been great, but now, I have all these other people on my line. My husband, my mom. I can't get the plan. I tried.

ROMANS: All right. Ali thanks so much, Ali. Ali, do you have a land line?

VELSHI: I really do. I couldn't tell you what the phone number is. Only telemarketers seem to know my land line.

ROMANS: Stick around. We will give it to all the eligible girls at the end of the show who want a big guy in a big hat.

All right. Thanks Ali, thanks Jennifer. Up next, there is a new signs of the middle class in this country could be suffering and it is not foreclosures, think car repossessions. That story when we come back.


ROMANS: 150,000 foreclosures last year in Texas, skyrocketing foreclosure rates. One sign the economy is in trouble. But you know what it is not the only one. Look no further than your local car repo lot for another indication that American consumers are in distress.


ROMANS (voice over): Meet Art and Ciro, repo men on their way to repossess a truck from an owner four months behind on payments. They will take it back to Art Christensen's Repo lot. Like many across the country, full to capacity with vehicles Americans couldn't pay for.

ART CHRISTENSEN, COMMERCIAL SERVICE CORP: They over finance with their homes, their cars, their credit cards.

ROMANS: Like homes and credit cards, defaults on auto loans are skyrocketing. Car repossessions at this lot are up 25 to 30 percent on all kinds of cars. These defaults are a combination of loose lending, a weakening economy and job losses. So repo lots are filling up as repossession thrive.

TOM WEBB, MANHEIM CONSULTING: We were up 10 percent in 2007, probably up another seven to 10 percent this year, which would bring us up to the highest level in the decade.

ROBERT MANNING, ROCHESTER INST. TECH: It shows us how severe the downturn in the American economy is becoming, that people are having to make a decision about whether to pay their car note or not.

ROMANS: The bottom line, people took out car notes they couldn't afford and lenders freely gave them.

MANNING: The reality of it is of course is that the consumer has to be responsible for their actions but now we are going to find out where were the regulators and why were lenders making loans that they knew could not possibly be repaid.

ROMANS: The owner of this repo truck says he got behind in his payments.

CYRO MIRANDA, COMMERCIAL SERVICE CORP: Today or tomorrow, he is going to make his payments, pay the late fees and he will get his car back.

ROMANS: And that's exactly what he did.


ROMANS: Losing a car, Ali, that's the height of financial distress. The car is the ride to work. Not only are auto loans in trouble, credit card and student loan defaults are also rising, Ali.

VELSHI: The problem with this is that there is a hirarcky of things that you can default on that hurts your credit for a very long time. At the top of that list is missing a mortgage payment. Those car loans, all these loans that are a loan against something else, it so hurts your credit for so long afterwards, if you got into a bad car loan because you had bad credit in the first place, defaulting on that and losing it, it is going to make it so hard in the future to be able to get any kind of loan or credit card at a normal interest rate.

ROMANS: Another thing is the Fed, Federal Reserve cutting interest rates. A lot of people assume that your debt is going to go down. These car loans are fixed rates. Some of these subprime loans are 17 percent. The term of the loan is some 72 months. So you really can get yourself in a bad situation.

The stimulus package that check that is going to come in the mail, that could help some people catch up on a payment but when you have people who are three, four, five payments behind because they are paying a tuition bill or they are trying to keep a mortgage and the car has fallen behind, that can be trouble.

Also, Ali, some people had big houses. They took money out of their houses and had too many cars. Some of these cars are people's second and third cars they can't afford to keep anymore.

VELSHI: One thing, though, interesting for both you and me, when we are not in the northeast or in the city, you have out in the Midwest. You are there a lot. The car is not a luxury. You might have a luxury car. For many people, that second or third car is because they don't live in a place with public transport. The price of gasoline and the combination of the increase in payments is really, really hurting a lot of people and affecting their ability to make a living.

ROMANS: We are looking at a 10-year high for car repossessions. We will continue to watch that story.

Coming up, which presidential candidate promises to be the most green? The surprise, just the answer just might surprise you.


WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. In the news, a b-2 stealth bomber crashes at an air force base in Guam. The two pilots on board ejected safely. One is hospitalized. This is the first time the billion dollar bomber has crashed.

Liftoff in Japan, the country's h2A rocket today is blasting into space.

That nasty winter storm is moving offshore after dumping up to nine inches of ice and snow across the northeast. Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed stranding passengers all across the country.

A new round of CNN's "Ballot Bowl" coming up at the top of the hour. Now back to more of YOUR MONEY.


ROMANS: Welcome back to a special edition of YOUR MONEY. Our very own Ali Velshi is on the CNN Election Express in Austin, Texas, from the White House to the greenhouse. All the presidential candidates claim to be eco friendly. Who would make the greenest president? Howard Gould is an environmentalist and co founder of a company specializing in carbon offsets. Howard welcome to the program.

HOWARD GOULD, ECO-ENTREPRENEUR: Thank you for having me.

ROMANS: Everyone tries to teach their green credentials. What does that mean really? I mean why are they all fighting to be known as green?

GOULD: I think right now the next president is going to be faced with one of the most important issues that affects not only the United States but it affects the entire world. To be honest with you, this administration that's going on right now has done very little for the environment. The green kred is something they really need to roll with, to pick up momentum and to show the rest of the world that American is a world leader again.

ROMANS: Are they just talking about it or do we think there will actually be action? It might play on the campaign trail if you are trying to attract people that are more environmentally aware. Can you really do anything about it?

GOULD: That's a good question. What's happening behind these machines that are operating these campaigns?

ROMANS: No. Don't tell me that am true.

GOULD: You look at somebody like John McCain. In 2003, he was with Joe Lieberman. He stood to make no political gain whatsoever with that. I think he was generally concerned about the environment. He has backtracked on that and hasn't picked up on the new regime of what's going on with other green candidates. You see Barack Obama and you see Hillary Clinton really kind of pumping up their greenness and signing on to things like the Boxer Saunders Act, which is very aggressive.

ROMANS: What is that?

GOULD: A very aggressive climate change act. It has to do with lowering fuel emissions. It is very, very aggressive. You don't see John McCain backing that. In 2003, he really went with it.

VELSHI: Howard, I am at the University of Texas. First of all, Austin is a very green city, some excellent green initiative. I am talking to more Barack supporters than anybody else. That's who we are running into. There is a feeling from the people that I have spoken to that Barack is the greenest candidate. Is he?

GOULD: He certainly is the greenest candidate out there. I wouldn't say he is that much greener than Hillary Clinton. I think he is portraying that more because shall as you said, you are from a university. He is picking up the younger audiences. They are looking at the greenish there. They are concerned about their future. He is being very aggressive with it.

ROMANS: Let's take a look at Hillary Clinton. We've shown this screen here of some of the points of Barack Obama's environmental plan. But let's look at the Hillary Clinton plan. She supports energy independence. I guess in theory everybody supports energy independents. Right? Cap and trade to reduce car upon pollution. How do they really differ?

GOULD: They are very, very close. Hillary Clinton has discussed deforestation a little bit more than Barack Obama in certain cases. But Barack is very serious about talking about the projects. They are very similar on their beliefs. The question is the strategy on how they are going about it.

ROMANS: Are these tough choices to sell to the electorate? Green sometimes has two meanings; it can also mean you are going to spend more green. It costs more to be energy efficient in some cases and you have to invest in some of these technologies. It is going to cost something.

GOULD: Well you absolutely have to invest in these technologies. But remember when things like the carbon and trade come down. They are saying that the carbon cap and trade system and create numerous jobs. You do have to invest in the infrastructure. You are not only being green but you are also providing jobs and providing capital to the government, basically.

VELSHI: Howard, you are in the carbon business. I guess you might have a particular bias here. What's more important, over the last few years we have seen some major, major American companies. Wal- Mart is one of them at the top of that list that have really taken initiatives to reduce their energy consumption and the consumption of the goods that they sell to their consumers. Or is it this business of capping carbon offsets and having to buy offsets. What is the answer that is most going to make a difference in the next 10 or 15 years?

GOULD: I think the answer really is capping the emissions. The emissions problem, America is the largest emitter of carbon right now. That's debatable. China may have surpassed us. The previous years before China became an industrialized nation, it falls on our shoulders, and we were the ones that were out there doing it. So really capping these emissions is what is most important and getting back to what you were pointing out with Hillary Clinton with the defor he is station, the reason why she has picked up on that, it is something that he is easy to stop. Twenty percent of greenhouse emissions are coming from deforestation. That's something that these companies are picking up on as well. Not only do they see themselves as green but they can also market that they are helping save the environment and saving trees and wildlife.

ROMANS: Howard Gould, eco entrepreneur. Thank you so much for joining us. Ali, we will get back to you in a moment.

Coming up next on YOUR MONEY, why a potential airline merger could change the price of your next flight.


ROMANS: Some really smart, lower income and middle class students are catching a major break on sky rocketing education costs. Stanford University is eliminating tuition for students with annual household income totaling less than $100,000. Students with families making less than $60,000 will have much of their room and board covered. You know that is a savings of nearly $50,000. A break to roughly one-third of Stanford undergraduate students. But you got to get in first.

A study this week finds that a majority of African American and Latino families are at high risk of dropping out of the middle class. The report based on government data sited housing cost is a key factor. African American and Latino families were at greater risk than the rest of the middle class in almost every indicator considered.

Twenty five million toys were pulled off the shelves last year. Now, the toy industry has agreed to a set of new standards aimed at keeping those toys safe. The toy makers plan calls for mandatory design hazard analysis, factory audits, and mandatory safety testing, to keep the toys safe from around the world from the very start before they even actually make it to the store shelves.

Ali Velshi is there in Austin, Texas. I still have those nightmares where you wake up and where you missed a test. Are you having those recurring nightmares now that you are standing on the school campus there?

VELSHI: There is nothing better than being on a university campus when you don't have to worry about any of those things, when you don't have to rush to class. I am in this central area at the University of Texas in Austin. It is a beautiful, sunny, Texas day. I don't have to worry about anything. I am getting to talk to you, which is more fun when I am right there with you but I can't say that life gets much better than this. I want to know the truth. Do you really think the hat looks OK?

ROMANS: No, Ali, I really, really like it. You have to have matching boots. Do you have matching boots?

VELSHI: Hold on a second. There we go.

ROMANS: He does.

VELSHI: I am not a new cowboy. These boots are worn in. This is a worn boot. This is not for amateurs. I didn't pick this up at a dime store.

ROMANS: Cowboy boots don't breathe so well. I am glad you are there and I am here. We are going to talk to you about oil. Oil closed above $100 a barrel for the first time on Tuesday this week. The rising of fuel costs are not just affecting the way we drive and the products we buy but also the way we fly. With jet fuel prices steadily increasing over the past 10 years, airlines are strategizing about how to stay in the sky. Delta and Northwest are edging toward a merger that could result in the world's largest airline. Rick Seaney, CEO of joins us now. Rick, if these two manage to put aside any kind of differences or any kind of glitches here in the last, final days, what will this mean for me, the consumer?

RICK SEANEY, CEO, FARECOMPARE.COM: Well, for the consumers, it is really one of these situations where any time you have lack of competition, airfare prices are going to get higher. It is just the way it is. This is going to be the first domino, I think. If this merger occurs, we will see a second one. When that occurs, it will be worse for consumers. Planes will be fuller; it will be harder to redeem your frequent flyer miles. It will not be a good situation.

VELSHI: I follow what you guys do very closely. My nonscientific analysis of this is over the course of the last year, roughly disguised as fuel sir charges, air fares have been going up any way. When people ask me do Delta and northwest coming together mean that I am going to pay higher fares? Is this going to contribute to that trend?

SEANEY: Yes, I think basically, last year, we saw 24 attempted air fare increases with 17 sticking. The first four weeks in January, we had four increases with two sticking. Air fathers are going to go up no matter what. The legacy airlines, who are the ones that are going to be merging here in the next few weeks or at least announcing their mergers have set up the situation of supply and demand is in their favor. Planes are packed, easier to raise airfares. Consumers will have a harder time finding a deal.

ROMANS: Are the planes smaller too? I have been riding in a lot of smaller aircraft. Some of the routes that I once traveled have fewer flights. Have they been cutting back in that way?

SEANEY: Definitely. Most of the major legacy airlines have been cutting back, other than Continental Airlines; it has been a policy of downsizing air crafts. They are taking those middle-sized air crafts with 150 seats, 180 seats and reconfiguring them for international routes either to South America and sending the bigger planes over the Atlantic. We are getting 50 and 70 seaters carrying us around the nation.

ROMANS: Rick, bottom line, we have to wrap it up here. If you are sitting on 100,000 miles on one of these airlines, should you be booking your flights with your miles right now?

SEANEY: You should try to get rid of your miles as soon as possible. They are going to be combining the programs. If you going to do anything to Orlando or Disney or L.A., get those trips and those miles booked now.

ROMANS: It isn't easy to do it now any way. Rick Seaney, CEO of Thank you, Rick.

Coming up next on YOUR MONEY our Greg Hunter on rising prices and why you have slowed down your spending.


VELSHI: Welcome back to YOUR MONEY. I am Ali Velshi in Austin, Texas at the University of Texas. Christine, you and I share a pet peeve that goes back a long time ago. That is, what is inflation really is compared to what the government says it is. A few weeks ago when I was on the road, I don't know if you remember this, I spoke to a woman in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was saying the price she pays for eggs has doubled in the last three years.

Just this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the chief economist there said that retail food inflation was 4 percent in 2007. It is going to be 4 percent in 2008. Between 2008 around 2010, it is going to increase more than the normal rate of inflation. That's something to consider. We all eat food. You can't get away from that. The cost of commodities and food is getting much more expensive.

ROMANS: Here is the pet peeve that Ali and I have is that you know, you talk about core inflation, where you strip out food and energy. We live with a lot of food and energy. I can't strip out food and energy from my core inflation and neither can Ali and neither can Greg Hunter, who joins us now with more on rising prices and what the has to do with consumer spending.

GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is going to be a big drag on consumer spending. I like to look at things that the common guy can look at. The three big things are energy, food, and equity. Let's talk about energy. Energy prices are hovering in the high 90s. Nowhere can you get a better read on energy than the price of fuel. Check out the price of gas. It is now 3.09 a gallon and January of this time last year, 2.28. Those were the days. That's the ugly face of inflation staring you right in the face.

The next thing, food, another big drag on the consumer spending. Just take a look. Like you said, the government says food inflation is up. Take a look at the real numbers. Let's drill down here. A gallon of milk was 3.07, now, 3.78. Eggs 1.55 January this time last year, now, 2.18 a dozen an average price. Are record wheat prices, you can bet your bottom dollar that food prices, wheat, corn, soy beans, all that stuff are heading higher. It is going to be a lot higher than 4 percent.

Last year I did a story in November about the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner. Farm Bureau polled all these places and came up with 11 percent higher for a Thanksgiving dinner than it was. It was huge, big. That's what more people are saying. They are saying, I don't understand these inflation numbers.

VELSHI: We should have three reports. I am not being sarcastic. The bottom line, Christine, is that's the truth. The truth is what you pay for what you spend. That's how ordinary Americans who did not study the economy and don't track the Dow on a daily basis, that's what they feel.

HUNTER: The average inflation price last year was 2.8 percent. We will talk more about that next week. But home equity lines of credit, I have to finish this. This is going to be a huge drag on consumer spending. I looked this number up. It was stuplafing (ph). Me and the producer were sitting there, home equity lines of credit, $590 billion. This should not be called home equity. It should be called the debt on top of debt number. Banks are restricting that number. No wonder millions of homeowners right now are upside down. They are forecasting millions more to be upside down. Can you see why the banks want to cut that line of credit off? That's what's happening.

Countrywide financial sent out a 122,000 letters cutting that other big banks are doing the same thing. The banks are in trouble. They don't want people sucking money out of their house.

ROMANS: For Greg, it is not a recurring theme. It's a recurring nightmare. Ali I want to ask you something, quickly.

VELSHI: Greg just blew a cloud over my sunny, Texas day.

ROMANS: It's a good thing you are wearing a hat. One thing I want to point out, at Goldman Sachs, they were saying by the end of this year, there could be 15 million mortgages under water. That's 30 percent, upside down mortgages. Meaning you are sitting in a house where you are paying a mortgage. This house is worth so much less than the mortgage. It is very; very difficult to try to get yourself, especially with wages that are flat and a stock market that is going nowhere. It is really hard to get yourself out from under that.

HUNTER: It is a stupifying number. We have talked about the great depression. You can't compare this to the great depression. We are off the charts. We are off in space. The consumers have never had this much debt. According to a research poll, they say 58 percent of people are not keeping up with the cost of living. There is no wonder. Seventy four percent of people are having difficulty buying gasoline. No wonder, almost a buck in a year. It is an unbelievable amount of debt and an unbelievable amount of inflation. It is a lot higher as we all agree a lot higher than the government would like you to believe.

ROMANS: Ali, I am going to have to let you finish it out there. Boy, that's gloomy.

VELSHI: The sun is still shining for me here. It is going to move in. Greg is keeping us honest. We appreciate it.

ROMANS: Thanks, guys. Greg Hunter, thank you very much.

Investing in stocks and bonds is one way to build a portfolio that not everyone takes a traditional route. We have story of one man who built a business by investing in other people's crazy ideas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS (voice over): He is known as the Infomercial king. A.J. Khubani is the president and CEO of Tele Brands, the original as seen on TV Company.

A.J. KHUBANI, PRESIDENT & CEO, TELEBRANDS: We come up with creative, innovative consumer products. That makes life a little easier. We sell them first and then launch to national retail chains.

ROMANS: Khubani's love of gadgets started at a young age and developed into a passion to come up with innovative products.

KHUBANI: We know the specific categories that work the best for us; anything that solves a common problem around the house, anything that saves time in the kitchen is a big deal.

ROMANS: But now, he is using his expertise to invest in other investors.

KHUBANI: Every single week, we review dozens of products, at least two to four times a month we invite vendors to come in and show us their products. If we don't cut a deal, we can provide valuable feedback for the invention.

ROMANS: Khubani says inventors need to come up with as many ideas as possible.

KHUBANI: My words of advice to anyone that wants to get into this business, is first of all, don't fall in love with the product. If you fall in love with the product, you could end up wasting a lot of money. You have to know when to move on to the next one.


ROMANS: We will be right back with more from the CNN Election Express.


ROMANS: Just a quick programming note, next week is a special week here at CNN, "Financial Security Watch," your home, your investment, your job, and your debt, join CNN personal financial editor Gerri Willis, she will have answers for you on how to work to manage your money. She will take your telephone calls. That's "Financial Security Watch" this Monday through Friday, 12 Eastern right here on CNN.

VELSHI: And, while you are all watching that, I am going to be touring through Texas, Christine. We are in Austin now and we will be going to San Antonio, we will be there Monday and then we will go to Laredo and Corpus Christie and Galveston and then Houston.

All that time, I am going to be talking to people in Texas, because this is an important primary state. It is the whole country in one state. People have really different concerns and they do different things in Texas. Their issues are different. I am also going to try to get on a horse. I will also get you the tape of that so that we can talk about that next Friday.

ROMANS: I would like to see that. You know there is an old Texas thing, you know all hat and no cattle. Ali I would like to say after this hour of working with you, you are all hat and cattle.

VELSHI: You are very kind. And again I will miss you but I will be on the road for another week. So if there is any souvenirs you want put in the order now.

ROMANS: OK, I would really like a video of you getting on horse. I would really like that.

All right. Thank you for joining us for this edition of YOUR MONEY. We will be here next week, Ali is on the road but you are going to see him, Saturday at 1:00 and Sunday at 3:00. See you then.