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Dick Cheney's Surprise Iraq Visit; John McCain in Iraq; Bear Stearns Woes; NYC Crane Collapse; Tornado Hits Home: Atlanta, a War Zone; St. Patrick's Day Parade Coming Up

Aired March 17, 2008 - 06:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Our John Roberts has the week off. He's enjoying himself in Costa Rica, by the way.
Well, we have a busy news day overseas. Markets down sharply. Dow futures also down, and all these taking place as JPMorgan makes a move to buy fellow investment bank, Bear Stearns. What kind of financial trouble could this signal? Ali is on all of it for us this morning.

Also, there's news out of China and Tibet after days of violent protest. Alina is watching developments there. And a possible impact on the Olympic games in Beijing, plus the international calls to put more pressure on China.

Here in New York, the search for survivors continues this morning. It's actually going on right now. There is a deadly crane accident over the weekend. A huge construction crane came toppling down, shearing off apartment buildings in the areas right around it and leaving a few people killed, several others injured and some still missing and believed still trapped by the rubble. We're going to have a live report there.

Also, it's back to work in Atlanta, but it could be a tough Monday morning after a weekend of extreme weather. A look at our CNN headquarters right in the path of a tornado that ripped through downtown. Our Rob Marciano is in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta this morning. Veronica De La Cruz is inside the CNN Center. She has behind the scenes look at some of the damage there.

But we start with breaking news out of Iraq this morning. This is the eve of the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion. Vice president Dick Cheney is in Baghdad right now, flying in unannounced overnight, and he is expected to meet with Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, as well as U.S. Commander General David Petraeus, and visit with troops as well. It's part of a 10-day tour of the Mideast.

Also, presumptive GOP nominee, Senator John McCain, is in Iraq right now as well. He's made the U.S. military effort in Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign. Overnight, he sat down with CNN's chief national correspondent John King. John, now, joins us from Baghdad. What is Senator McCain saying this morning?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's an interesting visit by Senator McCain, Kiran. I can also tell you those meetings you mentioned by the vice president there under way for a few moments today.

Saddam Hussein's former presidential palace was like the United States capital. You had Vice president Cheney and his security detail going down one hallway off to some meetings. You had John McCain and two of his senate colleagues, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, walking down another hall to go to their meetings.

Here's some helicopter noise overhead. There's always a lot of security here in Baghdad, but with the vice president and others here, there's a bit more today.

But as for Senator McCain, he is here for his day job, he says, Kiran. So it's data fact-finding mission before General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker come back before the United States Congress next month and make the case and give a progress report on the so-called surge strategy here in Iraq.

The surge sent an additional 30,000 troops in Iraq. They are now starting to come home. And the question before the congress and the question for Senator McCain in the presidential campaign is, what happens next? Now, Senator McCain told us today, and this is a bit of news that will cause some attacks no doubt from the Democrats back home. He believes that once the surge troops are gone, the United States should hit the pause button and stop at 15 brigades and keep those 15 brigades here for now until more security progress and more political progress is made.

The Democrats, of course, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, are competing to bring the troops home as fast as possible. In fact, Senator Clinton will give a speech back in Washington today, promising to start the troop withdrawals within 60 days if she gets elected president. I asked Senator McCain about that on a balcony of what was once Saddam Hussein's presidential palace. He said Senator Clinton is not only wrong, but she's sending the wrong signal to the enemy.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The surge is working. So I just think what that means is al-Qaeda wins, it tells the world, they tell the world that, and we fight here again and around the Middle East, and their dedication is to follow us home. All I can say is that this will be a big issue when the election --


KING: Senator McCain and his two Senate colleagues were out on the streets in Mosul in Haditha. They're out in Baghdad today touring. Senator McCain says, yes, there are still considerable problems on the political side, corruption in the Iraqi government not moving as fast to pass some of the reconciliation and the economic legislation they need to pass on the political side, excuse me.

But on the military side, the security side, Kiran, he says, without a doubt, the surge is working and he says the Democrats simply cannot make the case to the American people in his view that it is not. But he knows it will be a big debate not only in the Congress next month but on the campaign trail between now and the election in November -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Very interesting that he's getting a chance to get ahead of that debate, at least staking out his side, because of the fact that he's the presumptive nominee. Meanwhile, the fight continues for the Democrats. We'll see you in a couple minutes, John. Thanks a lot.

And Hillary Clinton preparing a speech about Iraq today in Washington, while her husband is speaking out about her campaign. CNN had a chance to catch up with former President Bill Clinton in New Orleans.

There you see him. He's usually actually hanging out with actor Brad Pitt, breaking ground in the lower ninth ward for Pitt's Make it Right foundation. CNN's Sean Callebs sat down with President Clinton where that conversation turned to politics and his sometimes controversial role in his wife's campaign.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Has your role in the campaign changed at all from South Carolina? Has it evolved?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. First of all, what happened there is a total myth and a mugging, and I think it's been pretty well established. Charlie Rangel, the most important African-American official today, the chairman of the House, Ways and Means Committee, said in an equivocal terms in South Carolina, that no one in our campaign played any race card. That we had some played against us, but we didn't play any.


CHETRY: Clinton also said that it is critical for Democrats to resolve the lingering delegate questions in Florida and in Michigan.

Well, we're also watching breaking news in the financial markets right now. Overseas markets are way down, and the dollar is at a new record low. Oil at a new record high. Last night, the Federal Reserve cut a key interest rate. Also, JP Morgan has moved in to buy investment bank Bear Stearns at a rock bottom price. We turn now to our Ali Velshi.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Pick one. Where do you want to start?

CHETRY: There is so much to talk about. It was astounding, though...


CHETRY: ... that Bear Stearns is being sold for what? $2 a share.


VELSHI: $2 a share.

CHETRY: $180 dollars.

VELSHI: This is an incredible story. Let me try and give you a breakdown on exactly how this happened. Bear Stearns has been in trouble for a while. Last year, two of its hedge funds failed. But on Monday, on Monday, when Bear Stearns was worth $70 a share, another hedge fund called Carlyle Capital started to come unwound.

Now on Tuesday, it look looked like Carlyle was going to be in big, big trouble and rumors started circulating that there were liquidity problems at Bear Stearns. BSC is Bear Stearns. On Wednesday, the CEO of Bear Stearns, because Bear Stearns owns 15 percent of Carlyle, came out and actually said, we don't have liquidity problems. We've got all the money in credit that we need.

Guess what? On Thursday, everyone started to pull their money out of Bear Stearns. It was a classic run on the bank. It's exactly what we've been fearing would happen.

On Friday, the stock of Bear Stearns dropped. Remember we started the week at $70, it closed at $30 on Friday. There was a bailout engineered by JP Morgan and the Federal Reserve to extend a loan to Bear Stearns. Still, the stock dropped to $30.

Now, what happened then is that over the weekend, we heard first of all from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. He was on Wolf Blitzer's show "LATE EDITION." Here's what he said, because a lot of people said, wait a second. Why is the Federal Reserve being involved in bailing out banks? Isn't that what we said we weren't going to do? Here's what he said.


HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY: There are going to be bumps in the road. There are going to be unpleasant surprises. We are going to find that an institution or so has problems, and when they do have problems, you work to deal with it.


VELSHI: That was Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, by yesterday evening, JP Morgan had moved in with the help of the Federal Reserve to buy Bear Stearns. Remember, a week ago it was $70, Friday, it was $30. $2 a share is what JP Morgan paid for or is going to pay for Bear Stearns. That values the company at a quarter of a billion dollars. $250 million.

In another move last night, the Federal Reserve cut its discount rate from 3.5 percent to 3.25 percent. The discount rate is the rate at which banks can borrow money directly from the Federal Reserve. Typically speaking, the Federal Reserve -- banks don't borrow money from the Fed. They borrow money from each other to make up their reserves. When they're really in trouble and other banks won't lend money to the Fed -- to each other, they have to go to the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve basically saying, we have money for you if you're in trouble. We have a lot of other news coming out today. As Kiran said, oil prices very high, gold prices very high, the dollar very low. We're expecting earnings from Bear Stearns, and we're a day away from a Fed move. This is going to be the issue we're following all day.

CHETRY: Certainly a lot going on and how it all relates to, you know, the pocketbooks at home.


CHETRY: Some of them we're going to be exploring with Ali all morning. So, thank you.

Meanwhile, a desperate search continues this morning in New York City. There are still three people lost in a townhouse that was crushed by a fallen crane. This is live video right now.

This has been going on for the entire weekend. These rescue workers tirelessly digging through there night and day. They have rescue dogs. They have sensitive microphones that are listening for any signs of life. Three people again still believed buried under crushed and twisted brick and metal. The 20-story crane collapsed Saturday. It sliced through three buildings, flattened a fourth building, also killing four construction workers.

A look at the scene and you can see that the collapsed crane actually peeled away the outside wall of the nearby apartment building. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says investigators are still looking into what caused that crane to fall.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: This is a very tragic, but also a very rare occurrence. Whether it was mechanical fault or human error, we don't know. We think our procedures are adequate, but nobody knows what happened here. It may have been one of those things that no matter what your procedures were, somebody made a mistake.


CHETRY: You know, in the hours after that happened, there were many people in that neighborhood who said that this is something they feared, that they had made calls, that they were worried about, whether or not this company was operating safely and it noticed many things that they felt were not quite right. In this situation, at least 24 people were injured. Neighborhood leaders are now pressing officials for answers after they say that concerns about this huge crane were ignored.

Well, driving to work in what could look like a war zone. A major effort going on right now in downtown Atlanta to try to clean up tons of debris left behind by a powerful tornado that ripped through the downtown; 130 mile an hour winds shattered glass, and skyscrapers blasted businesses, and it actually hit quite close to home, CNN's own home office.

Rob Marciano is live downtown near Centennial Park in Atlanta where two of the park's gigantic Olympic torches were toppled over as well. What's it looking like out there this morning, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, things haven't changed a whole lot. Some of the roads are open, but a number of them remain closed. We're certainly concerned about what rush hour traffic is going to look like in the next couple hours. Certainly, the city still a little bit in shock. Take a look at what happened behind me.

We are downtown, a block from the CNN Center. The lights that typically light up the scene and sign are dead this morning. These are in some cases century old buildings, you know, from the turn of the 19th century. Bricks blown out. You can see exposed staircases, and they're just really surreal and eerie.

And then, you mentioned war zone. Look at that car right there. Cars like that strewn about downtown, completely shattered and pummeled by the brick and debris here as this EF-2 came pummeling right through downtown. A historic event since they've been keeping records here. Never as a tornado taken a direct hit on the downtown area. The shock wearing off maybe a little bit now two days later, but the cleanup is certainly well under way.


MARCIANO (voice-over): From chainsaws to cranes to this guy dangling from a rope, a stunned city went about cleaning up from the first tornado ever to hit downtown. Damage is estimated to be at least $100 million. Much of it done right here around the CNN Center.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I can't believe that it happened here.

MARCIANO: The destruction is everywhere. Windows blown out, roofs collapsed, bricks and rubble on sidewalks. Even this, someone's suitcase sucked out of a hotel room and dropped on to the street. The city's convention center and surrounding hotels took direct hits. So did the Georgia Dome where thousands were watching a basketball tournament.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The building is rocking a bit.

MARCIANO: In nearby Cabbagetown, more destruction. An apartment building and 30 to 40 homes destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of those trees uprooted. It was there when I was a child. I'm 69 years old now.

MARCIANO: Back in Atlanta, city officials are trying to keep out the gawkers and are encouraging people to stay away unless they're needed to be here. They're also hoping the crowds come back soon. The convention center is losing money by the day and has two big events coming up. For now, as bad as it looks, they're happy more people weren't hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could have been much, much, much worse.


MARCIANO: The fact that this thing came barreling through downtown. I mean, I am standing right in the center of where this vortex came through just shortly after 9:30 on Friday night. And I suppose the timing couldn't be worse with the SEC basketball tournament going on. We have a couple of huge conventions in town, and all these people. It's just a miracle in many ways, Kiran, that no one was killed in this particular tornado.

As luck would have it or bad luck I should say, the next day, on Saturday, we had another severe weather event. Another severe thunderstorm came through Atlanta with a tornado warning and two tornadoes just north of Atlanta with two fatalities in northern Georgia. So, an unbelievably active weather situation over the weekend to say the least and a very, very eerie feeling, Kiran, having all this happen in our back yard and right here at home at the CNN worldwide headquarters in Atlanta. Back up to you.

CHETRY: Yes, speaking of that, I mean, literally in our back yard, in our front yard. Veronica De La Cruz is going to be joining us in a couple minutes. She has an inside look behind the scenes because again, as you had said, Rob, the CNN Center there in Atlanta, front and center for this extreme weather. We'll check in with you throughout the morning as well. Thanks.

Right now, Alina Cho is here following other stories new this morning, including the latest overseas, some trouble, protests in Tibet.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Some rare pictures coming out of Tibet. Kiran, good morning to you. Good morning, everybody.

New this morning. We are watching that news coming in this morning from Tibet. Chinese soldiers patrolling the streets in Tibet's capital city as the violence there spreads to neighboring provinces, and all of this just months from the start of the Beijing Olympics and weeks from the arrival of the Olympic torch in Tibet.

Cars overturned, buildings burned for a second day. "The Associated Press" is reporting at least 16 people have died in the violence, but some reports say more than 100 are dead. The Chinese have demanded Tibetans surrender to the Chinese military by midnight or noon Eastern time.

Pakistan also on high alert this morning after a pair of deadly bombings this weekend. An explosion at a crowded restaurant in Islamabad killed at least one Turkish aide worker and wounded a dozen others, including four FBI personnel. Investigators say the attack may have targeted westerners. The restaurant where the bomb went off is frequented by westerners, and it's one of the few places there that serves alcohol.

Later tonight, another walk in space. The shuttle "Endeavour" astronauts last spacewalk was a grueling seven-hour event that ended early Sunday morning. They attached arms to the International Space Station's new robot named Dexter. Great name. Tonight, they'll continue to outfit that robotic arm. It's the third of five scheduled spacewalks during this 16-day mission.

New York gets a new governor today. Lieutenant Governor David Paterson takes the oath of office, succeeding Eliot Spitzer who resigned last week in disgrace. Paterson spent some time with rescue workers at the site of that collapsed crane in New York City over the weekend. He'll be the new 55th governor of the state, the first visually-impaired governor, and the nation's second African-American governor.

And a restaurant in Ferndale, Michigan, is celebrating St. Patrick's Day today by singing "Danny Boy" for 50 straight hours. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.


CHO: I mean, he's pretty good, but, Kiran, I think we could do better. Singing started on Saturday and will keep --

CHETRY: Depends how many pints he's had, Alina.

CHO: He's going to keep going until tonight in an effort to set a Guinness Book World record. Remember, 50 hours. People are taking turns singing, including several church choirs. You got a countdown there on the blackboard. Apparently, there were six church choirs but --

CHETRY: Can you imagine that maybe a waitress there and you're listening to that for your entire shift.

CHO: Well --


CHETRY: Go home, come back the next day, you're still listening to it.

CHO: You know, as you well know, it's the Irish's -- often called the Irish anthem.

CHETRY: That's right.

CHO: But there's actually a pub in New York that's banning "Danny Boy" this year. They said it's a depressing song, and it's better sort of played at a funeral than a St. Patrick's Day celebration.


CHO: So there you have it.

CHETRY: All the controversy and they're trying to break a Guinness World Record. I love it.

CHO: Yes, they are.

CHETRY: All right, Alina, thanks.

CHO: You bet.

CHETRY: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning" for the 248th time New York City plays host to the St. Patrick's Day parade. A look at the preparation. There you see -- hey, all the lights are green. How about that? That was just a bit of luck there.

Our Lola Ogunnaike is on the parade route. We're going to be checking in with her coming up.


CHETRY: We have some pictures now. Unbelievable this was caught on camera. This is amateur video shot in Atlanta. As you can see, a funnel cloud approaching a subdivision there. Some wicked weather over the weekend in north Georgia.

There were tornadoes reported in several cities, including downtown Atlanta. There's a look again at amateur video shot. I mean, it literally looks like something out of a movie.

A major cleanup effort is still going on this morning as well. This video, by the way, was shot by a Turner broadcasting employee from the area. CNN's world headquarters located right in Atlanta and certainly did not escape the wrath of that storm.

Our Veronica De La Cruz is in the atrium of the CNN Center. Look behind the scenes at the damage and the cleanup efforts there, and what people may not realize is that's a public atrium as well. There's a hotel housed there, not only CNN headquarters. So what was the situation like when that happened?

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Kiran, you know, I was here about 15 to 20 minutes after that tornado hit. It was absolutely amazing to see the chaos that ensued afterwards. Let's take a look.

So far the only business open in the atrium right now is that Starbucks. And like you said, this is an area that's home to a lot of fast food restaurants. There's a retail store right there, Sunglass Hut. There's an Omni Hotel, and they've all been shut down for the past two days. Now, that's because of this, what they're calling the danger zone.

Police have put up this line right here. And if you look up, there is a huge gaping hole in the ceiling. And it has since been covered with plywood. There's also a net. And I have to tell you, Kiran, after that tornado struck, I was here in the CNN Center. I made my way up through the newsroom, and that was an area that suffered a tremendous amount of damage.

I was coming down this walkway and there was a ton of water pouring through the roof. It was coming straight down. It looked like a waterfall. This entire area was flooded. There was a pool of water. I made my way up to the domestic newsroom, and there was water coming down through the ceiling there.

If you can take a closer look, they've since covered it with tarp. They covered a lot of the computers there with tarps as well. At one point, they had to move the operations from the CNN Domestic newsroom to CNN International which is on the other side of the building.

Now, when I first came into the building, I was in the newsroom, like I said, that area completely devastated. There was a wall of glass completely blown out. A wall of windows completely blown out. The force of the wind so strong it reached in and sucked a computer right off of somebody's desk, right out the window.

I looked down on the street below. People were stunned. They were walking around like zombies. There were taxi cabs that were picked up, thrown across the street. There was stuff coming in from Centennial Olympic Park. There were trash cans. There were signs thrown to the road that I was looking at down below. There were people covered in blood, mainly from all the flying glass and the debris. It was absolutely amazing to look at.

Now, city officials are saying that damage estimates are somewhere up towards $200 million. I think there were at least 30 injuries and two fatalities reported as a result of this storm. And I'm telling you, Kiran, looking around at the damage throughout the city, it's amazing that there weren't more.

CHETRY: Yes. And it is. When we saw the funnel cloud that was shot by a Turner employee, I mean, boy, that's unbelievable. It certainly not something you expect to see coming right there into downtown Atlanta for sure.

Veronica, thank you.


CHETRY: And again, we're checking with Rob Marciano as well throughout the morning. He also is out there at Centennial Park with a look at the aftermath, and also what's ahead in terms of weather this week.

You're watching the "Most News in the Morning." Breaking news here in New York. There was a search still under way right now for three people missing after a devastating weekend crane collapsed that claimed the lives of four. Three people again still missing.

The hope is there that they will be found alive, but as the days go on, that becomes dimmer and dimmer. Also, we're going to be at that scene in just a couple of minutes. Also, here is a live look right now. And in just a couple of hours, the streets are going to be packed. It's Fifth Avenue and it is the St. Patrick's Day parade, a New York City tradition. Thousands of people expected on Fifth Avenue in New York for St. Patrick's Day.

Our Lola Ogunnaike is one of them. We're going to get a live report from her ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: This morning New York City goes green.

VELSHI: That's green. I was going to say, that's really green.

CHETRY: And you're not wearing any green.

VELSHI: Doesn't do --

CHETRY: I have on a green necklace and some small green in this.


CHETRY: So you get pinched later.

Meanwhile, it is the biggest celebration of St. Patrick's Day, and our Lola Ogunnaike, get it --

VELSHI: I like that.

CHETRY: We added an apostrophe to Lola's name. She's along the parade route right now. Five hours from now, the parade is starting, yet you have people behind you.

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The parade doesn't start until 11:00 a.m., Kiran, but we've already got spectators here. They're all the way from Houston, and they're here on vacation and they came here for the St. Patrick's Day parade. And they're not going to be alone in a few hours.

More than 150,000 marchers will be here on hand, and more than three million spectators will be here for the largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world, Kiran. They clearly got a lot of energy. We've got horns beeping. People are already excited.

And you know what, there are going to be bands. There are going to be bagpipes, and there are going to be obviously tons of people dressed in green -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Looks like fun. We have some video from last year's parade, it looks like. And keep us posted on the growing crowd this morning. We'll continue to get live shots with Lola as we see the streets of Fifth Avenue fill up.

VELSHI: It's my all-time -- it's my favorite day.

CHETRY: To what? To take off and be out of the city? VELSHI: Yes. It's a fun day because there are so many places in New York. Everybody is having a good time. You know, in Chicago they dye the river.

CHETRY: We're going to be showing some video of that as well a little bit later.

VELSHI: That's beautiful.

CHETRY: Hey, if you ever want to do something really fun, ride the subway about five hours after the parade has ended. That's an adventure.

VELSHI: This is all the green we're going to see today, by the way. I'm quite happy about this because there's no -- certainly from my part of the deal, there's just no green at all today.

CHETRY: Right.

VELSHI: It's all red.

CHETRY: No, it's quite depressing, actually when you think about it. But there could be hope on the horizon. There's a lot going on financially speaking to tell you about this morning.

Number one, though, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York swooped in to save brokerage firm Bear Stearns providing the bank with the ability to borrow, I guess, is the way that you put it...

VELSHI: Right.

CHETRY: ... $30 billion in funding so that another investment firm can take them over.

VELSHI: Right.

CHETRY: "The New York Times" though says that Bears Stearns really is a victim of its own risky lending practices saying, "What are the consequences of a world in which regulators rescue even the financial institutions whose recklessness and greed helped create the titanic credit mess we're in?" That's an opinion out of "The New York Times."

And it brings us to this morning's "Quick Vote" question. The Bear Stearns bailout, was it the right thing to do? Was it rewarding bad behavior? Or regardless of either one, you don't think it's really going to help the credit crisis at all? Which one do you agree with the most?

Cast your vote A first tally of the votes later in the hour.

And, of course, Ali, the question also is, OK, if they don't do this, is it even worse for investors...

VELSHI: Yes. CHETRY: ... if all of the major banks collapse? That there's a run on the banks, everyone is taking their money out, what happens long term?

VELSHI: This could be one of those votes where I can see myself checking all three columns. I don't know if it will help. I don't know if it might have been the right thing to do. But that is absolutely rewarding bad behavior. Bear Stearns was one of those companies that took bigger risks than the other investment banks.

CHETRY: When it came to giving loans to people.

VELSHI: Yes. They were more exposed to those packaged loans that went into the secondary market, collateralized debt obligations, all that stuff that we don't understand that was out there, well, they were a big player in that.

CHETRY: All right. Paying the price this morning.


CHETRY: $2 a share is the sale price. We'll continue to follow that for you.

You're watching the most news in the morning.

Could your son or daughter's college I.D. put them in financial trouble? One state seems to think so. We'll tell you why and what tipped off the investigation.

Also, the New Orleans - a look right now at New Orleans. Bill Clinton out there helping Brad Pitt build the lower ninth ward, the former president saying he is not concerned about race polarizing voters.

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON, UNITED STATES: Most of the Democrats like both these candidates and they're trying to figure out who would be the best president, who's likely to do things or be what I need most in a president, and who's most likely to win.

CHETRY: Sean Callebs had a one on one interview with the former president. He has a live report on what the president had to say when AMERICAN MORNING returns.


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It is 6:34 here on the east coast on this Monday. It is March 17th, St. Patrick's Day.

I'm Kiran Chetry. John Roberts has the week off.

We have some breaking news right now, overnight, Vice President Dick Cheney paying an unannounced visit to Baghdad. In fact, he's there right now flying in unannounced today, just two days before the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion. The vice president is going to be meeting with Iraq's current Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, as well as U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. Commander David Petraeus also visiting with the troops as well. He's at the beginning of what will be a ten-day tour of the Middle East. He'll be heading to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Turkey.

Also, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, touring Iraq today as well. He arrived yesterday with the congressional delegation but hasn't left the campaign behind. McCain strongly backs the troop buildup strategy, telling CNN's John King that he wants a pause in sending any more troops home and explains why he thinks the Democrats' plan to pull troops out would backfire.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The surge is working. So, I just think what that means is, al Qaeda wins. It tells the world -- they tell the world that and we fight here again and around the Middle East and their dedication is to follow us home. All I can say is, that this will be a big issue in the election.


CHETRY: After Iraq, McCain heads to Jordan, Israel, Britain and France.

The presidential candidates return to the campaign trail today. Barack Obama is in Pennsylvania and Hillary Clinton will be in Washington to deliver what's described as a major speech on Iraq.

Bill Clinton mean while is speaking out on the presidential race. He was in New Orleans over the weekend where he met with actor Brad Pitt and hundreds of volunteer in the lower ninth ward where Brad Pitt's foundation is building homes for hurricane Katrina victims.

Sean Callebs sat down with the former president and the talked turned to politics. Sean joins us from New Orleans with more this morning.

Hi, Sean.


Of course, Bill Clinton and Brad Pitt bringing their star power, if you will, to the city. The president in town as part of had his philanthropic efforts, the Clinton global initiative, focusing on hundreds of college students who came to town this weekend to promise to give back, to do community service work, but of course the height of this campaign season, you to talk with the former president about how the presidential race is shaping up.

He is, of course, his wife's most powerful surrogate out on the campaign trail, but think back to South Carolina, in February, and the controversy that was raised when Obama faithful accused Clinton of bringing race into this campaign issue. Here's what the president had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CALLEBS: Has your role in the campaign changed at all from South Carolina? Has it evolved?

CLINTON: No. No. First of all, what happened there is a total myth and a mugging, and I think it's been pretty well established. Charlie Rangel, the most important African-American official today, the chairman of the House Weighs and Means Committee, said in unequivocal terms in South Carolina, that no one in our campaign played any race card. That we had some played against us, but we didn't play any.


CALLEBS: Now over the past year, Hillary Clinton has seen her support among African-Americans drop while Barack Obama has seen his climb. Think back to Mississippi, just last week, where nine out of ten African-Americans voted for Obama. Here's what the president has to say about that.


CALLEBS: Are you concerned that this is becoming more polarized?

CLINTON: No. No. That was going to happen -- Iowa did that. People that really understand politics know that. Once African- Americans understood that they had a candidate with a serious chance to win the nomination and perhaps the presidency, then it was going to be a question of somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent were going to support him, except in areas where she had a particularly strong profile, like she got about I think about 30 percent of the African-American vote in Florida.


CALLEBS: Another major question facing Democrats, what to do about the delegates in Michigan and be in Florida? Bill Clinton says that the Democrats have to find a way to work with those delegates to involve those states, saying the Democrats can't win if they don't win Michigan and saying if, indeed, they win Florida, then they probably win the presidential race.

CHETRY: Sean Callebs in New Orleans this morning, thank you.

Right now here in New York City, rescue workers are trying to locate three people that they say are trapped underneath twisted metal and debris after a deadly crane collapse on Saturday.

This video right now, a live look at the destruction and the continuing rescue effort. They're using thermal imaging and rescue dogs after the 20-story tall crane plunged to the ground Saturday, killing four construction workers. This morning there is new questions as a report shows that a stop order was filed on the day of the accident.

CNN's Jim Acosta is live at the scene right now.

And Jim, from what you're hearing, is there hope that they'll be able to find these people or is that dwindling as we head into now two days after that accident?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Kiran, emergency crews are still calling this a rescue operation as they continue to search for the three people still believed to be trapped in the debris. The missing include two construction workers and a woman visiting New York from Miami for today's St. Patrick' Day parade.

Overnight workers did remove the main section of the fallen crane from this accident site and -- but officials here still don't know why exactly the crane's top bracing came loose suddenly from its 19th floor position, forcing all of it to come crashing down on the rest of the crane and into a townhouse and other buildings here in mid-town Manhattan.

Some residents here had worried for a long time that this crane had not been properly constructed on this site and was a safety problem.

ELLEN SWEENEY, WITNESS: It looked wobbly. It was the highest crane any of us have ever seen and it's a small street. It's not full of high rises. The noise sounded like an earthquake. That's what I thought it was.

ACOSTA: And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says now that the main section of the crane has been removed from the accident site, that should intensify the search for those missing people.


CHETRY: All right. Keep us posted. We'll check in with you throughout the morning as the efforts continue nonstop in downtown New York. Thanks a lot, Jim.

You're watching the most news in the morning. We're focusing on your finances today. The dollar hitting a new low. Oil hitting a new high. And all of it having an impact on your money. We're going to take a look at the futures and some of the other factors that are going into issue number one. Voters have said the economy, the most important thing on their minds right now. We're going to find out what's going on just ahead.


CHETRY: 15 minutes before 7:00 here on the east coast. Ali Velshi, "Minding Your Business. We call it issue number one. Voters have said the economy is the most important thing that will factor into their decision this year. It's the number one issue on their minds. We have not necessarily good news, but maybe you can break it down. We're talking about oil at an all-time high and dollar trading against the euro at an all time low.

VELSHI: You know I got into be business news 15 years ago, I was a general business reporter because someone told me you don't have to work nights and weekends. I was not banking on the fact that this would become issue number one. My lifestyle doesn't lend itself to this.

All right. Yes, it is issue number one. This is a really major problem. It's all connected. I'm going to tell you about this, Kiran. We talked about the dollar, the dollar, hitting fresh new lows against the euro. At one point this morning, $1.59 is what it would take to buy a euro. It's actually back down a little bit. In other words, the dollar has gotten a little bit stronger. $1.58 to buy a euro,$2.02 to buy a pound, $1.01 against the Canadian dollar. I think we're at a 13 year low against the yen or something like that.

The dollar is -- two things really play on the dollar. One is where interest rates are. Interest rates are going down. We expect the fed to push interest rates down tomorrow. That's part of why the dollar is low.

The other one is just general confidence in the U.S. economy. That has taken a beating.

As we talked about this on Friday, as the dollar goes down, oil prices go up. We hit $111.80 for a barrel of oil this morning and as oil prices go up, gas prices go up. $3.28.5 I think is where the national average for self-serve unleaded was this weekend. That's yet another record.

Now, we've got oil up, gas up, the dollar low, and all of that says that the U.S. economy is in some trouble and as a result, we've got markets all over the world much lower. Asian markets closing much lower this morning. In Hong Kong, 5.8 percent loss over there; 3.7 percent in Tokyo. Frankfurt, Paris and London right now are all trading lower and the Dow is looking like it will open triple digits lower.

Bear Stearns was supposed to have its earnings today. Guess what? That's not happening because I don't know if anybody knows what Bear Stearns earnings actually are going to look like.

So a lot of stuff that's going to affect people's investments today because the banking sector will all be lower, your stocks will be lower, but we will be on this all day trying to explain what's happening.

CHETRY: Bottom line, what should people do today?

VELSHI: What you should do is look at your -- make sure you're not overrepresented in financial stocks in particular. Bottom line though is that they've already had such a hair cut it may not matter at this point. You're going to see markets go lower. Don't panic. That's expected. We'll probably see some move back into markets after the fed cuts rates tomorrow again.

CHETRY: All right. Ali, thank you.

Stay with CNN, by the way, all week long. Our coverage of issue number one, the economy, it's at noon Eastern Time. Ali, Gerri Willis and many others in the best financial team on television as well, noon eastern.

Is there a link between violent video games and murder? The city of Boston is getting ready to take on the video game industry.

Also, a place where $5 gas is so last week. Prices so high there that drivers can't keep up and businesses, they may go under. How long until it happens on your street corner? It's issue number one. We're taking a look at gas prices coming up.


CHETRY: Ten minutes before 7:00 on the east coast. If you're just joining us, Alina Cho has a look at headlines including the latest unrest in Tibet.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Lots to watch. Good morning again, everybody.

New this morning a deadline of noon eastern looms in Tibet as the Chinese government tries to stop an uprising against its rule. Reports say as many as 80 people have died since the violence erupted over the weekend. Police are demanding that rioting Tibetans surrender to the military or face harsh punishment.

The United Nations says it's pulling all peacekeeping forces from Kosovo. The evacuation comes after NATO forces came under fire there. A spokesman for the U.N. says several soldiers were injured in clashes with Serbs. There are also reports of grenades being used against the international forces.

Those all in one campus I.D. cards are the target of a new investigation. According to this morning's "USA Today" New York's Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is looking into whether deals that allow college I.D.s to double as debit cards are exploiting students. The investigation is part of a larger probe into whether colleges get kickbacks from their contracts with textbook dealers and other vendors.

Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino is ready for a fight. He wants to ban kids under 17 from buying violent video games that he says ends up in the hands of 9 and 10-year-olds. Sure to be controversial. The city has seen 13 murders and most of the victims are teens. This kind of ban has been tried in other places but courts so far have blocked it.

And remember last week when Chester Santos, the memory champion, was here on AMERICAN MORNING. In case you missed it, VH-1's best ever week, enjoyed the interview. Best week ever.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On CNN's AMERICAN MORNING, the U.S. national memory champion demonstrated how to memorize the order of 26 playing cards and his super secret technique is, wait I forget.

CHETRY: How were you able to memorize a half deck of cards? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tried to create vivid images in my mind that remind me of the cards. For instance, for the first three cards, 6 of clubs for me is the Monopoly guy. I imagined him spinning ham out of his mouth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the jack of spades I would picture being trapped in a cage being made of baby's bones.


VELSHI: I kind of get that because when he's talking about the guy spitting ham.

CHO: I'm sorry.

VELSHI: I didn't understand that.

CHO: That is not going to help me.

VELSHI: 52 cards.

CHETRY: I understand. It's your visual. He says he remembers the name John by picturing toilets over the heads of person he's meeting.

VELSHI: Why not remember the name John? He remembers toilets and heads.

CHETRY: I have to remember -- we have to memorize in school all 50 states without the map.

All 50 states without, of course, you know, the states written on them and I had very strange things. I brought in the Jeffersons to remember Jefferson City, Missouri, the Jefferson --

VELSHI: That I get.

CHETRY: "Moving on up" the theme song.

VELSHI: Works for him.

CHETRY: Pressure.

CHO: From the woman who changed the stickers on the Rubik's cube.

CHETRY: You didn't solve it either.

CHO: That's right.

CHETRY: VH-1 thanks for the shout out.

The morning commute changing by the second in Atlanta. Crews racing to clean up road blocks after a tornado hit and severe storms pounded the area all weekend.

Our Ed Lavandera is trying to get to work. He's going from Cobb County into downtown Atlanta and then all the way to the CNN Center which is our home base at the epicenter of this storm Friday night.

Roads still closed, lots of tree downs everywhere and Ed, you were going to talk about gas prices being at a record high. We just had to add one more thing to make your commute nightmarish this Monday morning, right?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're right. We're knocking out two birds with one stone.

We're in Marietta driving to downtown Atlanta. We pulled out of the gas station. This commute is what thousands of people here in the Atlanta area take every day and on a good day, it could be 30 minutes, on a bad day it can be up to an hour. We pulled out of the gas station where we filled up a small Mazda for $48.

CHETRY: $48 -


LAVANDERA: On a scenic stretch of northern California highway you'll find fat gas prices at this remote gas station in the town of Gordon, over $5.20 a gallon, believed the highest in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty shocking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so high it is laughable. It's not just that's a little high, it's like oh, my gosh.

LAVANDERA: In Dallas, gas station owner John Benda sees the same pain on his customers' faces.

JOHN BENDA, GAS STATION OWNER: This guy called me up cussing at me for making all this money on fuel, charging so much. We're not making anything, really.

LAVANDERA: Benda says profit margins have never been lower; for him it's about 6 cents a gallon. He worries the high prices will force many independent station owners out of business.

BENDA: This has been the worse two months since I've been in business selling diesel because price has gone up so fast I can't raise them fast enough.

LAVANDERA: During our interview Benda got the news his gas costs had gone up again.

BENDA: Oh. 7,000 unleaded.

LAVANDERA: Within minutes, the customers outside saw the new prices post on the big board. Americans generally pay less for gas than the rest of the world. Many Europeans are paying over $8 for premium gas. But people here aren't used to such high gas prices and many analysts say that financial stress hurts the economy. TROY GREEN, AAA: It may actually take longer for it to recover because people do not have the discretionary income to buy other things, which would, of course, provide a stimulus to the economy.

LAVANDERA: And that cash shortage is force something to break the law,inspiring a rash of gasoline thefts across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn't surprise me in the least. Somebody is going to take advantage of the situation.


LAVANDERA: The latest Lumberg Survey says the average gas price in the United States is about $3.20 a gallon. AAA has it at about $3.28 a gallon. What everyone is agreeing on in the coming weeks and months gas price is expected to go up another 20 to 30 cents as well. We're in for a long haul as we head into the summer months and I'm headed into a short drive, getting on to the highway here and traffic is already coming to a standstill. We'll check in with you in a little while and wish us luck.

CHETRY: I do wish you luck now. Traffic -- is it usually pretty bad at this time, only to be made worse, or is it rare to be backed up that soon, Ed?

LAVANDERA: No. This is a tough drive here in Atlanta. Atlanta as it's grown so much in the last ten years or so, traffic has become an issue and it's very intense. We're in the suburb north of town in Marietta as we're getting on to highway 75 here. This is already an area that sees intense traffic every morning and, of course, as you get closer into downtown and that area that was hard hit by the tornadoes on Friday night, we expect to see some more complications. We'll be able to report in a little while how that's going for folks as we get closer. But this is what we're seeing out here is just an every day occurrence.

CHETRY: All right. Ed Lavandera reporting from his Mazda this morning. We'll check in with him throughout the day.

It could happen to a celebrity so it could happen to you. Dennis Quaid and his wife warning about the accidental overdose that happened at the hospital that nearly killed their newborn twins. Is it something we need to be concerned about? We get answers ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.