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Fed May Make Borrowing Money a Bit Cheaper Today; Presidential Candidates Want to Give You a Break on Surging Gas and Health Care Costs; Another Katrina Bungle

Aired April 30, 2008 - 09:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Heidi continues maternity leave.

HARRIS: You will see events come into the NEWSROOM live on this Wednesday, April 30th.

Here's what's on the rundown.

WHITFIELD: The Fed may make borrowing money a bit cheaper today. Will it help your bottom line? The economy is the "Issue #1."

HARRIS: The presidential candidates and your money. They want to give you a break on surging gas and health care costs.

WHITFIELD: And New Orleans' homeowners get cash to rebuild. Now Louisiana wants millions back. Another Katrina bungle in the NEWSROOM.

And take a look right now happening right in north Philadelphia, a very sizable church burning taking place. This is the Prince of Peace Baptist Church fully engulfed in flames at this juncture. It really does look like it's a total loss...


WHITFIELD: ...with seemingly only the frame that may remain after they are able to put out all the flames there. You can see the smoke. You can see the firefighters are certainly on the ground there and doing best they can. But this has created quite a traffic tie-up, as well, during rush hour there on Interstate 76, which is nearby.

Meantime, let's hope that no one was in any immediate danger. You see that it is in the middle of a neighborhood.


WHITFIELD: There are row houses right nearby, but we're going to hope for the best out of these live pictures right now. We'll continue to follow the developments there out of north Philadelphia.

HARRIS: All right. We will keep an eye on that. Our top story this morning, your wallet, your concerns, two major stories developing on "Issue #1," the economy. One a decision on interest rates that could reach deep into your pocket. And just minutes ago, a new development on the dreaded R word, recession. There, I said it.

CNN's senior business correspondent Ali Velshi with our money team is on the story from New York.

Where do you want to start, Ali? Let's start with GDP?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Let's start with what you just said, the R word. We are actually -- interestingly enough perhaps one step further away from a recession based on news that we just got.

We just got the reading on GDP. Now GDP is a Gross Domestic Product, it's the broadest measure of the economy that we have and it is typically the one we use to determine whether we're in a recession or not or how fast the economy is growing. We just got the first rate on GDP for the beginning of 2008 and it didn't change from the end of 2007.

The number came in at six-tenths of a percent.

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

VELSHI: Now you don't need to know much about math to know that six-tenths of a percent is not that much, but it is not different than it was at the end of 2007. So, if you thought we were sliding lower, fact of the matter is we've stayed the same. We know from other measures like home prices and foreclosures and job losses that the economy is slowing down in other places.

But the biggest measure we have, GDP, says that we haven't slowed down. That is a fairly big deal in this environment of negative news all the time.

HARRIS: And let's clarify that. You've mentioned that we've actually -- this is a number that indicates we've moved a bit farther away from recession because the classic definition of recession is what, two consecutive quarters...

VELSHI: Well, it used to be...

HARRIS: ...of negative?

VELSHI: It used to be that. It's now blurrier. The group that actually decides on a recession says a slowdown on the economy that spans several months in various measures. But generally speaking, would to know -- you'd not like to, but you'd have to see GDP negative...


VELSHI: ...and we're not negative. It's slow, it's anemic, but it's not a recession at the moment. Now this number gets revised many times.

HARRIS: That's right. That's right.

VELSHI: The folks who are paying attention to that today are the Federal Reserve. They're in a meeting. It's a two-day meeting and at 2:15 this afternoon, Tony, they're going to come out and give us a decision on interest rates. Most of the thinking is they'll cut interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point, some of the thinking is maybe they won't, because when you cut interest rates, I'll tell you what happens, money becomes cheaper to borrow.

So businesses hopefully try and expand, they hire more people, people have lower rates at which they can borrow and they spend more. That's all good news, except what tends to happen is it creates more demand and demand sometimes creates inflation what we have. So what you're expecting today, Tony, is the prime rate -- if the Fed cuts rates, the prime rate will drop by exactly the same amount that the Fed cuts rates, adjustable loans will cost less, and the U.S. dollar may start to weaken further.

HARRIS: How about that. That's why he's the leader of our money team, Ali Velshi, in New York.

Ali, great to see you.

VELSHI: Good to see you, buddy.

WHITFIELD: All right. And the money theme continues or lack thereof in many cases. Pain at the pump. Another day, another record. AAA says gas hit a new high, almost $3.62 a gallon today.

That's fueling new debate in the presidential race. Hillary Clinton and John McCain favor suspending the federal gas tax for the summer. Barack Obama calls it a political gimmick.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would immediately lower gas prices by temporarily suspending the gas tax for consumers and businesses. And we will...


CLINTON: We will pay for it by imposing a windfall profits tax on the big oil companies. They sure can afford it.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, let me tell you something. This isn't an idea designed to get you through the summer. It's an idea designed to get them through an election.


WHITFIELD: All right. Both Democrats want to impose a tax on windfall profits for the oil companies, although that cost could ultimately be passed on to consumers.

Now, earlier on CNN's AMERICAN MORNING, one oil executive said it's time for lawmakers to look at increasing domestic production.


JOHN HOFMEISTER, PRES., SHELL OIL COMPANY: The presidential candidates should be out there on the postings saying let's increase domestic production by two to three million barrels a day. That would be something that would put money back into this country, jobs back into this country, and it would bring more supply toward the Americans who need it.


WHITFIELD: Hofmeister says Washington needs to fast track drilling off the coast of Alaska and in the state's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Well, environmental concerns have bogged down those efforts for many years.

HARRIS: Now to political prescriptions for your health care.

John McCain promotes his plan again today. How does it compare to the Democrats' proposals?

Dan Lothian with the CNN Election Express in Indianapolis.

Dan, good morning to you. If you would, walk us through the plans.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Tony. And I'll do that in just a second. You know, health care really is a very important issue. We talk so much about the economy. You've been doing that this morning as well. And that is the issue that a lot of people focus on.

But health care is also at the top of the agenda. There are more than 40 million Americans who are uninsured, and so this is a critical issue. And that's why all of the candidates are coming up with their versions, their solutions.


LOTHIAN (voice over): From do it yourself to letting the federal government do it for you, all three presidential hopefuls are offering prescriptions for America's health care system.

Senator John McCain wants you to have the option of buying your own cheaper health insurance. So he would offer tax credits, $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Insurance companies could no longer take your business for granted. Offering narrow plans with escalating costs, it would help change the whole dynamic of the current system putting individuals and families back in charge. LOTHIAN: But critics say a few thousand dollars in credits would only cover a fraction of actual health care costs. For example, the average plan for a family of four is more than $12,000. And people with pre-existing conditions might be prevented from getting coverage.

The Democrats are going down a much different road. Both favor some sort of federally mandated universal health insurance but differ on just who should be covered. Senator Clinton says all Americans.

CLINTON: When it comes to health care, I believe with all my heart health care is a right, not a privilege, and everyone deserves quality, affordable health care.

LOTHIAN: Senator Obama backs a plan that would mandate coverage only for children and making sure it's affordable for everyone else.

OBAMA: I believe that the problem is not that people don't want health care. It is that they can't afford it.


LOTHIAN: Senator McCain says he opposes federally mandated universal health care coverage and he calls what the Democratic contenders are proposing, quote, "big government solutions." Tony?

HARRIS: Dan Lothian for us in Indianapolis.

Dan, appreciate it. Thank you.

And find more on the candidates at is your source for everything political.

WHITFIELD: Also making news this morning, flexing military muscle. The U.S. now has two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. The USS Abraham Lincoln arrived there Tuesday. It will replace the USS Harry S. Truman.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates insists it's not an escalation. He calls the move a reminder to Iran. It comes as Washington continues to accuse Iran of forging ahead with efforts to supply weapons and training to militants in Iraq.

Here in this country, in Florida, classes canceled today. A shooting at a Florida Atlantic University -- building in Boca Raton leaves students very tense. Police say a gunman opened fire during a party at the university village apartments. Authorities are looking for this man in the overnight shooting. A new campus PA system immediately alerted students to stay indoors.


FRANK BROGAN, PRES., FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: Within moments after it was determined that there was a shooting on campus, the siren sounded. I heard it in my own home. And the public address system was activated.


WHITFIELD: The college also issued a university-wide e-mail and posted messages on its home page.

HARRIS: Pouring more manpower on western wildfires. Planes and additional crews are being brought in to battle a fire south of Grand Canyon National Park. It has already consumed an estimated 2,000 acres. Officials think the fire was manmade.


ROBERT BLASI, TUSAYAN RANGER DIST., KAIBAB NATL. FOREST: An abandoned or unattended campfire that started it, and some folks are being interviewed currently in relation to that.


HARRIS: No structures damaged. The fire has not yet been contained.

South of Reno, crews are still battling a brushfire there. Half of the 1200-acre blaze is contained at this time. At one point yesterday, the fire briefly shut down a highway, threatened some homes and forced a school to evacuate. Officials hope to get firefighting planes in today. They believe this fire was sparked by downed power lines.

Let's get to Jacqui Jeras in the Severe Weather Center.

Jacqui, winds always a chief concern...


HARRIS: ...for firefighters trying to get the upper hand on these western wildfires.


WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. Yes. More drought, more fires.

HARRIS: And speaking of that -- absolutely. Speaking of that we've got another fire out west.

Our friends in Los Angeles contending with this, this morning at the start of the morning rush. Take a look at this. We understand a Hollywood restaurant is on fire there. Firefighters are battling this blaze inside a restaurant bar area at the (INAUDIBLE).

Boy, you look at these pictures, it's spread beyond the bar area. The corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Hollywood.

Yes, right there. That's it.

WHITFIELD: You couldn't get any more famous of an intersection there in Hollywood. Hollywood and Vine.

HARRIS: And speaking of famous, you know the big Capitol Records Building, with the signature...


HARRIS: Yes. Yes. We're going to see it in just a moment. There it is. There it is. You see it there at the bottom left of your screen? Capitol Records, there it is. That signature structure there in Los Angeles.

WHITFIELD: That's the landmark.

HARRIS: Absolutely a landmark. This is about a block away or so, as you can tell by looking at that picture.

Our affiliate in Los Angeles KABC providing these pictures for us. So you can imagine that scene there in Hollywood pretty congested this morning as folks begin the morning commute. We will keep an eye on that for you. And no word yet of any injuries associated with that fire. But we'll keep watching.

WHITFIELD: All right. And this story is still so disturbing to hear. A daughter held captive for 24 years. Well, now reunited with the children snatched from her arms. Could her abusive father avoid prosecution?

CNN's Phil Black is in Amstetten, Austria this morning.

And Phil, why haven't police filed charges against this man when he already admitted, didn't he, that he had carried out all of these alleged crimes against his daughter?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, the police say they want to take their time on this, really, and do it slowly and do it well. They have him in custody. They have him -- police plan to keep him in custody for an undisclosed period at this time. So he's not going anywhere. And police want to find out precisely how he was able to conceal his crimes for such a long period of time, for 24 years.

Now his lawyer has spoken and given an insight, if you like, into his mindset. And he describes him as an emotionally broken man. He says he's been hit very hard by the fact that his plot has fallen apart and that he is now in custody.

Now, this suspect, Josef Fritzl, has confessed to locking up his daughter, fathering seven children. DNA tests now prove that to be the case as well. It's a tough job for this lawyer. What's he going to do? Well, he says that he believes that Josef Fritzl should undergo a strong assessment of his mental state. It may not excuse him of his crimes but it could determine the extent of his guilt and just how he should be punished.

Let's hear this lawyer's thoughts on that subject now.


RUDOLF MAYER, JOSEF FRITZL'S LAWYER (Through translator): This case certainly requires a thorough psychiatric and psychological examination. It has to be determined whether sanity is a given. If this is the case, also a psychiatric disorder is possible, which doesn't lead to mental incapacity, but nevertheless is essential for the assessment of the guilt of the suspect. And the extent of the guilt determines the extent of the penalty.


BLACK: Josef Fritzl's lawyer says he has already been the victim of some hostility for his decision to represent this man, but he's determined to do so because he believes he deserves a fair trial -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. So now let's go back to the daughter being reunited with the children. I guess the children were taken away when they were babies anyway. Did they even know that she was the mother?

BLACK: Certainly it's complex. It's a mix. So there were...


BLACK: ...six children in all that have survived the ordeal of living under this house. Three were kept underground. Three were allowed to live in the house above as part of the community. Now they have all met for the very first time. All but one child, actually. Five children. Elisabeth, the mother of them and her mother, Rosemary, who lived in the house above for 24 years seemingly unaware that all this was going on within such a close geographic proximity.

The psychiatrist who were there in the room where they met described the meeting as astonishing. They say it went very well, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Oh my gosh.

All right. How about some new video now? I'm still hanging on just trying to envision these children and this young lady reuniting.

Let's move forward and talk about some new video here of Fritzl showing him in Thailand. What else do we know?

BLACK: Yes, that's right. According to local newspaper reports here, this was something he liked to do on a fairly regular basis. He jet off to Thailand to relax on the beaches there. And this new video that shows him strutting around in his swim wear on the beach there seemingly having a great time.

The question, though, is how he was able to do this, and particularly how was he able to do this regularly while leaving this second secret family hidden, locked up in this cellar beneath his home where he left his other family living, as well, while he was gone? It's an extraordinary situation. Logistically, police believe that maybe he left some -- he left enough food for them in that locked-up place to sort of look after themselves while he was off having a great time, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: I didn't think this story could get any more bizarre.

HARRIS: It just did.

WHITFIELD: It's just reached a whole new level.

All right. Phil Black, thanks so much. I know you're going to continue to follow it as we will here at CNN throughout the day -- Tony.

HARRIS: Dozens of deaths linked to contaminated drug. Is it in your medicine cabinet? Dr. Sanjay Gupta will have details.


WHITFIELD: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredericka Whitfield.

"Grand Theft Auto," grab and go. Police say the new game led to some sticky fingers.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell him to stop.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell him to stop.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Do you want to get tased?



WHITFIELD: Don't tase me.


WHITFIELD: All right. Well, he's in the back seat. He was the driver no longer.

The story in the NEWSROOM.

ANNOUNCER: CNN NEWSROOM brought to you by...


WHITFIELD: We want to update you on two fires taking on East Coast. Let's start with the East Coast in Philadelphia, north Philadelphia, on the left of your screen. You're seeing a church that was fully engulfed. Firefighters have the upper hand now because earlier, less than 30 minutes ago, you were seeing a lot more smoke and flames. But right now it's taking place at the Prince of Peace Baptist Church, and certainly it looks like extensive damage now. Firefighters, as you see there, on the rooftop, getting a better view of things.

On the right side of your screen, Los Angeles, the very famed Hollywood and Vine, a fire very actively burning there at a restaurant...


WHITFIELD: the 6200 block of Hollywood Boulevard.

HARRIS: Man, look at that.

WHITFIELD: This taking place just across the street from the same Capitol Records Building as we saw earlier. And you could see right there in this tighter view, kind of the rooftop view, of the fire that they are battling there.

More information as we get it, Tony.

HARRIS: In news about your health this morning, heart wrenching stories about a tainted drug. A congressional panel hears from people who lost loved ones to contaminated heparin.


COLLEEN HUBLEY, LOST HUSBAND: I watched my husband and my best friend slip away before my eyes. As a nurse, I thought that I would be there to save my husband from any errors but I guess I was naive. I never thought the life-saving medication we are relying on might be contaminated.


HARRIS: Lawmakers blasted the FDA for approving the Chinese plant where the drug was made without inspecting it.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here.

And Sanjay, do we know who is responsible for this contamination? Sounds like we - we're -- the attention is focused on this plant in China.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. They haven't been able to pinpoint exactly, but you're absolutely right. And it seems to have been much more widespread than I think they originally thought, about 11 countries probably involved in this.

Keep in mind, heparin is a blood thinner, a commonly used one. And part of the difficulty here is that people who take it often have some sort of medical problem in the first place.

HARRIS: Yes. GUPTA: So did the death or the injury -- was it caused by the illness or was it caused by the heparin? That's part of the challenge the FDA has. And you saw some of that very sad testimony there.

But let me give you an idea of just how widespread this is. It looks like about 11 countries have been affected by this. And two of the countries, United States and Germany, so far, have reported adverse effects even deaths, 81 deaths. But again, no specific cause or link.

What do we know? We know that it is caused by this plant in China. They've been able to use some sophisticated testing to figure that out. They know that that plant hadn't been inspected for sometime. And they know that this active ingredient called chondroitin sulphate, the name's not that important, but if it's contaminated causes an allergic reaction, causes a blood pressure drop, causes heart problems, and possibly death. That's where it stands right now, Tony.

HARRIS: Boy, I'm thinking of -- got a couple of different questions but I'm looking -- and I won't steal your thunder on this, but the statement from Baxter International, the pharmaceutical.


HARRIS: And I'm just wondering, could this contamination have been deliberate?

GUPTA: You know, as horrifying as that sounds...


GUPTA: It sounds like it very much could have been, and that's exactly where Baxter is sort of pointing the finger.


GUPTA: They released the statement specifically and the testimony saying, "We are alarmed that one of our products was used in what appears to have been a deliberate scheme to adulterate what's a lifesaving medication."

Now, you know, as we investigate this a little bit, what seems to be at the heart of this is that the FDA agrees with that as well. This could have been deliberately adulterated, more because of the desire to save money as oppose to the desire to injure or harm.

HARRIS: Really?

GUPTA: Yes, because the contaminated ingredients, it turns out, much cheaper than the ingredient they should have been using. You know we heard about this before, Tony, with melamine.

HARRIS: Yes. That's right. That's right.

GUPTA: The pet foods, the protein content in pet foods, the same sort of thing could be the cause here. It's not finalized yet, but that's where everything...

HARRIS: I'm just -- sort of a bottom line, base line question on this, if you have this in your medicine cabinet, is there a recommendation at this point? Is Baxter saying anything about what should be done, some guidance here?

GUPTA: I think what we can say now is that the contaminated products that they have investigated and they pulled off, those have all been pulled off the shelves and pharmacies.


GUPTA: If you have heparin in your cabinet -- it's an IV medication, so most of them don't keep them in their medicine cabinet.


GUPTA: If it's contaminated products in hospitals should no longer be there at this point. So it caused harm but going forward, it should be safe.

HARRIS: Sanjay, appreciate it. Thank you.

GUPTA: Thanks, Tony.

HARRIS: Yes, thanks, man.

Overcrowded, overwhelmed. And later in the CNN NEWSROOM," this man is back, Dr. Sanjay Gupta checks up on New Orleans' hospitals.


HARRIS: Almost three years after Hurricane Katrina. You want to stay tuned for that.

Thanks, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Rebuilding. Yes.


WHITFIELD: It's encouraging.

Fierce gun battles in Kabul. Afghan officials report seven people killed including a woman and child with ties to militants. Security forces today raiding several homes in the hunt linked to Sunday's assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai.

A government official has allegedly confessed to taking part in the attack on a military ceremony. But this morning Afghanistan's intelligence chief blames militants from Pakistan for the attack.

The president escaped unharmed, but a lawmaker and tribal leader and a child were killed.

Well, back at the ranch, the Texas polygamist sect closing their doors but not done talking. Hear what they have to say right now.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN, the most trusted name in news. Now to the CNN NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: All right. Here in the CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

HARRIS: And I'm Tony Harris. Good -- hey, Fred.


HARRIS: Good morning, everyone. Just about the half hour, which means it's time for the opening bell.

Feel it, listen to it, take it in. And now let's get to work.

OK. So as we get the business day started, the Dow starts the day at 12831. Fred, after dropping 39 points yesterday, kind of down day on Wall Street. The largest media conglomerate in the world, the parent of CNN, Time Warner, reported some disappointing earnings for the first quarter. Ouch. My 401k.

All right, everyone, everyone, everyone listening, go see "Batman" this summer.

A Fed cut today, if it happens, how will stocks respond?

Susan Liscovicz watching the markets for us in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And keep watching CNN. Our money team has you covered, whether it is jobs, debt, your savings. It is "Issue #1," the economy. Join us for a special report all this week noon Eastern only on CNN.

WHITFIELD: And more on those fires that we're watching on both coasts.

A huge fire got a church in the strawberry mansion section of Philadelphia. The Prince of Peace Baptist Church went up in flames this morning. Local reports say the church was built 1905 and at one time served as a public school.

Power lines also caught fire. Transformers exploded. Nearby streets were shut down. No word yet on exactly what sparked the blaze. It's impacted a lot of people there in north Philadelphia.

Meantime another spectacular blaze we're following, this one in Hollywood. It's at an unoccupied restaurant at Hollywood and Vine. That's across from Capitol Records. 40-foot flames shot through the roof. Smoke can be seen for miles.

HARRIS: One more child in state custody, a baby born in Texas to a teenaged girl taken from that polygamist compound.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman has more from Eldorado, Texas.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The welcome mat has been pulled from the polygamist ranch in Texas. The gates are once again locked to outsiders. The interviews with FLDS members whose children were taken away by the state are no longer being arranged. So we have to do interviews the way we used to at these Warren Jeffs followers, by going up to them outside their gate.

(On camera): What is it like without the children being here right now?

JAKE, FLDS MEMBER: Oh, it's sad really. It's quiet. We need -- you know, we just love children. They're beautiful things. They're beautiful people.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Jake is a devoted FLDS member. He wouldn't tell me if he has children who were taken.

(On camera): I'll just ask you, how do you feel right now about how things are going here?

JAKE: I'm a little disappointed in America, pretty much. I mean, I just can't believe this could happen in a free country.

TUCHMAN (voice over): But authorities say it's happened because of widespread abuse.

Out of 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 who have been taken by the state, more than half, 31, are pregnant or have been pregnant according to authorities who say they've learned this through pregnancy tests or talking to the teens. They also say one teen gave birth to a baby on Tuesday afternoon. But one FLDS member angrily denies much of this.

UNIDENTIFIED FLDS MEMBER: I know for a fact that many of those children would not take that test and they put them down as pregnant when they would not take the test. With that same measure, all of them in here are pregnant.

TUCHMAN (on camera): That's important. That's exactly why we want to talk to you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FLDS MEMBER: Well, it's inflammatory and they, they know that it's wrong.

TUCHMAN (on camera): So, basically you're saying...

UNIDENTIFIED FLDS MEMBER: If they could prove five cases, they will be, they will be lucky.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Other numbers are also eye-opening. Of the 463 children placed in foster care, there's an almost even split between the younger ones, 197 girls, 196 boys. The remaining older teens are the 53 girls we mentioned before and only 17 boys. CAROLYN JESSOP, FORMER SECT MEMBER: There's going to be far more women that same age or girls that age because a lot of these girls are married to men that are there on the compound. So if one man has several wives, then there will be a lot more girls, you know, that age than there are boys.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Lawyers for the FLDS say the state's numbers and claims are inaccurate, and so do the followers.

(On camera): So do you think ultimately you'll win the legal battle?

JAKE, FLDS MEMBER: I hope so. I mean, they don't have any standing. It's all false allegations.

TUCHMAN (voice over): All day long vehicles drive into the fenced ranch and they drive out. Most of the license plates we see are from Utah and Arizona, where the church is headquartered.

(On camera): Sir, can I ask you a quick question?

(Voice over): Most of the men are back to the familiar pattern of ignoring us. Where they're going in their vehicles is not known, but there are no children to be seen.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Eldorado, Texas.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk weather right now, particularly some really nasty weather that's impacted the Mississippi River.

Jacqui Jeras is in the Weather Center -- Jacqui?



HARRIS: Oh yes.

WHITFIELD: Well, this seemingly has been a very aggressive spring season. Does it seem more so than usual or is it about average?


JERAS: You mean in terms of tornadoes and severe weather?

WHITFIELD: Yes, tornadic activity and flooding.

HARRIS: And flooding.

JERAS: It -- you know...

WHITFIELD: And also hail. JERAS:'s probably more typical that what we've seen in terms of tornadoes in the last month or so but we had a realty early start.

HARRIS: Yes, sure.

JERAS: If you remember, February, we had a very significant tornado outbreak, so we saw things earlier in the season than you normally would.

HARRIS: Good point. Good job.

WHITFIELD: Yes. All right. Thank you, Jacqui.


WHITFIELD: All right. Something that is hurting everybody, gas prices. How to lower the prices at the pump is the question. A gas tax holiday is one idea. Would it work? We take a closer look.

ANNOUNCER: The "Opening Bell" brought to you by...


WHITFIELD: In New Orleans, first comes the grant, then comes the bill.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We overestimated the damages to your house and you owe us $13,000.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What did you think when you saw the letter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went ballistic.


WHITFIELD: Yes, no kidding. Contractors' mistakes mean more misery for already...


WHITFIELD: ...withering rebuilding residents. What CNN uncovered straight ahead.

HARRIS: High gas prices, presidential candidates weigh in, but will one idea that may sound good fall flat in the end?

Here's CNN's Carol Costello.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For cash-trapped consumers any reduction in gas prices would be like, well, like Santa coming into town early, or so it seemed on the stump.

CLINTON: I would immediately lower gas prices by temporarily suspending the gas tax for consumers and businesses.

COSTELLO: Actually, it was John McCain who first proposed a suspension of federal taxes on gas for the summer travel season from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

MCCAIN: Wouldn't it be nice if the next time that you went to fill up your gas tank that 18 cents a gallon less you'd pay at the gas pump?

COSTELLO: Ah, that sounds nice, but Santa aside, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Those federal highway taxes pay for things like road construction and bridge repair, something that was really important just last year when the I-35 Bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people.

Politicians were singing a different tune then.

CLINTON: I want to make modernizing our nation's infrastructure as a backbone of our prosperity.

COSTELLO: Clinton now suggests taxing oil companies to make up for the money lost to her proposed holiday gas tax. But would that make up the shortfall?

According to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, both Clinton and McCain's idea would drain the federal highway fund by $3 billion per month, creating a $12 billion shortfall. Not only that, but it would put at risk 310,750 highway construction jobs.

Many experts think it's all just politics.

STEVE BUCKSTEIN, CASCADE POLICY INST.: In this case, it's I think unfortunately more of a political gimmick. It won't really lower the cost to drivers significantly. It will increase the deficit in the highway trust fund and just lead to more politicizing of highway funding.

COSTELLO: Buckstein agrees with the only presidential candidate not in favor of a gas tax holiday, Barack Obama.

OBAMA: It's an idea that some economists think might actually raise gas prices because folks will start using more gas and demand will go up.

COSTELLO: One more thing, to institute the holiday, a bill would have to pass through both House and Senate at lightning speed, something not likely to happen by Memorial Day.

(On camera): And experts say there are a number of ways to save money on gas. An example, change the traffic patterns to ease congestion. But that's not as sexy as a holiday gas tax.

Carol Costello, CNN, Washington.


HARRIS: More money in your pockets during the summer travel season? The summer vacation season with your kids and the rebate check? The NEWSROOM interview next hour.

WHITFIELD: And "Grand Theft Auto," grab and go. Police say the new game led to sticky fingers.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell him to stop.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell him to stop.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Do you want to get tased?


WHITFIELD: Sticky fingers and stomping feet. He's a backseat driver now.


WHITFIELD: All right. Some gamers are getting a little crazy over "Grand Theft Auto 4." Police in San Diego say a man maced two employees at a video game shop, then ran off with two copies of the new blockbuster release "Grand Theft Auto 4." He was not a happy captive.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell him to stop.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell him to stop.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Do you want to get tased?


WHITFIELD: That aside, "Grand Theft Auto" is taking gaming to a whole new level. It could become the best-selling item in entertainment history.

Veronica de la Cruz is here. How are you?

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: How are you? It's so nice to be here.

WHITFIELD: Good to see you in person. It's been a while.

DE LA CRUZ: It has. It has.

WHITFIELD: In person again. OK. "Grand Theft Auto," people are going crazy over this.

DE LA CRUZ: Nuts. We just saw that video.

WHITFIELD: Why is it so popular?

DE LA CRUZ: Well, let's go and just break down these numbers, because, like you were saying, this could be the best-selling item...


DE LA CRUZ: entertainment history. Most video game publishers are happy selling, what, 100,000 copies? Well, this game is expected to sell six million to 12 million copies.

Let's go ahead and give you even more perspective on just how big this is, Fredricka. Take a look at this. The top three grossing pictures of all time.


DE LA CRUZ: "Titanic." That brought in, what? $600 million in domestic sales, they came out, well, 11 years ago.


DE LA CRUZ: Followed by "Star Wars," also "Shrek 2."

"Grand Theft Auto," Fredricka, a video game, a video game, predicted to bring in $400 million in the first week alone...


DE LA CRUZ: ...and then at about $60 a pop, $90 for the special edition, who know what this game is going to end up grossing when all is said and done. And part of the reason for the success is it is available for both Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, that's...

WHITFIELD: They spread it out.

DE LA CRUZ: Exactly. It hasn't really happened before and in fact those video game continue are also expected to get a boost just because of the release of this video game. So, "Grand Theft Auto IV" doing huge numbers, they're saying $400 million in the first week.

WHITFIELD: OK. Why are people surprised in that it's so violent? I could have sworn even when the first one came out, people were talking about how it was violent. It's not appropriate for young people.

DE LA CRUZ: No, no.

WHITFIELD: And a lot of these videos are really appealing to the 30-something-year-old anyway. People forget about that.

DE LA CRUZ: Yes. Yes. You know, the demographic definitely has changed. They are saying this is not kids. This is a game targeted to those over the age of 18 and it's getting an M rating. Experts are saying that the graphics, the graphics, it's what's doing it. That's the best part of this game.

WHITFIELD: Because it's very real looking?

DE LA CRUZ: Look at it. I mean the game itself also.

WHITFIELD: It's kind of freaky really.

DE LA CRUZ: Highly interactive. You're thrown into this virtual world. You interact there with tons of different characters. A lot of them returned from "Grand Theft Auto" past. You get to pick a car, Fredricka, you choose a girlfriend, you hang out with these mobsters in this seedy underworld. You can think "Sopranos," and then on top of it, so interactive that you play against people from all around the world, 16 people at a time. So gaming experts are giving this game some of the highest marks out there.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh.


SCOTT STEINBERG, PUBLISHER, DIGITALTRENDS.COM: You are going to have a living, breathing, 3D cityscape full of thousands of people who walk, talk, eat, go about their own daily routine that you can interact with. The story line is much more cinematic. The characters are much deeper. You've got a beautiful world in which to play and in many new ways.


WHITFIELD: Wow. People are hooked.

DE LA CRUZ: They are.

WHITFIELD: So how does this compare to the other ones?

DE LA CRUZ: The old ones? Well, again, there's the M rating which means it's available to those over 18.

WHITFIELD: Of mature.

DE LA CRUZ: Mature, it's a mature rating. There is a lot of violence. There's even a fair deal of sexual content. Players can pick up prostitutes. They can go to strip clubs. They can get lap dances.

WHITFIELD: What in the world?

HARRIS: Right.

DE LA CRUZ: It's something that you want to keep out of the hands of your kids. But unlike the release of "Grand Theft Auto 3" -- that was San Andreas back in 2004 -- there is less controversy this time around, and Fredricka, it's probably because people are realizing that the game is not for kids.

The market has expanded to attract this broader audience, which is why it's pulling in huge numbers. And again, it is rated M for mature, which does mean that it is only for those over the age of 17. In fact, there were kids standing in line for this game and they were not allowed to purchase it.

WHITFIELD: So you got to have an ID.

DE LA CRUZ: You have to have an ID to buy this game. So this is not a kids' game.

WHITFIELD: Well, maybe there's less controversy, too, because people have gotten used to...

HARRIS: There you go, Fred.

WHITFIELD: ...the association of word "Grand Theft Auto."


DE LA CRUZ: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: I used to remember when the first one came. My nephew wanted to get it and my sister said no.

DE LA CRUZ: Said no. No.

WHITFIELD: What, no. You're crazy so.

DE LA CRUZ: I mean you got to know what stuff are on there.

WHITFIELD: I mean (INAUDIBLE), you know, he was like 15.

DE LA CRUZ: On that note, there are some great Web sites out there, there's one called, and that breaks down the content of video games. If you are parents and you're scared of what your child is playing, you can log on to these Web sites and you can read all about it.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and you have to. You got to look at this stuff because it may seem a little nebulous on the cover sometimes, but, hello, I say "Grand Theft Auto," I mean just the title alone.

HARRIS: That should do it.

WHITFIELD: It raised a red flag.

DE LA CRUZ: And they happen to go with game ratings these days.


DE LA CRUZ: M for mature means M for mature.


DE LA CRUZ: It's 17 up so (INAUDIBLE).

WHITFIELD: Easy to understand.

Thanks so much, Veronica. Great to see you.

DE LA CRUZ: It's nice to see you.

WHITFIELD: Good to see you, too.

HARRIS: On the break, new numbers, new concerns about a recession, what we've learned and what it means in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Want to take you to South Bend, Indiana right now. There she is, New York senator Hillary Clinton at a campaign event there, and she is talking gas prices.

CLINTON: ...and particularly for truck drivers, I think that'll make a big difference. And there's another reason I want to do this. We've got to start building the political will to go after the oil companies. You know, at the turn of the last century, Teddy Roosevelt took on the oil companies. We need a president who's going to take on the oil companies again. And I will do that. I will take away their tax subsidies. They don't need them to make these outrageous profits.

We will try to do everything we can to get them to pay the gas tax this summer. If we're not successful because of President Bush's opposition or the Republicans not going along with it, well, we're going to try and we're going to start building the political will to take on the oil companies when I'm president. We're also going to get tough on OPEC. I'm tired of OPEC setting the price and determining how much supply there is. By any definition, that's a monopoly, and we're going to use every tool at our disposal as a nation to try to break that up.

Nine of the 13 biggest oil-producing countries in OPEC belong to the World Trade Organization, and we're going to file complaints. We're going to start taking the covers off of what goes on and try to figure out how they make these decisions, and hold them accountable.

And here at home, we're going to change the antitrust laws to go after this international cartel. We have got to start standing up if we're going to be able to protect the pocketbooks of hardworking Americans like those here at this company. Now, we have to do more than that, however. We've got to have a long-term strategy, something we have been woefully deficient in, and that long-term strategy means that we've got to go after the dependence on foreign oil. And I have proposed a very comprehensive strategy. Those of you who are interested, go to my Web site, You can read all about what I would do.

I would create a strategic energy fund to start investing in putting new technologies on a fast track. You know, there are cars being test driven today on American roads that get at least 100 miles per gallon. You know, I think that we have to figure out how we're going to put cars like that into production, how we're going to make it more commercially available. So, I've put forth a bunch of ideas to help our auto companies and our autoworkers make that transition.

You know, I was struck -- a couple months ago when I was talking about this, a man who knows a lot about cars said to me, something I've repeated all over America, said, you know, if Henry Ford came back today and he went out to the parking lot and looked at any of your cars, he'd be amazed at all the bells and whistles we have, how big they are, how comfortable they are, how they have computers and all that.

But if he lifted up the hood, he would recognize the internal combustion engine.

HARRIS: All right. Let's -- I want to direct you to if you'd like to see more of this event and hear more of Hillary Clinton's thoughts on a moratorium. That's her idea, a moratorium on the federal gas tax of 18 -- is it 18.4?

WHITFIELD: Right. 18.4 cents.

HARRIS: Yes. 18.4 cents. Just...

WHITFIELD: A gallon.

HARRIS: A gallon. Thank you. Just in line for the summer driving season.

Once again,

Gas pains -- how do you spell relief? A moratorium, maybe? Suspending? OK.


HARRIS: Would it help? Walking.

WHITFIELD: Just kidding.

HARRIS: An expert weighs in minutes from now right here in the NEWSROOM.