Return to Transcripts main page


Midwest Waits for Mississippi River to Crest; McCain Stumps on Free Trade; Save Cash: Growing Your own Food

Aired June 20, 2008 - 12:00   ET


ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Floods threaten people along the Mississippi River.
Will the levees hold?

A familiar face from presidential campaigns past returns with a trillion dollar message for the candidates and how to save a whole lot of cash by growing your own food.

Issue #1 is the economy. ISSUE #1 starts right now.

Hello, everyone, I'm Ali Velshi, welcome to ISSUE #1.

It's a busy Friday ahead. Folks along the Mississippi river are bracing for more flooding, hoping that those levees can hold back the water. This as we start to get an idea of the real long-term economic impact of those record floods.

Senator John McCain is heading north of the border to Canada to talk about an issue that's very important to people here in the United States. We're going to check that out. And as we head into the weekend, we are looking at organic food and home grown food to see if it'll help save you money. Well, from ISSUE #1 headquarters in the newsroom, we're all over the stories that matter to you.

Gerri, the big story all week, those devastating floods in the Midwest.


We begin right there with that story. The Mississippi river, the big muddy expected to crest in St. Louis today. Authorities have reported levee breaks in areas north of the city.

Our Ed Lavandera is in Clarksville, Missouri about 70 miles north of St. Louis -- Ed.


Well, you guys are wondering if the levees will be able to hold today. We're actually in a unique town, Clarksville doesn't have levees. That's why we're standing on top of this sandbag wall which stretches along the front edge of the city. Everything to the left as you see it is the Mississippi River. The only thing that's holding back an onslaught of water are these bags and you also see these pumps that are pumping water that has gotten back into behind this wall, behind into the river.

We spoke with a gentleman here who lives in this apartment complex just right on the edge who hasn't evacuated. His name is David Wright. When we first got here this morning, he seemed a little bit tense and a little bit disturbed with what was going on. But what we've seen here in the last few hours has really made him relax and he's had a smile on his face the last time we saw him as the water levels are starting to go down.


DAVID WRIGHT, CLARKSVILLE RESIDENT: Sigh of relief. We could have had a lot worse. It could have been a lot worse. We actually battled the elements so far and we've beat -- until it gets down into the inside of the banks, we've still got a problem.


LAVANDERA: And we've been using this light pole here as a gauge throughout the morning. We've seen the water levels, you can see a little bit above where the water mark was when we first got here. That has dropped a little bit. It continues to do so slowly. But of course that has come at the expense of other people downstream. St. Louis is that way and you get down to towns like Winfield where we've talked a lot more about levee breaks and that's where more of that levee concern remains.

So the people here know that while the water has dropped here, it comes at the expense of other situations and putting other neighborhoods at risk. So down there, they continue sandbagging as they continue to do here. We are refortifying the sandbag wall and making sure that everything holds as the Mississippi River eventually hopefully in the coming days retreats back to where it's supposed to be which is way out there, Gerri.

WILLIS: Wow, Ed, what a sight with all of that water, the sandbags. I've got to think that day-to-day life, the usual stuff, it's all stopped. What is the economic impact there? Are businesses operating?

LAVANDERA: They are, but everything's on kind of a rudimentary basis. Everyone is intensely working on this problem, obviously and this is a community that kind of plays to that -- the Mississippi River steam boats and kind of that old 1800s kind of Mark Twain kind of feel. But you look along this street and these streets are filled with antique shops and it's a very quaint, beautiful town.

As we drove in, it's hilly, just behind it, you can tell it's the kind of area where maybe people from St. Louis or from wherever come here for weekend getaways and that sort of thing. Clearly, that's not happening the way it normally does. And I would imagine that they're incredibly anxious to get back to that kind of routine.

WILLIS: Ed, Mark twain, you mentioned him, Hannibal, Missouri, was his hometown, just right up the street?

LAVANDERA: Just upstream, we were there yesterday.

WILLIS: Well, Ed, thanks for your time today. We appreciate your help. Thank you.

VELSHI: Like so many members of our team, Allan Chernoff has seen that devastation with his own eyes. He spent the last few days in the flood zones, just come back.

All week you brought us incredible pictures of those farms, entire farms under water, coming from the heartland where so much of our food is grown.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And Ali, this really shows you how important corn is.

Have a look at this. This is what you can buy at the airport in Des Moines and only in Iowa will you see something like this. Iowa, the number one producer of corn and soybeans. And when you look at these pictures, it's just absolutely devastating to see miles and miles of corn fields and soybean fields now just all covered. And it's just -- it's just an astounding sight from the air to see a river basically looking like a sea, a lake where no lake had existed previously, absolutely devastating.

The big question now for everyone is will farmers in some areas, obviously the stuff you're looking at now, that's gone for the year. But there are many areas where there was so much rain earlier, but now it's beginning to dry out. And so can farmers replant?

Well, there is rain forecast for this weekend. Hopefully it's not going to be too much. The farmers are hoping to replant, at least some corn and soybeans this week and especially next week -- Ali.

VELSHI: There is one story of the people there and the devastation that they're feeling and the other one is the effect that everybody else will be feeling. Before these floods, we saw corn at record prices and there was a bumper crop because more farmers were planting it because of those prices. Now what's going to happen to corn? And what's the effect of that further down?

CHERNOFF: The farmers had been expecting to get record revenue this year because of the very high price of corn. That's obviously not happening now. And at the same time, you're seeing corn continue to rise because of all of these floods, less corn is going to be harvested. It's going to end up affecting not only the farmers, but us as consumers. And it'll hit us not only for the price of corn. There's so many products that include corn. Anything used with a corn sweetener, think about soybeans, as well. Soybean oils, soy protein, it's in so many of our products.

VELSHI: As you pointed out, it feeds the cows that give us milk. It feeds a whole lot of livestock. Some of that livestock they won't be able to feed now are becoming too expensive, so there'll be less meat out there. This is just something that affects absolutely everybody out there and Allan you're on it. You've been on it for a while. Thank you for that. WILLIS: All right. It's been a busy week for issue #1. And that brings us to today's quick vote where you get to weigh in. Poppy Harlow from is here with today's question.

Hi there, Poppy.


People out there have been telling us the economy is their number one issue. That's why on this show every day we bring you the biggest economic issues. But we want to hear from you. What do you care about most right now? Here's our question today. What was the top economic story of this week, airline surcharges, Midwest floods, mortgage arrests or offshore oil drilling?

Please weigh in on We'll bring you those results a little later in the show -- Gerri.

WILLIS: Very different questions. I look forward to hearing the answer.

Up next, could a big meeting in Saudi Arabia this weekend make a big difference in the price you pay at the pump?

Plus, we talk to one congressman who has a very interesting plan to fix our energy problems in the future.

And we'll show you how growing your own food is not only healthy, but good for your bank account, as well. We'll all over issue #1, the economy, right here on CNN. Stay with us.


VELSHI: Well, there are a lot of plans out there to fix our energy problems. One of the most far-reaching that I've seen comes from Representative Randy Forbes of Virginia. He's calling for what he calls a new Manhattan project. It would make the U.S. energy independent in 20 years. Representative Forbes joins me now from Washington.

Thanks for being with us.

Tell us about this plan. You're calling it the new Manhattan project. What's the implication? What does that actually mean?

REP. J. RANDY FORBES (R) VIRGINIA: Well, Ali, as you know back in World War II, when we had a major struggle and how we would defend freedom and create the atom bomb, everybody said it couldn't happen. We brought the best and brightest minds together and it did happen and we did the impossible. 1960 when President Kennedy talked about putting somebody on the moon, everybody laughed, thought it was absurd, we brought the best talent we had across the country and we were able to put somebody on the moon within the decade.

We believe right now that the average American person thinks this oil crisis belongs either to the oil companies, the politicians of foreign dictators. The new Manhattan project just begins to come back and says we're going to bring the best brightest minds of the country and we're going to reach that goal instead of just talking about it.

VELSHI: We applaud you for the leadership. It's going to take money and we'll get to that in a second. But tell me in very brief terms, what it is you think we can do. You talk about achieving energy independence within 20 years, meaning 100 percent of our power, whatever way we generate it will be generated in America.

FORBES: First, Ali, we do three things. The first thing we do is establish a commission of the best and brightest scientists and engineers we have in the country and we task them with the challenge of coming back to us in a year with a plan that's going to give us 50 percent more energy independent in 10 years and 100 percent in 20 years. Secondly, we set a whole host of prizes to the American private sector and say if you can reach one of these goals for us, we're going to pay you a substantial sum of money.

It's been proven over and over again if we do that, American businesses and individuals will spend 40 to 50 times that to try to reach and attain those goals. And the final thing we do is actually put dollars towards research and capabilities around the country to hopefully inspire a whole new generation of young people in math and science and engineering so they can help us attain this challenge.

VELSHI: Congressman, let me tell our viewers very briefly, you are talking about doubling fuel efficiency standards to 70 miles per gallon. We're not even at 30 right now, cutting home and business energy use in half, making solar power work at the same cost as coal, making biofuel production the same price, cost competitive with gas, neutralize nuclear waste and containing the emissions from coal using more nuclear fission. What kind of response have you had to this?

FORBES: Well, one of the things that we see from the American people is that whenever we give them big standards and big goals, they reach out and grab them. I think one of the problems we've had so far is we've been tackling this one too small a scale. We've been in the weeds instead of going up and giving a great life size challenge that people can reach. I think when we do it, the American people will rise to the challenge and I think we'll meet this challenge like we did with the Apollo situation and like we did with the first Manhattan project.

VELSHI: Have you talked to the presidential candidates about this?

FORBES: The presidential candidates have been going around talking about it a lot. We've had other people talking and we just felt it was time that we stopped talking and actually put a bill forward and began moving the dialogue and the debate. That's why we drafted this and put it forward.

VELSHI: Last question for you, how do we pay for this?

FORBES: Well, I think one of the things that we'll see is look what we're paying for it now with the pump. And you know, if we can reach just one of these seven goals, it will more than quadruple any dollars that we put in there. So while this bill is an expensive bill, about $24 billion, it's the same amount that we put to the original Manhattan project in real terms today. I think the dollar savings will be enormous for us in future energy independence.

VELSHI: Congressman, we appreciate the far-reaching plan that you put forward and we will watch it very closely along with you.

Congressman Randy Forbes, thank you, a Republican of Virginia.

Well, this weekend we've been telling you about the Saudi Arabia holds a meeting of oil-consuming countries and they're meeting with oil consuming countries including the United States to discuss how to deal with rising oil prices. CNN international correspondent, Wilf Dinnick, joins us now from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where the meeting is going to be held.

Wilf, good to see you again. This meeting has become a very important deal as we've got oil prices still above $135 a barrel. What do you know about this?

WILF DINNICK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, 37 representatives from countries and oil-producing countries and oil companies, as well, are here trying to figure out a solution to these sky-rocketing prices. They're really trying to focus on long-term and intermediate solutions. They're not thinking about any quick solution here, any quick fix. And they're being very clear about that, representatives and economists and analysts all saying the same thing. Don't expect this price to come down too far too soon. And it won't be east at the oil pumps in the United States any time soon either.

What they're trying to do is fix this problem. And they're trying to look into the long-term here. But this is also a public relations exercise for the Saudi government. They're very concerned too about the high price of oil here. This doesn't reflect well on them. For them, you know, for many Americans, it seems they do business behind closed doors that they set the price here.

And they want to be very clear that that's not the case. They've invited journalists and they've invited economists and analysts to all come here. They've made it very welcoming here, answering all the questions that we have about this issue. And what they're telling us specifically is that they don't necessarily set the price, there are other issues here.

Oil is traded in U.S. dollars and as that U.S. dollar falls, people in other currencies are buying it. That's setting the price up, as well. There's a lot of complicated issues here. China and India, insatiable oil consumers because of their massive industries there. So really the Saudi Arabian government being very open, being very clear with people that they're not the people that necessarily set the price of oil here.

VELSHI: Wilf Dinnick is going to be covering this for us. This meeting takes place over the weekend. We'll have full coverage with Wilf along the weekend and on Monday so stay tuned to CNN. Wilf, thanks very much.

WILLIS: Interesting stuff, Ali. Well, grow your own food, be healthy and save a whole lot of money at the same time. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will tell us all about it.

Plus we're going to tell you how to save money on organic food. You're watching ISSUE #1.


WILLIS: Families across the country are struggling with rising gas prices and subsequently higher food prices. CNN's Sanjay Gupta looks at an inexpensive way to get fresh produce -- grow it yourself.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cash-strapped American families may be tempted to eat more fast food. That's because you get more calories and bang for your buck. A recent study found foods like candies, pastries, other baked goods and snacks cost $1.76 per 1,000 calories. Store bought fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, cost more than $18 for 1,000 calories. That's nine times more expensive.

(on camera): What are we growing in here?

LADONNA REDMOND, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: Any number of things. Those are collard greens on the far aisle there and those are turnip greens right next to them.

GUPTA (voice-over): But there is another cheaper alternative. You could grow it yourself. LaDonna Redmond planted the first seeds of what she calls urban farm sites in this gritty Chicago neighborhood when she couldn't find fresh produce nearby. There are no supermarkets around, only convenience stores. Urban gardens like this are part of a growing movement.

Now the nonprofit urban farming started three years ago in Detroit with the goal of eradicating hunger. It's added gardens in New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Newark. Burpee, the largest seed company in North America says sales of vegetable seeds are up 40 percent over the same period a year ago. During World War II, some 20 million American families planted so- called victory gardens, producing more than 40 percent of the country's fresh vegetables.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this model has already been done, we're just duplicating it.

GUPTA: An old idea with healthy benefits bringing corn and other fresh produce to inner city people. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Chicago.

WILLIS: With food prices rising, it's hard to stay within your budget, especially if you're buying organic. Just because the label says it's all natural, that doesn't mean you're getting the most for your health or your money. So what's (INAUDIBLE) buying organic and what's not? Earlier I spoke with Lisa freeman. She's editor in chief of "ShopSmart" magazine.


WILLIS: OK, you've got a lot of great information that I really want to get at. Let's start with the labels that make sense, the ones that have the big pay off. For example, I've got organic right here. Is that a good label?

LISA FREEMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SHOPSMART MAGAZINE: Anything that says organic or USDA organic, if it says organic, it's got to live up to the Federal standards and that could make the food safer. It's better for the environment and might even be healthier and more nutritious.

WILLIS: We've got one here, certified humane. Do you like that one?

FREEMAN: That's another label that's very worthwhile because it's certified by a third party. It basically means that the animal was treated in a humane way.

WILLIS: Any other labels that you like, that you think are worthwhile?

FREEMAN: One thing to keep in mind, no hormones or RBGH on milk and dairy products, very worth it.

WILLIS: Oh, interesting. Let's talk about the ones that don't mean a thing. You're paying extra for the privilege. What do you think makes no sense?

FREEMAN: Well, there are a lot of labels that fake you out. Three of my favorites are all natural. All it means is that nothing artificial was added. For example, on a piece of meat, it means that it doesn't have anything to do with the way the animal was actually raised. It just means that they may not have added any chemicals or preservatives or colorings to the meat after the meat was already cut.

WILLIS: You have to tell me what cage-free means. I imagine this life with the chickens where they're roaming a big farm, living their life freely. Is that what it means?

FREEMAN: No, not at all. All it means the animals weren't in cages. So they could still have been in an old dirty dark barn with the door closed. That's all it means. And the rules also aren't very strong for free range. That's another label. If it doesn't also say organic or certified humane with the label free range, all it means is that they may have been in a dirty barn and that barn door was open for five minutes. It doesn't mean they went out.

WILLIS: What about cruelty free?

FREEMAN: Cruelty free, another label that doesn't mean a lot. If you're really concerned about animals and their treatment, go for certified humane.

WILLIS: All right. So let's talk a little bit about how you shop. We know what the words mean now (INAUDIBLE). But say prioritize what you're buying. What do you mean?

FREEMAN: There are certain types of foods, if you're concerned about your health, there are certain types of foods that are more important to buy than others . For example, fresh foods that are organic, like meat and milk and eggs and dairy, also baby food, very important.

WILLIS: Right. You want to make sure the kids are taken care of. If I want to cut my prices, you say go look for the coupons. How do I do that?

FREEMAN: Yes, there's a lot of Web sites out there, the manufacturer's Web sites that produce organic foods. For example Stoneyfield Farm, Organic Valley, Health Valley, go to their Web sites. They have great coupons there.

WILLIS: I like discount stores. I like the warehouse clubs. Are they even carrying this stuff?

FREEMAN: Yes, it's amazing. I was in some of these stores recently, Costco, Sam's Club, they have tons of organic foods and these cost a lot less when you buy them in bulk and from the organic warehouse stores.

WILLIS: If you had one thing you want people to remember from this segment, what would it be? What's the most important thing to remember when you're buying organic?

FREEMAN: Well, what's the most important thing is just go for it, buy organic, it is healthier. It is better for the environment. The only thing that you want to skip is organic seafood because there are no standards for seafood. That's one organic thing where it doesn't count. But as much as you can, buy organic. Another thing you might want to do is check out which lists in terms of fruits and vegetables, the fruits and vegetables that are most important to buy organic, the one with hard skins like citrus and avocado, not as important produce like strawberries, nectarines, pears, those kinds of things.

WILLIS: Great advice. And you don't have to pay an arm and a leg anymore.

Lisa Freeman, thank you for being with us today.

VELSHI: You all remember Ross Perot, well he's back. No he's not running for president, but he has a trillion dollar message for John McCain and Barack Obama.

Plus, why is John McCain talking about the economy in Canada?

We'll tell you when we come back.

You're watching ISSUE #1, the economy, CNN.


WILLIS: Well, as we've been talking about at ISSUE #1, gas prices are high. So it would make sense Americans are driving less. But the amount less is staggering. CNNMoney's Poppy Harlow is here today with the energy fix.

Hi there, Poppy.

HARLOW: Hi Gerri, happy Friday to you.

Well, folks, it is all down from here, not the price of gas, but the amount that we consume. That's according to a new report out today from Cambridge Energy Research. It says demand for gas in the U.S. will fall in 2008, get this, for the first time in 17 years. It also says 2007 will have been the peak year for U.S. gas consumption. The short-term reason, consumers are cutting back amid-rising prices and a weak U.S. economy.

But there's a long-term trend, as well. Systemic shifts are taking place with auto makers changing the types of vehicles that they make, good bye Hummer and consumers taking more public transportation, hello subway. The report says gas prices would need to remain high for demand to continue to fall. Keep that in mind. Whether lower demand will mean lower prices, that's yet to be seen because U.S. demand may be replaced by demand overseas. We saw the effect of that yesterday when the Chinese government announced a 17 percent increase in their gas prices.

Now that led to a nearly $5 drop in the oil prices on the belief that that will cause a decrease in demand in China. But analysts believe the higher prices could actually spark more demand because it will encourage refineries to produce more.

Now refineries there have been losing money for quite a while, while drivers in China are getting a pretty sweet deal. Right now they're paying just about $3 a gallon, even with that increase. Oil today jumping back up, roughly $4 higher, so essentially erasing what we saw yesterday. This follows a large scale Israeli military exercise that raised some tension between Israel and Iran. So, so much for yesterday's drop. We're not seeing any more -- Gerri.

WILLIS: Well, good-bye Hummer, hello subway.

HARLOW: Hello, subway. I take the subway.

WILLIS: Hello, bus. Yes, well, I take public transportation too.

Thank you for that, Poppy.

Time now to get you caught up on the rest of the day's headlines.

VELSHI: That didn't sound like my voice.

Do you want me to do that?

WILLIS: Yes, why don't you do that? I think you do it better.

VELSHI: All right, I'll do it, since I'm on camera.

All right. As Gerri was saying, time now to get you caught up on the rest of the day's headlines. Don Lemon is in the CNN "NEWSROOM."

Let's see if Don's voice actually matches his face.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Ali, I didn't know one of your talents was ventriloquism.

VELSHI: Ventriloquism, that's right.

LEMON: Yes, you do a good job. You sound a lot like Gerri Willis, though.

All right, thanks to you and Gerri.

We're going to get you caught up on the news now. The Midwest floods we're going to start with. In some areas the bad gets even worse.

Yesterday we showed you the collapse of a levee in Lincoln County, Missouri. Rising flood waters have caused several more levees to fail. Local officials believe even more will likely be swamped before the day is over there. Yet, that offers new hope downstream. The flood waters spilling past all those levees is actually lowering river levels to the south.

And we've learned today about plans for the first joint campaign appearance by Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They'll hit the trail together next week. The campaigning next Friday will follow a Thursday Democratic fund-raiser. It will mark their first public appearance together since Clinton ended her presidential bid earlier this month.

Here's a new sign of the sluggish economy, as if you didn't need any more -- as if you needed any more. Ford announcing today it's delaying the launch of its new F-150 pickup truck by two months. The F-150s have traditionally been the automaker's biggest seller. But high gas prices and decline in home construction have hit truck sales very hard. Ford says it will further cut large SUV and pickup production for the rest of the year.

School officials are calling it a teen pregnancy outbreak. This is an unbelievable story. Seventeen girls at a Massachusetts high school, they are having babies. And apparently it's part of a pact they made.

Why would they do it? All of that, any of that? Why would anyone want to do it?

Well, we'll talk with the "TIME" magazine reporter who broke the story. The reporter who was investigating this story and the sex educator ahead in the "CNN NEWSROOM." And I believe we also have one of the school's officials. And we're going to talk to them about how this could happen in their community.

Ali, this is just an unbelievable story that we're going to be following in the "NEWSROOM" at the top of the hour. I see you there, so assume I'm tossing it back to you, but I never know what voice will be there.

VELSHI: Yes, I'll try it this time.

Don, good to see you. We'll see you at the top of the hour.

LEMON: Have a great weekend.

VELSHI: Gerri, I was waiting for you to chime in there. We'll get that in a minute.

All right, turning to the election trail. Free trade is the topic of the day for John McCain. In about half an hour, he'll be speaking in Ottawa, Canada, reaffirming his support for NAFTA. Dana Bash is in Ottawa now.

Dana, this is an interesting place on a campaign stop to leave the country. Why is he going to Canada to talk about NAFTA?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, I want to assure you, Ali, that your homeland is not being annexed. There is no change in the electoral map of the United States. There are no votes for a would-be president, U.S. president, here in Canada, except for, of course, some ex-pats who are living here.

But the point that the McCain campaign makes, even in the face of some Republicans who are privately scratching their heads asking the same question you did, why are you going to Canada when you need votes in the United States. What they're saying is, a couple things.

No. 1 is, they want John McCain to continue to show himself as a statesman. Somebody who has experience and understanding of the world stage. He is going to make the point that Canada is, obviously, one of the United States' most important allies.

But when you talked about that one issue, free trade, that is really the theme here. Back during the Democratic primaries, John McCain began to really hit Barack Obama for some things he said in and around the Ohio primary, where he said that he wanted to renegotiate NAFTA. He wanted to renegotiate NAFTA. Well, that's one of the standard things that John McCain says on the campaign trail, that that is something that shows that he doesn't understand how important free trade is.

And what he is going to say, it's interesting. He's not going to -- John McCain is not going to say Barack Obama's name. It is going to be very subtle, but pretty clear if you listen. He's going to talk about the fact that unilateral changes, aggregating (ph) a free trade agreement is not a good idea. He will call it "retreating behind protectionist walls." He's also going to make the argument, even in the face of some really big opposition, Ali, as you know in the United States to this, he's going to say and make the point that Canada is a very important export place for the United States. He's going to say 36 of 50 states have Canada as their biggest point of export for their goods.

VELSHI: And like health care and like energy now, this is a third platform on which voters can make a very distinct choice because John McCain and Barack Obama have staked out very separate positions.

Dana, enjoy yourself there. I know you don't really get much time to enjoy places that you're on with candidates, but it's a beautiful town.

Dana Bash in Ottawa.

BASH: It sure is. Thanks.

WILLIS: Ross Perot ran for president in 1992. Now he's back. This time with a $93 trillion message for the nominees.

Jason Carroll has that story.


ROSS PEROT, CHMN. EMERITUS, PEROT SYSTEM: Today, our great country is at a critical turning point.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): Remember him? Presidential race spoiler to some, father of fiscal charts to others. Ross Perot has reemerged with a familiar warning for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

PEROT: Not since the Great Depression have we seen an economic crisis of the magnitude that we are facing today.

CARROLL: This week, Perot launched that message on a new web site called At issue, the national debt. Now more than $9.3 trillion and growing thanks to baby boomers reaching retirement and spending more on Medicare and Social Security.

DAVID WALKER, FORMER COMPTROLLER GENERAL: We are mortgaging the future of our country, of our children, and our grandchildren.

CARROLL: David Walker is the former U.S. controller general, the nation's top accountant. He consulted with Perot on the need to cut spending in Washington.

WALKER: Washington has to learn the first rule of holes. When you're in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. It hasn't learned that yet.

CARROLL: So Perot is here to teach again. True to his style, he's using charts as learning tools. It already worked once.

PEROT: Shouldn't we first cut spending? And then cut taxes? CARROLL: In 1992, Perot challenged then President Bush and Bill Clinton with his charts during his presidential run. Perot won almost 20 percent of the vote. This time, Perot is not running, but political analysts say his push to make the debt a priority may not go over well with Senators McCain or Obama.

STU ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: It gives Obama an opportunity to talk about economic issues and he's more comfortable than Senator McCain on those themes. But it may force him to talk about those issues in an uncomfortable way -- taxes and spending -- that he'd rather not discuss.


CARROLL: Perot's spokeswoman says the Texas billionaire has not endorsed Senators McCain or Obama because in part today neither candidates has said enough about what they'll do to try to reduce the national debt.

WILLIS: Well, Jason, he puts this information out there, but he's not running for president. What does he want us to do about it?

CARROLL: Well, that's a good point. I mean basically what he wants people to do, voters to do, is go to his web site, become informed, then write their congressmen, write their senators, and try to get them to get the national debt on the agenda.

WILLIS: All right. Well, Jason, thank you for that.

CARROLL: All right.

VELSHI: All right. Why some scientists think the answer for some of our energy problems could be in bugs. That's right, bugs. Prepping for the unexpected. That's the other thing we're going to tell you about. So grab a pen and paper because we've got important information to make your life easier when times get tough.

ISSUE #1 rolls on. Stay with us. You're watching CNN.


VELSHI: High gas prices have sparked a wave of research into alternative fuels. Now stop whatever you're doing. Pay attention to this one. You're going to want to hear this. There's one idea that sounds almost too bizarre to believe.

Single-celled organisms -- which some people call me -- but we're talking about tiny bugs that eat biowaste like wood chips and then excrete a substance that, believe it or not, is very similar to motor oil. You've got to see Gerri's face right now. "The Times" of London reports the bugs are being genetically altered by researchers in a Silicon Valley lab. But those bugs need to get busy because so far they've only been able to create about a barrel a week.

There's just so many places to go with this. Why don't we just go to you, Gerri. WILLIS: It's just yucky, what can I say? There's some things I'm willing to do for more oil. There's other things I'm not.

All right. You know this saying, it's always good to prepare for the unexpected. But that can be losing your job or getting sick. No one wants to think about these things. But if you do, your life could be a whole lot easier. Here to help us today, Greg Daugherty is with "Consumer Reports."

Let's work through some of this because everybody wants to be a good saver, but there are things that get in the way of saving and investing. Let's start with losing your job. What do you do?

GREG DAUGHERTY, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "CONSUMER REPORTS": Well, I can speak from personal experience on this one. The best thing is to have some money set aside. Have an emergency fund of three to six months, nine months if you're the sole wage earner in your house.

That will do two things. That will give you the ability to pay your bills. And it also, you know, it's a psychological benefit. It's very hard to look for a job when you're in panic mode. So just having some money there could be a great comfort.

WILLIS: You know, when you get laid off, they often give you a severance package. You say you can negotiate some of this.

DAUGHERTY: Sometimes. If it's a big layoff, a big company, they can be very rigid sometimes. They can't do anything special for you they aren't doing for everybody else. With a small employer, you might have more leeway. Sometimes you can just, you know, guilt them into doing a little more for you.

WILLIS: I love that.

All right. And file for unemployment benefits right away.

DAUGHERTY: Absolutely.

WILLIS: What about the 401(k)?

DAUGHERTY: Try not to touch it. There's penalties if you're not 59-and-a-half yet. And that's your retirement money. I mean that's a crisis down the line if you don't have anything there. So, you know, look for other ways to find money.

WILLIS: Absolutely a crisis.

All right. One of the big things that can go wrong is your marriage ends. This can be a financial disaster. What do you do?

DAUGHERTY: You know, financial and emotional disaster. I mean, first of all, know what the two of you have. You know, a lot of couples don't share that information. It's good to know what the accounts are and where they are. And, you know, keep the paperwork.

WILLIS: All right. Well, one thing that I was surprised you said in the article was, you say, if you know things are rocky, start getting ready.

DAUGHERTY: Yes, you know, that sounds a little bit suspicious, but, you know, that's probably the right thing to do. I mean the worst may not happen, but if it does, you're prepared for it.

WILLIS: All right. So if you get ill, and this is another thing that creates incredible, financial habit (ph) for families all the time, if you get sick, what do you do?

DAUGHERTY: Well, it's good to look at what disability coverage you've got. You may have some from your employer, but it may not cover you very long. So, you know, ask yourself, what would happen if you couldn't work for say 90 days. And if that's the case, you may want to go out and buy a disability insurance policy for yourself.

WILLIS: Great advice.

Greg, thank you for that. We appreciate your help -- Ali.

VELSHI: Well, thank you, Gerri.

Some workers want to get paid, believe it or not, as I do, for using my BlackBerry at work. You'll want to hear what some people think about that.

Plus, the CNNMoney team tackles the issues from this week that are important to you and your bottom line.

We are all over issue #1 right here on CNN. Stay with us.


VELSHI: Well, it has been quite a week. Oil prices up and down as we await this big Saudi meeting over the weekend. Gas prices again flirting with records. ISSUE #1 goes to the forefront of the presidential election. And perhaps the biggest story of the week, the flooding of the Midwest, which is, again, going to cause a lot of hardship to people who live there and have a major economic impact on the rest of us.

Jeanne Sahadi is a senior writer for, Shawn Tully is with "Fortune," Allan Chernoff, CNN senior correspondent, the CNNMoney team, and we are talking about all of these issues.

Shawn, let's start with you.

One of the major things that happened this week is John McCain announced that he is now in favor of offshore oil drilling. And right on the heels of that, the president came out and asked Congress to lift this ban on drilling offshore. A lot of Americans didn't know we had a ban because we drill so much in the Gulf of Mexico. What is this position about -- this sort of stakes out John McCain's position on energy?

SHAWN TULLY, "FORTUNE": Yes, actually the president's father was the one who put the ban in place in the first place. So it's somewhat surprising. But it's absolutely essential that we drill offshore. Although there's going to be a substantial lag in those supplies coming on the market.

And the reason that we're seeing this huge spike in prices, indeed is because of the tremendous lag in oil exploration. There's a tremendous amount of offshore oil now that is very profitable to exploit at $135 or $120 or at $80. The supply will come on with a lag and that will bring prices down ...

VELSHI: Eventually.

TULLY: Eventually because they have to equal the highest production costs of the last barrel to clear the market, eventually. And that production costs only 50. But these oil fields are very profitable under this huge price umbrella we have now. We're going to see the same phenomenon we saw in the housing market, which also reacts with a lag, which is just when the demand is coming down, new supplies will come on.

VELSHI: Right. We'll start to see, yes, we will be top (ph) at one point.

CHERNOFF: We could easily be talking 10 years down the road, even further. And it's not just digging for more oil. I mean there's so many steps that we need to take to resolve this problem.

I mean alternative energy has to be part of the answer as well. Conservation has to be part of it. It's all a package. It's all together. There is no one answer.

VELSHI: Although it just tends to shot to the top of the list of money topics in this particular week. But we don't forget, and Jeanne never forgets, that there are about a million others that are going on right now.

I must say, one of the things I said to Dana Bash earlier, these presidential candidates are starting to very clearly stake out different positions on things. Voters are going to have a real choice come November.

JEANNE SAHADI, SENIOR WRITER, CNNMONEY.COM: Well, they have a huge choice, right. You've got very different philosophies on how the country is going to get itself out of this economic dip.

VELSHI: On energy, on health care, which is something you've been working on very closely. On taxes. I mean that's the one benefit of this. We've got clearly articulated positions. Are you feeling like they're starting to formulate on everything? Is there something that you're . . .

SAHADI: No, there's a lot of things they haven't formulated on yet. I mean, you know, Barack Obama last Friday came out and was more specific about what he wanted to do about Social Security, but he still hasn't answered some key questions. So he wants higher income tax payers to pay more into the system. Will they get bigger benefits when they come out? Don't know. That will really determine how big of a shortfall the system will see under that answer. I'm sorry, under that solution.

VELSHI: Interestingly, though, a lot of the things like long- term oil, like health care, like Social Security are taking a backseat to some very immediate issues. One of them is oil. Allan, you just came back from the floods in the Midwest. The other one, of course, is inflation. Food inflation.

CHERNOFF: All of this has a huge impact. And consider even before any of these floods, we were already suffering from very high inflation, at least on the food and the energy side. The overall CPI has not been all that terrible. But we really have been seeing prices soaring from basic commodities, like milk, eggs, now we're going to see beef and pork rising, as well over the next year or so. We won't see an immediate impact.

VELSHI: And those forecasts were already there, that prices would be rising at higher than normal rates. Now we've lost a lot of corn, a lot of soybeans. That feeds the animals that bring us our milk and meat. So it's a real domino effect.

CHERNOFF: Which in turn squeezes the consumer, who is absolutely essential to the economic recovery.

SAHADI: And I also think it will be interesting with (ph) lawmakers, especially Democrats, will use this opportunity, like they did with the higher than expected unemployment rate, to say, you know what, those food stamp payments that we wanted to increase for the first stimulus package, we really need to think about that again. I would bet a lot of money that that's what's going to come up here (ph).

VELSHI: The three of us here at CNN have spent a lot of time have to really get into a sort of micro explanations of what's going on. Shawn, you have a little luxury. You take a slightly bigger view. I talked to Randy Forbes, the congressman from Virginia, who's coming out with what he calls the new Manhattan project. He wants big, big money, big, big research, and big think involved in solving this country's energy crisis. And I must say, tracking the energy situation in this platform very closely, it's attractive to have a big idea out there.

TULLY: Well, I respectfully don't agree, Ali.

VELSHI: You're allowed to do that.

TULLY: I think the -- what we're seeing is the market is going to take care of this problem in a very brutal matter. We've seen this movie before. We saw oil prices go from $3 (ph) to $40 between the early 70s and the early 80s. You had a tremendous amount of exploration. You had a tremendous amount of conservation. Everyone is talking about nothing but how to conservative energy now.

VELSHI: Yes, so people will change? They'll get out of it.


VELSHI: We'll have to pick this up. Thank you to all three of you. Our CNNMoney panel -- Gerri.

WILLIS: Great information, great discussion.

Well, what do you think was the most important issue #1 story this week? We want to hear it. It's not too late to weigh in on today's Quick Vote. Log in to We'll have the results coming up next.

Plus, are you tired of that BlackBerry going off, off hours? Well, here's one option.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy crap. Oh, it's really good.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The world's strongest man in the United States could not destroy this Blackberry.


WILLIS: Another option, sue your boss. You won't want to miss this story.

You're watching ISSUE #1.


WILLIS: What was your top economic story this week? Well, that's today's Quick Vote. Let's check back in with CNNMoney's Poppy Harlow for the results.

OK. What are people interested in?

HARLOW: You know, it looks like we are really on the pulse of what all of you out there are thinking. By a big margin there, 58 percent of you say Midwest floods are your biggest concern. That's our top story as well. Thirty percent of you say offshore oil drilling. Nine percent say those mortgage arrests that we heard about yesterday. And 3 percent say airline surcharges.

And, you know what, Gerri, these Midwest floods, they affect us down the road in terms of gas prices potentially and certainly in food prices. So it affects a lot.

WILLIS: And our hearts go out to all those folks out there.

HARLOW: Of course.


VELSHI: You know what bugs me, the 3 percent with the airline surcharges. You know what that means? That means we're getting used to them. That's why there are only 3 percent of people worried about it.

Now some people are fed up with having to use their BlackBerries after hours and they're looking for payback.

CNN's Richard Roth reports.


ROTH (voice over): The BlackBerry is a constant companion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I actually can't imagine life without it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I use it from the second I wake up to the second I go to bed.

ROTH: But the device can be a drag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, this thing is like a ball and chain.

ROTH: Wired up workers say they can't even escape from the job after hours. Now they want to get paid for it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I definitely think that we should be compensated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think people should be compensated for what they're being asked to do outside of work.

ROTH: Writers and producers at ABC News demanded payment for after work usage and reached a settlement with management. Elsewhere, people keep multi-tasking while the office is closed.

VALORIE BURTON, LIFE COACH: For some people they feel like they're missing out on something. I think for others, there really is a genuine fear that they'll appear not to be a team player.

ROTH: And attorneys are sending a message to businesses -- prepare for legal action.

JEFFREY SCHLOSSBERG, ATTORNEY: Employers don't really perceive that there's a problem or an issue with employees using their Blackberries outside of work. They don't see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm expecting a message any minute.

ROTH: Financier Andrew Tsunis is separated from his Blackberry only when taking midday naps.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please make sure to turn off your cell phone or your Blackberry.

ROTH: He doesn't expect his employees to be messaging at night.

TSUNIS: Compensated for using their BlackBerry while they're at (ph) work?

ROTH: Off hours.

TSUNIS: No, I don't think it's a good idea. ROTH: Maybe brute force can eliminate the problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is very tough to get rid of those. Holy crap. Be careful. It's really good.

ROTH: The world's strongest man in the United States cannot destroy this Blackberry.

But will companies be as tough when it comes to exhausted workers armed with the device?


ROTH: And we're told that various corporate attorneys and other people are looking for lawsuits inside of companies. Cold calling. So this is a looming issue, Ali and Gerri.

VELSHI: If they stopped me from using my BlackBerry, it would be the end of me.

WILLIS: Would you stop already.

VELSHI: Do you really use two?

ROTH: Yes, I like to -- I'm very lonely and I e-mail myself.

VELSHI: See, this is -- the BlackBerry is a net improvement to peoples' lives.

Richard, thank you for that. I'll e-mail you with more later.

WILLIS: Excellent story.

All right, ISSUE #1 will be back here all next week. Same time, 12:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

VELSHI: The "CNN NEWSROOM" with Don Lemon and Kyra Phillips starts right now.