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Firefighters Battle California Blazes; McCain Focuses Plan on Small Business; Obama Speaks To Reporters in St. Louis; Tips To Boost Your Credit Score

Aired July 7, 2008 - 15:00   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We just heard from John McCain. This hour, Obamanomics. The Democratic presidential nominee to be talks about the economy, the campaign, and the midair mishap that forced a Midwest detour.
And you can still make waves at 41, but at the Olympics? Meet this woman, a multi-medalist who will be swimming for the gold in Beijing.

Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips, live in New York. Don Lemon is on assignment.

And you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And right now, happening at the top of the hour, we're waiting for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to make some comments to the media. He was supposed to deliver a speech on economic security today in Charlotte, North Carolina, but his plane made an unscheduled landing in Saint Louis.

Midwest airlines says an emergency slide in the tail cone of the chartered plane deployed in flight. So, after the plane landed safely, Obama called his supporters into Charlotte to talk about his economic plans. We are going to have live coverage when Obama meets with the media there in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Now, fixing the economy, it's John McCain's focus as he campaigns today in Colorado. The Republican presidential candidate launched his so-called jobs first program a short time ago in a speech in Denver seen live right here on CNN.

McCain says that his program will focus on small businesses. And in his speech, McCain also took aim at his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama's tax increases will hurt the economy even more, and destroy jobs across this country. If you are one of the 23 million small business owners in America who files as an individual rate payer, Senator Obama is going to raise your tax rates. If you have an investment for your child's education or own a mutual fund or a stock in a retirement plan, he is going to raise your taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Well, McCain's economic plan also includes a promise to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term, if he is elected.

What words pop into your mind when you think of John McCain and Barack Obama? That's a question that pollsters put to 2,000 people. In the Associated Press/Yahoo! News survey, nearly one in five respondents blurted out old in their image of McCain and outsider or change when it comes to Obama.

In January, fewer than one in 10 gave those descriptions.

Check out our Political Ticker. For all the latest campaign news, just log on to CNNPolitics.com, your source for all things political.

So, from the political front line to your bottom line, the economy is issue number one. And many Americans are seeing red. Some are in the red. And we're here to try and help. All day long, CNN will show you how to recession proof your credit, your home, your job, your life. Do you want to save 500 bucks a month? Of course, you do. So, we're going to try and show you how.

As you learn from us, we will learn from you also. Send your money saving I-Reports.

Meanwhile, economic fears are being fueled -- or being fueled, rather, in part by oil and gas prices. We are keeping an eye on Wall Street right now, on the Big Board, after a sharp drop in oil prices today, about $5 a barrel. Experts cite the stronger dollar and an apparent easing of tensions with Iran. Because of that, here you go, Dow Jones industrials down 88 points right now.

We are going to continue to follow the numbers of course until the top of the hour.

Gas prices have set another record. The national average for regular, $4.11. It's the 10th straight increase and the eighth straight record. Gas prices are up about 40 percent from over a year ago.

Again, CNN is all about your budget and your bottom line today. We are showing you how to recession-proof your life right here in the NEWSROOM and on CNNMoney.com. Much more to come.

But first we're going to talk about wind and fire now, two extremes closely watched on opposite coasts. Bertha, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, getting bigger. Where could it hit?

Chad Myers is tracking that. Then, in California, cooler air is helping firefighters gain ground. Hundreds of evacuees are finally back into their homes. But wildfires around Big Sur are far from out. In fact, fresh firefighting crews are heading for Santa Barbara County.

Let's get straight to CNN's Kara Finnstrom. She is on the fire lines there in Goleta -- Kara.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, time is critical for firefighters here who are trying to prevent more torched scenes like this one.

They have gotten a break with the weather, some higher humidity, some lower temperatures. But that is only expected to last for the next 24 hours. So, they're trying to do everything they can during that time.

We did get some video just a short while ago of crews with chain saws doing some real grunt work, also burning some of those backfires which they say will help get rid of some of the extra fuel around areas with homes in it. What they don't want to do is for the fire to return to these areas. They say, so far, they have done a pretty good job of securing the area around these homes.

The fire right now is moving more in a northwesterly direction to forested areas. And they want to make sure that that fire doesn't come back.

Now, we just started hearing choppers overhead once again. There has been a very aggressive air attack over the 15, up to 15 tankers in the air, lots of helicopters, all dumping hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of water and flame retardant on some of these hillsides, all in the hopes of preventing the fire from returning this way these homes.

So, Kyra, really, for the next 24 hours, it is really going to be a preparing mode and a waiting-and-see mode to see what happens when those higher temperatures and the winds return.

PHILLIPS: All right, Kara Finnstrom, thanks so much.

Chad Myers, what do you think? Is Bertha getting bigger?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is certainly getting more organized, yes.

But the good news is, it is in the middle of a very big ocean, literally in the middle of the Atlantic. Now, if you're going to the B.V.I or Puerto Rico, you may see some increase in the wave height, maybe instead of two to three foot swells, maybe four to six foot swells.

But this thing is still hundreds and hundreds of miles away. Notice, though, the last couple of frames just an amazing eye to the storm right now. Probably already up to that Category 2, which it's forecast to be this evening anyway. It is in a warm water area. There's no wind blowing it apart, which means there's no shear. Shear likes to tear the storm apart. It's in a very good situation right now, going to get stronger.

Winds are 90, officially going to 105, though, by tomorrow morning. And then it gets into an area where it is not so favorable. The water gets colder and you get a little bit of a tear, a little bit of a wind trying to pull it apart as it turns on up to Bermuda.

And that really is the forecast. Every single computer model that is run on this map here, all turning the storm to the north, because there's a high-pressure system right here right now. That high pressure is pushing it to the west. The high pressure moves away and allows it to come back and turn around.

And it may never hit anything at all. This could be an absolute fish storm in a classic sense of it where only the fish know that it's out there. But Bermuda right now, you are still in the way. We will keep watching.

PHILLIPS: All right, Chad, thanks so much.

And I'm just getting word now about the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, already investigating that bit of a mishap that happened with Senator Barack Obama's plane today.

Here's what it's saying. It is investigating the incident at the Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport where that chartered Midwest Airlines airplane carrying Senator Barack Obama made an uneventful precautionary landing due to a suspected flight control problem.

It goes on to say that the post-flight inspection of the airplane revealed an in-flight deployment within of an aft emergency exit slide within the tail cone. So, that caused the pilot there to want to land that plane in Saint Louis, Missouri. You know, he was on his way to make a speech in Charlotte.

And I'm told now that apparently when this happened and the senator was able to touch down that he called in to his supporters there in Charlotte. Here is a little bit of that phone call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, North Carolina.

Well, listen, guys, I'm so sorry that I'm not down there. We had a little glitch in our plane. It was nothing to worry about, although it gave the press some exciting things to write about.

But everybody is safe and sound. We're in Saint Louis. We can't get down there fast enough. And so I am just heartbroken that I'm not going to get a chance to see you guys today. But I promise you we are going to be back down in Charlotte some time soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: That's right. It did give us a little something exciting to talk about. But, apparently, the presidential nominee is actually giving that economic speech in Saint Louis to the press right now. We are going to talk about that. We are following it. Gloria Borger is going to join us again. And then we will try to decipher what he said, fact-check that. As we listened to John McCain's earlier speech last hour. We will still be able to bring you Barack Obama's speech on creating jobs as well.

Now, state flags are at half-staff across North Carolina in remembrance of longtime Senator Jesse Helms. Live pictures right there as his body is lying in repose at a church in Raleigh, so people can come through and pay their respects.

The controversial conservative died Friday at the age of 86. He spent 30 years in the U.S. Senate, making a lot of waves, but also making a lot of friends.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Whether you agreed with the senator from North Carolina, his sincerity in his views and the force which he stood by them were remarkable. So, I believe it is fitting that Jesse Helms' last day on Earth was the Fourth of July. He loved his country. He spent every day doing what he believed was necessary to make it stronger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: The funeral and the private burial for Jesse Helms is scheduled for tomorrow.

Surrounded by family and memories of their five-year ordeal, a group of freed American hostages getting a formal welcome home today, and some, maybe all of them, may speak publicly. We are monitoring that.

And it looks like somebody needs a nose job, because this is just plain wrong. What happened here? We will try and explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: CNN is helping you recession proof your life today. We are telling you not only what to do, but where to go for help. And we're sharing your money-saving I-Reports. Recession proof your life all day right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Let's take a look at this. A Northwest flight gets decked en route to Tampa. The damage looks a little scary, but apparently the plane landed safely. Check out that nose cone on that 757 all bashed in. Airport officials claim that a bird hit the jet some time after takeoff from Detroit. Northwest is only saying that it had a minor maintenance issue.

Saving your job, your credit and your home. We are showing you how to recession proof your life today. Here are some of those tips we have been talking about to beat foreclosure. Refinance your mortgage if you can. Ask your lender to work out a repayment plan. And lobby your lender to freeze an adjustable rate. Also, consider a short sale. That is when a homeowner by the way sells the home for less than the balance of the mortgage and then turns over the proceeds to the lender. Finally, contact a consumer advocacy group for help. Many of them offer free advice.

And a lot of that advice is just a mouse click away.

Josh Levs here to help us log on.

Hey, Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is a lot of advice you just gave. But all you had to say was go to CNNMoney.com, right?

PHILLIPS: Just go to Josh.

LEVS: Hey, Kyra, have you recession proofed your life today?

PHILLIPS: Actually, now that I have been seeing the tips, there have been some things I have implemented in the past couple months. But I need to do more.

(CROSSTALK)

LEVS: You think we could get a bumper sticker out there and make it catch on: Have you recession proofed your life today?

PHILLIPS: There you go. We can make a lot of money from it. Honk if you are recession proof.

(LAUGHTER)

LEVS: Oh, man. All right. Let's bang through some of this.

This is great stuff. One thing I love, when we take a look at the Web sites on the screen behind me, I can bang through some of the hot Web sites for you to check out today and get this information.

I'm looking right here at CNNMoney.com. Let's close in on it a little bit. You can see one of the top stories right here. Recession proof your life. It talks you through some survival strategies. I blew up the text just to show you one example about stocking up on emergency funds.

We talked you through real specifics. It's a long article. Now, we also turn to you for ideas. And that's what I'm pulling up here is the I-Report system, where you send us your ideas. How are you recession proofing your life? What are you doing to save money in this economy?

This right here is just some of the latest photos we have gotten. And there's one I'm going to jump to here and then I'm going to talk to Kyra about this. This blows me away. Look at this. We're actually going to bring up a full image of it for you right now, so we can see it across your screen.

This -- I didn't know you could do this. This comes to us from Rich Acuti. This is his V.W. Bug. He made it an electric vehicle. I mean, I have heard that it is possible. But I didn't know people actually do this. He says someone who owned it before him made it partly electric. Then he came along and made it completely electric. He drives it around and literally never uses any gasoline anywhere. And it looks -- there you go -- it looks just like a normal V.W. Bug.

Now, while we are looking at that picture, I want to tell you something. It looks like one. Here is what it does not have, he tells me, power steering, power brakes. It does not have air conditioning. It doesn't have a radio, DVD, that kind of thing, some of the things that you might want in some cars.

So obviously it doesn't have all the perks, but let's say you decide, you know what, that is a good idea. I want to drive a car, maybe a little nicer than that. Go back to CNNMoney.com and we talk you through some the greatest fuel economy cars right in -- page one, open for me -- there you go -- some of the greatest fuel economy cars in America also right up there.

And, Kyra, let's bring it back in. I want to show you one more thing. We just got this minutes ago, but I think this is really cool. This is an I-Reporter who tells us that now instead of going out to dinner she makes all these fancy foods at home and brings out the nice china and they feel like they are going out to dinner at night, even though they are not having to spend any of that out to dinner money.

And that is Deepti Suri (ph) who tells us that. She even sent us some pretty pictures to represent the things that she's doing. There you go. She says they eat in the garden. They make really beautiful dinners. They turn on a little music and they feel like they are out to dinner. How is that? That's something.

PHILLIPS: Wow. That is pretty romantic. Let me see that china.

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: Because that is something we never bring out, right? You get it for a wedding gift and then it sits there until who knows when.

LEVS: I have got to tell you, because the caption she sent says that she creates these menus that are recession proof. But the pictures she sent us was random plants from behind her house. So I was thinking, if that is what you're eating, that's not good advice. But she is just suggesting that she has the ambiance of a restaurant.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: Yes, I like it. She's bringing the whole romance thing back, too. It can improve your marriage and help you save money. I love it.

LEVS: Well, there you go. Thank you, Deepti Suri. See, this is why we love ireport.com. Send us your photos, videos, story. We will keep sharing more of them.

PHILLIPS: All right. I'm going to be cooking tonight. Thanks Josh.

LEVS: Back to you.

PHILLIPS: No China, though.

And, again, CNN is all about your budget and your bottom line today. We are showing you how to recession proof your life right here in the NEWSROOM and on CNNMoney.com, as Josh mentioned.

But, first, we have got news coming from the U.S. Coast Guard, capsized and not another ship in sight. It sounds like a job for the U.S. Coast Guard, right? Well, it's a job well done over the holiday weekend. We will explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, he was actually supposed to deliver this speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, but his plane made a bit of an unscheduled landing in Saint Louis, Missouri, with some technical problems.

Let's go ahead and listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

OBAMA: ... investing in research and innovation, and devising an energy policy that creates jobs and drastically reduces our dependence on foreign oil and makes sure that our trade policies work for American workers.

But, today, I want to talk once again about my plan not only to ensure the economic security of middle-class families in the long term, but also the need to give them a chance for some relief in the short term, to make sure that Americans aren't just getting by, but getting ahead, that they are able to get a world-class education, build a nest egg, and provide a better life for their children.

The first step is to offer immediate relief to families who are struggling right now, while helping to jump-start economic growth and create jobs. Between a sluggish economy and $4-a-gallon gas at the pump, the American people can't wait help another six months for help.

Instead of Washington gimmicks, like a three-month gas tax holiday that will only pad oil company profits, we need to do what I called for months ago, and pass a second stimulus package that provides energy rebate checks for working families, a fund to help families avoid foreclosure, and increased assistance for states that have been hard hit by the economic downturn.

A few days ago, I called on Senator McCain and all members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to support this $50 billion stimulus package. There are many policies we disagree on, but immediate relief for American families who are struggling shouldn't be one of them.

And so while I haven't received a response from Senator McCain yet, I look forward to hearing one soon.

The second step in my agenda is to help provide economic security for families who have been dealing with skyrocketing costs and stagnant wages for years, not just during this latest downturn. I believe it is time to reform our tax code so that it rewards work, and not just wealth.

So, when I'm president, I will shut down the corporate loopholes and tax savings and I will use the money to help pay for a middle- class tax cut that will provide $1,000 of relief to 95 percent of workers and their families. We will also eliminate income taxes for every retiree making less than $50,000 per year, because every senior deserves to live out their life in dignity and respect.

And, if Senator McCain wants a debate about taxes in this campaign, then it is a debate I'm happy to have, because if your family is making less than $250,000 a year, my plan will not raise your taxes, not your income tax, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.

In fact, what Senator McCain is going to need to explain is why his tax cut for the middle class would leave out 101 million households and why, for the families who are lucky enough to get a tax cut under his plan, it would be worth only about $125 in the first year. The difference is he trusts that prosperity will trickle down from corporations and the wealthiest few to everyone else.

I believe it is the hard work of the middle-class American family that fuels this nation's prosperity. I will also help families who are struggling under the crushing burden of health care costs by passing a plan that brings the typical family's premiums down by $2,500 per family per year and guarantees coverage to everyone who wants it. Senator McCain's health care plan not only fails...

PHILLIPS: We apologize for that. We have been having a hard time connecting there with Barack Obama. Previously, he was supposed to deliver his speech in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were for that. But, at the last minute, he had to change and give the speech out of Saint Louis, Missouri, there. We are working that technical glitch right now.

Gloria Borger with us. She monitored John McCain's speech with us earlier in the past hour.

And, Gloria, we should probably make it perfectly clear here we didn't mean to do that. We didn't mean to cut him short in any way, because we took a large chunk of John McCain's speech. But we did get a copy of the entire speech. Let's hit on a couple of things that the senator was saying there in Saint Louis.

Why don't we start with what he was saying just a moment ago about tax breaks? Earlier, we were talking about with Senator John McCain, he was talking about tax breaks for businesses to stimulate economic growth. But now Senator Obama was just talking about getting rid of some of the corporate tax breaks, instead of giving tax breaks to individuals. So, how does a voter figure out which plan is best for them in this time of an economy where we are all pretty much living in fear?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, John McCain wants to give tax breaks to corporations because he thinks that will help the American economy. He wants to continue President Bush's tax cuts, make them permanent, because he thinks that will help more people in the middle class.

However, when you talk to Barack Obama he will tell you that, in fact, if you look at the details of McCain's tax cuts, that, in fact, they will be for wealthier Americans and that middle-class Americans would only get an average of $125. And under his tax cut for middle- class Americans, they will get $1,000.

So, essentially, what he is saying is -- and this is his campaign theme, Kyra, that you are going to hear until November, which is that if you want more of George W. Bush, vote for John McCain. If you want something different and you want change in the economy, vote for Barack Obama.

PHILLIPS: Well, Barack Obama, he mentioned, too, this $50 billion stimulus package.

BORGER: Right.

PHILLIPS: And when you think about it -- let's have a reality check. Can you really get both parties together to get an ambitious package like that passed?

BORGER: Well, it's interesting, Kyra, because I wouldn't have thought you could have done it the first time around. And of course you did get a stimulus package passed and the checks have been going out in the mail.

Now, whether you can get a second stimulus package going may be more difficult. But don't forget, all of these members in the House in particular are up for reelection. And these stimulus packages are popular.

What Obama said is that he hasn't heard what John McCain wants to do yet. So, he is kind of waiting to see where McCain is on a second stimulus package. And if you will recall, Hillary Clinton, when she was running, had also proposed a second stimulus plan.

PHILLIPS: All right, Gloria, stay with me. We have got Barack Obama back.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

OBAMA: My plan is detailed and specific when it comes to cutting spending. In fact, all of my new spending proposals would be more than paid for by spending reductions.

I have a plan to responsibly end the war in Iraq and reduce overpayments for private plans in Medicare, something John McCain has no specific plan to do.

I would also curb subsidies to banks making student loans, return earmarks to their 2001 levels and reform no-bid contracts. I do this because I believe we can have a smarter government that pays its way while investing in our country's future.

The Americans I have met over the last 16 months may come from different places and different backgrounds, but they hold common hopes and common dreams, the same simple dreams that my family held for me. They know government can't solve all our problems. And they don't expect it to.

They do believe in personal responsibility and hard work and self-reliance, and they don't like to see their tax dollars wasted. But we also believe in fairness and opportunity and an America where there are jobs for those who are willing to work, where hard work is rewarded with a decent wage, where, no matter how much you start with or where you come from or who your parents are, you won't just get by, but couple actually get ahead.

That is the promise of this country. And I believe we can keep that promise together if we change course and get to work in the months and years ahead.

So, with that, let me open it up for questions.

PHILLIPS: All right, Senator Barack Obama taking questions from the audience there. We are going to monitor that. We will bring that to you if that gets interesting.

But Gloria Borger with us listening to the last part of his speech there.

Gas prices, they both -- John McCain and Barack Obama both touched on this in their speech today. Obviously, this has been a hot issue on the campaign trail. Everyone has got a master plan for what to do.

Let's reality-check that. Is there one that sounds better than another or one that makes more sense than another?

BORGER: Well, it's interesting, because John McCain's plan for the gas tax holiday has been derided by Barack Obama. It's the same plan that Hillary Clinton had during the primaries.

He said it's a short-term fix. You're not going to get a lot of benefit out of it, that, in fact, it will cost jobs, that it will take jobs away from the highway administration, which paves our roads and bridges, etc. And McCain says, look, on the other, hand it's going to give people an 18 to 24 cent tax break on their gasoline and they sure can use it now.

But both Obama and McCain have long-term energy plans that they say are government go to solve the problems. The large difference between them is McCain is calling for offshore drilling and Obama is not. PHILLIPS: And obviously offshore drilling, there's a whole another other issue we could get into...

BORGER: Yes.

PHILLIPS: ...about how controversial that is and the pros and cons of that.

Gloria Borger, we appreciate you sticking through both of those speeches.

BORGER: Sure.

PHILLIPS: A lot of sidelines today.

BORGER: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

Appreciate it.

BORGER: Sure.

PHILLIPS: Straight ahead, surrounded by family and memories of their 5-year-old ordeal, a group of freed American hostages getting a formal welcome home today. And some or all of them may speak publicly. We're waiting for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, we've already told you that the Dow and the Nasdaq were in bear market territory. And now the third major index is knocking on the door.

Susan Lisovicz is on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with all the details -- hi, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kyra.

It's the S&P 500 that now has fallen 20 percent from its cyclical high of last October. And that's important, Kyra, because many mutual funds track the S&P 500.

As for overall stocks, well, we had a rally, then a big sell-off and now there's kind of a mixed session after a Fed official said that the battered banking and financial sector could even get worse. You know, so we've seen all five financial stocks with the Dow sharply lower, as is the sector.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

PHILLIPS: Well, those falling stock numbers are getting to be a bit of a habit, a big worry for all of us, no doubt.

LISOVICZ: Oh, yes. I mean and that's why so many of us are pessimistic. Let me tell you about a CNN poll where it says 75 percent of those polled say the U.S. is in a recession. The good news here -- and you have to put quotes around it -- is that it was even worse. The last time it was 79 percent. So maybe -- maybe we'll feel better about the economy sometime soon -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Well, we're talking about how people feel.

Does that really matter when it comes to the economy?

LISOVICZ: Absolutely. I mean it's a huge driver. I mean how we feel about our own financial situation and the economy overall is a big driver in how much we spend and what we spend is the engine of the U.S. economy. We'll get a better read on consumer spending this Friday when we get that report -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And it's all about the energy, right?

LISOVICZ: That's a huge factor (INAUDIBLE)...

PHILLIPS: But I'm talking about the energy -- not necessarily the energy crisis, but the energy among people.

LISOVICZ: True enough, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Appreciate it.

Thanks, Susan.

We're, of course, paying attention to the closing bell. That's going to happen in about 30 minutes. That's when we're going to bring our Susan Lisovicz back.

PHILLIPS: And it can help you qualify for a loan and even lower your interest rate. The higher it is, the better off you are.

It's your credit score and Ali Velshi can help you boost it.

It's Right on Your Money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): Falling home prices means more opportunities for buyers. But with lending standards tightening, improving your credit score is more important than ever.

JOHN ULZHEIMER, CREDIT.COM: If you want to guarantee yourself the best rates and the best terms that any lender has to offer, you really need to be boasting a 750 across the board. Now, of course, you can still get approved with a score lower than 750. You could even get credit in the mid-600s, but you should not expect the best rates and the best terms in the mid 600s.

VELSHI: The easiest way to give your credit score a boost is to pay off high credit card balances and avoid opening new lines of credit.

ULZHEIMER: If you're in credit score improvement mode, you really need to kind of take a step back, no knee-jerk reactions and tackle the things that are costing you the most. Pay off the collections or settle them, pay down the credit card debt as much as possible and, by all means, do not exit the credit environment as a means for improving your credit score.

VELSHI: And be aware, closing credit cards just because you rarely use them will not help your credit score. Hold on to older credit cards. The longer you've manage credit, the better your score will be.

And that's this week's Right on Your Money.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: 3:38 Eastern time. Right now here are some of the stories we're working on in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Bertha getting stronger as we speak, just hours after becoming the Atlantic season's first hurricane. It's now clocking winds up to 90 miles an hour. And for now, forecasters don't think Bertha will make landfall in the U.S. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

John McCain got his destination today -- Denver, where he touted his economic plans. McCain is promising to balance the budget in his first term that he is elected president.

Federal investigators are looking into the mechanical problem that disrupted Barack Obama's flight to North Carolina. His plane got diverted to St. Louis after an emergency slide deployed. Obama spoke to supporters in Charlotte by phone.

As many as seven explosions ripped through the Pakistani port city of Karachi today. Police say that one person is dead. At least 35 others have been hurt. The blasts happened in both residential and commercial areas. No one has claimed responsibility. And yesterday, a suicide bombing in the capital of Islamabad killed 17 people, most of them police officers.

India has long been a staunch supporter of Afghanistan and today the Indian embassy in Kabul was the apparent target of a suicide car bombing. At least 41 people were killed, more than 100 injured.

And earlier, I asked our Nic Robertson about the possible target and the significance of that in today's attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Going for the Indian embassy is a real shot at India. The Taliban has long disliked Indiana and India's involvement inside Afghanistan. Let's not forget, before September 11, before the Taliban were kicked out of Afghanistan, their main enemy was the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance was supported by India. So there's a long history of the Taliban disliking the Indian government. And many people in Afghanistan will point the fingers of blame for such attacks at Pakistan.

Pakistan has a long history of enmity with India. So there are many reasons behind it. But the fact that the Taliban should -- apparently, the Taliban, because it's got their hallmark, should go after the Indian embassy, is a real warning to other embassies and, in particular, Indian interests in Afghanistan are really part of their target list now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Well, Afghan President Hamid Karzai blames Taliban militants. But the Taliban still denies responsibility.

An update now on those three American hostages that were freed last week after five years of living in the jungles of Colombia. We'll never know exactly what they went through. But we might understand a bit better after today. In less than an hour, we're told that they're expected to attend a formal welcome home ceremony at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where they may make their first public comments.

CNN's Susan Roesgen is there in San Antonio.

Susan, what do you think?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's very hard to hear, but there's a lot of excitement here, Kyra, as the members of the media, some members of these men's family come out and eventually we will get to see those three former hostages. And this will be the first time that these men have been able to speak publicly in freedom in 5-1/2 years.

It was February of 2003 when their plane went down on an anti- drug surveillance mission for the U.S. Defense Department. They are three civilian contractors, but because this was a military mission, they are being evaluated here, at a military facility.

Now we have three pictures, Kyra, that were released over the weekend, showing these men getting reacquainted with their families. The first picture I want to show you is Marc Gonsalves. He is the dark-haired gentleman on the left in this picture. Some escaped hostages -- some former hostages have said that he was very sick in the jungle, that he might even have been dying of Hepatitis. We haven't yet had any confirmation of that from the military here, but that's certainly something I'll be asking the military doctors here after the news conference.

This next picture is Tom Howes, Tom Howes eating lunch with a family member. Tom celebrated his 55th birthday on July 4th.

So can you imagine what kind of a birthday celebration that was, his first birthday as a free man in five-and-a-half years on July 4th? And then finally there is this picture of Keith Stansell. Now, Stansell here is surrounded by several family members. Behind him is his 16-year-old son, Kyle. Right next to him is his Colombian fiancee, Patricia Medina. Then you see 19-year-old Lauren. That's his daughter by his first marriage. And then she is holding the two twin boys, the twin sons that Keith Stansell never had seen before this weekend.

His fiancee, Patricia Medina, was pregnant with the boys when his plane went down. This is the first time he's met those little boys. Their names are Nicholas and Keith. And, again, five years old.

So, as you can see, Kyra, there's going to be a lot of catching up to do for these men, both with their families and with the world at large -- what's happened in this country in all these years when they've been gone and basically out of touch with the outside world.

We'll be covering the news conference here, waiting to see which of these men might speak. And we will have more on this story in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer.

PHILLIPS: And we're sure looking forward to it after seeing that video. You'd love to hear what they went through for so many years.

Susan Roesgen, thanks so much.

CNN will bring you that live coverage, as you heard, Susan, of the yellow ribbon ceremony and the ex-hostages' appearance. That's set for 4:00 Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Beijing bound and her hope swims eternal -- Olympian Dara Torres suiting up for her fifth games. But, hey, it's the first time as a mommy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, you can keep your Aquasize, thank you very much, because this mom wants a medal. L.A. , Seoul, Barcelona, Sydney, swimmer Dara Torres is already an Olympic veteran and in just a few weeks, she's going to be in Beijing, trying to school a new bunch of whipper-snappers.

CNN's Ray D'Alessio reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAY D'ALESSIO, CNN ANCHOR, HEADLINE NEWS (voice-over): While Dara Torres teaches her daughter to swim, she's teaching others a lesson in longevity.

DARA TORRES, U.S. SWIMMER, NINE OLYMPIC MEDALS: I am proving that you can be 41 and you can follow your dreams and that age is just a number.

D'ALESSIO: And this 41-year-old mom is competing against athletes who weren't even born when she made her Olympic debut in 1984. TORRES: I kind of forget that sometimes I'm so much older than them. But the minute I'm on the blocks, I feel like I'm their age. So, you know, it has its moments, but you can tell the difference between a 20-year-old and a 40-year-old. But, for the most part, inside, I feel like I'm their age.

TARA KIRK, 2004 U.S. OLYMPIC SWIM TEAM: I'm pretty impressed. I hope when I'm 41 and have had a kid, that I look as hot as her.

KAITLIN SANDENO, TWO-TIME OLYMPIAN: I don't know how she does it, but she's doing it. And, you know, all the best to her. And I think she's motivation to a lot of women.

D'ALESSIO: A nine-time Olympic medalist, Torres earned her spot in Beijing by winning both the 100 and 50 meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic swim trials. Her win in the 50 was highlighted by Torres breaking her own U.S. record. It comes almost nine years after she first broke the record during the Summer Games in Sydney. At the time, Torres was 33 -- the oldest swimmer on the U.S. Olympic team. She thought she was done.

TORRES: And this reporter stops me and says excuse me, Miss. Torres, can we ask you a question?

And I said sure. And he puts the camera on and sticks the microphone in my face and he says I just want to know, in eight years, are you going to be back in another Olympics at 41?

And I looked at him and I said that's the stupidest question I ever heard and I walked off. I mean there's no way I ever thought I would be in this position again, especially with a kid and trying to balance all this.

D'ALESSIO: Beyond motherhood and middle age, Torres says she's also trying to change the minds of doubters who believe to be this good at this age, she must be taking steroids. Torres says that's why she takes regular blood tests.

TORRES: You really don't see a lot of athletes out there saying oh, you know, I want to be tested. They may say, oh, I passed a drug test. But to want to be tested and to do blood testing, which really no one is ever doing, I think, is a huge step. So I can't sit there and -- I mean I can say it until I'm blue in the face, that I haven't taken drugs, but now I'm proving it.

WHITNEY MYERS, SWIMMER: I think it's amazing what she's doing. And I know there's a lot of questions about how she's swimming so fast. But, I mean, she has the body for it. She has the mind set. She's had the experience and more power to her.

D'ALESSIO: And if she finds the power to win in Beijing, it would be one for the ages.

Ray D'Alessio, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PHILLIPS: Well, straight ahead, you can find almost anything for sale on eBay. But we found one item that might even tempt the devil.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Leading our Political Ticker, a new political director for John McCain's White House bid. Steve Schmidt, who oversees campaign operations, has tapped Rudy Giuliani's former campaign manager Mike Duhaime for the job. Until now, the campaign has relied on 11 regional managers -- a plan many Republicans considered unworkable.

And a big change in plans for Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention. He's going to speak at Denver's Mile High Stadium instead of the much smaller Convention Hall. The stadium seats 75,000 people. Organizers say that the move is a reflection of Obama's success in motivating people to get involved in the election -- many for the very first time.

Check out our Political Ticker for all the latest campaign news. Just log onto CNNPolitics.com, your source for all things political.

Well, the closing bell and a wrap of the action on Wall Street is straight ahead.

Stay with us.

The Dow Jones Industrials down 11 points right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, listen to this. A Texas screenplay writer might be getting a little carried away with her research. She's actually selling her soul on eBay. That's what her character is doing, so Carrie Crain is doing it, too. Her husband thinks she's nuts. Crain said she'd like to get at least 1,000 bucks for her soul. And then in return, she is promising to transfer all her creativity and her positive energy to the winning bidder. It will be packaged in the magic eight ball that she has had since grade school. So far, nobody's buying it -- Susan Lisovicz, would you ever sell your soul?

Or have you done it already?

LISOVICZ: No. No, I haven't. But I have to say, it's not uncommon on Wall Street, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Oh, that's a good point.

LISOVICZ: Yes.

PHILLIPS: That's a very good point in the business world.

LISOVICZ: But, you know, one of the other things that she gets, she's a screenwriter, right?

PHILLIPS: Right. LISOVICZ: She gets a lot of free publicity.

PHILLIPS: There you go.

LISOVICZ: Yes.

PHILLIPS: You know what, that's a great point. The more we talk about it -- maybe we should get 10 percent of this deal. Here we go. We'll sell our souls to the whole, you know, marketing, advertisement, media type of spin and then get 10 percent of her deal.

LISOVICZ: I see a consulting firm in the future, Kyra.

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: Well, I also want to know why she's holding onto this magic eight ball that she's had since grade school.

What's that about?

LISOVICZ: Well, why don't we inquire?

PHILLIPS: OK. There we go. We'll shake it...

LISOVICZ: Why not...

PHILLIPS: ...ask the question.

LISOVICZ: Right after the closing bell.

PHILLIPS: All right.

LISOVICZ: You want to talk talks?

PHILLIPS: Let's talk stocks.

LISOVICZ: OK.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

LISOVICZ: See you tomorrow, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Susan. See you tomorrow.

Miles O'Brien in for Wolf Blitzer today.

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