Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Hecklers Interrupt Obama Town Hall Meeting; The Race Card? McCain Accusing Obama; Anthrax Suspect Suicide; Katrina Relief Supplies Mishandled; McCain at National Urban League

Aired August 1, 2008 - 11:00   ET

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


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning again, everyone. You're informed with CNN.
I'm Tony Harris.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.

Developments keep coming into the CNN NEWSROOM on this Friday, August 1st.

Here's what's on the rundown.

The anthrax attacks of 2001: A former government scientist kills himself. Sources say the Justice Department was going after him in what would likely have been a death penalty case.

The I-35W bridge collapse. One year later, Minneapolis looks back today. Why high oil prices may mean more disasters just like this.

COLLINS: Don't learn the hard way. Save your hard-earned dollars. Back-to-school shopping with the coupon mom -- in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: All right. Let's take you back for a moment.

The last hour, Barack Obama was holding a town hall meeting, as you know, in St. Petersburg, Florida. During that town hall meeting there was an interruption.

First, let's let you hear the interruption and then the Q&A session that followed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hold on a second. Hold on a second. And when our -- and when our -- that's all right.

That's all right.

Listen -- excuse me. And when our -- hey, hold on a second.

AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

OBAMA: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on, everybody.

Excuse me, young man, there's going to be a question and answer session, so you can ask a question later. Let me make my statement and why don't you all sit down, then you can ask a question.

(APPLAUSE)

That's why we're having a town hall meeting. Sit down.

You'll have -- you'll have a chance to ask your question, but you don't want to disrupt the whole meeting. Just be courteous, that's all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: OK. So there you see the hecklers holding the sign. The sign reading, "What About Black America, Obama?" And Barack Obama promising that at least one of the young men holding the sign would get an opportunity to ask a question.

Here is that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the face of the numerous attacks that are made against the African community, or the black community, by the same U.S. government that you aspire to lead -- and we're talking about attacks like the subprime mortgage that you spoke of, that wasn't just a general ambiguous kind of phenomenon, but a phenomena that targeted the African community and Latino community, attacks like the killing of Sean Bell by the New York Police Department, and Javan Dawson (ph) right here in St. Petersburg by the St. Pete Police, and the Jena 6 and Hurricane Katrina, and the list goes on.

In the face of all these attacks that are clearly being made on the African community, why is it that you have not had the ability to not one time speak to the interests and even speak on behalf of the oppressed and exploited African community or black community in this country?

OBAMA: All right. All right.

Well, I guess -- hold on a second, everybody. I want everyone to be respectful. That's why we're having a town hall meeting. It's democracy at work, and he asked a legitimate question. So I want to give him an answer.

I think you're misinformed about -- when you say not one time. Every issue that you've spoken about, I actually did speak out on.

(APPLAUSE)

When it came to -- hold on. I just -- I'm going go through the very specific examples. I've been talking about predatory lending for the last two years in the United States Senate and worked to pass legislation to prevent it when I was in the state legislature.

(APPLAUSE)

And I have repeatedly said that many of the predatory loans that were made in the mortgage system did target African-American and Latino communities. I've said that repeatedly.

Number two, Jena 6, I was the first candidate to get out there and say this is wrong, there's an injustice that's been done, and we need to change it. That's number two.

(APPLAUSE)

When Sean Bell got shot, I put out a statement immediately saying this is a problem.

So all I'm -- all I'm -- I'm sorry. Wait, wait, wait. Don't start -- hold on. Hold on. Don't start, you know, shouting back. I'm just answering your question.

On each of -- on each of these issues I've spoken out.

Now, I may not have spoken out the way you would have wanted me to speak out, which is fine because -- no, I understand, but -- which is fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE)

OBAMA: Well, hold on a second. I've got other people, so I'm just trying to answer your question.

So what I'm saying is -- here's what I'm suggesting. What I'm suggesting is that on each of these issues that you mentioned I have spoken out, and I've spoken out forcefully.

And listen, I was a civil rights lawyer. I have passed -- I passed -- hold on a second -- hold on. I passed the first racial profiling legislation in Illinois. I passed -- I passed some of the toughest death penalty reform legislation in Illinois.

So these are issues I've worked on for decades.

Now, that doesn't mean that I'm going always satisfy the way you guys want these issues framed, and I understand it, which gives you the option of voting for somebody else. It gives you the option to run for office yourself.

(APPLAUSE)

But those are all options. But the one thing -- but the one thing that I think is important -- the one thing I think is important that, you know, we're respectful towards each other. And what is true is I believe that the only way we're going to solve our problems in this country, the only way we're...

(APPLAUSE)

The only way that we're going to solve our problems in this country is if all of us come together -- black, white, Hispanic, Asians, Native-American, young, old, disabled, gay, straight. That, I think has got to be our agenda, all right? OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: OK. So there you have it.

We wanted to close the circle on that a bit. Just, first of all, the interruption by the hecklers holding up the sign saying, "What About Black America, Obama?" How the candidate actually handled the hecklers.

There have been a number of occasions when we carried John McCain events, and he's been, unfortunately, heckled at some of those events. And he's handled those beautifully.

So we wanted to show you how Barack Obama handled the hecklers. And then the question from the heckler, as he promised, the heckler would get an opportunity to ask a question, and then the response from Barack Obama.

So maybe that completes the circle on this episode at the Barack Obama town hall meeting this morning in St. Petersburg, Florida.

COLLINS: Well, maybe there's more. We have a different perspective, too, coming in from CNN political producer Alex Marquardt. He is actually at the event in St. Petersburg, Florida, and has been traveling with the Obama campaign for a while now.

So, Alex, you were there in the room, you saw what happened. Are these types of questions common? Do we not see these types of questions come out more than we see them on television?

I mean, this is a different type of event. It's a town hall. He's inviting questions, and obviously has to respond no matter how large the group may be.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: No, Heidi, I think as Tony noted, hecklers are far more common at John McCain-type events. In fact, since I've been covering Senator Obama, I haven't seen too many protesters, certainly not in this vein.

I think he was a little startled. You know, the crowds that come to Obama events are very raucous, they're very energetic, they're very positive, usually. And so this caught -- I think it caught him off guard. You saw that he got a little bit irritated, but then again, he did say that this is a town hall where there will be a Q&A, and he did afford them a chance to sort of voice their opinions, and he answered them.

A little funny aside, as the hecklers sat down after Obama told them that they would get a chance to answer (sic) a question, one and then two Secret Service agents made their way up to the top of the bleachers where they were, and remained throughout the town hall.

COLLINS: OK. But they're not being asked to leave or anything. I mean, this is a town hall meeting.

MARQUARDT: No, no, not at all. I mean, after they interrupted the meeting in the beginning, a couple other supporters pulled down their sign. But no, it was very -- it was very calm, it was very facet.

COLLINS: OK. Well, we don't want to make a huge deal out of it if it wasn't a huge deal. You're the guy in the room. We certainly do appreciate you giving us the perspective of being there in person.

Alex Marquardt, we appreciate it. Thank you.

Live pictures now from Orlando, Florida, where John McCain is due to address the National Urban League this hour. We're going to bring that to you just as soon as he reaches the podium there.

HARRIS: OK. The discussion of race, whether it is brought up by hecklers at a campaign event, or by the candidates themselves, it is, unavoidably, it seems, a part of the campaign.

John McCain says Barack Obama is using race to gain the upper hand in the race for the White House.

CNN's Dana Bash looks at that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The issue of race exploded onto the presidential campaign trail with this statement from John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis: "Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful, and wrong."

He was referring to Obama's comments at three different Missouri campaign stops Wednesday, reacting to McCain's increasingly negative tone with a version of this.

OBAMA: Nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain had a real answer for the challenges we face. So, what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, oh, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills, you know?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BASH: In an exclusive interview with CNN's John King, McCain said it's fair to accuse Obama of playing the race card. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm sorry to say it, that it is. It's legitimate. And we don't -- there is no place in this campaign for that. There is no place for it. And we shouldn't be doing it.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They say that's not the case.

MCCAIN: OK, John.

KING: OK. Senator.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Appreciate it.

MCCAIN: I will let the American people judge.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: With that, McCain walked away, reluctant to personally engage.

But, at the same moment, McCain's own campaign was aggressively calling reporters to push and explain their race card charge -- Adviser Steve Schmidt calling Obama's remarks a -- quote -- "disgusting accusation," saying, "This campaign will not allow John McCain to be smeared in this way."

An Obama spokesman responded by saying, "Barack Obama in no way believes that the McCain campaign is using race as an issue. But he does believe they're using the same old low-road politics to distract voters."

Now, the reality is that, dating back to the Democratic primaries, Obama talked often about his opponents using what he called his risky traits against him. And just a few weeks ago, at a fund- raiser, he was more direct.

OBAMA: They're going to try to make you afraid of me.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: They're going to -- they're going to say, you know what? He's young and inexperienced, and -- and he's got a funny name.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Did I mention he's black?

BASH: Camp McCain insist they pounced on Obama's new comments because, this time, he was hitting McCain, who has warned against injecting race into the campaign.

(on camera): But what's really driving this? McCain advisers think Obama cleverly used this tactic in the Democratic primary to push back on questions about his policies. So the McCain campaign is trying to lay down what advisers call a critical marker in their battle now, that if race is an issue in this campaign, Obama is the one who brought it up first.

Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Emergency supplies meant for victims of Hurricane Katrina. So why didn't they get them? FEMA admitting mistakes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Suicide confirmed in the death of a scientist and suspect in the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings case. Sources say the Justice Department wanted charges against Bruce Ivins.

Live now to CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena in Washington.

And Kelli, first of all, what can you tell us about Bruce Ivins?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm going to tell you, we just got some new information in that may give us some insight into his state of mind.

HARRIS: Great.

ARENA: Our producer, Mike Allers (ph), found that there was a temporary protective order that was filed against him just a few days before he committed suicide. Now, this document alleges that he was making violent threats, that he was harassing and stalking this individual. The individual also told police that Ivins had spent some time in a mental health facility in Maryland, and as far as we could tell, this is not someone who was related to Ivins.

HARRIS: Got you.

ARENA: Now, here's what we know about the investigation.

We are told that prosecutors were planning to indict and seek the death penalty against Ivins. He was a top Army microbiologist. He was actually developing a vaccine to be used against anthrax.

Sources say that he was going to be charged, and when he found that out that he committed suicide. Sources say that the government is actually going to move to close this case, that the threat no longer exists.

He did work at the Army lab over at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Sources tell us that the FBI actually traced the anthrax that was used in the attacks back to that specific lab. And Ivins was one of the many scientists who actually worked with the FBI as its investigation moved forward.

You know, Tony, this is a major breakthrough.

HARRIS: Yes.

ARENA: I mean, there hasn't been a single arrest made in seven years. As you remember, the government identified Steven Hatfill as a person of interest in this case. He also worked at Fort Detrick.

He, you know, vehemently denied any involvement, sued the government, just recently won a multimillion-dollar settlement. But beyond that, a lot of people thought that this case had gone cold. And I actually spoke with the FBI director, Robert Mueller, about that just a few weeks ago, and here's a little bit of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: People who are not familiar with the investigation could criticize. I'm confident in the course of the investigation. I'm confident in the steps that have been taken in the course of the investigation. And I'm confident that it will be resolved.

ARENA: Is there anything...

MUELLER: I have to tell you, we've made great progress in the investigation, and it's in no way dormant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ARENA: Now, so far, we haven't heard anything official from either the FBI or the Justice Department -- Tony.

HARRIS: Our Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena for us this morning.

Kelli, appreciate it. Thank you.

ARENA: You're welcome.

COLLINS: A massive manhunt around Niagara, Wisconsin, is over. Officials say the man wanted in the shooting deaths of three teens is now in custody. Police say he was armed with an assault rifle and opened fire on a small group of kids that got together last night near a bridge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF JAMES KANIKULA, MARINETTE COUNTY, WISCONSIN: Any motives for these shootings is still unclear. At this point, we believe it's random. There was no communication between the shooter and any of the victims or the witnesses that were there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: More than 100 law enforcement officers had searched for the gunman throughout the night.

HARRIS: Boy.

A year ago today, one of the worst infrastructure failures in U.S. history, the I-35W bridge collapse. Today, a solemn observance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: The Federal Emergency Management Agency taking it on the chin. Lawmakers demanding answers at a joint congressional hearing. This follows a CNN investigation. Household supplies intended for Katrina victims just sat unused in warehouses for two years.

Here's Emmy of CNN's Special Investigations Unit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee scolded FEMA, saying it failed the American public.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: We need legislation to reorder the structuring of the distribution of aid to the needy, because every state government that has gotten this distribution gets an "F," particularly in Hurricane Katrina.

BOUDREAU: In June, CNN first reported FEMA had given away 121 truckloads of brand new household supplies, all meant for Katrina victims. Those items had been stockpiled in warehouses and then declared surplus. FEMA told CNN no one was asking for those supplies, and that's why they were ultimately given away to 16 states and other federal agencies.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu pressed FEMA about why it sat on the supplies.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: You didn't contact your regional office. You didn't contact the state office. You didn't contact the nonprofit.

How did you determine that these items were not needed?

ERIC SMITH, FEMA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: If we don't have demands on that, no one asks for them, we don't have no requisitions for them, we determine if there's an ongoing need to keep them.

BOUDREAU: Landrieu produced a letter the Louisiana Recovery Authority sent to FEMA dated one week before the supplies were made available to states and federal agencies. The letter requested millions of dollars for household establishment assistance for Katrina victims moving into permanent housing. But Landrieu says the request never made it to top FEMA officials.

Leaders of recovery groups told the panel they had no idea the household supplies were being stored.

PAUL RAINWATER, LOUISIANA DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: What is troubling to me is that the state would have never known about these supplies if CNN had not reported on the issue. BILL STALLWORTH, BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI, HOPE CENTER: Those millions could have gone toward those people who are in need. And I don't mean just those folks who are still in the FEMA trailers. I'm talking about those folks who were pushed out of the trailers.

BOUDREAU: Our investigation found nonprofit groups helping to re-house Katrina victims were in constant contact with FEMA officials about their needs.

We caught up with the FEMA assistant administrator responsible for handling the supplies.

(on camera): Why didn't the people working with the nonprofit groups that were part of FEMA, why didn't they come back to the leaders of FEMA, saying there is an obvious need, let's get them some of those supplies.

SMITH: I would think that because the people that they were working with did not relay that need to them, because if they did, they would have issued it to them.

BOUDREAU: Did FEMA let the victims of Katrina down in this particular case?

SMITH: No.

BOUDREAU: That is shocking for people. That is shocking for people to hear that, that FEMA is not acknowledging that you guys made mistakes in this case. You're saying you did not let the people of this hurricane down?

SMITH: You asked me, did I let them down versus making a mistake. Did we make a mistake? Yes, and we all make a mistake. We acknowledge that.

Can we do better? Yes. But did we let them down? No.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOUDREAU: The leaders of the nonprofit groups helping Katrina victims say they tell need all of those supplies and hope the victims of the storm are not forgotten.

COLLINS: Wow, it sounded a little bit like semantics there, whether you let somebody down or you make mistakes, but I don't want to belabor the point.

Did anyone actually ask FEMA if it would be prepared now for the next possible big disaster?

BOUDREAU: Yes, that question came up quite a bit. FEMA says it has a new system that tracks supplies coming in after a disaster. It's called Aidmatrix. And it also has a better coordination effort with the states.

Of course, lawmakers, some of them at yesterday's hearing, aren't necessarily convinced. But FEMA insists it is ready if another hurricane strikes -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Abbie, terrific reporting. Great work. And we sure do appreciate it.

Abbie Boudreau from the Special Investigations Unit from Washington.

Thanks, Abbie.

HARRIS: And live pictures now from Orlando, Florida, where John McCain is addressing the National Urban League this hour. Let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MCCAIN: ... and good hearts to help turn those schools around.

We'll award bonuses as well to our highest-achieving teachers, and no longer will we measure teacher achievement by conformity to process. We'll measure it by the success of their students.

Moreover, the funds for these bonuses will not be controlled by faraway officials in Washington and the State Capitol, or even in a district office. Under my reforms, we will put the money and the responsibilities where they belong, and that is in the office of the school principal.

One reason charter schools are so successful...

(APPLAUSE)

One reason charter schools are so successful and so sought after by parents is that principals have spending discretion. And I intend to give that same discretion to public school principals. No longer will money be spent on rigid and often meaningless formulas. Relying on the good judgment and firsthand knowledge of school principals, education money will be spent in service to public school students.

(APPLAUSE)

Under my reforms, parents will exercise freedom of choice in obtaining extra help for children who are falling behind. As it is, federal aid to parents for tutoring for their children has to, incredibly, go through another bureaucracy. They can't purchase the tutoring directly without dealing with the same education establishment that failed their children in the first place.

These needless restrictions will be removed. If a student needs extra help, parents will be able to sign them up to get it with direct, public support.

Some of these reforms and others are contained in a statement of principles drafted by a group dedicated to finally changing the status quo in our education system. The Education Equality Project has brought together leaders from all across the political spectrum, including school chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City.

Chancellor Klein is a strong supporter of charter schools because he understand that fundamental reform is needed. As he puts it, and I quote him, "In large urban areas, the culture of public education is broken."

If you don't fix this culture, then you're not going to be able to make the kind of changes that are needed. And enormous changes have been made in the New York City school system, as you know.

Among others who share this conviction are Mayor Cory Booker of Newark; Chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington; and Harold Ford, Jr. You know that a reform movement is truly bipartisan when J.C. Watts and Al Sharpton are both members. That's a remarkable occasion.

(APPLAUSE)

And today I'm proud to add my name as well to the list of those who support the aims and principles of the Education Equality Project. But one name is still missing, Senator Obama's.

My opponent talks a great deal about hope and change. Education is as good a test as any of his seriousness.

The Education Equality Project is a practical plan for delivering change and restoring hope for children and parents who today need a lot of both. And as Senator Obama continues to defer to the teachers unions instead of committing to real reform, then he should start looking for new slogans.

Over the years, the Urban League has brought enormous good into the life of our country by broadening the reach of economic opportunity. There was a time when economists took little, if any, notice. Any notice at all of the poverty of black communities.

Even in times of general economic growth, many lived in a perpetual recession. And the jobs available didn't promise much upward mobility. You all know that.

Our country still has a lot of progress to make on this score, but with 1.2 million businesses today owned and operated by African- Americans, more and more are no longer just spectators on the prosperity of our country. They are stakeholders, not spectators, stakeholders.

And as much as anyone else, they count on their government to help create the conditions of economic growth. And as president, I intend to do just that.

Senator Obama and I have fundamental differences on economic policy, and many of them concern tax rates. He supports a proposal to raise top marginal rates by small business and families, to raise tax rates on those with taxable incomes on more than $32,000. Raise capital gains taxes, raise taxes on dividends, raise payroll taxes and raises estate taxes. That's a whole lot of raising. And for millions of families, individuals and small businesses, it will mean a lot less money to spend, save and invest as they see fit. For my part, I believe that in a troubled economy, when folks are struggling to afford the necessities of life, higher taxes are the last thing we need.

The economy isn't hurting because...

(APPLAUSE)

My friends, the economy isn't hurting because workers and businesses are undertaxed. Raising taxes eliminates jobs, hurts small businesses and delays economic recovery. Under my plan, we will preserve the current low rates as they are so businesses large and small can hire more people.

We'll double the personal exemption from $3,500 to $7,000 for every dependent in every family in America. We'll offer...

(APPLAUSE)

We'll offer every individual and family a large tax credit to buy their health care so employers can spend more on wages and workers don't lose their coverage when they change jobs. We'll lower the business tax rate so American companies open new plans and create more jobs in this country not going overseas.

Now, there are honest differences as well about the growth of government, but surely, we can find common ground in the principle that government cannot go on forever spending recklessly and incurring debt. Government has grown by 60 percent in the last eight years because the Congress and the administration have failed to meet their responsibilities, and Americans are angry about it, and they should be.

(APPLAUSE)

And next year, total federal expenditures are predicted to reach over $3 trillion. That's an awful lot for us to be spending when this nation is already more than $9 trillion in debt, or more than $30,000 in debt for every citizen of this country. That's a debt our government plans to leave for your children and mine to bear, and that's not only a failure of financial oversight, it's a moral obligation.

There will come a time when the road reaches a dead end, and it won't be today's politicians who suffer the consequences. It will be American workers and their children who are left with worthless promises and multitrillion-dollar debts. We cannot let that happen.

As president, I promise you I'll work with every member of Congress, Republican, Democrat and Independent, who shares my commitment to reforming government and controlling spending and removing the corruption that exists in our nation's capital today.

(APPLAUSE) I'll order a top-to-bottom review of every federal program, department and agency. We're going to demand accountability. We're going make sure failed programs aren't rewarded and that discretionary spending is going where it belongs, to essential priorities like job training, the security of our citizens and the care of our veterans.

To get our economy running in full strength again, we'll need to stay focused on creating jobs for our people, protecting paychecks from the rising costs of food, gasoline and almost everything else. Above all, we need to get a handle on the cost of oil and gasoline and regain energy independence for the United States of America.

HARRIS: All right. Arizona Senator and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain speaking before the National Urban League in Orlando. We believe he is going to be taking questions from the audience after his comments. If you would like to watch the candidates today, just go to CNN.com/live to watch their rallies and events streamed live.

COLLINS: Back to school, back against the wall. How to avoid busting your budget. The "Coupon Mom" schools us on savings.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Your money, it's issue #1 here at CNN. And this morning, several headlines on the health of the economy.

Oil prices have been shooting up the last hour or so. That's troubling. It's the second day of gains this week. As you know, prices have been sliding the last couple of weeks.

The nation's jobless rate hits its highest level in four years. This morning, we learned the July unemployment rate hit 5.7 percent, more job losses than certainly expected here.

And more bad news from General Motors today. It reported losses widened to, get this, $15.5 billion in the second quarter of this year. Boy, that was much more than expected. And the third worse loss ever for the car maker.

Meanwhile, the national average has dropped a little more than a penny this morning. According to AAA, today's price, about $3.90 a gallon.

Let's take a look at how stocks are doing this morning. As you can see, the Dow down 30 points -- 31, almost 32 points. The Nasdaq is down as well. The S&P pretty flat.

We'll get a market check with Susan Lisovicz in just a couple of minutes right here in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Well, we are in the first day of August and the last days of summer vacation for many people across this country. So that means it's time for back-to-school shopping.

It used to be one of my favorite times. Maybe now that I'm the mom, maybe not so much.

Here to help you save on everything from clothes to school supplies, is Stephanie Nelson, author of that book, "Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom."

All right. So, this is a big, big time for many families across this country. We're getting ready for school here on August 11th. We don't have much time left.

What are the big items that we really need to watch out for by way of getting ripped off?

STEPHANIE NELSON, "THE COUPON MOM": Well, the big thing to avoid is to not overbuy at this time of year. You kind of get in this frenzy of, I need to buy all this fall and winter clothing. It's only August.

COLLINS: Yes.

NELSON: So clothing and shoes are the most expensive, so I recommend that people really coordinate their planning with their kids and inventory what you already have. Only buy a few things right now, but buy summer things on clearance, use coupons, if you can, and wait until they're in school for a few weeks to see what they would really like to wear. You know how fickle kids can be.

COLLINS: Yes. Yes.

NELSON: And then by the time you go shopping, all that fall and winter stuff will be on sale.

COLLINS: Yes. OK. Well, yes, that's a really good idea.

Now, what about these tax-free shopping days? This is going to be kind of interesting.

NELSON: Right. There are 13 states and the District of Columbia that have tax-free holidays, and they're anywhere -- they're generally in August. And these are -- this applies to some items that you use for back-to-school shopping: some computers, some electronics, clothing, shoes, that kind of thing.

COLLINS: Right.

NELSON: But it really varies by state, so you have to check your state's Department of Revenue Web site to see what the limitation are.

COLLINS: OK. Absolutely worth it, though. You're saying check into it and find out.

NELSON: Absolutely worth it. If your state tax is 7 percent, you're shopping anyway, you should stop during those holidays.

COLLINS: Absolutely.

All right. So, a lot of people stock up on clothes, you know, before they -- or maybe some of these other items, school supply items, before going back. Is that a good idea?

NELSON: Well, it's a good idea to stock up on things that are really rock-bottom at this time. Like, you will never see school supplies, stationery items, as low-priced as they are right now.

Some stores like office supply stores and discount stores are selling paper, Crayons, markers, those kinds of things, for 90 percent off. So you do want to stock up on those, and that's for the whole year. And if you can buy some extra for charity, that's really great.

COLLINS: Yes. Very good. A lot of programs out there, too, that are great to give items to people who otherwise cannot afford them, so you might want to look at that.

What about some hints though during these massive shopping trips that we end up going on? I know they always say when you go grocery shopping, don't go hungry. Is there anything here that we can think about?

NELSON: Right. Well, you need have a list and sit down with your kids. I sit down with my kids and say, what do you already have, what is the minimum that we need right now? That's what we're going to get. So we don't do impulse shopping. But when you coordinate...

COLLINS: But that's so fun for the kids, that impulse shopping.

NELSON: I didn't say I was a fun mom. We're talking about staying in the budget.

But a lot of the stores will have buy one get one free. So when you take advantage of these promotions and you plan, and then you want to print a coupon. Go to the coupon sites, print coupons for shoes, print coupons for clothes. You can really save and still be kind of fun.

COLLINS: OK. Still be kind of fun. That's the key thing.

All right. Stephanie Nelson, the "Coupon Mom."

We sure do appreciate it. Thanks.

NELSON: Thanks for having me.

COLLINS: You bet.

COLLINS: A year ago today, one of the worst infrastructure failures in U.S. history. The I-35W bridge collapse. Today, a solemn observance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Today is the last day to nominate someone you know as CNN hero at CNN.com/heroes. And during a week when we learn that one in every two Americans living with HIV is African-American, it's appropriate that week's hero is working to change that.

Bambi Gaddist Is battling on the front line of the AIDS epidemic, the Deep South.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BAMBI GADDIST, MEDICAL MARVEL: Here in South Carolina, HIV is a problem, particularly among African-Americans. After 27 years of age, we are still combating a mentality of fear and shame.

I'm Bambi Gaddist, and I'm fighting to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Carolina.

Our organization has the only HIV testing mobile unit in the state. Our goal was to be in the communities, testing at a nightclub, we're there when young folks are out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was my first time. Very first time. I'm glad I did it. She takes time to explain things, actually break it down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When people are scared see a place like this, it might make them want to go in and get tested.

GADDIST: We had a very good night. We had quite a few people decide to find out their status. We also had positives.

We've got some business to handle.

When we get a positive, it validates why we need to keep doing the work.

Did you get tested, yet?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did.

GADDIST: You already got it? OK. I sure appreciate you coming out.

I joke about being a 70-year-old woman giving out condoms to the children. When it's my time, I want my obituary to say that I made a difference for someone and that I saved somebody's life.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360" (voice over): July is the last month to nominate someone you know as a CNN Hero for 2008. Go to CNN.com/heroes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: All right, well there you have it. That reminder once again that today is actually the last day for nominations. You just heard CNN.com/heroes is where you go to go ahead and cast that vote. You may share your hero story with the world, and they could be honored at an all-star tribute Thanksgiving night, right here on CNN.

HARRIS: The new face of 50. Our iReporters celebrate. Veronica De La Cruz shares their stories. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COLLINS: It's a day of prayers, songs, silence and remembering in Minnesota. Residents are marking one year since that bridge collapse in Minneapolis, one of the worst infrastructure failures in U.S. history.

It was rush hour, 6:05 in the afternoon when Interstate 35 West, the bridge there, buckled and fell into the Mississippi River. Thirteen people were killed, 145 others injured.

Today there will be an interfaith memorial service. Live pictures for you there now. A moment of silence and bells tolling.

The bridge's replacement is expected to be finished in less than a year.

HARRIS: Paying students to learn, that's what happened in one Georgia school system. But the program has come to an end. Did it work?

CNN's Josh Levs is here with a look.

And that's a good question, did it work, Josh?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you remember this thing, right?

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

LEVS: This was a big deal.

HARRIS: Sure. Yes.

LEVS: And in this case, what made it different was that these students were being paid just for showing up to class.

HARRIS: Right.

LEVS: They got $8 an hour, four hours a week, 14 weeks, to be tutored in math and science. All that money was private, a private foundation, not public money.

Now we have just got official results. I'm piecing through them here. Let's take a look at this graphic.

In math, the students grades actually went down, but the study finds that other similar students who did not join the program, their grades went down even more. So maybe it did help them.

HARRIS: Oh, OK. OK.

LEVS: In science, these kids' grades went up while the other students' grades went down.

And this is how they're summarizing it. They're saying in this, quote -- it's an independent report -- they say, "While the financial incentives served to attract students to the program, the rewards associated with success and positive support from others were in the end more important to keeping them engaged in the program."

HARRIS: Oh.

LEVS: So in the end, they're saying it wasn't all about the money.

HARRIS: So what does this say about the controversy?

LEVS: Well, here's the thing. It really does not refute the biggest arguments against it.

You know, the biggest arguments against it were that it's unfair to students who are not being paid.

HARRIS: Right.

LEVS: And also, as some experts were saying, that it could make kids less interested in learning later on when they're not paid.

So what we need to do, Tony -- and we will -- is watch these same kids next year, see how it plays out then. Are they still pursuing knowledge to this extent?

HARRIS: Yes. Terrific. All right, Josh. Appreciate it. Thank you.

LEVS: Thanks.

COLLINS: And quickly want to talk a little bit more about August 16th.

HARRIS: Ah, yes.

COLLINS: That's when Madonna turns 50. Prince and Michael Jackson also turn 50 this year. "Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall just turned the big 5-0.

So, what does it mean to be 50?

Veronica De La Cruz has some of your iReports.

So, Veronica, people are sending in iReports on being 50?

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're saying it's fabulous, it's fabulous to be 50. And that is the question.

COLLINS: Fifty is the new 40, or something like that?

DE LA CRUZ: It is the new 30, even.

COLLINS: Oh, my. Well, hey, that's great.

DE LA CRUZ: All right. Let's check in with our iReporters. This is Lisa Connell, and she is 51, Heidi. Her boyfriend who is in this picture with her is 50.

And she says, "We love to enjoy the full extent of each day, doing everything in moderation. Eating healthy meals takes some discipline, but it pays for itself in the long run."

"Take time to laugh, exercise, dance, or whatever it is that you enjoy. Don't sweat the small stuff."

Another one of our iReporters, Heidi, Lynne Scholfield, she says, "I'm turning 50 September 12th and have always been a fan of music, including Madonna's. I love my life and I'm looking forward to the second half of it. My youngest is heading to the University of Colorado in Boulder in a month, and my husband and I are looking at doing more hiking and biking than ever."

So there you go, just a couple quotes there from our iReporters. We're asking you, what does it mean to be 50?

Go ahead and log on to ireport.com and let us know.

And Heidi, we actually have a special coming up. CNN International is doing a special on the new face of 50. So we want to see your pictures and video.

COLLINS: Very cool. And you know that one woman in Colorado, that picture of her, I knew that was Colorado. She looks healthy, and it's just healthier to live in Colorado. Don't you think?

DE LA CRUZ: Yes. And, you know, for her 50th, she says, September 12th, she is going to hike a mountain and she is going to get it on tape for us.

COLLINS: Ah, very good. There's a couple (INAUDIBLE) out there she could do. All right. Very good.

We'll follow up on that.

Veronica De La Cruz, appreciate it. Thank you.

And CNN NEWSROOM continues.

Are you doing another story, Tony?

HARRIS: I don't know. Am I doing another story?

COLLINS: Here. Make this one up.

HARRIS: Oh, this is the Cuban egg story. Yes, like six ounces. But it's really big, it's in Cuba, and the farm owner believes he has the record-breaking egg. The previous record holder, a chicken from the Canary Islands.

All right. There you go. I'm done.

COLLINS: CNN NEWSROOM continues, I think, one hour from now.

HARRIS: "ISSUE #1" with Rick Sanchez starts right now.