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Obama Adds Foreclosure Rescue Plan To Arsenal Meant To Combat Recession; CNN Viewers Have Questions For Finance Editor Gerri Willis; Pentagon Says Troops Headed For Iraq Redirected To Afghanistan; Auto Industry Asks Congress For Billions More In Survival Loans; The Controversial Cartoon

Aired February 18, 2009 - 13:59   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And we're pushing forward instead falling further and further behind. That's the goal of a blockbuster plan to make America's mortgages manageable and to forego foreclosures for everybody's sake.

Durango, Hummer, Saturn and Saab. GM and Chrysler say they can't survive with them. Can they push forward without them?

Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Well, it's a story blowing up on the Web and the airwaves today. A cartoon in the "New York Post" featuring two policemen and a dead chimpanzee. The drawing clearly a nod to Monday's mauling that ended when cops shot a pet chimp in Connecticut. It's the text that's blowing people away. We're going to show you why.

The newspapers is being blasted for at best, poor taste, at worst, violent and potentially racist overtones. Reverend Al Sharpton plans to picket "The Post" tomorrow. He's with us live this hour.

Can't afford to leave, can't afford to stay. That's where we begin. President Obama says that's a crisis facing millions of American home owners and dragging down the economy. Today is the day the president unveiled his Homeowner Affordability & Stability Plan with a price tag estimated at $75 billion. It's based on new and more affordable mortgages for people on the brink of foreclosure, as well as for homeowners who are upside down, owing more than their homes are now worth.

Among the incentives, the plan would offer lenders subsidies for lower interest rates. But it would also do something to home lenders have fought for decades, allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages just like they can many other loans. Banks and lenders won't be forced to cut rates or payments for anybody, but the president hopes this is an offer they just can't refuse.

The economic stimulus, phase two of the bank bailout. The automotive action plan, now this. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux traveling with the president in Arizona.

Suzanne, have we now covered all the crisis is zones? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think there are probably going to be some more crisis zones, Kyra, in the future. But this is one of those things where the government says that they're actually going to keep 9 million - 9 million - people in their homes if all of this works out. The price tag $75 billion.

One of the incentives you mentioned, obviously the government to provide subsidies to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to allow them to actually reduce some of those monthly rates. Another program actually allowing homeowners that owe more than the value of their home to refinance.

That has never been done before. You look at this plan and it does have some teeth to it. But the president also wanted to make it clear here, he's kind of preempting some of the criticism we've heard, is that perhaps this will reward bad behavior from the banks or homeowners, people who have been irresponsible.

The president making it clear here that this is not for everyone. This is specifically for people who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The plan I'm announcing focuses on rescuing families who played by the rules and acted responsibly. By refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it, by modifying loans for families stuck in subprime mortgages they can't afford, as a result of skyrocketing interest rates, or personal misfortune, and by taking broader steps to keep mortgage rates low so that families can secure loans with affordable monthly payments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Kyra, the president obviously making that announcement here in Phoenix, Arizona. He really wanted to highlight the situation a lot of people are going through here in Phoenix. We are talking about 40,000 people who lost their homes last year, and 117,000 for the state of Arizona.

So clearly he wants to let the American people know he understands what they're going through. A lot of people here in this community listened very carefully to the president's plan - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much.

Unless you own your home free and clear, you fall into one of three categories: You've lost your home to foreclosure already; you've fallen behind in your payments and foreclosure actions have started or soon will; or, you're making your payments but still want a break on your interest rate. This hour we're going to see what, if anything, the president's plan offers each. First, though, let's answer some of your most pressing questions about being in foreclosure. Our Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis here with the bottom line.

I understand we've been getting a lot of emails, Gerri?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: We have been. There are a lot of emails out there. I think you got the first one from Scott in Michigan?

PHILLIPS: Actually, I wish I did. I was told you had them. Do you have them?

WILLIS: All right, I've got it.

PHILLIPS: All right. Go right ahead.

WILLIS: He asked, "We are foreclosing on our home. We have to be out by May 21st. How will this package help us afford the home before we have to move?"

I have to say, well, Scott, if your loan is scheduled for foreclosure soon, you need to contact that mortgage servicer. Mortgage lenders have said they will postpone foreclosure sales on all mortgages that may qualify for modification. So that's a potential out for you.

Another question, we have here, this is from, let me read the bottom of that, it's from Sue. Sue asks, "We declared bankruptcy last year. We've kept up our two mortgages. It's more than 31 percent of our income now and the first mortgage is a five-year ARM. What about us? Can we get help from this plan?"

Well, Sue, it's hard to know all the details of this eligibility, but this package my reduce the size of your loan. The other possibility is getting a loan modification. You said your loan is more than 31 percent of your income and that is one of the criteria in the president's plan for getting a loan modification. Your best bet, call your lender, ask about whether you qualify for reduced payments. You also want to contact your bankruptcy attorney to see if there's a possibility you can do what they called a cram down, where the bankruptcy judge writes down your mortgage dealt - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Gerri, thanks. I'll be a little more organized next time and have those emails for you. We've been getting a lot of them. Thanks, Gerri.

WILLIS: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Gerri will be back in about 20 minutes to help all of you homeowners in good standing to understand your options as well.

Well, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is pledging to do everything within his power to help lift the United States out of recession. Bernanke spoke just short time ago at the National Press Club in Washington. Under Bernanke the Fed has cut its key interest rate to near 0 percent. And it's taken a number of other dramatic steps to try and stabilize the economy.

The U.S. Treasury will apparently have to add a lot more money to those checks it's writing to try to save General Motors and Chrysler . Both automakers say it will take more than double the $17 billion they've already received in government loans. GM says it could need up to $30 billion total. That includes a $13 billion that it's already received. Chrysler wants $5 billion on top of the $4 billion it's already gotten. And as part of their restructuring plans GM says it will cut 47,000 more jobs; Chrysler plans to slash 3,000 more.

In addition to the job cuts, both automakers are also making some major changes to their product lineups. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with a look at which models and brands are being eliminated, along with what it means for all of us drivers.

Hey, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kyra.

Both General Motors and Chrysler are adjusting their lineups as they desperately try to slash costs. Which vehicles won't we be seeing on the roads much longer? Chrysler is shedding the Dodge Aspen and Durango, as well as the PT Cruiser.

We see models come and go all the time, but brand extinctions are much rarer, and that is what GM is planning. The company is also eliminating its Hummer brands this year and its Saturn line by 2011, while the future of the Saab division is up in the air.

Obviously people who drive those vehicles are asking, what happens to my car when the brands go away? Experts say the companies will continue to honor warranties, even if the brand or model no longer exists and will continue to supply replacement parts.

It's such a tough time for auto sales, the carmakers want to improve overall reputation. So keeping customers happy is important. Leases should also remain stable but the resale value of the brands, that could tumble, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: The slowdown in the car sales has hit more than just the automakers, though, right?

LISOVICZ: Yes. A number of auto parts companies are already in bankruptcy, Kyra. And tire giant Goodyear, today, said it's slashing 5,000 more jobs this year on top of the 4,000 it announced last year. The company also posted a worse-than-expected quarterly loss blaming lower industry demand undoubtedly related to the slump in auto sales. Goodyear shares right now are up three percent.

The overall market, however, going in the opposite direction. But we're seeing just modest declines unlike yesterday. The blue chips, right now, down 11 points. The NASDAQ, meanwhile, is down two.

Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: All right. Susan, thanks. What to do about the war in Afghanistan? President Obama is sending in thousands more troops. Will that be enough? We'll go live to the Pentagon for answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: A deteriorating situation, that's President Obama's take on the war in Afghanistan. In response, he's ordering 17,000 more troops to the war zone. At the Pentagon with details, CNN's Chris Lawrence - Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kyra, what we've got is he's authorized 17,000 troops. The first to go will be about 8,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina. They will get there by the end of spring. Right after that, within a month or two after that, about 4,000 soldiers from a Stryker brigade in the state of Washington will arrive. And then there are about 5,000 support troops who are still waiting to get their orders.

PHILLIPS: And so does this deployment signal a shift from Iraq to Afghanistan, do you think?

LAWRENCE: Well, the Pentagon would say it does not. They would say that that is still an ongoing discussion with the White House to determine the exact policy and timing of a draw-down in Iraq.

But at some point, you do get to the point where, for example, these two brigades, the Marines and Army, although it has been planned for some time, they were originally scheduled to go to Iraq. They are now being deployed to Afghanistan. And at some point you do lose the resources, so to speak, in that once they are in Afghanistan, it would be difficult to impossible to then redeploy them out to Iraq.

PHILLIPS: Now, you mentioned where they're going to be drawn from. What exactly will their duties entail?

LAWRENCE: Well, we're being told by a U.S. military official familiar, very familiar, with the deployment in Afghanistan that they're being trained for two missions. One, obviously to fight the counterinsurgency, and the second issue is to mentor the Afghan army.

You know, when you look at this, Afghanistan is a bigger country than Iraq, geographically. It's got more people in that country. And yet the Iraqi army is somewhere three to four times the size of the Afghan army. That has been a huge concern. And a lot of people have felt, some of the critics of this policy, criticized the fact that although the strategic review is not completed yet, that these troops were being sent ahead of time.

Now, that came because the general, David McKiernan, the officer in charge of Afghanistan, said there was such an urgent need, that it couldn't wait much longer. But again, almost everyone concerned says there's got to be some sort of strategic review and a change in policy to actually change the situation there in Afghanistan.

PHILLIPS: Sure, especially as you see the Taliban getting stronger, that's the last thing we all need. Fearing another 9/11.

Thank you very much, Chris.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Turning to the GITMO detainees. A U.S. court, today, reversed a ruling that would have transferred 17 of them to the United States. Last October a judge ruled that since the detainees are not enemy combatants, they must be freed in this country. The 17 are all Chinese Muslims who have been held for years without charges. And today's ruling says it's an immigration issue and can only be resolved by the Obama administration.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arriving in Indonesia. The second stop of her Asian tour. Clinton pledged a new U.S. willingness to work and listen to Indonesia, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Those remarks warmly received by Indonesian officials.

But the big question on everybody's minds was one she couldn't answer, when will President Obama visit the country that was his childhood home? The best she could offer, because of all the issues on his plate right now, well it may be a while.

With the property values tanking and homeowners struggling, will the president's new foreclosure rescue plan help you? We're talking your "Mail to the Chief" questions and looking for some answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, all across the country nearly every state is facing a budget crisis or shortfall of some kind. And many leaders are hoping the president's stimulus package will pony up some much- needed cash. Tom Foreman looks at the states in dire straits.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it the great budget blow-up. In California, a $42 billion budget deficit has an incredible 20,000 state workers facing layoffs, projects delayed, offices closed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a budget that is painful.

FOREMAN: In Kansas, state tax refunds, Medicaid reimbursements and school money all were facing possible delays.

STEVE MORRIS, KANSAS STATE SENATE PRESIDENT: We have to make absolutely sure that we're doing everything that needs to be done to protect the state's financial stability.

FOREMAN: At the National Conference of State Legislatures, Corina Eckl says she has never before seen so many states in so much trouble.

CORINA ECKL, NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES: This is an equal opportunity recession. States in virtually every part of the country are suffering. And even though states that really started out kind of strong, they were avoiding some of these problems, the energy states, not anymore. Even the energy states are starting to report problems.

FOREMAN (on camera): In all, the latest survey by the Conference of Legislatures finds 43 states started this year short on funds. And for most, it's only gone downhill from there. They've tried to make up the difference with expanded gambling, with delays of construction projects, with hiring freezes, with fee and tax increases. But almost all of this has failed to regain lost ground. Merely serving as a fire break against worse troubles.

(voice-over): Even if the stimulus plan works well, it could be months, a year, maybe more, before state budgets bounce back.

OBAMA: There you go. It's done.

(APPLAUSE)

ECKL: We might see more of those kinds of actions next year. It's hard to say how many more states will take that kind of action this year.

FOREMAN: All of that could make it even harder for consumers to regain their confidence to start buying and digging the economy out of its troubles coast to coast.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: CNN's Tom Foreman.

One bright note out of all this, the IRS assures us that federal tax returns will not be affected, so you should get your money from the feds on time.

Well, he's been in office for a month. How much longer is anybody's guess. Illinois Senator Roland Burris facing withering criticism over his latest admission in the Rod Blagojevich scandal, amid calls for his resignation and preliminary ethics probe, Senator Burris spoke just moments ago to the City Club of Chicago.

Now, this week, he acknowledged conversations with the ousted governor's brother about fundraising. Conversations, though, that he didn't mention under oath to Illinois lawmakers. So in an editorial today, the "Chicago Tribune" called for his resignation.

Quote, "The benefit of the doubt had already been stretched thin. It finally snapped like a rubber band popping him on that long Pinocchio nose of his."

Well, the once rock-solid relationship between former President Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly frayed as the two men left office, and Scooter Libby, apparently, was at the center of it. There are reports now that Cheney was left fuming when President Bush refused to go along with this push to pardon Libby. And at one point the former president was so exasperated with Cheney's persistence, that he didn't want to talk about the matter again.

Now, Libby at one time, Cheney's top aide, was convicted of perjury and obstruction in the leak of a former CIA officer's identity. Bush later commuted the 30-month sentence but didn't pardon Libby.

Chalk one up to the power of the people. Facebook users revolted over a change in policy in the online social networking. The site has caved. Facebook's about-face came after tens of thousands of members de-friended the site, outraged over a change in its content ownership policy.

Excuse me.

The change suggested that Facebook could do anything it wanted with your photos, videos, or any content posted on that page, even after you canceled your account. Well, today users are getting a different message. Facebook said it reverted back to its old policy.

Your mom might have told you that it's not what you say, it's how you say it. How a newspaper cartoonist made a point about the stimulus is stimulating outrage all over the country. You'll see a picture worth a thousand gasps.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, a roof over a homeowner's head, the floor under plummeting home values, and eye on Wall Street, besides. And, again, today President Obama shifting the economic landscape, this time with a $75 billion plan to kick the foreclosures to the curb. It sets up lucrative incentives for lenders to rework or refinance burdensome mortgages. Investors went on a selling spree when the president signed the stimulus package yesterday. And the housing plan isn't moving markets too much either way. Dow Industrials down about 20 points right now.

So, we keep hearing about the F word, foreclosure. Now the government's stepping in, but what about homeowners who are sending in those mortgage checks on time? Are they locked out of help in any way here? Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis, back from New York to answer some of your questions.

Are they locked out?

WILLIS: Well, no, they're not locked out. Here's an example. I can give you some of these questions right now that we have from viewers - that are pouring in, by the way.

Here's one. "I currently have a mortgage with a 10.5 percent interest rate. My mortgage is current and has been paid on time for the length of the loan. However, I am upside down in my mortgage because of the decrease in home value. I want to know if this will help me?"

Well, guess what, this program really does target people just like you who owe more than their house is worth. Now, we're going to have to wait until March 4th for eligibility details. Those are going to come out then.

But, in the meantime, collect your income information, including pay stubs, your most recent income tax return, information about any second mortgage on your house. Payments on each of your credit cards if you're carrying balances month to month, and payments on any other loans, to student loans, car loans. Reality is, though, this program is targeted for people just like you.

Second question: "We bought our house three years ago. We have a 5.6 percent, 30-year fixed rate. We owe about $290,000 and our home was appraised at $340,000. We are never late on payments. Our FICO score is above 700. With this plan can we refinance into a lower rate without paying points? That's from Rose in California.

Well, Rose it looks like you're doing pretty well. But this program is not really designed for you. It the good news, though, is that the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates right now are 4.99 percent. You could save a whole lot of dough, considering your good credit score, by just getting a new loan, finding a lender who will do the refinance and if you've got that great credit score it shouldn't be too tough. - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Gerri, thanks so much.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

PHILLIPS: Of course, Gerri's going to have a lot more information for you Saturday morning on "Your Bottom Line", 9:30 Eastern Time, answering more of those details. So make sure you wake up early for that. Gerri's worth it.

Another sign of just how troubled the U.S. economy is. The Commerce Department says that construction of homes and apartments dropped by almost 17 percent last month to a record low annual rate. Applications for building permits also dropped to a record low, falling almost five percent. The big falloff was reported in every part of the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Is this the life line that troubled homeowners have been reaching for? President Obama announcing a plan today to help millions of borrowers. And we're sharing your "Mail to the Chief" emails about the foreclosure rescue plan with one of the president's top economic advisers. Christina Romer is the chairwoman of his Council of Economic Advisors.

Thanks so much for being with us.

CHRISTINA ROMER, CHAIRWOMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Great to be here.

PHILLIPS: Well let's - if you don't mind, we're going to get right to the emails. As you can imagine, we've been overwhelmed with them. Ernie writes, "Any way we could get a four percent lock on mortgages. That would really help me out." ROMER: I think the answer is, that certainly there have been, though it's not a part of this program, certainly we do know that there's been a very aggressive program working with the Federal Reserve to try to bring mortgage rates down.

And it's been very successful. If you look at mortgage rates, they've certainly come down quite a lot in the last few months. And I think that's been a really important development.

PHILLIPS: And rumor has it it's going to drop even more. Do you want to add to that?

ROMER: I think the main thing is, you know, we're working as hard as we can and we think that we're on a good track.

PHILLIPS: Carolyn asked this, Christina. "I have a question about first-time home buyers credit. What's going to be done for current homeowners who are responsible and have paid on time? Do we get anything out of this?"

ROMER: So, I think the main thing that, to say, certainly we know as part of the program today, some of the people in our - out there with conforming mortgages have had enough loss in their home value that they haven't been able to refinance with the new lower mortgage rates we were just talking about. One of the big developments today, is kind of four million to five million people are now going to be able to refinance. We think that's incredibly important not just but for the whole economy cause that's money they have in their pockets now to maybe buy things that will help to reemploy their neighbor.

PHILLIPS: You know, you mentioned refinancing. And I've gotten into this discussion with a number of people here at work and even outside of work. There seems to be a lot of confusion to whether this is a good time to refinance or not. Because you have a group of people saying, oh, the interest rate is going to drop again, hold off. You have mortgage companies saying, we can lock you in for a good rate right now, stick with us. And then you find, in many occasions or on many occasions, the closing costs are twice as much as what you thought they should be.

I mean, can you even come out, Christina, now and say this is definitely a good time to refinance, or wait a little longer?

ROMER: I think the best thing is for the president's economic adviser not to be giving financial advice.

PHILLIPS: Come on. People want the inside scoop.

ROMER: That would be pretty risky. This is certainly something they should be informing themselves. They should be talking to their financial planners. I think it's a great question to be asking. And I know lots of Americans are.

PHILLIPS: They are asking. All right, you can't answer that. I tried to go there. All right, Mark wants to know this, Christina. "If there are - if there's any help for the self-employed in the housing assistance," and of course he's talking about what the president announced today within his Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan. So he's wanting to know if there's any help for self-employed. Also, any help with benefits for the self-employed?

ROMER: I think the main thing and one of the things I really want to stress about the program that the president announced today is precisely what it's designed to help are the people who have been playing by the rules. You know, one of the - I think one of the really terrible things that's been happening with homeowners that have been getting into trouble is they've been told you can't get help until you're actually delinquent. And what's so crucial about this program is it's designed to help exactly those people that have been scraping by, trying to make the payments, but are in a lot of trouble. We've said, all right, we've got a plan that will help you. And we think it's probably going to prevent about three to four million foreclosures from happening. We think that's just utterly important. For people that have played by the rules, that just need a little help because they're sort of the unlucky ones in this recession.

PHILLIPS: We've been taking so many emails and directing those to all the various analysts, even you, talking about this story, laying out parts of the president's plan. Is there anything, looking at all the news organizations, is there something that maybe we have missed that you've been wanting to maybe button up with or talk about with regard to what this plan means for all of us?

ROMER: You know, I think the thing I want to be emphasizing is the degree to which it's part of a comprehensive plan. Right? That so much news has come out in the last couple of weeks, the sense of just how much is being done and how it all fits together. The idea that the stimulus plan puts people back to work, the financial rescue plan helps to get our banks lending again. And this is kind of a third leg on the stool, where we get that foreclosure problem dealt with. We get some help with our housing market.

You know, one of the things we know is dumping a lot of houses on foreclosure sales pushes down housing prices. So, anything we can do to stop that process, helps housing prices. And more importantly, helps the communities because there's nothing as bad as three foreclosures on a block for that block really having trouble.

PHILLIPS: All right. You wouldn't give us advice, but I'm curious, does the president come to you and say, Christina, can you give me a little advice on my numbers here? I'm trying to figure out my portfolio.

ROMER: I give him lots of advice on the overall state economy, but not his personal finances.

PHILLIPS: OK, very good answer. Christina Romer, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers to president. Appreciate your time today.

ROMER: Sure. Great to be here.

PHILLIPS: If you have questions for President Obama you can email us, mailtothechief@cnn.com. We'll continue to pass your questions on to the White House and also read the answers on the air.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

PHILLIPS: MLK's journey - a son retraces his father's famous visit to the land of another civil rights giant, the man who brought freedom to India.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: There were two giants in the struggle for civil rights and freedom for all people: Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Fifty years ago, King traveled to India to learn more about the man that he admired and learned from. Recently, one of King's sons retraced his journey.

CNN's Sarah Sidner reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. led people to freedom. Thousands of miles apart, their method to achieve that goal was strikingly similar. One of the men who walked alongside King during the civil rights movement says there's a simple explanation for that.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: We refer to Gandhi. We studied Gandhi. Dr. King studied Gandhi. We studied the teaching of passive resistance.

SIDNER: In 1959, Dr. King made a pilgrimage to India to further under Gandhi's message. Fifty years later, Dr. King's son is retracing his father's footsteps to celebrate the anniversary with a delegation of civil rights leaders from the U.S. Martin Luther King III honors Gandhi by laying a wreath at Gandhi's memorial in Delhi. Both men of peace were killed in the most violent of ways, but their message lives on.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, U.S. DELEGATION TO INDIA: My dad used to say that violence is the language of the unheard. For so long, we - in the world community, this allowed people to express their points of view.

SIDENER (on camera): The movement, King says, has made some significant advances. For example, the United States is celebrating its first African-American president and India's been celebrating its independence for more than 60 years now. But civil rights leaders caution the struggle isn't over and they say there are some of the same old sights that persist.

ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: Gandhi died because he was trying to get India and Pakistan to live together as brothers. Gandhi's message would be, can India take responsibility for helping Pakistan to develop?

SIDNER (voice-over): The message of this delegation is pulled straight from the late Dr. King. "It's no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world. It's nonviolence or nonexistence."

Sarah Sidner, New Delhi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: The Howard University Choir performing at the Justice Department today. The occasion? Marking Black History Month. Their host? The nation's first African-American attorney general. Eric Holder added a somber tone to the event to the remarks that he made to his employees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The station has still not come to grips with its racial past, nor has it been willing to contemplate in a truly meaningfully way the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history, but also to foster a period of dialog between the races.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Holder also said that Justice Department employees have a special responsibility to advance racial understanding.

Well what does a dead chimp have to do with the economic stimulus? Nothing. Whatsoever. Except in a cartoon that a lot of newspaper readers don't find the least bit funny. You be the judge.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, as always, there's Steve Sanchez back there working on the next hour of NEWSROOM.

What'cha working on?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN PHILLIPS: I am working on a couple of interesting stories is in the world of politics.

First of all, this story with Roland Burris. You're not going to believe what happened just a little while ago in Chicago. You would think that he would probably not be taking questions given what he's going through. People are asking him to resign. The newspapers in Chicago are saying he should step down. Congress is going to be looking at him. He takes a question just a little while ago, Kyra, from somebody where he's giving a speech about whether it was right for him to solicit funds from Governor Blagojevich. His answer is something to behold. And we're going to let you see it as soon as we begin our newscast.

Also there's some other political names that might be in interesting situations. Eric Cantor, the whip for the Republicans, has got some explaining to do about some money that his wife's bank took. Given that he voted for the measure where her company ended up getting the money.

There's a little bit of a tiff between the Reverend Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh, interestingly enough.

And here's another one: A tiff between Dick Cheney and George Bush. Yes, you heard it right - Dick Cheney and George Bush. It's all about Scooter Libby, and a pardon, or lack thereof. We're all over all of that.

PHILLIPS: All right. We were talking about it, too, Rick. We look forward to more at the top of the hour.

SANCHEZ: All right.

PHILLIPS: Well something else you might want to pay attention to. Your mom might have told you that it's not what you say, it's how you say it. And how a newspaper cartoonist made a point about the stimulus is stimulating outrage all over the country. You're going to see a picture worth a thousand gasps.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Is an editorial cartoon in today's "New York Post" racist and sensitive or fair comment? Take a look.

The cartoon depicts two police officers shooting a chimp. One officer says, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton has been one of the loudest voices criticizing the cartoon, saying it's troubling given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans.

We called the "New York Post" and this is what it's editor says.

"The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks the Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing but a publicity opportunist. "

But Al Sharpton isn't the only person questioning the cartoon. A civil rights group in Los Angeles is calling on the "Post" to apologize.

Joining me to talk about this, Reverend Al Sharpton in New York. Also, BET host Jeff Johnson.

Let's go ahead and start with you, Reverend Sharpton, and your response to what the editor has said. REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Well, I think he should address the issue. The issue is there's a historic racial stereotype of calling African-Americans a monkeys. How you have a chimpanzee there as one who personifies the economic stimulus package, that clearly is the advocated and authored by the president, the first African-American president, is clear. He never addressed that.

You know, it's interesting to me, when I told a hip-hop artist not to use the n-word, h-word, b-word, I wasn't being an opportunist. When Republicans joined me on education stuff just two weeks ago, I wasn't an opportunist. But when I question "The New York Post," who questioned Jeremiah Wright and others, all of a sudden I'm an opportunist. They should answer the question, because people are very concerned about the racial inference of this cartoon.

PHILLIPS: And you bring up an interesting point about the racial inference. It got us talking this morning. I even looked around to my group in the morning meeting, and in particular, African-American members of my team. And I said, do you actually remember how that correlation between blacks and monkeys started?

And my EP actually found this, and I want to read it to you. It's actually a text, which would be considered junk science - it is - written back in 1867. It was called, "The Negro: What is his Ethnological Status." And this reverend, Buckner Payne of Nashville, Tennessee writes, this is how he breaks it down scientifically. He says, "We take up the monkey, and trace him... through his upward and advancing orders - baboon, ourang-outang, and gorilla, up to the negro, another animal, that noblest of the beast creation. The difference between these higher orders of the monkey and negro is very slight and consists mainly of this one thing: the negro can utter sounds that can be imitated; hence, he could talk with Adam and Eve, for they could imitate his sounds."

Jeff Johnson, I read this to you earlier and we both just, I think, for a moment, were silent.

JEFF JOHNSON, BET HOST: Right. Clearly, while I think we understand the inferences that there have always been sort of these negative images of people of color and African-American people in particular, I mean, this clearly gives us a historical connection to not only a social image, but a bootleg scientific justification for the negative imagery of African-American people in the media and in society.

PHILLIPS: So Reverend Sharpton, what if the word stimulus would have been taken out of the caption? Would that then be OK to you? Is it stimulus that's taking you to Obama? That word?

SHARPTON: They're using, rewriting this economic stimulus package, which is a specific act by a specific person that they are now associating as a chimp or monkey. I mean there is no way, other way to interpret it. And if there was, they had every opportunity to do that.

Rather than address the issue, they choose to attack those of us that have raised it. I think that's what I'm saying, Earl Ofari Hutchinson of L.A. is saying, and others, is address the issue. That is what they made Mr. Obama do about his former pastor, that's what they made all of us do about any number of things. So you can't tell everyone you can't use sermon language and other things, but that we can just use parody and use a racial stereotype that you yourself just read has an ugly history.

PHILLIPS: All right a cartoon is - and Jeff, let me just read the statement from the cartoonist. And I want to get you to jump in, Jeff.

The cartoonist, Sean Delonas writes, "It's absolutely friggin ridiculous. Do you really think I'm saying Obama should be shot?"

Now this - there's been criticism that they're implying that the president of the United States should be shot for the stimulus plan. So he's says that's "friggin ridiculous."

"I didn't see that in the cartoon. The chimpanzee was a major story in "The Post." Every paper in New York, except 'The New York Times,' covered the chimpanzee story. It's just ridiculous. It's about the economic stimulus bill, and if you're going to make that about anybody, it would be Pelosi, which it's not."

Jeff, go ahead.

JOHNSON: What's friggin ridiculous is anybody in their right mind would be able to make a connection between the stimulus and the chimp story. There clearly isn't one. And so I think he thinks, this author thinks, we're ridiculous. I think that "The Post" thinks we're ridiculous for making this an issue.

There reality here is here, I mean, there are a lot of cartoonists that are provocative. I think provocative is good. But when does provocative become inappropriate. And "The Post" ultimately has to answer, not only for this negative imagery of the president of the United States, we're just not talking about African-American people, but a specific reference to the president of the United States to violence, and to his connection to an animal likeness. I mean, none of this is appropriate on any level. And I think as Reverend Sharpton has said, this isn't an issue of challenging people's first amendment rights, this is about what's right and wrong.

PHILLIPS: Reverend, final words?

SHARPTON: I think also, if you look at the layout of the paper, they page right before the cartoon had a picture they chose of the president signing the stimulus bill. So there's no one that would look at that page and then cartoon and think of Nancy Pelosi. That's ridiculous. It's insulting. They ought to come clean. We're going to go see them tomorrow and I hope they will show the same moral strength when Mr. Obama did when questioned about his own pastor. You have to have one standard and everyone has to respect everyone else.

PHILLIPS: Reverend Sharpton, Jeff Johnson, appreciate you both for your time. Thank you so much. JOHNSON: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Quick break; we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Tracking your money - the president has set up a website so we can all see where the $787 billion in recovery money is actually going. And CNN's Josh Levs is here to take a look at it.

What do you think, Josh?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, I encourage everybody to check it out. And I feel bad, I'm kind of blocking the president's face, which I shouldn't be doing. Let's get out of the way.

Recovery.gov - it's interesting.

Let's scroll down a little bit, cause I want you to see the main features that are right here. You can see a breakdown of how the $787 billion could play out. Where each of every little bit of it could go.

And one more thing at the bottom that's really cool, a timeline to look out for. Some of the major dates coming up, they're calling them the milestones. What might come up. And you can keep an eye here for any dates that you should be able to find out when you in your area can find out how it might affect you.

If for any reason you want to, you can also read the entire bill. Not a lot of specifics yet. Not a lot of meat here. But at least recovery.gov is up and CNN will keep a close eye on it, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, well, Josh, thanks. Users, what are they saying about it? Initial reactions good?

LEVS: Yes. They're like, we need more meat, we don't know yet.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Josh.

All right, that does it for us. More from the CNN NEWSROOM tomorrow. Meanwhile, Rick Sanchez takes it from here.

When cops shot a pet chimp in Connecticut. It's the text that's blowing people away. We're going to show you why. The newspapers is being blasted for at best, poor taste, at worst, violent and potentially racist overtones. Reverend Al Sharpton plans to picket "The Post" tomorrow. He's with us live this hour.

Can't afford to leave, can't afford to stay. That's where we begin. President Obama says that's a crisis facing millions of American home owners and dragging down the economy. Today is the day the president unveiled his Homeowner Affordability & Stability Plan with a price tag estimated at $75 billion. It's based on new and more affordable mortgages for people on the brink of foreclosure, as well as for homeowners who are upside down, owing more than their homes are now worth.

Among the incentives, the plan would offer lenders subsidies for lower interest rates. But it would also do something to home lenders have fought for decades, allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages just like they can many other loans. Banks and lenders won't be forced to cut rates or payments for anybody, but the president hopes this is an offer they just can't refuse.

The economic stimulus, phase two of the bank bailout. The automotive action plan, now this. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux traveling with the president in Arizona.

Suzanne, have we now covered all the crisis is zones?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think there are probably going to be some more crisis zones, Kyra, in the future. But this is one of those things where the government says that they're actually going to keep 9 million - 9 million - people in their homes if all of this works out. The price tag $75 billion.

One of the incentives you mentioned, obviously the government to provide subsidies to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to allow them to actually reduce some of those monthly rates. Another program actually allowing homeowners that owe more than the value of their home to refinance.

That has never been done before. You look at this plan and it does have some teeth to it. But the president also wanted to make it clear here, he's kind of preempting some of the criticism we've heard, is that perhaps this will reward bad behavior from the banks or homeowners, people who have been irresponsible.

The president making it clear here that this is not for everyone. This is specifically for people who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The plan I'm announcing focuses on rescuing families who played by the rules and acted responsibly. By refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it, by modifying loans for families stuck in subprime mortgages they can't afford, as a result of skyrocketing interest rates, or personal misfortune, and by taking broader steps to keep mortgage rates low so that families can secure loans with affordable monthly payments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Kyra, the president obviously making that announcement here in Phoenix, Arizona. He really wanted to highlight the situation a lot of people are going through here in Phoenix. We are talking about 40,000 people who lost their homes last year, and 117,000 for the state of Arizona. So clearly he wants to let the American people know he understands what they're going through. A lot of people here in this community listened very carefully to the president's plan - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much.

Unless you own your home free and clear, you fall into one of three categories: You've lost your home to foreclosure already; you've fallen behind in your payments and foreclosure actions have started or soon will; or, you're making your payments but still want a break on your interest rate. This hour we're going to see what, if anything, the president's plan offers each.

First, though, let's answer some of your most pressing questions about being in foreclosure. Our Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis here with the bottom line.

I understand we've been getting a lot of emails, Gerri?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: We have been. There are a lot of emails out there. I think you got the first one from Scott in Michigan?

PHILLIPS: Actually, I wish I did. I was told you had them. Do you have them?

WILLIS: All right, I've got it.

PHILLIPS: All right. Go right ahead.

WILLIS: He asked, "We are foreclosing on our home. We have to be out by May 21st. How will this package help us afford the home before we have to move?"

I have to say, well, Scott, if your loan is scheduled for foreclosure soon, you need to contact that mortgage servicer. Mortgage lenders have said they will postpone foreclosure sales on all mortgages that may qualify for modification. So that's a potential out for you.

Another question, we have here, this is from, let me read the bottom of that, it's from Sue. Sue asks, "We declared bankruptcy last year. We've kept up our two mortgages. It's more than 31 percent of our income now and the first mortgage is a five-year ARM. What about us? Can we get help from this plan?"

Well, Sue, it's hard to know all the details of this eligibility, but this package my reduce the size of your loan. The other possibility is getting a loan modification. You said your loan is more than 31 percent of your income and that is one of the criteria in the president's plan for getting a loan modification. Your best bet, call your lender, ask about whether you qualify for reduced payments. You also want to contact your bankruptcy attorney to see if there's a possibility you can do what they called a cram down, where the bankruptcy judge writes down your mortgage dealt - Kyra. PHILLIPS: All right. Gerri, thanks. I'll be a little more organized next time and have those emails for you. We've been getting a lot of them. Thanks, Gerri.

WILLIS: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Gerri will be back in about 20 minutes to help all of you homeowners in good standing to understand your options as well.

Well, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is pledging to do everything within his power to help lift the United States out of recession. Bernanke spoke just short time ago at the National Press Club in Washington. Under Bernanke the Fed has cut its key interest rate to near 0 percent. And it's taken a number of other dramatic steps to try and stabilize the economy.

The U.S. Treasury will apparently have to add a lot more money to those checks it's writing to try to save General Motors and Chrysler . Both automakers say it will take more than double the $17 billion they've already received in government loans. GM says it could need up to $30 billion total. That includes a $13 billion that it's already received. Chrysler wants $5 billion on top of the $4 billion it's already gotten. And as part of their restructuring plans GM says it will cut 47,000 more jobs; Chrysler plans to slash 3,000 more.

In addition to the job cuts, both automakers are also making some major changes to their product lineups. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with a look at which models and brands are being eliminated, along with what it means for all of us drivers.

Hey, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kyra.

Both General Motors and Chrysler are adjusting their lineups as they desperately try to slash costs. Which vehicles won't we be seeing on the roads much longer? Chrysler is shedding the Dodge Aspen and Durango, as well as the PT Cruiser.

We see models come and go all the time, but brand extinctions are much rarer, and that is what GM is planning. The company is also eliminating its Hummer brands this year and its Saturn line by 2011, while the future of the Saab division is up in the air.

Obviously people who drive those vehicles are asking, what happens to my car when the brands go away? Experts say the companies will continue to honor warranties, even if the brand or model no longer exists and will continue to supply replacement parts.

It's such a tough time for auto sales, the carmakers want to improve overall reputation. So keeping customers happy is important. Leases should also remain stable but the resale value of the brands, that could tumble, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: The slowdown in the car sales has hit more than just the automakers, though, right? LISOVICZ: Yes. A number of auto parts companies are already in bankruptcy, Kyra. And tire giant Goodyear, today, said it's slashing 5,000 more jobs this year on top of the 4,000 it announced last year. The company also posted a worse-than-expected quarterly loss blaming lower industry demand undoubtedly related to the slump in auto sales. Goodyear shares right now are up three percent.

The overall market, however, going in the opposite direction. But we're seeing just modest declines unlike yesterday. The blue chips, right now, down 11 points. The NASDAQ, meanwhile, is down two.

Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: All right. Susan, thanks.

What to do about the war in Afghanistan? President Obama is sending in thousands more troops. Will that be enough? We'll go live to the Pentagon for answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: A deteriorating situation, that's President Obama's take on the war in Afghanistan. In response, he's ordering 17,000 more troops to the war zone. At the Pentagon with details, CNN's Chris Lawrence - Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kyra, what we've got is he's authorized 17,000 troops. The first to go will be about 8,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina. They will get there by the end of spring. Right after that, within a month or two after that, about 4,000 soldiers from a Stryker brigade in the state of Washington will arrive. And then there are about 5,000 support troops who are still waiting to get their orders.

PHILLIPS: And so does this deployment signal a shift from Iraq to Afghanistan, do you think?

LAWRENCE: Well, the Pentagon would say it does not. They would say that that is still an ongoing discussion with the White House to determine the exact policy and timing of a draw-down in Iraq.

But at some point, you do get to the point where, for example, these two brigades, the Marines and Army, although it has been planned for some time, they were originally scheduled to go to Iraq. They are now being deployed to Afghanistan. And at some point you do lose the resources, so to speak, in that once they are in Afghanistan, it would be difficult to impossible to then redeploy them out to Iraq.

PHILLIPS: Now, you mentioned where they're going to be drawn from. What exactly will their duties entail?

LAWRENCE: Well, we're being told by a U.S. military official familiar, very familiar, with the deployment in Afghanistan that they're being trained for two missions. One, obviously to fight the counterinsurgency, and the second issue is to mentor the Afghan army. You know, when you look at this, Afghanistan is a bigger country than Iraq, geographically. It's got more people in that country. And yet the Iraqi army is somewhere three to four times the size of the Afghan army. That has been a huge concern. And a lot of people have felt, some of the critics of this policy, criticized the fact that although the strategic review is not completed yet, that these troops were being sent ahead of time.

Now, that came because the general, David McKiernan, the officer in charge of Afghanistan, said there was such an urgent need, that it couldn't wait much longer. But again, almost everyone concerned says there's got to be some sort of strategic review and a change in policy to actually change the situation there in Afghanistan.

PHILLIPS: Sure, especially as you see the Taliban getting stronger, that's the last thing we all need. Fearing another 9/11.

Thank you very much, Chris.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Turning to the GITMO detainees. A U.S. court, today, reversed a ruling that would have transferred 17 of them to the United States. Last October a judge ruled that since the detainees are not enemy combatants, they must be freed in this country. The 17 are all Chinese Muslims who have been held for years without charges. And today's ruling says it's an immigration issue and can only be resolved by the Obama administration.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arriving in Indonesia. The second stop of her Asian tour. Clinton pledged a new U.S. willingness to work and listen to Indonesia, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Those remarks warmly received by Indonesian officials.

But the big question on everybody's minds was one she couldn't answer, when will President Obama visit the country that was his childhood home? The best she could offer, because of all the issues on his plate right now, well it may be a while.

With the property values tanking and homeowners struggling, will the president's new foreclosure rescue plan help you? We're talking your "Mail to the Chief" questions and looking for some answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, all across the country nearly every state is facing a budget crisis or shortfall of some kind. And many leaders are hoping the president's stimulus package will pony up some much- needed cash. Tom Foreman looks at the states in dire straits.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it the great budget blow-up. In California, a $42 billion budget deficit has an incredible 20,000 state workers facing layoffs, projects delayed, offices closed. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a budget that is painful.

FOREMAN: In Kansas, state tax refunds, Medicaid reimbursements and school money all were facing possible delays.

STEVE MORRIS, KANSAS STATE SENATE PRESIDENT: We have to make absolutely sure that we're doing everything that needs to be done to protect the state's financial stability.

FOREMAN: At the National Conference of State Legislatures, Corina Eckl says she has never before seen so many states in so much trouble.

CORINA ECKL, NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES: This is an equal opportunity recession. States in virtually every part of the country are suffering. And even though states that really started out kind of strong, they were avoiding some of these problems, the energy states, not anymore. Even the energy states are starting to report problems.

FOREMAN (on camera): In all, the latest survey by the Conference of Legislatures finds 43 states started this year short on funds. And for most, it's only gone downhill from there. They've tried to make up the difference with expanded gambling, with delays of construction projects, with hiring freezes, with fee and tax increases. But almost all of this has failed to regain lost ground. Merely serving as a fire break against worse troubles.

(voice-over): Even if the stimulus plan works well, it could be months, a year, maybe more, before state budgets bounce back.

OBAMA: There you go. It's done.

(APPLAUSE)

ECKL: We might see more of those kinds of actions next year. It's hard to say how many more states will take that kind of action this year.

FOREMAN: All of that could make it even harder for consumers to regain their confidence to start buying and digging the economy out of its troubles coast to coast.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: CNN's Tom Foreman.

One bright note out of all this, the IRS assures us that federal tax returns will not be affected, so you should get your money from the feds on time.

Well, he's been in office for a month. How much longer is anybody's guess. Illinois Senator Roland Burris facing withering criticism over his latest admission in the Rod Blagojevich scandal, amid calls for his resignation and preliminary ethics probe, Senator Burris spoke just moments ago to the City Club of Chicago. Now, this week, he acknowledged conversations with the ousted governor's brother about fundraising. Conversations, though, that he didn't mention under oath to Illinois lawmakers. So in an editorial today, the "Chicago Tribune" called for his resignation.

Quote, "The benefit of the doubt had already been stretched thin. It finally snapped like a rubber band popping him on that long Pinocchio nose of his."

Well, the once rock-solid relationship between former President Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly frayed as the two men left office, and Scooter Libby, apparently, was at the center of it. There are reports now that Cheney was left fuming when President Bush refused to go along with this push to pardon Libby. And at one point the former president was so exasperated with Cheney's persistence, that he didn't want to talk about the matter again.

Now, Libby at one time, Cheney's top aide, was convicted of perjury and obstruction in the leak of a former CIA officer's identity. Bush later commuted the 30-month sentence but didn't pardon Libby.

Chalk one up to the power of the people. Facebook users revolted over a change in policy in the online social networking. The site has caved. Facebook's about-face came after tens of thousands of members de-friended the site, outraged over a change in its content ownership policy.

Excuse me.

The change suggested that Facebook could do anything it wanted with your photos, videos, or any content posted on that page, even after you canceled your account. Well, today users are getting a different message. Facebook said it reverted back to its old policy.

Your mom might have told you that it's not what you say, it's how you say it. How a newspaper cartoonist made a point about the stimulus is stimulating outrage all over the country. You'll see a picture worth a thousand gasps.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, a roof over a homeowner's head, the floor under plummeting home values, and eye on Wall Street, besides. And, again, today President Obama shifting the economic landscape, this time with a $75 billion plan to kick the foreclosures to the curb. It sets up lucrative incentives for lenders to rework or refinance burdensome mortgages. Investors went on a selling spree when the president signed the stimulus package yesterday. And the housing plan isn't moving markets too much either way. Dow Industrials down about 20 points right now.

So, we keep hearing about the F word, foreclosure. Now the government's stepping in, but what about homeowners who are sending in those mortgage checks on time? Are they locked out of help in any way here? Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis, back from New York to answer some of your questions.

Are they locked out?

WILLIS: Well, no, they're not locked out. Here's an example. I can give you some of these questions right now that we have from viewers - that are pouring in, by the way.

Here's one. "I currently have a mortgage with a 10.5 percent interest rate. My mortgage is current and has been paid on time for the length of the loan. However, I am upside down in my mortgage because of the decrease in home value. I want to know if this will help me?"

Well, guess what, this program really does target people just like you who owe more than their house is worth. Now, we're going to have to wait until March 4th for eligibility details. Those are going to come out then.

But, in the meantime, collect your income information, including pay stubs, your most recent income tax return, information about any second mortgage on your house. Payments on each of your credit cards if you're carrying balances month to month, and payments on any other loans, to student loans, car loans. Reality is, though, this program is targeted for people just like you.

Second question: "We bought our house three years ago. We have a 5.6 percent, 30-year fixed rate. We owe about $290,000 and our home was appraised at $340,000. We are never late on payments. Our FICO score is above 700. With this plan can we refinance into a lower rate without paying points? That's from Rose in California.

Well, Rose it looks like you're doing pretty well. But this program is not really designed for you. It the good news, though, is that the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates right now are 4.99 percent. You could save a whole lot of dough, considering your good credit score, by just getting a new loan, finding a lender who will do the refinance and if you've got that great credit score it shouldn't be too tough. - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Gerri, thanks so much.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

PHILLIPS: Of course, Gerri's going to have a lot more information for you Saturday morning on "Your Bottom Line", 9:30 Eastern Time, answering more of those details. So make sure you wake up early for that. Gerri's worth it.

Another sign of just how troubled the U.S. economy is. The Commerce Department says that construction of homes and apartments dropped by almost 17 percent last month to a record low annual rate. Applications for building permits also dropped to a record low, falling almost five percent. The big falloff was reported in every part of the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PHILLIPS: Is this the life line that troubled homeowners have been reaching for? President Obama announcing a plan today to help millions of borrowers. And we're sharing your "Mail to the Chief" emails about the foreclosure rescue plan with one of the president's top economic advisers. Christina Romer is the chairwoman of his Council of Economic Advisors.

Thanks so much for being with us.

CHRISTINA ROMER, CHAIRWOMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Great to be here.

PHILLIPS: Well let's - if you don't mind, we're going to get right to the emails. As you can imagine, we've been overwhelmed with them. Ernie writes, "Any way we could get a four percent lock on mortgages. That would really help me out."

ROMER: I think the answer is, that certainly there have been, though it's not a part of this program, certainly we do know that there's been a very aggressive program working with the Federal Reserve to try to bring mortgage rates down.

And it's been very successful. If you look at mortgage rates, they've certainly come down quite a lot in the last few months. And I think that's been a really important development.

PHILLIPS: And rumor has it it's going to drop even more. Do you want to add to that?

ROMER: I think the main thing is, you know, we're working as hard as we can and we think that we're on a good track.

PHILLIPS: Carolyn asked this, Christina. "I have a question about first-time home buyers credit. What's going to be done for current homeowners who are responsible and have paid on time? Do we get anything out of this?"

ROMER: So, I think the main thing that, to say, certainly we know as part of the program today, some of the people in our - out there with conforming mortgages have had enough loss in their home value that they haven't been able to refinance with the new lower mortgage rates we were just talking about. One of the big developments today, is kind of four million to five million people are now going to be able to refinance. We think that's incredibly important not just but for the whole economy cause that's money they have in their pockets now to maybe buy things that will help to reemploy their neighbor.

PHILLIPS: You know, you mentioned refinancing. And I've gotten into this discussion with a number of people here at work and even outside of work. There seems to be a lot of confusion to whether this is a good time to refinance or not. Because you have a group of people saying, oh, the interest rate is going to drop again, hold off. You have mortgage companies saying, we can lock you in for a good rate right now, stick with us. And then you find, in many occasions or on many occasions, the closing costs are twice as much as what you thought they should be.

I mean, can you even come out, Christina, now and say this is definitely a good time to refinance, or wait a little longer?

ROMER: I think the best thing is for the president's economic adviser not to be giving financial advice.

PHILLIPS: Come on. People want the inside scoop.

ROMER: That would be pretty risky. This is certainly something they should be informing themselves. They should be talking to their financial planners. I think it's a great question to be asking. And I know lots of Americans are.

PHILLIPS: They are asking. All right, you can't answer that. I tried to go there.

All right, Mark wants to know this, Christina. "If there are - if there's any help for the self-employed in the housing assistance," and of course he's talking about what the president announced today within his Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan. So he's wanting to know if there's any help for self-employed. Also, any help with benefits for the self-employed?

ROMER: I think the main thing and one of the things I really want to stress about the program that the president announced today is precisely what it's designed to help are the people who have been playing by the rules. You know, one of the - I think one of the really terrible things that's been happening with homeowners that have been getting into trouble is they've been told you can't get help until you're actually delinquent. And what's so crucial about this program is it's designed to help exactly those people that have been scraping by, trying to make the payments, but are in a lot of trouble. We've said, all right, we've got a plan that will help you. And we think it's probably going to prevent about three to four million foreclosures from happening. We think that's just utterly important. For people that have played by the rules, that just need a little help because they're sort of the unlucky ones in this recession.

PHILLIPS: We've been taking so many emails and directing those to all the various analysts, even you, talking about this story, laying out parts of the president's plan. Is there anything, looking at all the news organizations, is there something that maybe we have missed that you've been wanting to maybe button up with or talk about with regard to what this plan means for all of us?

ROMER: You know, I think the thing I want to be emphasizing is the degree to which it's part of a comprehensive plan. Right? That so much news has come out in the last couple of weeks, the sense of just how much is being done and how it all fits together. The idea that the stimulus plan puts people back to work, the financial rescue plan helps to get our banks lending again. And this is kind of a third leg on the stool, where we get that foreclosure problem dealt with. We get some help with our housing market.

You know, one of the things we know is dumping a lot of houses on foreclosure sales pushes down housing prices. So, anything we can do to stop that process, helps housing prices. And more importantly, helps the communities because there's nothing as bad as three foreclosures on a block for that block really having trouble.

PHILLIPS: All right. You wouldn't give us advice, but I'm curious, does the president come to you and say, Christina, can you give me a little advice on my numbers here? I'm trying to figure out my portfolio.

ROMER: I give him lots of advice on the overall state economy, but not his personal finances.

PHILLIPS: OK, very good answer. Christina Romer, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers to president. Appreciate your time today.

ROMER: Sure. Great to be here.

PHILLIPS: If you have questions for President Obama you can email us, mailtothechief@cnn.com. We'll continue to pass your questions on to the White House and also read the answers on the air.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

PHILLIPS: MLK's journey - a son retraces his father's famous visit to the land of another civil rights giant, the man who brought freedom to India.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: There were two giants in the struggle for civil rights and freedom for all people: Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Fifty years ago, King traveled to India to learn more about the man that he admired and learned from. Recently, one of King's sons retraced his journey.

CNN's Sarah Sidner reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. led people to freedom. Thousands of miles apart, their method to achieve that goal was strikingly similar. One of the men who walked alongside King during the civil rights movement says there's a simple explanation for that.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: We refer to Gandhi. We studied Gandhi. Dr. King studied Gandhi. We studied the teaching of passive resistance.

SIDNER: In 1959, Dr. King made a pilgrimage to India to further under Gandhi's message. Fifty years later, Dr. King's son is retracing his father's footsteps to celebrate the anniversary with a delegation of civil rights leaders from the U.S. Martin Luther King III honors Gandhi by laying a wreath at Gandhi's memorial in Delhi. Both men of peace were killed in the most violent of ways, but their message lives on.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, U.S. DELEGATION TO INDIA: My dad used to say that violence is the language of the unheard. For so long, we - in the world community, this allowed people to express their points of view.

SIDENER (on camera): The movement, King says, has made some significant advances. For example, the United States is celebrating its first African-American president and India's been celebrating its independence for more than 60 years now. But civil rights leaders caution the struggle isn't over and they say there are some of the same old sights that persist.

ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: Gandhi died because he was trying to get India and Pakistan to live together as brothers. Gandhi's message would be, can India take responsibility for helping Pakistan to develop?

SIDNER (voice-over): The message of this delegation is pulled straight from the late Dr. King. "It's no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world. It's nonviolence or nonexistence."

Sarah Sidner, New Delhi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: The Howard University Choir performing at the Justice Department today. The occasion? Marking Black History Month. Their host? The nation's first African-American attorney general. Eric Holder added a somber tone to the event to the remarks that he made to his employees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The station has still not come to grips with its racial past, nor has it been willing to contemplate in a truly meaningfully way the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history, but also to foster a period of dialog between the races.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Holder also said that Justice Department employees have a special responsibility to advance racial understanding.

Well what does a dead chimp have to do with the economic stimulus? Nothing. Whatsoever. Except in a cartoon that a lot of newspaper readers don't find the least bit funny. You be the judge.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, as always, there's Steve Sanchez back there working on the next hour of NEWSROOM.

What'cha working on?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN PHILLIPS: I am working on a couple of interesting stories is in the world of politics.

First of all, this story with Roland Burris. You're not going to believe what happened just a little while ago in Chicago. You would think that he would probably not be taking questions given what he's going through. People are asking him to resign. The newspapers in Chicago are saying he should step down. Congress is going to be looking at him. He takes a question just a little while ago, Kyra, from somebody where he's giving a speech about whether it was right for him to solicit funds from Governor Blagojevich. His answer is something to behold. And we're going to let you see it as soon as we begin our newscast.

Also there's some other political names that might be in interesting situations. Eric Cantor, the whip for the Republicans, has got some explaining to do about some money that his wife's bank took. Given that he voted for the measure where her company ended up getting the money.

There's a little bit of a tiff between the Reverend Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh, interestingly enough.

And here's another one: A tiff between Dick Cheney and George Bush. Yes, you heard it right - Dick Cheney and George Bush. It's all about Scooter Libby, and a pardon, or lack thereof. We're all over all of that.

PHILLIPS: All right. We were talking about it, too, Rick. We look forward to more at the top of the hour.

SANCHEZ: All right.

PHILLIPS: Well something else you might want to pay attention to. Your mom might have told you that it's not what you say, it's how you say it. And how a newspaper cartoonist made a point about the stimulus is stimulating outrage all over the country. You're going to see a picture worth a thousand gasps.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Is an editorial cartoon in today's "New York Post" racist and sensitive or fair comment? Take a look.

The cartoon depicts two police officers shooting a chimp. One officer says, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton has been one of the loudest voices criticizing the cartoon, saying it's troubling given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans.

We called the "New York Post" and this is what it's editor says. "The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks the Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing but a publicity opportunist. "

But Al Sharpton isn't the only person questioning the cartoon. A civil rights group in Los Angeles is calling on the "Post" to apologize.

Joining me to talk about this, Reverend Al Sharpton in New York. Also, BET host Jeff Johnson.

Let's go ahead and start with you, Reverend Sharpton, and your response to what the editor has said.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Well, I think he should address the issue. The issue is there's a historic racial stereotype of calling African-Americans a monkeys. How you have a chimpanzee there as one who personifies the economic stimulus package, that clearly is the advocated and authored by the president, the first African-American president, is clear. He never addressed that.

You know, it's interesting to me, when I told a hip-hop artist not to use the n-word, h-word, b-word, I wasn't being an opportunist. When Republicans joined me on education stuff just two weeks ago, I wasn't an opportunist. But when I question "The New York Post," who questioned Jeremiah Wright and others, all of a sudden I'm an opportunist. They should answer the question, because people are very concerned about the racial inference of this cartoon.

PHILLIPS: And you bring up an interesting point about the racial inference. It got us talking this morning. I even looked around to my group in the morning meeting, and in particular, African-American members of my team. And I said, do you actually remember how that correlation between blacks and monkeys started?

And my EP actually found this, and I want to read it to you. It's actually a text, which would be considered junk science - it is - written back in 1867. It was called, "The Negro: What is his Ethnological Status." And this reverend, Buckner Payne of Nashville, Tennessee writes, this is how he breaks it down scientifically. He says, "We take up the monkey, and trace him... through his upward and advancing orders - baboon, ourang-outang, and gorilla, up to the negro, another animal, that noblest of the beast creation. The difference between these higher orders of the monkey and negro is very slight and consists mainly of this one thing: the negro can utter sounds that can be imitated; hence, he could talk with Adam and Eve, for they could imitate his sounds."

Jeff Johnson, I read this to you earlier and we both just, I think, for a moment, were silent.

JEFF JOHNSON, BET HOST: Right. Clearly, while I think we understand the inferences that there have always been sort of these negative images of people of color and African-American people in particular, I mean, this clearly gives us a historical connection to not only a social image, but a bootleg scientific justification for the negative imagery of African-American people in the media and in society.

PHILLIPS: So Reverend Sharpton, what if the word stimulus would have been taken out of the caption? Would that then be OK to you? Is it stimulus that's taking you to Obama? That word?

SHARPTON: They're using, rewriting this economic stimulus package, which is a specific act by a specific person that they are now associating as a chimp or monkey. I mean there is no way, other way to interpret it. And if there was, they had every opportunity to do that.

Rather than address the issue, they choose to attack those of us that have raised it. I think that's what I'm saying, Earl Ofari Hutchinson of L.A. is saying, and others, is address the issue. That is what they made Mr. Obama do about his former pastor, that's what they made all of us do about any number of things. So you can't tell everyone you can't use sermon language and other things, but that we can just use parody and use a racial stereotype that you yourself just read has an ugly history.

PHILLIPS: All right a cartoon is - and Jeff, let me just read the statement from the cartoonist. And I want to get you to jump in, Jeff.

The cartoonist, Sean Delonas writes, "It's absolutely friggin ridiculous. Do you really think I'm saying Obama should be shot?"

Now this - there's been criticism that they're implying that the president of the United States should be shot for the stimulus plan. So he's says that's "friggin ridiculous."

"I didn't see that in the cartoon. The chimpanzee was a major story in "The Post." Every paper in New York, except 'The New York Times,' covered the chimpanzee story. It's just ridiculous. It's about the economic stimulus bill, and if you're going to make that about anybody, it would be Pelosi, which it's not."

Jeff, go ahead.

JOHNSON: What's friggin ridiculous is anybody in their right mind would be able to make a connection between the stimulus and the chimp story. There clearly isn't one. And so I think he thinks, this author thinks, we're ridiculous. I think that "The Post" thinks we're ridiculous for making this an issue.

There reality here is here, I mean, there are a lot of cartoonists that are provocative. I think provocative is good. But when does provocative become inappropriate. And "The Post" ultimately has to answer, not only for this negative imagery of the president of the United States, we're just not talking about African-American people, but a specific reference to the president of the United States to violence, and to his connection to an animal likeness. I mean, none of this is appropriate on any level. And I think as Reverend Sharpton has said, this isn't an issue of challenging people's first amendment rights, this is about what's right and wrong.

PHILLIPS: Reverend, final words?

SHARPTON: I think also, if you look at the layout of the paper, they page right before the cartoon had a picture they chose of the president signing the stimulus bill. So there's no one that would look at that page and then cartoon and think of Nancy Pelosi. That's ridiculous. It's insulting. They ought to come clean. We're going to go see them tomorrow and I hope they will show the same moral strength when Mr. Obama did when questioned about his own pastor. You have to have one standard and everyone has to respect everyone else.

PHILLIPS: Reverend Sharpton, Jeff Johnson, appreciate you both for your time. Thank you so much.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Quick break; we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Tracking your money - the president has set up a website so we can all see where the $787 billion in recovery money is actually going. And CNN's Josh Levs is here to take a look at it.

What do you think, Josh?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, I encourage everybody to check it out. And I feel bad, I'm kind of blocking the president's face, which I shouldn't be doing. Let's get out of the way.

Recovery.gov - it's interesting.

Let's scroll down a little bit, cause I want you to see the main features that are right here. You can see a breakdown of how the $787 billion could play out. Where each of every little bit of it could go.

And one more thing at the bottom that's really cool, a timeline to look out for. Some of the major dates coming up, they're calling them the milestones. What might come up. And you can keep an eye here for any dates that you should be able to find out when you in your area can find out how it might affect you.

If for any reason you want to, you can also read the entire bill. Not a lot of specifics yet. Not a lot of meat here. But at least recovery.gov is up and CNN will keep a close eye on it, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, well, Josh, thanks. Users, what are they saying about it? Initial reactions good?

LEVS: Yes. They're like, we need more meat, we don't know yet.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Josh.

All right, that does it for us. More from the CNN NEWSROOM tomorrow. Meanwhile, Rick Sanchez takes it from here.