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Outrage Grows Over AIG Bonuses; Pope Benedict Under Fire

Aired March 17, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, from Chalmette, Louisiana, just outside the great city of New Orleans.


COOPER: We're at a construction site where hundreds of volunteers have joined us to kind of show you the spirit that is alive here in New Orleans. They're rebuilding the home of Judy Moffett (ph).

Tonight is just another stop in our nationwide reporting for America's "Road to Rescue." You know, one of the interesting things about this recession is that nonprofit groups around the country are seeing a rise in the number of volunteers. We're certainly seeing that here tonight. We will talk about that in the hour ahead.

About 16,000 people in the area of New Orleans still leaving in FEMA trailers or in subsidized housing, the recession not making things any easier.

We begin, though, tonight, with the growing outrage here and across the country about those bonuses that all of us are paying to executives that AIG, the failed insurance company that all of us, in fact, own.

New information tonight about what the White House knew about those bonuses and when they knew it, new action in the works to get the money back, and new questions about whether this is crippling the Obama administration.

First, the raw outrage and "Raw Politics" from Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Suddenly, a mad scramble to strip AIG executives of their bonuses.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The recipients of these bonuses will not be able to keep all their money.

BASH: Senate Democrats issuing AIG this warning:

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: If you don't return it on your own, we will do it for you.

BASH: How would they do it? A new Senate idea to take away most of the $165 million in AIG bonuses is an excise tax, both on the company and on the individuals who got the bonuses.

SCHUMER: We will act and we will take this money back and return it to its rightful owners, the American taxpayers. We will take this money back by taxing virtually all of it.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), FINANCE CHAIRMAN: Well, the basic question is what's the highest tax that we can impose on the bonuses that is sustainable in court?

BASH: Democratic leaders in the House aren't as hot on taxing companies. One idea there is to take AIG to court for giving bonuses with taxpayer money.

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA), FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think we should be suing to get those bonuses back, not as the government that gave money to this private entity, but as the owner, saying, you know what? You got bonuses that you didn't deserve. And we want them back on the merits.

BASH: As for Republicans, they're pounding away at Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for not blocking the bonuses before giving AIG billions.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: What I would like to know first is how it happened, when we had an extraordinary leverage a mere two weeks ago, when we handed over $30 billion.

BASH (on camera): But the reality is that, over the past several months, Congress has had ample opportunity to pass legislation preventing companies like AIG from giving big executive bonuses, and it hasn't done it.

Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


COOPER: Ali Velshi has got some new information as well on the timeline, suggesting the administration could've seen what was coming two months ago simply by watching CNN.

But, before we get to that, an eye-opening list of AIG critics who got big campaign bucks from -- you guessed it -- AIG. According to the Center for Responsive Politics' Web site,, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd received $103,000 for campaign '08 from AIG.

Candidate Barack Obama, number two, he got $101,000. Republican -- Republican John McCain, he took nearly $60,000 home. Also, Senator Hillary Clinton is fourth on the list with close to $36,000. She's followed by Democratic Senator Max Baucus of the Finance Committee, presidential challenger Mitt Romney, and Vice President Joe Biden, all getting AIG money for their campaigns.

President Bush, by the way, took $200,000 from AIG for his two campaigns.

More now from Ed Henry on the bonuses and what the White House knew about them and, more importantly, perhaps, when -- Ed.


We have new information tonight, White House officials revealing that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner actually knew about these bonuses last Tuesday, but he waited until Wednesday before he started pressing AIG officials about the matter.

And he waited until Thursday to let the president know about this. This is raising new questions about Geithner's effectiveness. But I can tell you, top officials within the White House are telling me tonight his job is not in jeopardy. The president still has confidence in him., because, bottom line, they say, there was a contract here, as you just heard, and that Geithner couldn't do anything about the bonuses.

But, as you also just heard, Republicans are demanding to know why Geithner and other officials didn't use the leverage that they had when they were giving AIG another $30 billion to attach some strings.

I put that question today to the president's top economic adviser in an exclusive interview.

Here's what Larry Summers had to say.


LAWRENCE SUMMERS, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: To have courted the kind of disaster that followed the decision to let Lehman Brothers simply collapse might have felt good briefly, but it would have touched the lives of the huge number of Americans who would unnecessarily have become unemployed or seen destruction of their lifetime savings.


COOPER: Ed, how concerned is the Obama administration that -- that this populist anger, which is seemingly just growing, centered at AIG, that -- that it's going to hurt their ability to -- to get their -- their -- their agenda forward?

HENRY: They're very concerned. They have been having meetings about this over -- all day long today and yesterday to figure out how to continue to get the message -- the president's message out. He's going to California tomorrow to talk about the economy, to talk about his agenda, but it's been overwhelmed in part the last couple of days by this whole AIG mess.

And one way they're trying to overcome it is, late tonight, Treasury Secretary Geithner put out a letter to congressional leaders, basically saying, look: I have got a plan. We're going to get $165 million back from AIG and give it to the taxpayers to make them whole.

Two problems with that: Number one, the money AIG would be giving back to the taxpayers is probably money the taxpayers gave to AIG in the first place. They're essentially bankrupt. They have -- they have been kept afloat by the taxpayers.

And, secondly, Geithner's admitting that he can't get the actual bonuses back from AIG employees. So, the guys who walked away with golden parachutes, they still have the money. So, it's going to be very hard for taxpayers to feel like they're whole here.

And this populist rage that -- that Barack Obama rode to office, now he may be on the defensive about it, because he's essentially Washington. He's in the White House -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Ed Henry, thanks, from the White House tonight.

You heard the White House's take on the timeline.

Ali Velshi has got some new information as well on that score.

Ali, what are you -- what can you tell us about the timing of all of this?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, first thing, Ed Henry just said that the -- the treasury secretary has said that he first learned about this on March 10 and then got in touch with AIG's CEO, Ed Liddy, on March 11.

This is interesting timing, the president also saying that he learned about this late last week.

Well, the strange thing here is that I was surprised by the force with which the White House came out on this one, as if they had just learned about it, because we have known about it for some time. We have reported on it. Back on January 28, my colleague Mary Snow and I were both on the story, speaking to AIG about it, and reporting that number of $450 million.

Listen to Mary's report, or at least part of it, from that day.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: American International Group is paying bonuses to its Financial Products unit. That same unit racked up huge losses. A source familiar with the matter puts the figure at $450 million.


VELSHI: And, Anderson, on March 2, I spoke with AIG CEO Ed Liddy, and I asked him about these bonuses. And he told me that they were contractually obligated.

So, it's a little bit surprising that this didn't get out there wider. It was known amongst the reporting community. We were talking about it. We were reporting it right here on CNN -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ali, in the last couple days, we have heard top government officials say that it's imperative that AIG cannot fail. Why can't AIG fail? Why is it, you know, as they say, too big to fail?

VELSHI: Well, let's just remind people what AIG is. It's one of the world's largest insurers. There are many people who have auto insurance policies, home insurance policies, travel or life insurance policies.

As you have mentioned, many people are shareholders in AIG, or their mutual funds are. But AIG is much bigger than that. It insures business. Without insurance, business can't take risks. So, it insures banks, major airlines. We have talked about this before, the -- the plane that went into the Hudson River insured by AIG -- Hollywood movies against their actors or actresses getting injured, offshore oil platforms against hurricanes and things like that.

So, it is a very important insurance company, has 74 million clients in 130 countries. So, it's a big deal if a company like AIG were to fail -- Anderson.

COOPER: Very briefly, Democrats in the Congress are talking about taxing these bonuses hugely. Is that going to work?

VELSHI: Well, Max Baucus and Senator Grassley have both come out with a suggestion that says that they will impose a 35 percent additional tax, in addition to normal taxes, to anybody who got a bonus, anybody who works for any company that got bailout money, not just AIG, and not just for retention bonuses.

As well, companies that pay those bonuses above $50,000 will have to pay a 35 percent tax. So, it's a -- it's a heavy tax. Not sure if it will work. This development that Ed told us about with the government getting some of this money back may soften that blow.

But the outrage is still there. There are a whole bunch of people who got bonuses that some people think they don't deserve -- Anderson.

COOPER: No doubt about that.

Ali, thanks.

One more item -- we just got word on some quick action response to our reporting on the AIG mess -- Connecticut lawmakers today saying they intend to change a state law, less than 24 hours after we reported that the existing law would make it tougher for the company to rescind bonuses to top executives at AIG.

AIG Financial Products division is based in Wilton, Connecticut,. That's why they're involved.

Let us -- let us know what you think of the bonus story. How mad are you? Join the live chat happening now at Check out Tom Foreman's live Webcasts during out breaks tonight.

Coming up: recession bonus, more people helping neighbors, and, as you we will see, traveling halfway across the country to help total strangers. Also tonight, more of the winners and losers in the recession, including vets and pets. It turns out they're on opposite sides of the equation.

Later, the first lady's call to national service and how she lent a hand today.

And the latest on actress Natasha Richardson, injured on the ski slopes. It seems like she was OK immediately after. Now she's in very bad shape, they say -- what everyone needs to know about what felled her and how she is doing right now.

We will be right back.



COOPER: And welcome back. We are live in New Orleans.

There's hundreds of volunteers here who have come on their spring breaks from high schools, from colleges, from Arizona and Massachusetts and all around the United States. They have all come here to lend a hand, to help people rebuild in this city, reaching out on the "Road to Rescue."


COOPER: The recession is creating really a nation of volunteers right now. Millions of Americans looking for work or looking to help are performing acts of kindness across the country.

Today, Michelle Obama said, those good deeds make all of us stronger. Listen.


MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: Participating in national and community service is not just an escape for the wealthy or for those students who can afford it -- which is something that I couldn't do growing up. I didn't come into an understanding of community service until after I had graduated from law school and had to think about what I wanted to do. I couldn't afford to take off time to do an internship.

Community service is an integral part of empowering our people and making our communities stronger. And service must become a part of each of our lives. It has to be an integral part of each of our lives if we're going to create a more unified nation that we all want and that our president talks so much about.


COOPER: The first lady speaking at the National Mall today, where she participated in building a green home. There are thousands of volunteers here in Louisiana. Despite their own financial challenges, in many cases, many have traveled hundreds of miles just to be here to lend a hand to give families hope.

We profiled one woman. Here's her story.


COOPER (voice-over): For Suzanne Mintz, volunteering with the Saint Bernard Project in New Orleans is a much-needed stress-reliever during these tough economic times.

SUZANNE MINTZ, SAINT BERNARD PROJECT VOLUNTEER: We don't want to wallow. You know, we want to be able to -- to do something and feel worthwhile and that we're able to do something.

COOPER: The mother of three, Suzanne runs a small jewelry business out of her home in Silver Spring, Maryland. In the past year, sales have fallen over 40 percent.

MINTZ: It sort of feels like it's a day-to-day, you know, the questions that we raise and that we present to each other. You know, what should we do today, and do I continue doing what I'm doing? Do I need to look for a job? Would I find a job if -- if I made that effort?

COOPER: The recession is making Suzanne rethink her life, but it's also helped shine a light on what's truly important to her.

MINTZ: This, to us, is not discretionary. It's just something we have to do.

Whatever sacrifice it might take of us to do it is nothing compared to what it is for the folks here who are still not back in their homes.

COOPER: This is her eight trip down, and she admits it's not easy to pay for. She uses frequent-flier miles or even drives to help cut down costs. Once she's down here, however, she says, the reward is priceless.

MINTZ: It's that you know you have really made a difference. It's very concrete. You know, you're hanging drywall. You're painting a wall. You're, you know, putting insulation in. You're seeing that you're actually moving someone from a place of perhaps homelessness to a home again.

COOPER: People like Candice Perez. Candice and her family have been homeless since Hurricane Katrina. They're just weeks away from moving out of their FEMA trailer.

CANDICE PEREZ, HOME BEING REBUILT BY SAINT BERNARD PROJECT: I'm looking forward to moving into my house and actually feeling at home again. COOPER (on camera): You might think, during a recession, fewer people would be volunteering, but nonprofit groups across the country tell us that, while donations are down, the number of people volunteering their time is steady or even on the rise. AmeriCorps, which does a lot of work here in New Orleans, said that, this past January and February, they had 18,000 applications. That's four times the number they had at the same time last year.

LIZ MCCARTNEY, CO-FOUNDER, SAINT BERNARD PROJECT: Thank you again for being here and being a part of the solution.

COOPER: Liz McCartney is co-founder of the Saint Bernard Project.

MCCARTNEY: Well, life can challenging. And it really helps to put things in perspective and to remind people that their situation might not be as bad as they think it is. I think, also, for everybody, as long as you're active and doing something and staying positive, things are going to turn around.

COOPER: It's that spirit that has Suzanne and her family finding ways to give to those in need, even when they too are hurting.

MINTZ: Everybody feels this economic pinch in some way. But, if we get more people involved, if we can get -- if we can touch more potential volunteers and potential donors, then -- you know, and we add up those smaller bits, they're going to add up to a lot, and it will continue to make a difference.


COOPER: The Saint Bernard Project, we should point out, who we have profiled a lot over the years, they're -- tomorrow, they're going to complete their 200th house that they have helped to rebuild.

And, as I said, we're surrounded right now by hundreds of volunteers who have come here from all around the country. We have got folks from Boston, from -- from -- from schools in Massachusetts, from schools in Arizona, all trying to make a difference.

Do you guys feel like you made a big difference here?


COOPER: We will talk to them throughout this program.

You know, every economic upheaval, and especially this one, has some winners, and, unfortunately, more losers.

Tom Foreman is back tonight to tell us which professions are benefiting, and which are not, in the continuing economic downturn -- Tom.


This is a scary time for groups that rely on volunteers and donations, because, just like it is in the business world, there are winners and losers here, too.

And let's start off with one of the big losers in this, fund- raising charities, those that have to raise money. There have been some studies that have been done on this recently. These are the groups that raise money for your United Way, Red Cross, or women's shelter.

Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy says confidence among these people has dropped right through the basement in the past six months. Nine out of 10 say the economy is hurting their fund-raising efforts.

But the winners, you just met them there, Anderson, charities that can make good use of volunteers. We're hearing reports from all over of spikes in the number of volunteers, out-of-work accountants who are helping people in debt, unemployed chefs working in soup kitchens, that sort of thing, big changes there.

Another big loser in all this, animal rescue shelters say they're getting an awful lot of dogs and cats and exotic birds, all sorts of pets that, in these tough times, people can't afford or can't take care of. Maybe it's because the owner has a new job. Maybe they have to move, but it's not a good time for Fido, no matter how it happens.

A winner, oddly enough, veterinarians. Despite these hard times, demand for veterinarians is so high, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the veterinary business is one of the 30 fastest- growing occupations.

Another loser, agencies involved in helping poor children. There are statistics out there that say that dozens and dozens of states are cutting back on programs for foster children, for families, with housing and food for children who are in trouble in some way.

But, oddly enough, one benefit of this, an unexpected and related winner, is the military. Military people, it seems, in many ways, are more willing to enlist right now or reenlist right now, because they want to serve their country and because they like the economic stability for their families in this time -- Anderson.

COOPER: Hmm. Interesting to see who is winning and who is losing.

Tom, thanks.

We're coming full circle next. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, $75 million in FEMA money to help people here build permanent housing, two years after it arrived from Washington, no housing. Where is the money? We're "Keeping Them Honest." Well, it's also a cautionary tale about the importance for oversight with all this stimulus money being thrown around.

Later, Pope Benedict triggers a global controversy over AIDS and condoms. See what he's saying that has many people up in arms.

And expert advice on how to relaunch your life and career -- turning hard times into a fresh new start on this "Road to Rescue."

We will be right back.


COOPER: Well, President Obama promised that nearly $800 billion in stimulus money will be spent sooner, rather than later, on shovel- ready projects to quickly jump-start the ailing economy. It may be wishful thinking on the president's part, if government projects right here in New Orleans are any indication.

Billions of dollars have poured into this city in the last three- and-a-half years since Hurricane Katrina. A lot of the money has gone to good use, but a lot of money seems to have kind of disappeared. Three-and-a-half years after the catastrophic storm, some 16,000 families are still leaving in FEMA trailers or some sort of subsidized housing.

Sean Callebs tonight is following the money, "Keeping Them Honest."


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All that's left is a slab where his house sat.

STEVE GONZALES, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: Let's get the people back into their homes.

CALLEBS: Steve Gonzales has been living in this FEMA trailer since Katrina devastated New Orleans. His wife of 42 years died here in 2006. In part, Gonzales blamed stress in the aftermath of the storm.

Two years ago, FEMA gave Louisiana nearly $75 million to start building permanent housing called Katrina Cottages to help people like Steve Gonzales.

GONZALES: I think she would still be alive today if we would have had something permanent. It would have took a lot of stress off of her.

CALLEBS: Even though funding has long been in place, in two years, Louisiana has placed exactly no one in Katrina Cottages.

(on camera): People are angry. I mean, people are very angry.


CALLEBS (voice-over): Close to 40 cottages going up, but not in New Orleans, 65 miles away, in Baton Rouge.

State Representative Neil Abramson ran for office, saying he was fed up with the government response in the aftermath of the storm. ABRAMSON: I can tell folks that I understand their frustration. I understand -- I don't have an explanation for them. It's a disaster. It's unacceptable. We can't make it happen.

CALLEBS: Abramson asked for a state audit to find out what went wrong with the housing plan.

He found lots of finger-pointing. And, in his findings, the bottom line, the state hasn't moved quickly enough to find sites to build the houses. And get this. If 500 cottages aren't built and have families living in them by this September, FEMA can take the $75 million back. So far, they have built one.

ABRAMSON: This provides an opportunity for us to give jobs here to Louisianians, who can have good-paying jobs. Small businesses can have income coming in. This is a little stimulus package that actually was the result of Hurricane Katrina.

CALLEBS: And, if this is how the state handles $75 million, how will it spend the $4 billion Louisiana is slated to receive in President Obama's stimulus package?

A government watchdog group says, brace yourself.

TOM SCHATZ, PRESIDENT, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: The problem with the Katrina Cottages is a good example of a well-intended program that simply hasn't worked as expected. And this will be the case with many of the programs coming out of the stimulus funding.

CALLEBS: The state says, it's a complex process, getting land OKed, overseeing funding. And no one from the state would talk with us on camera about this story.

Still, Louisiana says it is confident it won't lose FEMA funding for the cottages. And land has been cleared for 90 homes for the National Guard at a barracks in New Orleans. But the state still doesn't have land for 370 cottages for people like Steve Gonzales.

GONZALES: I am so frustrated that I could scream. Every day of the week, I see something else that just drives me up the wall.


COOPER: It's -- it's crazy to have this money just sitting here three-and-a-half years on since the storm. And it is a cautionary tale about what may happen with this federal stimulus money.

CALLEBS: It really is. And I wish there was a simple answer, how it got to this point. But there really isn't. And no one can guarantee, yes, we're going to get the money spent properly, we're going to get it spent efficiently, and we will have these homes up by this date.

COOPER: And there's millions that's been given, I understand, for city parks, and no parks have been built. CALLEBS: Yes, this is not, sadly, a tale of one story. There is something like $16 million out there for a city park that hasn't been spent. That's not the state's fault.

But this is one case where FEMA's not wearing the black hat. The money's there. This city, this state needs to find a way to take care of the people who basically have been abandoned by the government at all levels.

Look at -- the Saint Bernard Project has built 200 homes. They have not yet built one Katrina Cottage to put people in.

COOPER: The Saint Bernard Project, they can build now a home, I think, it's down to, I think, eight weeks from -- from start to finish to help rehab a home. It's just incredible, what they have been able to do.

Sean, appreciate it. Thanks for "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.

Just ahead: sound advice for surviving the recession. Yes, it is possible. We're live with our panel next, talking about "The Road to Rescue," the president's promises, and what you need to do to stay working and stay confident. That's coming up.

Also tonight, Madoff's victims, well, they lost billions, but will they get their money back, and how much? Tonight, some good news for some of those who have been scammed -- details ahead.

And, later, a star's tragic accident -- Natasha Richardson seriously injured in a ski accident. We will try to figure out what happened and what her condition is now -- the latest on this developing story.


COOPER: We're here just outside New Orleans on "The Road to Rescue." It is a road that President Obama seems to recognize will never be fully mapped out and always under construction.

Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people don't have the luxury of just focusing on Wall Street. They don't have the luxury of choosing to pay either their mortgage or their medical bills. They don't get to pick between paying for their kids' college tuition and saving enough money for retirement. They have to do all these things. They have to confront all these problems. And as a consequence, so do we.


COOPER: That's a lot to cope with, whether it's the White House or your House. We've been talking about, in Los Angeles and now here, an economic crisis can also be an opportunity. With us to explore the tools you might not even know you have are innovation consultant Frans Johansson, author of "The Medici Effect"; also "Money" magazine's Donna Rosato; and senior political analyst, David Gergen.

David, all of this anger we've been seeing and hearing from the American people about bailouts and bonuses, AIG executives getting all this money, how much of it is derailing President Obama's message and the economic agenda for the country?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It hasn't derailed his message yet, Anderson, in fact he's trying to jump right on top of the issues. But it could jeopardize his program. If he has to come back to Congress to ask more money for banks, more money for AIG, he's going to -- even a new stimulus package, Son of Stimulus. CNN poll tonight shows 66 percent of Americans don't want a Son of Stimulus.

COOPER: Frans, we have a question for you from a member of our audience. I want to go over and meet him (ph).

Michael Gilman (ph), you're a volunteer. Where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm from Atlanta, Georgia.

COOPER: What's your question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Part of my job in San Bernard Project is to raise funds for the dozens of applicants who are on our waiting list. And given this economic time, how do you suggest raising funds to continue placing families in homes?

COOPER: Frans, how about that?

FRANS JOHANSSON, AUTHOR, "THE MEDICI EFFECT": In these times, the basic strategies are still in place. There are grants out that you can pursue. And so that's sort of the baseline that you have to do.

But of course, it is important to remember that these funds, these grants, the competition for those dollars is intense. So you have to come up with some other strategies.

And I think that you can take some lessons from essentially Obama's campaign, for instance. Working through online networks, looking at -- looking at creating networks through Facebook or other social tools to tap into many, many small donations is important. That's on the one hand.

On the other hand, I think it also is very important to display the passion that you have for your particular volunteer effort. Whatever the project is, whatever -- whatever your focus is, that passion is ultimately going to sell other people to give you money and further sponsoring it.

So make sure that you encounter people, that you network people, and that you truly display the passion you have behind it. And if you do that, along with what I would call the Facebook strategy, you should increase the chance of coming up with both big donations and small donations, as well.

COOPER: Donna, we have a question. We get this from Elizabeth Baumann. You're a student, right?


COOPER: What's your question?

BAUMANN: My question is, I'm a former Americorps member, and I'm a student now, getting ready to graduate. And I'm specifically concerned with the nonprofit sector, and I was wondering if you had any advice about that.


COOPER: Any advice?

ROSATO: Of course. When you're -- when you're graduating from college, the first thing you want to do, of course, is get a job. It's a very difficult job environment.

But the good news is that the nonprofit sector is one of the areas that is growing. You see a lot of public service sector jobs that are open. And nonprofit is a real growth area.

And one of the things that people don't really think about in nonprofit is when you graduate from school, of course, you probably have a lot of debts. If you pursue a position in a nonprofit or in a public sector position like social work or in education, there are a number of loan forgiveness programs, as well, that kind of take off some of that burden.

But I would check out Web sites, for example, like, or (ph), which have a lot of the opportunities. Do some volunteer work if you can to make some connections. Use a network that you have. And I think that, especially in New Orleans, I would look at the unemployment rate there. It's actually a lot lower than other parts of the country.

Right now it's about 5.5 percent where the national average is about 8 percent. So you have -- you might have a little bit better luck there right now.

COOPER: David Gergen, we have a question for you.

You're Dan Kuzdzal?


COOPER: What you're -- you're volunteering, right?

KUZDZAL: That's correct. I'm with PP&G (ph), and I'm here volunteering.

COOPER: What's your question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is basically what can governments at all levels do to assist those 16,000 families, as you pointed out earlier, living in temporary housing or FEMA trailers whose support is going to expire at the end of August.

And this is more than just a New Orleans problem. This is an American problem. There's numerous other cities where people find themselves in a similar situation. So I'd like to know what can be done now to help these people?

COOPER: David Gergen, that's a tough question.

GERGEN: Two -- two points, Anderson. First of all, we need -- the Obama administration needs a team of managers led by people like Jack Welch to make sure this money in the stimulus is spent wisely and quickly.

And we just don't have enough -- they don't have enough people in the various agencies to do this well. He does need someone to move this around and give assurances to people the way Franklin Roosevelt did in the New Deal.

Let me just say one other thing to -- to Elizabeth, if I might, Anderson. There's really good news for Elizabeth tonight, and for many good friends of Americorps, and that is with the leadership of President Obama, both the House and the Senate are now moving forward with legislation to vastly expand the size of Americorps.

It's now 75,000 people a year. The Kennedy-Hatch legislation -- it's a bipartisan piece of legislation -- would take it up to 250,000 jobs for young people over the next few years. That would be the biggest expansion of volunteers of a national service since Franklin Roosevelt and the Civilian Conservation Corps, the old CCC. It's important legislation, and it could get done in the first 100 days of the Obama administration.

COOPER: All right, David Gergen. The crowd here, would you guys like to see Americorps expanded? That's quite a popular item here in this crowd of hundreds of volunteers.

David Gergen, thanks. Donna Rosato, as well.

Frans Johansson, we're going to talk to you shortly.

We are here in Chalmette, Louisiana, where volunteers are building a home destroyed by Katrina. We'll show you the work they are doing, coming up next.

Also coming up, health organizations accusing the pope of slowing their efforts to stop the AIDS epidemic in Africa. What did he say to set them off? You might be surprised by what he said.

And beating the odds during this recession. One man takes a tortilla and turns it into a success story.


COOPER: This is the Project St. Bernard -- the St. Bernard Project. It has been working on it for about eight weeks. They're about two weeks away from completing this house. They're putting down some base board right here.

These are volunteers from Loyola University. We've got volunteers from Arizona, from Massachusetts, folks from all over here. It is making a huge difference.

And as we've been reporting on this hour, nonprofit groups across the country, though donations to groups have fallen, they've been seeing an uptick in the number of people volunteering their time. It's one of the ripple effects of this recession. People who have lost their jobs or had their businesses downsized are volunteering their time.

Let's check in with Tom Foreman for a look at what else is happening today in the "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Tom.


A better-than-expected housing market cheered investors today. The Dow added 179 points, the NASDAQ 58 points, and the S&P 500 gained 24 points.

Some good news for the victims of Bernie Madoff. The IRS today issued guidelines that allow tax relief and refunds for some investors who were swindled out of as much as $65 billion.

And the Securities Investor Protection Corporation says everybody who lost up to a half million dollars will eventually get all of their money back. But larger investors will have to take a hit.

Dues paid by brokerage firms fund the SIPC, not taxpayer money.

Controversy erupted today during Pope Benedict's first trip to Africa. The pontiff refused to soften the Catholic Church ban on condoms, instead preaching abstinence. Health organizations are advocating more condom use to help stop an epidemic that has hit sub- Saharan Africa harder than any other region.

And George W. Bush has mostly stayed out of the public eye since stepping down in January, but the former president traveled to Canada for a speech tonight to a private business audience there about his eighth year in office -- Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks very much.

They are working here all night long. We're going to have more on their efforts and also the efforts of volunteers around the country.

Also ahead tonight, we're going to take a look at how to survive this recession, how to beat it face first. A man who is selling tacos innovated a new kind of taco that changed the whole market, saved his business. We'll talk about the importance of innovation in the face of this recession.

And we'll have the latest on actress Natasha Richardson, who had a brain injury, apparently, after an accident on a ski slope. We'll have the latest on her condition ahead.


COOPER: Welcome back.

Nearly 4 1/2 million people have lost their jobs in this recession so far. That's pushed the unemployment rate to 8.1 percent, the highest in decades, although here in New Orleans, it's actually much lower. That's the average.

Take a look at the impact crisis is having on the Latino community for their community. The unemployment rate is much higher in the Latino population: 10.9 percent.

One Latino businessman is finding success, though, with a very creative approach to the tortilla. His story is about hard work, determination, and perhaps the most important of all, innovation, which experts say is vital to surviving the economic crisis.

Up close tonight, here's Ted Rowlands.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When business at Alonso Arellano's Southern California restaurant and bakery dropped by 50 percent last year, instead of going down with the ship, he reinvented his business.

Acting on an idea he had months ago, Arellano created and started selling a new type of healthy tortilla. He calls them "Nopalitillas," because they're made with powder from the nopal cactus, a popular Latin American antioxidant.

ALONSO ARELLANO, RESTAURANT OWNER: This tortilla, it's a very good source of fiber. It's a very good source of calcium. It's the lowest calorie tortilla, all natural, no preserves, no additives.

ROWLANDS: It's also, obviously, green, which Arellano says has helped set it apart from the competition. In fact, Arellano says that Nopalitillas, which he started selling in December, are a huge hit, both at his restaurant and online. Enough to not only keep his current employees, but he says he's now planning to hire more people to keep up with demand.

Jorge Salinas (ph), who has a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year- old son, says he's grateful to keep his job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is good, because a lot of people are looking for jobs. And they don't find them.

ROWLANDS: Arellano says forget the banks and companies like AIG. The government should be helping entrepreneurs like himself who have the ideas and the drive to evolve and put people to work.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Sun Valley, California.


COOPER: Alonso Arellano's twist on the tortilla proved to be a winning recipe. Start small, think big, and innovate. It's with that reinvention that you can withstand the recession, maybe come out of it even better than before.

Let's get some advice on this. Back with us is Frans Johansson, innovation consultant and author of "The Medici Effect."

We just saw Ted Rowlands' report on the tortilla maker reinventing his own business. Is reinventing yourself the key to surviving this recession?

JOHANSSON: I think it's critical. I talk to executives at companies all over the world. And they tell me the same thing, which is that these economic conditions are reducing their ability to do business as usual. Either clients or customers are disappearing, or costs are skyrocketing.

The fact is that, when you're in that situation, you -- in order to survive, you have to find another way out. And this tortilla story, I think, is a great example. But it's a story that is repeated all over the world right now.

And what I tell these companies is that, OK, innovation doesn't have to cost a ton. It doesn't have to be about lab coats and R&D centers that spend billions of dollars. Really what it is, is about looking at your assets, your skills, your relationships, and figuring out how can you use these in a different context? How can you use these in a different way?

I just read a story from Detroit, and I think you're going to be there tomorrow. This is an auto parts supplier. The major client is General Motors. Obviously, they're suffering right now, but they looked at their skill sets and said, "Well, OK, how can we use this differently?"

And they decided to actually look for other clients. Today they're selling stuff to DOD, to -- to NASA, and that way they've been able to diversify.

That type of innovation has to happen all the time. And that is the way that a company can survive a recession like this.

COOPER: The key: innovation. Fran Johansson, thanks so much.

Next, the latest on actress Natasha Richardson's condition. She suffered a serious head injury from a skiing accident. We'll talk to a top neurologist about what may have happened and why there were no visible signs, apparently, of trauma initially.

And a congressional scramble to strip AIG executives of their bonuses. A lot of anger on Capitol Hill and a plan to get the money back. The question is, is it going to work? We'll look at that tonight.


COOPER: Actress Natasha Richardson is in the hospital tonight after suffering a severe head injury in a skiing accident. Richardson, who's married to actor Liam Neeson, was reportedly getting a ski lesson when she fell on a beginner's slope at a Quebec resort yesterday. Reportedly, she was alert afterwards and then returned to her hotel room, but about an hour later she reportedly said she was not feeling well.

Richardson was taken to a local hospital, then transferred to a larger medical center in Montreal before being flown to an undisclosed hospital in the United States.

Now, we don't know the exact nature of her injury, but it is clear her condition is very serious.

Joining me now is Dr. Stephan Mayer, the director of the neurological intensive care unit at New York-Presbyterian Columbia Hospital in New York.

Dr. Mayer, how common is it for someone to have an accident and then feel fine, and then an hour later suddenly take ill?

DR. STEPHAN MAYER, DIRECTOR, NEUROLOGICAL INTENSIVE CARE UNIT, NEW YORK-PRESBYTERIAN COLUMBIA HOSPITAL: Well, luckily, this is very rare. This is the classic lucid interval when there's a concussion, primary injury, maybe brief loss of consciousness. The patient then seems fine. And an hour later or an hour and a half later, then things start to get really, really bad.

COOPER: What do you -- what would her doctors be looking for at this point?

MAYER: The key thing is getting to the emergency room as soon as possible and getting that CAT scan. The CAT scan is going to have the important information.

And in a case like this, we obviously don't know the details, but the main question is, is this some kind of bleeding process in the skull, or is it massive swelling of the brain? Because the treatments are very different.

COOPER: How common is it, though, to have a fall and have some sort of an injury like this? I mean, you said it's very rare. A lot of people have concussions. How can something be caused by a seemingly minor fall?

MAYER: Well, luckily, Anderson, this really is quite rare. It's very unfortunate. But we know that sometimes even what would seem to be a trivial impact leads to shaking of the brain inside the skull. And then if it's all kinds of bad luck, a blood vessel breaks open and starts to bleed, and there's nothing in there to stop the bleeding from progressing; or similarly, it can trigger a kind of poorly- understood massive swelling reaction of the brain.

COOPER: And what would someone feel? Just a headache?

MAYER: the -- well, she had headaches, according to the reports, but the key danger sign is when you lose neurological function. So what would strike terror into anybody is just with the headache the patient or this person can't remain awake, seems very sleepy, unarousable, slurred speech, can't see properly, or is losing use of one of the limbs or can't stand up.

Those would be the cardinal signs of loss of neurological function and should trigger 911, get to an emergency room as soon as possible.

COOPER: So anyone -- should anyone skiing wear a helmet?

MAYER: Definitely you should wear a helmet. And my first e-mail today was a neurointensivist (ph) who I know who e-mailed me and said, "Man, next time, I'm definitely wearing a helmet."

COOPER: Well, Dr. Stephan there, appreciate your expertise. Thank you very much.

Just on a personal level, Natasha Richardson is a friend of mine. She's an extraordinary talent and an extraordinary human being, and my thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.

Just ahead, AIG becoming a four-letter word with outrage over millions of dollars in bonuses now boiling over. When did the president, though, find out about AIG's plans to hand out those huge bonuses? And what, if anything, can be done to get the money back? We've got the latest on that ahead.


COOPER: Welcome back. We are at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) museum. And tonight, we're just outside New Orleans where hundreds of volunteers have come out to show their spirit, coming from all around the United States.

There's a 24-hour build going on. They're trying to complete a home here for one local resident who is having their home rebuilt. They've been working on it for eight weeks. They have about another two weeks left to go.

St. Bernard Project tomorrow is going to finish their 200th house that they have helped rebuild over the last 3 1/2 years here.

Tom, for tonight's "Shot," what is lifelike and incredibly creepy? Here's the answer, this humanoid creation out of Japan.

Meet HRP4C, the model name for this robot, clad in a Larry Flynt version of a "Star Wars" stormtrooper costume. This feminine animatron can walk, express anger or surprise and say, "Hello, everyone." I'm told it can be yours for a cool $200,000.

As for the purpose -- we're just guessing here -- maybe you can entertain friends and scare children with it.

There you go, Tom.

FOREMAN: That's a wild -- that's really creepy. I would go (ph) with Bernie Madoff. That was my guess.

COOPER: All right. Not bad.

You can see all the most recent "Shots" on our Web site:

We want to thank everyone here in Chalmette for their hospitality. Tomorrow night we're in Detroit.

Coming up at the top of the hour, the latest on those AIG bonuses. New developments in the fight to get your money back from AIG. Americans are furious. Lawmakers say they are, too. What are the odds that all that outrage is actually going to produce results? We'll be right back.