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AMERICAN MORNING

FedEx Cargo Plane Crash in Tokyo; Deadly Plane Crash in Montana; Obama's Grassroots Supporters in Campaign Mode; Smaller Community Banks May be the Way to Go; Choosing Between Tuition or Mortgage

Aired March 23, 2009 - 06:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Thanks very much for being with us. It's a Monday, it's the 23rd of March. And, you know, another week, another trillion dollars.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, exactly. You were gone.

ROBERTS: Spend, spend, spend, spend, spend.

CHETRY: And next thing you know the Fed just floods the market with $1 trillion. You blinked and there it goes.

ROBERTS: You know when the cat's away, right?

CHETRY: Exactly. Well, we have a lot to cover this morning. Some of the big stories topping our agenda right now. We're going to breaking them down for you in the next 15 minutes.

There's some breaking news. Two plane crashes happening overnight. One involves Americans, the other one took place in Japan. Several children among the victims, and the devastation of each crash caught by a camera. This morning, NTSB investigators are responding to both crashes and we're live with the very latest.

In just a few hours, the White House will lift the bail on its plan to buy billions of dollars in toxic assets that have blown up the balance sheets of our nation's banks. The goal is to make it easier for banks to start lending again. But will it and how will it impact your ability to get a loan?

Also, President Obama opening up about the toughest call he's had to make since taking office. He's also responding to former Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism that he's making America less safe. We're going to bring you that interview this morning.

ROBERTS: We begin with the breaking news this morning. And right now, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are on the ground in Montana and en route to Japan after a deadly plane crash in each place. In Montana, seven adults and seven children including a family of five are dead after their small plane slammed into a cemetery just about a football field shy of the airport.

Meantime in Tokyo, we've learned that the two FedEx pilots killed when their plane exploded were Americans. We're following both of these stories for you this morning. Dan Simon on the ground of Butte, Montana, for us. Kyung Lah is in Tokyo.

And let's start with Dan. And, Dan, this is a particularly tragic flight. This was headed for a ski resort, diverted to another airport. And then as we see in the picture beside you went down in flames in a cemetery.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, John. The crash site about 300 yards behind me in that cemetery. At this point, we have no idea what caused that plane to go down. Weather does not appear to be a factor and the pilot did not call in a distress signal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON (voice-over): The single engine turbo prop plane, a Pilatus PC-12 was just about 500 feet from the runway in Butte, Montana, when witnesses say it crashed straight into the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never seen anything like this in my life. We were just taking a ride and all of a sudden, we watched a plane just take a nosedive right into the cemetery.

SIMON: The FAA confirmed seven children and seven adults were on board. No one survived. Federal officials say the group might have been headed to a ski trip, but the destruction at the crash site leaves very few clues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the witness who ran across the street in there and took some photos said he was about 20 feet from the wreckage. It had created a large pit when it augured in and it just disintegrated. There wasn't much left of the plane, of the wreckage.

SIMON: The aircraft began its journey in San Diego and made a few California stops, the last of which was in Oroville, where it refueled before heading to Bozeman, Montana. The FAA says the flight diverted to Butte where it went down in the Holy Cross Cemetery just 500 feet from the airport. The cause of the crash is still unknown.

BEN BERMAN, FORMER NTSE INVESTIGATOR: The loading of the aircraft is one of the things the investigators will be looking into. They will be looking into, you know, whether there was a possibility of engine failure that could have bought the airplane down as well as many other possible crash causes including weather and pilot performance and all kinds of things.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: Not a lot of information yet about the victims. Again, seven children dead, seven adults dead.

CNN did talk to two people who live in the Napa Valley community in California. They tell us that a family of five who lives in that area died. The father said to be a prominent eye surgeon, the mother, a dental hygienist. They had three children and their ages just four, three and two.

John, back to you. ROBERTS: Yes, a lot of questions in this crash, Dan. And I know you just got there on the ground, so we'll let you start working your sources. We'll get back to you a little bit later on.

Dan Simon for us in Butte, Montana, this morning. Dan, thanks so much.

CHETRY: And now to another story developing right now. The NTSB dispatching a team of investigators to Japan after a FedEx cargo plane crashed killing two American pilots on board. That crash was actually caught on tape. There you see it now. It's a video showing the plane bouncing violently on the runway at Tokyo's Narita Airport before bursting into flames.

We're live on the ground this morning in Tokyo using the global resources of CNN to bring the latest developments to you. Kyung Lah is there.

Kyung, a lot of interest being paid to wind conditions at the time of the crash. What are they saying about that?

KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What they're looking at specifically, Kiran, are the wind gusts. At the time of the crash, the wind gusts where anywhere to 30 to 50 miles per hour. According to Japan's ministry of transport, a plane that had landed just before this FedEx flight had radioed air traffic control to say there are wind shear conditions here. Air traffic control then radioed the FedEx plane. The FedEx plane did land and that crash happened four minutes after that radio transmission from air traffic control to the FedEx plane.

That dramatic crash was caught on traffic and weather cameras, that exact moment the plane tilting to the left, then bursting into flames. The fire crews were there within minutes but they were not able to save the lives of the two American pilots, a pilot and a co- pilot. We are still waiting to hear if the family in the United States has indeed been notified or not. That plane has been smoldering on the runway for hours.

The remains of the plane still on that runway. Investigators trying to figure out exactly what has happened. A number of flights, especially those long flights between Tokyo to the U.S. have been canceled throughout the day. Investigators saying in this case, what they are going to first look at is the wind. Was wind the primary factor? But they are not ruling out other factors, perhaps human error and also mechanical error -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Kyung Lah for us this morning. We're going to continue to follow the latest developments on this disturbing story. Thanks so much.

ROBERTS: We're also following major political developments this morning. And in just a few hours here on CNN, the Obama administration will unveil a crucial plan to ease the credit markets and put money in your hands. The goal -- rid struggling banks of so- called toxic assets, mostly mortgages that have gone bad and are dragging down the economy. And even before the idea is announced, the administration already aggressively making the case that the plan will work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINA ROMER, CHAIRWOMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: I think you need to keep your eye on why we're doing this at all, which is we do know that banks have these so-called toxic assets on their balance sheets. We think they're highly uncertain. They're making banks unwilling to lend. We're making private investigators unwilling to come into banks. We need to get those off the bank's balance sheets.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: If the government doesn't make money, the private sector doesn't make money either. I mean, these guys are coming in in a partnership. And one of the reasons you want to have the partnership is precisely so that, a, the government doesn't massively overpay for these troubled assets that are on the balance sheets. And b, so that everybody has got skin in the game and you don't get into situations where you're paying guys for failure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, this morning, we're breaking down the plan. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is the only reporter live at the White House this early. Christine Romans here on the set in New York with us.

Let's start with Suzanne. And this public private partnerships, a big part of the plan today. The Obama administration seems to think, Suzanne, that it will work but many other people think it's much more of a roll of the dice.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, it's really a roll of the dice and we'll see if this actually does work. But the key to all of this is that the government desperately needs these private investigators here, that they cannot make this work without them. It is estimated that about $1 trillion it's going to take to buy up all those toxic assets. Clearly, the government does not have that kind of cash, does not have that kind of money, so senior aides say that it's going to work this way.

There's going to be a partnership between the government and private investors. And what banks will do is will go ahead and sell those toxic assets in an auction to the highest bidder, but it's the government that's going to subsidize anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the cost. So clearly that is going to help eliminate some of the risk for those private investors. But, John, you bring up a good point and that is some are criticizing this saying that perhaps the taxpayers are burdening too much of the risk here -- John.

ROBERTS: And what about the timing of all this this morning, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: The announcement from the treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, is going to be made at 8:45 as you know, right before the opening bell of Wall Street and the markets. They want to jump-start this, a boost of confidence. There are going to be some new details that are coming out before the markets open including some of the names of those private investors. So they certainly hope that that is going to kind of jump-start and everybody going here and perhaps influence the markets in a good way -- John.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House this morning. Big announcement expected at 8:45 this morning. Of course, we'll be covering it. Suzanne, thanks so much for that.

CHETRY: Some of those details trickling out this morning and we're going to dig a little deeper now. Christine Romans is here "Minding Your Business."

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Sure.

CHETRY: You know, of course, there's always going to be criticism, and they haven't even had a chance to really formally announce it and already the op-ed pages lighting up about why it's not going to work.

ROMANS: Well, let's talk about what they're trying to do here. First of all, I'm going to be very interested in what Suzanne just mentioned, who are these private investors who will be lining up to partner with the government because just as recently as late last week, my sources on Wall Street were saying people were very, very nervous about partnering with the government after Wall Street and private investors and capitalists frankly were flogged all last week by Congress and by members of the administration and the media as well.

So what are they trying to do? They're trying to take these toxic assets off the banks' books. These are real estate loans that the banks have. These are also complex derivatives, securities based on real estate loans. Once you get those off the books, the theory is that some lending can start to go. So that's what they're trying to do here.

Some of the challenges, and this is why the op-ed pages, Kiran, are lighting up. Some of the challenges -- are you going to be able to attract that private capital? Are the American people going to say wait a second, we're going to subsidize Wall Street and private investors to get us out of the mess they got us in the first place? There's a real big feeling though that you have to have Wall Street to get out of this, you know. So we've got to put the anger of the last week behind us and try to figure out how to move on.

Also, are we going to have to suspend executive compensation rules so that you can attract the big, rich, wealthy hedge funds and, you know, the people who got the money who want to be partners with the government? So there are a lot of questions about how we're going do this. I'm very interested to see who these private investors are because that's going to be key to get private investors here, and the government is taking all the risk. Really, it's very clear, shouldering a lot of the money and taking all the risk.

ROBERTS: Which means that all of us are taking the risk.

ROMANS: That's right. That's right.

CHETRY: And economically speaking, Paul Krugman, of course, Nobel Prize winning economist, wrote today in "The New York Times" about it.

ROMANS: Sure.

CHETRY: And he said that they're still banking on the belief that household debt wasn't a problem and also that there was no housing bubble. So they're being optimistic and hoping that these assets become more valuable but there's no really no guarantee, right?

ROMANS: Well, right now, the world is valuing them at zero. And there's a feeling that they're worth something more than zero, you know. And so if you can figure out in a public auction system how much these things are worth, maybe, maybe the taxpayer could get some return later on, if someone else can hold these until they're worth something.

Right now, the banks are holding them hoping maybe that they're going to be worth something later on but it's just dragging them down, you know. It's just every time they turn around and look at the value it's been, again, it's, you know, it's dragging down their own books.

ROBERTS: You know, we'll get a chance to talk to the White House about this this morning as well. The chief economic adviser, Christina Romer, joining us in our next hour.

ROMANS: Great. Christina Romer, it's hard to say that.

ROBERTS: Christine Romans and Romer. There you go. All right. Thanks, Christine.

President Obama not holding back. Hear his response to criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney that the administration's terror policies are making America's less safe. And a reminder that we're live on Twitter right now answering your money questions. Our Gerri Willis is logged in, plugged in. Logged on and plugged in, rather, in the studio here so ask away. You can get the link by visiting our Web site at CNN.com/amfix.

It's 11 minutes now after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Thirteen minutes past the hour. Time to fast forward to the stories that will be making news later today on CNN.

Officials in Fargo, North Dakota, are desperately trying to save 6,000 homes threatened by the swollen Red River. They need more than a million sandbags to stop the flooding. So far just over 300,000 have been filled. That river is expected to crest this weekend about 40 feet, flood stages above 17 feet. Forecasters say that more rain is expected over the next several days there.

Well in about a half hour, the Shuttle Discovery astronauts will get their wake-up call, and then the crew prepares for its third and final spacewalk scheduled to start at 11:43 Eastern time this morning. Two Discovery astronauts will try to fix and equip a storage platform that jammed and couldn't be deployed.

And at 12:30 p.m. Eastern, President Obama will make the case for investments and clean energy and new technology which are included in his budget. You can see the president's remarks live right here on CNN or CNN.com/live -- John.

ROBERTS: We've got so many ways for people to stay in touch with the news here. Always appreciate that and enjoy bringing it to you.

This morning, two months into the job, we're learning the toughest decision President Obama says he's had to take since taking office. Here's what he told Steve Kroft on CBS' "60 Minutes."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE KROFT, CBS CORRESPONDENT, "60 MINUTES": What's the hardest decision you've had to make in the last 60 days?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would say that the decision to send more troops into Afghanistan. You know, I think it's the right thing to do but it's a weighty decision because we actually had to make the decision prior to the completion of strategic review that we were conducting.

And when I make a decision to send 17,000 young Americans to Afghanistan, you can understand that intellectually, but understanding what that means for those families, for those young people when you end up sitting at your desk signing a condolence letter to one of the family members of a fallen hero, you're reminded each and every day at every moment that the decisions you make count.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: President Obama also took a swipe at former Vice President Dick Cheney who said in an interview earlier this month that the president's policies have made America less safe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney. Not surprisingly. You know, I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can't reconcile our core values, our constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests. I think he's drawing the wrong lesson from history.

The facts don't bear him out. I think he is -- that attitude, that philosophy has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: And as for the hardest thing about being president, Mr. Obama said it's staying focused because there are so many demands and decisions pressed upon you. He thought that Iraq was going to be the toughest thing he had to deal with. Kaboom. So...

CHETRY: Exactly.

Well, also new this morning, California's flags are flying at half staff this week in memory of three Oakland police officers shot and killed in the line of duty over the weekend. A fourth was declared brain dead Sunday. Police say the 27-year-old suspect opened fire on the officers after a routine traffic stop. He was eventually killed by police. It is the deadliest day in the department's history.

Also, the IRS defending itself against charges it's failing to step up scrutiny of wealthy taxpayers. An IRS watchdog group reports audits of Americans who made more than $1 million dropped at least 36 percent last year, but the agency puts the decline at about 19 percent saying there were two reasons for the drop, an increased workload because of stimulus checks and also fewer revenue agents.

Well, move over Citi. There's a new bank in town and business is booming. Why customers are flocking to start-up banks invested in their community.

It's 17 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Twenty and a half minutes after the hour now. Welcome back.

This morning, we are turning to our in-house money experts to answer your financial questions. We have been getting hundreds of them since we launched a new show hotline, 877-MY-AMFIX. You can call right now and ask your question.

Meantime, here's a call for Gerri Willis about whether it's time to refinance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW, PENNSYLVANIA: Hello. My name is Andrew. I'm calling from Pennsylvania.

My question is, is it more important to possibly refinance a mortgage or to wait to see what the Obama, affordability plan can do for us? And how low do you think the interest rates are going to go for home mortgages?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: All right. Gerri, want to field that one for us.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hey, good morning, guys. Good to see you.

Hey, Andrew. So the bottom line here is I can't tell you where mortgage rates are going because if I did, I'd own an island somewhere in the Caribbean because nobody knows the answer to that question. But here's some great advice for you.

The government has already put out a Web site that will help you understand the details of the president's plan for affordable housing. It's called makinghomeaffordable.gov. Go to that Web site. They even have a little applets that will help you figure out whether you're eligible for these plans and how much money you can save each and every month by being a part of it.

Now, you should also, though, check out if you can solve your problem by just refinancing your mortgage because mortgage rates here have gotten very low, according to bankrate.com. John, 5.06 percent last or today actually, according to bankrate.com, which is very low indeed. These are long-term lows. You can save a lot of money. You just need to check out which of these plans would be best for you. It could be as simple as refinancing the mortgage.

ROBERTS: Good tips.

CHETRY: We're also getting a lot of questions from people who are worried about their retirement savings understandably. Here's one of the calls to our hotline. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE, COLORADO: This is Marie from Colorado.

My husband is getting ready to retire and we have the 401(k) that absolutely has nothing in it. We have no other savings but the pension and it's around $59,000. And we want to know how to do it, to take it out without having to pay all the tax on it.

So I do appreciate some advice on it. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIS: Well, Marie, you know, I got to tell you here, it's more important probably to build your nest egg here, your savings, instead of retiring and taking the money out, because you will pay taxes.

My advice to you, maybe your husband keeps on working, maybe he takes a part-time job, but you really shouldn't be completely out of the workforce right now because you need more savings for retirement. $59,000 just ain't going to do it at this point. And a lot of people are in this situation right now. Our heart goes out to you. We understand this is a difficult time but you've really got to put more savings together to make sure you can pay for everything you need in retirement.

CHETRY: I don't know if she's saying, my 401(k) has nothing in it because it's taking such a big hit. But that's also, I mean, time can rebuild that as well if you don't touch it, right? WILLIS: Right. Well, see, that's the other thing. If you go in and you sell everything in your retirement fund, well, then, you're locking in losses. So it's better if she lets it ride for longer if she can. But I understand the desire to retire. I think we all share in that.

ROBERTS: Yes. More and more people unfortunately will have to keep working in retirement.

WILLIS: That's right.

ROBERTS: I guess you never really retire.

WILLIS: Yes.

ROBERTS: Gerri, thanks so much.

WILLIS: It's conundrum.

ROBERTS: Yes.

Keep your questions coming. Just call 1-877-MY-AMFIX. Another thing we'd love to hear from you. What would you ask President Obama if you had the chance? We'll work some of those questions into our coverage as the president gets ready for another live news conference tomorrow night.

It's 24 minutes now after the hour.

CHETRY: While big banks get bailouts, what do little banks get?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY GOLDSTEIN, PRESIDENT, VALLEY GREEN BANK: We sometimes have a line out the door of people transferring their deposits from those institutions to us.

ROBERT LONG, EXECUTIVE VP, HANOVER COMMUNITY BANK: We wanted to go back to the old days. We wanted to go back to face-to-face banking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: The new bonus of doing business with a little bank now, ahead on the Most News in the Morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Twenty- seven minutes past the hour now.

Bigger and definitely not better right now at least if we're talking about the banking industry. We're seeing these commercial banks just buried under a mountain of debt and even the government to save them from themselves, but for some smaller community-based banks, business is actually booming. CNN's Jason Carroll is here to tell us a little bit more and why. Very interesting.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a very interesting story. You know, Alan Greenspan I think it was who said in an interview, if he was 50 years younger, you know what he would do? He would open one of these small community banks. They may not have the name recognition but some start-up banks say they could provide service that's just as good as the larger chains, and they say their customers' money is just as safe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: Just as word spread several banking giants were buckling under the strain of the economy, a little known smaller bank was muscling its way into the financial world.

(on camera): You opened, what? January? Just about January?

LONG: Yes. We're open about two months now. I mean, there were some hurdles. I mean, we were raising money literally when people had newspapers in front of them saying that the banks were going out of business.

CARROLL (voice-over): Robert Long founded Long Island's Hanover Community Bank. It's considered small by industry standards with less than $1 billion in assets but unlike some bigger competitors with trillions, Hanover doesn't need a bailout.

(on camera): And so far, how have you been doing?

LONG: Well, we are, we've exceeded our expectation.

CARROLL (voice-over): Hanover hoped to raise $20 million in cash by selling certificates of deposit but ended up raising more than twice that.

LONG: We wanted to go back to the old days. We wanted to go back to face-to-face banking.

CARROLL: A key to success, knowing the customer asking for a home mortgage or business loan. It's formula that's working around the country.

GOLDSTEIN: Business is very good.

CARROLL: Valley Green Bank, another community bank in Philadelphia, opened three years ago. Today, customer deposits are way up.

GOLDSTEIN: Every time there is bad news about, you know, one of the large banks, we sometimes have a line out the door of people transferring their deposits from those institutions to us.

CARROLL: Much like Hanover, Valley Green lends primarily to those from the community, like florist Herb Rothe. HERB ROTHE, ROTHE FLORISTS: They gave us the attention that probably I wouldn't expect from any other big bank.

CARROLL: But some financial experts say there can be a downside to small banks.

BART NARTER, CALENT RESEARCH'S BANKING GROUP: You need bill pay, you need mobile banking. You need all these things that a small bank just doesn't have the mass to deal with.

CARROLL: Hanover says technology isn't everything.

LONG: You call an 800 number and you get somebody that's not in this country, I don't think that's banking. To tell you the truth, that's technology.

CARROLL: And some customers joke, these start-up banks have another advantage.

ELEANOR PLATIS, HANOVER BANK CUSTOMER: And it's going to take a while before they get into trouble.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: Well, some banking experts say one of the problems community banks can run into getting off the ground is passing all the financial tests the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, requires in order get backing on customers' deposits. The banks we profiled met the requirements.

Now, Hanover bank says it may open more branches very, very soon.

CHETRY: That's amazing. You know, it's true. They're in this situation where they didn't take those huge risks and so now they're able to service their communities.

CARROLL: Exactly. And doing well, for now.

CHETRY: All right. Fingers crossed.

CARROLL: Fingers crossed.

CHETRY: Jason, thanks.

Well, crossing the half hour now. Here's a look at what we're following for you.

Two deadly plane crashes, both involving Americans. The first was at Japan's Narita Airport. This is video showing a FedEx cargo plane which burst into flames after it bounced off the runway and then flipped over. The American pilot and co-pilot were killed. They were the only ones on board. Japanese media is reporting 43 mile-per-hour gusts at the time of that crash.

Also, federal investigators are on their way right now to a second plane crash. This happened in Butte, Montana. The single- engine plane went down in a cemetery just about a football field shy of the runway. No one onboard survived. Officials say that 14 people died including seven children. That flight originated from Redlands, California. It was originally headed to Bozeman, Montana. It was rerouted to Butte where it crashed.

For more than three weeks after American journalist Laura Ling appeared on AMERICAN MORNING, there are reports that Ling, who you see here on the right, and another journalist, Euna Lee, are on their way to Pyongyang for questioning. The two were reportedly detained last Tuesday while filming near the border of China and North Korea.

A spokesman for the State Department says it's been in touch with North Korean authorities, expressing Washington's concern about the situation. Laura Ling is sisters with Lisa Ling, who we've also had on the program who has done a lot of reporting on the hot spots around the world - John.

ROBERTS: Well, this morning, Sarah Palin is back in the spotlight and pushing back against an article that blames her policies for Alaska not having a natural gas pipeline. Palin calling the article in "Portfolio Magazine," quote, "a hit piece."

Joe McGinniss is a best-selling author and contributor to "Conde Nast Portfolio" and you can read his full article on Governor Palin and big oil in the big issue of "Conde Nast Portfolio." Joe is live for us this morning in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Joe, it's good to see you. I'd like to start off this morning by rewinding to the election campaign. Let's play that tape of Sarah Palin talking about the gas pipeline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: I fought to bring about the largest private sector infrastructure project in North American history and when that deal was struck, we began a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Joe, the way that she framed that during that speech there at the Republican National Convention, it sounds like it's either shovel ready or under way already.

JOE MCGINNISS, CONTRIBUTOR, "PORTFOLIO MAGAZINE": Well, that's the impression that she created. And it turns out to be very, very far from the truth. In fact, the companies Exxon, BP and Conoco that have the natural gas to have to go into the pipeline are simply not going to do business with Sarah Palin because she won't tell them the rate at which she's going to tax that gas. As long as she takes a stand against sharing tax information with the big companies, they're simply not going to put their gas in the line and she has nothing to put into that line but hot air.

ROBERTS: Now, did she purposely tried to shut the oil companies out of construction of this pipeline? MCGINNISS: Absolutely. She's -- you know, she's trying to strike a populist stance. And I think a lot of this now is geared toward her hopes for 2012, but is certainly not geared to the best interests of Alaskans. But she wants to show that she's bigger than big oil and, frankly, it's just not true.

ROBERTS: So the company that won the bid is TransCanada Pipeline, which has built lots of pipelines certainly up there in the northern part of the Canada, but they don't have any natural gas. So, if you hire a company to build the pipeline that doesn't have any natural gas, can you then get any natural gas?

MCGINNISS: Well, not unless you can go to the companies that have the gas and strike a deal with them. And Palin, thus far, has refused to even try.

Although, John, I have to tell you one interesting thing. She calls this piece "a hit piece," and actually it is in the sense that it hit the bull's eye really, and less than 24 hours after the piece came out, she called a press conference in Juneau to announce that she was reversing her policy against sharing tax information with the oil companies. So, I think, up in Alaska now they're calling this, "The Portfolio Pipeline."

ROBERTS: Let me just quickly go into a little bit more detail of some of the response there. Her spokesperson said it should be no surprise that this pipeline isn't yet under construction.

He said, quote, "It seems to expect people to be surprised by the fact that the pipeline is not under construction." Talking about your article here. "That's not much of an 'aha.' Obviously, anyone paying attention knows this will be years in the making. The governor herself at that press conference said, I won't call that reporter," talking about you, "an idiot because I don't know that reporter. But the headline was idiotic. We're not standing in the way."

MCGINNISS: Well, I wouldn't call the governor an idiot because I don't really know her either, but her position is certainly idiotic and is certainly not in the best interest of the people of Alaska.

ROBERTS: You made several attempts to interview her. What was the response?

MCGINNISS: They said that she would not agree to an interview unless she could be guaranteed that the piece would be favorable. She would only be interviewed by people who she knew would write favorably about her to help her prospects for 2012. And, obviously, I couldn't commit to that. "Portfolio Magazine" couldn't commit to that.

ROBERTS: So, quickly, she says the pipeline is going to be built, President Obama wants it to be built. But you spoke to the president or the CEO, rather, of TransCanada Pipelines, what's your opinion of whether or not these things ever going to get built?

MCGINNISS: Well, the president of TransCanada, his most recent comment was, I don't know if we're going to build this or not. And they certainly can't build it without the natural gas. And to get the natural gas, Palin will have to do business with the people who have it.

ROBERTS: Joe McGinniss for us this morning from the Springfield, Massachusetts. A fascinating article, Joe. Thanks for coming in this morning to talk about it.

MCGINNISS: Thank you, John.

CHETRY: All right. Well, they helped President Obama get elected. Now, a network of grassroots supporters taking the president's economic message to the street. We go door-to-door with the president's new volunteer army.

Also, a reminder, we're live on Twitter right now, answering your money questions. You hear the beeping? That's Gerri twittering right now. Gerri Willis in logged on, too, in the studio. So ask away. You can also get the link by visiting our website at CNN.com/AMFix.

It's 36 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Wall Street and Republicans watching closely today as the Obama administration details its plans to buy up billions in toxic bank assets and to get credit flowing again. In an effort to get the president's message out there ahead of his critics, the White House is getting some help from an army of supporters who are back in campaign mode.

Our Jim Acosta has that story for us this morning from Washington.

I saw a cute puppy, right, as we came back from break. So, you know, anytime you throw cute puppies into it, I guess you get a leg up on the competition.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kiran. And Barack Obama, the president, is not quite getting the band back together, but it is close. So you're right. President Obama won the election with the help of an army of grassroots supporters who organized online and then took their message to the streets. Now, the president is calling on his volunteers once again to sell more than a campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice over): Don't tell them the race is over. Once volunteers for the Obama campaign...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to ask you if you support that and if you're willing to the sign this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, definitely. ACOSTA: ... a vast grassroots network of supporters is back on the trail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, here's the plan.

ACOSTA: Reactivated. This time, to sell the president's agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm interested in talking about it. I'm not saying that I'm interested in supporting all of his plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I'm part of a nationwide movement today called Organizing for America.

ACOSTA: Michael Lafemina was one of hundreds of volunteers who went door-to-door from New York...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No money is involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really? I've got my checkbook here.

ACOSTA: ... to California on behalf of something called Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic Party run by remnants of the Obama campaign.

MICHAEL LAFEMINA, OBAMA VOLUNTEER: I don't feel like I'm volunteering for President Obama, I feel like I'm volunteering for myself, for our country, for our democracy.

ACOSTA: How do they do it? Using the campaign's old e-mail list, Organizing for America alerted supporters to visit its Web site where a message from the president was waiting.

OBAMA: Talk to some neighbors and let people know how important this budget is to our future.

ACOSTA: And wahlah! (ph)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can provide your name, some contact information, we would send you some information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be happy to do that.

ACOSTA: The mission on this outing -- to blunt criticism from Republicans.

SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: If we maintain the proposals which are in this budget, over the 10-year period that this budget covers, this country will go bankrupt.

ACOSTA: And even a few skeptical Democrats over the president's budget.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm especially concerned about the long term.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not trying to pass the budget. It's coming out of my pocketbook. ACOSTA: As Michael Lafemina found on Long Island, not everybody is sold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's already crippled the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) economy. Him and the Democrats. I don't care. Let them film it.

ACOSTA: These volunteers insist they can take the heat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep up the good work, Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We support him 500, 2,000 percent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, if it works, Organizing for America could put its volunteers to work again on other White House plans, giving the administration a ground force that can gather signatures and work the phones to push the president's agenda. It has all the makings of a campaign before the re-election campaign - Kiran.

CHETRY: Yes, I hear you. You know, you also have to have, you know, really some thick skin to do that, go door-to-door.

ACOSTA: Yes, as you can see.

CHETRY: Yes. You're soliciting opinions and sometimes you get an earful, right?

ACOSTA: That's right. And right now, I mean, you know, the public is outraged with what's going on around the country. It was interesting to see, you know, these volunteers stop people, who would normally support the president or be at least open to the president's ideas, who were giving these volunteers out there an earful. So, in a way, these volunteers, who were going out there or selling the president's agenda, they're also acting as shock absorbers - Kiran.

CHETRY: Right. Exactly. Doing some damage control as well.

ACOSTA: Yes.

CHETRY: All right. Jim Acosta for us this morning. Thanks.

ACOSTA: You bet.

ROBERTS: That guy behind the screen door was pretty amazing. "I don't care if he's filming me. That's how I feel." Wow.

Alert in Alaska as the Mount Redoubt volcano erupts overnight. We're standing by for new pictures.

Plus, extreme weather hitting other parts of the country and possibly throwing a wrench into your travel plans. Rob Marciano and the CNN weather team have got all of it covered. We'll go to him, coming up.

Forty-three minutes now after the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Coming up now at 46 minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Right now, scientists keeping a very close eye on Alaska's Mount Redoubt volcano. Since late yesterday, the volcano has erupted three times. So far, no cities have reported any ash fall. At 10,000 foot peak, it's about 2,500 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Rob Marciano also following extreme weather for us this morning live at the CNN weather center.

And winter has returned with a vengeance in some parts of the country, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it doesn't want to go away. And just to add, when you said while we were in the commercial break, the AVO, the Alaska Volcano Observatory, said that there has been a fourth eruption. This one the largest one. So, that volcano certainly awakening with a vengeance after 20 years of being asleep.

(WEATHER REPORT)

ROBERTS: All right, Rob, thanks very much for that. Appreciate it.

MARCIANO: You got it.

ROBERTS: Forty-eight minutes now after the hour.

New quandary for private school parents. Pay the mortgage or pay your kid's tuition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are nights when I don't sleep. You say, you know, is this all going to turn around?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: How mom and dad make the choice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I've got to pay it off. It might take me five years or 10 years. This is an investment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Ahead on the Most News in the Morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Paying the tuition or pay the mortgage? It's a type of decision that a lot of American families are suddenly facing in the current recession. CNN's Susan Roesgen has one family's story from Chicago.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran in this economy, parents have to make some tough choices, even where to send their kids to school.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN (voice-over): For most parents, private school tuition has never been cheap. But these days, some parents are struggling more than ever to pay it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marian Catholic High School tuition.

ROESGEN: Leo and Pam Pochinskas had to make a choice, take their kids out of private school or take out a second mortgage. They took out the second mortgage.

LEO POCHINSKAS, PARENT OF PRIVATE SCHOOL STUDENTS: So I've got to pay it off, it might take me five years or ten years. This is an investment for a real person.

ROESGEN: Leo is a musician, who's had his hours cut in half at a local music store. Pam works in a corporate office that shrunk from five people to two.

PAM POCHINSKAS, PARENT OF PRIVATE SCHOOL STUDENTS: There are nights when I do have -- when I don't sleep. And there's nights when you have the stomachaches, and you would say -- you know, is this all going to turn around? And, you know, am I -- are we going to be a statistic?

ROESGEN: Joey Pochinskas is a freshman at Marian Catholic High School. Emily Pochinskas is a senior. They're combined private school tuition is about $15,000 a year. And the alternative is a lot closer and cheaper.

(on camera): In this case, the public school is just a few blocks away and they wouldn't have to spend thousands of dollars to send their kids here.

(voice-over): But Pochinskas believe their children are getting a better education where they are. A few weeks ago, the principal of the private school had to send 300 students home because their parents hadn't paid the tuition on time.

SISTER CATHLEEN ANNE TAIT, PRINCIPAL, MARION CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL: I think there are families who say we just simply can't do that. You can't forego a mortgage payment forever. You know, so there are people that have to make those choices.

ROESGEN: And that's why the Pochinskas will skip eating out, keep clipping coupons and hang on to a 22-year-old car. EMILY POCHINSKAS, PRIVATE SCHOOL STUDENT: I know that what they're doing for me, like, it's not necessarily the easiest thing because I, you know, my mom comes home, some days I make dinner, and we'll sit down and we'll talk. And, you know, I'll be like how is everything going, mom? She's like, yes, you know, another person was let go today.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN: And while many parents are nervous, so are many private schools. At Marian Catholic High School, in fact, they're already planning to have a lower enrollment next year -- John and Kiran.

ROBERTS: Fireball in a cemetery. New questions about the graveyard plane crash that killed everyone on board. We are live in Montana.

Plus -- toxic trillion for sale.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a very severe situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Why the government wants to buy bad bank assets. Expert analysis and why you should care. You're watching the Most News in the Morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back on this Monday morning.

President Obama focusing on his economic agenda this week. In fact, just hours from now -- no one's hurt -- the Treasury Department will unveil a new plan to get the nation's banks lending again. So with little more than two months into his presidency, we thought it would be a good time to check in on the status of some of the promises that candidate Barack Obama made.

And joining me now to review some of them is Bill Adair, the founder of Politifact.com. He is going to be helping us out today with his Obameter.

Thanks for being with us this morning, Bill. By the way, great to see you.

BILL ADAIR, FOUNDER, POLITIFACT.COM: Thank you, Kiran.

CHETRY: So these are the top ten that we're going to focus on. We're going to get to a few of them. And people can also check out on your Web site some of the others. But one of the biggest ones, of course, what was to help struggling homeowners, especially those that were facing foreclosure.

And this is what candidate Obama said, "Create a $10 billion fund to help homeowners refinance or sell their homes. That fund will not help speculators, people who bought vacation homes, or people who falsely represented their income. So how did he do on that promise?

ADAIR: We've graded that one a promise kept. Of the top ten, that's actually the one that has earned a promise kept on our Obameter. And what's interesting here is it's a case of what a difference a year makes.

As you mentioned, it was $10 billion promise when he ultimately came out with his plan. About a month ago, it was a $75 billion plan plus another $200 billion in guarantees for Fannie and Freddie. So, so far this one is a promise kept. In the first of the top ten that we have.

CHETRY: All right. Well, let's go on. During the campaign, we repeatedly heard candidate Barack Obama saying he would give a tax cut 95 percent of working families pledging to, quote, "Create a tax credit of $500 for workers as a rebate on payroll taxes."

Did he live up to that promise? What did you give it on the Obameter?

ADAIR: We gave this one a compromise. We have sort of three levels of ultimate ratings on the Obameter. Promise kept, promise broken and compromise. In this case, it was a compromise, because he had as you said promised $500 per worker and it ended up being $400. It was reduced in the Senate as they tried to reduce the overall package of the economic stimulus bill. So compromise for that one.

CHETRY: OK. We have another campaign promise that we routinely heard from candidate Barack Obama on the trail. He talked about repealing Bush tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 a year or individuals making more than $200,000 a year. Where does he stand now as president on repealing those tax cuts?

ADAIR: We've got that one rated in the works on our Obameter. And this is going to be a really fascinating one to watch. As your previous segment noted, the battle lines are being drawn between Obama's army, that incredible group of campaign volunteers that he has, and the Republicans in Congress who are defining this in terms of whether it would be a tax cut, whether it would raise taxes on small businesses, which they say would be the majority of the people who would get -- who would bear the brunt of the impact...

CHETRY: Right.

ADAIR: ... if the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire on the wealthiest. So for now that one is rated in the works, but a big battle is ahead.

CHETRY: Also three of the top ten campaign promises showed no action. I'll just quickly run through a couple of those. Create new financial regulations, create a national health insurance exchange. And reduce oil consumption by 35 percent by 2030.

Do you have any indicator on how close we are to possibly seeing action on those?

ADAIR: Well, particularly the one on financial regulations, I think we'll see some action this week. There was a story in "The New York Times" yesterday that indicated that the president may come out with his plan this week on financial regulations. Now this is separate from the plan to deal with the toxic assets we've all been talking about, but it might be incorporated -- some of the elements of it might be incorporated there. So I expect we'll see that one go to "in the works."

And that would mean that eight of our top ten have at least some action. So on his major promises, the president is off to a significant start. There's still, though, we should point out, we have 513 promises total that we're tracking. So, he has a lot of work ahead of him.

CHETRY: All right. You can check it all out on politifact.com as well including the rest of the top ten list. Bill Adair, great to talk to you. Thanks.

ADAIR: Thanks, Kiran.

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