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Fighting Floods in Fargo; Blizzard Leaves Mark on Denver Area; New Plan to Fight al Qaeda, Taliban; Michael Steele For President; Caught Buying Machine Guns; Earth Hour; Eating Right on a Budget; Cop Blocks Man From Dying Relative

Aired March 27, 2009 - 11:59   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Crazy weather across the country. Flood, blizzards, storm conditions affecting millions of people.

The Red River in Fargo, North Dakota, rising to a level never seen in recorded history. One level is already cracked, prompting evacuations.

Meantime, Colorado is under a state of emergency after a blizzard roared through. The storm is now heading into Oklahoma and Kansas.

And in the Deep South, expect heavy rain and possibly more tornadoes. Several twisters slammed into Mississippi yesterday, injuring more than two dozen people in the town of McGee.


LEMON: Let's go back to Fargo, North Dakota, where the mayor is vowing to go down swinging, if they even go down. I spoke with Mayor Dennis Walaker last hour about the effort to save his city.


MAYOR DENNIS WALAKER, FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA: Another phrase of the day is if we're going to go down, we're going to go down swinging. And what I mean by that is we're going to continue to provide all of the possible support that we can.

So -- and we appreciate everybody's efforts. We've never had more support than we have this year, and we've never needed more support.


LEMON: It is truly a race again time in Fargo. And we're told three million sandbags are needed to hold back the rising water.

Live now to our Susan Roesgen, who is following that effort.

Where are they so far, Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Don. You know, no rest for the weary here in Fargo. They're going to keep going.

I want to show you how this works. They've got the conveyor belt, they're bringing in dump loads of sand.

They bring the sand in, run it up the conveyor belt. Then they come over here to what they call the spider. They've got guys up at the top making sure that the sand goes smoothly through the eight legs of the spider, as they've nicknamed it. And then at the bottom of each leg are the sandbags.

So they can fill about eight sandbags in about 60 seconds. Each rotation at the top will fill all eight sandbags. So it's a lot faster than doing it just by hand, though they're still doing that, too.

They realize now that -- they're pretty sure -- I'm watching out for the pallet truck here -- they're pretty sure now that the very coal weather here, Don, has slowed the movement of the river. They know that the river is already at its historic high level, but they don't think that it will get as far in the crest as 43 feet or 44 feet, some of the worst predictions.

They think now it may stabilize at 42 feet tomorrow. And if that happens, then they believe the dikes, the levees and everything will be OK -- Don.

LEMON: Let's hope, Susan. Thank you very much for that reporting.

Very busy where Susan is standing, and they're trying to get those sandbags filled to hold that water back.

Susan, again, we appreciate it.

Our iReporters are sending in some striking images of the severe weather affecting them, from sandbagging to blizzards, to golf ball- sized hail.

Josh Levs here with a look.

It's a bit of everything, Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. They're coming in from all over the country, people facing severe weather. Obviously, a lot of what we're getting is about Fargo and about that area.

This one here is from Kevin Johnson, who is showing some of the sandbags being put out. But I want to take you this video now. Let's bring it full from Amelia Felz.

I think it's interesting because, you know, Don, we're seeing the preparations a lot, but here, she's showing these things lined up behind homes which, in many cases, are going to have to be vacated now anyway.


LEVS: She's actually right outside a brand-new home that was being built that no one's even been able to live in yet. And you're going to see this -- check it out, Don. She's going to pan to the left, and you're going to see what it is like on this street.

It's homes, mostly, apparently, vacated now, just protected pretty much by that massive pile of these sandbags in the hope that -- there you go.

LEMON: Oh my gosh.

LEVS: All sandbags, in the hopes that it will make a difference.

Quickly, you mentioned that golf ball-sized hail. Let's go to that video.


LEVS: I don't even know about this. This is from Pflugerville in Texas. Listen in.

So, Don, they've been facing some rough stuff there. They're saying they were at leaf the size of golf balls. And you can tell from the pictures...

LEMON: Yes. It looks bigger than golf balls to me.

LEVS: It looks like a baseball to me.

LEMON: Yes. That's pretty big. We always say golf ball-sized hail, but that truly is, huh?

LEVS: They're huge. I mean, you had to take shelter. And they were just falling down, these massive clumps down there. So thanks to J.K. Washington.

I'm going to emphasize again, we only use iReports where people did not go to danger. He did not go to danger, he was protected inside.

So don't go to any danger to take these.

And now I want to end by showing you Denver, because we're getting some interesting shots of the blizzard out there, Don. Check it out here.

Tom Harrip (ph) sending us these from outside his home, where there was more than a foot of snow, basically caked onto everything he was able -- look at that. See those cars?

LEMON: Oh gosh.

LEVS: Yes. I mean, it's incredible, what's going on in different parts of the country right now.

And I'll remind everyone, if you want to help anyone facing any difficulties right now, Lots of ways to help, particularly there in Fargo and the rest of the region. They'll be facing those floods -- Don. LEMON: You know, all of it's amazing video, but I'm particularly impressed -- not in a good way, you know -- with the sandbags. I mean, they're going to need three million of those sandbags, and just lined up and lined up down the street.

LEVS: And let's hope that those sandbags end up making enough of a difference, yes.

LEMON: Boy oh boy. Josh Levs, thank you, sir.

LEVS: Thank you.

LEMON: Let's get more now on the blizzard and its effects on the Denver area. A blizzard warning was canceled earlier today, but not before several inches of snow fell, making travel very difficult. Seventeen inches of snow was recorded across the metro area, forcing schools and businesses to close.

And you can see how tough it is to get around just from that video. Maybe easier to walk, in some cases.

You know our Jim Spellman filed a report for us earlier this morning, just a bit ago. Take a look.


JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The blizzard has passed here in the Denver area, and the roads are starting to reopen again. Plows have been out all night clearing off the roads, laying down sand and chemicals to stop the ice from forming. Truckers here at this truck stop, just north of Denver, have been overnighting here in their rigs, waiting for the highways to reopen, the roads to be cleared, so they can get out and make their way.

It was clear here today, but yesterday, during the storm, it was really treacherous. Here's what one trucker told us about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one of the worst I've seen. One of the worst, because it was all at once.

I came up yesterday, there was no snow in Pueblo. Got over to Colorado Springs, and it was a whiteout, so it's one of the worst I've had this year. I heard about some bad ones. This is the worst one I've been in this year.

SPELLMAN: And it's not just on the roads where there's been problems. At Denver International Airport, 300 to 400 people had to spend the night there. Flights canceled, of course, because of the blizzard. They've had crews there at the airport, out all night, plowing the runways, getting ready to get all those people in the air and off to their destinations -- Don.


LEMON: All right. Thank you very much.

CNN's Jim Spellman reporting for us.

We have some new details, and you're looking at live pictures there at the top of your screen. This is about those two NFL players missing off the coast of Florida and are presumed dead.

NFL players Cory Smith an Marquis Cooper disappeared February 28th after their boat capsized. The players were fishing in the Gulf of Mexico with two other men off Tampa.

Well, today, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released its findings. And there you go. You see the press conference happening there. That's what they're doing.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation holding a press in Tampa, releasing the boating accident report from that. The accident report says that the boat capsized after the anchor got stuck on the bottom of the gulf.

Cooper throttled the motor to free it, causing the boat to flip. It flipped over, and the next two days it just stayed there in the water.

The only survivor says his three fishing buddies lost consciousness and died, apparently from hypothermia. A very sad story there.

A new war strategy in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama unveils a future of U.S. troops there.


LEMON: A suicide bomber strikes a group of worshippers in Pakistan's tribal region near Afghanistan. At least 51 people are dead, more than 100 are wounded.

The bomber targeted a mosque filled with about 250 people. The bombing destroyed the two-story building. It is believed the bomber was among the mosque worshippers.

Well, he promised he would, and today he did. President Barack Obama formally outlined his new strategy for Afghanistan.

Our White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux joins me.

Suzanne, the review of Afghanistan policy is over. So tell us what they have come up with.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, the president actually said one of the most difficult decisions that he has had to make in his young presidency is actually the decision to send U.S. troops to Afghanistan, more troops. But that is exactly what he is going to do.

It comes after a 60-day review. This happened even before he was inaugurated. They started to take a look at the region, and they decided that they needed a radically different approach. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The situation is increasingly perilous. It's been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Attacks against our troops, our NATO allies, and the Afghan government have risen steadily. And most painfully, 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces.

Many people in the United States, and many in partner countries that have sacrificed so much, have a simple question -- what is our purpose in Afghanistan?


MALVEAUX: So, Don, he outlined some of the things that they are going to do, the administration. This is in addition to the 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

He announced 4,000 additional U.S. military personnel to train Afghan army, as well as police. What they are trying to do is actually double their forces in two years by 2011.

He is also calling on Congress to support legislation to triple the amount of economic aid to Pakistan to allow the people there for a decent way of life. And very deliberately, you talk to the aides of the president, and they say there is no timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. They want this to be flexible, they say it is a strategy, not a straightjacket. And so they are not going to put a deadline on when to actually bring U.S. troops home -- Don.

LEMON: Well, you know, Suzanne, you just walked out of this off- camera briefing. What did you learn just from the off-camera part of this briefing?

MALVEAUX: Well, I had a chance to talk to the special enjoy, Richard Holbrooke, for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was answering some questions, and one of the interesting things that came out of the briefing is that he said that Afghan's president, Hamid Karzai, told him that he was watching CNN live, watching the president give his speech about this new plan.

According to him, he said he was extremely grateful, and that he is going to issue a statement later in the morning. And then later in the briefing, Don, he actually got a phone call. He went running off to take the phone call, and it was Karzai, but they couldn't actually get them connected again.

So he is expecting to get more information from Karzai. Obviously, he says that he believes he is pleased.

Another thing that Holbrooke said is that there are countries, he says, that will contribute troops during the elections, the Afghan elections later in the year. They haven't identified themselves yet... LEMON: OK.

MALVEAUX: ... but he says that there are those countries that will come forward, and that Japan is going to contribute to actually funding the Afghan police for at least six months, a big financial contribution from Japan.

LEMON: All right. Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, we appreciate it, and especially that insight.

And I'm going to use that to talk to my next guest. We want to talk more about the strategy shift for Afghanistan.

Stephen Biddle is a professor, author and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He joins us now from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Thank you very much.

Hamid Karzai, we got the briefing note from Richard Holbrooke. Suzanne Malveaux just said it on the air. What do you make of that? Says he was listening and is extremely grateful and will issue his statement of support.

STEPHEN BIDDLE, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Yes, a positive reaction from Hamid Karzai is certainly a very favorable development. I mean, the indications heretofore had been that Karzai and Obama weren't exactly hitting it off, in part because the Obama is asking a lot more of Karzai than the previous administration had.

In all likelihood, Karzai is going to be the subject of a good deal of pressure from the United States to change the way his government operates, eliminate corruption, shut down the narcotics trade and a variety of other things. One might imagine that he would push back and resist. To the extent that he's receiving this well, I think that's a very good sign.

LEMON: Yes. And, you know, people -- some people have said years ago, we predicted what would happen in Afghanistan, and maybe Iraq, and no one did anything about it. Do you agree with that assessment, and is that your assessment at least?

BIDDLE: Well, I mean, I think the problem in Afghanistan all along has been a lack of focus, attention and resources.


BIDDLE: Now, even if the resources had been devoted, we might still have some degree of insurgency in Afghanistan.

LEMON: OK. All right.

BIDDLE: But it would surely be much less than now.

LEMON: I want to talk to you about the what the president is doing, sending some 17,000 more combat troops into the region, into Helmand Province, and other places, and all of this under the condition that there are benchmarks that are supposed to be met along the way.

What is your impression of that strategy?

BIDDLE: I think it's the right first step. I think it may ultimately turn out to be more of a down payment than the totality of the effort required.

Counterinsurgency is a very labor-intensive, very resource- intensive, very expensive, long-term undertaking. And even now, with the commitment in Iraq winding down, we still require a lot of troops and a lot of resources there to maintain the stability that we have obtained there since mid-2007. As resources get freed up in Iraq, I think the likelihood is that they will be demanded in Afghanistan.

We're starting down that road. I think we may have to go further.

LEMON: Well, that's my next question. If the reinforcements will come from Iraq to go to Afghanistan, then do we risk destabilizing that region?

BIDDLE: I think it's a question of how fast they're shifted. If they're shifted too fast, yes, I think we do.

Iraq is still a volatile country, at a critical moment in the path from intense ethno-sectarian civil war into what we hope will be sustainable stability.

LEMON: All right.

BIDDLE: If we draw those resources down too rapidly, I think we risk undermining an Iraq stability in order to improve the prospects in Afghanistan. We need it in both places.

LEMON: Stephen Biddle, we appreciate your perspective. Thank you, sir. Have a great day.

BIDDLE: Thank you.

LEMON: Questions about money? Our Gerri Willis will be along with the answers.


LEMON: Some employees at Google may be using the popular search engine to look for new jobs. Google is laying off almost 200 workers.

Now, the company says it's cutting positions in its sales and marketing organizations around the world. This is the largest round of layoffs at Google so far, but it's still less than one percent of the company's workforce.

A Phoenix, Arizona, man responds to the job losses and foreclosures affecting so many people by throwing a dinner party. His name is Ben Barkley. He decided to host a free dinner for people going through tough times.


BEN BARKLEY, OFFERING FREE MEALS: I thought, man, look at all the foreclosures, look at all the jobs that are being lost. And I thought, why don't we just have a foreclosure party?


LEMON: Well, Barkley posted an ad for the party. He did it on Craigslist. He's not sure how many people will show up Saturday, but he says he'll be ready to feed them.

Well, is the time right to refinance here? Well, and what should you do with that old 401(k) account that's certainly losing a whole lot of value?

Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis and her team respond to your money questions.


GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: We want to get you answers to your financial questions. Let's get straight to the help desk.

Doug Flynn is a certified financial planner and founder of Flynn Zito Capital Management. Carolyn Bigda is with "Money" magazine. And Jack Otter is a financial journalist.

Let's get right to those e-mails.

Robert asks, "I have a 15-year mortgage of $380,000 at 5.25 percent. It's a year old. I can refinance at 4.3 percent with one point, or 4.7 percent with no points."

"The current value of the house is $950,000. I plan on staying in this house for another five years. What should I do?"


JACK OTTER, FINANCIAL JOURNALIST: The answer is, B, refinance at 4.7 percent.

WILLIS: Why is that?

OTTER: I ran the numbers for him, and his monthly payment now is $3,054. It would go down to $2,945. Over five years, he'd save $6,600.

WILLIS: I love that. OK.

OTTER: The key is, though, he's got to keep those fees down in the refinancing, because every dollar cuts out of that $6,600. WILLIS: You know, and if you want to do the math yourself, go to

All right. We have another e-mail from Atlanta, Georgia.

"I have an old 401(k) account from a former employer. When I left the company, I did nothing with the account. It's now lost $4,500 and it's worth only about $8,000."

"Should I wait or take the loss and roll it into an IRA.? Am I able to use it for a down payment on a home?"

All right, Doug, get us started.

DOUG FLYNN, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER: Well, the first thing is, get it out of there. Whether it comes back in your 401(k) or IRA, it doesn't matter. You can mimic the same investments.

But the real issue is, if you take that money out for the home purchase, $8,000 is going to turn into -- even though you can avoid the penalty, and you would, you still have to pay taxes. So you might only see $5,000. And the bigger issue for me is, 20 years later, $5,000 could be $25,000 if you leave it in there.

WILLIS: All right.

Carolyn, I don't know, it doesn't sound like a great idea. What do you think?

CAROLYN BIGDA, "MONEY" MAGAZINE: Well, it depends on what investment options they have in their 401(k), too, to consider. You know, if the funds aren't very -- there aren't a lot of fund options, or if they're expensive, then maybe rolling over into the IRA might be a better option, because you have more choices there.

WILLIS: All right.

So lots of choices, lots of potential suggestions.

Thank you so much for your help.

Our help desk is all about getting you answers. Send me an e- mail to, or log on to to see more of our financial solutions. And the help desk is everywhere. Make sure to check out the latest issue of "Money" magazine on newsstands now.


LEMON: All right, Gerri. We appreciate that.

He is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and he's raised some eyebrows with his comments on Rush Limbaugh, and in other places. An exclusive conversation with Michael Steele you don't want to miss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: On high alert in Fargo, North Dakota, and parts adjacent. The Red River rising to a level never seen in recorded history.

The crest now projected at 43 feet. That is three feet above the previous record. Rushing water has already cracked a levee, prompting officials to order entire neighborhoods to evacuate. Fargo's largest hospital also has evacuated patients.

As some people flee, others are stepping up. Sandbagging efforts there, despite subfreezing temperatures. We're told three million sandbags are needed to save the city. The order of the day is stand and defend.

Our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is tracking the river levels. She's doing it from the CNN Severe Weather Center.

And Jacqui, it's really not good news, is it?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No, it's not. You know, and the number of sandbags that they need is like double. Remember, Don, last weekend we were here telling people about this threat and it was 1.5 million.

LEMON: Three million now.

JERAS: Now it's three. So, yes, and the river's already at a record level and it's still going up, unfortunately. So, you know, another 24-plus hours possibly. And, you know, I'm going to be totally honest here. We don't know for sure at the level that this river is finally going to crest or how long it will stay there. But right now it looks like the worst is happening and will continue to get worse. You know, when you're looking at unprecedented levels, it's just really incredible.

You know, Fargo's no stranger certainly to flooding, but they've certainly never seen anything along these levels. As well as Moorhead. So it's not just North Dakota, Minnesota getting in on the action. Massive evacuation for the core of downtown Moorhead. And we're also looking at evacuations across the river. This is the Red River Valley in Fargo. And this is east of the four (ph) street area between South River Road and then also Linwood.

We're going to take a little Virtual Earth tour and kind of give you a lay of the land and get an idea of what it's like. So, obviously, the big curvy thing that you see there in the middle, that's the Red River. This is the Moorhead area.

And we'll zoom in show you some of the areas that are being evacuated. This is a college. This is Concordia University here. So that campus had to be evacuated today.

And then we'll also have to, you know, zoom over a little bit off to the west because I want to give you a good idea of just how flat this is. Look at this. Look at these neighborhoods. There's just, you know, tons and tons of houses in here. And everything's just going to fill on up. It's got nowhere to go. There are no hills. There are no valleys here.

So we want to talk a little bit about the record stage. It's over 40 feet now and it looks like we're going to be cresting late tomorrow or early Sunday at 43 feet, Don. And it's probably going to stay there we're talking until maybe late next week or even next weekend.

LEMON: Oh, boy.

JERAS: So it's not going to start going down for a week.

LEMON: You can see it coming. And then you know, once it does come, it's going to last for a while.

JERAS: Yes. And here's that graphic, by the way, that just kind of shows you the prolonged, elevated level up there.

LEMON: Boy, oh boy, Jacqui Jeras, our meteorologist, watching from the severe weather center in Atlanta.

Thank you, Jacqui.

I want to turn now to the people we always turn to for help. They're always there for us. The American Red Cross. And Jim Guidone is on the ground and he's going to tell us -- he's actually in Minnesota. He is going to tell us exactly what the Red Cross is doing there.

I understand you have what -- do you have 300 people on the ground there?

JIM GUIDONE, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Yes. Well, we have 300 as we speak and we probably have at least that many more en route as we speak. So we have a lot on the ground now and we're ramping up quite quickly.

LEMON: Wow. That's good news because you guys always help out. How many shelters so far have you set up and are people taking advantage of them?

GUIDONE: Yes, we set up -- we have five shelters operating. In fact, I'm standing in the middle of one right now in Moorhead. I just left Fargo about 20 minutes ago. The population -- our client population has been very light. I would say less than 50 clients last night spent the night with us because, frankly, people, you know, they don't want to leave their home until they absolutely have to. But once the word goes out and the evacuations start, we'll be prepared to house a lot more folks.

LEMON: And Mr. Guidone, here's what people, you know, may not know, shelter, food, clothing, that sort of thing, basic first aide that the Red Cross will help with. But you also help with emotional counseling, which is very important during these times.

GUIDONE: Yes, you know, it's really critical. And when -- and I've been on a lot of disasters with the Red Cross and been fortunate enough to serve them. When people leave their home without any idea as to what they're going to find when they return, it is a very high- stress, high-anxiety time in their life. You can only imagine what that feels like. So we have professional trained counselors at all of our shelters to talk to folks to help them deal with this situation until they can return home.

LEMON: All right. Jim Guidone with the American Red Cross.

We appreciate your efforts, sir. Thank you.

And you can -- if you want to help out, you can go to our Web site. Just go to "Impact Your World,"

OK. We're going to turn now to someone who has been very controversial recently. We're talking about Michael Steele. He is the Republican National Committee chairman. He made history in January when he became the first African-American to chair the RNC. But would he consider following in the footsteps of President Barack Obama? Listen.


LEMON: You have never thought of running for president?

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: No. I'm tell you, I'm looking you in the eye honestly and telling you that without blinking, without hesitation, straight up.

LEMON: Would you consider it?

STEELE: I'd consider it if the opportunity were there and it was right. But, you know, God has a way of revealing stuff to you and making it real for you through others. And if that's part of the plan, it will be the plan. We may have this conversation in eight, 10, 12 years. And you'll sit back and you'll play the tape back and say, listen to what you said. But it will be because that's where God wants me to be at that time. Honest to God, I do not sit -- you cannot plan this. Too many moving parts to plan this. You just cannot plan it.

LEMON: But if the opportunity presented itself, then you would run for president?

STEELE: I would think about it. I have to have a very long conversation with the wife and kids. Because this is not a fun thing. Our politics today does not incite or inspire someone to make that sacrifice. Because you make -- the way our politics is played out today, in all honesty, is very ugly.

LEMON: Has anyone ever approached you and asked you to run?

STEELE: Oh, I have a lot of folks out there I run into that say, you know, I want you . . .

LEMON: In the party? In the party?

STEELE: Yes. Oh, you mean officials in the party?


STEELE: No. No. No. I think they kind of look at me and scratch their head and go, OK, what is this?


LEMON: Let's bring in CNN political editor Mark Preston.

Mark, perfectly legitimate question. But you have been on the phone with people from the Republican National Committee all morning, and what have you been hearing?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, Don, I've been talking to Republicans all throughout town today and throughout the country asking them, what did they think about Michael Steele talking about or at least answering the question about running for president. He's charged with helping rebuild the party. I'm telling you, they're scratching their heads. It's been a very bumpy road the past couple of months right now for Michael Steele. He needs to rebuild the party, not necessarily focus on himself running for the White House.

LEMON: And I have to tell you, that interview was not at all to create controversy. I wasn't looking for news. Just talking to him about his background and his family and those things came up. He actually raised some of the issues that have been, you know, sort of criticized over a little bit. Not a little bit, a lot in the past couple of days.

I want to play another interesting part of our conversation here, Mark, where I talk to him about the Rush Limbaugh situation and what people think, you know, mistakes that he has made over the past couple months. Take a listen.


STEELE: I am very introspective about things. I don't do -- I'm a cause and effect kind of guy. So if I do something, there's a reason for it. Even it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there is a rationale, there's a logic behind it.

LEMON: Even with the current events and news, there's a rationale behind Rush, all of that stuff?

STEELE: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

LEMON: You want to share with us?

STEELE: Sure. I want to see where the landscape -- what the landscape looks like. I want to see who yells the loudest. I want to know who says they're with me but really isn't.

LEMON: How does that help you?

STEELE: It helps me understand my position on the chessboard. It helps me understand, you know, where the enemy camp is and where those who are inside the tent are.

LEMON: It's all strategic.

STEELE: It's all strategic.


LEMON: Strategy or rewriting history?

PRESTON: Well, maybe neither. You know, the idea that he tried to incite Rush Limbaugh to find out who the loudest is, we know that Rush Limbaugh was the loudest and won that battle. You know something, I think Michael Steele has a lot of work to do. There's been some talk that he'll get knocked out, Don.

LEMON: I was going to say, is he on shaky ground right now?


LEMON: Because he doesn't have any plans of resigning. He seems very comfortable with where he is.

PRESTON: Yes. And he's not going to get knocked out. I will tell you, people are scratching their heads. They're a little frustrated here in Washington. He did not get a staff in place on time. Good thing, though, he was able to raised $5 million in February. A lot of people didn't think he was able to raise that amount of money. He's OK right now.

LEMON: I do have to say, I was on a radio show this morning and the radio host said to me, yes, I think that when he says that African-Americans and minorities need to give the GOP a second look, because that's the best way to leverage your political clout and your vote, most people agree with that, but they're not exactly sure if they want to join a party that hasn't, necessarily, in the last few years, bating (ph) has been open to them. So we shall see with Michael Steele.

But you know it airs this weekend. I'll have you on to talk about this, Mark. He said some other things as well. So Saturday and Sunday we're going to run it.

Also, can we see a Steele-Palin ticket in 2012? He's open to it. What do you think?

PRESTON: I think Democrats would love to see that. I'm not sure if the Republican Party wants to see that.

LEMON: Mark Preston, thank you very much for that.

And you can catch my entire interview with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele this Sunday. It's at 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. It's called "Up From a Past: African American Firsts."

A famous rapper learns his sentence for trying to buy some heavy duty guns. Our T.J. Holmes was there to watch it all and he'll tell us all about it.


LEMON: In Oakland, California, funeral services begin in little more than an hour from now for four police officers. They were killed in an encounter with a parolee last weekend. The funeral will be held in a 17,000-seat arena. Authorities expect the arena will be filled. All 815 members of the city police force have been given the day off to attend. Other police agencies will patrol the city in the meantime.

He was caught in a federal sting trying to buy machine guns and silencers. He spent a year doing community service, warning young people about the dangers of guns, drugs and violence. Well, today, popular rapper T.I. was sentenced to prison.

That's T.I. in the video for his hit "Whatever You Like." I want to bring in now CNN's T.J. Holmes. He was in court for that sentencing. And he is live with us in Atlanta with the details.

It must have been very interesting sitting there and witnessing all of this, T.J.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's quite interesting to think this guy -- and a lot of people, our viewers, are not familiar. Certainly your kids are. But let me just break this guy down for you. He has had -- his past four albums -- this is video from today at the federal courthouse here in Atlanta. Last four albums all went platinum. His latest one, 2 million copies and counting right now. He's on the "Forbes" list of top-earning hip-hop stars.

You can not, essentially, get any bigger than this guy. Clifford Harris is the name. But he got busted. You'll remember, Don, this has been '07. This happened in October of '07. But through this extraordinary plea agreement, he was allowed to stay free for a year and do community service and fulfill some other obligations. In exchange, he got a year and a day in prison.

So today the plea agreement was essentially just signed, sealed and delivered. No real mystery or drama about what was going to happen. But it was still fascinating to be in that courtroom . . .

LEMON: Hey, T.J.

HOLMES: Go ahead, my man.

LEMON: I want to ask you about -- because you said it's been a year. You know, to be honest with you, this morning, when we were talking about this, it had been so long, as you said, I had forgotten what the charges were and what had happened with T.I.

HOLMES: Yes, take you back to October of 2007. The day of the BET awards. Hours before that busted here in Atlanta trying to buy silencers and machine guns. That's a no-no if you're a convicted felon. That's a no-no for just about anybody anyway.

LEMON: Anybody, yes.

HOLMES: But you just don't do that. He got busted then. Well on this day last year, he went to court and he set up -- he pled guilty and they set up this plea agreement which allowed him to stay free for a year, 1,000 hours of community service. He had an ankle monitor and all these things. He fulfilled that. So today in court he was essentially allowed to just -- he's got that year to go (ph).

LEMON: I understand that ankle monitor, when you did an interview with him recently, before the sentencing, went off right during your interview.

HOLMES: You know, this was the most human moment you -- and he was truly embarrassed when this happened. Sitting there during an interview. And, again, it was one of the last interviews he did before his sentencing. Sat down here with him in our studios. And we were interrupted by his ankle monitor going off and a voice coming on saying, hey, your battery's low. You've got five minutes to change this thing out.

And he was just -- that was the most human moment I've seen. And I saw another human moment in court today when the judge finally said, OK, this is it. That's when it got real.

But, Don, let me play one clip for you here. This young man has been arrested some 30-plus times. He can't even keep count really how many times he's been arrested. But I asked him in the interview, all right, how do we know this is it and you're not going to end up in jail again. Take a quick listen.


T.I., RECORDING ARTIST: Admire me for how I've accepted responsibility for the part I played in placing myself in these situations and what I've done to recover from it.

HOLMES: What assurance can you give that over time, once you get out of jail, you can prove to people that you have changed and this is totally different. But right now what can you say to people to let them know that, OK, he's learned his lesson?

T.I.: I can't say any words to make you -- to convince you, you know, that I have changed, that I have learned a lesson. That comes with time.


HOLMES: Yes. And last thing here quickly, Don. There was a lot of criticism about this deal. Of course, this is a high-profile, wealthy guy. How in the world did he go from getting -- facing 30 years in prison for these charges, to getting a year and a day. The judge admitted in court today this was an experiment. He said, maybe, maybe, we should just stop throwing these guys in jail and use them in another way. And what -- and he said exactly what he did with this experiment, he said all his background lends to not allowing him to have this deal and stay free and just throw him in jail, but he allowed this rehabilitation, this redemption to take place, touched a lot of other lives, a lot of young people listening to him in that 1,000 hours of community service. So, like he said, an experiment. He hoped it worked. Maybe other judges will try too.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, T.J. We'll see if that experiment works.

And you can see T.J.'s entire interview with rapper T.I. on CNN Saturday morning starting at 6:00 a.m. Eastern. The rapper talks about his plea deal and prison term and why he's still a role model.


LEMON: What are you doing tomorrow night at 8:30? I'm not asking for a date, because I'll be working. But environmental activists hope you'll be sitting in the dark. Here's Milanee Kapadia with today's "Energy Fix" from New York.

Milanee, what's this all about?

MILANEE KAPADIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, tomorrow night is Earth Hour. People around the globe will turn off their lights for one hour from 8:30 to 9:30 local time to make a statement against climate change. Now the event began in Sydney, Australia, in 2007. And last year, it spread to 370 cities with an estimated 50 million participants. And this year organizers say the number could reach 1 billion. Nearly 3,000 cities are planning to go dark. More than 200 of them in the U.S. alone -- Don.

LEMON: OK. So what about the people who say that this is just a PR stunt, Milanee, and it doesn't really save energy?

KAPADIA: Well, there are plenty of people who feel that way. But the World Wildlife Fund says there is a point to this kind of symbolic gesture. They're saying that by turning off your lights for an hour, it makes the connection between your individual energy use and climate change. And there's also a political dimension to this Earth Hour. Organizers say events like this put pressure on world leaders to do something about climate change. And we know President Obama has been making that a priority as well -- Don.

LEMON: Milanee Kapadia, we appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, these days, many families are looking for food that is low in cost but high in nutrients. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has today's "Fit Nation" report.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): The stock market is down. Unemployment numbers are up. And families are working much harder to make ends meet. But when it comes to eating, cutting cost doesn't have to mean cutting nutrition.

JULIE SCHWARTZ, REGISTERED DIETICIAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY: You could feed your family for $10 at home. It wouldn't be a burger and fries and a soda, but, you know, it's looking at other options.

COHEN: Nutritionist Julie Schwartz says just as with your finances, a little bit of planning and some smart picks can help stretch your dollars.

SCHWARTZ: It's really shopping wise. It's looking at circulars. What's on sale this week.

COHEN: And if it's lean meats you're leaking for, you can save some cash by buying in bulk, slow-cooking tough or less expensive cuts and choosing meats in their least processed form.

SCHWARTZ: It costs more to have the chicken skinless boneless than it does to have say a chicken breast with skin on it and the bone on it that you can take off yourself.

COHEN: Also, try to incorporate lots of fruits and veggies into your diet. Buying in season and at a local farmer's market is often less expensive. And if fresh veggies are still too costly, there's always frozen or canned options. If you can only afford the staples, like rice, pasta or beans . . .

SCHWARTZ: A bag of beans really will take you a long way. You know, a bag of rice with that beans, you've got a complete protein. It's filling and it can really help out.

COHEN: The bottom line says Schwartz . . .

SCHWARTZ: The more we can do from scratch, the better.

COHEN: Elizabeth Cohen, CNN reporting.


LEMON: They were racing to the hospital, trying to reach a loved one before she died. Then came the sirens and now comes the outrage.


LEMON: You got to pay attention to this next story because a husband an wife get the call from the hospital. Her mother's dying. Come now if you want to say good-bye. But that final moment didn't turn out the way the family had expected. CNN's Ed Lavandera has the story.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is police officer Robert Powell's view chasing down an SUV that he just saw slowly pass through a red light. The car had flashing hazard lights turned on and inside his NFL running back Ryan Moats, who's racing to the hospital to see his dying mother-in-law. When Moats pulls into a parking space, police say Powell draws his gun and the confrontation quickly gets heated.

POWELL: Get in there. Get in there. Let me see your hands. Get in there. Put your hands on the car. Do you understand?

TAMISHIA MOATS: Excuse me? My mom is dying.

POWELL: Do you understand?

RYAN MOATS: My mother-in-law is dying right now.

LAVANDERA: From the officer's dashboard video camera, you can hear Moats try to explain the urgency of the moment. His wife and another relative ignore the officer and go inside. The officer asks for Moats's insurance and says he's being ticketed for running a red light.

POWELL: I need your insurance.

R. MOATS: I don't know where it's at. I don't have insurance.

POWELL: You don't have insurance?

R. MOATS: You (INAUDIBLE) whatever.

POWELL: Listen, if I can't verify you have insurance...

R. MOATS: My mother-in-law is dying right now.

POWELL: Listen.

R. MOATS: You're wasting my time!

POWELL: If I can't verify you have insurance, I'm going to tow the car. So you either find it or I'm going to tow the car. Stop talking. Stop talking. You can either settle down and cooperate or I can take you to jail.

R. MOATS: I'm cooperating (ph). This is what you asked for. You asked for insurance and registration, so here you go.

POWELL: Shut your mouth. Shut your mouth. You can cooperate and settle down, or I can just take you to jail for running a red light.

R. MOATS: Go ahead.

POWELL: Is that what you want to do?

R. MOATS: Whatever. Go ahead.

POWELL: OK. I can screw you over. I'd rather not do that. Your attitude will dictate everything that happens and right now your attitude sucks.

R. MOATS: Yes, sir.

POWELL: OK. I turned my red and blues on as you were going over the bridge. This is where you stopped.

R. MOATS: You think I'm going to stop when my wife's mother is dying?

POWELL: You are required to stop. What you are doing does not matter.

R. MOATS: OK. Yes, sir.

LAVANDERA: Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle ripped his officer's handling of the situation. Powell has been put on paid leave until an internal investigation is complete. He could be fired.

CHIEF DAVID KUNKLE, DALLAS POLICE: I want to issue a personal apology and also an apology on behalf of the Dallas Police Department to the family of Jeanetta Collinsworth (ph). I am embarrassed and disappointed by the behavior of one of our police officers, Officer Robert Powell.

LAVANDERA: And listen as another police officer, and even a hospital nurse, try to help to Moats inside.

SECURITY GUARD: Hey, that's the nurse. She says that the mom's dying right now and she's wondering if we can get him up there before she passes.

POWELL: All right, I'm almost done.

LAVANDERA: After almost 15 minutes, Ryan Moats finally is allowed to walk away. Not in time to say good-bye to his mother-in- law. She died as Officer Powell finished writing the ticket.

After all of that, the ticket has been dismissed, and Dallas police leaders say that in their initial conversations with Officer Powell, that he insists he did everything right and acted appropriately.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


LEMON: Boy, oh boy.

Kyra Phillips picks up the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM right now.