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CNN NEWSROOM

Prius Driver Reports Dangerous Runaway Ride; D.C. Protestors Rally in Support of Health-Care Reform; New Program Helps Struggling Homeowners

Aired March 9, 2010 - 13:00   ET

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


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: It is go time. You'll see in a second that I obviously went shopping in Ali's closet. CNN NEWSROOM continues right now, with Ali Velshi.

ALI VELSHI, HOST: Tony, if I looked as good as you do, I wouldn't have to go shopping at all. Tony Harris, always good to see you.

And as he said, I'm Ali Velshi. I'm going to be with you for the next two hours, today and every weekday. I'm going to take every important topic that we cover, and I'm going to try to break it down for you. I'll try and give you a level of detail that's going to help you make important decisions about your voting, your spending, your safety and security. And it's about your safety right now.

Here's what I've got on the rundown. A Prius owner says a stuck gas pedal took him on a run-away ride on a California highway. But, wait a second. Gas pedals weren't supposed to be the problem with the Prius. Those were brake problems. Is this a brand-new issue for Toyota to deal with? If so, it's a big one. Let's face it: a car that doesn't stop at 90 is every driver's problem.

Also on the rundown, a volatile topic that's been on a roller- coaster ride across the nation. I'm talking about gay marriage. As I speak, same-sex couples are legally tying the knot in the nation's capital for the first time ever. We're going to talk about it.

Plus, we've been battered with bad news about the housing market all year. Well, guess what? If you are thinking about buying a home, now might be the perfect time, and there plenty of good spots to do it.

Also, if you're looking to get rid of your home, Uncle Sam is giving you and your lender some incentives. We'll break that all down for you.

But first up, Toyota. Things have kind of downshifted for the car maker and calmed down a bit since those fiery congressional hearings in the last few weeks. Well, now they've revved up again, thanks to a Prius owner's wild ride. CNN's Deb Feyerick has the story for us now.

Deb, this was fascinating to find out about. Tell us what happened for our viewers who don't know. DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's fascinating, because this is an account of a man whose car accelerated out of control, reaching speeds of over 90 miles an hour.

What's interesting is that Toyota now has a chance to get that car and analyze exactly what went wrong to see whether, in fact, they may be able to fix it. And they have mobilized a team to go down to inspect that vehicle.

But this was a wild ride. The driver, Jim Sikes, saying that he was traveling east along Interstate 8 just in the San Diego area when he attempted to pass another car. His vehicle seemed to just speed out of control. The gas pedal stuck, he says, and did something funny. It didn't come up. It was just sitting there on the floor of the vehicle. He did speak about this yesterday at a news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SIKES, PRIUS OWNER: My thought was going over the side of the hill. Because there's too many hills, too many angles. And I wanted to shut the car off, but there was no straight, safe place to do it. And then nobody to protect me from behind.

There were a few times that I got really, really close to vehicles, especially a truck twice, once early in the game and then another one when he was on the side of me. Came real close.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: Sikes was trying to maneuver his vehicle to figure out how best he could stop it. He was able to call 911. He said a dispatcher there tried to go through a list of ways that he might be able to stop that vehicle. None of them worked.

But because of that 911 call a highway patrol officer was able to pull alongside Sikes car, and he was able to use the P.A. system to try to instruct him what to do. And the way they stopped that car, apparently the driver stepped on the brakes while at the same time lifting up his emergency brake. That at least slowed the vehicle down to 50 miles an hour, enough for the driver to gain control.

Here's how it happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIKES: I was just holding onto the steering wheel with my left hand, and I was down at an angle trying to pull -- just tried to pull it back. I thought it was -- maybe it was stuck. I mean, my mat was perfect. There was nothing wrong with my mat. And the pedal, it wouldn't do anything. It stayed right where it was.

He got up on the side, told me what to do. And I was standing on the pedal, standing on the brake pedal. Looking out the window at him. And he said, "Push the emergency brake, too." I laid on both of them. And it finally started slowing down right then. And it was down to, like, 55. It had been at 94, I know that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: Now, the driver had taken his car in to the Toyota dealership. It is a 200 -- 2008 Camry, excuse me. And there was a problem with the Camry, with the floor mat. But when he went to the dealership, the dealership said, "No, your car is not on the list." Indeed it was on the list.

He did check the floor mat. It did not appear that the problem was with the floor mat. Prius has been recalls -- Toyota has been issuing recalls on the Prius because of a brake problem. Again, if this is something different, if it is, as it appears to be, sudden unintended acceleration, that means Toyota may have a whole different path to go onto in terms of looking at what the problem is -- Ali.

VELSHI: You -- you hit the issue on the head here. The -- that car was under recall with respect to acceleration because of the floor mat that could stick. But largely the issue we've been talking about with Priuses is a brake that doesn't react as fast.

So if this Prius, not related to the floor mat, had an accelerator that was sticking, and let's just not mince words, was a runaway vehicle, this takes us into another level with Toyota. This is a different issue.

FEYERICK: Absolutely. And when you look at it is, there are all different things, all different reasons why Toyota has been issuing these recalls.

VELSHI: Right.

FEYERICK: One is the brake; one is the floor mat; one is unintended acceleration.

VELSHI: Right.

FEYERICK: Now, it could be that it's all combining to work together. Again, if it was the brake and the brake wasn't coming back, that could be part of the issue.

VELSHI: Right.

FEYERICK: But again, what this appears is that the car was simply accelerating and the driver says there was no control of the brake. No control whatsoever. And you think of how the cars are manufactured now, Ali, you've got your gas pedal. You've got your engine. What connects them is not some sort of a wire.

VELSHI: Right.

FEYERICK: Not some sort of a connector.

VELSHI: Software now.

FEYERICK: What connects them in this sort of -- the electronics.

VELSHI: Yes.

FEYERICK: And so if those weren't working, that may have caused the car to accelerate.

VELSHI: And Toyota has said...

FEYERICK: And Toyota has mobilized a team.

VELSHI: Right. They're saying they're going out, they're going to look into this car specifically. They've sent technicians out?

FEYERICK: Absolutely. And that's what's so interesting about it. A lot of people did complain about this. Because Toyota dealerships were not aware of the problem, they didn't know how to check to see what it might be.

Now at least they have a car that they know for sure apparently was part of this problem. So, at least they can kind of analyze it and see whether, in fact, there's any information in those black boxes.

VELSHI: Yes. Deb, thank you very much. Always good to see you. Deb Feyerick in New York.

We're not done with this topic yet, however. What you want to know, by the way, is how to fix this if this happens to you. Can you imagine being in your car, your brakes aren't slowing the car down, it's accelerating above 90 miles an hour?

Lauren Fix is standing by. She is going to tell us what, hopefully, what you can do if this is -- if this is something that happens to you. Stay with us. We're coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: OK. Get this, you're driving out on the highway. You go to pass a guy. The next thing you know your car has developed a mind of its own. It hits 90 miles an hour. Then 94 miles an hour like this guy in California, and it stays there. You smash your brakes. You're practically standing on your brakes. The car is not slowing down. It feels like nothing is even reacting.

Well, that's what this California guy says happened to him yesterday. His car is a 2008 Toyota Prius, under warranty because of a floor-mat issue. Under recall, although he says when he took it in, they didn't tell him there was a recall for that car.

I want to hear what auto analyst Lauren Fix has to say about this one. She joins us now from Buffalo.

Lauren, great to see you. Can you even comprehend this? Does it sound like it makes sense to you?

LAUREN FIX, AUTO ANALYST: Actually, this gentleman who was driving really seemed like he was paying attention. He obviously has seen CNN. They told him what to do. Whether he put the car in neutral, I don't know. But he was on the brakes, he was trying to slow the car down. He even tried to be creative and lift the pedal up, and it didn't react.

And he knew it wasn't the floor mat. I noticed that he did state that. So obviously, he'd been listening to what we said. Whether he put it in neutral or not, we don't know. And the fact that he thought about putting the -- shutting the car off and realizing there were vehicles around him and no safe place to pull off, was also very smart. Because people aren't usually aware of their surroundings. So I have to say, it seems like he did all the right things other than possibly using neutral.

VELSHI: I mean, I would think if your car is running away and you can't do anything about it, you try and get out and roll out, but that's not really practical when your car is at 90 miles an hour. So you're talking about...

FIX: I don't know if I would do that.

VELSHI: That's what you should do, put it in neutral first?

FIX: I don't think I'd want to roll out of any car in traffic.

VELSHI: Yes. So, tell me what the steps are. What would you do if you were him?

FIX: OK. The first thing I would do if I were in that position, and I actually have spoken to many people since. I know that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received additional people who have said they've had recall problems or at least problems with cars still accelerating or they are accelerating.

First thing you want to do, you're driving down in any car -- and mind you, this has been going on since 1957 and the Chrysler product, so there have been cars all along that have had these -- these problems.

Put the car in neutral is the first thing you can do. If for some reason you can't get it into neutral or you have it in neutral and the car is still accelerating because of an electrical problem, the next thing to do is to stand on the brakes, just like this gentleman did. Both feet. You've got to put everything you've got.

VELSHI: Right.

FIX: He's a bigger guy. If you were someone a little smaller or a little lighter, you may not have that same brake pressure.

VELSHI: Right.

FIX: Now, what you're going to do at that point is literally boil your brake fluid, and that means the brakes will then no longer function properly. Using the parking brake may slow the car down. But not everybody has a lever-style parking brake.

VELSHI: Right. FIX: Some of them are pedals. So that may be a problem.

And the final thing is, if you have a push-button start, push that button and hold it for five seconds. And that's just enough to shut the car down, again. That's in your owner's manual.

And finally, if you've got a key switch, you can turn it to the accessory mode which will still give you just enough to stop the car and steer it off the side of the road. But I would put on my four ways first, let the people around you know you have a problem, so if you do shut it off...

VELSHI: Right.

FIX: ... you're not getting hit by the car behind you.

VELSHI: All right. What do you do when stuff like this doesn't -- doesn't happen? Let's just do a little bit of superhero action movie stuff here. What do you do when your car is zipping down a highway, you need something external to your car to make it stop? What are your best options there? What would you do if you're on a highway and you needed to stop this car?

FIX: Well, actually, that was one of the things, if your car won't stop, you've got no brakes, and you don't know what to do, you've tried neutral, the car is still accelerating and now, besides the fact that you're having a heart attack...

VELSHI: Yes.

FIX: ... which I probably would, too...

VELSHI: Yes.

FIX: ...calling 911 was actually pretty smart. Because what they did is they used the push bars on the Los Angeles Police Department cars, the highway department cars, to slow it down.

Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario is that the car would continue to accelerate.

VELSHI: Right.

FIX: And even though it was at the bumper of that other car, it might actually spin out. And then you've got some other problems if you've got a spin-out. So we have to kind of consider that. They could use those tire strips, you've seen...

VELSHI: Right, right, right.

FIX: ... moving forward.

VELSHI: When they've got runaways.

FIX: I wouldn't want to jump out of the car. I think that would be -- yes, I don't think I'd want to do that. VELSHI: Yes, no, and I was being facetious. Just make sure nobody actually thinks about that. Get that out of your mind in case you're ever in that situation. Don't listen to me on this one.

Lauren, tell me this: Deb Feyerick was talking about the difference between the Prius and other cars in terms of electronics.

FIX: Right.

VELSHI: Is -- first of all, do cars divide into two types? Are there those that have a lot of electronic stuff, and that's different from the cars that the rest of us drive that are a little more mechanical?

FIX: Well, they all have electrical throttle control. Almost every car that's on the road today, since -- previous to 2000 has it. Previous cars that had cable throttles, it was easier to stick your foot underneath the pedal and pop it up, which is what -- I have older cars also, and that's something you can do.

But when you've got an electric throttle control, that means it's computer generated. It's also known as drive-by-wire. The problem is, if there's electric, magnetic interference, that you can't help because there's an electronic problem, that's where the problem comes in.

Now, also keep in mind, when Mr. Toyoda was speaking to all the congressional committees, he did say that 70 percent of the items -- of the cars that are out there that may need to be recalled for acceleration are not on the recall list. And this is obviously one of them, because even Steve Wozniak had a problem with his vehicle.

VELSHI: Right.

FIX: And most likely, Toyota would be smart to purchase this car from this gentleman, get him into another Toyota, if they can, for marketing purposes.

VELSHI: Right.

FIX: And take that car back and try to figure out why it happened.

VELSHI: Just take the car, yes.

FIX: Because God forbid this happens to somebody else.

VELSHI: Yes.

FIX: And the timing's horrible, by the way. It's like mayday P.R.

VELSHI: So the throttle control is electronic, but you said put all your weight on the brake. Is the brake not electronic, too? In other words, does putting extra weight on that brake pedal actually make a difference? FIX: Well, that's brake pressure; that's hydraulic. And actually, that's part of my background is in the braking systems. They do not have drive-by wire here in the U.S., and I'm absolutely against it. I'm sorry, brake-by-wire.

Brake-by-wire is they want to make the same controls you're using on your throttle on your brakes. They've tested it in Europe, and they do use on it some vehicles. I don't -- do not in any way, shape, or form like it here in the U.S. for a multitude of reasons. I don't think it should be used at all. Because hydraulic brakes do work as long. As they're maintained properly.

VELSHI: Yes.

FIX: The harder you stand on them, the more brake pedal pressure you're going to get.

However, if you tried to go with the all-electronic, I think you're going to have problems. Mind you, you do have anti-lock brakes. You do have crash control, stability control, so the computer is attached to everything. And the average car is around 20 little computers and modules, and they need to be maintained. And even though this was an '08, if there's a problem, it's electronic or there's magnetic interference. That's where you get the dilemma you can't control yourself.

VELSHI: OK, well, let's -- I'm glad you cleared that up. Because I didn't understand why you can't manually deal with that throttle, but you can manually deal with the brakes by applying pressure. So that's my lesson from this. Forget my advice about rolling out of the car. Give that brake as much pressure as you can.

Lauren, it's always great to have you. So clear.

Lauren Fix is an automotive analyst based in Buffalo, New York.

FIX: Thank you.

VELSHI: If you want more on this, for an in-depth look into the Toyota recall, go to CNN.com/Toyota. You can find out -- you can look there and find out, by the way, if your car has been recalled, what to do about it. That's CNN.com/Toyota.

OK, when we come back, I'm going to talk to Christine Romans. She's going to join me for our "YOUR $$$$$" segment. If you are a homeowner who is in over your head, the government, well, is giving you an option, and we'll talk about that when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. I want to go to Jim Acosta. He's in Washington, D.C., around Dupont Circle, where advocates in favor of health-care reform have gathered today to protest along with Howard Dean, former Vermont governor. Jim Acosta is on the line with us now.

Jim, what's going on there now? JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Hey, Ali, we are standing right outside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, right outside of Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and the reason why we're out here is there is a very big protest in favor of health-care reform that just wrapped up here.

The reason why the protest was happening here is because the insurance industry was having one of its annual policy conferences right here in Washington, where they had executives from all over the insurance industry gathered to talk about health-care reform. As we know, it's in a very critical stage right now between the White House and the Congress.

And there were several hundred protesters gathered here just a few moments ago. Police made some what I would call ceremonial arrests, where they took some folks into custody and then released them a few minutes later.

But essentially, folks were gathered right up here at this police barricade that I'm standing in front of, and they were forcing their way, at least attempting to force their way, inside the hotel room for about 10 to 15 minutes. That is why the police out here made some arrests.

But all in all, this was a fairly, I think, peaceful and organized protest. There were -- there were several speakers who talked during this event.

They actually called for a citizens' arrest at one point, Ali, of the insurance industry executives who were represented here. They actually deputized or had a ceremonial deputizing of hundreds of protesters out here. And then at one point, they said, "OK, let's go inside and get these guys." And we all thought they were going to physically come inside of the hotel.

That is when they made their way towards those barricades, and the police stopped them and made some of those, as what I would call them, ceremonial arrests.

But, Ali, it's wrapping up right now. All around, a peaceful protest that's definitely breaking up now, Ali.

VELSHI: All right. We've got you on TV now. We're hearing you through the phone, but you are on camera right now. Any counter protests that you see, or is it this one group that has organized this protest? There aren't people sort of getting into it with each other there, are there?

ACOSTA: There were -- there was definitely some bumping that was going on between -- bumping that was going on between the police and the protesters.

(on camera) Police took those unruly protesters into custody briefly and then released them. This was a -- this was a protest that was staged by health-care reform advocacy groups like Health Care for America Now. Several labor groups were out here. And this was a noisy, rowdy protest. No doubt about it.

There was no counter protest, but what I can tell you is, I did see some folks who were here with the insurance industry conference inside the hotel coming outside, sort of taking a look around, and then going back inside.

And at one point the hotel staff and the D.C. Police Department, they were actually talking about locking the doors to this hotel, so folks could not come inside the hotel. So, they were concerned, at least for a brief period of time, that this was going to get out of control, that people would start to storm the hotel, but in the end that did not happen. Just a few -- few detentions, you could call them.

VELSHI: Right.

ACOSTA: Ceremonial arrests, I would call them, for a few moments, and those folks were released.

But essentially, this was just a very big, noisy protest. We don't see these a lot in Washington these days, but -- especially around the issue of health-care reform. This was definitely one of the larger health-care reform protests that I've seen, Ali, here in Washington.

VELSHI: Well, I know when I was on the CNN Express, the Health Care for America Now was sort of an umbrella group for a lot of organizations that support health-care reform. They would have some people go out to some of the Tea Parties. Again, almost a ceremonial presence, because there would be a few of them versus hundreds or thousands of tea partiers, but they sort of had an ongoing process.

ACOSTA: Yes, yes. And what was most striking about this rally -- OK, I'm sorry, Ali, if you've got to wrap it up, I'll send it back to you.

VELSHI: No, go ahead. Finish your thought, Jim.

ACOSTA: The one thing that I thought was really striking about this rally was that the signs that were being held up by these protesters actually said, you know, "Wanted for Arrest," and they were wanted posters, essentially, for these insurance executives.

And under those pictures of these different executives, it would say, you know, "wanted for the deaths of 45,000 Americans every year."

So as this issue is really coming to a head here in Washington, what we're finding is that the pro-health-care reform folks are really, in very stark language, putting it out there that they want to see health-care reform passed, even almost to the point of going over the line and creating wanted posters for these executives.

VELSHI: Yes.

ACOSTA: And, you know, and when you talk to the insurance industry about that, which I did. I asked them about that, and they said, "Well, this is just part of the debate, and we're trying to work through it." And, you know, that's essentially what we got from the insurance industry's side.

But this was a noisy protest. But it's largely wrapping up now, Ali.

VELSHI: All right, Jim, thank you for bringing that to us. We appreciate it. Jim Acosta outside the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.

All right. Let's talk about houses for a second. There's a list here I want to show it to you. It is called the Housing Opportunity Index. It's put out by "Forbes."

It takes into account in any particular city the foreclosure rate. Obviously, if there's a low rate of foreclosures, that's better for the housing market, because there aren't more houses on the market to sell. And it combines that with the expected increase or decrease in housing prices.

So I want to go through the top five on "Forbes" housing opportunity list. No. 1 on the list is -- it's not the highest scorer, but the housing opportunity number for Pittsburgh is 85.1. The reason "Forbes" likes Pittsburgh is because it rates -- it doesn't have a whole lot of foreclosures, and it does look like there's -- there are enough houses there but not too many, so that prices might go up.

No. 2, Louisville, Kentucky. The score there, 84.3, just a little bit below Pittsburgh. Very low foreclosure rates. That's what gets Louisville to the top of that -- or toward the top of that list.

Houston, Texas, this is an area we've been talking about a lot. A lot of Texas is actually doing very well. Seventy-three point two. The issue there is that it's got strong industry: a lot of energy- related jobs. People are moving to Houston and Austin and Dallas and places like that. So, you're seeing the possibility of housing price increases.

Let's take you to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Again, very, very low unemployment in some of these states around here. That brings it to a score of 84.9. You can see just below Pittsburgh.

And finally, I want to show you Indianapolis, which has -- look at this -- a score of 95.7 on the index. This is -- homes are quite affordable right now. There's housing that is accessible to a lot of families who have sort of a median income. So a lot of people, you don't have to be very rich to get a nice house in Indianapolis.

What if you don't live in one of those top markets? Well, you might have a problem, particularly if you owe a lot on your mortgage and you need to try and get rid of the mortgage.

Let's bring in Christine Romans. She's my co-host on "YOUR $$$$$." You can watch us on weekends.

Christine, what do you do if you're not in the fortunate position of buying a house in a great market?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And you know, Indy and Pittsburgh are on a lot other lists, too.

VELSHI: Yes.

ROMANS: There's something going on in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, for all those of you who live out there.

And what are you supposed to do? Up until now, the government's efforts to avoid foreclosure, Ali, have been focused on keeping you in your home. But now there's a new program that will be launched, or an extension of the original program will be launched April 5 that's meant to help you do a short sale, help you get out of the house that you just can't get -- you can't afford this house, you know? You can't try to stay in it...

VELSHI: Right.

ROMANS: ... because you are never going to be able to afford it. It's called the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program. It's essentially getting paid -- you get paid for a short sale. The borrower gets $1,500 relocation assistance to help them move on. The lender gets $1,000 in a servicing bonus.

What is a short sale? If you have a buyer for your house, right? But the buyer is willing to offer much less than you paid for the house and that you owe the banks.

VELSHI: Right.

ROMANS: And so, the lender's got to take a hit and agree to -- for you to sell this house at a lower price.

Here's some of the rules. Who's eligible? It's got to be the principle residence, first-lien mortgage. You've got to be seriously delinquent.

Here's the -- here's the rub, Ali. So many people have kept -- kept up on their loans that they don't even look at you until you're seriously delinquent in a lot of these programs. The unpaid balance has to be under that adjusted, you know, jumbo level of $729,750, and your monthly mortgage has to be over 31 percent of your gross income.

VELSHI: OK.

ROMANS: So it's a new program, the HAFA mortgage program, H-A-F- A.

VELSHI: Let's talk about this for a second. So foreclosure is the worst thing that can happen to you. And if you -- this is all things that can happen to you if you can't pay for your house. So foreclosure's the worst.

Perhaps the best is what you call a deed in lieu of -- you know, you give the bank your house. You don't owe them anything. It's all just done; you walk away.

The short sale is kind of in the middle. But people ask me this all the time. If you do a short sale and the bank basically lets you walk away, even though you haven't fulfilled your obligation to them, this does hit your credit score.

ROMANS: It does. It really does. And I was just talking John Alzheimer (ph) from Credit.com, and he was saying any -- any way you try to get out from under a bad mortgage is going to hurt you.

A short sale is best for your neighborhood, Ali, because you're working with the banks. You're not going to strip out. Nobody is going to strip out all the appliances and hurt this house. You know, the bank is probably going to keep it up so they can sell it again. You've got -- or you've got a buyer in the short sale, right? So that's the best thing for the neighborhood.

But it could hit your credit score 200 points. If you're 750 or higher, John Alzheimer (ph) says and many people say this, as well, you can -- you can reasonably expect, if you have a decent credit score but you have to walk away from this financial contract, 150 to 200 points off your credit score.

But it's better than a foreclosure, because you could turn around and be in the market to borrow money again in three to five years. And that's not what happens with the foreclosure.

VELSHI: All right, Christine. Thank you for that. It's a good piece of information. Because a lot of people have to consider this option, as bad as it is.

Christine Romans, my co-host on "YOUR $$$$$." You can watch us on Saturdays at 1 p.m. Eastern and Sundays at 3 p.m. Eastern.

I want to go out to Brooke Anderson now. She's got news just in on that case of the alleged extortion of David Letterman.

Brooke, what have you got?

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ali. Robert J. Halderman of the David Letterman extortion case is expected to plead guilty in about 45 minutes or so in a Manhattan court to attempted extortion.

Now, this guy has obviously struck some sort of plea deal, because this will carry reportedly six months behind bars; may be able to get out with good behavior a little bit earlier.

Also will be on probation for about four-and-a-half years. Will have to perform a ton of community service. Halderman, who is a CBS news producer, originally pleaded not guilty. He had been facing a whopper of a charge of attempted grand larceny, and that would have carried -- that would have meant he could have been locked up for 15 years if he had been convicted of that.

Just to refresh your memory if you have forgotten, Halderman is the guy who is accused of trying to extort David Letterman for $2 million, saying that he would disclose that Letterman had affairs with female staffers. Letterman then just nipped it in the bud, went on air in October and said, hey, here's what's happening. I have had affairs with staffers in the past. I'm not currently having sexual relations with any of these women, but I will not be victimized.

And then Letterman's ratings shot up. Halderman originally pleaded not guilty back in October, but he has struck some sort of a plea, and in less than an hour we're hearing that he will plead guilty. He is not currently working for CBS.

VELSHI: All right. Very interesting information, though, that, you're right, there seems to have been some sort of negotiation. It seems prosecutors were not prepared to let him without either setting an example or do something in response to these allegations.

Interesting, we'll stay on top of that. Brooke, thank you very for joining us. Brooke Anderson on the news of Joe Halderman perhaps offering a guilty plea in the next hour or so. We'll keep you posted on that.

When we come back, we'll talk with senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's continuing her study about how different people, people with different ethnicities, are affected by common health concerns. When we come back, we're going to talk about Alzheimer's.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: All right. You may know somebody who is affected by Alzheimer's. One of the things our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, has been working on this week is links between these diseases and what your ethnicity is.

Elizabeth joins me now. Is there a link between ethnicity and your chances of getting Alzheimer's?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this study says there is a link. I think it's sort of surprising to people who think it's relatively random, and what this shows is that there is something -- there is a link there.

Let's take a look first at the chances of getting Alzheimer's if you are between 75 and 84 and you're white. The chances are 1 in 10 that you will have Alzheimer's at that stage, 1 in 10. Now, let's look at Hispanics and Alzheimer's. The chances are 1 in 4 that someone will have Alzheimer's. That's a huge difference. For African-Americans, the chances are 1 in 3.

VELSHI: Yesterday, we talked about people's sleep patterns based on different ethnicity, but we were able to do pop science and sort of say that some are affected disproportionately by the economy. And you were specifically looking at money stresses. How do you make the link here? What does it have to do with?

COHEN: You know what? It's a little bit similar in that minorities in this country have less access to medical care, and therefore tend to have more diabetes and more high blood pressure. Those two diseases put you at higher risk for Alzheimer's --

VELSHI: Oh, interesting. Okay.

COHEN: A lot of people don't know that. They know that it puts you at a higher risk for heart disease, but the heart is like your brain. What's bad for your heart is bad for your brain. So, it's socioeconomic reasons. It's not genetic, it's not biological. That's what doctors tell us.

VELSHI: All right. Let's talk a little bit about what you do to try to avoid Alzheimer's. What should we do?

COHEN: There's a couple things anybody could do. It will not guarantee it, but it will hopefully decrease the chances you'll get Alzheimer's. So, eat more fruits and vegetables.

VELSHI: I feel like you've got to say that about everything.

COHEN: Yes! We do say it about everything. If it's good for your heart, it's good for your head. There you go. Also, exercise.

VELSHI: That's another one I hear a lot on lists.

COHEN: Right, exactly. And also be social. That's not always on our list.

VELSHI: That's interesting. It's different.

COHEN: It sort of activates parts of your brain. You are using your brain to communicate with people. It's the same reason you are supposed to learn a language.

VELSHI: And read a lot. And play the puzzles and games to keep you going.

COHEN: Exactly.

VELSHI: So, the idea is to keep your mind and your body active.

COHEN: Use it or lose it.

VELSHI: Yes. If I hit the first two, eat fruits and veggies and exercise, we'll have nothing left to talk about.

COHEN: You look perfectly healthy.

VELSHI: There's always two things I can't check off. Those are the two. But I'm going to -- it's motivating. So, that's very good. Be social, read, keep busy and active and learn things.

COHEN: Keep invested in sort of your community. Don't pull away.

VELSHI: Got it. Thank you, our senior medical correspondent, Elisabeth Cohen.

Listen, right now, as we speak, for the first time in history, gay couples are getting married in the nation's capital. That might be important to you. That might be symbolic. You might think it's the way it goes all over the place.

We're going to break it down. Tell you a little bit about gay marriage in this country, where it's going and changing. Stay with us.

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VELSHI: Okay. Just before everybody starts Tweeting me and Facebooking me, I think it's a very important debate to have about same-sex marriage. But that's not what we're having right now. There's a great time for it. We do it on this show, we do it on this network all the time.

That's not what we're talking about right now. Whatever you think about same-sex marriage, today, March 9, 2010, is a milestone. From this day forward, same-sex weddings can and will be legally performed in Washington, D.C. Just one of many cities that do it, but this is the nation's capital. There's something symbolic about it.

The D.C. council passed a law last December, but it only took effect last Wednesday. The first gay couples to apply for licenses then were first allowed to wed this morning. There's a three- business-day waiting period, which is why it's just happened now. The district joins five states where same-sex marriage is legal. Let me show them to you. Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa.

Now, New Jersey allows civil unions. That confers all the -- I think it confers all the legal rights of marriage, but we're going to talk to somebody who knows more about this than I do. And four western states, California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada, grants spousal rights to unmarried couples whether they are gay or straight. But this, obviously, is a volatile topic, and things can change. There have been change (sic).

Look at Maine. Last May, the state legalized gay marriage in May of '09, but then it was banned. Voters overturned it in November of '09. Now, on the other side of the country, California, the state supreme court approved gay marriage in May of 2008, but six months later voters passed Proposition 8, which barred it. The federal trial on that matter is underway in California right now.

So, all this brings me to our guests right now. Sultan Shakir of the Human Rights Campaign is a group devoted to gay and lesbian issues and very involved in same-sex marriage in Washington. Fred Hertz is a real estate lawyer but he specializes in issues facing unmarried partners. He's from San Francisco and written books on it.

And again, before anybody gets mad at me, both of these guys think gay marriage is okay. So, we're not having the debate. It's not like I forgot to book the person who doesn't like gay marriage. I booked the guys for a specific reason.

Thank you for being here. I want to start you with you, Fred. Good to see you after a long time. I want to ask you, Fred, what is the difference? For people who have been in these states waiting to get married, what changes for them?

FRED HERTZ, REAL ESTATE ATTORNEY: Well, here's what's so interesting, Ali, and I'm glad you asked the question that way. The legal rights and responsibilities actually don't change. And what's so different about the debate now is that we're not debating about whether same-sex couples should have the rights. The question is, should they be allowed into the room of marriage through the front door or the back door.

And what's changed now in the six states you mentioned, including now the District of Columbia, is that same-sex couples are allowed to enter into the room of marriage through the front door, with the dignity and the respect that they're entitled to. Their actual legal rights don't change.

VELSHI: Okay.

HERTZ: It's the social dignity that changes.

VELSHI: Sultan, let's talk about it for a second. Because what I was just describing to our audience showing the maps and things like that. It's really a patchwork of civil unions and marriage and not marriage. I mean, so what do you think about the way this has sort of developed and evolved through the country?

SULTAN SHAKIR, REGIONAL FIELD DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: Well, I mean, I think it is important to look at the fact that same- sex couples here in the District are now treated with dignity and respect.

But it's also not just the same-sex couples, it's the families. One of the great things that happened when Sinjoila and Angolisa (ph), it the couple you showed in the opening footage, were married was that her mother stood up and saying you are so beautiful to me.

I think that's really what marriage is all about, it's not just the couple celebrating their loving statement, but that really being shared with the family and friends that are there. And now that the District of Columbia, the nation's capital, allows that to happen, it's really a beautiful day not just for the couples but for their families.

VELSHI: Is there something significant, Fred, with respect to employees, benefits and wills and passing things on after you die? Is there something that the piece of paper changes for gay couples or unmarried -- unwed couples?

HERTZ: Here's what I found and what is so interesting. One of the purposes of law is to give people clarity about their lives. And as the last speaker just said, the patchwork of marriage equivalence and marriage life and domestic partnership leaves couples and their families and frankly, their bankers and the title companies and real estate agents, with a great deal of uncertainty of is this couple really married or not?

So, what happens -- it's been shown in Amsterdam and it's been shown in Vermont, is when couples can say they are married, well, then, their employers understand that, and the rules kick in. To say you're a domestic partner with some of the rights but not all of them leaves you vulnerable to uncertainty and challenge. So, I would say that it does dramatically cement the rights, which are gray and ambiguous often under civil unions such as New Jersey or domestic partner such as California.

VELSHI: Sultan, tell me what the momentum is. Every time there's a ruling of some sort or the cost overturned something or we have a vote like in Maine, one side or the other claims victory and says things are about to change. Where is the momentum? Is it voters overturning gay rights that courts approve? iI it legislators saying it's okay? What's going on?

SHAKIR: That's a great question. I think we see day after day after day, more people around the country understanding the fact that same-sex couples should be treated with the same rights and same benefits as other couples.

But there's actually a really good point that Fred made about the craziness and the patchwork that we have going on here in the U.S. with marriages and civil unions and domestic partnerships. The interesting thing about that when the same-sex couples travel outside of their home state, if they're married, that marriage is recognized in other places that recognize same-sex marriages. But if you have a domestic partnership and you travel to state like Massachusetts or you travel to another state that recognizes same-sex marriage, they will not know what your domestic partnership or civil union is.

So, when a couple in the United States gets down on one knee and says I want you to, or will you, what comes after that is will you marry me. That's what recognized around the country in the U.S., and that's why same-sex couples having access to marriage here in the District is so important.

VELSHI: Hey, Fred, one quick comment here. For those people who couldn't be less interested in same-sex marriage but are in domestic partnerships or want to know their rights, is there anything that opposite-sex couples should be taking from the trend? Is there some way in which they gain or lose from this?

HERTZ: Here's what's important, and this is actually part of what is tricky. Some state domestic partnerships allow opposite sex couples to register. In California, opposite-sex couples over the age of 62 for Social Security reasons, can register. So, what I say to opposite-sex couples, I say first of all, on the whole, you're better off marrying because the federal government and as was just discussed, other states will recognize it.

If you don't want to marry but you want some of the rights and duties, actually I can say, Nolo has a book for you, it's called "Living Together." Depending on your situation, whether it's parentage or inheritance or Social Security, domestic partner or civil unions might be good enough, but you really need marriage if you want the full spectrum of benefits.

VELSHI: Great conversation, guys. Sultan Shakir is a regional manager of the Human Rights Campaign, joining us from Washington. And Fred Hertz is an author and attorney joining us from San Francisco.

And, again, before you all go nuts, on Facebook and Twitter, two guys who are both supporting gay marriage. Okay? This wasn't the debate on whether or not we should have gay marriage. If you write to me a lot and you feel we have to do it, we'll do that separately. Thanks, guys.

HERTZ: Thanks very much for your interest.

VELSHI: Our pleasure.

When we come back, listen, you may remember this woman. We talked a lot about Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, the first black president. This is his wife -- his former wife, Winnie Mandela. We'll hear from Winnie Mandela on how she thinks President Obama is handling his job and her take on the impact civil rights movement in South Africa.

Who will we hear it from? We'll hear it from CNN's analyst Roland Martin. He brings us an exclusive interview that he's just done with Winnie Mandela. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

VELSHI: All right. This day in history, back in 1997, rap star Notorious Big (sic) was killed in a drive-by-shooting. Biggie Smalls. Notorious B.I.G. was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. I called him baggie, which is why I called him Notorious Big, but it's Notorius B.I.G. You will remember that. It spawned a lot of coverage and even a re-make of a famous song.

All right. Roland Martin is standing by. He is the host of Washington Watch on TV One. He is a syndicated columnist and our analyst, and he has come back from an interview with Winnie Mandela and quickly from the airport to our studios in Chicago to tell us about this. Roland --

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Now you know I got to call you Big Poppa after playing that song.

VELSHI: Well, I know you will call me Big Papa, and I appreciate, by the way, that you looked at what I was wearing before you got dressed and decided to dress the same, like you and Tony.

MARTIN: I didn't do it, but I was shocked when I got to the studio and saw what you had on. VELSHI: Yes, exactly. All right, let's talk at Winnie Mandela. Nelson Mandela's wife from back when he was -- before he went to prison. And he is went to prison for almost 30 years -- she was his wife through all of that, very active in the civil rights movement in South Africa, the anti-apartheid movement. They subsequently got divorced and sort of went their separate ways, but she was a member of parliament. Remains very active in South African politics.

Tell me why this is important. What she's doing these days.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, obviously, she was here for the 45th commemoration of the Bloody Sunday march that took place in Selma. She was the keynote speaker on Sunday, she actually gave a talk last night at a church in Birmingham. And it's interesting, because first of all, here is somebody who was really a leading figure in keeping the attention on Nelson Mandela being in prison, on the anti-apartheid efforts during those 27 years.

So, one of the things that we also talked about is the fact that women, just like in the civil rights movement here in the U.S., the role that women played in combating apartheid has often been overlooked. Most of the attention is on Mandela and some of other men, and women have been pushed aside. And so one of the things that she talked about is that women and children played a critical role, because most of the men were in jail.

VELSHI: One of the sad realities of South Africa right now, Roland, is that a lot of the children left school to fight apartheid and ultimately when apartheid ended, they couldn't get jobs and that contributed to the high crime rate in that country.

MARTIN: Yes. She addressed that and said that those children sacrificed and made a decision to put their lives on the line. As she talked about that, it reminded me of us being in Birmingham, and folks don't realize that many of the adults were scared during that period to even go to a rally with the late Dr. Martin Luther King. The late Reverend James Bevel, he was in charge of galvanizing the children, and it really was the children who were attending in huge numbers that caused the adults to say, my God, if the kids are on the front lines, we must as well. As we know, when the fire hoses and dogs were turned on the children, that is what caused America to say enough is enough.

VELSHI: That's right. And those pictures, those images are similar to the civil rights movement in the United States as when you talk about fire hoses and dogs, you have to pause for second and wonder what country you are looking at. You also asked her -- I want to show a clip, but before I do -- I want you to set this up for me. You asked her about President Obama.

MARTIN: Well, as we were talking, she was talking about change in South Africa and the expectations that people have had and how difficult it has been and how long they have been trying to make happen, and as she said it, I thought immediately about this country and so many people saying, hey, why not more change one year after his election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTIN: Your assessment of President Barack Obama, his historic win as the 44th president of the United States, the first African- American. And speak to the expectations of people for someone in his position, not necessarily being black.

WINNIE MANDELA, FORMER WIFE OF NELSON MANDELA: I think it is the most cruel thing to expect him to have done more than he already has within just one year. Generations and generations of oppression, even though this is one of the longest democracies.

I think his task is even more difficult because I think the African-Americans, for instance, they expect more and countries like the African continent would expect more from him because he's African- American. And realistically, it is unfair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. Roland, you have more of that and where can people see more of that interview?

MARTIN: Well, obviously, they can see more on CNN.com, and I will be chatting with Rick Sanchez later as well, and we will be airing the entire interview on my TV One show, Washington Watch, this Sunday.

VELSHI: All right. Very good. Roland, I wonder if Rick will have the same suit as us? I want you to stay right there --

MARTIN: No, no, trust me, it won't be the same suit, and it will be a boring tie.

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: Stay right where you are, because I am coming right back to you in just a moment.

If you are struggling to stay afloat, you see -- there he is. I actually thought that Mr. Perry there might be three for three on the pinstripes, but Steve Perry is a sharp dresser, anyway.

And stay tuned, because these two guys will talk about how the recession is affecting your children's education at public schools. Whether recession are actually the reason why so many schools are shutting down, consolidating, cutting teachers, cutting school days, and we will get these two guys to talk about it when we come back. Stay with us, guys.

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VELSHI: All right. If you are watching the show everyday, you know we are talking a lot about public education, which is a big topic. The Kansas City school board is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a measure to close half of the schools and eliminate 3,000 jobs, and 285 of those are teaching jobs. The school district is facing a $50 million shortfall. So, we wanted to breakdown how many public schools are being forced to close ostensibly because of the recession. About 80 percent of the school funding is generated by local property taxes. So, you see the obvious problem here. This recession has brought house prices down, put a lot of people out of their house, and as a result, schools are getting less money.

Now, according to a survey by the American Association of School Administrators, six percent of school districts closed or consolidated schools in the 2008-2009 school year. We are in the 2009 -2010 school year, so this is the last school year. By the way, that's twice as many closed or consolidated in the previous year. And we were in a recession that previous year, as well.

Another 11 percent of the school districts -- take a look at this -- are considering closing schools or consolidating in the 2010 -- which is the current school year. You can see that six percent was the previous year and now almost double that this year. The bottom line is that school districts are making cutbacks because of the recession, but only a small percentage of the districts are actually considering closing schools. But we have heard about schools going to a four-day teaching week, cutting all sorts of things and maybe who is a parent knows that they have to pay for more of their students' supplies even at public schools.

So, what are the overall effects of the recession on the public schools? Let's bring in CNN's education contributor Steve Perry from Hartford, Connecticut, and CNN analyst Roland Martin.

Steve, I wanted to give you the first question, but you didn't bring it with the suit today in terms of the stripes. But I'm still going to let you in on it. Steve, you are an expert on this. So, how do you square this? You look at the recession and a lot of people are asking why we are taking it out on the kids and the public education system? It seems like short-term fixes for the long-term problems.

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: Well, one of the reasons why many of the schools that are closing are closing is because the policies are finally catching up to the population. People are moving out of some of the urban centers, and some of the country's worse schools. And they are making decisions to choose charter and private and magnet schools as an educational option. Finally, choice is becoming a reality for so many students who for so long had been forced to go to failing schools.

In addition to that, the property taxes, as you've discussed, have gone down, meaning the collection of property taxes. Therefore, the revenue have gone down, while labor and other costs have remained high, creating a gap.

That's why some of the programs and personnel are being cut, because there's a gap in terms of how much revenue comes in.

VELSHI: Right.

Oh, wow. All right. We're going to try and get Steve back. Let's go -- oh, we lost Roland and Steve Perry at the same time. So you get to listen to me for the next three minutes, give you my thoughts on education.

We're going to take a quick break. Let me get these two guys back, because this is a good conversation.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.

Don't go anywhere. We're getting them back. Stay there.

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