Return to Transcripts main page


The Obama Effect; Financial Reform Facts; Goldman Getting Off Easy?; Investing Your Money; Paying College Athletes; Tour Company on the Brink

Aired July 24, 2010 - 13:00   ET


ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The most sweeping overhaul of the financial system since the Great Depression is now the law of the land.

Welcome to YOUR MONEY. I'm Ali Velshi, Christina is off this week.

The Wall Street reform bill is one of three major pieces of legislation Congress has handed the Obama administration in the year- and-a-half since he took office. Economic stimulus, Health care, financial reform - these are the bfg ones. Democrats gave the president what he wanted, and a few Republicans helped out, too. But could these policy victories ultimately cost the Democrats in the midterm elections in the fall?

Let's bring in the best political team on television. We've got an all-star crew for you here.

Candy Crowley, chief political correspondent and host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Ed Henry, our senior White House correspondent, and Paul Steinhauser, our senior -- our deputy political director, all with us to talk about this.

Candy, let me start with you. I want to start with some words from Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- Senator Mitch McConnell. This is his take on President Obama's policies and achievements so far. Listen to this.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Jobs stock and taxes, regulations, government intrusion. These appear to be the three pillars of every Democratic legislative effort. They're also the three things lawmakers can do that are guaranteed to kill more jobs.


VELSHI: Candy, let's start with you. When you think about it, you think of stimulus, you think of health care reform, you think of financial regulation reform. They all fall into my side of things as a money guy, but this is now -- it's all about the politics of how these things plays out.

Democrats will play this as major legislative victories. Keeping their promises. And you can see how Republicans are going to play out -- play this out.

What's going to happen with midterm votes? Are they going to go with the Democratic line or the Republican line?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that probably you won't find anyone that will tell you that the Democrats will gain seats or even keep the seats they have. This is a midterm election. Midterm elections are always a referendum on the party in power. And that's the Democrats.

The question here is, will they lose a couple of seats? Some seats? Or will they really get wiped out? And that's where they're going.

Let's face it, the Democrats have no choice but to say, hey, look what we did. What is their pitch right now? Their pitch is things would have been a lot worse if we hadn't done what we did.

That's particularly true of the stimulus plan. I suspect Wall Street reform will be a lot more popular. But there -- the Democrats are going to lose some seats. The question is the quantity.

VELSHI: All right, let's talk about the economy. This will be the main theme of the election. This economy started to turn at the end of -- 2007 and the beginning of 2008.

Paul, it's 2 1/2 years later and the economy remains the biggest issue. How are voters? How are the people that we're polling rating the Obama administration on the economy?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Not so well, Ali. Take a look at this. This is a brand-new CNN Opinion Research Corporation National polling. We asked just that. Do you approve or disapprove of how the president is handling issue number one, the economy?

You can see right there. A solid majority disapproved of how the president is handling the issue. And take a look at this. We broke it down by party. And you can see there's a big partisan divide. Democrats, of course, support the president. Republicans, of course, do not give the president thumbs up on the economy.

Well, what about those independent voters? Those important independent voters. Only a third of them give the president a thumb's up on the economy. They went with the president and the Democrats in 2008. That helped them make big gains. If they flee this time around, the Democrats could be in big trouble -- Ali.

VELSHI: Ed, the president's approval ratings is hovering around where it's been for a while. But he's not running for office. Congress members are. How is this going to play? What do members of Congress who are running for election in November -- what do they want from the president?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they want him to raise money. They want him to get out there more in the stump. That's why we've seen some pressure in recent days from House Democrats in particular.

We think that the -- that they've cast votes for the president on the stimulus, health care, Wall Street reform, as you mentioned that has not really won a lot of Republican votes. They cast those stuff votes, the Democrats. They now want the president to get out on the road and sell it.

Top aides here are saying he's going to do more of that in the coming days but you put your finger on something which is that you see that right now, for example, health care reform was vastly unpopular a few months ago.

Paul will tell you in some of our polling, it's starting to tick up, becoming more popular as people get pushed away from sort of the scare scenarios and start looking at some of the benefits.

The White House hopes the same will happen on Wall Street reform. That they haven't gotten credit for yet. A lot of people don't understand it. They think over time it'll get better.

The problem, though, is that it may not come around quick enough to help them Congressional Democrats this November but might come around in time to help the president in 2012.

That's a big divide behind the scenes among Democrats who fear that this White House is -- may be throwing them under the bus in the short term and the president will get re-elected in 2012 as some of these big bills start reaping benefits for him down the road.

VELSHI: This is an interesting point. Candy, the president isn't running until 2012. Again, what's the long-term fallout for -- whatever happens in the midterm elections for the president? If the Democrats lose even a few seats and lose control of one or both Houses of Congress, is that good or bad for the president?

CROWLEY: Well, you could make a case in looking back at Bill Clinton's administration that it might be just fine for him. Bill Clinton midterm elections got clocked and he lost quite a few seats. But he was able to then use the Republican-controlled Congress as kind of a foil for his reelection.

Well, they won't let me do anything. And look at what they've tried to do. So you've got something to fight against, something to be compared against.

The White House will tell you that's not so, that they really want a Democratic House, they really want a Democratic Senate, and part of that, the president's second half of his first term has to have an agenda -- and it's going to be a heck of a lot easier to get that agenda through if you have Democrats.

So, you know, if you're a cynic, you say the president could have someone to play against. In the end, he'll deal with what he's got. And either way, I think he could use it to his benefit.

VELSHI: Yes, I mean, Candy, when you look at these major pieces of legislation, at least two of them -- health care reform and financial regulatory reform -- would not have passed without Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate.

There are some people who have supported the president, Republicans largely didn't on both of those things.

Let me ask Paul something.

Paul, your polling -- your polling guy. Our polling indicates that people are very dissatisfied with Congress, more so than they are with the president, but that they don't all hate their own member of Congress.

What does the polling say about incumbents and their chance for re- election?

STEINHAUSER: Yes. You know, when you ask that generic question, will you vote for the -- you know, the Democrat or the Republican in your district. Right now the Democrats are slightly behind the Republicans. Specifically, though, when they talk about your specific incumbent, usually people like their incumbent a little bit more.

Throw the bombs out of Congress overall. But your guy, he's maybe not as bad a bomb. But those numbers are lower now, Ali, than they've been in a long time going back almost to 1994 when there was a wholesale chase in Congress.

VELSHI: All right, Candy, Ed, Paul, stick around. We've got lots more to talk about. Also chances you are invested in a mutual fund. That's how most of us are invested for our retirement.

What you need to know about mutual funds, buy, sell, or hold. Right now. We're going to tell you about this when we come back.


VELSHI: I'm Ali Velshi. This is YOUR MONEY, and we're back with the best political team on television. You know all these faces, but get used to them, you're going to be seeing a ton of them over the next few months as head into midterm elections.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, who's also the host of "STATE OF THE NATION", and our CNN deputy political editor Paul -- I'm sorry, "STATE OF THE UNION". And our senior -- our deputy political editor, Paul Steinhauser.

I want to start with you, Paul. You manage our polling at CNN. We've got new polls out right now. And I want to get a sense of how enthusiastic people are about voting in the upcoming midterm elections.

What's your sense of it?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, this is a really good indicator, I think, Ali, of which way it may go in November for the battle for Congress. Take a look at this. We asked, who's more enthusiastic about voting if the elections were held right now? Republicans or Democrats?

You can see by 15 points our poll indicates Republicans are more enthusiastic. They want to get out there, they want to vote. Democrats, not nearly as much. We've seen that number pretty much stay that way all year and it could be troubling for the Democrats if the numbers stay that way in November -- Ali.

VELSHI: Ed, you're around the president all the time. I mean this -- his campaign and his election can really be characterized by excitement. What happened to all that excitement surrounding the election of President Obama and why is he not -- either by choice or not -- drumming up that kind of enthusiasm leading up to the midterm elections or is it too early to say?

HENRY: You could probably boil it down to one word. Governing. Governing is just not as much fun, not as easy as it is, as Candy will tell you, as campaigning is. When you're out there, you're a rock star, you're sort of this new brand.

Once Barack Obama was elected president, all those campaign promises -- you know, liberals wanted to cash in on various things that are not so popular in the center of the country.

I think the enthusiasm gap they're hoping here at the White House will be closed once the president gets out there more on the road, once Bill Clinton -- they're planning on deploy him, the former president -- gets out there, they think they can drum up some enthusiasm.

And they're banking on one other thing that Paul will tell you about, as well Candy. That sort of behind the big picture numbers which is that, you noted that people don't trust the president, don't have faith in the president in some of these numbers, but they have even less faith in Congress.

When you dig down deeper, they have the least faith in Republicans in Congress and the White House believe that's because Republicans haven't put up a lot of alternatives to their plans on health care or Wall Street reform.

They're trying to paint the Republicans as the party of the no and basically say you can't get something with nothing and they're hoping here n the White House that over the next three months or so they convince the American people that they've taken some touch choices, the Democrats, some tough votes.

But at least they stood up to try to reform some things, fix this economy, et cetera. We'll see if that works.

VELSHI: Candy, let's go back to election time, 2008. This time in 2008. And if people when they're running ask if constituents are better off than they were at this time in 2008.

Tough question to answer. We're certainly less fearful about the economy, but we're certainly not much more certain about it and there are more people unemployed than there were back then. Who's economy is this? If it's not fixed, does President Obama get to blame the Bush administration, the Republicans or is this wholly his problem now?

CROWLEY: It's not wholly his problem because we do see in the polling that people still believe this was started by George Bush. However, it is very difficult for this president and for these Democrats to go into an election with two big numbers -- 9.5 percent unemployment and history-making mortgage foreclosure rates.

If you take those two things together, those are the two things people really get. And if they aren't unemployed and they haven't lost their house they're scared they might be unemployed or they might lose their house.

So it's one of those -- those are two very gut-wrenching figures. And when people look at that, they said, well, but there's many more people who are employed. Yes, but they're worried about their jobs.

And so I think those are two figures that really dog the Democrats as they move into these elections, and while people may blame George Bush for the explosion, as they see it of this recession, they certainly expected the stimulus, for instance, to produce more jobs than it has so far.

VELSHI: Let me ask you this, Paul. Of the three major legislative victories for this administration -- I want to put stimulus apart because that's when the administration came in, it was a very different time.

But health care and financial regulatory reform, the response by Americans to both of those pieces of legislation are very different, according to the polls that you brought us.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, brand-new polls again, this is a national survey. When you take a look at this, we asked, do you support the increased federal regulation over the banks and the financial institutions, which is I guess the heart and soul of that brand new law?

And you can see here like six in 10 Americans do support it. There's a partisan divide there, Ali, but independents in this case are with the Democrats and in favor of the increased financial reform bill.

What about health care? Ed mentioned there has been an uptick. There has been an uptick and support on it. But if you look at our new numbers it looks like Americans are pretty much still right now divided on this.

About half of the country wants to basically repeal the law and start anew, and if you take a look at those bottom two numbers, leave it alone or make it strong, that's -- equals 50 percent, and that -- that 50 percent kind of likes it.

What do independents think? They want to repeal it, Ali. A majority do, according to our poll. VELSHI: Candy, on this show, we dig deeper on some of the issues that the network covers when it comes to money. On your show, you dig deeper into these issues on politics. What have you got on tap for "STATE OF THE UNION" this weekend?

CROWLEY: I want to tell you one of the things we want to take sort of a 50,000-foot view on is race relations. The pressure that's on the president. Obviously, this comes out of this week and the Agriculture Department and the firing and the retaking of the re-firing and that kind of stuff.

But we want to look at what it means. And, again, the pressures that are on first African-American president to, quote, "do something" about the racial divide in this country. So that's one of the things. But we're also going to be talking about the economy.

VELSHI: We're all going to be talking about the economy for a long time.

Candy, great seeing you on the show. Thank you. Candy Crowley is our chief political correspondent and the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Paul Steinhauser, CNN's deputy political editor, and Ed Henry is the senior White House correspondent for us.

We'll be talking to you all soon.

We're all talking about financial reform. It is now the law of the land. Government officials hope that they have the power to prevent another economic meltdown. Do they have the guts to do what it takes?

I'm going to talk about that when we come back.


VELSHI: You might have missed it with all the Shirley Sherrod stuff that was going on in this last week but the big news out of Washington was that financial reform is now the law of the land.

So what can you expect this massive bill to do for you today and next year and in the next three years?

Lex Harris, a good friend of mine, is a managing editor of That's where we get so much of our business intelligence from.

Lex, let's talk about this financial reform overhaul and what it is supposed to accomplish. In broad strokes, what is it supposed to do?

LEX HARRIS, MANAGING EDITORS, CNNMONEY.COM: Well, basically after the worst financial crisis since the latest, Congress got to work and said we have to head this off to pass and if something should happen again, make it less severe.

VELSHI: One of the things that everybody wanted to associate -- us to associate this bill with was this idea of putting an end to things being too big to fail. Does this reform bill actually do that?

HARRIS: Well, you know, from right out of the gate they have a lot more power than they used to have. And already you're hearing critics saying, you know, they went soft. But, you know, make no mistake, they have more power.

At the heart of it is a new something like an attack team that can go out and search out the most dangerous, biggest, ugliest messes out there. And if they see fit, can do something about it. Can actually bust them up.

VELSHI: So what a lot of people had expected out of this bill is that it would somehow minimize risk or take some of the risk out of the banking system.

I guess you can't take all of the risk out of the banking system, but what has the bill done on that front?

HARRIS: Yes. No, they really clamped down. I mean to the extent that banks throughout the -- you know, in the run-up to the crisis were making big bets on weird real estate securities that no one knew exactly what they were doing.

They limit how big the best bets can be and one of the provisions we're most hopeful for is that it brings derivatives tradings and some of the most risky things out into the open where they have to trade it in a way that everybody can see what they're doing.

VELSHI: All right, and finally, is this really effective consumer protection? What does it do?

HARRIS: It's -- you know, it's so tough to put your finger on just yet what it's going to be because it's all about getting the right person in place. So you know there's going be this new chief regulator. There's about to be a huge fight about who it's going to be.

And even some of the most basic provisions that we would think are really good is going to be -- there's going to be so much rule-making involved before we actually get to what those provisions are.

So it's going to take some time. But just the fact that there's someone looking out for consumers where there hasn't been I think is big step forward.

VELSHI: It is a big step forward. Lex is one of those guys, by the way. He's on the team. When we find out we decide how we're covering the story here at CNN, he's part of that backbone. His team at

If you follow that Web site carefully, you really will know everything you need to know about money. So go to

Lex Harris, managing editor at Another story that you'll see while you're there, by the way, Goldman Sachs paying a hefty fine to the SEC. It's the biggest fine in the SEC's history, the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But is the investment bank really paying the price for what it did or is it getting off easy? We'll check it out after this.


VELSHI: Just prior to the financial reform bill's passing Goldman Sachs settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission agreeing to pay a record $550 million fine on charges that it duped investors.

And that left many people asking, did Goldman get off easy or is that a big fine?

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor at "Rolling Stone." Gillian Tett is the U.S. managing editor for the "Financial Times."

Welcome to both of you.

Matt, before this firm was ever charged you wrote a remarkable piece on Goldman Sachs. I want to pull out a little piece from it that you wrote.

Quote -- these are your worlds -- the world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

What do you think of the settlement, Matt?

MATT TAIBBI, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, ROLLING STONE: It's too small. I mean it's the largest settlement in SEC history which is something, but let's be real. This is a tiny fraction even of what Goldman posted for profits in the first quarter of this year.

So it's -- you know, it fits in with the general pattern of Wall Street companies being fined amount that's significantly less than they made from the illegal activity and they're also always allowed to get off without any admission of criminal wrongdoing.

And that's again the case. Nobody here was dragged off in manacles and I think it was really a signal to the rest of Wall Street that they can go back to business as usual.

VELSHI: Gillian, for us non-legal minds, we tend to think that when there are fines imposed or penalties imposed, they are compensatory to make up for the money that was lost. And this -- this doesn't make up for the money that was lost, but that's a separate issue. And that there are punitive.

Is $550 million for a company that made more than that in one quarter -- does it achieve either of those goals?

GILLIAN TETT, U.S. MANAGING EDITOR, FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, unfortunately not really because to anyone outside Wall Street $550 million sounds like a big sum, but as Matt said the reality is it's a very small fraction of what they make in any one year.

And unfortunately, because they didn't actually have any admission of liability, there was no accusation in the end offered. And in many ways they have gotten off. We're going to have to watch carefully and see what happens next with private sector lawsuits. There's still a chance of litigation, but as far as Goldman is concerned the whole thing has been a pretty good trade, to use Wall Street jargon.

VELSHI: Matt, let's me ask you about this. Let's talk about back in, you know, 2000, 2001 when there was that whole other spate of corporate rotting doing at WorldCom and Enron and places like that.

You saw the perp walk. That was important. They didn't have fines like this back then, but you saw somebody being arrested. You saw court cases and things like this.

Now this is -- we're not seeing that virtually anywhere in this financial crisis. There have been a couple of people who've been charged with criminal offenses and other companies, but largely this has escaped the law.

TAIBBI: Yes, I mean obviously that's a major factor here. I mean Ambrose Bierce once said that a corporation is an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility and that's exactly the factor here.

I mean these guys are doing these things and then if the only punishment is that their company's account is going to get debited there's really no deterrent here. If you want this kind of activity to end what you have to do is start throwing these guys in jail and then showing them on TV, getting shanked in the yard of Attica.

That's going to be what's going to stop this stuff. Until we see then, we're really going to continue to see this sort of fraud.

VELSHI: Now in fairness, Matt, we haven't had a trial that has found anybody guilty of anything.

I want to ask you, though, Gillian, let's talk about this financial reform bill, which by the way would have been the biggest in the news this week if not for a diversion of Shirley Sherrod getting fired and that's what everybody in Washington was concentrated on.

This financial regulatory reform bill, good for banks and Wall Street, bad for banks in Wall Street? Which one?

TETT: Well, it's a bit of a mixed picture to be honest. I mean the banks have learned enough in the last few months to know that they shouldn't come out and say this is terrible, terrible, we're not going to cooperate. I mean they're trying to put the best spin on it.

There are some battles they've won. There are some battles they've lost. But the really important thing to understand is that the fight isn't over yet because although we have the reform bill, they've got to translate that into rules in the coming months. And right now you've got a lot of lobbyists gearing up to try and get involved in that rule making process because in the sense it's moving hands out of the politicians into the hands of the regulators in the coming months.

And the devil really is going be in the detail of how those rules are actually written and what that means to the banks.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: And do your point about lobbyist, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, there are about a thousand lobbyists involved in this whole thing at various points and about $600 million has been spent lobbying this bill.

Now Matt, that sort of figure would seem to be quite offensive. I mean, in reality some of these lobbyists make the case that they are there for a reason and they help and that they're the liaison between the community that's affected by this and Wall Street.

But Gillian has a good point. These are broad strokes that are in this legislation. It remains to be seen whether this is going to change anything on the ground. Do you think it will?

MATT TAIBBI, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, ROLLING STONE: Well, look, there are some good things in this bill. Because of this bill, there's going to be an audit of the fed for the first time I think ever.

There are going to be changes in the lending standards for mortgages. There's going to be a creation of this new Consumer Financial Protection agency to help prevent predatory lending. There's good stuff in the bill. There's no denying that.

But the big ticket items, the stuff that would really have stopped the crisis that last time around, the stuff that would have addressed the fraud, too big to fail, derivatives, almost all of those measures were either rejected outright or watered down to almost near meaninglessness.

I think Wall Street feels they dodged a bullet with this bill. They're going to complain a lot and say that it's an onerous new spade of regulations, but I think in reality they've got to be very pleased that they didn't get off with much worst with this bill.

VELSHI: Gillian, let me ask you this. If you go back to 2007 and 2008, are there provisions at the moment in this bill that would prevent the financial crisis that we went through from happening again?

TETT: Well, we still have to see exactly where financial reform is going to end up and that's quite an important thing to realize because until we've actually seen how the rules are written - remember it's a 2,300 page bill.

I mean, it's incredibly complex. We don't really know how things look. Unfortunately, many of the products that were at the center of the financial crisis or these complex bundled or mortgage backed securities, they are covered because they would be forced onto any public changes. And as Matt said there's going to be lot of opportunity for banks to run rings around the rules if they want. However, what the bill does do is give the regulators power to climb down going forward and the Central Bank as well if it wants -- if it's willing to use power.

But as I said that's still an awful lot to play for. There's still a lot of work for lobbyists to be very busy within the coming months.

VELSHI: And as I discussed with Lex Harris from earlier, whether they are willing to use the powers is yet to be seen. Gillian, great to see you again. Matt Taibbi.

Gillian is U.S. managing editor for the "Financial Times." Matt Taibbi, contributing editor of "Rolling Stone." Thanks very much. We'll check in with you two again as this goes forward to see how those rules are actually shaping up.

Chances are you are invested in a mutual fund. That's the way most Americans who do invest for retirement actually do it. So what do you need to know about your mutual funds right now? Do you sell them? Do you buy more? Do you stay away from it, or do you do nothing? I'll tell you about when we come back.


VELSHI: Mutual fund investors are watching this market with one key question. Where are we headed? And when I say mutual fund investors, we're talking about you because most Americans who invest for retirement generally speaking use mutual funds.

They're safer. They're easier to manage than investing in individual stocks. Now, the fear of another recession looms. Doesn't mean everyone thinks it's going to happen or that doesn't necessarily mean that the stock market is without opportunities. If you know how to take advantage of them and you know how to look.

My old friend Christine Benz is back. She's the director of Personal Finance at "Morning Star" and she's the author of the "30-Minute Money Solutions."

Christine for viewers primarily focused on mutual funds? What do you think? Is this a time of opportunity or is it too dangerous to be invested?

CHRISTINE BENZ, AUTHOR, "30-MINUTE MONEY SOLUTIONS": Well, I would say it's a time of opportunity, Ali, but you really do need to have that stock bond, cash blueprint that you plotted out.

So you need to be in the rate allocation before you can go ahead and pick securities, but I do think that there are some potential opportunities.

VELSHI: And that is not hard to find out what your allocation should be. You can do that by talking to an adviser. You can do that by reading your book or mine. You can go on to web sites. You answer a number of questions and roughly you can get some sense of how much should be in stocks, how much should be in bonds, how much should be in cash, but you can achieve all of that, depending what your pie chart shows, you can achieve that through your mutual funds.

BENZ: You can. So that's the starting point and then, you know, you need to go out there and do your homework. But I do think it's an interesting time in that high quality stocks so to the extent that you want stocks in your portfolio, quality appears to be relatively cheap, certainly according to our stock analyst team so that's somewhat reassuring.

VELSHI: All right, if we don't grow ourselves out of this place that we're at well enough. If we don't grow fast enough or some people talk about a double dip recession mainly because of what's going in Europe.

In other words, if we're not going gang busters on the economy, what sectors are most likely to profit or at least hold out either during a downturn or rough year?

BENZ: So once you get outside of bonds within the stock universe, you'd look to companies that can sell their wares no matter what is going on.

So people are going to buy toilet paper. People are going to take their medicine regardless of what's happening with the broad economy.

So you want to look at sectors like consumer staples, Procter & Gamble, companies like that as well as some of the health care companies. Those will tend to be relatively recession-resistant.

VELSHI: Because people are getting older and they're consuming health care and we've got a bill now that means more people are going to have to consume health care. So they're going to keep selling what they make.

BENZ: Right. So that's a relatively stable area. At the other end of the spectrum, would be some of the industrial companies, some of the financials who would tend to be much more sensitive to what's going on in the economy. So want to down play them if you were looking to be active.

VELSHI: So you can buy your mutual fund based on an industry or you can base it on geography or whatever the case is. But regardless of that, just because you think maybe China is going to do well.

You don't want to just get into any mutual fund, there are specific things that Morningstar allows you to do with respect to mutual funds. What should an average person when buying a mutual fund other than knowing what's in the mutual fund, what should we be looking at and evaluating.

BENZ: So you want to look at strategy and think about how if it's an active manager, how it's picking stocks or if it's an index fund or an exchange traded fund, what sort of method it's using to assemble the index that it's tracking.

So strategy is key. You also want to focus on expenses and Ali, we harp on this a lot, but we crunch the numbers all day long at Morningstar looking for those data points that will help you predict good or band fund performers.

And the more we do this, the more the data lineup behind expenses being a highly predictive factor. So costs are absolutely key when shopping for funds.

VELSHI: Christine, good to see you. Christine Benz is director of personal finance at Morningstar. She's also the author of "30-Minute Money Solutions." Great to see you. We'll continue our conversations with you on an ongoing basis so our viewers can know exactly where they can put their money.

Coming up next, why that next bottle of soda could deliver an extra pop to your wallet depending on where you live.


VELSHI: Let's go beyond the headlines a little bit. Back with us is Matt Taibbi, contributing editor of "Rolling stone" and joining the conversation, Nationally Syndicated radio talk show host Stephen A. Smith.

Gentlemen, welcome. Thank you for being with us. The NCAA once again cracking down on the influence of money in the college game. A number of universities are under fire. Player agents once again at the center of the storm.

It is against the rules for these players and their families to receive cash and gifts, but should it be. Steven, why can't basketball players get paid for their skills the same way coaches and other school officials are? What's behind this?

STEPHEN A. SMITH, FORMER ESPN ANCHOR AND RADIO ANALYST: Well, they're going to talk about the lack of equity in the system, Ali. They're going to say is that you know you can't pay all student athletes.

Yes, there's a lot of money coming in and, yes, there are multi -- hundreds of millions of dollars or multibillion dollars or television contracts to take into consideration, but they're going to tell you that you know there's Title 9.

The ladies that play college sports, they would need to be paid. Other non--revenue generating sports. The athletes who are participating in those sports, they need to get paid.

And there's but so much to go around, they're going to talk about the sanctity of amateurism as if that really exists in this. All that phony baloney nonsense, they're going to throw into the equation.

But the reality of the situation is in my personal opinion they want to keep the money for themselves. I'm not saying the players deserve a salary, but a stipend of some sort where you consider the money, the billions of dollars that are being generated in college sports.

The fact that these kinds aren't receiving some kind of financial benefit while the coaches themselves, the administrators and the institutions are all getting paid and getting paid lovely, I think it's an absolute disgrace.

VELSHI: Matt, you got a view on this?

TAIBBI: Yes, I totally agree. It's a scam that allows universities to basically make millions and millions of dollars off the unpaid labor of poor kids and primarily poor minority kids.

And you know, these -- a lot of these kids -- they don't get a real education most of the time because they spend, you know, nine or 10 hours a day in some cases for the football programs working on football.

So you get a scholarship, theoretically you get a free education, but the reality is most of these kids who play Division One sports don't end up with the real education by the time they leave.

VELSHI: But, Stephen, do they get a chance at making big money if they go pro, you know, afterwards?

SMITH: Well, a lot of times they do, but sometimes they don't. By and large, most athletes who participate in college athletics, Ali, are not going to make it to the next level. They're just not going do that.

The elite of the crew usually make it and of course, there are a few people that end up, you know, making it to the next level. Sometimes there are a few scrubs. Just look at the NBA. There are a few scrubs in the NBA. We don't have to mention their names, but a lot of people who know the game of basketball know that exist.

But the reality is, by and large, the people who make it to next level can really perform at a high level and that's why they make it. The rest of the people are the ones they get left by the wayside.

And I think what it ultimately comes down to, Ali, again is this is, you have the institutions sitting around are saying we give you a full ride. We give you scholarship and that should be enough.

The thing about it is it may have been enough at one point in time, but clearly as the institutions will show and prove, it wasn't enough for them to continue to go out and collect more money for themselves.

So why can't that be spread down to the athletes themselves? It just seems to make sense and it seems to be fair.

VELSHI: Let's talk about something else. Soda, I drink a lot of it. Pop, whatever you want to call it. I'm trying to defeat my effort to, you know, get to 300 pounds as quickly as possible so I've been drinking the kind that doesn't have sugar in it, but it taste great.

And with states that are struggling to slash their budgets, taxing sugary sodas has become a major target. I've got a map that actually you can see where some states are actually considering or increasing taxes on sodas.

You can see why they're seeing green on this one. Soda is big business, $18.7 billion in sales over the past year. Now soda tax may push some consumers to lower calorie options. I'm not sure it will. It may help states to fill their budget gaps, but, Matt, if I want my sugar fix is this somewhere the government should be involved?

I guess my bigger question is if you're going to be involved in taking money out of my bad eating or drinking habits, are we narrowing the field too much by just targeting sodas when, in fact, there are many ways I can get fat and unhealthy?

TAIBBI: Look, I'm not in general against the idea of sin taxes. I think it's appropriate in some cases, you know, cigarettes, gasoline.

But the thing that really weird about soda taxes is that the federal government spends about $4 billion a year on corn subsidies and a lot of that goes to high fructose corn syrup, which goes to sodas.

So the government is actually subsidizing the creation of soda and then it's going to tax us for drinking soda at the same time. If they wanted to just even it out, they could just eliminate the corn soda and get the tax money that way. It seems to me that that would be the better solution here.

VELSHI: What do you think, Stephen?

SMITH: Well, I think that Matt is absolutely right, but I think he also has to recognize that that's the government being hypocritical on why should we be surprised by that at all.

I mean, that's really what this comes to. Any time I hear the word tax I get scared because obviously I think that's a disincentive for people to (inaudible). I think it's an incentive for people to lay folks off because you're not generating the level of revenue that you once generated.

And so I'm looking in it from a negative standpoint in that regard as saying maybe this is not such a good idea, but I'm seeing a lot of people walking around incredibly unhealthy, you know, the obesity rate.

We don't have time to get into that. All of those things considered since we are on a mission to have a healthier society, I don't have too much of a problem with it because it's a choice. It's not you necessarily saying I'm going to take your money and tax it. They're saying I'll do so if you continue bad drinking and eating habits.

VELSHI: And you know, Matt, what's interesting is that many of the companies who are making sodas have sort of seen the call for healthier stuff and they've started making healthier options so at least, maybe there's a bit of societal shift that way, who knows.

Stay with me guys. One U.S. car company is doing something no car company has even done at least in a big way before. You can be part of it without even buying a car. I'm going to tell you about it when we come back.

But first in this week's turn around, Allan Chernoff brings us the story of a nonprofit touring company in New York City facing its biggest cash crunch in 18 years.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you happen to be staying in the center of the world --

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (Johanna Lovalvo) and her husband, Joe, are trying to change the way people see New York City.

Today's agenda, showing the Canadian couple the Brooklyn Bridge and downtown Manhattan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This city is constantly changing.

CHERNOFF: The (Lovalvos) are volunteers for Big Apple Greeters, a program that matches locals with out-of-towners for an insider's peek at the city.

The program is thriving but its finances are not. Lynne Brooks founded the company 18 years ago to combat the city's negative image. She says times have never been tougher.

LYNN BROOKS, FOUNDER, BIG APPLE GREETERS: The recession really has put us at a critical juncture of perhaps going out of business. We are now trying to raise $300,000 by September.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): If the money does not come through, what happens to the Greeters program?

BROOKS: Well, if the money doesn't come through, ultimately we go out of business.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Big Apple Greeter has been slashing costs, chopping salaries, printing on both sides of paper, mailing postcards instead of letters and asking visitors for donations before they tour with their greeter. Big Apple Greeter is barely scraping by, but there's still hope.

ALICIA PIERRO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BIG APPLE GREETERS: We're working really hard on all fronts to find that angel who might be interested in keeping this program alive.

CHERNOFF: For Joanna, the real value of Big Apple Greeters is something that can't be measured.

JOHANNA LOVALVO, BIG APPLE GREETER: These people are going back to Canada and they're going to tell all of their friends and neighbor, you're going to New York, weren't you afraid? And they're going to go back and say, there's nothing to be afraid of. CHERNOFF: For Canadians, (Margy and Frank Slater), their trip to New York yielded more than postcards and photo ops.

MARGY SLATER, TOURIST: I don't think we couldn't experience this with a guide book. I feel like we made two new friends.

CHERNOFF: Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.



VELSHI: I want to continue my conversation with Stephen A. Smith. He's a radio talk show host. Matt Taibbi of "Rolling Stone." Facebook, which I use a lot and you can follow me by the way at the official Ali Velshi Facebook page, announced this week it has hit the 500 million mark.

Five hundred million users, which makes it a very valuable place for companies with hundreds of millions of eyes on that screen, one major American company, Ford, has chosen Facebook as the place to launch its campaign for its brand-new 2011 Ford Explorer instead of an auto show unveiling.

Is this a turning point for social networking in major corporations? I want to talk to the guys about that. I should tell you though Ford is not what you think of as the mess of American auto companies.

This company just turned in a $2.7 billion profit in the last quarter. That's s a quarter. That's three months. That's the best results in six years. It's the fourth straight quarterly profit for Ford, and they're coming out a with hybrid, the Lincoln MKZ this fall.

For the first time, a hybrid is going to cost exactly the same as a non-hybrid version so Ford is an interesting forward-thinking company anyway.

But let's start with you, Matt, you know, are we at the point where social media is a game-changer for the way companies sell and market or are we not quite there yet?

TAIBBI: First of all, I got to ask. Is Ford an advertiser on this channel?

VELSHI: No, I'm a big, big fan -- you know, I'm a big fan of that company because when everything else is going south, this was the company that didn't take public money and managed to actually do the right thing. We blame those companies that took the public money and squandered the public trust and this is one that didn't.

TAIBBI: I mean, clearly, social networking sites and all of this new media that this is the future for everybody, which is bad news for people like me because print media is going to be dead within three years. So, you know for me, this is bad news, but clearly, I think this is where everything is going.

VELSHI: Stephen, what do you think?

SMITH: Well, first of all, he's engaging in some hyperbole. Matt Taibbi is one of the best in the business. He's fabulous. He's going to be all right no matter what. That's number one.

Number two and more importantly, you've got to give respect to Ford where respect is due, $2.7 billion in profits in one quarter and obviously, they didn't take any government money. They weren't a part of the bailouts.

The reality is that they give you some inclination that they know what they're doing. It doesn't seem like this is the greatest idea in the world. On face value, certainly you're going to get eyes looking at it, but as somebody who's purchased a car in the past, I want to see it in person, I want to sit in it --

VELSHI: Well, go back --

SMITH: I just want to see those things. Seeing it online, on Facebook usually isn't going to do the trick for me.

VELSHI: They started selling cars on the internet a few years back and that didn't really work. But what it did, it allowed everybody to find out what the price are of those cars to compare them on the internet.

And ultimately everybody who bought a car still went to the dealer, but the change there, the game-changer was eBay. There are people I know who have spent tens of thousands of dollars sight unseen on eBay.

SMITH: Yes, but you got to understand that's because usually when you go to eBay, you're looking for a deal. This is them advertising their new car. Come look at our new car. Pay this exorbitant price that we're going to charge you for it.

That's entirely different in eBay. When you're going on eBay, you're looking for a big-time bargain. I just got an Explorer the other day for my girl and let me tell you something right now, it was considerably cheaper because I spotted it on eBay. That had a lot to do with it, Ali. You have to look for the bargains.

VELSHI: That's a good point. Matt, I always think about this around Christmas time when I see these stores trying to do something to get on to social media.

I definitely had the impression until now that social media is a great place to target and market to people, but we're not shopping through it just yet.

TAIBBI: No, but that's coming. I mean, clearly I think it's not a coincidence that some of the largest internet companies have plunged enormous amounts of money in social networking businesses and they were not making money for anybody for a long time.

But it will. They're gathering. It's not just a way to reach eyes and ears. It's a way to gather an enormous amount of information about the people using those sites.

VELSHI: And as reporters, we gather information from it too. Guys, what a pleasure to talk to both of you. Mike Taibbi, contributing editor at "Rolling Stones" and Stephen A. Smith, radio talk show host.

That wraps it up for this show, but you can join our running conversation, ironically, on Facebook or on Twitter at alivelshi. Christine can be followed at christineromans.

Make sure you join us every week for YOUR MONEY Saturdays at 1 p.m. Eastern, Sundays at 3 p.m. Eastern. You can also logon 24/7 to Have yourselves a great weekend.