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Obama Speech Fails to Create Bounce in Markets; Flight 1951 Passengers Heard Nothing Out of the Ordinary; Media Quiz Press Secretary on Obama Speech; Stevie Wonder Talks About Obama Support

Aired February 25, 2009 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Tony, thanks so much.

Pushing forward, fast forward, out of the abyss and then some. Recovery is not enough, says President Obama. It's time to remake America. We're pushing for your ideas.

And a deadly airline crash, Istanbul to Amsterdam, to sudden disaster.

Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips, live from the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

OK, the president has thrown down the recovery gauntlet. We're going to find out what's next.




PHILLIPS: Well, we're also going to be talking with a living legend who's about to become even more legendary tonight at the White House.

And later, a company lays off 3,000 people, but magically, its top brass gets bigger paychecks. Who's doing the math at that place?

But first, pushing past American's day of reckoning. A day after President Obama outlines America's short-term crisis and long-term causes, it's up to his press secretary to fill in some of the blanks. Recession, recovery and long-term reform are all fair game when Robert Gibbs steps into the White House briefing room any minute now. And while we wait, we're going to go ahead and bring in White House correspondent Dan Lothian.

Hi, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, how are you doing?

PHILLIPS: All right. Tell us what we can expect in the next couple of minutes. I'm assuming lots of questions Robert Gibbs will be peppered with regard to last night's speech.

LOTHIAN: That's right. And what you'll hear from the White House is that they believe that the president was on message, that he was able to lay out for the American people this balance that everyone's been talking about, where he has been explaining the dire situation that the country is in, economically, but also has been laying out sort of this clear path for recovery.

But one of the things that no doubt he'll be asked about today is some of the criticism that we've heard from Republicans and pundits, is that the president really laid out a very broad agenda. He talked about health care reform. He talked about education reform. He also touched on energy, as well, last night. But the big question is where are the details? They want to know more details about this.

And also one person -- I think it was Senator John McCain -- was talking about when you do the math, it's very hard to understand how the United States will be able to pay for this ambitious agenda. So no doubt that will be one of the questions, as well.

And also, you know, as you noticed last night, the president, while he touched on, you know, the economy, he was very light on foreign policy. Touching a little bit on Iraq, touching only slightly on Afghanistan. And that's interesting, because Afghanistan is sort of what the president has been pointing out is the next front in the war on terror. He's sending in 17,000 ground troops there, as well. Yet, he only touched on it for a very few seconds. So no doubt, that's one of the things what Robert Gibbs will be asked about here today.

PHILLIPS: All right, Dan. We await your questions, and also Robert Gibbs. We'll go back to you live as soon as that happens. Thanks so much.

Now lawmakers' hands are no doubt sore today from clapping. Republican hands, too, but they want to see the numbers behind the president's words.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It was an excellent speech. I think the president laid out the challenges that we face and yet gave in his speech Americans a sense of strength and optimism that we will get through this, and we will get through it.

I'm still having trouble doing the math here. We said he's against earmarks and, yet, on the floor tomorrow or the next day of the Senate will be a bill with 9,427 pork barrel items; $2 million to promote astronomy in Hawaii. I mean, spending has gone completely nuts here.


PHILLIPS: Well, McCain is referring to a catch-all spending bill for the current fiscal year, not the budget blueprint that President Obama plans to send up later this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID KRONMILLER, IREPORTER: I really wish other people in that Congress, those who maybe were sitting down when other people were applauding, would remember that there are people in this country who are hurting and who need hope and inspiration, not just as rhetoric, but as -- in actuality. They need it in the form of unemployment insurance. They need it in the form of new jobs being created. They need it in the form of tax cuts. And he talked about all those things tonight.


PHILLIPS: IReporters' insights on the economy and the president's plans to transform it. Our Josh Levs will bring us a lot more cyber reaction later this hour.

We also want to hear your questions. E-mail us: Gerri Willis joins us later this hour with answers.

Two words no one wants to hear during the recession: mass layoffs. Companies took an ax to the payrolls last month, with more than 2,200 job cuts of 50 or more employees. That's up almost 50 percent from the same time a year ago.

In all, more than 235,000 people lost their jobs in January's mass layoffs.

And today it continues. Job cuts at Dow Corning, Neiman Marcus and Nortel Networks. But President Obama says that he plans to create jobs as well. How is Wall Street reacting to last night's speech?

Susan Lisovicz at the New York Stock Exchange with all the details, and of course, checking the markets for us.

Hi, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kyra. Well, we had the Bernanke bounce, but we're not seeing anything off of the Obama speech. You know, the speech was a lot less detailed than something like the testimony that the Federal Reserve chairman gives. And so, you know, there -- there should be a difference in expectations.

Having said that, you're talking about jobs. The chief economist at the S&P -- Standard & Poor's, I should say -- to expect another round of mass layoffs this summer. Remember, the first half of the year is expected to be, certainly, among the worst that we're going to be in this recession.

The conference board says that the economy could lose 2 million more jobs this year. That's on top of the 2.6 million jobs lost last year.

The chairman of the Federal Reserve, back on Capitol Hill today, saying that the U.S. financial system came very close to a meltdown in the fall and that the government may end up with a bigger ownership stake in some banks, specifically Citigroup, but he repeated his assertion that the government is not looking to nationalize them.

Citigroup shares are back down, and Bank of America is under pressure, too. And so is the overall market, the Dow, the NASDAQ and the S&P each down about 2 percent after recouping nearly all of Monday's losses, Kyra. The kind of environment we're in these days.

PHILLIPS: OK. We'll keep talking with you for the next couple of hours, monitoring the markets. Thanks, Susan.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

PHILLIPS: To the Netherlands now and the crash of a Turkish airlines plane in Amsterdam. Nine people were killed today, more than 50 injured when the Boeing 737 slammed into a muddy field and broke into three pieces while trying to land.

Flight 1951 originated in Istanbul and was carrying 134 people. Officials says that the fact that the plane landed on a soft surface and there was no fire helped kept that number of fatalities low.

We're going to take you live to the crash scene a little bit later in this newscast.

One group of people in this country, dying at a faster rate than others. A minority report you can't afford to ignore.


PHILLIPS: Straight to Robert Gibbs and the White House briefing.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I was in the -- I was actually in the -- it's good to know that Mark reached the guy and the advisories. Yes, I can tell.


GIBBS: Thirty-six, 37? I don't know.

QUESTION: Thirty-eight.

GIBBS: I'm assuming you got a few minutes, but how is everyone? Good? I'm great. I've got -- were we expecting something big?

QUESTION: Something about Friday?

GIBBS: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Pakistani foreign minister told the A.P. in an interview that he asked General Jones for Predators and that Pakistan wants to take control of the borders in its country. Can you talk about that? Can you say whether that's something that the U.S. would be willing to do?

GIBBS: I'm not going to talk about...

QUESTION: I'm not asking about strikes. I'm talking about a request about strikes.

GIBBS: It seems that the overall architecture of said strikes, that I will honor the long-held tradition of not talking publicly about that.

QUESTION: On Iraq, then, can you talk about the president's thinking in terms of the different plans, why he appears to be moving toward this middle road? (INAUDIBLE) withdrawal options?

GIBBS: Well, let me -- let me say, I think you've been told and others have been told on the record that the president has not made a final decision about our force structure in Iraq going forward.

I don't think it would be a surprise to anybody, though, in this room to know that the president since his first full day in office has been working toward a solution that would responsibly draw down our troops in Iraq, give more responsibility for governing and security to the Iraq people, and to do so in a way that protects our brave men and women in uniform.

So, I don't want to get ahead of a decision that the president has yet to finally make.

QUESTION: In this process, in thinking about how could he -- what would be the thinking behind considering anything other than 16 months?

GIBBS: Well, again, I don't want to -- I don't want anything that I say to sort of predetermine or prejudge a decision that, as I said, the president hasn't finally made.

But I think throughout this process, the president and his national security team have outlined a process in reviewing, as he said last night, our commitments in both Iraq and Afghanistan; to do so in a methodical way and, as Secretary Gates said, to hear from all of the people that are involved in those commitments and in those -- in that decision-making process.

The president did that in making a decision to increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, based on the security, the short-term security situation there that he thought was increasingly dangerous. The president continues to work through that process as it relates to, as he said last night, an announcement that we presume will be very soon on Iraq.


GIBBS: We are not going anywhere on Thursday. I anticipate the president to make a decision very soon, and I anticipate that very soon I will have an announcement about a decision he'll make very soon. All right? Yes, sir.

QUESTION: The president said in the (INAUDIBLE) last night that more money might be needed to stem the banking crisis. Is there any sense of how much more might be needed, when the president might be asking for that money, or is he holding off because he sees it as being a politically unpopular move?

GIBBS: Well, I don't know what the audience share last night was, but he obviously (INAUDIBLE) in a speech viewed by many. Let me sort of address this in a couple of different ways.

The president has always talked about ensuring that we must do whatever is necessary to stabilize our financial system. That was the charge that he was given in this election and he and his economic team have undertaken each day.

The president also will deliver to Congress an outline of a budget plan tomorrow. And one of the important principles that's contained in this budget document is a transparent and honest budgeting and an end to some of the Enron accounting that we've seen over the past few years that didn't take into account commitments in Afghanistan or Iraq in the regular budgeting process, didn't account for the possibility of national disaster, often didn't account for year-to-year cuts in things like the AMT.

So the president, the president underscoring that he'll do whatever is necessary, also believes that a budget document that he sends to Congress should be honest about the full range of possibilities that might or could be necessary down the line to stabilize our financial system.

QUESTION: Do you expect the budget proposed tomorrow to actually contain a request...

GIBBS: I think the president will uphold his commitment to honest and transparent budgeting tomorrow.

LOTHIAN: Last night, obviously, the focus was the economy, and the president touched lightly on Iraq and Afghanistan, only a few seconds on Afghanistan. He's committed 17,000 additional troops to that region. Was it a mistake not to spend more time, giving a little bit more focus to Afghanistan, since this is a critical new front in the war on terror?

GIBBS: No, I don't -- look, I think the president has spoken on a number of occasions throughout an almost two-year long campaign, the transition and even, as president of the United States, about the tremendous danger in that region of the world, that the administration has undertaken a review of our policy as it relates towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to ensure, as the president says, that there are terrorists plotting attacks on American soil and safe havens in Afghanistan as we speak.

I think the president's focus last night was primarily on the economic challenges that we face as a nation, the path that he sees the administration and the country taking to get out of and get past many of those challenges, to seek brighter days ahead.

I don't think it was a mistake for him. I think the president has spoken clearly and on many occasions about our challenges in that region of the world. LOTHIAN: In regards to the economy, when will we hear more details? He was giving a lot of broader themes last night. When will he sort of fill in the blanks?

GIBBS: I think you'll see stuff -- you've already seen some information from treasury. You'll likely see more today as it relates to the health evaluations of banks so that we can appropriately diagnose what might be needed to stabilize the financial system and many of the banks that may have bad assets or capital needs.

But I think the reaction from the speech last night, from the American people, was them seeing a strong and determined leader who laid out an economic vision to get this country back on a path towards sustained economic growth. And I think the reviews were -- demonstrated that they shared confidence in that pathway forward.

HELEN THOMAS, HEARST NEWSPAPERS COLUMNIST: Has the president learned any lessons from the past? What makes you say he can prevail in Afghanistan after the Russians, the British, Alexander the Great could not?

GIBBS: Good question. You had me -- I had you up until you said Alexander the Great. (AUDIO GAP) Alexander the Great. Look, I -- right, unfortunately, it's not. No, I'm kidding.

The president, again, the administration is undergoing a review as it relates to our policy there. The president's decision in the interim to send additional forces in the spring and the summer related to a sharp deterioration that we've all seen in the security situation, that General McKiernan had long requested additional troops.

THOMAS: Why are we there?

GIBBS: Why are we there? Because that's the part of our planet that is exceedingly dangerous and saw it on September 11, the root cause of attacks that resulted in the death of more than 3,000 Americans, the deadliest attack on American soil. The president's, I think, stated clearly and forcefully last evening...

THOMAS: The Afghans on 9/11?

GIBBS: I know whether their citizenship were. I know where they were when they planned the attacks. I think the American people do, too. But the president said clearly and forcefully last night that, under his watch, we're not going to have safe havens in the country of Afghanistan that are planning the next series of attacks on our citizens.

Yes, John (ph)?

QUESTION: The president laid out a very ambitious plan when it came to energy, health care and education. I know he alluded to things that are in the budget and talked about requesting a legislation on cap and trades. But could you lay out, just in a little bit more detail, how this is all going to play out, what the president wants to see Congress bring up, and how he's going to try to get this agenda through Congress over the next few months or years?

GIBBS: Well, there's also, I think, a meeting here this afternoon with Democratic congressional leaders to talk about the focus of the next work period in Congress. Obviously, I think a big load of that will be the budget outline that the president will send up to Capitol Hill in the next 24 hours or so, that begins to invest in those things that you mentioned: in affordable health care, in lessening our dependence on foreign oil and reforming our educational system so that our children can compete in the 21st century.

I think each has different components, and each has different wants and needs from legislators on Capitol Hill. Obviously, I think the president alluded to the fact that health care -- he was under no illusions that it would be difficult and, obviously, it will go through many committees on Capitol Hill. But he understands the only way to do that is to bring together stake holders on both sides of the aisle: business and labor, doctors, providers. That process will begin next week, here, to discuss health-care reform.

I know there are different proposals on Capitol Hill regarding energy legislation, including cap and trade. And there will be elements, both in the budget and forthcoming after the budget, in terms of legislation, to deal with some reforms in our public education system.

I would point out, as the president did last night, we made important down payments on each of those investments in the recovery and reinvestment plan, whether it was through medical technology that will reduce errors and result in better quality of outcomes in our health care; an investment in doubling our renewable energy output in three years; as well as a commitment to build and refurbish schools that will result in the 21st century classrooms that our children so richly deserve.

QUESTION: If you could briefly follow up, does the president anticipate shuffling money around under each of these headlines, in terms of education, not spending more money on education, but spending it differently? Or is there going to be a definite -- additional hundreds of billions of dollars?

GIBBS: Well, we'll have more details on the budget soon, which we'll give you the short answer on that. Obviously again, I would point out some of that -- some of those investments have come through the recovery and reinvestment plan that will create that foundation for economic growth. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: I don't have the text with me, so I'm paraphrasing, but he talked about health care not going to wait -- not going to waste another year or not going to delay it another year. Was he setting a deadline for when he wants to have health-care reform passed? Is that going to be...

GIBBS: No, I don't think -- I don't think it's -- I don't think we set any artificial deadlines. Obviously, I think the president mentioned that, with the work of Congress and the administration, we have done more in the last few weeks than has been done in probably the last ten years to ensure both affordable health care through, as I just mentioned to Jake, the investments in medical technology, as well as a commitment to ensure that every child in America has access to health care, through an expansion of the children's health insurance program that's run through the states that's been wildly successful.

PHILLIPS: Robert Gibbs holding the White House briefing there. Dan Lothian is inside. We'll continue to track it and let you know what comes about.

Meanwhile straight ahead, he's a headliner in President Obama's iPod. Stevie Wonder, the toast of the White House tonight, but first, he's in the NEWSROOM, live.



MANNY DORADO, IREPORTER: Let me just say that speech was amazing. It was something we didn't even hear on the campaign trail. It was a different Obama, and I think what made it different was that he was -- stood up there with so much hope and looked us right in the eye and said, "Do not be afraid."


PHILLIPS: Well, iReporters and Facebookers have plenty to say about the president's plan to move the economy and the country forward. Our Josh Levs has put together some of the greatest hits for us.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They're keeping us busy today. People have a lot to say today. I guess it's not shocking. Right? They've been facing -- you have been Facebooking us like crazy, sending us lots and lots of iReports. You saw a clip from one. Overwhelmingly positive responses to the president's speech last night.

Let's take a look at one.


ZENNIE ABRAHAM, IREPORTER: Unlike any other leader, American leader, of our generation, he has the unique ability to read the pulse of the American public and tap into it and create policy and energy to change the country in a way that people desire.


LEVS: OK, but not everyone has been saying those exact kinds of things, but again, overwhelmingly, we're hearing a lot of positive things today.

Let's zoom in on the board. We've been having a discussion all day long on my Facebook page. This will come from Devaughn, who said, "To quote a song my wife sang after the president's speech, I got chills. They're multiplying." Let's check out this. Tim Guy wrote this. He said, "Obama is a great orator. His speeches are always inspirational and uplifting. I'd like to stress, however, that being charismatic isn't a solution to anything. The bailout is flawed and goes against every free market principle that this country was once proud of."

Let's click over to one more here. This one says -- a little bit critical of President Obama. This comes from Bob: "Anyone that gives the same speech over 1,000 times is bound to get it perfect eventually. Where are the details? Where are the numbers?"

And we have time for one more. Daniel says, "So this is the change he was talking about, from capitalism to socialism."

So there is some criticism coming in here on Facebook. Like we saw with those iReports, Kyra, a lot of people very happy with the speech overall.

PHILLIPS: OK. Well, something that we've been talking about, a lot of people talking about the Republican response to the speech, you know, Governor Jindal from Louisiana...

LEVS: Right.

PHILLIPS: ... someone who is normally very, very well spoken, but it seemed that something was going on there with his response. Don't know if he's ever read from a teleprompter before, if he was nervous.

LEVS: Yes.

PHILLIPS: It created a lot of chat.

LEVS: It did. It created a lot of chat. Not too many people speaking very highly there. Let's take a look at an iReporter who had some suggestions for the GOP.


SIE DOZIER, IREPORTER: I think the Republican Party will be best served sticking with their all-stars, the John Boehners and the Mitch McConnells, things like that. They, to me, better effectively communicate their party's ideals and communicate their positions and standpoints to their base more effectively than this new Bobby Jindal character.


LEVS: I'll tell you, Kyra, I got a lot of responses today from people saying he was trying to come across like Mr. Rogers, or that compared to the previous speech, it seemed like a joke. But, I did manage to find this. I want to zoom back in on the board at the Facebook page. This is interesting.

This comes to us from Forest, who wrote this: "Governor Jindal, good points also. Admirable to not blame the past on anyone else. Fiscally more responsible. Not nearly as good of a speaker."

One thing I like about Facebook, the conversation keeps going, so you can weigh in right now to my page, Josh Levs CNN. Let us know what you think, and we'll keep an eye on those. We'll keep talking about them right hear, Kyra, so you can tell, lots of passionate people on this.

PHILLIPS: All right. Thanks, Josh.

LEVS: Bye.

PHILLIPS: Well, maybe you heard the president's words, but you're not clear on how the actions will affect your pocketbooks. Well, hit us with an e-mail, We're going to get some answers for you, straight from our Gerri Willis.


PHILLIPS: It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it eventually. We have a new taker for the post of commerce secretary. He's former Washington Governor Gary Locke, described by President Obama today as the right man for the job. Two previous picks turned out not to be the right pick after all.

In 90 minutes, the president follows up his back-burner economics -- or barn-burner, rather, economic speech with a private meeting with the treasury secretary and key members of Congress. They're on notice, along with everybody else. That's America's day of reckoning. It's also his time of opportunity.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES; The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and our universities and our fields and our factories. In the imagination of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest working people on earth.

Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history, we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face and take responsibility for our future once more.



PHILLIPS: Well, we're taking the president's plans for the economy and pushing them forward with lots of help from you. CNN viewers want to know how and how soon these big ideas will affect them. Our personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, here to answer a number of the e-mails that we received. Hi, Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hey, Kyra. Well, you know, we got a lot of comments, lots of e-mails. But most people, they just wanted to comment, not ask a question. And that's what happened with Mary here. She says, "Americans are accustomed to instant gratification. Want a new car? Get a home equity loan! This rebuilding process will take time and money. Every American must practice their own fiscal responsibility. Our parents and grandparents lived within their means, it's time we do the same."

That from Mary, and of course, that's what we talk about here all the time is fiscal responsibility -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Joanne asks you, "How much longer are we going to accept the recent practice of credit card companies that gouge even customers in good standing with higher fees and interest rates just because they can?"

WILLIS: Ouch, Joanne, we feel your pain. Here's where we are right now with credit card reform, which could help you. In mid- December, the Federal Reserve passed requirements that card issuers must give you 45 days' notice before interest rate increases, and to make sure that disclosures are more prominent than they have been.

Now, here's the catch: This doesn't become law until July 2010. Last week, though, Senator Chris Dodd -- that's the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee -- he held hearings on his own about credit card reform that have many of the same consumer protections the Federal Reserve proposals did.

But consumer advocates hope this will become law sooner, maybe as early as the spring or summer. In the meantime, the main thing for you to do: Watch your credit card statement carefully. As these companies are raising rates and reducing your credit limit even on good customers, avoid any fees by reading the fine print.

PHILLIPS: And Gerri, I mean, -- these card companies want you to keep the card, and so you can negotiate a lot of times these interest rates.

WILLIS: I've done it myself. You pick up the phone. You call customer service and you for the boss, and you say, I really want a lower rate and I have five offers in the mail here. Do you want me to leave or stay with you? And sometimes, probably less than they did in the past, but sometimes they will make that choice to help you out. But it's worth a phone call. There's no cost to picking up the telephone.

PHILLIPS: Totally agree. I've done it a number of times. OK, Rick asks this question: "I'm in a 5/1 ARM that is about to adjust, and because of the drop in home value, my lender cannot offer me a refinance. I've never been late on a payment. I'm also able to pay my mortgage if it were refinanced to a fixed rate. Is there a program that can help me?"

WILLIS: Well, scary situation, Rick. But, you may qualify -- good news here -- to refinance your home in a 15- or a 30-year fixed rate mortgage as part of President Obama's homeowner affordability and stability plan. Now, we don't know all the eligibility details. But that will become available March 4.

Here's what we can tell you. First, you have to have sufficient income to make the new payment. You have to be making payments on time right now, and your loan must be held or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Your lender could tell you that. My advice? Talk to your lender right now. Get that ball rolling, because as soon as March 4 hits, everybody is going to be trying to refi.

PHILLIPS: Gerri, thanks.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

PHILLIPS: All right, well, there's plenty more sage advice where that came from. You got a question about the economy? Send it on. It's not too late, Gerri will be back in an hour with more answers.

Back to the Netherlands now and today's crash of a Turkish Airlines plane. These pictures by one of our iReporters. Nine people killed, dozens injured when the Boeing 737 slammed into a muddy field and broke into three parts while trying to land in Amsterdam. Flight 1951 was approaching the Amsterdam airport from Istanbul when that crash happened. CNN's Jim Bitterman at the crash scene joins us now with more -- Jim.

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kyra. And in fact, you can see what remains of that Flight 1951 there behind me. I don't know if you can see the red part of the tail back there of the aircraft. Night has closed in here at the airport.

We're about 500 yards off the runway. We're about I would say maybe 250 yards off the centerline of the runway. And in fact, the plane apparently touched down not exactly centered up with the runway. Some of the witnesses, eyewitnesses said that they saw the plane's nose pitch up just before the plane hit.

The people on board the plane said they heard and saw nothing other than -- out of the ordinary. They basically were told by the crew to put their seat belts on and get ready for landing, just a normal instruction. The next thing they knew, they ended up in this beet field, this sugar beet field.

Now, just in the last couple of minutes here, we've seen a couple of things here. The prime minister of Holland has come out to visit to take a look at the crash site. He's also made the rounds of the hospitals. Now, we've also seen some of the local farmers have brought some equipment in. Looks like they may start actually taking away some of the bits of debris here within maybe this evening or throughout the night tonight. They do have the equipment standing by, however. They look like they're ready to take things away -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Jim Bitterman, we appreciate that report. We'll stay on top of it.

Doctors make advances in health care all the time, so why isn't one minority group benefiting? Important news on your health. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Important health news for African-Americans. There's mounting new evidence about why blacks die at higher rates than whites from preventable diseases. Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen is here, first of all to tell us about some of the health differences between blacks and whites, and we'll kind of unravel what this study says.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, absolutely. There are huge health disparities in this country. In other words, there are many diseases where blacks are more likely to get them and in many cases more likely to die from them than whites.

Let's take a look at some of the biggies. African-Americans are more likely to get all these diseases: diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS, stroke and some kinds of cancer. In some cases, African- Americans are twice as likely to get these diseases compared to white Americans.

PHILLIPS: And why is it? Why is it worse for African-Americans?

COHEN: Most of the reason has to do with economics. It has to do with the fact that African-Americans are more likely to be poor, they're more likely to have less education, they're more likely to be uninsured.

But what's interesting is that there is a relatively new field of research that says, you know what, maybe it's genetic, that because of genetics that African-Americans don't always have as good of a response to drugs that are on the market. So, in other words, a drug might work pretty well for white Americans but not as well for black Americans.

So, let's take a look. Because of genetic differences, African- Americans often have very different reactions to high blood-pressure drugs, to hepatitis drugs and to congestive heart failure drugs. There are some 29 diseases where this is true. And Kyra, this is really cutting-edge research that's going on right now.

PHILLIPS: So, why is it that a drug acts differently in people of a different color?

COHEN: Because basically, people of different races come from different gene pools. And your genes to a great extent, they really influence how your body metabolizes a drug. So, you've probably been in a situation where you take a drug and you find that it kind of acts differently for you than for your friend. Well, that has to do with genes. It influences what your body does with that drug.

PHILLIPS: So, is it genes that explain the difference in the health of African-Americans?

COHEN: To some extent. But experts do say, look, even with these genetic differences, you know what? The socioeconomic things are really much bigger. The higher prevalence of lack of insurance among the African-American community. All those other things. Those are much more significant than genes. So, the genes don't explain everything, but it's a piece of it that researchers are really hoping to learn more about.

PHILLIPS: All right. Well, we'll stay on top of it with you. Thank you, Elizabeth.

Well, CNN's landmark documentary, "BLACK IN AMERICA." Tonight, Soledad O'Brien takes a look at the progress of black women in the workplace and investigates the disturbing statistics of single parenthood. CNN's "BLACK IN AMERICA" comes your way 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Three thousand workers shown the door. Top brass shown bigger paychecks. That takes brass something, doesn't it? But first, engineers are using a type of digital Play-doh that could help them design new cars and more. Gary Tuchman explains ho that works in today's "Edge of Discovery."


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shape- shifting material that can transform itself in real time, changing colors and shape on demand. It sounds like special effects you would see in a sci-fi movie. But this is no illusion. Researchers at Intel teamed up with the academic community to make what they call programmable matter.

ANDREW A. CHIEN, V.P., DIR. OF RESEARCH, INTEL: The basic idea is the notion that you could have a material that could change its shape or changes its physical properties just by reconfiguring itself.

TUCHMAN: Forget about designing something in flat two dimensions. What about creating a 3-D prototype of anything, even a car?

CHIEN: Open the doors, kick the tires, peek inside to see what it looks like. Put little dolls of, you know, people inside of it.

TUCHMAN: This space-age stuff is like putty in your hands. Programmable matter is still in the early developmental stages. Intel's Andrew Chen says one day we may be able to morph objects on demand that fit our human needs.

CHIEN: So, for example, you know, I have a Bluetooth earpiece, and it fits me great, but then when I put on my sunglasses, it doesn't fit anymore. Wouldn't it be nice if it could change its shape suddenly, right, to all of sudden match that? All of these things are possible with programmable matter. They are definitely on the edge of discovery with this one.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.




PHILLIPS: That's right. That was almost two years ago. But guess what, he called it. Stevie Wonder, an early supporter of candidate Barack Obama and now the honored guest of President Obama for tonight's Gershwin Prize gala. Nobody's playing favorites here. The Library of Congress announced that honor way before the election. Right, Stevie?


PHILLIPS: Well, it's good to see you. Stevie joining us live from Washington, D.C. as he gets ready to head over to the White House. Thank you for stopping in and talking to us first, Stevie. It means a lot to us.

WONDER: It's my joy.

PHILLIPS: Well, you know...

WONDER: That's what friends are for.

PHILLIPS: There you go. Hey, isn't that a song?

WONDER: I heard it somewhere. I can't remember where, though. It was Elton John. That's nice.

PHILLIPS: You know, on a serious note, your music, your lyrics, they truly are timeless. And they tell so many stories of where we've been, where we are at the moment. And you're always about creating love and peace through your music, through your relationships with people.

So, you know, in many ways, that's even beyond the Gershwin award. But with that said, tell me what this means to you as you're about to receive it from President Obama in just a little bit.

WONDER: Well, it's a magical moment in my life. Obviously, receiving it from Barack Obama, president of the United States at this time when we are really predominantly, as all Americans are attempting to create a new and greater America, truly a united people of the United States of America, which is very exciting.

As well, obviously, the Gershwin Prize is special because of my appreciation and respect for the incredible amount of great music that they left behind. And obviously, being the second recipient next to a great songwriter as is Paul Simon, who received the first one, is truly an honor. So it's very, very exciting.

And to have been commissioned to write a piece, and it was a piece I actually started in '76 and finished it on the day that Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa it very, very exciting. So to actually have the piece orchestrated by Paul Riser and played day before yesterday was very, very exciting. PHILLIPS: And we got to actually see you perform it, Stevie, and we got some video of you doing that. It's called "Sketches of Life." And you know, a lot of people that have seen this and have said, wow, a classical Stevie, we don't always hear that side of him. Tell us about that side.

WONDER: Well, the reality is the -- my influence from classical music started as a little boy. Obviously, I never really imagined that I would have the opportunity to be commissioned to write a piece. But it's something I've always loved listening to, and so, like, my most favorite piece is "Pictures of Exhibition" and (INAUDIBLE) Suite and various pieces by Beethoven and Bach. You know, I'm a music lover of all various genres of music.

PHILLIPS: Yes, you are.

WONDER: And that's just how I feel about that.

PHILLIPS: And that was so encouraged by your mom, Lula Mae Hardaway. She's been a tremendous influence in your life. I know it was really hard to lose her back in 2006. So I want to do something to lift her up. Because every time I hear this song, I think of your mom. Let's just take a little listen from the inaugural ball when you played for the president.


PHILLIPS: I remember your mom telling the story of you in the '70s, and you were singing this song and using certain lyrics, and she actually tagged it for you, right? She said, "signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours."

WONDER: Exactly.


WONDER: I was just like (HUMMING). And she came up with, Stevie, it should be "signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours."

PHILLIPS: I love it.

WONDER: Like, you know, the postal mail, you know, signed, sealed, delivered. And that was the thing that made it happen.

PHILLIPS: Yes. She was incredible inspiration in your life. And she still is. She's living through you now. She'll be with you tonight, Stevie. And as we wrap this up and take it on to the next hour, I know Obama has inspired you tremendously on many different levels. Tell us why.

WONDER: He really echoes the spirits of so many voices that have come before him, talking about bringing us together as a united people of the United States of America. And to live in a time and space where we have a second chance to really make this, again, the great country that we deserve to always be. And I'm just very, very proud to have said to him about five years ago, when he was running for senator, I said, you know, I know that this is what you want to do and this is what your goal is for Illinois. But I really believe that if we pray on this, you'll become the president of the United States. And so we prayed in my studio, at Wonderland Studios. And then here we are in 2009. It's a wonderful thing.

PHILLIPS: Well, congratulations on your award tonight. And once again, thanks for just sharing your beautiful spirit with us, Stevie.

WONDER: And I was thinking about this, too, who could have ever imagined that as we celebrate the 50th year of Motown -- you know, Motown started when I was just a little teeny boy, but to know that this is the year of the celebration of Motown's 50th. So, it's a really wonderful thing. A lot of wonderful memories. And I'm still a baby. Hee-hee.

PHILLIPS: Yes, you are. And he's still got the innocent baby smile. Stevie, great to see you. Come back and see us again, OK?

WONDER: Wonderful. OK.

PHILLIPS: All right. We also want to remind you about our CNN landmark documentary, "BLACK IN AMERICA." Tonight, Soledad O'Brien looking at the progress of black women in the workplace and investigates the disturbing statistics of single parenthood as well. CNN's "BLACK IN AMERICA" comes your way 8 p.m. Eastern. We're going to let Stevie take us to break.