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'Fat Cats' in the Dog House; Closing Loophole on Benefits Caps; Out of Work in America

Aired December 14, 2009 - 12:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. It is Monday, December 14th, and here are the top stories for you in the CNN NEWSROOM.

The nation's big bankers at the White House this hour. President Obama wants them to loosen their purse strings to grease the recovery.

Italy's leader, hit in the face with a metal object, recovering today from a broken nose and split lip. Ouch.

NASA puts a wise eye in the sky this morning, mapping the universe and looking to answer that age old question -- is anybody out there?

Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris, and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

So, here's the story. The taxpayers saved their hides a year ago. Now President Obama presses top bankers he calls "fat cats" to get off their assets and help Americans. A dozen CEOs at the White House this hour, as is our CNN White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

And Suzanne, look, short of turning the White House into -- let's call it the proverbial woodshed -- what does the president hope to accomplish with the bankers today?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think you've got it right. The proverbial woodshed, actually, might be a good way of putting this whole thing.

Obviously, the president is trying to shame these big bankers into changing their behavior here. It's kind of a populist appeal, saying, look, a lot of Americans, they're out of work, 10 percent unemployment here. You're taking advantage of good, hard-working taxpayer dollars to bail you out, and you owe this to the American people, specifically to small businesses, to help out with loans, as well as mortgages.

And what you've heard from the president, as well as his top advisers, is really some heated rhetoric here. They are certainly hoping that they're going to get ahead of the debate here, out ahead, and make sure that at least these bankers and public are under some sort of pressure to change the situation.

Tony, I want you to take a listen. This was over the weekend. Here's how he put it on "60 Minutes."


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat cat bankers on Wall Street. The only ones that are going to be paying out these fat bonuses are the ones that have now paid back that TARP money and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that's why they paid it back so quickly?

OBAMA: I think in some cases that was the motivation, which I think tells me that the people on Wall Street still don't get it.


MALVEAUX: And Tony, it's clear that the president is under some pressure as well to use that kind of language with these bankers. Obviously, he's going to be sitting down with at least 12 of them or so, face to face, to really make his opinions known, his views known here. He's under a lot of pressure.

This was something that was carried over from the Bush administration, 14 months in the making or so. But clearly, he feels that he does have an obligation as he gets more pressure from Democrats, more pressure from those who are going to be looking to their own constituents, to Americans, and saying, look, we need more help here. We gave up a lot of money to these banks, and a lot of people are still suffering -- Tony.

HARRIS: Well, supporting the president or all of these small businesses, Suzanne, who are saying, look, we're creditworthy -- in many cases, we've been dealing with our banks for years and we've never missed a debt payment. And yet, we want to expand and can't get loans.

Leverage here -- what can the president really do going forward?

MALVEAUX: He doesn't have a lot of leverage here, actually, because one of the things that's happening, there's a big debate, a big battle that's happening with Congress as well. A lot of these big bankers spending millions of dollars, Tony, to fight this legislation that would further regulate their industry.

The other thing that's happening is that, ironically, they're paying back this money, the bailout money. They're giving it back to the government so they don't have to follow those rules when it comes to lending out to those small businesses, when it comes to limiting executive pay. They don't want to follow those rules, and so they're giving the money back.

That really does kind of hurt the administration when it comes to leverage. But the American people do want their money back as well. So it's a catch-22 for this administration. That's why you're seeing the president use the bully pulpit, if you will, to try to put some pressure on these banks, at the very least, to do what many people believe is the right thing to do.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

All right. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House for us.

Suzanne, appreciate it. Thank you.

And checking the wire now and today's other big stories.

The first U.S. troops in the Afghanistan surge are due to arrive in country this week. The Pentagon's top military officer is there right now. Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen discussed the mission this morning from Kabul.


ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The most important goal in this strategy is the elimination of the safe havens for al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and to ensure that Afghanistan does not provide a safe haven in the future. Part of that certainly is to capture, kill bin Laden and Zawahiri and his other compatriots.


HARRIS: And Mullen says he is concerned about the growing level of collusion between Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda and other extremists in Pakistan.

Italy's controversial prime minister was attacked at a political rally. Have you seen this video yet?

Silvio Berlusconi was struck in the face -- wow -- with a small statue of Milan's cathedral. He is hospitalized with broken teeth and a broken nose.


DR. ALBERTO ZANGRILLO, SAN RAFFAELE HOSPITAL (through translator): It was not easy for the prime minister. He was shocked, he was upset. No doubt, he had an interrupted sleep, and it's just like he had woken up from a nightmare. He was most upset.


HARRIS: OK. Police say the attacker who was apprehended at the scene has a history of mental illness.

This morning, rescuers are back at Mt. Hood in Oregon searching for two missing hikers. Avalanche dangers forced the crews to suspend their search last night. The hikers haven't been seen since Thursday, when they set off to climb the west side of the mountain with another man. The body of that third hiker was found on Saturday.

A CNN report prompting a change, and health care reform legislation being negotiated now in the Senate. The White House working to close a loophole that would allow caps on annual insurance benefits. The loophole was first reported by CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, who joins us now. She told us all about it on Friday, right here in the NEWSROOM.

And Elizabeth, good to see you again. Great reporting, obviously.


HARRIS: Refresh our memory, if you would. Tell us about this loophole.

COHEN: Well, this is a very difficult situation, Tony, for people with serious illnesses like cancer patients. They get diagnosed and they get their care. And then for some of them, they get told by their insurance company, you've hit your limit, we've spent enough money on you, you're done, we're not spending anymore money.

Well, the health care reform legislation has tried to address this. So the Senate bill said, all right, from now on, no more unreasonable limits. Insurance companies are not allowed to put in place unreasonable limits. But, Tony, as you might guess, that word "unreasonable" leaves a lot of people nervous because who gets to decide what's unreasonable?

HARRIS: Absolutely.

COHEN: So, cancer patients weren't crazy about that word.

HARRIS: So, Elizabeth, after your conversation right here in the NEWSROOM on Friday, what happened?

COHEN: We're told that what happened over the weekend is that key White House staffers and congressional staffers saw the report and met with cancer patients and told them, we will close this loophole, we will make sure that this loophole does not happen, we will make sure that there are no limits.

HARRIS: And they say they're going to fix it, but how do we know that's really going to happen here?

COHEN: Right. I'm sure those cancer patients are asking themselves that question because, you know, as far as we know, nothing's in writing. But I think it is interesting that President Obama has really stuck his neck out on this issue. He has made it clear that he doesn't want limits.

Take a listen to what he said back in September.


OBAMA: They will not longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime.

(APPLAUSE) We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of- pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick.


COHEN: And I think what cancer patients and other people with serious illnesses are thinking, wow, if the president said it that definitely and that publicly, that he really means it and he will make sure that that legislation is not signed with those limits.

HARRIS: Yes, follow through. All right.

Elizabeth Cohen for us.

Elizabeth, appreciate it. Thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.

HARRIS: President Obama is taking on what he calls the fat cats, bank execs at the White House this hour. The next hour, the president will discuss the nation's financial recovery, live. You can watch it right here in the CNN NEWSROOM, 12:10 p.m. Eastern Time.

Retraining for a career change. We will meet some people who are getting a new lease on a job.

And Rob Marciano tracking weather -- flooding in New Orleans, warmer temps in the South. That man right there joining us in just a couple of minutes.

But first, here's the latest from the New York Stock Exchange, Big Board right now. Take a look at the numbers. We are up positive territory right now, plus 14.

We are following these numbers with Stephanie Elam, in for Susan Lisovicz, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.




HARRIS: With unemployment running at 10 percent, Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi hits the road again this week on the CNN Express. First stop, Asheboro, North Carolina.

The small factory town has lost 10,000 jobs over the decade. Ali talked with townspeople about retraining for new careers. The community college has set up night courses geared to their specific needs.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we're seeing is this town in the middle of a slow change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You simply have to understand that you are not going to make the same and do the same work that you did before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're a city full of vacant buildings. Something ought to come in here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must be poised to answer as a community whether or not we have what it takes to get the resources into the hands of the folks that are creating jobs.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: From our perspective, we have seen this economy go from denial to crisis and panic to resignation. And I feel -- and I don't want to put words in peoples' mouths, but I feel like we're maybe pushing out of the resignation now and into the solutions.

LORRAINE SMITH, STUDENT: You have to get out there and do what it takes to find that job. And if that means moving to a new place -- which wasn't possible for me -- I had plenty of job offers, but not here -- then going back to school may be your best option. And we're fortunate, because we have a terrific option here.

VELSHI: You've got a lot of universities in a large area, but it wouldn't have necessarily been practical for you to go too far out to go to school. But these universities have partnered to provide education right here in your community.

SMITH: Right here in our community. It saves people the commute. So this is really set up for people in this community looking for retraining.

VELSHI: This issue of retraining is a big deal though, because for a lot of mid-career people, they lose their jobs, it disorients them, and for a long time they're waiting for that job to come back or something to change.

You had to make some decision at some point to say, I'm going to have to go after something different.

SMITH: You can sit around and wait, but I think -- what is it, God helps those that help themselves?


HARRIS: Ali will join us from the road again tomorrow. This time from Dillon, South Carolina.

Got to tell you, there will be some glum faces around the Christmas tree this year. Most shoppers telling our CNN/Opinion Research pollsters they are buying those practical, useful gifts this year. Forget the fun presents.

Almost half the shoppers say they will spend less money compared to last year. Just 12 percent say more; 39 percent about the same. We also asked, "Will the economy make your holidays more stressful this year?" Forty percent say yes, but six of 10 say no.

A check on our top stories in a moment.

And it may not look like much, but the images it will beam back from space will be nothing like you've seen ever before.


HARRIS: Hey, before we begin here, I'll let you know that we may have to jump out of our top stories in just a moment as we're getting tape here, expecting it shortly of the president's meeting with the CEOs of the top banks in the country. That's expected to come in, in just a moment.

And when it does -- and here it is right now. Let's listen to the president.


OBAMA: Well, I appreciate you guys calling in. I'm sorry that the flight got held up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, we're upset we're not able to be there, but we're on line with you now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's certainly not for a lack of effort.

OBAMA: I know. Well, the effort is appreciated. I'm glad you guys are on the phone.

DICK PARSONS, CHAIRMAN, CITIGROUP: This is Dick Parsons, just so you know we're here.

OBAMA: Good.

Dick, I had a good time at the Christmas celebration yesterday with your successor at Time Warner.

PARSONS: Isn't that a nice event?

OBAMA: It's a very nice event.

PARSONS: Very nice. I wish I had been able to come down for it. We were working on something that you'd have some interest in last night as well.


HARRIS: OK. There you go. The president at the top of the meeting with the financial -- the bankers, the CEOs, and in some cases the chairman of the board of some of these financial institutions.

You heard from Dick Parsons just a moment ago. Citigroup, we should tell you, says it is repaying $20 billion in bailout money it received during the financial crisis. The remaining $25 billion it received was converted to a 34 percent ownership stake which the government plans to sell off at a profit.

Last week, Bank of America repaid its $45 billion in TARP money.

The Pentagon's top military officer voicing concern about growing collusion between Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda and other militants in Pakistan.

Speaking in Afghanistan today, Admiral Mike Mullen says the U.S. focus is the entire al Qaeda network, its leaders and its allies.

NASA has launched a brand new telescope into space called the WISE. NASA says it's so smart, it can find never-before-seen objects, including dangerous space debris.

CNN's Zain Verjee has more on this remarkable piece of technology.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new WISE eye in the sky, and it's out to map our universe. The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, will scan the skies for now galaxies.

And guess what? Scientists say they're only 11 billion light years away.

So, what can they spy with their WISE eye? Comets, hidden stars, and those pesky asteroids that could crash into Earth. If any object gives off light or heat, WISE will find it and work its magic.

Here's Orion. Now take a look at it in infrared light. It won't take too long to check out the view. Six months, say scientists. We'll get millions of snapshots, too, as the spacecraft circles Earth.

NASA's price tag, more than $300 million. Worth the cost if it discovers we are not alone.

Zain Verjee, CNN, London.


HARRIS: Cool stuff. Cool music.

Bankers getting the White House strong-arm today. But will it be enough to bring changes in consumer lending? Gerri Willis has the good news and the bad right here in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: President Obama meeting today with bankers to encourage them to lend more to consumers and small businesses. But what can consumers expect when it comes to getting loans or managing their credit card debt? And can the arm-twisting actually work?

For that, we bring in our own Gerri Willis.


GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: The good news is that the president is advocating for consumer lending. The bad news? He may not have much success. That from industry experts and consumer advocates.

Instead of opening their purse strings, bank analyst Dick Bove says the credit made available to consumers -- that is, the amount of money banks are willing to loan -- is more likely to shrink than grow in coming months. And it's not only credit at issue.

Bank fees are already up. ATM fees jumped 10 percent last year. And you can expect fees to continue to rise, says Greg McBride at

But for anyone looking for a loan or credit card, say, with favorable terms now, there are a few steps you can take to increase the chances of getting the money you need.

First off, be more creative where you do business. Regional and local banks may have credit card offerings that are more attractive than the current card that you have. It's not the size of the institution that counts when you're shopping for a loan or credit card, rather the terms you get and how well they treat you.

Also, consider a credit union. More and more Americans are voting with their feet and using credit unions as an alternative to conventional banks. Credit unions are not for profit, so they don't go to extremes to boost their bottom line. If you want a credit union in your area, go to and enter in your zip code info.

And, of course, if you have any questions, send them to me at We love to hear from you.


HARRIS: Gerri, appreciate it. Thank you.

Trouble in Copenhagen as developing nations put the kibosh on climate change. At least the talks. Haven't used that word, "kibosh," in a while.

And if you want to get in on the climate debate, you'd better hurry. Josh Levs tells us why.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the last day for you to send in your questions for the international CNN YouTube debate on climate change. I will show you how to get in your video before it's too late.


HARRIS: Climate change negotiations in Copenhagen brought to a halt today as China, India and other developing nations demanded rich nations consider much deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Outside the submit, Danish police have struggled with protesters, to be sure.

CNN's Phil Black joining us now, live from Copenhagen.

And Phil, if you would, tell us about these protests. When did they start and are they having any effect on the talks?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the protests have started to roll out over the course of the weekend, Tony. And they have been huge in number.

On Saturday night here in Copenhagen, for example, it's estimated tens of thousands of people, some say as many as 100,000 people, marched through the streets of this city to protest climate change and to try and send a strong message to the negotiating teams inside this conference center. To what extent it will ultimately influence those negotiating teams remains to be seen.

But the protests themselves were largely peaceful. There was a small number, around 1,000 or so, that were arrested for various forms of low-level violence. Only about five or six of those will, in effect, be charged. The rest will be released. But the police here say that overwhelmingly, it was a large successful peaceful protest. Some of those protests have extended into the next few days. Tony?

HARRIS: Phil, if you would, give us a quick update on what's going on at the submit today.

BLACK: Well, we've seen some theater at this conference center today. Essentially, a big block of the developing countries, around 130 of them or so, including big countries like China and India, they withdrew from official negotiations as a gesture to express their unhappiness over how these negotiations are being carried out. They believe that to some degree they are being carried out with a bias towards the western industrialized world. They're not happy with things like to what degree the west are prepared to cut global greenhouse gas emissions.

And they're unhappy with some other technical points like to what extent the Kyoto protocol, which is the existing climate change treaty, will be used as a basis for negotiations going forward. They want it to remain the bedrock of any agreement from here. They feel the West does not want it to be.

In any case, they say that they're now prepared to return to the negotiating table officially. Depending on who you talk to here, this is either highly significant or it is just part of the negotiating dynamic as this conference enters the business end of the two weeks. We're getting down to those final few days. World leaders are coming here. They're thrashing out the final details of any potential agreement.

HARRIS: Phil Black for us in Copenhagen, Denmark. Phil, appreciate it, thank you.

And what would you ask world leaders about climate change? CNN and youtube have joined together for a live debate tomorrow in Copenhagen. You can be a part of it if you act now. Here's our Josh Levs.


JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the last day to submit your questions for the international CNN YouTube debate on climate change. It'll be taking place Tuesday live from Copenhagen. Here at this Web site, You can learn all about it and you can watch this video.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your question for world climate leaders?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know what you plan on leaving for my generation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Submit it now through video at

LEVS: There you go. It talks you through exactly what to do. You can submit in writing or by video. I took a look at some of the questions that have been submitted from countries all over the world. Here are just a few examples.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you allow nuclear power to be counted as a part in a clean energy mix?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Global warming has been around for thousands of years. It can't be controlled. It could possibly be changed. But it can't be terminated. So I have to ask, I mean, aren't there more important things to fund?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Global warming, sustainable living, these are all truly fundamental issues for which people should have a vote. Why don't you let us decide?

LEVS: Now, when you go to that website, what you can do right here is pick among the questions that are already out there. You can decide which ones should be asked at the big event. You can actually help decide what the topics of conversation will be that the experts will be addressing.

I took a look at a lot of these. I want to end on this video that I think is really striking. It's from Thailand and it's from a woman who says we're always told that we should drive less and walk more. She took a video of her own effort to find a place to walk. Let's watch.

She keeps walking like that and you end up seeing that there's no place in the various places that she's tried. She puts up that sign that says footpaths, please. It really is eye opening to see some of these videos from around the world. You can still get in yours. Then this is how you can actually see the big event.

Let's go to that graphic. It will be Tuesday. It will be at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time live from Copenhagen. It will air again at noon Eastern time. It's only airing on and online at youtube. Check it out on You'll be able to watch the debate right there. We also have a discussion going on about it on my page,, also facebook and twitter, joshlevCNN. I hope to hear from you. We want you to think about all this and we'll be watching together tomorrow.


HARRIS: So, what are the green jobs? And where are they, exactly? Travel west, my friends. Green jobs have grown more than 80 percent in California. Next hour, I will talk to David Crane. He is an adviser to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

This morning's big story, President Obama is meeting with the country's top bankers right now. We expect to hear from him in about a half hour's time. The president wants the banks to stop the scrooge act and lend more to America's homeowners and small businesses to help the economy get back on its feet. The president terse in a "60 Minutes" interview.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street. The only ones that are going to be paying out these fat bonuses are the ones that have now paid back that T.A.R.P. money.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think that's why they paid it back so quickly?

OBAMA: I think in some cases that was a motivation which I think tells me that the people on Wall Street still don't get it.


HARRIS: But how much leverage does the president have with the bankers? Ten of 12 banks at today's meeting have repaid or are in the process of repaying their bailout money. Let's talk to two players of the CNN money team. "Your Money" co-host Christine Romans. You finished that interview and you made it to the seat, very good, Christine. I know you've got like 15 other things going on right now. Stephanie Elam is at the New York Stock Exchange. (INAUDIBLE) thank you. I love hearing that even if it's not true.

Let me start with a basic one here. What do you expect and Christine, let me start with you. What do you expect this meeting to produce? Will we get some kind of an action plan that we can follow?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, a few of these people are on conference calls, Tony, because they couldn't get a flight out of LaGuardia. Which made me wonder, you know, if you're going to get called to the White House by the president... HARRIS: Don't you go the day before?

ROMANS: ... first of all? In the bad old days of corporate jets, everyone would have been there.

HARRIS: That's a good point.

ROMANS: Will there be an action plan? I think that what the White House would like to do is have some kind of deliverable for the American public, to say in six months we hope that these banks are going to get on board with some creative small business lending initiatives and that they will start to support very key parts of our financial market regulation, that now they're starting to get it. Will the president get that? I'm not sure.

HARRIS: Stephanie, do the banks get it? And do the financial institutions up there in that great city of New York, do they get that there has been this rebound in stock prices. The banks are paying back the government money, our money and yet they're still clamping down, that the people want to get access to loans to get things going again in this economy?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the reason why you're seeing this sort of meeting today, which, by the way, is only supposed to be an hour long. I don't know how much of an action plan you can get out of that.

HARRIS: There you go.

ELAM: But I think to a certain extent, they understand that there is pressure there. You've got President Obama and his administration who said, look, you didn't want us to own you outright for a long period of time. We've done our part. Now we want you to do your part.

But a lot of people are saying, you've lost the leverage because of the fact that so much of the TARP money has been repaid. You've got Wells Fargo is the only major national bank who hasn't repaid their TARP money. If they had held off, especially since they had to ask for the OK to pay the money back to the government, if they had waited to do that and said, listen, wait until unemployment drops down closer to 5 percent, let's wait until we can see signs that consumer lending is actually looking better.

If you take a look at some of these signs, we have a chart actually which I could show you, that shows you how the tightening of lending has been going on here over the last few months. If you take a look at this chart, there was a big jump in the second quarter of last year. You can see that things got very tight and then it stayed that way while the financial markets were rocked and then it only started to drop off in the second quarter of this year after the job losses peaked. Still more needs to be done, obviously.

HARRIS: Let me jump in here. Christine, what would be the justification for a bank receiving taxpayer money to turn down a loan request from a credit worthy borrower? ROMANS: I mean, there really is no justification unless they have to keep that money on their books for tougher capital restrictions, capital requirements, which, by the way, the regulators are asking them to do. That chart Stephanie shows is really interesting, too. Because banks would argue that in the go-go days, they were too loose with all their standards and that tightening the regulatory standards is exactly what the regulators are telling them to do, that they have to be a little more prudent than they were during the boom.

But you're totally right, Tony. You and I have all talked to people who have a great business plan, have a great business model, who have customers, who have suppliers (INAUDIBLE) and they can't get the money.

HARRIS: Christine, it gets worse than that. We're talking about small businesses in many cases who have a terrific track record with their bank.


HARRIS: And want to expand, maybe want to bring some more employees on board, see an opportunity that they'd like to capitalize on, maybe would like to transition to some of the green jobs out there. They've got a terrific track record and can't get the money to expand. What's that about?

ROMANS: That has been the big concern of this administration with a couple of different small business lending initiatives now. The SBA, small business association (sic) has a couple of different programs, emergency loan programs and the like. And pretty much all of them have been less than robust in their response to the small business communities. This has been a real problem on a number of fronts, why they can't unlock this problem for small business. And Tony, many people, the president said it, too, that small business will likely lead any recovery, that in normal times 60 percent, I think, of all new jobs are created by small business. There's just so much uncertainty out there right now about what the recovery's going to look like they're having a hard time getting --

ELAM: Just to play the other side of this, now, according to the Fed, they're saying 25 percent of banks are also saying that Americans have scaled back on how much they're asking for any type of loan out there whether it's a credit card, whether they're coming to talk to you about a small business loan of any kind. Because they learned their issues, that they played a part in this, too. Credit was too easy for them. Now they're scaling back and trying to realign their balance sheets as well. Just to look at it from both sides.

HARRIS: Whoa, whoa.

ELAM: But wait, Tony, of course while 25 percent of banks are saying that, that obviously goes into the argument that helps them out. There are a lot of people out there who do have strong business plans who have always paid their bills on time who would be good people who should get these loans. That's exactly what the Obama administration...

HARRIS: I've got to wrap this because I've got to get the top stories. Wait a minute, Stephanie. What about the work of banks for their core clients? For example, restructuring debt, raising equity for making acquisitions, underwriting bonds to cities and states so they can build schools and hospitals? That's part of your core business.

ELAM: It's part of their business as well. Everything has been rocked so far. This is exactly the reason they're trying to bring it back to just the basics. Just as you heard Christine say, what really drives this economy besides consumer spending are small businesses. That's really who's hiring in this country. That's one place if you can just go back there and get people working again, get those jobs out there again, it will really help the economy overall.

HARRIS: Christine, last word to you. I'm so crazy long in this segment but it's good stuff. Last word to you, Christine, anything?

ROMANS: You're not going to ask me a question (INAUDIBLE) .

HARRIS: Any final thoughts?

ROMANS: I think that also, Tony, the banks are facing right now -- it's not popular to be a defender of the banks. But the banks are facing record-high defaults on just about every kind of loan right now. Think of that. When they do lend money, they've never seen so many people not paying it back.

HARRIS: Good point. Christine, appreciate it, Stephanie, as always, thank you both. You can hear directly from President Obama on the nation's financial recovery. He speaks in about 30 minutes from right now. We will be bringing you those remarks live in the CNN NEWSROOM scheduled for 12:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Then I'll talk to White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett right here at 12:50 for an insider view of what really happened in the president's meeting with the bank CEOs. Valerie Jarrett right here in the CNN NEWSROOM next hour.

Top stories now, let's get to them. The three Americans being detained in Iran will stand trial according to Iran's foreign minister. The state-run media isn't reporting when the trial will begin or what the exact charges are. Iran says the hikers had suspicious aims when they crossed over an unmarked border in July. Family members say it was an accident.

Thailand is holding the crew of a plane loaded with weapons from North Korea. The plane was seized during a refueling stop in Bangkok on Saturday. The five men aboard were denied bail in court today.

A Pakistani court (INAUDIBLE) five detained Americans from being handed over to U.S.. authorities. The men were arrested last week by Pakistani police on suspicion they were planning terror attacks.

Just ahead, the latest on how Italy's prime minister is doing after being struck in the face at a rally.


HARRIS: A world leader bloodied in a split second. Boy, that's a nasty picture. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will spend another three days in the hospital. An attacker smashed him in the face with a small metal statuette. International correspondent Paula Newton is live from London with us now and Paula, I guess the first question, how is the prime minister doing?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you saw those pictures. He was visibly shaken. Incredible, aren't they, all that blood. I mean, he has a fractured nose, broke two teeth. They're going to keep him in for observation for at least -- they're saying another 36 hours. They're saying thankfully he doesn't need surgery. The prime minister's reportedly saying to his aides, look, I don't understand why they hate me this much.

Why? A 42-year-old is in custody. He's been charged with aggravated assault. Police say that he has a history of psychiatric problems. The prime minister thinks there's more to this. He's saying, look, my political opponents have created an atmosphere of hate around me. It means that I'm open season. It means anybody feels at liberty in a crowd to take shots at me. It's interesting Tony. It's almost overshadowed what this is beyond any doubt which is a security breach.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

NEWTON: You and I have been in these situations before. There is a different way to secure those crowds. You know, interesting enough, the interior minister today in Italy coming out and saying, look, all the security procedures were followed.

HARRIS: The man who had attacked the prime minister, what's happening to him right now?

NEWTON: Well, he's in custody charged with aggravated assault. You know, they're going through his records. They say, yes, it was a premeditated attack. The funny thing was, is he had this souvenir statue, a really hard one in his hand. That's what he pitched at his face. That's what did so much of the damage.

But his family's saying, look, he doesn't have a violent history. He certainly doesn't have a vendetta against the prime minister. They're calling this just a rare act. What was also interesting, Tony, was that there are few people on Italian streets and on websites saying although h's a human being, I don't condone what happened, Silvio Berlusconi had this coming to him and that's what's angering the Italian government right now.

HARRIS: CNN's Paula Newton for us. Paula, good to see you. Thank you.

It sounds like some sort of cloak and dagger mystery. But the advent conspiracy isn't what you think. We'll explain this YouTube sensation that actually deals with Christmas.

Plus, a reminder. You can hear directly from President Obama on the nation's financial recovery. He speaks about 20 minutes from now. Of course, we will be bringing you the president's remarks live right here in the CNN NEWSROOM. scheduled, again, for 12:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Then I will speak to White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett at 12:50 for an insider view of what really happened in the president's meeting with bank CEOs. We are back in a minute.


HARRIS: Let's get you to Rob Marciano in the CNN Severe Weather Center. Rob, boy saw some of those pictures earlier from New Orleans. Hello.


HARRIS: Hanukkah began on Friday. New York, which generally celebrates holidays in a big way as you know of course has outdone itself. This menorah, we're going to show you right now, 32 feet tall with oil lamps to protect it by glass on top. Organizers call it the world's largest menorah.

Coming up in the next hour with the CNN NEWSROOM, green and growing. We are talking jobs here. We will tell you which states are seeing a boom in eco-friendly employment. What kind of jobs are we talking about here and what do they pay?

The president and the bankers, President Obama is meeting with top executives of some of the nation's biggest lenders today and I'll be finding out what's happening in the room. White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett joins me, 12:50 Eastern right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.