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Obama Visits Canada; Wall Street Tanks; Examining Race in America
Aired February 19, 2009 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, everyone.
The president has just returned to the White House after a busy day up north and a rough day back home.
Bullet point number one: President Obama's day trip to Canada, his first visit outside the U.S. since taking office. He was a hit with the crowds. And his meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper touched on Afghanistan, the environment, and of course jobs, jobs, jobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today the prime minister and I discussed our respective plans to create jobs and lay a foundation for growth.
The work that's being done by this government to stimulate the economy on this side of the border is welcomed, and we expect that we can take actions in concert to strengthen the auto industry, as well.
We know that the financial crisis is global and so our response must be global. The United States and Canada are working closely on a bilateral basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: We're going to have much more from the president's trip coming up shortly.
Bullet point number two tonight: Wall Street plummets past another troubling milestone today. Just two days after the president signed the stimulus package, the Dow industrials closed at their lowest point in more than six years. What does it mean? We are going to get into that.
Bullet point number three: your questions and our answers on all things about the economy. Start calling in right now, 1-877-NO-BULL- 0. Ali Velshi and our team of experts are standing by. So, get to the phone. Again, it's 1-877-NO-BULL-0. They're going to be taking your questions a little bit later in the show.
And bullet point number four: found, but still a free man. The billionaire financier R. Allen Stanford, accused in a $9 billion fraud scheme, was found in Virginia today by FBI agents. His whereabouts had been something of a mystery, while anxious investors were locked out of banks worldwide trying to get their money. But guess what? Stanford isn't in custody tonight. He's still a free man. We are going to tell you why.
But, first, we're going to move right to our breaking news about your money and about the markets. The Dow industrials hit their lowest point today in more than six years. The market has now lost nearly 10 percent in the nine days since the new administration's overhaul of the Wall Street bailout was made public.
Chief business correspondent Ali Velshi joining me right now.
And, Ali, another terrible day, obviously, but what, if anything, can we read into it?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you hit the nail on the head.
You remember, last week, you and I spoke after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner unveiled his plan for the use of the second half of the TARP money, the $350 billion. Well, the bottom line is, we were expecting a more comprehensive plan than we got. We didn't get that. Markets reacted poorly to that.
That's when we first saw the tumble in the stock market. And it hasn't come back. Even though we got this housing plan out of the government this week, the fact of the matter is we didn't get a plan that says how we're going get credit moving. So, we got a stimulus plan about the larger economy. We got a housing plan, which is fairly detailed that's and it's taken a couple days for most people to digest what's going on.
But we didn't get plan about what's going to happen with the banks and what's going to happen with the financial sector. So, you see this market and see what happened today. It sort of started off lower. It was dodging around all day. But in the end, we closed at a level that we have not seen, below 7500, in about six years.
I think we're waiting for a comprehensive plan out of the Treasury and a comprehensive explanation out of the government as to how this stimulus is actually going to get things going, how many people are going to be affected by this new housing plan and ultimately what is going to happen with the banks and will they start lending money to Americans again.
That's the third leg of this stool and that's what we don't have a proper answer to. And this is the result you're seeing because of that -- Campbell.
BROWN: All right. Ali Velshi for us tonight -- Ali, though, you're sticking around, because you're part of a very terrific panel we're going to have of money experts.
They will be answering viewers' questions coming up in just a bit. And we invite you to start calling in right now to 1-877-NO- BULL-0, 1-877-NO-BULL-0. We are going to get to as many of you as we can tonight, again, the number 1-877-NO-BULL-0. President Obama has just returned to the White House after his first trip abroad since being sworn in. The president took a quick jaunt to Canada, where he was greeted by cheering crowds pretty much everywhere he went. He reinforced America's strong relationship with our neighbors from the north.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I came to Canada on my first trip as president to underscore the closeness and importance of the relationship between our two nations and to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to work with friends and partners to meet the common challenges of our time.
As neighbors, we are so closely linked that sometimes we may have a tendency to take our relationship for granted. But the very success of our friendship throughout history demands that we renew and deepen our cooperation here in the 21st century.
We're joined together by the world's largest trading relationship and countless daily interactions that keep our borders open and secure.
We share core democratic values and a commitment to work on behalf of peace, prosperity and human rights around the world.
But we also know that our economy and our security are being tested in new ways. And the prime minister and I focused on several of those challenges today.
As he already mentioned...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Now, senior White House correspondent Ed Henry traveled with the president today. He is live in Ottawa for us tonight.
And, Ed, a big focus today was the president trying to ease some international concerns about his stimulus plan.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Campbell.
The president, really, and the substance of this trip was trying to stress this is a global financial crisis, so we're not going to get out of it on our own. We're going to have to work with allies like Canada to turn it around, coordinate our stimulus packages. And he was trying to calm Canadian fears about some of those buy-American provisions in the new stimulus law and also try to reassure them that he's not going to be scrapping some of these free trade agreements.
That's a far cry from what he was saying during the campaign last year. He went to battleground states like Ohio and really bashed some of those free trade deals, saying that it was causing the loss of jobs overseas and whatnot. But now he's in a different position. He needs to be more diplomatic and he has be concerned. He can't start a trade war that could make this whole financial crisis worse -- Campbell.
BROWN: And in addition to all that, Ed, you saw some of the pictures there, quite a bit of stagecraft around this visit today, wasn't there?
HENRY: There really were, Campbell.
It was fascinating because there were thousands of Canadians lining the streets waiting for his motorcade. At certain points we heard them chanting things like, "Yes, we can," from the campaign. They had a variation of it, too, "Yes, we Canada," which was pretty funny. And the president seemed almost a little confused, too.
He started this news conference by saying, look, "I'm really glad to be here in Iowa -- Ottawa" -- Iowa and Ottawa I guess pretty close -- and even after the press conference sort of created this Kodak moment where he went to a farmers market. Among other things that he went shopping for was something they call a beavertail here in Ottawa.
It's essentially a flat doughnut. But locals have decided to add a little ring of whipped cream in the shape of an O to signify Mr. Obama. And so people here are buying them like crazy. Canadians obviously can't vote and could not vote for him last year, but we're told by officials here on the ground that thousands of them crossed the border to volunteer for his campaign in states like Michigan, Washington, Oregon, et cetera, last fall. So that's fascinating.
And also the president was only on the ground for a few hours. He didn't even stay for dinner. Officials familiar with the planning tell me that was done on purpose. The president didn't want to be having a lavish dinner here, a big party in Canada, so that the pictures would go back to America when people are suffering through a recession. They were conscious of the image. They wanted this to be a very quick working trip -- Campbell.
BROWN: Ed Henry for us tonight from Ottawa -- Ed, thanks.
And as we have mentioned to you earlier, we're putting together the best money team on television tonight to give you some advice for surviving these tough times. A lot of questions people have been calling in, writing in, should you refinance? Is your job safe? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Again, our experts are here to answer all your questions about the economy.
Call us at 1-877-NO-BULL-0.
And I President Obama had another important mission to accomplish in Canada today that Ed Henry hinted at.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It's good to see. I understand you have got some Canadian cookies here...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes.
OBAMA: ... shaped like maple leaves.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right here, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me.
OBAMA: So, I figured I will get some points from my daughters for bringing some home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: There you go, presidential souvenir hunting. We are going to show you what else he got when we come back.
BROWN: Now we are "Cutting Through the Bull."
And we got strong feedback from many of you after we showed you what Attorney General Eric Holder had to say about race in America yesterday. Holder struck a chord with some, but not everybody, after calling us -- quote -- "a nation of cowards" for avoiding a real dialogue on the racial divide.
Take a look at some of the e-mails we got.
Alfred in Virginia writes: "Holder's comments inflame unnecessarily and are counterproductive to his desired goal."
Lou in Florida says -- quote -- "You and Holder are idiots. The only cowards are those in the media who feel an urge to be politically correct. This country elected a person of multiple ethnicity to its highest office. What more does this country have to do to demonstrate our colorblindness?"
Jerry in Massachusetts: "Holder's speech was divisive and plays right into the hands of people who benefit from keeping us all divided."
But there was also a lot of support for Holder.
A viewer who simply calls herself Dr. Garcia writes that: "As a black woman, listening to the attorney general, I felt his words were my words. Talk is cheap. The attorney general is exactly right. Let's stop fooling ourselves that stereotyping, racial inequalities and majority preference does not exist. Let's learn to communicate and get over it. We will never go back"
Holder's comments didn't stop there. While he wants us to use February's Black History Month as a tool to get the conversation going, he calls it a testament to a problem that has afflicted blacks since they first arrived in this country. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Black history is given a separate and unequal treatment by our society in general, and by our educational institutions in particular.
As former American history major, I'm struck by the fact that such a major part of our national story has been divorced from the whole.
For too long, we have been too willing to segregate the study of black history.
But we have to recognize that until black history is included in the standard curriculum in all of schools and becomes a regular part of all of our lives, it will be viewed as a novelty; relatively unimportant and not as weighty as true American history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And we want to delve into this more with our guests right now.
Joining me now, presidential historian and Rice University professor of history Douglas Brinkley. Also with me, Pulitzer Price- winning syndicated columnist Clarence Page, and CNN political analyst Roland Martin, who is in Birmingham, Alabama, tonight at a fund-raiser for the Birmingham Association of Black Journalists.
Doug, let me start with you.
BROWN: Do you think -- you just heard Holder there -- that black history is, as he said, segregated and treated as a novelty?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No, I don't believe that anymore.
I think Black History Month has been successful. And I think these campaigns to teach tolerance in schools have been successful. The fact that we have Barack Obama as president is a testament to that. I think that Mr. Holder just misspoke. I don't think using the word cowards and making this inflammatory speech...
BROWN: But he didn't -- it was more than a misspeak, though, don't you think?
BRINKLEY: It was. I think he's -- I think that we have to hold him accountable for it. I don't think this is a pass, the way that I hear some people wanting to make it. I don't think it helps Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan.
I don't think it really creates a dialogue about race. I think it's name-throwing about people in the past. People are sensitive about their ancestors. Not all of our former Americans were cowards. Certainly, Virginia Durr of Montgomery, with Rosa Parks, were not cowards in the '50s. Certainly, Cesar Chavez was not a coward when he engaged whites in California.
So, it's just a loaded word. I think his sentiments are fine, but that word dealing with cowards in history, I think it is bad language. Mark Twain used to say big difference between lightning and lightning bug. It's very small a word. Using the word cowards is bound to be inflammatory.
BROWN: Roland, what do you think?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, first of all, we can sit here and complain all day about him using the word coward, but how about the word self-segregation?
And so the people who want to focus on coward it's, frankly, a cop=out, OK? If you listen to what he said, he said that we're a self-segregating country. We are people who go to black churches and white churches. Our schools are segregated. You look at what's happening in terms of our neighborhoods.
And so what he is saying is, get out of your comfort zone and stop focusing on that.
MARTIN: But this is an excuse. And so I'm not going to play this -- he knew exactly what he was saying. And I think people should ask...
MARTIN: What do I do in my own household?
BRINKLEY: Roland, do you think Barack Obama told him, good job, thank you for using the word coward?
MARTIN: First of all, it's President Barack Obama.
BROWN: Roland, let Doug finish.
BRINKLEY: I will just make the point. Do you think Barack -- do you think President Obama has applauded; you think he said good, Eric; keep using that word more?
MARTIN: First of all...
BRINKLEY: You know he didn't. He said, cool it. Cool it, is what he told him.
MARTIN: Douglas, one second, one second.
He has the absolute right to say what he said. I think what we should be doing...
BRINKLEY: You didn't answer my question.
MARTIN: No, no, no, no, no, one second, one second. OK?
We should be asking ourselves, why do we separate ourselves? Why do we only go to particular areas?
BRINKLEY: So, should he say it again?
BRINKLEY: He should repeat the speech? You think President Obama is telling him to repeat this? You think it was good? You think it was a good speech and good politics?
BRINKLEY: Was it good politics?
MARTIN: First of all, this is not a question of good politics. This is about America accepting the reality that we're expanding in this country. By 2050, this will be a majority minority country. And so we better figure out how do we get along with our fellow brothers and sisters, as opposed to getting stuck on a word.
BROWN: OK, guys, let me bring in Clarence and let me get your take on clearly some strong opinions on both sides.
Where are you on this?
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, I hate to stand between Roland and Doug here. I might get trampled.
BRINKLEY: We're friends.
PAGE: They're doing just fine, Campbell.
But I wouldn't have used the word coward. But I have been cowardly myself on occasion when I felt like I really would love to engage a white person, for example, on some offense that they have committed, but rather than bother, I just have -- I have walked on. For example, remember how much trouble Joe Biden got into for using the word articulate, clean and articulate, to describe Barack Obama? A number of times, people have complimented me for being so articulate. And I wanted to tell them, you know, that word offends a lot of black folks, strikes us in a lot of different ways.
But, rather than doing that, I have just said, well, thank you very much. And I have walked off.
BROWN: Well, why, Clarence?
PAGE: I didn't have the courage of my convictions. That's cowardly.
BROWN: Why do you think you bite your tongue and walk on? And how do you force yourself out of -- or how do all of us force ourselves out of that, that sort of politeness?
PAGE: Because it's so -- exactly, politeness.
It's so easy to just walk on out of politeness.
BRINKLEY: That's right.
PAGE: But what that does do is represses dialogue, until we have a big racial eruption, like that little episode, or like the O.J. Simpson verdict, or the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, or more recently "The New York Post" cartoon, "The New Yorker" fist-bump cartoon.
This whole presidential campaign was dotted with little racial eruptions and gender eruptions over issues that we don't normally talk about. If anything, I think Attorney General Holder has done us a favor with that provocative word, because he has provoked a dialogue on this show and I hope across the country.
BROWN: Do you agree with that, though, Doug? I mean, he said it and look at us. For two days now, it's all anybody has been talking about.
BRINKLEY: Eric Holder is going to be a first-rate attorney general. I think he has an extraordinary biography. I would have confirmed him in a minute.
I think this talk that he gave and particularly the language he used is inappropriate, because it's inflammatory. I think, when you are representing, as attorney general of the United States, to throw that people in the past, making a blanket historical statement using a loaded word like cowards, the ultimate fighting word, and to throw it out there isn't helpful for President Obama's agenda right now.
MARTIN: Well, let's have a dialogue then and not get stuck on a word, coward. That's what I'm saying, Douglas. And that's what he is saying.
BROWN: And a good note to end on, Roland. Thanks, guys. And we do have to end it there. We're out of time.
But, to Doug Brinkley, Clarence Page, and Roland Martin, appreciate it. Thanks, guys.
MARTIN: Thanks, Campbell.
PAGE: Thank you.
BROWN: This week, the story of one man's alleged crimes had people hopping jets to try to find their money. But it seemed no one could find him. So, why did the FBI let billionaire financier R. Allen Stanford go free after they finally tracked him down today?
That story when we come back.
Plus, the president goes shopping -- what he picked up for his girls while on his trip.
BROWN: Tonight, the FBI has finally tracked down a billionaire banker accused of masterminding what the SEC calls a fraud of shocking magnitude.
A senior law enforcement official tells CNN Robert Allen Stanford was driving his girlfriend's car when he was stopped by agents in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and served papers. He was not taken into custody, but he has made arrangements to turn in his passport.
Stanford is accused of running a $9.2 billion scheme that may have defrauded investors around the world. That's the kind of money that could buy a whole lot of influence. And we're learning more tonight about Stanford's ties to Washington insiders.
Randi Kaye is in Houston, where federal officials raided the billionaire's offices yesterday.
Randi, what have you got?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, late this afternoon, as you mentioned, after days of hunting for him, the FBI finally found him in Fredericksburg, Virginia, driving his girlfriend's car. They served him with papers for allegedly taking part in this massive $9 billion fraud.
His personal fortune, by the way, about $2 billion. Now, here is what officials say went down. The fraud scheme promised to deliver consistent and above-average returns, no matter what the market. The SEC actually says he -- and I'm quoting here -- "fabricated historical returns data to prey on investors."
Now, if that sounds familiar, it should, because Bernard Madoff, who is accused in this $50 billion Ponzi scheme, also promised steady returns. That raised some eyebrows. And it was actually, when that case broke open, that investigators decided to pounce on Stanford.
Today, I spoke to two former employees who left the company in 2007 because they didn't like what was going on. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: What was allegedly going on at Stanford that didn't seem right to you?
CHARLES RAWL, FORMER STANFORD FINANCIAL EXECUTIVE: Our clients were not receiving the returns that the literature says they were receiving. That was disturbing.
KAYE: Are you surprised at all by the charges now against Stanford?
MARK TIDWELL, FORMER STANFORD FINANCIAL EMPLOYEE: I'm shocked. I didn't realize the depth of the problems.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: Now, Campbell, you mentioned Washington. And a lot of people in Washington, D.C., are watching this case very closely, because of Allen Stanford's alleged ties to politicians.
In the last decade, in fact, he and his company donated nearly $2.5 million to politicians. If you take a look at this video that we got today from Stanford's company Web site, you can see that it shows Stanford at an event for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which he donated more than $200,000 to.
Barack Obama got nearly $32,000. John McCain got more than $28,000. Now, they both now have promised to give that money to charity. But there is more. Powerful members of Congress who oversee major financial committees all got major contributions. They're all promising to either give it back or give it to charity.
But it doesn't actually end there. Stanford also was pretty cozy with some professional big-name athletes, including Tiger Woods. He hosted an event with him. Also professional golfer Vijay Singh, he sponsored one of his events. Also, tennis great Jim Courier was involved with him.
And he was close -- I found this interesting -- pretty close to Prince Charles of England. They actually took part in a polo event together -- Campbell.
BROWN: So, Randi, who was watching this guy's books? I mean, how was this alleged scheme allowed to go on?
KAYE: Here's what we found out most interesting today.
We found out today that it turns out that a tiny one-man accounting firm in North London is actually keeping an eye on the books. This is not a well-known firm. This is not an established firm, just a tiny one-man accounting firm.
And it's actually located just above a fish and chips shop in North London. And this is where Stanford's multibillion-dollar portfolio is being audited. That's his accounting headquarters.
BROWN: Not unlike the Madoff thing. I guess that's what we should all learn from this is, the first thing you ask is, who is auditing the books, and where is their office located?
KAYE: Exactly. There you go.
BROWN: Have we ever heard of them?
All right, Randi Kaye for us tonight -- Randi, thanks.
CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin is here now to explain more about the case against this guy.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: We're just so jaded. Nine billion dollars, it's like, he wasn't trying hard enough. Fifty billion, that's what we're used to.
BROWN: You and I were talking about this during the commercial break, about how it doesn't seem like a big deal after Madoff. It's enough money
BROWN: But, seriously, why -- first of all, isn't this guy in custody, if they stopped him today?
TOOBIN: Well, they had no right to arrest him, because the only charges against him are from the SEC. And those are civil charges.
Now, if you read the SEC complaint, it really looks like they're setting the stage for a criminal case. And that often follows an SEC complaint. But, at the moment, there are no criminal charges, so they have no right to hold him.
BROWN: So, what kind of charges, assuming they are working something up, are we likely to see?
TOOBIN: Very similar to the Madoff case, fraud, broadly defined, that this -- that he misrepresented what he was doing, and took money under false pretenses, classic white-collar crime, often charged these days, especially.
BROWN: And it's similar situation. We're talking about thousands of people here. Is anybody ever going to see this money again?
TOOBIN: You know, the tragedy of fraud cases is that you often think, when they break, well, there was $9 billion there. Let's go get it and give it back. That's not how it works. The money tends to disappear, bad investments, lawyers, his own personal fortune. The money tends to just disappear into the air, which means pennies on the dollar back for the victims of these crimes.
BROWN: If anything at all.
BROWN: Jeff Toobin for us tonight -- Jeff, tonight.
BROWN: Remember that Iraqi shoe-thrower who nearly hit President Bush back in December? Well, today, he told a court exactly why he did it. And we're going to have that story coming up in the briefing.
And don't forget -- yes, there it is, in case you missed the moment -- don't forget also our NO BIAS, NO BULL economic call-in tonight. You can call in right now with your questions. That number is 1-877-NO-BULL-0.
We will be right back.
BROWN: We're just minutes away now from your questions and your phone calls about the economic mess.
Check them out. There are our experts. And they can help you get to the bottom of your money worries. Dial in right now, 1-877-NO- BULL-0.
First, though, Gary Tuchman joins me right now with tonight's "Briefing" -- Gary.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, hello. Just weeks before the crash of that Continental Connection flight near Buffalo's airport, another airline, Southwest, warned its pilots of a potentially significant hazard when trying to land on the same runway. The alert issued again just yesterday advises that pilots could experience abrupt pitch, slow air speed and a potential for stalling because of interference with a signal sent to the plane's instrument landing system. However, an FAA spokesperson says it's unlikely the issue Southwest raised would have been a factor in last week's crash.
A 9-year-old Arizona boy charged with shooting and killing both his father and the man's roommate today pleaded guilty to a single count of negligent homicide in the shooting of the roommate. It's part of a plea agreement with prosecutors who dropped two counts of premeditated murder. As part of the deal, the boy will not serve jail time but could still be sentenced to a county facility. The boy was 8 at the time of the November killings in the town of St. Johns, Arizona.
After dozens of cases of arson in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a 19-year-old described as a pyromaniac has been arrested. He may be responsible for at least eight of the fires. There have been 18 fires so far this year and 26 last year in Coatesville. One of those blazes killed an 83-year-old woman.
In another courtroom today, the Iraqi journalist charged with throwing his shoes at George W. Bush last December said it was the president's "bloodless and soulless smile that provoked him." At his court appearance today, he called George W. Bush "the man who killed our nation." That's a quote. Cameras were not allowed inside but there were plenty of supporters including family members.
And a Dunkin' Donuts clerk is in hot water after a fight about coffee. Police in native Massachusetts just west of Boston say the clerk stormed after a customer who walked out because the customer was tired of waiting for his cup of java to be made. The two began arguing when the clerk allegedly went out to the parking lot and while other customers watched, the clerk allegedly pulled out a pocket knife slashing all four tires on the customer's jeep. The clerk has pleaded not guilty. Obviously, the clerk did not have his morning cup of coffee -- Campbell.
BROWN: That could well have been it.
Gary Tuchman for us tonight. Gary, thanks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Indonesia today, but she must have wondered if she had perhaps wandered onto the set of "American Idol."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since this is a music show --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we would like to --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe to hear you sing a little bit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: You're going to hear her answer in our "Political Daily Briefing."
And tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE," guest host Joy Behar has Anne Coulter. Plus, the latest in the saga of the octuplets mom. You're not going to want to miss that. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FARIH JOHNSON, 3rd GRADE: President Obama, I'm worried that air pollution is destroying America. How are you going to make the areas of big factories (ph) safer to breathe in? This is a very important issue. (INAUDIBLE) Farih Johnson. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Farih Johnson of Renaissance Elementary School in Fulton County, Georgia, that's right near Atlanta, very serious subject matter there.
All over the country children are writing letters to President Obama. To send us your letter, look for the i-Report link on our Web site, CNN.com/campbell.
Erica Hill with me now for the daily briefing, "Political Daily Briefing." And topping the "PDB," the swearing in of a CIA director and some very blunt words from Vice President Joe Biden today.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a real departure from the vice president. He's so blunt.
BROWN: Good point.
HILL: So what could have actually been just another routine swearing in oath taking was I've said a moment for the vice president to offer up a bit of his outspoken self. Just before the unprecedented swearing in at CIA headquarters, Vice President Biden offered this observation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We expect you to provide independent analysis and not engage in group think. And we expect you to tell us the facts as you know them wherever they may lead, not what you think we want to hear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Not quite sure, some speculation that may have been a dig at the Bush administration perhaps.
BROWN: Oh, no. Never. Never, never.
OK. So tell us about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Indonesia, her appearance today on, I guess, their version of "American Idol."
HILL: It is sort of like "American Idol." It's the show in Indonesia and this is really this kind of visit is all about, where diplomacy is about.
It's a teen variety show. It's called "Dahsyat" (ph) which translates to "Awesome" in English. You might find it, sort of "American Idol" or something on MTV.
Secretary Clinton came out swinging, very fiery. Some quick one- liners here telling the hosts she was "thrilled to be back in Jakarta" and have a chance to be on this "Awesome" show." Very clever. And the jokes didn't end there.
After telling them her favorite bands are the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, excellent choices I must say, the host then asked the secretary to sing a little bit since, of course, this is a music show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Here is the problem.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. OK.
CLINTON: You see all of these people. If I start to sing, they will leave.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
OK, if you say one word in Indonesian --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: OK. So we don't want, of course, want the entire audience to leave so here you see a little challenge there. A test of the local tongue from the hosts. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Say that again?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Salam hangat (ph)
CLINTON: Salam hangat (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Perdasha (ph).
CLINTON: Perdasha (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Untuk (ph).
CLINTON: Untuk (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kwarga (ph) Indonesia.
CLINTON: Kwarga (ph) Indonesia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Talk about being a good sport especially since it probably wasn't exactly clear what Madam Secretary was saying but played right along.
BROWN: I don't think she knew what she was saying either. So we're also sort of wondering if the new head of the Republican Party knew what he was saying.
BROWN: This is an interview with the "The Washington Times."
HILL: Yes. Even at the "Washington Times" and a lot of people talking about it wondering what newly elected RNC Chairman Michael Steele has in store for his party. In that interview he said he's planning an "off the hook PR campaign to bring younger voters to the GOP.
Now, he wouldn't give exact details of the plan, didn't want to give it away. But he did tell the paper, "We want to convey that the modern day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles. But we want to apply them to urban-suburban hip-hop settings."
Now, while he was initially talking about bringing more young Latino and African-American voters into the party, Steele went on to say the party really needs to uptick its image with everyone including in his words, one-armed midgets. He apparently was laughing when he said that, Campbell. Kind of a joke, but -- including everybody.
BROWN: All right. Well, that's a big tent party. We'll see. We'll see what the fallout will be if any for the new RNC chair.
And finally tonight, just because he is president of the United States doesn't mean Barack Obama is going to discontinue a tradition he has with his two daughters.
HILL: No. Talk about a good dad on this. Because when you're president of the United States, you don't exactly have a lot of free time but on his first international trip, the president still found a few minutes to pick up a souvenir for his daughters.
He was in Canada, of course, today. No hockey sticks or maple leaves though. The president needed something very specific -- a snow globe. The youngest daughter Sasha collects them, and he made quite a scene trying to get it here at an old farmers market in Ottawa but was ultimately successful we understand.
BROWN: Oh, good, and we're glad. Yes, very sweet.
Erica Hill for us tonight. Erica, thanks.
We'll be on the road in Michigan tonight talking with people who are clinging to hope and their jobs, and wondering whether the federal government's new rescue plan will rescue them. We're also answering your questions, too, about anything your money, your job, the economy, where things are headed. Give us a call at 1-877-no-bull-0. All that when we come back.
BROWN: Tonight, we're focusing on jobs, your money and the country's deep economic problems. We're going to be taking your questions coming up in just a moment. First, I want to take you to one of the states where this crisis has hit the hardest.
Michigan's unemployment rate in December was 10.6 percent. That's as high as its been in 25 years. And in Lansing, where John King spent the day with autoworkers terrified for their jobs, the current jobless rate is 8.6 percent. That's up three percent over last year.
John is live tonight at a Saturn dealership in Grand Ledge with more on this for us.
And, John, the people you spoke to today, are they confident the stimulus now that it's passed, may mean help is on the way for them?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Maybe a little, Campbell, but they're not very confident. As you mentioned, the unemployment rate in Lansing is even higher than statewide and everyone here knows it will go up because many of the autoworkers we talked to have been told they will be out of work in five or six weeks. So the unemployment rate is on the way up.
They know there are modest tax breaks in the stimulus plan, $8 on average a week for the average worker. And they know there are modest incentives if you do buy a new car like this Saturn behind me. You get to deduct the sales tax and the excise tax. But they understand to drive around this community you see the hurt in the economy.
They think as the president always says it is going to get worse before it gets better. So the stimulus plan I think maybe will help consumer confidence just a little bit. Their biggest focus right now, though, Campbell is on the GM and the Chrysler requests for billions and billions of dollars more in bailout money because they say if the auto companies don't get that bailout money, not only will they be laid off in a month or three, but they think they are very unlikely, almost impossible to get called back to work unless Chrysler and GM can get back on their feet.
So it's a very, very still depressing mood here when you talk to these workers. They don't see the economy. They don't believe it's hit bottom yet.
BROWN: And, John, you are at a Saturn leadership tonight. That brand being eliminated in three years. What happens to those people?
KING: It's a fascinating part of the equation. We do focus rightly so, a lot on the workers in those factories and we were on the floor of a GM plant today. But this is another stakeholder in the debate.
A Saturn dealership, the relationship will end in three years. If you bought this Saturn today, could you bring it back here in three years for GM parts? They don't know the answer to that question whether they'll be able to service in three years the cars they sell today.
Saturn dealership owners like this one say they want to stay in business. They may start selling, Campbell, Chinese or Indian cars instead of General Motors cars three years from now. That will be a tough sell in a union GM town like this, but the owner of this dealership, (INAUDIBLE) told us she is determined, her life, her family finances are heavily leveraged in this business. She said she is determined to fight and carry on. She also understands it will be a tough sell.
BROWN: John King for us tonight. John, thanks.
And tune in to John's program. That is Sunday, this Sunday every Sunday. It's called "State of the Union," a four-hour blend of interviews, analysis, culture and commentary.
Tough times do call for tough questions and tough minds to answer them. We have arranged for some top money experts to take your questions, so call us right now. 1-877-no-bull-0 or 1-800-662-8550, right after the break.
BROWN: Tonight, some of the best economic minds around are here to answer your questions. And joining me with what you need to know about our money meltdown, chief business correspondent Ali Velshi, as always, Lynette Khalfani-Cox, "The Money Coach," Andy Serwer, managing editor of "Fortune" magazine, and real estate expert Barbara Corcoran with us as well.
So, Andy, let me start with you. The Dow closing at its lowest point in six years. I think all of us keep wondering have we hit bottom? I mean, do we know?
ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Well, first of all, no one knows. Second of all, I would, if I had to venture a guess, I would say no. I think that the situation unfortunately in the economy continues to deteriorate in terms of corporate profits, in terms of layoffs. So I think the only thing out there is a little doom and gloom.
But remember, the stock market is a leading indicator so before the economy really starts to improve, the stock market will go up. But for now, I think things are getting a little bit worse still.
BROWN: What about the real estate market, Barbara? Are we hitting bottom on that front?
BARBARA CORCORAN, REAL ESTATE EXPERT: I bet you can answer that one yourself. You don't have to turn to me on that one. But I can certainly let you know when the bottom happens once things start turning around as we all know.
But there is a little sunshine there. There's less inventory. Home sales are up by about one percent if you really want to look for some little ray of hope. And Obama has just come out with a great incentive plan that has a lot of things missing from it but nonetheless, it's hopeful. So we'll see.
BROWN: Let's take a call. We've got Amy from Pennsylvania on the phone with us right now -- Amy.
AMY, PENNSYLVANIA: Yes.
BROWN: What's your question?
AMY: Well, I was going to ask Barb, I went to refinance my home on the second of February. And when they did the appraisal, the value of my home had dropped significantly putting me at an 85 percent loan to value ratio. My income has also changed. So I'm going to be unable to qualify for this refi and what I'm wondering is, will I be -- will I be able to get some of these federal funds?
CORCORAN: You know what, Amy, no one knows quite yet. I wish I could answer that in a very clear way, but the problem with the new plan so far is that none of those specifics are clear and frankly, that is a problem. No one knows who to call. No one knows what questions to ask. Everyone knows that everyone is going to be equally qualified, but yet no one is being qualified now because no one knows what the rules are.
So what are your options right now? Your options are to wait a little bit and see. On March 5th, all these little details that are supposed to be in place, I don't believe they will be. We'll see.
I sound awfully negative, don't I? I ought to be shot tonight.
BROWN: Well, no. There has been so much confusion about that.
BROWN: So I guess we've got to wait until we get some of these more -- some initial detail.
LYNETTE KHALFANI-COX, PERSONAL FINANCE EXPERT: I think she gave us a little bit of a clue into her situation, though. She said her income has dropped or she lost her income. That's going to be very difficult for her in all candor to qualify because they said so far that one of the criteria is you've got to be able to prove to a bank that you got the income to support a refi.
KHALFANI-COX: Banks just aren't going to loan money if they don't think they're going to get paid back.
SERWER: That's how we got in the problem to begin with, right.
KHALFANI-COX: Yes, exactly.
BROWN: We got a ton of i-Report questions here. And let me throw this one at you, Ali. This is Andrew who's an i-Reporter from Atlanta with a question that has been burning up the blogs. Let's take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If recent college graduates can prove they have been looking for a full-time job and haven't received any offers due to the recession, should they be eligible for unemployment benefits?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are five million people right now on unemployment benefits. That's the largest number we've ever had in history.
Let me show you a little bit about unemployment because it's affecting so many people so drastically. The thing about unemployment benefits is they are unemployment insurance which means you have to have been paying into that or your employer has to be -- having paid into this usually for at least a year before you can qualify.
Now, in order to get unemployment benefits, you have to have lost your job without cause. You can't have just quit. You can't have been accused of misconduct. You have to have lost your job without trying to lose your job.
You typically get about half of your earnings that you would have been earning but in the case of this i-Reporter from Georgia, the limit is about $330 a week. And you can in many states file online but typically speaking, if you were a student and you didn't, you haven't been working in a job where you've been paying into unemployment for a year or longer, you're not likely to qualify because it is an insurance plan. It was started in the Great Depression to try and help people through. So unfortunately, a very large component of the unemployed are students, a disproportionately high number are students, but generally speaking, they won't qualify for unemployment insurance.
BROWN: All right. Stand by, everybody. Got to take a quick break. We'll be back right after this with the best economic team on television here to answer your money questions. Call us right now, 1- 888-no-bull-0.
BROWN: Back now with our money mavens, Ali Velshi, Lynette Khalfani-Cox, Andy Serwer and Barbara Corcoran.
Barbara, people still digesting the president's foreclosure plan. I mean, I can't tell you how many questions we've gotten about it. Let's listen to an i-Reporter from Pennsylvania.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATTY LEWIS, WILLOW GROVE, PA: His focus right now is housing maybe on subprime and adjustable lenders. What about the unemployed? I've been unemployed for over a year and are now facing foreclosure? And how do we replenish their income?
We do not overspend like a lot of American citizens think that people who are victims of foreclosures do. We haven't been on vacation in 25 years. We don't go to the movies. Our house is our priority.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, I mean, how does she save her home?
CORCORAN: Honestly, there's only one angle she can work which is you could possibly -- depends upon how long the foreclosure has been going on but if it's not near the 11th hour, she could arrange a short sale with her bank. But she's got to call the bank, the right department, which is the workout department. Only speak to an officer of the bank and ask for permission in advance of the short sale to sell. And I'm telling you, in the last three or four months, more banks are saying yes. Nine months ago, everyone was saying no.
VELSHI: That means they take the home and they write off the rest of the loan.
CORCORAN: They grab whatever --
VELSHI: You don't get to stay in your home.
BROWN: Andy, do come with a big picture perspective on this because I heard a number of people say since the housing plan was unveiled and again, there's so much we don't know that it doesn't help enough people to truly make a difference. Do you agree?
SERWER: Well, I think, you know, as Barbara has been saying the details of the plan are still being sorted out, number one. Number two, you know, we flip these plans out, the president puts them out and people take pot shots, they criticize them. But, you know, really you have to try something and that's what's going on here.
That's what happened during the Great Depression. FDR tried --
Exactly. And so, you know, I don't think you can even make that kind of assessment right now. Certainly, there are going to be people saying it's not enough but let's try it, you know, then you have to decide whether incrementally it's OK to just try it, you know, step by step like that. But I think it's OK.
KHALFANI-COX: You know, and here's one of the reasons why people are questioning whether it will be enough. It's the scope and the magnitude of the problem. We've got about 52 million U.S. homeowners and about 27 percent of them are underwater with their mortgages. They owe more than the home is worth.
One out of ten is also behind on their mortgages. That's a massive problem to try to tackle. So we've got to see. You know, we don't yet know how much of an impact this is going to make.
BROWN: Let me move to layoffs just before we run out of time because there were a ton of questions on this too. If you live paycheck to paycheck, you lose your job. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEREMY COLEMAN, MAPLETON, IL: What should these people do? If they were to get laid off, what are their options? There aren't many options out there. I mean, it could be weeks before they qualify for food stamps. And if you're living paycheck to paycheck, what then?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: This is about the safety net. I mean, Lynette, what is the first thing you need to do?
KHALFANI-COX: Try to get as much as you possibly can from your employer going out the door. Do your best to negotiate the strongest possible severance package. Take advantage of every benefit they offer.
If they give you job training, resume preparation services, do take advantage of all of those. Of course, put your claim in immediately for unemployment benefits, et cetera. Start cutting back on that spending because you don't know when that next paycheck might come.
CORCORAN: And I'd like to say one other thing. Change your attitude immediately and realize that there are a lot of jobs out there and only the best people get them. And I think if you approach it that way, rather than -- I mean, that's the downside. The upside is, aggressively go out and get yourself another job. I mean, there are jobs out there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
BROWN: Suze Orman was on the show last night and she was pretty depressing, too, just like you guys.
CORCORAN: Suze Orman.
BROWN: But, I mean, Andy, give me your thoughts on this, like what's our time frame? When can people start feeling like we're going to see the end of this?
SERWER: Well, first, things have to stop getting worse and, you know, things need to sort of flatten out bottom out. And I really think it's going to take through the end of the year.
You know, this is sort of a lost year. You can just write it off. And only then will we start to see some recovery.
BROWN: All right, guys, we got to end it there. Many, many thanks to our panel. We're not quit done yet. Stay with us. We'll be back in two seconds.
BROWN: And we want to thank our panel, Barbara Corcoran, Andy Serwer and Lynette Khalfani-Cox. Many thanks to you, guys. Appreciate it. That's it for us.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.