Return to Transcripts main page
Natasha Richardson's Death Examined; CBO Ups Deficit Projections; AIG Bonus Fallout
Aired March 20, 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 HOST: Hi there, everybody. President Obama's tough week just got even tougher. Bullet point number one tonight, the ballooning deficit. Today the Congressional Budget Office said the White House may be underestimating the size of this year's deficit by nearly $100 billion. Hardly chump change. We're going to tell you how it will affect the president's plans. Part of our road to rescue coverage of the biggest story facing our nation, the global economic crisis.
And bullet point number two tonight, Suze Orman, not just to give you advice about your money. She's also pretty fired up about those AIG bonuses. And she's got a message for former President Bush. She says he owes the American people every penny of his fortune. Suze Orman with her own NO BIAS, NO BULL take coming up.
And bullet point number three, the presidential session on Jay Leno's couch. Some folks didn't find it all that funny. But the White House could get the last laugh on this. We'll tell you about it.
And bullet point number four, shuttle ready. First Lady Michelle Obama digging in the dirt with a local elementary school kids at a new White House -- as a new White House garden begins to take root. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Let's hear it for vegetables. Yay! Woo! Let's hear it for fruits! Yeah! What, did I hear a boo?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Let's hear it for vegetables. We'll do a little digging of our own a little bit later on.
All this week here on NO BIAS, NO BULL we've had one goal, to try to help you understand the complex economic issues we've faced so you can be better prepared. The president has been on a mission of his own this week trying to reassure all of us that he can get the economy back on track and cut the government's monstrous deficit. Here's what he told state lawmakers about this just this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: Because of the massive deficit we inherited and the costs of this financial crisis, we are having to go through the books line by line, page by page, so that we can cut our deficit in half by the end of my first term and reduce it by $2 trillion over the next decade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Well, today the Congressional Budget Office said the president's numbers are off. It's projecting his policies will run up nearly $1 trillion deficit every year for the next decade. In the middle of all this, the president has been trying to explain why our nation needs to save AIG, the bailed-out company that handed out big bonuses just last week. Last night, he went on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno", and tried to spell out what led to the company's near collapse. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: Tell people what happened. I know people have been over it ...
OBAMA: Look, here's what happened. You've got a company, AIG, which used to be just a regular old insurance company. And they insured a whole bunch of stuff. And they were very profitable, and it was a good, solid company. Then they decided, some smart person decided let's put a hedge fund on top of the insurance company. And let's sell these derivative products to banks all around the world, which are basically guarantees on insurance policies on all these subprime mortgages. And this smart person said, you know, none of these things are going to go bust. This subprime thing is a great deal, you can make a lot of profit. So they sold a whole bunch of them. Billions and billions of dollars. And what happened is that when people started going bust on subprime mortgages, you had $30 worth of debt on every $1 worth of mortgage. And the whole house of cards just started falling down.
So the problem with AIG was that it owed so much, and was tangled up with so many banks and institutions, that if you had allow it to just liquidate, go into bankruptcy, it could have brought the whole financial system down. So it was the right thing to intervene in AIG.
Now, the question is, who in their right mind, when your company is going bust, decides we're going to be paying a whole bunch of bonuses to people. And that, I think, speaks to a broader culture that existed on Wall Street, where -- I think people just had this general attitude of entitlement, where we must be the best and the brightest, we deserve $10 million or $50 million or $100 million payouts.
And, you know, the immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem. But the larger problem is we've got to get back to an attitude, where people know enough is enough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The president says he is angry. And he's got plenty of company. Financial expert Suze Orman has a lot to say about this. We couldn't think of a better time, frankly, to invite her back to NO BIAS, NO BULL than right now when all of CNN is focusing on the road to rescue. You, of course, know her books, her magazines, online columns and of course, the "Suze Orman Show" on CNBC. Good to see you.
SUZE ORMAN, FINANCIAL GURU: Thank you.
BROWN: So you just listened to what he said a moment ago. And President Obama, Secretary Geithner have both said they didn't know about the bonuses until last week. Do you buy it?
ORMAN: I don't buy it, I'm so sorry to say. The reason I don't buy it is our own Ali Velshi here in January, I know, I watched it, I watched it, talked about the $400 million in bonuses that AIG was going to pay out to, who? To their people. Nobody, nobody, if they read a newspaper, if they listened to radio or TV, could have possibly missed that. And then how could you explain that you don't know it when your own Treasury Department says to Senator Dodd, you have to put that in the stimulus package that allows us to pay those bonuses.
I'm sorry, Campbell, they had to know it. Why can't they say we knew it, we made a mistake? Why do they have to make it sound like, my God, I am stunned. How could the president of the United States not have known that.
BROWN: You've generally been a supporter ...
BROWN: ... of the way President Obama has been handling the economy overall. Is this changing your mind? Are you losing confidence in their ability to deal with this?
ORMAN: I think that the problem is so overwhelming, that their communication skills are not the greatest right now. Do I think that they personally have the financial ability to deal with this? I do. Do I think it's taking longer than they think it's going to be? Yes. Do I think it's more complicated than maybe they imagined? Yes.
But for some reason, whoever is in charge of communicating what they know and how they know it, I think that's what they're blowing more than their ability to do so.
BROWN: Is it still possible, you know, plenty of calls for Secretary Geithner to go already. I mean, is it possible for them to turn this around? You know, given what it's going to take to get this huge plan through Congress, that is -- that everything is riding on.
ORMAN: I think we need to give him a chance, believe it or not. You know, for so many, for so long, you had all the pundits saying, we don't like Bernanke, get him out of there. He doesn't know what he's doing. You had people screaming about him. Now all of a sudden they love him.
BROWN: Now he's the wise man.
ORMAN: Now he's the wise man. Let's give Timothy Geithner just a little bit of time to figure this out. Maybe he doesn't have the best communication skills. OK. He doesn't. Let's face it. But that doesn't mean he's not a brilliant man who might be able to do this if we just back him a little bit and give him a chance. That I think we should do. But just stop communicating about it, people. Just stop it. Because you're not good at it out there.
BROWN: We're going to talk more about this with you later in the show. But before you go right now, I have to ask you about something else. You're not happy at all with former President Bush either. And you said this. This is the quote I'm going to read you. That you'd want to tell him, quote, "If I were you, I would feel so absolutely horrific that I would take every penny I had and distribute it to anybody and everybody to help them in whatever way I could. You owe the American people every penny of your fortune and your family's fortune."
ORMAN: Yeah. Here's the thing. That's a heavy quote, isn't it? Yes.
ORMAN: That was given two or three months ago when I was interviewing with the person who wrote that. And it was at a time, and I still believe this, it's not just enough to say, give back your bonuses, CEOs, you can't do this, nobody can make money anymore. Politicians, rating agencies, the administration, they are equally responsible, in my opinion, that this whole thing came tumbling down. Who was overseeing everybody, Campbell? And it all starts at the top. And, therefore, if we are now asking normal everyday people to give back bonuses, do this, do that, well, I've got news for you, so should the politicians. All the money that was built on -- that they made and they're going to make on the downfall of America, I'm sorry to say, everybody, if we're taking this stance for CEOs, we have to take the same stance for politicians as well.
BROWN: All right. Strong words from Suze Orman. And you are going to be sticking around with us, of course, coming back a little later. We have a lot more to talk about with you. A footnote to this we want to mention. We got word tonight that 11 AIG executives have been subpoenaed to show up next week in front of the Connecticut State Legislature. AIG is based in Connecticut and lawmakers say people nationwide should be upset, outranged by these bonuses, those same lawmakers promising a tough grilling. And again, as I mentioned, Suze's going to be back. She has great advice for our viewers, as always. But she's also going to set the record straight on a few things relating to the economy. A few things you may have been hearing. We'll get a fact check from her as well.
Also, President Obama setting the blogs afire with a joke that fell flat, you could say. Quite a gaffe on Jay Leno last night. Today one big-time Republican cut him some slack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, (R) CA: Every one of us sometimes makes a mistake by -- something comes out of your mouth and you go, oops, I wish I wouldn't have said that.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: Not everybody is so forgiving, including, surprise, surprise, Sarah Palin. We're going to tell you about that.
And we've got expert analysis from the best political team on television. Stay with us.
BROWN: We're cutting through the bull tonight as always with our last word of the week on the AIG bonuses. It is OK to be mad. But in Congress, too often one person's rage is another person's instant law in the making. And that is not always a good thing. Yesterday with lightning speed the House approved a measure that would slap a whopping 90 percent tax on bonuses for some of those working at companies getting at least $5 billion of bailout money. Of course, it's in response to the $165 million paid out by AIG last weekend. But does anybody see the irony here? Congress is showing its outrage over the bonuses by trying to rush through a new law. The AIG bonuses were allowed to happen precisely because Congress, in its race to pass the stimulus last month, approved that bill with an exemption added at the last minute allowing any bonus guaranteed before mid-February to be paid out.
So now they're trying to clean up the mess that comes from haste by ramming through yet another piece of legislation regardless of consequences. And of course, both sides had to make sure they got all worked up in front of the cameras.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE ISRAEL, (D) NY: The American people have had it with the posturing and partisanship and politics. They want their money back.
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT, (R) TX: You want to get it back? I want more than 90 percent. I want 100 percent. You do that by forcing them into bankruptcy.
REP. JARED POLIS, (D) CO: We will hunt down your executives with pitch forks, we will subpoena your boards and haul you before Congress. We will use personal rhetoric to decry your greed. We will make life miserable.
REP. PHIL GINGREY, (R) GA: This is like asking forgiveness for a mortal sin by saying one Hail Mary.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one called me, no one called my district office and said, congressman, please go to Congress and file an inquiry about what happened to my taxpayer dollars. They're saying, get it back. Get it back now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Is this bill actually good legislation? Who knows? House minority leader, John Boehner, said that the bill is quote, "Nothing more than an attempt for everybody to cover their butt up here on Capitol Hill. It's full of loopholes. A lot of these people who are getting these bonuses likely live in London. And it's not clear how raising this tax is going to recover that money."
What is clear is that this whole debate has been a massive political distraction taking our focus off how to solve the much bigger problem of shoring up our banking system. This is what happens when they don't take full political advantage of the heat of the moment rather than truly trying to solve our problems.
Let me be clear, I'm not defending the bonuses by any means. But I am saying that we expect our leaders to stop and think for a moment about the consequences of their action. If they had done so the first time around, this bonuses might never have gone out in the first place and our lawmakers could have focused on the many other problems we face. All of which had to take a back seat this week so politicians could hold a witch hunt and grab a piece of the spotlight. That's cutting through the bull for tonight.
Members of Congress aren't the only ones taking heat over AIG. It's been a rough week for President Obama, too. Going to ask our political panel what lessons he may have learned this week. Was it a good one or bad one? All of that when we come back.
BROWN: It was all going pretty well for President Obama during last night's taping with Jay Leno, smooth sailing until Leno threw a softball and the president kind of blew it. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LENO: Are they going to put a basketball -- I imagine the bowling alley has been burned and closed down?
OBAMA: No, no, I have been practicing.
OBAMA: I bowled a 129.
LENO: Oh, no, that's very good. Yeah, that's very good, Mr. President.
OBAMA: It's like bowling for Special Olympics.
LENO: No, that's very good.
OBAMA: No, listen, I'm making progress on the bowling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The problem there as you heard the president referencing Special Olympics. Of course, the damage control started immediately. The White House released a statement reading, "The president made an off-hand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics. He thinks the Special Olympics is a wonderful program that gives an opportunity for people with disabilities from all around the world." End quote. The president got a welcome pass from someone who knows all about the Special Olympics, and politics, and verbal gaffes. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHWARZENEGGER: I didn't see it. But I heard about it. And I know, because of conversations I've had with the president, about Special Olympics, since I'm the international coach of Special Olympics, I know where his heart is at. He loves Special Olympics. And he would do everything he can to help Special Olympics. And every one of us sometimes makes a mistake by something comes out of your mouth, and you say, oops, I wish I wouldn't have said that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not you.
SCHWARZENEGGER: No, of course not. I have many of those.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And then there was this statement from Special Olympics chairman, Tim Shriver saying, "President Obama called last night and expressed his regret and he apologized. He said that he did not intend to humiliate Special Olympics athletes or people with intellectual disabilities. He was sincere and heart felt and said he is a fan of our movement and is ready to work with our athletes to make the United States a more accepting and welcoming country for all people with special needs." End quote.
So a rare TV faux pas right there for the president, but one that is generating quite an outcry. We want to bring in CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, our political analyst Roland Martin and CNN contributor Ed Rollins with us tonight as well. Welcome to everybody.
Gloria, you know, a case study in the dangers of live TV here. It happens to all of us at some point. But how much do you think it really matters?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In the short term Campbell, he really stepped in it, and he ended up stepping on his message. But in the long term, you know, I think the president's appearance last night, he did exactly what he wanted to do. He was looking for a new audience to communicate with. I think he explained the AIG problem on that clip that you showed earlier in the show really well. And he's trying to take his case to the American public directly. Jay Leno's a pretty easy interview for him. I think you wouldn't argue with that. And so I think overall, it worked fine for him.
BROWN: Ed, going back to the gaffe. I guess you heard Schwarzenegger there kind of in a break. But Sarah Palin did not. The former vice presidential candidate, the Alaska governor who has a son with Down syndrome released a really tough statement saying, quote, "This was a degrading remark about our world's most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world." What do you make of that?
ED ROLLINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Obviously the whole thing has got him off his message. My only objection to going on the show, which I think he did a superb job up to that point in time, is this is a time for a president to be very serious. We're out of the campaign mode. This was a great campaigner. But he needs to be very serious about the problems facing this country. And I think to a certain extent he needs to stay home for awhile. He needs not to be running to California or anywhere else. He needs to basically be there fixing the problems and he stepped all over his message. He had a very bad message week.
BROWN: Roland, what do you think? Do you agree with that?
MARTIN: Look, bottom line is, he absolutely stepped on it. He wanted folks talking about the Jay Leno appearance in a much different way than what we're doing right now. But again, it does make sense from a political standpoint for the president not to be so locked in to Washington, DC. Because again, what he is trying to separate himself, if you will, from Washington, DC and the drama there, and be more about the common man and the regular folks. And so it is smart to get out of the beltway, because frankly, when you get locked in there, there's sort of this mindset that occupies everything.
BROWN: But there are those who will say, Roland, and to Gloria, let me get your take on this as well, that he should be in Washington right now working with Congress to try to have a team in place at his Treasury Department to try to get them ready for his banking plan as they begin to release the details on that, and that he does really need to have his head in the weeds on all this stuff.
BORGER: Well, I think, look, the president can do more than one thing at a time. But it's clearly part of their calculation that in order to pass the things he's going to pass in Washington, he needs to have the public on his side. Because right now he's in kind of a funny position, Campbell. He's more personally popular than a lot of his programs. He's going to have to use that personal popularity to sell his programs, whether it's his budget or the bank bailout. We've got it coming up. Clearly they don't want us as interpreters. They want to go directly to the people. Ed Rollins knows about this. He worked for Ronald Reagan. That is what Ronald Reagan tried to do.
BROWN: Ed, to that point, you did -- give what you know of Reagan, the best communicator in politics. Is he going about this the right way?
ROLLINS: First of all, there's no problem going to the country as time goes on. He's been there 60 days. My objection to what he's been doing is, two weeks ago, health care, then it's environment, then it's this. The country desperately wants it to be financed. They want the banking bill to get done. And he has to look like he's in charge. Again, we know he's a great campaigner. But we don't know yet whether he is going to be a great president. The way you show you're a great president is you take charge of the administration. We've been fighting over a bill that his department, his Treasury Department should have known every detail of and didn't. And so I think to a certain extent he needs to be more serious and stay there for a few weeks and make some things move. BORGER: And I think the danger is overexposure. At a certain point, if you see the president all the time, are you going to listen as carefully to every single word he's telling you? So I think that's an issue the White House needs to think about.
BROWN: Roland, the furor over AIG isn't really helping him rally support around his other economic policies. I mean, what should the take-away from this week be? He's having the primetime news conference on Tuesday. What should his goal be?
MARTIN: I think for Tuesday, again, it is making it clear that we are in charge, that the mistakes that we made were valid mistakes, and we're going to fix those. But as Ed said, he's absolutely right, they do have to move forward in terms of hiring the necessary people in the Treasury Department, because your treasury secretary is under assault, in terms of folks are saying the show is running by himself. And so again, laying out the confidence that we are in the moving forward and getting things done. You can't have another situation where you knew about bonuses, and you did nothing. Then we find out the Treasury Department did want AIG to be taken care of, if you will, by taking the provisions out. That's one of the fundamental problems there. He has got to say we're moving forward. That's what he has to do on Tuesday.
BROWN: Guys we're going to end it there but to Ed, Roland and Gloria, many thanks. Have a nice weekend, everybody.
BORGER: You too.
BROQN: And there are new details we have to tell you about. Also new questions in the death of Natasha Richardson. We're going to talk to CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta about that when we come back.
Stay with us.
BROWN: We have new information tonight about the sudden and tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson. Richardson died Wednesday after suffering from bleeding in the brain. She had a skiing accident on Monday. Her husband, actor Liam Neeson, attended a private memorial service in New York City this afternoon, along with their two sons and Richardson's mother, actress Vanessa Redgrave. Tonight cnn has learned that contrary to reports from the Mont Tremblant resort, the actress wasn't taken to the hospital until several hours after she fell at a ski slope.
And now there are questions about they're wondering whether that delay may have contributed to her death. CNN's Gary Tuchman has been looking into it and chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here with his analysis as well. But Gary, first, walk us through what you learned.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here's what we've learned today. There is a discrepancy about how quickly Natasha Richardson was brought to a hospital after she hit her head skiing. The operations director of the ambulance service that was called in Mont Tremblant, Quebec tells CNN the actress arrived at the hospital three hours and 47 minutes after the ambulance received its first call. Now, that's nearly three hours longer than officials at the ski resort had originally told reporters. Mont Tremblant had said it was about an hour. The resort said right now it's not commenting, but it is cooperating in the investigation.
BROWN: And Gary, I know you sort of put together a time line. Walk us through exactly how it did go down.
TUCHMAN: Here's what we know at this time, Campbell. At 12:43 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, the ambulance service received its first call. At 1:00 p.m. the paramedics arrived on the scene. Ten minutes later the call was cancelled, the ski patrol saying the patient refused treatment. At 2:59 p.m., the ambulance received a second call, ten minutes later the paramedics arrived for a second time. And at 3:42 they were taking Ms. Richardson to the hospital. She was still conscious, but feeling poorly. She arrived at the hospital 38 minutes later at 4:20 p.m.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And I want to bring in Sanjay now. And, Sanjay, it seems like a long time to wait with a head injury. Explain to us what is going on with her while she's waiting.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know now is that she had a significant blow to the head that actually caused a fracture of her skull. And the reason that's significant is because there's a blood vessel sort of underneath the skull that probably started to ooze blood, started to leak blood.
Let me show you here with an animation exactly sort of what we're talking about here. You see the brain here and then you see sort of over time, this blood starting to accumulate up here. This can take a period of time, several minutes, hours. And with time, you can see because you have this hard outer casing of the skull, you're pushing just down on the brain. And that's starting to cause all the problems.
It's starting to interfere with her ability to breathe on her own, her ability to regulate her heart rate. She's starting to lose consciousness. That's what's happening over that time period.
BROWN: And, Sanjay, this has been so shocking, I think, for so many of us, because of how quickly it happened. How common is this?
GUPTA: You know, that's a question I've been getting a lot as well. And people sort of have touted this as she fell off a beginner's hill. It didn't seem that serious and then she had this very tragic outcome.
To cause an epidural hematoma, which is what this is, a type of blood clot on the brain, usually requires a significant amount of force to the head. So one thing you can probably say as a neurosurgeon was that this was a pretty significant fall. If someone had witnessed it, they would have said, wow, that looks like she hit her head very hard. The second thing is almost everyone who develops this sort of fracture in the skull and this bleeding has some sort of disturbance of consciousness at the time. While they may not lose consciousness entirely, they're dazed. They really looked like they got their bell wrong, and that's usually a clue to paramedics, doctors, neurosurgeons, whoever has end up treating her that, you know, this is something worth investigating a little bit more closely and a little bit more quickly as well. So I think it's rare, but there were some clues here probably as to what should have been done.
BROWN: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta for us tonight. Gary Tuchman also with us tonight with his timeline of events and what happened. Thank you both.
In our "Road to Rescue," CNN survival guide, we have not just been reporting on what's wrong with our economy, we're also profiling some of the people who have the power to change, to get us back on the right track. And one of them is the woman whose job it is to keep your money safe. Ali Velshi tells us how she's going to do it when we come back.
BROWN: Our "Road to Rescue" coverage continues tonight with more from Suze Orman who is setting the record straight for us on the economy. But first, Gary Tuchman back with "The Briefing" -- Gary.
TUCHMAN: Campbell, in a dramatic break with the Bush administration, President Obama sent a videotaped message to Iran today, offering what he called the promise of a new beginning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right, but it comes with real responsibilities. And that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Iran's response, a statement demanding "fundamental changes in U.S. foreign policy."
In New York, confessed Ponzi swindler Bernard Madoff learned today he'll have to stay behind bars until he's sentenced in June. His lawyer had tried to get him released on house arrest. Madoff faces a possible 150 years in jail.
And a casino in Illinois went up in flames this morning, filling the sky with black smoke. Everyone inside was forced to flee. Police say the blaze started in an area that was under renovation. No one was hurt, Campbell, and the fire that occurred, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago in the city of Joliet, Illinois.
BROWN: All right. Gary Tuchman tonight with "The Briefing." Gary, thanks. Appreciate it.
No financial survival guide would be complete without Suze Orman. She's back after the break.
And Michelle Obama digs into her next project using the power of the White House to help make healthy choices.
BROWN: Breaking news to tell you about tonight. Three more banks just went under. First, Citibank of Stockbridge, Georgia, Colorado National Bank of Colorado Springs and Team (ph) Bank of Kansas.
The FDIC has stepped in to make sure people with money in those banks will get their money back. And on the subject of the FDIC all this week, we've been singling out people who we think have the power to bring about real change, to help our economy.
We focused on an auto industry CEO, a banker, the college dropout who founded Facebook, and Oprah Winfrey. And tonight, the FDIC's unsung chairwoman, Sheila Bair, is on our list. She is the one in charge of protecting your bank deposits. And chief business correspondent Ali Velshi is here to tell us about her.
And, Ali, I guess before this year, before even the last few months, I don't think people spent a whole lot of time thinking about the FDIC. They've certainly never heard of Sheila Bair.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And even most of us who do know Sheila Bair probably couldn't name many FDIC chairs before her. They may not have known her before, but many people now know, by the way, about the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the FDIC. It insures banks. It insures their bank deposits. In fact, most people had forgotten that a bank could fail until IndyMac went under last summer, and we were hit with one of the biggest bank failures in history.
Now, since then, another --about almost 40 banks have failed and Sheila Bair's agency is the last stop before a bank goes under.
BROWN: So she's at the forefront of handling sort of the government's response on that front of the financial crisis, but does she have the power to truly change things?
VELSHI: Well, she's taken the power. The FDIC is the glue that holds the banking system together. I know some people don't think it's being held together all that well. But its chairman, Sheila Bair, is widely considered one of the most important and effective people in Washington. "Forbes" magazine named her the second most powerful woman in the world last year.
I spoke with her today about suddenly being cast into the limelight and what she sees as her role during this financial crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHEILA BAIR, FDIC CHAIRWOMAN: I think that public confidence, making people sure -- making sure people understand who the FDIC is, how we operate, that our guarantee is rock solid, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. Nobody's ever lost a penny of insured deposits. I think that's something that we very aggressively got out and it's been good because it has helped stabilize deposits in banks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Sheila Bair has been among the first to take action during this crisis. Like if Sheila's organization catches failing banks before they collapse, they seize them or close them up on a Friday night, like we've seen tonight. They have them open again under either new ownership or government controlled by Monday morning.
Now she has been on top of people's fears about banking. She's been working really hard to increase deposit insurance so that people don't stage a run on the bank, which was such a crucial part of the Great Depression.
BROWN: Now, not to get too gossipy here, but there are a number of reports out there that she and Secretary Tim Geithner do not get along at all. They've certainly gone head-to-head with each other over policy, but there is a real tension to that relationship.
BROWN: And also reports that she could replace him if he doesn't make it through this troubled time, I guess.
VELSHI: Well, part of this is because Sheila Bair has a reputation as a maverick. She's the kind of person who lets her ideas be known, and she feels that the financial mess we're in can be solved. It's better to have solutions openly debated as according to what she thinks than to have everyone nodding their heads in agreement.
I did ask her specifically about her disagreements with other agencies, and this is what she told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHEILA BAIR, FDIC CHAIRWOMAN: But we've worked very collaboratively with our colleagues at the fed and the treasury. Many of the programs we've instituted have been part of a broader inner agency effort to stabilize the banking system. So I do think we work for you. Sometimes we have different perspectives but we always bring those perspectives to the table in a collaborative way and I have displayed a lot of inner agency initiatives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Sheila Bair's name was brought up as someone who could be the treasury secretary. I don't think she'll be replacing Treasury Secretary Geithner any time soon, but she's been a calm voice throughout this crisis. She's become a powerful voice in reshaping the financial industry. And some say she is, or could be the most powerful financial person in this country. And she's definitely a very impressive woman.
BROWN: A politic answer there as well, I have to say. But certainly someone to keep an eye on.
VELSHI: Yes, absolutely.
BROWN: And, Ali, got to thank you. You have been working pretty much 24/7 this week for our "Road to Rescue" coverage. Really, just want to say you've done an amazing job.
VELSHI: Well, thank you.
BROWN: It's fascinating.
VELSHI: It's been an important week, and I've really liked the opportunity to at least introduce some of our viewers to people who do have the power to change, because that's where we have to start going. We have to start thinking about what the rest of our economy looks like and what the future looks like.
BROWN: Absolutely. And we want to tell folks too to be sure to tune in this weekend to Ali's special. How is your money being spent on AIG? Who's responsible for the AIG mess? Why all the outrage?
Ali investigates it all on "AIG Facts & Fury." That's Saturday and Sunday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
Suze Orman is coming back in just a moment. And White House green thumb. Today, Michelle Obama took a page right out of Eleanor Roosevelt's playbook and used a shovel and pitchfork to get it done.
BROWN: "LARRY KING LIVE" just minutes away. Larry, what's on tap tonight?
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Campbell, how bad was the president's "Tonight Show" gaffe about the Special Olympics? Chairman Tim Shriver is here to tell us what he thinks.
And people are asking another question. Is Barack Obama taking his eye off the ball? Should he be staying in Washington and addressing the economy? We'll have some answers.
And then good health in stressful times. More important than you might realize. Suzanne Sommers, Jillian Michaels and Dr. Robin Smith are here to help us. We'll try. Next on "LARRY KING LIVE" Friday -- Campbell.
BROWN: All right, Larry. We'll see you shortly.
Of course, the AIG story, just one part of CNN's unprecedented week- long "Road to Rescue" coverage, all of the economic crisis. All week, the one and only Suze Orman has been a loyal viewer. And she is back to fact check some of what she heard this week.
And, Suze, before we get into that, I just want to ask you a little bit of news we reported a moment ago about some additional bank failures today. And just -- I just want your take on the extent to which people should be nervous right now, frankly, about their money, and about where things are given the big picture...
SUZE ORMAN, FINANCE EXPERT: Yes.
BROWN: ... especially when they hear things like this, whether these are small local banks in their communities.
ORMAN: However, if your bank has FDIC insurance on it, you should not be afraid on any level. The chairman, Sheila Bair, has the authority to just write a blank check to make sure that there's enough money in the account to pay for it. So if you're under the FDIC insurance guidelines, and you would know by going to myfdicinsurance.gov, there's a little calculator there. You'll even see my little face there helping you go through it, because I've been working with them on that, you are safe and sound but you have to be within the insurance guidelines.
BROWN: OK, important to know.
BROWN: You have been watching our "Road to Rescue" coverage all week. And I wanted to pick up on a few points.
BROWN: And first of all, a lot of viewers are worried that if they lose their job, they won't be able to afford to continue their health insurance coverage. This has been something we've talked about a lot, that we've heard from people a lot about. Give us your take.
ORMAN: So here everybody, this is what I want you to know here. And this is important for you. Many of you, if you work for a company, and you're covered by health insurance, group health insurance, and now you've lost your job, your company has got to cover you under something known as COBRA. And they've got to cover you for the next 18 months.
There's a mistake out there that many of you are thinking, oh, my God, COBRA is so expensive. Well, it used to be, but under the new package, the stimulus package, guess what, it's only going to cost you 35 percent of whatever that premium is. So this is something you have to apply for. You have to do it within 60 days of having lost your job.
So please, just don't, you know, think, oh, my God, what am I going to do. Get yourself into your HR department and sign up for COBRA. It will go for nine months.
BROWN: So crucial.
ORMAN: Crucial. It's not that expensive anymore. People are like, oh, it's so expensive. It's not.
BROWN: Also, you say there are a lot of misconceptions out there about President Obama's mortgage plan. What are people getting wrong about that?
ORMAN: Yes, again, everybody, what I want you to understand here is that a lot of you think this is only for you, if you're on time with payments, if you have a good, you know, FICO score. No, no, no.
There are two parts of the program. One is refinancing, where you have to have a good FICO score. You really can't be underwater in your mortgage, which means you don't owe that much more than it's worth. But for those of you who are seriously underwater in this, you owe more than it is worth, you don't have a good FICO score, you're three, four or five months behind on your mortgage payments, you need to go to makinghomeaffordable.gov and see if you qualify. Look at your eligibility because you are the people that they are trying to help.
So please don't think that if you're not in good standing, this isn't for you. It absolutely is.
BROWN: The final fact check on unemployment. There's so many people collecting unemployment for the first time.
BROWN: What do they need to know? What's the most important thing?
ORMAN: The most important thing you need to know is, please don't be ashamed, and you should go and apply for it. Many of you can actually apply online. But here's what you have to understand, unemployment is taxable, people.
A lot of you think it's just this tax-free benefit. It isn't. But again, a new benefit with the stimulus is that the first $2,400 is tax-free. So don't go paying taxes on money you don't need to pay taxes on.
BROWN: So good to see you.
ORMAN: Thank you.
BROWN: Thanks for helping everybody, helping all of us get through.
ORMAN: I hope. I hope your little baby is safe and sound.
BROWN: Yes, me, too. Me, too.
ORMAN: All right.
BROWN: Two weeks to go.
ORMAN: All right.
BROWN: Suze Orman -- thanks, Suze. How is this for a shovel-ready project? The first lady found one right at her own backyard. What she's doing and why right after the break.
BROWN: Talk about your shovel-ready projects, Michelle Obama broke ground for an organic garden today. It's on an 1,100-square foot plot of ground on the South Lawn of the White House near Sasha and Malia's swing set. The White House chefs plan to harvest vegetables from the garden for the first family's meals, as well as for some formal dinners apparently. And Randi Kaye is here with all the dirt on the White House garden -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's actually getting kind of crowded there on the South Lawn. It was quite a sight at the White House earlier today. Michelle Obama out there in her boots looking fashionable as ever, putting her stamp on the South Lawn. So in between lunch and some picture taking, they got to work.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: You can lift up the grass with a pitchfork. Go, go, go.
KAYE (voice-over): Armed with a pitchfork and a shovel, First Lady Michelle Obama digs in to her next project, an 1,100-square foot vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House.
OBAMA: I want to make sure that our family as well as the staff, and all the people who come to the White House and eat our food get access to really fresh vegetables and fruits. Because what I found with my girls, who are 10 and 7, is that they like vegetables more if they taste good.
KAYE: Everything grown here will either be cooked in the White House kitchen or sent to a local soup kitchen.
(on camera): Judging from this map of the new garden, there will be plenty to go around. Spinach, kale, fennel, rhubarb, collard greens, even mint, and there will also be a couple of beehives, homemade honey.
OBAMA: We need a wheelbarrow.
KAYE (voice-over): The first family, White House staff and more than two dozen students from D.C.'s Bancroft Elementary will tend the garden year round. These kids have a garden of their own, at school.
OBAMA: Let's hear it for vegetables. Yes! Woo, woo!
Let's hear it for fruits! Yes!
What, did I hear a boo?
KAYE: The first lady hopes this will encourage parents to talk with their kids more about making healthy choices.
OBAMA: I've been able to have my kids eat so many different things that they would have never touched if we had bought it at a store, because they either met the farmer that grew it, or they saw how it was grown.
KAYE: Renowned California chef, Alice Waters, a longtime proponent of locally grown and organic food, has envisioned a vegetable garden at the White House for two decades. She tried convincing Hillary Clinton. No luck. She sent this letter to the Obamas. And it worked.
ALICE WATERS, CHEF/AUTHOR/ACTIVIST: I call it a "victory garden" because it certainly harks back to a time when people cared enough to work together to make gardens as part of that war effort. And we can band together now and help each other. The victory garden represents that.
KAYE: During World War II, victory gardens, as they were called, helped feed troops and their families. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had one. That's the last time there was a victory garden here. Since then, just herbs and limited container gardening on the White House roof. But Michelle Obama has a real interest in promoting healthy families.
OBAMA: Are we done yet?
KAYE: And she isn't afraid to get her hands dirty getting the word out.
BROWN: So it looks like fun.
KAYE: It sure does.
BROWN: It really does. Go back to this idea of how they're going to use it to try to encourage kids to eat healthier.
KAYE: Well, the idea, Campbell, is that if kids learn where food comes from, in the ground, in this case, and they're in the kitchen preparing it, they have a healthier connection with food.
Alice Waters, the well-known chef from California in our story, says kids will see the pleasure in nutrition. She does this with kids in Berkeley. She calls that project "the edible schoolyard" and she says it has been a huge success. So she really thinks that if they're there and see where it's coming from, they're going to eat out there.
BROWN: You're much more likely to eat a carrot that you pulled out of the ground.
BROWN: I'll try that with my son.
KAYE: There you go. It might work.
BROWN: All right. Randi Kaye for us tonight. Randi, thanks.
President Obama is taking heat for a lot of things these days, even his NCAA tournament picks. So how is the fan in chief doing so far? We'll have that next.
BROWN: As president, sometimes you make the right calls, sometimes you don't. Take President Obama's picks for the NCAA basketball tournament, for example. His brackets in our "Bull's-Eye" tonight.
He filled them out on ESPN explaining each choice along the way. So, how exactly is he doing?
Well, the president picked Louisville, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Memphis in the Final Four. So far, all four teams are still in it. But so far in the first round, President Obama has picked only 16 out of 24 correctly. That puts him near, well, near the bottom of most office pools. Not all that impressive.
That's it for us tonight. Have a great weekend, everybody. I'll see you back here on Monday.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.