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Campbell Brown

Positive Economic Signs; Fired For Venting Online?

Aired May 04, 2009 - 20:00   ET


ROLAND MARTIN, CNN ANCHOR: It's nice to start the week with some good news, especially on the economy.

Are the signs finally pointing to a real turnaround or just another bump in the road to recovery?

As always, I have got some very smart folks ready to help break it all down. CNN correspondent Erica Hill is here, along with Lisa Bloom, "In Session" anchor and CNN legal analyst.

But let's start with chief business correspondent Ali Velshi.

And, Ali, look, the Dow Jones industrials closed up over 200 points today. So exactly what in the world's happening on Wall Street?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right, it's a good question.

While you were sleeping over the last few months, things have been going on in the economy.


VELSHI: I will tell you -- but, no, because, look, everybody is talking about what a bad economy is. And we all know we're in a recession and things are tough.

But let me show you what has been going on. I want to show you a picture of the Dow. Take a look at this. Look at this V. This is the beginning of the year.

MARTIN: That's not victory.

VELSHI: That's not victory, but it might be on the way to victory. Let's -- this is where the Dow started the year. That's March 9. That was the low that we have had on this market so far. And look at what's been happening.

Now, look, remember, if you close in on this, Jeff, and you take a look, these are not straight lines. They have been up and down days. But look where we have worked our way up to, pretty much where we started the year. Now, that's a big deal. We have made up the last few months' worth of losses on the Dow. That's one thing.

Now, what's happened right here that's changed that? Let's take a look at some of the indicators that we have had that made the markets look a little bit more positive today. One thing we had is pending home sales. This means home that are under contract ready to be sold, up 3.2 percent in March. We just got those numbers today.

They have a little bit of a lag on them. That's good. That means people are buying houses. Why? Because houses are cheaper right now than they have been for a long time, but more importantly interest rates are very low. All through March, interest rates were in the 4.5 percent to 5 percent range.

Number two, construction projects, big public construction projects, home construction isn't happening right now, because nobody is buying homes that then they can sit around and not be sold. But construction in general was up, not by much, 0.3 percent in March. So, there are some feelings -- and we have this discussion before where there are what you might call green shoots, signs of life, glimmers of hope in the economy.

But now we actually have trends that indicate that things are looking a little bit better. And last week, I told you that one of my favorite economists, who has never been wrong about this, came out and said this recession will end in 2009. It may end as early as summer. There are many ifs in this discussion, but there are some reasons to be a little bit hopeful.

MARTIN: See, all those prayers are working.

VELSHI: That's right.

MARTIN: All right. I want to bring in somebody right now who says, hold on. Don't move so fast.

Folks, Peter Morici, he's with the University of Maryland Smith School of Business. He joins us right now from Washington, D.C.

Peter, all right, you heard what Ali had to say. Things seem to be looking up. So, here's what Warren Buffett, here's what the great oracle from Nebraska had to say this weekend.


WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN & CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: It isn't Pearl Harbor anymore. We're in an economic war of sorts, but the situation has come along a long way since we talked in October.

So we are now in the more drawn-out phase of fighting the battles of the war, and, you know, they come along like Chrysler or whatever it may be and you take them one at a time. You don't win them all, but the crisis has passed.


MARTIN: All right. Peter, that's the big man saying that the crisis passed. What do you say?

PETER MORICI, ECONOMIST, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Well, we are certainly getting some good news, but there's been some bad news as well. We continue to lose jobs. Industrial production continues to plummet downward.

What really concerns me going forward are two things. One is the closure of the auto companies for the summer, General Motors shutting down for nine weeks, Chrysler in bankruptcy. Let's hope it's not worse than nine weeks for either company.

The other thing is, we haven't really seen the brunt of the commercial real estate failures, which are coming, on the banks. Circuit City closed in January and February, and now those stores are closed. The landlords are not getting rent. And a lot of regional banks are going to have some retail mortgage failures, so to speak, and that's going to weigh heavily on the banks.

Certainly we are looking forward to some kind of recover towards the end of the year. That's the consensus of the professor, just not Ali's guru. However, the question is, including my forecast for two months now...


MORICI: .... however no one is really forecasting a super strong recovery. And that's the problem.

VELSHI: If I can just say, yes, Peter, you know, you and I are friends. And I respect what you have to say, too. Peter brings up something very important. That is industrial production. That is the measure of everything we make in this country, whether it's a barrel of oil or a car or anything like that.

And those numbers are really bad. So, there are things around the fringes...


MARTIN: But, Ali, you have some housing numbers. And, Peter, I want you to speak to this, because folks say that this was the start of this whole economic mess.

And so can we measure the housing starts, growth, whatever you want to call it, as a sign of recovery?

MORICI: The back is broken when you see prices turn around nationally on a sustained basis. And I hope we will have that by the summer, if not sooner.

Once that happens, then people will start to feel more confident and the economy will begin its recovery. But we are going to have to fix the structural problems that got us here in the first place. The banks are still broken. The Fed is doing a lot of the lending for the banks.

And we are going to have to look at the trade deficit, our oil dependence, things of that nature, stuff that Mr. Obama has raised. So, we are going to have to take a look at those things if we're going to grow long term on a sustained basis. LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Ali, I remember President Obama being asked what's going to be the most important indicator to get us out of the recession. And he said jobs.

VELSHI: Absolutely.

MORICI: Absolutely. Always is.


BLOOM: Jobs are still at 8.5 percent unemployment. There's no uptick yet in the job rate.


VELSHI: By Friday, when we get the new unemployment numbers, we could -- what do you think, Peter? We could be getting up closer to nine.

MORICI: We should be at 8.8 percent or 8.9 percent by Friday. And we're going to continue to bleed jobs for a couple of months.

The important thing is when we stop bleeding jobs. You don't have to be gaining jobs, but stop bleeding them.

VELSHI: Right.

MORICI: Because then that will be a lagging indicator. That will go up after industrial production starts to spin up and so forth. But we have got to stop bleeding jobs before we feel confident.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Peter, jobs obviously very important. We talked about whether or not housing could be an indicator.

But for the average person at home, it seems like every time we talk about what is happening with the economy, we reference the markets and the major indices. Obviously investors may be feeling a little bit more confident, but is that a really sound measurement for folks at home to say, oh, look, the Dow is up today, the S&P is coming back, that means the economy is back on track?

MORICI: Normally, the Dow, the stock market is a leading indicator of recovery, but one must remember how far we sank this time and the fact that the Fed poured so much money into the banks in February and March. They're essentially lending out almost free money.

And so that made the banks more profitable than their structural circumstances would indicate. So, you know, we have to see a little bit more of a stock market recovery before I'm convinced that's a leading indicator of good times to come.

MARTIN: Well, I think we will know when things have changed if Peter starts wearing ties, instead of bow ties.


HILL: I don't know if that's going to happen.

MORICI: Don't say that. Don't say that.

MARTIN: Peter Morici, we certainly appreciate it. Thanks so much.

And, folks, go to to get up-to-the-minute business news. And with the market averages heading upward, now would be a good time to clean up your out-of-whack financial portfolios. shows you how on the personal finance tab.

Plus, be sure to catch an all new "Money Summit" live May 14 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Now, the president's going after corporate tax dodgers tonight. Ali is going to show us what that might mean for all those American companies keeping their profits overseas.

Also, do you know when to draw the line online? Two workers are suing the restaurant that fired them for criticizing a boss on MySpace.

Luke from Florida thinks the boss is right on this one.


LUKE, FLORIDA: I think it's fair to fire people for what they say on social networking sites, simply because of that first word. It's a social networking site. And that means anyone can access it.


MARTIN: Is he right or wrong? Is it fair to fire people for what they say on social networking sites?

Give us a shout, 1-877-NO-BULL-0. That's 1-877-662-8550. Or drop me an e-mail You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook.


MARTIN: All right, folks, President Barack Obama thinks too many American companies are hiding profits from the IRS. He talked about it a lot during the campaign. But it's perfectly legal. He wants to change the law and make it easier to collect taxes on profits earned by those U.S. companies overseas.

Ali Velshi is back with us breaking it all down.

All right, Ali, look, let's hear why the president feels so strongly about this. Here's what he had to say earlier today.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even as most American citizens and businesses meet these responsibilities, there are others who are shirking theirs. And many are aided and abetted by a broken tax system written by well-connected lobbyists on behalf of well-heeled interests and individuals.


MARTIN: All right, Ali, so exactly -- break this plan down. Exactly what is he going to do?

VELSHI: I'm going to get you so excited about this that you are going to want to go home and just do your taxes for fun.


MARTIN: Bring it.


BLOOM: We have done them already.


VELSHI: Some of us haven't.


MARTIN: ... extension.


VELSHI: But I got the extension.

There are four things the government's proposing. I don't want to go through all of them to you, because that would be a class. But let me tell you how this works.

The U.S. government gives U.S. companies tax credits. They give money to U.S. companies in the form of tax credits, or U.S. companies pay them less in taxes, in exchange for making investments. In some of those cases, those investments go to non-U.S. operations or non- U.S. subsidiaries.

The idea when the government gives you a tax credit is that somehow you will generate more income from that, whether you're an individual or a business. And that money will find its way back to the government. So they are giving you a bit of a break so that they can do something that will make money and then the government will get paid its taxes.

Here's the issue. What happens is, in order to have to pay the taxes on the profits that are made in another country, you actually have to take the money from those operations, put it back into the U.S. company and then pay the taxes. That reverse action hasn't been happening. So what the government is saying now is that you can't get the tax credit off the top to invest in another country to build a factory, let's say, in another country, until you have actually repatriated the money that you made this that country.

So, the idea is the tax credit gets offset by money that have actually made. And that's a loophole that will prevent people from taking money, according to the government, using it in other countries and not ever having to pay the government for it. That's one of the things that they want to do. You still with me?

HILL: Kind of.

VELSHI: Let's take a look at another one.


MARTIN: We're with you. We're with you.

VELSHI: Another one is that the government -- many American companies have subsidiaries all over the world. And what some companies are doing, says the government, is moving around profits that might be made in Germany, moving it somehow on the books over to the Cayman Islands, let's say, where there's lower corporate taxes.

It wants to eliminate that. It says that you can't just shift your money around the world so that you declare it as income in a place where tax rates are lower. It wants American companies to pay American taxes on the money that they make around the world.


MARTIN: Hey, Ali, I have got a question here.


MARTIN: All right, because I was in Bermuda for a couple of months ago.


MARTIN: And all they wanted to talk about were these tax havens and these shelters.

VELSHI: Right.

MARTIN: Does this plan affect these offshore tax havens?

VELSHI: It does.

What it doesn't affect is those companies that are domiciled in those countries. So, this is only about actual U.S. companies. There are companies that are domiciled in other places and I think you can see that the government may be heading down that road. But this is companies that, say, might have a Bermuda operation or a Cayman operation or a German operation. Can they start moving their money around?

No. If you're a U.S. company, the U.S. wants you to pay U.S. taxes.

HILL: Is there any concern, though, that in changing these tax laws, while it could obviously benefit the government, potentially taxpayers, which is the thinking here, that, all of a sudden, the company is going to go, you know what, it ain't worth it; I'm going to move to this other country.


VELSHI: You are absolutely right. And we have spoken to a number of people today who have said that is a major concern.

Now, one offset to that is this government has talked about increasing corporate tax rates. Many people say that America's tax rates are in danger of not being competitive. There are reasons to be -- do business in America, even if you don't love the tax rate, because it's America.

But if the government were to come along with a corporate tax cut, it may make up for this kind of stuff.

HILL: Offset...


VELSHI: So, that's -- this is a very complicated issue, but it's about fairness, according to the government.

BLOOM: And, in exchange, the Obama administration is offering an offset for R&D.

VELSHI: Absolutely.

BLOOM: That R&D tax deduction will be extended.

VELSHI: Seventy-five billion dollars for companies that work on research to development to invent things.

HILL: Although some are saying it's not really new. So, we have to be careful how we figure that in, because it's the kind of thing that does get renewed every year.

VELSHI: You're right. It exists. The government wants to make it permanent, because they feel that if you subsidize or give people tax credits, the return on investment if Americans invent things could be very good for the economy. So, like I say, complicated. I think they're trying...


BLOOM: You made it scintillating, Ali.


BLOOM: Right.

VELSHI: Well, I'm going to do it again after the break.

BLOOM: Do it again during the break.

VELSHI: I'm going to come back and talk to you about...


MARTIN: Go ahead.

HILL: What do you got?

VELSHI: I'm trying to find something really...


VELSHI: ... complicated.


MARTIN: And, of course, the president said he wants to get $200 billion from this. And so we will see what happens.

VELSHI: That's right.

MARTIN: But Congress is going to fight him on this. So, we will see what happens.

We certainly appreciate it, Ali. Thanks a bunch.

Hey, folks, a story has been burning up the blogs. A man was beaten to death on a small-town street. His alleged attackers have been cleared of nearly all the charges. Did the color of their skin color the opinion of the jury?

And check this out. It was a scene right out of a movie, but it had a real-life ending in the middle of Times Square.


MARTIN: Oh, that's right. Look at you, working a little Jay-Z into the show.

Hey, Ali, (INAUDIBLE) on Twitter said, the economy is so bad, you lost pinstripes.


BLOOM: Ouch.

VELSHI: But it is coming back. I am going to able to buy them back, every last pinstripe. HILL: That's going to be our sign, once he's got the pinstripes...



MARTIN: That's the end of the recession. That's what is going to show it.

All right, folks, you expect the boss to watch you at work. You don't expect the boss to watch you at home when you're on the Web with your own computer. Two workers at a New Jersey restaurant say they got canned for what they said about work online and on their own time. Is it fair to fire people for what they say on social networking sites?

Here's Sheila from Los Angeles.


SHEILA, LOUISIANA: No, I do not think it's fair for the employees -- to fire people for what they say during private time. Now, if they are using the company computer during business hours, then they have a right to fire them.


MARTIN: Look, I agree, Lisa. I have got an issue with these companies looking at what you're doing on a social network.

BLOOM: Yes, and what boss is going to be surprised? Guess what?

MARTIN: Get a life.

BLOOM: All employees do in their spare time is complain about work and sexual innuendo. And that is what was going on here.


HILL: But don't we know? Don't we know? Haven't there been enough cases, though, that you know at this point you're probably going to probably get caught and get in trouble for it? So...

BLOOM: But this was a password-protected, supposedly private area.

HILL: But it was given to one of the managers, the password.

MARTIN: It's not my choice, but, bosses, get a life.


MARTIN: All right. Bosses and workers, you are welcome to join me tonight. Give us a call, 1-877-NO-BULL-0. That's 1-877-662-8550.

A lot of news music. What happened to Jay-Z?

E-mail me or find me on Twitter and Facebook.

Folks, we have got the rundown on the board. We will be right back. Hopefully, that -- we're getting rid of that news music.



MARTIN: All right, folks.

A 25-year-old Mexican immigrant died after a vicious fight last summer in the small town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Take a look at the man in his last hours, after the savage attack. Racial slurs were allegedly used, adding a bias charge to the case.

But two young white high school football stars, one of whom was charged with third-degree murder, have now been acquitted of the most serious charges. Did the all-white jury let race play a factor, or did they simply follow the rule of law? And what makes critics think the case isn't closed?

Well, Erica Hill is here to start it off for us -- Erica.

HILL: Give you some background in the case, too, the beating death, as you mentioned, of an undocumented Mexican immigrant. It happened last July, and it has put the small former coal-mining town in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, at the center of the national debate on immigration and race.

Luis Ramirez, a 25-year-old father of two, was repeatedly punched and kicked until he became unconscious. He died two days later of his injuries. Prosecutors allege Ramirez was targeted for his ethnicity. Two weeks later, a group of four white teenagers were charged in his death.

Now, facing numerous counts, including third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation, two of those teens were acquitted of the most serious charges late Friday. An all-white jury found a 19-year-old Derrick Donchak and 17-year-old Brandon Piekarsky guilty of simple assault and providing alcohol to minors.

Latino rights' organizations are outraged. They're demanding Donchak and Piekarsky face federal prosecution. But the prosecutor accepted the verdict.


JAMES P. GOODMAN, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The jury has rendered their verdict. And they took a long time and deliberated it, deliberating the case. And we respect their verdict.


HILL: Now, one other teen is being tried in juvenile court, while the fourth, 17-year-old Colin Walsh, pleaded guilty to violating Ramirez's civil rights -- Roland.

MARTIN: All right.

Right now, let's bring in John Amaya. Of course, with MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. And he is in Washington tonight.

John, I have got to ask you this. Obviously, an emotional case, and the jury foreman was sympathetic to your side. But the foreman said the evidence simply wasn't there to convict these two.

So, you're looking to appeal. What is your argument?

JOHN AMAYA, MEXICAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND: Well, our argument, first of all, is that there has been a miscarriage of justice.

One thing is to take the evidence in an unbiased format and then come up with a conclusion. The jury foreman made it very clear that, in the deliberations, race played a critical role. And that was one of the things that concerned us from the very, very beginning, especially when it took two weeks for authorities to move in on this case.

And, certainly, we feel that that was just representative of what now we have seen this trial unfortunately conclude in. So, our concern right now is that this is sending a terrible message to the Latino community and the rest of the country, which is to say that if you're Latino in this country and you're beat to death, justice will not be on your side.

MARTIN: Lisa, this wasn't cut and dried here. Even the prosecutors said there were some issues in trying this case.

BLOOM: That's right. Look, it's always disturbing when you have a person of color as the victim and an all-white jury.

But group fight cases are always tough for prosecutors. You have got a whole bunch of people, six young men in this case, four involved in the incident. Two take pleas. Two are on trial. You have got a lot of conflicting stories, conflicting evidence.

Even the victim himself said that the person who kicked him in the head was wearing white sneakers. That wasn't consistent with the prosecutors' arguments in this case. So, the prosecutor has to prove every case beyond a reasonable doubt. They simply just didn't have the evidence here, according to a number of people on the jury.

MARTIN: John, you want the Justice Department to intervene. But isn't the problem here that they can't determine who actually was the individuals who actually killed Ramirez?

AMAYA: Well, first, I have to just make a quick correction. The victim didn't identify anything. The victim is dead.

So, the fact of the matter is that something that we need to remember is that Luis Ramirez is dead. He died here in the situation. And two of the acquitted get to go home and move on with their lives.

Now, in terms of what was done, we believe that there was plenty of evidence. We believe that there was no doubt in terms of the involvement of the two individuals who were acquitted. And that's why we are calling for the Department of Justice to move in with a thorough and comprehensive investigation, top to bottom from not just the incident, but everything that happened from the incident all the way through the trial.

BLOOM: The 15-year-old girlfriend of the victim, I believe, was the one on the scene who said that the one who kicked him in the head was wearing the white sneakers. She testified in the case, didn't she?

AMAYA: Sure. She testified. But some of the individuals who took the plea also testified to the fact that they saw their friends take a step and wind into Luis' head as if it were a football.

The fact of the matter, again, is Luis is dead. Simple assault charges don't lead to crushed skulls.

HILL: A quick question, Lisa, to clear up something that John brought up, his concern over the racial discrimination in the jury's decision, as he sees it, comments made by the jury foreman as well.

Is that -- how difficult, A, is that to prove, Lisa? And, B, if it is proven, that there was racial discrimination by a jury, is that grounds for a retrial, or for an appeal?

BLOOM: It could be. It certainly could be. The court of appeals is going to look carefully at that. Generally, courts don't get into the jury deliberations, unless there's fraud or duress or something extreme that went on in those deliberations, because they want jurors to be able to speak very freely, even aggressively and assertively in those deliberations.

But if it crosses the line into racial discrimination, yes, of course, the court is going to look at that.

MARTIN: John, you want the Justice Department to step in. Exactly -- and they have also said they are monitoring the case. What do you want them to do?

AMAYA: Well, like I said, we want them to do what is well within their jurisdiction. We want them to take charge. We want them to move in, investigate everything top to bottom, not just what happened in the incident, in the beating of Luis, but also in the acts of some of the local authorities that took place following the beating, and certainly some of the issues that we believe lead to collusion and we think warrant the Department of Justice to come in and if necessary press charges.

MARTIN: All right. John Amaya with MALDEF, we certainly appreciate it. Thanks a bunch for being here.

AMAYA: Thank you. MARTIN: Folks, on the football field, it was just practice. But when the roof suddenly caved in, it was no drill. Dozens of Dallas Cowboys ran for their lives -- the latest just ahead.


MARTIN: Hey, folks. Also, last segment, we did try to reach out to several people in the city as well as defense attorneys to get them to come on the show but they certainly didn't want to come on. So we tried to have both sides there so we wanted to make that point there.

All right. Two restaurant workers say they lost their job over things they said online on their own time. Invasion of privacy or fireable offense? You make the call. 1-877-NO-BULL-0. That's 1-877- 662-8550.

Folks are burning up the Twitter and Facebook but right now, Erica Hill and "The Briefing."

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. Just got caught up on a few other stories of the day. The case against the alleged Craigslist killer now extending to Rhode Island.

Prosecutors there charging Philip Markoff with assaulting and attempting to rob a stripper in Rhode Island Hotel just two days after the Boston murder of a masseuse. The stripper said she was bound with a cord and held at gunpoint by a man she met on Craigslist.

Federal inspectors trying to figure out why the Dallas Cowboys' practice dome collapsed during a severe storm this weekend. This is the video of the collapse. A dozen people hurt including the team's scouting assistant who is now paralyzed from the waist down. About 70 people were inside on Saturday for a repeat practice.

Swine flu cases continuing to climb worldwide but there is some positive news coming out. Today, signs from Mexico, the government there has taken its health alert level down a notch saying cases seem to be leveling off and may have peaked. Mexican universities, cafes, museums and libraries will be allowed to reopen later this week.

A big surprise for students at the South Carolina school President Barack Obama mentioned in his first address to Congress. Students at J.V. Martin Junior High (ph) arriving today to find new desks, chairs, tables, even a revamped cafeteria. A Chicago company donated the custom furniture in response to eighth grader Ty'Sheoma Bethea's letter to the president describing her run-down school. The total cost for the new furniture, $250,000.

And a movie stunt turning into a real life danger here in New York City. Look at this. A stunt driver -- watch this -- loses control of that Ferrari right there in Times Square, smashes into a pizza place. You can see it, knocks over a light pole. That happened, as well.

One person knocked down by the car. Another was struck by the falling light post. Both are expected to recover. That shoot was from the upcoming Nicholas Cage movie, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." Amazing that more people didn't get hurt.



HILL: Not the "Harry Potter" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."



VELSHI: They can just do stunts in Times Square while people are there?


HILL: That was my first thought, too. I was thinking when they did they do this in Times Square?


BLOOM: Yes. Are you kidding me? The traffic is bad enough in Manhattan.

HILL: At all hours of the day.

MARTIN: Yes. One word -- lawsuit. Lawsuit.

BLOOM: Good for the lawyers, absolutely.


MARTIN: All right, folks. Your stimulus tax -- first of all, Erica, thanks so much.

HILL: Sure.

MARTIN: Your stimulus tax dollars were supposed to give our economy a shot in the arm right away, but that doesn't explain one project in Florida is getting a lot of that money. Check this out.


SARAH HEARD, MARTIN COUNTY COMMISSIONER: I'm flabbergasted to tell you the truth because my understanding of the stimulus money was that it was supposed to be for shovel-ready projects that could be completed in three years. This is not shovel ready.

ODIA SMITH, SUING FLORIDA STATE TO STOP THE BUILDING OF BRIDGE: The president should know that this is a boondoggle and he's getting swindled.


MARTIN: Swindled. You'll want to see what he's talking about when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: That's not news music.

HILL: I feel like --

VELSHI: That is not news music.

HILL: Like vans (ph) and parachutes.

MARTIN: Yes, that was more like the robot move there. All right, folks.

BLOOM: Roland, give us one.

MARTIN: No, no, no, no, no, no.

HILL: A piece of cardboard, a little break dancing. Come on.

MARTIN: No, don't let me drop it like it's hot. You couldn't handle it.

It's part of the most expensive transportation project and it just hit the stimulus jackpot -- $128 million for a single bridge. Here's the problem. Critics say it's not shovel ready and worst of all, is not even needed. A complete waste.

Abbie Boudreau of CNN's special investigations unit is following the money. She's live in Atlanta tonight.

Ali, sorry. Abbie? I'm used to talking about Ali with "YOUR MONEY."

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's OK. Roland, not in a million years did residents or county officials in Florida ever think they would get the funding for this massive bridge project any time soon if ever. But thanks to a giant stimulus check, the money will soon be rolling in and long-time opponents of the bridge call it a total waste of money.


BOUDREAU: See if you can see this picture. Hundreds debate bridge. I mean, this is back in 2003.

(voice-over): In fact, the debate over the Indian Street Bridge between the communities of Palm City and Stuart in Martin County, Florida, hasn't died down for 20 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could call it the damn bridge to nowhere.

BOUDREAU: In 2004, a D.C. watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, listed this bridge project as one of the most wasteful projects in the U.S. Odia Smith is suing the state to stop the bridge.

ODIA SMITH, SUING FLORIDA STATE TO STOP THE BUILDING OF BRIDGE: The president should know that this is a boondoggle and he is getting swindled.

BOUDREAU: The bridge Smith calls a boondoggle is expected to get $128 million in stimulus money, topping the list of projects in Florida. But critics like county commissioner Sarah Heard say there's one big problem.

(on camera): There's a bridge that already exists between these two communities.


BOUDREAU: And so, where will the new bridge be?

HEARD: The new bridge will be just about a quarter of a mile south of here.

BOUDREAU: Only a quarter of a mile?

(voice-over): This is the bridge used now. Four lanes, more than a thousand feet long.

(on camera): Is there something wrong with this bridge? Structurally?

MIKE MORTELL, METROPOLITAN PLANNING ORGANIZATION: Absolutely not. The bridge is in fine shape. It just simply doesn't have the capacity to move more cars over it.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Mike Mortell, the chairman of the committee planning the bridge, says there's too much traffic congestion during rush hour and a second bridge would fix the problem.

(on camera): We were told that the reason for the second bridge is because this bridge is so congested.

HEARD: Well, you can see how congested this bridge is. It's not.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): We wanted to see what it looked like during rush hour. You can see the traffic was a bit congested leading up to the bridge at this intersection.

(on camera): It's busy. And I'm interested to find out what it's like when we get to the bridge.

(voice-over): But at 5:45, the height of rush hour, we had no problem driving across the bridge. Heard says not only is the new bridge a total waste of money but the project should not have even qualified for stimulus dollars.

HEARD: I'm flabbergasted to tell you the truth because my understanding of the stimulus money was that it was supposed to be for shovel-ready projects that could be completed in three years. This is not shovel ready.

MORTELL: I think that she probably misinterpreted what shovel ready means. Shovel ready doesn't mean it's finished. It means it's ready to begin.

BOUDREAU: But Heard points out there are still a handful of homeowners like this woman --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm still praying that it won't happen.

BOUDREAU: Who refused to give up their homes and properties to make way for the bridge. The county would have to declare eminent domain over the properties and that could take months or even longer. Still, once that stimulus check arrives, this 20-year long debate will be over.

(on camera): Does that debate even matter?

HEARD: No. It's been taken out of our hands then.


BOUDREAU: Mike Mortell says the state already posted hiring notices hoping as many as 3,500 jobs will be created. He says the goal is to break ground in July -- Roland.

MARTIN: Abbie, how was this project green lighted?

BOUDREAU: Well, county officials told us that the project got top priority. It was backed by the governor and then approved by the Florida legislature. And I mean, it really all happened relatively quickly.

MARTIN: So 20 years of debate didn't really mean a lot when all was said and done? That's it.

BOUDREAU: I mean, it absolutely seems like in this case. And one thing I heard quite a bit from people who opposed this project was that they truly feel their voice will not be heard now that the government is stepping in with all this money for the bridge. And I don't know about you guys but you have to wonder just how many communities are moving forward on these controversial and possibly even wasteful projects just because they now have the money.

MARTIN: All right.

BOUDREAU: Good question.

HILL: And speaking of money, Ali, just to put this in perspective, the state of Florida in all...


HILL: ... in terms of stimulus money, where does it fall based on other states? I mean, are they getting some huge windfall that they can afford, just throw money at things?

VELSHI: Well, it's a big state California -- Florida, I'm sorry. New York, California and Texas all got more money, but Florida got about $6 billion -- a little more than $6 billion in the stimulus bill, so it's got a lot of money to spend all around.

HILL: Crazy.

BLOOM: You know what would be nice for me to see? States to have an incentive to give back money.

MARTIN: Yes, right.

BLOOM: You know what, we don't need it all. If we're going to get some of it back, give some kind of an incentive...

VELSHI: Some states are talking about that.

BLOOM: ... to avoid waste.

VELSHI: Yes. It's been more of a political thing. Some states have said that it's wasteful so they're giving theirs back.


VELSHI: And they have suggested it. But yes, it's not going to be a very popular move.

MARTIN: I don't know if the governor -- sure, I'll give the money back.

Abbie Boudreau, thanks so much. We certainly appreciate it. A good job.

All right, folks, here's an opportunity for you. If you want to be the only other person in the whole wide world to own something Sarah Palin now has, all of you just have to watch our "Political Daily Briefing" to find out how you might do that.


MARTIN: I have Al Green, Lisa.

BLOOM: Al Green.

MARTIN: Look at you. She's trying to guess who it was there.

BLOOM: I knew that. They had another one.

MARTIN: All right, from Memphis. OK, folks, time for the "Political Daily Briefing" with Erica Hill.

In the "PDB" tonight, Erica, immigration reform. Big story.

HILL: It is a big story. And there's been a lot more talk about it lately and some interesting findings today that we want to share with you. Since President Obama took office, the number of Latinos who believe immigration reform should be tackled has grown.

A new poll from Latino Decisions finds when Mr. Obama was elected in November, 40 percent of registered Latino voters identified immigration reform as extremely important. That number now stands at 51 percent. But to put it in perspective, the grand perspective of what were all the issues, immigration, not even close to number one for registered voters.

The economy is. Fifty-six percent of those Latino voters said it is the most important issue for the Obama administration to address this year. As you can see, a distant second, immigration reform, just 12 percent of those identifying it as most important.

Tomorrow, of course, is Cinco de Mayo. The president and first lady though kicking off the celebration a little early. Just a short time ago, the president, vice president and their wives hosted an event at the White House to mark the Mexican holiday. And the president tried out a little joke about the timing of their fiesta.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Welcome to Cinco de Quatro -- Cinco de Mayo at the White House. We are a day early, but we always like to get a head start here at the Obama White House.


HILL: Cinco de Quatro, Quatro de Mayo, whatever works. The first lady also spoke a little Spanish when she attended the Cinco de Mayo event at a local charter school today for bilingual students. After watching some performances, she asked the crowd to send their thoughts and prayers to those battling swine flu in Mexico.

And finally tonight, your chance to own the same custom gun one gun maker made for Alaska Government Sarah Palin. A gun maker in North Carolina has made two, almost identical guns in honor of the former vice presidential candidate.

He sent us this picture and said the bottom gun was made as a gift for the governor. The top gun he plans to auction off at the National Rifle Association's annual banquet next week.

Now that all-white custom rifle called the "Alaska hunter" features an image of the big dipper and an inscription with a moose that reads "In honor of Governor Sarah Palin, NRA Foundation, May 14th. That is the date of the NRA's auction.

The gun maker says he made the rifle to honor the governor for standing up to American's right to bear arms but told us he hasn't actually heard back yet from Governor Palin, so it's not clear whether she plans to accept the gun, although we're hearing that she won't be at the banquet.

MARTIN: Can't wait to get one for my house.

HILL: May 14th, that's the auction.

VELSHI: Erica, why did -- why are they celebrating Cinco de Mayo early?

HILL: Maybe it works better with their calendar.

VELSHI: All right. So it wasn't some thing?

HILL: Maybe the real party can't be shot by the media and video cam.

VELSHI: Right.

BLOOM: Cinco de Mayo eve.

VELSHI: Cinco de Mayo eve.

HILL: There you go.

MARTIN: The president can do whatever he wants.

VELSHI: I guess you're right.

HILL: Excellent point.

MARTIN: All right, folks. Coming up at the top of the hour, as always, the big man, "LARRY KING LIVE" and he's starting a special week of shows.

Larry, who do you have so special? I haven't seen any promos on any of this.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": You haven't? We haven't promoed this? Are you out of your --


HILL: You want me to hit him for you, Larry? I can hit him for you. I'm right here.

KING: No. Today is Roland at Cinco de Tres.


KING: He's two days behind. Anyway, Barbara Walters is here and she's going to talk about the Obamas and Miley Cyrus and gay marriage. And what does she have to say about her co-hosts on "The View"? Then the mystery of Madeleine McCann. Disappeared two years ago, her parents hold out hope she's still alive.

And then our obsession with super skinny celebs. Through thick and through thin, Oprah's trainer Bob Green and Kathy Ireland will join us, all next on "LARRY KING LIVE." Get the date right, Roland.


MARTIN: Hey, Larry, I can't wait to see what a pink shirt and pink suspenders all in one day.

KING: Keep it up, Roland. You're flirting with it, Roland.

BLOOM: You know, Roland, "The View," that's a good format. I think they're copying our format.

MARTIN: Oh, look at you. So you're starting stuff.

HILL: Right. Just a word of advice, though. I don't know if you want to mess with the king.


HILL: He's the king.

MARTIN: Bring it.

Yes. OK.

VELSHI: I got to say, until this whole discussion, I didn't know that my watch, I didn't adjust it. So I've been on May 3rd all day. So anybody I wrote a check to, I apologize.

MARTIN: Ali, back to the show.

VELSHI: No problem with having the news these days.

HILL: I'm learning a lot.

MARTIN: You've been weighing again by phone and otherwise all this whole question of online privacy. Here's a message left by Deb from New Jersey.


DEB, FROM NEW JERSEY (via telephone): I honestly don't think it's right for people to be fired for something they may say or do during their social time, their private time.


MARTIN: That's tonight's topic. Is it fair to fire people for what they can say on social networking sites? Talk to me at 1-877-NO- BULL-0. 1-877-662-8550. You can e-mail me The time is right now. Even Ali can figure that one out.


MARTIN: Erica is loving all the folks on Twitter right now. All right, folks, "Your Turn, Your Voice" tonight. And whose space is MySpace or any of those other huge social networking sites.

Two workers at a New Jersey restaurant were dishing on MySpace a while back. They were at home on their own time in a password protected private group, and they said some unflattering things about one of the restaurant's managers. But the company found out about it and fired the workers who are now suing for invasion of privacy. One of them, Doreen Marino (ph), put it this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DOREEN MARINO (ph), FIRED FOR COMMENTS ON MYSPACE: There has to be something, some sacred space in our lives where we can feel comfortable speaking our minds.


MARTIN: All right, folks. Joining us now to talk about this case is Internet security expert David Holtzman. His book is called "Privacy Lost: How Technology is Endangering Your Privacy."

This is a pretty interesting case here, David. And so who in the heck, frankly, is in the right here? Is it the company or the employers plan out right for themselves to say whatever they want to say?

DAVID HOLTZMAN, INTERNET SECURITY EXPERT: Well, my sympathies go out to the employees but they should be able to speak how they want and they took some precautions to protect themselves. But there's another way looking at this, which is just practically, as a pragmatic matter, you just have to assume that everything you say on the Internet today will be heard by somebody some day and then they can act accordingly.

MARTIN: Of course, our panel is back. Lisa, Ali and Erica.

Lisa, look, is there a case here for these employees?

BLOOM: Well, here's the bad news. Most employees --

MARTIN: Start with the bad news, OK.

BLOOM: Yes. Most employers have the right to hire or fire for any reason or for no reason. So unless they're discriminating based on race, sex, age, religion, handicap, et cetera, but that's not in this question, or unless there's an employment contract which we're assuming is not present here. Three out of four workers don't have a contract, right?

So they can fire for this ridiculous reason. Most of us think this is outrageous.

And, by the way, this isn't the same as just posting something on Facebook or MySpace. This is a password protected private chat that they invited their co-workers to get on. The supervisor got on via a password of one of the employees and saw that they were making disparaging comments.

I think they're going to win in court that they have the right to fire even though it certainly wasn't nice. Most people don't like what happened.

HILL: I was going to say, but isn't this what -- and having covered technology for a long time, this is sort of what you learn though at every job. Granted it may be a little bit different, but I would think that everybody nowadays must know no matter what you do, just as David said... VELSHI: It's out there.

HILL: ... it's going be out there whether you're password protected or not. And you have to know that you're taking a chance. And I think it's interesting that the title of his book is about technology, but I wonder if it's really technology affecting privacy or if it's users in some ways who don't know how to use it properly.

BLOOM: Yes, but --

MARTIN: David? David?

BLOOM: OK, go ahead.

MARTIN: David?

HOLTZMAN: Well, I think there's also a generational issue. I'm on the low end of the baby boomer generation. People my age generally have a different view about what we would say online to begin with, but my kids who are in their 20s will say pretty much anything in a blog, MySpace, Facebook. And they don't consider it an invasion of privacy for someone to read it. They consider it an invasion of privacy for someone to be judgmental about what they read.

MARTIN: I like how David wouldn't say his age. I'm at a lower end of the baby boomers.

BLOOM: I guess we all are.

HOLTZMAN: Trying to be discreet.

MARTIN: Let me go to the phone lines. Brenda, Mansfield, Ohio, what say you?

BRENDA, OHIO (via telephone): Well, I used to be a supervisor and a manager and what we graded people on was their performance. And in the beginning --

MARTIN: Wow. Novel idea.

BRENDA: I was not beloved. And when I got disparaging comments, my boss made me go out with everybody and learn what their jobs were and in the end everybody wanted to work for me. So if these people are doing that, they're not learning anything. They're not -- they're being judgmental. They're -- we still live in a land of freedom of speech.

MARTIN: All right.

BLOOM: And management.

BRENDA: They are completely wrong about this.

MARTIN: All right, Brenda. Hey, Brenda, thanks so much. Let me quickly go to Ray in Thomasville, Georgia.


RAY, GEORGIA (via telephone): Hi, yes. How are you?

MARTIN: Yes. You're on the air. Go right ahead, Ray.

RAY: Hi. I feel that employees, the employer did have the right to fire the employee even though it was done in private. It was on a social network and just by anyone with computer access can find out what they said. And even though they have the right to say whatever they want, I believe we have a responsibility to know what you can and can't say.

BLOOM: But hey, Ray, what if it was a phone call, a conference call with three or four people on it and the employer sneaks on and listens to them? Would that be all right?

RAY: Not if they had been on their phone call, no, not at all. But --


RAY: But as far as putting it on a social network, I don't believe so.

MARTIN: All right, Ray, thanks so much. I appreciate it.


HILL: I was just going to say when we come back, I'll ask Lisa when we come back whether or not this is a free speech First Amendment issue because there's a lot of dispute about that.

MARTIN: OK. We'll do so in a moment. But first, I want to read this tweet from Pamalamb. Pamalamb, that's interesting.

All right, folks. "People need to use common sense. Social networking sites are not private. Don't say anything there you wouldn't say to someone's face."

BLOOM: Good advice.

MARTIN: All right, good advice. So, David, hold tight. We're coming right back, folks.

Stay with us for tips on how to protect your privacy online. And look for me, Roland S. Martin on Twitter and Facebook, and I promise not to talk about any bosses.


MARTIN: Hey, Savannah (ph) says this on Twitter. "When off from work, you say whatever you want unless they want to start paying you on your off time."

OK, pretty good. Folks, we're back with Internet security expert David Holtzman, of course, the panel as well, talking about the brave, new world of online privacy.

HILL: Brave, but is it a venue for free speech, Lisa? First Amendment, where does it fall?

BLOOM: First Amendment only applies to government actors, not private companies but if they did hack in and got in without authorization, it could be a violation of eavesdropping laws.

MARTIN: All right. David, three things people should do to protect their privacy online.

HOLTZMAN: OK, three things. And this is very pragmatic advice, not legal advice or technical advice.

Number one, don't use your real name. You got to have some plausible deniability so use it.

HILL: I like it.

HOLTZMAN: Use a pseudonym. If you use a pseudonym, then it's their word against yours on who you are.

BLOOM: Like Roland Martin.

HOLTZMAN: Right. Reverse, make it Martin Roland.

The second thing is you should -- the metaphor you use for the Internet ought to be that you're sitting in a bar and your back is to everybody in the room. You don't know who's behind you. You should assume that there's always somebody behind you listening and it's probably exactly the person you're talking about. And I think you need to assume that the whole time you're on social networking sites.

And the third thing is you have to remember that, you know, to quote a movie "Rock 'n' Roll High School," this is going to go down on your permanent record. It's not just what you say at the moment, it's there potentially forever. So everything you say some day you may want to run for Congress...

MARTIN: Right.

HOLTZMAN: ... you may be a lawyer, you may be a journalist, you may have to live --

HILL: It's all out there.

HOLTZMAN: You may have to live with that.

MARTIN: All right, David. We certainly appreciate it, folks. David Holtzman, thank you so very much. Also, I thank all of you who called and e-mailed your comments. Your voices are extremely important. We certainly appreciate it.

That's all from us tonight. And, of course, Erica, Ali, Lisa, we got to get out of here.

"LARRY KING LIVE," of course, right now. What do we say?

ALL: Holler.