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AIG Bonus Bonanza; Fallout in Washington Over AIG Greed; Shovels Back in the Shed; Can Wind Power the Economy?

Aired March 18, 2009 - 07:58   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: We're coming up now on 58 minutes past the hour. A look at your top stories right now.

New action from the federal government this morning over those AIG bonuses. We're going to tell you what the Treasury Secretary wants to do to recover the cash.

Also, a 22 percent jump in housing construction last month helped the Dow finished higher for the fifth time in six sessions. Asian markets also continued the rally overnight. Investors are hoping the weeklong run continues this morning, but the premarket futures are down right now on Wall Street, suggesting a sell off at the open -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama is headed to California today, to sell his $3.6 trillion budget plan. His two-day visit includes two town hall meetings and an appearance on "The Tonight Show."

We are on the "ROAD TO RESCUE" here on AMERICAN MORNING today. All week we're taking dead aim at the economy and this morning we're jam-packed with the kind of coverage you won't see anywhere else on TV.

And let's begin now with Suzanne Malveaux, who is following the president's trip. Good morning, Suzanne.


He's going to be making several stops. He's going to be in southern California, two town hall meetings, one in Orange County which is really kind of the Republican heartland, if you will, of the state, but he's going to be talking about reforming energy, education as well as health care.

And obviously, John, he's going to be trying to make the tough sell, the sell on the budget as well as trying to explain where taxpayer dollars are going, the abuses of AIG and trying to hold folks accountable.

All of this a very tough sell. A lot of anger out there. The president going to be addressing that in the next couple of days in a place that has double-digit unemployment, Home foreclosure problems. Obviously, a big mess, but he's going to be addressing many of those issues, John. ROBERTS: Right. Does he have faith that this plan to get back the money from AIG is actually going to work, isn't he just exchanging taxpayer dollars for more taxpayer dollars?

MALVEAUX: You know, that's a very good point, John. That's one of the things that people are criticizing the administration for it. They are trying to figure out a way to actually get that money back, it's the taxpayer money and it's taxpayer dollars that are being circulated. The main thing that they are actually going to emphasize is moving forward, going forward, that this never happens again.

They're going to be talking about regulations. They're going to be talking about legislation to make sure that they don't get into this mess in the first place, because that is a very valid point. This all about taxpayer dollars, whether or not we get it back or we lose it in some fashion, it's all cyclical.

ROBERTS: All right. Suzanne Malveaux for us at the White House this morning. Suzanne, thanks so much for that.


CHETRY: All right. Also new this morning, the White House saying that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner did not learn about AIG's bonuses until last Tuesday, and that President Obama didn't hear about them until Thursday. So that timeline is raising some eyebrows, especially since our own Mary Snow was talking about AIG bonus plans as far back as January 28th on our air here on CNN. Take a look.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: American International Group is paying bonuses to its financial products unit, that same unit wracked up huge losses. A source familiar with the matter puts the figure at $450 million.


CHETRY: All right. So, why is AIG so important that it's considered too big to fail? CNN's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is looking at that for us.


ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Let's just remind people what AIG is. It's one of the world's largest insurers. There are many people who have auto insurance policies, home insurance policies, travel or life insurance policies. As you've mentioned, many people are shareholders in AIG or their mutual funds are.

But AIG is much bigger than that. It insures business. Without insurance business can't take risks. So it insures banks, major airlines. We've talked about this before. The plane that went into the Hudson River, insured by AIG. Hollywood movies against their actors or actresses getting injured. Offshore oil platforms against hurricanes and things like that. So, it is a very important insurance company. Has 74 million clients in 130 countries, so, it's a big deal if a company like AIG were to fail.


CHETRY: People are asking, Christine -- we bring in Christine Romans to talk a little bit more about this -- why, then, take those huge risks. This is a company that has so many tentacles spread everywhere. Why take the type of risks that they took with these derivatives?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Because here's the company that's all to stable insurance company. And over here is this financial products division that was taking these big risks, and it was a good profit driver. But it's this part of the company that's going to really jeopardize the rest of this. And all of it is jeopardizing the global economy.

Two administrations now, guys, have said they're not going to let this company go down. Now all these questions being raised about the timelines here, these bonuses -- the bonuses that are almost the straw that broke the camel's back on all the bailouts, right?

How can the very people in that little part of the division -- that little part of the company that's taking everything down, how can they be given all this money? And how long have we known about it? We know that the White House is saying, and the Treasury Department are saying that Secretary Geithner really learned the details of the $165 million in bonuses last Tuesday, then last Thursday the president was informed. And then Friday, the payments went out.

We reported it here, as you heard from Mary Snow, back in January. It's been talked about in Congress in some hearings before that, too. So this has sort of been left to kind of spiral out of control. And this -- the public outrage here I think caught a lot of people by surprise.

ROBERTS: A lot of people are link to the table on this whole thing. And not only that, these are being called, A, retention bonuses.

ROMANS: Right.

ROBERTS: And also, they were being called performance bonuses, but then that division lost $450 million. How can it be performance bonuses? Then it was retention bonuses paid out to more than 70 people, 7 of whom have left the company.

ROMANS: Right, right. Eleven people, I think. Eleven people have left the company.


ROBERTS: It was 11 people?

ROMANS: Who got at least $1 million. You know, a bonus is not really a bonus when it's guaranteed compensation. And part of this is that this is just the vernacular, the way they talk. They say that it's important because you have to retain this good talent. But the last year at AIG has been an ultimate disaster. Look at that.

One person at AIG made more than $6.4 million. When you look at the 70, some people who made more than $1 million as this unit was going down, down, down, it's just -- and that's, that's taxpayer money. They wouldn't have been able to make the payments without taxpayer money.

CHETRY: Right. We seem to have established, though, that these companies aren't policing themselves. I mean, we've seen example after example of the corporate jets, the bonuses, all of the stuff going on. But the other question lies in the lapse of Congress, which is why they didn't put more strings. Why they allowed legislation. I mean, we were just talking about it. They made an exception for pre- existing contracts, which really exempted AIG, and now they're outraged.

ROMANS: You know, it shows you what happens when you have Washington trying to go in and save. This has been a disaster from the beginning. I mean, it's so chaotic the last six months and the mistakes that have been made along the way. I mean, can you kind of sort of nationalize a company? Can you kind of sort of take it over and be a silent, not-so-silent partner? I mean, this is what makes people crazy about government trying to run business, because it exposes a lot of ugliness, and there are a lot of mistakes being made.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, as we were saying just a second ago, while a lot of people seem to be looking the other way while all of this bonus stuff was going down, and now there is a lot of shared outrage between both the White House and members of Congress on Capitol Hill. Our Carol Costello looking at that part of the story for us this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The American people are outraged.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely livid.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anger over AIG is palpable.


COSTELLO: AMERICAN MORNING's phone lines lit up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's disgusting that they're allowed to continue to do business. Let them go down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody else is hurting. Why can't they hurt with the rest of us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am absolutely nauseated and disgusted. I think these people should be tried for treason.

COSTELLO: Lawmakers feel that heat. Jostling one another to demonstrate they are angry, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can run, but you can't hide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is money being taken out of the back pockets of working men and women all over this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we are saying that we are obligated to get these taxpayers money back.


COSTELLO: Senator Chuck Grassley called for AIG executives to resign or go commit suicide. This kind of collective rhetoric so toxic, "The Washington Post" reports AIG offices in Connecticut have hired guards. Sources tell us AIG employees in New York and London are afraid to come to work.


COSTELLO: Analysts say President Obama must calm the rhetoric or he'll be next on the voter outrage list.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He's the new guy in town. His popularity is over 60 percent. But when you look at our CNN polls about how is he doing in terms of his programs for banking, it's a majority disapproval.

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM: He has to somehow continue to talk to the American people about what's going on with the economy. Do it in a way that's realistic. It's not so gloomy that it pulls the markets down or it's not so optimistic that it seems sort of ridiculous or divorced from reality.

COSTELLO: But that now seems an impossible task. How do you convince these voters AIG's survival matters?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they should just let them fail.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did they feel that they can take all this money when other people, you know, don't even have jobs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would ask them to step into the shoes of the people that their greed has affected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are people going hungry so they can have a bonus. It's awful. They should be ashamed of themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What would you say to one of the executives that took the bonuses?



COSTELLO: A lot of Americans are saying that very same thing. And, you know, the verbal pummeling will continue on Capitol Hill. AIG's CEO will testify before lawmakers in what is sure to be some very ugly theater. And the president will likely answer some questions himself. We've just found out he's going to sit down with "60 Minutes" on Sunday. And, of course, this Thursday, he'll appear on "Leno" on "The Tonight Show," and maybe it will be like a -- kind of a humorous appearance on "Leno." But on "60 Minutes," the president is likely to answer some very tough questions.

ROBERTS: I tell you that hearing this morning is going to be must-see TV, no question about that.

COSTELLO: I don't envy Mr. Liddy.

ROBERTS: You know, the only way that they could make it more dramatic would be if they had him sitting on one of those dunk tanks and they were throwing balls at the target.

COSTELLO: Think of how long the line would be.

ROBERTS: All right. Carol, thanks so much.

We want you involved all morning long. Let us know what's on your mind. Call our hotline at 1-877-my-amfix. That's 1-877-692- 6349. Also check out our new blog, AMFix, when you get to work. Just go to You can also get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter and iReport.

CHETRY: Or as Christine called it today, iRate report.

ROBERTS: Exactly.

CHETRY: That's what we're getting a lot of. Well, while many restaurants are suffering in this economy, McDonald's sales are up. Are people sacrificing nutrition. Are they eating unhealthy to save a few dollars at the drive-through? It's eight minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: All this week on AMERICAN MORNING, "ROAD TO RESCUE: A CNN SURVIVAL GUIDE." Most people thought that passing the stimulus bill meant instant projects and instant jobs across America. That's where the term shovel-ready comes in. But our Jim Acosta found that those shovels may have to go back in the shed for at least a little while.

He joins us now from North Middleton, Pennsylvania, with that story.

Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. That's right. We've heard the White House say that the point of the stimulus is to inject money into the economy right away. So they've been in search of these shovel-ready projects. But as we found at this bridge in rural Pennsylvania, shovel-ready doesn't necessarily mean ready for shovels. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The people driving over the route 34 bridge in rural Pennsylvania don't know what Harold Bowers knows. He lives right next to the bridge.

HAROLD BOWERS, BRIDGE NEIGHBOR: I go down there to fish. And you can go down there in certain spots, you can look up and look right up to the sky.

ACOSTA: You can see through the bridge?


ACOSTA: The bridge is deemed safe for cars.


ACOSTA: But not pedestrians, who run from one side to the other to avoid traffic. Just don't step in that hole.

(on camera): You can literally put your foot into the middle of this bridge, just like that.

(voice-over): Last month, Vice President Joe Biden used the deficient 79-year-old span as a prop, to pitch the president's stimulus plan, which includes money to replace the bridge and create dozens of jobs. Biden touted the project as shovel-ready.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You would be able to literally begin to, you know, have jackhammers and shovels out here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have the plans in my car for this bridge.

ACOSTA: But the shovels are still on standby. Local school officials have asked the state to delay demolition of the bridge until the summer break, when school buses aren't using them.

Shovel-ready means different things to different projects, I guess, is that true?

SCOOT CHRISTIE, PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: I guess some people may look at shovel-ready as equipments out there moving things, but I would say that there's a lot of things that go in the project. I wouldn't say there's a hitch.

ACOSTA: So far, only four states have stimulus roads projects under construction, with more on the way next month. Civil engineering experts say bids have to go out. Contracts have to be awarded. Shovel-ready takes longer than you think.

WAYNE KLOTZ, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS: We're talking about a heavy construction. It's not just send a guy out with a pickup truck and a couple of buddies to do some work.

ACOSTA: Harold Bowers, who is selling a piece of his property to the bridge project, doesn't mind the wait.

BOWERS: As long as it gets done.

ACOSTA (on camera): As long as it gets done.

BOWERS: As long as it gets done.

ACOSTA: Don't leave it like this is what you're saying.



ACOSTA: Now, here is something that we learned. The Department of Transportation tells us they don't officially use the term "shovel- ready." But a spokesperson for the department tells us they don't officially use the term shovel-ready. But a spokesperson for the department tells us get ready for construction projects in a town near you as one official over at the Federal Highway Administration puts it, orange. As in those orange barrels and those orange vests, orange is the new black, John. So, break out your orange.

ROBERTS: I'm sure there's a few people there in that little town, Jim, who would be happy to break out the shovels right now and get to work and draw a paycheck.

ACOSTA: I think that's right.

ROBERTS: All right. Jim...

ACOSTA: Absolutely, yes.

ROBERTS: Great story this morning, Jim. Thanks so much -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, when it comes to your mortgage, your job and the millions in bonuses from AIG, you got a lot of questions and opinions. Well, CNN Money team is here with some answers for you. Gerri Willis and Christine Romans will be back live, taking your phone calls. It's 14 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the special "ROAD TO RESCUE" edition of AMERICAN MORNING, where we are connected to you. Listen to what this viewer said, bailed-out companies should give American taxpayers.


QUESTION: This is Mike Courtlove (ph) in Montana. I'd like to know what all of these wonderful companies that we're bailing out have in plan to pay back the U.S. people, not the U.S. government. What are you guys going to do -- offer a discount to us? Are they going to buy some insurance for us? Are they going to send some food to our house?


ROBERTS: Got an opinion yourself? Call our hotline at 1-877- myamfix, and talk to us, because we are listening to you -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, John. Thanks so much.

Well, while many restaurants are hurting in this economy, McDonald's profits are actually on the rise. So, can we attribute that to the low prices for value meals, and if so, are people sacrificing nutrition to save money?

We're "Minding Your Business" this morning, and Karen Wells is the vice president of strategy and menu for McDonald's. And she joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us.


CHETRY: You know, even Jim Cramer over at CNBC had an interesting article about the changes that have happened over the past even three years for McDonald's. You guys were trading at about 12 bucks a share and lagging in sales. People were talking about whether or not you guys were going to make it. And now you're seeing quite a surge. You're paying a dollar dividend per share. What changed?

WELLS: Well, there's two things that's really attributed to McDonald's success. First and foremost, listening to our customers. It's menu variety, it's value and affordable prices at McDonald's and the convenience that only McDonald's can offer.

The other piece is our system alignment around one plan. You know, under the arches we have a term called the three-legged stool. It's our franchisees, our suppliers and our corporate staff working together. Those are the two things that have worked for McDonald's and our success.

CHETRY: No, but it's interesting, because I mean, there are other, I guess you could say, companies that offer perhaps comparable prices. I mean, other fast-food places. How has McDonald's been able to weather this recession that we're in and actually find a way to be profitable?

WELLS: You know, it really...

CHETRY: What makes you guys different, I guess, than, say, the Burger King or the Taco Bell?

WELLS: Well, it goes back to what I said earlier. It is about listening to our customers, evolving our menu and our choices for our customers on our strong base, Big Macs and fries that they've come to expect at McDonald's as well affordable prices and value. Those are the components that have made us successful. And the one thing that is a competitive advantage for McDonald's is our strong franchisee base, our corporate staff, as well as our suppliers. Those two things together really has made us successful. CHETRY: It's interesting because critics say, you know, the food's cheap, but it's an unhealthy option for families looking for affordable food, that even the salads come with fried chicken on them or cheese on them. What do you say to this image problem that some people have that McDonald's equals unhealthy?

WELLS: Actually, McDonald's has a variety of choices for our customers. In fact, you can get any product any way you want it to suit your nutritional needs. We have products that range from our premium chicken salads, our premium sandwiches that come with chicken. We have grilled chicken if that's the choice in terms of managing calories. So, it's really about choice. And McDonald's has a lot of choices for customers based on their nutritional needs.

CHETRY: One little piece of advice, if you were giving it -- not to your competition, but to other companies: How do you weather this recession?

WELLS: The bottom line is, you've got to focus on the customers, what they want, and evolve with the customers' needs, is exactly what is a success for McDonald's today. And we've done it through out menu. We've done that with our value. And it's the key to our success.

CHETRY: Well, Karen Wells, it's great to talk to you this morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

WELLS: Thank you, Kiran.


ROBERTS: Did she bring breakfast?

CHETRY: I think she did.

ROBERTS: A giant wind turbine standing taller than the Statue of Liberty. The president holds projects like this when we pave the "ROAD TO RESCUE." A look at how one experiment building a green economy is working.

Plus, if you're out of work and you're having trouble landing a full-time job, there is plenty of part-time work out there as well. The benefits of finding a flexible career, ahead. It's 20 minutes now after the hour.


ROBERTS: Well, welcome back to our special "ROAD TO RESCUE" coverage here on AMERICAN MORNING. No other show is more connected to you. The AMFix phone lines have exploded with your questions and your solutions. One viewer called in with her fix that could pay dividends for years to come. Listen to this.


QUESTION: My name is Mary Ann, calling from Chicago. And my proposal is that all states offer state university college educations for free for any student who want -- that lives in the state that wants to go to school. This would relieve a lot of stress for the American people and help us, instead of companies like AIG. Thank you.


ROBERTS: Yes. How many people could have gone to school for the $165 million in bonuses? Mary Ann from Chicago, Illinois, with that this morning.

Do you have an idea? Call us at your hotline at 1-877-myamfix. Let us know what you think needs to be done -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, President Obama's stimulus package includes tens of billions of dollars for renewable energy. He's hoping investing in things like wind power will create tens of thousands of new jobs and help businesses grow and also make the economy more productive. Well, there's one state that's already suffering from 10 percent unemployment and they're banking on that.

Stephanie Elam is live from Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

You brought us the story yesterday about the high rates of foreclosures, the high rates of unemployment. Are they hoping that wind farms are the answer?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's about innovation at this point, Kiran. If you take a look here in the tiny state of Rhode Island, they found a way to harness one mighty power, some money for the town.


ELAM (voice-over): Welcome to Portsmouth, home to 18,000 people. Acres of nursery farms, beautiful beaches, and one enormous wind turbine.

GARY GUMP, PORTSMOUTH ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE: I think it's terrific. I think it's pretty big. But I think it's really terrific.

ELAM: Town leaders decided four years ago to harvest the wind here, one of the state's greatest untapped resources. The new turbine will produce enough electricity to power about 460 homes a year. But the town plans to use the energy for schools and municipal facilities, easing the stress on the town's budget in tough economic times.

PETER MCINTYRE, PRESIDENT, PORTSMOUTH TOWN COUNCIL: It's $300,000 it costs us to run our buildings now. That will be taken care of. And we'll probably have an income return of about $200,000.

ELAM: It's a popular project. A bond measure passed with 60 percent of the vote. But Portsmouth residents aren't just cheerleaders for the green movement, they're also focused on the economy. GUMP: I think green is terrific, and I support it. But I think green has to be economic to make sense. I think if it's not economically feasible, most of us will probably continue with what we're doing.

ELAM: Portsmouth is at the forefront of Rhode Island's push for wind power. The state has signed a deal with a New Jersey company to build a wind farm about 20 miles offshore. Similar to those already in place in Europe. With around 110 turbines, the farm is expected to produce 15 percent of the state's electricity needs. And the turbine manufacturing facility based in the state is expected to supply new wind farm projects all along the East Coast and create hundreds of jobs. The governor sees it as a huge economic boom for Rhode Island's future.

GOV. DONALD L. CARCIERI (R), RHODE ISLAND: The message is, look, we need to stabilize our energy costs. We need to have another alternative rather than send money over to the Middle East. And, you know, wind power for Rhode Island is really, you know, a big part of that solution.

ELAM: The state's project still faces a number of hurdles, including federal approval for the offshore site. As for Portsmouth, the tiny town hopes to lead the way for others.

GUMP: If folks that are watching this, they'd like to see our machine, we're more than welcome to show them. Come right over, and we're very proud of it.

ELAM: And they're hoping for an economic boost that will help the town weather the recession.


ELAM: Now, if you take a look at the turbine, as it's moving now, I know it looks very fluid, Kiran, but really, the way they make it move is they feather out the fat part of the blades you see there. They do that. It catches the wind. And that goes ahead and catches the energy and takes it in. So, it looks like maybe a motor is there, that's not it at all. That's all wind power right now.

CHETRY: Pretty neat. And just that one turbine can make all the difference. Thanks so much, Stephanie -- John.

ROBERTS: Twenty-seven minutes now after the hour. Our special series, "ROAD TO RESCUE: A CNN SURVIVAL GUIDE" continues. And our top story this morning, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner now taking aim at the bailed-out insurance giant, AIG.

He is demanding the company hand over $165 million. That's the same amount it gave in executive bonuses. Geithner is also planning to withhold 165 million bucks from the latest round of taxpayer bailout money on its way to AIG. And AIG executives who got a bonus will keep that money. In the meantime, we're just about an hour and a half away from AIG's CEO Edward Liddy testifying on Capitol Hill. Congressman Barney Frank will be there. And the last hour, Kiran, asked the congressman about efforts to get that bonus money back.


REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), CHAIRMAN, FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE: I don't have a lot of confidence in Mr. Liddy's view at this point. When he said that first he couldn't get the money back because they had contractual rights, but also that he was worried about not retaining them. It left me unconvinced that he was really going to be trying.

The notion that we want to retain these people, that we want to pay the people who messed it up in the first place, so they don't leave is just backwards to me. I think we would probably be better off if they did leave. We are going to ask him to be fully cooperative in our effort. But I think the federal government has to take the lead here on these lawsuits.


ROBERTS: Also this morning, we talked to Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley. I asked him about his comment earlier this week that AIG executives should resign or as the Japanese do on occasion, go commit suicide.


SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: These folks run these corporations into the ground. They want taxpayer's help. The least they can do is show a little contrition, remorse, and have an apology, and I use the Japanese as an example. Obviously, I don't want people in the United States to commit suicide. That's not my ethic. I'm pro-life. But on the other hand, we could learn something from the corporate culture of Japan and apply it here in the United States.


ROBERTS: Of course, nobody really believed that he wanted them to commit suicide. It was all just hyperbole and rhetoric.

We're also getting thousands of calls flooding our AMFix hotline. And our iReporters expressing their outrage on the Web. Here's what you're saying.


VOICE OF LARRY EDGAR, WILMINGTON, OHIO: My name is Larry Edgar (ph), Wilmington, Ohio. I would like to see that the state condemn AIG's property, take the buildings. Tell them they need it for the welfare office, for the welfare people to go in there, or something stupid like that, since they did something stupid. Condemn the property, take their building. The building's got to be worth millions, so they could relocate and rent property.

QUESTION: My name is Marsha from Connecticut. And my question regarding AIG, the issue is, is that people are concerned about the executive bonuses, and I am as well, and why didn't AIG disclose them. However, my question is where was the due diligence on the part of the government in locating where those contracts are, and what might be paid before they gave them the bailout money. Where's the due diligence, the fox in the henhouse, so to speak?

QUESTION: Can somebody tell me why they aren't handing out pitchforks right now and we are not charging AIG headquarters en masse? 73 of these executives received $1 million or more. And that includes 11 of them who left AIG. So, I guess that flushes the argument that they need these bonuses to retain the best and the brightest.

QUESTION: I prefer to make my comments anonymously. I live in a small town, and people would know me. I'm a nurse in a local intensive care unit. I do everything for people from wipe their butts to defibrillate them. My bonus last year was $90. AIG holds my 401(k) and it is swirling the toilet. I think my point is made.


ROBERTS: All those phone calls new this morning, by the way. And all week long in our special series "Road to Rescue" we're looking at economic solutions for our viewers. This morning we're looking at jobs and if you're having trouble finding one, maybe you should look beyond the usual full-time gig. You can go part time, freelance or even take ones that lets you work from home. Joining me now for more is Sara Sutton Fell. She's the CEO of Sara, it's good to see you this morning.

SARA SUTTON FELL, CEO, FLEXJOBS.COM: Thank you very much. It's nice to see you.

ROBERTS: So lots of folks are at out of work. They are at home and they're trying to make mortgage payments, maybe they got car payments. They certainly are trying to provide for their families, keep food on the table, is a flex job really a viable option for them?

FELL: Flexible jobs are a viable option. There are full-time telecommuting opportunities available. In fact, on our site, flexjobs, the majority of our jobs are full-time jobs. However, it's also a great opportunity to be open to part time and freelance work. And, in fact, you might actually discover that you enjoy the flexible work lifestyle better.

ROBERTS: So, in terms of the opportunities, where are the jobs these days, you know, when you're talking about flex jobs and telecommuting?

FELL: They cross over in a lot of different industries. Flex jobs has job categories with -- I'm sorry, over 50 different job categories. And so we see jobless things in areas and industries that you might not generally expect to. We're seeing growth in education, writing, marketing, medical, not just a traditional work-from-home and telecommuting opportunities such as data entry that you'd expect. ROBERTS: In fact, let me quickly run down for the benefits of folks at home, according to, the top 10 telecommuting jobs -- I want to keep saying telecommunications for some reason. Number one, sales, number two, computer and I.T. Number three, writing. Number four, Internet and e-commerce. Number five, web software development. Six, education and training. Number seven, customer service. Number eight, business development. Number nine, medical. And number ten, marketing.

You talked about the fact that there are a lot of full-time jobs on Let say that somebody wanted to start working part time, see how they liked it. Is it fairly easy to convert the part- time job into a full-time job?

FELL: Yes. Well, I think that in different companies it's going to depend. But in a -- in any situation, in any job market, good or bad, getting a foot in the door with a company is a great strategy for building a relationship with the employer that can then very likely end to -- or result in better opportunities for you in terms of when long-term opportunities become available or additional opportunities in general. In the door, and their ready to hire you.

ROBERTS: And here's one more important point. What does a flex job pay in comparison to a traditional job?

FELL: Well, in general, I would say that they're fairly comparable. I mean, if you see any opportunities out there, in work from home and telecommuting niches, there's generally a lot of scams. It's something that people should be aware of.


FELL: Generally you would be paid similar to what you would in an offline job or a more traditional on-site position.


FELL: But having said that, I think that there are some -- it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. In a traditional job you might have the salary and/or the vacation, paid sick time, what have you. But in a flexible job more oftentimes it will be one of the benefits is having a flexible schedule and working form home on occasion.

ROBERTS: Sort of a freelance job, I guess. Sara Fell from It's good to talk to you this morning. Thanks so much.

FELL: Thank you very much for having me.

ROBERTS: All right. Kiran.

CHETRY: Well the first lady is putting the weight of her office behind a cause. Helping people who need a second chance get an education or a job or a place to live. We'll tell you exactly how she plans to do that. Just ahead. It's 35 minutes after the hour.

Also, it's your job, your money, your future on the line and the CNN Money team is taking your questions this morning. Gerri Willis and Christine Romans are here to give you some answers. 35 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. And just in to CNN, the latest numbers on inflation. Christine Romans is "Minding your Business" this morning. She's here to break those numbers down for us.

ROMANS: This is the consumer price index and it is rising the most in seven months up 0.4 percent, clothing prices went up, fuel prices went up. Actually food prices went down, so fuel and clothing up, food down. These are the prices you pay at the grocery store. This is your personal inflation went up just a little bit. So, that's something that the market will be watching.

CHETRY: You said 0.4 percent, so...

ROMANS: These always move in very tiny increments but we watch it very carefully. When it's the biggest in seven months, then people kind of get to pay attention.

CHETRY: All right. I got you. And go ahead, Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: I just want to say, you know, people shouldn't be worried about inflation right now obviously -

CHETRY: Right.

WILLIS: These are really low levels. But you got to think that once all the stimulus money gets into the system, we're going to have a lot of inflation. I just wanted to mention one investment you might want to think about, inflation protected securities. These are Treasury bonds that are issued by the Treasury and they have a little fill up when inflation starts ticking higher.

ROMANS: They call them TIPS?

WILLIS: Right.

ROMANS: When you hear somebody talking about TIPS, that's what they are talking about.

WILLIS: And they're available in mutual funds.

CHETRY: All right. Well, good tips. And also Christine and Gerri answering and fielding your questions, your e-mails and your twits this morning, your calls. There's a lot of outrage still over AIG. And Christine, I want to take this first question to you. Let's listen to what Tim is asking about whether or not AIG could be considered a monopoly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: My name is Tim (INAUDIBLE), I'm from Las Vegas, Nevada. Out here we believe that AIG is a monopoly and that there should be no company large enough to take down the world's economy, whether the government has to take it over or whether we have to break the company into smaller companies, there's no way a monopoly of this size should be able to be allowed.


CHETRY: Very interesting because when Ed Liddy, the CEO is going to testify today, he is talking about the process right now of breaking the company up.

ROMANS: I play semantics a little bit. There's a monopoly and there's too big to fail. A monopoly means you don't have any competitors. You know, you control the whole market. There are other competitors to AIG. There are other insurance companies. Too big to fail, I think, is another very, very critical question here. If something is too big to fail and we all have to bail it out, maybe the argument here should we be letting these things get so big where they can take down the global economy?

WILLIS: I think the question is being debated right now. I think there could be rules and laws put in place to make sure they don't get so big.

CHETRY: And the company itself perhaps doesn't want to be so big. We'll hear from the CEO, Ed Liddy about what they're trying to do to try to break off the parts that are working. All right, Gerri, this is a question from Elise, and she has a question about credit.


QUESTION: My name is Elise, I'm calling from Northport, New York, I want to know if there was an immediate reduction in the ridiculous interest rates that are charged on our credit cards, reduced from 30 percent down to a cap of 10 percent, that would be immediate money in people's pockets. No special committees needed.


WILLIS: All right. I feel your pain here. Credit card interest rates are through the roof. But let me tell you one thing you can do right now to make your life better. Go to Get a zero percent interest rate credit card. Roll over your balance on your old credit card and pay that down, but without paying high interest rates.

CHETRY: All right. Good advice. All right, thanks to both of you. And, of course, we'll be continuing doing this all week. And answering some great questions. You guys have good tips. Thanks so much. John?

ROBERTS: A man so desperate to get a job that he puts his face on a billboard along the highway. And he's about to tell us what the bold move has gotten him. Billboard man coming up live. It's 41 and a half minutes now after the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Forty-four minutes after the hour now. Let's fast- forward to stories that will be making news later on today. President Obama heads to California this afternoon where there's double-digit unemployment and a housing meltdown. He'll be trying to sell his $3.6 trillion budget. He'll also be a guest tomorrow night on "The Tonight Show."

Investors are hoping that the markets can sustain a weeklong rally today. Surprisingly strong housing construction numbers sent the Dow higher yesterday by 179 points. Asian markets followed suit overnight. Unfortunately, though, premarket futures are pointing down right now, suggesting a selloff at the opening bell.

And in just a few hours' time, astronauts will be installing a new set of solar wings for the international space station. The framework that holds the winds is going to be removed from the Shuttle Discovery today. The $300 million piece of equipment will then be attached to the space station tomorrow.

Well, down here on earth, we have a few less lofty goals this morning. And we've got some stuff going on in the atmosphere, though, with Rob Marciano here to tell us about it. It looks like rain up there in the Ohio Valley.


ROBERTS: A little fricasseed bat on the launch, unfortunately.

CHETRY: Exactly. Hey what's a "ROAD TO RESCUE" without a billboard beside a road? The unemployed man who took some drastic measures to get his face out there to get hired. He actually spent money and used that billboard to put up his resume up there, or at least a link to it. So, did it work? Billboard man joins us live.


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. He's been out of work for five months and he decided he needed to think outside of the box. Maybe get a little more exposure to potential employers and he's certainly done that. Our next guest is seen by 60,000 cars per day on a giant billboard in Wisconsin. Mark Hauer joins me now live from Milwaukee with more. Thanks for being with us this morning, Mark.


CHETRY: How did you come up with the idea? Maybe I should put myself on a billboard, link myself up -- you know make a link to a Web site and let people see whether or not they want to hire me?

HAUER: I think the bottom line is I've tried to do a lot of networking in unprecedented times and how can you expand that networking capability and what better way to do it than with a billboard. CHETRY: You know so, you really did take a chance. Because you paid I'm sure several thousands, right, to get this thing up there. You used your savings. You don't get unemployment benefits and you have three kids. Your wife doesn't work, she's a stay-at-home mom. And so, you really needed to figure out a way to do this. It was a gamble, right? I mean, quite a gamble. What did your wife say when you said, this is what I'm going to try to do, honey?

HAUER: You know, the bottom line is, we decided that if I would go from zero to hero in this opportunity or this was something that we can leverage to chew on if it didn't work out.

CHETRY: How would you say it's gone right now? As we understand you have four solid interviews and you also have some opportunities for additional interviews. All of this came from potential employers seeing your billboard?

HAUER: It's a combination of not only employers seeing my billboard, but also the media driving the attention towards it. And, yes, I've had several contacts. I've had a few interviews already. I've got some interviews coming up. And I've got an enormous amount of responses. And I thank people for that.

CHETRY: Now, you were a former contractor in Iraq. What type of work are you looking for right now?

HAUER: My ideal job would be a general manager, director of operations. Where I could leverage my greatest strength in operational analysis and execution. In sales, service, production, and a flavor of logistics, you know, kind of a combination of everything.

CHETRY: I got you. And what has been some of the response from the -- from potential employers? What do they say to you about the fact that you have this billboard up and you're really trying to think outside the box and, you know, show that you're willing to take a risk to help pay off -- to help make it pay off for you and your family?

HAUER: I think people are generally very impressed with the creativity and the fortitude that I've taken to move forward, and, for example, a president of a company called me yesterday and just said, I inspired him. And he definitely wants to talk to me further.

CHETRY: All right. Well, keep us posted. It looks like something is going to come out of this. So, as you said, it was a big gamble that you did that, so maybe you did go from zero to hero. But we're wishing you luck. And thanks so much for joining us this morning, Mark.

HAUER: Thank you.


ROBERTS: The stimulus bill gave it millions of dollars. Now, first lady Michelle Obama is throwing her support behind YouthBuild. What is it, exactly, and what are Mrs. Obama's plans for the program? We'll find out. Fifty-three minutes now after the hour.


CHETRY: Fifty-five minutes past the hour. One iReporter wants all the people looking for jobs to take to the streets in protest. Here's Jean Lindsay from New York.


JEAN LINDSAY, IREPORTER: We citizens with citizen power in the streets and in the press and everywhere else, help end an illegal war in Vietnam. Well, where is everybody now?


CHETRY: There you go. And keep them coming. We want to hear what you're thinking, you can logon to and then you can follow the links on the right. John?

ROBERTS: First lady Michelle Obama is taking up a cause, helping those who can't afford an education to house or find a job or get a second chance. Our Elaine Quijano has got that story for us this morning.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: So, what is it, morning? Good morning!

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On the National Mall, Michelle Obama focused the spotlight on a program close to the first family's heart, called Youth Build.

OBAMA: Giving folks a second and third and fourth chance, particularly low-income youth, sometimes we overlook them. We think that they can't be, they can't do, and it's places like Youth Build that help you to find yourselves.

QUIJANO: President Obama included $50 million for Youth Build in the economic stimulus package. The program predates his administration, but encompasses much of his agenda, education, green jobs, housing and green construction.

It demonstrates how YouthBuild has endured as a leading nonprofit organization, keeping up with the times, making sure that the training and education that you get is current.

QUIJANO: YouthBuild gives low-income young people nationwide the chance to both work towards their GED or high school diploma -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, guys, we got it.

QUIJANO: And learn construction skills, building energy- efficient homes for low-income families. This home will go to a single mother of three in Texas whose own house was badly damaged in a hurricane. YouthBuild is trying to prepare its young people for the new, green economy. How? Not just by telling them about energy-efficient techniques but by actually teaching them green construction skills like this improved insulation. Program founder, Dorothy Stoneman.

DOROTHY STONEMAN, YOUTHBUILD FOUNDER: We are dramatizing for them, the whole emphasis on protecting the planet. So, now they have a new role that's not just building housing for homeless and low- income people. It's protecting the planet and learning how to do that.

QUIJANO: A program three decades old, now getting some new, high-profile support for its mission.


QUIJANO: And President Obama wants to expand the YouthBuild program from 8,000 students to eventually 50,000 students a year. John.

ROBERTS: Great stuff. Elaine Quijano for us this morning. Elaine, thanks so much.


CHETRY: And every morning now we are taking your phone calls, 1- 877-myamfix. More than 2,000 of you called in to us this morning and today the phone lines still burning up. Take a listen.


QUESTION: This is Duke from Milwaukee. You know, I feel so sick about these AIG people that are so high and mighty while I'm struggling just to stay ahead. That isn't right. I think they ought to drop their pay just like mine and let them see how it suffers.


CHETRY: Well, we want to be -- we want your voice to be part of the newscast as well, so please call us on the hotline. It's 1-877- myamfix. You can ring us all day long from work or from home.

ROBERTS: I mean, we've got an embarrassment of riches going on ever since we started doing this earlier this week. We've been getting thousands of phone calls every day. I think we've got about 2,500 or 3,000 today so far. So it's a little bit of a job to sift through it and pick out the best ones. Please be patient because we're going through them all and we just want to pick the best ones.

CHETRY: And a lot of good ideas and a lot of great comments generated. So, we really appreciate it. And thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see back here tomorrow.

ROBERTS: Yes, more outrage I would expect with what's going on with AIG, and we'll see what the Ed Liddy hearing has in store for us today. Right now, here's CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins.