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American Morning

Fargo Works to Hold Back Rapidly Rising River; Clinton Says U.S. Shares Responsibility for Mexico's Drug Violence; Counting Down Obama's First 100 Days; Obama to Hold Virtual Town Hall Meeting; Economy Shows Glimmer of Hope; A Look at the Front Lines of the Drug War

Aired March 26, 2009 - 07:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. You say that the waiver clause has been used at least three times and in some cases former lobbyists were able to serve without a waiver.

BILL ADAIR, FOUNDER, POLITIFACT.COM: Yes, they really -- it seems as if the administration is essentially saying he's OK, he's with the band, you know, and there really should be -- it really does seem to stray from their very specific promise. Lobbyists were very much demonized during the campaign.

CHETRY: Right.

ADAIR: The president adopted a lot of the same language that other Democrats like John Edwards and Hillary Clinton had used.

CHETRY: Right.

ADAIR: And so given the strong language, he really seems to have broken this one.

CHETRY: All right. We'll check back in with you next week and see how things are going. Bill Adair from, thanks so much.

ADAIR: Thanks, Kiran.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Crossing the top of the hour now, it's 7:00 Eastern. Here's what's on the agenda this morning, stories that we'll be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes.

It's man versus water. People in Fargo, North Dakota bracing for a flood that you may see only once in a lifetime. The National Weather Service says the Red River could crest at 41 feet on Saturday, way above flood stage, breaking the record that has stood for more than 110 years now.

Right now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Mexico. As drug violence threatens to rip that country apart, she suggested that America share some of the blame because of decades of failed anti-drug policies. Secretary Clinton spoke to CNN last night. We'll have that for you in just a moment. And don't like the questions that were asked of President Obama during his news conference? Well, now is your chance to pose a question of your own. We've got details that you don't want to miss in the president's online town hall today said to get under way in just a few hours.

As we mentioned, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Mexico for high-level talks. In a stunning admission, she is saying that decades of U.S. drug policies have failed and that America shares responsibility for stopping the violence that has exploded along the border. It's a war that's been a drug gang against drug gang and the government against well-armed ruthless killers. Odds are they've already infected your community in some way.

Our Jill Dougherty sat down for an interview with Secretary Clinton who talked about the war next door.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You talk today about America's insatiable demand for drugs. Could you tell me a little bit more, what do you mean by that?

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, what I mean is that we've spent an enormous amount of time and money in an effort to try to reduce demand and interdict the drugs that come into our country, and you know, it kind of goes up and down. We make a little progress and then we lose ground. And we have to do a better job of convincing Americans that illegal drugs are a terrible choice.

We have to convince them that more treatment programs, that they would take advantage of, are way out, because obviously our demand for drugs is what motivates these drug gangs.

DOUGHERTY: How dangerous to the security of the United States is the violence that's going on, on the border?

CLINTON: You know, it's not an immediate problem. It's a terrible law enforcement problem. We have some of our cities along the border where the violence has washed over, and people are being killed and kidnapped. So we do have a law enforcement problem, and I think it's doable. In fact, I'm confident that the Mexican efforts will be successful, but we need to help them, or we'll see the results in our own country.


ROBERTS: And coming up in about 20 minutes' time, I'm going to talk with a former DEA agent about what Secretary Clinton calls America's insatiable demand for illegal drugs and what he suggests will help fix the problem -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, back to the breaking news this morning, the entire state of North Dakota is now a disaster area. They have water rising fast. In fact, it's bursting through windows, in some cases forcing people out of their homes into subfreezing temperatures.

In the capital city of Bismarck, demolition crews are now blasting chunks of ice and trying to do this to open up a channel and let the water drain. Some of those chunks of ice they're blowing up are the size of small cars; 1,700 people have been already ordered out of the low-lying areas there. And then 200 miles to the east in Fargo, they're piling two million sandbags to try to hold back the Red River.

The National Weather Service says that the river could crest at 41 feet on Saturday. As we heard from Rob Marciano, that would break a record that stood for more than 110 years and people are really bracing for the unknown.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hopefully this holds up. That's all I can say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since about 4:00 a.m. this morning, we've done approximately 11 rescues, taken out well over 20 people and a number of animals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know one call came in. The water smashed through the basement windows. It was filling all the way up to the main level.

The whole thing with this flood has been the race has been on. Somebody waved the green flag in the river and it's coming fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll do our best to make it water tight and head out.


CHETRY: CNN's Susan Roesgen is live in Fargo, North Dakota, where they're trying to reach their goal. They want to fill two million sandbags to save the town. How are they doing, Susie?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can see, Kiran, it's a real beehive here in the Fargodome. This is where they were supposed to have a rodeo this weekend. Elton John has played here, Neil Diamond. What you see now is everybody that can come, they're actually for tons of volunteers to come and help. They want to have 500,000 more, half a million more sandbags between today and Saturday when they think the Red River is going to crest here 41 feet.

I'm here with one of the people who's driving these pallet trucks.

You've got inmates from a minimum security prison here. We've got North Dakota State University football players here, everybody doing the best they can.

She's going to drop me off here right around the corner of these dumpsters, so you can get a look at the range of this. Thanks, Tammy (ph), I appreciate it.

Kiran, this is the place to be here today. Nobody heard this call and ignored it. Everybody came and did the best they could do out here. You don't see people talking a lot because these succors are heavy.

Let me tell you. They're about 35 pounds each. I pride myself on being a weightlifter, but can you imagine throwing these back and forth all day since Monday?

It's been a 24/7 operation here, Kiran. They're going to try to do what they can. They're going to try to use these sandbags to fortify some of the dikes that are already surrounding the cities, surrounding businesses and also homes in this area.

The mayor said last night on television, I watched him, he said, you know, we won't know whether we're going to win this thing or lose this thing until Saturday. But they've already got an evacuation plan in place just in case. And that was something, Kiran, that they didn't want to have to do. They didn't want to have to make any evacuation plans. Now, they say, you know what? This may not be enough.

CHETRY: Yes. Well, Susan, you really were able to illustrate that for us, and it's just amazing the team effort that's going into all of that there, the huge, you know, group of people that are all coming together.

And it's really interesting because as we said, this would be a record so they don't even know. They're sort of up against the unknown. Forty-one feet would be something they have not seen before there.

ROESGEN: Yes, the previous record was like just over 40 feet back in 1897. And in the big flood that everybody talks about back in '97, 1997, it was about 39 feet so this is unprecedented. And again, they're weighing on so many different factors.

Can they get enough sandbags? Do they have enough people? Will it rain more? It's been snowing like crazy, and that has been something that's added to it and again the mayor is thinking 41 feet, that would be a record high of the Red River at Fargo by Saturday. He says, again, we really won't know whether we're going to make this or not, if we can do this thing or not until Saturday, Kiran.

CHETRY: You guys are rocking out there as well. The music sort of motivating people to keep going?

ROESGEN: Yes, it is. I talked to the pallet truck driver there. She said, "I've heard this so many times, I'm sick of it." You know, what happened these people go home and their shoulders ache and their backs ache. It's just terribly physical work but you know, I don't see anybody complaining. Let's put it that way.

CHETRY: All right. Well, maybe somebody could bring them a few more CDs then so they don't have to listen to the same thing over and over again. Wow.

All right. We're pulling for everybody over there today. Thanks so much, Susan.


CHETRY: Also, there are a number of organizations that are helping. They want to get volunteers prepped. They want to get food and supplies in there for residents in the flood's path. We talked about ones that may have to evacuate the area.

You can find links to them on our "Impact Your World" page. It's -- John.

ROBERTS: Well, during the campaign, President Obama promised a high-tech and plugged in White House. And today, we are getting a real first. The president is going online to answer your questions on his $3.6 trillion budget with a virtual town hall meeting.

Our Jim Acosta is tracking that story from Washington for us this morning. They've got a tremendous response to this, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. And President Obama has already promoted this event on his twitter page. Yes, he has one of those. And so far, the White House Web site has been flooded with some 77,000 questions from Americans who are eager to chat with the president. It's a whole new way for Mr. Obama to get plugged in.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many of you are worried and have a lot of questions.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Mr. President, you've got mail, actually thousands of questions streaming into the White House Web site for a virtual town hall meeting featuring the commander in chief.

OBAMA: This is an experiment, but it's also an exciting opportunity for me to look at a computer and get a snapshot of what Americans across the country care about.

MACON PHILLIPS, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF NEW MEDIA: The exercise is to open up the White House and see what happens.

ACOSTA: The administration's director of new media, Macon Phillips, says the president will answer the questions rated most popular by visitors to

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I give President Obama high marks for tonight's speech.

ACOSTA: Some questions will be on video, much like those iReports on CNN.

You know, some people are going to ask, well, they're going to sort out -- the really tough ones they're going to sort out. They don't want any of those to get in there. Is that going to happen?

PHILLIPS: No, I think that the president is at his best when he's answering a tough question.

ACOSTA: Take this one from Jerry in Texas. Why can't the government break up large companies like AIG into smaller companies like the phone company was back in the '80s?

Or Misty Lee from Rhode Island. Why do I have to be to the point of foreclosure to get any help with my mortgage?

OBAMA: Is Lourdes (ph) here from Univision?

ACOSTA: It's another example of the president going over the heads of the traditional media as he did at this week's news conference, when he bypassed the major newspapers in favor of niche media outlets like "Ebony" magazine and "Stars and Stripes."

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": There are some bruised egos after President Obama declined to call on "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "The Wall Street Journal," the "L.A. Times." A lot of people expected Obama to conduct a YouTube presidency, and he would be crazy not to take advantage of the big following that he has online.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our next call is Peter Elton (ph) of Westbrook, Oregon.


ACOSTA: The concept isn't totally new. Back in the '70s, "Saturday Night Live" envisioned President Carter taking calls on talk radio.


DAN ACKROYD AS PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: OK, right. You did some orange sunshine, Peter.


Stay inside and listen to some music, OK? Do you have any Allman Brothers?




ACOSTA: Now we laugh about the orange sunshine, but one of the most popular questions about marijuana legalization. Now, members of the Bush administration did take questions online but President Bush never joined in on the discussion. As for Mr. Obama's webinar, a small live audience inside the White House that includes the traditional news media -- yes, we've been invited -- will be standing by to witness what would be a bit of history in the making.

John, FDR's fireside chat has gone viral.

ROBERTS: And in a completely different form as well. Yes, we'd seen though that the marijuana lobby has hijacked the Web site to some degree today.

ACOSTA: Yes. If you consider the fact that some 70,000 Americans have submitted questions, and there are 2.9 million votes, I would say that there are some overvoting going on.

ROBERTS: I think so. High-tech ballot box something.

Jim, thanks so much.


ROBERTS: Appreciate it.

ACOSTA: You got it.


CHETRY: Well, Anderson Cooper on the border with Mexico as the war heats up, the war on drugs. CNN is there and we're going to take you to the front lines and the border town of El Paso.

Also, stocks are up across Asia and Europe this morning, that after some positive gains on Wall Street following news that home prices are starting to inch upward. Glimmers of hope in a sluggish economy or is it too early to celebrate?

Actually 12 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Has there ever been a riff that -- there we go.

CHETRY: You're there.

ROBERTS: Has there ever been a riff that brightens your day more than that one?

CHETRY: I love that. That's when I'm Rollerblading up a really high hill, that's the song I put it on.

ROBERTS: I guess it motivates you.

CHETRY: It's motivating.

ROBERTS: Get out there and do it. All right. Well, Christine Romans is here with us this morning, and she's been taking out a polishing cloth, trying to get that silver lining in that gloomy cloud out there. And some solid numbers on Wall Street. The home prices are edging up ever so slightly, home sales edging up slightly. Economists say we're not out of the woods just yet. But when it comes to the economy, the patient apparently does have a little bit of a pulse. She's "Minding Your Business" this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I was joking with the producers. We need a big banner underneath that says "caveat, caveat, caveat, caveat" because, of course, it's really difficult out there and the economy is quite difficult. But instead of all of the data just going off a cliff, there have been a few little signs of a pulse over the last week or so. I want to show you what some of them are.

The housing activity has picked up. We've seen refinancings go up. This is because, frankly, mortgage rates are just so low it's inspiring a little bit of activity in the housing markets.

Orders for big-ticket items jumped 3.4 percent. That is unheard of after six months of steep declines. Now keep in mind January was like the worst month in 20 or 30 years for durable goods big ticket items, but there was a little bit of a rebound last month and stocks are up some 20 percent in two weeks. So if you just ignore all of that pain and suffering in the stock market over the past year and a half and you happen to put some new money into the market a couple of weeks ago, hey, you're up, you know, 20 percent. Or if you're like me and the rest of us, you're just happy not you're not down quite so much anymore.

But those are the signs. I won't say that the pace of the economic decline is decelerating just yet, but there are these little disparate things that are happening in the economy that for once we're able to say, oh, something went up a little bit.

ROBERTS: Well, that's how it starts, right?

ROMANS: That is how it starts. And it can go fix and start. And it could take an awful long time and a lot of the economic forecasters say we're going to still have higher unemployment rates for this year, or maybe next year, maybe even the next year. So keep in mind about that. But there's just some little things happening that at least it's not all -- I keep saying the gloom has lifted just a little bit.

CHETRY: Yes, we'll take it.

ROMANS: I know, yes.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Christine.


ROBERTS: And stay with CNN for all of the news that you need on issue number one, the economy. Join Anderson Cooper and our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, tomorrow night at 11:00 Eastern for the "CNN Money Summit."

CHETRY: Sixty-six days and counting. The honeymoon clock is ticking for President Obama. And with so many problems on his agenda, is the American public's patience beginning to wear thin?

Plus, Americans addicted to drugs. Well, Hillary Clinton says that the U.S. shares a lot of the blame for the violence in Mexico. Anderson Cooper breaking down the problem from the border.

It's 17 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Time is ticking on President Obama's honeymoon, and even though his poll numbers are still high, there's a growing murmur of criticism.

Carol Costello is tracking the story from Washington this morning.

Hey, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran. You know, the president's approval ratings are still high but many Americans are wary of his plan to fix the economy and that could create problems for the president down the road.


OBAMA: Hello, everybody. Please have a seat.

COSTELLO (voice-over): President Obama's honeymoon period, 65 days into his term the "H" clock is ticking a tad louder now. Some AMERICAN MORNING viewers left voice mails, showing signs of impatience.

QUESTION: As I watched the presidential address, I want to know when and where can we the people expect some changes.

QUESTION: He is putting fiction on the plate and not really solving the problems.

COSTELLO: Still, the president's approval ratings are high. Sixty-three percent and the majority of AMERICAN MORNING's callers reflected that.

QUESTION: President Obama is doing a very good job. We need to give this man a chance.

COSTELLO: But analysts do notice an undercurrent, an uneasiness with Mr. Obama's policies to get the economy rolling.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: People wonder how long is this going to take to work. They are patient, but they wonder when are we going to begin to see at least some indication that things are going to move up. COSTELLO: The president's critics are aware of that. CNN analyst Alex Castellanos says Mr. Obama's impatience at a news conference over a question about AIG...

OBAMA: Because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak.

COSTELLO: ... is a sign Mr. Obama himself is on the defensive and there are signs even Senate Democrats are beginning to wonder. Twelve of them who call themselves moderates sent a letter to the Senate Budget Committee chairman expressing concerns about Mr. Obama's $3.6 trillion budget.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's not giving them any cover. I think by giving such a nonpartisan message he's not giving them any reason. He's not giving them a way to go back home and say, look at what these other guys did. We're just cleaning up the mess.

COSTELLO: Westein (ph), an Obama supporter, thinks the president has allowed Republicans to control the message. He says Obama needs to take a page from FDR's playbook and go on the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: FDR was not a preacher of bipartisanship.

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, 32ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me. They now include my little dog, Fala.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He basically said, I welcome your attacks because you guys are the guys that messed this thing up. Bring it on.


COSTELLO: FDR certainly invited Republicans to bring it on. President Obama, though, has often said he inherited this economic mess but you know, if he comes on too strong, Kiran, his campaign message of reaching across the aisle will seem very hollow.

CHETRY: Carol Costello for us in Washington, thanks -- John.

ROBERTS: Drug-addicted nation. Hillary Clinton says U.S. drug policy has failed and that we share the blame for Mexico's gang violence.

Anderson Cooper is on the border looking at how Americans' appetites for cocaine and marijuana is fueling a bloody war.

It's coming up now on 24 minutes after the hour.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

ROBERTS: Twenty-five minutes after the hour, and here's what's on this morning's agenda, stories that we will be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Mexico City for the second day of high-level talks. During a sit-down with CNN, Clinton said the United States shares some of the blame for the violence.


CLINTON Because obviously our demand for drugs is what motivates these drug gangs. I mean, if they didn't think they were going to make a bunch of money across the border, they'd go into another line of work. And so we do share responsibility for the security challenges facing the Mexican people.


ROBERTS: The secretary also admitted that decades of U.S. drug policy has been a complete failure.

And breaking news, a terrifying scene unfolding right now in North Dakota. Fargo's Red River is rising fast and could crest well over flood levels to 41 feet by Saturday. Thousands of people are frantically working to stack about two million sandbags along a 12- mile-long dike.

Plus, President Obama pulling double duty in Washington, headlining two different fundraisers for the DNC. The president hinted that his favorite part of the job might just be the trips out of town.


OBAMA: Every once in a while we like to get out of this town, not because I don't enjoy Washington, but because it is important to get out of the hall of mirrors here.


ROBERTS: The president also reflected on his first two months in office, saying, "One day I'm a genius, the next day I'm a bum."

CHETRY: Secretary Clinton's visit to Mexico coincides with a huge spike in the drug violence. Mexico's army pouring into town, struggling to stop the cartel's bloody tactics. Washington's pledging cash and more manpower, but the violence is threatening to tear Mexico apart.

Our Anderson Cooper is on the front lines of the drug war at the U.S./Mexican border.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, we're here right along the U.S./Mexico border from between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. Now Juarez is right over there. That's been a major epicenter for the violence. They've had as many as ten people getting killed every day. The last couple of days the murder rate has dropped dramatically because there are some 9,500 Mexican troops which have swarmed into Juarez and basically taken over the area from the local police who weren't able to handle the violence. Corruption obviously is a big problem especially at the local level in Mexico. But Juarez is right over here. Right here you see the dried up Rio Grande riverbed. This is a major crossover point for people trying to sneak into the United States, bringing with them drugs, in some cases, or just themselves, trying to work here -- illegal immigrants.

Now, we've been covering the story for a couple of years now and in the middle of 2006, we went to San Diego to Otay Mesa, where immigration and customs enforcement agents had just discovered a major tunnel, one of the most sophisticated tunnels they've ever seen between Tijuana and San Diego. Take a look.


COOPER: So this is the tunnel. It's 2,400 feet, all the way through to Mexico. It's the size of about eight football fields in length. Seven of the football fields are underneath U.S. territory. One football field is in Tijuana. It goes from this warehouse here all the way to a warehouse in Mexico.

The tunnel immediately starts to slope down from ground level. It goes down about 60 feet. If you look down at the ground here, this is all concrete.

The walls down here is a soft rock. They don't know exactly how this tunnel was dug, but you can tell some sort of a drill was used. You can actually see the markings here on the side of the wall.

COOPER: Now in this El Paso area, tunnels are not a problem because you have the river. You can't, you know, build a tunnel underneath a riverbed. But when people do run across, if they make it across, you see right over there there's actually a drainage system, drainage tunnels which have been already built, which were built out of concrete. There's an overpass over them and if they make it into that, that drainage system, then they can also go all the way into the city of El Paso.

Actually, one of these nearby drainage systems actually goes out right to city hall. So people -- that's how they try to run. Border patrol agents are all over here. You can see their SUV just over here, but they are all over.

We saw a border patrol helicopter crossing over a short time ago. This is a very active area and it goes on all night long as people kind of just wait until it gets as dark as possible before they try to cross over.


ROBERTS: Anderson Cooper reporting for us this morning from along the border there with Mexico. And joining me now for a reaction is former Drug Enforcement Agency special agent Bob Strang. He's also the CEO of Investigative Management Group. Bob, good morning to you.

BOB STRANG, FMR. DEA SPECIAL AGENT: Hey, good morning, John. ROBERTS: So, you know, everybody's blaming Mexico for all of this, but the secretary of state yesterday said hey, the United States shares a lot of the blame because of the pent-up demand here, the insatiable demand for drugs. Do you agree with her?

STRANG: Well, look, I mean, let's face it, the average drug -- first drug use is 12 years old in our country. That means kids that are in the sixth grade are trying drugs for the first time. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, all these drugs are coming across the border because we demand them. We have the cash to pay for them, and we really are pretty much the number one consumer in the world for these drugs.

ROBERTS: So, is the United States doing enough to try to curb demand? The Office of National Drug Control Policy, I don't remember much of coming out of it during the Bush administration, and I haven't seen anything come out of it in the Obama administration.

STRANG: Well, you know, we're trying all the time. I'm on the board for D.A.R.E. America, and that is teaching kids about the dangers of drugs and violence in schools. And constantly, we're trying to get money federally for this program and police officers go into the school. They teach the kids. It's a wonderful program in those trouble years, the fourth, fifth and sixth grade especially, and we need to have a little bit more money in this area.

There's three things, John: It's treatment, it's enforcement and it's education. And it's like a three-legged stool. If all three things don't work, it's going to fall down. So, we can send all of the agents in the world down to the border. We can seize all the coke, heroin, methamphetamine that we want. If we don't have treatment on demand and if we're not educating our kids in our country about the dangers of drugs, the problem's going to grow.

ROBERTS: So when you say the Department of Homeland Security prepared to spend these hundreds of millions of dollars on border security, what do you think?

STRANG: I'm happy that they're doing something. This is a small piece of the enforcement operation. The best thing to do is like the case that we saw three weeks ago, with the DEA, that made -- announced 750 arrests involving 250 cities between Mexico and the United States, mostly in the U.S., this huge distribution network.

Because when you dismantle those networks that constantly are putting drugs from the cartels to the street, when you can put those guys in jail, when you take their assets, then you have an impact.

ROBERTS: But would you like to see them take some of that money, and you know, they take, I think, what, $700 million, and they throw it at the border. Would you like to see them take some of that money, maybe even just a fraction of it, and throw it into prevention programs?

STRANG: Absolutely. I'd like to see it go to -- instead of going to some of the financial institutions, I'd like to see it go for the drug problem. I'd like to see enforcement, treatment and prevention. I'd like it to be evenly divided, and I really think we could have an impact on the problem. We've got to look at this a different way. And I think that it's a combination of these things, and we're moving in that direction. Let's hope that we make some headway here.

ROBERTS: Bob Strang, you've seen the situation on the ground there. We thank you for coming in this morning, sharing your thoughts.

STRANG: My pleasure, John.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Right now, it's a race against time in Fargo, North Dakota. Thousands of people are trying to fill millions of sandbags and stop the Red River from swallowing the entire town. The river is expected to crest at a record they have never seen. We'll have the latest. 33 minutes after the hour.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

CHETRY: A dire situation right now in North Dakota, in Fargo, the Red River is rising fast, threatening to swallow the entire town. The water there could hit a record level 41 feet by Saturday.

Our Rob Marciano is tracking things from the extreme weather center this morning. A lot of the residents there comparing this back to 1997, right, this was the last time they saw a situation nearly as severe when it crested what, 39 feet above flood stage.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we're almost there, Kiran. So it looks like we're going to get over that mark and we may very well hit the all-time mark set back in 1897. Into the Fargo area we go, the Red River on the rise as it moves northward. The latest from these flood gauges. By the way all of the purples are in major flood and we very well could be in record flood before the next couple of days are done.

A graph of what's showing the cresting, 38 feet currently, expected to get to 41 feet over the weekend. This line right here is the record that we expect to be broken set back in 1897. Over in Bismarck on the Missouri River, which flows to the south we've had problems with ice jams there and is and they've actually had to bring in explosives to try to release some of the pressure from ice that's been flowing down the Hart River which flows into the Missouri blocking it.

Some of these ice chunks the size of cars and they've set 80 explosions yesterday, and they may be planning a little bit more as we go through today. Coast guard helicopters and rescue crews have been in to other areas to rescue folks as those rivers and waters continue to swell. Obviously flood warnings continue to be in effect here. Here's the other thing is that we've got temperatures that are well below freezing and will remain below freezing through Saturday. That does help lock up some of the water as far as runoff goes but temperatures in the teens with snow falling and rivers rising. I mean that's just flat out miserable.

I saw some video where the guy was actually using a snow blower to blow the snow off the sand bags. Sand bags will not work as well when there's know in between the sand bags because the water will be able to easily get through that snow. So certainly a number of headaches to deal with.

Another headache this morning, severe weather across the South. We've already seen damage from a line of thunderstorms rolling through Mississippi, a number of homes damage there. We're trying to get confirmation. This severe tornado watch in effect for the next couple of hours and number of severe thunderstorms warnings rolling through Alabama right now with damaging winds in excess of 50, 60 miles an hour. Kiran, back up to you.

CHETRY: All right. Rob, one more time, we're just going to show pictures again. That's the Fargodome, the stadium there where there are countless volunteers that are in there trying to fill up the sand bags. We checked in with our Susan Roesgen who is in there as well, back-breaking work and they're continuing it as long as they can. They want to do everything possible to try to save their towns from being swallowed up.

As we said, the river could crest 41 feet above flood stage by Saturday. We're going to be following this story. Rob, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: Everybody pitching in there this morning, great to see.

Thirty-nine minutes after the hour. Let's fast forward now to stories that will be making news later on today. We'll be following them for you. Two new economic indicators coming up in the next hour here.

The Commerce Department will put out its numbers for the fourth quarter GDP and the Labor Department releasing its weekly jobless claims. The CNN Money team will bring you all those numbers and break them down for you just as soon as we get them.

The jobless numbers will not include a new round of layoffs though planned by IBM. The Associated Press reports that the computer giant will be cutting about 5,000 U.S. workers.

And at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner heads back to Capitol Hill. He should just move in there. He's expected to outline the administration's plans for preventing another financial collapse. You can watch live full coverage of that testimony here on CNN. Or if you're at work and you don't have a television set, but you do have a computer, check it out live anytime at Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks, John. Well, what do IHOP, MTV, Burger King, Microsoft and CNN all have in common? Well, they all got their start during a downturn in the economy. So we're going to ask an expert how you can turn an idea into an empire, even when the chips are down.



JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": President Obama also announced a major faith-based program. His budget. Yes.



CHETRY: All right. A little late night humor with Jay Leno there. Well, Bill Gates, Jim Henson, Walt Disney, all of them took a chance and hit it big during an economic downturn. There are millions of people out there with no jobs but big dreams who don't really know how to get started, like one of our callers to our 877-my-amfix hotline, Kenneth from New York. Listen.


QUESTION: Yes, my name is Kenneth from New York. I'm calling -- I have a talent, no job, I don't really need any help. I just want to start a business, and, but I don't have any credit either. What should I do?


CHETRY: What should you do? Well, maybe we can answer that today. Our next guest says that now could be the perfect time to create your own job, starting a new business. Peter Bregman is a business management consultant and he joins me now. Thanks for being with us this morning, Peter.

So for someone like Kenneth, you have no idea how to go about doing it, but you know what, I may as well take a chance right now. I'm out of a job. Where should they start?

PETER BREGMAN, CEO, MANAGEMENT CONSULTING FIRM: He actually said something great, which is that he has talent, and that's the place to start. The place to start is what do you love to do, what are you great at doing? And you leverage that.

You don't put a lot -- he said he didn't have credit, that's a good thing. You don't want to start borrowing a lot of money in this kind of an economy. You want to start a business based on the skill, based on the talent that you have, and then begin to see where you can apply that to a problem that you can solve that people need solved.

CHETRY: It's interesting because a lot of people say we're in a deep recession right now. Maybe it's not the time to take a chance. Why do you say that it might actually be just the ideal time to do it? BREGMAN: You know, it's interesting. I think the biggest risk you could take right now is to try to find a job. There are no jobs out there. It's hard. There are no jobs out there. People are firing, they're not hiring. Right, so if you're going to try to find a job chances are in the next six to 12 months you're not going to work.

But if you have a skill like the caller and you could apply that to a problem that they need to solve, then you could begin to possibly get some work doing the thing that you do best and not only that, but it's eventually you're going to go to try to get a job and you're in a job interview, you're going to be invigorated, you're going to be passionate, you're going to be excited about what you've been doing as opposed to having the only story that you can tell, saying I've been looking for a job for 12 months unsuccessfully.

CHETRY: All right. So what kind of approach would you take if you decide, you know what I'm going to go for it, where do you even begin and how do you maximize your chance for success?

BREGMAN: So, I would begin with what is it that you're good at, what is it that you love to do? That will make the whole thing more fun, more interesting and work really hard to make it successful. The second thing that I would do is to say where is there a problem that needs to be solved.

You know, I got a call from a guy named Steve in Delaware who runs a small computer repair shop in Delaware, six people. He told me that February was, he's been this business for five years. February was his biggest month ever, right. Because there's a need. People don't want to buy new computers. What they really want to do is fix their old ones or buy used ones. So you find an opportunity where you can apply your skill and then you solve that problem.

CHETRY: That's right. And you also say, make a little or no investment. How do you do that? People say well I'm starting with nothing, I need to get supplies. I need to look to possibly hire people.

BREGMAN: Right. I think the best way to do it is to start small. The goal isn't to build a Microsoft. The goal is to build sustainable work for you that you really love to do. So for example, when I started my company 11 years ago I started with a laptop in a living room and I just tried to be able to sell.

Starting a computer repair shop, all you need is the skill to repair. I had another call from a friend of mine who is laid off from an HR job, leadership development job and she loves home staging, great business to start when lots of people are trying to sell their houses and it's hard to sell their houses, it's value, it's a problem in the community, how do you then begin to make their house look good, more competitive, so that you can then end up selling it.

You don't need any money to start that. All you need is your skill, your passion, and you know, an ability to go out and market yourself. CHETRY: That's very interesting. So let's pretend you want to actually start moving forward. Let's say you've done something small, like you said, getting curb appeal on someone's house or trying to figure out how to fix people's computers. How do you then make it sustainable? Are there resources out there for people to go to find out more about perhaps securing loans if they start to grow a little bit or figuring out how to get a business model that works?

BREGMAN: Yes, you know, first of all there's a bunch of government programs that are coming out right now. You know, recently Bloomberg announced $45 million to retrain and help financial services people in New York -

CHETRY: Right.

BREGMAN: Stay in New York, and build businesses. So there's those kinds of resources but the Internet is an unbelievable resource. As you know, I have a friend of mine, Howard Jacobson who wrote "Ad words for Dummies." And he helps people sort of sell on the Internet and his business is booming because it's so cheap to go on the Internet and start to put an ad and start to get that out there. So the Internet is a really an amazing resource.

CHETRY: It has broadened the horizons and also you can check out the Small Business Administration's Web site as well...

BREGMAN: That's a great Web site.

CHETRY: And get some tips as well. Well, great talking to you today. Peter Bregman, management consultant, CEO of Bregman Partners, and by the way, he also is writing a blog for us today that we're going to post on with more details about possibly starting your own business in these tough times. Great to talk to you.

BREGMAN: Thanks. Great talking to you, too, Kiran.


ROBERTS: North Korea moves ballistic missile to the launch pad, and Hillary Clinton sends them a strong warning. What will the U.S. do if they pull the trigger? We're covering all of the angles of this developing story. It's 48 1/2 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS (voice-over): Why is a homeless man walking around with the sign that says "Pimp this bum." The demeaning-sounding Web site that started out as a moneymaking venture...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to make it kind of edgy.

ROBERTS: ... but it wound up changing a man's life, ahead on the Most News in the Morning.


ROBERTS: Fifty-one minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

A new Web site is offering one homeless man some hope. He has become a viral video sensation, but critics are questioning the motives of the people behind it. CNN's Ed Lavandera has got that story for us.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, it was a simple, yet potentially offensive business plan. The idea was to use homeless people standing on street corners as walking billboards but then something very different happened.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Tim Edwards says alcohol and drug abuse left him strung out and homeless. For the last five years he's been a fixture on Houston Street corners begging for money. A life Edwards describes as dehumanizing and empty.

TIM EDWARDS, HOMELESS: One of the hardest parts is walking. It's very mentally unstimulating.

LAVANDERA: Then two months ago, father and son marketing entrepreneurs Sean and Kevin Dolan walked into Edwards's life. They came on to the video camera and a plan to test out an Internet advertising strategy using homeless people to create a viral buzz for their Web site. So the Dolans offered Tim Edwards $100 a day to advertise, and he accepted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to make it kind of edgy to get that exposure and have people talking about it.

LAVANDERA: This marketing experiment has turned into a mission to help one homeless person at a time. As Web traffic jumped, the Dolans set up a donation section. Edwards gets all the money. People can buy him a cheeseburger or pay for him to get laser hair removal, among other things. Some homeless advocates worry Edwards is being exploited, but Edwards says becoming an Internet sensation is a gift.

EDWARDS: I'm drinking myself to death under the bridge and watching my friends die left and right. So what do I got to lose? So, to everybody who thinks that I'm being exploited, I ask you to think again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that baby! I haven't seen this in years! He's actually got skin under here!

LAVANDERA: The makeover of Tim Edwards on the verge of his 38th birthday is in full swing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You aren't getting this shaver back from me.

LAVANDERA: $50,000 in donations but, most importantly, this drug and alcohol treatment facility in Washington State is treating Edwards for free. He hosts nightly Web chats with hundreds of followers. That's where we caught up with him.

All right. Tim, thanks so much for doing this. Right now, you are dressed like you're on your way to a job interview.

EDWARDS: Cleaning up the hair and the shaving the beard off was a symbolic act of change, like embracing the change and moving on to a new stage of my life.

LAVANDERA: When Edwards leaves the rehab center, he says he will try to find a job and a home. Big steps toward feeling human again. was supposed to be a moneymaking business, but instead it became a nonprofit venture, looking to expand around the country.

In fact, they've already lined up their next homeless person to help out. One of Tim's friends back on the streets of Houston -- John and Kiran.



CHETRY (voice-over): Race against rising rivers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're coming to get them out of their flooded house.

CHETRY: The North Dakota disaster.

We're live in the flood zone. Can sandbags really make it stop?

CHETRY: Plus, suddenly America is saving. Good for your wallet but, wait, we'll tell you why spending may be better for your sanity. You're watching the Most News in the Morning.



CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

President Obama is breaking out in the west wing. Last night he headlined two DNC fund-raisers and explained why he likes to get out of Washington.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every once in a while, we like to get out of this town. Not because I don't enjoy Washington, but because it is important to get out of the hall of mirrors here and listen to what's happening with the American people.

I know that in Washington, sometimes, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day cable chatter and be distracted by the petty and the trivial and everybody is keeping score, are they up, are they down? You know, one day I'm a genius, one day I'm a bum.


CHETRY: All the president seems to be expressing no love for Washington or cable news. Our Suzanne Malveaux joins us right now. Is he starting to get a little frustrated with some of the criticism he has faced this week?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, we're trying to not take it personally, a diss to the cable chatter. But this is interesting because we heard the president -- this was a very familiar refrain. We heard it from President Bush all the time, talking about how he was tired of Washington. He needed to get out, needed to escape.

And we know he is talking about like political Washington -- the pundits, the media, the politicians and all that. Barack Obama did make a distinction saying that he liked D.C., the residents of D.C. and very quickly he and Michelle Obama have established a really good relationship with the community here.

But about the cable chatter, I think one of the things we've noted is that he has gone beyond Tuesday's press conference. It's one of the reasons why he's going to have that town hall live with the Internet and YouTube and those kind of questions going directly to the president. So yes, I think that perhaps he is getting a little tired of us, tired of D.C. for a little bit, but we're here!

CHETRY: Yes, you're not going anywhere, right.

MALVEAUX: We're here to stay.

CHETRY: Exactly. All right. Suzanne Malveaux for us, thanks. John.