American Morning

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December 18th, 2009
09:00 AM ET

Big Stars, Big Giving: All next week on American Morning

Editor's Note: In an American Morning original series, “Big Stars, Big Giving,” Alina Cho looks at celebrity philanthropy and how these big stars can make a big impact. Through one-on-one interviews with Elton John, Ben Stiller, Madonna, Martha Stewart and Richard Branson, she shares what causes have become their passion, and how you can get involved. In part one, Alina sits down with legendary musician Elton John. Monday, 6-9 a.m. ET – only on CNN’s American Morning.

By Alina Cho, CNN

There are many famous people who just talk the talk, and then there are those who walk the walk – and do it in other people's shoes. They are the ones who really give back, and their generosity is helping change the world.

I had the chance to sit down with some of Hollywood's biggest stars, and I mean "biggest." All of them are doing their part to try to make a difference.

All next week on CNN’s “American Morning,” we are highlighting them for the holiday season.

We begin on Monday with the man I call the "original" – Sir Elton John. In 17 years, his Elton John AIDS Foundation ( has raised more than $150 million with programs in 55 countries.

I caught up with him at a celebrity tennis tournament benefiting his foundation. Did you know Sir Elton John plays tennis?

“I've got a good forehand,” he tells me. And he's using it for a good cause.

The 62-year-old music legend says he wasn't inspired to become an advocate until he met 14-year old Ryan White in 1986. The Indiana teen was expelled from his school because he had AIDS.

John became so close to the White family that he gave them financial assistance and was at Ryan's bedside when he died.

“I never heard Ryan complain about having AIDS. I never heard him whine or be miserable; he carried everything with such dignity. It just taught me about humility, how my life was completely out of whack. About six months after Ryan died, I began to change my life."

On Tuesday I talk with movie star Ben Stiller. He's using comedy and social media to raise awareness and money to build schools in Haiti.

We all know Lance Armstrong's foundation, "Livestrong,” with those famous yellow bracelets. Well, Ben Stiller came up with "Stillerstrong," and his version of the bracelet – a yellow headband.

For the rest of the series, I’ll sit down with Madonna in a rare one-on-one interview. She's building a school for orphans in Malawi. Then there’s Martha Stewart, who built a center for aging Americans. She did that for her 93-year-old mother.

And last, but certainly not least, Sir Richard Branson – the man behind the "Virgin" empire. He treats philanthropy like a business – identify a problem and solve it.

So don't miss American Morning all next week for our original series, “Big Stars, Big Giving.” It’s an up close look at how Elton John, Ben Stiller, Madonna, Martha Stewart and Richard Branson are giving back.

To learn more about the organizations these stars have created to make a difference,

and how you can get involved, visit Impact Your World.

December 18th, 2009
08:30 AM ET

Housing boom's hidden dangers

When lightweight construction meets fire, it sometimes doesn't hold up. CNN's Gerri Willis gets a dramatic demonstration.

Filed under: Business
December 18th, 2009
08:00 AM ET

Obama: No time to waste on climate change deal

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Before his speech Obama canceled a ceremonial meeting with the Danish PM for an emergency climate meeting."]

Copenhagen, Denmark (CNN) - Delegates at the U.N. Climate Change Conference are "running short on time" to reach agreement on a deal, U.S. President Barack Obama told them Friday.

"There is no time to waste," he said. "Now I believe it's the time for the nations and the people of the world to come behind a common purpose. We are ready to get this done today, but there has to be movement on all sides."

Obama sounded impatient with the progress of the two-week conference so far, saying the scope of climate change discussions over the years have produced little more than talk.

"These international discussions have essentially taken place now for almost two decades, and we have very little to show for it other than an increased acceleration of the climate change phenomenon," Obama said. "The time for talk is over." Read the full story »

Transcript of Obama's remarks | Obama: 'We can act boldly' Video

Filed under: Environment • World
December 18th, 2009
06:00 AM ET

Avlon: Wingnut's fright-wing politics

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Ezra Klein and Chuck Norris (Photos: Images)"]

By John Avlon, Special to CNN

With health care on Capitol Hill, wingnuts have been busy trying to scare up support for their all-or-nothing vision of the bill.

On the left, Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein went the mass murder metaphor route against the liberals’ least favorite senator this week, Senator Joe Lieberman. He’s an independent who’s acting too independent for them, refusing to reflexively sign on to the Democrats’ bill and therefore blocking their attempt to get a 60-seat, filibuster-proof vote count.

Lieberman says that he’s trying to make sure the bill is fiscally responsible and lowering the Medicaid buy-in age to 55 is unlikely to make a system that is already going broke more solvent.

Klein saw something more sinister: “At this point, Lieberman seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals. That is to say, he seems willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score.”

The hundred thousand deaths estimate is based on an Urban Institute report that lack of insurance contributed to 137,000 people in the first half of this decade, but trying to hang that report around Lieberman’s neck is absurd, unfair and more than a little unhinged. It’s a fear-smear that aims for the same emotions as the summer’s "death panel" claims, with the opposite intention.

On the right, action star turned conservative columnist Chuck Norris offered a Yule-tide take on the health care bill from a fright-wing perspective.

“As we near the eve of another Christmas, I wonder: What would have happened if Mother Mary had been covered by Obamacare? What if that young, poor and uninsured teenage woman had been provided the federal funds (via Obamacare) and facilities (via Planned Parenthood, etc.) to avoid the ridicule, ostracizing, persecution and possible stoning because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Imagine all the great souls who could have been erased from history and the influence of mankind if their parents had been as progressive as Washington's wise men and women! Will Obamacare morph into Herodcare for the unborn?”

That’s right, health care reform could kill Christmas.

And Chuck Norris fans won’t want to miss next week’s column, titled “Away with the Manger,” which he promises will show how “the feds are whitewashing America's Judeo-Christian heritage via a progressive, politically correct and pro-Muslim platform.”

The week’s news also provoked a bonus round of wingnut irony. Conservative protestors on Capitol Hill staging a “die-in” to illustrate the impact of what they call government-run health care. It’s the same street theater tactic that Code Pink used to protest war during the Bush administration. The right wing is reading “Rules for Radicals.”

Somehow the extremes always end up resembling each other and the result is always an assault on common sense.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

Filed under: Politics • Wingnuts of the week