American Morning

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June 1st, 2011
10:07 AM ET

What the debt ceiling is and why it matters

By Michael Milhaven, Producer, CNN American Morning

If your eyes glaze over when you hear the words "debt ceiling," you're not alone. It's a concept that typically only economists and heads of state need worry about. But if you want to understand the current political debate and why both parties are fighting so hard to limit or raise the debt ceiling, read on.

Let's break this down for everyone in easier terms - what is the debt ceiling is and what it means for you?

Think of it as America's credit limit. The country only has so much it can spend to pay its bills and interest payments. If you have a credit card, you know there's only so much that you're allowed to put on that card.

The debt ceiling is that credit card limit for the U.S. government.

Right now, our "credit card limit" is at $14,293,975,000,000 (yes, that reads $14 TRILLION).

That's a lot of dough. Stacked on top of each other, $14 trillion dollars would go from Earth to the Moon and back...more than four times. Or, at $500 a pop, you could by 28 billion iPad 2's. Also, consider the estimated cost of rebuilding Joplin, Missouri after the devastating tornado damage. That price tag is around $3 billion. If we had $14 trillion towards rebuilding, we could rebuild the town 4,700 times.

To find out more about the debt ceiling, watch Christine Romans explain it in the video below. For more information and complete coverage of the debt ceiling debate, check out

Filed under: Debt • Debt ceiling
April 20th, 2011
10:21 PM ET

CNN In Depth: Gulf wildlife one year later

By CNN Meteorologist Rob Marciano

One year into this oil disaster, there seems to be more questions than answers when it comes to the vast ecosystem that is the Gulf of Mexico.

Nature is resilient and can recover from most catastrophic events, given enough time. Most scientists believe the Gulf will eventually recover, but when and at what costs?

Since Jan. 1, more than 220 sea turtles and 175 dolphins have washed up dead on gulf shore beaches. Test results confirming a direct link to the BP oil spill won’t be available for months. This is partly because good science takes time, but mostly because this information, along with a slew of other evidence, is being gathered to build a case for litigation against BP.

Dirty water, damaged habitat, and dead animals all are being quantified to bring dollars back to restore the Gulf. Of all the solutions to the countless problems one seems to get the most attention: The Mississippi. Man-made levees and canals have changed the way the river feeds the gulf and its wetlands. Allow the river to “spread the ecological wealth” a bit by opening up the outflow and/or periodically releasing water/nutrients further upriver so the Mississippi Delta can replenish the wetlands that have been disappearing at astonishing rates for decades. Just a thought among many good ideas that may now be possible given the attention and dollars that will be produced from an eventual legal settlement.

Reporting on this disaster during the past year has brought me closer to these incredible creatures than I’d ever imagined. It’s heart breaking to see the fatalities increasing at such alarming rates. Turtle and dolphin deaths this year are 10 to 15 times higher than normal. The Institute for Marine Mammals Studies in Gulfport has been busy testing these animals while also rehabilitating rescued ones during this event.

On this anniversary date, we felt it proper to spend the day at their facility. While here, I got to meet a couple of their resident “retired” dolphins, just 2 more amazing critters I’ve gotten to know on this assignment. See my report below.

Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill
January 18th, 2011
05:13 PM ET

Share your story: "Good-bye, middle class"

The American Middle Class is hurting.

More and more people are struggling just to get by paycheck to paycheck, and the assault on the middle of the country seems relentless...

* Millions have lost their jobs and their homes
* Life savings and pensions have evaporated
* College tuition costs are up, and students are having trouble paying off loans
* Health care costs are still high despite health care bill passage
* Unemployment is still high, with fewer union jobs available
* Food and gas prices are going up

We want to hear from you. How has the Great Recession affected your life?

Tell us your story and it might be considered for an upcoming series on American Morning.

Filed under: Economy • Great Recession • Middle Class
December 15th, 2010
05:30 AM ET

Astronaut Cady Coleman's blog post before launching into space Wednesday

EDITOR'S NOTE: Over the last year, CNN's John Zarrella has been following mom and NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman as she prepares to launch into space to work on the International Space Station. On Wednesday, Coleman is scheduled to embark on her journey. In her last blog post before lift off, she explains what is racing through her mind as she prepares for her trip. Watch "American Morning" at 6am ET to follow Coleman's progress. Watch the story of Cady Coleman here

Birthday Blog
By Cady Coleman

I’ll keep this short because there are still a few things that I’d like to pack into my last few hours on the planet until next May, not to mention I’m spending as much time as I can with my husband Josh and my sons Josiah and Jamey, before I go. I’m hoping that the photos attached will tell the story of our final few weeks of training before launch.

Who would have thought that it would all happen so fast? This day was always something that would happen sometime in the future… but I find myself in Baikonur, Russia, preparing to launch on a Soyuz for a six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS), AND I’m turning 50 today. If this is what “Downhill from Here” means – then bring it on!

I thought I knew what getting ready to launch would be like. As a backup for Expedition 24, I watched the prime crew as they completed all the training that precedes a Soyuz launch. I climbed into their spacecraft for a fit check, took all the last classes, got signed off by the medical and training commissions and was pronounced “Certified for Spaceflight”. If my counterpart on the prime crew couldn’t launch for some reason, then I would go in their place.

Now I’m finding that everything feels different when you are really the NEXT crew to launch. I realize that the prime crew always had a look in their eyes – a kind of wonder and anticipation that can’t be felt by the backups. Not many people get to leave our planet in a spacecraft bound for the International Space Station – and Dmitry Kondratev, Paolo Nespoli and I, the crew of Soyuz TMA 20, are launching in less than 24 hours!

Two weeks ago we flew to Baikonur, Kazakhstan to complete the last phase of our training. We are in quarantine at the Cosmonaut Hotel here. That means that we can’t see anyone who hasn’t had a physical, and we can’t leave. Three great meals a day, it is a cross between prison and paradise! Even family have limited access, which is probably the hardest part of the last few weeks. I’ve tried to put that aside as we completed a busy series of fit checks in the REAL Soyuz and some final classes to review the important points of launching and then working aboard the ISS.

Our families and the backup crew got to watch OUR VERY OWN SOYUZ taken by train out to the launch pad and placed upright in the launch position. Josh likes to joke that arranging a ride to space in the Soyuz was the least he could do for my birthday present!

I look forward to sharing our 5 month mission with you. The steps that Gagarin took just 50 years ago were huge. Who knows what new first steps will result from our work aboard the ISS? I’m proud to be a part of the space program and I look forward to sharing our mission. I’ll sign off for now with launch less than a day away.

As Yuri Gagarin would say, “Поехали!” or “Let’s GO!”

December 14th, 2010
10:13 AM ET

Kids and Cash: What to teach your kids about money

In these hard economic times, many Americans are considering when and how to teach their children about finances. Meanwhile, the FDIC and the U.S. Department of Education have joined together in an effort to bring the subject of finances to the classroom. Janet Bodnar, Editor and Columnist for "Kiplinger's Personal Finance" and author of "Raising Money Smart Kids", says children's financial literacy is essential. Bodnar spoke with CNN's Kiran Chetry Tuesday.

Filed under: American Morning • Economy
December 13th, 2010
07:36 AM ET

Big Stars, Big Giving: Nicole Kidman and fighting for gender equality

Editor's Note: In an American Morning original series, "Big Stars, Big Giving," CNN National Correspondent Alina Cho looks at celebrity philanthropy and how these big stars can make a big impact. Through one-on-one interviews with Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Edward Norton, Julianne Moore and Justin Bieber, she shares what causes have become their passions, and how you can get involved. The one-hour special debuts December 24th and airs again on December 25th.

Nicole Kidman is a longtime goodwill ambassador for UNIFEM, the United Nations arm that fights for gender equality and to end violence against women.

Kidman was moved to act after her mother heard a report on the radio about a UNIFEM program in Cambodia. She says she was raised to be a feminist.

"A lot of my life, I've been trying to please my mother," she says. "This is probably the thing she most responds to in my life."

To get involved or read more about the U.N.'s "Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women," visit or in the U.S., text UNITE to 27722 to donate $10 to the fund.

To learn more on giving, and ways you can make a difference this holiday season, visit Impact Your World.

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