American Morning

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December 16th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Jane Austen: 'What, me sexy?'

By Ronni Berke and Carol Costello

Move over, Angelina - make room for Jane. Jane Austen.

This beloved author of the ultimate "chick" novel turns 235 years old this week, yet she still sets hearts aflutter.

Austen's novels, where the art of conversation between the sexes reigns supreme, remain popular even among today's technology-obsessed, multi-tasking young women. On Facebook, Austen has 246,952 fans, who call themselves "Janeites." The Jane Austen Society of America has 65 regional groups and counts 4,000 members.

What is it about her books that resonates with today's women? In part, the Austen obsession is a rejection of what passes for modern romance, in such movies like the upcoming "Friends with Benefits," about friendship, sex, and then taking whatever comes.

In Austen's world, nothing is sexier than the intellectual sparring between a man and a woman.


Filed under: American Morning
November 19th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Gut check: Do GM profits = pay raises?

By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

The scene would have been inconceivable just a few years ago: management and union standing together at the New York Stock Exchange as the new General Motors went public.

It was a truly new day, not only for GM, but for – don't laugh – bipartisanship.

“We understand that to be globally competitive, we have to work together," says United Auto Workers president Bob King. "There's so much division and partisanship in America. Here's labor and business and government all working together to keep jobs in America."

To accomplish that, thousands of UAW workers retired early. Wages for senior workers are frozen at about $28 an hour, while new hires now make 50 percent less – $14 an hour, or about $30,000 a year. Fat pension plans are gone for new employees; they now contribute to 401k's.

The painful cuts have led some union workers to feel betrayed by union leaders. Still, the UAW accepted the changes and GM’s CEO credited them and increased worker creativity for his company's resurgence.

"It's inspiring how good the company has come out of this, and it's largely because of the employee base," says GM CEO Dan Akerson.

General Motors is projected to make $5-6 billion in profits this year. If GM continues to prosper, should employees prosper too?

It's a valid question. Negotiations on a new union contract starts next year. "We're paying competitive rates vis-a-vis our competition," Akerson adds. "A success-based pay structure is what we strive for, like you do in most businesses."

For the union, that sounds promising. Its goal is to share in the company's "upside" while helping the auto industry remain viable. "It's a different world we're in," says King. "Top management at General Motors recognizes you've got to work together everyday and when there's an upside, workers have to share in that upside. We will."

Yet many economists say even if your company is healthy, it's unlikely you will get any substantial raise as long as the unemployment rate remains high. There's no incentive for companies when a hundred people are standing in line for your job. However, even in better economic times, wages in recent decades have been stagnant. Commerce Department statistics, adjusted for inflation, show that from 1990-2008, middle class incomes rose just 20 percent.

And most of that happened in the first decade. After 2000, when many businesses were fat and happy, income stagnated. Shareholders profited, but middle class workers did not. The current economic downturn has hit wages hard. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hourly wages increased only 1.7 percent over the past year, but because companies did hire workers for more hours, weekly pay was up. Increases were even lower in manufacturing.

Gut Check: If GM profits, should workers share the wealth?

Filed under: American Morning • Economy • General Motors
November 17th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Gut check: Is prime-time entertainment partisan?

If Bristol Palin's presence on "Dancing with the Stars" proved anything, it showed how partisan we've become.

Some believe the only reason she remained on the show for so long is because of a Tea Party or Republican conspiracy. Seneca Doane wrote on the liberal "She (Bristol Palin) is evidently clearly inferior to the other contestants, but Sarah Palin fans keep on voting her in not because of her greater talent but as a tribute to her grifter mom. Evidently, they're making a political point."

Bristol and her dance partner Mark Ballas insist that's not true. Ballas insists, "I've had loads of people come up to me, especially out here in LA and say I’m 100% Democrat, but I vote for you guys every week - because I have a normal life, I’m a normal family. I come home to my normal TV set and tune in and I think to myself if I was on that show that's exactly how I would be and I enjoy watching the journey and it's inspiring."

The funny thing – or the sad thing – is just how much we've politicized everything in country. The headline in "The Hollywood Reporter" describes "The Reign of Right-Wing Primetime." In a new study, media research company Experian Simmons came up with a list of shows favored by Republicans and by Democrats. Among the shows Republicans watch: “Dancing with the Stars,” “Modern Family,” and “Big Bang Theory.” Democrats apparently watch shows about "damaged characters" like “Mad Men,” “30 Rock” and “Dexter” – all shows with much lower ratings. Republicans it seems are more devoted to their favorites and watch in greater numbers.

This supposed partisan divide in TV viewing habits has erupted over Bristol Palin. Kim Serafin, who worked in politics with Rudy Giuliani and is now senior editor of In Touch Weekly, put it this way: "It's kind of funny but not entirely surprising. Because people do politicize everything. They politicize TV shows, they politicize movies, they politicize celebrities. Everything that people do these days is politicized."

Gut check: Many of us expect our politicians to reach across the aisle – but do we really mean that? We're so partisan there are Republican and Democratic TV shows – can't we just enjoy the show?

Filed under: American Morning
November 15th, 2010
05:53 AM ET

Bush-era tax cuts: What's really at stake?

Those tax cuts – should they expire for everyone? Or just the rich? And if that's the case - is that fair? It depends on your perspective.

What if you're married, with two kids and make $70,000 a year? Right now you pay $2,300 dollars in taxes. If the Bush tax cuts expire, you'll pay $4,900 dollars. That's $2,600 dollars more per year...or $7 a day. Put another way: That's roughly three gallons of gas.

Salary: $70,350
You Pay = $2,300
Expire You Pay = $4,900
$2,600 More Annually = $7 a day = 3 gal. of Gas

If you're married, with two kids and make $325,000 a year, you now pay $63,000 in taxes. If the tax cuts expire, you pay $71,000 - that's $7,400 extra. Or $20 a day. Two movie tickets and a small popcorn.

Salary: $325,000
You Pay = $63,600
Expire You Pay = $71,000
$7,400 More Annually = $20.00 a day = 2 movie tickets & Small Popcorn

If you make $5 million? You pay $1.3 million in taxes right now. If the tax cuts expire you'll pay $1.6 million. That's $276,000 more or $757 dollars a day. Or a 32-gig IPad with WI-FI.

Salary: $5 Million
You Pay = $1,320,200
Expire you pay – $1,596,600
$276,400 More Annually = $757 a day = 32 gig IPad with WI-FI

The information comes from Deloitte Development. They put this together using a “composite tax payer” based on IRS data for 2010. These figures are based on a married couple with two kids and includes wages, capital gains, dividend income, and common deductions.

We want to hear from you. After seeing a breakdown of these figures, what do you think should happen with the Bush-era tax cuts?

Should President Obama...
* let them expire across the board?
* extend them only for the wealthy?
* extend them for a year and reevaluate?

Sound off in the comments section below.

Filed under: Economy • President Barack Obama • Tax cuts
November 1st, 2010
12:18 PM ET

Gut check: Pols prey on seniors?

By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

Perhaps it's surprising to everyone but seniors, but they are putting their money where their vote will be in a big way.

According to, retirees, many of them on a fixed income, have donated a cool $98 million to federal elections this cycle. That's a record. Some say the politics of fear –- fear of government-run healthcare, fear of losing Social Security and fear in general - has fueled the wave of donations.

Two retirees who have contributed robust amounts this election cycle are Marian Altman and Ellen Roberts, of Silver Spring, Maryland. Altman, a conservative Democrat, gave $1000 to Democratic candidates. “I think the older you get the more you realize how much you want to be involved in the government, you realize how much your vote is worth. When you're young you don't have any fear,” Altman says.

Many seniors, on the other hand, are fearful. Ellen Roberts, a conservative Republican, fears a government take-over or worse. “That is something to be afraid of,” Roberts says. “When you go and you go to the different czars that are in the White House, there are communists in there.”

What really scares many seniors is healthcare reform, and they've been bombarded with political ads that exploit that fear. There are almost 300,000 TV political ads that have an anti-healthcare theme this season. The price tag? More than $116 million. Well worth the money, analysts say, since retirees contributed more than any other group, mostly to Republican candidates.

Roberts says she donated more than $3000. CNN analyst and independent John Avlon finds the trend worrying. “The frustrating part is that politics of fear work. We've seen a long series of people using fear and hate to pump up hyper partisanship to take fundraising dollars from folks, especially older people, who are especially susceptible to the politics of fear.”

Tell us what you think. Sound off below.

Filed under: American Morning • Elections • Politics
October 26th, 2010
05:23 AM ET

Time for Mandatory Voting?

It’s not like Americans have ever voted in huge numbers. Our watershed election this century? Not Obama’s, in 2008. Or even Ronald Reagan’s, in 1980. It was 1960. The dramatic election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy drew just 64 percent of eligible voters. In 2008, turnout was about 61.7 percent. Some say that’s deplorable. So how do you get more Americans to vote? Why not try what they do in Australia – make voting mandatory? There, if you don't cast a ballot, you get slapped with a big, fat fine.

William Galston, from the Brookings Institution political think tank, believes voting ought to be a mandatory civic duty. “When you get a notice to show up for jury duty, that's not an invitation, that's a polite requirement,” Galston says. “And if you don't show up, then various sorts of problems occur for you as a matter of law.” While elections officials have tried to increase voter turnout by offering early voting, or enabling people to register at the DMV– they've only managed to increase turnout by one or two percentage points. Not great when you look at the numbers: In 1962–almost 50 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the midterm elections. In 1986, 38 per cent voted. In 2006: turnout was 40 percent. If people don't vote because they're lazy - then why not force them to perform their civic duty?

Conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle cites California's ballot pamphlet as a strike against mandatory voting. It's thick with candidate choices and tax propositions - complicated stuff, she says. “I know it sounds great to say that we'd like to have 100 percent voting in the United States but when you look at the reality, if people aren't paying attention, I don't know that you want to have them voting on really complicated issues,” Saunders says. Voting in America isn't likely to become mandatory any time soon - as one election official told us - it would be un-American. Just like others say it's un-American to stay home on Election Day.

Filed under: Elections • Voting
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