American Morning

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October 25th, 2010
09:50 AM ET

Does Your Vote Count?

After Florida's hanging chad fiasco in the 2000 Presidential Election, you think we would have gotten it right by now. Think again. Although "The Help America Vote Act of 2002" was passed to correct voting problems and help the disabled vote, it took New York State until 2010 to switch from manual levers to electronic voting machines. Albany was even sued by the Justice Department in 2006 for lack of compliance with the new law. New York's first electronic voting run, during the Sept. 14 primary, was far from perfect. Voters were put off by something that had never seen before. They complained ballots were confusing or tough to read; they saw broken down machines or none at all.

A review by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says there were problems in all five New York City boroughs, with more than 700 sites experiencing voting machine malfunctions, numerous reports of poll sites opening late, and improperly trained poll workers. "That was a royal screw up," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of the primary. The New York Board of Elections is now re-training 36-thousand poll workers to better serve voters on November 2nd, says BOE Commissioner J.C. Polansco. It's also offering voters a pre-election day demonstration. Keep in mind - other states are electronically-challenged too. In Illinois, Gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney's name was spelled "Rich Whitey" on some machines - and poll workers are working feverishly to correct the mistake before November 2nd.

Ohio, Florida and California have had persistent problems, too, with things like improperly filled out ballots and machine malfunctions. Lawrence Norden, from the NYU Brennan Center, who studies elections, says New York may have avoided some problems if it had conducted a trial run with the new machines. Norden claims many voting problems could be avoided if states actually shared information. "There's no central place where voting problems are reported and somebody can screen them and then report to election officials, 'here's a common problem with your machine, be aware of it.' "


Filed under: Elections • Politics
October 15th, 2010
06:19 AM ET

Should Politicians Be You?

Christine O'Donnell wasn't the first to say “I Am You” – but you could argue she was the first to say it in a way that grabbed America's attention in way few politicians have. The "I Am You” political strategy is ubiquitous - it seems to be in every politician's playbook, no matter how ridiculous it might sound. Perhaps you're wondering why?

“They do it because it’s been done,” says Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman. “That was a message that resonated years ago, but the electorate is a much more sophisticated electorate,” he adds. To win votes, politicians bowl, drink whisky, hunt and ride horses. But President Ronald Reagan’s horse was more subtle than, say, Bill Clinton grabbing burgers at McDonald’s, with his jogging shorts, and marriage problems. Bill Clinton was a baby-boomer's "I Am You" dream. He connected with them - and won. Analysts say the I'm-like-you strategy really exploded in 2008.

On the campaign trail, Sarah Palin gave shout outs to “everyday American people, like the hockey mom and Joe Six-Pack. And although some political strategists might say it's a tired tactic - the idea of you running the country resonated with many voters. “Because they’re angry, they don’t trust anybody,” says Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. “Who are they most likely to trust? Themselves.” But, is that what voters really want? Do they want a peanut farmer, like Jimmy Carter? A cowboy like George W. Bush? A Good Ole’ Boy like Clinton? Or a hockey mom like Plain – to run the country? In the end, says Zimmerman, “this election is not about whether a politician is like the electorate, its about what the politician is going to do for the electorate. That's what the electorate is demanding today and that's really what resonates.”

We'd like to know what you think...do you want a politician to be like you?


Filed under: Gut Check
October 8th, 2010
06:09 AM ET

EPA on Coal Ash: Economic Fallout

By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke, CNN

Chuck Newell runs the National Gypsum Plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. His company makes drywall: in fact, National Gypsum's drywall could be in your home right now. National Gypsum is proudly "green." All of the drywall manufactured there is made of synthetic gypsum - a substance recycled from material taken directly from First Energy Corporation's nearby Bruce Mansfield power plant after it burns coal to make electricity.

In a good year, Newell says, the plant will operate 24/7, using an excess of 800,000 tons of material. But after the housing crisis forced him to cut his plant's operations to just three days a week, Newell is worried things might get even worse.

His "green company" may go bust because the EPA is considering whether to label all waste from coal burning plants - like coal ash and synthetic gypsum - hazardous."Our biggest concern is that if we are qualified in with the rest of the material that comes from the power plant, as hazardous, or even if we're given an offset category that our product may be tainted," Newell says. The stigma, he fears, will stick.

Here is one reason why: Little Blue Run, FirstEnergy's 976-acre retention pond, where tons of coal ash ends up. Coal ash contains arsenic,cadmium and lead - substances that can cause cancer.

Neighbors fear the stuff is seeping into the ground water and into their underground wells. Both the Pennyslvania Department of Environmental Protection and FirstEnergy say Little Blue has not contaminated any residential drinking well.

National Gypsum doesn't get any of its raw material from Little Blue. The synthetic gypsum comes from taking waste from smokestack gases, and passing it through limestone slurry, to create gypsum. Combining gypsum with recycled paper creates the plant's drywall.

Newell is sympathetic to those who want tougher restrictions on coal ash, but says not all waste from the burning of coal is hazardous. According to the EPA, synthetic gypsum poses no health risks. "There's nothing hazardous about it, it's the equivalent of natural gypsum that you mine in a quarry," Newell says. It is so ubiquitous, Newell adds, it is even found in the offices of the EPA in Washington. The EPA should make a final decision on whether to label coal waste hazardous next year. It estimates the cost of adopting the proposal that changes coal ash to "hazardous" waste to be about $1.5 billion dollars - but says the costs will be offset by health and other benefits. Most of the initial costs would likely be passed on to consumers, both the EPA and power industry officials say.


Filed under: Environment
October 7th, 2010
06:30 AM ET

EPA Decision Could Jolt Electrical Power Industry

By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke, CNN

(CNN) – Marcy Hughes has lived in western Pennsylvania her whole life. Her home in Beaver County is like a picture postcard: Rolling hills. Lush farmland. Great schools. Back in the 1970s, Hughes says, she listened enthusiastically as representatives for Pennsylvania Power proposed building "Little Blue Run." Sure, its purpose was a place to dispose of coal ash - the waste left over from burning coal for electricity - but, that coal ash would serve as a foundation for a man-made lake.

"They said that they were going to have it where you could swim, you could picnic - they even showed a sailboat."

Today, Little Blue Run is a 1300-acre facility, with an impoundment measuring nearly 1000 acres, and 400 feet deep in some places. FirstEnergy Corporation, the utility company that now owns Little Blue, pumps tons of coal ash and other waste into it every year.

But, you won't find any sailboats. The EPA says that coal ash contains toxic agents like arsenic, cadmium and lead, some of which are known to cause cancer. And, Little Blue is about to get bigger. FirstEnergy produces so much waste to make electricity, it wants to build an adjacent facility to store it.

Little Blue Run is one of about 600 surface impoundments in the country that contain coal ash from coal-fired power plants like FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. In addition, there are about 300 landfills containing dry waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency is now holding hearings across the country on coal ash waste. After the disastrous coal ash spill in Tennessee two years ago, the agency is considering whether to toughen regulations and classify coal-ash as "hazardous" waste. Right now it's considered ordinary garbage. The proposed changes could have an enormous financial impact on the hundreds of coal-fired power plants that produce half the nation's electricity.

FULL POST


Filed under: AM Original • Health • Living
October 5th, 2010
07:25 AM ET

Bullying Solutions

by Carol Costello and Bob Ruff

(CNN) – At one time or another most anyone who has ever gone to school either has known a bully, been bullied or bullied others.

Many of us are also all too familiar with bullies thanks to Hollywood films, such as "Butch" of the "Little Rascals" or, more recently, the wicked "Queen Bee" in the 2004 film "Mean Girls."

Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, of the Johns Hopkins School of Health told us that about 10% of all school children have been bullied, another 10% did the bullying, and still another 10% both bullied and were bullied themselves.

Recently we reported that the Federal Government has taken notice, holding the first-ever bullying summit in August. And they've put up a comprehensive web site called "Stop Bullying Now" . But even the Federal Government's man in charge of school safety, Kevin Jennings, told us, "it's taken us a long time to develop a bullying problem. It's going to take some time to solve it."

Until that happens, parents and their children are faced with the question: How do you deal with a bully?

FULL POST


Filed under: American Morning • Bullying
October 4th, 2010
06:10 AM ET

The Bully Pulpit

By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff

Sometimes all it takes is one person.

In the minds of many, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat in the white section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama sparked the civil rights movement in the 1950s.

Candy Lightner lost her 13-year-old daughter to a hit-and-run drunk driver in 1980. Her decision to co-found MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, led to a nationwide movement which has been instrumental in strengthening state and federal drunk driving laws.

Kirk Smalley wants to ignite another kind of movement, one that might have saved his 11-year old boy, Ty. He wants parents, kids, educators and “all those smart people out there” to come up with a plan to end bullying in our schools.

We caught up with Smalley at a rally at Western Heights High School at Oklahoma City. He was invited to speak at the invitation Upward Bound, whose Stand for the Silent campaign was inspired by Smalley’s one-man mission to end bullying in schools.

“I have to make a difference,” Smalley told the students. “I promised my son on Father’s Day this year I’d stop this from happening to another child.”

Smalley says that for years his son, Ty, struggled with a bully at school.

“He was always getting called names. You know, Ty was always pretty small for his age, and he’d get shoved, pushed here and there.”

Smalley says Ty was a typical kid with typical grades who took the abuse for two years. On the day Ty finally decided to push back—physically—he got into trouble for doing it. He was suspended from school. For Ty, that was too much to bear. On that day, last May, he killed himself. He was 11 years old.

Ty’s funeral was captured by independent filmmaker Lee Hirsch, in the upcoming documentary “The Bully Project” which documents the pain suffered by the bullied and their families across the nation.

The pain that Smalley feels is still palpable. “Ultimately,” he said, “my son’s safety rested in my hands. I was responsible for my son’s safety–I’m his Dad! It’s my job to protect him! No matter what.”

Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Kevin Jennings was appointed by President Obama to keep kids safe at school. Ty’s story could easily have been his own.

“I was bulled very severely when I was in junior high and high school,” he says. “And the first day of 10th grade I actually refused to go back to school because I simply wasn’t going to go back to a place where I was bullied every day.”

Jennings organized the nation’s first-ever bullying summit over the summer. But, even he admits it’s a baby step. Experts can’t even agree on how to define bullying. Is it physical? Electronic? Psychological? Non-verbal? All of the above?

“It’s taken us a long time to develop a bullying problem,” says Jennings. “It’s going to take us some time to solve it.”

There are no Federal guidelines that schools must follow to deal with bullying. They’re on their own. In Smalley’s home state of Oklahoma, each school district deals with bullying in different ways. It’s something else that infuriates Smalley.

“A lot of schools around the country, their answer to bullying is they let the victim leave a little bit early. They let them go home early to get a head start on the bully…You’re singling this child out! This child that’s been picked on, you’re singling him out now!”

Real solutions will come too late for Ty. But, Kirk Smalley is on that mission. He has spoken to scores of schools about the dangers of bullying and worked with Outward Bound to hold “Stand for the Silent” rallies around the nation.

“I’m not going to stop,” he told us.  “I’ll fight bullying wherever it’s found.  Schools. Work place. I’m not going to quit until bullying does….”


Filed under: American Morning • Bullying
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