(CNN Student News) -- January 26, 2010
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CARL AZUZ, CNN STUDENT NEWS ANCHOR: If you haven't eaten breakfast or lunch yet, today's Before We Go segment will make you want to skip straight to dessert. That's coming up in a little over nine minutes. I'm Carl Azuz. CNN Student News starts right now!
First Up: U.S. Middle Class
AZUZ: First up, the U.S. government has some suggestions to help out the country's middle class. Now, when we talk about classes -- middle, lower, upper -- those categories are usually defined financially; how much money people make. The government doesn't have an official definition for the middle class. But in a recent survey, about half of Americans considered themselves to be part of the middle class.
A year ago, President Obama created the Middle Class Task Force. The goal of it: to help people get through the recession. Yesterday, the group offered five recommendations to do that. First: give families with kids more money back on their taxes. Second: offer government support to families that take care of elderly relatives. Third, and this'll probably affect you most immediately: limit how much that college graduates pay on federal student loans. Fourth: create a system of retirement plans for workers. And fifth: find ways to protect people's retirement savings. All of these, of course, for the middle class.
Now, none of these recommendations are a done deal. The task force's recommendations will be part of the government budget that President Obama will propose next week. Congress is the one who has to approve that budget, though, so it gets the final say on what is and isn't included.
AZUZ: The economy: You know it's going to get a lot of attention during the president's State of the Union address tomorrow night. You can watch that at 9 p.m. ET on CNN. When he took office, one of President Obama's first big political moves was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We usually just call it the "stimulus bill." It included $787 billion in spending and tax benefits. One year later, just how has it worked out? That is the question that CNN is asking all this week in our Stimulus Project. Today, Christine Romans looks at where the stimulus money is being spent and how this bill compares to other big spending plans we've seen throughout history.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: $787 billion is what Congress passed last February, and that's meant to be spent over two years.
The Iraq war to date? Almost $600 billion. The New Deal? $500 billion. The Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe -- to rebuild Europe! -- $115 billion. These are inflation-adjusted numbers. This is meant to show you just how big this whole project is.
Let's break it down and show you where the money is going, because it's incredibly diverse. It's not just highway projects and it's not just $25 in your unemployment checks.
Tax benefits, by far, the biggest single outlay: $288 billion. Loans and grants, this is like billions for states to plug their budget holes, all kinds of things: $275 billion. There are entitlements. These are like, gosh, this is everything from food stamps to more unemployment benefits and the like. All of that there: $224 billion.
Now, not all of it's spent. About $265 billion has been paid out; $522 billion remain. Critics will say, "They're not getting the money out fast enough." It was designed to be time released, and the first phase is almost over. That was the rescue phase. That was things like food stamps, Medicaid, filling budget gaps so that teachers stay on the job, so that firefighters and police officers stay on the job, and in saving jobs.
Now, this is, some people have really criticized phase one of the rescue because they didn't necessarily see anything change in their neighborhood. You can't really feel a negative, what would have been a negative. Phase two starting right now: infrastructure, construction and research, high-speed rail, projects that were shovel-ready on the books of states' Department of Transportation, that now they've got the funding, they can go and fix the bridge or fix the road.
AZUZ: How does the American public feel about the stimulus bill? Last March, right after it was passed, 54 percent of people who took part in a CNN survey supported the bill; around 44 percent of participants were against it. But now, those numbers are almost exactly reversed. A new CNN poll taken earlier this month showed that 56 percent of the public is against the stimulus bill; 42 percent in favor of it. Another question in that survey: How much of the stimulus money has been wasted? Twenty-five percent of the participants said little or no stimulus dollars have been wasted, but 29 percent said about half the money has been wasted, and 45 percent think most or nearly all of the stimulus money has been wasted.
AZUZ: Moving to Montreal. That city played host to a "Friends of Haiti" meeting yesterday. Representatives from more than a dozen countries, as well as the United Nations, World Bank and European Union were there. The goal: to put together short-term and long-term plans to help Haiti recover from this month's catastrophic earthquake. During the meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "there's a tremendous desire to help," but that the international community needs to make sure that it's done effectively. The recovery process is not small; it's not easy. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, "It is not an exaggeration to say that 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti."
AZUZ: Those recovery efforts will be getting some help from this guy. Charlie Simpson's his name. He lives in London, he's 7 years old, and he's raised more than $160,000 for victims of the Haiti earthquake, doing all of it by riding his bike. Charlie only expected to raise about $800, but when word of his sponsored ride got out, donations just started pouring in. The money will go to UNICEF's Haiti Earthquake Children's Appeal.
AZUZ: Well, can you track down Charlie's hometown on a map of the UK? How about the city where the "Friends of Haiti" meeting was held? You'll find both of them with our downloadable maps. They are free! They help you pinpoint locations that are in the headlines, and you can find them every day at CNNStudentNews.com.
TOMEKA JONES, CNN STUDENT NEWS: Time for the Shoutout! When did Sally Ride become the first American woman in space? If you think you know it, shout it out! Was it: A) 1978, B) 1983, C) 1989 or D) 1993? You've got three seconds -- GO! Sally Ride launched into the history books on June 18, 1983. That's your answer and that's your Shoutout!
AZUZ: That same year, Catherine Coleman became a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. But she was inspired by Sally Ride to pursue her current profession: astronaut. Coleman has spent more than 500 hours in space. She's getting ready for her next big trip. But as John Zarrella explains, when she's on the ground, Coleman finds time to share her experiences and inspire young audiences.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF AND CORRESPONDENT: Flying twice on space shuttle missions...
CADY COLEMAN, NASA ASTRONAUT: The plants that we've had on board here, we've kind of, we're going to test them two different ways.
ZARRELLA: ...Training for a six-month stay on the international space station.
COLEMAN: It probably seems terrible to... I mean, so many people would like to go to space. And to think, but I want to go again.
ZARRELLA: There's perhaps just a touch of guilt in her voice. It's quickly engulfed by a wave of passion that transcends the flying. A desire to give back, to make time to share the experience.
JOSH SIMPSON, COLEMAN'S HUSBAND: It's incredible how she's able to explain complicated stuff to people in a way that they can understand. But it's not just kids. It's also college people and adults.
ZARRELLA: A little weightless levity never hurts, like eating gummy bears in space, purely for science. Sandwiched between training in Russia and Houston, a lecture at her alma mater, the University of Massachusetts; autograph signings; an interview with a local reporter; and demonstrating what doesn't work in weightlessness.
COLEMAN: And so swimming doesn't really help. And moving your legs doesn't really help very much either.
ZARRELLA: Somersaults are cake. The UMass visit came at the end of a day when Cady had already spent time at her son Jamie's elementary school.
COLEMAN: Here is two robotic arms, because sometimes we have things we want to pass from robotic arm to robotic arm.
ZARRELLA: You were paying attention, right?
JAMIE COLEMAN, COLEMAN'S SON: Yes.
ZARRELLA: So when she asked, when she told you how many robotic arms are on the space station, do you know?
JAMIE COLEMAN: Yes, two.
ZARRELLA: Coleman, like many of NASA's women astronauts, believes their visibility can be an inspiration, in particular to young girls, like one in Jamie's class. She drew a picture of a girl astronaut with a pink rocket ship.
COLEMAN: There are still a lot of mixed messages that girls growing up get, in that not all of them who are 6 and 7 years old even think that they might be able to do this, or that whatever their dream job is, that they could choose and do.
ZARRELLA: Cady's experience was similar, never thinking becoming an astronaut was possible until after attending a talk by America's first woman in space, Sally Ride.
COLEMAN: To me, it was a very pivotal moment where I just thought, I want that job.
Just like gravity...
ZARRELLA: And she got it.
Before We Go
AZUZ: All right, before we go, we said you were going to want dessert. So step inside China's World Chocolate Wonderland: five exhibit halls, where everything is made out of, well, the museum name kind of gave it away. Still, 170,000 pounds of chocolate is enough to satisfy any chocolate craving. Most of the exhibits are off-limits for eating, though. However, there is one where you can make your own chocolate and then taste-test your confectionary creation.
AZUZ: So, basically you can have your cake and eat it, too. Being force-fed a pun about chocolates -- you wanted the puns -- that's your just desserts. We're serving up another edition of CNN Student News tomorrow. I'm Carl Azuz. See you then.