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The War on Poverty, 50 Years Later; JetBlue Blames New FAA Pilot Rest Rules; Mindy Kaling Not Thin Enough for Cover?; College Athletes Read at Elementary School Level; Finding Humor in Freezing Temperatures

Aired January 8, 2014 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me. Checking our "Top Stories" at 30 minutes past the hour.

It won't hit book stands for another six days but a new memoir by former Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, is reverberating across Washington and beyond. In surprisingly blunt details Gates blasts President Obama's lack of faith in military leaders. He also rips Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, two potential candidates in the 2016 presidential race.

Check this out, the Minnesota State Patrol says the driver of a pickup lost control on an icy road. The truck actually goes over a guardrail and lands on a pond 40 feet below. Amazingly the driver survived. She is in the hospital but she's in fair condition this morning.

A Congressman who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession is now back on Capitol Hill. Republican Trey Radel of Florida apologized for his actions again but says he is not yet thinking about re-election though he may face the GOP primary challenger in August. Radel completed a substance abuse program in Florida and said he will continue his treatment in Washington.

Fifty years ago in his State of the Union Address, President Lyndon Johnson made this bold vow.


LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And this administration today here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America.


COSTELLO: Well now, congressional Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio are marking that anniversary and taking aim at President Obama in the process.

Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash in Washington with more on this. Good morning. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. That's right there are going to be events all over Capitol Hill today a pretty partisan event that probably won't shock you. Because it is pretty unanimous that poverty still exists and is still a big problem. Differences about how bad it really is.

But the big, philosophical, fundamental difference between the two parties shines here like -- like really on few other issues. Democrats who believe that the safety net should be there no matter what and Republicans who believe that the safety net has limits and that people should be more encouraged to get jobs rather than get government assistance.

Listen to what John Boehner said, the House Speaker about that this morning.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: When you look at the issue of poverty obviously lots of facets to it. But the one solution that we all know that works is a job.


BASH: Now, we're waiting for an event to start led by Republican Congressman, Steve Southerland of Florida. And I think that maybe he most illustrates, Carol, the -- the point of view that many Republicans feel in the House and he has -- kind of interesting, he was a lightning rod over the past year. Because he helped torpedo the farm bill because of the food stamp provision in it. Democrats cried out, saying, are you kidding me? The people who in most need, you are trying to take that away.

But he has another proposal which he is continuing to push today which would require people to get specific -- a specific number of hours of work. And again that really does show you the difference in philosophy between the two parties here when it comes to the issue of poverty and how to -- how to end it.

COSTELLO: Well it's interesting, both parties are embracing LBJ's pledge right because Democrats are -- are going to you know stage a number of demonstrations too today. It would be nice if Republicans and Democrats would kind of get together but that won't happen.

BASH: Well - well they are both embracing the pledge. They definitely have different points of view on whether or not LBJ's programs worked. Marco Rubio for example he's going to give a big speech in the LBJ Room. A room named after Lyndon Baines Johnson because before he was president, of course, he was a very powerful Senate Majority Leader and the room that Democrats regularly meet in -- actually now Republicans regularly meet in is named after him.

He is going to talk about the fact that he doesn't think LBJ's policies work so much because, of course, he was a Democrat and he's a more kind of progressive, liberal, mind-set and philosophy to addressing it. But we are certainly going to see Democrats commemorating the event. We're told that in the regular, Democratic meeting, among House members this morning, they actually watched excerpts of LBJ's speech and his granddaughter is going to be here at one of the events as well.

COSTELLO: Interesting Dana Bash, reporting live from Washington this morning.

When JetBlue canceled hundreds of flights affecting as many as 150,000 passengers the airline didn't just blame the bad weather it also pointed to new FAA regulations that went into effect on Saturday. Those new regulations require pilots to get at least ten hours of rest before their flight duty. Those changes were announced two years ago in December of 2011. JetBlue though requested a delay but the FAA turned it down.

Joining me now to talk about this is Captain Don Wykoff with the Airline Pilots Association. He's chairman of the Flight and Duty Time Committee and supports the new pilot rest rules. Good morning, Captain.


COSTELLO: I'm good. So was it fair for JetBlue to point a finger at these new regulations as a reason so many flights were canceled?

WYKOFF: Well look if we -- I just finished five days of flying through this weather system that came through. And as has been reported on all the media outlets, this was really a historic weather system that came through. So I think we really have to ask ourselves, if this happened before the new rules, would we still have the level of disruption and the answer probably is yes.

So you know at the end of the day I think if we really take a good look at how many of the different airlines fared through this whole problem, I think that the airlines that fared the best they are the ones that had the most robust operations control and that also took advantage of the full year two-year implementation window to make sure they were ready for these new flight and duty time rules to be implemented on January 4th.

COSTELLO: Well is it a matter of hiring more pilots? Are there enough pilots to accommodate these new regulations?

WYKOFF: Well I think that you know we've had two years to take a really good look at that. And I think more so of whether we would need more pilots is how we just integrate the rules into our daily operations. It was a bit of a perfect storm -- pun intended, if you will -- when we literally turned this on and then we were in the middle of a very significant weather event.

So we've had changes to the regulation in the past 20 years. And it resulted in changes like we're seeing here. And there's been times where maybe there has been an increase in pilot staffing but many times, what happens is the system just adapts to the needs and there is very you know powerful scheduling tools that are out there. And at the end of the day, this system adapts to it and we move on with our core business.

COSTELLO: Well -- JetBlue says scheduling pilots can be a delicate situation. What does it mean by that?

WYKOFF: Well, that's a good question. And maybe it is more pointed towards are they you know like any of the other airlines, it is a -- it is a complex system to make sure you have a large flying operation and you have pilots and flight attendants in the aircraft ready to go when it's time to push back and make that flight.

But you know I would probably ask the question the other way. It seems like many of the other air carriers with even more complex and larger operations are able to adapt to this. So I'm not really sure that some of this situation, the problems over the last four or five days have really been caused by the implementation of these rules.

COSTELLO: Captain Don Wykoff thanks so much for joining us this morning. I appreciate it.

WYKOFF: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM "Elle" magazine taking a hit for its latest cover; what one star is saying about the magazine's photo choice next.


COSTELLO: "Elle" magazine under fire for its cover photo. Take a look at this cover from its latest women in TV issue. Take a look here, notice anything? Only one actress, Mindy Kaling, on the left, is photographed above the waist. Some are accusing the magazine of hiding Mindy's fuller figure.

Nischelle Turner, live in New York. I'm amazed that this has caused so much controversy. Mindy (inaudible) right?


NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: You and me both. I'm with you on this, Carol. It's like another year, another fashion and body image story that we are doing again. And like you said, it's "Elle" magazine this time that is being accused of covering up Mindy Kaling, because she is not a size zero. But she is not a plus size either.

Now the magazine runs these multiple cover issues and this is the women in TV issue. It features four really funny women in different poses. You've got "New Girl" star Zooey Deschanel, "Girls" actress Alison Williams, "Park and Recreations" Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling whom we see right here.

Now first of all I'm with you it's a gorgeous cover and so there are two ways to think about this. First the way that some people are saying that "Elle" was covering her up; then you can think that this is just a great picture of her on the magazine. And that it actually may be the best cover of all four options.

By the way, Mindy loves this cover. And she tweeted about it last night. She tweeted, "I love my @ellemagazine cover it made me feel glamorous and cool. And if anyone wants to see more of my body, go on 13 dates with me." Very smart, very funny.

COSTELLO: But also it's kind of weird that -- that her cover is in black and white and the others were not. It makes you think why?

TURNER: I looked at that cover as kind of like s throw back to old Hollywood. I mean look at her face and how striking she looks. I mean, you know, I just think it's gorgeous. And I know that sometimes there are you know Hollywood does put this whole size issue on people. But sometimes it's not.

And sometimes it's just -- it's different. And -- and it makes you think and it makes you wonder if she loves it, then why are we all fired up about it?

COSTELLO: I think everyone is going back to the Melissa McCarthy cover right?

TURNER: Right.

COSTELLO: Where she was covered up by a trench coat. Come on.

TURNER: But yes, but Carol in that same situation, Melissa McCarthy said she loved that "Elle" issue there and that she picked that coat out herself. So -- so that was another situation where some people thought she was being covered up. But she said, "Well, yes, I covered myself up, because I thought it was very chic." And in that case I feel the same way about that as I knew this I think, I thought Melissa McCarthy looked stunning on that cover of "Elle".

And by the way we did reach out to "Elle" and ask about this. And here is what they told us. They said, "Mindy looks sexy, beautiful and chic. We think it's a striking and sophisticated cover and are thrilled to celebrate her in our women in TV issue."

I think the question could be and maybe it's a question for the other three ladies, did they get a chance to pick their pictures? Did they want to pick full body shots or were there also photos of them taken of just their face and "Elle" decided not to use them or they decided not to use them. It's a good question. I think it's a good talking point to have and everybody kind has a different opinion.

COSTELLO: Yes I just want my face shown.

TURNER: Listen, lady, you are fine. And don't take that the wrong way. You're gorgeous.

COSTELLO: I love you, Nischelle Turner.

TURNER: OK. COSTELLO: Thanks so much.

TURNER: All right.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM UNC one of the nation's top institutes of higher learning. And academic counselor there says too many student athletes can't even read.


COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 47 minutes past the hour --

Her congressional career was cut short after a gunman wounded her at a campaign event three years ago. But Gabby Giffords is vowing to continue her fight not just to recover but also to reform the gun laws in this country.

In today's "New York Times", Giffords writes the following, quote, "Our fight is a lot more like my rehab, every day we must wake up resolved and determined. I am committed to my rehab and I'm committed to my country. And my resolution standing with the vast majority of Americans who know we can and must be safer, is to cede no ground to those who would convince us the path is too steep or we, too weak.

What's a Super Bowl party without cheese dip? We may soon find out. Kraft says stores are running low on Velveeta and that you may not be able to find it in the coming weeks. The company declined to give specific reasons for this Velveeta shortage but says it is quote, a short-term situation that Kraft is working to fix as soon as possible.

Prosecutors have wrapped up their investigation into an academic scandal at the University of North Carolina but say another person could be charged. Julius Nyang'oro has been indicted in the case and appeared in court yesterday.

He is the former chairman of the Department of African and Afro- American studies. He is accused of taking money for teaching a class that did not exist. The former professor is the latest figure -- he's the latest figure to fall in what began as an NCAA investigation of the UNC football program in 2010.

CNN's Sarah Ganim has been looking into the football and basketball program there and uncovered some glaring academic failings.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The University of North Carolina is not just an athletic powerhouse with dedicated fans. It's also a top tier academic institution. But one academic counselor there, who spent years tutoring student athletes says too many of them can't even read.

MARY WILLINGHAM, LEARNING SPECIALIST: I mean, we may as well just go over to Glenwood Elementary right up the street and just let all the fourth graders in here and third graders in here.

GANIM (on camera): They can't read and there are no remedial classes, what's the option? To cheat?

WILLINGHAM: The other option is to cheat, that's correct, or to find some professor, some course of curriculum where there are professors, or there is little or no work expected of the student.

GANIM: Mary Willingham says there are athletes who come to the University of North Carolina who are reading at a third and fourth grade level. She says there's no way for them to succeed in a college classroom. The only place they can succeed here is on the football field.

(voice-over): Willingham is one of the few people we could find who is looking at the reading levels of athletes in the revenue-generating sports -- football and basketball.

WILLINGHAM: They're leaving here, our profit-scored (ph) athletes without an education. They're significantly behind, the level of reading and writing that's required.

GANIM: With the university's permission, she combed through eight years worth of test scores, and found that up to 25 percent of athletes in the revenue sports don't have the skills to take classes at a community college, let alone a competitive university like UNC.

Looking at 183 football and basketball players between 2004 and 2012, Willingham found that eight percent were reading below a fourth-grade level and 60 percent were reading between a fourth and eighth grade reading level.

(on camera): We wanted to know, is this happening in other schools? The NCAA told us that in 2012 alone, there were 30 football and basketball players who were admitted with very low test scores. Of course, they point out that's just a small percentage of the 5,700 athletes admitted that year, who are playing those sports.

But we wanted to know for ourselves. So we filed open records requests at 37 public universities across the country where open records laws apply. We asked for six years worth of data.

(voice-over): We got data back from 21 Division I universities, including top 25 ranked football schools like Texas A&M, Georgia, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Clemson. The results were startling.

Most schools had between seven percent and 18 percent of football and basketball players scoring so low on the reading portion of their exams, experts told us they would only be reading at an elementary level. That's an ACT score of 16 or less or below a 400 on the reading portion of the SAT.

But many of the universities had different explanations for low test scores. Like Texas, which said some athletes don't try very hard, aiming only to become NCAA eligible. Or Washington, which pointed out low scores may indicate learning disabilities. And Louisville, which said entrance exams are just one factor considered when admitting a student athlete. You can read their full responses on Not every school we asked would give us information. In fact about half refused or said they'd send the data after football season. Neither Florida State nor Auburn, which played in the BCS championship game, provided data.

Why did we first go to UNC? We were following up on a scandal from two years ago, when it was discovered that many student athletes were enrolled in classes that required little or no work.

Even though the NCAA said it found no athletic scandal, a professor was recently indicted for fraud, and UNC's own internal investigation found evidence of academic fraud. As a result, the school says it put in place 120 reforms and insists that UNC's athletic program is now clean.

(on camera): You are confident here you are doing the right thing by student athletes?

BUBBA CUNNINGHAM, UNC ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: I'm very confident. And I think our track record over time that we admit students can do the work. Now we are also highly competitive. Our students have to compete Monday to Friday as well as they do on Saturday. And I think the ones that are really committed to being outstanding students, they are.

GANIM: Mary Willingham says she is skeptical these changes have made a difference.

WILLINGHAM: We say that we made 120 changes, which you can make all the changes you want but if you are still not meeting students where they are at as an educator and bringing them along so that they can have success in the classroom, those changes are all for nothing.


GANIM: Carol I have to say, CNN talked to a dozen professors and advisers at multiple other universities. They echo what Mary Willingham found. The universities argue they are satisfied with their overall graduation rates. The question here, of course is, how do these athletes graduate if they can't read?

COSTELLO: I was just thinking about that. How do you get through high school if you are reading at a third or fourth grade level? And then the other question comes up. OK, so they are accepted into these universities. They are playing football, they're making massive amounts of money for those universities.

The universities know that they are never going to educate these kids, because you can't be educated at a college level when you are reading at a third-grade level and yet they don't pay these athletes any money.

GANIM: Right. And the question is, you know, a lot of people are pointing out today at least, you know, with the percentage of these guys that actually go pro, that can make a living without essentially maybe being able to read, they can make a living off of their sport. Well according to the NCAA, Carol, that number is very low. It's less than two percent of these athletes when they're seniors in college even make it to the draft. So it's a very low number of them that go on to play professional sports.

COSTELLO: It makes me sad. Sara Ganim, many thanks.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, put reporters in below zero conditions and sometimes you get a little bit of humor with your news. We'll check out the funniest moments thanks to the polar vortex.


COSTELLO: Freezing temperatures are no laughing matter. But there is some humor in the polar vortex. Jeanne Moos shows us.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Reporters came equipped with a big band of thermometers jerry-rigged to a light stand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me, like a genius I'm standing on a windy bridge.

MOOS: Dumped unceremoniously --


MOOS: -- when done -- for those covering the deep freeze, a time of high pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The polar vortex.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The polar vortex.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Something we call polar vortex.

MOOS: It sounds like the name of a band.


MOOS: Or science fiction movie --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The polar vortex.

MOOS: -- or Buzz Feed suggests maybe a roller coaster or a brand of after shave or a new term for a brain freeze.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For some of us, the term polar vortex may be something to curse about.

MOOS: How cold was it? Cold enough to make eyes water and noses run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like my nose is running and I'm not going to be aware of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it is your eyes.

MOOS: Cold enough to show off props.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here is a hamburger and a steak. We left it out. In about 15 minutes -- frozen solid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is crazy. It is a classic. Listen to it.


MOOS: Even amateurs can't resist. But there is one guy in particular who should have held his tongue instead of using it to demonstrate.

Z100 radio personality Greg Tee teed up his tongue to see if it really would stick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not coming off.

MOOS: Not quite as cute as the Christmas Story scene that inspired the stunt.

Greg Tee finally got his tongue untied by pouring water over it.

It was so cold a prison escapee in Kentucky turned himself in. Robert Vic (ph) came to this motel and asked them to call the law.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's frostbit, his toes and fingers. He was pitiful.

MOOS: Occasionally those covering the weather uncovered TMI -- a little too much information.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have three layers of fleece-lined pants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Things are freezing on my body that I didn't even know were possible to freeze.

MOOS: Probably somewhere south of her polar plexus.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the polar vortex.

MOOS: New York.


COSTELLO: But we are in for a big warm-up and that's a good thing. Thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.