September 17th, 2010
11:21 AM ET

What's the best way to determine poverty?

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

As the nation struggles with its worst economy in a generation, it's hardly a surprise that the government officially considers more people as being poor.

Related: Poverty in the U.S. spikes

The official poverty rate for 2009 was 14.3 percent – the highest since 1994 – up from 13.2 percent in 2008. The number of people living in poverty in 2009 was estimated at 43.6 million – roughly one in seven Americans – up from 39.8 million in 2008.

The full report contains a wealth of information on levels of income, poverty and health insurance in this country.

As I wrote here a year ago, the poverty rate is something of a fraud because the government still uses a formula that was introduced in 1964 based on data from 1955.

For those who don't remember 1955: Ike was in the White House; the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama; Disneyland opened in California and the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Filed under: David Schechter • Opinion
September 10th, 2010
06:00 PM ET

'Take Back America' but from whom?

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

A lot of Americans want to “Take Back America” . . . for the most part, from other Americans.

Frankly, I’ve come to view the use – and abuse – of the phrase “Take Back America” as divisive, not unifying.

To be clear, both the left and the right are guilty of painting the other as the source of any and all ills in society. It seems that whichever feels itself out of power lays claim to the slogan “Take Back America.” At present, that would be mantra mostly of those who identify as being on the right, whether in terms of politics, culture or religion.

Filed under: David Schechter • Opinion
September 3rd, 2010
09:12 AM ET

Frack you, frack me

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

If you’re not familiar with the term “hydraulic fracturing,” you might want to study up. “Fracking,” as it’s called in shorthand, is big news in parts of the country and it’s about to get bigger. CNN.Com has posted a piece on the subject and you can expect to see more coverage online and on television in the weeks ahead.

In short, hydraulic fracturing involves injecting fluids thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface to break up rock formations and extract supplies of natural gas. How much gas? Perhaps several decades’ worth at current production levels; impressive when you’re talking about the United States achieving a greater degree of energy independence.

What’s also breaking is the patience of a lot of people who live in areas where fracking is underway or planned. Natural gas may be clean-burning but critics say the process and politics of fracking are anything but clean.

Filed under: David Schechter
September 1st, 2010
07:00 AM ET

Is Mideast peace a bridge too far?

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

When I was younger, I was fairly confident that Israel and its Palestinian Arab neighbors could create an environment and structures that would provide security and preserve dignity on both sides of a border. Sad to say, but now I am doubtful about that prospect in my lifetime.

Having lived and worked in the region, I would be pleased if my pessimism is proved wrong. But opportunities have come and gone. In the past 20 years alone, the “peace process” has included stops in Madrid, Oslo, Wye River and Camp David.

Next up: The White House, as President Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Along as chaperones of a sort will be Jordanian King Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (as envoy for the Mideast “quartet” comprised of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia). Bi-lateral talks between President Obama and the other leaders on Wednesday will be followed by a dinner. Thursday the focus shifts to the State Department and direct talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.

Over the years, I’ve become less optimistic about such high-level efforts and more impressed with lower-level, people-to-people initiatives. Among these admirable efforts are Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, the Israeli village where Jews and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel live together; Seeds of Peace, with its Middle East programs and international camp in Otisfield, Maine, a summer respite for Israeli and Arab youth, and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, located on a kibbutz in the Negev Dessert, where Israelis and Arabs live, study and work together on projects that recognize the environment has no borders. These groups and others similarly motivated are pushing a boulder up a very steep hill. Any incident (Tuesday’s shooting in the West Bank that killed four Israelis, including a pregnant woman, for example) can send that rock rolling backwards.

Filed under: David Schechter • Middle East • Opinion
August 23rd, 2010
04:48 PM ET

College students: less study, more leisure

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/08/13/c1main.berkeley.gi.jpg caption="'Students appear to be studying less in order to have more leisure time,' a report by a conservative think tank observes." width=300 height=169]

Warning to parents of college students: what follows may be disturbing and cause you to clutch your wallet.

As the parent of a daughter whose college semester began today my attention was drawn to research that found students today crack the books about 14 hours a week, down from 24 in the early 1960s.

[Full disclosure: Having some memory of my 1970s collegiate pursuits, I may have contributed to the downward trend; only in my junior year did I realize that spending time in that building full of books at the other end of campus might prove beneficial.]

The situation on our campuses apparently is so dire that the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank, titled its report “Leisure College, USA.”

“This dramatic decline in study time occurred for students from all demographic subgroups, for students who worked and those who did not, within every major, and at four-year colleges of every type, degree structure, and level of selectivity. Most of the decline predates the innovations in technology that are most relevant to education and thus was not driven by such changes. The most plausible explanation for these findings, we conclude, is that standards have fallen at postsecondary institutions in the United States,” wrote the report’s authors, Philip Babcock, an assistant professor at the University of California–Santa Barbara and Mindy Marks, an assistant professor at the University of California–Riverside.

Has college gotten easier? “So even though we lack the data to observe directly whether college has been ‘dumbed down,’ we are able to draw from the data a solid conclusion about university practices: standards for effort have plummeted—in practice, if not in word.” The AEI study suggests that the “traditional study time” rule – two hours studying for every one in the classroom – is a thing of the past.

Filed under: David Schechter • Education
August 18th, 2010
04:26 PM ET

A gift before she leaves the nest

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/TECH/innovation/07/16/computer.voice/t1larg.gps.system.dashboard.courtesy.jpg caption="As I write this, our 19-year-old daughter is driving a car packed with belongings as she moves to an out-of-state university after a year at our local community college." width=300 height=169]

As I write this, our 19-year-old daughter is driving a car packed with belongings as she moves to an out-of-state university after a year at our local community college.

She is the oldest of our three children. Her mother and I tell people we’ve had a “bonus year,” as our daughter lived at home (thank you for the cooking and baking), but led a relatively independent life busy with school, work and her boyfriend.

Today she begins a new chapter in her life and so do we. To mark this milestone my wife arranged to do a “StoryCorps” interview with our daughter at the local public radio station.

For those not familiar, “StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.” Interview segments are broadcast weekly on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Since its creation in 2003, StoryCorps has collected more than 30,000 interviews involving more than 60,000 participants. The interviews are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Our public radio station also airs interviews recorded in its studio.

The interview with our daughter was an exceptional experience. I sat quietly as my wife asked my daughter about experiences ranging from her pending move, to interning this summer with the public defender’s office at a murder trial in Miami, to their trip to religious sites in Morocco and Spain, to growing up in a Jewish congregation founded by members of the gay and lesbian community, to relations with her younger brothers and more.

Most of the time our daughter was poised and thoughtful, at others displaying the awkwardness of youth. My wife maintained her composure, becoming “ferklempt” with emotion only a few times. We left with a copy of the full 40-minute interview, which we’ll share with the grandparents. I lost it in the car as I drove off with my wife, blubbering at the thought that maybe we had done a good job of preparing our daughter to leave the nest.

Among her numerous professional credits, my wife was a founding member of the Association of Personal Historians, so she has an abiding interest in the preservation of family histories. In this spirit, she sent an e-mail to David Isay, the founder and president of StoryCorps. “Please, please tell other parents to take a moment to do this with their kids. It was one of the most deeply moving moments in our lives, a chance to stop, take a breath and reflect on this precious, joyous, bittersweet milestone!,” she wrote.

Parents, as your children prepare to leave home for school this fall, considering giving them – and yourselves – this most valuable gift.

Filed under: 360° Radar • David Schechter
August 14th, 2010
10:05 AM ET

The House I Live In

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://blogs.cnn.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/52/2010/08/813229.jpg width=292 height=320]

Earlier this month I wrote about ill will in several parts of the country toward planned construction of mosques.  I had not figured on writing anything more related to this subject until I heard a recording of Frank Sinatra singing "The House I Live In" while driving to work.

What is America to me?
A name, a map, or a flag I see?
A certain word, "democracy"?
What is America to me?

"The House I Live In" is a departure from the better-known swinging tunes and torch song repertoire of the crooner sometimes referred to as the "The Voice." The song was the centerpiece of a 10-minute, black-and-white film of the same name released in 1945 to combat racism and anti-Semitism in the aftermath of World War II. Here Sinatra teaches a group of boys a lesson in religious tolerance. The lyrics were penned by Abel Meeropol, under the pen name Lewis Allen. (The name Meeropol became better known when he adopted Michael and Robert, the sons orphaned by the 1953 executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted on espionage-related charges involving atomic bomb secrets.) The music was written by Earl Robinson, who later was 'blacklisted' during the anti-Communist fever of the early 1950s.


Filed under: David Schechter • Religion
July 26th, 2010
09:51 AM ET

Ring the high school bell later

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/LIVING/personal/12/03/college.costs/art.classroom2.cnn.jpg caption="Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents." width=300 height=169]

“If you don’t get up now, you’re going to be late for school!”

Do you remember hearing this during high school?

Have you ever said this to your high school student child?

If you answered yes to either question (I did to both) you’ll be interested in the results of a recent study.

I know it’s summer vacation and a lot of teenagers think rising for lunch is appropriate. But in two weeks (yup, the second week in August), it’s back to school for our boys, a high school senior and a sixth-grader.

When the older boy complains that school starts too early, he may have science on his side. "Beginning at the onset of puberty, adolescents develop as much as a two-hour sleep-wake phase delay (later sleep onset and wake times) relative to sleep-wake cycles in middle childhood," the authors of a study on the subject wrote in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

CNN summarized the study’s conclusion: “Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents.”

Based on years of observation – of our teen son and his sister now in college – I tend to agree. The research says that this age group needs 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep nightly. Does anyone know a high school student getting that much sleep when school is in session? A study in 2006 by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than half of high school students slept fewer than eight hours a night. No surprise that that not getting enough sleep contributes to being unhappy, depressed, annoyed or irritated.

The latest study focused on 200 students at the St. George’s School, a private school in Providence, Rhode Island, where the bell that once rang at 8 a.m. was re-set to 8.30 a.m. “What surprised me most,” Head of School Eric F. Peterson said, “was the breadth of the benefit. I kind of figured things would be a little better in some ways. They seemed to be so much better in many ways.”

Tracking the effects of changing the time school starts for the older set is the subject of an online campaign in Fairfax County, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., by a group called SLEEP (Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal). SLEEP ironically found itself opposed by WAKE (Worried About Keeping Extra-curriculars), which worried what would happen to after-school activities.

A study of two other Virginia school districts with different start times found that a later bell can even help reduce the incidence of teenage vehicle accidents.

Delaying the start time for the older kids might mean changes in the school day for younger kids, wreak havoc on bus schedules and parents dropping off and picking up their kids and force rescheduling of sports, play practice and other after school events. And, yes, there are teenagers who will continue to stay up late, show up late and pay too little attention no matter what time the bell rings.

The bottom line: "If you really need nine hours, and you're only getting six and a half hours or seven hours, even that extra half-hour can make a big difference," said Dr. Judith A. Owens, director of the pediatric sleep disorder center at Hasbro Children's Hospital, who directed the Providence research.

What do you think? Does high school start too early in the morning?

Filed under: David Schechter • Education
July 8th, 2010
08:23 PM ET

A new war widow's wedding dress

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/06/ptsd.purple.heart/art.purple.heart.gi.jpg caption="McGarrah’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal and the Parachutist's badge."]

The first time Emily McGarrah wore the dress her mother picked out was on May 7 when she hurriedly married U.S. Army Spec. Clayton D. McGarrah while he was home on leave.

She wore it again this week as his body arrived at Dover AFB, Del., from Afghanistan.

I read the casualty notices from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sent by the Department of Defense. Some days there is one, some days more; less often there are none.

The death of a soldier on the Fourth of July, Independence Day, caught my attention. The Defense Dept. said that McGarrah, 20, of Harrison, Ark., died “at Arghandab, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenade fire.” Looking at a map I found Arghandab just northwest of Kandahar, a major city in south-central Afghanistan.

I read about McGarrah, who was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Local newspapers told the story of Clayton and Emily, who hailed from Harrison, Ark., population 13,100, in the northwest of the state.


Filed under: David Schechter
July 8th, 2010
11:08 AM ET

Robert Butler... a man ahead of his time

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

Every day people die who have made valuable contributions to society. Too often their passing receives less attention than deserved, particularly in a youth- and celebrity-obsessed culture.

This last point is important when noting the death earlier this week of Dr. Robert N. Butler at age 83 of leukemia.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/07/c1main.butler.ilc.jpg]

If known for nothing else, it was Butler who, in 1968, coined the term "ageism." By "ageism," you might think of bias in employment, housing, public services and the like. I tend to think of depictions of older people in film, videos, television and commercials.


Filed under: David Schechter
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