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Students of Idaho High School Accused of Sexual Abuse; Study Shows Breastfeeding Helps Boy Perform Better Academically; Rare Lunar Eclipse to Occur; Alaska Continues Litigation over Senatorial Election; Congress Repeals Don't Ask, Don't Tell; Lawmakers Close to Passing 9/11 Health Care Bill?; High School Hazing Scandal; Relative Calm on Korean Peninsula?

Aired December 20, 2010 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Ali Velshi, thank you.

So, so much for the lame-duck Congress. President Obama has pulled and prodded our lawmakers.

The repeal of don't ask, don't tell, check. Extending the tax cuts, check. The new START treaty, working on it. And now there is word that the 9/11 first-responders bill might perhaps be moving forward this week. The $6.2 billion bill would provide medical coverage for first-responders who were exposed to all of the toxic debris, the fumes back nine years ago at Ground Zero.

Now, the main sticking point up until now has been the cost, specifically, Senate Republicans wanting to protect a corporate tax loophole. And Republicans felt so very strongly about keeping that loophole, they filibustered the bill just two weeks ago.

Now, over the course of this past weekend, the overall original cost was actually cut by more than a billion dollars, and that tax loophole was replaced by fees that will affect foreign companies doing business in the U.S. and also tourists.

So, the key here now, putting it to a vote before lawmakers leave for the holidays, something that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed today.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: At the time, Republicans said they voted against ending debate because they did not believe that any bill should move until a deal on tax cuts had been completed.

That deal, as you know, is now done, and the time for excuses is over. Very simply, it's time to end the debate and let the bill be voted on. I understand the concerns that have been raised about increasing federal spending, but this bill will be paid for with other revenue generators.


BALDWIN: Now, we should remind you the House has passed the bill, long since passed the bill, mostly on a bipartisan vote.

And Representative Jerry Nadler, one of the authors of the House bill, says that the government has a moral burden to pass this.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: We were attacked because we're Americans, not because we're New Yorkers, not because al Qaeda had anything against Lower Manhattan in particular.

The federal government caused this problem to get materially worse and many people to be ill who would not otherwise be ill by assuring everybody the air was safe to breathe and by not insisting that people who work down there use respirators and proper protections, as the law mandated that they do.


BALDWIN: All right, so, we have set it up for you.

Now I want to bring in Kenny Specht. He is one of the many, many 9/11 first-responders and the president and founder of the New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation.

Kenny, nice to see you. Thank you for coming on. I want to get straight...


BALDWIN: Thank you.

I want to get to the point, the fact that the Senate, they were three votes shy during that procedural vote last week. What do you make of the fact that the Senate has not thus far been able to get this bill through?

We -- we find it unacceptable.

Unfortunately -- now, Brooke, I attended that press conference today with Mayor Bloomberg. And I agree fully with what he's saying. Unfortunately, we are a week-and-a-half outside the new year and about two weeks from the election of -- or the swearing-in of the new Congress.

BALDWIN: Mm-hmm.

SPECHT: We don't have time. We have run out of time, Brooke. Time for partisan politics and -- and -- and politics and procedures, it's over. The bill should be brought up for a straight up-and-down vote. We have done the work.

And, as your report alluded to earlier, we understand the concerns that the Republican Party had. And we have tried to meet those concerns. BALDWIN: You know, I rattled off some of the issues that our Congress has been dealing with recently: tax cut extension, don't ask, don't tell, START treaty. Some may say, hey, look, the lawmakers have been busy, not making time yet for -- for our first-responders.

What's your reaction to that?

SPECHT: My reaction is that we have waited in line, Brooke. We understand. And, certainly, I do. First-responders understand that -- that this country has a lot of business that it needs to take care of. And -- and we respect the work that needs to be done.

We're not looking to jump in line. We're not looking to take somebody else's place. However, I am here today to remind you that it's been nine years and -- and two months. And -- and, with that being said, we have worked very hard with this -- with this current United States Congress to get this bill done.


SPECHT: We started this work in 2006, and we continued it again with the new Congress in 2008.

BALDWIN: Right. I know you have been fighting.

SPECHT: And when it comes to them not having enough time...

BALDWIN: And I am sure you are counting down the time. It has been, as you said, nine years and two months.

And, Kenny, if we can just get into your personal story, I know, at 37, you were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. You've had several surgeries. How are you doing? How is your health today?

SPECHT: I got to be honest with you, Brooke. Today, I'm doing OK. And -- and I'm fortunate. And -- and I think, if there's -- if there's one thing I'm fortunate about, it's that my cancer was found -- was found early enough, that we were able to rectify the situation.

Now, I keep my fingers crossed. I'm three years out of my cancer diagnosis. I keep my fingers crossed that I will continual to have good medical visits. However, the same can't be said for a lot of our first-responders.


SPECHT: Unfortunately, the cancers that that we are attracting are -- are -- they're just terrible.

BALDWIN: I have read...

SPECHT: And they're moving very, very rapidly.

BALDWIN: I have read, Kenny, that you have said that you are one of the lucky ones. I -- I know that you have lost several -- you call them your brothers and your sisters from ailments, from cancers that you have suspect you picked up from working tirelessly day in and day out in Ground Zero. Talk to me about how that loss has been for you and also what kind of work you did. Take me back to 2001.

SPECHT: Well, I will address the loss first, Brooke. And -- and the loss of friends and brothers has kept me motivated.

Unfortunately, I would love to tell you that there's something else that's the fuel in my tank, but there's not.


SPECHT: It's the loss of my brothers. And -- and, speaking for them, that's the fuel in my tank.

As far as September 11 itself, the day of, I got down to the Trade Center after the World Trade Center had collapsed, but before 7 World Trade Center had come down. So, I actually witnessed the fall of 7 World Trade Center.


SPECHT: And then I stayed until about 2:00, 3:00 in the afternoon the day after.

But, again, Brooke, I appreciate the forum that you have provided us today. And, like I said, it's the fuel of those that -- it's those that have departed, my -- my brothers, that's the fuel in my tank.

BALDWIN: Fuel in your tank.

SPECHT: And -- and let me remind the members of Congress that we are not going to back down. We are running out of time. However, we're not going away.

BALDWIN: What do you make -- some people say -- some people perhaps question, look, you have health insurance, Kenny. Why do you and your colleagues need this $6.2 billion?

Explain why you need this coverage.

SPECHT: Because the -- the -- the bill that we're discussing is going to keep over the -- it's going to keep open the Centers of Excellence.

These Centers of Excellence are -- they are places that people without medical insurance or people with medical insurance turn to, to deal specifically with what occurred down at the Trade Center. These Centers of Excellence are funded to -- to directly relate their medical studies to people's time down at the Trade Center.

So, they're different than just the regular physician we may visit. And we need to study, really, what happened nine years ago. We -- unfortunately, we -- we are the guinea pigs. And I think that we will certainly allow ourselves to be the guinea pigs, just so that our medical story gets out.

I just want to say that, when the bill failed last week, on Friday, the city of New York came out right away and said that they didn't think that they would be able to fund these programs. So, you know what, Brooke? It was apparent to us immediately that, when the Senate didn't act on this last week, that the city of New York was already setting up to close these programs.

BALDWIN: But, Kenny, when it...

SPECHT: We cannot have these programs...

BALDWIN: When it failed last week...

SPECHT: Go ahead.

BALDWIN: ... I'm just curious as to your emotions so many years into this fight. Are you angry? Are you disappointed? Are you sad? How do you describe how you feel?

SPECHT: I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in -- I'm disappointed in -- in -- I will tell you this. I'm disappointed in the -- in the lack of support from our elected officials...


SPECHT: ... because I think -- and I said this -- I said this the other night on one of the shows I was on. Unfortunately, there's a disconnect between those we elect to represent us in Washington and the people of this country who actually get out and do the work, put the food on the table for their families.

And I -- and I got to be honest with you, Brooke. I think now, within this country , people all over are getting angry at the disconnect that exists in Washington, D.C., not only the first-responders from September 11, but those who feel that their voice are -- is not being heard.

So -- so, my disappointment, I have got to stand on a long line of people that are disappointed, Brooke. And I understand certainty where they're coming from.

BALDWIN: Given...

SPECHT: But the disconnect between those we elect, it...


SPECHT: ... it has to stop.

BALDWIN: Well, and -- now, we will end on this, and I want to let you go, but, you know, you talk about the...


BALDWIN: ... men and women who we elect to serve us in Congress. And some of these men and women say, as we're looking at the clock ticking away, look, it's about to be Christmas. They don't want to -- they want to go home. They want to spend Christmas with their families. They say it is disrespectful to have to stay and work on this additional legislation. If it doesn't get done, it doesn't get done.

What do you say to those men and women?

SPECHT: Well, I will say the same thing today that I said last week.

And that's the fact that you won't find any New York City firefighter -- and, as an ex-police officer, as an ex-New York City police officer also...


SPECHT: ... you won't find any New York City police officer who finds it a sign of disrespect to work in a firehouse or a New York City police precinct on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve.

We're honored to do that work. And -- and -- and I call on those we elect to also be honored to do the work of the people. Get the work done, and then go home and spend Christmas or New Year's with your family. But know that you're doing it for the right reasons, not because you left something on the field or something on the burner or not because you left something behind that the will of the people, we wanted you to do.

BALDWIN: Kenny...

SPECHT: Get the work done, and go home with your families and enjoy the holidays.

BALDWIN: Kenny Specht, we will leave it there. I thank you for your service. Thank you for joining us today. Kenny, thanks.

SPECHT: Thanks, Brooke. Have a great holiday.

BALDWIN: Same to you.

SPECHT: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Several athletes charged in this alleged sex crime against some of their high school teammates -- this is a bizarre incident. It's rocking this small town in Idaho. Details are coming forward. They're disturbing. That is ahead.

Plus, a peaceful outcome on the Korean Peninsula today. South Korea conducted those military drills today, despite those stern warnings from North Korea not to do it. But will that continue? That's next.


BALDWIN: Welcome back to the NEWSROOM.

A couple of top stories for you this hour. First, South Korean families this weekend heeding government orders to evacuate or take cover. That is while a military live-fire exercise was happening not too far from that North Korean border. The North had warned that such an exercise could possibly trigger real-world military action, but that did not happen.

The exercise is officially over. The North says it will not retaliate. But stay with us. We're talking about all this tension on the Korean Peninsula quite a bit today. Stand by for that.

Meantime, we're waiting to hear a little bit more from London about a series of terror arrests today in Central England. In total here, 12 men were reportedly taken into custody. Police are not yet saying what they believe their target was, only that these men are suspected of preparing an act of terrorism within the United Kingdom.

And if you're on the West Coast...


BALDWIN: ... miserable weather. If it's not hard raining, it's snowing. We have also got flooding and mudslides, a little bit of everything out there. I-80 through the Sierra Nevada is slow going from a blanket of snow.

And see all that water, the flooding? Quite a mess in Los Angeles, also in Bakersfield. Kern County declaring an emergency, and it's officially the wettest December ever on record in Bakersfield. Look at that car, just sitting there in the water -- flooding closing several roads, and it's not even getting better any time soon, we're told. Forecasters do not foresee any kind of letup in the rain, at least until Wednesday -- oh, boy -- just in time for another rainstorm to hit.

A new medical study suggests children who are breast-fed may have an academic edge on others who aren't. Huh. Parents, you agree? Elizabeth Cohen joins me ahead to discuss those details.

And Congress repeals don't ask, don't tell over the weekend. Just waiting now for the president's signature. But it will be up to the Pentagon to implement the changes. And hang on a second. Don't assume it's safe starting this week for gays in the military to come out of the closet. Not yet. My conversation is next.


BALDWIN: Want to tell you about something that's happening right now. Here's a live picture of Capitol Hill, where the U.S. Senate has retreated into executive session. And that is pretty rare. They're in this closed session now to discuss the nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Russians, or the New START treaty.

Today, the Russians are warning the Senate not to add any amendments or risk renegotiation there. So, we could be getting a test vote on that a little bit later today. And keep in mind this is an international treaty. Therefore, final approval actually requires 67 votes -- that equates two-thirds of the Senate -- to get that thing through. Turning the corner, you have don't ask, don't tell. The White House tells us today that President Obama is likely to sign this historic legislation Wednesday. That's when we're hearing that's going to happen, allowing -- you know the story -- gays, lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces.

But here's the part that's quite important not a lot of people realize. This policy will not change right away. It's going to take a little bit of time.

Joining me now from Washington, Leo Shane, Capitol Hill reporter for the "Stars and Stripes" paper.

And, Leo, explain this to me, because this thing doesn't just happen, you know, after it gets signed. It doesn't just all mean everyone who -- who, you know, is gay can then join the military. There needs to be, what, a letter and then many days to pass before it's official.


As you laid out, the -- the signing of the bill doesn't -- it doesn't put the repeal into effect immediately. The Pentagon is going to have to put together an implementation plan first. And, so far, Secretary Gates hasn't outlined how long that might take. It could be a few months, could be many months before they -- they put together a plan that they feel comfortable with.

After that, he will have to certify, and there will be another short waiting period, and then it will officially repealed at that point.

BALDWIN: Leo, I want to play something for you and to those watching us on TV, something pretty poignant as it is kind of unusual.

I want to show you Senator Al Franken -- it was during the long debate on repealing don't ask, don't tell -- and he's talking about this -- this USO stand-up performance. It's a performance he did in a war zone on stage when he -- you know, back in the day, when he was a -- a comedian. Watch this.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Then I pointed to the commander of the base.

I said, now, here is one of the bravest men ever in the history of our country to don our nation's uniform in battle, and yet he's one of the gayest men I have ever met.

And they started laughing and cheering. I said, now, why should General Smith have to stay in the closet, when he's such a great leader of men? General Smith, stand up and wave. And he got up and waved and everyone cheered. And in the bleachers, there was a group of -- of women soldiers who cheered extra loud and waved at him.

(LAUGHTER) FRANKEN: And he waved back at them.

And at the end of the show, the general came up. And he gave this beautiful frame with an American flag that had flown over the base. And he gave it to every member of our troupe. And when he gave it to me, he said, Al, keep telling those don't ask, don't tell jokes. I think you may have some fans up there.

And he pointed at those women. And, later, those women came up to me and said, we're gay.

And they're open -- I mean, they're -- I -- I think everybody knew it.


BALDWIN: I think everyone knew it. You heard him.

Would he perhaps, Leo, be suggesting that, you know, integrating gays and lesbians here now into the military may be perhaps not as traumatic as some may think?

SHANE: Well, that's been the argument of repeal opponents all along, is that folks do know individuals in their unit who are gay. They have served alongside them and it hasn't been much of an issue.

We know that societal trends have clanged in the last decade or so as well. So, the -- the other side would argue that it will be different once folks are open, once that -- you know, once the cat is out of the bag and they actually have to serve, they actually have to confront some of those issues.

BALDWIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

And, finally, just, I guess, Leo, from the military's perspective, is this decision, would they see this as a net plus or a net minus when it comes to recruiting?

SHANE: It really depends on who you have ask.

You know, from our stories, we heard anecdotally from a lot of folks that they didn't really care one way or the other what someone's sexual orientation was. They cared about the person's skill level. They cared that they were a dedicated soldier.

But they're -- the Pentagon report showed that up to a third of troops interviewed said that a repeal may have some effect on their decision to reenlist...


SHANE: ... would have some effect on their decisions to suggest that someone else enlist.

So, we will see in the next few months, in the next few years exactly what the impact of this is going to be.

BALDWIN: We will see. We will be following it right along with you, with "Stars & Stripes."

Leo Shane, thank you for joining me and leaving a -- a sick little child home, but with your wife, so you could talk to me about don't ask, don't tell.


BALDWIN: I appreciate it.

SHANE: He will be all right. Thanks a lot.

BALDWIN: Leo, thank you. Hope he's OK.

Several athletes in Idaho, they're facing harsh sex charges for allegedly attacking classmates in what appears to be this bizarre hazing incident. So, coming up, I'm going to be speaking live with the superintendent of the school district about how it's affecting this small town. That is ahead.

Plus, we will tell you why retailers are urging customers to hang on to those receipts if they plan on returning those holiday gifts. That report is next.


BALDWIN: All right, here's a heads-up. If you plan on returning a gift after the holidays -- and, let's be honest, maybe doing that once or twice -- they say you need to hang on to your receipt.


BALDWIN: Retailers may demand proof of purchase in an effort to cut down on the return fraud.

Here's a story from CNN's national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maybe that top that Aunt Mary picked out isn't exactly a hit. So you bring it back for a refund. But check out these shoppers. They pick out some clothes from a rack and go into a dressing room. When one of them emerges, she tells the clerk she bought the clothes earlier and now wants a refund. She gets a store credit for something she never bought to begin with. That is return fraud.

JOSEPH LAROCCA, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: When sales are up, so are returns. But we're also seeing fraud at this holiday season and throughout the year.

CANDIOTTI: The National Retail Federation estimates return fraud losses of $14 billion this year. Four billion alone during the holidays. It is not only stealing for store credit, there's also something called wardrobing.

DAN DOYLE, SR. V.P. LOSS PREVENTION, BEALLS, INC.: That's where somebody would actually buy a piece of merchandise, use it and then bring it back to us for full credit.

CANDIOTTI: Not criminal behavior, but to retailers, it's unethical and costly because they're stuck with damaged or soiled goods they can't resell. What is criminal retailers say is return fraud that is a form of shoplifting. This woman selects a brand new rolled up rug in a department store. She brings it to the counter, pays for a smaller ticket item and then tells the clerk she's returning the rug.

LAROCCA: This is a criminal behavior because she never made that purchase originally and now is receiving a full return from the cashier.

CANDIOTTI: At a Florida Department store, surveillance cameras catch a woman choosing a cartful of items. She takes everything, and it's an arm full, into a dressing room. Under the door you can see her trying things on. After leaving the room, most of the clothes are now stuffed into a bag. After more fake shopping, she gets a refund for something she didn't really buy and tells the store she decided not to return the bagged clothes she allegedly shoplifted.

Caught on tape, she's confronted with all the things she pinched. And after arguing at first, she bends over in apparent despair. She's arrested and eventually made restitution

DOYLE: I'm certainly glad that our store people were vigilant and on the ball and caught the situation.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Retailers say return fraud ultimately punishes honest shoppers and higher prices and stricter return policies. And warning to customers, surveillance cameras may be rolling and it's pretty hard to argue with proof on tape.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, New York.


BALDWIN: Susan, thank you.

Children who are breast-fed, especially boys, apparently do better in reading and math and spelling at age 10. So, what's new about this medical study? What might it suggest? We're going to take you through that ahead.

Also, have you heard about this incident? It's really rocked this small town in Idaho. Several athletes are now accused of disturbing sexual allegations against their own high school teammates. I'm going to talk to the school superintendent next.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Maybe you live or have lived somewhere like this. Small town America, everyone knows everyone else, and where sometimes it seems like everyone knows everyone else's business.

So how did one small town high school's dark, dirty secret go undetected for so long? Listen to this. Here's the story. Five former athletes at Blackfoot High School in Idaho face charges in this horrific abuse case. They are accused of falsely imprisoning teammates and forcing them to perform sex acts. One young man is also accused of battery.

Court papers say the abuse happened last year in the locker room and also on a bus but didn't come to light until this past September after three of these young men had already gone offer to college also to play football for their college. So now they have been suspended by their schools and now even more students are emerging saying they were victims as well.

In fact, this town is so small the judge in this case has stepped down saying he knows one of the families involved in this case. I want to bring in Scott Crane joining me on the phone. He's the school superintendent of the Blackfoot school district.

And Scott, I just want to begin specifically with these victims. Can you tell me what prompted these alleged victims to finally just a couple months ago come forward?

SCOTT CRANE, BLACKFOOT, IDAHO, SCHOOL SUPERINTENDANT, (via telephone): Well, we have been working with our students on harassment and intimidation over the past few years in creating policies and encouraging students to be aware of these issues and come forward with them. And as we were reviewing these policies last September, some of our students brought this to our attention.

BALDWIN: So as you're reviewing your anti-bullying policies, some of these students come forward. Yet when you look at the calendar, it's about seven months for the first of these alleged victims to start coming forward and saying, hey, I was victimized. My question to you, sir, is, how did this slide under the radar for so long?

CRANE: Well, I wouldn't -- that would be difficult to answer at this point why students hadn't come forward and what was running through their minds. They didn't feel they could come forward at that time.

BALDWIN: Answer me this. From what I've read, so many more victims feel comfortable enough now to come forward, and without naming any names, can you tell me, Scott, how many victims have come forward, and why so many more now?

CRANE: As I talked before, I'm unable to discuss the case. But we do have students that are willing to come forward at this time and help us with this investigation. As they come forward, their concerns are taken very seriously and we work with our local police to make sure that these things are taken care of properly.

BALDWIN: Let me phrase it this way. How is the climate at this particular high school now that so many more of these victims are coming forward? Has something changed in perhaps compared to years past that some of these young men are presumably now coming forward and saying, look, I was a victim?

CRANE: I would think -- I would hopefully see that as a positive, that our students feel more comfortable in coming forward and they're willing to take these issues and confront them and work with us to solve these issues.

BALDWIN: I'm also curious -- we talk about small towns and the fact this happened in a small town and the judge had to recuse himself because he knows one of the families. Everyone knows everyone. Is that, Scott, a problem in this particular case?

CRANE: Well, I'm not aware of the reasons why the Judge recused himself. But in a small town, I think it's difficult. This is not just a small town issue. I think it's a nation problem that we're having with hazing and bullying. But in a small town of 11,000, yes, I think people are more aware of some of the things that are going on, and it's more difficult in our area.

BALDWIN: Would you agree with me that given these allegations, you know, falsely imprisoning teammates, forcing them to perform sex acts. One young man also accused of battery. Does that go beyond hazing to you?

CRANE: Like I said before, I'm not at liberty to discuss the criminal aspects of this case.

BALDWIN: I understand.

CRANE: Any type of hazing or bullying or sexual harassment in any form should not be permitted.

BALDWIN: I understand.

What about basketball season? From what I understand looking at the dates some of these allegations happened during basketball season, in the locker room, on the bus. Is this particular high school, Blackfoot High School changing any policies? Programs more staff will be going on the away games on the bus or in the locker room to make sure this doesn't happen again?

CRANE: Yes. We've taken procedures since this happened. We've met with all of our coaches individually. We've met with all of the coaches in a group setting. We emphasized the fact that they need to be vigilant in all areas of supervision and that they should take extra precautions on busses, in locker rooms, with students staying after school.

So it's more of a reemphasizing of the conditions we have and a stressing of the need to be vigilant at all times.

BALDWIN: In Blackfoot, Idaho, just tell me, I'm curious, how big of a deal is it to be on the varsity football or varsity basketball game? Are those athletes in a small town programs seen as an idol in a sense?

CRANE: I think any student that's involved in an extracurricular activity. We don't just have basketball and football. We have lots of different sports and lots of different excellent programs in band and all of those things.

And those students, I believe, do have a responsibility to the community to set an example for the other students and also Blackfoot High School. We're very proud of Blackfoot High School and the accomplishments that they do in our community. They are wonderful children. They work very hard. Their parents sacrificed to send them to school, to provide them with these opportunities. We're proud to live in Blackfoot. We're proud to be part of this school district. And we try as hard as we can to try to have those folks be examples and role models for all of our students.

BALDWIN: Sure. They should be role models and examples.

Let me just end with this. This stood out, the fact that in Idaho a conviction -- and we're not saying any of these young men will be convicted, but the law says in Idaho a conviction of forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object can bring a life sentence. Do you think that's fair?

CRANE: Like I said, I will not comment on the criminal aspects of this case at this time.

BALDWIN: Scott Crane, superintendent, Blackfoot school district. Scott, thank you.

CRANE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Astronomy lovers could be in for a pretty decent trip that has only, say, every 84 years, but only if they're willing to wait up very, very late tonight. We'll explain that ahead.

CRANE: Also, why do some children do better academically than others at age 10? A new medical study says breast-feeding may have something to do with that. Elizabeth Cohen, she is studying up on this study. She'll be next. Stay there.


BALDWIN: Do you want to help your child do better in school? It turns out you have to start really, really early. Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here. And when we say really, really, we may like out of the womb.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The minute they're out. That's the best way to do it. But we're going to talk about some of the other caveats in this study.

This is a study that looked at weather babies that were breastfed frequently did better at school. What this Australian group did was really interesting. They looked at babies, saw if they were predominantly breastfed the first six months and then followed them until 10 and looked at scores on tests.

And so what they found for boys breastfeeding made a difference. They don't know why for boys it made a difference and girls it didn't. But for boys it made a difference. They did 30 percent better on writing and 20 percent better on math than the boys who were not predominantly breastfed for the first six months of life.

BALDWIN: That's the key, the first six months especially for these little boys. We don't know about the girls.

COHEN: Id didn't seem to make a difference for the girls so much but, for the boys that at least six months of breastfeeding. And they didn't have to be totally breastfed, but predominantly breastfed, that that really seemed to give them a leg up.

BALDWIN: That's interesting. I feel there are a lot of studies when it comes to breastfeeding that give you a lot of advantages of why you should do it for the benefit of your child.

COHEN: It is absolutely clear that breastfeeding is best. It's obviously what babies were meant to drink and it helps decrease ear infections, decrease the chances they'll get asthma, all sorts of other things. Breastfed babies are healthier babies about.

BALDWIN: That's what my mom says.

COHEN: And look how well you did.

BALDWIN: Yes, thanks, mom. What if you can't breastfeed?

COHEN: Right. I think it's important to note that way more than half of U.S. moms do not breastfeed for that full six months, so most babies don't get this advantage. I know I was not able to breast-feed my first two babies for the full six months. It happens. I think it's important to say a couple of things.

Here are the caveats that I mentioned. Even the authors of this study note that it had its weaknesses. I won't go into all the sort of procedural things here but it's not a perfect study and needs to be looked at further.

But second of all, even given that, we know you really should breastfeed. Your baby is not going to be an unhealthy stupid child if you don't. If you give them formula it will be OK. Breast milk is better but if you give them formula don't freak out. Just try the best you can. That's the only message. Try as hard as you can. If you have can't do it for whatever reason, your kid will still be OK.

BALDWIN: Your little ones you were able to breastfeed are?

COHEN: They're doing great, straight-a students.


BALDWIN: There you go. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

COHEN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We're talking weather. We're talking specifically this powerful storm in California. Look at all that water. Flooding -- snow, rain, flooding a guy walking through it. More bad weather including mud slides. That is in the forecast as well. That is ahead.

And if you can't quite sleep tonight, you may want to catch this spectacular show in the sky. Everyone around here is talking about this. Reynolds Wolf, we'll bug him about it coming up.


BALDWIN: Take a look now what is trending today, what you're talking about and tweeting about. I have my guy, CNN meteorologist Reynolds Wolf. You sound so official. You are so official, one of my favorite people in the building.

Let's talk about a couple of items trending, including the fact you say I need to wake up in the middle of the night to see this lunar eclipse.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Lunar eclipse, the best time to see it is between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Really the key point would be around 3:00 in the morning. And again, this is a lunar eclipse, not a solar eclipse. You don't need the sunglasses.

BALDWIN: This has every 84 --

WOLF: It usually has one or two times a year. It really does. But there have been some years where it will occasionally skip. But in 1982 they had three lunar eclipses I guess is the plural way to say it. What makes this unique is not only the lunar eclipse but the time it's happening during the winter solstice. The last time it happened was in 1554. Probably won't happen again until 2092.

BALDWIN: So I should get out of bed at 3:00 in the morning?

WOLF: I'm still wondering myself. Let me show you how a lunar eclipse occurs. What happens is you have the sun here as obvious by the symbol of the sun, the earth and the earth orbit and the moon orbit. What happens during a lunar eclipse is the earth actually blocks the sun's rays from hitting the moon itself.

Again, it doesn't happen instantaneously. The best time is between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. The key point around 3:00 a.m. If you're on the eastern seaboard the conditions should be picture perfect so not much in terms of cloud cover. East coast should be fine. A little chilly out there but grab some cocoa, nice cameras and take some shots and sends them in to us. That's only one big story.

BALDWIN: Come on back over.

WOLF: I'm going to make Robert walk all over the place.

BALDWIN: Story number two, the fact that in California, I thought it didn't rain too much in southern California. Now it's like one of the rainiest Decembers on record in some parts of the state. What's going on?

WOLF: We have this thing we sometimes refer to as the "pineapple express," this plume of Pacific moisture that rolls in. Starting from California -- I'm sorry, starting from the Hawaiian islands --

BALDWIN: Thus pineapple, thank you. WOLF: And it has just been coming in to beat the band. Some places in central California have been getting rainfall totals and around nine inches of rain. Then in the high Sierra Nevada where you have the cold air aloft, what you have is snow coming down. Some places up to nine feet of snow.

BALDWIN: And it's still coming.

WOLF: It is really going to come on. In fact, the strongest part may occur as we get into Tuesday and Wednesday. So we're not done just yet. And it's going to be very tough about.

BALDWIN: So is this the video that we're supposed to be talking about, Mammoth Lakes? This is where this woman Sarah Butner says --

WOLF: Great lady, Sarah.

BALDWIN: Great lady. You're not buying it that it's snowing as much as she says.

WOLF: No, no --

BALDWIN: It's a lot of snow, Reynolds.

WOLF: It's tons of snow. I bet she has at least eight feet of snow there. Drifts might get up to nine feet. But the highest point of the Sierra Nevada may get up to by the time it's all done Wednesday up to 12 fetal of snow.


WOLF: That's 12 feet of snow.

BALDWIN: That is wild.

WOLF: It's great for skiers, but people who are driving and especially if you're making a drive going from, say, Sacramento right along 80 over the grade and back into Reno, you're going to have a really difficult time. If you can avoid driving, by all means, do so.

BALDWIN: Reynolds Wolf, do we get you later this week?

WOLF: Today, and I should be back by Thursday and by Friday.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

WOLF: Good to be here.

BALDWIN: An American tourist is killed in Israel while hiking, and her friend is stabbed. But she manages to survive. We'll delve into that story ahead.

Also, as we head toward the Christmas holiday we are reminded of the sacrifices from our military men and women of course serving overseas. And I want to look at two families who will never spend the holidays with their sons again. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


MANUEL DAPONTE, FALL RIVER VETERAN'S DOCTOR: We have taking a hit that is a lot higher than the rest of the country when it comes to fallen heroes. We have lost four soldiers this year.

It's one thing I try to comfort out mothers to say your son did not die in vain. Your son died serving his country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that our sons did not die in vain. Our sons fought for freedom. They believe in what they were doing. But I'm not so sure that I believe. I think that those boys should all be out of there. All of the men and women should be out of there. There's no point to any of this. We'll never win this.

They say we're fighting a war. We're not fighting a war. My son wasn't fighting when he got killed. He was leaning against the truck, and a suicide bomber got in on the base. I think we're tired. Enough is enough and it's time for this to come to an end.

DAPONTE: Remember, there are parents, families, mothers, fathers who are hurt individually. The rest of the country needs not to -- please don't forget we're at war.

CARLENE BARRETT, MOTHER OF SGT. ROBERT BARRETT: My boy should have been home tonight. Both Robert and Scott were due back, actually, on the same day. It's a sad day for us. The day that, you know, in an hour and a half, he should be getting off of that bus, home already.



BALDWIN: Welcome back to the newsroom. Of course, CNN = Politics. Candy Crowley, the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," she's good enough to join me now with the latest off the Political Ticker. Candy Crowley, good to see you. What do you have?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE UNION: Well, who'd think we'd still be talking about the elections. But in Alaska they are still working on that U.S. Senate race. Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent, the Republican senator forced to run as an independent because she lost her primary.

So it looks as though she's won this seat, but the challenger, Joe Miller, the Republican nominee is -- took it to the Alaskan Supreme Court. It's working its way through there.

So when might we see Lisa Murkowski back or some kind of resolution though to this race? Her folks say it could be this week or next. The good news means she could be sworn in like everybody else on January 5.

But it's a slow go up there in Alaska as they slog through. Nonetheless, again, her campaign saying they think it could be over by either this week or next awaiting that Alaska Supreme Court ruling.

You may not know in know the name Ann Wagner, but I bet you anything you know the name Michael Steele. He is the current head of the Republican National Committee. He wants to continue heading the Republican National Committee. He's been somewhat controversial. And there are lots of folks against him.

Ann Wagner is now saying, listen, even if I don't win this thing, and there are rounds and rounds. The way it works, people put their names out there, when they don't get enough votes, people drop off and make deals with other candidates saying I'm going to throw my support to you.

Ann Wagner says no matter what happens, I'm not going to ask my supporters to support Michael Steele and I won't support Michael Steele. She said I'm in the wind but I'm not going to support whatever happens, Michael Steele the next chair. There's a lot of pushback against Steele. As you know, he said a lot of controversial things in his tenure.

But as he points out, he had a pretty good run when you look at the Republicans that, in fact, got elected. So he believes he deserves another term. So that will be a fun race to watch in January.

And finally, not only has the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" a presidential signature away as well as the process of integrating the military services, Jimmy Carter, former president, was in an interview and he was asked if the nation was ready for an openly gay president. He said, sure. He thought it was a step forward in gay rights.

This question was put to the president by Robert Gibbs spokesman, the current president that is, President Obama, whether the president thinks that the country is ready for an openly gay president. And you probably won't be surprised, Brooke, the White House doesn't bite.


Gibbs said, "I don't really know if the president thinks that or not. I imagine what the president would like to do is repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which, as you know, was huge in the base and especially in the gay and lesbian community, and this is the fulfillment of a promise. I think they'd rather focus on that rather than speculate on the fact if the nation is ready for an openly gay president.

BALDWIN: Before I let you go, Candy, you had a big interview yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION" with Republican Mitch McConnell. You made news because he told you, quote, "I have decided I cannot support the treaty." So what was your reaction to ha? And does he think there will be a vote on START at all before they leave Washington?

CROWLEY: What's interesting to me is he said flat out, I'm not going to support this. I had several problems. He argued there hadn't been enough time for some members to look at it even though they basically had it since April.

But nonetheless, what was interesting to me is when I said do you think it will pass, he didn't say no.

BALDWIN: Interesting.

CROWLEY: So, I think -- and the White House is feeling pretty darn good about this. They do think they have the votes.

So, he, basically -- McConnell just said, we'll see. They think that they're going to -- they're going to really try to bring it to a vote. So, while they are trying to stop it in various ways, I think that that was a big hint that they, in fact, might get the START Treaty, which would make it a big month for the president.

BALDWIN: Indeed it would.

Candy Crowley, we thank you, as always.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We'll get another political update for you in half an hour. And you can always hop online, Political Ticker. Or get your latest political fix. Go to or oin Twitter @PoliticalTicker.