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Payroll Tax Fight; Gingrich Surging in Iowa; Maxed Out: School Overcrowding; Bomb Kills Dozens in Afghanistan; Rod Blagojevich Faces Sentencing; U.S. Drone Captured by Iranians Identified; Actor Mark Ruffalo to Testify Against Fracking; Fighting Fracking; Tourists Deserting Egypt; Baseball Player Manages Disorder

Aired December 06, 2011 - 08:00   ET



ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Putting money in your pocket instead of taking it out of your paycheck.

I'm Alina Cho.

Congress still sparring over an extension of the payroll tax cut with the deadline fast approaching.


Newt Gingrich surging in the polls, opening a 15-point lead on the field in Iowa. The former House Speaker considered dead in the water just a few months ago, now looking more like a juggernaut -- on this AMERICAN MORNING.


CHO: Good morning. It's Wednesday, December 6th. Two days away from Friday, Carol Costello.


COSTELLO: It's Wednesday already?

CHO: It is. We've been off a couple days.

COSTELLO: It's Tuesday.

CHO: Oh, it's Tuesday. It is Tuesday. Oh, my goodness gracious.

COSTELLO: I'm rubbing off on you.

CHO: You are rubbing off on me.

COSTELLO: Good morning, everyone.

The clock is ticking, not that fast, but it is ticking. And President Obama says Congress must extend the payroll tax cut. So, 160 million Americans won't have to pay higher taxes next year. Senate Democrats put forth a new plan to extend and expand it. But Republicans still balk at a millionaire's surtax.

Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey said his plan is one both sides can live with.


SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We've got to do this now. We've got to give taxpayers the kind of certainty that they should have by the end of the year, and I think it makes a lot of sense. We cut this surtax way down from what it was. It's a reasonable compromise. It's a reasonable way to get revenue to be able to give middle income families the break that they should have the right to expect.


COSTELLO: Republican leaders, though, beg to differ about the Democrats' plan. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch says, quote, "It's hard for the majority to call this a compromise when the other side hasn't been involved," end quote.

CHO: That's right. CNN congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan following all of the developments for us and she joins us now live from Washington.

Hey, Kate. Good morning.


Well, here's what Democrats are proposing on this new, new, as they call it a compromise offer. Obviously, Republicans beg to differ and call it really a poison pill that you talk about, that millionaire surtax.

Like their original offer that failed in the Senate last week, Democrats are proposing to extend and expand the employee payroll tax. So, taking it from a 4.2 percent tax to 3.1 percent tax. And as a reminder, if Congress doesn't act, that rate will go back up to 6.2 percent in January.

And here are a couple of the major differences in the Democrats' new plan. It would no longer provide a tax cut to employers in order to bring down the overall cost of the package and try to attract more Republican support. Democrats have also scaled down the surtax on income over $1 million as you heard Senator Casey talk about, down to just under 2 percent tax from a little over a 3 percent tax.

They've also made that millionaire surtax temporary. They say they've done that in response to Republican opposition to imposing a permanent tax to pay for temporary economic stimulus.

We could see a first test vote on this measure as early as Friday, but, quite honestly, it's not likely to go anywhere as we talked about all morning as this millionaire surtax is still part of the deal and has doomed many Democratic proposals in the past.

Republicans are firmly against it. They say that they stand proposed to a tax hike on small businesses and job creators, which they say this would be. And so, as I was told by a House Republican leadership aide, this is a poison pill, still.

So, it seems while they're talking about it and they call it a compromise, it doesn't seem Republicans are agreeing with them at the moment.

CHO: Yes. But, Kate, you know, the deadline -- I mean, we've seen this happen before with Congress. The deadline comes and then suddenly there's a deal. I mean, is that how you see things playing out?

BOLDUAN: Well, Senator Casey just last hour in speaking to you guys, he did say that in the end, he thinks they'll get a deal. I've heard the same from -- it's kind of the general thought on Capitol Hill, still, is that at some point, they will get to a position where they're going to negotiate and they're going to reach some kind of a compromise.

What that compromise will look like, of course, we don't know that yet and it seems there still plenty of time for both sides to kind of politically posture and get their message out before they go to strike a deal. Republicans there are real divisions still amongst the Republican Party on Capitol Hill.

On this issue of the payroll taxes and, to be quite honest, Democrats, they see a real opening here in this political fight. They think they have a real winning message to be able to say, if Republicans are the party of do not raise taxes, why to they want to raise taxes here if they vote against extending this tax cut?

So, Democrats are definitely capitalizing on this moment.

CHO: All right.

COSTELLO: Kate Bolduan, thanks.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

CHO: Newt Gingrich is on quite a roll, with one month to go before the Iowa caucuses. The former House speaker has gone from dead in the water to juggernaut in just a matter of months.

Take a look at this brand-new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, with Gingrich opening a 15-point lead -- yes, I said 15 points -- over Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Thirty-three percent of the vote right now. On issues like electability, empathy and handling the economy, Gingrich topped Romney in every category.

COSTELLO: Two former House speakers are turning back the clock and preparing for what could be another epic battle with front-running Republican Newt Gingrich pulling ahead in all the polls. Democrats, of course, are starting to take notice and then one old foe, former speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is hinting she is ready to go on the attack by dredging up investigations of Gingrich when he served in the House back in the 1990s.

Pelosi saying, quote, "I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him. Four of us locked in the room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of this stuff."

Here's Gingrich's response.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to thank Speaker Pelosi for what I regard as an early Christmas gift.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you concerned about that information reemerging?

GINGRICH: We turned over a million pages of material. We had a huge report. The total, 83 charges were repudiated as false. The one mistake we made was a letter written by a lawyer that I didn't read carefully.


CHO: As I have been saying, never a dull moment.

Other news now:

The manhunt for an escaped prison inmate going on right now. Thirty-three-year-old David Glenn Hobson broke out of prison in New Hampshire last week and they now believe he is now on the run in Maine. Hobson was being held at a facility on burglary charges. He escaped by scaling a 12-foot razor wire fence.

COSTELLO: Three separate bombings in three separate cities -- bomb blast rocking Afghanistan this morning, killing 54 people at a Shiite shrine in Kabul. Another bombing in northern Afghanistan claimed four victims and a third explosion also reported in Kandahar.

CHO: Protests in Greece are erupting, again. Clashes in Athens this morning on the day that parliament is set to vote on next year's budget. Protesters are also reportedly marching to mark the anniversary of a 2008 shooting of a student by police.

COSTELLO: Two bodies have been found in Yosemite National Park. They were recovered near the area where three hikers went over a waterfall and apparently were killed months ago. Authorities say the hikers got caught in a current and plunged down the Vernal Fall. The body of one of those hikers has already been found and authorities hope to make a positive ID on the other two within the next several days.

CHO: Well, some are calling it the last-ditch effort to save the euro. This morning, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is joining the talks with his European counterparts on how to prevent a breakup of Europe's monetary union. This after Standard & Poor's warned they may carry out a downgrade of 15 eurozone countries, including the top ranked Germany and France.

COSTELLO: Jerry Sandusky may face his accusers. All eight alleged victims on the grand jury report on the former Penn State football coach will reportedly testify against him in court. Now, this is according to ABC News.

The preliminary hearing is set to begin next Tuesday. Sandusky accused of molesting the boys over an eight-year period. His attorney says he's looking forward to the opportunity to question anyone who testifies.

CHO: And scientists have discovered the most Earth-like planet ever seen before. Take a look at it. It's called Kepler-22B, otherwise known as the "Goldilocks planet." It's circling a star beyond our solar system. That's about 600 light years away. One light year by the way is 6 trillion miles.

Astronomers say it's possible there is liquid water on the planet's surface, but try getting there.

Follow-up studies are under way to determine whether Kepler-22B is solid like the earth, or more gaseous like Neptune.

COSTELLO: A lot of more -- you could use your imagination with that one, right? Your doppelganger might leave on that planet.

CHO: That's right.

COSTELLO: Another Alina Cho.

CHO: Yes, perhaps. Perhaps not. Most likely not.

Rob Marciano --

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That wouldn't be a bad thing.

CHO: Yes, might be. Good morning.

MARCIANO: Hey, guys. I want to start you off with what's going on in New Mexico, an unusual event there the past two days. Snow falling, yes, not just higher elevations but lowlands as well. We've got road issues and records being set across this area.

As a matter of fact, I-10 and I-25 still closed this morning. Here it is off the New Mexico Department of Transportation Web site. So, they think once sun up comes, they'll probably get to seeing these interstates open, again.

Angel Fire Ski Area at 12 inches of snow. That's highest elevation, about 8,000, 9,000 feet. But right now, they're reporting 18 degrees below zero. Give you an idea of how cold it is.

And Albuquerque seeing four inches of snow. That broke a record yesterday.

Also breaking records, Tucson, Arizona, the first five days of this month is the coldest start to December the day has seen since 1913.

Some of that cold air getting to southern California. Today is the last day of seeing Santa Ana winds blow. It will be chilly, though, for sure.

All right. Some of the rainfall across the Northeast right now will be increasing. We'll get several pulses of it.

It's mild today, showers, temperatures about 60 degrees, but tomorrow night into Thursday, some of that rain will turn to snow and we could see a ribbon of snowfall away from the big cities north and west of I-95, could see a few inches of snow. Albany, New York, may get several inches of it. We'll watch this carefully, but your first taste of winter.

Delays at Philadelphia right now and probably see delays at New York, as well. Maybe New York and D.C. and Chicago as we go throughout the day today.

Guys, back up to you.

COSTELLO: You mean it's going to get cold here.

MARCIANO: It's going to get cold. Yes, it is December. So, 60 degrees isn't normal.

COSTELLO: I was so spoiled.

CHO: I know. I didn't even need my coat this morning. Rob Marciano, took it right off at 3:00.

MARCIANO: That's all right. You guys have fancy winter wear. You're fashionable kids.

COSTELLO: Yes, we do.

CHO: All right. Stop it. Thanks, Rob Marciano.

COSTELLO: Just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING: holding classes in the attic and basement. A school bursting with children, literally. CNN is going in depth on the overcrowding crisis.

CHO: And Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo will join us live in our studio to talk about fracking and why he is fighting it so hard. So, what exactly is it? And why is he so passionate about it?

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING, we're back after this.

COSTELLO: A slithery surprise discovered by an Idaho family in their Christmas tree. Yes, another snake in a Christmas tree story. We'll be right back.

CHO: It's December.


COSTELLO: Sixteen minutes past the hour. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

This week, we're taking an in depth look at education. Today, overcrowding in schools. Recently, I visited a New York high school that was built for 1,400 students but has 3,900. The principal has had to use the attic and the basement to fit in all those kids, and it's not just a problem in New York with budget cuts reducing the number of teachers, class sizes are growing around the country. I took a look at how this one New York high school is making the best of it.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Students at New York's Forest Hills High School start the day like workers in a factory, in shifts, one at 7:30, the second shift in hour later. By the time the 10:30 shift rolls in, the 7:30 shift is having lunch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During periods sixth and seventh, we're definitely feeling it when we're walking down the halls. It's very claustrophobic. I think the way we do it, it's great.

COSTELLO: It's what happens when you have to cram 3,900 students into a school built for 1,400. The school even had to use an old restroom for teacher's office.

(on-camera) So, you have kids in the basement. You have kids in the attic. You have kids in what used to be the hallways. You have kids in classrooms that have been split in half.

SAUL GOOTNICK, PRINCIPAL, FOREST HILLS HIGH SCHOOL: We see what we have and we try to make it as pleasant that children want to come to school, and we have an 87 percent graduation rate. We have 90 percent of our kids going to college.

COSTELLO (voice-over): School overcrowding has become a vexing problem all over the country. Thanks to tight budgets and teacher layoffs, this elementary school kindergarten class has 32 kids fighting for one teacher's attention.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The classes are way too big. We have some of the students sitting on the floor. One teacher per class. Some classes don't have an aid, you know? So, the students are not really getting, you know, the attention that they really, really need.

COSTELLO: The New York teachers union says there are 7,000 overcrowded classrooms.

EDDIE MESIDOR, UNITED FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, FOREST HILLS: That the worst that I have seen through the years. The worst. Usually, we have different students at different levels in the same classroom, and there are so many of them. During the span of time, you know, between 45 minutes (ph), it is quite difficult to reach out to each one of them.

COSTELLO: The principal here disputes that. Forest Hills boasts a graduation rate in the 80th percentile. If you want to know why, ask the kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you have more experiences when you have 30 kids in a classroom because you have 30 different opinions that can open your eyes to something different.


COSTELLO (on-camera): And here to talk more about the importance of class size and the nation's overcrowding crisis is Leonie Haimson. She's the founder and executive director of Class Size Matters. Welcome.


COSTELLO: The last student that was speaking I talked with her at Forest Hills. She's in a very overcrowded school. Her classroom packed to the gills, but she says that, you know, there are so many students in class, we help one another. It's sort of a group learning process that they say helps them more than just one teacher teaching the class.

HAIMSON: Well, I think if you ask the majority of New York City high school students how they feel about it, many of them feel like they're being shafted by the system right now. That they're not getting the attention from their teachers that they need and deserve. And that often in and out of class, the teacher has no time to help them when they're really suffering and falling behind.

Now, there are some students that are going to succeed no matter what. They're self-motivated. They're bright. They often have a support system at home. But for the majority of New York City students, many of them are disadvantaged. Many of them have working parents. We are not seeing the kind of results that we would see if we had smaller classes.

COSTELLO: And I think that Forest Hills, you're right, great students go there. They have an 87 percent graduation rate. Most of the kids there go on to college. And they have good teachers, but, you're right in other school districts, that may not be the case. And what's the answer to their overcrowding problem that would be students who aren't properly educated?

HAIMSON: When you go and you interview high school dropouts across the country, one of the issues that comes up over and over again is the large class sizes, the feeling they have that they are not connected with any adult who cares about them, who really is allowing them to learn and to succeed. And when you go across the country and you survey teachers, they say the number one best way to improve their effectiveness would be to reduce class size.

That's why it's very tragic that right now, across the country, school budgets are being cut to the bone, and we're seeing unprecedented increases in class sizes, 30, 40 or more.

COSTELLO: But, I guess, what I'm wondering, if Forest Hills is making it work, and clearly is, is it really an overcrowding problem or is it a quality teacher problem?

HAIMSON: What I think you would find if you talked to the teachers at Forest Hills, they will say they cannot do their best when they're given classes of 30, 34 or more, when they have 150 students. Just marking papers, giving students five extra minutes out of class when they need help would take like 40 extra hours a week, a whole second job. They are unable to do it.

And behind those graduation figures of 80 percent or more, you will find a lot of students who aren't learning what they need to succeed in college. Right now, in New York City, our high school graduates, only 20 percent of them are college ready. Those are the kids who make it through high school.

The vast majority have to take remedial courses in college and, in fact, the percentage of kids who have to have triple remediation, which means reading, writing, and math, has doubled in the last five years.

COSTELLO: But, again, I guess, I'll just ask you the question, again. Is it more a problem -- you know, quality teachers are so important. A good teacher is worth everything, right?

HAIMSON: A good quality teacher is important, but so is the class size that allows them to be successful and to really engage students. Right now, across the country, we say we want to have students learn critical thinking and be able to really delve deep into subjects.

You cannot nurture that kind of critical thinking and deep understanding when students don't have time to debate, discuss, ask questions, and have their concerns remediated.

COSTELLO: Looking at the problem realistically, this isn't likely to change because the first thing that state governments cut, education. I mean, a lot of school districts are getting rid of old school buildings, and they're consolidating schools, right? So, it's not going the other way. So, maybe we have to find an answer because that's just how it's going to be. We're going to have crowded schools.

HAIMSON: I don't believe that here, the richest country in the world, should be educating any of its students in what is often third world conditions. We look at other countries around the world like Finland, for example, which do not have our wealth -- excuse me -- but have class sizes that average 20 or less.

And they turned around their educational system when they reduced class sizes, among other reforms that they made. If we really want to have a bright, economic future, if we really want our kids to be able to succeed, we will offer them smaller classes, particularly, in our large urban centers, which often have the largest class sizes, but also have the kids who need that attention from their teachers most.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much for coming in this morning. We appreciate it.

HAIMSON: Thank you very much for having me.

COSTELLO: In Vermont, we're going to talk about school populations there, and they're actually declining in Vermont. But even with fewer kids, you still need to run a school booting (ph), a lunchroom staff, and so on, and that can be expensive.

Tomorrow, we'll visit a school where parents are searching for ways to increase class size so they can keep schools open. In one kindergarten class in Vermont, there is one student. It's crazy. For more on this story and other education topics, check out our schools of thought blog,

CHO: Also ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, tell it to the judge. Facing a possible long prison sentence, former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, is expected to plead for leniency at his sentencing hearing today.

We'll tell you more about it. It's 25 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Twenty-eight minutes after the hour. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Some are calling this the make or break week for the Euro zone. Not off to a good start. Any confidence early in the day yesterday that the EU was moving forward to fix its problems was quickly erased after ratings agency, Standard & Poor's, put 15 Euro zone countries on notice for a possible downgrade. The main reason, heightened market tension and a greater risk of a recession in 2012 in the Euro zone.

Stocks came off their highs toward the end of the session yesterday once this S&P news broke. And right now, U.S. stock futures are trading higher ahead of the opening bell. We're keeping a close eye on the futures this morning. A lot of market volatility right now. European and Asian markets are down, so far, today.

Across the whole week last week, online shoppers spent a staggering $6 billion. That's according to online shopping, Trekker Comscore (ph). And their latest report says Cyber Monday was the biggest online shopping day on record with $1.25 billion spent.

Coming up next, multiple blasts rip through Afghanistan. We have a live report from the region.

And Oscar nominated actor, Mark Ruffalo, will join us in our studio. AMERICAN MORNING is back after this.


COSTELLO: It has been a bloody morning in Afghanistan. More than 50 people killed by a suicide bomber at a religious shrine in Kabul. A live report for you on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHO: Good morning, everybody. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Alina Cho along with Carol Costello. Tops stories now.

Democrats rolling out a new plan to extend the payroll tax cut before it expires at the end of the year. President Obama is urging Congress to pass it, warning if they don't, 160 million Americans will pay higher taxes next year. The Democratic plan, though, still calls for an income surcharge tax on millionaires, and Republicans are having none of that.

COSTELLO: It is official, Newt Gingrich is the man to beat in Iowa. The former House speaker is surging to the top of the polls boosted by his debate performances and Herman Cain's bow out. The latest Iowa poll from "Washington Post" and ABC News gives Gingrich 33 percent support from likely caucus goers. That's a likely 15 points ahead of Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, both of whom are tied for second place.

CHO: All eight alleged victims in the grand jury report on former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky will reportedly testify in court, this according to ABC News. Sandusky's attorney said he's looking forward to the opportunity to question anyone who testifies. The hearing begins next week.

COSTELLO: This just in to CNN, brand-new details about a stealth U.S. drone that crashed in Iran last week. Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us. I guess we finally know what kind of drone this is.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Several new details. Good morning, Carol. In fact, U.S. officials now saying, yes, it was, in fact, an RQ-170 stealth drone. This is a drone developed for the U.S. Air Force, flown often by the U.S. intelligence community to gather intelligence reconnaissance and targeting information.

Several U.S. officials now this morning confirming to CNN that when it crashed in Iran last week, it was part of a CIA reconnaissance mission that involved both intelligence and military personnel. The CIA is declining all comment, but these officials are saying that when the drone was on the mission over the Afghan-Iran border, it was on the Afghanistan side. They lost control of it. It crashed in Iran, and it was a mission that involved both intelligence CIA personnel and U.S. military personnel.

Why is this so critical? Well, of course, it's one of the first indications out in public now that the U.S. is conducting intelligence and reconnaissance missions, trying to gather information about what is going on inside Iran. This drone can stay on the Afghan side of the border, still see into Iran, if you will, and gather information from there.

It was really critical when that statement came out over the weekend from the coalition and Afghanistan. It didn't say who was operating the drone. It only said "operators" of the drone. And for many people, that was one of the first clues that this was a very secret intelligence mission.

COSTELLO: It is also pretty secret technology. Now it's in the hands of the Iranians. Is there concern about that?

STARR: Well, indeed. In fact when it went down in Iran, the U.S. was very quickly able to pinpoint the location in Iran and there was consideration given to options including trying to cover the wreckage and bombing it. The military likes to say all options are on the table. Well, they looked at all the options very quickly but discounted them because, look, this is Iran and it would be quite a remarkable thing to try to stage any type of U.S. military mission in Iranian air space or on the ground in Iran. So that was all discounted.

Now the question remains, what shape is that wreckage in? What do the Iranians really have their hands on? Is any of that technology intact and the Iranians can maybe call in the Chinese and ask them to help look at it? Can they reverse engineer any of it? Can they do anything with it? That's now the critical question.

COSTELLO: Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon, thanks.

Three bomb blasts rocking Afghanistan overnight, killing at least 58 people.

CHO: At least 54 of the victims were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a crowded shrine in Kabul, the attack apparently targeting minority Shiites. Nick Paton Walsh is live in Kabul with the latest. Nick, good morning to you.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. We have an intensely packed Shiite pilgrimage here to a shrine right in the center of Kabul. Clearly this one suicide bomber aiming to cause as many casualties as possible. This is describing how bodies have literally blown out in a fan around the site of the particular blast.

We have here for you quite distressing video that shows the exact moment the bomb went off.




WALSH: As you can see, this was clearly a religious festival, people actually whipping themselves, drawing blood as part of the morning process under the Shia religion. Clearly the fear here that we're looking potentially at some bit by elements of the insurgents. And the Taliban have denied responsibility for this, strangely, to try and foment sectarian aggression between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, something we heard a lot about in Iraq but we haven't heard really at all in Afghanistan until this point, concerns there may be a new element starting in this decade-long conflict. But certainly right now many people in Kabul deeply traumatized by this death toll which may continue to rise. There's been 150 plus people injured. Back to you.

CHO: Nick Paton Walsh, live for us in Kabul, thank you very much.

COSTELLO: Here at home, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich could be looking at a long prison term for his conviction on more than a dozen counts of corruption.

CHO: That's right. Remember him? A two-day sentencing hearing begins this morning and prosecutors will ask the judge to throw the book at Blagojevich. CNN's Ted Rowlands is live in Chicago for us. Good morning, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. This is a big day for Rod Blagojevich. He'll have an opportunity to address the court and ask for leniency from the judge that is overseeing two trials now of Blagojevich. He, of course, was found guilty, as you mentioned, of 18 counts of corruption. He's looking at a lengthy prison sentence.

Prosecutors are asking this judge to sentence Blagojevich to 15 to 20 years. His defense attorneys have submitted paperwork asking the judge for three years. It will be up to the judge to determine where in there he should be sentenced to.

We do expect Blagojevich to definitely talk to the judge. What we don't know is whether he is going to will admit any guilt here or as we've seen periodically in his media appearances since his conviction, he has maintained his innocence. If he gets in front of the judge and says I'm innocent, I'm innocent, a lot of legal analysts says that won't bode well for him. So it will be interesting to see which Rod Blagojevich we get this morning.

COSTELLO: Assuming he gets jail-time, will he get sent to jail right away?

ROWLANDS: Likely not. He won't be sentenced today. It's a two- day sentencing. Today the judge will hear from Blagojevich and from the attorneys and then he'll deliver the sentence tomorrow. And it's up to the judge whether Blagojevich will be remanded into custody right away, which you normally see in a case, or if he'll be give on the opportunity to report to the Bureau of Prisons. The one thing we have in this great state of Illinois, we have a track record. So, we can just look back to the former governor before Blagojevich, George Ryan. In that case he was allowed to report to the Bureau of Prisons. So it's likely that Blagojevich will have that same opportunity as his predecessor, meaning he'll be able to spend the holidays with his family.


COSTELLO: That was such a sad thing to say.

CHO: I was going to say, sad state of affairs. Ted Rowlands thank you very much for that update. We'll watch it, too.

Still to come this morning, Oscar nominated actor Mark Ruffalo live in the AMERICAN MORNING studios. He's fighting against fracking. What is that all about and why is he so passionate about it? He'll tell us. Good to see you.


CHO: Welcome back. Fracking -- it sounds like a dirty word. And for many people who care about the environment, well, it is. Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals into underground shale to extract natural gas.

Our next guest, Oscar nominated actor Mark Ruffalo, is very concerned about the harm that critics say fracking can do to the environment. He will be making his case in about an hour on the steps of New York City's city hall. So tell me, what will you be doing in about an hour there?

MARK RUFFALO, ACTOR: We are doing a press conference to announce the Watertodemic (ph) which is a community in Pennsylvania that about a year ago the DEP for Pennsylvania said that their water was contaminated by oil and gas by hydro-fracking. So on November 30th, the DEP of Pennsylvania allowed Cabot to stop bringing fresh drinking water.

CHO: So explain to us, because there are a lot of people who have heard the term "fracking" or "hydro-fracking" --


CHO: -- but they're not entirely sure what it is. Explain to me what it is and why is it so damaging in your estimation to the environment?

RUFFALO: Well, there is something they call shale and inside the shale, which lies about 5,000 feet below the surface of the earth is gas, natural gas pockets. And they -- they drill a hole 5,000 feet down and another 5,000 out horizontally and they put about seven million gallons of fresh water infused with about 150,000 gallons of cancerous and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. And they blast this at such high pressures that it actually cracks the bed rock and allows the gas to percolate up to the surface.

But what we're doing is just taking seven million gallons out of our fresh water supply. There's only 2.5 percent of the water in the world is fresh water. That's all the fresh water we'll ever have and they're lacing it with these contaminates that comes up with heavy metals and radiation and can't -- can't really be remediated.

CHO: You know the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says Cabot Oil and Gas has provided clean water by drilling new wells and putting in treatment systems. And what do you say to that?

RUFFALO: Well, the whole aquifer is contaminated. It's not for no reason that all of the families along one road who've all had wells had all been contaminated.

CHO: In fact I want to show this video, again. We last spoke to you and director Josh Fox back in February about the movie Gasland. This documentary where when you look at the -- at the video there, it shows residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania and they can actually, as you see there, light their tap water on fire because of the methane gas that leak under to the water supply. I mean, is that still going on there?

RUFFALO: Yes. Their wells are still percolating methane and that will never be probably in their lifetimes will not be remediated. Once methane enters an aquifer like that at such high volumes it's almost impossible for it to --

CHO: What is happening to the health of these people as a result?

RUFFALO: Well, their children have -- who have been bathing in it. Now they haven't been using this water for almost two years because the DEP has been delivering them water. But when they were using it, their children were breaking out with skin rashes. One of Craig Soughtner's daughter was passing out in the shower from the high levels of methane and other chemical gases. And pets have died all over Pennsylvania from this. It's nasty stuff.

CHO: You know, there are so many causes out there. Hydro- fracking necessarily isn't the most obvious one. I mean, you're a Hollywood actor and you're very busy. Why, why did you get so involved with this? Why so passionate about it?

RUFFALO: Well, I live there. I live in that area and, you know, to me, we're facing this era of extreme energy extraction whether its tar sands or hydro-fracking or mountaintop removal and all of these things destroy our water and they tie very nicely into this idea that climate change is real. And water happens to be one of the victims of climate change and the -- and the extreme extraction methods that we now have, that we're now engaging in and it has to be stopped. It's time for us to move forward.

CHO: Can't let you go without asking you a little bit about work.


CHO: Of course I remember you most recently in your Oscar- nominated term in "The Kids are All Right." Spectacular performance.

RUFFALO: Thanks.

CHO: What are you working on now?

RUFFALO: I just finished a movie called "Thanks for Sharing" with Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow.

CHO: Written by Steve Blum.

RUFFALO: Yes that's right, who -- who wrote "The Kids are All Right". And I'm going on to do a movie with Luis Lateria (ph) called "Now you see Me."

CHO: And also in "The Avengers." A little role in there.

RUFFALO: Yes I have a little role in "The Avengers".

CHO: All right, Mark Ruffalo great to see you again.

RUFFALO: Thanks. Nice seeing you.

CHO: Happy holidays.

RUFFALO: Thank you so much.

CHO: Coming up after the violent protests and the civil unrest, tourists aren't exactly flocking to Egypt. So, can Egypt recover? We'll have a live report a little later on in the program. We're back after this.


CHO: Welcome back.

Today elections continues in Egypt as the country struggles to transition to democracy and after all of the unrest this past year, tourists are staying away.

COSTELLO: Egypt's tourism industry is hurting and that's a big deal for a nation that stakes a big chunk of its economy on a tourist trade.

CNN's Jim Clancy join us now live from one of Egypt's most visited spots oh, it's such a beautiful background, Jim.

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is beautiful, isn't it? It's the history of Egypt dating back 5,000 years or more. You're looking at the Pyramid of Copper right behind me and then off to the left for you is the Pyramid of Khufu which is, of course, the Great Pyramid.

Now, this history means something this year. In 2011, Egyptians feel that they have made history with a revolution in the streets that they hope will change their nation forever and mark the beginning of true democracy in this country.

But at the same time, that revolution is, as it's been covered on international television channels like CNN has caused some effect. It's scared away the tourists. And so when you come here and talk to people, they are very down about the situation. The official statistics say that tourism is down 25 percent, but in actuality, it is much more than that. The tourism industry itself employs about four million people, but when you account for all of your families, some 20 million people depend on tourism in this country for -- for food, for clothes, for school fees.

And so, they are hurting right now. And they are complaining that the people in the Square that demonstrate the people that are being elected to the government in this process so far aren't thinking about them.

And they're hoping that international visitors return here because, well, it is safe. We've been talking with the tourists and they had a great time, the ones that have come here and they have taken advantage of the fact that it is a wide open space for most people who come here and visit.

The one problem might be the Egyptian Museum down right on Tahrir Square. All right, I'm having some trouble hearing you, so, I'm going to have to sign off here.

Carol and Alina, it's great to be here. This is part of the story. And in fact, the City of Giza more than three million people lies behind me, it's December 14th that they will go to the polls in the second round of major voting here. There's a lot of political change that is happening in Egypt.

The pyramids stay the same. People that work at these pyramids are hoping, well at least the visitors will come back and change their fortunes.

For now, I'm Jim Clancy in Giza.

COSTELLO: Thank you, Jim.

CHO: I have to say, when I see those pictures it reminds me, it's one place I've never been. I've always wanted to visit. I've got to go see them.

COSTELLO: And the Sphinx, you know he had the camera turned.

CHO: I know.

COSTELLO: But we saw it in the last hour, it's just gorgeous.

CHO: Beautiful, 55 minutes after the hour. AMERICAN MORNING will be back after this.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Georgia Tech first baseman Colby Wren (ph) just playing Division I baseball is a huge accomplishment.

COLBY WREN, GEORGIA TECH FIRST BASEMAN: I know I love the game. I love being out here. GUPTA: Because he has a mitochondrial disorder which means in most of the cells in his body the energy-producing mitochondria are failing and can't convert food and oxygen into life-sustaining energy.

As a teenager Colby realized his body wasn't working like his twin brother Kyle's.

WREN: I was getting really, really sick; throw up every single day. I had brown urine and I had small instances of I'll lose consciousness and black out.

GUPTA: It got so bad he could no longer play high school football.

WREN: When I work out it's really, really tough for me to recover.

GUPTA: There is no known cure or even an effective treatment for his disorder. All Colby can do is manage the symptoms.

WREN: I take supplements like Co-enzyme Q-10 and L-Carnitine 500.

GUPTA: But Colby won't give up and he won't let his coaches go easy on him either.

WREN: When you make a tough decision that you know down the road is going to benefit you, but it is going to be a grind all the way until you get there, those things just make you better as a person.

GUPTA: Colby works hard to overcome his disorder, but sometimes his body lets him down.

WREN: There are some days where I'll sleep for eight hours right after I get home from class or workouts because I have to.

GUPTA: And for support, he has his twin brother.

WREN: He's my roommate and my best friend. I know what he does best and I can point out what he's doing wrong and help him and he can do the same for me.

GUPTA: Colby loves baseball, but his body just can't make it in the majors. Still, he's determined to work in baseball, preferably in public relations. He's also focused on helping raise money and awareness about mitochondrial disorders so others like him won't lose hope.

WREN: Push on. I mean, you only get to live once. Invest as much as you can into what you love and you'll be successful.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: Oh, we're out of time already. This morning has flown by.

CHO: That's right, thanks for joining us.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips starts right now. Hey, Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Hey guys, good morning. Thanks so much.