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Why don't most Americans take all their vacation time?
May 22nd, 2012
03:25 PM ET

Why don't most Americans take all their vacation time?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

With Memorial Day weekend - and the unofficial start to summer - just around the corner, many Americans have no vacation time in sight.

A recent study shows 57% of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of last year.

And most of them had about 11 days left over, or nearly 70% of their allotted time off. Who takes only 30% of their vacation?

Well, one of the biggest reasons people skip their vacation is because they feel like they have too much work. Others say they can't afford to travel - no surprise in this economy. And still others say they are afraid to take time off from work in an unstable job market, also not surprising with unemployment stuck above 8%.

Meanwhile, the U.S. plays by different rules than most other developed countries when it comes to vacation. The law here doesn't require companies to offer any paid vacation to employees.

Nevertheless the average American worker gets 13 paid days off. Compare that with Italy, where the average worker gets 42 days off. In France, it’s 37 days off.

And guess what? Nearly 90% of the French use all of their vacation time. Insert your own joke here.

Experts say a lot of this is cultural. Many of these countries also have strong labor unions. Some European cities, such as Paris, practically shut down for part of the summer when everyone goes on vacation.

As for Americans, the trend is for people to take long weekends instead of one- or two-week vacations.

It's understandable that people are worried to leave the office for too long in our shaky economy; but it does make it harder to recharge your batteries and get a mental break from work.

Here’s my question to you: Why don't most Americans take all their vacation time?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

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Filed under: On Jack's radar • United States • Vacation
Obama W.H. change official biography pages of past presidents?
May 17th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Obama W.H. change official biography pages of past presidents?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

President Barack Obama is under fire for adding his own policy plugs to the official biographies of past presidents on the White House website.

Here's how it works: The White House added blurbs to the end of these biographies. These "Hey, did you know?" factoids appear on nearly every president's bio page going back to Calvin Coolidge.

For example:

"In a June 28, 1985, speech, Reagan called for a fairer tax code, one where a multimillionaire did not have a lower tax rate than his secretary. Today, President Obama is calling for the same with the Buffett Rule."

These added links plug everything from Obama’s health care overhaul to Social Security, Medicare and the repeal of don't ask, don't tell.

Republicans are having a field day with this.

The RNC created a hysterical "Obama in History" website. It shows the president as part of other historical events like the moon landing and the Declaration of Independence and with historical figures such as Albert Einstein, Richard Nixon and Elvis.

The White House insists that the biographies themselves weren't changed. They tell Fox News they "simply added links at the bottom of each page." They say this is a commonly used Internet practice to encourage people to explore further.

Maybe so.

However, one expert tells ABC News that while these additions didn't "cross the line" by changing the presidential biographies, the White House could have made it clearer that they weren't part of the official White House presidential biographies.

Here’s my question to you: Is it appropriate for President Obama to change the official biography pages of past presidents on the White House website?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 4pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

Florida lowers passing test grade after students' scores drop?
May 17th, 2012
03:55 PM ET

Florida lowers passing test grade after students' scores drop?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

Yet another sign that our education system is failing:

Florida is lowering the passing grade on the writing portion of a standardized test.

Students' 2012 scores plunged on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test writing exam.

Only 27% of fourth graders scored a passing grade of 4 - out of a possible 6.

Last year 81% of fourth graders passed. Eighth and 10th graders had similar declines in their scores.

So the state Board of Education decided to change the test's passing score to a 3 - from a 4. Presto. Suddenly the number of kids who passed was about the same as last year.

Critics say by manipulating test results, Florida is covering up problems in the system. It has also reignited an ongoing debate over using standardized test scores to make important education decisions.

The state education commissioner defends the decision, saying it "helps to correct the process, not the results."

Schools and parents were told this was coming. Florida announced last summer there would be tougher grading for the writing exam - with more focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation. In the past, those issues had been graded with "leniency."

State officials say they may not have communicated those changes well to school districts and teachers.

It kind of makes you wonder how Florida graded these writing exams before the increased focus on little things like spelling and grammar.

Here’s my question to you: What does it say about U.S. education if Florida lowered the passing grade on a standardized test after students' scores dropped?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.</strong5

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Filed under: Education • Florida • On Jack's radar
Is former President Carter an effective weapon in Mitt Romney's campaign against President Obama?
May 15th, 2012
03:56 PM ET

Is former President Carter an effective weapon in Mitt Romney's campaign against President Obama?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

Mitt Romney is hoping Jimmy Carter can help him win the White House.

The likely Republican nominee has been comparing President Barack Obama to the former Democratic president on the campaign trail.

For example, when Romney was asked if he would have approved the bin Laden raid, he answered "even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."

And when talking about the economy, Romney described the Obama White House as "the most anti-small business administration... probably since Carter."

For many, the name alone evokes an incompetent, liberal commander-in-chief and a time of recession, inflation, unemployment, high taxes and gas prices, more government and a sort of national malaise..

And, as Politico points out, by framing yourself as Carter's enemy, you can try to make yourself Ronald Reagan. Brilliant. If it works.

Meanwhile Michael Barone suggests in a column on "Real Clear Politics" that the 2012 election could mirror what happened in the 1980 race between Carter and Reagan. There was a late break away from the incumbent that year.

Jimmy Carter actually led Ronald Reagan in the polls for much of the race. His job rating was kept higher by attempts to free the Iran hostages even though voters were unhappy with the economy and other issues.

But during a debate just days before the election, Reagan famously asked: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Suddenly the polls took a 10 point shift in Reagan's favor. He won in a landslide.

Barone suggests that despite economic concerns and opposition to Mr. Obama's policies, voters might be keeping his ratings artificially high for fear of rejecting the first black president. They might change their support to Romney at the last minute.

Here’s my question to you: Is former President Carter an effective weapon in Mitt Romney's campaign against President Obama?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 4pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

Should drones be used to spy on Americans?
May 15th, 2012
03:55 PM ET

Should drones be used to spy on Americans?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

Drones aren't just for fighting the war on terror in the Middle East anymore - they might be watching you.

As more and more of these unmanned aircraft pop up over U.S. soil, they may be used to spy on Americans.

There is an Air Force document that says if unmanned drones accidentally capture surveillance footage of Americans, they can keep the information for up to 90 days and analyze it. Where is that in the Constitution?

The U.S. military and the government aren't supposed to conduct surveillance of Americans on U.S. soil without their consent, but if they accidentally capture you on video, that's OK.

They can apparently hang on to that material to determine if you are a terrorist.

There's no question that spying on Americans without a warrant could, and should, raise some serious red flags. But when you allow something like the Patriot Act, the law of unintended consequences is likely to follow.

Make no mistake, drone use is expanding on the home front.

Regulators have approved the use of drones for dozens of law enforcement agencies and universities, including the Department of Homeland Security and local police departments.

These drones can be used for law enforcement, firefighting, news coverage and monitoring wildlife. Or to spy on American citizens.

Lawmakers from both parties have asked the FAA to answer questions about privacy, to make sure the public knows these things are being used and why.

Experts predict the use of drones domestically will increase as more of the technology is brought back from places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

Here’s my question to you: Should drones be used to spy on Americans?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

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Filed under: Government • On Jack's radar • United States
What does it mean when the government is issuing a study of a study of studies?
May 14th, 2012
03:10 PM ET

What does it mean when the government is issuing a study of a study of studies?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

Washington hard at work.

ABC News reports our government is just out with a study of a study of studies.

Try to stay with us here.

Back in 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained that his department was "awash in taskings for reports and studies." He wanted to know how much they cost.

So the Pentagon commissioned a study to find out how much it really costs to produce all those studies.

Fast forward two years: The Pentagon review was still going on - so Congress asked the government accountability office to check in on them.

Now the GAO is out with its report - and the results aren't too promising.

They found only nine studies that had been reviewed by the Pentagon review - in two years - and the military was unable to "readily retrieve documentation" for six of those nine reports.

As for how much all this costs - don't ask. The GAO says the Pentagon's approach "is not fully consistent with relevant cost estimating best practices and cost accounting standards." Meaning these are our tax dollars they can't keep track of.

Meanwhile, try understanding what these reports even say:

"GAO's cost guide states that cost estimates should include all costs, but allows flexibility for the estimates to exclude costs where information is limited as long as steps are taken to clearly define and document what costs are included or excluded."

Huh?

Perhaps it should come as no surprise. Anytime anything goes wrong, or someone drops the ball in Washington, politicians like to start a study or name a commission to investigate.

The hope is that by the time the results actually come out, we've all forgotten about whatever it was in the first place.

Here’s my question to you: What does it mean when the government is issuing a study of a study of studies?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 4pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

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Filed under: Government • Pentagon
How big is President Obama's Wall Street problem?
May 14th, 2012
03:09 PM ET

How big is President Obama's Wall Street problem?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

JPMorgan Chase’s $2 billion trading loss highlights what could be a huge Wall Street problem for President Barack Obama as he faces re-election.

Nearly four years after the financial crisis, little appears to have changed on Wall Street.

These guys can still play fast and loose with whatever rules there are and in the process risk huge losses.

JP Morgan's CEO Jamie Dimon was on "Meet the Press" on Sunday doing damage control. There have already been several resignations at the company.

Dimon acknowledges the $2 billion loss was due to a series of massive bets placed through credit default swaps - which is what nearly brought the country to its knees in 2008.

In other words, what happened at JP Morgan, one of the largest banks in the U.S., is exactly the kind of thing the president's financial law was supposed to stop. But it didn't.

Working in Obama's favor - he can paint his opponent, Mitt Romney, as a big business guy who would slash financial regulations.

But voters will hold up the president against his record - and ask how this could happen again. In light of the mess at JP Morgan, it will be nearly impossible for Obama to run as the president who got tough on Wall Street.

Critics of the president say the White House should have pushed for stronger legislation - and that financial reform took a back seat to the health care and stimulus bills.

They say the president had a historic chance to bring real reform to Wall Street since there was such intense public anger toward the banks.

Administration officials argue Obama pushed for the toughest financial reform law that he could get through Congress.

Here’s my question to you: How big is President Obama's Wall Street problem?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

Will President Obama's support of gay marriage cost him black votes?
May 10th, 2012
04:09 PM ET

Will President Obama's support of gay marriage cost him black votes?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

While President Obama's support for gay marriage is sure to fire up parts of the liberal base, it could alienate others - including black voters.

In other words, backing same-sex marriage might be a risky position for the president in an election year when it comes to one of his core voting blocs.

In 2008, African-Americans were crucial in making Mr. Obama the nation's first black president. Exit polls showed 96% of black voters supported him and they made up 13% of the electorate.

Fast forward four years: While polls suggest America on the whole is moving toward support of same-sex marriage, ABC/Washington Post polling shows 55% of black voters are still against it. That compares to 43% of whites.

And this opposition from blacks could hurt the president - particularly in the South.

Just this week in North Carolina, blacks voted two-to-one in favor of the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

North Carolina is a swing state where near-unanimous black support for Mr. Obama secured his 2008 victory.

So what if even some black voters in a state like North Carolina choose to sit this election out due to the president's support of same-sex marriage?

Groups on both sides of the issue like to compare gay marriage rights to the struggle for civil rights; but many blacks don't like that comparison. And black churches tend to see the issue in religious terms, with ministers playing a big role in the opposition to gay marriage.

While it's unlikely blacks will suddenly decide to vote for Mitt Romney over this, if some of them decide to stay home, it could make a difference in the outcome of the election.

Here’s my question to you: Will President Obama's support of gay marriage cost him black votes?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 4pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

Why won't our leaders focus on the problems that are destroying our country?
May 10th, 2012
03:55 PM ET

Why won't our leaders focus on the problems that are destroying our country?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

"America's problems are still big. It's most of our leaders who have gotten small."

That's a quote from a terrific piece today on Politico by Roger Simon.

He hits the nail on the head in describing a Congress which used to do things, but now specializes in not doing things.

Simon writes that Congress today is about making sure nothing gets done.

Because if something actually gets done, then one party or the other will take credit for it.

What a sad state of affairs. Our leaders, who used to be able to reach across the aisle, will no longer budge.

And those who are seen as bipartisan - people like Republican Senators Dick Lugar and Olympia Snow or Democratic Senators Jim Webb and Kent Conrad - are being voted out or are not bothering to run again.

Simon describes Congress as collapsing "from its former state of sluggishness to one of paralysis."

Even when it comes to issues that both sides support, like low interest on college loans, they can't get it done.

According to The New York Times - this week's Senate vote on student loans was the 21st time Republicans have successfully filibustered a Democratic bill since January 2011.

Meanwhile, our country is drowning in troubles - from skyrocketing deficits and more than $15 trillion in debt, to high unemployment, an ongoing housing crisis, and record poverty and food stamp use.

But the people we elect to represent us turn a blind eye to things that, if left unattended, will bring us down. No foreign enemy will have to fire a shot.

Here’s my question to you: Why won't our leaders focus on the problems that are destroying our country?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

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Filed under: United States
Is President Obama simply using gay marriage for political gain?
May 9th, 2012
04:52 PM ET

Is President Obama simply using gay marriage for political gain?

FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:

Today's definition of political opportunism? Gay marriage.

President Obama has been in office for 3 1/2 years and has artfully dodged the question of whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

Suddenly his vice president, Joe Biden, comes out publicly and says he doesn't see anything wrong with gay marriage.

And right away people want to know where the president stands.

Then the voters of North Carolina go to the polls and overwhelmingly pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Again the questions: Where does the president stand?

Suddenly at 3 o'clock this afternoon, after 3 1/2 years of not answering the question, Mr. Obama decides to take a position.

All of a sudden he thinks same-sex marriage is a good idea.

He's locked in what promises to be a close race against Mitt Romney.

So picking this moment to pander to the gay and lesbian community on the issue of same-sex marriage suits his political purpose, which is to be re-elected.

One of the major broadcast networks interrupts programming to breathlessly report that the president has decided that it's OK for same-sex couples to marry.

Pardon me if I don't hyperventilate over all of this. We have real issues in this country for which President Obama has been glaringly short on answers.

We have more than $15 trillion of debt, an unemployment rate that's an embarrassment for the largest free-market system in the world, a Congress that refuses to agree on whether it's daylight outside or not, and the country is supposed to come to a screeching halt because President Obama was pressured into taking a position on a wedge issue. I'll pass.

Oh, and at the end of the day, it's still up to the states.

Here’s my question to you: Is President Obama simply using gay marriage for political gain?

Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.

And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.

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