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If You Can't Avoid New Bank Fees You Can Close Your Account; Battling School Bullying Has Only Just Begun; Reality TV Reflect Recession Realities

Aired October 15, 2011 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Recession TV: Since when is a grim reality entertaining reality TV?

Good morning, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

Coming up from "Pawn Stars" to "Down Sized" to the "Job Whisper", is reality television getting too real to watch?

Plus, every 26 seconds a student drops out of high school. My interview with Alma Powell on what she and her husband, the former Secretary of State, are trying to do to turn that around.

An estimated 160,000 students are too afraid to go to school every day. Why? And let's fix it.

But first, paying the bank to use your own money. By now, you have heard that Bank of America wants to charge a $5 fee to use a debit card. It is a trend. Citibank moved to end free checking and SunTrust, Regions, and in some states, Chase will be charging similar debit card purchase fees. Consumers as you might already know are not very happy about it.

Greg McBride is the senior financial analyst at and Leigh Gallagher is the assistant managing editor at "Fortune".

People are so mad and we all know that free checking is dwindling. Only 45 percent of banks offered free checking with no strings attached this year. That's down from 76 percent two years ago. The answer if you hate the fees is community banks, credit unions-not for profit, by the way-and there are ways to stay with your bank and avoid the fees but only if you have, maybe money, investment accounts, maybe a mortgage.

How do you avoid these bank fees?

GREG MCBRIDE, SR. FINANCIAL ANALYST, BANKRATE.COM: Well, I think that's the main point, Christine. We are not hostage to these fees. A proactive consumer can avoid them. The thing about free checking is even though we have seen a decline in the availability without strings attached, we have seen an increase in the ability to get that fee waived. And oftentimes something as simple as direct deposit can be enough to do that.

If that is not going to work for you then by all means look at the smaller community banks, the credit unions, the online banks as alternatives. And as far as those debit card fees, resort to other methods of payment. If you pay your credit card balance in full every month, the credit card reward programs are far more generous than what you see on the debit card side. So there are alternatives, but I think it's important for consumers to assess what's going to be best for their situation and act accordingly.

ROMANS: Hey, Greg, do people really walk? A lot of people have been complaining over the last week, but the dirty little secret is banks know, by our own behavior, that we'll go to an out of network ATM and pay the extra money, and really not complain about it. Our behavior shows we keep going for those ATM fees. Do we really cancel our big bank and try new ones?

MCBRIDE: Well, there's always been this disconnect between intent and follow through. The intent is certainly there; 64 percent of Americans told they would consider switching financial institutions if their checking account fees increased. However, again, people don't always follow through on that. However, people are dialed in to this topic enough I think there's a greater inclination to change now than maybe we have seen in years past.

ROMANS: Lee, you know, maybe they say in the past they have said the were going to walk and then they didn't. But this time is different. This is kind of a tone deaf move by the banking industry right now. I'm going to call it tone deaf because people are very, very doing angry. If you have a lot of relationship at the banks, it can be a little more trouble. But a day or a day and a half of phone calls, letter writing and e-mail sending, and you can end that relationship.

LEIGH GALLAGHER, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, "FORTUNE": Yes, this is going to cost, in Bank of America's case $60 a year. That is a lot of money. And tone deaf is probably an understatement. If we look at what's happening with Occupy Wall Street --

ROMANS: They would say it's evil. Not tone deaf but evil.

GALLAGHER: Exactly. And that's gaining credibility that movement. And so, you know, this is just the worst time to do this. I do think if there's ever a time a customer is going to walk from their bank, this will be the fee that does it. I mean, you are absolutely right. It is very hard to do. Banks have their tentacles in all sorts of our aspects of our lives these days, so it is very hard. But I do think this may be the one that might push it over the edge.

As Greg points out, the more tentacles you have with your banks, the more likely you will be able to talk yourself out of that fee, because they want to keep your business. They want your direct deposit of your paycheck. They want you do your online banking. They want you to pay your mortgage through them. So, maybe it's just going to take -- can I talk to your supervisor please? I don't know, that has never actually worked for me.

Greg McBride, Leigh Gallagher, thanks so much. The outrage continues, of course, on those bank fees. That's more information about why. Every 26 seconds a student drops out of high school. My interview with Alma Powell on what she and her husband the former secretary of State are doing to turn that around.

Plus, recession TV, from "Pawn Stars" to "Down Sized", to now, "The Job Whisper". Is reality television getting too real to watch? That's all coming up on YOUR BOTTOM LINE.


ROMANS: Success in education comes one student at a time. The stats for dropouts are grim. One young person every 26 seconds drops out of high school. Let's focus on the people dedicating their time and talents to fixing that. Alma Powell is chairwoman for America's Promise Alliance, the nation's largest partnership focused, of course, on the well being of the country's young people. It was founded by her husband General Colin Powell.

Good morning. Thank you for joining us this morning.

ALMA POWELL, CHAIRWOMAN, AMERICA'S PROMISE ALLIANCE: Good morning. It is such a pleasure to be with you this morning.

ROMANS: Mrs. Powell, you come from a family of educators. Your father and your uncle were high principles in Birmingham. You know as well as anyone that success in education comes one student, one teacher, one classroom, one school at a time.

POWELL: That's right.

ROMANS: What works?

POWELL: What works is communities coming together and bringing all of their resources to bear on the needs of young people. In this conversation about education that we're having, we have to realize that it's just not the school that is important. It is the whole child's needs that are important. And good school systems address all of that.

ROMANS: With these high dropout rates, what do you say to parents whose child is in danger of quitting school? What is the message to kids who are borderline?

POWELL: To kids who are borderline, we try to give them the confidence that they need to help them know that they are the future of the United States. You really are important and you have a place in this society. And we will help you take that place.

ROMANS: You know, Mrs. Powell, the former governor of West Virginia told me recently, he said, what people don't realize is that poor children in America are this country's future. How we get kids educated the same education and make our public school system the great equalizer will determine what happens to our country. Is it as serious as that?

POWELL: It is every bit as serious as that. The children of today are the new future of tomorrow. And if they are not educated we have no future. At present, we are in danger. It is not just an economic problem. They cost over the course of their lifetime every high school dropout will cost $319 billion to the economy, so there's an economic issue. But it's a security issue, too. Today's young people, 50 percent of them, cannot qualify for military service. The military has to turn young people away because they are -- nobody who is -- not a high school dropout can become a part of the military.

ROMANS: Right.

POWELL: And even those that are, many of them are unable to pass the test that you have to pass to join the military. And they're also physically unfit.

ROMANS: My goodness.

POWELL: So that's a security issue that we've all got to address. We have got to look at this whole picture.

ROMANS: A lot of work to do. And you have found some communities that are looking at this whole picture. You just unveiled, your group has just unveiled, the 100 best communities for young people. What are these communities doing right? What are the common denominators of towns and communities who are lowering the dropout rate? And gives kids the education that's good for the country, and for them?

POWELL: They're focused on the success of their young people. They have different ways of approaching the problem but the essential thing that they do in their communities is surround the young people with what we call the five promises: Caring adults, healthy start, safe places to learn and grow after school, help with marketable skill through an effective education, and encouraging volunteerism to give back to the community. This makes a whole child. And so in our 100 best communities they are encouraged to show us, in their applications, how they have approached all of these. And it's a matter of the entire community coming together; the school community, the business community, the faith community.

ROMANS: Right.

POWELL: Everybody coming together.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for joining us, Mrs. Powell. Very nice to meet you this morning and thanks for all of your good work on this subject. We'll talk to you again I hope again soon.

POWELL: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure.

ROMANS: No child should be afraid to go to school in this country but an estimated 160,000 of them are, every day, because of bullying. What are schools doing to stop that? That's next.


ROMANS: American schools have become social battlefields where the weapon of choice to climb the social ladder is bullying. It happens every day all across the country. Rising even to the attention of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been shown to lead to absences and poor performance in the classroom. And that alone should give us pause, since no child should be afraid to go to school in this country.


ROMANS: That's right. Every day an estimated 160,000 kids are scared to go to school and stay home because of it. Rosalyn Wiseman wrote the book, literally, on bullies, "Queen Bees and Wannabes". Stuart Green runs New Jersey's bullying prevention efforts.

Rosalyn, your book was the premise for that movie, "Mean Girls". What makes a bully?

ROSALYN WISEMAN, AUTHOR, "QUEEN BEES AND WANNABES": Well, you know it is not the meanest girl or the queen bee, or the biggest boy on the playground. What we know is there's a small amount of kids who are targeted for being different and they are piled on by kids. But the vast majority of bullying is a competition, a social competition, where targets and bullies can be really fluid. And that makes it incredibly difficult for parents and for teachers to identify it. Because it looks like all of us.

ROMANS: Stewart, it is interesting, because Stewart we know that fixing this is complex, multi-layered, from control of the classroom to the supervision of the playground, to rewarding peacemakers, emboldening bystanders. It takes a lot of different things together. Until now we haven't done a very good job of this. There are even some parents who think this is still kind of a rite of passage. You have to be tough. This happens to everybody.

GREEN: Yeah. I mean, we are really despite the laws and the attention to the issue, which is all good, we're still at the beginning of addressing the issue adequately. I sometimes compare it to the early '60s in the Deep South and the civil rights movement. You have a situation in which you're getting laws, you're getting some changed attitudes. You are raising expectations in parents and kids hurt by this. You're getting a lot of anger, but in terms of adequate action to really make things better for kids in schools, we are at the beginning more than at the middle or end.

ROMANS: I think some schools districts think they can bring in a motivational speaker once a quarter, and they have done their due diligence on telling kids that they have got to-whatever, be a good kid, be a peacemaker, be someone who is solving problems. That is not good enough.

GREEN: That's a very famously ineffective thing to do. What you really need is to have a comprehensive approach to this, in the school, and then you can have the equivalent of a pep rally or a sort of rally and you don't need outside people to come in and do that for you. In fact, it can be harmful. Because if you have these auditorium programs in a setting in which kids are really not adequately safe and supported, and included and engaged in the school, it's hypocrisy. It gives the kids a message that we the adults are really on top of this, and now it's up to you. And they go back into hallways that aren't safe. So, no one-shots.

ROMANS: Will the laws fix it, Rosalyn? If we make laws, will the behavior of children change?


ROMANS: Or the way parents-


ROMANS: I mean, schools have a lot of work to do. This is on top of all the other things they have to do that many principals say they don't have the money to do in the first place.

WISEMAN: We do have to have laws. And we already have laws about violations of civil rights, about being harassed, but bullying needs to be something that we agree about as a standard. That we will not support in schools. Now with that said, we have to be really careful about the way that we implement that, because we need police officers. If we're going to allow police officers to come in to the school based on anonymous reporting, those police officers must be educated about being in a school environment.

ROMANS: Right.

WISEMAN: They have to be really understanding of what anonymous reporting and the complications of anonymous reporting can happen, and how those can be abused. And if we do that then that makes sense.

ROMANS: We are looking right now, Stuart, at the states with anti- bullying laws. New Jersey is among those with the toughest. But you say there's still a lot of work for everybody to do.

GREEN: Laws basically, whatever their details are just a statement by society, by government, by community groups, that we want schools to pay more attention to this. I agree with everything Rosalyn said, of course. But the emphasis really needs to be on schools.

Schools is where most, if not all, bullying takes place. Yes, there is stuff happens in the home, but the myth about bullying is that it occurs in bad families and bad communities and bad kids and leaks its way over into the pristine confines of schools. That's not so.

Bullying is -- schools are where almost all bullying arises and it is the behavior of adults who run and staff schools, as well as the parents involved with the schools, who determine whether bullying occurs.

ROMANS: All right.

GREEN: So the focus needs to be on schools and laws help keep that focus right there. ROMANS: Stuart Green, the director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness & Prevention, thank you so much for joining us. Rosalyn Wiseman, the author of "Queen Bees and Wannabes". Thank you, Rosalyn.

Forget the bling, the big bank accounts and the Botox. The new reality on TV is all about, get this, reality. We'll explain, next.


ROMANS: Everyone has their favorite reality shows, whether it's "Dirty Jobs", "The Jersey Shore" or "Deadliest Catch." These are an escape from your own reality. You are peaking into something exciting and different, and maybe a little nutty. But reality shows are taking a new turn that hits a little closer to home for millions of out of work Americans. Take a look.


ROMANS (voice over): From "The Kardashians", to "The Housewives" and the "Millionaire Matchmaker:.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, girls, ready to meet the millionaire?

ROMANS: We know Americans love shows about people with money. But when did watching economic struggle become entertaining?

AJ HAMMER, HOST, HLN'S "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT": Now, reality television is reflecting something so major that's going on in virtually everybody's lives, the economic downturn opinion.

ROMANS: Call it recession TV. There's "Pawn Stars", "Down Sized".


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, it says over the limit here.

ROMANS: "American Pickers".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people look at this stuff as their savings account like, hey, I bought this, I think it's worth more money.

ROMANS: "Repo Games". A&E Network just shot a pilot called "Job Whisperer", a show about finding a job, and even "Sesame Street" introduced Lillie, a muppet struggling with hunger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you don't even know whether you are going to have a next meal or not? That can be pretty hard.

ROMANS: So is reality TV becoming too real to watch?

JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: There will always be the escapism type of TV, whether it's scripted, whether it's reality, where people are just frivolously spending money and having a lavish lifestyle. Sometimes we need that. But I think we're redefining what life is as a middle-class American and they're getting that information from TV.

For now, many Americans will dream of a fairytale wedding through our TV set.


ROMANS: So recession TV, Pete Dominick is the comedian and host of Sirius XM Standup. Robert Thompson is professor of TV and popular culture at Syracuse University.

Robert, what's your take on this new type of reality show? I'm going to be honest with you, I really like to watch "Horders". Because you know what? It's so weird. You're looking in on a slim little sliver of society, that is just, you can't stop watching. "Joblessness?" Oh, my goodness that affects every family, almost. You know? So when do we go from watching the exception to now, suddenly we are watching the rule.

ROBERT THOMPSON, PROFESSOR, SYRACUSE UNIV.: Yeah, well, I like "Horders", too. But I usually have to clear stacks of newspaper from my TV before I can see the screen. You know, I'm not sure that this has anything to do with -- well, it has something to do with, but I think everybody thinks, OK, we're in an economic downturn. And suddenly it's causing all of these kinds of programs.

I'm thinking of "The Honeymooners" and "Roseanne" and "Queen For A Day" and all these other shows, "The Waltons", which were very, very popular shows about people in some economic hard times. And those played during good times and bad times. I think one of the reasons we're seeing things like "Repo Games" is that it's compelling to watch people, you know, see somebody pull up to where their car is being repossessed, attached to a tow truck. And then have a game show as to whether or not they're going to get their car paid off.

Frankly, I think if that would have been introduced at the, you know, peak of the stock market, it would have been a popular show, regardless. The same with the fantasy about, you know, finding -- or making money by having something in your attic that's worth a lot of money, "Pawn Stars", and all that kind of stuff.

ROMANS: "American Pickers".

THOMPSON: That has been a fantasy. We've-and "American Pickers" and a number of other shows like that. That's a fantasy that I think makes good programming and I don't think we need the recession to explain why it is that this stuff is doing so well.

ROMANS: You know, Pete, it's interesting, the "American Pickers" are from my hometown in Eclaire (ph), Iowa, believe it or not.

PETER DOMINICK, HOST, SIRIUS XM STAND UP: Of course they are, Christine.

ROMANS: They are the most famous guys in Eastern Iowa.

DOMINICK: What does that say about you? You are on CNN everyday? ROMANS: They knocked me off the ladder. But I have to tell you, some of these shows are pretty entertaining. And there's something about- it all goes back to money in the end, finding a hidden value, or helping somebody find a job, or marrying a millionaire. Are we obsessed with money?

DOMINICK: Of course we are. It's America. Capitalism makes you think you're going to be a millionaire. That's why people play the Lotto. They never win, but they heard about somebody who did. But I think America really needs to take their medicine and understand how the vast majority of the world lives. Robert Thompson is great. I love Syracuse University. He has joined me on my radio show. He tells us why people-or what people are watching, I want to moralize. I want to tell you what should be watching.

ROMANS: What should they be watching?

DOMINICK: They shouldn't be watching "The Kardashians", because they are never going to meet them and they are never going to be as good looking as them.

ROMANS: But everybody is watching. I don't watch it actually.

DOMINICK: Right. They shouldn't be watching "The Jersey Shore". Because that is like watching, you know, people running around- animals, it is like watching animals.

ROMANS: Important lessons on courting and love.


DOMINICK: If you're terrible-for terrible, terrible people. Yes, you are right.

But that-you know, people moralize and the religious right about gay marriage or even interracial marriage back in the day. We should be moralizing about the social fabric of America unraveling because of what some of these reality shows are telling people how to behave and teaching them how to behave. Those are terrible role models.

THOMPSON: I never thought that television or films or arts in general should necessarily be guided by good role models. Romeo and Juliette were not good role models. King Lear was not a good role model. "The Sopranos" were not good role models.


DOMINICK: But people behave like these people. But people glamorize the mafia and people want to be like these people on the Jersey Shore. That's what I'm talking about, the dumbing down of America because we watch those things.

And Robert, don't we oftentimes replicate that behavior in our society? We love to watch people get voted off of things. That gives us some kind of pleasure. That's sad to me.

THOMPSON: Well, we do. A lot of reality TV has a heavy dose of mockery built into it.

DOMINICK: And failure.

THOMPSON: You are right. That does not reflect the most noble part of the human spirit. But it does reflect a part of the human spirit. I have to say that sometimes when I watch the bachelor and I feel superior to the goofy behavior on that - I have to say, there is a certain pleasure in that. Especially, if I couldn't go to Disney Land because I'm unemployed and I have to stay home and watch television.

DOMINICK: I should turn down their request to be "The Bachelor".

ROMANS: You did not.

THOMPSON: Are you serious?


ROMANS: Oh, I was going to say. When you watch "The Bachelor" you take notes.

DOMINICK: Well, it was the bald bachelor, but and I'm married, so there would be problems.

ROMANS: He didn't qualify on a thousand different counts, Robert.

Pete Dominick, comedian, you catch that-

DOMINICK: I did turn down two reality shows, "Last Comic Standing" and then another one for comedians, because I felt like it was a bad thing to do.

ROMANS: Robert and Pete, thanks, guys.

That's going to wrap things up for us this morning. But the conversation continues online. Find us on Facebook or Twitter at CNNBottomLine. Find me, @christineromans. Keep an eye out for my new book with Ali Velshi, it's called "How To Speak Money". Preorders being taken now at Back now to CNN SATURDAY for the latest stories making news. Have a great weekend, everybody.