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A Degree and a Pile of Debt; Bob Filner could Resign Today; Murder Suspect's Hateful Postings; Ben Affleck to Play Batman

Aired August 23, 2013 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, 37 million Americans with a combined $1.1 trillion in student loan debt. What President Obama wants to do to relieve the burden. Plus --


GLORIA ALLRED, VICTIMS' RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Justice requires him to step down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't think he can govern.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob, it's time for you to resign.


COSTELLO: For months San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has been urged to step down. Today we may finally learn if he will.

And this --

COSTELLO: I love that. The caped crusader unmasked. The new Batman will be played by -- Ben Affleck? Some critics are already predicting another "Daredevil" disaster.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Checking our "Top Stories" at 30 minutes past the hour.

The clock is ticking in Syria. At the site of those alleged chemical weapon attacks earlier this week the evidence will deteriorate in the coming days and the United Nations is asking for access from the embattled Assad regime and rebels who control those areas.

Jury deliberations have resumed in the case against Major Nidal Hasan. The Army psychiatrist is accused of gunning down his former soldiers at Fort Hood. Hasan who has admitted to the rampage that left 13 people dead faces the death sentence.

New numbers from the government show a hiccup in the housing recovery. New home sales dropped 13 percent last month. That's the biggest drop in three years. Many analysts are pointing to mortgage rates that keep heading higher and a steady increase in home prices.

It is President Obama's latest bid to bring some relief to the middle class make college more affordable. He says higher education has never been more expensive and talked exclusively to CNN's Chris Cuomo about why college cost is skyrocketing and what he plans to do about it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you look at public colleges and universities, part of what's happened is state legislatures have dropped their support. And so the universities, rather than thinking about how do we save money and do more with less, they just pass on automatically those cost to students.

And we've got to put, you know, some pressure on state legislatures. If you are serious about training a great workforce in your state, then you've got to invest in state universities and colleges and not just invest in prisons which is part of what we did over the long period of time.

Now one last element to it: once we develop the rating systems, part of what we're going to argue to Congress is that we should tie in some way the way federal financial aid flows to schools that are doing really well on this and not so much on schools that aren't.

So if a school has a higher default rate than it does a graduation rate, then we should give them a chance to improve. But ultimately we don't want kids settled with debt, we want them to actually get a degree and to be able to get a good job.


COSTELLO: Of course Congress has to pass legislation to get all of that to happen. But let's dream a little this morning and pretend someone will actually do something to lower the cost of a college education.

Joining me now to talk about this economics department chair of the College of William and Mary, David Feldman, who is also an expert on college cost; and Akello Stone, who is struggling with the student loan debt -- that debt currently stands at around $32,000. Welcome to both of you.



COSTELLO: We're glad you're here. Akello let's start with you, you heard the President. Should colleges be penalized if students don't graduate and get jobs? Would that have helped you?

STONE: I don't think that would have helped me at all. And I think I'm in a particularly different situation because I've been paying on my student loans for 15 years. So any reform that happens like from here on out is not going to help me or help anybody who is in the same predicament that I find myself.

COSTELLO: So, what would help you do you think Akello? I mean what needs to be done right now to get you some relief?

STONE: Well, first of all, I think the interest rates need to be capped at like three percent instead of the current percentage rate that I'm paying. And I also do -- I'm like some adults who do a lot of volunteer work kind of just because that's just part of who we are. But I believe that we should be credited some, you know, that is time that we're spending that could be put towards student loan. Like how do we cut this loan down by our own service? Those are some strategies that I immediately thought of that I would be willing to do.

COSTELLO: Ok. So professor, let's move on to you. Is it really fair to require universities to in essence make sure students finish schools? Does a degree really translate into a job?

FELDMAN: Does a degree translate into a job? With a high probability -- yes. If you look at the unemployment rate among college graduates and compare it to the unemployment rate among people who stopped their education in high school, the difference is stark.

So we hear lots of stories about recent college grads unemployed and the situation is not as good as it once say was five years ago before the final meltdown. But getting a college degree remains perhaps the single best investment that a person can make in themselves.

COSTELLO: That's true. But is it -- you heard what the President said. In your mind, would that be a helpful thing to reduce the cost of a college education? Because we do know that state government and the federal government they aren't driving as much money towards universities and colleges as they once did.

FELDMAN: Yes. And -- and one thing you have to keep in mind is that cost and price are not the same thing. As states have diverted resources away from higher education and they're actually spending about 40 percent less, not in dollars but compared to the size of the state's income, as they have redirected resources away from a higher education towards other pressing needs, colleges have had to make some choices.

Now I think the President is actually quite wrong. Most universities, state universities have in fact learned to do more with less. But sometimes you can't always do more and what happens is that the quality of the programming suffers. And this is one of the reasons that at many state universities time to a degree has increased and that's a cost on students.


COSTELLO: So can you get it to some specifics of why you think --

FELDMAN: So yes I think the President is quite right -- to focus on --

COSTELLO: I just want you to get more into the specifics about why you think college costs are going up. Why is that? FELDMAN: Well, two things. First of all, if you look at the actual tuition, the average tuition that universities charge on average and subtract out the amount of grant support that students get, average tuition at public universities has basically been flat since the recession started. And at private universities it is now lower than it was six years ago.

But if you look over the long history, if you look back over 40 or 50 years, almost all service prices go up more rapidly than the rate of inflation and it's particularly a problem in personal services like higher education and many others, legal services, medical services, getting your hair cut. The price of personal services goes up more rapidly than the inflation rate because it's really hard to get labor productivity growth. We don't have machines that replace what we do.

And this is actually why the -- the new push to think about digital techniques is actually one possible hope for getting some productivity growth in higher education.


COSTELLO: And -- and really what you're saying just to make it -- just to make it more clear for our audience, you're saying that you need really highly educated people -- people in classrooms teaching kids and you have to pay those highly-educated people to do their jobs. You also need the very latest and best in technology at colleges and universities because people need to learn what's current and those things cost money.

FELDMAN: And in fact, the way technology, the way technological change impacts higher education tends to be different than the way it impacts the manufacture of automobiles, for instance. In higher education we add a lot of new techniques and new technologies, new equipment because that is the state of the art for the world, the labor market that our students are moving into.

So if we did not adopt new techniques we would be guilty essentially of educational malpractice. So we don't bring these new techniques in because they cut our cost. We bring them in because we have to keep education current to provide our students with an education that prepares them for the modern labor market.

COSTELLO: Ok so Akello I'll give you the last word, does any of this make you feel any better?

STONE: I don't think that we really are addressing the individual challenges that people have. And, I mean, for example, I know someone who just finished her master's degree and her student loan was sold from one company to another and the price is going from $400 to $900.

And the other thing that we're really not addressing is the student loans that people take out is also subsidizing their basic living expenses and the textbooks. It's not just going to the university. But there's a certain degree of time that you're taking away from being employed in order to be successful in college. And we're really not addressing that, like myself, the student loans that I took out help me you know eat and pay the rent.


STONE: And so it's not just paying for the school, it's paying for those things as well.

COSTELLO: Yes and you do get into trouble when you take out these private loans because you really don't know what the banks are going do with them, you know, in these times.

STONE: Yes and my loan has been sold four times in the last 15 years.

COSTELLO: Oh that's ouch. Well best of luck to you Akello and thank you Professor Feldman. We appreciate it.

STONE: Thank you.

FELDMAN: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a growing scandal and the potential for the Mayor to resign. San Diego has been down this road before though. We're going to talk to one former San Diego Mayor who was in Bob Filner's shoes almost 30 years ago.


COSTELLO: We do have breaking news and it's pretty frightening if you love nature. Yosemite National Park, that rim fire we've been talking about that's been burning outside of Yosemite. Well we have word from park rangers that fire is now burning inside the park. It's a dangerous thing because that fire has already taken 105,000 acres around Yosemite. Now it's located eight miles within the park.

Park rangers are warning campers that they may see thick black smoke and if they do get the heck out of there. And they say if you're planning a trip to Yosemite this summer, you should call the park first to see if where you're staying is safe.

Again, that huge wildfire burning out West has now entered Yosemite National Park. We'll keep a close eye on this for you and, of course, fire fighters are doing what they can.

It has been a long strange month is San Diego and in just a few hours it may be over. That's when the city council meets in a closed door session to go over a proposed deal. That deal could include Filner's resignation. But it could also force the taxpayers to pay in order to get past the sexual harassment scandal. "Filner Watch" reaches day 33 -- quite possibly the most anticipated day in this whole ordeal.

Those calling for Filner to resignation include former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock. He himself resigned back in 1985 as a campaign contribution scandal surrounded him. Roger Hedgecock joins us now.

Good morning Roger.

ROGER HEDGECOCK, FORMER SAN DIEGO MAYOR: Good morning. COSTELLO: Are you surprised this dragged on as long as it has?

HEDGECOCK: Actually I'm surprised that it's going to be over as quickly as it's going to be because we were already embroiled in a big recall campaign that would have taken many, many months to resolve.

COSTELLO: A lot of people have said that Mayor Filner is very stubborn and even though there are rumors swirling that he's agreed to a deal, that would force his resignation, he's not going to do it. What do you think?

HEDGECOCK: Well I think the city council has a big choice to make. As you pointed out in the opener there the city council has to decide whether to spend public money in effect to defend the harassment lawsuit and let Filner get off the hook on that lawsuit in return for his resignation. That's going to cause a lot of angst here in town.

But on the other hand getting past Bob Filner is the goal in the last poll at least of about 81 percent of the residents of this city. So it's something that the city council is going to wrestle with this afternoon.

COSTELLO: In your mind, what should Mayor Filner do? Should he not accept city money and just resign?

HEDGECOCK: Well, I've urged that for a number of days now because again as you pointed out, I was in this position some 28 years ago of having to realize that the bond of trust that you have to have with the voters if you're a political leader that allows you to be a political leader was shattered in my case, it is shattered now in bob Filner's case.

I came to a realization that even if I won my lawsuit, which I did eventually, it would not help the current situation of a city that was basically paralyzed. We're in that position today and Bob Filner ought to resign today.

COSTELLO: Take us into the mind of a politician because a lot of people say, I can't believe that Mayor Filner would want to stay in office knowing that 81 percent of the people of San Diego want him to resign. Why is he so stubborn? Why is he hanging on to his job?

HEDGECOCK: I think he's hanging on to a dream. The dream is he's got an agenda -- a progressive agenda of the way he wants the city go. He's been very much hand and glove with the labor unions on labor contracts and prevailing wage and issues that have been coming up in his agenda here in the city with the city council. And he's committed to this agenda and has been committed to it his entire life. It is his life's work to be here.

So it's not so much I don't think being personally stubborn. I think he's just being -- he's being very committed to what he wants to achieve. The problem is, of course, under the current circumstances, he can't achieve it.

COSTELLO: Right. The city has been paralyzed for a month now. Former San Diego mayor, Roger Hedgecock --


COSTELLO: -- thank you so much for being with me this morning.

HEDGECOCK: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Before I move on an invitation for Mayor Filner. I would love to hear your side of the story. We've reached out by e-mail and by phone and on air. I'd love to have you though in the NEWSROOM or on camera. I'll fly to San Diego. So the invite is there and the ball's in your court.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a senseless murder by all accounts -- now one of the suspects accused in a random killing find his own words looming large. Could they help explain the so-called thrill-killing of this man?


COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 50 minutes past the hour.

We have an update to a story we've been telling you about this morning. Police say they have a suspect in custody in connection with the beating death of an 88-year-old World War II veteran. Now, we don't know the young man's name yet but we do know these are the images officials sent out of the two men they were looking for. The 88-year-old Delbert Belton, "Shorty" to friends, was found beaten outside a lodge in Spokane, Washington on Wednesday night. He died Thursday morning from his injuries.

A Lebanese news agency says 29 people have been killed in bombings in Tripoli today. That's according to the head of the region's Red Cross operations. More than 500 people have been injured. Twin car bombings rocked the city in what's been called the country's bloodiest attack since the civil war that ended more than two decades. A motive for the attack remains unclear.

Chilling comments from a teenager accused of a thrill killing and the latest twist to a horrific murder in Oklahoma. Social media captures one boy's praise of violence and rants against white people. Ashleigh Banfield is talking about that topic on "LEGAL VIEW" in the next hour. Just awful.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: It's awful and a lot of people are asking why aren't we hearing more about what those tweets were given the fact that race relations in crime right now have been very big stories across this country?

And Carol, I'm just going to read you this one tweet that's causing a lot of issues. And it's from one of the kids who is suspected in this awful killing. "90 percent of white people are nasty. #hate them."

So is this a hate crime? Does it make a difference if it's a hate crime to what they're facing? And how about finding a jury? Because once you start ramping it up like this, it tends to be that people start marching in the street. That has not happened which is another issue as well.

So we're going to dig into a lot of the parts of this story -- Carol. It's definitely troubling any angle you look at it.

COSTELLO: That's for sure. Ashleigh Banfield, we look forward to it. Thank you.

BANFIELD: Thank you Carol.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Ben Affleck will be the new Batman but is he bad enough to play the bat? Why some critics don't think so.


COSTELLO: That was my favorite Batman. But there is a new Batman in town. Warner Brothers announced Ben Affleck will play the Dark Knight opposite Superman in a sequel to "Man of Steel".

Not very many people are happy about this. Here's CNN's Tori Dunnan with more.


TORI DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The last time we saw Ben Affleck in the role of a superhero was in the 2003 box office flop "Dare Devil". Now he's taking on the role of Batman ending weeks of rumors about who would play the caped crusader in the yet to be named action movie pairing Superman and Batman. It's a big caped cowl and utility belt to fill to say the least -- worn by the likes of Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney.

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: This is why Superman works alone.

DUNNAN: Christian Bale also played Batman --

CHRISTIAN BALE, ACTOR: You made a serious mistake.

DUNNAN: -- in three different flicks.

BALE: And you've got the genuine you know rage-filled monster that becomes Batman.

DUNNAN: In a news release from Warner Brothers filmmaker Zach Schneider says Affleck has quote, "The acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retains the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne.

He'll star opposite "Man of Steel" Henry Cavill who will reprise his role as Clark Kent and Superman.

HENRY CAVILL, ACTOR: A lot of it is just standard timing. I was kind of the right age, I had the right look and I fit into this particular director's vision of what the story was. DUNNAN: But in this case some especially in the Twitter verse think the Affleck casting comes straight out of left field. Entertainer Will Wheaton tweets "Really looking forward to seeing Affleck bring the depth and gravitas to Batman that he brought to 'Dare Devil' and 'Gigli.'"

The next question is who will be the villain?

Tori Dunnan, CNN, Los Angeles.


COSTELLO: I was just laughing about that tweet.

Thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashley Banfield starts now.