The students coming to the White House tonight will be met by the 'Inflatable Dome,' a virtual universe that displays a realistic virtual show of the galaxies. (Photo Credit: Erika Dimmler/CNN)
WASHINGTON (CNN) - One hundred and forty lucky middle school aged students are headed to the South Lawn at the White House this evening for a night of star gazing with President Obama – but this time, the proceedings have nothing to do with Hollywood royalty.
Tonight's festivities will target a very specific age group, one that typically succumbs to peer pressure and tends to move away from science and technology. According to former astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, who was on the South Lawn for a preview and will be there this evening, 'this reminds them that science is cool, and tonight's event might let them hold onto that interest' going into high school and college.
The students from local middle schools in Washington, DC and Virginia who are coming to the White House tonight will be met by the 'Inflatable Dome,' a virtual universe that displays a realistic virtual show of the galaxies, as well as roughly twenty telescopes scattered about the lawn and pointed toward the heavens. Max Mutchler, a Hubble scientist, will be manning the Odyssey 8 telescope. Beyond the stars and the Earth's own moon, according to Mutchler, the big draw this evening will be Jupiter and its moons, specifically the four brightest orbs - the same moons that Galileo first saw over 400 years ago - and the cloud structures that surround them.
As for Dr. Ride and her fondest memories of her time in space, she told CNN that "launch is something absolutely spectacular, no astronaut ever forgets it. And the view back at earth. It's an absolutely spectacular view, and it gave me a different appreciation for the planet, the fragility of the planet and the importance of protecting it. And the appreciation that we live someplace that is unique."
The hope for tonight is that some students will realize it too.
In the latest installment of CNN=Politics Daily: National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin broke the story on CNN - credit card customers are facing difficult choices over mkaing ends meet after sudden spikes in their minimum monthly payments. Yellin reports on what some Members of Congress are doing to discourage banks from targeting consumers before a new law takes effect.
Meanwhile: On the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invastion of Afghanistan, President Obama met again Wednesday with advisers at the White House as they hash out Obama's next steps in the war torn country. Senior White House correspondent Ed Henry reports on what Obama is considering.
Finally: Vice President Biden has his own view about what the approach should be in Afghanistan. Brian Todd has the scoop on what the vice president is saying and why he thinks Pakistan is the greater threat to U.S security.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) - Congressional Republicans intensified their calls Wednesday for powerful House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel of New York to resign his post heading the committee, at least temporarily.
Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, introduced a motion that would have forced Rangel to step down during an ongoing ethics investigation into his finances and activities.
House Democrats responded by voting to shut off debate and instead send the resolution to the House Ethics Committee, where the matter has sat for a year. The move to effectively kill the resolution by sending it to the committee passed on a mostly party-line 246-153 vote.
The vote has no significant effect but shows Republicans are turning up the heat on Rangel and hoping to score political points by highlighting the ethics probe.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Promising to get the "economy moving again," Connecticut Republican Senate hopeful Tom Foley released his first television ad Wednesday.
The ad entitled "Cycle", a referrence to what Foley calls a "vicious cycle" of contributions and political favors flowing between special interest groups and politicians, says longtime Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd is "one of the worst offenders."
Suggesting that Connecticut does not need another career politician, in the 30-second spot, Foley highlights his 25 years as a businessman.
The Foley campaign would not release details about the amount of ad dollars supporting "Cycle," but the campaign tells CNN the new ad is running statewide.
Foley, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, is one of 7 Republican candidates vying for Dodd's seat.
The Connecticut primary will take place August 10.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Rudy Giuliani will support former eBay CEO Meg Whitman's California gubernatorial bid, her campaign announced Wednesday.
Giuliani, a former Republican presidential candidate who is mulling his own run for governor in New York, called Whitman "simply the best person to lead our country's largest state."
"Meg's disciplined focus on creating jobs, cutting wasteful spending and improving education is the right course for California," Giuliani said in a statement. "I also believe that Meg Whitman can help reenergize the grassroots of the Republican Party."
The current California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is term-limited. Whitman will face State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former Rep. Tom Campbell in the 2010 Republican primary.
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) - U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan met Wednesday with a group of teens who were schoolmates of a Chicago youth brutally beaten to death last month.
"I can't tell you how impressed I am. We had a great conversation," Duncan said at a news conference. "These are kids that are overcoming odds that folks in this room have a hard time even comprehending."
He and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also met with Chicago's mayor and community leaders to discuss possible remedies for violent crimes involving young people.
The Cabinet members' visit, ordered by President Obama, was prompted by the beating death of Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old honors student. Authorities said Derrion was caught, unwittingly, in the middle of a street fight between two factions of students from Christian Fenger Academy High School on September 24.
The beating was videotaped with a cell phone.
His death was not an isolated incident: More than 30 youths died violently in Chicago last school year.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The amended version of the Senate Finance Committee's health care bill will cost $829 billion over the next ten years, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, had estimated that the revised bill would cost roughly $900 billion.
Before the bill was amended, the CBO projected that the Finance Committee bill would cost $774 billion; Baucus estimated that it would cost $856 billion.
The Finance Committee recently boosted the bill's overall price tag in part by voting to exempt senior citizens from higher taxes on medical expenses.
WASHINGTON (CNN)- President Barack Obama's national security team will begin discussing the number of troops needed in Afghanistan as early as this Friday, according to a White House spokesman.
In an unusual move, the president asked for and received the "informal" request by the top commander in Afghanistan which outlined how many more troops and resources Gen. Stanley McChrystal needed to implement his preferred Afghanistan strategy, the Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday. Obama received the request on Thursday, a day before he met with McChrystal in Copenhagen.
The discussion of troop levels appears to be a departure from the administration insistance that the Afghanistan strategy must be decided before any resources can be considered. The White House's spokesman said the introduction of troop levels did not mean resource levels were being decided first.
"One has to develop and get the strategy before one can figure out the resources one needs to get it," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "We are not pre-judging the outcome of the discussion based on some range of resources."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A Democratic congresswoman is calling on credit card companies to stop hiking interest rates before President Obama's credit card bill goes into effect next year.
Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colorado, led a group of 18 House members in sending a letter to the country's major credit card companies on Wednesday urging them to avoid "unreasonably raising rates" before Obama's Credit CARD Act goes into effect in February 2010.
"The implementation of these necessary reforms should not be taken as an indication that the industry should take advantage of consumers now before the prohibitions come into effect," Markey said in the letter.
The new bill adds more restrictions on when credit card companies can raise fees and interest rates, and specifically bans them from increasing rates unless a customer is more than 60 days late in paying a bill. But until then, consumers can still face rate hikes - and Markey said constituents told her the practice had picked up speed as the deadline approached.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Supreme Court offered conflicting concerns Wednesday over a cross, erected as a war memorial, that sits on national parkland in the Mojave Desert and whether it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
Conservative members of the bench suggested that Congress acted properly when it tried to transfer land around the Mojave Memorial Cross to veterans groups, an effort to eliminate any Establishment Clause violation. A federal appeals panel had blocked that land swap.
"Isn't that a sensible interpretation" of a federal court injunction banning the display on government property, Justice Samuel Alito asked.
But Justice Stephen Breyer was adamant that the government had not acted in good faith. "You are violating this injunction" that ordered removal of the cross, he told the government's lawyer.
The swing vote - as he is in many hot-button issues - may be Justice Anthony Kennedy, who questioned attorneys on both sides but did not indicate how he was leaning.