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Deal to Keep Tax Cut in Place; Slaughter in Syria Spreading; Fake Cancer Drug Warning; L.A. Mayor To Chair DNC

Aired February 15, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you and welcome to EARLY START.

I'm Ashleigh Banfield.


We are bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 5:00 in the East. So, let's get started here.

So, you are on the verge of keeping your paycheck a little bit fatter. A deal is almost final on extending the payroll tax cut for the entire year. I'm not sure if it's going to happen, though. We're going to get Christine Romans to weigh in on that.

And what it will mean for your monthly budget as well.

BANFIELD: And also, you've heard it before, you're going to hear it again. Lin-sanity. Look at that.

SAMBOLIN: What a moment.

BANFIELD: Yes, that's some excitement, leading the Knicks to a 17-point comeback over the Raptors. All of this in just the last second. That wonderful three-pointer -- look at this place going bananas.

We're going to talk a little bit more about what Lin-sanity means coming up.

SAMBOLIN: Even Toronto loves him, that's where they were playing.

So, we have new details on Whitney Houston, a report of a drug investigation now. Folks really want to say their goodbyes but they're saying, the family is saying there's no Michael Jackson-like farewell scheduled for her. They will have a small service at her childhood church.

BANFIELD: Also, it was such a big story. Amanda Knox being cleared and heaving Italy after having spent several years in prison.

Guess what? Story may not be over, the prosecutors want a second crack and they are appealing that conviction being overturned. Could she be headed back to Italy? Could she be going back to jail? We'll let you know all about that.

SAMBOLIN: Incredible story.

BANFIELD: Amazing.

SAMBOLIN: Tough on the family.

Up first here, Congress on the verge of allowing you to keep more of your money. Negotiators reached a tentative deal to extend the payroll tax cut for the rest of the year, as well as unemployment insurance. But it is still not a done deal. It could get the endorsement of a House/Senate Conference Committee today.

BANFIELD: This is all happening after Republicans really backed off on that big demand for measures to pay for this tax holiday ending. Some Republicans are still saying, you know what, this is still thieving from our future generations.


REP. DENNIS ROSS (R), FLORIDA: Why are we arguing over a middle class tax cut that has been given to us for by name, to reduce the amount that we're paying into Social Security? What we should be talking about is real tax reform. We should be talking about what it's going to take to increase our revenues by broadening our economic base, by growing our economy. We're not doing that.

We need to be talking about what the American people want to hear and that's where the jobs are going to come from.


BANFIELD: Maybe that's why the reason the president is not so convinced he's actually going to get one of these deals on the his desk and says, "I'll believe it when I see it."


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't take anything for granted here in Washington, until my signature is actually on it.


SAMBOLIN: So because of this agreement, 160 million working people will keep their tax cut. About $1,000 for the average family, that's over a year. It equals $40 per paycheck.

Christine Romans is live in Atlanta.

We have a new poll out about the payroll tax. Tell us what Americans are saying about it.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, ladies. Americans are saying they want to keep their extra money in their paycheck. Some 54 percent of people polled say they approve of passing favoring the payroll tax cut for all American workers. Only 42 percent oppose it.

We keep talking about this $40 per paycheck number. I want to be clear about that. That's if you make $50,000 a year, you're going to take home about $40 extra a paycheck. You did last year too, so it means now you wouldn't see, you know, less money in your paycheck.

And it looks like this agreement would be for the rest of the year. The president of course yesterday as you guys pointed out was a little bit cautious, saying he'll believe when it he finally signs it. But it looks -- all indications are Republicans and Democrats have found common ground on this payroll tax cut, just not paying for it. They're going to let it happen without paying for it.

But at least through the end of the year, in an election year, they don't want 160 million working Americans to have a tax increase, ladies.

BANFIELD: There's a couple of other negotiations ongoing as well that don't necessarily have to do with payroll tax cut extensions, but more like unemployment, et cetera.

ROMANS: Right. And also there's something that's called the doc fix, which is how much doctors are reimbursed by Medicare for services, Medicare services. Both of these things will have to be paid for.

So, what you're seeing is arguments among Democrats and Republicans about how to do that.

There had been some talk ladies among Republicans about maybe for those extended unemployment benefits, you have to have drug testing or some sort of -- kinds of testing to see if you would be eligible to have more unemployment benefits. Not sure if that's going to fly. It just shows you on al of these issues there's still a lot of wrangling about these other issues, about how to get them paid for because -- again, we're running huge deficits and Republicans are saying, we can't -- we can't keep going on like this, temporary emergency measures over and over and over again, because we have to pay for it eventually.

BANFIELD: Yes. Is that what they call kicking the can officially?

ROMANS: Yes, they kicked the can so far, I don't think anybody knows what a can is anymore. But you know, now --

BANFIELD: The toe starts to hurt.

ROMANS: I know. I mean, look. But it's an election year so everything, you know -- it's an election year.

BANFIELD: Christine Romans. More on that later from you, I hope.

ROMANS: Yes, you got it.

BANFIELD: OK, my friend. When are you coming back, by the way?

ROMANS: Tomorrow.

BANFIELD: Oh, good.

ROMANS: Can we get donuts? Let's get donuts. I need donuts.

SAMBOLIN: That's a little complicated at this hour of the morning. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.

BANFIELD: Donuts for the skinny girls. Go for it.

Christine, thanks for that.

SAMBOLIN: It's five minutes past the hour here.

Syria on the brink of a full-scale war this morning with the slaughter of civilians. It is now spreading across the country. We have live pictures from Homs.

Look at that black smoke. It's from a bombed oil pipeline. Government troops say that they are intensifying shelling in that area. It is by the government troops.

Opposition says four dead already this morning, 49 killed Tuesday.

And reports also of government snipers on the street corners in Homs. Government attacks are spreading across Syria now.

BANFIELD: And even though there are other neighborhoods, other communities and other cities that are being hit, Homs is still the focus.

Look at the dots. This is where the attacks are coming in, at least the reports from opposition members.

Homs is still really bearing the brunt of it. Some of the other cities, though, Daraa, and also, Damascus, the capital.

At this point the question becomes, should the United States step in? That's been bandied about but it hasn't been put to the U.S. Now, it is.

Look at these numbers. The latest polling shows that an overwhelming number of Americans oppose doing anything about aiding those Syrians who are so desperate, 3-1. It's really remarkable.

The question, do we have a responsibility? And that overwhelming answer: no. Probably because we've kind of been there before and it hasn't worked out well.

SAMBOLIN: It's tough, though. It's tough to watch all of those impanels. A lot of people are weighing in on that. It's just difficult to see.

We've heard Syrian troops are using civilians as human shields. Now video proof of that. Listen to reporting from Nick Paton Walsh.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There had been reports the army was using detained civilians as human shields to prevent opposition militants shooting at them. And now, a video, the authenticity of which we can't confirm, seems to show that.

Slowly they crouch. Then kneel. A child's voice behind the camera muttering, "Oh, mom, will they shoot them? Look, look."

The soldiers advance down the road. They then lie flat.


BANFIELD: It's so disturbing. And our Nick Paton Walsh joins us live now from Beirut in neighboring Lebanon.

Obviously in Beirut, Lebanon, because it is just so lethal to be reporting from inside Syria.

Nick, one of the reports I heard this morning is ringing so loud to me that these people inside Syria, these opposition members, are so desperate, they're now suggesting they would accept help from Israel?

WALSH: I'm sure it will feel that level of desperation. I spoke to an activist inside Homs in a district of Baba Amr which has obviously borne the brunt of the artillery onslaught. As we spoke again this morning, I think actually more than yesterday, we heard artillery shells thump in around him.

Let me just bring up now that picture of the skyline live around Baba Amr, showing the thick, black smoke from an oil pipeline that's been hit. The Syrian military, Syrian government, say that was the sabotage of Free Syrian Army.

Omar, who I spoke to in Baba Amr, said this was an air strike by the Syrian military. Deeply distressing if they are now using jets against that area. It's been pounded heavily now for 11 days.

Hundreds dead. Omar referring to how actually there are now 100 people trying to shelter underground. Just simply trying to eke out a life as they say they've been punished now intensely by this very well-equipped military surrounding them.

BANFIELD: You know, Nick, it occurred to me at one point, I haven't heard a lot from Hezbollah. Now, a lot of people in America equate Hezbollah with a big terrorist group. But in where you are, in your neck of the woods, Hezbollah is a -- almost like a charitable organization.

Has Hezbollah weighed in on either side of this? Are they trying to aid some of these people? Where do they stand?

WALSH: Openly, it's been very clear that Lebanon wants to stay neutral. It's been very clear they want to keep out of this.

Maybe there are private channels and systems, certainly there's enough kinship on both sides of the border between Lebanon and Syria, families who know each other, that yes, of course, aid is going through. I'm not sure also that constitutes a military sense. There was actually a shipment of weapons stopped on the border between Lebanon and Syria recently, a small one we understand.

So, there are signs of that but certainly here where Hezbollah are and have been for a while, a quiet predominant political force, pretty much since 2006 when they defeated Israel so strongly defending this country against what many saw here as an Israeli attack, Hezbollah haven't really put themselves in the forefront of this at all. And it remains very much a struggle of the Syrian people.

BANFIELD: It seems like they can't get help from friends or enemies. They're just so lost -- these people in Syria.

Nick Paton Walsh, thanks very much. Appreciate that.

Back here at home, there are some new details in the investigation into Whitney Houston's death. Police zeroing in on all those prescription medications that were found in her hotel room with her where she drowned.

"The Los Angeles Times" saying investigators are now expected to subpoena some of her doctors and pharmacies that supplied some of those drugs to her maybe wind the next couple of days, in fact. Information about that and the medications might start coming in in this investigation.

SAMBOLIN: And also new this morning, Whitney Houston will not be mourned at a large public memorial. The family is said to hold a private invitation-only service. It is scheduled Saturday at the childhood church where she first began her singing.

New Hope Baptist Church, that's in Newark, New Jersey, and it seats only 1,500 people. Many fans are really disappointed about this news. They had hoped to pay their respects to the international star.

The New Hope pastor defends the family's decision to CNN's Jason Carroll.


PASTOR JOE CARTER, NEW HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH: The family knows that they have to share Whitney with the world. They're not -- they're not ignoring that. But at the same time, it's such a -- the shock of it. And I shared with them, no decision is a wrong decision at this time. It's just however they feel to do it.


SAMBOLIN: A tough line. Susan Candiotti is live in Newark, New Jersey, for us with the very latest.

Susan, I have to tell you -- I passed by the Apollo Theater yesterday in Harlem and there was a memorial to Whitney. The fans feel like they need to say good-bye. Are there any plans or any talk about that potentially happening?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this might be as close as they'll be able to get, and that is outside the church. You see the flowers, the balloons, the signs to her.

But there is talks, Zoraida, of the possibility of putting up a big jumbo screen or a big screen outside. That, of course, would entail having a camera inside on this invitation-only celebration of her life. There will be a lot of grieving going on, but in fact fans might be able to see what's going on from the outside.

You know, a lot of people believe that she belongs to Newark and East Orange and this area, fans from here and abroad. And they'd like to be a part of it.

But for now, no big event at a public arena will be scheduled at this time. And the funeral director says that's just the way the family wants it.


CAROLYN WHIGHAM, FUNERAL DIRECTOR, WHIGHAM FUNERAL HOME: They have shared her for 30-some years, with the city, with the state, with the world. This is their time now for their farewell.


CANDIOTTI: And, of course, Governor Christie here in New Jersey has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at government buildings on Saturday when that private funeral and burial will be held.

SAMBOLIN: We called it an invitation-only funeral. Do we know who potentially is on that list?

CANDIOTTI: Well, certainly I think it's fair to say that obviously family members and big-name celebrities who were the closest to her. Of course, her aunt will be there, her cousins -- you know, of course a number of people that we've been hearing from in the last few days are widely expected to be here, both from this local area, many celebrities who knew her and worked with her, as well as those no doubt from Los Angeles.

SAMBOLIN: And just lastly, very quickly here, the investigation that is ongoing, zeroing in now on the prescription pills?

CANDIOTTI: That's right. They are.

And that's pretty standard operating procedure. You know, her friends have said she hasn't used any hard drugs for a few years, but certainly we do know she was taking at the very least Xanax, which is an anti-anxiety drug, as well as some medication for her throat.

But that in combination with what friends said that she'd been drinking champagne, for example, earlier that day, a party before. And that can be a lethal combination.

But again, we must stress we don't know what caused her to drown in the bathtub, whether it was from an overdose or some other medical reason.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Susan Candiotti live for us in Newark, New Jersey -- thank you.

BANFIELD: It sure brings back those memories of Anna Nicole Smith's death. We waited and waited for toxicology results. Once you get cause of death, you get manner of death and that's where investigators really start to zero in.

SAMBOLIN: Ongoing, you know, it's just so sad.

BANFIELD: It is for everybody -- everyone involved.

And we are going to switch gears only because there's some potential weather issues. Possible thunderstorms? Thunder bombinating in some communities, is that right, Rob?

SAMBOLIN: Bombinating.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We do have a threat down South. You know, it feels a little bit like spring in spots, but it will feel like winter in spots before this week is done.

Speaking of winter, some shots out of Arizona. The southwest corner of the U.S. yesterday got a little bit of it, you bet. Especially north of, what is that, Tucson? Oh, yes, come on, bring it.

Places like Flagstaff got five, six inches. But that's kind of normal. To get snow in Tucson -- that's not so normal. Cold air driving through the Southwest.

It was 40 degrees and raining in Las Vegas yesterday. So that's miserable. Gives you an idea of that cold air all the way down to the Mexican border.

All right, look at that rainfall across parts of the Northeast right now, especially in the New York City area, that will go away fairly quickly. A little bit of light rain across parts of midsection. But fog's an issue in Atlanta and other spots across parts of the South.

New York metro, you'll see some delays because of the showers and the fog in Atlanta and Chicago and also the threat for thunderstorms, as you mentioned, across the South, including Dallas. But mostly Houston, through Lake Charles, Beaumont, Texas, into New Orleans later on today -- the threat for seeing some damaging storms with that, maybe an isolated tornado.

There's the warming-up of the atmosphere, 74 expected in Dallas, spring or kind of.

BANFIELD: Do you think bombinating might be the word of the day today?

MARCIANO: I didn't. Is it?

SAMBOLIN: I have a dictionary. I keep it with me all the time.

BANFIELD: Word of the day: bombinate -- courtesy of our crew.


MARCIANO: All right. Well, I might add that to the weather technical terms here.

SAMBOLIN: Bombinating, tweet it out, Mr. Marciano.

MARCIANO: All right. You got it.

BANFIELD: A thank you to our illustrious crew that supplies us with these extraordinarily difficult words every day.

SAMBOLIN: You know what? You step up and you deliver every day. So, good for you.

BANFIELD: It makes me sound erudite but I'm not. All right.

SAMBOLIN: We're expanding our vocabulary.

It's 16 minutes past the hour.

Wobbling off with best in show. The judges named their top dog at the Westminster dog show at Madison Square Garden.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Best in show at the 136th Annual Westminster Kennel Club, America's dog show, is -- the Pekingese.


BANFIELD: Look at that cutie patootie.

SAMBOLIN: The cutie patootie's name: Malachi. He is a Pekingese, won best in show.

BANFIELD: Best in show.

SAMBOLIN: Frizzy hair.

BANFIELD: That's the big prize. It doesn't get better than this, folks. He beat out the Dalmatian -- look how cute. Sorry. Also beat out the German Shepherd, the Doberman Pinscher, the wire- haired dachshund.

They don't get any cash for this, in case you're wondering how coveted this prize is. It's a big deal because you get a silver bowl and you get a lot, a lot, a lot of breeding opportunities which I suppose in dog world can equate into a lot of the prize money.

SAMBOLIN: A face only a mother can love.

BANFIELD: I know, right.

SAMBOLIN: Seventeen minutes past the hour.

Ahead on EARLY START, Jeremy Lin -- look, look -- does it again. Lin-sanity is spreading across the globe.

BANFIELD: He finds the twine. Is that what they say? I don't know, I'm guessing.

So if he's excited, this guy's getting excited too because he is soaring in the polls. It's Santor-ium. No, I'm making that up. But it's a pretty exciting time for Rick Santorum as he pulls ahead of Romney straight across the country and the critical states that are upcoming.

Bu has class warfare broken out among the GOP? You'll find the numbers rather intriguing.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Oh, good morning Washington. But this song is all about Canada. Kind of. It's from Canada, anyway.

Loverboy singing us in with "The Kid Is Hot Tonight." I wonder if that refers to Santorum. He's been doing pretty well lately.

SAMBOLIN: I think it's Lin.

BANFIELD: Jeremy Lin, of course. Of course, you'd have to be another foreigner, right? Jeremy Lin has been having a real good time in the last, what, five games.

SAMBOLIN: Doing just amazing.

Yes, yes, we're going to focus on him in a moment here.

Twenty-one minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

Congress reaching a tentative agreement to extend the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for another year.

BANFIELD: Syria on the brink of a full-scale civil war. Government troops killed 53 more civilians since yesterday. The violence now spreading to other cities across that country.

SAMBOLIN: Rick Santorum soaring. Republican voters now view him more favorably than Mitt Romney in a new CNN/ORC poll.

BANFIELD: Can you say he's Santor-ing?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, that's a good one.

BANFIELD: He's having as good a time as Lin is having, because Lin-sanity is sweeping across. Now, it's sweeping across international borders with Loverboy singing about him.

Jeremy Lin turning into a Tebow-like phenomenon you might say and he kind of did it again last night. Have a peek-a-boo at this and you'll know what we're talking about.

This is the game-winning basket. Look at him, a three-pointer. At least I'm told that's a three-pointer. He did it, look at that, 1.5 seconds to go.

SAMBOLIN: The New York Knicks beat the Toronto Raptors 90-87 because of that. Look at this, though. The Toronto fans were cheering for Lin. The Knicks now have won six in a row with Lin at the helm.

Now, listen to Lin right after the game.


JEREMY LIN, POINT GUARD, NEW YORK KNICKS: I think it's a miracle from God is the way I described it. Just because obviously -- I don't think anybody expected this to happen.


SAMBOLIN: Joining us now, L.Z. Granderson, contributor and senior writer at ESPN.

Good morning to you.

L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning to you. How are you?

SAMBOLIN: I'm doing well.

OK. So we just finished watching Lin and what he said afterwards. And he thanked God and called it a miracle. And I was reading somewhere online that he says after he retires from the NBA, he would like to be a pastor.

Let's talk about his religion.

GRANDERSON: You know, it's a great source of inspiration for him. Obviously, when you're having a difficult time, he didn't get any scholarship offers out of high school, he wasn't drafted out of Harvard. So, any time you're having that sort of difficulty catching on to your dream, you lean to whatever you can. And for him, it's his faith, and I think it's a great thing.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of people are comparing him to Tebow.

GRANDERSON: You know, definitely in terms of the sort of way that he talks about his faith and he talks about his relationship with God.

On an athletic side, though, they're not similar at all. Tebow, that's Florida, one of the greatest football players of all-time, was drafted in the first round. Whereas I said before, the man wasn't even offered a college scholarship, went undrafted. So there are some differences.

But certainly in terms of faith, there are similarities.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Let's talk about that, because there were no expectations of this guy. You know, 6'3". So, in the NBA world, he's not a tall guy.

A lot of folks when he was playing in college, even though he did well at Harvard, I think it was a coach from Harvard who said, I never expected him to get to the NBA.

What was it? What was that turning point for him? We just started hearing about him kind of overnight.

GRANDERSON: Yes. You know, there have been reports that of all the players, Carmelo Anthony was one in the Knicks room there that was asking D'Antoni to play Lin. And so, you know, certainly there were some people who saw some potential in him.

And I was joking with Rick Wilson (ph) in Golden State Warriors who had him and cut him, he said we were smart enough to sign him, weren't smart enough to keep him. So, you know, it's coming out of nowhere. And as I said, it's a great story. And is it a miracle from God? Well, you know, it's hard to argue not.

SAMBOLIN: Well, do you think he can keep this momentum? Is it just sheer, raw talent that nobody identified early on?

GRANDERSON: You know, it's a combination of things. One, the Knicks were a desperate team. You know, they had just lost two players, hadn't been playing well together, they couldn't find a point guard to run the system. He fit into a system with the right talent to make it work.

Can he keep it going? You know, a lot of that is going to depend upon, one, how he adjusts once the teams adjust to him. And then two, once Carmelo Anthony gets back, what happens with the three of them, with Amare Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin, and Carmelo Anthony.

SAMBOLIN: I was on Lin's Facebook page this morning, he said he was sleeping on the couch of one of his teammates, what's that all about?

GRANDERSON: Well, you know, his contract wasn't guaranteed up until, you know, a couple of days ago. So, at any moment, he could have been cut and he was just being frugal, which again speaks to his character as a person.

You know, a lot of players even if they didn't get a lot of money would go out and get a big place, whether the money's guaranteed or not. And he was just being smart with his money.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh.

All right. So, some controversy the other day was tweeted out from former boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. This is what he tweeted, "Jeremy Lin is a good player, but all the hype is because he is Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise."

Later, he said that he was saying it in support of black athletes. Some racial undertones there, right, L.Z.? What do you make of that?

GRANDERSON: Well, you know, I've written about Floyd Mayweather in the past and he said some very racist things about Manny Pacquiao not too long ago and this just kind of correlates with that.

You know, we have to keep in mind to listen to the messenger and look who the messenger is, and he's a boxer. And I'm not trying to say all boxers are idiots but let's face it. He's boxing (ph) for a living. And what he said just wasn't very smart.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, I've got to ask you because you know your sports. Is this the next phenom?

GRANDERSON: You know, only time will tell. You know, he's had a great run. In order to be a phenom, you have to have more than just a great run.

So, what we're looking now -- what we will be looking towards the future is whether or not he can sustain this, as you asked before. But, also, how does he blend in with the other players once they all return healthy? And then, finally, how do they adjust once the rest of the NBA adjusts to his game? Can he still do what he's doing once they figure him out?

SAMBOLIN: Well, the guys here are saying, give me 24 more games and he's my phenom.

L.Z., thank you for joining us via Skype this morning. We appreciate it.

GRANDERSON: Hey. Thank you very much for having me.

BANFIELD: And still ahead, you're not going to like this more than likely. Iran is making big announcements about its nuclear project and it has to do with fuel rods functioning and being loaded into reactors today. We'll explain what's happening there.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's 31 minutes past the hour. Time to check top stories for you this morning. Let's start with this.


BANFIELD (voice-over): A tentative deal in place to extend money for you. The payroll tax cut for the rest of the year. Anyway, still, this could fall through the cracks. We're still not sure if it's going to be a done deal, but the House Senate Committee is going to meet about all of this today. So, stay tuned.

Also in the news, Whitney Houston's funeral, invite-only. , for a lot of her fans, this is going to be at her childhood church in Newark this Saturday. That's, of course, in Jersey where she's from. Family decided not to have a big public service in the 19,000-seat prudential center.

And some new video that appears to show Syrian troops using civilians. Look to the left of the tank. Take a look at this. As human shields, as they move neighborhood to neighborhood, shelling and killing civilians there. Government troops now killing more than now 53 civilians since yesterday. The violence now spreading right the country.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Roche, the maker of the cancer-drug, Avastin, is sounding the alert about fake vials of the drug that have been distributed in the United States. Roche said that the fake products do not contain a key ingredient which is used to treat colon, lung, kidney, and brain cancer. We're going to talk to our medical correspondent later about that.

And Rick Santorum now says he's talking to the secret service about protection. This after a rally in Washington State where occupy protesters had to be dragged away.

Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, will be named chairman of the Democratic National Convention. That is set for the September in charlotte, North Carolina. Sources say the official announcement will be made today.


BANFIELD (on-camera): We've got a developing story out of Iran overnight. Apparently, there is to be a major step forward in the nuclear program in that country, and it's all supposed to be laid out today. Our Reza Sayah is monitoring the story from Islamabad, Pakistan. This all has to do, Reza, with the fuel rods.

They're planning to actually get them into a functioning reactor today and a lot of people always wonder whether this is Iran posturing again, exaggerating again, or if this is something really to be concerned about. What is the story?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's two narratives. Iran is definitely going to use this opportunity, use this day to send a message to the west that it's pressing forward with what it calls a peaceful nuclear program. The message is that they're not going to be deterred by the calls for possible war or the economic sanctions.

Of course, you're going to have leaders in Israel, and Washington in the west. They're going to point to this as an example of why they should be concerned about Iran's capability of building a bomb in the near future. We should point out that none of what's happening today is a surprise to anyone. They'd announced it to the world long ago.

They'd announced it to the IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog, that they were going to do this. Even so, you're going to have the finger- pointing going on. Two things happening. We're expecting the announcements today, the nuclear fuel rods inside a cancer research facility in Tehran.

And also, they're planning on announcing the start of operations and the controversial uranium enrichment facility, the underground facility in (INAUDIBLE) which is outside the holy city of Qum. So, with this announcement, Ashleigh, get ready for the information war to heighten in the next 24 hours with both sides pointing a lot of fingers.

BANFIELD: OK. Reza Sayah, I know you'll keep an eye on that for us. But obviously, whether it's posturing or not, Ahmadinejad is going to be front and center so that he can get his photo-op in front of all of that. Thanks very much. Reza Sayah live in Pakistan for us.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-five minutes past the hour. Here ahead on EARLY START, Santorum surging in the polls. What did you call it earlier, Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: I don't know. San-toria? Something crazy. Don't Google it. Just don't Google it.

SAMBOLIN: Very strong support from women and blue collar workers for him. Class and gender warfare erupting within the Republican Party now? We have some interesting poll numbers we're going to share with you.

BANFIELD: And also, do you ever worry when you go through airport security that your stuff might get ahead of you and someone might actually, what, take my watch? Yes. Take a pic. Brazen thief caught on tape. It's nice nothing caught (ph) in my basket. We're going to find out a little more about how this went down and what happened to that guy on your video screen. Hi, smile, you're on candid camera.


BANFIELD: Good morning, Pittsburgh. Christina Aguilera waking you up this morning with "Soar." Thirty-three degrees in Pittsburgh. Soaring, well, soaring to 39, soaring to 39 degrees, but there's a reason for the music "Soar" this morning. SAMBOLIN: Yes. With less than two weeks to go before the Michigan and Arizona primaries, Rick Santorum is, indeed, soaring. And he says that Romney is getting desperate. He expects to do very well in the next two contests. And it looks like he could pull off a huge win in Romney's home state. Perhaps, it will happen.

So, a new CNN/ORC national poll asked Republicans their choice for nominee. Look at this folks, Santorum 34 percent, Romney 32 percent. Here in New York, the New Jersey assembly GOP leader, Jon Bramnick. He is in Atlanta, independent political analyst, Goldie Taylor, is joining us this morning, and Washington, Democratic strategist, Jamie Harrison.

Our lovely political panel. Thank you for being here this morning. Goldie, I'm going to begin with you. Santorum gets evangelicals, Tea Partiers and men. Romney gets women, not born- agains, and Tea Party neutral people. But take a look at this. Less people said that they are satisfied in the field in general now.

And the question was, are you satisfied with the field of presidential candidates? So, in October, the yes was 66 percent. Now, it's 55 percent. In October, 33 percent, now 44 percent. How much of the divide is a fundamental difference in philosophy?

GOLDIE TAYLOR, MANAGING EDITOR, THE GOLDIE TAYLOR PROJECT: I think the truth is at the outset, people weren't very satisfied with the field, but the number one goal for this crop of Republicans was to defeat President Obama. You know, as the campaign wore on and we got to know a lot more about these candidates, the dissatisfaction grew, because they've really sort of tilted further and further to the right.

I don't know if having Tea Party support or having, you know, strong evangelical base will be enough for Rick Santorum to win this race, but he certainly is very, very good in the sand box. It is tough for Mitt Romney to get out on the campaign trail, say the right things, say the right believable things to get conservatives behind him in a real and meaningful way.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. So, let's talk about that, Jon. Santorum reinforcing the populist tone to his campaign. Listen to what he said yesterday about the Obama administration.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't you see how they see you? How they look down their nose at the average Americans? These elite snobs.


SAMBOLIN: So, it seems to be working when we're looking at the blue collar vote. Take a look at this. Santorum is the number one choice. So, it only reinforces the fundamental Romney problem, right, that he can't connect with people. Here's a man who comes from a father who as self-made man and he, himself, has said repeatedly that he was not given his privilege, that he earned it. He worked for it. Why is it that he can't get that message to connect with voters?

JON BRAMNICK, GOP LEADER, NEW JERSEY ASSEMBLY: I think he does, actually, connect with voters. This is a prize fight. There's certain rounds he loses or he gets hit a little bit, then he swings back, but every time there's been a challenge, he's come through in the end. When Newt Gingrich rallied, Mitt Romney came back.

This is another rally. At the end, Mitt Romney's going to be the candidate. If you were micromanaged by the media, the media's watching you day in and day out, you're going to see fluctuations. End of the day, he's a winner.

SAMBOLIN: So, Jon, you may be right, because, Jamie, this is what we're going to deal with here. Santorum shouldn't be too pleased, at least not yet. Despite support, right, 68 percent say Romney is going to win the nomination. That's 68 percent of Republicans. Polls are all well and good, but at the end of the day, people go into the voting booth, right, and they want to determine who is the best candidate to beat Obama.

Should he be worried at the stage of the game, Santorum, that he is not that candidate, that people don't trust that he's going to be successful?

JAIME HARRISON, FORMER EXEC. DIR., HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: Yes, I don't think so. This is just another round of political whack a mole in the Republican primary. You know, we just wait a day, and we'll see who's the new frontrunner. I think Santorum, if he can perform well during Super Tuesday, he's going to be well-positioned to possibly take this nomination.

You know, with all of these guys, I know we just said that this was a prize fight, but this is really the under card. I mean, these candidates are really the Republican rejects. Gingrich was pushed out of the speakership. Santorum lost his last Senate race. And, Romney lost his Senate race and also the last nod for the nomination last time.

So, the Republican voters aren't very excited about this group of candidates. And that's playing out in terms of the voter turnout.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, well, in the polls as well. All right. I have one last question for all of you. You need to play by the rules here. Two-word answers. I'm going to give you your options in a moment here. People say that politics have gone to the dogs, right? But not the dogs of the Westminster dog show.

Our Jeanne Moos, I don't know if you watched this, said that they are in the one percent of dogs. That's how I am attaching it to the political agenda here. So, the Pekingese Malachi won best in show beating out the analyst favorite, did you see it? If you didn't, here's the picture. Fifi, the German shepherd. Good decision, bad decision? Cute decision? Goldie. TAYLOR: Oh, cute decision.


BRAMNICK: Politically cute.


SAMBOLIN: Politically cute. All right, Jamie.

HARRISON: Bad decision.


SAMBOLIN: Bad decision. You know, I'd say that that is a face that only a mother can love.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you all for joining me this morning.

HARRISON: Thank you.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

BANFIELD: That's what my mom used to say about me.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, please.

BANFIELD: I'm teasing. I'm teasing.

SAMBOLIN: That is not true.

BANFIELD: You know, we all seem to be absolutely mesmerized by the Amanda Knox case, that she was being held in an Italian prison, and then, she was convicted of murder, and then, all of a sudden, the conviction overturned and home she came, and guess what, not so fast. Prosecutors want her back. Prosecutors are going to try to get her back. Is it going to happen? Find out.


BANFIELD: It is 47 minutes past the hour. So, hop to it. Your day's getting away from you already.


BANFIELD: We've been up since 1:00. A little giddy. Got your top stories for you now.


BANFIELD (voice-over): Congress potentially striking a deal today on that payroll tax cut, that holiday you all have been probably not noticing on your paycheck, but the lawmakers are set to extend that tax cut holiday for you as well as some unemployment benefits as well. All of this while preventing a free cut to Medicare doctors, but hold the phone, not final yet. You're going to have to watch the phone like a hawk today.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Whitney Houston's funeral will not be open to the public. Her family is holding a private invitation-only service at her childhood church in Newark this Saturday.

And OK, watch these pictures, get to your TV, see the Rolex in that bin? Somebody left it behind him. Look at this guy getting his --, oh, that's a nice Rolex. Oh, in his bin? Really? Packing it up into his pocket, walking off? Say hi to the camera. Yes, the Rolex thief was caught on camera doing this.

It's a $6,500 watch. A woman left it behind in the security bin. He just does it, look at this, it's remarkable. Does he not know that this is a very highly monitored secure area?

SAMBOLIN: She left the Rolex --


BANFIELD: Happened in Ft. Lauderdale. Cameras zeroing in on the watch --

SAMBOLIN: Maybe she was in a rush.

BANFIELD: They got it on camera. He boarded his plane to North Carolina, and authorities are still trying to identify him. But with that picture of him looking right up on camera, and he's been on CNN, and probably will be all day, I think someone might call and say, I know that dude. I hope so. Anyway, $6,500 watch. I'd be bummed.

Still ahead, that Amanda Knox trial just won't seem to go away. We all thought it was over. And now, we hear prosecutors want her back, and they're not just saying so, they're doing something about it. We'll let you know what they're doing.

SAMBOLIN: And Jeremy Lin's legend continues to grow. Look at that, last-second swish. Nothing but net. You are watching EARLY START.

BANFIELD: Nothing but nylon. Is that what you --


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 52 minutes past the hour. Italian prosecutors are not finished with Amanda Knox. She's the American student who spent four years in prison before her murder conviction was overturned.

BANFIELD: Prosecutors have now decided they're going to appeal the ruling that overturned her conviction, and they want her back in Italy, and they want her back behind bars. Her family says this is nothing short of harassment.

CNN legal contributor, Paul Callan, joins us live via Skype. Obviously, Paul, one of the first things people would say is, are you kidding me? She's not going back to Italy to face anything, or, Paul, is she?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's really going to be in part up to her and in part up to the United States in the event that the Italian Supreme Court reversed the acquittal. Now, this is an appeal, and much like an appeal through the U.S. Supreme Court, the court could reverse the situation and reinstate the conviction.

If that happened, then we'd get into matters of whether she could be extradited back to Italy if she didn't return voluntarily. So, it's going to get really complicated.

BANFIELD: That's the point I want to get to with you, because, yes, I understand we have extradition treaties with many European nations, and yes, I understand, sometimes, they are hard fought over. But look, we couldn't get Roland Polanski back here. Does anybody think that Italy can get Amanda Knox back there, treaty or no treaty?

CALLAN: Well, here's the rub on this, and it's a little bit different than the Roman Polanski situation. Of course, this is a murder case, and this is Italy. We weren't involved in Italy in the Polanski case. We were dealing with Switzerland and France. And we have a treaty with Italy that says if somebody's convicted of murder, both countries will extradite.

Now, of course, you'd have to worry about it, particularly, in a terrorism case. If we fought them on the extradition of Amanda Knox, would they refuse to extradite a convicted terrorist or something like that? So, I suppose that's something that U.S. authorities would have to worry about.

On the other hand, this conviction is so patently unjust as viewed by many American experts. I think that U.S. lawyers and the United States, itself, would fight extradition. So, this will be a pitched battle if they tell this young woman she's got to go back and serve 20 years in prison.

BANFIELD: And not only that, you know full well in the business you're in, you can't just appeal something because you don't like the outcome. There have to be these pesky little things called grounds. And usually, it's a legal problem, something didn't go right in the case. Is there something in the overturning of her verdict that quote-unquote "didn't go right," some technicality, legally speaking?

CALLAN: Well, the prosecutor says there are a number of points at which the prosecutor was treated unfairly by the judge. Now, this is a switch. Now, this is not a prosecutor saying, hey, I wasn't treated fairly, and the conviction was thrown out. Frankly, in my view of the evidence, I think, ultimately, the decision was correct. It was a case that clearly called out for acquittal.

The evidence against Amanda Knox is extremely weak and extremely tenuous. That given, you have to understand, though, that she was convicted in Italian courts once by both laypeople and judges. And you never know what might happen in that system over there. It's a chaotic justice system that works very differently than our justice system, and this is a hugely controversial and embarrassing case for the Italians.

So, anything could happen. I think in the end, though, cooler heads will prevail. I think the acquittal will remain in place. And that will be the end of it. But we'll have to watch this very, very closely.

BANFIELD: See what the Italian Supreme Court says. Paul Callan via Skype for us this morning. Thank you, sir.

CALLAN: Nice to see you (ph).

BANFIELD: Nice to see you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's almost six o'clock here.

Still ahead, the payroll tax cut deal almost final, although, President Obama says he'll believe when it he sees it on his desk. We're going to break down how much it could mean in your wallet. You're watching EARLY START.