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New Polls Shows Obama Ahead Of Romney; Jennifer Hudson Family Murders; Syrian Forces Strike Back; Death At Niagara Falls; Sherman Hemsley: 1932-2012; New Orleans Police Department Overhauled; Senate To Vote On Tax Cut Extension; Memorials Scheduled For Shooting Victims; Priest Sex Abuse Sentence; Police: Woman In Trunk A Hoax; Apple Disappoints; Obama Super PAC Attacks Romney; Memorials Scheduled for Shooting Victims; Syrian Forces Bombard Aleppo; Senate To Vote On Tax Cut Extension

Aired July 25, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's still a horse race for the White House, but a brand-new poll now shows one candidate with a slight lead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A street battle in Syria. Assad's regime sending in more troops as it struggles to hold the country's largest city.

SAMBOLIN: Death at Niagara Falls. A police foot chase leads to a fatal plunge.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Good morning to you, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. Glad you're with us. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east.

Also this hour, how the fiscal cliff could impact the middle class? Christine Romans has been talking all about this. She's been running the numbers, and she'll have the latest on it for us.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, David Beckham and Brangelina. We go live to London for that and more pre-Olympic buzz a little later in this hour.

BERMAN: I can't wait for that.


BERMAN: That sounds awesome.

All right. But first, we're talking about politics and polling. The latest presidential poll numbers out this morning, and they show that President Obama has a slight lead over Mitt Romney. Six points. That's from the brand-new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll. It shows the president at 49 percent to Mitt Romney's 43 percent that's about a 3-point difference from their poll last month.

CNN's political director, Mark Preston, joins us now from Washington. Mark, thanks for being with us. First of all, this poll shows the race close, which I'm sure both campaigns wish they were hoping up a lead. But both sides can maybe see something in here that gives them some hope.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, they certainly can, John. Look, we are still, you know, 100 plus days away from Election Day and we expect this race to be this close heading into November.

But both campaigns are watching this poll right and both have some good things to say about it and some bad things. Let's look first for Mitt Romney right now.

We always talk about issue number one being the economy. When NBC/"Wall Street Journal" asked the question, who has the better idea to improve the economy?

Look at those numbers. Mitt Romney has a six-point advantage over President Obama on that issue. But President Obama's campaign can take a step back. And they are looking at this number right now out in Chicago on the issue of likability.

Look at this huge gap right now. More Americans like President Obama than they like Mitt Romney by 20 points. Why this is important, John, as you know, people tend to vote on their gut and also tend to vote on whether they like somebody or whether they don't like somebody.

As President Obama continues to try to make the argument that he needs another four years to try to turn this economy around, this likability question, this gap could help him in November.

BERMAN: You know, it also explains why you've been seeing these ads from President Obama, where he's sitting all alone in a room staring straight at the camera. It seems they are trying to capitalize on this likability.

And of course from the Romney side, if they could pick one issue to be ahead on, it would no doubt be the economy. Turning the page now, Mark, Governor Romney headed to London. He arrives there today.

We don't talk much about foreign policy in this campaign because it is not the major issue, but Mitt Romney did unleashed a wave of new attacks on the president in his speech yesterday. Let's listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president's policies made it harder to recover from the deepest recession in 70 years. Expose the military to cuts that no one can justify, compromised our national security secrets. And in dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it was not deserved and apology where it is not due.


BERMAN: I thought this was interesting yesterday, Mark, because Romney seemed to be going after the president on what is seen as one of his strengths, which is foreign policy.

PRESTON: Yes, and look, you're absolutely right. Only about a quarter of the voters right now, John, are looking at foreign policy as an issue that they say it extremely important to the vote come November.

But this is an extremely important issue when you look at it through this lens. For President Obama, John, who has the lead right now on Mitt Romney an issue of foreign policy, he can talk about his accomplishments, killing Osama Bin Laden and ending the Iraq war among many others.

Now Mitt Romney is using foreign policy specifically what he did in that speech yesterday to criticize President Obama's administration for the national security leaks that we've heard so much about in the past week or so.

As well as chastising President Obama for not being as well aligned with our allies as he thinks we should be, specifically Israel -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Mark Preston in Washington. Thanks so much. I know you were up late last night watching the Red Sox pull one out late in the game. So thanks for getting up with us.

PRESTON: Thanks, John.


BERMAN: I did. I knew he was watching so I felt safe being in his hands.

SAMBOLIN: OK, it's 3 minutes past the hour. At 6:30 Eastern, we'll go back live to Washington and we'll get an address that's happening there.

And Jennifer Hudson's former brother-in-law getting life and then some, did you hear about this? A Chicago judge sentencing William Balfour to three life terms, for 120 years for murdering the singer's mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew, this was back in 2008. Prosecutors say Balfour committed the murders in a fit of jealous rage. Hudson was in court for that sentencing.

BERMAN: Syrian forces are ramping up attacks to regain control of the largest city. Government helicopters and fighter jets targeting rebel strong holds in Aleppo. We're getting reports thousands of government troops are being sent in. Violent clashes across Syria claimed at least 123 lives yesterday and 21 of those lives lost were in Aleppo.

SAMBOLIN: Ontario's special investigations unit working on the case involving a death of a man who went over the wall and fell into Niagara Falls.

It happened late in the day yesterday. A police officer was chasing a man when both of them fell about 100 feet into the gorge. The officer was rescued. He's recovering from a broken leg. The man he was chasing did not make it out alive. Police are not offering any other details this morning.

BERMAN: A huge loss for anyone who loves television. And we all love television, actor, Sherman Hemsley has died. He, of course, known for his role as George Jefferson, there he is in the "Jefferson," bombastic as always.

He's one of TV's longest running and most successful sitcom. You know, the role was originally created by Norman Leer for another landmark show "All in the Family." There is no word what caused Hemsley's death. Police don't suspect foul way. Sherman Hemsley was 74 years old.

SAMBOLIN: An agreement has been reached for a sweeping overhaul of scandal plague New Orleans Police Department. The Justice Department is announcing hundreds of new policies on the use of force, searches, seizures, arrests and interrogations.

The overhaul also deals with recruitment and training, performance evaluations, and lucrative off-duty work assignments that have been a big source of corruption in New Orleans.

Last March, Justice Department investigators reported on corruption throughout the department as well as evidence of excessive force being used on the public.

BERMAN: The Senate is preparing to vote this afternoon on competing plans to extend the so-called Bush era tax cuts. The Democratic plan would extend the cuts for couples making less than $250,000 a year and individuals making under $200,000.

Republicans wants to extend the tax cuts for everyone, including the wealthiest Americans. Now, neither proposal is expected to pass so if you miss it today, don't worry about it. Nothing is going to happen.

SAMBOLIN: During the worst of times a welcome surprise for the people of Aurora, Colorado still reeling from the shooting massacre. The celebrity who just showed up is coming up.

What I was telling you earlier at 6:30 Eastern, we're going to go back live to Washington where the president is preparing to head to New Orleans to address the National Urban League as well.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It is 9 minutes past the hour. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're happy you're with us this morning. And also this morning, families of the Colorado shooting victims are preparing to lay their loved ones to rest.

Several memorials and visitations are scheduled for this week. This afternoon a memorial service will take place for 51-year-old Gordon Cowden. He took his two teenagers to see the midnight movie, both of his children survived.

Also today, a visitation is scheduled for 23-year-old Micayla Medek. She was working toward her college degree.

CNN's Jim Spellman joins us now live from Aurora. Jim, I got to tell you. Everybody said this is going to be the tough part, right, as they started all the memorial services and the funeral services. But there was some good news to report as well, right, some life.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well so many families are marking this very sad, solemn occasion at least one family has a very joyous occasion going on.

Caleb and Katie Medley went to the movies that night, last Friday, for a final date before their baby was born. Caleb, the husband was shot in the attack. He is still in critical condition.

But yesterday Katie had their baby, Hugo Jackson Medley. He was born yesterday. They were scheduled to have the baby at another hospital. They moved it over so she was one floor away from Caleb when she had Baby Hugo.

And we do know that Caleb is improving. He is still in critical condition, but he is able to squeeze people's hands. Everybody there is hoping and praying that he'll make a recovery and that family will be whole again and have a good, happy life down the road -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: My gosh, that is such good news, squeezing people's hands. So they were able to tell him he had a baby boy. That's great. All right, so I understand some of the victims are still recovering in the hospital and they got a very special surprise visit. Tell us about that.

SPELLMAN: Yes, this was so exciting for these people. Yesterday, Christian Bale, the actor who played Batman in three movies and the current franchise showed up here. Nobody knew he was coming.

He showed up at the hospital and visited patients' bedside. He wanted no publicity. The only photos we've got out there were photos people posted on Facebook.

After he left the hospital, he came to this makeshift memorial that's right here across from the theatre. He showed up. People didn't even recognize him or knew who he was. He joined a prayer circle.

Prayer circles have been going on down there on and off all day. He joined the prayer circle. People in the prayer circle with him, didn't even know who he was until afterwards.

Our great affiliate here, KDVR, caught it on tape, but he didn't even want any publicity. It was something here that a lot of people were excited about. I mean, it exploded on Twitter and Facebook when he was here.

I think people were just really appreciative that he would take the time out, you know, of his schedule to come here and visit these people. And especially what I'm hearing on Facebook and Twitter, the way he did it in such a low key manner meant a lot to people here -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I'm sure that it did. Jim Spellman,, thank you very much for that.

BERMAN: Probably meant a lot to him too as well as the people in that --

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I mean, this was the most anticipated movie, right? Who would have expected? For him to do that I think was a really big deal.

BERMAN: Absolutely. All right, it is 13 minutes past the hour right now. We want to get you up to date on all of the headlines. Christine Romans is here with the top stories -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning you two. Brand-new poll numbers out this morning to tell you about. The NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" survey showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney 49 percent to 43 percent.

That's a 3-percentage point increase just from last month. But polls also showing both candidates are taking a beating from negative campaign ads.

Monsignor William Lynn of the Philadelphia archdiocese gets a three to six-year prison sentence for covering up child sex abuse claims against Catholic priests.

The 61-year-old Lynn was convicted last month of felony child endangerment. In delivering the sentence, the judge said Lynn, quote, "enabled monsters in clerical garb to destroy the souls of children."

It was caught on tape. A person putting an apparently unconscious woman in the trunk of a car outside a supermarket in Syracuse, New York.

Now police say this suspicious incident was a simply a hoax. They say three teenagers have admitted faking this abduction. They told police they were trying to copy something they saw on TV. BERMAN: Not funny. Not funny.

ROMANS: Not funny and it diverted police from other important crimes.

Sales up 24 percent, profits up 21 percent, a great quarter for most companies, but that's a disappointment for Apple. The company's revenues, earnings per share, and especially iPhone sales badly missing analysts' estimates yesterday.

Apple did sell a record 17 million iPads. That part of the company doing great. Shares of Apple though down more than 5 percent now in after-hours trading.

The big apple is reaping the economic benefits of same-sex marriage. One year after enacting the Marriage Equality Act, New York has issued 8,200 same-sex marriage licenses generating an estimated economic impact of $259 million including $16 million in city revenues.

The City Clerk's Office says more than 200,000 guests travel to the big apple for same-sex marriage events accounting for 235,000 hotel room bookings alone.

BERMAN: That's big money.

ROMANS: That's big money. New York needed it.

SAMBOLIN: I was sitting here and staring at all the pictures of the happy people. It's really nice to watch.

ROMANS: She sees happy people, we see dollar signs.

BERMAN: So, these people all coming to New York, but they may not be able to get their big 16-ounce soda soon. How's that for a transition?

New Yorkers are getting a chance to sound off about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to ban sugary drinks that are bigger than 16 ounces. There was a public hearing yesterday and opponents liken the mayor and his measure to big brother, insisting everyone is capable of how much to drink for themselves, while supporters see a potentially huge health benefit.

Here's a sample of what everyone said.


DANIEL HALLORAN, OPPOSES BAN ON BIG SUGARY DRINSK: What would the government be telling me next? What time to go to bed? How big my steaks should be? How many potato chips I can have?

REV. BRIAN CARTER, SUPPORTS BAN ON BIG SUGARY DRINKS: As we go to funeral homes and hospitals and visit people who suffer from diabetes and obesity, that this major issue in our community it needs to be redressed.


BERMAN: Medical experts tossed some pretty serious charges. They testified yesterday they believe the soft drink industry is guilty of the same lobbying tactics and marketing strategies employed by the tobacco companies.


All right. Coming up, the so-called fiscal cliff and middle class America. How it can affect your kids and their schools.

For an expanded look at all our top stories, just head to our blog,


BERMAN: Minding your business this morning.

We are now 160 days from jumping off the fiscal cliff and it's a mean nasty jump. If Congress doesn't act to avoid it, we'll find ourselves in another recession next year. That's according to the Congressional Budget Office.

SAMBOLIN: Christine Romans is here to talk about what the fiscal means for the middle class and for your children's education.

You say there's still a lot of confusion about what it really means.

ROMANS: A lot of people keep asking me, what is this fiscal cliff? You're talking about the slowdown in the economy. The fiscal cliff is something Congress created, OK? It is an onset of huge budget cuts and huge tax increases all at the same time, and it would certainly jar the economy.

You've heard a lot about the tax increases. It would basically -- what you're seeing on your screen -- raise taxes for everyone starting at the beginning of the year.

Now, here's the spending cuts part of it, which gets a little bit less attention. It's a trillion dollars in spending cuts over nine years. Half comes from defense, half from non-defense.

So if you are a contractor in any of these big towns where there are defense contracts, there will be jobs lost. There are a lot of companies the defense contractors are already trying to figure out how their going to weather the big cuts they are going to see there.

When you talk about non-defense, that's everything. That could be -- it could be hypothetically a 12 percent budget cut for every agency. So think if you were trying to cut 12 percent, some agencies are starting to plan maybe an 8 percent budget cut -- 8 percent in one year. Think of your own budget, if you're running a small business, in one year, that is a huge quick cut overall.

I want to talk specifically about education. We'll zero in just this morning on education. The National Education Association says they are expecting 8.4 percent to be slashed from the spending levels for education programs dropping back to pre-2003 program levels for education. They are figuring in maybe 80,500 jobs lost as there are more children now in school, way more children in school than there were in 2003.

BERMAN: Just remind us, though, Christine. What does Congress have to do to keep this from happening?

ROMANS: Congress has to do its job to keep this from happening. Congress has to figure out -- here's the thing, we can't just continue in 2013 -- we can continue in our baseline right now anyway because we're blowing out deficits anyway. We can't continue on just like randomly slashing budgets.

Congress is supposed to figure out a signal to the world where it's going to cut, how it's going to set tax policy, what areas it's going to cut spending, it's got to start to prioritize. Just slashing across the board is going to be jarring and difficult. The CBO said it would cause a recession.

But there's no -- are you seeing any sign they are moving towards using a scalpel not an axe?



ROMANS: None at all, because it's all about the presidential election season. What about the lame duck Congress, or maybe after the election they'll do something? Is there any appetite or any signal that a lame duck Congress would do something? No. There's just nothing.

So, we're facing -- there's some conservatives who have told me this is exactly what we need. We need to just slash spending. They don't like the tax increases but slash spending. We need to shrink all of the spending. We've got too much waste fraud and abuse.

It needs to be done more carefully and thoughtfully.

SAMBOLIN: Part of that is true. I mean, you focus on education, the one area I think that most would agree you can't afford to cut, right?

ROMANS: But there are conservatives who say we spend too much in education and we don't spend it smartly and we get a hit there.

Anyway, middle class and fiscal cliff, I'm going to have more on this on my show "YOUR BOTTOM LINE," Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. We're just doing fiscal cliff and how it's going to affect Main Street. So, please tune.

And the one thing you need to know about your money today, I want to tell you, stock futures indicate that markets -- they could break this three-day losing streak. So we're going -- I'm going to put my optimism hat on and hope the one thing about stocks today is they are not down again.

BERMAN: That would be a good one thing to know. I like that one thing.

ROMANS: There you go.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, thanks very much.

It is 24 minutes past the hour now.

And for Penn State, the hits keep coming. A big name sponsor is pulling his television ads in the wake of the child sex abuse cover up, and another corporate giant may follow suit.

State Farm has decided it will not advertise on Penn State's home football broadcasts.

And General Motors says it's reviewing its sponsorships with the school, but they haven't made the decision yet. No word on the dollar value of either of those deals.

Three big sponsors have announcing they are standing by Penn State, Nike, Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank, and the state's largest health insurer Highmark. They've all announced they're keeping their sponsorship commitments with the school.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

Crisis in a Texas town. Coming up, how a crack in the ground --


SAMBOLIN: -- could affect the very lifeblood of the community.

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your mobile phone, your desktop. Just go to


BERMAN: President Obama with a slight lead in the polls and a big speech today in the race for the White House.

SAMBOLIN: Aurora, Colorado, coming together to pay tribute today, with memorials for those lost in the shooting massacre.

BERMAN: And in Chicago, thousands waking up without power after a sudden storm sweeps through the Windy City.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're happy you're with us this morning. Twenty-nine minutes past the hour.

And brand-new this morning, a super PAC supporting President Obama has just released an attack ad against Mitt Romney and uses the Olympics to mock him. Take a look.


ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Olympics. There's Mitt Romney, who ran the Salt Lake City Games, waving to China -- home to a billion people. Thousands owe their jobs to Mitt Romney's companies.

India, which also gained jobs thanks to Romney, an outsourcing pioneer.

And Burma, where Romney had the uniforms made for the 2002 games.


SAMBOLIN: Romney is actually heading to London today, ahead of the 2012 Games.

And also new this morning, the latest presidential poll shows Obama ahead of Romney 49 percent to 43 percent.

And today, the president is heading to New Orleans to speak to the National Urban League.

And CNN's Athena Jones is live in Washington.

Not just to speak, but he is actually delivering the opening address. This is an important audience for him. Why, Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly it is, the black voters are going to be important blocs that supported Obama in the past and he's going to need them to try to hold on to some of the key states he won in the last election.

In Virginia, blacks make up nearly 20 percent of the population and in North Carolina it's 22 percent. Those are two states that turn blue last time around that the Obama campaign is hoping to keep in the blue column.

It's a big deal he's going to speak at this civil rights organization's conference. As you'll remember earlier this month, the White House came under a little bit of criticism because they sent Vice President Biden to the NAACP Convention in Houston and there was some talk about whether the president was taking the black vote for granted. This is a chance for him to come out and speak to this audience, and really energize a very, very important base, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Athena, Obama is also facing new controversy over the latest political ads, we looked at them yesterday and talked about them. What struck us was how simple it was and the fact that he mentioned Mitt Romney. But there is more controversy surrounding it this morning.

Tell us about that.

JONES: That's right. We're talking about two ads that the White House acknowledges were filmed in the West Wing. One is called "Choices," the other is called "Always."

The RNC says fine, this may not be illegal, it's only illegal if you're soliciting campaign donations from these offices. These ads don't do that, but the RNC argues it shows the president is out of touch. This is a label both sides are trying to place on the other person.

Now, the White House says there's nothing there, this is a distraction, they say there is ample precedent for filming ads in the West Wing. They provided links, including one of a Ronald Reagan ad filmed in 1984 where the president used the Oval Office for four minutes and spoke directly from his desk there. Also, a Clinton ad.

And they also point out that even Bush, George W. Bush's ethics folks didn't have a problem with this. So, they think this is really just a distraction. It's not going to amount to anything, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Athena Jones, live in Washington for us, thank you very much.

JONES: Thanks.

BERMAN: Still on politics -- celebrities are cutting a lot of checks in the race, more for the Democrats but it's not all one sided.

CNN compiled a list of the celebs who donated to the campaigns or political committees in May and June and include Billy Crystal, Robert Downey Jr. and Eddie Murphy and Morgan Freeman who topped the list with a $1 million donation to the pro-Obama super PAC.

On the Romney side, country singer John Rich with $2,500, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and wife with 25,000, Scott Baio, Chachi and his wife with $12,500 and World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon and his wife, the Senate candidate from Connecticut Linda McMahon, with a $150,000 donation.

SAMBOLIN: It's really neat to read through those, right?

BERMAN: Love it. You never know who's going to pop up.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-three minutes past the hour.

BP and drilling rig owner Transocean failed to learn critical lessons from two near-disasters before the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. That is according to the federal government. An investigation by the Federal Chemical Safety Board found the two companies focused on reducing worker injuries rather than preventing disastrous well blowouts, even though BP vowed to implement new safety systems after 15 workers were killed in a refinery explosion in Texas in 2005.

BERMAN: The water supply in a Texas town is being threatened by a massive crack in the ground that's growing by the day. You have to look at the pictures. Experts believe this crack is caused by two different types of soil that apparently heat up and separate.

However, while they are searching for a solution there, the crevices are rapidly spreading, they are crisscrossing through the roads, railroad tracks and two points of the water line.

SAMBOLIN: People in Chicago drying out and cleaning up after a round of stormy weather. Apparently this was sudden. Was it unexpected, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We saw it coming yesterday morning around this time, going through Chicago and boom, knocked power out to 180,000 people, about 2,000 still without power this morning.

Here's a look at the time lapse as the storm about to hit Chicago, right around 6:00 a.m. yesterday morning at sunrise, the dark clouds coming in, lowering thickening then boom, it just hit with a vengeance and had winds gusting over 60 miles per hour in downtown.

And this Derecho, as we like to call it, a smaller one compared to what we've seen in the past, lasted a few hundred miles to the mid- Atlantic Seaboard. So a lot of people got into the action with this with some damage.

More storms this morning guys and severe thunderstorm watch out until 8:00 local time for northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Chicago, a couple more storms but not nearly what you saw yesterday, leftovers from yesterday heading to Charlotte. These look to be weakening, some humid conditions south of that and storms expected to be severe across the Great Lakes and down through Nebraska. Hopefully they'll get rain. They desperately need it.

Heat continues, St. Louis, over 105 yesterday. That's the tenth time this year, that ties a record. They'll probably do it again today. That's the actual high temperature. You coupled the humidity and heat indexes at dangerous levels once again across the Midwest.

Northeast looking to be cooler and drier today. So Cal sunny but you have a shake-up this morning. Just about a half an hour ago, a 3.8 magnitude quake hit Marina Delray. So Los Angeles, for the most part the epicenter, Santa Monica not too far away. A lot of people felt it down the line into the valley, just outside into the valley.


MARCIANO: Yes. So just enough to kind of wake you up early out there --


MARCIANO: Yes. Or keep you up later for some folks.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Rob, thank you.

MARCIANO: See you guys.

SAMBOLIN: The people of Aurora, Colorado didn't expect this in their worst hour. Coming up: the celebrity who showed up to comfort the wounded and lend his support to the community in a very low key way.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 39 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

And this morning, families of the Colorado shootings are preparing to lay their loved ones to rest. Several memorials and visitations are scheduled for this week.

This afternoon, a memorial service will take place for 51-year- old Gordon Cowden. He took his two teenagers to see the midnight movie, both children survived.

Also today, a visitation is scheduled for 23-year-old Micayla Medek. She was working towards her college degree.

CNN's Jim Spellman joins us live from Aurora right now.

And, Jim, there is something bright, a bright spot to talk about this morning.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, while so many families are marking these very sad occasions, John, at least one very happy occasion going on.

Check this out, Caleb and Katie Medley go to see the Batman movie last week as a final date before their first baby comes. Unfortunately, Caleb shot in the incident. He's still in critical condition.

But yesterday afternoon -- yesterday rather, Katie gave birth to their son Hugo Jackson Medley, very exciting. She was going to have the baby at another hospital. They moved it so she could be in the same hospital with him. And while we know Caleb is still in critical condition. His brother says he's improving. He's able to squeeze people's hands and has a little more recognition of events.

So, everybody there hoping and praying that he'll recover and that Katie and Hugo and Caleb could have a happy light to have together. He was an aspiring comedian. Apparently has a great attitude. Hopefully, that will help him in his recovery -- John.

BERMAN: That boy, Hugo, such a beautiful baby boy. So nice to see his face.

And yesterday afternoon and evening, Jim, what everyone was talking about the surprise visit from Christian Bale.

SPELLMAN: Yes. You know, actually, a campaign sort of started on Facebook and Twitter a few days ago for him to come here. And then he showed up seemingly out of nowhere. He went to the hospital, visited people at bedside, had no -- did make any sort of a media dog and pony show. The only pictures from the hospital are pictures that popped up on Facebook, just cell phone pictures.

And then after he left there, he came over to this makeshift memorial that's popped up right across from the theater. He joined a prayer circle and people praying with him, didn't know who he was until afterwards. He didn't want to do any media or make a big deal about it. He just showed up.

Our affiliate KDVR just happened to be there. Shooting material and they managed to capture him there. But I think that low key way that he did really meant a lot to people here. People just -- I heard nothing but praise for him here locally and on Facebook and Twitter and he was thoughtful enough here to take the time out.

So, some little bits of brightness in this very sad event here, John.

BERMAN: You know, it was a nice thing to do and I think it made people smile and I think that's important this week. Thanks a lot, Jim.

SAMBOLIN: That is very true. You need to smile sometimes, a little bit of something.

Forty-two minutes past the hour.

Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Lots going on this morning, talking about the election, voters say the 2012 election is becoming too negative. Might just already be there. Just is too negative. A new poll show that. We're going to show you some of those polls.

But we know both Mitt Romney and President Obama are not letting up. We're going to talk with Democratic Representative Dutch Ruppersberger. Also, Republican Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia is going to be joining me to discuss the campaign on both fronts.

Crisis in Syria is also a topic of conversation, it's intensifying, some reports of al Qaeda infiltrating the country, trying to hijack the revolution. This as the Assad regime continues to kill Syrians every day while sitting on a stock pile of chemical weapons. We're going to talk about the chemical weapons with a former Syrian general.

Also, how do you get kids to eat more vegetables? This young lady right here, she's an actress and also one of stars from "iCarly," do you recognize her? My kids, of course, obsessed.

SAMBOLIN: My daughter would die to be here.

O'BRIEN: Yes, she would. She is a veggie loving ambassador and using her show to try to get kids to eat more vegetables. She's really, really sweet young man. We're going to talk to her.

Don't forget, you can watch us live on your computer or your mobile phone, go to

BERMAN: The ambassador of broccoli, I love that.

O'BRIEN: Yes, she is. And she's proud of it.

SAMBOLIN: You know what? She could be very effective, kids love her.

O'BRIEN: I'd pay cash for that. I think it works.

BERMAN: Good luck with that, everybody.

All right. So, where can you find all of the biggest stars? Forget Hollywood because in the weeks ahead, this is going to be the hottest spot in the world. You're looking at the live picture of the London's Olympic Stadium right now.

We're going to head there for an informative report. You won't want to miss it. That's coming up.

SAMBOLIN: I know you're really excited about the celebrity buzz there.


SAMBOLIN: Top of the morning to you, Washington, D.C., 73 degrees. Look at those beautiful blue skies, and later on, it's going to stay beautiful like that, 89 degrees and sunny. So, quite pleasant there, right?

BERMAN: It's very nice. Very nice for them.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to Early Start. Forty-seven minutes past the hour. We're glad you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. And we are going to Washington right now. The president with a slight lead in the presidential race.


BERMAN (voice-over): A new NBC News/"wall street journal" survey showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney 49 percent to 43 percent. That's a three percentage point increase from just last month.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): A bloody battle for control of Syria's largest city intensifying overnight. Government forces using fighter jets and attack helicopters to pound rebel strongholds in Aleppo. Thousands of government troops are being sent into the city to beat back opposition forces. Fighting across Syria taking at least 133 lives yesterday, 21 them in Aleppo. The violence growing so out of control, Turkey has announced it is closing its border gates with Syria. There are reports Syrian rebels have been trying to seize control of those crossings.

BERMAN: Three life terms plus 120 years, that's the sentence given to Jennifer Hudson's former brother-in-law, William Balfour, for triple murder. Balfour was convicted back in May in the shooting deaths of Hudson's mother, her brother, and her seven-year-old nephew.

SAMBOLIN: Jury selection is complete in a murder trial of former Illinois police office, Drew Peterson. Attorneys will present their opening statements on Tuesday. Peterson is charged in the 2004 bathtub drowning of his third wife, Kathleen Salvio (ph). His fourth wife, Stacy Peterson (ph), vanished in 2007.

She's still missing. Peterson is considered the prime suspect in her disappearance, but he has not been charged.


BERMAN (on-camera): And of course, the news we're all talking about. Actor, Sherman Hemsley, has died.




BERMAN: Zoraida has been dancing to that all morning. Hemsley, of course, is best known for his role as George Jefferson, the bombastic George Jefferson, and "The Jeffersons" is one of the longest running shows on TV, one of the most successful sitcoms.

You know, the role was originally created by Norman Lear for another landmark show, "All in the Family." There he is. It's just great looking at him. No word on what caused Hemsley's death. Police say they do not suspect foul play. Sherman Hemsley was 74 years old.

SAMBOLIN: So young.

BERMAN: And in just about seven hours now, other news in Washington, the Senate votes on competing plans to extend the Bush era tax cuts. The Democratic plan would extend the cuts for couples making less than $250,000 a year and individuals making under 200,000.

Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for all taxpayers, including the wealthiest Americans. Nothing is going to happen, though, because neither proposal is expected to pass.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty minutes past the hour. The excitement is building. We are just two days away from the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. More details of the big show are leaking out. We now know David Beckham will be a part of it.

BERMAN: Woooh! SAMBOLIN: We still don't know who's going to carry the flag. Zain Verjee is live in London. And Zain, yesterday, we heard there are farm animals involved, nurses, the queen. What else is leaking out? We are dying to know.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Guys, good morning. British officials have said save the surprise, so now, I'm totally going to ruin it for you. So, just block your ears if you don't want to hear it, but here's what's leaked out on Twitter, OK?

The whole theme is going to be along William Shakespeare's play called "The Tempest," and the idea is this island of wonder where in the place people were shipwrecked. So, it's going to be fantastical. 007 is going to show up. James Bond may apparently be parachuting into the stadium. And now, to this important point you raised, Zoraida, the livestock, yes.


VERJEE: I'll tell you about this, OK? The idea is Britain's past, its present, and its future. And for some reason, they've identified livestock as an important part of this, and this is going to be aerial photographs. You're going to see farmers plowing in the field. You're going to see a cricket match.


VERJEE: And --

BERMAN: Between the farm animals?

VERJEE: -- developments here in East London.


VERJEE: You know, there's also going to be Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, and this is quite cool, Harry Potter versus Lord Valdemort.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, wow!

VERJEE: And a big showdown there. So, you know, that should be cool. Plus, all the A-list guests around the world are going to be there.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we want to talk a little bit about that, because we hear that there are some A-listers that have been partying up at the Olympics?

VERJEE: Yes. You know, those are really the places to be. Some of the tickets are hotter than the opening ceremony. So, Brangelina, for example, guys, yes, are having a huge bash tonight. They're having at the V&A Museum. It's a charity event for sports and peace, but anyone who's anyone who wants to see and be seen is dying to get invited to this party.

BERMAN: I didn't get invited.

VERJEE: Prince William will be there. Kate will be there. Harry -- what did you expect there, John?


VERJEE: I didn't get invited either.


VERJEE: I'm trying very hard. So, they're going to have this huge bash. It's a charity thing, like, $60,000 a table. And all of the Hollywood A-listers, anyone is anyone. Then, they'll have this big private party for the uber popular where they're just going to be having a great old time drinking. It's the Olympic theme there. And they've also been invited Brangelina, that is, to the opening ceremony into the men's 100 meter final.


BERMAN: Do the royals rank higher than, like, Brangelina and the A-list? Is there like a A-star list for the royals rank?


VERJEE: Brangelina is -- I would put them at A. I think the royals, because it's London and it's them, I would rank them maybe A plus. But because Brangelina throwing the bash, everyone wants to be there. And I think they're excited to meet the royals, too.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, absolutely. William and Katherine, I would imagine that they're up there with the A-listers as well. How about the excitement for the people there, has it been building?

VERJEE: It has been building. You know, like a lot of people around the world are excited about it. A lot of people that I've spoken to that live here are looking forward to it, but there are many in this country, you know, the British like to complain and moan a lot about a lot of things. So, they'll tend to focus on the negative first and then the positive, right?

But, some people have just left town. They don't want to deal with the traffic. They're just -- you know, some negative nancies around, but overall, I think the atmosphere in London is one of excitement, and people are looking forward to being in that stadium and watching some of the best athletes in the world.

SAMBOLIN: I got to tell you, Zain, we are delighted that you joined us this morning, because you were good about sharing all the details that most people haven't wanted to share. So, thank you for that.

BERMAN: All the secrets. And Keep those negative nancies at bay, Zain. Thanks for being here.

(LAUGHTER) BERMAN: All right. And, we can tell you that today's "Best Advice" comes from an Olympian. Some advice we can all use, and I'll give you a hint. If you don't take it, she'll flip you. Stay with us. Coming up after this break.


BERMAN: All right. It's just a few minutes before the hour. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien is on deck.

SAMBOLIN: And we wrap it up as always with "Best Advice." And here's Christine with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And today's advice comes from an Olympian, the world judo champion, Kayla Harrison. We asked her about her "Best Advice." Take a look.


KAYLA HARRISON, WORLD JUDO CHAMPION: The best advice I've ever received is to visualize my goals. So, whether I want to ace a test or win an Olympic gold medal, I visualize myself doing it every night, and eventually, it will happen.


ROMANS: Visualize yourself crushing your opponent.


BERMAN: I will crush you. I visualize that every day.

ROMANS: She is very cool. Visualize and stay focus. And a lot of Olympians, whole mind over -- their ability to visualize and see gold, only see gold and get to the very top.

SAMBOLIN: But what if you don't get there?

ROMANS: Right. You visualize --


SAMBOLIN: I'm sorry, but I thought, man, sometimes, it just doesn't happen even if you visualize it. But anyway, it's good advice.


BERMAN: I'll take it, at least. All right. That's EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.