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No More Replacement Refs; Army General Charged with Multiple Sex Crimes; Air Force One Aborts Initial Landing; Boy Scouts Release Sex Abuse "Study"; Search for Jimmy Hoffa; Mideast Focus At U.N. General Assembly, Battleground Virginia

Aired September 27, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Goodbye replacements. A deal with the NFL means the real referees will be on the field tonight in Baltimore.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Scout's dishonor. The Boy Scouts of America taking heat for releasing a survey in response to a sex abuse scandal.

CHO: A new lead that could solve one of America's great mysteries. The search for Jimmy Hoffa begins outside a suburban Detroit home.


Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. We're so glad you're with us on a Thursday. It's 6:00 exactly in the east. I'm Alina Cho.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. John will be with us in a few hours. He is hosting "STARTING POINT" actually in one hour exactly.

Our top story this morning, the agony is finally over for you. Starting tonight, millions of football fans will once again be able to boo the real referees.

CHO: That's right.

SAMBOLIN: The NFL lockout is officially over. The blown call that ignited national outrage on Monday night shoved a little fire under the league, because the NFL and its referees signed off on a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement. This happened in the wee hours of the morning.

CHO: That's right. Eight years, that is unprecedented. It means no more replacement refs, boy, do they move quickly. The real refs will be on the field tonight.

Commissioner Roger Goodell confirming the regular officials will be back on the field when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cleveland Browns.

Our Jason Carroll joins us. And Jason, I think it's pretty clear that they had to move quickly after that awful call on Monday night. I mean, these replacement refs really didn't have integrity, did they?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and you know, look, they were doing the best job that they could, right? But you had a lot of these replacement players who had no experience with professional ball. Some of them being pulled out of high school.

They didn't know the new rules. So I think there was an argument that, look, they were doing the best that they could, obviously wasn't good enough. What we saw was a lot of disrespect on the field.

Look at what happened with Bill Belichick being fined, what, $50,000 for inappropriately grabbing one of the referees on the field. You had a Washington Redskins assistant who was fined $25,000 for abuse of officials.

You had some of the players tweeting about their frustration with the game. You had the president weighing in. So you just had so many factors. You had the fans calling in about that bad call.

So many variables going on, both sides really had to come back to the table and reach some sort of an agreement.

SAMBOLIN: That issue in Las Vegas, also. So you start to wonder, really, where was the most pressure applied here in order to get this deal reached at the 11th hour here.

CARROLL: Well, you know, I think there was an argument that it was really the fans. I mean, you had 70,000 fans calling into the NFL after Monday night's game. You had all of this public pressure to get both of these sides back to the table to reach some sort of an agreement.

CHO: And we mentioned the eight-area deal, unprecedented. Some of the details are coming in now, right? What can you tell us about that? We've got -- the pay has gone up, obviously.

CARROLL: The refs are going to be happy about that.

CHO: Who got the better end of the deal?

CARROLL: Well, I think it's basically the refs who got the better end of the deal. Look, they didn't want to give up their pension, they got to keep their pension, they did not have to switch to a 401(k).

They got a bump in pay raise. That's going to go from $149,000 a year up to $205,000 a year by 2019. You know, it's very clear that both sides are happy with what happened.

I want to get to some of the reaction, if I may, coming in from both sides. The NFL commissioner saying, quote, "This agreement supports long-term reforms that will make officiating better. The teams, players, and fans want and deserve both consistency and quality in officiating."

Also, the Referee Association president saying, we are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's game. So, clearly, both sides happy with this agreement, at least publicly.

SAMBOLIN: Exactly. Glad you qualified that because that's interesting. All right, Jason Carroll, we appreciate it. Thank you. A lot of football fans really happy this morning.

All right, so let's bring in former NFL referee, Red Cashion. He is a veteran league official of over 40 years who's worked two Super Bowls and currently trains and works with the NFL's regular refs.

He was asked to help train the replacement officials, but we understand, sir, that you refused. Red Cashion, thank you for being with us this morning. We really appreciate it.

We just put up the details of that deal. From your perspective, do you think that the referees got a good deal here?

RED CASHION, FORMER NFL REFEREE: Well, you're telling me something I don't know anything about. I guess, it was worked out while I was asleep last night, so I'm glad I'm listening to you.

SAMBOLIN: Listen, let me tell you some of the details here so that you can weigh in because you have a lot of experience here. So the average pay is increasing from $149,000 to now $205,000, this is by 2019.

But the NFL gets to bring on additional officials who could be used to work the games. They can also hire full-time year-round officials starting in 2013. Both were seen as a possible threat to the job security of the regular refs, so what do you think?

CASHION: Well, I think that the NFL has always wanted the best quality in everything they do, and I believe that what they were really after was something to continue the good program of developing officials.

You have to remember that in the past, they've had NFL Europe, which they use as a training base for officials. Have a chance to work with them, give them experience in the professional game itself.

When the NFL Europe no longer existed, they were looking for a way to have some sort of development system. And that's what they really wanted to accomplish. And I think it's just further evidence of the league's desire to make the gape the best sport game in the country.

SAMBOLIN: So the commissioner's taken a lot of heat, you know, in the last couple of days, and even before this, a lot of people wondering, why he let it get to this point. What do you think about that?

CASHION: Well, I don't know the answer to that. I think both sides had their minds made up of things they wanted to accomplish, and perhaps it just took a little nudging on each side and a little giving on each side to get things worked out.

But apparently, they did, and I think that's going to be a good arrangement between both the officials and the league. And we'll continue the game in the tradition that it has been in the past. SAMBOLIN: I have just one final question for you. Why did you refuse to help train the replacement referees?

CASHION: Well, the trainers there are a total of nine of us, work very closely with the regular officials. And it was our belief that if we worked with the temporary officials, that we would not have the same reception when we continued to work with the regular officials, and we thought over the long haul, for the benefit of the league, it was best that we not work with the temporary officials.

SAMBOLIN: All right, former NFL referee, Red Cashion, thanks for taking some time with us this morning. We appreciate it.

CASHION: My pleasure.

SAMBOLIN: All right, it's 7 minutes past the hour.

An Army general facing a possible court-martial for alleged sex crimes. Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair has been charged with numerous violation of military law, including wrongful sexual conduct and inappropriate relationships with female subordinates.

Sinclair served five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, most recently as deputy commander of the 82nd airborne in Afghanistan.

CHO: Listen to this. Air Force One had to abort an initial landing at an Ohio airport as it was flying President Obama to a campaign event, the pilot deciding to pull up, circle around and try again.

Reporters on board say the jet hit some bad weather and turbulence on approach to Toledo Express Airport. News crews on the ground were initially a bit confused about what was going on.

Moments after this flyover you see there, you could actually hear someone on the ground say that was interesting. Air Force One, of course, landed safely on the second trial.

SAMBOLIN: The Boy Scouts of America releasing what they call an independent study that claims children were safer from sex abuse in their care than they were at home or at school.

That study prepared by a psychiatric expert hired by the boy scouts after a newspaper reported the organization failed to report hundreds of suspected child molesters to police.

SNAP, a sex abuse support group, calls the scout's study self-serving and the writing of a spin doctor.

CHO: The University of California is offering to settle a class action lawsuit brought by 21 students who were pepper sprayed at close range by a police officer during a demonstration last year. You remember this, right?

The incident was caught on camera and instantly went viral. If approved by a court, the university will pay $30,000 to each student. They were part of an "Occupy Wall Street" protest on the Davis campus. SAMBOLIN: It's 8 minutes past the hour. The search for Jimmy Hoffa resumes tomorrow at a home in suburban Detroit. Investigators plan to drill underneath the concrete driveway and test soil samples for human remains.

They're working of a tip from a man who claims that a body was buried in Roseville, Michigan, at around the same time the teamster's leader disappeared. This was back in 1975. Police say the test results should be available next week.

CHO: Now something completely different. J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults is as far removed from the world of Harry Potter as you can imagine. "The Casual Vacancy" is what it's called. It features sex, drugs, and swearing and it's enough to make any wizard blush. The book arrives in stores today.

And keep it here because at the bottom of the hour, we're going to talk more about the J.K. Rowling book with someone who's actually read it. He is Malcolm Jones, a culture writer and reporter from "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast."

He's known J.K. Rowling for a very long time, interviewed her a lot over the years, and that's why he was able to get his hands on this early copy before anyone else.

SAMBOLIN: It will be interesting to get his perspective since he knows her so well.

So a terror scare staged on the streets of Phoenix. Why one man, look at this, went to extremes to prove a point. That's coming up.


CHO: Welcome back. It's 14 minutes after the hour. The Mideast takes center stage at the U.N. General Assembly today. Palestinians expected to campaign for expanded status at the U.N., but stopping short of seeking full statehood, at least for now. Israel's prime minister taking the podium just minutes later.

Foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is here with a preview. So Elise, good morning. Good to see you again. What can we expect from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, let's start with President Abbas. Last year everyone remembers this dramatic show on the floor of the U.N. General Assembly when he said it was time for a Palestinian state to be recognized by the U.N.

Afterwards, there was so much consternation, international communities. The United States started withholding some aid for U.N. organizations, considering this.

And so I think this year, he's going to be a little bit more subdued. He's going to talk about that it is time for this, but I think he's going to hold off calling for a vote. CHO: It has something to do with the U.S. elections, doesn't it? He's mindful of that?

LABOTT: I think he's waiting until after the election, until he really makes the case. So I think -- and there are some efforts to try to get him to talk with Prime Minister Netanyahu this week at the U.N.

But Prime Minister Netanyahu has one agenda in mind. And this is Iran. And I think that he's really going to kind of give a final warning to the international community. He's going to lay out how far is Iran going to go before Israel's and the world should be taking some steps.

So I think that he's going to be very forceful, trying to make his case that this is really a threat to international security.

SAMBOLIN: OK. So let's stick with Iran here and the president there. Yesterday, you said he would go gangbusters, and you're not typically wrong.


LABOTT: It happens, on occasion. It happens, on occasion. I really did think, and all his comments leading up to the United Nations, his press conference, very strong about Israel. You know, we've been talking about how U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and perhaps even the supreme leader of Iran himself said, you may want to tone it down.

So Israel launched -- or issued this statement even before he spoke, saying his words against Israel are horrible. And then he went on and he talked about this kind of world, you know, domination by the United States and others, talking for a new world order. But he didn't necessarily even mention Israel by name.

He was very subdued, I think. And everybody was a little disappointed. They were looking for vintage Ahmadinejad, because he's leaving. This is his last U.N. General Assembly.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Nonetheless, the U.S. candidate and Israel were not present during that.

LABOTT: There was like nobody in the hall. You know, we've seen people walking out in previous years, it was pretty much empty.

CHO: Right. They didn't even come in.

SAMBOLIN: What he did talk about was a double standard. I want to play a little bit of this on the nuclear weapons and then I want to talk to you about that.


PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): There is not trust that, or just authority to help resolve world conflicts. No one feels secure or safe, even those who have a stockpile, thousands of atomic bombs and other bombs in their arsenals.


SAMBOLIN: So there's this thought that hypocrisy in the Middle East, there's actually a great piece on about it. What's your take on that?

LABOTT: That's Sara Sidner's piece. She's our correspondent in Jerusalem.

And what this is all about is, there's this kind of elephant in the room, you know, the emperor wears in clothes, if you will, that Israel has a nuclear program that no one really talks about. Israel's believed to have 200 nuclear weapons, yet we're only talking about Iran's nuclear program.

And so he has, even Ahmadinejad, but other countries have said, there should be a nuclear free Middle East, because if you see Iran go nuclear and Israel's nuclear, then all these other countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, other countries in the region are going to say -- well, why shouldn't we all have nuclear weapons?

So I think there is a concern and there has been a movement over the last couple of years to have a nuclear-free Middle East. The United States, very silent on this, because they think Israel should be able to have a secret nuclear arsenal.

SAMBOLIN: I was reading that people are buying gas masks. They're just so worried.

LABOTT: Not looking good there. The mood is not good.

CHO: Elise Labott, thank you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Sixteen minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date, shall we?

The referee lockout and America's long nightmare -- really, good gracious -- it's finally over.

The NFL and its referees reaching an eight-year collective bargaining agreement last night. So that means there will be no more replacement refs. The regular zebras you love to hate will be back on the field tonight, Ravens-Browns in Baltimore.

CHO: Happy are Seahawks fans and Packers fans, for that matter.

An Arizona filmmaker is accused of putting his 16-year-old nephew up to the task of pretending to be a terrorist. This happened in Phoenix.

You can see there, even made him run around Phoenix at an intersection, holding a fake grenade launcher while wearing a sheet. Investigators say Michael Turley was trying to test police response time in the wake of the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado. He faces various charges relating to faking a terrorist act. Charges are pending against his nephew.

SAMBOLIN: That could be a disastrous ending if people would have taken that into their own hands, right?

OK, it's a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the 21st century. Nestle has hidden GPS tracking devices in six chocolate bar wrappers, so the company can track you down and send in commandos to give you a briefcase full of cash. Cash! That's according to the ad.


ANNOUNCER: We will scramble a crack team of highly trained individuals. They will board a helicopter, find the special bar, and give the element 10,000 pounds.


SAMBOLIN: Listen to this. It's part of the "We will find you" promo campaign, but can guess what, only in the U.K.

CHO: That's why the Kit Kat wrapper looks different.

SAMBOLIN: You would know.

CHO: I certainly do.

SAMBOLIN: They would get about $16,000 American. I say start importing those Kit Kat.

CHO: That's the first thing I noticed, I love Kit Kat every now and then.

SAMBOLIN: All right. The U.S. Transportation Department reports progress in reducing airport delays on airport tarmacs. But if caught in a delay, you have rights as a passenger.

CHO: We do?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we do.

CHO: That brings us to today's "Road Warrior" segment.

The Department of Transportation says fines nearly eliminated lengthy tarmac delays, however, but they still do happen. We do know that. And if you're unlucky enough to experience one, what can you do?

SAMBOLIN: Firstly, know your rights. Under the regulation, airlines must give you food and drinking water within two hours of the delay. Plus, they have to keep cabin temperatures comfortable and the bathrooms operating. The airlines must also update have to give you status updates at least every 40 minutes and inform you if you are able to exit the plane.

CHO: Also, since you can't predict a ground delay. Power up your iPad, bring reading material and a fully charged phone. Also bring food. I like to bring healthy food along. Almonds are always great. If you're on a flight and suspect they aren't complying with tarmac rules, you can call or e-mail the Department of Transportation. It might not help you right now, but they may help you later. They may not immediately be able to fix that problem. But, of course, they say they will look into it.

SAMBOLIN: And you feel better when you complain.

OK. Twenty-one minutes past the hour. We haven't reached fiscal cliff quite yet, but it has having an effect on some Americans. Christine Romans is breaking it all down for us, coming up.


CHO: All right. Don't mind us.

Good morning. Twenty-five minutes after the hour. Minding your business this morning.

U.S. stock futures are up. This is welcome news after the S&P 500 closed lower for the fifth straight day yesterday. That's right. It was all doom gloom, because of concerns about Europe, particularly Greece and Spain as protesters hit the streets in Athens and Madrid, still going on there. Not getting any better.

Christine Romans is here to talk a little bit more about that. Hey, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Those pictures were really frightening, weren't they?

And a lot of people on Wall Street were watching those, because we're very concerned about what's happening in Europe. And also here, concerned about the fiscal cliff, because American CEOs are warning that it hasn't happened yet and it will hurt jobs.

CEOs of Fortune 500 companies say they will hire fewer people and invest less in the next six months because of the uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff.

I want to pause here, the fiscal cliff, as you know, massive tax increases, big job layoffs, the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office say it would be a big, big recession in the beginning of the year. The Boeing CEO Jim McNerney says the uncertainty is cold water on long-term planning.

Think about this -- even if they fix it in the eleventh hour, companies right now are already starting to plan for next year. They are building new factories, they are building new facilities. They're expanding and trying to hire. They're not going to do that if they don't know what's going to happen with the fiscal cliff.

This is a survey conducted by the Business Roundtable. That's a lobbying group of CEOs of the top companies. It found only 29 percent of CEOs say they expect to hire more employees in the next six months. You know, I'd like to see that to be 100 percent. Twenty-nine percent is not enough. Last quarter, 36 percent said they would be hiring. So you can see. And I'm not always -- look, I don't always take CEOs at their face value, as you know.

Sometimes I think that they use things like the fiscal cliff as an excuse, because they've got a lot of money in the bank, they're making profits, they don't have to hire.

But this time, this fiscal cliff, this is real serious. And people who say, oh, at eleventh hour, they're going to fix it, Congress will fix it at the last minute. It's not good for America to fix things the last minute, because people are making plans right now for next year.

SAMBOLIN: Especially in a situation like that, because you're always thinking, fiscal cliff, we've got time, we've got time. But you're actually saying --

ROMANS: There's no time.

Something, one thing -- well, two things. One thing about the fiscal cliff, though. I want people to be aware, next year the payroll tax holiday is going to go away, so you'll get a little bit less out of your paycheck, maybe $45 less. So, all of the -- a lot of things are changing for your money. It's really important.

The one thing you need to know about your money today, futures are signaling a higher open for stocks. How it ends, though, today, depends on the economic data. They're looking up for housing and confidence. We'll get durable goods, jobless claims, and existing housing sales.

So, in another couple of hours, I'll be able to have a better -- clearer picture of whether you're going to get two days up in the row for stocks.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

CHO: Thanks, Christine.

National treasure is going green, and we're not talking about recycling or solar panels. That story, see it there? That story is coming up.

SAMBOLIN: Algae green, right? Algae green.

CHO: Algae green.


SAMBOLIN: Not doing it for the kids. Mega-selling author J.K. Rowling's new book, aimed at adults. It is out this morning.

CHO: Standing by their man. Embattled Congressman Todd Akin gets some key support in his run for a Missouri Senate seat.

SAMBOLIN: Come over to the TV. There she blows. A very, very rare white whale spotted for the first time in decades. That's an albino whale. Incredibly rare.

Welcome back to EARLY START. We've got more pictures for you. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

CHIO: Good morning, Zoraida. Good morning, everybody. We're so glad you're with us. I'm Alina Cho. It's 32 minutes past the hour.

And a giant exhale this morning for football fans and fantasy freaks all across America. That's right, no more replacement refs. 48 hours after that blown call that sparked national outrage, the NFL reached an eight-year collective bargaining agreement with its referees.

The deal was struck late last night. The lockout is over, effective immediately. That means the regular officials you love to hate are back.

Commissioner Roger Goodell confirming they will be on the field tonight when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cleveland Browns.

SAMBOLIN: So it has been five years since the last midnight book release party. A year since Danielle Radcliffe starred in the final film. "Harry Potter" books sold a staggering 55 million copies worldwide, the movies grossing over $7 billion. That's enough to make J.K. Rowling one of the richest women in the entire world.

But today, Rowling is leaving that world behind, publishing a new book. It is for adults. It is called "The Casual Vacancy," and it is a far cry from Hogwarts. It focuses on depressing realities of lower to middle class life.

Malcolm Jones has interviewed Rowling numerous times and is one of the first to read the highly anticipated novel and he is joining us this morning. Thank you for being with us.

You have a copy right there in your hands. You have read it. What do you think?

MALCOLM JONES, NEWSWEEK AND THE DAILY BEAST: I think it's a good book. It's fun to read. It took me two days to read it and I just sort of roared right through it. It's written with the same kind of velocity that the Harry Potter books have.

SAMBOLIN: But it's a departure for her, right?

JONES: Very much.

SAMBOLIN: Tell us about the nitty-gritty of the book?

JONES: Well, it's set in a small town in England and it's about all the sort of pettiness and back-biting and infighting that goes on in small towns and how people sort of cut each other up. But it's also a book about power and how people abuse power and, you know, sort of keep their foot on the necks of the downtrodden and that kind of thing.

SAMBOLIN: Now, a lot of people are saying -- well, not a lot of people, J.K. Rowling herself had an interview. I want to play a bit of sound there, because it sounds like this is an intensely personal book, perhaps even personal experience.

So, let's listen and then I want you to talk about that.



INTERVIEWER: You've gone, it seems to me, from the ultimate fantasy to the ultimate reality.

J.K. ROWLING, AUTHOR: Yes, I think that's fair -- a very fair statement. I have gone from dragons and unicorns and all the fun that's involved in writing that to a book that's intensely personal, that expresses a lot of my reality.


SAMBOLIN: She says "my reality." And there are a lot of gritty details in this book, right? There's cutting that's involved in this book. And she talks about that.

Do you think that this is her personal reality? I know that you've had experience with her. You've interviewed her many times.

JONES: Yes. I don't think it's, you know, it's like an autobiographical novel -- no, I don't. I think that we all know that she had, you know, sort of a legendarily rough time of it when she was writing the "Harry Potter" books. You know, she was not well off and writing in cafes and trying to raise a single daughter.

I think if you look at the "Harry Potter" books, I was thinking about this morning, in fact, after I'd written my review, there are a lot of similarities between "Harry Potter" and this book, in the sense that it's empowered people who want to hang on to their power, who look down on other people, in both stories. And that's sort of the axis on which everything turns, is this sense of unfairness. And her anger and her rage at that.

SAMBOLIN: The book deals, among other things, suicide, rape, heroin addiction, beatings and thoughts of patricide. I mean, it's just, on and on, things that we've never heard her talk about before, right?

JONES: Right.

SAMBOLIN: So how do you think this is going to fair with the audience? We know that it's not intended for children.

JONES: Oh, no. I think it will do well. I think it will appeal -- I think there are like late teens and say high school or college who would read this book and identify with it very strongly, because the teens in the book, I think most of them, you're not supposed to like them all, but they're all sort of stuck in that powerlessness, they're stuck in those awful things that kids do, whether they're mean girls or mean boys. If I were a teenager, I would relate to this book very strongly.

SAMBOLIN: Well, you know what? It's been number one on Amazon now for 11 weeks, I believe. So you recommend it? Good reading?

JONES: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, Malcolm Jones, culture writer for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast" -- thanks for being with us this morning.

JONES: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Alina, back to you.

CHO: All right. Zoraida, thank you.

His campaign ran into trouble with his remarks about, quote-unquote, "legitimate rape," but now, Congressman Todd Akin has picked up more support for his beleaguered Missouri Senate run. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint and Rick Santorum, the former GOP presidential candidate, urged voters to back Akin and help Republicans win the Senate.

Akin's campaign ran into some trouble with those remarks earlier this year.

SAMBOLIN: There is a major problem with the newly renovated Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool in the nation's capital. Look at that. It's full of algae.

The pool only reopened a month ago, following a two-year, $34 million overhaul. The national parks service says there are a number of reasons for the algae bloom. Among them, the reflecting pool draws water from the nearby tidal basin, where algae grows naturally. Also, algae loves warm weather.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really a shame that they hadn't planned out this a little bit better, so you wouldn't have algae growing after all this time and money.


SAMBOLIN: All right, so the reflecting pool's filtering system is removing most of the algae, but some of it is also being removed by hand. That gives it the major yuck factor, Alina.

CHO: (INAUDIBLE) on that job trying to remove the algae.

An extreme skier from the United States who survived Sunday's deadly avalanche in the Himalayas says he's lucky to be alive, but he's completely heartbroken because he couldn't save two of his friends who were still missing. At least eight people were killed in the disaster.

Glen Plake tells our Anderson Cooper he planned to ski down the eighth highest peak after reaching the summit, but the plan change very suddenly on Sunday as Plake lay in his tent, reading his Bible.


GLEN PLAKE, AVALANCHE SURVIVOR: We had been having some gusty winds throughout the night, and that was keeping you up, also, and sure enough, a gust of wind came that was beyond what I had felt. I told my partner, Greg, when was in the tent with me, gosh, this is a really strong gust. Greg said, this isn't a gust, it's an avalanche.


CHO: What a harrowing ordeal. Three people are still missing. Rescue teams calling off the search for them this morning.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to switch gears here. It is a whale of a find. Coming up, why this creature is thrilling tourists and researchers alike. Those researchers are acting like kids.

You're not going to want to miss this. Bring your kids over to the TV set. We'll be right back.


CHO: Good morning, Baltimore. Traffic moving very nicely there this morning at 6:42 in the morning, 68 degrees right now. Some scattered morning showers. And there's going to be some scattered evening showers as well with a high of 84.

Of course, we're looking at Baltimore because there's a big NFL game tonight with the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. And guess what --

SAMBOLIN: There are real refs as well.

CHO: Real referees.

SAMBOLIN: So you can yell with those real refs instead, right?

CHO: If you are just waking up, the NFL struck a deal with the refs last night.

Good morning, everybody. 43 minutes past. I'm Alina Cho.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

We're going to get you up to date with this morning's top stories, and that is the top story.

It will be at least eight years before football fans will have to endure the sight of another replacement ref. The NFL officials and the refs agreed to an eight-year collective bargaining agreement late last night into the wee hours in the morning actually.

The regular refs on the field for tonight's Ravens/Browns game, as you saw, in Baltimore.

CHO: That's right, if that doesn't get rained out. John Berman says it's an outdoor stadium.

SAMBOLIN: They'll play through the rain.

CHO: They'll play anyway.

The Mideast will dominate the U.N. General Assembly today.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expected to campaign for a bump up to non-member observer status, stopping short of seeking full statehood, at least for now. Later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to the assembly too.

SAMBOLIN: A 19-year-old Maryland man is one happy guy. He won $250,000 playing the mega millions lottery. But Nick Ruth is not taking a cruise around the world or is he planning to climb Mt. Everest? He's a survivor of leukemia, in remission for the past four years now. So nick is going to take a chunk of his newfound fortune and he is going to donate it to cancer organizations.


NICK RUTH, CANCER SURVIVOR, LOTTERY WINNER: I would like to at least give back to the community that gave to me, you know? Show them my gratitude and hopefully somebody else, just like someone helped me.


SAMBOLIN: What an incredible young man. So after taxes, Nick Ruth is going to walk away with a cool $165,000. Don't we all wish our kids were like that?

CHO: What a great, great, incredible thing he's done.

An example of beauty in nature. A rare albino whale spotted again swimming off the eastern coast of Australia. It's just an incredible site, we're going to tell you why. Researchers have named the whale "Migaloo" and say it's the only -- only -- all-white humpback whale in the world.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Look at that.

CHO: Isn't that incredible. Migaloo was actually first spotted years ago when he was just a little baby. They just now believe the whale is in his 20s.

SAMBOLIN: Isn't that incredible? And when you put them side by side like a regular humpback whale and Migaloo, you see an incredible different. It's very cool. These geeky scientists were jumping up and down. They can barely speak when they were talking about --


(CROSSTALK) SAMBOLIN (on-camera): So, our very own John Berman is filling in for Soledad O'Brien this morning, and he is joining us with a look at what is ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's like Christmas morning, isn't it? You know, the long national nightmare is over. We have real refs back on the field tonight. That is our top story. The refs will be on the field after reaching an agreement with the NFL. We'll be talking to former New York Giant great, Tiki Barber, and former ref, Red Cashion, about what this deal means for all of us, the fans, because it is all about us.

And could we be closer to solving one of our country's most enduring mysteries? A new tip that may finally, finally lead police to Jimmy Hoffa's body.

Plus, it is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. J.K. Rowling's new book is on sale today, but, no magic of hogwarts, really. A live report from London where fans have been lined up just to get a copy. We'll have a full report just ahead. My understanding is, you know, fewer wizards, more sex in this book.


SAMBOLIN: Something like that. It's a little dark. It's a little dark.

CHO (on-camera): As for that NFL deal, and great news for your Boston Red Sox. I mean --

BERMAN: Yes, exactly. No.


BERMAN: Sadly, nothing will help the Red Sox, not even a football ref. Yes, but thanks for rubbing that in. I appreciate that.


CHO: Sorry. Anyway, we'll see you later. We'll see you at the top of the hour.

The early birds get to cast votes in a key swing state today. Coming up, the new push by both candidates to try to get an edge. We'll talk with our Paul Steinhauser, next.


CHO: Fifty-one minutes after the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

We turn to presidential politics now. A day after both candidates were talking jobs in Ohio, President Obama and Mitt Romney campaigned today in another key battleground state, we're talking about Virginia.

Meantime, early voting begins today in Iowa, another swing state. President Obama hoping to keep his edge in the swing states with a new ad released just this morning.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's time for a new economic patriotism, rooted in the belief that growing our economy begins with a strong, thriving middle class. Read my plan, compare it to Governor Romney's, and decide for yourself.


CHO: CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser, live in our Washington Bureau. Paul, great to see you. Good morning. So, let's talk about Virginia. We know that Obama has the edge, the question is by how much.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Let's take a look at this. Here's our CNN poll of polls, Alina. What we do is we take the most recent, non-partisan surveys, average them together, and here's where it stands in Virginia when you add all those polls together and you can see the president with an advantage there, six points.

Like you said, it's a similar advantage in some of those other battleground states like Ohio where he was yesterday and where both men were yesterday. Now, this actually is the ninth visit today in Virginia for the president. It's also going to be the ninth swing through the state for Mitt Romney.

It just shows how important Virginia is. Remember, President Obama, then Senator Obama four years ago, he became the first Democrat to win Virginia in a presidential election since 1964. And Alina, one part of Mitt Romney's strategy of winning the White House is taking back some of those states that traditionally voted Republican like Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana.

All states that the president won four years ago.

CHO: And also, Ohio as we were talking about earlier, another important battleground. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio.


CHO: I also want to talk a little bit about something that Romney likes to talk a lot about on the trail, which is his experience in business and how he's best to lead the economy back into recovery. But what's interesting is that he's actually losing his edge in at least three swing states on the economy, right? Break down those numbers for us.

STEINHAUSER: This is fascinating, because what is the story behind those top-line poll numbers we've been showing, not only Virginia but in all these other states. What's the numbers -- what are the numbers behind the numbers? I think a lot of it is the economy.

A lot of polls now are indicating Americans are becoming more optimistic about how things are going in the country and how -- especially all about the economy. And as you said, Romney's edge, take a look at this, from this Quinnipiac/CBS/"New York Times" poll, they surveyed in three quirky states, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

And you can see now when it comes to who do a better job on the economy? The president has a slight advantage. It was a very different story not too long ago, Alina.

CHO: All right. I want to talk a little bit about some comments that Newt Gingrich made that caused a little bit of a ruckus. There's a little bit of a back and forth between Gingrich and Romney. And Gingrich, of course, never one to hold his tongue, had some choice words for Romney, didn't he?

STEINHAUSER: He sure did. He was on "The Situation Room" yesterday. And of course, Gingrich and Romney battled it out along with Rick Santorum and some others for the Republican nomination earlier this year. Well, Gingrich was giving some advice on what's maybe not working for Mitt Romney. Take a listen.


NEWT GINGRICH, FMR. PRES CANDIDATE: The Romney campaign has yet to find a thematic way of explaining itself and laying out in a clear, crisp way the difference between Romney and Obama. It's clearly something that you can go out and you can communicate and you can do dramatically better than Romney's currently doing.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just be who you are. Others say, get tougher, attack. And my own view is this. I've got to be who I am and describe why I think I'm the person that's going to become the next president of the United States, and how my policies will make life better for American families.


STEINHAUSER: Mitt Romney getting a lot of advice right now, just six days away from the first presidential debate -- Alina.

CHO: Unbelievable, first of three. All right. Paul Steinhauser, thanks so much.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-four minutes past the hour. Heads up if you're traveling in the northeast, a dreary start weather wise. Rob Marciano has all of the details for us. Good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. The good news is, it's not only the northeast. So, you're not in this alone.

SAMBOLIN: Misery loves company.

MARCIANO: Exactly, guys! Listen, a little stream of moisture. I mean, it's not a whole lot right now, at least east of New York City. Pretty dry right now in Boston, but west of New York and through Jersey and the Delaware Valley, some heavier pulses of rain moving through there. Up the Ohio River as well across the Mississippi and through the boot heel of Missouri. We're looking at some thunderstorms. Some of these are dumping a decent amount of rainfall. They will take it in Oklahoma where they could certainly use the rain across western parts of the plains as well. They don't really want the severe weather. That's a possibility, from the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle, north and westward into Southeast Colorado.

Large hail and maybe some damaging winds with them. North of the front, looking good as far as dry weather. South of the front, that's warm and humid for the end of September, 90 plus in Dallas, AC still humming there. That's a quick check on weather.

EARLY START is coming right back.


SAMBOLIN: -- caught us, right? Fifty-eight minutes after the hour. We're going to wrap it up as always with "Best Advice."

CHO: And today, we hear from author and comedian, BJ. Mendelson. Have a look.

BJ MENDELSON, AUTHOR AND COMEDIAN: Back in high school, I had a teacher named Mr. James. I had all sorts of crazy catchphrases, but it wasn't the catchphrase that stuck with me. It was at the end of my last class with them, he said, Brandon, if you keep working the way that you are, you'll be bagging groceries for the rest of your life.

And so, that really stuck with me and that was the moment that the light kind of went off in my head, and I was like, wow, I really have to work harder than what I'm doing. (INAUDIBLE). And so, it was that little piece of advice from Mr. James that led to all this.


CHO: Always great advice.

SAMBOLIN: And teachers, really, you just never know when you have an impact, a lasting impact on a student. So, that's fantastic.

CHO: That's EARLY START, 30 seconds before the top of the hour. I'm Alina Cho.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" starts right now.