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Bombings and Bloodshed Escalate In Gaza; Peace Talks Underway in Egypt; Biden Sees What Sandy Left Behind; Battle Over Benghazi Intelligence; Burned Rig Worker to Family: "I Am Alive"; Obama's Historic Trip to Myanmar; Holiday Travel?

Aired November 19, 2012 - 06:00   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Mayhem in the Mideast, day six of the fighting. Dozens are dead, and no sign either side is backing down.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: History making in Myanmar. President Obama's six-hour visit marks the beginning of a new era, but not everyone is celebrating.

CHO: And securing the skies. Meet the men making sure your plane gets where it needs to go this Thanksgiving week.

ROMANS: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans this morning in for John Berman.

CHO: Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. Zoraida Sambolin has the day off. It's 6 a.m. in the east and let's get started.

Up first the deadliest day of violence yet in Gaza, an Israeli missile killing 11 civilians, four of them children, their two-storey home in Gaza City leveled.

The conflict between Hamas and Israel is threatening to escalate out of control. Representatives of the two sides are in Egypt for ceasefire talks, but they are not talking directly to each other.

Hamas is making a public demand for a truce. They want Israel to bring an immediate end to its long running military blockage of Gaza. Frederick Pleitgen live from Israel this morning.

Frederick, good morning, Israel doesn't seem to be giving in on its side either saying that Gaza needs to stop the attacks first as a negotiating STARTING POINT. What's the latest?

FREDERICK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly the attacks don't seem to be stopping from the Gaza side. I'm actually in the town Bersheda, which is quite close to the Gaza Strip and just in the past couple of hours, we've had two rocket siren alarms go off here in the city.

That of course, is a signal for us to then take cover and go to some hardened area or if you're not in the vicinity of any buildings to hit the deck and hope that nothing explodes where you are.

That's been going on today. Also in other Israeli towns around the area, there have been rocket alarms. There were some rockets that have actually been picked off by missile interceptor systems. So it does not look as though the violence is abating.

One thing I will say though is that throughout the night it seems as though it was a little more quiet than in the past nights. However, this morning again, there have been more rocket attacks.

That of course, of is something that continues to take its toll on Israeli civilians, as well. One of the things that the Israelis have said they're not going to stop this campaign until they've stopped rockets being launched from Gaza onto Israeli territory -- Alina.

CHO: Frederick, and on the negotiating front, as we've been reporting both Hamas and Israel are meeting separately with Egyptian officials. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is headed to the region, as well. At this point, from where you sit, what do you think the chances are of a ceasefire?

PLEITGEN: Well, that's really anybody's guess at this point in time. The Israeli government has not commented on whether or not it's actually even involved in any negotiations and whether or not those negotiations would be moving forward.

They are still taking a very strong stance and they are saying that they are continuing to continue this military operation until they've shut down those rockets being launched from Gaza. They're also saying that they're even willing to expand those operations if they feel that needs to be the case.

One of the things that's been looming over the past couple of days, is an acceleration of the army campaign going on. That could involve a ground offensive in Gaza. From having been in that area this whole weekend there is a massive military build-up going on around the borders with Gaza with tens of thousands of troops coming in there, tanks, armored personnel carriers, everything that you would need for such defenses.

That's still on the table. Public opinion here in Israel is still very much in favor of a military campaign. However, both sides are saying quite publicly that they also want the violence to end on both sides, as fast as possible.

Certainly people want this to end. However it's not clear whether or not the political will is there at this point in time just yet -- Alina.

CHO: Well, with tens of thousands of Israeli troops on reserve and being called up, I think a ground offensive is something that nobody wants to see. Frederick live for us in Israel this morning. Frederick, thank you.

ROMANS: CNN's Anderson Cooper experiencing firsthand what the Palestinians have been coping with for the last six days. Some frightening moments last night during this live report from Anderson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, CNN'S "AC 360": Also two media centers -- whoa, that was a rather large explosion. That occurred -- just look out here. I can't actually see where the impact of that was. It is actually set off a number of car alarms.

But that was probably the largest explosion that we've heard just in the past -- really in the past hour. There have been a number of explosions in the past hour or two. But that one -- that one was pretty loud.


ROMANS: Wow. Anderson joins us live from Gaza City in the next hour. CNN's Wolf Blitzer is also covering the Israel/Hamas conflict from Jerusalem. Stay with CNN throughout the day for the very latest breaking news from the region.

CHO: Vice President Joe Biden getting a firsthand look at what Superstorm Sandy left behind, in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. He met with first responders who lost their homes and he also checked out the battered coastline by helicopter yesterday. Biden, like President Obama, vowed to help the area make a complete recovery.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But the president's made it clear that we're going to do everything we can to make sure that the corps is fully funded, that FEMA has what it needs, and that all the programs that exist under the auspices of the federal government are not only continue to exist, but are funded, so that we can make sure that -- that -- that this area of the country is fully, fully, fully restored.


CHO: It's going to take some time. About 600 customers still have no power in New Jersey over the weekend. Three weeks after the storm hit.

ROMANS: The latest now in former CIA Director David Petraeus' sex scandal. Paula Broadwell returning to her North Carolina home. Cameras were waiting as she and her husband pulled in yesterday. Her husband, Scott, telling reporters he had no comment.

Meanwhile, after Petraeus' testimony before Congress, a big battle is brewing over U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's declassified talking points on the attack in Benghazi specifically why the role of terrorism wasn't reflected in those talking points.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, well, she says she'll investigate why the terrorist role wasn't included. Still in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Feinstein said she was sure the White House didn't change the language in those talking points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: With the allegation that the White House changed those talking points. That is false. There's only one thing that was changed. And I checked into this.

I believe it to be absolute fact and that was the word consulate was changed to mission. That's the only change that anyone in the White House made and I have checked this out.


ROMANS: Some influential Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of a cover-up and they want Ambassador Susan Rice to testify before Congress.

CHO: I am alive. That's the very simple message one of at least 11 men injured in that oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico wanted to send his family. We're also seeing the moment that explosion happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy -- look at that! Something just blew up.



CHO: TV crew was filming a sport fishing show off the coast of Venice, Louisiana, Friday when that explosion happened way in the distance. Divers scouring the sea floor found the body of one man who worked on the platform.

Another worker still unaccounted for. Four men suffered major burns. Two others are in critical condition and another is in serious condition. The cause of the blast is still under investigation.

Six days of fighting, two enemies and one deadly showdown. Is either side willing to listen to the other? Up next, the negotiations happening right now in Cairo, negotiations to end the fighting between Israel and Hamas.


ROMANS: It's 11 minutes past the hour. President Obama is just now arriving in Cambodia, the first sitting U.S. president to travel there. He is also the first to visit Myanmar, where he was overnight. The president promising American support for Myanmar as the once repressive regime travels the road slowly to democracy.

Mr. Obama met with Aung San Suu Kyi. Once a political prisoner in Myanmar, now a member of parliament and later spoke at the University of Yangon.

CNN's Jessica Yellin traveling with the president in Myanmar, the country previously called Burma. Jessica, how was the president's speech received there? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christine. The president and the White House say the president was deeply moved, first of all, by the several thousand people who gathered along the streets here to greet him on his arrival for what you described as an historic first trip by a sitting president.

And the reception here was, as you might expect, a very warm one, about 1500 people in this auditorium for the people who did turn up to see him. They were very smiling and pleased to see him.

The president's message to this crowd and the leaders was to continue their move toward liberalization, an open society, toward democracy here in Myanmar. He used his own history as an example, he said that sometimes democracy takes time, and nations have to evolve to achieve full freedom.

Listen to what some of the president said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We amended our constitution to extend the democratic principles that we hold dear. And I stand before you as president of the most powerful nation on earth, but, recognizing that once the color of my skin would have denied me the right to vote. And so that should give you some sense that, if our country can transcend its differences, then yours can, too. Every human being within these borders --


YELLIN: A very personal note from the president on a trip that's been marked by several. He has noted a number of times that this is also the last time he will be traveling overseas with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an official capacity. As everybody knows, she is not going to stay on as secretary of state.

She said that she needs some time off, and so he thanked her personally for some of the work she's done and they've been flying together on Air Force One for some of his trips. And this is part of what they are calling an Asia pivot, the president's effort to refocus and rebalance the U.S. relationship and alliances in this region, in part to offset the growing influence of China -- Christine.

ROMANS: Right, re-engaging in the region just as China's announcing its new leadership. What does the president have planned for the rest of the day -- Jessica?

YELLIN: So, as you pointed out, he is already in Cambodia and he'll be attending two summits there. Two East Asia Summits so tonight, and this afternoon, he'll be attending a meeting with the prime minister of Cambodia, and then a summit dinner there.

And then tomorrow he has a full day of meetings for both the ASEAN Summit and another East Asia Summit, lots of alliances, and trade partnerships that they're working out trying to develop especially a Pacific trade alliance. I should also point out, Christine, that Secretary Clinton and the president's top national security adviser, we're told, are in constant contact with some of the U.S. allies working on the conflict in Gaza and Israel to try to deescalate those tensions, briefing the president on that as well during this trip, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jessica Yellin -- thanks, Jessica.

CHO: Six days of Israeli air strikes and Hamas rocket attacks, 30,000 Israeli troops perched along the Gaza border as we speak. The situation could tip at any moment as much of the world watches and hopes that a ceasefire can be reached.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is visiting the region today. He's one of a number of diplomats scrambling to broker a ceasefire.

Hamas is demanding an end to Israel's blockade on Gaza. And it wants raids in the territory to end permanently.

Israel says it's not letting up until the rocket attacks from Hamas stop.

I want to bring in Jane Harman. She's the former ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and she's the current director of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. She joins us live from Cairo.

Representative Harman, thank you so much for joining us.

Israel and Hamas, as you know, are meeting separately with Egyptian officials. But I think it's important to point out that Egypt is not a neutral negotiating partner in this. They have long been an ally of Hamas.

I ask you -- during your trip there, are you hopeful that you can reach any sort of agreement to a ceasefire?

JANE HARMAN (D), FORMER CALIFORNIA CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, actually, I am. I mean I'm not the one negotiating it, but this is my third visit to this marvelous country, the largest in the Arab world, in a year. And at this time, even with Gaza going on, there is reason for optimism about the Egyptian economy, and future of an IMF loan, and a constitution about to be drafted, hopefully that will include full, equal rights for women.

But, Gaza is on the minds of everybody here, and I have heard in the last hour or so, there is reason for optimism that a cease-fire could be announced as early as this afternoon and the role Egyptians have played in helping broker that is viewed as very positive. They could only do that if they had a special relationship both with Hamas, and with Israel.

CHO: But I have to ask you --

HARMAN: I have to disagree with you --

CHO: OK. But I have to ask you --

HARMAN: -- that Egypt is only operating on behalf of Hamas.

CHO: Well, I think that -- as you say, you're hopeful, and as you say, which is the first time we're hearing this, that you believe a ceasefire can be reached by this afternoon, the rockets and the missiles continue to fly, we continue to hear explosions.

HARMAN: I know.

CHO: And they're pulling women and children from the rubble, including 10 members of one family. So I ask you, what is it that would give you this type of hope?

HARMAN: Well, there have been negotiations here, they've been widely reported in the press with the leader of Egypt, President Morsi, and Erdogan of Turkey and other countries participating with others from the area in conflict, trying to work out a cease-fire. And I have no personal information because I wasn't in the room but I'm just saying, I understand the rumors are floating now here that there's reason for optimism that a ceasefire could be announced as early as this afternoon.

CHO: Well, that would be very, very good news as tens of thousands of Israeli troops amass and are called up and ready to launch a ground offensive.

HARMAN: It would be very good. And there have been casualties on both sides, and certainly, my heart goes out to those innocents who were hurt. And as has been said by President Obama, Israel has a right to defend herself and hopefully this -- these rockets will stop, and a ceasefire will be negotiated.

And what I would urge or hope is that a next step could be taken, which is Egypt using its influence with Hamas to get Hamas to adopt the precepts of the peace process, so that hopefully a two-state -- a negotiation for two states could go forward which I think is in the interest of, certainly U.S. policy, but it's strongly in the interests of the parties to the two states.

CHO: Representative Harman, before I let you go -- I must ask you, I've been reading your name a lot lately in the news, as you well know. Your name has been floated as a potential replacement for David Petraeus as CIA director. I'm wondering if you're willing to go on the record here to say that you would take the job if you were offered it.

HARMAN: I have a great job at the Wilson Center. I left Congress after nine terms, to succeed (INAUDIBLE) and it's an enormous honor and sure it's flattering to be --

CHO: Would you take the job?

HARMAN: -- to be considered. The CIA is a wonderful agency. That's completely speculative. I serve on the what's called the external board there, as well as the advisory board to the director of national intelligence, to the defense policy board and Hillary Clinton's foreign policy board, and those are wonderful opportunities that fully engage me and I have the opportunity to be in Egypt at a time of -- where great history is being made. So I -- I'll take the future when the future comes.

CHO: I'm going to take that as a yes.

All right. Former Congresswoman Jane Harman, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center, I wish you the best of luck as you continue those negotiations in Cairo.

HARMAN: Thank you.

CHO: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. The latest recount in Florida shows Congressman Allen West trailing his Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy by almost 2,000 votes. West trying to keep his seat representing Florida's 18th congressional district. Unofficial numbers posted Sunday evening on the Florida secretary of state's Web site give Murphy 166,257 votes to 164,353 for West.

2016 a long way away, but Florida Senator Marco Rubio sure looks like a presidential candidate during a visit to Iowa. Rubio appeared Saturday night at a big fund-raiser for Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. In his speech, Rubio discussed the future of the Republican Party, addressed a host of issues, including tax reform, the national debt, energy and immigration policy.

CHO: I know when we hit this time of year, you always like to say, if you don't have it, don't buy it, right?

ROMANS: If you don't have the money, don't buy it.

CHO: Don't buy it.

ROMANS: If you haven't invested in your kid's college, why are you buying a door buster? That's all I got to say.

CHO: Some of the analogy, you know? It can be alluring.

Anyway, you know, Black Friday almost here, end of the week, biggest shopping day of the year. But if some Walmart workers have their way, it's going to be one of the messiest, too. We're going to tell you why, next.


ROMANS: Twenty-five minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

Minding your business, U.S. stock futures are higher. Congressional leaders came out of their fiscal cliff meeting with President Obama Friday and they sounded encouraged that a deal could be reached. That optimism helping push markets up today.

But remember the Dow, the NASDAQ, the S&P 500, they're all down about 5 percent since the election because of concerns about that fiscal cliff, added pressure on energy prices because of unrest in the Middle East today. Oil prices are higher because of the fighting between Israel and Gaza, and concerns that could disrupt -- disrupt oil supplies in the region if it expands or continues. Light sweet crude oil is up about 1 percent.

And Walmart, on the offensive against a workers walkout planned for Black Friday. Walmart filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. It says the union-backed OUR Walmart group didn't file the right paperwork to picket during past demonstrations. OUR Walmart says it has 1,000 protests planned across the country later this week. Walmart plans to open its doors for Black Friday at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night -- which is what we call mission creep. That makes it Black Thursday.

Which brings me to the one thing you need to know about your money today. You've heard me say it before. Black Friday shoppers, are you saving for your kids' college? It's a better present than any door buster. Don't buy all the retail hype. People say oh, bah, humbug. It's that time of the year when I start saying I don't get the retail hype.

CHO: Just one pair of shoes, Christine. Come on.

ROMANS: Sure if you put money in the 529 this month, go for it.

CHO: All right. Good advice. Thank you.

Still ahead a story, that gives new meaning to all in the family. You won't believe what police in Texas say this man and his two children pulled off. Not once, but seven times.


ROMANS: Day six of the strike. Still no letup in the violence. Israel broadens its assault. Gaza refusing to give in.

CHO: That time of year again, right? Holiday traffic jam. Will you be one of the 24 million Americans in the air this week? How the airlines are getting ready for the masses.

ROMANS: And punkin' chunkin' -- just how far will they go?

CHO: Good morning, everybody. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alina Cho.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's just about half past the hour right now.

The bombs keep dropping and the blood keeps spilling in Gaza. An Israeli missile destroying a two-story home in Gaza City, killing 11 people including four children. The conflict between Israel and Hamas intensifying overnight. Representatives of Israel and Hamas in Egypt right now for cease-fire talks. But they're not talking directly to each other.

Hamas offering up a demand in exchange for a truce, insisting Israel end its military blockade of Gaza if it wants the bombings to end.

Arwa Damon live from Gaza City this morning.

What's the latest, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, those who were killed in yesterday's airstrike that you mentioned just there were buried during midday prayers. And whilst that funeral was going on, we saw three rockets being fired. Our colleague Ben Wedeman who was at the funeral said that he saw them from that location, as well, as did the mourners, and when those rockets were being fired, right afterwards everyone began chanting, "revenge, revenge".

Shortly thereafter, we heard a number of explosions and we did hear from residents in the area where the explosions occurred that they were believed to have taken place in the areas where these various rocket launching units were firing at Israel but we have been hearing so far that no significant injuries have been brought into the main hospital. A lot of the locations targeted seem to be these fields that are in between these very densely packed residential areas. But you'll have small little pocket that is open leading off in narrow alleyways. It does seem, right now, that that is what the Israelis have been targeting so far.

But this most certainly an incredibly tense and difficult situation for those living here, as you can imagine. Most people staying well indoors. And when we drive around the streets, you really get the sense that you are in a war zone, with most people not being out and about. The vast majority of shops are shut except that the residents here have not been able to flee. They're all trying to stay safely indoors.

But as is always the case in this conflict zone and in so many others, it is those that are trying to somehow protect themselves, the innocent civilians, that always end up being the ones who are caught in the crossfire, Christine.

ROMANS: Right. And, Arwa, do you know, are the rockets still falling from Gaza into Israel?

DAMON: The ones that we saw being fired, that was about an hour, hour and a half ago, so yes they most certainly are still being fired. Hamas saying it will continue to do so until some sort of ceasefire agreement is, in fact, reached. That, of course, as you were mentioning earlier, incredibly difficult given how hardened each side of this conflict is in its position and in its demands.

But at this point in time, this most certainly is continuing from both sides, and residents here are incredibly anxious about the possibility of a ground invasion.

ROMANS: All right. Arwa Damon, glad to see you. Thank you, Arwa.

CHO: President Obama praising Myanmar for its political reforms and saying if they continue on that Democratic path, America will be in its corner. He's the first sitting U.S. president ever to visit the country. He also met with activist Aung San Suu Kyi at the lakeside villa where for 15 years she was a political prisoner. The president just arrived in Cambodia, which is the final stop on his tour of Southeast Asia.

ROMANS: Here at home, more than 3,000 people rallying outside the White House in opposition to proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would help deliver oil from Canada's tar sands, rather, all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, the Obama administration delayed the decision on the controversial project until after the election.

CHO: A Texas father and his two adult children are in custody accused in a strange of bank robberies. Authorities say Ronald Scott Catt and his son Hayden robbed the banks while his daughter, 18-year-old Abby, drove the getaway car. The family is believed to be responsible for two bank heists in Texas and five others in Oregon.

ROMANS: For the first time since hurricane Sandy, both tubes of New York's Hugh L. Carey Tunnel are open for the morning commute. You may know it from its former name, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. It got pounded by the storm surge caused by hurricane Sandy.

Saltwater flooded out the tunnel, caused damage to its electrical and ventilation systems. On an average workday in New York, this tunnel carries about 50,000 cars. So, Alina, just considering how much water was in there a couple weeks ago, a lot of Brooklyn and Manhattan residents are very happy that it's open this morning for their commute.

CHO: I have to say, you've got to give them credit. They cleaned out the subways pretty quickly. They were 90 percent back in a couple of days.


CHO: Those commuters must be frustrated but properly very happy that it's back open this morning.

All right. Meteorologist Rob Marciano joins us now with a look at the big storms lining up for the West Coast.

Hi, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, several of them, going to be several days, your old stomping grounds there, Alina.

Portland to Seattle, look at the string of moisture coming in from the satellite imagery and it's dropping down into northern California, as well. So the garden hose is out and it's coming down pretty good. Portland, there you go, up I-5 across the river, Vancouver up to Seattle, this is heavy at time. A little bit of snow in the mountains, but the snow levels generally will be rising here over the next couple days. So, it's mostly going to be a flood event here and flood watches have been posted for much of western Oregon, including parts of northern and eastern parts of Washington. Snow levels again rising. Rainier, some higher peaks will get some serious snow.

But the winds also blowing. Look at these recorded wind gusts. Yaquina Head, 98-mile-an-hour gust. Garibaldi, Oregon, 70-mile-an- hour gust. That is hurricane strength, you bet.

And this is the time of year where they get their windstorms and they're getting it pretty good. A three-day event expected there. Mostly northern California up through say Vancouver, B.C., So Cal looks good. Much of the Intermountain West looks good as well.

A weak front through central parts of the U.S. right now, getting into say Kansas City through St. Louis, pretty weak, but it will have some showers there, and also some fog this morning across the Great Lakes if you're travelling there. Breezy across parts of the Carolinas and a little bit of shower and thunderstorm complex just offshore of South Carolina, 56 degrees high temperature. Chicago, 68 degrees and Memphis, 49 degrees. Not a bad-looking fall day in the Big Apple.

CHO: Hmm.

MARCIANO: Christine, back up to you.

CHO: That's great to hear. Have you ever carved a pumpkin?

MARCIANO: Who hasn't carved a pumpkin?

CHO: Have you ever chunked a pumpkin?

MARCIANO: I've never chunked a pumpkin though but I do enjoy the video. You're going to roll it?

ROMANS: We're going to roll it.

CHO: That's right. Check it out. That's right.

These guys have chunked pumpkins and they are gathering from all over the world to see who can hurl those pumpkins the farthest. We have "Mythbuster" co-host Kari Byron live after this quick break to tell us what this is all about.


CHO: Welcome back.

It's Thanksgiving and that can only mean one thing, right? It's not turkey. We're talking about pumpkin chunkin. That's right. Pumpkin chunkin. It's the annual competition where more than 100 engineering teams from around the world descend on a corn field in Delaware to see whose contraption can propel a pumpkin the farthest. They juggle, too. For the fifth year, Science Channel will be broadcasting the competition on Thanksgiving night. And Kari Byron, she's the host of the special this Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Pacific. Kari is the co-host of Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters" as well.

Good morning, Kari. Great to see you.


ROMANS: All right. So for those who are not familiar with pumpkin chunkin, tell us what are the rules of the game?

BYRON: Rules of the game. Well, you need to throw a pumpkin as far as you can, with purely mechanical means. But when you give a challenge like this to backyard engineers, and crazy guerrilla scientists, they're going to come up with some wild means of throwing a pumpkin.

So we're talking about a battlefield that has air cannons, torsion machines, catapults, trebuchets, human powered machines, and they're chunking pumpkins, you know, over 4,000 feet. Almost -- you know, I think the record is over a mile and a half.

CHO: Wow. That's pretty incredible. I mean, we're looking at some of those contraptions right now. I mean, not only they do look elaborate, they look pretty expensive, and they look like they took some time to build, right?

BYRON: Oh, this is not child's play. This is not just a hobby. This is a lifestyle.

Pumpkin chunkin people are so into it. They spend an entire year preparing, put a serious investment in. They really, really go for broke.

CHO: How many people are involved in this competition on an annual basis?

BYRON: You know, there's definitely over 100 teams, and those --

CHO: Wow. Oh, teams?

BYRON: -- teams can consist of -- yes, yes, 100 teams. Those teams can consist of, you know, just pits full of tons of people. But, you know, thousands of people actually come out to the event.

It is, I think, the entire state of Delaware is out in corn fields when pumpkin chunkin is going on. People come from all over the United States. I mean, there's a team from Colorado spent a week just trying to get their machine out there.

CHO: And it's a several-day event, right? It took place earlier this month?

BYRON: It's -- usually, they have three days, and three rounds, and each round there's a pumpkin thrown. But because hurricane Sandy came through, and tore up the Northeast, they only had two days for the entire event. So it was quite a fever pitch to get your pumpkins out and build.

CHO: I'm glad they finally did it. One final question, I know you can't tell us who won, but tell, tell us, I know, do -- do they win a cash prize? I know that a lot of this goes to a good cause, as well, right?

BYRON: Oh, there are so many charities that are supported by pumpkin chunkin. It's a huge event. Most people are out there for the charity. It's quite amazing collaboration.

CHO: All right. Well, Kari Byron, you're the host of this special, 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific this Thursday on the Discovery Channel. Kari, thank you.

BYRON: Pumpkin chunkin!

CHO: All right. Thanks for joining us.


ROMANS: Thanks, Alina.

Back now to our top story the Middle East. It's been a bloody 24 hours in Gaza City. Eleven civilians killed by an Israeli airstrike. Four of the dead are children.

Right now, representatives of Israel and Hamas are in Egypt for ceasefire talks. But they're not speaking to each other. Hamas demanding an end to Israel's military blockade in Gaza in order to stop the violence.

President Obama praising Myanmar's rapid political reforms during his historic visit there. The president met with fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi who spent 15 years under house arrest in Myanmar. He's the first sitting U.S. president to travel there and to Cambodia, as well. The president just arrived there this morning, the final stop on his three-nation tour of Southeast Asia.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the American Music Award goes to -- Justin Bieber!


ROMANS: You know, the paper card is so 20th century, isn't it? Don't stop believing. Justin Bieber sweeps the American Music Awards, winning all three categories in which he was nominated, including the biggest award of the night, Artist of the Year. And his mom was there as his date. Sweet.

Other big winners, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Nicki Minaj. But probably one of the oddest performances ever, I give you, M.C. Hammer Gangnam style. (MUSIC PLAYING)

ROMANS: M.C. hammer showing you that, indeed, parachute pants are timeless.


ROMANS: Now, one for -- one of M.C. Hammer's biggest fan, John Berman.

CHO: I love that.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: They're actually -- they're hammer pants.


BERMAN: That's me.

ROMANS: That really is you.

BERMAN: That's me with my friend, Hammer, at the Democratic National Convention this past year.

CHO: Oh, my gosh.


BERMAN: Yes. That's Hammer right there. He wears Hammer pants, not parachute pants. There's a slight difference to what he's wearing. He is very talented. That was two logistics (ph) on the airplane.

CHO: That's right.

BERMAN: Famous hammer hit, he was very good.

We got a big show coming up on "STARTING POINT." A lot going on. We are live to Gaza right now. You've seen the pictures. Anderson Cooper startled as explosions going off all around him. We will talk live to Anderson as the violence amps up this morning.

Plus, as the clock ticks towards that fiscal cliff, mayors across the country are pleading for a deal. They need it. They say the impact will be huge on their cities if Congress can't get their act together and compromise. We're going to talk to Democratic mayor, Michael Nutter of Philadelphia and Republican mayor, Scott Smith from Mesa, Arizona.

And, new numbers showing nearly 50 million people in the U.S. are living below the poverty line. You didn't hear much about it on the campaign trail. Now, a new plan to cut that number in half over the next decade. Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, he will join us for the details. We have that and much more on M.C. Hammer coming up on "STARTING POINT."

ROMANS: I love it. All right. Thanks, John.

Are you going to be flying this holiday weekend? We're all going to be working this holiday week. But if you are flying, step in line with a 24 million other Americans will be in the air with you. How are airlines preparing for the masses? We've got an exclusive behind- the-scenes look for you coming up next.


CHO: Ten minutes before the top of the hour and NASCAR has crown a new Sprint Cup champion. His name is Brad Keselowski. Five-time champ, Jimmie Johnson, was Keselowski's only competition for the title going into Sunday's Ford Eco-Boost 400 at Homestead, Miami speedway when Johnson experienced some sort of mechanical failure.

The race for the chase was over. Keselowski came in 15th, but that was enough to take home the championship for the blue deuce, the number two Penske racing dodge.

ROMANS: All right. Thanksgiving coming up on Thursday making this one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. Excuse me. But what are the airlines doing to make sure the planes are ready to fly and help travelers on those jam packed flights reach their destinations on time? Sandra Endo has more from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.


SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lot is riding on people like Michael Baumgarten as more than 24 million travelers are expected to fly this Thanksgiving week. He's a technician for United Airlines.

MICHAEL BAUMGARTEN, UNITED TECHNICIAN: The airplanes just pulled into the gate. (INAUDIBLE)

ENDO: We went behind the scenes at Houston Intercontinental Airport to see what mechanics do before passengers board.

BAUMGARTEN: You walk down and it's just that. It's -- you walk down, look at all the credible --

ENDO: So, what are you checking for here?

BAUMGARTEN: Anything at all broken, leaking, if there's something wrong, in this case, you'll know about it.

ENDO (on-camera): Technicians get at least half an hour to check every plane that lands. They inspect the entire plane to make sure everything is OK before the next flight.

(voice-over) United is anticipating a peak load of more than 600 flights through Houston the day before Thanksgiving. And passengers want them running safely and on time. A lot of times as a passenger we hear, oh, your flight's not ready because of a maintenance issue. What does that mean for us? BAUMGARTEN: If the airplane is not all safe and legal, it can't go.

ENDO: The safety checks are inside and out. On United's new 787 Dreamliner, technicians examine the electronics.

LARRY THOMPSON, UNITED MAINTENANCE SUPERVISOR: We're just going to oversee problems we've had in the past, talking about things had happened again (ph) in the future.

ENDO: And every four years or so, every plane goes through a major safety overhaul. What are they working on here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a 757 that will completely open the airplane up, inspect everything, replace a lot of components, lubricate everything, put it back together.

ENDO: Most mechanical problems are logged in flight so base crews know what's wrong before the plane even lands, but it's not always a quick fix.

BAUMGARTEN: We do the best we can. They didn't build it in a day. We can't always fix it, you know, in just five minutes. But we always get it fixed.


ENDO (on-camera): And take a look at this line here at the nation's seventh busiest airport. We've seen a line like this since four o'clock this morning. And if you look over here, the ticket agents are hard at work. Airlines have brought in extra staff to take care of the increased passenger load.

And, unfortunately, travelers will have to go through this hassle all over again, because actually, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, is the busiest travel day of the year -- Christine.

ROMANS: Oh, wow. Pack your patience, everyone. No matter what they do on the airline end, Sandra, bring your patience with you to the airport. That's my best advice.

CHO: So glad we're working. We don't have to deal with that.

ROMANS: No kidding. No kidding.

CHO: All right. Today's "Best Advice" after this quick break.


CHO: Welcome back. As always, we end the show with today's "Best Advice."

ROMANS: You know, we always ask our guests here to tell us the best advice they've ever received. And today, we hear from singer, actress, and "American Idol" winner, Jordin Sparks. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JORDIN SPARKS, SINGER, ACTRESS, AND "AMERICAN IDOL": The best advice I've ever received is always -- always be aware of other people's time. Being on time is kind of a rarity in my industry, but at the same time, when people are, people take notice. And it's really important that you know that other people have things that they need to get done, and places they need to be, and things, too.

And then, if you're on time, then you don't have to worry about (INAUDIBLE) and figure other stuff either. So, always be on time and always respect those that came before you in your -- you know, whatever field you're going into.


ROMANS: Always be on time. It is 58 minutes and 40 seconds on the east which means we're on time.

CHO: We are on time.


ROMANS: That's EARLY START for us. I'm Christine Romans in for John Berman this morning.

CHO: Good morning -- have a great morning. I'm Alina Cho. We throw it over to "STARTING POINT" now where John Berman and Brooke Baldwin are standing by.