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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Stores Open Early for Black Friday; Protests Evoke Violence on Israel-Gaza Border; Interview with Foreign Policy Analyst Robin Wright

Aired November 23, 2012 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Soledad is off today.

Our STARTING POINT, back in black. While you were sleeping shoppers came out in force. Retailers, they couldn't be happier.

CHO: Except at Walmart where a Black Friday strike threatens to hit the huge company right where it hurts.

BERMAN: Plus, deadly gunfire at the border. The uneasy truce between Israel and Gaza.

CHO: It's Friday, November 23rd. The day after Thanksgiving. STARTING POINT begins right now.

BERMAN: Our Starting Point today the black Friday shopping binge. Stores across the country have been open for hours now, offering door- buster deals. Some of the biggest retailers turned Thanksgiving into gray Thursday. They opened their doors last night.

CHO: So holiday shoppers off and running. We have two live reports. CNN's George Howell at a best buy store in Atlanta and Stacey Cohan at a mall in Arlington, Virginia. We want to go first to George Howell. George, what's it look like where you are?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alina, you know, good morning. So fewer people in the store right now than we saw earlier. We want to talk about some video that we talk this morning at this particular best buy. We saw some 600 people all file into this store all trying to get, you know, these deals. You look around, you see the TVs. There are televisions that are marked off. You've got laptop computers that are marked off. Laptops and tablets definitely the big items that are in demand here.

And for a store like best buy, you know, not only is it competing with online sales, but also competing with Wal-Mart, Target. It's really important for this store, when you talk to the store managers here, to make sure that they get the best bang for their buck. You know, best buy had disappointing third quarter earnings. They're doing the best to make up for that. This is the day to do it.

So you see them really advertising and pushing these deals, these door busters. Again, we saw a laptop computer for like $179. There are definitely deals that have made customers come out and continue to come out. We'll see that through Sunday, Alina.

CHO: All right, George Howell, live from Atlanta. We'll be talking to the CEOs of Macy's and Toys R Us later on.

BERMAN: Stacey Cohan has joined the pilgrimage at the Pentagon city mall at Arlington, Virginia. She joins us now. Stacey, some 200 stores in this mall, four levels? What have you been seeing?

STACEY COHAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's enormous. If you want to shop this is the place to do it. Some of the anchor stores, larger retailers opened at midnight. The store in general opened at 5:00 this morning. I just got some numbers on the parking lot which usually can tell you some idea of how many people are here. It's about 15 percent full. That is as of 5:00 a.m. keep in mind, that's 5:00 a.m. And we also have a metro station within walking distance of the mall. So many people come here that way. People are steady filing in.

And, I just got this, which is I've not seen black Fridays before. This is a shopper bag that they are providing, a shopper relief bag to shoppers out here. They've got some really neat items, bottled water. They have hand sanitizer. There are snacks in here, candy and chips, and a lot of coupons for the stores. So that's on top of the black Friday deals they're already offering. These are available as supplies last. It made me feel good because I haven't been able to shop yet, so at least I have a bag.

But most of the people here that I'm seeing around, they have bags in their hands. That's good news. You know the National Retail Federation is not predicting a superstar holiday sales season this year. They're thinking folks weren't going to spend a whole lot more money than they did last year. That's not the greatest news. But as long as people can keep it steadily coming I don't see too many empty handed folks here. This is a big mall. So we're busy.

BERMAN: Stacy I'm glad you have that relief bag with you, while shopping it is very important to hydrate. So please make sure you keep that up. Can you tell by the traffic where people are walking where they seem to be headed, which stores seem to be doing well?

COHAN: I can tell certainly by the bags. Macy's is one of the stores that opened at midnight. Keep in mind, there are almost 200 stores here, 170 stores, four levels. I'm just staring at the makeup store, which seems to be doing a good job. I spoke to a lady earlier. Clothes seem to be what I'm hearing a lot of. Clothing items are hot at least in this mall for the moment. There is a Best Buy across the street from me. Folks who want high tech gadgets are probably going across the way.

BERMAN: Stacey Cohan in Virginia, thanks so much. Good to see you this morning.

CHO: We have a developing story we're watching very closely. New reports of violence in Gaza near the Israeli border this morning. According to Hamas security sources, a group of farmers and protesters were participating in anti-Israel demonstrations in the security buffer between the two regions known as no-man's-land. Hamas claims Israeli forces fired at the protest, killing at least one Palestinian man and wounding 19 others. There are also reports that six people were hurt in the same area yesterday. Despite the violence that ceasefire there is still holding.

BERMAN: Meantime, officials in Israel say they made an arrest in Wednesday's bus bombing in Tel Aviv. They say the suspect is an Arab- Israeli and a member of Hamas. That group has said it had nothing to do with the attack, by the way. More than 20 people were hurt. Police say the suspect used a cellphone to detonate the bomb.

CHO: One wreck on a foggy interstate set off a massive chain reaction pileup. It happened near Beaumont, Texas. About 100 vehicles crashed into each other. Two people were killed, more than 100 injured. This stretch of Interstate 10, by the way, was shut down for several hours yesterday.

BERMAN: Some Egyptians are now calling their new president a dictator. Mohamed Morsi issued an order that says the courts may not overturn any of his decisions until the country drafts a new constitution. This could give him unchecked power for months, really. Morsi has already ordered retrials of officials in last year's crackdown on protesters. That could mean another crackdown for former leader Hosni Mubarak.

CHO: In about four hours' time first lady Michelle Obama will welcome a Christmas tree to the White House. It's a big one. You're having a look at last year's tree there. This year's is a 19 foot Frasier fir. It will arrive at about 11:00 a.m. eastern from Ashe County, North Carolina. And it will be displayed in the blue room.

BERMAN: It was a triple serving of NFL football on Thanksgiving Day. It started in Detroit as always. The Texans had a 34-31 victory over the lions. A gaffe by lions' coach Jim Schwartz on this play right here. The Texans running back appeared down, but still ran for a touchdown. Now the coach of the Lions threw the challenge flag here. But it was negated, a negated automatic review, because he threw the flag and it may have tossed the team a game. If you throw the flag on a scoring play it negates the automatic review. It's kind of a glitch in the system here. Still he should have known better, and the Lions went on to lose.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the Cowboys lost to the Washington Redskins 38- 31. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, RG3, was the star, throwing for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. He looked great.

Also looking great yesterday the New England patriots. They just mauled the Jets. The Jets clearly the biggest turkey of the day. The patriots won 49-19. The game wasn't even that close. The patriots at one point, they scored three touchdowns in 52 seconds. That's almost mathematically impossible, folks, but it was wonderful to see. You're looking at Julian Edelman getting to the end zone. This was Bill Belichick's 200th win as a head coach. So congratulations to coach Belichick. Here's another one of the touchdowns. We could watch this for hours there were so many touchdowns. CHO: That's right, Boston boy here next to me. Proud man this morning, stayed up late to watch the game. Eight minutes after the hour.

(WEATHER BREAK)

BERMAN: Nine minutes after the hour. Ahead on STARTING POINT, a deadly shooting this morning in Gaza as Israeli forces kill a Palestinian protester near the border. Could this break the fragile truce there?

CHO: And later, the numbers keep growing and growing. Powerball jackpot fever on again. It's on the rise. You won't believe how much it's up to now. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Minding your business this morning, U.S. stock futures are up, but it's expected to be a light trading day after the holiday, and it's a shortened trading day, as well. Markets close at 1:00 p.m. eastern.

CHO: All that leftover turkey. It's 13 minutes after the hour. The black Friday frenzy in full swing, the National Retail Federation estimates 147 million shoppers are expected to hit stores today, and into the weekend. Plus, we already know that online shopping is up. It's up nearly 20 percent so far. And, the number of customers using mobile devices to check out deals online has reached a new record, 28.5 percent. That's according to the IBM benchmark survey which tracks the sort of thing every year. And it's not even cyber Monday yet.

BERMAN: Every day has a name. Many small retailers are hoping to get a piece of the action tomorrow with small business Saturday. That is a big push from the Small Business Administration encouraging customers to do their holiday shopping at local small shops tomorrow. And 100 million Americans shop at independently owned stores on this day last year.

CHO: Two days back from the brink of war, a deadly incident could threaten the fragile peace between Israel and Hamas. According to a Hamas spokesman, Israeli troops fired on Palestinian protesters near the Gaza border, killing one man and wounding 19 others. CNN's Sara Sidner following all the developing stories for us out of Jerusalem. Sara, good morning. What do we know?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alina. The Hamas spokespeople from the health department have been saying that now 25 people have been injured. One of them killed. They say that it was farmers that were near the border there working on the border, or near the border with Israel Gaza fence. But when we talked to the Israeli military they said something very different, that there were several groups of men who came up to the fence, trying to cross over into Israel, protesting against Israel. Their soldiers shot in the air once, then shot at their legs. The Israeli military not confirming a death or injuries, but they are investigating at this point in time.

This comes at a very fragile time, because this ceasefire that's been in place now for less than 48 hours, one of the things that was continued upon is that there was no firing or aggression from either side towards one another. And now we're seeing this incident.

So far there hasn't been any comments from either government, neither Hamas nor the Israeli government about what they may or may not do, but there has also not been an escalation which is good news. So far the ceasefire is still holding. But a lot of concern is happening at a very difficult time when everyone is on tenterhooks waiting to see if the ceasefire holds for a much longer time than just a few days.

CHO: Sara Sidner live for us in Jerusalem. Sara, thank you.

BERMAN: Let's talk more about this right now. We're going to bring in veteran Middle East analyst Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the U.S. Institute of Peace and author of the book "Rock the Casbah." She just returned from a trip to the Middle East. Robin, let's start with the shooting at the border between Israel and Gaza. It's a very fragile truce right now, a fragile ceasefire. How threatening is an incident like this?

ROBIN WRIGHT, VETERAN FOREIGN AFFAIRS POLICY ANALYST: In 64 years of conflict we've had dozens of ceasefires that are fallen apart. This one was always vulnerable. Tempers are particularly explosive. But, also, both sides have a vested interest right now in trying to generate movement for the Palestinians, the opening of Gaza, the end of the blockade, or the easing of the blockade, anyway, that's crippled the economy now for four years.

And the Israelis want security, obviously, because of the Hamas rockets hit for the first time as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. So there's motive to move forward. The question is, is there the will. That's always been the issue.

BERMAN: Both sides have the motive to move forward, as you say, and both sides also claiming victory in this small skirmish over the last several days. I want to play a sound bite from the leader of Hamas who spoke in Gaza City yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): The victory of Gaza is a solid truth, not a phenomenon. The era of Egypt and the region has changed, and America is now beginning to learn a new and listen to a new language.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So is he right? Is there a new era dawning in the Middle East? And what does it mean for the U.S.?

WRIGHT: Well, there's clearly a new era dawning in the Middle East. And we're still trying to figure out what the new order is going to look like, as are many people on the ground. But both sides to a certain degree can claim a degree of victory here. Hamas survived. And it can never win militarily. But it can -- it -- its survival means that it won to a certain extent. That's the model created in the war between Israel and Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.

But Israel also made significant gains out of this. It proved that its iron dome missile defense system could protect vast areas and could shoot down the majority of Hamas rockets. And one of the things it's going to get out of this from the United States is additional help in providing more missiles for iron dome so that it has even a greater range of protection. So the dynamics are changing a little bit on both sides. Both sides can claim victory. But neither side can win militarily and both sides know that.

BERMAN: You just brought up iron dome. You also brought up Hezbollah, which brings up the question of Iran here, another major actor, maybe the key actor in opposition to Israel in the region. If you're Iran and you just watched this for the last ten days, what do you take from it?

WRIGHT: Well, that Israel does have means of protecting itself. It does have this new iron dome defense capability. I'm not convinced that Iran actually, if it is developing a nuclear weapon, has the intention of using it against Israel. But what it -- what the bigger question really is would Hezbollah and neighboring -- a country that neighbors Israel use the rockets that Iran provides in challenging Israel if there is some confrontation over Iran's controversial nuclear program. That's really the bigger question. And so Iran's calculations may be changing a little bit.

BERMAN: Let's talk about politics, too, internal Israeli politics, because, as you said, both sides Hamas and Israel declared victory. I want to read you the statement from Benjamin Netanyahu. He said, quote, "We control the events. Everything was very, very precise. I set goals and met them. We exacted a heavy price from them and damages their armaments. We erased years of stock piling long and medium range missiles. I said we preferred to achieve these goals without entering, and that is what we did."

There is an election coming up in Israel. Netanyahu looked like he would achieve reelection there anyway. But internally Israel, and abroad in his relationship with the White House what has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu achieved?

WRIGHT: Well, relations are a little bit warmer, at least for now, I think, between the White House and the Israeli prime minister. President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu have not gotten along. That's been well documented. But the United States is now reaching out going to help Israel in a new way. So that does strengthen Bibi Netanyahu's long-term position, I think, as well.

BERMAN: Final question here. The other actor in the region we've been talking about all of them is Egypt, of course. The U.S. has really fallen all over itself thanking Egypt for its role in achieving a ceasefire here. But over the last 24 hours, something fascinating happened in Egypt. The leader there Mohamed Morsi basically gave himself immunity from any kind of legal challenge until there is a new constitution in that country. And some people say that essentially lines him up to be a dictator.

WRIGHT: Well, it certainly gives him very worrying powers, authoritarian powers. He has not used them. There are lots of reasons he did that. Egypt is under the gun to try to produce a new constitution. Some of the judges that President Mubarak put in toward the end may not be as neutral and objective. Let's wait and see how Morsi uses these powers.

Up until now he's done pretty well from the western perspective in working with Israel. He did not call for Jihad, he did not break off relations with Israel. And he's been the key facilitator. The question is, is he going to allow Egypt to become a real democracy. And there's a lot of skepticism about that. He has a lot to prove to the outside world and his own people.

BERMAN: All right, Robin Wright, always great to talk to you.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

CHO: Up ahead on STARTING POINT, an out-of-this world Thanksgiving celebration, turkey in zero gravity. We'll tell you about it. you're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. President Obama is in Washington today with no planned events after celebrating Thanksgiving with his family and staffers at the White House yesterday. The president tweeted this photo of the Obama family, everyone looking a whole lot younger. There was a message saying "From this family to yours, happy Thanksgiving." He then called 10 service members in Afghanistan and thanked them for their sacrifice. The president also met with the Oregon state university basketball team. The head coach is first lady Michelle Obama's brother Greg Robinson.

CHO: A holiday gift from the city of New York, and volunteers to the victims of super-storm Sandy. Many were given free turkey dinners, or provided a bus to restaurants that served up free meals. Volunteer groups also handed out supplies and warm clothes. Some places, get this, had so many volunteers show up that they actually had to be turned away.

BERMAN: The troops getting a Thanksgiving feast away from home. But they had to eat very quickly. Soldiers in South Carolina were provided a holiday meal with all the fixings, including 2,200 pounds of turkey. I had to make sure I was reading that right. The soldiers are on the clock, so they only get ten minutes to eat all that turkey.

CHO: I could do it in ten minutes. I'm a fast eater.

And the three man crew aboard the International Space Station celebrated with a feast, including smoked turkey, thermo-stabilized yams, and Russian mashed potatoes. That's a nod to the two Russian cosmonauts on the station. They also had corn and cranberry apple dessert. Astronauts have been giving thanks at zero gravity since 2000. Nothing says Thanksgiving like thermo-stabilized yams or deep fried turkey.

BERMAN: We did deep fried turkey.

CHO: How did that work out for you?

BERMAN: It was the best turkey I ever had. We did not burn the house down. No injuries as far as I know. So it's good. It was a good turkey.

CHO: You sure about that?

BERMAN: I think so.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, black Friday is really black Thursday. Black Thursday is the new black Friday. So did the holiday gamble pay off? We'll speak with the CEO of Toys R Us. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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