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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Shoppers Gone Wild; Wal-Mart Workers to Protest Today; Report: Looking into Petraeus' Staff; Feeling Lucky?; Black Friday Begins; The Hottest Toys of the Year; Sandy Aftermath on Staten Island; Hotels for Heroes

Aired November 23, 2012 - 07:30   ET

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


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Checking your top stories now. It is Black Friday in America. Shoppers going the extra mile for door buster dears on some big ticket items.

Retailers opened their doors at midnight. Even earlier in some cases. Shoppers for the most part behaving themselves. One exception at a Kmart in Sacramento where a man reportedly threatened to stab people, that's not very nice, while waiting on line to get into the store.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, if you're headed to Wal-Mart today, you might be greeted by demonstrators with picket signs. Wal-Mart workers across the country plan to protest the wages, benefits and other issues.

They say today is the perfect day to get their message across. Yes, I'll say. Wal-Mart says the protesters make up just a fraction of its workforce.

BERMAN: Florida authorities are blaming a giant rogue wave for a boating accident. One woman died after the wave destroyed the boat and tossed the 23 people on board into the water. They were headed back from a day of diving when the wave hit.

CHO: New information coming out today about the David Petraeus investigation. The FBI is investigating whether he told his military staff to share documents and other sensitive information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

That's according to a report from "The Washington Post." FBI agents say they found low level classified information on Broadwell's computer.

BERMAN: So you feeling lucky this holiday season? The Powerball jackpot keeps climbing and climbing. It's now an eye-popping $325 million. The next drawing is tomorrow night at 10:59 Eastern.

We want to know what you would spend all that money on. So, send us a tweet on the Twitters, our address is @startingpointcnn. Look at the bottom of the screen again @startingpointcnn, send us a tweet. CHO: Well, you could spend some of that $325 million shopping at Toys "R" Us. Waking up super early on Black Friday, by the way, just doesn't cut it anymore. This year many stores decided to open last night, Thanksgiving Day, probably going to pay off.

An estimated 41 million people went shopping on Thanksgiving itself. That's almost double the number that are expected to shop today, but still a huge number of people shopping right after their turkey dinners.

Toys "R" Us opened its doors at 8:00 p.m. last night across the country. Joining us now on the phone is the CEO of Toys "R" Us, Jerry Storch. He's outside the big Toys "R" Us store in Times Square.

Mr. Storch, good morning. So you moved your holiday door busters up to 8:00 p.m. yesterday. That's the earliest ever for your store. Any indication that that's helping your bottom line? How is it going?

JERRY STORCH, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, TOYS "R" US (via telephone): Well, our customers loved it. Last year we started at 9:00 p.m. there were long lines outside every one of our stores. They asked us to open a little earlier so this year we opened at 8:00 p.m.

We're a family store. A lot of parents brought their kids at 8:00 p.m. They even sat and ate ice cream. It was a wonderful environment. There were tons of deals and they're still going now. There's still tons of time to get out and shop today.

CHO: So tell us what are some of your best deals? Remind us.

STORCH: Well, for example, we have 50 percent off some of our Monster dolls, which among the hottest dolls you can find. We have tons of other offers at 50 percent and 60 percent off.

We have a huge deal on Skylanders Giants the post popular kid's video game and we have Skylanders Giants at $49.99. It's regularly $74.99. We have the hottest toys in stock right now. It's a great time to shop. Guarantee you'll get the hot toys before Christmas.

CHO: You know, I want to talk a little bit about some of the problems -- it seems every year we see video of stampedes, and in some cases violence or near-violence as we heard about in Sacramento. Any indication about whether you've had any problems at any of the Toys "R" Us stores across the country?

STORCH: We've had zero reports. No reports of any problem at Toys "R" Us stores. We pride ourselves on our line management. We have very strict single file lines entering the store.

We hand out tickets for the hottest products to make sure no one feels there's a need to rush when they get in the store to get that hot door buster and then keep in mind again, we're a family store. We have lots of parents, even with their kids, coming shopping at Toys "R" Us, so it's a real wholesome environment.

CHO: That ticket policy seems to work really well in other stores, as well so good for you for doing it. Meanwhile, as you well know, more people than ever are shopping online this holiday season and spending more online.

So tell me this, you know, other than the thrill of the chase, of being in the store, is there any real benefit to the consumer to go in, versus shop online?

STORCH: Well, first of all, we love our online shoppers. We do over a billion dollars in online sales at Toys "R" Us. We have many of the hottest toys available online so if you want to shop online, please shop at toysrus.com. We love you.

Meanwhile, what we're seeing is an evolution in online shopping where what we call the Omni channel model is starting to become the most important model. That's where sometimes for example you can buy it online, but have it waiting for you and go to the store to pick it up.

So you don't have to hunt and peck once you get to the store. You're guaranteed that you're going to get it. That model is what's winning. But toys also are a little different than some other products because there are only so many of each toy made.

And we've all gone through that struggle trying to find the hot toy the closer you get to Christmas. So one of the best ways to make sure you have your hands on the hot toy is to go to the store and get it.

CHO: Got it. Got it. I like that Omni whatever --

STORCH: Omni channel.

CHO: That's a great idea.

STORCH: It's the future.

CHO: I never heard of that.

STORCH: You've got a store in your neighborhood. You can get the product there. You can just do the old-fashioned way, going to the store, but you can also order online and pick it up at the store. We love you whether you use your cell phone, computer or come to the store.

CHO: You've made it clear and we love you for it that you love all your customers, online or in store. Having said that look into your crystal ball a little bit. What's your prediction is today and yesterday an indication of a strong holiday season for you?

STORCH: Well, there's no way of knowing about that. I can tell you there were long lines outside of all of our stores. The one here at Times Square went down Broadway over on 45th Street all down to Sixth Avenue, it was a monstrous line, you know, very, very long.

People were having a lot of fun. They were happy. They were having a good time. I think people maybe do feel a little more relaxed about the time and think it's OK. What we saw in the depth of the 2008, 2009 recession was the last thing parents cut back on was a Christmas present for their child. We feel we're going to do well in December no matter what.

CHO: Well, you can sort of hear that excitement in your voice so that's one reason alone to get out there in the stores and do it in person versus shop online. Jerry Storch, chairman and CEO of Toys "R" Us. We thank you for joining us. Have a happy holiday season.

STORCH: Absolutely. Today's the best day to shop.

BERMAN: It was shocking that he loves both his in-store and his online customers.

CHO: It is shocking.

BERMAN: I'm sure he would like more of them, too. It is, of course, 37 minutes after the hour right now. The holidays, Thanksgiving at least is over, but the weekend is just getting started.

Meteorologist, Rob Marciano, I hope you have your holiday shopping schedule all set.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. One thing that you guys pointed out, you talk about the hot toy and how you have to -- you are driven crazy by your child, luckily my little baby is not quite old enough to verbalize it for me so I just give her the wooden spoon.

BERMAN: The best toy ever.

MARCIANO: Loves it.

CHO: Girls don't have to verbalize in order for you to know as a father what she wants.

MARCIANO: That's right. It's all about the evil eye and body language. I learned that much. Here we go, if you're traveling or just getting out to the mall, east coast looks good again today, maybe some wind and showers across maybe the coastline.

But it's going to be much, much warmer than average as it has been the past couple days. Enjoy that because this blue line, which indicates the line of cold air that's going to start to pour down across Canada, and into the Great Lakes, already doing that. That's going to change things up quite a bit and also some showers and some snow across parts of Seattle today.

If you're traveling via air through Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, wind issues there with that system. Seattle and Portland we get back into the rain and low clouds especially at SeaTac, seven to nine inches of snow across of the U.P. expected today.

We've already seen in some spots of Wisconsin, northern Wisconsin, eight inches of snow. So winter storm warning is posted there, but elsewhere not too bad. The winds are going to be an issue across the western Great Lakes and upper Midwest, 40 to 45 mile per hour wind gusts.

So higher profile vehicles will have a tough time on the interstates and here's your little front, again, showers and thunderstorms not a huge issue with this. The snow and the wind behind it and the cold air behind that is going to be the big issue.

Temperatures yesterday in Chicago were in the 60s. Today, they'll be in the 30s. So if you are going down the magnificent mile maybe a scarf, maybe a hat, even some gloves.

CHO: No delays to Tampa, Florida, that's good news, right, Rob Marciano?

MARCIANO: You're looking good in Tampa, 72.

BERMAN: All right, thanks a lot, Rob.

CHO: Ahead on STARTING POINT, some much-needed holiday cheer is shared with victims of Superstorm Sandy. How are Staten Island residents coping? We will speak with Congressman Michael Grimm. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back after this.

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BERMAN: The cleanup continues in New York and New Jersey more than three weeks after Hurricane Sandy devastated neighborhoods. Some families are facing a long and difficult path to recovery right now. But many volunteers brought holiday cheer to victims yesterday, delivering a Thanksgiving feast.

Meantime, New York City has announced plans to demolish 200 homes that sustained the worst damage including some on Staten Island where elected officials are focusing now on rebuilding.

We're joined this morning here by Congressman Michael Grimm. He represents the area that includes Staten Island. Great to have you with us this morning.

REPRESENTATIVE MICHAEL GRIMM (R), NEW YORK: Thank you. It's nice to be here.

BERMAN: We look at these pictures. It was really nice. A lot of volunteers did turn out to help in a lot of these neighborhoods that have just been devastated by the storm. How much of a difference, what kind of a Thanksgiving was this compared to others for you personally and for your constituents?

GRIMM: Well, you know, personally, really honed in on what Thanksgiving is all about. To be grateful and be thankful for what you have. And when you see people have lost everything in their entire lives, we're talking some older people have amassed things over the years and just their memories, their pictures, everything they've ever owned is gone.

It really does make you feel grateful and thankful for what you have. I'll tell you yesterday was very special. And extremely uplifting for those that were through the very first stage where a lot of people in shock and don't even realize the magnitude and gravity of just how devastating this is, but now a little bit of the depression starts to set in.

The reality that they have to rebuild and that they're still in shelters for some, and that's a very, very difficult thing to handle and yesterday uplifted especially the children. They were everything from Santa Clauses to those doing tricks, and making balloons.

And also a lot of people, all the elected officials through the city gave out tickets to the parade. So a lot of the families that have been displaced were able to take their children to the parade. That was a big deal for them.

BERMAN: A nice day and a welcome distraction. You know, I saw you almost wince, I think, when I read the news a second ago that 200 homes were going to be demolished there. How much of a blow is that?

GRIMM: It's tremendous. I mean, you have to understand it's more than physically knocking down the home. Again, to some of these people it's their first home. They worked their entire life to build it, to see that physically destroyed.

And it really sends the message how much they have to rebuild, which is why I'll tell you although the very first stage is over, the second stage and there's several stages after that, I think the second stage is the hardest.

This is where we're really going to need volunteers and support the most. This storm is not over. Not even close.

BERMAAN: I was going to ask you about that. It was some three weeks ago right now. What are the biggest concerns that you have? What is this second stage?

GRIMM: Well, first of all, all the displaced families, we have to find them housing. There are a lot of families still in shelters that are in desperate need of apartments and it's not so easy. You know, a lot of them don't have credit.

They don't have access to the things to get first and last month security deposits. All of those little things are adding up and making it very difficult.

What I'm worried about is people start to get around the country and donations start to slow down and we can't let that happen. These families desperately still need our support.

BERMAN: A lot of people now are weighing whether to rebuild on the shoreline. What do you think should go into their consideration?

GRIMM: Well, I think the city of New York has to really look at the zoning and there are certain areas that I just think are dangerous. If you're not going to build to almost a hurricane standard, which means an elevated home then I would really hesitate to rebuild on the shore. The whole eastern seaboard of Staten Island really got crushed. And there are areas where you have to understand over the last 60 or 70 years the natural barriers, the beach and so on has been eroding.

So now it is much more dangerous because the water can come right up to the main streets and that is a huge issue that I think we've already started discussions on about where we can build safely and what type of zoning requirements there's going to be.

BERMAN: You think the state should step in and say you can't rebuild here?

GRIMM: I think the city has to play a role in staying what standards need to be built before we put people in harm's way.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Michael Grimm, it's so great to see you. Thank you for all your efforts yesterday and our best to all the people on Staten Island.

GRIMM: Appreciate it, thank you.

BERMAN: All right, take care.

CHO: Just ahead on STARTING POINT, our men and women in the military sacrifice so much. Now you can give back and help them spend time with their family this holiday season. We're going to tell you how you can do that. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BERMAN: All right, a top U.S. senator is moving away from an anti-tax pledge by activist Grover Norquist. With Congress facing looming tax hikes and spending cuts at the end of the year if they don't act.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican told CNN affiliate WMAZ, quote, "I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge. If we do it his way then we'll continue in debt and I just have a disagreement with him about that." Interesting.

CHO: Want to give back this holiday season? Here's how you can do it. More than 30,000 airline tickets have been given to service members and their families as part of what's called the "Hero Miles Program."

Launched by the Fisher House Foundation, it allows people to donate their frequent flyer miles to wounded, injured and sick military service members and their families. Now there's a new opportunity to do the same with hotel points.

Joining us now from Baltimore to tell us more about the "Hotels for Heroes" program are Dave Coker, President of the Fisher House Foundation and Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland who helped pass legislation for this.

Let me talk to you first, Mr. Coker. First of all, great to see you again this year. Tell me a little bit about this new program with the hotel points. How does it work?

DAVE COKER, PRESIDENT, FISHER HOUSE FOUNDATION: Well, at the heart of what Fisher House does, we have a network of 58 houses all over the world. And we have been able to help 18,000 families a year.

As we help those families, we become aware of additional needs. That's how the "Hero Miles" program was started. We learned that there was difficulty in getting from point A to point B. We started the "Hero Miles" program.

We also have provided hundreds of thousands of lodging for families when the houses are full. And then sometimes the acuity of the patient requires them to go to specialty houses.

And of course, we want to provide housing so that families can be there, support their loved one in a safe, comfortable environment.

CHO: Senator, I want to get to you in a minute, but I think so many people, you know, it is the season to give back, right? So many people are out there, watching and wondering. It just seems so easy, donate hotel points, frequent flyer miles. But in practice it takes a little bit of effort. So how do you do it?

SENATOR BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, first of all, what we're doing we're talking about wounded warriors who are -- come back to the United States. They need to take care of their medical needs, but their family being close by really helps the healing process.

Many times it's a real sacrifice for the family members to be able to afford to travel and be housed where the wounded warrior is being treated. So what Fisher House does it provides housing.

But at times we don't have the actual house available we need to use hotels. So what we're doing with the "Hotels for Heroes," individuals can contribute their hotel miles to help our soldiers and their families get together.

The easiest way is just go to fisherhouse.org, know which hotels are participating and you can donate your miles and help our service people and help their families.

CHO: Marriott, Wyndham, La Quinta, Starwood, Choice and American are among the hotel chains that are already taking part in this program so good for them.

Meanwhile, Senator, just one more question to you. I know this was created out of bipartisan legislation and you were a big part in getting that through. How did you get involved?

What was it about -- it's a great program. When did you first hear about it? How did you get involved and how long did it take for this to get through Congress?

CARDIN: First off, I want to give credit to Congressman Ruppersberger, my colleague in Maryland, who started first the frequent flyer miles for our soldiers and now we expanded it to our hotel miles.

I want to thank my wife, Myrna, who was involved in helping military families as to what more we could do. "Hotel for Heroes" came out of those meetings, that this is another way that we can fill a gap where we can, as individuals, help our service families.

CHO: Senator Ben Cardin and Dave Coker, President of the Fisher House Foundation, I wish you the best of luck. I hope lots and lots of people donate hotel points and frequent flyer miles as a result of seeing this today on CNN. Happy holidays and thanks for joining us.

BERMAN: In the spirit of awesome Thanksgiving, take a look at this Thanksgiving surprise for one Las Vegas military family. Riley Morris was in the middle of a dance class when her dad, Sergeant Major Morris, walked into the room. He wasn't supposed to be home yet from his 14-month tour in Afghanistan. His kids were not expecting him for Thanksgiving. Love pictures like this.

CHO: That's great.

BERMAN: The family says they're thankful to be together and they are thankful that they are all safe.

CHO: Ahead on STARTING POINT, if you're just now getting ready to shop, guess what, you're late. Black Friday has been under way for hours. We will see how the retail feeding frenzy is going.

BERMAN: Later, a president dealing with a hostile Congress. Sound familiar? We're going to talk with James Spader about his role in the new Lincoln movie and how history has a way of repeating itself. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CHO: And I'm Alina Cho. Soledad has the week off. Our STARTING POINT, back in black. While you were sleeping, shoppers came out in force. Retailers couldn't be happier.

BERMAN: Except at Wal-Mart, where a Black Friday strike threatens to hit the huge company right where it hurts.

CHO: Plus deadly gunfire at the Gaza border. Will it upset the uneasy truce in the Middle East?

BERMAN: It is Friday, November 23rd, Black Friday and STARTING POINT begins right now.