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Two Factory Fires, 100 Plus Deaths In Bangladesh; Critics: Bangladesh Factories Are "Death Traps"; NASA Announces Longest U.S. Space Flight; Republicans Back Away From Tax Pledge; Glass Pieces Prompt Cholesterol Drug Recall; Gas Blast Destroys Strip Club; No Regrets For Anti-Islam Filmmaker; Egypt's Morsi Faces Growing Anger

Aired November 26, 2012 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

Stories we're watching right now in the NEWSROOM. Health alert, a popular cholesterol-lowering drug recalled after concerns there may be specks of glass in the bottles.

African-American voters, they turned out in big numbers for President Obama on Election Day. Now one activist says it's time to leverage that loyalty.

A confetti controversy at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Now one police department wants to know how shredded personal documents from its office landed on parade attendees' hands.

And there's a bounce house jump scare in parents. Injuries up 15- fold.

NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning to you. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello.

The world's second-biggest clothing exporter faces new scrutiny this morning after a major, and I'm talking major factory fire on Saturday. At least 117 people were killed when this nine-story building in Bangladesh caught fire. More victims could still be inside, 2,000 people were at work here at the time. It's unclear just how many people actually managed to get out.


PARUL BEGUM, SURVIVOR (through translator): When we heard fire, we all rushed and were trying to get out of the factory. The factory worker broke a window and one of the workers pulled me through the window. Immediately after the fire broke, we tried to run out, but the door was locked. When the floor became dark because of smoke, the boys rescued me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: Clothing is big business in Bangladesh and it's likely you're wearing some of that clothing right now or it's at least in your closet. Companies like Wal-Mart, JCPenney, H&M and Kohls all sell clothing made in the Asian country, some were made in that very factory.

Just this morning, another fire started, this time inside a 10-story factory building. It took firefighters four hours to get that blaze under control. No one died in this blaze, but 10 people were hurt. And then just after the second fire, thousands of workers took to the streets in Bangladesh, a demonstration that lasted for hours to bring attention to the working conditions in the country's 4,500 factories.

Alison Kosik is live at the New York Stock Exchange with more on this tragedy from the American business angle. Good morning, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. These working conditions in these factories that you're talking about, they are notoriously poor with some experts calling them death traps.

According to the "Clean Clothes Campaign," that's an anti-sweat shop advocacy group, more than 500 workers have died in fires over the past six years. These factories are accused of not taking simple precautions to protect their employees. Many of these shops are in cramped neighborhoods. They don't have enough fire escapes. They don't follow basic safety measures. These advocacy groups are calling on these employers and the government in Bangladesh to invest in some type of country-wide inspection program to make sure these buildings where literally thousands of people work, are up to par.

But the problem is for many Bangladeshis, this is their best option for work. And when they go ahead and speak out against the poor wages, which, by the way, are among the world's lowest or speak out about the safety issues, they say they're harassed by their employers.

As for the retailers, experts say they need to take more responsibility too. For their part, many say they're trying to improve, but it doesn't seem to be enough at this point. Wal-Mart says it does a global responsibility report, saying it stopped working with almost 50 factories in Bangladesh last year because of fire safety issues. H&M is also making a big effort toward fire safety and increasing the minimum wage in Bangladesh, but you know this, it takes a while for these changes to happen.

And in the meantime, tragedies like these happen, and it really makes me think twice before I walk into stores again and buy clothes. That's just me, though, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. Alison Kosik, thank you. Judy Gearhart is the executive director of the International Rights Labor Forum. She joins us now from Washington. Good morning, Judy.


COSTELLO: Good morning. Tell us what it's like to work inside one of those factories.

GEARHART: Well, the factories -- it depends on which factory you're in, but it's generally fairly crowded, and there are rows and rows of workers on stools at sewing stations. What happens in the case of the fire, especially a fire at night, is that the lights go out. So you have the fire, you have darkness, you have no -- not enough emergency exits. Sometimes the emergency exits are blocked by some of the work in progress that's on the floor.

And Alison made a very good point. I mean, the workers don't feel like they can speak out. They don't know enough about what the risks are that they are working within and they also feel like if they do speak out, they might lose their job.

And the same goes for the factories. The factories tell the retailers, we really need to improve the situation in this factory, they're not really guaranteed that they'll be able to keep selling to those retailers.

COSTELLO: Just let me ask, from an American company perspective, Alison mentioned that Wal-Mart puts out a global responsibility report. How much does that improve conditions in countries like Bangladesh?

GEARHART: Well, a lot of the brands put out reports, and they put out codes of conduct and voluntary monitoring programs. The problem we have is on three levels. One is a lot of those reports and the audits they're doing are confidential. They don't even share it from one brand to the other. We had a couple fires at the end of last year where we found out that some brands had left the factory because they found them unsafe. They hadn't shared that information. So there's this -- there's this secret world of information that's not being shared with the right people.

The other area where we have a problem, as I mentioned, the workers are not able to speak out.

And then there's nothing that goes beyond voluntary. Everything that the brands are doing right now is voluntary. They're not -- they're not willing to sign binding agreements or contractual agreements to keep those workers safe.

COSTELLO: But couldn't -- couldn't American companies require that because, you know, Bangladesh? After all, these factories are making all their money off American companies. So American companies sort of have something to wield, some power here?

GEARHART: Right. Indeed. They do have power. The question is, are they -- are the factories able to negotiate with the brands? Are the brands -- why aren't the brands paying a better price or establishing a more faithful relationship?

Again, you have this dilemma where the factory doesn't have the funds to improve the factory or there is no faithful relationship. They don't know if they're going to have the orders from Wal-Mart three years down the road. They don't know if they're going to be able to make the investment.

So it's really this whole problem we have with global supply chains where the global brands have taken a distance from responsibility of the workers that are actually making the product.

COSTELLO: Judy Gearhart, the executive director of the International Rights Labor Forum. Thank you so much for coming in and being with us this morning.

GEARHART: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Within the past hour, we did reach out to Wal-Mart for a statement. We have not yet heard back.

NASA announced just last hour record-breaking mission for the U.S. space agency, sending an astronaut to the International Space Station for a year. Captain Scott Kelly is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station in 2015. The current record for the longest single mission in space for a U.S. astronaut is just over 215 days. A Russian cosmonaut holds all time human space record of 438 days.

Now to the so-called fiscal cliff - 36 days from the crisis, and there are new signs today of just how concerned lawmakers are. As the Senate returns to session today, more Republicans say they'll work toward a compromise, even if they have to break a promise not to raise taxes.

Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, addressed the issue on CBS this morning.


SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: I'm not obligated on the pledge, I made Tennesseans aware. The only thing I'm holding is the oath I take when I'm sworn in January. No Congress in history is more prepared to make these decisions. We've had two dry runs. We've litigated this. We've gone through every single score of every single decision that would have to be made. And the last thing we need to do right now is kick the can down the road.


COSTELLO: Senator Corker becomes the latest Republican to say he would violate the anti-tax pledge. He follows Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who made a similar statement last week, and this weekend, New York Congressman Peter King and Senator Lindsey Graham both said they're willing to strike a bipartisan deal.

The anti-tax pledge is the brain child of activist and lobbyist Grover Norquist, a long-time power broker in the GOP.

CNN's Dan Lothian is at the White House. So Dan, what exactly would either side have to give up to strike a bipartisan deal?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, we don't have all the details, because this is part of these ongoing negotiations. But we do know that House Speaker John Boehner has talked about putting health care reform on the table.

There are Democrats who want to make sure that middle class Americans, those families making up to $250,000 a year that their taxes won't go up. Wealthier Americans will pay more.

And then both Republicans and Democrats are talking about putting entitlement programs on the table, mostly Republicans pushing this, but some Democrats, as well. Take a listen what Senator Dick Durbin had to say about that over the weekend.


SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Social Security does not add one penny to our debt. Not a penny. It's a separate funded operation, and we can do things that I believe we should now, smaller things, play out over the long term that gives it solvency. Medicare is another story. Only 12 years of solvency lie ahead if we do nothing. So those who say don't touch it, don't change it, are ignoring the obvious. We want Medicare to be there for today's seniors and tomorrow's as well. We don't want to go the Paul Ryan route of voucherizing it, privatizing it, but we can make meaningful reform.


LOTHIAN: President Obama has expressed willingness in the past to put entitlement programs on the table. He has been getting some resistance from some in his party, especially organized labor. So it will be interesting to see if that again will be something that Democrats push for. The bottom line here, though, is that no easy solutions here as both sides try to find some agreement -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You got that right. So when is the next meeting between the White House and congressional leaders?

LOTHIAN: Well, you know, so far that we know of, there is nothing on the schedule. The last time that the president met with Democratic leaders, Republican leaders at the White House was the Friday before he went on that Southeast Asia trip. At the time, both sides said they were confident that they could reach some kind of agreement to avoid this fiscal cliff. We expect, perhaps, they'll meet again, but so far nothing on the schedule.

COSTELLO: Dan Lothian reporting live from the White House.

Millions of Americans take cholesterol-lowering drugs, but one of those drugs, a generic, is now being recalled for possibly containing specks of glass. Joining me now, senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, specks of glass?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I know. Isn't that bizarre and very scary sounding? The company says that they're recalling it out of an abundance of caution. And as far as we know, no one has been hurt. But when you hear specks of glass -- these specks, we're told, are less than a millimeter small. We don't know if they're within the pills or they are sort of scattered in the bottles. We don't know. And the reason we don't know is that this company, Ranbaxy, has given very little detail. We have been trying to call the FDA, Carol, for two days, to get details. This has been -- the most popular prescription drug ever at one point in time. And we're not getting answers to our questions.

So here's what we can tell you. Atorvastatin, which is generic Lipitor made by Ranbaxy Pharmaceutical, several companies make generic Lipitor. We're just talking about this one. And their lot numbers, So if you are taking this drug, you can go on, click on the link and you can see if your lot number is involved.

COSTELLO: So how might this happen?

COHEN: We don't know. And what's -- two things that are disturbing about this. One, there have been other problems with other drugs having, you know, strange things that weren't supposed to be in there.

Number two, this company had a history. So the FDA has been -- has looked at this company. There have been complaints about this company. FDA said this about this company. This manufacturer had a pattern of systemic, fraudulent conduct that involved some quality issues. So they knew that there were some issues.

You know, one thing that I think Americans don't realize is they think the FDA is there 24/7, that every drug manufacturing plant in the country looking at what's happening. And that's not the case. They inspect, but they're not there all the time, hardly. Months and months or even years can go by before they do an inspection.

COSTELLO: OK, since so many people take this drug, is there any danger of a shortage? Should we worry?

COHEN: It is possible. Ranbaxy is one of the biggest, if not the biggest generic manufacturer of Lipitor. So that's a possibility, but there are other manufacturers and the FDA says they're working to try to make sure there won't be shortages.

COSTELLO: Well, hopefully they'll return your call soon.

COHEN: That's right. I hope so.

COSTELLO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

Flashbacks of Arab spring, more protests, more outrage, and this time aimed at the man who promised democracy.


COSTELLO: It's 16 minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories. Blame human error for an explosion that destroyed a strip club in Springfield, Massachusetts. The blast injured 21 people including firefighters. A utility worker investigating a report of a gas odor accidentally triggered the explosion. Authorities say the gas line was improperly indicated on a sidewalk.

Take a look at these pictures from Black Friday. A fight at a Roseville, California, mall and it's gone viral. The man who took the picture still doesn't understand why security guards didn't move in sooner to break up the fight. The fight went on for 15 minutes before security finally stepped in.

And the man who ignited worldwide protests with his anti-Muslim film says he has no regrets. That's according to "The New York Times." Some people died, as you know, when protests turned violent over this anti-Muslim film. Nikoula Bassily Nikoula wound up in jail, not because of his film, but for violating the terms of a fraud conviction.

The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, is facing more anger this morning. Protests are now escalating over his move to grant himself extensive new powers. Today Morsi meets with Egypt's highest judicial body. According to state news media, it calls Morsi's actions a power grab an unprecedented attack on the young democracy.

CNN's Reza Sayah is in Cairo. Reza, tell us more about what's happening on the ground today.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lots happening today in Cairo, Carol, some events with the potential of possibly leading to a solution in this conflict. Other developments could potentially further complicate this conflict.

Let's start with the positives at this hour. President Morsi meeting with the Supreme Judicial Council, a number of judges, those two sides have been going at it over the past several days. We'll see in the coming hours what the outcome of that meeting is.

In the meantime, developments today that could further entangle this conflict. According to Egyptian state TV, next week on December 4th, a number of cases will be brought up against Mr. Morsi in accord here in Egypt, alleging that his decrees announced last week are unconstitutional.

Here's where the intrigue comes in. You'll recall one of his decrees last week banned any authority, even the judiciary from questioning, appealing, or overturning any of thinks decisions since he's taken office in June. So we'll see what happens with those cases next week.

In the meantime, the protests continue behind us in Tahrir Square. Leaders of the opposition faction, they're digging in saying they're not going to talk to Mr. Morsi until he reverses his decrees.

Earlier today, we spoke to one of his top advisers, and he told us he wants dialogue first between the two sides. And then maybe, maybe they'll consider adjusting them.

So that's where the standoff is, Carol, at this hour. Of course, tomorrow two competing protests, the Muslim Brotherhood with a one million man protest scheduled also opposing factions with their own one million man protest -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Reza Sayah reporting live from Cairo, Egypt this morning. That fragile ceasefire appears to be holding in the Israeli-Gaza conflict. Today, also in Cairo, Egyptian mediators continue talks with Israel.

Topics include opening border crossing and easing Israel's economic blockade in Gaza. The ongoing talks come as Palestinian Authority leaders go before the United Nations this week and renew their bid for statehood.

"Talk Back" question for you this morning: What should Republicans expect in return for new taxes? I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Now is your chance to talk back on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning: what should Republicans expect in return for new taxes? Oh my god this is big. Two more prominent Republicans are throwing anti tax lobbyist, Grover Norquist, under the bus.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I think Grover is wrong when it comes to we can't cap deductions and buy down debt. What do you do with the money? I want to buy down debt and cut rates that create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country only if Democrats would do entitlement reform.


COSTELLO: I ask you, is that the statement of "a poopyhead", as Grover Norquist might say, or maybe it means the gig is up, Grover.

Not so fast. See, Mr. Norquist, a powerful lobbyist, has long had a lock on nearly every Republican in Congress. He's the guy who keeps reminding us that George H.W. Bush lost the election after violating his read my lips no new taxes pledge.


GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: If you want to go to your voters and say, I promised you this, and I'm breaking my promise, you can have that conversation with them. But you don't have an argument with me. You've made a commitment to your voters.


COSTELLO: Still, Democrats are heartened by the new "Grover is Over" mini movement. Although they shouldn't do the happy dance just yet, because Republicans will want payback, as in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

So for all of you who want tax hikes on the wealthy, what are you willing to give up in return on Social Security, raising the retirement age to 70, on Medicare, a total revamp, as in instead of the government paying your Medicare bills, you pay them with help from the government. You tell me.

"Talk Back" question for you today: What should Republicans expect in return for new taxes? Your comments later this hour.

Social Security numbers of police officers and confidential case details. Just some of the sensitive information that landed on the heads of attendees at the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Day Parade.


COSTELLO: Coming up on 30 minutes past the hour. Good morning to you. I'm Carol Costello. Time to check our top stories.

For the second time in as many days, a fire starts inside a Bangladesh clothing factory. Critics are calling the country's factories death traps. No one was killed in today's fire, which took firefighters four hours to bring under control. But on Saturday, at least 117 people were killed in another fire at a nearby factory. And because of these fires, thousands of workers have now taken to the streets, protesting the deaths of their colleagues.

A congressman-elect from Florida finds himself escorted out of a Wal- Mart. In a letter to "The Huffington Post," Democrat Allen Grazen says he was handing out turkey sandwiches to Wal-Mart workers, protesting conditions in Orlando, and that's when he says he was escorted outside. On Black Friday, similar protests took place at many Wal-Marts across the nation.

It will soon look a lot more like Christmas at the U.S. Capitol. Today, the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree was delivered. The 65-foot tall Angleman Spruce comes from Colorado. It will be decorated with 5,000 ornaments made by Coloradoans.

We know of at least four prominent Republicans open to some kind of tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans, but what about Democrats? What will they give up in return? President Obama is in a tough place. During the election, the president vowed to help the middle class, but many of his constituents want more. Among them, African-Americans who turned out in droves to vote for Obama, despite an unemployment rate way above the national average, 14.3 percent.

Joining me now is civil and human rights activist, Reverend Markel Hutchins. Thank you so much for being here.