Return to Transcripts main page


Florida A&M Wants Hazing Suit Dropped; Contraception Mandate Challenged; "The Hobbit" Premiers in New Zealand; Sound Technology May Diagnose Parkinson's Disease

Aired November 28, 2012 - 09:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm Carol Costello. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

Stories we're watching right now in THE NEWSROOM:

If you bought a Powerball ticket, you may be half a billion dollars richer tomorrow. Powerball jackpot is a record-breaking $500 million and the drawing is tonight. Your chances for winning, oh, you know this -- they're slim. But I'll tell you anyway, one in 175 million.

If you want to stop wasteful government spending, you may have to get used to carrying around $1 coins instead of $1 bills. A watchdog group called the Government Accountability Office said over 30 years, the coins would save the government $4.4 billion. The Treasury makes dollar coins but they're so unpopular more than a billion are just sitting around in government vaults.

Just drinking a soda a day can increase a man's risk of getting prostate cancer by a whopping 40 percent. That's the new finding in a study to be published in "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." It links sugary breakfast cereal, rice and pasta to greater chances of prostate cancer.

Some new developments in the hazing scandal at the Florida A&M. Attorneys for the university are asking a judge to rule the school was not -- not -- at fault in the 2011 hazing-related death in marching band member Robert Champion. The school is arguing Champion knew hazing was illegal but chose willingly to participate.

CNN's George Howell is following the story.


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, look, you know, the hearing starts right now, 9:30.

And it comes down to whether this judge agrees with Florida A&M's argument that you mentioned, first of all, that Robert champion knew that hazing was illegal, that he knew the dangers involved in hazing. And secondly, that he voluntarily took part in it. Now, that's something the family has long said he did not do. They've always said that he told other students not to get into hazing, not get involved in it. We heard from several suspects the other, that he did want to take part in it. And the university says, look, if that's the case, they're not at fault.

COSTELLO: Well, from what I understand, Florida A&M had a culture that allowed hazing to take place and did allegedly nothing about it. So, how can the university say it was not at fault at all?

HOWELL: You know, they say, first of all, they've told students reportedly that hazing is illegal, that it's something that you can't be involved in.

As you mentioned there seems to be a culture there at that school within the band, within other organizations and you saw the university taking several actions, especially after this happened with Robert Champion.

But it comes down to this. The family says all those actions that the university has taken, they're not working. Students are still getting involved.

COSTELLO: Yes. But, still, the university changed its rules in light of Robert Champion's death. So, doesn't that imply that something was wrong at the university?

HOWELL: I think it's fair to say. You know, they've had a longstanding problem. When you look at all the evidence, when you look at these different cases of hazing that have been confirmed there at the university, they're taking steps to try to stop it.

But, clearly, it seems to keep happening.

COSTELLO: Are there other lawsuits filed? I'm just curious.

HOWELL: There are. There's another lawsuit and that will be handled today as well. A wrongful death lawsuit against the bus company, Fabulous Coach Lines, and the bus driver, Wendy Millete. Now, the family attorney says that Millete was on that bus, knew what was happening and did nothing to stop it.

So, that's one case they'll be looking into today along with this other, the university.

I want to point this out also. You know, the family clearly insulted by that argument, that their son was basically to blame for his own death. And they're also insulted by this proposed settlement, FAMU proposed to pay $300,000. That was a proposal that the family quickly rejected. You see them in court today fighting for more.

COSTELLO: George Howell, thanks so much.

HOWELL: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Following your faith or following the law. That's the decision, David Green, the CEO of arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby, now says he has to make on the emergency contraception mandate for things like Plan B that are required under Obamacare or the health care law.

And Green is choosing faith, filing a lawsuit to stop that mandate.

Joining me now is Kyle Duncan, lead counsel for the Hobby Lobby case.

Thanks for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.


COSTELLO: Before we begin, I'd like to walk through the specific contraception Hobby Lobby is opposed to.

First, Hobby Lobby is opposed to Plan B. Plan B is used within 72 hours of unprotected sex and primarily stops the release of an egg from the ovary. According to the FDA, Plan B may prevent fertilization.

And then there's Ella One, which is used within 120 hours of unprotected sex. The FDA says it appears to prevent the release of an egg up to five days.

So, what specifically about these pills concerns Hobby Lobby CEO?

DUNCAN: Right, Carol. So, you point out an important point here that Hobby Lobby does not object to contraceptives in general, but only to this small subset of emergency contraceptives. What concerns the Green family, who are Evangelical Christians and who are against abortion, and participating an abortion, or facilitating it in any way, what concerns them about this is that the FDA's own birth control guide says they may also work by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.

And so, for them and for millions of other Evangelical Christian Americans, this means an early abortion. What they're concerned about is not contraception in general, but about participating in something that can cause an early abortion, which the FDA's own birth control guide says these drugs may do.

COSTELLO: Well, may do -- I guess that's the question, because there is controversy surrounding these two pills.

In a public letter, Hobby Lobby CEO David Green wrote in part -- and I'm going to quote some of the letter. "I've always said the first two goals of our business are: one, to run our business in harmony with God's laws, and, two, to focus on people more than money."

If Hobby Lobby employees want this contraception and it's helpful to them, don't these actions contradict those goals?

DUNCAN: We certainly don't think so. So, Hobby Lobby and the Green family don't want to stop employees from purchasing whatever drugs they want, according to the dictates of their own conscience. All Hobby Lobby wants and all the Green family wants is not be forced by the health care law to fund these drugs, to pay for them, to subsidize them, and facilitate them.

Now, keep in mind, if the health care, if Hobby Lobby does not agree to put these drugs for free in their insurance policy, will face fines on the order of $1.3 million per day. So, these are crippling fines that prevent Hobby Lobby, may even cause Hobby Lobby to cut back on its heir business, to lay off employees. Who knows? But they're crippling fines and will prevent Hobby Lobby from providing the god jobs and wages and benefits they already provide for their employees.

COSTELLO: Well, consider this. Hobby Lobby says the government is forcing the company to follow a law against its own beliefs. There are likely some Hobby Lobby employees who, one, don't believe these pills cause abortion, because there's controversy about that. And, two, want those drugs.

So isn't Hobby Lobby imposing its will on those workers?

DUNCAN: Well, no, Carol, because Hobby Lobby is not the government. They can't force their employees to not take drugs or take drugs or do anything. All Hobby Lobby can do is say, look, this is how we're going to run our business. These are the kind of benefits we're going to provide.

They provide generous and comprehensive benefits and they just not want to be forced to pay for this small subset of drugs.

They don't want to control their employees. Hobby Lobby and the Green family are well aware that there are thousands of women who work for Hobby Lobby, because Hobby Lobby provides them with good jobs and millions of women around the country shop at Hobby Lobby. So, Hobby Lobby does not see this in any way as an access question.

You know, access to contraception is widespread. And nobody really denies that. This is a conscience issue, however. This is the same kind of conscience issue that's presented when someone, for instance, doesn't want to participate in a war, doesn't want to participate in the death penalty, doesn't want to, for instance, swear an oath.

We have a long tradition in American law of exempting people, of excusing people from requirement like this that would cause and violate their conscience.

And all the Green family is asking to be excused from this one small subset of drugs. They don't want to -- they don't want to impose anything on anybody. They just don't want to be forced to violate their conscience or have to pay millions of dollars in fines that would cripple the family business.

COSTELLO: I think -- this will be the last question. I think when it's left up to companies to decide which drug is right for women, then actually you're making the decision for them as much as the government is.

DUNCAN: Well, Hobby Lobby's employees are free to do what they want with their doctors and to purchase whatever drugs they like, to do whatever they want. The Greens are simply asking for the same kind of freedom.

I mean, one big theme in this lawsuit is that religious freedom is for everybody. The government seems to be saying here is that religious freedom may be for churches, houses of worship and religious groups like that, but not for people who are in business, who run a family business, who are out to make a living.

So, imagine the kosher butcher, for example, who is out there. He's in business or she's in business or she's in business, running a business that has an obvious religious component to it.

You know, Hobby Lobby does the same thing. Hobby Lobby, for instance, closes on Sundays. They lose millions of dollars a year. They close on Sundays to give their employees a day of rest. This is a religious conviction.

They take out ads every Christmas and Easter that are Evangelical ads.


DUNCAN: This is a religious exercise. You know, they provide their employees with spiritual counseling if they want it, all sorts of things.

So, they're just asking not to have their conscience violated in this way.

COSTELLO: Kyle Duncan, general counsel for Becket Fund for Religious Liberty -- thank you so much for being with us this morning.

DUNCAN: Thank you. Thank you.

COSTELLO: Parts of New Zealand have transformed into middle earth for the premiere of the movie "The Hobbit." Air New Zealand is painted with elves, and dwarfs and hobbits. Even the flight crew is in on the action.


COSTELLO: I am so psyched about this. The long-awaited prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy premiered in New Zealand today. Here is a hint of what people saw.


SIR IAN MCKELLEN, ACTOR, AS GANDALF: You're going to have tale or two to tell when you come back.

MARTIN FREEMAN, ACTOR, AS BILBO BAGGINS: Can you promise that I will come back?

MCKELLEN: No. And if you do, you will not be the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: Awesome. The capital of New Zealand was transformed into Middle Earth. Take a look at the giant sculpture of Gollum at the airport in Wellington. And that's just the beginning of the hype and fanfare over this movie.

A.J. Hammer is in New York. I love that Gollum in the New Zealand airport.

A.J. HAMMER, HLN HOST, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT": Hey Carol you're not the only one gone crazy over this movie. New Zealand has gone crazy for "The Hobbit". By all reports tens of thousands of kiwis were on hand some were on wizard and warrior gears as imagine Carol would have been. They're all celebrating the film's hometown premiere in Wellington, New Zealand.

Local boy director Peter Jackson has filmed all of JRR Tolkien Films in New Zealand. And in the -- in turn the country has gotten behind "The Lord of the Rings" franchise in a big way because it's really led to this boom with tourism and film-making over there, as you would expect.

Jackson's special effects company Weather Workshops is one of the places to go if you want to add special effects to a movie. And according to estimates, the first three "Lord of the Rings" films boosted the country's economy by around 700 million New Zealand dollars that's around $575 million in the U.S.. So they're clearly hoping for that kind of impact again when you see thing s like Gollum at the New Zealand Airport, welcoming visitors.

And if you fly New Zealand instead of -- Air New Zealand, instead of a typical safety video, here is what you'll see.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Be sure to keep a sharp eye on the briefing. Make sure your belongings are hidden away in compartment above or under the seat before you eat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All travelers must keep a watchful eye on the lighted signs and follow crew instructions. When the seat belt sign is on, sit yourself down and fasten your seat belt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be sure that it's snagged across your hips.


COSTELLO: I would listen to that if they did it that way on American Airlines.

HAMMER: Yes there is a video, Carol, that people would actually pay attention to. And look at this it's an Air New Zealand plane that is freshly painted with the characters from "The Hobbit" it actually flew over the premiere much to the delight of the crowd. So obviously they've really taken ownership of this movie and as you can see gotten a little excited about it, like you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Like me. I know some people are critical of all the hype, though, right?

HAMMER: Well it's become a bit of a political issue. In New Zealand the government has kicked in a whole lot of money to make these movies. More than $100 million according to "The New York Times". So when budgets are being cut elsewhere, you know Carol that people are going to push back much like they would here in the United States.

COSTELLO: Oh yes. Yes you're right. Ok, I'll take that. A.J. Hammer, thanks so much.

HAMMER: You got it.

COSTELLO: We'll be right back.



COSTELLO: Fifty-one minutes past the hour.

Checking our "Top Stories" now. Tonight's Powerball jackpot now stands at a record $500 million. And here's another big number, the odds at the winning -- I'm not even going to say this. Because good luck, I hope you win.

A federal judge orders tobacco companies to publicly admit deception about the dangers of smoking. The ruling would force companies to post ads on warnings on cigarette packages. No word yet on whether tobacco companies will appeal.

A huge weather event for the West Coast starts today. The so-called "pineapple express" could bring up to a foot of rain over the next five days. Northern California and southern Oregon are expected to bear the brunt of the storms.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This week on "The Next List" meet Max Little a math whiz and an innovator with a surprising goal.

MAX LITTLE, MATH WHIZ: So my name is Max Little. And I'm aiming to screen the population for Parkinson's Disease using voice.

GUPTA: Max Little has a bold idea. What if doctors could detect Parkinson's Disease simply by the sound of your voice? Max Little is close to proving just that. He says one simple voice test can determine if someone has Parkinson's. And all you need is a telephone.

LITTLE: We've got an ultra low cost way of detecting the disease.

GUPTA: Watch how Max Little's surprising idea is taking shape this Sunday on "The Next List."


COSTELLO: "Talk Back" question today. Will the President's fiscal cliff road tour work?

This from Karla. "It's called strategy, a chess game. When you and your opponent are clashing you get support from everyone you can and then you have more leverage. Duh."

This from Arlene. "The President is still campaigning just like the last four years -- continuous, nonstop, monotonous campaigning. What is going to happen to our country?"

This from Debi. "I say go for it because the Republicans do not care about the 98 percent and it's about time they actually listened to them instead of holding them hostage for extra pennies for the two percent."

This from Lewis. "He's out preaching to the uninformed who voted for him. He needs to stay in D.C. and gather the party leaders and work at this issue."

This from Krista. "How is people power a gamble? Isn't that what our country was founded upon, people power?"

Keep the conversation going. cnn. NEWSROOM continues in two minutes.


COSTELLO: Stories we're watching right now in the NEWSROOM, using social media to win over public opinion, the White House unveiling a new strategy to gain support on the fiscal cliff debate using 140 characters or less.

A college football coach fired after just two years on the job. He uses his final news conference to point out a sobering statistic about race, college coaches, and getting a second chance.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if there's ever been another one fired that has gotten an opportunity at the college level, but every minority coach knows that going into it.


COSTELLO: New sexual misconduct accusations against the former voice of Elmo, Kevin Clash, and claims that "Sesame Street" knew Clash had violated company policy. Now lawyers for the man accusing Clash of abuse are demanding "Sesame Street" provide more info.