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Syria's War Intensifying; More Protests in Egypt; Fighting For the Right For Women in the Military; Two Powerball Winners

Aired December 1, 2012 - 09:00   ET


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Victor Blackwell. 9:00 on the East coast and 6:00 a.m. out west. It's good to have you with us this morning.

The civil war for Syria, it's intensifying in the country's capital. Rebels are claiming they have tightened their grip on the Damascus International Airport, but Syrian state-run TV insists that's not true.

And take a look at this. This graph by an Internet traffic monitor shows Syria's Internet activity just slammed to nothing on Thursday. Rebels say they are relying on radio and the satellite phone communication instead.

Let's go live now to CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom in Beirut, Lebanon. Mohammed, what's the situation with the Internet and the phones there in Syria next door right now?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, this is day three of the Internet and phone lines in Syria effectively being shut down across the country now. We've heard from Internet monitoring companies the past couple of days saying they don't believe that the Syrian rebels or the opposition would have the capacity to shut down the Internet and phone lines in Syria, that they believed that it would be the government shutting down if any one group was behind this.

The U.S. government also said they believe this was a desperate move on the part of the Syrian regime to try to limit news getting out of Syria of what's going on there. It is very serious. One of the reasons this is very serious is because activists, opposition activists and rebel-free Syrian armies, depend on the Internet, that's a lifeline of them trying to get a flood of images and images out of Syria so the media can show what's going on inside Syria at a time when it's so difficult for journalists to get in.

As I said, this is day three, Internet effectively shut down, phone lines effectively shut down and rebel-free Syrian armies say because of this they are having to rely more on radio equipment, but because radio equipment is more secure, it's easier for the Syrian regime to track them and intercept those messages if they are using that type of radio equipment. Victor? BLACKWELL: Let's talk for a moment about the airport. The rebels say that they have seized control of a large area around one side of Damascus International Airport. State TV saying it's not true. If they have indeed accomplished that, how significant is it?

JAMJOOM: It would be very significant. It would be a huge morale booster for the Free Syrian Army in Syria to have been able to shut down the airport, to have been able to capture that territory. The rebels are talking about 20 kilometer stretch of land north and east of the main road, the main highway leading to the airport. They say they are in control of it. They say they are trying to shut down the operations to the airport but that's one narrative. The other narrative, as you said, is the Syrian regime. They are maintaining even today that the airport is fully functional, and they are saying that that the road -- the highway to the airport has been secured and that it is functioning as normal.

As I said, if the rebels were actually able to completely shut down the airport, were able to seize the airport, that would be a huge victory in their eyes. That would be a huge morale boost because that would show that the regime has weakened to the point that they were not able to effectively defend the airport there and stave off the opposition and the rebel-free Syrian army members. Victor?

BLACKWELL: Mohammed, are we seeing that the opposition is gaining a lot of ground, and they have gained ground in the last few days? Are we seeing any weakening of the Syrian military?

JAMJOOM: It's hard to independently verify obviously, but the fact is we hear more and more that the rebels are able to take over more towns. They seem to have momentum at their backs right now. They seem to be taking over more swaths of territory, but the fact of the matter is that the Syrian regime still has the air power in Syria, and that's what has made this -- this war of attrition more of a stalemate the past several months.

Every time the rebels seem to advance and capture a town or a strategic territory, because those gunships, because those -- those warplanes are in the hands of the Syrian regime, they are able to push back those rebels once more. What we've heard the last couple of weeks is that the rebels seem to be acquiring more surface-to-air missiles because they have been seizing a lot of military bases and air bases throughout Syria, and they have been taking it from regime forces. They've been seizing those equipment and they have been able to bring down more planes or claim they are bringing down more planes. The Syrian regime has not commented on it but the rebels are posting more and more videos saying they're bringing down those planes, that they have more momentum, and that they believe that they are going to be able to be victorious in their battle with the Syrian regime. Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right. We've been watching this for two years. Continued to watch, it Mohammed Jamjoom in Beirut for us. Thank you.

KAYE: And now to U.S. ally, Egypt, where mass protests for and against the Egyptian government are underway in the capital, Cairo, heeding a call by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood Party for two million man marches today, thousands of people have turned out around Cairo University.

They're voicing support for embattled President Mohamed Morsi. It's been a considerably quieter scene just across the Nile River in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The opposition has urged protesters to rally against Morsi's expanded powers. This as Egypt's constitutional assembly handed a new draft constitution to the president just a short time ago. This is the referendum.

BLACKWELL: Well, back here in the U.S., Republicans and Democrats are wrangling over how to avoid falling over this fiscal cliff. This week the president sent over his plan to Republicans. There was $1.5 trillion in tax increases and an additional 50 billion in stimulus spending. Republicans were not happy at all with the offer. GOP Senator Orin Hatch called the plan a "bait and switch" and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says the plan made him burst into laughter.

KAYE: And in Washington and across the globe today is World AIDS Day. The White House marking the event by displaying a red ribbon on the north portico. This is a life picture of the White House. It is an international symbol of support and awareness, that red ribbon. In a proclamation President Obama says in part "that the United States is committed to preventing the disease' spread," ending this pandemic once and for all.

BLACKWELL: Do same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry? We don't know yet. The U.S. Supreme Court held a closed-door meeting to decide whether to hear a series of appeals, but they didn't say if they will take action on the divisive issue. Some took this as a sign that nine justices need more time. We expect an announcement by Monday morning.

KAYE: And we continue to keep an eye on former President George H.W. Bush this morning who is in stable condition at Houston's Methodist Hospital. He was admitted eight days ago and is being treated for bronchitis. His office says the former president is expected to be released in the next few days. Bush is 88 years old, the oldest living former president.

And to Staten Island now where a town hall meeting where victims of superstorm Sandy got so heated that had we had to share it with you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think it's a joke. You really think it's a joke. You go home for the holidays, I don't! But you sit there.


KAYE: Our affiliate, WABC, captured a very tense scene as you see it there. This was on Thursday night as more than 700 people angry about the slow pace of the recovery efforts sought answers from FEMA representatives about when they could expect relief. Some residents reportedly walked out of the meeting while FEMA officials talked about how to register for assistance.

Can you imagine the frustration there?

Women at war, many are barred from parts of the military, now some are going to court for their right to fight. We'll talk with one service woman about her own struggles in the military.


KAYE: Welcome back. Women banned from moving up in the military just because they are women. Certainly not a new concept.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just saying no better, no risk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of people who don't want to see you finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: G.I. Jane, why don't they just call her Joan of Arc.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to warn you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Permission to get dressed, master chief, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Damn that girl is good.


KAYE: Demi Moore there in the 1997 release "G.I. Jane" and more than a decade later women working in a male-dominated military is still an issue, so much so that four women are suing the Pentagon. They are arguing against a long-standing policy that bans women from being assigned to certain positions strictly because of their gender. The suit claims women are barred from more than 238,000 positions across the armed forces, including all infantry positions. Marine Corps Reserve Captain Zoe Bedell is one of the plaintiffs.


CAPT. ZOE BEDELL, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Policy limits my future in the Marine Corps. I would be assigned to positions based on my gender rather than on my qualifications or my accomplishments. This didn't make sense for me personally or professionally and frankly doesn't make sense for the military.


KAYE: And she joins me now live. Captain, thank you very much for being with us this morning. You graduated the top of your Marine Corps officer class, deployed to Afghanistan not once but twice but you left active duty last year because you say the military failed to recognize your combat leadership experience. How so?

BEDELL: Thank you for having me.

Yes, that's right. I was serving with the female engagement team which means that I was leading marines in a combat zone in Afghanistan. The Marines were regularly patrolling with infantry units and they were engaged in combat and the policy doesn't recognize that reality on the ground by saying we can't serve in combat positions. It made my job significantly harder as a leader to deploy my Marines correctly and made it harder for the commanders on the ground there to employ their personnel as they needed to and make sure they were putting the best person in the job.

And so ultimately, yes, I decided to leave active duty because I didn't think it made a lot of sense for me personally, as you heard and I don't think it makes sense for the military either.

KAYE: In May of this year, the Army opened up 14,000 combat related jobs to women. Earlier this year the Marine Corps opened up its infantry officer course to women, a grueling course that had for the past 35 years had been open only to men. Some might argue that the military is moving towards full inclusion of women and has shown great progression towards that end. What do you say to those folks?

BEDELL: Those are definitely welcome steps. We're glad to see that and we're glad to see this moving. However, there's still 238,000 jobs that are still closed to women and that's a lot. That's a lot more than the 14,000 that were open and so while we welcome the incremental progress, we need to see this policy be taken away completely and give women a chance to compete in all areas, not just a couple more.

KAYE: If you look at what's happening in several other countries, women are allowed to serve in combat positions and in several nations, Israel, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, just among them there, and do you think that that helps change public perspective of the role of women?

BEDELL: Sure. Well, it's not just in other countries. I mean, the fact is that we've been at war for 10 years now and women have been serving in Afghanistan and in Iraq throughout that whole period. Women have performed extremely well in all of those environments, so I think even within our own country there's plenty of evidence suggesting that women are very capable of handling these jobs.

KAYE: You know, the military's official policy towards service women goes back to 1994. That's when this rule was put in place. Why do you think it hasn't been looked at? I mean, what more needs to be done?

BEDELL: Well, you know, for a number of years there we weren't really actively at war so people weren't really looking at it and then while we were at war people have been very concerned about just fighting the fight and getting the job done, but personally I'm a little bit surprised that since we have been at war for 10 years people haven't looked more closely at this and haven't looked at the reality of that's going on on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they have been making more steps to move us away. So I think we're head there had now, so better late than never, I suppose, but we need to see this happen here soon.

KAYE: And getting ready for the segment with you, we contacted the Department of Defense to get their comment on the lawsuit. They say they don't comment on pending litigation. But I'm curious why Leon Panetta. I mean, clearly these guidelines barring women from advancing to certain positions in the military were in place well before he was appointed the secretary of defense. He's the one who actually ordered the 14,000 positions to be opened up to women, so why him?

BEDELL: Well, that's just in his position as secretary of defense. We certainly have nothing personal against Leon Panetta himself.

KAYE: All right. Captain Zoe Bedell, appreciate your time this morning and do keep us posted on the lawsuit, in full.

BEDELL: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

KAYE: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: One of the two winners of the Powerball lottery has yet to come forward, but look at how this guy reacts. He told customers in this gas station that he is the big winner.



CINDY HILL, POWERBALL WINNER: I went by to see what the numbers, and I got back in my car and I didn't have my glasses, and I was -- I was thinking is that the right numbers, is that the right numbers, and I was shaking and I called my husband, and I said I think I'm having a heart attack.


BLACKWELL: Oh, you would feel the same way if you knew this was in your future.

Now Cindy Hill's heart is fine; her pockets are even better. She, her husband, their three grown sons and their six-year-old, they won half of this week's $587 million jackpot in the Powerball lottery. Hill's oldest son, get this, got a text from his mom saying call me ASAP, and since his mom is in his words kind of the girl who would cry wolf, he didn't believe her. Well, he's now there with the check, and he does.

KAYE: Yes. The bank account, that's the proof right there.


KAYE: Well, we told you what we know. We're sure that we've identified one-half of the Powerball winning equation, but who is holding the other ticket? Could it be the mystery man from Maryland? Brian Todd is on the case.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The usual midday buzz at a gas station convenience store. On this surveillance video, the buzz starts really humming. This mystery man at an Exxon station in upper Marlboro, Maryland Thursday checks a Powerball ticket with the manager, Nagasi Gabrek.

(on camera): And you're saying, what did you say?

NAGASI GABREK, MANAGER; I say he got, it I said. That's the right number.

TODD (voice-over): The man may be the Arizona winner of the Powerball drawing, could be holding a ticket worth nearly $200 million. Customer Bill Kilby was right next to him.

BILL KILBY, WITNESS: I asked him and I said "Well, the winning ticket was from Arizona." And he said "Well, I just got back from there" and said he was in the military.

TODD: The winning ticket was bought at a convenience store near Phoenix. When he found out back in Maryland, the apparent winner sure made an impression with the cashier, Kamran Afgan.

KAMRAN AFGAN, CASHIER: He hit really bad to the counter, like really bad news and said "Oh, my god," really hard. I'm scared, I think he would have a heart attack.

TODD: Afgan says the man ran out and then came back realizing he had forgotten to get his gas, but who is he? So far we don't have a name.

(on camera): This is the spot where all the excitement took place. The counter, the machine that printed out ticket where the man checked his numbers, but it's on the surveillance tape where you can pick up a couple more clues about the guy and about his behavior here.

(voice-over): On the video, we see him before he finds out giving some cash to a young man who doesn't have enough for his purchase. We see the man's car pulling out but can't make out his license plate. A witness says he may have had a Virginia Department of Transportation logo on the back of his vest. We searched for that logo and found a pattern that looks similar. A spokeswoman for that agency says it does look like one of their vests, maybe worn by somebody in their safety service patrol. But they don't know he this man is. We do know he has a sense of humor.

(on camera): How did his behavior change he figured out he may have won?

KILBY: I don't know. The last comment I heard is he had enough money to ask Beyonce out so I guess he was pretty happy about it.

TODD (voice-over): We cannot say with certainty that this was the Arizona winner. An Arizona lottery official tells us no one has come forward yet to redeem the winning ticket. The person has 180 days to do that and has to redeem it in Arizona or mail it in.

Brian Todd, CNN, Upper Marlboro, Maryland.


KAYE: OK. So you said you wouldn't come forward. BLACKWELL: You wouldn't hear from me until I had that big check in my hand.

KAYE: Would you do the dance like he did though in the gas station?

BLACKWELL: I would go home and do the dance, but, hey, look, I'm a millionaire, no.

KAYE: No, you wouldn't do that.

BLACKWELL: I would stuff it right in the pocket, quietly walk out to my car and you wouldn't hear from me until the news conference.

KAYE: I don't know what I would do with it at home though. I'd be afraid to put it anywhere. You know, nowhere is safe unless you have a safe, I guess.

BLACKWELL: I don't know where I'd put it.

KAYE: Call a lawyer.

BLACKWELL: I wouldn't even take it to the bank because the bank could burn down and you don't have the ticket.

KAYE: Keep it on you.

BLACKWELL: It would all be on my person.

KAYE: There you go.

Well, still, much more ahead, live pictures right now of Avalon Bay on Catalina Island, California. Look at that nice shot.

BLACKWELL: Very nice.

KAYE: Good morning. Glad you're with us here on "CNN Saturday Morning."


KAYE: Coming up, at the top of the hour, we will look at a controversial therapy that is making headlines nationwide. Proponents say it can cure people of homosexuality. Now one group of men is filing suit comparing the therapy to mental torture. We'll talk with one of them and his allegations are definitely going to shock you.

BLACKWELL: Let's check top stories now.

The president and Congress still no closer to finding a solution to this fiscal problem. President Obama informed top Republicans of his plan this week which includes $1.6 trillion tax increases, part of which will come from increasing taxes on the wealthy. Republicans have called that option a non-starter.

KAYE: Rival protests are under way in Egypt's capital right now. Thousands of demonstrators have packed the streets around Cairo University today to show support for President Mohamed Morsi.

Now just across the Nile River the opposition has been urging its followers to come out to Tahrir Square to protest Mr. Morsi's expanded powers but so far it's been a much smaller turnout there. Egyptians meanwhile will vote on a new constitution in two weeks.

BLACKWELL: South Korea has a warning for North Korea. It says Pyongyang can expect a strong response if it goes ahead with a plan to launch a rocket this month. Another rocket launch attempt by North Korea failed. That was in April. A so-called proposed do-over a severe provocation. Pyongyang says that it wants to send a satellite into orbit but the U.S. and South Korea suspect it's a cover for ballistic missile tests.

Now if you're really, really in the mood to shop this weekend, check out the L.A. auto show, style, speed, of course, environmentally friendly cars are on display through the 9th. In all, more than 40 new vehicles are debuting. Just check some of these out. These are amazing prototypes. You can you go back to the future in a new Mercedes-Benz luxury two-seater, and if you've got $450,000 just lying around somewhere, say you won the Powerball, I don't know, you can pick up the latest Lamborghini Roadster.

Well, this is our favorite video of the day.

KAYE: Yes, it is.

BLACKWELL: We can't get enough and we're going to give it to you.

KAYE: Why we keep showing it.

BLACKWELL: One more time. Check it out.


KAYE: Checking out the Christmas decorations.

BLACKWELL; I think it's the pace of the walk.

He's just kind of strolling through and for a dog to get that close to a Christmas tree and not touch anything.

KAYE: And not bite one of those ornaments -


KAYE: Like it's a ball that he could play catch with or something, just look at him. He said so patiently checking it out.

BLACKWELL: We won't have enough time for it right now, but the portion where he looks at himself, that's the best part.

KAYE: He sees a stuffed Boo, if you will, very, very cute.

Well, I'll be back here at the top of the hour. "YOUR BOTTOM LINE" starts right now.