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CNN NEWSROOM

U.S. Warns Syria Not to Use Chemical Weapons; Fighting in Aleppo; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Corporate Profits Up

Aired December 3, 2012 - 14:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Fantastic. One word. CNN NEWSROOM continues now with the lovely and talented Brooke Baldwin.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Ashleigh Banfield, thank you so much. Good to see you. Good to see all of you. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Top of the hour, a lot of news to get to here on this Monday.

First, of course, talks over the fiscal cliff. They are going nowhere fast. Democrats, they're basically telling Republicans, hey, the ball's in your court. We're going to take you live to the White House for that.

Also, as the city grieves over an NFL player's tragic breaking point, new debates today about gun control and domestic violence. You'll hear both.

But first, the U.S. has long believed Syria has a huge stockpile of chemical weapons. Now new concerns that that chemical arsenal is on the move. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today issuing another stern warning against Syria using these weapons. The Syrian Foreign Ministry quick to respond here, saying it would not use chemical weapons against its people if it had any, but this announcement as Turkey is sending warplanes to its border with Syria after the Syrian military bombed a nearby town of Ras al-Ain.

You can hear that and you see the smoke. This is the Turkish side of the border. This is fueling more fears that more of Syria's violence will spill into its neighbor to the north, being Turkey. Security concerns are prompting the U.N. to announce it is pulling nonessential personnel out of Syria. Want to bring in Fran Townsend, she is our CNN national security contributor and member of the CIA External Advisory Committee.

And, Fran, good to see you. Let's talk about these chemical weapons, because we know that in the past, what, three -- three have been, I guess, I should say, two, two different times the U.S. has seen Syria move its chemical weapons around. But intelligence suggests this time the movement is different. How so?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there was an American official speaking on background, obviously, to a "New York Times" reporter who didn't describe this as movement of the chemical weapons. What makes it different this time was it was described as the Syrians taking steps in preparation for use. That's actually far more serious and far more concerning to American and regional officials if Syria is undertaking activity that looks like the preparation for the deployment of these chemical weapons.

Remember, you mentioned, Brooke, Turkey. But also, Jordan. We have -- there are regional allies and neighbors there who would be directly threatened. And, of course, the Syrian foreign minister, while not acknowledging that Syria has chemical weapons, we know that to be a fact, said they wouldn't use -- Syria wouldn't use it against its own people. It did not rule out the possibility of using it against regional neighbors. And so for all those reasons, Brooke, the Secretary of State Clinton made quite clear that this would be crossing a red line for the United States.

BALDWIN: You know, I was reading an article, Fran, Daily Beast this morning talking about -- basically they called it al Qaeda 3.0. And they point out that the longer this bloody civil war continues in Syria, you know, the more the group benefits. You have sectarian polarization. They're hoping, as you mentioned, you know, Syria's neighbors, that it does spill into these other countries. But I thought it was interesting that this group is not openly associating itself with the brand name al Qaeda, instead using a cover name. Why is that?

TOWNSEND: You know, look, the association, we have long seen affiliates of al Qaeda believe historically that announcing themselves as being affiliates was a good thing, right? They got a benefit in terms of recruiting and raising financial resources.

But, of course, with the affiliation of al Qaeda comes the detriment of the United States has been very public in its targeting of al Qaeda assets, its willingness to use things like unmanned aerial drones, and so there is a drawback if you're an affiliate of al Qaeda that we may bring all our power to bear in terms of legitimate targeting of your personnel and your assets.

And so you've got to believe that in some respects, they understand -- these affiliates understand this. They're in a virtual war zone. There is certainly a civil war in Syria, and so you could understand why the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria might not want to directly associate itself with al Qaeda.

BALDWIN: Fastest growing group within al Qaeda in Syria. Fran Townsend, thank you so much.

And I want to stay with Syria here, because opposition groups say at least 59 people have been killed inside this country, this is today alone. And Aleppo still a major front in the conflict. Troops are advancing for the first time into an Islamist held stronghold in northern Aleppo. And as our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon explains, the city's combat zones are expanding each and every day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are all home again, but they are cold and broke, and still in danger. About a third of the families who fled the Sahud (ph) neighborhood of Aleppo have come back, only to find out that these streets are now on the front lines.

If the regime can retake Sahud, it can cut off the main artery for opposition forces in Aleppo and reopen a route to the airport.

On a nearby hilltop, the neighborhood of Suleiman Halabi (ph). The rebels used to control that as well, but lost it a month ago.

The battle lines here are constantly fluid, and snipers are a constant threat.

(on camera): The front line is visible just through here. And we can barely make out three bodies. The rebel fighters are telling us that there are two male and one female. There were five. They managed to extract two, but they can't reach the others.

(voice-over): For the children here, gunfire has become background noise. 12-year-old Haule (ph) hardly notices. She says she's not afraid anymore.

To start with, little Halleh (ph) is also chatty. But then gets scared. Her father says she thought the rebel fighters with us were Assad's forces. Despite his efforts to reassure her, she is still anxious. And with reason. Sala Hadadi (ph) was shot in the arm at a checkpoint. "The bullet was going to hit my daughter," he tells us. "But I had just put my arm around her." She, just 4 years old, blinks hard, yes. She ended up drenched in her father's blood.

As gunfire rings out again, her father takes away the bullet casings she's collected. Nearby, a woman who doesn't want to be filmed takes me aside. "Sometimes I want to die rather than live like this," she whispers.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Aleppo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: An infant left without her parents after an NFL player just snapped. And now as the city mourns, sportscaster Bob Costas goes off on gun control. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

An entire town evacuated after a shocking discovery involving explosives.

Plus, he's on the run. But John McAfee talks to CNN after Martin Savidge goes on this bizarre adventure to reach him.

And joining me live, the CEO of Ford, on what he told President Obama behind closed doors about the fiscal cliff.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Here we go. Count them with me, 29 days until the one-two punch of tax increases and blunt force federal spending cuts. And just within this past hour, we have heard the White House tell the Republicans over in Congress, hey, if you don't like our plan out of this mess, then give us a plan of your own and make sure it raises taxes on the wealthy.

Meantime, the president is supposed to be on Twitter, right now, answering questions about this whole thing. So let's go straight to the White House, to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. And you know, clock is ticking down, 29 days to go. How long is the White House willing to wait to hear from Speaker Boehner, you know, Mitch McConnell, for their sort of volley back?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. Well, they're saying ready anytime. The clock is ticking, and it's -- ball is in the Republicans' court.

Here is what press secretary Jay Carney had to say just a few minutes ago. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Making vague promises about achieving revenue through capping deductions or closing loopholes simply doesn't add up to a serious proposal. We haven't heard which deductions they would cap, or which loopholes they would close.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: So that's the White House's position. Now, they are waiting to hear about what the Republicans would do, what kind of detailed proposal they would offer. The Republicans, Brooke, for their part are insistent that they want to hear about the president's willingness to do entitlements. How much more they would do to cut spending, and whether the White House would be willing to scale back on some of those extra spending measures, more dollars the president wants the government to put out next year, that were in some of Secretary Geithner's proposal last week, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So let's just go back over that, so everyone is on the same page. We had Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner went over to the Hill, it was last Thursday, and delivered the White House proposal there. Once again, just run through that proposal for me, Jessica.

YELLIN: So the headlines are they would like to see $1.6 trillion in tax increases both in the form of higher rates and some closing of loopholes, limiting deductions. $600 billion in cuts both in the form of cuts to entitlements, and other, like Medicare. And then some limiting of farm subsidies. And then $50 billion in additional stimulus spending, and some other measures. Those are some of the -- just the big highlights, Brooke. And I would add that Secretary Geithner made clear over the weekend that the tax increases they would like to see on that top 2 percent would be a return to the Clinton era rates for the top 2 percent.

And some of this, you know, is what he laid out -- what the president laid out after the debt deal last year. So it is a proposal that is familiar from the White House, not something fresh and new. So the White House says, you know, the Republicans shouldn't be shocked. The Republicans are saying we're shocked, because it's not a compromise. They were expecting something different and more -- more -- more of an outreach, and they say it didn't do enough to win them over.

BALDWIN: All right, well, as you point out, the ball is in their court. We'll see how and when they respond. Jessica Yellin, thank you. And keep us posted on the president's tweeting today as well.

And I don't know if you caught this, but let me just show you the reaction here from House Speaker John Boehner, because this was his reaction to the plan that Jessica just ran us through, the White House's plan here. Speaker Boehner got the plan Thursday from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE SPEAKER: Flabbergasted. I looked at him, said, you can't be serious. I've just never seen anything like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Flabbergasted, he says. Again, 29 days until this automatic tax increase, until the federal spending cuts that, you know, kick into place that can plunge the economy back into a recession. And you have the house speaker saying that this White House proposal, the one he received just a matter of days ago, isn't even serious.

Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst, let me bring you in here. And one of the questions is does it seem to you that the president feels as though he has some leverage here? I mean, he won the election, right?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He did.

BALDWIN: Maybe that accounts for what's in his proposal.

BORGER: Yes. This is clearly a different President Obama than the one we saw during the debt ceiling negotiations or even after the midterm elections in 2010, when he felt a little weakened and there was the extension of those Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

So I think what you're seeing here is a president who put this on the table, trying to please his base, OK? Which got him elected, after all. Saying, this is my wish list, this is -- this is in a perfect world, this is what I would do. I don't think anyone at the White House expected the Republicans to say, oh, thank you, Mr. President, yes, this looks lovely. Let's go on and work on a deal.

No, that's not what it was. The White House -- this is Alphonse, Gaston a little bit here. And so they're waiting for the Republican response. And what they're really talking about, Brooke, is getting some kind of a first step. A down payment. Ironically, they all know what -- in the big picture needs to be done. They know you have to fix entitlements, they know you got to do something on the tax side, but they're trying to figure out how to get from here to there.

BALDWIN: And let's just stop there, because, so, let's say the White House has now presented a here. How long do we have to wait for the Republicans to come forward with the there?

BORGER: Well, I think what we're going to end up with probably is a smaller here that gets us to something that they're going to need to work on in the next year. I mean, and the question is, what the president is saying is, look, in order to get us over this hump, you've got to show me that you're willing to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. And Republicans are saying, you know what, you've got to show us a little leg on the entitlement side, OK? Because otherwise unless you're serious about reforming Medicare, we're not even going to be able to get to the second stage. So they're just kind of stuck.

I mean, the question that I have is would the president accept anything less than a rate increase to where it was in the Clinton years, for example? Would he compromise on that for the wealthy?

BALDWIN: Yes, why don't you not go all the way up to the 39.6 percent, or currently at, like, what, 35? Why not call it 37?

BORGER: Right, OK, fine. Call it 37. But would his base get too upset about that, and would he care? Which I don't really know the answer to at this point. So I think, you know, nobody expects to reform the tax code before Christmas. They all understand they have to do that in the new year. But they do have to -- they do --

BALDWIN: So that's the long term, what you're talking about. But the short term, they have to do something to get over the hump, and then we'll all be talking about some sort of reiteration of this conversation come January 1.

BORGER: Right. And the one thing they all agree on, Brooke, is that nobody wants to raise taxes on the middle class. And there the president has got a lot of leverage, because that has to get done.

BALDWIN: Gloria Borger.

BORGER: Make sure their taxes don't go up.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much. We'll keep the conversation going, probably until the end of the year.

Meanwhile, look at this, a highway tunnel comes crashing down while cars are inside. Then igniting a fire. Now you have these mandatory inspections, they're ordered on dozens of other tunnels. The latest on this investigation next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Got an update for you now on Friday's train derailment and chemical spill in New Jersey. Operations to clean up the spill have been temporarily halted, and workers and people living in Paulsboro have been told to stay inside, keep your windows shut. The reason for this warning, monitors picked up high levels of this toxin, it's called vinyl chloride. In fact, schools in the area are still closed as well. Tunnels across Japan are undergoing emergency inspection today. All after this tunnel, just about 50 miles west of Tokyo, caved in yesterday, killing nine people. Five of the bodies were recovered, and one charred station wagon. Drivers described what they saw and heard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Cars in front of us were crushed. It was terrifying. I don't think I could ever drive through the tunnel again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: An official with the private company that operates this particular tunnel said outdated bolts or concrete slabs could be to blame.

The Pakistani school girl who was shot in her head by the Taliban is now expressing her gratitude to the people all around the world who have supported her here. In a message read by Anderson Cooper at the CNN Heroes ceremony just last night, Malala Yousufzai thanks people for the outpouring of love and support. She's continuing to recover at a hospital in Britain.

The push for conversation and not gun violence after the tragic deaths of the NFL player and his girlfriend in this murder/suicide. My next guest calls for sweeping changes in the definition of manhood. Has a message for husbands, fathers, boys out there today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Well, add another award to the LeBron James trophy case. The NBA star is "Sports Illustrated" sportsman of the year for 2012. Not exactly a huge surprise for a guy who won an NBA championship. By the way, you see his hand there? Look at that ring. That is ginormous. He was the MVP of the NBA finals. He won an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. team, and, oh, yes, he won his third NBA season MVP.

Yes, it's been a big year for LeBron James. And a profitable year for big business. But workers' wages, they are headed now in the other direction. Let's go to New York to CNN's Maribel Aber with more on that. And we're talking about record profits here, right?

MARIBEL ABER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. We are. Let's break this down. Corporate profits are stronger than ever. Companies took in nearly $2 trillion after taxes last quarter. So you know what, that's news for any employee that they really want to hear that, you would think it would translate into higher paying or more jobs. But you know what, Brooke, that's not happening.

Take a look at this chart. It is a different way of examining this. On the left side of the screen, it shows corporate profits as a percentage of GDP. So last quarter, profits made up about 11 percent of the economy. And that number has been rising over the past decade. Now, on the right side, you see wages as a percentage of GDP. That number has been falling. And last quarter, it hit a record low. Now, Brooke, part of this is because some higher paying jobs have gone overseas. And it is also because the labor market hasn't bounced back from the recession like other parts of the economy have. Take, for instance, housing. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Those graphs really tell the story, clearly. And I want to ask you about something else, Maribel, while I have you. Because we're used to hearing about trouble when it comes to your traditional newspapers, sadly. But now we're hearing about an online paper that targeted the cutting edge tablet user crowd, that's going away. Tell me about that?

ABER: That's right, Brooke. You know, it seems the digital road is apparently not paved in gold. News Corp is folding "The Daily." You know what, it made a big splash last year when it was unveiled, because it was only for the iPad. Now, this is ironic, Brooke, because in this day and age, you think, you know, traditional newspapers are now going under because of the surge in digital readers. But going straight to tablets apparently isn't easy. Yes, that market is growing, but here's the thing. These are expensive ventures. And there aren't enough readers to end up paying the bills. News Corp put up $30 million and 100 staffers to get "The Daily" going. It is another $26 million a year to keep the publication going. But CEO Rupert Murdoch says "The Daily" couldn't find a big audience. Brooke.

BALDWIN: Maribel Aber, thank you very much.

Now to this, Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, you think of these sport stars, they're not only known for their skills but also for their shoes. D'Wayne Edwards helped design all their sneakers when he worked as a designer for Nike. And now he's giving others a chance to do the exact same thing. CNN's George Howell has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

D'WAYNE EDWARDS, DESIGNER: This is a snapshot of some of the products I've designed over the course of my career.

This is the Air Jordan 21.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Working at Nike, D'Wayne Edwards designed the signature sneaker lines of superstar athletes. Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter, and his childhood idol, Michael Jordan. But after 11 years at Nike, Edwards walked away.

EDWARDS: The industry is close to a $50 billion industry in the U.S. alone. And there is probably a good 3,000 to 4,000 footwear designers in this industry. But people of color are underrepresented.

HOWELL: So what you're telling me, it comes down to exposure, people knowing about the industry, and also knowing where to go, how to maneuver your way into positions like you had.

EDWARDS: Most definitely. If you're asked to do something, you have to do it.

HOWELL (voice-over): That's when this father of two decided to pull his own resources to open a footwear design school.

EDWARDS: I know we're at the mall purchasing a product. We have to be designing the product as well.

HOWELL: Hencele Footwear Design Academy opened in Portland in 2010. For grads like Precious Hannah, it helped her secure a job at Nike.

PRECIOUS HANNAH, EQUIPMENT DESIGNER, NIKE: When they taught me you don't need a computer to draw shoes, here is a pencil, some paper, take it, do what you do.

HOWELL: From women to minorities, Dwayne Edwards is inspiring a new diverse wave of shoe designers.

EDWARDS: Designing a product that goes into a store, that's going to come and go. But impacting a life is generational.

HOWELL: All because he chose to leave a lucrative career behind him to teach others how to follow in his footsteps. George Howell, CNN, Portland, Oregon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Talk about a dream job. George, thank you. CNN's Soledad O'Brien examines the provocative questions about skin color, discrimination and race. We're calling it "Who Is Black In America," the documentary. It premieres Sunday, December 9th at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

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