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GOP Math Doesn't Work; U.S. Fars Syria May Weaponize Deadly Gas; Los Angeles Port Strike in 8th Day; Admitted and Not Accepted

Aired December 4, 2012 - 14:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for me. Thanks for being with me this afternoon. I'm going to pass over the baton to my pal, Brooke Baldwin, who is doing an excellent job in Atlanta -- Brooke?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: My friend, Ashleigh Banfield, have a wonderful rest of your day.

Good to see all of you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The question we're asking here, is Bashar al Assad, is he bluffing as fears grow his regime will unleash chemical weapons in Syria? We're digging on what the saran gas could do and, of course, where it is coming from.

But first, the president has a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff. But Republican House Speaker John Boehner dismisses it as, and I'm quoting, "La La Land." The Republicans offered their proposal. We talked about that. That happened just about 24 hours ago. The White House quickly labels it as nothing new. Business as usual, right? So how do we move beyond this stalemate in Washington? We heard from the president just a short time ago. Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin joins me now,

And, Jessica, the president, you know, spoke out, sat down in an interview with Bloomberg TV. In listening to the interview, did you hear any clues toward a possible compromise here?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not new clues, Brooke. The president laid down the marker that we've heard from the White House consistently, which is, they aren't moving until they hear the Republicans agree to raise tax rates on the wealthiest. Listen to what the president had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that, you know, we have the potential of getting a deal done, but it's going to require what I talked about during the campaign, which is a balanced responsible approach to deficit reduction that can help give businesses certainty and make sure that the country grows. And, unfortunately, the speaker's proposal right now is still out of balance. You know he talks, for example, about $800 billion worth of revenues, but he says he's going to do that by lowering rates. And when you look at math, it doesn't work. (END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: So unbalanced approach is the White House's nice way of saying, you got to be kidding me. Jay Carney used the phrase in the briefing just now that the proposal from the Republicans was a bunch of "magic beans and fairy dust."And the current standoff is continuing with neither side talking today, Brooke.

BALDWIN: I mean magic beans, fairy dust, la la land, look, I mean, it's laughable, but it's not. I mean this is serious stuff. It affects every one of us come January 1st. Twenty-eight days to go. We know, you know, in some of the reporting from Dana Bash on The Hill, there are actually no formal talks going on. But the president insists, you know, in speaking in this Bloomberg interview, he does speak to Speaker Boehner all the time that the meetings are not what matter. What have you, Jessica Yellin, what have you learned in your reporting about possible talks between the White House and the GOP?

YELLIN: Well, first of all, I'll tell you, there was a Christmas party here at the White House last night where members of Congress came to have festivities and stand in line. They're welcome to stand in line and greet the president and get their picture taken. So Speaker Boehner chose not to stand in line and shake hands with the president, first lady, get his picture taken. So they did not have interaction and any conversation.

So now Republicans say that was in no way meant to be any kind of spurning of the president. It was a social event. He just didn't want to talk politics last night or whatever it is. Still, it is noteworthy that after that last night, there's no talking today, it would seem. The White House says that their door is open, their call line is open.

Bottom line here, Brooke, is that the White House is drawing a firm line, which is they're waiting for the Republicans to come off this position that they won't raise rates. And the Republicans are holding firm in saying they're not coming off this position. So it's a bit of a face-off, a blinking contest, to see who's going to blink first.

BALDWIN: We'll talk about some possible blinking with both a Democrat and a Republican in the House. Jessica Yellin, thank you very much.

I do want to switch gears and talk about something we've been talking about for 18, 19 months now, Syria. The world is watching. Those were President Obama's words for the Syrian president. A stern warning for Bashar al Assad, the man who many fear may be about to unleash chemical weapons on his own people.


OBAMA: Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: This warning here after a U.S. official tells CNN that Syria has begun mixing chemicals that could be used to make the deadly gas sarin.

Bob Baer, I want to bring you in, CNN contributor, former CIA officer. So, welcome back. And before we talk about the specifics of sarin, let me just throw this at you. Is it possible at all that this man, this mad man, Bashar al Assad, is bluffing?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I don't think he's bluffing. We have to consider what he represents, and that's a very small community, which feels under threat. It thinks it will be destroyed by Sunni fundamentalists if it loses Damascus or any other big cities. They have their backs to the wall. They say among themselves that when it comes to their lives or killing the rebels, they will kill the rebels. In other words, they -- yes, they will use the sarin.

I've been dealing with the people for 30 years. They're almost a cult. What seems to us completely irrational decision, they're capable of. I don't know whether they've reached this point or not, but if things get bad enough in Syria, I have no doubt they'll use it.

BALDWIN: Bob, on this sarin gas, I was reading about it. Apparently there are these two key components, right, that make this gas and they're held separately. They're kept separately. And when you mix them together, it makes for a very potent formula. What kind of damage can sarin gas inflict?

BAER: Well, if it was artillery shell were dropped in a neighborhood, in let's say southern Damascus, it would kill people in a -- maybe 10,000 people in the kill radius.

BALDWIN: Just like that?

BAER: Yes. Sarin, in fact, is a liquid. It would -- it's persistent and it would stay on -- stay in the area. It takes a long time to clean up. It's very dangerous. And it's extremely lethal. It is as lethal as a small nuclear weapon.

BALDWIN: If you just -- Bob, I'm curious, if you came into contact with sarin gas, just one single drop of it, what would it do to you?

BAER: It would kill you immediately.

BALDWIN: A drop of sarin gas would kill you?

BAER: I'm not -- yes, it's that dangerous.


BAER: It's much, of course, worse than mustard gas or any of the more conventional chemical weapons. As a binary agent, it's very sophisticated. It's meant to be fired --

BALDWIN: How did they get it? BAER: The Syrians have built it locally. They -- this is -- and, by the way, we've got to keep in mind that the president is not exaggerating this threat. We know for a fact that the Syrians have very sophisticated chemical weapons, which are meant for -- were meant for Israel, but they can also be used against the local population.

BALDWIN: You talk about Syria. You talk about how you've been, you know, covering this and -- no, I shouldn't say covering, were involved for many decades. And when I think about this, I think back to 1982 and Hama and I believe I heard you say last night you were there. And just to let everyone know, I mean this was when Bashar al Assad's father, thousands of people were killed, roads were flattened. Is this the kind of thing where you could see Bashar al Assad come in and do similarly as his father did and obliterate a tremendous chunk of the population?

BAER: Look, I was in Hama right afterwards.

BALDWIN: Right after.

BAER: It was a smoking city. Ruins. There it was 1982, February, 30,000 people at least were killed in artillery shellings. And it wasn't -- don't look at Hafez al-Assad as a mad man. Look at the Alowite community. Those were all Alowite officers that shelled Hama. They truly believed at the time that the Alowite regime was under threat and that the only way they could counter this was flatten their third largest city, which is what they did. It was -- you'd have to see it to see the devastation and what these people will do to protect themselves.

BALDWIN: Would Bashar al Assad be willing to go down with his people if he could inflict this kind of harm?

BAER: I think if we use history as prologue, yes.

BALDWIN: Bob Baer, that's frightening. Bob Baer, thank you so much.

And while the world fears the potential use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, a conventional weapons strike on, of all places, a suburban school. Twenty-nine students and their teachers killed in a mortar attack in this camp just about 15 miles northeast of Damascus. State run media is reporting that the rebels are behind the deadly shelling.

Battles east of Damascus have grown especially bloody. Government troops are trying to push back rebels who are inching closer and closer to the capital city. And in yet another sign that the Syrian opposition is gaining ground to the north in the city of Aleppo, a military academy is under siege. This was one of the Syrian government's last strongholds. This is where some 450 government soldiers are being held by rebel forces.

A young girl suffering from cancer disappears after she and her mother leave the hospital. And now a police search and concerns about her health. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

The man in charge of Fox News apparently sent a message to David Petraeus about a run for president. But the advice didn't stop there.

Plus, a warning for all Americans. Get ready. This flu season is going to be awful. And the strain going around is troubling.

And after California bans gay conversion therapy, one judge says, not so fast.


BALDWIN: Some movement just within the past couple of hours in a strike that could keep hot gifts off store shelves before Christmas. For an eighth day, dock workers at these two huge ports in southern California are refusing to cross the picket line set up by clerical workers. Well, today, both sides have reached an agreement of sorts. They agree they need a federal mediator. I want to bring in Miguel Marquez. He's live for us in Long Beach.

And, Miguel, what's the deal? What's the hang-up here?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the hang-up is over language regarding outsourcing of jobs. And we're only talking about, you know, 800 jobs in total. And a small fraction of those are their clerical workers here at the port that are actually striking. One of the people who is -- represents the labor unions said, look, they were miles away a few days ago. Now they're about a yard away. The mayor was -- the mayor of Los Angeles has been up all night. He got in from an overseas trip into LAX just up the way here. He came here last night about midnight and he has been up with the negotiators all night trying to get them to this point today. Here's how he described how those negotiations are going.


MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES: I can just tell you, as a general proposition, that there's too wide of a chasm between the parties right now, though the good news is they've agreed to federal mediation. They had not agreed -- agreed to that together before this. And, importantly, they also are getting some movement. I saw movement this morning that I hadn't seen last night or during the night.


MARQUEZ: Look, there was optimism all around, including the individuals representing the companies that are represented here and the labor unions. There is that federal mediator. He will be on the ground here about 8:00 local time tonight. His name is George Cohen. He's coming out of D.C. He's said to be the top negotiator, mediator for the Federal Mediation Service. He's also bringing a number two guy out of Minneapolis tonight as well.

So the pressure is on here. The mayor says he will be back here tonight. The pressure is on to get these ships -- get these people back to work and get the longshoremen back to work so that these ships can start getting unloaded and it won't have a huge impact on the economy. You know, almost a half trillion dollars in goods comes through these two ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, every year. This is a massive disruption to things down the road. And not just Christmas. We're talking into the spring and summer at this point.


BALDWIN: Yes. Half a trillion dollars. That is quite a chunk of change, Miguel Marquez.


BALDWIN: Let us know if they go from the miles to the yard. So hopefully some kind of compromise. We appreciate you there in Long Beach. Thank you.

The rush is on. Take a look at this door buster.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Seriously? OK.


BALDWIN: She says, seriously? What is this over? No holiday sale or special caused this mad dash. Find out what led parents to this frenzy, next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Seriously? OK.


BALDWIN: Look at these pictures with me. Moms, dads, making a mad dash to enroll their children in this school district's only public elementary school with an engineering program. That's why they're doing this. The stampede erupted at A.J. Whittenberg Elementary in South Carolina. Applications are first come first served. Some parents even camped out to be the first in that line. But school administrators say they are rethinking that system. One woman was injured in this enrollment frenzy. She did secure her child a spot in the school. Look at that.

The video really shows you just how far some parents will go to get their child enrolled in the very best school possible. The pressure oftentimes is much greater and much more nerve wracking at some of the nation's top private schools, particularly for minority students. A private school in New York discovered that gaining admittance is hardly the same as gaining acceptance. Jason Carroll explains.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You kind of -- like you're sitting in a classroom and you realize all of a sudden you really are a minority.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a revealing look at a subject few talk openly about, race relations in the elite world of a prep school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tragedy of an un-diverse place is that you don't have the full sound. Just that there are pieces of the spectrum just missing.

CARROLL: The experience of being admitted yet feeling like an outcast inspired students at New York's Trinity School to film a documentary called "Allowed To Attend." Deirdre Banton, now a college freshman, remembers her years at Trinity well.

CARROLL (on camera): Did you feel like you culturally fit in with the rest of the students there?

DEIRDRE "DJ" BANTON, TRINITY SCHOOL GRADUATE: Short answer is no. There are some things that are just straight up racist, you know? Like the fact that when tuition raised, a lot of people who were on scholarship were like, people -- a rumor had started that it was our fault, you know? Like there are some things that were straight up racist like where people confused me and my friend CC (ph), who we don't look anything alike, but we're both black.

CARROLL: Ben says many of Trinity's black, Latin and Asian students routinely feel socially isolated. The documentary explores the reason why. School administrators supported the project.

JOHN ALLMAN, HEAD OF SCHOOL, TRINITY: We didn't know exactly what they were going to say really, but we knew that getting honest, personal stories about experiences here would be fabulous and it's what we really needed.

CARROLL: Trinity alum Clay Wortmann says gaining acceptance at prep schools can be tough for any student, regardless of race. Trinity is one of the country's most expensive. Tuition running upward of $35,000 per year.

CLAY WORTMANN, TRINITY SCHOOL GRADUATE: It's a product of socioeconomics, which means a product of race, I would say. It's the -- if you look really at literally what is dividing people, I think money is most of it.

BANTON: But regardless of what the cause is, the discomfort's there. So what you need to take care of is just -- something like open dialogue.

CARROLL: Banton says she has fond memories of Trinity and is a proud alum. She hopes the dialogue created by the documentary will help all students to feel more than just being allowed to attend.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


BALDWIN: And we want you to watch CNN's Soledad O'Brien because she's examining the provocative questions about skin color, discrimination and race. It's a documentary that's called "Who Is Black in America?" It premieres Sunday, December 9th at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Bragging rights again. Iran claims it's captured a second American drone and issues a warning. Details next.


BALDWIN: The U.S. Navy is saying all of its active drones are accounted for after Iran claimed to have captured one of them. Iranian state TV says the unmanned military aircraft was captured over the Persian Gulf while spying on Iran in Iranian air space. Iran isn't saying exactly when or how this purported capture happened. It does say the drone in question is a scan eagle drone. That's a lower cost model also used by several of Washington's Persian Gulf allies. Iran's announcement comes one year to the day after it claimed to have downed a more sophisticated drone over Iranian soil.

And an intense typhoon has hit the southern Philippines, destroying homes, setting off this massive landslide, killing 27 people. Rising water and high winds hit millions in the storm's path. Many of those live, as you can see, in pretty remote areas. Unprepared communities. The typhoon comes almost a year after a storm killed more than 1,200 people on the very same islands.

A federal judge here saying, hold on a second, after California becomes the first state to ban conversion therapy. That's the treatment aimed at turning young gay people straight. California Governor Jerry Brown, he signed the law not too long ago, which is scheduled to go into effect the first of the year. But this judge now says that may not work because it could trample the first amendment rights of therapists.

Coming up next, I'm sure you've heard about this, police, they are frantically searching for this 11-year-old little girl. She is a cancer patient. She was last seen right here in the surveillance video just walking out of those hospital doors with her mom. Now, doctors worry her life is in danger. We have the latest on the investigation next.