Return to Transcripts main page


Washington State's Legal Marijuana Limbo; White House Prepared to Go Over Cliff?; Obama Takes Tax Pitch to Virginia; Fears of Chemical Weapons in Syria; Bodies May Be 2 Missing Iowa Cousins; Life on the International Space Station

Aired December 6, 2012 - 09:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up tomorrow on STARTING POINT, the jobs report, as Christine mentioned, is out tomorrow. We're going to have one of the nation's top economy, Diane Swonk to talk about it with us. Todd Carmichael is the host of the Travel Channel, "On Dangerous Ground", he's going to join us.

John Berman profiled the boxer, Manny Pacquiao ---



O'BRIEN: Sorry --


O'BRIEN: Oh my God I had 10 people yell in my ear on -- got it, Pacquiao. Sorry, Pacquiao.

MARTIN: Come on, Soledad.


O'BRIEN: He has a big fight on Saturday. We'll have that story as well.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. Carol, good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Stories we're watching right now in the NEWSROOM.

The most laid-back New Year's celebration ever? No. It's celebration of Washington state's brand new pot law. And yes, they're smoking joints.

I dare you, like double dare you. The Obama administration bites and says, yes, we're prepared to go off the fiscal cliff.

Roger Goodell, the commissioner football fans love to hate. But there's a softer, gentler side of Goodell. Seriously. The NFL commissioner you don't know.

NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello.

Smoke them if you got them. Today recreational marijuana is officially legal in Washington state. Shall we say a rather mellow celebration at Seattle's Space Needle? Pot smokers lit up like it was New Year's Eve. The New Voter Approved Initiative went into effect at midnight. Now technically this pot party is illegal. Washington's law bans smoking pot in public places. But for right now the Seattle Police Department is turning a blind eye.

Last night this notice was sent to all officers, quote, "Until further notice officers shall not take any enforcement action other than to issue a verbal warning for a violation of Initiative 502."

Miguel Marquez is in Seattle.

So you were there at midnight for the big party when the law into effect. What was it like?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was -- it was a lot of pot being smoked. I think I must have a contact high from all of that. But it was one of many, many parties across the state last night as proponents of this law celebrate the first time that pot is legal here. And it's the first step in a very long process.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): The moment recreational pot, anything less than an ounce, no longer illegal in Washington state.

JEREMY GEORGE, MARIJUANA LAW SUPPORTER: It's amazing. I'm not a criminal anymore. I can't go to jail for small amounts of marijuana. You know? It's -- I'm free to be free.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Well, several dozen hardcore smokers showed up here to the base of the Space Needle, a symbol of the city and of the state to light up at the stroke of midnight. And while the new law does not allow smoking in public places, Seattle Police and police departments across the state are turning a blind eye tonight, allowing celebrations to light up.

This is what your stores will look like, or something along these lines?

JAMEN SHIVELY, DIEGE PELLICER MARIJUANA SHOP: So yes, our stores are going to have the feel of a fine cigar shop.

MARQUEZ: Jamen Shively, once a high-profile executive at Microsoft, now preparing to open as many as two dozen high-end marijuana shops in Washington and Colorado. Yesterday he'd be called a drug dealer. Today, an entrepreneur.

SHIVELY: Our target market is actually baby boomers. So these are folks who maybe tried it in college a couple of times. Maybe they didn't inhale. And -- but now it's actually safe to inhale.

MARQUEZ: He's already working on packaging and attractive displays for future clients. The State Liquor Control Board has a year to regulate and license the growing, processing and retailing of marijuana here. All of it taxable at a very high 25 percent.

ALISON HOLCOMB, INITIATIVE 502 DIRECTOR: We are looking at the potential of bringing in more than $500 million each year in new tax revenue.

MARQUEZ: The big question still, what will the federal government do? Pot is still illegal federally. Today, a legal toke of revolution burning here and soon Colorado.


MARQUEZ: Now the only thing the feds are saying is that they're reviewing the laws both here and in Colorado. When this is done in the next year or so, it will look -- the pot landscape here in Washington will look very different. The growers, the processors and the stores. There will be pot stores in Washington state. That will be different.

The one thing you won't be able to do, you won't be able to consume the pot in the stores themselves. You'll have to take it home and do it there -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And something else you won't be able to do. Because under Washington's law, I mean, I can't grow pot in my own home, right? And I can't sell it either. Right?

MARQUEZ: Correct. That's the difference between the Colorado and the Washington law. You will no longer be able to home-grow your own here, which is why a lot of the -- you know, the libertarian types, and the -- the people -- the long-time pot smokers here, they don't like this law. They think it criminalizes -- it goes too far and criminalizes marijuana too much.

In Colorado you can grow up to six plants just on your own. The law here will be treated very much like hard alcohol, if not even harder and more restrictive than hard alcohol -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Got you. Miguel Marquez, reporting live from Seattle this morning.

Also this morning in Washington state, love is in the air. Same-sex marriages are now legal. At midnight couples lined up for licenses. And the very first couple to tie the knot in Seattle, two women, together for 35 years.

Right now same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the nation's capital while civil unions are allowed in five other states.

To politics now. The American people re-elected him and they re- elected us? That's not a mandate to raise taxes. That's what House Speaker John Boehner told fellow Republicans during a weekly meeting, signaling he is going to push back on President Obama's demand for tax hikes on the rich when it comes to the fiscal cliff. But Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the White House will not give in.


TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: There's no prospect to an agreement that doesn't involve those rates going up on the top 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans. Remember it's only 2 percent.


COSTELLO: Geithner adds the Obama administration is, quote, "absolutely prepared to go off the cliff, if necessary."

Joining me now is Van Jones, a CNN contributor and former Obama administration official.

Good morning.

VAN JONES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: God morning to you.

COSTELLO: So, Van, I guess my first question that's easy for Geithner to say, we're perfectly willing to go off, you know, the fiscal cliff. But that means a tax hike on middle class Americans and maybe some of them are thinking this morning I'm not really so happy Geithner said that.

JONES: Well, it might have been inartful for him to say it the way that he said it. But I think he is making a very important point, which is that the American people did vote. They voted for the one thing the president said very clearly, which is that tax rates would go up on the wealthiest. It's an incredibly popular position. And I think it's important for Republicans to know that the White House is not going to accept any kind of a deal.

I think that's the point that he was trying to make. That I think all their leverage now is with the Democrats, it's with the president. The American public is on his side. I think it's important for the Republicans not to think that they can just get any kind of deal out of him because if they do go over the cliff there is a solution.

The very next day, the House can simply pass a bill, giving tax relief to 98 percent of Americans and we go on. So there is a solution out there even --

COSTELLO: But the House is controlled by Republicans.

JONES: And it would be the Republicans' fault, therefore, and I think everybody knows that. If Republicans are --


COSTELLO: That's a gamble, though, right? That's a gamble.

JONES: Well, I think what's happening right now is Republicans are gambling that the White House is going to cave and I think the White House just said they're not going to.

COSTELLO: Still, I just want to go back, you know, I think that voters, while most of them support a tax hike on the wealthiest Americans, the majority of them do not want us to go off the fiscal cliff. They do not want that. They want the two sides to come together and come to some sort of agreement. And if Geithner is saying this and President Obama continues to play hard ball, there's not going to be an agreement. We're going to go off the cliff. That's not what voters want.

JONES: I think what voters want is what President Obama said he would give them, which is a balanced approach that includes a tax hike on the wealthy and that includes other kinds of spending reform.

Here's the problem that we have right now. I think that in the last term, Republicans thought that if they just bullied and bullied and bullied they would eventually get their way. I think they're now in a very different situation. They're not going to get a 50/50 deal. You get a 50/50 deal when both parties are at equal distance from the American people.

The Republicans are now stuck out way away from the American people on this one particular issue. They need to stop being so recalcitrant on the one issue so we can deal with the rest of the issues. I think it's very important for Republicans to understand that the American people are clear. If we do go over the cliff because they're hanging on to tax breaks for the richest people ever born, they're going to get the blame.

So the White House needs to be clear, nobody wants to go over the cliff. But if we do go over the cliff, it's the Republicans' fault. And if we do the Republicans can fix it literally the next day by voting for tax relief for middle class Americans.

COSTELLO: OK. Well, let's talk about --

JONES: It's up to the Republicans.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about the negotiations themselves. I know that President Obama and the House speaker spoke for a short time yesterday. Nobody knows what exactly they said. And I also know that President Obama is going to talk to a middle class family in Virginia, sort of his tour to get voters to push a deal through.

Why don't both sides go to Camp David, lock themselves in a room and come up with a deal? Why do these -- like what some would call a PR stunt of traveling around the country and, you know, visiting voters when that's not -- that's not going to get a deal done with Republicans.

JONES: Well, I would certainly welcome that. I think most Americans would. I think what the White House is doing -- and I think it's smart. They're trying to make sure this conversation stays where it should be, with the middle class. You point out middle class folks don't want the taxes to go up. In fact it's the White House that's been raising this point. They have this #my2k, explaining to Republicans and to the country we can't afford for $2,000 more to hit our tax bill.

So I think it's important for the American people to stay engaged. I think the White House is trying to keep the American people engaged, and I think this family is going to be speaking for a lot of people.

It really is -- it doesn't make any sense, even the polls show that the wealthy are willing to pay more taxes. For some reason Republicans have dug themselves -- they painted themselves into a corner. As soon as they get out of that corner, we can start solving these problems. But they've got to get themselves out of that corner.

COSTELLO: CNN contributor, Van Jones, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

JONES: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Now to the crisis in Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting today with a U.N. special envoy. And Russia's foreign minister. Sources say the focus of the talks is formulating a plan on how to move forward. Clinton noted growing concerns that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad might use chemical weapons on his own people.

Mohammed Jamjoom is in Beirut with that part of the story.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Carol, new concerns about Syria's chemical weapons stock pile. A new report by NBC News states that U.S. officials have said they believe Syrians are loading chemical weapons, in fact precursors for sarin, which his a deadly nerve gas, on to aerial bombs that could be dropped on to the Syrian people.

Now on Monday CNN reported that U.S. officials believed that the Syrians had begun mixing chemicals that could be used to weaponize sarin, but that there were no signs showing that the Syrian regime was going to do anything with those weapons.

The Syrian regime maintains yet again today that they have no intention of using chemical weapons in Syria -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Mohammed Jamjoom in Beirut this morning.

A sad ending to a month-long search of two missing cousins. Family members say the bodies of 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 10-year-old Lyric Cook were found by hunters in a wooded area. The two girls, well, they've been missing since July.

Jim Spellman has been following the story since Lyric and Elizabeth went missing.

And, you know, I know the families were hopeful until the end. But what a sad end.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed. Now we haven't gotten official word from police yet that the two bodies found by these hunters are the little girls' but the family told me right from the beginning that there was no doubt that it was them. And then overnight a Facebook post from Elizabeth's mom confirming it.

They knew from maybe day two or three that something terrible had happened to the girls but they had held out hope that maybe they would be released, maybe like Elizabeth Smart. These girls would walk back into their lives again. They've been pleading in public to do it, even though they knew that every passing day that became less and less likely.

They're really struggling with this. But now they say they're up in heaven. One text I got from a family member said no more suffering for their little girls. So they're dealing with processing that just as police now are going to revamp and recharge this investigation with this information -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. Where does the investigation stand? Do they have any suspects at all? Any theories?

SPELLMAN: Well, it was really mysterious. These girls disappeared. They were out for a bike ride. And about four hours later somebody found their bicycles and a purse near a lake in a really odd area. So it was clear that somebody had -- really would have to be involved to get them that far away from their bikes in this remote area.

But they were -- and they were seen on some surveillance video that day, riding their bikes. But it was like they just disappeared. They couldn't find any leads. You know, they focused on the family for a while. They put out the word but now they have this new crime scene.

One of the first things they're going to have to figure out is how far away from the home is this? What is the crime scene look like? How long had the bodies been there? This will give them a lot of new information to begin -- to sort of recharge this investigation. But it's still unclear how you connect that back to Evansdale. A lot of work for the local police and the FBI there -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. Jim Spellman, reporting live this morning.

An update in the strange saga of John McAfee. The Internet mogul detained in Guatemala could be deported to Belize as soon as today. Guatemalan officials say McAfee entered their country illegally and they have suspended his requests for asylum. Police in Belize, as you know, want to question McAfee about the November 11th shooting death of his neighbor, Gregory Faull. McAfee says he had nothing to do with that death.

After three days in the hospital Catherine heads home with her husband, Prince William, by her side.


COSTELLO: It is 17 minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories.

The man accused of fatally pushing a 58-year-old father in front of a New York City subway train is charged with second-degree murder. You are looking at Naeem Davis during his arraignment. Davis is a 30- year-old homeless man. He was filmed arguing with the victim, Ki-Suck Han before police say he shoved Han on to the tracks.

Prince Williams' wife is out of the hospital after spending three days for a severe case of morning sickness. Catherine left this morning with her husband. Royal officials say she is not yet 12 weeks pregnant, so they're not announcing the due date of the baby.

Gay men and women earn more money and have less debt than the average American. That's according to a new survey from Prudential. It says gays earn about $10,000 more a year, have about $4,000 less in debt and are more likely to be employed.

Now is you chance to talk back on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning: are you prepared if the nation goes off the fiscal cliff?

It's the ultimate game of chicken. Who will blink first on the fiscal cliff?

Not the Obama administration. As Timothy Geithner told CNBC, bring it on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the administration prepared to go over the fiscal cliff?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: Absolutely. Again, there's no prospect to an agreement that doesn't involve those rates going up on the top 2 percent of the wealthiest.


COSTELLO: Taxpayers might think that's easy for Geithner to say. What about all those middle class families whose tax will go up more than $2,000 if, as Geithner suggests, we take a dive off that cliff?

Even though President Obama and John Boehner chatted on the phone, there's still no deal. Republicans are not amused.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Incredibly, many top Democrats, including the president, seem perfectly happy -- perfectly happy to go off the cliff. That's why the president has been more interested in campaign rallies than actually negotiating a deal.


COSTELLO: Many Americans don't have much hope the two sides will come up with a deal. They've already moved on already to plan B.

Bobby Cle (ph), a retired teacher in Utah, has put off plans to get a new car. Brian Chandler (ph), data manager in Atlanta, is delaying buying a house, despite needing space for his second child due any day now. And several families told us they're shrinking the gift pile beneath the Christmas tree this year. So, how about you? Are you prepared if the nation goes off the fiscal cliff?, Your responses later this hour.

What's it like living high above the Earth? How do you celebrate the holidays? I'll ask astronaut Kevin Ford. He will join me, live, from the International Space Station.


COSTELLO: How would you like to have a view like this out of your window? Isn't that beautiful? It's a nighttime image of Earth. See North America in the upper left-hand corner of your screen? Isn't that cool?

Pictures composite of images received by a satellite of April and October.

Kevin Ford doesn't have to wait for NASA to release picture like that. He sees views from space every day. Kevin is the Expedition 34 commander of the International Space Station.

Just a warning before we start speaking, Kevin, I just want to tell our viewers, there's about an eight-second delay because we're transmitting a long way this morning.

So, is it morning or night up there, Kevin?

KEVIN FORD, INTL. SPACE STATION EXPEDITION 34 COMMANDER: It's already afternoon onboard the space station. And we've already done an almost what feels like to me a full day's work. But I have a little bit more work after the interview right now.

So, right now, we are in a night pass. We are in the northern hemisphere right now out over the Pacific Ocean. It's dark outside right now. But we'll be in light in just a matter of about 10 minutes.

COSTELLO: I was just going to ask you that. How can you tell the difference between night and day? Because, you know, in my mind it's always dark up there.

FORD: Well, the -- space is dark but, of course, when we're on the sun side of the Earth, we're in full illumination and we have all the reflection of the Earth below us, beautiful blue Earth and we're in daylight. Only on the back side, opposite side of the sun, it seems like night to us, too. We go around earth once every 90 minutes. So, half -- about half of that we're in the daytime and half at night.

Inside the Destiny module right here in the lab, I can't really tell. There's a window below me. But there's equipment in it and it's covered up. So, I can't see out of it at the moment. We have other windows around the space station. Anytime I float by a window, I can tell whether the outside is lit or if it's dark outside. When we're working it's just day for us with the lights on inside.

COSTELLO: I know I should ask you about your research. But I really want to know, what is the coolest thing you have seen up there?

FORD: Well, the coolest thing I have seen so far, in terms of like me being an astronaut and seeing something unusual, was the rendezvous, the docking of a Progress spaceship. We also saw it launch right behind us, it rendezvoused the same day. It was very close to it when it launched. We could see the smoke shale come all the way up into space to our altitude, which is a remarkable thing to get to see. It was rare.

And the other thing was, the night my colleagues Suni Williams, Aki Hoshide and Yuri Malenchenko docked a few weeks ago, they did their burn and they entered the atmosphere right below us in the nighttime. I got to see their spaceship -- it comes apart by design into three pieces and I got to see the pieces that were supposed to burn up, burn up in trail behind them and their little spaceship zoom out in front.

But that all kind of competes with just the average everyday view of the Earth, which is spectacular any time you fly over anything, the Amazon, the Rocky Mountains, the Northeast, whatever it is, to see those beautiful things out there. I saw the typhoon Bolpha the other day. It's amazing to see the Earth in its glory down there.

COSTELLO: So, the -- Scott Kelly is training a bit before he goes up to the International Space Station. Did you hear that he's going to be there for a year? I don't know how long your tenure is in the International Space Station, but could you imagine staying up there for one entire year?

FORD: Yes, I can. And, actually, when we come up, we generally come up here for a five to six-month expeditions. Mine will be a little less than five if we go home one time, March 15th.

But I mentioned to my cosmonaut colleagues, hey, be prepared. Something might happen, technical problem, any kind of thing might happen and we may stay here longer. We could get a very long stay.

You just never know in space flight. It really depends on the health of the vehicles and the program management and all that sort of thing. So, there's a little uncertainty involved.

But five months, you know, you're mentally prepared for that. I know Scott and Mikhail Kornienko, when they come, they'll be mentally prepared for the full year. And they'll set out and they'll do -- they'll do a great job.

The exercise equipment is good. I sleep wonderful. The work is very satisfying and fun. I would love to do it, too.

Congratulations to both of them. It will be challenging but I think they're up for it. COSTELLO: OK. Before you go, could you do a back flip for me? I've always wanted to see that, the real thing in space.

FORD: Are we all done already? I can't hardly believe that.


COSTELLO: Oh, I love that. We'll be right back. Thanks so much.

FORD: I was a little off on my --