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Fiscal Cliff Nears; New Round of Diplomacy for Syria; talking to Hurricane Sandy Victims

Aired December 6, 2012 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, hour two. Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Concerns rising over chemical weapons sites in Syria and today, for first time Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the most recent intelligence he has raises serious concerns.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching very closely and the president of the United States has made very clear that there will be consequences. There will be consequences if the Assad regime makes a terrible mistake by using these chemical weapons on their own people.


BALDWIN: We're going to talk about what's happening with Syria today here in just a moment.

But first, marijuana, marijuana history taking a new turn in the United States today.


CROWD: Three, two, one!



BALDWIN: Countdown's over, impromptu pot party near the Seattle landmark the Space Needle. Washington state becomes the first in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Washington voters approved it last month, but you can't go all Cheech and Chong here.


CHEECH MARIN: I have been smoking since I was born, man. I could smoke anything, man.


BALDWIN: Here's the deal. There are several rules here. You have to be 21 or over. You can have up to an ounce in your possession, no more than an ounce. Despite Seattle's overnight smoke fest there at the Space Needle, you are not supposed to light up in public. And here's the biggie. You still have to go underground to get this. Growing pot and selling pot remain illegal. But there's a new group of businessmen waiting in the wings here to cash in. They're so- called ganjapreneurs. I have one with me here today.

He is Tripp Keber, owns Dixie Elixirs and Edibles in Colorado where medical marijuana is legal. Recreational use is about to be legal next month.

So, Tripp, welcome to you. And let me ask you, how does the word ganjapreneur sit with you?

TRIPP KEBER, OWNER, DIXIE ELIXIRS AND EDIBLES: Well, it doesn't. I don't think of myself as a ganjapreneur. I think of myself as an medical cannabis entrepreneur busy at that for three years and today represents a milestone not only for my business but certainly for the industry with the end of prohibition, the legalization of marijuana in the state of Washington and not too distant from now here in the state of Colorado.

BALDWIN: So your company, Dixie Elixirs, what do you sell?

KEBER: Dixie Elixirs and Edibles is a medical marijuana and fused products manufacturer licensed and regulated here in the state of Colorado by the Department of Revenue through the Marijuana Enforcement Division.

And we are an infused products manufacturer. Three years ago we started off with one product which was in effect a pot soda. Today, three years later, we have 10 delivery systems or product lines representing over 70 unique products giving patients here in the state of Colorado and potentially consumers the option to embrace marijuana other than the raw plant material, smoking it.

BALDWIN: So, a soda. I was on your Web site. I saw chocolate. I saw ice cream. You know, Tripp, I looked to try to see just in your background, and you're a real estate and technology money guy. So are you smoking or are you eating this stuff or is it merely about the other kind of green for you?

KEBER: You know, I'm fortunate because I'm a relatively healthy 44- year-old male and although at one time I did have my red card which allowed me to access this important medicine, I don't actually typically use it.

The products that we develop are clearly innovative giving patients here in the state of Colorado a choice, whether it be a sparkling beverage, such as a 12-ounce 40-milligram sparkling red pomegranate or a pharmaceutical-grade cannabis capsule. It gives patients the opportunity who can't necessarily embrace the plant in a smoking format, someone that has lung cancer obviously shouldn't subscribe to smoking.

We're very, very excited and I certainly haven't done this on my own. I have an incredibly strong and a powerful team of scientists.


BALDWIN: I'm sure you're not the only -- it's not just Dixie Elixirs and Edibles here. There are many businesses lining up hoping to cash in here. Big picture, when we look ahead and again we're just talking Washington state today legalizing recreational use and we're talking about the state you are in, Colorado, 1st of the year.

Big picture looking ahead, where do you see the marijuana industry going? How big might it get?

KEBER: Well, it's absolutely fascinating, Brooke. I mean, about a year-and-a-half ago they pegged the industry just under $2 billion growing to about $9 billion over the next four years, what I would describe as hockey stick growth.

But looking at the state of Colorado which is going to close out with just $300 million in revenues, overnight with the legalization of marijuana, you're looking at probably a three to four increase. You go from 100,000 patients to in excess of a million consumers and that market will go from $300 million to in excess of a billion dollars overnight and that is certainly what the state of Washington is experiencing.

They have put a peg at just over $46 billion domestically if the federal government would marijuana. You put a sin tax on that and that's approximately $40 billion in revenue.


BALDWIN: Because you mentioned the federal government. Here's the big but to this whole entire story. It's illegal under the federal government.

Let me just read part of what the U.S. attorney's statement, reminding everyone today -- quote -- "Regardless of any changes in state law, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law."

What if -- we still don't know yet. That is an evolving story. We don't know yet. But what if the feds go from wagging their fingers over this to a full-blown crackdown? You're talking about investing millions in a business. Would you be prepared for that?

KEBER: Well, it's a fascinating dynamic. You're absolutely right.

Today, there's 18 states including the District of Columbia that offer some form of medical marijuana or in Washington and Colorado's case, legalization regulated like alcohol. There's been an incredible groundswell. Today in the state of New Jersey, it opens its first medical marijuana center.


BALDWIN: But the feds could come to you, Tripp Keber and say, shut it down, this is illegal, would you be ready for that?

KEBER: I absolutely do. Absolutely.

Well, certainly no one is prepared to have the federal government knock on their door, but we operate in 100 percent compliance with the state as in effect our partner ensuring that we're 100 percent compliant and follow all the rules and regulations and there's thousands of businesses here in the state of Colorado that do the very same.

BALDWIN: Tripp Keber, thanks for joining me. What a story.

KEBER: Thank you very much.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

We have got some news here. The president, President Obama just talking with this middle-class family in Northern Virginia. It's all part of this push to preserve the middle-class tax cut. Here he is sitting around the table in the Washington area today. If the president and Congress cannot reach a deal, tax rates for the middle class and everyone else will go up the 1st of the year.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today prevented a simple majority vote on a proposal to give the president the power, the unilateral power to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. President Obama pushed for the power transfer as part of the whole White House fiscal cliff plan they unveiled about a week ago.

Fiscal cliff, 26 days away.

Christine Romans explains how going over the cliff could affect you and your family.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, here's what the sequester could mean for domestic programs. Fewer women and children could receive nutrition assistance and there would be cuts to child care aid. This is according to a report from the White House Office of Management and Budget, the OMB, also from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Cuts to education nearly 100,000 Head Start spots at risk. More than 25,000 teachers and teachers aides could lose their jobs and science and public health research grants could be cut, including research into cancer and childhood diseases. Fewer Americans could receive drug abuse treatment and almost $750 million slashed from the EPA's budget next year.

The government would have to scale back on food inspection and prevention of food-borne illness, a $300 million for the FDA. Disaster relief, OMB says -- quote -- "The Federal Emergency Management Agency's ability to respond to incidents of terrorism and other catastrophic events would be undermined."

And finally, from Border Patrol to hiring new FBI agents, correction officers, federal prosecutors, all could be scaled back. Now, all of these cuts, Brooke, don't happen exactly at 12:01 a.m. on January 2. They happen over the course of a year. But agencies are preparing for an impasse in Washington. This is exactly, exactly what policy-makers are trying to avoid -- Brooke.


BALDWIN: Christine Romans, thank you.

Shockwaves in Washington today. A powerful Republican senator suddenly calling it quits? South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, he will be stepping down December 31 so he can go lead the Heritage Foundation. That's a powerful conservative think tank in D.C. DeMint says he can be more effective outside the Senate.


SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: A lot of my role in the Senate has been stopping bad things and saying no to bad things, but we need to do more than that and tell Americans what we're for.

One of the mistakes I think the Republican Party made the last two years is trying to make Obama the issue without sharing with America bold reform ideas that get people inspired to get behind us.


BALDWIN: Senator DeMint, a Tea Party supporter, and sometimes clashes with his own party's leadership. He will be missed by Democratic Senator Harry Reid, who calls DeMint a friend.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I have read his book. He's read my book. We are friends. We spent half-hour within the past week talking about the Senate.

At that time, I didn't know that he was considering leaving. I'm not sure that he had made a decision at that time. I rather doubt it. But I have always liked the guy. And even though I disagree with so much of what he's done, I appreciate that I personally believe he does this out of a sense of real belief. It's not political posturing for him as it is for a lot of people. I like Jim DeMint. I wish him well.


BALDWIN: Keep in mind, DeMint is leaving with four years left in his Senate term. Earlier, he had said he would retire when his term was up in 2017, but he gave no previous indication he might quit now.


BALDWIN: As concerns are rising over activity at Syria's chemical weapons site, a new round of diplomacy begins today. Hillary Clinton meets with Russia's foreign minister, a longtime friend of Syria's. So what happens next? I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When something brings you down, you got to get up.

You OK, buddy?

BALDWIN (voice-over): More than a month after superstorm Sandy, a family living in a borrowed apartment is trying to put its life back together.

Plus, back behind bars. John McAfee under arrest and, get this, he's blogging from jail.

And could an online review of a business get you sued? A new case raises the question, just how far can you go when you sound off online?



BALDWIN: Want to take you back now to the urgent situation in Syria where reports are suggesting the embattled leader Bashar al-Assad has ordered preparations for the possible use of chemical sources. Keep in mind Assad's forces are finding rebellion that poses a growing threat to his regime. Listen if you would. This is a warning today from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.


LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching very closely. And the president of the United States has made very clear that there will be consequences. There will be consequences if the Assad regime makes a terrible mistake by using these chemical weapons on their own people.


BALDWIN: Panetta went on to say that the United States now has intelligence that Assad is actively considering using the chemical weapons.

So what are we talking about here, these chemical weapons?

CNN's Tom Foreman takes us through that.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Military analysts believe that Syria may have one of the most extensive chemical weapon stockpiles in the world spread through production and storage facilities throughout the country.

This, they say, is the result of an aggressive development program started in the 1980s aided by the Russians and the Iranians and has been cause for concern before, not only because the government there might use it, but also because maybe these weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists, so precisely what are we talking about?

First of all, mustard gas. This is an old chemical weapon. It was used in World War I. It doesn't act very quickly but it's extremely painful. It burns the skin, can burn the eyes and when inhaled it burns the lungs. It can be fatal, but more often it simply renders an opponent unable to fight anymore and it can create chronic health problems like respiratory illness and blindness for the remainder of life for some people who are exposed to it.

Beyond that, let's look at some of the other ideas here. Sarin gas is one of the concerns out there. Sarin gas attacks the nervous system and in even small amounts it can cause uncontrolled trembling, and then convulsions and then unconsciousness and death.

And beyond that, there is even concern that they might have V.X. gas. Some scientists consider this one of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet. It was originally developed as a pesticide, but spread in a liquid form only a few drops on your arm or your hands would simply produce very quickly the same results as sarin gas, meaning a collapse of your nervous system and death to follow soon thereafter.

The simple truth is, too, all of these weapons could quickly be delivered almost anywhere that they wanted to. The simple truth is you could hook it onto the top of a Scud missile or any type of rocket and fire it over a great distance or put it into an artillery shell and fire it that way. If that is done, then it could poison fields out there for days or even weeks for anyone who walks through.

The government there says they have no designs on doing any of this, but the possibility, the possibility is what has many analysts worried.


BALDWIN: Tom Foreman, thank you.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held meetings today on Russia with her -- on Syria, rather, with her Russian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov.

CNN's Jill Dougherty actually called us from Ireland last hour and she told me the Russians have received assures from Assad that he will not, he will not use chemical weapons and she also told us that Russian support for Assad appears to be wavering because the Russians now doubt he can survive the rebellion against him.

Just ahead, no more hiding, no longer on the run. Police finally arrest American tech mogul John McAfee after he evaded them for weeks. He's wanted for questioning about the death of his neighbor in Belize. Now a new development when it comes to his health -- coming up next.


BALDWIN: Just in to us here, this new development in the John McAfee saga. The millionaire software guru has been taken to a hospital now in Guatemala City because he was having convulsions. This is all according to his attorney. McAfee, wanted for questioning in his neighbor's murder in Belize, he was arrested in Guatemala overnight, perhaps not a huge surprise. This whole time, this guy was supposedly on the run, handing out TV interviews, but listen to this. Even from jail, McAfee has been blogging from behind bars.

The story just gets even more bizarre. More on McAfee's blogging here in just a moment, but first let me just show you this video of his arrest. And, surprise, surprise, he was with a TV crew from when Guatemala police took him in, the charge, entering the country illegally. Here it is. This is exclusive video,


JOHN MCAFEE, TECH GURU: They're trying to arrest me. Guatemalan jails have beds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, where are you going?

MCAFEE: To jail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When will you be out?


BALDWIN: And to think it was just yesterday when McAfee was telling us he was seeking asylum in Guatemala. That request denied, by the way.

He's been on the run ever since the 10th of November for -- since the murder of his neighbor, American expat Greg Faull. This is a picture of Greg Faull here. Police -- Belize police say they just want to talk to McAfee, but during a news conference in Guatemala, McAfee accused Belize of persecuting him for refusing to pay a bribe to a local politician. The Belize prime minister has two words here to describe McAfee, bonkers and paranoid.

In Guatemala just yesterday, McAfee called a news conference. Cameras showed. Listen closely as McAfee tells his girlfriend about the cameras and how they're a big part of his life in the U.S., and that he's a celebrity. Once again, Vice Media caught it all.


MCAFEE: You have never seen this before, have you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, never in my life.

MCAFEE: This is my life in America, sweetie. So, you will see that I'm quite comfortable with this.


BALDWIN: Which brings us to McAfee's jailhouse blog. He has an official one. He calls it The Hinterland. Here is how McAfee describes the Guatemalan jailers, quoting his post: "I am using the computer of one of the wardens or whatever title is used here. He is a sweet man and a gentleman. The world is heavily populated with gentle people. He makes me coffee and tells tender stories about his life. He's a good companion. I believe I could spend weeks in the desert with him as a sole companion without once becoming irritated. His name is Gino Ennati" -- the words of John McAfee from within jail.

One young boy lost his home, his school. This is the reality post- Sandy. We're going to look at how one family is rebuilding its life day-to-day.


BALDWIN: We now know Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has addressed his country. It was about three-and-a-half-hours late here. This was after a night of deadly protests over his sweeping power grab. Here he was.


MOHAMMED MORSI, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This was a reform that will give us an opportunity to get to the right decision, whereby the majority should be -- govern according to democratic principles.

The minority to the minority and soon both, all of us will -- should unite and cooperate in order to achieve our interests, without any partisanship or any allegiance to anybody except to the -- to Egypt.


BALDWIN: President Morsi there moments ago in Egypt.

Violent clashes as we have been covering the last couple of days, they have now killed at least six people and injured more than 670.

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who back President Morsi clashed with his opponents, who say he made himself out now to be a dictator. Thousands gathered outside the presidential palace to listen to the president's televised address.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is in Washington today. He's lobbying for more federal dollars for superstorm Sandy recovery. The New Jersey governor estimates the storm did some $37 billion damage to his state. Cameras were rolling as we caught the governor arriving. There he is at the White House this morning. And then he headed to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Going home, guys. See you later.

QUESTION: How do you feel about this effort to get aid for your state, considering the fiscal cliff and this budget crisis we're in right now?

CHRISTIE: Heading home now, guys. Not taking questions today.


BALDWIN: Heading home now, he says.

The story's very personal here for one teenager back home, who faces the impact of superstorm Sandy everywhere he turns. He saved his family when that storm hit. He lost his home and his school. But he hasn't lost his spirit.

Poppy Harlow spent a day with Ryan Panetta and his family in the Broad Channel neighborhood of -- this is actually New York. This is Queens. Take a look.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sun isn't up at breakfast time for the Panettas.

(on camera): How tired are you?


HARLOW (voice-over): Tim, Ryan, Christian and Carley are now living in a borrowed one-bedroom apartment with their parents.

(on camera): How long is your commute to school now?

RYAN PANETTA, VICTIM OF SUPERSTORM SANDY: It feels almost like two hours.

HARLOW: What did it used to be?



(voice-over) 6: 30 a. m. and they're out the door. A long car ride.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, have a good day.

HARLOW: Then a bus to Ryan's temporary school, PS-13.

KAREN PANETTA, MOTHER: It's unreal now how much our life has changed. You know, we're trying to make the best of it.

HARLOW: He's an eighth grade honor student, one of 5,400 New York students still in different schools because of Sandy.

CARRIE JAMES: He's the one that I think was probably impacted the most. And yet he has the strongest will to be here every day.

R. PANETTA: When something brings you down, you got to get up.

HARLOW: You OK, buddy? What makes you so sad?

RYAN PANETTA: I honestly don't know.

HARLOW: Everything?

R. PANETTA: It's everything.

KAREN PANETTA, RYAN'S MOTHER: How did it go today, Ryan?


HARLOW: Every day after school, Ryan returns to Broad Channel to help his dad try to put their home back together.

JOE PANETTA, RYAN'S FATHER: Everything that I owned, everything I worked hard for, everything was there. And it's gone. There's nothing.

HARLOW: Joe was working overnights and Karen was home with their four children when sandy hit.

K. PANETTA: It was unbelievable, how quick it came up.

HARLOW: The water rushed into the one-hour story house. Ryan swam to a neighbor for help.

R. PANETTA: I jumped out.

HARLOW: You jumped out here in the water?

R. PANETTA: Yes. I wasn't even thinking a log would hit me or anything.

HARLOW: Or the electrical power lines?


HARLOW: You swam to this house?

R. PANETTA: Yes. Right here. And they took us in to the second floor.

HARLOW: The neighbor helped bring the rest of the family over and they watched as the water engulfed the only home they've known.

What did you think when your 13-year-old son jumped in the water?

K. PANETTA: You know, I was panicking. I was panicking.

HARLOW: Did Ryan help save your family?

K. PANETTA: absolutely.

HARLOW: No question?

K. PANETTA: Absolutely. CHRISTIAN PANETTA, RYAN'S BROTHER: I was just thinking that the water was going to come, like ...

HARLOW: Do you feel like your brother helped save you?



Now, all the Panettas are working to rebuild their home and erase the bad memories.

R. PANETTA: After what I've just been through, like, I don't hope I have to see anything that terrifying again.

HARLOW: Poppy Harlow, CNN, Broad Channel, New York.