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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Powerful Earthquake Hits Japan; Seven Days from Congress Holiday; Michigan Labor Protests

Aired December 7, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news right now near Tokyo, a powerful earthquake hit off the coast. A tsunami warning is issued. We're going to go live to Japan, straight ahead.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, talk about your deadlines. Today, we are seven days from Congress going on holiday and 25 days from plunging off the edge of the fiscal cliff.

SAMBOLIN: And "The New York Post" photographer who took the picture of the man in the subway tracks before he was hit sits down to tell his side of the story. We're going to hear from him this hour on CNN.

ROMANS: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START this Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for John Berman today.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Friday, December 7th, and it 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We begin with breaking news of a massive earthquake in Japan. It happened off the coast of Japan, about 300 miles northeast of Tokyo you can see on the tower cam that we are going to buildings swayed for several minutes there.

So, let's go straight to Alex Zolbert. He is live in Tokyo. What can you tell us?

ALEX ZOLBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Zoraida. This happened on Friday evening here in Tokyo, about an hour and a half ago. It was quite an unnerving scene here.

This is a 7.3 magnitude earthquake. You mentioned a bit about it. As we understand it, this essentially came along the same fault line that triggered that massive tsunami in March of 2011.

We've been watching all the local stations, trying to gather all the information we can. Here's what we know at this point in terms of a tsunami. We have seen several small waves come in, about four waves. The biggest one being about one meter or about three feet. The other waves were only about eight to 16 inches.

So, no sign of a major tsunami at this point. But it is quite unnerving. There's reports of the trains stopping up there, some of the roads being closed. But in terms of injuries and in terms of deaths, we are only hearing reports of a few injuries at this time. One other thing you mentioned, you'll remember there was the crippled Fukushima plant in between that region and where we are in Tokyo. According to TEPCO, which is the company that operates the nuclear plants in Japan, all is fine at this hour.

But, Zoraida, we are still waiting for the all clear when it comes to the tsunami waves. We will keep watching and we will keep you posted.

SAMBOLIN: Alex, we're looking at the camera there. It's still shaking. Are those aftershocks or is that what was happening during the earthquake?

ZOLBERT: I would say if you're looking -- I can't see the monitor at this time. If you're looking at the -- this was in our office, in the CNN Tokyo bureau here, really what it is, you se that plant shaking, it doesn't look like much, but what grabs you is the noise you hear. You can hear essentially the whole building shaking.

Let's see if we can recue it and maybe you it take a listen.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

ZOLBERT: Some people in the United States, certainly, know earthquakes quite well. Myself, I'm relatively new to it. Obviously if you haven't experienced one before, it suddenly feels like you're sea sick. This one lasted about 90 seconds, but again we're talking about a 7.3 magnitude quake. And we'll keep watching for any signs of any waves coming into the Tohoku region, which was the region that was hit hard in March of last year -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Have any evacuations been ordered?

ZOLBERT: Well, we've been on the phone with people up in that region, in the Tohoku region, which is again about 300 kilometers north of where we are here in Tokyo. People, it was definitely -- definitely sent a chill through their spine. People along the coast have evacuated.

But we're calling, checking to see, but it appears for now everyone is OK.

SAMBOLIN: OK, all right. Alex, I know this is just happening, and it's very early. You mentioned there were some roads closed, but you haven't heard anything about any injuries, right?

ZOLBERT: We've heard just -- as I was coming out here to this position, I heard a report of several people being taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

In terms of where we are in Tokyo, I should mention, people are heading home. It's now after 7:00 in the evening on Friday and they're going about their business.

So, it doesn't, and early indication, appear to be anything major, but more waves could come in. So, that's what we're watching for now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alex Zolbert, live in Tokyo for us -- thank you.

ROMANS: It's now down to two men left standing between all of us and the fiscal cliff. In 25 days, America goes over the edge. That's when severe tax hikes and spending cuts begin if the deal isn't reach. And Congress breaks for the holidays in seven days.

According to "The New York Times," John Boehner has asked Democratic leaders to step aside so he and the President can attempt to negotiate a deal one-on-one and no one is objecting.

CNN's political editor Paul Steinhauser live from Washington. Paul, good morning. You got some new polling for us. What do Americans want to see in a deal?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It's interesting what they want to see and what they don't want to see. One of the biggest sticking points between Democrats and Republicans over averting the fiscal cliff is raising taxes on those making over $250,000 a year.

Take a look at this from Quinnipiac University. It came out in the last 24 hours. And question was asked are you OK with that? And look at that, 65 percent say they support such a move to avert the fiscal cliff. This is the third poll, Christine, over the last two weeks to show the same thing, that most Americans are OK with raising those taxes on incomes over $250,000 a year.

But go to the next screen, there's a partisan divide here. This really kind of explains why most Republicans are dead set against this. Democrats -- yes, they are fine with that move. Independents, 2/3 of them as well. But, only a minority of Republicans are OK with raising taxes on those making over $250,000 a year.

What don't Republicans like? Well, when it comes to cutting spending, yes, they are OK with that, definitely OK with that. But they don't want entitlements touched, especially Medicare. Look at this question: are you OK with raising the eligibility for Medicare going up from 65 to 67? A majority in the Quinnipiac poll opposed, as with two other polls that came out over the last two weeks, Christine.

ROMANS: Wow. OK. Big surprise yesterday in your town when South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint announced he's resigning. He explained the reasoning to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, this was a big surprise --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: After this last election, it's apparent that we need to do more as conservatives to convince Republicans that our ideas and our policies are going to make their lives better. This will give me the opportunity to help take our case to the American people and to translate our policies into real ideas.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": So you think you can be more influential within the conservative movement as the leader of the Heritage Foundation as opposed to a United States senator? DEMINT: There's no question about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Wow. Paul, what do you make of the timing of this? I mean, he's saying he could be more effective outside the Senate.

STEINHAUSER: You know, advisers to the senator told me he always said he was only going to do two terms in the Senate. The thing is, though, Christine, his second term isn't up for another four years.

So, this timing is interesting. I guess he was quietly, obviously, making a deal with Heritage to go over there. DeMint is somebody that we all know that was a kingmaker over the last two election cycles, a kingmaker on the Tea Party side. He is probably the person responsible for getting five Tea Party-backed members now into the Senate, including the most famous would be, of course, Marco Rubio. He was backing Marco Rubio when established Republicans were all backing Charlie Crist.

You heard him talk to Wolf Blitzer there. He feels he can do more as an ideas guy over at Heritage, which is the probably the oldest and the most important think tank on the conservative side.

One other thing, Christine, keep your eyes now on the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley. She's a Republican. It's up to her to pick a replacement who will serve for two years. But who will she pick? That's what everybody wants to know -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Paul Steinhauser, have a great weekend, Paul. Thanks.

STEINHAUSER: Thanks.

ROMANS: In Egypt this morning, opponents of President Mohamed Morsi are expected to take to the streets again. They were out in force last night in Cairo, chanting that it was time for their president to resign. Their anger was sparked two weeks ago when Morsi issued a decree granting himself sweeping powers.

At a televised last night, Morsi refused to rescind that decree, despite calls to do so from his opponents. We're going to go live to Cairo for the latest on this, this half hour.

SAMBOLIN: Eight minutes past the hour.

The photographer who took the now infamous picture of a New York City man standing on the subway tracks as a train approached insists he was trying to alert the driver of the train. That photo moments before his death made it on the front page of "The New York Post" that's sparking outrage of both the paper and the photographer. People are asking why Umar Abbasi did not do more to help the victim.

He told CNN's Anderson Cooper he was too far away on the platform to do anything else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

R. UMAR ABBASI, FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER: The only way I thought at that moment was to start clicking away, releasing the shutter that will fire the flash and maybe --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": You thought that might warn the conductor?

ABBASI: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: The victim was pushed on to the tracks. Abbasi said the only thing he would have urged him to do differently is to out-run the train.

ROMANS: The mayor of Trenton, New Jersey, and two co-defendants indicted by a federal grand jury on seven new counts of bribery and extortion. Mayor Tony Mack, his brother and a business associate, implicated on a kickback scheme to sell city-owned property to investors for less than the assessed value. The charges stem from a two-year FBI investigation and to informants who cooperated with the feds.

SAMBOLIN: George Zimmerman is suing NBC. The man charged with shooting and killing Trayvon Martin is accusing the network of editing his 911 call to police to make himself sound racist. Zimmerman claims because of those actions, the public wrongly believes that he used a racial slur while describing Martin to the police dispatcher. Three NBC employees have been fired for their role in producing that story.

ROMANS: Could kickoffs get the boot in the NFL? Commissioner Roger Goodell telling "TIME" magazine that he has considered doing away with that part of the game in an effort to reduce player injuries. The league already tinkered with kickoffs, moving them up five yards which has limited kick returns.

By all accounts, those typically frantic plays present the most risks to players. Next hour of the EARLY START, we're going to talk to a former linebacker Chris Draft of potential sea change in the NFL.

And actor Steven Baldwin arrested and charged with failing to file New York state income tax returns from 2008 through 2010. He allegedly owes more than $350,000. Baldwin pleaded not guilty yesterday. He claims he left his personal affairs to paid professionals during the team he was on an island shooting the reality TV show, "Survivor." His lawyer says Baldwin even produced the $100,000 to show good faith.

SAMBOLIN: After heading D.C. to ask for aid for Superstorm Sandy damage, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie explained his change of heart to President Obama in the days after the storm and before the presidential election. Check out what he told Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: People have different skill sets at different times.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": I see. So he wasn't a leader until you need leadership.

CHRISTIE: Maybe until -- maybe until he was presented with a stark opportunity to lead.

STEWART: Yes, opportunity. All right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Critics call it a step towards union busting.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

ROMANS: Protests against a proposed new labor law in a state known for organized labor. We are live from Michigan, next.

SAMBOLIN: And call it man versus python. The state of Florida needs your help to kill thousands of massive reptiles.

Why does this sound like it may not end well?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Michigan is at the heart of organized labor. This morning, it's a giant step closer to becoming the nation's 24th right-to-work state. Despite angry protests at the state capital, Michigan's Republican-led House and Senate pushed through legislation that critics say would limit workers rights and weaken unions. The governor says he'll sign a right-to-work bill when it hits his desk.

CNN's Poppy Harlow following all of this for us. She is in Lansing for us this morning. Poppy, what is it about this bill that's got protesters so unhappy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this is -- as you said -- at the heart, Michigan is at the heart of the organized labor movement. And what we saw was three separate bills passed late yesterday, Christine -- two in the Senate, one in the House. They affect both public workers and private sector workers like auto workers at Ford and G.M.

And the core of this right-to-work legislation basically means that unions and employers cannot mandate that employees join the union or pay dues to the union. And money is at the core of power in these unions. So, that is very, very significant.

Protesters here are filling the halls of the capitol yesterday trying to rush through the doors. Eight arrests made. Mace sprayed by police. It got very rowdy here at the capitol.

I want you to listen to one protester and their take on this legislation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It terrifies me that they're trying to pass this through so quickly with no discussion from the other side. No understanding of what's important. No discussion about the finer points, all the things this will affect. I think democracy is way too important to just let go and slide through like this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Democrats are calling this a subversion of the legislative process. This did not go through committee. It did not go through public debate. The head of the United Autoworkers vehemently opposing here, here protesting yesterday.

The governor here, the Republican Governor Rick Snyder, Christine, saying this is a move for workplace fairness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK SYNDER (R), MICHIGAN: To be pro-worker, to give freedom of choice to the workplace, and that the legislators move promptly and efficiently moving it through the legislature. When it arrives on my desk I plan on signing it.

BOB KING, UAW PRESIDENT: The data and the facts from all the right- to-work states show that it's right to work for less. It is an effort by the wealthy, by people like Dick Debause (ph) and the right wing that they want to push workers wages and benefits down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: And the data shows this, Christine, as you know, that non- unionized workers typically make less than union workers. That's the big concern here. A labor lawyer telling me this is hugely symbolic and devastating for the labor movement. The governor expected to pass legislation which is expected to get through the House and the Senate here sometime next week.

ROMANS: All right. Poppy Harlow, great reporting in Lansing, Michigan -- thanks, Poppy.

SAMBOLIN: It is 17 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up-to-speed on today's top stories.

House Speaker John Boehner asking Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to step aside so he and the President can meet one-on-one to work out a fiscal cliff compromise. That's according to "The New York Times". The report also says everyone is on board with the idea. America goes off the fiscal cliff in 25 days, triggering massive tax hikes and spending cuts.

ROMANS: No sign of President Obama, the First Lady, Sasha or Malia, on this year's White House holiday. This year, it's all about the love dog Bo. The Portuguese water dog takes center stage in front of the snowy White House. The card was designed by Iowa artist and dog lover Larassa Kabel.

SAMBOLIN: A holiday surprise for some Wal-Mart shoppers. This is south Florida. Secret Santas paid of their layaway bills.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CALLER: My layaway is paid?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. The rest of your balance is paid off.

CALLER: Are you serious?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'm very serious. So, you no longer own a balance on your layaway.

CALLER: Tell Santa thank you very much!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: An Athletic Club pitched in $500 which helped six families. Several of the layaway shoppers said they wish they could meet their Secret Santas to give them a hug and kiss and say thank you.

ROMANS: Wow. All right. It's 19 minutes after the hour. Time for your "Early Reads" -- your local news making national headlines.

We begin with "Tacoma's News Tribune" which says day one of legalized marijuana was pretty chill. The newspaper says there were no run on injury, there's no increases in car wrecks caused by stoned drivers, no crazy displays of stoner joy.

The authors of the pot legislation say they aren't surprised. They say their intent was to replace the failed Prohibition model with a thoughtful and humane new public policy.

SAMBOLIN: And to Florida, "The Sun Sentinel" newspaper, Florida wildlife officials announcing the 2013 python challenge. Are you for it?

It's a hunting contest that begins next month because the Burmese python population is posing a big threat to the state's ecosystem. Officials found a 75-found fully intact deer in the stomach of one that was captured last year. A grand prize of $1,500 is being offered to the hunter who kills the most pythons with $1,000 bonus going to whoever bagged the biggest one.

ROMANS: Wow. We're just about three hours now away from the November jobs report. Next, why the Superstorm Sandy could have an impact on these numbers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 23 minutes past the hour. Welcome back.

We are minding your business this morning. U.S. stock futures are flat this morning after climbing higher yesterday, but gains were limited because of fiscal cliff concerns, with no major progress out of Washington.

ROMANS: Oh, gains limited because of fiscal cliff concerns. We'll be hearing that until it's fixed, won't we?

The November jobs report is released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern today. A CNN Money survey of economists forecast 8 percent unemployment. That would be ticking up from 7.9 percent in October, and 77,000 jobs added. It's a lot slower growth than we've seen so far this year for jobs quite frankly.

You've got to go back to the summer to see growth that slow. A hundred seventy-one thousand jobs were added in October.

It's likely that Superstorm Sandy skewed these numbers, perhaps dramatically. Economists at Deutsche Bank expect only 25,000 jobs were added after they studied past hurricane effects on jobs. After hurricane Katrina, they say the jobs report were revised much higher because it was difficult for the Labor Department to collect data during and after that storm.

In today's report, we'll be watching four sectors hardest hit by the storm, manufacturing, retail, leisure and hospitality and temporary help industries.

Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody's Analytics, he said that aside from the storm, quote, "The job market turned in a good performance for the month. This especially impressive given the uncertainty created by the presidential election and the fast- approaching fiscal cliff. Businesses appear to be holding firm on their hiring and firing decisions."

So, except for Sandy, jobs would have been doing better, and Sandy is seen as a temporary factor.

Another usual factor this month, the layoffs and strikes at the Twinkie maker Hostess. Those could also affect these numbers. Remember, Hostess filed for bankruptcy last month.

I want to bring you up to speed on Facebook. Facebook moving on up. The social network will be listed on the NASDAQ 100 next week and could be added to the wildly tracked S&P 500 very soon.

Shares are down nearly 30 percent since the IPO. But with the market value about $60 billion, it would rank among the top 50 largest companies on the index.

One equity strategist said the move is, quote, "imminent." It could happen in the next few weeks. And, you know, when it moves into an index like that, that means portfolio managers, fund managers, they buy it because they have to track -- many of them have, you know, funds that track the S&P 500. So, that could mean a boost for the stock perhaps.

SAMBOLIN: How do you feel about that jobs report? ROMANS: I think that -- you know, I'd like to see a triple digit number, I don't think we're going to see it. I think you're going to see a double-digit number because of Sandy, because of fiscal cliff uncertainly, end of the year, companies are kind of nervous. So, I hope it's temporary.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thanks, Christine.

So, we're watching a developing story in Egypt right now where protests in the streets are expected against the country's president again. We are live from Cairo after a quick break.

And rescue -- a woman saved after police say her ex-husband tried to seal her in the attic. Hear what he was doing when police burst in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)