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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Michigan Right To Work Protests; Navy Warships Monitoring North Korea; Zimmerman Attorney: No Plea Deal; Strange Case Of John McAfee; Colbert For Senate?; Boehner To Top Dems: "Step Aside"; 25 Days Until Fiscal Cliff; Imagine There's No Kickoffs; "Dangerous Grounds"

Aired December 7, 2012 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Michigan with a long and storied union history could become the next right to work state. Republicans pushed through legislation and drew some angry protests from union supporters and from Democrats.

The state's Republican governor says he's going to sign the right to work measure when he hits his desk and that could happen next week. CNN's Poppy Harlow is in Lansing, Michigan for us this morning. Hi, Poppy. Good morning.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. This is Michigan. This is the birthplace of the United Auto Workers. This is the heart of the labor movement and all of that is in question this morning.

What I can tell you is that three bills passed, two in the Senate, one in the House, late yesterday that would make this a right to work state. What that would do is it would make it illegal for unions and employers to mandate that employees join the union or they pay the dues to the union.

That could mean less money for the union. That would mean less power at the bargaining table, less of an ability to compel people to join the union. That is huge. This not only would apply to public sector workers.

It would also apply to all those private sector workers that worked for Ford, GM, and Chrysler, all of the unions here. So protesters here are storming through the halls of this state capital in Lansing yesterday. I want you to take a listen to what one protester said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It terrifies me they are trying to pass this through with no discussion from the other side. No understanding of what's important in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: The union members that were protesting chanting things like "union busting is disgusting," really taking issue with the fact that this legislation did not go through committee.

That it did not go through public debate, but the Republican mayor here, Rick Snyder, insists, Soledad, that this is beneficial for the workers. Here's his take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER (R), MICHIGAN: To be pro-worker, to give freedom of choice to our workplace and that legislators move promptly and efficiently in moving it through the legislature and 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 state show that it's right to work for less. It is an effort by the wealthy, by people like the right wing that they want to push workers wages and benefits down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That coming from the head of the United Auto Workers here in Michigan. Soledad, a labor lawyer I spoke with told me this is hugely significant. Also told me that this is, quote, "devastating for the labor movement."

O'BRIEN: So it sounds like it's a done deal. The governor says he is going to sign it. That's already made its way through. Is there anything that could stop it from the protesters point of view?

HARLOW: Well, you know, what the House is trying to do is they are trying to get a reconsideration of this bill, which could happen as early as next Tuesday. But even if that happens, the House and Senate do have one version of the bill that's the same.

So if they both pass that, which is likely going to happen, they are both Republican controlled and it will be on the governor's desk. This is all but a done deal. And you know what the argument here by Republicans, by the governor, Soledad, is this will make this state more competitive when it comes to jobs.

Therefore, create more jobs. The Democrats and unions don't buy that. But you know, right next door in Indiana, they recently passed similar legislation making it right to work and the argument is they don't want to see the jobs go there.

They want them here in Michigan. But I can't overstate how significant this is especially in a state like Michigan for all the workers here that are unionized.

O'BRIEN: You can really tell. Poppy Harlow for us in Lansing, Michigan. Thank you, Poppy.

Zoraida Sambolin has a look at some of the other stories that are making news this morning.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": The U.S. Navy is moving warships into position to monitor the possible launch of a long range ballistic missile by the North Koreans.

The USS Benfeld and the USS Fitgerald are both guided-missile destroyers. The Navy won't reveal their act locations. Satellite images reveal North Korea appears to be working towards a launch later this month.

No plea deal, the attorney for George Zimmerman who is charged with killing Florida teenager Trayvon Martin refuses to say he won't go that route to avoid a murder trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK O'MARA, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No. I wouldn't plea somebody who is innocent to anything. So I think the answer is easily no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Meantime, Zimmerman is suing NBC for defamation. He claims the network edited his 911 call to police to make him sound racist. NBC says there was no intent to portray Zimmerman unfairly. Three NBC employees were fired over that.

John McAfee, the internet security pioneer, faces extradition again today in Belize. In the latest twist in this bizarre case, McAfee was rushed to the hospital in Guatemala City yesterday after learning that his bid for asylum was rejected. Apparently, he was treated for cardiovascular problems. McAfee is wanted for questioning in the murder of his neighbor.

He once ran for "President of the United States of South Carolina." Now Stephen Colbert for Senate? With Republican Jim DeMint of South Carolina leaving the Senate before his term is over, someone has already created a Twitter account and scooped up the Colbert for Senate web site.

GOP Governor Nikki Haley gets to appoint someone to finish the DeMint's term, so he actually can't run.

O'BRIEN: And she would be insane to appoint him, right?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I think he really lives in New Jersey.

O'BRIEN: Well, there's that. Zoraida, thank you.

SAMBOLIN: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: It's 25 days until we fall off of the fiscal cliff. A new glimmer of hope that maybe that there could be a deal is in the works or a deal toward getting a deal in the works. The "New York Times" reporting that President Obama and Speaker John Boehner are meeting one-on-one, they are trying to hash out a fiscal cliff deal before the end of the year.

Clearly, that's the deadline. No other leaders in the room though just the two of them. There are sources that are confirming to CNN that staff members on both sides resumed talking on Thursday as well. Will those talks go anywhere?

Kenneth Baer was a senior White House adviser, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama. He is now a managing director at the Harbor Group and he's with us this morning.

It's nice to talk to you, sir. Thank you for being with us.

KENNETH BAER, FORMER SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: I'm trying to decide if this one-on-one meeting is a good idea or a bad idea. On the good side, you can imagine if you move all the noise and the debate and the extra people in the room and you sort of bring the two main people to sit down and hash it out that could be a very good thing, right?

BAER: It is a good sign. That's how this deal is going to be done. That's how it was done last summer, how we avoided government shutdown last spring. But the truth is there's a lot of staff work that has to be done.

And the real question is -- also is what Speaker Boehner's position and is going to be able to bring along enough members of his caucus in order that you could pass a big deal.

O'BRIEN: Right. And that kind of brings me to maybe the downside of keeping everybody out is that you have to sell this to everybody eventually. I mean, you know, there are some people who suggests, Sessions, for example, called it secret talks that violate the principle of American government that would be open to every city.

You know, county school board has an open meeting law, you're not supposed to be meeting in secret. Why doesn't the American people know what it is the president would like to see as the final idea for America's financial future?

And I get his point, which is at some point, don't you need the light of day on this or is it just not good for the negotiation part?

BAER: It's not good for the negotiation. The truth is the president has put forward a balanced plan with detail about how he would reduce the deficit over the next decade by $4 trillion to put us in a sustainable fiscal path. That's out there.

Speaker Boehner has put out some things he wants, but there has to be frank discussions confidentially. The truth is whatever deal there is has to come up for a vote in the Congress. That's when you have a debate over the contours of any plan would be. So I think Senator Sessions is trying to cause a little mischief there.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hi, Kenny. It's Ryan Lizza. So a lot of Democrats are saying that no big deal if you go over the fiscal cliff. It seems like Republicans are moving towards giving in on the tax rates. Might even just vote on the tax portion of the negotiations and kick the rest into January to deal with. If you get a deal on the taxes that President Obama seems like he would sign, what happens to the government on the second half of the cliff, the sequester and other extenders? You were at OMB. Can the government deal with that? Can we go over that half of the cliff and be OK?

BAER: Right. I mean, there are a lot of ifs in what you're saying. One is seems like Republicans are saying if they do agree, we should raise taxes on the middle class. And then possibly they would just say let's just pass a bill that would prevent any increase on rates on the middle class.

That would be a good thing. If we got past January 3rd and the sequester went into effect, there are a ways to move through money in accounts where you can buy a few weeks. I think that's an important thing to do. Now don't get me wrong. There would still be a huge impact.

I don't know what the markets would do and I think, you know, Wall Street is in a mind that if we do go past January 3rd, there is a large cliff, we will fall off it. And if you think that then that will happen in the markets.

And secondly, there are people who rely on unemployment benefits and who also could be thrown off those roles because those aren't extended as well as the payroll tax. If that goes away, in the first few paychecks of next year, people would feel that immediately.

It wouldn't have a huge economic effect, it's only a few dollars only for a few weeks, but there would be some effects. But yes, you're right. There's a way to mitigate this for the first few weeks.

ROMANS: This is Christine here. I'm wondering what is your -- so say you go over the cliff for a few days and start to solve -- you kick some of the sequester down the road.

If you're running one of these agencies, though, you have to be making these decisions right now. I mean, OMB this week is saying prepare for the cuts. That's a very difficult position to be in when you have -- when you literally have mouths to feed for some of these agencies and you got people who need to get paid.

BAER: That's absolutely right. I don't think this is something that you can buy six months. I think it's something you could buy a few weeks. Make no mistake, going past January 3rd, going over the cliff would be a very bad thing for this country.

It would be -- not only on pure impacts on economics, but it would send a bad signal to the world that our politics is dysfunctional even though we just had an election where the mandate was very clear.

That the American people want to follow a path, a balanced path like the president put out and we couldn't go down that path. So, you know, this is nothing taken lightly, but it is to say that Armageddon happens on January 4th, the next day.

It is to say though is that the next day, we can start doing things in order to get through the next week or so to finalize a deal.

O'BRIEN: Ken Baer is a former senior White House adviser, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, now the managing director of the Harvard Group. It's nice to have you with us. We appreciate your time.

BAER: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, the NFL commissioner might get rid of a traditional part of football games, the kickoff. Would it make games safer? We'll take a look at that.

And then this man is the Indiana Jones, if you will, of the coffee world. Todd Carmichael has a show called "Dangerous Grounds" talking about coffee. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Could you imagine the NFL without kickoffs? Yes, I could. The Commissioner Roger Goodell is said to be considering the move as a matter of safety because it's a serious issue.

Does it really make the game safer? Do you minimize the number of concussions, which is what it's all about? We talked to Coy Wire. He's an analyst. He also played for nine years in the NFL. He said this to me earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COY WIRE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: As the game evolves, the players are getting bigger, faster, stronger, the sheer physics of the games are changing and all that we're learning with the long term health risks of the game. It's necessary to change.

When change is necessary, not to change is destructive. The thing that people must realize is the game from its beginnings has always been in a state of evolution to make it better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Listen, you know what I know about football can fit on the head of a pin, but I have kids who want to play football. I watch it sometimes with my husband, but he watches football. Not me.

The thing is for my kids, I actually am very worried about this. I care about concussions for small children and as they go through middle school and then into high school, I really don't want my son to 30 years from now be suffering from damage he suffered playing football.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Forty percent of kickoffs right now aren't returned, the touchback. So the replacement is actually kind of an interesting replacement.

You would start out I think on your own 30-yard line. They would replace a kickoff with a fourth and 15 situation. You can choose to punt or you can choose to go for it, which would replace the onsite kick.

O'BRIEN: But the critics would say that's less exciting is their point.

CAIN: The 40 percent of kickoffs being touchbacks, the kickoff is not an exciting moment.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: No, but it can be a very exciting moment. Listen, everybody loves football, but it's gotten way too dangerous. I mean, we hear these stories about the professional athletes who are having their lives ruined later on in their 30s and 40s.

They are having these life-threatening debilitating injuries. I mean, football can't be about hurting these people. I mean, these are the people -- these are stars. We shouldn't -- doing their work should not kill them.

ROMANS: But it's an aggressive game. They're sacks, quarterbacks are getting sacked. You can keep moving the ball down the field for all the other places where --

LIZZA: There's no middle ground here. They are trying to come up with some compromise where there isn't one.

SAMBOLIN: Well, at the end of the day, these guys know they play the game. They know how dangerous the sport is. So I kind of feel like you know what you're getting yourself into.

ROMANS: I don't think they do. I don't think that's true.

SAMBOLIN: We have so much research now. Boston University has done research on this.

O'BRIEN: I don't think it's a fair choice to say. You can be an athlete, but 30 years from now you're going to have a version of Parkinson's disease and it's going to destroy your life and you're going to end up in a wheelchair.

SAMBOLIN: I don't think they will make it that safe. I just don't.

LIZZA: Slippery slope is just stop playing football.

O'BRIEN: Did you just make the slippery slope argument on this show?

LIZZA: Once you start banning different plays because you're getting too many concussions, you move, as Christine pointed, you can't sack the quarterback.

O'BRIEN: I know a little bit about football. It's changed over time, right. The game shifts. All right, we got to take a short break.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, he goes to incredible lengths to get the right cup of coffee, the perfect cup of coffee. His adventure, Todd Carmichael, the host of "Dangerous Grounds" and he is going to join us to talk about why he risks, literally risks, his life to get good coffee.

I see him drinking our coffee from the green room. Welcome. It's nice to have you. We're back in just a moment.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in search of a real coffee. I just need to survive the dangerous city streets. We have to -- move it now. Make it high up in the mountains and avoid coffee middle men. I'll be shot at? You're going into war. And find that bean that will become my next gold mine in exotic coffees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So our next guest has been described as the Indiana Jones of the coffee world. Coffee producer and adventurer, Todd Carmichael, whose travels take him to find the rare strain of coffee beans to make the very best cup of coffee in the entire world.

And as you saw in the videotape put him in some dangerous situations sometimes, but fascinating situations to and places like Madagascar. His travels are now documented in a new Travel Channel series, which is called "Dangerous Grounds."

And Todd Carmichael is with us this morning. Seriously, have you lost your mind, like seriously for a cup of coffee?

TODD CARMICHAEL, HOST, "DANGEROUS GROUNDS": For a cup of coffee. I know. It's such an innocuous, you know, humble little drink, isn't it? But there's a whole world behind it. You know, it's a beverage that has changed the planet in so many ways and has changed us as a people. It's our number one beverage.

O'BRIEN: How can it be dangerous? You're literally running through some of those shots because you need to get out of dodge fast.

CARMICHAEL: Right.

O'BRIEN: What's the dynamics that makes coffee sometimes dangerous?

CARMICHAEL: Well, it's not always that way. I mean, there are 80 different coffee growing countries around the planet, all right around the equator. Some are beautiful and easy, like Brazil. Some, particularly those that are re-emerging, are challenging.

Yemen is one of those countries where it's in conflict and once it comes out of conflict, the coffee guys will go back in and see what they can salvage and create new relationship with farmers.

CAIN: I have to guess the coffee industry and the drug industry, the cocaine industry have got to be intertwined. Not only the countries you're going to, but it's often used as a masking agent. Did you come into contact with cartels?

CARMICHAEL: Yes. Central and South America, guerrilla groups are hiding in the mountains where the coffee is grown and often drug cartels. It's a big part of the job in those parts of the world.

O'BRIEN: Let me run a clip. You're in Ethiopia, sleeping under a truck because you're trying to avoid robbers, which is bad. Then it gets much worse. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARMICHAEL: That, my friend, guaranteed 100 percent. That is a male spotted hyena. Hear that moan? That moo? When a hyena eats an animal, it eats its hooves, teeth, skull and they do it while the animal is living. I'm telling you what, that is not a way to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: No kidding.

CARMICHAEL: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: What is the most dangerous situation you've ever found yourself in?

CARMICHAEL: Couple of years ago, I think the worst was in Angola and I got caught up in a riot, ended up getting stabbed, punctured my right lung, wrong place at the wrong time. I was very interested in the re-emergence of the country as a coffee country and came in a little too early, I think.

SAMBOLIN: I also wanted to know what's the best cup of coffee is that you've come across?

O'BRIEN: That is so not the best cup of coffee from the green room.

SOCARIDES: I can't believe you're drinking this. The CNN coffee is not that great. Are there health benefits to coffee?

O'BRIEN: Wait, wait.

CAIN: Talk about dangerous grounds.

CARMICHAEL: I'm risking my life.

O'BRIEN: No hyenas, but it could really kill you.

CARMICHAEL: OK, the best is it's fair for me to say it depends on your taste buds. If you ask me what the best is -- let's say I was isolated on a desert island and I only got one coffee to pick.

CAIN: Sounds like a good episode.

CARMICHAEL: Exactly. Don't give these people any ideas. It's Ethiopia, the motherland of all coffees, where coffee was originally created, it evolved and you'll find that some of the best countries come from that country.

O'BRIEN: Todd Carmichael, the host of "Dangerous Grounds." It's nice to have you with us. Got to take a break. Still ahead on STARTING POINT, in roughly 30 minutes, we're expecting those monthly job report numbers. We'll have full analysis for you and what it means for the economy, straight ahead.

And then we'll talk about an upcoming documentary I have over the weekend it's called "Black in America." We'll tell you the story of this woman here. She is a teacher who is exposing some 7-year-old kids to colorism, explaining what it is and why it matters in this day and age. That's straight ahead. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Morning. Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, a powerful earthquake strikes in Japan, happened in the area that's still recovering from that deadly tsunami just a year ago. We're live in Tokyo this morning.

Plus the debate over my special report, "Who's Black," CNN's look at how we define who we are. It's kind of trending on the internet this morning and we'll talk about that, too.

Just 30 minutes away from the November jobs report, is the economic recovery continuing? Christine has that for us.

ROMANS: That's right. We'll have to see what Superstorm Sandy does to those numbers. We'll know for sure in 30 minutes.

SAMBOLIN: And Chris Christie talks Superstorm Sandy with Bruce Springstein. We'll have that for you.