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Obama Pushes Fiscal Plan in Michigan Soon; Unions Brace For Crippling Blow; Navy Seal Killed In Afghanistan; Tech Is In, Liberal Arts Are Out

Aired December 10, 2012 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: This is the greater Detroit area. So we're expecting the president. This is an invitation only audience. We're expecting to hear themes of the economy and middle class.

A couple of backdrops, just to put this in the back of your head as we continue this conversation with our chief White House correspondent, who I'll bring in, in just a moment here. Keep in mind, just yesterday the president met with the speaker of the House, John Boehner, to talk specifically about avoiding the fiscal cliff. We are mere weeks from that, you know, basically kicking in the first of the year. That's when everyone's taxes would be going up.

So, that happened just yesterday. And also you have all these pro union protests happening not too far away in Lansing, Michigan. And so we have a correspondent there as well we'll talk to here.

But, Jessica Yellin, let me go to you in Washington. And, first things first, when you think here Michigan, and you think really the birthplace of unions, and you think about all these people who are very frustrated with this. Everything I read, it seems to be pretty much a done deal, this right to work legislation that the governor has indicated he would sign. I mean these are the folks who helped elect the president not too long ago. Should the president step in and go to bat for them?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the unions have been enormously supportive of the president, as you point out. Not only during this campaign, not only as foot soldiers helping to get out the vote, but also financially with their dollars, Brooke. And the White House has already expressed its support for the unions opposing right to work legislation. One White House official put out a statement today, Matt Lehrich, saying, in part, let me find the statement, "President Obama has long opposed so-called right to work laws and he continues to oppose them now. The president believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits. And he opposes attempts to -- he opposes attempts that" -- can we change the graphic?

BALDWIN: It's up on the screen, Jessica, if you just want to --

YELLIN: "He opposes attempts to roll back their rights. Michigan and its workers' role in the revival of the U.S. automobile industry is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy." So that comes from the White House, from a White House spokesman, Matt Lehrich, even before the president's speech there.

Now, Brooke, polls show Michiganders are torn, divided on this measure. Some polls show a little bit of majority support on the effort. But the president is coming down squarely on the side of unions here. And he -- there is leave no room for doubt where he stands, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. So that's what we're hearing, what you're getting from the White House today and certainly we don't know, but perhaps the president will mention what's happening not too far away in Lansing.

Let me also ask you, Jessica, as I mentioned a moment ago, of course the fiscal cliff. It's something we've been talking about each and every day here on CNN. The president met with the speaker of the House. And am I correct, has it been about a year since the two of them have actually had a one-on-one face-to-face? So what more are we learning detail wise from that meeting?

YELLIN: Well, the bottom line is, the status appears to remain at stalemate. The White House is expressing the view that the president believes it's still possible to get to a deal, but they want to hear more -- they want to hear specifics from Republicans on revenue and they have not heard that. That's what the White House was saying before the deal last -- before -- sorry, before the meeting last Friday they were saying this.

The speaker's office is saying they still want to hear from the White House on more details on spending cuts. Also, that is what the speaker's office was saying before the meeting last Friday. So the message today is exactly what it was last Friday. The meeting happened yesterday, on Sunday. So we are where we were.

Does that mean that nothing happened in the meeting? No, there could have been some progress, but nothing that would breakthrough to an actual deal. So the bottom line remains from the White House it seems, reading between the lines, they want the GOP to give on rates and Speaker Boehner clearly did not say, yes, he is willing to raise rates for the top 2 percent. No deal from the White House's perspective until that happens. Obviously Speaker Boehner wants a little more detail from the White House on other issues before he moves.


BALDWIN: OK. So status is stalemate, at least thus far. Jessica Yellin, don't go too far away. We'll continue this conversation again as we are awaiting the president speaking at the Daimler Redford Engine Plant there in Michigan today.

As we are talking Michigan, I want to take you to Lansing here. As we were discussing, this whole -- a lot of protests there at the state capital. The visit here to Michigan for the president comes really at a crisis point for the state's union workers. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CROWD: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!


BALDWIN: You hear the chanting, the shouting, since last Thursday. Protesters have been saying "shame on you" at the Michigan state house where less than 24 hours from now lawmakers could deliver a crippling blow to organized labor by voting to turn Michigan into this country's 24th right to work state.

What does that mean? Basically that allows workers not to pay union dues. Protests, as we can tell, they have quieted today. But these demonstrations, like you're seeing here, they are expected to grow as this measure is getting closer and closer to passage.

So, let me go to Lansing, to Alison Kosik there.

And just, you know, Alison, set the scene for me. Tell me how many people you've seen out there. And I imagine quite a police presence as well.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is beginning to be a police presence, but consider this more of the calm before the storm. I mean you just showed those demonstrations from last week. So if that's any indication, yes, police have been getting ready. They're getting their barricades ready. We've seen them out today.

I walked inside the capital, saw a lot of police inside, because what is expected tomorrow, thousands are expected to descend upon the Michigan state capital right here. They're expected to march down this street, all the way up to the state -- the city hall here for Lansing. These roads are expected to be closed and you'll see thousands blanketing the street, right up until the first vote.

10:00 a.m., the senate takes up the house measure. The house will take up the senate measure. They are expected to pass. Once that happens, if that indeed does happen, Brooke, it would go to the governor's desk where he is expected to sign it.

BALDWIN: As we anticipate that, I just want to point out a couple of polls here as we talk, Alison, because these are multiple polls just taken in Michigan. There were 600 people in Michigan. They were asked if they support right to work generally. And we have the numbers. Here you go. More or less split, 54 percent favoring, 40 percent oppose. But I want you now to look at the same poll, because it was the same group when presented with pros and cons of right to work, asked if they favor it, 51 percent say they oppose, 42 percent favor. When you look at this, Alison, it doesn't look like a very clear directive, does it?

KOSIK: No, and there is a disconnect there because I think when you see -- those who were polled, the 600 folks who live in Michigan, who, at first, you look at that and they say, you know what, it is a good idea, they said, the majority said, that people shouldn't be forced to pay union dues. But then it's also hard for folks who live in Michigan to say, wait a minute, this could take away the clout of the unions. The unions that are really the life blood of Michigan. Many say it's the unions which built Michigan up in first place.

And, you know, you have to also remember, there's a huge symbolic element to this. The United Autoworkers Union was born here in Michigan. So it's really hard for the folks who live here to see the power of the unions be diminished. And the reality is, if this law passes, Brooke, it means that not only in Michigan you'll see the power of unions fall, but this could also be the first salvo for unions across the country to lose their clout as well.


BALDWIN: Alison Kosik, thank you. We're not going to go too far from you. Also just want to remind all of you, we're watching, we are awaiting the president again in Redford, Michigan. So as soon as we see him, we will bring you back to those live pictures on the issue of these unions in Lansing.

Also wanted to let you know, the vice president of the UAW will be joining me here within the next hour or so. And we'll talk to her. She's negotiating. She's the one negotiating with the governor on behalf of some 17,000 members who are working for the state of Michigan and we'll ask her if she has some last minute salvo or last minute plea for the governor. So stay tuned for that.

But I want to switch gears to a fast moving story. A group of Syrian rebels helping the fight to overthrow President Bashar al Assad is about to be declared a terrorist organization. U.S. government documents indicate the radical group, they're known as the al Nursa Front, has ties to al Qaeda. The U.S. will officially be labeling this group as terrorist. That happens tomorrow. And these same rebel fighters are also believed to be playing a part in the Iraqi insurgency.

Now, these documents show that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed these papers making the declaration official actually back on the 20th of last month. Much more on this story out of Syria next hour.

An American doctor kidnapped in Afghanistan and what happens next involves around the clock negotiations and a dramatic act of courage by SEAL Team Six.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

The death of a pop star. A picture shows what happened moments before Jenni Rivera's plane crashed.

Plus, boys disappear from a reform school and are never heard from again.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are children who came here and died for one reason or another and quite literally have just been lost in the woods.


BALDWIN: The answers may lie in this cemetery.

And one governor floating the idea of setting tuition rates based upon your major. This may change college forever.


BALDWIN: Live pictures where we are awaiting the president. Should be there momentarily here. Packed room. Invitation only. This is Daimler's Redford Engine Plant. So as soon as we see the president, wanted to just let you know, we will take him live.

But I do want to move on to this next story. I'm sure many of you were talking about this here. Many people are calling Dr. Dilip Joseph a hero. And as this video explains here, Joseph and this organization called Morning Star Development bring basic supplies, medical care, to rural Afghans, many of whom, as you see, are young children.


DR. DILIP JOSEPH, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, MORNING STAR DEVELOPMENT (voice- over): We have a lot more that we can give away. And when it goes to a place like Afghanistan, it makes the difference between life and death.


BALDWIN: But last week, the doctor from Colorado was the one who needed saving after kidnappers abducted him and two Afghans as they were on their way back from a medical clinic in the Kabul area. The kidnappers, either smugglers or members of the Taliban, there are conflicting reports on that today. They have now released the Afghans. But for the 11 hours after that, the doctor remained a captive. And then, a team of Navy SEALs swooped in and rescued Dr. Joseph. In this mission, "The New York Times" reports that left six people dead. Among the victims, Nicholas Check (ph), one of the SEALs here. This is the same group that helped take down Osama bin Laden. But we don't know if Check was part of that mission there in Pakistan.

So, today, Morning Star staffers, they are far from joyous. A statement online says, quote, "our relief in the safe rescue of Mr. Joseph is now tempered by our deep grief over the loss of this true hero. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and to his fellow team members. We want them to know that we will always be grateful for this sacrifice and that we will honor that sacrifice in any way we can."

I want to go to Ryan Zinke. He's a former Navy SEAL and a commander of the group that made that rescue, SEAL Team Six.

So, Ryan, good to see you. Welcome back.


BALDWIN: Let me just throw a hypothetical at you. Let's say you're currently, you know, part of SEAL Team Six. You get this phone call. You know this rescue attempt has to be made. What is the first thing that rushes through your mind?

ZINKE: Well, you want to make sure you win. The SEALs are trained never to give up and to win. It takes a lot of resources to do it. The training is very intense, very difficult. But these guys know. They've been in sustained combat operations for over years. They're all veterans of this environment. And, unfortunately, I think it's a reminder that the Taliban and al Qaeda and those terrorist organizations like them in some cases have been emboldened and they remain a threat.

BALDWIN: So you want to win, but then how do you negotiate? How do you first establish contact with either terrorists, smugglers, members of the Taliban? How does that happen?

ZINKE: Well, the reports, you know, say this is a combined operation. We have Afghan, U.S. intelligence forces. It's very difficult, the environment is difficult, to gain credible intelligence. But I think they're doing the best they can. It's a difficult mission. Sequestration is going to have an effect on this force. I think we should all be aware that forces like these are enormously expensive. They're enormously risky. And if we're going to conduct these operations, we have to do it right and give our troops that are in harm's way rules of engagement that makes sense and support the need to win.

BALDWIN: What's the riskiest part?

ZINKE: Well, in this case, the riskiest part is the loss of life. There's -- these operations are very difficult, very complex, a lot of moving parts and they can go wrong in a hurry. We have great leadership at the head and all the way through, but it's a risky business. Unfortunately, in the holiday period, you know, we -- loss of life is never easy and my heart and best wishes go out to the family and the (INAUDIBLE).

BALDWIN: Did you know him, this SEAL, who died heroically?

ZINKE: Well, not well. You know, it's a pretty small community. There's certainly not very many. And then when you get to that level, of course, there's even fewer people. So we all know who each other are -- is, and of course we had the loss of the two SEALs -- former SEALs in Benghazi. A lot of answers still that need to be addressed. A lot of questions need to be answered for that. And another tragedy here. You know, a very young individual considering the age of the team and certainly a tragedy for the command, this nation, and his family.

BALDWIN: It's a tragedy we know that Dilip Joseph is alive at the loss, as we -- as "The New York Times" is reporting, six deaths here. But isn't this a lot of times these kidnappings in places like rural Afghanistan, a lot of it's about money, is it not?

ZINKE: Well, it is. Money, power, corruption. It's a very difficult terrain. Again, I think it's a -- it's a very sober reminder that the Taliban, in some cases, is growing. Al Qaeda certainly has been emboldened over events that, you know, recently. And they remain a threat to the United States and our allies. And we need to make sure that we're vigilant.

BALDWIN: Ryan Zinke, thank you so much.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was your immediate reaction?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shattered, gutted, heartbroken.


BALDWIN: Just days after a nurse killed herself, after this prank call, two radio DJs are now speaking out and the interview takes an emotional turn. That's next.


BALDWIN: The two Australian DJs say they're sorry after prank calling the hospital treating the duchess of Cambridge. A nurse who fell for this radio prank was found dead of an apparent suicide. Now the DJs are responding to this growing worldwide backlash. But before we play their apology, just a reminder of what exactly happened here. Posing as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, these DJs call up this London hospital where Prince William's pregnant wife, Catherine, was being treated for acute morning sickness. So, the woman you then see right here is the nurse who was working the switchboard. She's the one who passed that call on to another nurse, looking after Catherine, who revealed some pretty private information about the duchess of Cambridge's condition. The station aired the recording of the call on Tuesday, and on Friday that nurse was found dead of an apparent suicide. The DJs, who are now off the air, appeared on Australian TV. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you hear about Jacintha Saldanha's death?

MICHAEL CHRISTIAN, 2DAYFM DJ: We both found out -- found out about the same time and I think it was --

MEL GREIG, 2DAYFM DJ: It's the worst phone call I've ever had in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was your immediate reaction?

CHRISTIAN: Shattered, gutted, heartbroken and, obviously, you know, our deepest sympathies are with the family and the friends of all those affected. And, you know, obviously, Mel and myself are incredibly sorry for the situation and what's happened. And, you know, we hope that they're doing OK and they're getting the love and support that they deserve and need right now. But, I mean, personally, I'm -- I'm gutted. GREIG: There's not a minute that goes by that we don't think about her family and what they must be going through. And the thought that we may have played a part in that is gut-wrenching.


BALDWIN: The radio station Today FM canceled their show today and all prank calls have been suspended across its national radio network.


BALDWIN: Well, every history major maybe knows their friends with engineering degrees will probably end up making the big bucks one day. But now there's a move to link what students study to what they actually pay to attend college. Here's Christine Romans with that.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, should you pay tuition based on which major you choose? The governor of Florida, Rick Scott, is considering it. A task force appointed by the governor wants students who pursue so-called stem majors to pay less at state universities than students in less demand disciplines like history, philosophy, English. The idea is to steer kids toward fields where there's the most need.

Liberal arts professors complain, of course, the stem push could hurt small liberal arts programs already suffering from budget cuts. Florida's been looking to reform education in the state and they want to attract these higher-paying careers to the Florida economy.

Now, your college major greatly affects how much money you make. According to the Census data, engineering majors earn $3.5 million over a 40-year career, more than the median earnings for all majors, $2.4 million. Those with education majors earn the least, $1.8 million.