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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Fiscal Cliff Countdown: 22 Days; Singer Jenni Rivera Dies; Aussie Radio Show Shut Down;; Right To Work Battle; Busiest Day Ever Expected For FedEx; E.U. To Receive Nobel Peace Prize; SEAL Team Six Member Killed

Aired December 10, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: It's so nice to you have back, John. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. 6:00 a.m. in the East.

So let's get started here. The two men who stand between all of us and the fiscal cliff are finally speaking face-to-face. For the first time in over three weeks, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner actually looked into each other's eyes yesterday and they talked.

That's a very big deal, because in 22 days, Americans face crippling tax hikes and spending cuts, unless, these two leaders can reach a compromise. Congress is set to leave for the recess on Friday and neither side is saying much. But after yesterday's White House meeting, a spokesman for the president said, quote, "the lines of communication remain open." And that is promising according to former White House chief of staff, Erskine Bowles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERSKINE BOWLES, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: But, you know, they've started to tango now and you know, any time you got two guys in there tangoing, have you a chance to get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is live with us from Washington. So Congress is scheduled to break for the holidays a little later this week. Any idea when the speaker and the president might meet again, I guess, that's the million dollar question -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we don't have the answer to that. We don't know, maybe a little time, since obviously now we'll see where they move from here. But the truth is, we don't know, yes, they are talking. Specifically what are they talking about? We don't know.

Both sides are mum, but something that is kind of remarkable. Both the speaker's office and the White House put out statements saying after the fact that the president and speaker had met and that as you mentioned, the lines of communication were open.

These are verbatim, the same statement, so there's this coordination, where they are putting out very little information, trying to stay on the same page publicly. That is something that can be seen as progress. That said, Republicans are not bending to the demand of President Obama that they let income tax rates for wealthy Americans go up.

Although there does appear to be a number of Republicans, small but growing, who were saying, you know what? Let's those rates go up, maybe just not as much as the president wants them to. Here is Senator Bob Corker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Yes, there is a growing group of folks that are looking at this and realizing that we don't have a lot of cards as it relates to the tax issue before yearend. A lot of people are putting forth a theory.

And I actually think it has merit where you go in and give the president the 2 percent increase that he's talking about. The rate increase on the top 2 percent, and all of a sudden, the shift goes back to entitlements.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Corker is saying, let's deal with these income tax rates, and then let's talk about entitlement reform, reforming Medicare, reforming Social Security.

But, Zoraida, the truth is, this is a Senate Republican and a number of Senate Republicans who seemed to be of one mind with Bob Corker, but it's really House Republicans who need to find a deal with President Obama that's why he is talking to the speaker and there are few House Republicans moving in this direction.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, getting them all on the same page is going to be a daunting task. Brianna Keilar live in Washington. Thank you.

BERMAN: Another story we're watching this morning. Authorities in Mexico have found the wreckage of a small plane that they believe was carrying popular Mexican-American Banda singer Jenni Rivera and six others.

Rivera's brother says the family was told there were no survivors. The plane took off early Sunday morning from Monterey, Mexico with Rivera and six others on board. They were heading to an airport near Mexico City.

The wreckage was spotted in the mountainous northern state of Nuevo Leon. Rafael Romo is live in Atlanta with the more on the life of singer Jenni Rivera -- Rafael. RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: John, good morning. She was just as popular in Mexico as she was with Mexican- Americans on this side of the border, especially in California where she was born.

After selling more than 15 million records and winning two Billboard music awards, she was working hard on her TV career, and died on the way to a talent show in Mexico, where she was serving as a judge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO (voice-over): They called her diva, and for anyone who ever saw her on stage it was easy to see why. She sang heart wrenching ballads that spoke to the common woman, especially Mexican-Americans.

JENNI RIVERA (through translator): Every song, every lyric, I'm thinking of them and how I can relate to them with my music.

ROMO: Jenni Rivera was born in Long Beach, California, to Mexican parents, their story, that of many Mexican immigrants of humble origins. In an interview with CNN in Espanol in 2010, she spoke about how she sold music records at a Los Angeles flea market, and how the family collected cans for the meager income they could bring in selling the metal.

RIVERA (through translator): It is very flattering when they tell me a great artist, a great entertainer that I can get in the recording studio and come up with a great production, but before all of that, I was a businesswoman. I'm primarily business minded.

ROMO: In recent years, Jenni Rivera started several of her own companies, including Jennie Rivera Enterprises, which produced and marketed her music, a fragrance brand, a jeans factory and TV production company.

She was famous for her electrifying productions on stage. But her image was also battered by scandal. A mother of five she married three times, but the relationships were rocky and caused her much anguish and embarrassment.

RIVERA (through translator): staying defeated, crying and suffering was not an option. I had to get back on my feet, dust myself off and press on. That's what I want to teach my daughters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO: More recently, Jenni Rivera made headlines when she announced in October that her marriage to a player for the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers was coming to an end. She just wanted to be with her family for the holidays and need some time off to get emotionally well -- John.

BERMAN: Any more details about what may have caused the plane to go down?

ROMO: It is difficult to tell at this time. But what we know, at the time of the crash, John, it was very cloudy in that area where it happened, Nuevo Leon is a mountainous area. We don't have any indication if it was a problem with the plane itself or human error -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Rafael Romo, thank you very much.

SAMBOLIN: It's 5 minutes past the hour. The radio show that pulled a prank on the hospital where Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge was a patient has been shut down after a nurse apparently committed suicide.

The DJs are also talking saying they came up with the idea as a team and they expected to be hang up on. They also say they are stunned by the nurse's death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEL GREIG, 2DAYFM DJ: Unfortunately, I remember that moment very well because I haven't stopped thinking about it since it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you found out she was of two children, how did --

GREIG: Very sorry and saddened for the family and I can't imagine what they are going through.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about you, Michael?

MICHAEL CHRISTIAN, 2DAYFM DJ: Gutted, gutted, you know, shattered, heartbroken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who transferred their call to the ward Tuesday, was found dead on Friday. She was duped to believing that the queen was on the phone to speak with the duchess. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are said to be saddened about Saldanha's death.

BERMAN: Some right to work components are expected to converge on Michigan's capitol today for the protest will swell to thousands tomorrow, a final version to make Michigan the 24th right to work state. Supporters say the legislation will spark economic growth and encourage fairness. Opponents say it will lower wages and benefits and hurts the middle class and that strong unions help Michigan's middle class.

SAMBOLIN: It could be a record-shattering day for FedEx. The company expected to handle 19 million packages today. That's 200 packages per second and it would be an all-time high, the reason? Internet sales are exploding and holiday shipping volume is up to 10 percent over the last year.

BERMAN: And the other reason? You did all of your shopping last night.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. BERMAN: All right, European Union leaders are in Oslo, in Norway to receive the Nobel Peace prize. In announcing the award, the Nobel Committee credited these E.U. leaders with helping turn military rivals into political and economic partners, but hundreds of protesters had braving Oslo's snow, saying the prize was meant to honor contributions to disarmament and that E.U. member states account for third of global arms exports.

SAMBOLIN: We're learning details about a top-secret mission in Afghanistan to rescue an American held captive by the Taliban. Coming up, how some of the U.S. militaries' elite pay paid a steep price.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's 11 minutes past the hour. An elite team of U.S. Special Forces goes on a daring rescue mission to free an American doctor abducted in Afghanistan. But during that mission, they lose one of their own, a member of SEAL Team Six.

Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is following all of the developments for us. Barbara, what is the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zoraida, good morning. We have not yet learned the name of the Navy SEAL who was killed, but he was part of what we in the public know as SEAL Team Six. Inside the Navy, it is known as the special warfare development group, one of the most elite units in the U.S. military.

They went to rescue Dr. Joseph who had been kidnapped and doing humanitarian relief work, medical work in Afghanistan. And in fact, Dr. Joseph's family has put out a statement. I want to read part of that to you.

It says, quote, "We want to extend our deepest condolences to the family of the American sailor who died during Dilip's rescue. We couldn't be more grateful for the soldier's heroism and the bravery of all involved in the mission to bring Dilip home."

Even President Obama putting out a statement about this man, about this Navy SEAL. We expect possibly to publicly learn his name later today -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Barbara, do we know how the SEAL died?

STARR: Well, all that military officials are saying so far is that he died of small arms fire. Not that suggest, we don't know for sure, but it does suggest there was a fire fight, and very close, very nasty fire fight possibly.

The military teams are specially trained in hostage rescue, and they go into some of the most dangerous situations. Of course, it's also a good moment to remember all of those who have served and fallen, 305 Americans so far this year in Afghanistan -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Barbara, what do we know about the condition of the doctor who was rescued?

STARR: It was said that he was transferred to an American military hospital in Afghanistan and I think most likely will be on his way home at some point to reunite with his family.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

BERMAN: It's 13 minutes after the hour. Right now, let's get you up to speed on all the top stories. Christine Romans is here with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, you two. A potential break in the fiscal cliff deal made President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner finally meeting face to face at the White House yesterday.

It's the first time they've had direct talks in more than three weeks. With 22 days until we go over the cliff and Congress set to go on holiday break on Friday. Neither side is discussing details of the talks. Both agree the line of communication remain open.

No sign of a North Korean rocket launch, yet. Earlier this month, the North Koreans announced a 13-day window for a possible long-range rocket launch. The window opens today. They claim it's a peaceful bid to advance their space program, but the U.S. sees it as more ominous and is threatening sanctions if the launch takes place.

It was a very festive and busy Sunday at Seattle City Hall, 133 same- sex couples tied the knot in Seattle on the day that gay marriage became legal in Washington State.

Sarah and Emily Cofer were the first couple to get married at 12:04 a.m. the same-sex couples marrying in Seattle were the first to pick up marriage licenses on Thursday in the state. The state requires a three-day waiting period before the ceremonies.

A fireball streaking through the sky in Houston has people talking since Friday, could it be space junk? Is it a UFO?

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A UFO.

ROMANS: Probably not. NASA's Bill Cooke said it was a meteor, most likely a meteor, most likely a fragment from the asteroid belt. But Cooke it was not associated with the Geminid meteor showers. Those are expected to peak on December 13th and 14th.

BERMAN: As they say on "The X-Files," the truth is out there.

SAMBOLIN: I love all the chatter about the UFOs. Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: It is now 15 minutes after the hour right now. Time for your "Early Read", your local news that's making national headlines.

This from "L.A. Times." An article on the death of banda music superstar Jenni Rivera. Her small plane went down early Sunday morning in Mexico. The Universal Music executive calls Rivera the Diana Ross of Mexican music. And the fans are going to remember Rivera's marathon concerts. She sometimes performed for more than four hours at a time.

She also was quite a businesswoman. Rivera sold more than 20 million albums. She starred in a reality TV show and she recently launched her own clothing and cosmetics line.

SAMBOLIN: She leaves behind five kids as well, very sad, very tragic.

Hugo Chavez, heading back to Cuba. "The Washington Post" report says the Venezuelan president's cancer has returned. And he will be going under surgery in Cuba. This is the third time. Chavez naming Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his choice to take over the country if cancer surgery does not go well. The 58-year-old Chavez is supposed to be sworn in for a new six-year term in January.

CHAVEZ: It's a big deal, you know? Romans says it's going to move markets all over South America. Perhaps here, too.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And when you heard his announcement, a lot of folks are saying that it sounded like his good-bye.

BERMAN: Certainly did.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Sixteen minutes past the hour.

For an extended look at all our top stories, head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart. And also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Just search for EarlyStartCNN.

BERMAN: And coming up, this Sunday on "THE NEXT LIST," the glassblower Jim McKelvey runs a successful arts studio, but he made his mark on the corporate world as well of cofounder of Square.

SAMBOLIN: It is a payment system that allows any business no matter how small to accept credit cards. His company is worth billions. But he's still an artist at heart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM MCKELVEY, SQUARE CO-FOUNDER: Art is what can't be proven mathematically, right? Where science ends, the part that makes you feel good, but you don't know why. The way the object feels in your hand and looks, and you can almost if it's perfectly created, explain it to somebody else afterwards. But in the creation part, you can't.

You can see how glass is constantly moving. My job is to shape it. Balance it at the same time. You can do that, you get these wonderful shapes. Glass really rewards risk.

A lot of times with glass, you're just waiting for the piece to cool down and for some temperatures to adjust, split seconds when you got, you know, literally a fraction of a second, and you don't get to repeat it if you do it wrong. So, there's a performance to it. It's sort of like dancing.

You can't think about it and do it well. You have to do it enough that it becomes mechanical and then you can sort of free your mind to design.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You can watch "THE NEXT LIST", coming up on Sunday, December 16th, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

SAMBOLIN: With all the talk of the fiscal cliff, there's another plunge you might have missed. The welcome trend at the gas pumps, coming up. I love sharing good news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: You are looking at a picture of Atlanta right now. There, showing you Atlanta, not only because it's a great city, but because we're told we can't show New York but it's too foggy right now.

SAMBOLIN: Seriously?

BERMAN: That's what we're told. Too foggy in New York. There you are, a beautiful picture of Atlanta.

SAMBOLIN: That is lovely. I was going to say, that's not New York City. All right.

BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning. U.S. stock futures down after closing mixed on Friday.

SAMBOLIN: Christine Romans is here.

European markets down as well. Not just because of concerns about the fiscal cliff in the United States.

ROMANS: Mario Monti, heard me talked about him before, he's become Super Mario in the E.U. He's running Italy and Italy's response to the financial crisis. He has announced some early resignation. So, you got markets down.

You've also got news this morning that Japan is technically in a recession. That's the world's third largest economy. So, they took a look at numbers, did some revisions, and Japan technically in a recession. So, you got the mood a little dour around the world.

The Fed this week, Fed meeting -- two-day Fed meeting, Ben Bernanke, the Fed chief, and Federal Reserve officials, will they announce some kind of a new stimulus of the United States? What are they going to say about the U.S.? A lot of reasons to be on guard this morning.

See "The Wall Street Journal" this morning talking front page, "The Wobbling Consumer". You know, Friday, we got more data about the consumer. Consumer sentiment, consumer spending, fiscal cliff starts to wear on people. And jobs are growing, but not so robustly. So, you've got this consumer angle and confidence weakening a little bit there.

Another reason why confidence is weakening, look, the deadline. The fiscal cliff for companies, small businesses is really December 14th. You're saying, December 14th? What are you talking about?

BERMAN: December 14th, what are you talking about?

ROMANS: Think about when you get paid, right? When does your paycheck come? They have to start changing payroll processes now for January 1st of next year. They've got software. They've got -- they don't even know what your tax withholding rates are going to be.

So, this is what the American Payroll Association says to Congress: A delay in legislation beyond December 14th doesn't give all businesses enough time to update and test their systems for early January paychecks. The two worst-case scenarios according to this group, a deal after January 1st, where you are applying retroactive rules, it'd be a mess for them, or you delay the decision a few months.

They don't have the ability to go back, to go back and reconfigure everything for five months behind us. So it's a real mess.

SAMBOLIN: All right. That's bad news. I want good news. And you were talking about a plunge. Gas prices are down. A lot.

ROMANS: A gas crash. Gas prices are down 46 cents over the past two months. A couple of things: slow growing economy. We're using less of it.

But also a lot of the bottlenecks we were telling you about, refinery problems are starting to clear up. This is the national average, $3.30 right now. And I'm told by, you know, the people who watched this very, very closely in the industry, they're expecting prices to continue to fall to the end of the year. And on it is West Coast, just see the biggest drops.

SAMBOLIN: Wow.

ROMANS: So, happy holidays. You still have prices a little bit higher this year than last, but trend is they have been cut here.

BERMAN: All right. What's the one thing we need to know about our money?

ROMANS: The one thing about money, the choice of a college degree really affects how much money you make. According to census data, engineering majors earn $3.5 million over a 40-year career. Median earnings for all majors, $2.4 million. Education majors earn the least, $1.8 million.

This goes into our discussion about, you know, should be rewarding students or lower tuition for students who are going in to the in- demand fields. I mean, I guess you could argue, they're going to make more money. So, maybe get a break on the front end.

BERMAN: It's not all about money. Let's be clear. I think science, technology, math, fantastic things, but we need to be careful about undervaluing the humanities, things like English, the arts, languages.

ROMANS: I think the liberal arts and how we do in this country is one of the reasons why we are so innovative. You all look at other countries, you have these STEM majors they're turning out, but they still come here and they say, how do we make a Silicon Valley? How do we make a university system like the American university system and that comes from liberal arts.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, the humanity part, right?

ROMANS: Right.

SAMBOLIN: That's the part they are looking for. All right. Thank you, Christine. We appreciate.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Twenty-five minutes after the hour right now.

And an emotional rollercoaster in the NFL. Coming up: how the Dallas Cowboys have to overcome a life and death crisis off the field, and focus on victory.

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or mobile phone, just go to CNN.com/TV.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Unwanted and dangerous. Hardened criminals released from prison, when they are on supposed to be deported. We're talking to the journalist behind the shocking report.

BERMAN: Dramatic victory amid a devastating loss. The Dallas Cowboys rally even as a teammate stands accused in the death of another.

SAMBOLIN: The dogs of war. The hidden story of three canines who may have had a big impact on American history. Seriously.

BERMAN: Nothing better than famous dogs doing very important things.

SAMBOLIN: Nothing better than dogs, period.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 29 minutes past the hour right now.

And we have big news in the fiscal cliff fiasco. John Boehner and Barack Obama, the speaker of the House and the president, they are finally talking to each other. In 22 days, we go over the cliff's edge. That's when sweeping tax hikes and spending cuts kick in unless a deal gets done.