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Severe Weather Strikes the South; Trucker Finds Bombs on Fuel Tank; Fiscal Cliff-Hanger: 21 Days

Aired December 11, 2012 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Without warning. A surprise tornado strikes in the middle of a series of severe storms throughout the Southeast.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, secret sabotage. Police want to know who's behind the pipe bombs found attached to the gas tank of a large truck.

BERMAN: And a mysterious mission mums the world on the Air Force's secret space plan set to blast off later today. Secret but we have some details.

SAMBOLIN: We know all about it.

BERMAN: That's right. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Tuesday, December 11th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

So, let's get started here. We begin this morning in the South where more storms are expected today. This after residents are left cleaning up from the aftermath of yesterday's storms. The rain was so intense.

Take a look at what happened to the home of one man, this is Birmingham, Alabama as he was being interviewed by a local TV reporter.


CLINT THORNTON, HOMEOWNER: We had a dog. He was in the cage.


THORNTON: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. You all OK? You all OK? You all all right?


SAMBOLIN: Look at that, the roof of Clint Thornton's home collapsing due to the soaking rain. He believes a tornado touched down in his neighborhood.

Let's check in with Alexandra Steele. That's pretty remarkable. ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. To see that, the terror in his voice, and to see it unfold like that, Zoraida.

Hi, everyone. Good morning. You know, we did and had about 12 reported tornadoes yesterday, two have been confirmed thus far by the National Weather Service survey teams. More of the survey teams will go out today, assess the damage and then deem it being a tornado or not.

Here's a look at what where we saw them yesterday. You know, it is not out of the ordinary in the South. We have a cool weather season for tornadoes and it's in what we call Dixie Alley. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, that's where we saw them. Even into Florida yesterday afternoon. So, that's where the reports of the tornadoes were.

The only thing today in Florida, we're watching this cold front just set up there and that is where we could see a severe weather threat. But, you know, December tornadoes as I said are not that uncommon. Birmingham, an EF-1 was confirmed yesterday. They actually averaged two tornadoes for the month of December. New Orleans averages four, and Jackson, Mississippi, averages seven tornadoes.

But thus far this winter or this fall from November to today, we've had very few severe weather reports or confirmed tornadoes. It has been a quiet season. So, this is looking right now where the cold front is. It is still draped right here over south and central Florida.

So, that's where, if any, action will occur today. Isolated tornado but damaging winds not out of the question. You can see a slow go in south Florida, flights out of there are driving today. So, damaging winds or hail, that's the picture. And we'll talk more about the big picture weather-wise and also about the tornadoes and how rare they are or not, coming up.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Alexandria, thank you.

And coming up in the 6:00 a.m. hour, the local news photographer who shot this video when the house collapsed along with the reporter covering the story. They're going to join us both live.

And here's what I want to tell you. That is Clint Thornton's home that is collapsing behind him. He's yelling out. Everybody, though, is OK. Nobody was injured there. So, we're going to have that interview for you. Can you imagine the cameras are rolling and you capture this craziness?

BERMAN: It's amazing picture. My goodness.

SAMBOLIN: Everybody is OK.

BERMAN: All right. Three minutes after the hour. New this morning, Oklahoma City police are looking for whoever put two pipe bombs on a truck. The driver found them attached to his fuel tank after he got back from a 400-mile trip. The truck reportedly was hauling rock. So, you can imagine what happened if this thing blew up. A bomb squad destroyed the explosives.

SAMBOLIN: And also new this morning, a medical chopper goes down in north central Illinois. It was on its way to a hospital. Three people on board. All crew members were killed.

Rockford Memorial Hospital told "The Chicago Tribune" that pilot Andy Olson and flight nurses Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis were on the chopper as well. No patients were on the chopper.

BERMAN: So, if silence really is golden and we maybe seeing sign of progress in the fiscal cliff crisis, just 21 days until those tax hikes and spending cuts kick in. And, remember, Congress is supposed to break for the holidays at the end of this week.

Here's the latest. While the president was selling his tax plan to truck plant workers in Michigan yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner and his aides were quietly conducting behind the scenes fiscal cliff talks with the White House.

And on Capitol Hill, for one day at least, all was pretty quiet. Posturing and finger-pointing kind of stopped.

CNN political reporter Shannon Travis joins us now live from Washington. So, Shannon, what's the latest on the talks or, shall we say, the silence?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: The silence seems to be golden, John. Remember last week when all the players involved seem to be posturing and positioning and talking about negotiations? Not so much, at least in the past few days. We know that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner had a one-on-one meeting, right, on Sunday, their first since mid-November.

But what were they actually talked about? What are the details? What were details from that meeting and from the ongoing discussions?

They're not really -- both sides are not really being forthcoming with what the substance of those conversations, both sides yesterday, the White House and the Republican leadership put out statements. They're essentially the same.

I'll read just one. This is from Brendan Buck, Boehner's press secretary. Quote, "Discussions with the White House are taking place but we have no detail to share about the substance of those conversations. The Republican offer made last week remains the Republican offer and we continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he's willing to make as part of the balanced approach he promised the American people."

So, of course, that coming from the Republican side, the president obviously saying he's waiting for something, too, John. He's waiting for the Republicans to identify the specific details of that $800 billion of revenue they're willing to offer. What are the specifics the president is saying?

Take a listen at something the president said yesterday at that event that you mentioned.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you put it all together, you need a package that keeps taxes where they are for middle class families, make tough spending cuts on things we don't need and then we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a slightly higher tax rate.


TRAVIS: And, John, this is essentially the impasse that one side is saying, you know what, we need -- the Republicans are saying, we need deep savings in entitlement spending, and President Obama saying that he won't compromise on raising the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.

BERMAN: So, Shannon, you said the Republicans are waiting for the president, the president is waiting for the Republicans. We're all waiting for everyone here. What kind of deadlines are we talking about?

TRAVIS: Well, we could be looking at a potentially serious deadline for Friday, a de facto deadline of sorts, John, because once they reach a deal, the legislative process could actually take two weeks to put into effect. So we're bumping up right against Friday that they would potentially need to have a deal in place, so that we wouldn't actually go over the cliff.

So, it's been serious business but this week could be even more serious, John.

BERMAN: All right. Friday seems pretty quick. But we'll see.

Shannon Travis, thanks very much. Nice to see you this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Seven minutes past the hour. We're learning more about Petty Officer First Class Nicholas D. Checque, the Navy SEAL that was killed during that daring rescue of an American doctor in Afghanistan. He's just 28 years old, described as hard-working and enthusiastic. He joined the Navy in 2002 after graduating from high school and entered the SEALs program the very next year. Checque received the Bronze Star and several other awards during his 10-year career.

BERMAN: A hero.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, indeed.

BERMAN: Money tied to drug lords and terrorists. British banking giant HSBC has agreed to pay $1.92 billion to settle a money laundering investigation here in the U.S. HSBC is accused of transferring billions of dollars for nations like Iran, doing business with firms linked to terrorism and enabling Mexican drug cartels to move money illegally through its U.S. subsidiaries. The settlement represents the largest penalty ever paid by a bank. SAMBOLIN: Voters approved it last month. The now pot is officially legal in Colorado. People 21 and older may have up to one ounce of weed, smoke it, not in public and grow a small amount at home as well. The governor has created a task force to help implement the law.

Here's the problem -- it's complicated, because the federal government still says marijuana is illegal.

BERMAN: Rocky mountain high. Let me be the billionth person to say that, by the way.

All right. Countdown to super, double, secret liftoff. The Air Force's top secret X37B robotic space plane is cleared to lift off today at 1:05 p.m. Eastern Time from Cape Canaveral. This is the vehicle's third mission. Now, this is an unmanned reusable mini version of the space shuttle. It lifts off vertically and lands on auto pilot on a runway.

No one knows what it's carrying. The cost to develop it, that is also classified.

SAMBOLIN: We're calling it a spooky space launch.

BERMAN: It's about a forth of the size of the space shuttle. You know, no designs to have any humans on board. It's designed to stay in space for like 270 days which is way longer than the space shuttle was.

SAMBOLIN: Let's hope it all worked, right?

BERMAN: It's the third time. It's worked before.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Showdown today in Michigan. Coming up, unions rally against a proposal they say will hurt workers. This as two school districts shut down because of a shortage of teachers.

BERMAN: Also ahead, real story of the hero secret agent portrayed in the Osama bin Laden movie "Zero Dark Thirty." As I said, real story, straight ahead.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It's 12 minutes past the hour.

Michigan is poised to become the most unionized right-to-work state. But that distinction will not happen quietly. As many as 10,000 unionized workers are expected in the state capital today to voice their disapproval.

Even President Obama stepping into the fray during a visit yesterday to a Daimler truck factory in Redford, Michigan.


OBAMA: These so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics. What they're really talking about is giving you the right-to-work for less money.


SAMBOLIN: Alison Kosik is in Lansing with the latest for us. And if we could take this to the 101 level here, and could you explain right- to-work?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: OK. Well, right-to-work essentially means that if this law passes, the right-to-work law, even it passes here in Michigan, it means if you are looking for work in Michigan you wouldn't be forced to pay union dues, you wouldn't be forced to join a union as a condition to get a job or keep a job.

And for a state like Michigan, which was built on unions, it really is a huge sea of change here. And it comes with an element of symbolism as well, especially since unions are so engrained in this state. And not only sort of undermine the power of unions in Michigan, it could also sort of undercut the power and influence of unions even across the country, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: So, how likely is this to happen? I know I've been reading that the governor supports it.

KOSIK: Yes. I mean, we're hearing it is likely. First all, what's happening here today at the statehouse in Michigan is around 10:00 a.m., the Senate and House which have already passed measures last week, they just need to pass each other's measure. So that's all going to begin at 10:00 a.m., basically final approval expected to happen today.

Once that happens, it's expected to go to Governor Rick Snyder's desk. He is expected to sign it, despite the fact that he did have an hour of intense meetings with Democratic congressional delegation from here yesterday, where they were asking him to veto this decision or at least delay the decision. He said he would consider their concerns but the likelihood is, if that bill reaches his desk, he will put his signature on it, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: We're looking at video right now. We see a little bit of police presence there. They're expecting 10,000 unionized workers to show up today. So, do they have some security measures in place?

KOSIK: Oh, yes, they definitely do. You're seeing road closures around the capital. There are parking restrictions in place.

You know, if last week is any indication when thousands of people descended on the capital, today is expected to be even more intense because we're getting closer and closer to that final approval, yes. We've seen even yesterday when I was out here, police were getting ready for what the onslaught of demonstrators are expected to bring. So, lots of barricades, lots of police presence. It should be an interesting today. The demonstrations expected to begin in a few hours, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alison Kosik, live in Michigan for us -- thank you very much. I know a couple of schools are closing down because the teachers are saying they're going to the rally instead.

BERMAN: This is going to be a big deal over the next 24 hours.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it is.

BERMAN: It is 16 minutes after the hour here. We are going strong here. We want to bring you up-to-speed on all the top stories. Here's Christine Romans here with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to both of you. Residents in parts of the South cleaning up from severe weather. More storms may smack the area today. Soaking rains, heavy winds blanketed the region from Louisiana to Florida. There are reports that tornadoes touched down in some areas. In Alabama, tree limbs fell to the ground and some trees were simply -- look at that -- uprooted by those strong winds.

Former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn has settled a civil suit filed by a New York City hotel maid who accused him of sexual assault. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Nafissatou Diallo was seeking unspecified damages for psychical, emotional and psychological harm. Of course, criminal charges against him were dropped.

The state of Hawaii is no longer 50th in voter turnout. It's tied for 49th with West Virginia. Hawaiians were dead last in voter turnout in 2008 presidential election. But this time around, they've got company at the bottom. Both West Virginia and Hawaii turned out just 44.2 percent of its voters in 2012.

The duke of Cambridge is a real prince of a husband. Prince William decided to cancel a scheduled appearance at a military event to be with his pregnant wife. The palace says Catherine has been battling acute morning sickness. The duke and duchess are supposed to attend the royal premiere of "The Hobbit" tomorrow, but "The Daily Mail" says it's doubtful Catherine will be well enough to go.

And that, you guys, is some case of morning sickness.

SAMBOLIN: Poor girl.

BERMAN: You know, I was going to say, if he skips "The Hobbit" for her, that is true love. That is real love. I'll be very impressed.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you, thank you.

Seventeen minutes past the hour. Time for "Early Reads", your local news that is making national headlines.

And we're starting with the "Charlotte News and Observer" in North Carolina, where a federal judge ruled the state cannot issue "Choose Life" license plates without offering ones with different view points. He called it viewpoint discrimination and violation of the First Amendment. Pro-choice advocates and the ACLU praised that decision but pro-life the ruling suggests, they say, they will have to offer a "Kill the Sea Turtles" plate to counter the "Save the Sea Turtles" version.

BERMAN: In "The Washington Post", "The Post" digs up details on the real female CIA agent who's portrayed as the hero in the movie "Zero Dark Thirty." This is a movie about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden.

And it turns out that this actual CIA agent a little more complicated than the Hollywood spy version portrayal. "The Post" says she was actually passed over for a promotion shortly after the mission that killed bin Laden. Also it says she took heat for ties to filmmakers and there was jealousy over her fame and that led to internal friction within the agency.

Listen to what "The Post" says here. "The Post" says after being given a prestigious award for her work this agent sent an e-mail to dozens of others recipients, saying they didn't deserve to share in the accolades.

SAMBOLIN: Not good.

BERMAN: So not getting along very well inside the CIA, apparently.

SAMBOLIN: Not a smart move either.

BERMAN: No. So for an expanded look at all of our top stories, every last one of them, head to our blog, Also, you should follow us on Twitter and on Facebook. Just search for EarlyStartCNN.

SAMBOLIN: It's made of steel but it's not a steal by any means. The gift card craze that has some coffee lovers paying way more than face value.


BERMAN: That is a real life picture of New York City, the Big Apple. The fog has lifted. We can now see more than three feet in front of us here.

SAMBOLIN: We are celebrating here.

BERMAN: We are celebrating, snapping our fingers.

And we are minding your business this morning. U.S. stock futures are up. Everyone is watching Washington for any news from these private fiscal cliff talks. And brace yourselves, because the Federal Reserve begins its two-day meetings on interest rates today.

SAMBOLIN: Christine Romans is here talking about the fascinating report of what the world will look like in 2030?

ROMANS: Let's take the long view, shall we? So, every four years, the 17 agencies, intelligence agencies, put together this report called the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends Report, right? This is to give to incoming administration to show them what the world is going to look like, what intelligence agencies think the world will look like.

It's fascinating. It shows China on the rise, the West in decline and China overtaking the United States in size of economy by the year 2030.

Here are the key findings of the new intel report. I mean, it's really interesting reading. A majority of the world's population by 2030 will be out of poverty for the first time in world history. There will be wars over food and water and natural resources, because populations are going to continue to rise and there will be recurring global economic crises but when you think about this, you think about how far we're going here.

You've got Asia -- China in particular will be dominant. It will be ascendant and it will be stronger than its been anytime since the Middle Ages. There will be no more "Pax Americana" as its known. China will be a big driver here. Europe, Japan, Russia will continue their decline. And India, India will be growing like China is today.

Think of this, they are talking about how the world is changing. It's like no other time since the French Revolution. Remember in the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution, except it's happening more quickly. It's taking a tenth of the time for China and Asia to rise quickly as some of these other periods in time where we've seen big changes in the global tectonic shift if you will.

So, let me read to you something from the report, in the tectonic shift. By 2030, Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of global power, based upon GPD, population size, military spending and technological investment. China alone will probably have the largest economy, surpassing that of the United States a few years before 2030.

It's really interesting. It tells of the world where middle classes are dominant, where governments, there's no leading single government, but people because of technology, people really have more power than they've ever had before, individuals have more power and that can also cause problems with, you know, people using technology for ill means and all that kind of thing.

BERMAN: Is this --

SAMBOLIN: Is this the whole report?

ROMANS: This is the 140-page rundown. I'm sure the president gets a bigger one.

BERMAN: So this is an intelligence report.


BERMAN: And on the subject of intelligence, why on Earth would anyone buy a jillion dollar card for Starbucks? ROMANS: John, this is the question of the surgery. So, you know, Starbucks had a $450 stainless steel elite card. They only sold a limited of them. Now, they're on eBay getting them for maybe $1,000. Some is of the bids are up to $1,000 for something that only gets you $400 with the coffee.

It's collectors item for the 1 percent, from the company that sells $7 cup of coffee. But it's really interesting. These Starbucks limited edition gift cards have sparked a frenzy on eBay of people who want to hold on to this.

BERMAN: You know, for people who like to buy overpriced coffee already. It's the perfect gift.

ROMANS: I guess you get these perks. I don't know --


ROMANS: Like little free things every now and then. I don't know. But apparently people are doing it or they've sold enough of these things, they only offered 5,000 of them. So, they offered 5,000 of them. They're sparking a frenzy on eBay, maybe it's free advertising.

BERMAN: All right.

SAMBOLIN: So there you have it.

BERMAN: More power to them. Thank you very much, Christine. I'm all excited for you to get to --


ROMANS: I'm going to kill a tree and give each of you a copy of this report.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

ROMANS: Twenty-six minutes after the hour right now. And he is always outspoken on sports. Bob Costas touched a nerve within he spoke out on gun control earlier this month. Find out what he's saying about that now, coming up.