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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Severe Weather Strikes The South; Medical Chopper Goes Down; Right To Work Battle; U.S. Monitoring Syria; It's Official: Pot Legal In Colorado; Spooky Space Launch; Obama Takes Tax Plan On Road; The World in 2030

Aired December 11, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Without warning, a surprise tornado strikes in the middle of a series of severe storms throughout the southeast.

JOHN BERMAN, 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.

SAMBOLIN: Bad idea. Complicated in Colorado. The state says marijuana is legal but is still against the law if you ask the feds. That is such a complicated story, right?

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is 6 a.m. in the East and we're going to begin this morning in the south where a few more storms are possible today, this, after residents are left cleaning up from the aftermath of yesterday's storms.

And the rain was so intense. Take a look at what happened at the home of one man in Birmingham, Alabama, as he was being interviewed by a local TV reporter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINT THORNTON, HOMEOWNER: We have a dog, she was in the cage. My God, my God, my God! Are you OK? You all OK? You all right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The roof of Clinton Thornton's home just flat out collapsed due to the soaking rain. Everyone there is OK we should tell you. He believes a tornado touched down in his neighborhood. It certainly rained an awful lot.

I want to check in with Alexandra Steele in the Weather Center right now. What do we have in store today, Alexandra?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi. You know, a lot -- certainly a lot less in terms of severe weather today. You talked about the rain in Tuscaloosa, 2 inches of rain, a record rain. These reports of tornadoes, at least 12 reports of tornadoes, two confirmed thus far.

This was the line that moved through predominantly during the morning hours. So what we've seen an EF-1 and then another EF-1, one in Birmingham, and one in Baker. In Birmingham, the path was a mile long, 250 yards wide, maximum winds there, 90 miles per hour. At Baker, 100 yards wide with 105-mile-per-hour winds, and 4 mile long path.

Let me take you to Birmingham and show you the damage in destruction from yesterday. A Birmingham report was about 5:00 in the morning, roofs off homes there even a commercial building. The roof with those incredibly powerful winds was lifted off.

To Baker, 7:00 in the morning, when the EF-1 touched down there, winds even stronger, 105-mile-per-hour winds. There, a car wash, completely destroyed, widespread damage to trees and power lines.

But you know, in the southeast, we call it Dixie Alley and we do have a cool weather tornado season. It is just not in the springtime and December tornadoes really aren't that uncommon.

In Jackson, Mississippi, on average, we see seven. And in Birmingham, where we have the one, we see two on average. In New Orleans, we see four, a very quiet severe weather season. Usually, we have about 70 reports of tornadoes from November to where we stand now. We've only had seven so certainly a lot quieter. This is really the only threat today. South, Central Florida, isolated tornadoes possible.

Hail and some gusty winds, that being said, most of the country behind the front. Cool or windy conditions and guys, the next system poised to come in to the northwest, cooler, and rain in Western Washington and Oregon. That will cruise the country and bring us more snow.

BERMAN: All right, we'll wait for that. Alexandra Steele, thanks very much.

We should tell you that coming up in 30 minutes, we'll talk to Alabama photojournalist Scott McDowell and reporter Caitlin McCauley -- they shot that incredible video of the roof collapsing in Alabama due to the soaking rain.

SAMBOLIN: 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 Dillo and Karen Hollis were on board as well. No patients were on that chopper.

BERMAN: Also 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 was reportedly hauling rock so you can imagine what might have happened if this thing get blown up. A bomb squad was able to destroy the explosives. SAMBOLIN: The right to work battle in Michigan is expected to hit a fevered pitch today. As many as 10,000 unionized workers are expected at the state capitol today to voice their disapproval of the Republican-led push. Even President Obama stepping into the fray during a visit yesterday to a Daimler truck factory. This is in Redford, Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This so-called right to work laws, they don't have to do with economics, everything to do with politics. What they are really doing, giving you right to work for less money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Alison Kosik is in Lansing with the very latest. So the president says it's not about money, it's about politics. Can you explain right to work?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: First of all, Zoraida, right to work means if the right to work law passes, it means if you are looking for a job here in Michigan, it means you wouldn't be forced to pay union fees. You wouldn't be forced to join a union.

And this is a huge deal for Michigan because really unions are the fabric of the state. It's really where the United Auto Workers Union was born. So if you see this law pass, it certainly could undermine the credibility, the clout, the power, the influence of a union in Michigan, but also unions across the country as well, zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And potentially bust the union, which is what people are worried about. Tell us what's happening today.

KOSIK: OK, mass demonstrations expected to begin in a few hours. I'm watching labor union officials start to set up here at the state capitol. What these demonstrators are hoping do is change the way that votes are expected to go today.

Those final votes expected to happen here in the House and Senate chambers here at the state house, if those votes pass, which they are expected to pass, that bill will go to Governor Rick Snyder's desk. He is expected to sign it. Nonetheless, those tens of thousands of demonstrators who's are expected to descend on the state capitol today are hoping that their voices will be heard, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: We have heard that about 10,000 are expected. Are you seeing some security measures that they are putting in place now?

KOSIK: Definitely. Police are certainly getting ready for that. They've got barricades. I walked inside the capitol a short time ago. They are getting ready for the mass of people coming. It's interesting how important this is to Michigan.

Even two suburban school districts in and around Detroit have shut down because teachers won't be available to be in class, because hundreds of teachers are taking personal days to come here to have their voices heard as well so one little facet of this, showing how important it is to the state.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Alison Kosik, live in Michigan for us. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: It's 6 minutes after the hour right now. He's the warrior and hero who helped free an American doctor from the Taliban. Now we're learning more about Petty Officer First Class Nicholas Cheque.

He is the Navy SEAL killed during the daring rescue in Afghanistan. Just 28 years old, described as hard working and enthusiastic. He joined the Navy in 2002 after graduating from high school. Entered the SEALs program the next year, Checque received a Bronze Star and several other awards during his ten-year career, a real true life hero.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, but a life taken too soon.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this morning that it appears that Syria has gotten the message that it should not use chemical weapons against rebels trying to overthrow the Assad regime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way. But we continue to monitor it very closely and we continue to make clear to them that they should not, under any means, make use of these chemical weapons against their own population.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Panetta made comments while en route to Kuwait and reiterated if the Assad regime gets desperate enough it may still resort to chemical weapons.

BERMAN: Pot is officially legal in Colorado. We're talking about marijuana. The government signing Amendment 64 into the state constitution after voters approved it on Election Day.

People 21 and older can have up to one ounce of weed. They can smoke it, but they can't do it in public. They are allowed to grow a small amount at home. The governor has created a task force to help implement the law. This is really complicated because the federal government still says marijuana is illegal.

SAMBOLIN: Pay no attention to that spaceship in the sky. The Air Force's super secret X-37B robotic space plane is clear to lift off today at 1:03 p.m. Eastern Time from Cape Canaveral. It is the vehicle's third mission now. It's unmanned reusable mini version of the space shuttle. And like the retired shuttles, lifts off vertically, lands on autopilot on a runway.

Here's what we're trying to figure out, what is it carrying? And the cost of developing it, well, that's classified. BERMAN: You know, there are all sorts of speculation online about what this thing is carrying. There are people saying its bombs, weapons, we just don't know. It's a secret.

All right, it's 8 minutes after the hour. Three weeks until the fiscal cliff. You can't see it, there are hints of progress on Capitol Hill. We're going to go live to Washington, coming up.

SAMBOLIN: Also ahead, a judge rules in a politically charged battle over license plates in one state.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. We may be seeing tiny hints of progress in the fiscal cliff crisis because it's getting really quiet on Capitol Hill. Just 21 days remain before those tax hikes and spending cuts kick in, and Congress breaks for the holiday, at least they are scheduled to, on Friday.

This is what you need to know. While the president was on the road pitching his tax plan to workers at a truck plant 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, the posturing and finger pointing suddenly stopped. CNN political reporter, Shannon Travis, joins us live now from Washington. Shannon, the sound of silence may be the sounds of progress?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Potentially. We hope so. Bu we don't really know. I mean, we're forced to read the tea leaves essentially, John, because neither side is giving details about the substance of discussions. Let me read a statement from John Boehner's press secretary.

"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."

Now, obviously the president is standing firm on any deal has to include raising the rates for the wealthiest Americans. Take a listen at something he said yesterday at that event in Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS: And as you know, John, therein lies the impasse. The president wants the tax rates to be higher for wealthiest Americans, and Republicans say they want deep cuts in entitlement spending.

BERMAN: A lot to talk about, a lot to argue about. Shannon Travis in Washington this morning. Thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: And hopefully before the deadline. It is 14 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Here is Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, you two. Parts of Florida may see more severe weather this morning, most of the south has taken a big hit, soaking rains and heavy winds yesterday. Two tornado touchdowns now confirmed in the south. There are reports that as many as a dozen tornadoes touched down. This bad weather stretched from Texas all the way to Florida.

A settlement has been reached in a civil suit filed against former IMF boss, Dominique Strauss-Khan by a New York City hotel maid who accused him of sexual assault. Terms of the settlement were not made public. Nafissatou Diallo was seeking unspecified damages for physical, emotional and psychological harm.

A major decision in a legal battle over "Choose Life" license plates. A federal judge in North Carolina rules the state can't issue "Choose Life" license plates without offering one with a different viewpoint. Pro-choice advocates and the ACLU praised the decision. But pro-life advocates say the ruling suggests the state will have to offer a "Kill the Sea Turtles" plate to counter the "Save the Sea Turtles" version.

A ruling on the NFL bounty scandal could finally come today. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue expected to rule on the seconds appeal by four suspended players, two were currently active. His he decision could affect whether two current Saints linebackers, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith, get to play out the season. Vilma was slapped with a full-season suspicion, while Smith suspended four games. They have been allowed to play during their appeal, you guys.

BERMAN: Big moment in football.

ROMANS: Sure is.

BERMAN: All right. It is now 16 minutes after the hour. We're getting an "Early Read" on your local news making national headlines.

And we're going to begin a story in Pennsylvania's "Tribune Review." People who knew fallen Navy SEAL Nicolas Checque are sharing their memories. Checque was killed in a daring rescue mission in Afghanistan.

A former neighbor of Checque says it was Nick's name to be a Navy SEAL all through high school. And his mother and his sister were so proud. A former schoolmate and wrestling teammate he can remember Checque wanting to be a SEAL as far back as since seventh grade, and he endured epic workouts, the singular focus of becoming a Navy SEAL.

SAMBOLIN: He died a hero. But so sad, though.

Sixteen minutes past the hour. A record-setting settlement has reached between federal and state authorities and British banking giant HSBC over allegations it handled money tied to drug gangs and terrorists. "New York Times" report says Europe's largest lender has agreed to pay $1.92 billion to settle the money laundering investigation here in the United States. HSBC is accused of helping transfer billions for nations like Iran, doing businesses with firms linked to terrorism and enabling Mexican drug cartels to move money illegally through its U.S. subsidiaries.

For an expanded look at all our top stories, just head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart. Also, follow us on Twitter. You can find us on Facebook. Just search EarlyStartCNN.

BERMAN: We will make it worth your while, we promise.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going on there to see what you have.

So, are you getting behind the wheel for your daily commute? You may soon be in luck. They're not on the road yet, but California, Nevada, and Florida have already legalized driverless cars.

BERMAN: And, you know, they maybe coming to other places too perhaps like Washington, D.C., where I hope they can navigate the traffic circles.

Christine Romans tells us what we can expect to sit back, relax, let the cars do the work.

ROMANS: Like work on the BlackBerry on the way in. I don't have to actually look at -- five years or less, that's the timeline Google is driving for, for its driverless cars to hit California roads. The cars use sensors to help them steer. And Google says test cars wracked up thousands of computer drive miles.

Volvo is also jumping on the driverless bandwagon with its road train concept. It's a chain of self-driving cars controlled by a lead vehicle. The company believe the self driving cars could help combat congestion, which the American Society of Civil Engineers says costs up to $700 per year per driver and extra time and fuel.

Some experts predict, by 2040, 75 percent of cars on the road will be driving themselves. John has the funniest look in his face. For now, drivers must be ready behind the wheel just in case. Meanwhile, tests are beginning in the U.K. for the first unmanned airplane flights. That's called Jet Stream. But it won't be carrying any passengers for now.

SAMBOLIN: I would say that's a good idea.

ROMANS: I know. But think about it driverless cars. I mean, the sensor technology, if you can have the car talk to the computer, talk to the GPS and the satellite, and you could program the coordinates and it's all pretty standard and clear, you can control its congestion and the like.

I mean, a lot of companies, including some of the big agriculture companies, working on tractors and stuff, they've been working on the sensor for a long, long time, and commercial applications just right around the corner.

BERMAN: Can they drive stick?

ROMANS: I don't know. That's a really John Berman question.

BERMAN: No, it seems a little spooky to me. All this driverless stuff going on.

SAMBOLIN: And glitches, right? Always seeing glitches in technology. So, that's worrisome.

ROMANS: You also see a lot of glitches in human driving.

SAMBOLIN: That's true. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour right now. And the big bucks in the board room aren't what they used to be. The latest pay trend in corporate America, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning, New York City. How are you this fine morning? We can finally see you because all the fog has lifted. It looks pretty good out there.

What are the temperatures out there? Do we know? People's heads up.

BERMAN: Winterish. Wintry.

SAMBOLIN: It's cooler than yesterday.

We are minding your business this morning. Christine Romans is here talking about the fascinating report on what the world will look like in 2030.

BERMAN: Also, we have a new report at the number of women at the executive level.

ROMANS: I know. So, I'm kind of your demographic correspondent this morning.

I want to start with this big report that's put together by the 17 intelligence agencies of the United States, boiled down, and presented to the president for every four years for incoming administrations. This is the landscape of the world, and as the intelligence agencies see challenges, the opportunities, just what's happening, shift that are happening, and we are live at a time that's quite unique.

You're going to see China overtaking the U.S. as the biggest economy in the world by 2030, this report says. You're going to see a majority of the world's population out of poverty by the year 2030. You're going to see wars potentially over food and water and resources. And you're going to see probably recurring global economic crisis.

This is according to the National Intelligence Council's Global Trend 2030 Alternative World Report. Very interesting. I'm going to tweet a link and put it on Facebook.

You're going to see Asia, more dominant than any other time since the Middle Ages. No more Pax Americana. China becoming the largest economy and a big driver. You're going to see a democratization really around the work, according to this report.

Europe, Russia, China, continue their decline. And India growing very, very strongly, like we're seeing China grow today. From the report, quote, "In a tectonic shift, by 2030, Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe in terms of global power, based on GDP, population size, military spending and technological investment."

China will probably surpass the U.S. economy, the report says, even before that.

So, what does this mean? Look when you see the short-termism happening in Washington where they are arguing about tax increases and entitlement reform and very short-term thinking overall, this is the big picture. The big picture is more change any time since the French revolution, the industrial revolution in the 18th century and happening more quickly than we have ever seen.

People more empowered, this report says. Governments having less power and no real single global leader.

Quickly about global leaders in business. A new report this morning that released -- Catalyst for us, that we're able to break for you right now.

Growth for pay and positions for women at the highest levels of corporate America, flat-lining -- flat-lining. Of the Fortune 500 executive office positions, 14 percent are women, 85 percent men. This is basically not moving.

Let's talk about the top earners -- 8.1 percent of top earners in corporate America are women, 91 percent are men.

Let's talk about board seats, women now make up 16.6 percent of board seats compared to men. That's the 7th year of no growth at all for women and board seats.

And I want to break down board seats by race for you -- 2.3 percent of women of color, 13.4 percent white women, 83 percent men. This group Catalyst has some programs they're trying to advise companies on how you can really sponsor. Not just mentor, but sponsor women in the workplace so that we can change these numbers.

I'm telling you, guys, I have been reporting this stuff -- I remember in 2000, saying the needle is barely moving on women on corporate boards. It's been my entire career basically. And we've barely moved this needle. Interesting.

SAMBOLIN: All these guys have to do is make it happen, you know? They have to make a choice.

ROMANS: It's a lot of different reasons, but folks like Catalyst and others are trying to figure. Mentor is where you help -- sponsor is like a mentor on steroids basically. And every company should be looking at how they are sponsoring women within the ranks.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-six minutes past the hour. The cameras happened to be rolling when a storm ravaged a home. It started falling apart on the spot. Coming up, the team behind the camera joins us live. We're going to get their side of the story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)