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North Korea Launches Long Range Rocket; Two Dead in Oregon Mall Shooting; U.S. Recognizes Syrian Opposition; Chavez Recovering From Cancer Surgery; Asteroids Buzz Earth; 12-12-12 Concert; Pope's First Tweet; Florida Students Score Big

Aired December 12, 2012 - 06:00   ET


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

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Wednesday, December 12th. It is just about 6:00 a.m. here in the East, so let's get started here.

A developing story this morning. The world planning its next move right now after North Korea launched a long range rocket from a location on the west coast of the country and it lifted a satellite into orbit. The U.S. government immediately condemned the launch, calling it a highly provocative act. It also believes North Korea used the launch to secretly test ballistic missile technology.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is at the Pentagon with the latest developments. What can you tell us, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, Zoraida, U.S. officials say NORAD is monitoring this object that North Korea apparently put into space. They say it is in polar orbit and that is a big development for North Korea.

Previous launches have failed after 40 seconds, falling into the sea. This one apparently made it through all three states and actually put an object into orbit. Why is that big?

Because even though just putting a satellite into orbit doesn't seem like it would have military connotations, the actual technology that you would use to do so is the same technology you would use to develop a long-range ballistic missile.

Now officials say North Korea still has a ways to go on that. You'd still have to get -- solve accuracy issues. You have to get a heat shield in order to get it back to the atmosphere.

And you'd also have develop a nuclear war head that was small enough to actually fit on one of these rockets, but, still, all in all, this is a big development for North Korea.

SAMBOLIN: No doubt. Chris Lawrence, live at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

BERMAN: In other news this morning, three people dead and a young woman is fighting for her life this morning, following an afternoon of horror for holiday shoppers at a packed mall in suburban Portland, Oregon.

Police say 10,000 people were inside the Clackamas Town Center yesterday when a gunman opened fire. He killed two people, critically wounded a third then he took his own life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mall is supposed to be a place that we can all take our families, feel comfortable that this is a great place especially at a holiday season like this and these things aren't supposed to happen.


BERMAN: Let's get to the scene of the shooting. Dan Simon is live from suburban Portland this morning. Dan, still a lot of unknowns in this story, but what's the latest this morning.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the mall is going to be closed today. Obviously not ideal during the middle of this holiday shopping season, but something, of course, that has to be done.

At this point, authorities are not releasing the name of the shooter, they say know who he is. But not they are not 100 percent sure so they are keeping his name withheld for the time being.

What we know is that at about 3:30 in the afternoon yesterday, shots rang out. He was carrying some kind of assault rifle. He was wearing dark clothing, wearing some kind of mask as well, maybe a hockey mask.

He was seen jogging through the Macy's store, and shots rang out in the foot court area. There was pandemonium, people ducking for cover, including the mall's Santa. Here is how one witness described the scene.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was on the elevator going downstairs and people started saying, go up, go up, and we just didn't know what was going on. We just cried on the elevator and tried to escape. It was very scary. It was shocking experience.


SIMON: Well, the central question this morning and always the question any time have you one of these horrible shootings is, who was the shooter, what was the motive, and were the victims targeted or random? At this point, we don't know the answers -- John.

BERMAN: So many questions, Dan with 10,000 people in this mall packed during the holiday shopping season. Dan Simon outside Portland, Oregon, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: I want to go right now to the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office in Oregon. Undersheriff Matt Ellington joins us now. He is live on the phone. Are you there, sir?


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Thank you so much for taking time with us this morning. So we understand you have tentatively identified the shooter, have you confirmed his identity yet?

ELLINGTON: Well, first of all, all of our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the families of this horrifying act of violence and to the one surviving victim who is currently receiving medical treatment.

And that is correct. We have tentatively identified the suspect. But at this time, we owe it to the victims to protect the integrity of this investigation. So that's one of the details we won't be releasing at this point.

SAMBOLIN: This was a horrifying incident for so many people who witnessed it. Do you have any idea of any motive behind the shooting?

ELLINGTON: The investigation is still ongoing. At this point, we do not have any indication as to what the suspect's motive was.

SAMBOLIN: Do you know how old he was? Can you share any details about that at all?

ELLINGTON: He was a male. We believe to be in his early 20s, but that's all I can share with you at this point.

SAMBOLIN: And we know that three are dead, including him, but two other victims, what can you tell us about them?

ELLINGTON: Right now, we are withholding the names of those victims so we can allow families to tell extended family members. I can tell you that one victim was an adult female and one was an adult male.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we certainly understand that and respect it. The one person that was wounded, that is in the hospital, I understand it's a 15-year-old. Can you give us an update on her condition?

ELLINGTON: The last information I have is that she is in stable condition at a local hospital.

SAMBOLIN: Well, that's some good news there. So let's go back to the shooting. Did you identify the weapon that was used? Do you have any more details about that? We heard that there were a lot of rounds that were fired?

ELLINGTON: Well, the initial 911 calls reported multiple rounds being fired, at this point in the investigation, we don't know exactly how many there were. We do have information that the weapon was a rifle, but that's the only information I have at this point.

SAMBOLIN: And what about surveillance tapes at the mall? Were you able to recover any of those? ELLINGTON: We were. As a matter of fact, that's part of the investigation we're conducting right now, is reviewing all of those tapes to determine exactly what happened.

SAMBOLIN: So the details that we have, some of the reports say that the gunman was wearing a hockey mask and bulletproof vest. Can you confirm any of that?

ELLINGTON: Cannot confirm the bulletproof vest, but I can confirm that we did recover a hockey-type mask.

SAMBOLIN: And do we know if this gentleman worked at the mall?

ELLINGTON: I do not know that at this point.

SAMBOLIN: Now one of the details that I was reading, which I thought was really remarkable is just the effort. How many police officers showed up to the scene? Can you talk to me about that the calls coming in and just the effort to reach everybody at the mall and make sure everybody was safe.

ELLINGTON: I think you're right. It was an amazing effort. We had law enforcement officers from several different agencies. We estimate well over 100 officers helped us with the investigation.

Right now, we have CSI teams from several different agencies helping us, investigate the crime scene. Keep in mind this was a 1.4 million square foot facility that at the time had nearly 10,000 people in it, so we're thankful for the assistance we receive from state, local, and federal law enforcement.

SAMBOLIN: All right, well, we certainly wish you luck with this investigation. We really appreciate your time this morning. Undersheriff Matt Ellington, thank you so much for joining us.

ELLINGTON: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, moving on now, President Obama is declaring the U.S. is officially recognizing Syrian's opposition coalition as legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The announcement should provide a psychological lift for rebel forces fighting the Assad regime, but this does not mean America will be providing arms to them.

That will not be happening. President Obama in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters explains why the announcement came right now.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba this morning. His vice president says the operation was complex, lasted more than six hours and was completed correctly and successfully. It is the fourth cancer-related surgery for Chavez since the summer of 2011.

BERMAN: So did you feel it? We had a close shave yesterday of the cosmic variety. Two asteroids buzzed planet earth, one of them passing inside the moon's orbit. That's right, inside the moon's orbit.

NASA says the 120-foot wide rock came within about 140,000 miles of the planet. This is the cool part. This caused an eclipse, an eclipse that was only visible to astronomers. But this is the scary part. It was only discovered, an asteroid, a couple of days ago.

SAMBOLIN: And that's worrisome, isn't it?

BERMAN: It is. I guess, there are like thousands of these asteroids that come fairly close to earth and we don't know about many of them, but you know, they do say if this ever hit the earth, an asteroid this big, it would cause, you know, 800 square miles worth of damage.

SAMBOLIN: I'd say that's scary.

BERMAN: That's scary.

SAMBOLIN: All right, some of the biggest names in music are getting to rock New York's Madison Square Garden tonight for the 12-12-12 Hurricane Sandy Relief Concert. Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Dave Grill, Bruce Springsteen, an amazing lineup, they are going to perform. The show expected to be seen and heard in almost 2 billion homes around the world.

BERMAN: We'll record it and watch it when we're awake.


BERMAN: Pope Benedict XVI is tweeting. He sent this, his first tweet a short time ago. It read, "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."

His Twitter handle is @pontifex, it means bridge builder in Latin. The pope has close to 700,000 followers and has sent one tweet that is a very, very good ratio.

SAMBOLIN: A 15,000 retweets, that's incredible, a lot of power. OK, we just learned one state's fourth graders rank second in the world.

BERMAN: The whole world.

SAMBOLIN: The whole world for reading. Find out where and how we can use their strategies to help with math and science, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's 13 minutes past the hour. Some surprising news coming out of Florida this morning, fourth graders in the sunshine state have rank amongst the best in the entire world. This is according to the results of an international study that was released this week.

The test, which was taken by students in 49 countries, has Florida's fourth grade students coming in second place, just two points behind Hong Kong and 13 points above the U.S. national average for 2011. Look at those numbers.

This is the first year Florida has participated in the study, which also measured math and science scores for fourth and eighth graders. We'll get to that in a moment.

So with me now to discuss the Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is joining us this morning. Congratulations to you. We are very excited. When we're talking about world leaders in education, we're talking about Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong. Your state received the remarkable ranking of number two. How did you do it?

PAM STEWART, FLORIDA EDUCATION COMMISSIONER: It's amazing, and I think it's been a concerted effort for a number of years. Florida is focused on reading and considered every single teacher a reading teacher.

It has been the primary focus for Florida as I said for a number of years, and we are very proud of the work that our students and teachers have done through this time.

SAMBOLIN: I actually want to show that because the fourth grade reading scores have improved from 1998 all the way to 2011. And it has been very impressive. You say that you have reading teachers. What does that mean?

STEWART: Well, all of our teachers, kindergarten through 12th grade, no matter the subject they teach, incorporate reading skills and reading strategies within the course. But there has been a focus for a number of years on the skills that are necessary for a student to be able to be reading. And certainly when we look at what students are doing today, versus what they did back in 1998, it's amazing.


STEWART: The work that our students do.

SAMBOLIN: But if we can talk about specifics, because, you know, if I'm living in another state and my students are having a hard time with reading scores, I'd like to know specifically what you are doing to get scores up. So, can you tick some of the things off that you are doing?

STEWART: Certainly. We began this work with a balanced literacy approach, where we incorporated all of the important strategies that good readers know to do. And our teachers focused on that primarily in the reading classroom and there was a focused effort on spending, a time period specific during the day, at least 90 minutes on reading. And then it's reinforced through other subject areas whereby those teachers would, in fact, incorporate those same reading strategies.

Our teachers got reading training. We have thousands and thousands of teachers that went through extensive training on reading and continue to do that, even today, with other subject area teachers so that they know how they can incorporate reading in the classroom.

SAMBOLIN: Another part of this test also, the fourth and eighth graders received more average marks when it comes to science and math. And those are the two critical and key areas that you look at in education, closer to the U.S. average.

So, do you think that you're going to incorporate some changes there? Have you planned to do that in order to get those grades up?

STEWART: We really have already begun work in that area, and our students are focused on math and science. I think if you look at the student performance in math and science over the years, we have improved in that area as well. And we continue to do so, particularly as we move into the common core standards, there will be much more of an emphasis there. And we will see more improvement than we've already seen in Florida.

SAMBOLIN: Now, I don't mean to criticize, but I have to mention some criticism that has come forward, and that's this specific test that your students took, they have never taken it before, and they took it specifically in the reading portion, and some people are saying that perhaps, Massachusetts, for example, would have tested their students in this particular area, that perhaps they would have ranked really high as well. Do you agree with that?

STEWART: We have no way of knowing, except for doing a comparison of the NAEP scores in Massachusetts and Florida, and typically, Massachusetts does outperform Florida. But because as you say, there was not the oversampling testing in Massachusetts, we can't make the comparison right now.

We can make the comparison that Florida, as you said, is second in the world and certainly is far above the United States average in that area.

SAMBOLIN: That is certainly quite a distinction and we're very proud of you and can't wait to have a comprehensive paper that comes out to tell us how we can duplicate this in other states.

Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner, thank you very much for your time this morning.

STEWART: Thank you.

BERMAN: Nice to hear some good news about education.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my God -- number two in the world? That's fantastic.

BERMAN: Congratulations to them. It is 18 minutes past the hour right now. We have some other news to tell you about. Here's Christine Romans.


We still don't know the identity of a gunman who killed two people and critically wounded a third at a mall near Portland, Oregon. Police say the gunman killed himself after opening fire yesterday afternoon inside the Clackamas Town Center. One of the victims, a young woman is fighting for her life this morning.

Los Angeles may go back to testing shelter dogs and cats for aggressive behavior. An advocate of the plan says it's meant to give potential owners a more complete behavioral assessment. Critics say the program could result in fewer adoptions of less desirable dogs and cats, which could mean they'll be put down.

Squid tide. Marine biologists in northern California want to know why hundreds of dead squid are washing ashore, along with Santa Cruz County coast. Scientists have identified the squids as juveniles. They are a foot and a half long. They weigh around three pounds.

Some researchers say the squid may have eaten toxic algae. This is the third time it's happened in the past six weeks.

BERMAN: That is no fun at all. I don't want to go swimming on the squid beach.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thanks, Christine, for the warning there.

Nineteen minutes past the hour. Time for your "Early Reads" -- it is your local news that's making national headlines.

And "The New York Times" reporting on North Korea's launch of a long- range rocket this morning, saying the timing caught U.S. officials off guard, because officials were expecting it to take weeks for the North Koreans to resolve technical issues before actually moving forward. "The Times" goes on to report the launch effectively dashes hopes that North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un might soften his country's confrontational style with the West.

BERMAN: To West Virginia's "Metro News" now, where people are describing the moment a natural gas line exploded.

SAMBOLIN: Terrible.

BERMAN: One woman said it yesterday's blast woman was so violent it knocked off her chair inside her house. Another person said it sounds like a plane went down. These explosions are really just incredible.

SAMBOLIN: Inferno.

BERMAN: It destroyed at least four homes just north of Charleston, Virginia. The local station reporting five other homes were damaged. Thankfully, no deaths have been reported. SAMBOLIN: That is good news. The interstate damage.

BERMAN: Look at the picture.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Markets all over the world waiting to hear from one man today. Coming up, more on what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke could say.


BERMAN: That is New York City right there. The Big Apple, the financial capital of the world, fitting, because we're minding your business this morning.

U.S. stock futures are up, indicating markets could open higher today. And markets had a good day yesterday. The Dow rose almost 80 points.

SAMBOLIN: So, Christine is here, taking a look at the market.

It's been good for your 401(k). We want to always start with good news.

ROMANS: Right. Well, you know, you were showing New York, maybe we should show Washington, D.C., because that's -- the man who's holding up the stock market, Ben Bernanke, is in Washington, D.C. The Fed chief, oh, wow, on cue, so powerful today. No.

I mean, Ben Bernanke is the Fed chief, and the Feds has been basically plowing money into the economy through stimulus for years now. The Federal Reserve has been doing one thing after another, QE1, QE2, QE3, Operation Twist, all of these buzz words. We're going to hear from the Fed today if they're going to do -- everyone expected they're going to do even more. They're going to be buying back bonds, buying back mortgages maybe and that acts as pushing money into the economy, propping things up.

One of the reasons why you've seen the stock market up this year 13 percent, is because the Fed has been holding things up even as Washington is fighting over the fiscal cliff.

BERMAN: I was going to say. It is controversial at time, but there is evidence that it works.

ROMANS: It is very controversial. I mean, look, if you didn't have the Fed pumping all this money into the system, where would we be right now?

There are those who really worry about what this means down the road when you have the Fed propping up the economy, pushing so much money into the system, quote-unquote, "printing money", pushing so much money into the system, what could be the knock on effects, higher inflation, down the road -- how will it distort the economy down the road? But for the very right now, they're concern about keeping the economy going so that people can have jobs.

SAMBOLIN: So, every day we come in, and we're seeing stocks are up. Nobody seems to be worried about that fiscal cliff, Christine?

ROMANS: Some people are worried about the fiscal cliff. And I'm going to tell you something. What stocks are telling us right now is that they think it's going to get fixed. They think that the top rate, they're fighting over the top marginal tax rate will be. Will it be 36 percent for the very rich, 37 percent? It's supposed to go up to 39.6 percent.

They also think that you're going to get corporate tax rates cut. When I say they, the market is telling us they think it's going to get resolved. Since Election Day, the S&P 500 is up.

BERMAN: So, stocks are going up, up and up. But oil prices going down, down, way down.

SAMBOLIN: Amazing. Bank of America, Merrill Lynch analysts assumption that you could see oil prices in the U.S. go down to $50 a barrel, $50 a barrel, because we have these gluts of crude oil from Texas, from the Bakken region, where they are getting all of this energy, North Dakota. But we're having gluts actually getting it to market. We've got so much oil. There's oil boom in America.

But don't get too excited. Gas prices aren't going to be lower, they say. And you're probably going to see gas prices, oil prices average about $90 a barrel over the next couple of years.

BERMAN: All right. So, what's the thing we need to know about our money?

ROMANS: The one thing you need to know about your money today, this is the frugal Christine you're going to get right now. Fifty-eight percent of Americans say they are nowhere near done with their holiday shopping this year. This is according to a new poll by Reuters/Ipsos. Last-minute shopping often leads to overspending. So, remember not to buy anything you can't afford to pay off, John Berman, in the next 30 days.

BERMAN: I have to do my shopping. How about start my shopping? We get finished.

ROMANS: But don't go crazy. It's the last-minute shopping costs more than you thought.

BERMAN: All right. I'll try, I promise. Christine Romans, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Thirty-seven minutes after the hour right now.

And a reality star takes a real-world stand. He says his show is a fake and he's fighting back. We'll have the real reality story, coming up.