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U.S. Sending Patriot Missile Batteries to Turkey; The Other Victims of Prescription Drug Abuse; Susan Rice Withdraws from Secretary of State Consideration; Fiscal Cliff Talks "Frank"

Aired December 14, 2012 - 05:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Show of force amid Syria civil war. The U.S. says they will send missiles and troops to the area but not to the rebels.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A White House one-on-one as the fiscal cliff looms. President Obama and Speaker Boehner meet again 18 days to go.

BERMAN: Push comes to shove on the floor of parliament. How this brawl broke out between members of the same party? It's not even partisan bickering. This is at the same party.

ROMANS: But that's depressing (ph).

BERMAN: The good news is it's not part of the big ring. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for Zoraida today. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: And our breaking news this morning. A major development in the Syrian civil war and a new level of U.S. involvement. Overnight, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order sending two patriot missile batteries to Turkey. That's to assist that nation in defending against any possible military action by Syria. This move was expected as the Syrian civil war destabilizes the Assad regime with each passing day more and more.

And in addition, 400 U.S. troops are going to be deployed to operate these missile batteries. Turkey, of course, borders Syria and thousands of rebels and refugees from Syria have fled to Turkey for safety.

ROMANS: All right. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner meeting for nearly an hour yesterday evening in a fiscal cliff showdown. With 18 days remaining before we go over the edge, both sides are saying that, quote, "lines of communication remain open."

Most of us have been stressing over the thousands of extra dollars you may have to fork over to Uncle Sam next year, but along with sequestration comes sweeping spending cuts, too, and that has the Defense Department up and arms, so to speak.

Here's CNN pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To hear the Pentagon tell it --

ASHTON CARTER, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Sequestration, therefore, if it were allowed to happen, would introduce senseless chaos.

LAWRENCE: The fiscal cliff --

GEN. JOSEPH F. DUNFORD, USMC: Sequestration will have a chaotic effect on the force.

LAWRENCE: -- is akin to Armageddon.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: What I worry about is being blindsided by a huge cut because they don't have the strength or the courage or the guts to do what they have to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy holidays.

LAWRENCE: The cliff would cut $500 billion in defense spending but spread out over the next ten years.

(on-camera): Would these cuts really be that bad?


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Analyst, Ben Freeman, argues the Pentagon can survive on a smaller budget.

FREEMAN: Sequestration happens, it will drop a little bit, but it's certainly not catastrophic or doomsday or any other sort of hyperbole they want to describe with us.

LAWRENCE: Perhaps the navy would have to buy less expensive, less advanced fighter jets instead of the new F-35. Or the Pentagon would have to cut the number of soldiers and marines back to the levels before 9/11.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Sequestration would risk hollowing out our force.

LAWRENCE: Pentagon officials say going over the cliff would actually leave them a trillion dollars in the hole, because it comes on top of cuts they've already budgeted for.

PANETTA: We've put in place $487 billion in savings over the next ten years.

LAWRENCE (on-camera): Are these cuts the same sort of budget cuts that you and I think of when we think of cutting our budget?

FREEMAN: I call them phantom cuts because it's not a real saving. LAWRENCE (on-camera): Freeman says the Pentagon is counting money that it was projecting to spend as savings, which he says, isn't the same as simply spending less.

FREEMAN: But this is the way D.C. does math. It's unfortunate that you and I can't do our taxes like that, but it's the way they seem to do business here.

LAWRENCE (on-camera): A senior defense official admits that everyone at the Pentagon from the Secretary on down is on autopilot to defend their budget. Even though he feels that they need people to go on and challenge their costs, he argues that's better done over time, not forced on them by the fiscal cliff.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, the Pentagon.


ROMANS: All right. Ambassador Susan Rice meets with President Obama today after making a stunning announcement.


ROMANS (voice-over): She's out of the running to succeed outgoing Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Few Republicans, of course, have criticized her over statements she made after the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in Libya.

The attack now known to be terror killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans. And of course, at the time, she made some television interviews, appearances where she had said it appeared to come from an anti-Islam film.

BERMAN (voice-over): Clackamas Town Center will re-open to shoppers at about seven hours. That, of course, the mall outside Portland where a gunman killed two people on Tuesday, a third person critically hurt. The gunman, 22-year-old Jacob Roberts, took his own life. His motive is still not clear. Roberts' aunt raised him after his mother died and calls herself his mom. She says he lost his way after an injury.


TAMI ROBERTS, GUNMAN'S AUNT/LEGAL GUARDIAN: Jake was going to be a warrior. He was going to be a hero. And he was going to join the marines. And then, he broke his foot and he couldn't be a marine because he got five pins in his foot. So, he couldn't be a marine anymore, and then, it was just like he lost purpose. He lost, like -- that was what he was going to do.


BERMAN: There will be a candlelight vigil tonight outside the mall.

ROMANS: Dramatic dash cam video of a police chase in South Carolina that had a deadly ending. Deputies pursuing this Mustang earlier this month after it had been reported stolen. They say the driver 27-year- old Brian Madden (ph) lost control after trying to take a curve at 60 miles an hour. He was ejected.

He died at the scene. His passenger was seriously injured when she was also thrown from the car. She had to be airlifted to the hospital.

BERMAN: Right. So, there is nothing like a good political fight, but this one turned into a brawl on the floor of Ukraine's parliament. The scuffle apparently broke out after members of the opposition party accused two of their members of planning to defect to the ruling party. That's (INAUDIBLE)


ROMANS (on-camera): We're not talking. Here, we don't talk to each other in Washington.

All right. It's not clear whether it's their diet, their medicine, or genetics. The Japanese men and women are still the healthiest people on the planet, according to a large scale study founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The top four healthiest countries for men are Japan followed by Singapore, Switzerland, and Spain. The U.S. is tied with Norway for 29th place.

And for women, Japan tops the list, followed by South Korea, Spain, and Singapore. U.S. women finished 33rd in the tie with Estonia.

BERMAN (on-camera): We got to get ahead of Estonia.

ROMANS: In Norway, that's Norwegian.

BERMAN: That's Norwegian. Healthy Norwegians.

All right. Barbra Streisand talking romance and politics with Piers Morgan. The Hollywood icon says she's never been in love with a Republican and never could be. She's a big President Obama supporter and says the one thing that makes her proudest is his support for women. And Barbara Streisand has a particular woman in mind to succeed the president.


BARBRA STREISAND, SINGER: Well, we're one of the last countries to ever think of having a woman be president. But I think that's possible now, but it wasn't years ago.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think Hillary is likely to run?

STREISAND: I don't know, but I hope after a four-year rest, that she would run because she would be a great woman president.


BERMAN: Piers asked Barbara Streisand to name the greatest actor she's ever seen. Her answer, Marlon Brando. It's a good pick. ROMANS: Yes. I would say so.

All right. The unseen victims of a growing epidemic in this country. Coming up, prescription drug abuse and the impact on people who never even pop a pill.


BERMAN: Ah! Christmas light in Atlanta. They call it Hotlanta, but it's not hot right now. It's actually freezing, 32 degrees in Atlanta. Lucky for them, it will get up to 59 later in the day.

In the state of Kentucky, more than 86,000 children are growing up without their parents, and one of the main reasons many have been orphaned, prescription drug overdose. Every 19 minutes in the U.S., someone dies that way, and it's so many of those cases there are children left behind. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us to one community in Kentucky that is witness to this devastation.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): if this town could talk, it would describe a simple, idyllic life. A proud people. It would also whisper a sobering story about an epidemic that is tearing apart family --


GUPTA: After family.

HANNAH EATON, LOST UNCLE AND COUSIN TO DRUG ABUSE: I lost both my uncle and my cousin to years of prescription drug abuse.

GUPTA: After family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I lost both my mother and my grandmother to OxyContin.

GUPTA: It is not uncommon to hear stories like this echoing down the hallways everyday at this high school in Rockcastle County, Kentucky.

EATON: You're constantly hearing of someone else dying because of abusing prescription drugs.

GUPTA: Sixteen-year-old Avery Bradshaw knows the story all too well.

BRADSHAW: My grandpa, he just set me down and told me that he was gone.

GUPTA: When Avery was just seven, his father overdosed on OxyContin. He says his mother was in and out of his life.

BRADSHAW: The hardest part of growing up without a dad would be like not having that model family that you always see.

GUPTA: He's lucky enough to live with his great grandparents. In this town, that model family is being redefined.

KAREN KELLY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OPERATION UNITE: This is happening in Rockcastle County every week, but it's happening in Eastern Kentucky every day. It's leaving our communities in shreds, and we're left behind to pick up the pieces from that.

GUPTA: Karen Kelly is the executive director of Operation UNITE, a community coalition devoted to preventing overdose deaths in Kentucky. In fact, Kentucky is the fourth most medicated state in the nation. It has the sixth highest rate of overdose deaths. And one county alone --

KELLY: Half of the kids have no parent in the home whatsoever. So, now, we're seeing many raised by great grandparents because we've lost an entire generation of young people. And, you know, the kids are really the ones paying the biggest price.

BRADSHAW: It's stressful for kids and it's really an emotional thing.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


ROMANS: I've asked Sanjay before why are doctors prescribing all of these very heavy, heavy opiates so frequently? I mean, there are so many prescriptions being written that you have to also wonder, you know, why are we taking all these drugs? Why are doctors prescribing all these drugs, because you could see the devastation?

BERMAN: It is a real problem. Our thanks to Sanjay for that really winning (ph) piece.

All right. So, it is a one way mission all the way to the moon. NASA's plans for a big crash coming up. And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or mobile phone, just got to


ROMANS: It is 48 minutes after the hour. Let's get you up to date on the morning's top stories this Friday morning.

Still no sign of a deal in the fiscal cliff showdown. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, they did meet for 50 minutes yesterday behind closed doors at the White House, and both sides called the talks, John, "frank".

Both said it was frank and said the line of communications remain open 18 days before higher taxes and spending cuts kick in. And "frank" in Washington means nothing happened.

BERMAN: Can we get beyond frank? We've had about enough frank so far.

ROMANS: Frank, you're not invited to the next meeting.

BERMAN: That's right.

ROMANS: All right. Ambassador Susan Rice meets with President Obama after announcing she's out as contender for Secretary of State. She took herself out of the running in a letter to President Obama. Key Republicans blasted Rice over statements she made after the siege on that U.S. mission in Benghazi in Libya. It's now known to be a terror attack. Four Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, were killed in that attack.

BERMAN: So, students in Georgia don't get degrees. Their schools risk losing dollars. The state there has approved a new funding plan that funds higher education based on graduation rates. This new policy could force public colleges and universities in Georgia to improve student performance. That's the goal.

ROMANS: Mission accomplished on the moon. So, now, a pair of robotic twin probes which have been mapping the surface of the moon are set to be destroyed. It was NASA's plan, of course, all along. They're running low of fuel. So, on Monday, the probes will crash into a mountain.

BERMAN: Thanks, robots. Now, you will be destroyed.

An 85-year-old great grandmother in Iowa who didn't go to high school has finally achieved a personal goal. She earned her GED. Earlier this week, Lois Houselog walked across a community college stage and finally earned her diploma.


LOIS HOUSELOG, 85-YEAR-OLD GED RECIPIENT: It's really exciting for me because it's something I always wanted to do and never really felt like I had the time. I hope that people would be inspired by my story. I don't need it, but it's something I wanted.


BERMAN: Houselog says a lot of kids her age didn't go to high school because there were no school buses and the nearest high school is seven miles away. She says the hardest part of the test is math since Houselog never took geometry or algebra.

I hope she had an awesome graduation party.

ROMANS: Oh, wow! And I will tell you, as an Iowa native, some of the smartest people I know are people who, you know, maybe dropped out of school to work on the farm, never really got the chance or didn't go to school. Smart, smart, smart. And now, she's got the GED to show it.

BERMAN: Good for her.

ROMANS: Meet Cliff the beagle. Researches in the Netherland say cliff is the first bacteria testing dog in the world. He can sniff out a highly contagious bacteria called C. diff. C. diff infections can spread quickly through hospitals. They kill at least 14,000 Americans each year. Testing for the infections is time consuming. But Cliff's sensitive sniffer can detect the toxin in seconds. And when he finds an infected patient, cliff just cops a squat.

BERMAN: Cliff sounds cool, though.

ROMANS: He sits down. He sits down.

BERMAN: He sits down.

ROMANS: Pete is showing me what that means.


BERMAN: Nice to hear about Cliff.

ROMANS: I know.

BERMAN: Thank you for that. Cliff does sound very cool.

Stormy weather right now in the southwest.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Who's showing you how to cop a squat?

ROMANS: I said cop a squat. I thought what does that mean? And then, Pete very helpfully -- our floor manager showed --

MARCIANO: -- studio.


MARCIANO: Love you, but -- good morning, guys.


MARCIANO: Hey, video -- who says it doesn't rain in San Diego? Folks who live there yesterday are like yes, it does. They got about month's worth of rain in -- well, less than a couple of hours. So, this is what happened. Swift water rescue teams are out. Rush hour was a nightmare. The water in some cars was up and over past the wheel wells and that will stall (ph) you in a hurry.

So, a dangerous situation there with some thunderstorms being reported across Southern California. Also thunderstorms being reported yesterday in Las Vegas. That was the 25th day they saw thunderstorms this year. The record is 26. So, a lot of thunderstorms in Vegas. You had record rainfall of a quarter of an inch in San Diego.

You had 1.56 inches of rainfall. Yuma also a very dry place, you had a record around -- rain as well. The rain right now is in through Phoenix. It's snowing up, say, through Flagstaff, getting into the Grand Canyon as well. This system will slowly spiral its way into the Four Corners and bring with it more in the way of some heavy snow.

Some of it will be over foot across, say, the San Juans of the Southwest Colorado. They'll take that fresh powder for sure. The south side of the system will have some wind as well with winds gusting to 60 miles an hour. Ahead of that, warm and sunny. A nice chill in the air to get you in the mood for the season across the east coast.

That's a quick check on weather. EARLY START coming right back.


ROMANS: Welcome back at about 56 minutes past the hour. I'm Christine Romans along with John Berman, taking a look at the top CNN trends on the web this morning.

BERMAN: And we are talking baseball. Big moves overnight. The Los Angeles Angels landing the biggest free agent out there, the second winter in a row they've done this. They signed slugger, Josh Hamilton to a five year, $125 million deal.


BERMAN: They stole him away from the Texas Rangers, the division rival. Now get this, Hamilton already joins a lineup that has Albert Pujols in it. That's where the Angel signed last off-season and the best young player in the game as far as I'm concerned, Michael Trout, coming off one of the best rookie seasons in decades.

But here's the thing, the Angels, they need pitching. They already scored a ton of runs. The last thing it really is another big hitter. So, this may not help them much.

ROMANS: $125 million, five years, it's worth it, right?

BERMAN: I would take it.

ROMANS: You would --


BERMAN: I'm just (ph) all the record and that's money I would take.

ROMANS: You know what? I'd take half that.


ROMANS: All right. The elderly woman who ruined a 200-year-old Jesus fresco in a Spanish church, remember -- remember this now? She's now decided to start selling her own art. Eighty-year-old Cecilia Jimenez put her latest creation on eBay's Spanish website. The painting is currently attracting bids of about $1,000.

Money from the winning bid will reportedly be donated to a Roman Catholic charity. So, that 15 seconds turned into a full minute almost.

BERMAN: Best in bloated art --

(LAUGHTER) BERMAN: -- making her name there.

All right. So, talk about putting people on the spot. A couple of students at BYU, they had a little fun this holiday with students staging a fake Christmas survey underneath some surprise mistletoe. It came down sort of from the sky. They managed to get a few pecks out of it and one open palmed slap. You have to check this out.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that mistletoe?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like over the door?






UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never done it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you would do it?








UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, all right, I'll go for it.






ROMANS: I'm not going --

BERMAN: Yes. I wasn't sure about the kisses. They look like they were going in for extra. It wasn't just for a small -- one, boom.

ROMANS: People try to take a survey from me. I just keep walking.


ROMANS: All right. Nobody is safe from late night hosts, not Taylor Swift, not the L.A. Lakers, not even Honest Abe. Check out last night's best zingers.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Today's Taylor Swift's 23rd birthday.


O'BRIEN: Taylor said she just wants to spend a quiet evening at home breaking up with someone.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Doctors in Pennsylvania report that some therapy dogs can predict death. Have you heard about this? This is unbelievable. These dogs can sense if someone's dying and they won't go into that room if someone is dying in there. In fact, the other night, two of these dogs are standing outside the Lakers locker room.


LENO: They wouldn't go in.

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": HBO is planning a new movie similar to "Game Change" but based on the 2012 election. Yes, the network said they're not sure who will play Mitt Romney, and then Mitt Romney was like, hey, I'm not doing anything.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Steven Spielberg's movie "Lincoln" had the most nominations of any film this year, seven. Have you seen like it? "Lincoln" was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Beard Without a Mustache, and --


KIMMEL: And top hat.

FALLON: They heard that Matthew McConaughey is eligible for an Academy Award for the song he wrote for "Magic Mike." Yes. McConaughey spent a lot of time making sure the words all rhyme, all rhyme, all rhyme.


BERMAN: All right. EARLY START continues right now.