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Midwest Faces Pre-Holiday Blizzard; Fallout from Scathing Benghazi Review; Arming Teachers to Protect Kids; NYSE Sold

Aired December 20, 2012 - 09:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, guys. Appreciate your time this morning. We've got to take a break. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.

Hi, Carol. Good morning.


Stories we're watching right now in the NEWSROOM. Blizzard warnings in the north, tornado threats in the south. And the worst of this massive storm is yet to come.

Will the response following the shooting in Newtown be different if the gunman was not white? One columnist says yes and finds himself in the middle of unheeded debate.

Call it a sister's miracle. One movie uniting both sides of the political aisle but it's hardly a moment of truth. We'll tell you why senators are speaking out against "Zero Dark 30."

And take a page from the '80s REM song, it could be the end of the world as we know it, and some people are getting ready for the worst.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not planning on the world going away. That sucks. However, I'm a realist. I'm not going to put my head in the sand.


COSTELLO: Oh, geez, not everyone is buying into that Mayan prophecy. Actually most everyone is not. Some people are profiting from it, though.

NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning to you. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm Carol Costello. If your holiday plans include traveling through the heart of the country, buckle up. It may get rough,

Blizzard warnings are in place from Iowa to Wisconsin. The massive storm has already dumped more than a foot of snow in the Rockies and for the eastern half of the country be warned. It is heading your way.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Winter starts tomorrow but in the heartland it's already arrived with a vengeance. Blizzard conditions already pounding parts of the plains and Midwest. The first major snowstorm of the season dumped several inches in Colorado where drivers are maneuvering some dicey conditions. A 156-mile stretch of Interstate 70 east of Denver was closed for a time on Wednesday.

TOD PRITCHARD, WISCONSIN EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: I think the first thing you should think about is changing your plans for Thursday.

COSTELLO: CNN meteorologists say Wisconsin could bear the brunt of the bad weather.

Blizzard warnings are also out for a large section of the Midwest. This was downtown Des Moines, Iowa, as the snow was just starting. It could get dumped on with a foot of snow and wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour in some parts. Wisconsin's governor has already declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: We did this well in February 2011, learning from mistakes made in the past, where they didn't have enough people positioned so from storm crews out there, county truck roads, DOT staff out, wards from the DNR around snowmobiles and others were going to be fully prepared.


COSTELLO: A lot of us will share in the misery, though. The storm also reaching into the southern United States, we're getting a first look at damage now. Trees mangled, trucks overturned, a number of buildings damaged in Mobile, Alabama. Tornado warnings still in place in southwest Alabama and the severe threat stretches into Georgia.

Meteorologist Alexandra Steele is here.

I wish you weren't, because that mean -- that would mean there's better weather but --


COSTELLO: I know. Exactly.

STEELE: Right? All right, well, tens of millions of people being impacted by this variety of weather. Blizzard warnings, Carol, talked about Des Moines, 12 inches of snow already on the ground there and continuing to snow and the blizzard warnings are there. But more eminent concern is what's happening here in the Deep South this morning. We're looking at those pictures from Mobile. Mobile had tornado warnings up at 4:00 a.m. and at 5:00 a.m. this morning.

And now once again this purple color, that's the delineation of a tornado warning, meaning these strong storms do and have showed rotation within them. So unfortunately, it's right along this I-65 corridor. Again Mobile has seen some damage and now these storms just training over one another.

Right now these tornado warnings which means tornadoes have been reported or on Doppler radar have rotation are right now in Alabama and also now into the Florida panhandle so this big red box show you where tornado watches are and they're for much of the south until noon today meaning conditions are ripe for tornadoes.

But that's only one side of this picture. The northern tier, this is just a classic storm, incredibly robust, this of course is the snowy side where the blizzard warnings are and of course there's the rain.

Here's where we're expecting the blizzard warnings to continue today with a foot of snow from Green Bay to Waterloo and down toward Des Moines. Chicago seeing rain now and at about 7:00 tonight it will turn over to snow and then this storm picks up in intensity, believe it or not, around Chicago, those snow, about two to four inches, but it's the 50-mile-per-hour winds that will be the biggest threat.

This is tonight, the snow moves out of Chicago. Tomorrow morning, Carol, believe it or not, it's a rainmaker for New York, Philadelphia and Washington, but then that moves out by tomorrow afternoon.

COSTELLO: Just so I make it home to see mom.

STEELE: Yes. You'll get there.


COSTELLO: I hope so. Thanks, Alexandra.

Two State Department officials, employees of Hillary Clinton, are testifying right now before the House and Senate committees after that blistering report on exactly what went wrong in Benghazi. The committee that led the investigation was headed by veteran diplomat, Thomas Pickering and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Admiral Mullen had this to say.


ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, FORMER JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: While we did not find that any individual U.S. government employee engaged in willful misconduct or knowingly ignored his or her responsibilities, we did conclude that certain State Department bureau level senior officials in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of leadership and management ability appropriate for senior ranks in their responses to security concerns posed by the special mission.


COSTELLO: A total of four senior State Department officials have either resigned or been placed on administrative leave in the wake of this report but what about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? You know, she's in charge and she initially took the fall.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000 plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.

They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs, and make a considered decision.


COSTELLO: Joining me now, dean of Joseph Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and former U.S. ambassador, Christopher Hill.

Good morning Mr. Ambassador.


COSTELLO: The report essentially cleared Secretary of State Clinton of blame but some conservatives still have questions. You were in the trenches. If your people had requested more security would the secretary of state have known?

HILL: Well, first of all, I think what Ambassador Pickering did was to say that they're looking at the bureau level, that is the assistant secretary level, and there's a reason that he does this, which is when an ambassador has an issue, whether it's more security, whether it's day-to-day issues, whether it's tactical questions about, you know, who the bad guys out there, the ambassador talks to the assistant secretary so that's why Ambassador Pickering did that, and of course the question is whether the Congress will accept the notion that this should be looked at at the so-called bureau level.

COSTELLO: Hillary Clinton was due to testify before this panel but she fell at home, she suffered a concussion. Now the former U.S. diplomat John Bolton told FOX News Hillary Clinton was suffering from diplomatic illness.

What do we need to know from Clinton, in your mind?

HILL: Well, frankly speaking, I think Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering have done a pretty exhaustive and pretty hard-hitting report so obviously the Congress will want to look at that. They'll ask, you know, what did people above the assistant secretary know about this, and I have no doubt that Secretary Clinton would like to testify and will do so when she can, so I'm not sure where John Bolton is coming from on this.

COSTELLO: Yes, I think she's going to testify sometime in January, although there's no specific date. Also Republican Congressman Darrell Issa says he's concerned that the carefully vetted testimony of senior officials was part of an intentional effort to mislead the American people, you know, you remember that Susan Rice came out said that the events in Benghazi happened because of that terrible movie that was out on the Internet.

Should Hillary Clinton answer to those charges?

HILL: Well, obviously when she testifies she'll explain what she knew and when she knew it, but again I think people should really listen carefully to Ambassador Pickering who said something like seven embassies in the zone and he knows precisely where the levels of the channels of communication are.

I think Secretary Clinton is obviously correct when she says she's ultimately responsible. She's responsible for the sort of people who are looking at the security issues, for the people who are looking at the policy issues, but I think for people to play a blame game and try to put this at her doorstep really kind of flies in the facts of what Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen have looked at very exhaustively.

There are some big issues here. I mean there was absolutely no tactical knowledge of these militia groups, there are questions about, you know, the level of security in Benghazi, the appropriateness of having an ambassador there with only a couple of security people close in so there are a lot of issues there but, you know, with due respect to the congressman, I don't think these are presidential issues or even at the secretary of state.

These are issues that as Ambassador Pickering has said are appropriately at the bureau level and I think that's what they should be focusing on.

COSTELLO: Ambassador Hill, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

HILL: Thank you.

COSTELLO: This morning, more grief and new details in Newtown, Connecticut. Friends of the killer's mother said she spent her final days at a luxury resort in New Hampshire. She returned on Thursday night and just hours later her son killed her, then launched that deadly rampage at the school.

One idea being floated by some politicians at the state and federal level is to allow teachers to be armed and trained to confront a school shooter like Adam Lanza. We talked a lot about this in the NEWSROOM and it ignited a firestorm on my Facebook page and it ignited passionate conversation across the country.

Listen to the passion of this man whose granddaughter is the same age as many of the Newtown victims.


JOHN CAILE, GRANDFATHER OF KINDERGARTEN: I have a 5-year-old granddaughter and thank god she goes to school at a private kindergarten in Texas where the staff are armed, and I feel a lot better knowing that. She's not going to die under a desk waiting to be executed.


COSTELLO: But critics of the idea are just as adamant as supporters. Cinda Klickna is the president of the Illinois Education Association. She joins me now by phone from Springfield, Illinois.

Welcome. Thank you for being with us this morning.

CINDA KLICKNA, PRESIDENT, ILLINOIS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: Good morning, Carol. And thank you for having me. I guess the weather has prevented the live video so.

COSTELLO: Yes, I don't envy you the weather that's coming because -- well, it's already bad there in Illinois so yes. But we're glad we got you on the phone. That's good enough for us. We want to hear what you have to say. You were a teacher for many, many years, 30 years, right?

KLICKNA: Yes, close to that, actually, I'm in my 40th year in education.

COSTELLO: So can you imagine yourself being armed in school or having a gun in your classroom?

KLICKNA: First, Carol, before I answer that let me, on behalf of all educators across this nation, express our sympathy for the horrible tragedy in Newtown. I know that many of our educators, teachers and support staff have relied on the National Educational Association Health Information Network Crisis guide this week in helping our students deal with this tragedy.


KLICKNA: But no, Carol, I -- we do not believe that it is right to arm teachers. Teachers are there to help students, to provide curriculum, not to be police officers, but having said that, there is a three-pronged approach that could be taken and should be taken.

COSTELLO: Well, before we get into that, let's just talk about the idea of teachers being armed because so many Americans have been talking about this issue. If there were guns in the classroom, how exactly would that work, do you suppose?

KLICKNA: I think it raises many logistical issues, and we don't need more guns to deal with violence. What we need are programs that are --

COSTELLO: What kind of logistical issues does it raise?

KLICKNA: Well, it raises the whole issue about we need to focus on mental health issues and services. Many of our schools do not have the resources to provide counselors and nurses, social workers, psychologists. We can look at students and help identify needs that they have, and provide those so that we can give the right kinds of resources through the right kinds of personnel to help prevent a student going down this dark path to violence. So that's the first step.

Secondly, we need to increase and renew the focus on bullying prevention, not just for that student who is being bullied but for everyone who is around anyone else in helping to stop bullying. And then of course meaningful action about gun violence, rules and we just do not believe that assault rifles should be around, and that we should have definite background checks, a waiting period, and even amnesty days, so Americans could turn in assault rifles, no questions asked.

COSTELLO: I'm just reading a statement here from the National Education Association, in fact, two education groups will come out later today and condemn this tragedy. I'm going to read part of it.

"Guns have no place in our schools, period. We must be doing everything we can to reduce the possibility of gunfire in schools and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of our children and school employees."

But I want to read another part of this because this is actually more interesting. It also says that, "If guns -- more guns were in the schools, if teachers were armed it would turn our educators into objects of fear and actually increase the danger in our schools."

But I was -- I was most interested in turning our educators into objects of fear. So if teachers were armed, and let's say you kept a gun in a lockbox in your classroom, only to be used in cases of emergency, how would that still turn teachers into objects of fears in children's eyes?

KLICKNA: Children look to teachers as mentors, as helpers, not as police officers. So I don't know if students would automatically think something negative about their teacher, but again, it comes back to focusing on ways to ensure that our schools are always safe and that is with the right program, the right safety measures, looking at issues that can be addressed through the right kinds of personnel.

Tapping into the resources in our community to deal with mental health and what we want to do is help identify the needs that students have, provide the right resources, so that we can prevent tragedies like this. Our schools are still safe. Our teachers, support staff, administrators, are doing everything they possibly can to put those provisions in place, and bringing guns en masse into a school is just not the right answer.

COSTELLO: Cinda Klickna, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

KLICKNA: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: One hundred million Americans may get to file taxes late this year, but it's hardly the break you might be hoping for. We'll tell you why a fiscal cliff could mean chaos for those 1099s.


COSTELLO: Eighteen minutes past the hour.

Checking our top stories now:

The president of Syria may not have the support of his counterpart in Russia. Today, in his annual press conference, the Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is not concerned about Assad's regime. But Putin doesn't want to keep Assad's government in power at all costs. He also hopes to find a solution that will not lead to the collapse of the region.

And we're keeping an eye on nasty storms that are moving across most of the country, in Alabama, more than 7,000 are without power in the Mobile area. One woman was trapped in her house when a tree fell on it. Right now, there are no reports of serious injuries.

That same storm dumping snow on the Great Plains and the Midwest. The state of Wisconsin already under a state of emergency. Some areas expected to see as much as 12 inches. The storm stretches from Houston all the way to Minneapolis and it's disrupting holiday travel, with a 156-mile stretch of highway between Denver and the Kansas state line closed for part of the day yesterday.

In money news, if you get a gift card this holiday season, do not forget about it. You could be hit with maintenance fees even though federal law prohibits cards from expiring for five years. And depending on the type of card, you could end up paying $15 or more in purchase and shipping fees. According to a survey by Bankrate, bank- issued cards are the most likely to charge those fees.

This just in to CNN -- the New York Stock Exchange being sold?

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange.

So, is it being sold and what does this mean?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well the deal has been made, that still needs regulatory approval but if the deal does go through, what it would mean is the building that I'm sitting in, the New York Stock Exchange, the Euronext, it's really called the New York Stock Exchange-Euronext, will wind up operating essentially under new ownership.

So, Intercontinental Exchange is looking to buy NYSE-Euronext. And what that is, is that the parent of the New York Stock Exchange. And this is an $8.2 billion cash and stock deal. Now, it's known as ICE, and what it does is it operates as this electronic exchange and trades futures and over-the-counter energy and commodity contracts.

So, what ICE does, this other exchange that's looking to buy the NYSE, it trades in other things different from really what's traded here. They trade crude oil, natural gas, and they've even expanded their activities into softer commodities like cotton and sugar and coffee. So you're seeing sort of something new being thrown into the mix. Now, as we speak, shares of the NYSE-Euronext are surging 35 percent in the premarket. Remember the NYSE-Euronext is a public company and you're seeing these shares surge, Carol, because the deal values, the NYSE-Euronext, at $33.12 a share. That is a premium of 38 percent over Wednesday's closing price, the actual trading of stocks.

You have to remember, it's been overshadowed recently by derivatives and options. So, that really is ICE's territory. So, when you see this marriage happening, you see the focus really broad now. But then you look at the NYSE, it's well known. It's this iconic brand. So it's a way to leverage all of that with something new.

I must add, though, we did speak with one trader this morning, Carol, who said it's kind of sad because he says the greatest institution in the world is going to -- has to be taken over, you know, to kind of survive in this new day of electronic trading. But at the same time, if you're an investor at NYSE-Euronext in the company itself, you're making some good money at this moment -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange.

When people paid tribute to the victims in Newtown, they usually don't answer the gunman's mother. So, how should Nancy Lanza be remembered? It's our talk back question today.


COSTELLO: Now, it's your chance to talk back on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning, how should Nancy Lanza be remembered?

The memorials, the makeshift vigils are always the same, 26 victims.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults.


COSTELLO: Twenty-six Christmas trees, 26 candles for the 26 innocents who died needlessly. But never in the same breath do we mention Adam Lanza's first victim, his mother, Nancy Lanza. She was shot four times in the head while sleeping.

By most accounts, she was a caring woman.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's a great friend, very sincere, very, very giving person, give you the shirt of her back if you needed it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've seen a lot of things in the media about her being this survivalist whacko and that was not her at all. She taught the boys how to use the guns responsibly. Safety was paramount always. (END VIDEO CLIPS)

COSTELLO: We don't know how Nancy Lanza dealt with her troubled son. Yes, what if, as some reports suggest, she was frightened by what he might do? He was an adult. She had no legal power over him.

There are people who sympathize like Liza Long who wrote a blog "I am Adam Lanza's Mother." It details Long's struggles with her own 13- year-old son.


LIZA LONG, BLOGGER: Sometimes, for no apparent reason, he will turn into this absolute raging, I don't know how to describe it. You'd have to see it to believe it. I stopped and said to myself, you know, this isn't normal. This isn't the way that my younger children should have to live. And I have to face up to the fact that I have a sick son and we need help.


COSTELLO: Some in Newtown consider Nancy Lanza a victim. So, should she be included in the memorials in that town? After all, she may have been a wonderful person but she did enable her troubled son to get a hold of a semiautomatic assault rifle and we all know what happened next.

Talk back question to you today, how should Nancy Lanza be remembered?, Your responses later this hour.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought we were going to lose our lives.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to lose my mind. You know, like --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was nothing you could do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't explain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't understand. We need help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the toughest times that I've ever faced in my life.

The people didn't know of the devastation that occurred on Staten Island firsthand because you need to be here to really see it with your eyes. We needed to be down, seeing people's lives destroyed.

If I just sit back and make like this didn't happen, I'd be lying and fooling myself. I will be there for my community, and there's thousands and thousands, millions of people just like me that are out there looking to help and rebuild.