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Nelson Mandela Leaves Hospital; Buying Back Guns

Aired December 26, 2012 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Three o'clock on the East Coast. It is noon on the West Coast. I'm Victor Blackwell, in for Brooke Baldwin.

We have a lot to get to this hour, including the vicious storms that slammed the South. And that's not all. Part of the Northeast could be next. And police say he was ready for war. You will hear part of the note that this killer left before he shot four firefighters in New York State.

All right, but first, this just in to CNN. Former South African President Nelson Mandela has been released from the hospital. He was being treated for a lung infection. And doctors say he will continue his treatment at home.

Let's go straight to Johannesburg.

Robin Curnow is with us now with more on Mandela's health.

Robin, what are we learning about, I guess, the level of improvement that would allow Mr. Mandela to go home?

ROBIN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Thanks, Victor.

Sigh of relief no doubt against the whole of South Africa. Mandela was rushed to hospital 19 days ago. Obviously, his doctors feeling comfortable enough with his health that he can go home. Like you said, he's been said to be suffering from a lung infection and then he had surgery for gallstones.

But sending him home, not out of the woods yet. We know that at his home here in Johannesburg, there are high-care medical facilities, that he will continue to receive around-the-clock medical attention. So he's being very, very closely monitored. And for a man who is 94 years old, no doubt a remarkable recovery and an indication of just how strong, just what kind of fighter Nelson Mandela is.

BLACKWELL: Robin, right at the top you mentioned the relief of people in South Africa. He really is beloved in that country. How do South Africans view the man they call Madiba?

CURNOW: Well, Victor, he is seen as the father of democracy here. There is a deep emotional attachment to Nelson Mandela.

He's been out of the public eye. He hasn't even been in the public scene for more than two years. So people haven't seen him a lot. But there is a deep sense he's very much the architect of South Africa's democracy. So people are very concerned about his health. But like we said, he's 94 years old. There is also a deep sense of pragmatism, that he's old, that he's frail, and that one day there will be a South Africa without Nelson Mandela.

There have been a lot of prayers this Christmas as people have wished him well. But in the same sense, South Africans are not hysterical, they're not panicked. There haven't been huge scenes of people leaving flowers outside hospitals or anything like that, just a quiet thankfulness, perhaps, that he's still with us.

BLACKWELL: And outside of South Africa as well. Robin Curnow, thank you very much for that.

Let's get now to another big story that is happening and will continue to go on the next days and weeks, the gun debate, the gun reform debate. Cities from Camden, New Jersey, to San Diego and Los Angeles, they're taking what they feel is concrete action, buying guns back from citizens.

In L.A., the annual gun buyback program was moved up a few months because of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. It is being held today. And L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says it is a way for people to show their support for gun reform.


ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: They want to act. They're tired of waiting on the Congress and on our legislatures to do something. They feel like there is too much talk and not enough action. And this is an opportunity for people to act, to get rid of guns that they don't use, that they don't need, that too often are stolen.


BLACKWELL: Paul Vercammen joins us now from Los Angeles.

Paul, what has been the response to this buyback so far today?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: It has been absolutely overwhelming, Victor. In fact, I think it surprised officials here.

They're worried that they might even run out of these grocery store cards that you trade your guns in for. Part of the reason for that is anonymity. We're not going to zoom in because we don't want to reveal the identity of undercover agents or the people turning in the guns.

But basically as they drive in behind me, I can tell you there is about 40 cars still in line, they drop off the guns, they do not have to reveal their identity. No photographs are taken. There's no paperwork involved. And so far at this Van Nuys location alone in the San Fernando Valley, they have taken in more than 420 guns. We understand about that many guns have also been taken in, in downtown Los Angeles.

So, so far so good as far as the city of Los Angeles is concerned. And among those guns being taken in, we have noted quite a few, at least three dozen assault weapons, Victor.

BLACKWELL: So three dozen assault weapons. If you can, and maybe it is too early to know this, put that into perspective for us, three dozen out of four dozen is a lot. Three dozen out of 5,000 really isn't that much.

Give us an idea of broader perspective of how many guns they're collecting, the types of guns overall they're collecting.

VERCAMMEN: Well, you're right. The critics would say you need to get more assault weapons, but every time they grab an assault weapon, you can see one of these undercover agent hold this up and say this is one less of these on the street. They feel like they're making a real dent here by pulling in these weapons, and, yes, everything.

We even saw an antique parachuter's, British paratrooper's gun. We have seen all sorts of rifles, handguns, many different things. We talked to some people about why they were trading in the guns. Don't forget it is not just crime. For example, there was a grandmother who told us she just wants to keep the gun out of the hands of the grandkids.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hid it away, but I always have in the back of my mind kids will be kids, and I didn't want there to ever be a problem with them finding it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Young adults and all ages that are being shot for no reason. And this is beautiful (OFF-MIKE) Can't ask for more. I hope they do this a little bit more.


VERCAMMEN: That gentleman is a bodyguard, one of those paid bodyguards for entertainers. He traded in two rifles and he said -- he told us he wants to see a lot more of this in the future, a wide variety of guns being taken in right now, Victor.

BLACKWELL: I'm sure law enforcement there, they're happy to see all the guns come off the street, or the guns that have come in.

But the major criticism of these buybacks, wherever they happen, L.A., or Chicago, or any other city, is that you have law-abiding citizens turning in guns that have been watched and cared for or you have parachuters' weapons that typically aren't the ones that are involved in crimes, that the police will see again.

VERCAMMEN: That's true.

As I said before, there are some who would say this is just a drop in the bucket. However, when you're here on scene and you see the police pulling in some of these assault weapons, obviously they're very happy to have that. And now over the course of let's say four years, by the time they get done today, that will be 10,000 guns collected by the LAPD under this program. And they would argue that 10,000 guns does indeed have a ripple effect and, in fact, violent crime dovetailing in that same period over four years is down 33 percent in Los Angeles. So they feel like this is a big victory and a good start to this. They would like to see other parts of the country join in with these buyback programs.

BLACKWELL: Paul Vercammen in Los Angeles for us. Thank you, Paul.

This was prompted and moved up a few months because of the tragedy in Newtown. So let's go to Newtown. You have seen these pictures, the teddy bears, candles, the pictures. They're displayed everywhere in remembrance of the victims who lost their lives in the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Well, the community united during the holiday to support the families of the victims of those who are grieving; 20 children, seven adults were killed December 14. And the memorials remembering them are here to stay. An official announced a special plan by the city to convert the memorial, saying -- quote -- "The thousands of flowers and letters, prayers, signs, photos, teddy bears and more will be gathered and processed into soil that will serve in the foundation of a future permanent memorial to honor the slain children and adults."

The official says it will be a sacred memorial. The items will be collected and converted starting this week.

Have you ever wondered who the gun owners in your area are, who has a gun on your block, where they live? Well, some residents in New York state are not wondering anymore.

And six days and counting until we hit the fiscal cliff. The president is cutting short his Hawaiian vacation to go back to work. We will look at whether a deal is likely to get done.

And not what people in Alabama wanted for Christmas. Tornadoes ripped through the South.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I prayed to God as loud as I could and I was just praying for my safety. And I knew that the church was shaking. I just prayed that the church stayed put.



BLACKWELL: We told you last hour President Obama is spending his last few hours in Hawaii before returning early to Washington.

He's expected to arrive tomorrow, just five days ahead of the fiscal cliff, which includes an across-the-board tax hike that Congress has tried but failed to undo.

CNN's Dana Bash is with us now from Washington. She's our senior congressional correspondent. OK. So we spoke last hour. You told us that House Speaker John Boehner was to convene this conference call to decide whether or not to call the House back into session. We know the Senate is supposed to convene, but nothing can, of course, take place until the House is in session as well. Do we know the results of that conference call? Will Boehner reconvene the House?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm told by a source familiar with the call, which just happened within the last hour, as you said, that no decision was made on the schedule or timing for the House.

As we talked about an hour ago, the leaders in the House have promised the members that they won't be called back without 48 hours' notice. So, at this point, it is Wednesday afternoon, they won't even be back, at the earliest, until like a Saturday, if they haven't even made a decision today.

But, of course, it is true, basic civics tells us all this, that nothing can get done until the House and Senate pass it.


BASH: However, the action, which has really been focused on the House up until now, will be and is now more on the Senate.

The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, is the one who is trying to figure out if he can get the votes from enough Republicans to pass the kind of scaled-back bill that the president himself talked about on Friday before he went to Hawaii, which is effectively his plan to keep taxes in place, tax cuts in place, I should say, for every household making $250,000 and under and maybe add a few other tax-related items, nothing on spending, but tax-related items to that.

The hope among Democrats is that because we are so close to that deadline, that they can get enough Republicans in the Senate and the House ultimately to pass that, but, you know, the betting, according to sources in the Republican and Democratic Party is still at this point that it is not going to be likely and that we're most likely to go off the fiscal cliff.

BLACKWELL: Just six days away.

Dana, what would Majority Leader Reid have to add to the legislation to peel off just a few Republicans, enough to get it through the House? I don't know if he would get widespread support from Mitch McConnell and the leadership, but just a few who are maybe retiring or leaving the Senate?

BASH: Right. That's a great question.

First and foremost, they would have to be able to swallow the idea that they will effectively vote to raise taxes on the top 2 percent of Americans, which most Republicans have said that they simply do not want to do because they think it is bad for the economy. It's just against their philosophy. But to answer your question, that probably the biggest sweetener for Republicans and even some moderate Democrats, by the way, is the estate tax. The estate tax is in place right now at a relatively low threshold. It would go up big time at the end of the year.

And that is something that is very important to a lot of Republicans. That could be a sweetener. But I think probably the best argument the Democrats have for some of those Republicans is that they don't want to be in the way or they don't want to be responsible in any way for every American's taxes going up, including most importantly the people who really, really need that money, people who just aren't the wealthiest in this country.

BLACKWELL: All right, Dana Bash, six days away, and we will see what happens once the president is back in Washington. Thank you.

BASH: policy

BLACKWELL: Starbucks is taking a political stand to urge lawmakers to come together. This Thursday and Friday, baristas in the D.C. area are being encouraged to scribble "Come together" on all paper cups.

Starbucks' chief executive, Howard Schultz, wrote to employees saying that customers and workers -- quote -- "have a responsibility to send our elected officials a respectful but potent message." There are about 120 Starbucks stores in the D.C. area. Really, they're all over the place in D.C.

Retailers are hoping shoppers will spend big today because early figures show holiday sales slumped to the lowest levels in three years. Analysts are blaming Hurricane Sandy, which hit just before the peak shopping season. And folks are also a little more cautious about opening their wallets, concerned about tax hikes as we near this so-called fiscal cliff.

Well, first tornadoes, now a blizzard warning. We will break down the complex weather forecast next, as part of the South starts to clean up after yesterday's storms.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a wonderful school. I just don't know what we're going to do with the kids when it is time to come back. This is a dangerous situation with all the roofs off, and the windows blown out. This is just devastating.



BLACKWELL: Hey, if you're not dealing with weather issues now, count yourself as one of the lucky people in the country. This is Indianapolis. And you can see icy, snowy roads, fortunately, not many people on them right now. But they have been dealing with some serious weather there. This is Detroit, foggy, snow there, ice as well. It has been a difficult travel season for everyone moving through the Midwest, and now the East Coast is having some troubles as well. The snowstorms, possible tornadoes, this is what the people in the East are now bracing for.

A severe winter storm is causing flight delays for lots of holiday travelers. I want you to listen to this guy in Minnesota. He's been stuck waiting to go to New York.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sooner I can get in, the happier I will be.

The worst case is that my partners here in Minneapolis are going to have to buy me dinner and put me up for the night.


BLACKWELL: Start making reservations because it is a bad time to go to New York. This is in the South; 30 tornadoes, 30 reports of tornadoes, spun out of a system last night. It damaged at least 125 homes and businesses across Alabama and across other parts of the South overnight.

Some 200,000 people are without power in several states. And three people died in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

Here is Elizabeth Corridan with more.


ELIZABETH CORRIDAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sound of jingle bells now replaced by the scraping of plows on pavement, tires trudging through snow, and whipping winds. Blizzard and winter storm warnings are posted for a wide swathe of the United States.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right along where kind of that rain-snow line, that's where the front is, and just to the north of that, that's usually where the axis of the heaviest snow will be, so it's called the snow sweet spot. And we're going to see that from Cincinnati, just north of that through Indianapolis, Cleveland and into Buffalo.

CORRIDAN: All part of the deadly system that erupted Christmas Day, temporarily shutting down a highway in Oklahoma, destroying property in Texas and breaking the holiday snowfall record in Arkansas. The system spawned multiple tornadoes, including this one in Alabama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. Look, that's a tornado. Oh, wow. Oh, Jesus. Look at that tornado.

CORRIDAN: With the daylight Wednesday came the reality of just how much damage was done. At this Mobile high school, portable classrooms are in ruins, windows are missing and roof tiles are shattered, just one of the many structural casualties of this massive storm. SHANE TUCKER, PEARL RIVER SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Judging from some of the damage we have witnessed today, it is a miracle that no one was hurt any worse than they were.

CORRIDAN: Post-holiday travel plans are also taking a beating. Roads are a mess, many airports no better, meaning people could be spending longer than expected at their holiday destinations.

Elizabeth Corridan, CNN, Atlanta.



BLACKWELL: Former president George H.W. Bush is still in the hospital a day after Christmas. Doctors thought that the 88-year-old former president would be able to go home for the holidays, but he developed a fever. Mr. Bush was hospitalized in late November for bronchitis.

And his spokesperson, Jim McGrath, says his condition has slightly improved and added that he has a great attitude.


JIM MCGRATH, SPOKESMAN FOR GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He's the most relentlessly positive person. He said, "I'm determined not to be grumpy about all of this," which is tough for him, because he's used to not sitting in one place for too long. He's a man of action, always has been throughout his life. And so it is difficult, but then again, he understands he's there for a reason and he appreciates the great care that he's getting at Methodist.


BLACKWELL: And we hope he gets well soon.

The former president ate a Christmas dinner of takeout Chinese with the -- his wife, Barbara, and other family members there at the hospital.

Listen up. As many as 100 million taxpayers, and that means one of them could be you, could be delayed from filing returns unless Congress acts quickly to fix the AMT. That's the Alternative Minimum Tax, also known as the wealth tax, conceived to prevent the wealthy from paying no taxes at all through deductions.

Congress has so far failed to pass an a adjustment to keep the AMT from roping in lower-end taxpayers. The IRS had been expecting that to happen. So, if Congress fails to do so, revenue officials will start a lengthy and costly process of reprogramming computers. It could be March until affected taxpayers can file.

An interactive map is causing outrage in one community. What do all these little red dots mean? What do they locate? And why is a new newspaper under fire? We will explain.


BLACKWELL: Talk about reader feedback. A newspaper in New York state has triggered really a fierce backlash by pushing -- publishing, rather, an interactive map showing where people live with gun licenses.

Our Josh Levs is here to tell us more about this and the reaction from "The Journal News"' release.


BLACKWELL: I have been reading some of the comments online. And some people are upset about this.


LEVS: A lot of people are really upset about this.

Let's start telling everybody what they're upset about. This is it right here. It's from "The Journal News," which is in New York. They're talking about out here Westchester and Rockland counties.

What they decided to do at their Web site,, is to map in this area, one county, this shows where gun permit holders live. I'm not going to click on it right now. But if you do click on one, it gives you a name and an address where gun permit holders live.

And then there is another one they do as well for another county, and this one is blue, we can zoom in on this one, and this shows, according to them, this is in Rockland County, permit holders who have purchased a firearm or updated their permit in the past five years.

A lot of people see this and say, what are you doing, announcing everyone who has one? Let me just show you a sampling of some of the responses on their Web site, which is how this story took off.

"This is crazy. I hope you lose readers. A valuable piece of information for criminals, totally out of line."

A lot of people complaining, hey, wait a second, what are you trying to do here? Are they trying to tell burglars where there are and are not guns, stuff like that?

I have a brand-new statement for you right now, Victor. This comes from the publisher, who they have just sent this along to CNN. Let me read this to you and we have it for you here.

"One of our roles is to report publicly available information on timely issues, even when unpopular. We knew publication of the database" and then she says, "as well as the accompanying article providing context, would be controversial, but we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings."

Let me tell you one more thing that is fascinating here. They're also telling us that they want to publish even more information. (CROSSTALK)

LEVS: ... that they were disappointed they couldn't get any more.