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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Free Condoms for Students in Philly; "Time Has Come" Again for Lester Chambers; Snow & Sleet Head East; Matt Damon's Mission

Aired December 26, 2012 - 08:30   ET

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


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Bonnie Schneider thank you so much. 29 minutes after the hour. The rest of your top stories.

The sniper who killed two volunteer firefighters Christmas Eve morning in upstate New York left behind a note. And according to police, 62- year-old William Spengler wrote in part, quote, "I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I like doing best -- killing people."

Police also recovered human remains inside Spengler's home. They think it is the sniper's 67-year-old sister.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: A new poll indicating only half of Americans believe Congress will strike a deal to avoid that fiscal cliff by the end of the year. The just released Gallup poll shows 50 percent thought a deal was very or somewhat likely, 48 percent said a deal was not likely. A much tighter than a poll earlier this morning when 59 percent said the deal was likely and 38 considered it unlikely.

President Obama cutting short his Hawaii vacation. He should arrive in Washington tomorrow when the Senate and the House reconvene.

CHO: Former Braves all star Andruw Jones free on bond after being arrested outside of Atlanta on Christmas Day on a battery charge. The Gwinnett County Detention Center tells us there apparently was a domestic dispute with his wife. The center fielder actually won ten straight Gold Gloves with the Braves. He played with the New York Yankees last year and recently signed with a team in Japan.

GRIFFIN: Los Angeles is deciding to push up its gun buyback program in light of that of Newtown massacre. Originally set for next May, but it's going to happen today. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called it concrete action against gun violence and the city will hand out grocery gift cards in exchange for guns. No questions asked.

Police investigating whether NBC's David Gregory violated D.C. gun laws when he displayed what he described as a 30-round magazine during a "Meet the Press" interview. Here's how it happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC HOST: Here's a magazine for ammunition that carries 30 bullets. Now isn't it possible that if we got rid of these, if we replaced them and said you could only have a magazine that carries five or ten bullets, isn't it just possible that we could reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: I don't believe that's going to make one difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: We don't know if that was real or just a prop but here's the law: Having a large capacity ammunition device, like a magazine, is illegal in D.C. if the device holds more than ten rounds of ammunition whether or not it's attached to an actual gun.

CHO: 32 minutes after the hour. We turn to controversy in Philadelphia with a new plan aimed at curbing unsafe sex among teens by providing free condoms in schools. Now, according to the CDC, 61 percent of high school students in the city have had sexual intercourse; 40 percent of those sexually active teens did not use a condom. And about one-quarter of new HIV infections in Philadelphia alone are among teenagers.

Condom vending machines are being installed over Christmas break in that city and school nurse's offices in 22 Philadelphia high schools with the highest rates of STD infection.

Don Schwarz is the Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity in Philadelphia, also the Health Commissioner for the city. He joins me now to talk more about the plan.

Mr. Schwarz, good morning to you. Great to see you. One school nurse in your city has said, "I can't imagine the parents of a 14-year-old being happy about this." I mean, are you seeing much objection from parents and how concerned are you about that? .

DON SCHWARZ, DEPUTY MAYOR FOR HEALTH AND OPPORTUNITY: We're very concerned about parents and their understanding that condoms are an important part of general prevention. We also believe parents need to be educating their kids and talking to kids about appropriate sexual behaviors to assure that all of the young people in Philadelphia are prepared when they think about having sex for the first time. We believe that our role is to assure that, as partners for parents, we provide what young people may need if they're going to act responsibly in terms of sexual relations.

CHO: Well, I understand that, but you talk about education and I just want to throw out numbers here. Because 25 percent, as I mentioned, of new HIV infections in Philadelphia alone are teenagers. Fifteen percent, just 15 percent of Philadelphia students, say they weren't taught about HIV or AIDS in school. Some might argue maybe more education might be the answer, not condoms.

SCHWARZ: We don't think it's one or the other. We think both are important. So we're including education not only in schools but also through the Internet and we're providing condoms as we've been doing now for more than a year in a number of locations throughout the city for young people. CHO: Let's talk a little bit about the program. Tell me a little bit about how it will work, because the part that I sort of took to was that they will be free to students until -- unless parents sign a form to opt out. I'm curious to know how you expect to be able to police something like that.

SCHWARZ: Well, the dispensers themselves are in nurse's offices in schools, and school nurses will have a list of young people whose parents have opted out or said that they cannot go into the nurse's office freely and take condoms.

CHO: OK, and how encouraged are you that this is actually going to work? You look at, for instance, Seattle for example in 1993, they made condoms available in ten high schools through vending machines and baskets and school clinics and a study actually published six years later showed that condom use not only didn't increase, it actually decreased. So how hopeful are you that this will be different in Philadelphia?

SCHWARZ: I think if you look at condoms as the only intervention, we're not going to see the right end point. So condoms are part of a larger intervention, both to raise awareness about safer sex and to provide, obviously, a tool if young people are interested in being safer in their sexual behavior.

What you have to realize is that ten years ago, we had higher rates of condom use among young people than we currently do. And at the same time, rates of sexually transmitted infection has gone up dramatically in the city. So while we don't think condoms are the full answer, we believe that they are part of the answer and an important part of that answer that we as part of the health department and the people who educate our children in schools need to pay attention to.

CHO: Well, it's an interesting approach and some people I know applaud you for it. I wish you the very best of luck. I do hope it makes a difference. Don Schwarz with the city of Philadelphia, I thank you for joining us.

SCHWARZ: Thank you very much for your interest.

GRIFFIN: Coming up next, it's been in more than 100 movies and TV shows and covered by artists from Sheryl Crow to the Ramones. Still, Lester Chambers didn't have much to show for his hit song, "Time Has Come Today". But now a group of regular folks online are helping him make somewhat of a comeback.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: That's a clip from The Chambers Brothers' song, "Time Has Come Today". It was a major hit for the group back in the 1960s; it actually came to represent an era. The song has appeared in more than 100 movies and TV shows, even in a video game that sold millions of copies and it has been covered by artists from Sheryl Crow to Joan Jett to the Ramones. GRIFFIN: Decades later, though, the band and its lead singer, Lester Chambers, don't have much to show for it. The 72 years old who's worked with the likes of all those great artists has been living on Social Security and charity. But now the help of a co-founder of a Web site, Reddit, that might change. Lester Chambers is getting a second chance at a recording career.

Lester joins us live along with his son, Dylan, from San Francisco. How are you guys doing this morning? And Lester --

LESTER CHAMBERS, SINGER: We're fantastic.

GRIFFIN: You look a little bit different than that video, buddy, I've got to tell you.

L. CHAMBERS: Things have changed some. Yes.

DYLAN CHAMBERS, SON OF LESTER CHAMBERS: Hey, hey, everybody.

GRIFFIN: Hey, Dylan, we're having trouble fitting your hair in this TV box. Get a little closer to your dad. Scooch a little closer to your dad so we get the full effect.

(CROSSTALK)

GRIFFIN: Hey guys, let me ask you -

D. CHAMBERS: I've been rocking my hair since I was twelve.

CHO: I like it.

GRIFFIN: Looks great. I want to see all of it.

Lester, your story is not uncommon. You're in the '60s, rock 'n' roll scene, you get a great hit, you guys are moving along and suddenly you look down at the paperwork that you're doing with the record companies, et cetera, and you're getting the short end of the stick, right? Isn't that how this all started?

L. CHAMBERS: Yes, very much short. Too short. The stick got too short so I started to look around and see what was wrong.

GRIFFIN: And what was wrong?

L. CHAMBERS: Well, what was rock, there were no reports, there were no statements, nobody saying you did this. They were just doing as they wanted to, as they willed.

D. CHAMBERS: Before the Internet really it was so hard to try to get information from them because we're cold calling people who want to laugh at you and hang up and say, "Get a lawyer." And no lawyer wants to take this case because we have no money and it's like they know that it's a contingency case, it's going to take years.

So fortunately with the Internet, you're able to put something out that reaches millions of people and gets their attention. Dad went from 1967 to 1994 before he saw his first royalty check ever, of anything that they did.

GRIFFIN: Wow.

D. CHAMBERS: That's almost 30 years without getting paid for your music, and the album spent five consecutive weeks at number 11 on the Billboard charts back in '67 and '68. That's huge. For them not to get a royalty check for 30 years?

CHO: No, it's extraordinary. Dylan, I know that you are your dad's rock for many of those years, sort of trying to make do. And did I hear this correctly, did Yoko Ono at one point provide a home for to you stay in?

D. CHAMBERS: Well, actually she --

L. CHAMBERS: Yes.

D. CHAMBERS: -- might as well have. She got in touch Sweet Relief and donated enough money to pay for dad's medical for a year and then to pay for our rent for a year and said, "Find them a great place, get them set up." Dad and John were great friends back in the day and used to hang out in the village all the time.

L. CHAMBERS: God bless you, Yoko.

D. CHAMBERS: Yes, God bless you, Yoko. You're a life saver.

GRIFFIN: Let's come up to present day, Lester. Because you're back recording.

L. CHAMBERS: Right.

GRIFFIN: And this whole Internet thing that Dylan was talking about began on a Web site that quite frankly I didn't know much about until six months ago and I wondered if you did as well, this Reddit, which is basically a community coming together and donating money to your cause.

L. CHAMBERS: Exactly. I was sitting home one day and the phone rang and it was Alexis telling me what he wanted to do and help me do, and I'm going, oh my god.

D. CHAMBERS: He had seen the picture that we had put up in March of dad holding his gold record over his face with the speech of what had been going up throughout his career, and overnight that picture went viral. It was shared like 30,000 times on Facebook; it was liked 100,000 times easy. Yoko Ono, Alice Cooper, countless artists posted on their actual personal Web site to raise awareness.

And Alexis saw it on Reddit, because it became the top No. 1 page and he says, oh my god, this is perfect. This is what us young people are trying to do to show it's not us ruining older musicians' career. It's the fact they weren't taken care of from the beginning.

CHO: I think we should remind or tell people that Alexis Ohanian, is that correct. D. CHAMBERS: Yes.

CHO: -- is the co-founder of Reddit, so he is the one who made that call that really in many ways has saved you. So tell us how that --

D. CHAMBERS: Totally.

CHO: -- fund-raising campaign is working?

L. CHAMBERS: Right now, it's working beautifully and we have reached our goal as far as enough to record the first CD and we hope to just go from here to many, many more. And we also intend to record, my son, Michael Dylan.

D. CHAMBERS: Yes, baby!

L. CHAMBERS: And his group, the Midnight Transit.

GRIFFIN: Midnight Transit.

D. CHAMBERS: Dylan Chambers and the Midnight Transit. I came out screaming. I've been on stage with Dad since I was 4 years old.

CHO: You look like you've been on stage; you look like a born performer.

GRIFFIN: No, he's the shy and retiring type, I can tell right here.

D. CHAMBERS: I feel odd when I'm not performing. I'm like what's going on, we're not rocking and rolling.

L. CHAMBERS: He's always on stage.

GRIFFIN: When are we going to hear the new stuff? When you guys are going to release something? Because you know, I don't know -- I don't know if you know this, but you don't have to release a whole CD anymore or album, you can do one and knock it out.

L. CHAMBERS: We're going to be doing --

D. CHAMBERS: There's Christmas songs are out right now so you can check those out online. Yes.

CHO: OK. Good, good, good.

L. CHAMBERS: Yes, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Jingle Bells.

CHO: Well Merry Christmas and happy New Year to you, and we are so glad that you're able to record again and get back into the game and actually get paid for it so Lester Chambers --

D. CHAMBERS: And we'll spread the word about other artists.

CHO: Yes.

L. CHAMBERS: Well my whole -- my whole life story has been that I would like so much for young musicians that want to be musicians, I want them to enjoy being a musician.

GRIFFIN: Yes.

L. CHAMBERS: And they need to get paid to enjoy it.

CHO: Right.

D. CHAMBERS: There's no other profession that you can think of, like contractors, plumbers, they don't get paid bottom barrel for doing what they do. You know like you work hard at your craft, you spend years developing it, you want people to appreciate it and to live comfortably.

CHO: Well, amen to that.

D. CHAMBERS: Yes right.

L. CHAMBERS: And thanks and thanks for Alexis. He's just been a wonderful, wonderful man.

GRIFFIN: All right guys.

D. CHAMBERS: And a shout out to Sweet Relief, because they're a life saver, too. SweetRelief.org, yes right on.

GRIFFIN: Well, Sweetie is getting up, I'll tell you that. They're out of San Francisco. We appreciate it and good luck and Merry Christmas and all that stuff. OK guys, take care.

CHO: They're probably get on the band.

L. CHAMBERS: Well, thank you very much. And look forward to Lester Chambers and the Met Stoppers. We're coming.

D. CHAMBERS: We're not going to bed now. We're too excited.

CHO: Good, good. Well great and we look forward to it. The best of luck to you.

Coming up ahead on STARTING POINT my one on one conversation with actor Matt Damon. Hear him describe this trip he took overseas that changed his life and has been giving back in a big way. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Well the snow is piling up. If you're trying to head back home from the Christmas holiday, beware airports already canceling flights the storm is not over yet.

CHO: That's right, we want to get a firsthand look at the conditions on the ground, check back in with Lexy Scheen, from our affiliate WLKY, live in Seymour, Indiana. Boy, it's coming down again Lexy.

LEXY SCHEEN, WLKY: It has really picked back up guys in probably the perhaps 15 minutes or 20 minutes. What I've learned about the blizzard warnings so far today is that it's all about this wind. The wind has been really kicking up so far this morning.

I'm going to give you a look at what's behind me. Because we've probably seen about two inches fall over the past four or four and a half hours or so.

Of course the roadways are completely covered. Indiana State Police are asking people not even to drive on the roadways unless they absolutely have to because of how treacherous these conditions have been. Of course, we just barely missed that White Christmas; just a matter of hours in between White Christmas and the 26th.

Of course, these blizzard warnings are going to in effect until 7:00 tonight. You can see it just racing down, kind of that powdery feel to the snow right now but certainly tough to drive in, guys. And again, two, two and a half inches in only about four hours so it's definitely coming down hard in Seymour, Indiana.

CHO: Lexy, are you getting any word how much snow you're going to get before it's all over?

SCHEEN: No. They're saying anywhere from about a half a foot of snow to eight inches. But it completely depends on -- when we were driving up from Louisville, Kentucky early this morning, we were only seeing rain there. And the further north we got on the interstate, of course, the more the snow kicked in. So further north in Indiana, they're expecting a lot more. Louisville we're only expecting about an inch.

GRIFFIN: We just saw a snow plow go behind you. Do they have enough equipment in your area -- I know this is not normal to get this much snow -- but do they have enough equipment to keep the big roads open?

SCHEEN: Yes, I wouldn't say this is quite normal but for the most part the major roadways are open. I know there have been a few accidents that have shut down kind of some of the side streets. Interstate 74 I know was shut down in another portion of Indiana a little bit earlier this morning. But we've seen a number of salt trucks out. They have had the snow plows out.

So I think they're really doing their best to make sure that these conditions are pretty safe for drivers.

CHO: Silver lining as you've been saying is great for the kids, right. Lexy Scheen --

SCHEEN: Yes, exactly.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, Lexy. Fun to have you this morning.

SCHEEN: Thanks.

CHO: Up next my conversation with actor Matt Damon, the life-changing trip that moved him to take action to help others around the world. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHO: When Matt Damon isn't busy shooting movies he's spanning the globe helping the less fortunate. Would you believe nearly one billion people around the world struggle to find clean water, things we are used to like faucets and toilets.

Damon began his quest to change about that six years ago after he met a 14-year-old girl on a trip to Zambia. I spoke to him recently as part of my special "Big Stars, Big Giving." Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT DAMON, ACTOR: It's very hard for us to understand. You wake up in the morning if you're thirsty, there's a faucet right there. There's one in the bathroom. There's one in the kitchen and clean water comes out of all of them.

CHO: But for nearly a billion people around the world -- a billion -- there is no affordable access to clean water, more than double that number lack proper sanitation.

DAMON: Every 20 seconds a kid under the age of five is dying, losing their life because they do not have access to clean water and it just doesn't have to be that way.

CHO: So in 2009 Damon and world renowned water expert Gary White founded water.org.

DAMON: We're approaching it differently than many other organizations.

CHO: Their mantra, wells are great but charity can't help everyone, so White pioneered a concept called Water Credit.

GARY WHITE, CO-FOUNDER, WATER.ORG: We knew that women in India, for instance, were going and paying 125 percent interest on loans to loan sharks so they could build a toilet. We said, let's take microfinance and layer it in here and get people access to affordable loans so they can buy that toilet so they can get that connection.

CHO: Depending on where you are that could mean a faucet in your own home or a toilet with clean running water. Water Credit is working. White says loans are being repaid at a rate of 98 percent in places like Haiti.

DAMON: That was my first grass runway.

CHO: What Damon and White are trying to eliminate is the need to walk for water, taking time away from work or school. The water is there.

DAMON: Yes. All that time that you're wasting going and standing in the line you now have to go to your job, it's the difference between hope and looking forward to a better day, and an existence that just basically is about, you know, scavenging for water.

CHO: But how do you get people in the Western world, where water is plentiful, to care? DAMON: We've talked about different ways to do that, maybe hard of hearing humor.

CHO: Take Ben Stiller, he gets attention for his foundation Stiller Strong by producing hilarious videos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Matt Damon he claimed water. How did he claim water? What is he Aquaman?

CHO: Consider this, Damon talks about water on YouTube, 4,000 hits. This video with Sarah Silverman.

DAMON: Knock, knock -- who's that knocking at my door --

CHO: Viral. Damon says his strong suit is getting people to care.

DAMON: Because there's a lot of low-hanging fruit so to speak. There are so many people that we can help.

CHO: Do you see a solution in your lifetime?

DAMON: Yes, we do, in fact that's why we're here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: You know you talk about humor and that video with Sarah Silverman going viral. Matt Damon's organization water.org is actually working on its own humorous video in the way Ben Stiller gets attention for his foundation and they say they hope to release it in the New Year. Hopefully they will do that.

And to help out water.org. You can get more information, go to CNN.com/impact. Tomorrow --

GRIFFIN: Yes, tomorrow. Who do you have tomorrow?

CHO: Matthew McConaughey and his effort to get high schoolers to eat right and get fit. I recently spoke to him in Los Angeles. So I look forward to that. I know you do too.

GRIFFIN: Sure. You have a rough job there. Don't you?

CHO: Somebody's got to do it.

GRIFFIN: Hey, we want to thank you for joining us today. And join us right back here tomorrow at 5:00 on "EARLY START".

CHO: Bright and early. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.