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Winter Storms Threaten Travel in Part of U.S.; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Stalled; Interview with Congressman Steve LaTourette; Mark Zuckerberg's Sister Reportedly Confused about Facebook Privacy Settings

Aired December 27, 2012 - 07:00   ET


ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Ali Velshi in for Soledad. Our STARTING POINT: holiday travel horror state by state. People soaked with snow and winds that will knock you over. The northeast getting the worst of it right now. We are tracking the storm.

And back to work in Washington with five days to go. President Obama comes back to Washington to try to hammer out a deal with the Senate, and we're hearing it may come down to the final minute of the year.

Sticky gas pedals costing Toyota $1 billion. The company's plan to put sudden acceleration allegations in their past and how you may be able to cash in on it even if you already sold your car.

A packed show ahead. Congressman Steven LaTourette of Ohio, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Plus, "The Grinch" from the new musical.

It's Thursday, December 27th, STARTING POINT begins right now.


VELSHI: Well, our STARTING POINT: a brutal winter storm battering the northeast and torturing holiday travelers all over the country. Here it is on the radar. The system is expected to dump up to two feet of snow on central Maine today. Six states are under winter storm warnings, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and of course, Maine. Everyone there could see at least a foot of snow.

More than 200,000 customers spanning several states are already without power. More than 1,700 flights had to be canceled yesterday, hundreds more have already been taken of the board this morning, and that number is expected to climb. Six deaths are being blamed on this system since Tuesday, and the threat hasn't passed yet.

Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider is tracking the storm from the CNN weather center in Atlanta. But first Ines Ferre is live in Syracuse, New York, where she's been -- there's a great deal of snow behind you, Ines, good morning.

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Ali, yes, it's still snowing here. And Governor Cuomo has asked New Yorkers to avoid non- essential travel and here's why, poor visibility and the possibility of ice on the streets. You can see these are the streets of downtown Syracuse. Plows have been coming by here all morning long, but the snow is still accumulating here.

I'll show you some of the accumulation. A foot is expected from this storm but also in the past four days Syracuse has had 13 inches of snow from other snowstorms. Now, city officials say that this area is actually used to snow. However, the amount of snow in such a short period of time is a challenge, of course, for cleanup efforts and it's been almost two years since Syracuse has had a foot of snow all in one shot, Ali.

VELSHI: Inez, we'll keep an eye on this with you through the course of the morning. This powerful storm really rocked the nation's heart land. Travel conditions so treacherous that the NBA's Indiana Pacers had to postpone last night's home game against the Chicago Bulls. Flying and driving today and the rest of the week will continue to be tough. Let's get to meteorologist Bonnie Schneider who's tracking the system in Atlanta. Good morning, Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Ali. Right now we're seeing heavy rain across the New York City metropolitan area and that is impacting travel at this hour. This just in, we have one-hour delays at LaGuardia airport in Queens. Even though the rain isn't as strong in that region, we're getting fierce wind. Look at the heavy rain hitting providence and Boston and to the north it's all snow.

Check out the snowfall totals from this storm, almost two feet in Illinois. Many cities shattered records. We had a record in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Christmas Day. Never in 86 years have they seen so much snow on Christmas. Right now the temperatures are brutally cold. Ines in Syracuse, New York, it was 20 years. The colder air will filter in and temperatures will plummet down across much of the regions you see here, wind and rain impacting airports, likely to see more delays in Philadelphia and Washington.

And heavy accumulation, a foot or more, all the way across New England, so this is going to impact Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, upstate New York, mixing in with sleet as time as the low pulls this energy up to the east. You'll be watching for heavy snow in the Burlington area. And of course many people might be vacationing and enjoying some skiing at this time in Vermont, so that's good news.

But temperature plummeted in the south. It's only 32 in charlotte and 27 in Memphis. So Ali, unseasonably cold here in the southeast. This is more like what you'd be experiencing in New York than we would here in Atlanta.

VELSHI: Just above freezing in Atlanta and in Alabama freezing and lower. Bonnie, we'll check in with you through the course of the morning.

This dangerous storm and it's devastating winds have several states in the south picking up pieces this morning in the cold after getting torn up by tornadoes. Look at this incredible surveillance video from cameras at a Walgreens drugstore in Mobile, Alabama, vehicles getting tossed around like match boxes in the parking lot.


JOSH HOLMAN, ASSISTANT STORE MANAGER: I've never been in a war zone but I'm sure this is what it's looks like. Here's a bunch of tin, a bunch of stuff lifted off the buildings in our parking lot. I'm just glad I'm alive, because it could have been 100 yards the other way.


VELSHI: Tornadoes also ripped up parts of Pearl River County, Mississippi. Two dozen homes there were damaged or destroyed and at least 25 people were hurt.

Now, for those of you getting back into your routine this morning, let me bring you up to date on the fiscal cliff. We're now just five days away from going over the fiscal cliff. Happy New Year. Here's what you might have missed. President Obama left Hawaii early to get back to Washington today. The Senate is also coming back from Christmas vacation today to work on a deal.

Now, sources tell us Majority Leader Harry Reid will push a scaled- back version of the fiscal cliff package that President Obama laid out on Friday, which moved the tax hike needle to $400,000. No word yet on when the House of Representatives might come back, but Democrats say the only hope we have of something getting through the House, the Senate, and the White House may be a very last-minute deal. CNN Radio's Lisa Desjardins is following developments on Capitol Hill right now. The ball is in Senate majority leader Harry Reid's court it would seem right now, Lisa.

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN RADIO CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Harry Reid and the Senate seem to be the only game in town right now with the Senate returning today. We also know from sources, Ali, that over this Christmas break there were no conversations between the president and top-level Republicans. Sources from both parties are telling us they are watching the Senate, and especially the Democratic leadership in the Senate.

We also know yesterday house Republicans came out with a statement saying that he will act only after the U.S. Senate acts. We're not sure what the Senate will do, as you say. We're expecting that smaller deal. What exactly will they vote on? As you say, perhaps something that will erase tax hikes for most but not all Americans. There could be some money in there for unemployment benefits. They're cobbling all of that together today. All eyes again on the Senate, as you say.

And let's look at what's going to happen today. 10:00 a.m., that's when the Senate comes into session, 10:00 a.m. on the east coast. And 11:30 is when president Obama returns from Hawaii. So we expect many conversations after the president returns. Then we have those five days, Ali, as you say, until we go over the fiscal cliff.

Ali, one other number, six days until the markets open after the fiscal cliff. And I'll throw a second number, one week until the new Congress begins, so they are hard up against some big deadlines.

VELSHI: The market implication is important because markets have done very, very well this year, Lisa, and there's some suggestion if Congress doesn't get it together before the New Year, markets may force them to do so. We'll be talking more about that later in the show. Lisa, thanks so much. We'll check in with you later.

Piling on the concerns, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has warned Congress hat U.S. will reach its debt ceiling on Monday. That is when the government reaches its legal borrowing limit. Now, this could pose a bigger threat to the nation's credit rating than the fiscal cliff. The treasury can keep the government operating for a few weeks using emergency measures, but Congress needs to act on this too to avoid a full-blown debt crisis.

Alina Cho joins us with the rest of the top stories now that I've given everybody the bad news. Good morning, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. Former president George H.W. Bush remains in intensive care in a Houston hospital with an elevated fever. The nation's 41st president is on a liquid diet and his condition is listed as guarded. His spokesman quotes him as saying "I'm determined not to be grumpy about all of this."

Toyota has agreed to pay up in a major way, $1.1 billion to settle a class action suit over sudden acceleration issues. Under the deal Toyota will install a brake override system in affected cars. It will also set up a fund of $250 million for former Toyota owners who sold their cars from September of 2009 through all of 2010. That money would compensate owners for their car's reduced value because of bad publicity.

Also Toyota's attorneys say a separate fund of $250 million will be set up to compensate current owners whose cars aren't eligible for the brake override system.

Late senator Daniel Inouye's successor will be sworn in later today. Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie appointed his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz to fill the seat. A White House official says he's actually flying to D.C. with President Obama. Abercrombie was widely expected to appoint Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa to take over before he died. Inouye named her as his preferred successor.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor refusing to block the contraceptives mandate in President Obama's health care law. Let me explain this. Two companies, Hobby Lobby Arts and Crafts stores and Mardell Christian Themed bookstores argue that requiring their group's health care plans to cover contraception violates their religious beliefs. Sotomayor, who hears emergency appeals from the 10th circuit, said the companies didn't qualify for an injunction while they challenged the requirement in court. She did not rule on the merits of the company's religious-based claims just yet.

We've told you about those long delays at the airports thanks to this monumental winter storm. Well, in Dallas get a load of this. CNN affiliate WFAA reports that one American Airlines flight sat stranded at the gate for nearly five hours. One passenger reportedly said the airline told them they could get off, but at the same time warned them they could be leaving at any minute, so nobody knew what to do. Now listen to the pilot's apology to his passengers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's beyond reproach. I have no words to tell you how sorry I am for all of this. Decisions are being made way above our heads by people that obviously in my humble opinion don't have a clue what they're doing.


CHO: American Airlines said operating safely was their focus, but I have to say after five hours on the tarmac, I probably would have gotten up and started cheering when that pilot said that. Good for him.

VELSHI: I think it makes all the difference in the world when the crew and the pilot feel like they're on your side and stuck in the same thing.

CHO: There's no excuse for five hours on the tarmac. I get the weather, I get it.

VELSHI: It's ridiculous. Great to see you, as always.

Coming up ahead on STARTING POINT, the Senate is back to work in Washington today to figure out an 11th-hour deal on the fiscal cliff, but what about the house, which punted on Boehner's "Plan B?" House Congressman Steve LaTourette, by the way someone who has repudiated Grover Norquist's pledge, joins us next.

And Mark Zuckerberg's sister confused about Facebook's privacy settings. We'll have the details of that ahead.


VELSHI: President Obama and the Senate return to Washington today after vacation. They only have five days to act to avoid the fiscal cliff. Here's what happens if we go over the fiscal cliff. All the Bush tax cuts, all of them will expire with taxes going up an average of $1,600 per household. The payroll tax holiday also expires. That means the tax burden will go up an average $700 per household extra. Extended unemployment benefits expire so collection shrinks from 93 weeks to 26 weeks. The Medicare doc fix expires, and that means a 27 percent cut in physician payments. The alternative minimum tax expands to 27 million more Americans. And Obamacare taxes hit, meaning a 0.9 percent jump in the Medicare payroll tax for those earning $200,000 or more.

But what about the House of Representatives? They left town after Republicans failed to bring a vote on their own "Plan B" last week. Ohio Republican Congressman Steve LaTourette seemed exasperated about all of this. He joins us now. Congressman, thank you for joining us. I should point out to the viewers you're not actually part of the problem here. You're on your way out, and you repudiated the Norquist pledge which you signed back in 1994. Tell me why?

REP. STEVE LATOURETTE, (R) OHIO: Well, I repudiated it because, listen, it's not 1994 anymore. The world has moved on. We have the Euro, we've had September 11th, a lot of things have happened. And quite frankly, this calls for a big solution. It calls for a solution that nobody yet has proposed seriously, and that is everything needs to be on the table. That means revenues, it means spending cuts, it means entitlement reform. Until somebody actually acts on what everybody in this town knows what needs to be done, this is going to be a huge problem.

VELSHI: We are dangerously close to the fiscal cliff. Now, in all fairness, not all of it hits on New Year's day but some of it does. The White House, we have a White House source who has said this. Let me just read this to you. It says "We believe very strongly a reasonable package can get majorities in both houses. The only thing that would prevent it is if Senator McConnell and Speaker Boehner don't cooperate." This is from the White House yesterday. Do you believe that to be the case?

LATOURETTE: No, I don't believe that to be the case. Listen, a year ago August when the president was negotiating with the speaker, they were very close to the big deal that needs to be struck. And this isn't a one party or a one house problem. This is leaders of both parties and all branches of the government are not willing to make the deal that they know they have to make. And everybody wants their stuff but doesn't want to give up, you know, what they don't want to give up.

VELSHI: You know, we're showing pictures right now of John Boehner and President Obama, John Boehner from your state of Ohio. There are a lot of people that say if the deal were between these two guys, it would be made. The problem is John Boehner can't agree to something with president Obama and then take it back to his own party.

LATOURETTE: Well, and vice versa. A year ago August the president couldn't agree to the deal he need another $400 billion in revenue. Look, if the president and Senator Reid and John Boehner all said to me today it's written, let's put Simpson-Bowles on the floor, I guarantee you given the urgency we could cobble together something to solve this problem. But nobody is willing to pull the trigger. Everybody wants to play the blame game. This blame game is about to put us over the edge.

VELSHI: The problem, of course, which you don't personally face because you didn't run for this new Congress, is a poll that we have that was taken very recently that says -- we asked who would be more responsible if the fiscal cliff occurs. And 48 percent of respondents say the GOP in congress, 37 percent blame -- would blame President Obama and 11 percent blame both. So there's a political reality to the fact that the GOP is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They'll get blamed if it happens and they'll get blamed if they vote for anything that looks like a tax increase.

LATOURETTE: Listen, the Republican Party gets blamed if it's sunny outside. So I'm not really worried about that and neither should people be. But you bring up the point, this should not be above who suffers in the polls. This should be about fixing the United States of America. And, you know what, people need to be willing to take a vote even if it means they don't come back.

VELSHI: Yes, well that's the problem, right? You and I talked about this before. We're in constant campaign mode. A compromise would require that both parties, all parties involved actually pay some price, that it costs somebody something.

What is the specific problem, though, on the Republican side in terms of the lack of compromise? Again, I want to show you the same poll that we did on December 17th and 18th asking about whether the Republican Party is too extreme. And 53 percent say the Republican Party is too extreme. Excuse me, 53 percent say they're too extreme. We've done this poll before. In 2012 it was 36 percent. In 2004 it was 34 percent. Back in 2000 only 33 percent. So what's happened? Is the Republican Party too extreme and governed by its tea party members or is there some other problem that's making Americans think that's the case?

LATOURETTE: I think it's a combination of all factors. But here's the deal. Republicans and the very conservative Republicans that I serve with I think correctly point to the fact that the taxes always go up and the spending reductions never occur. Now that's why this package needs to be put together. I will tell you that if you did the three to one balanced approach that the president of the United States is talking about, you could get 120 Republicans in the House to support it. But the president sadly has never put those three to one spending reductions in written form that I'm aware of.

VELSHI: Details are missing on all sides in this one. Congressman LaTourette, thanks for talking to us again.

LATOURETTE: Thanks very much.

VELSHI: Ahead on STARTING POINT, do Facebook's privacy settings have you confused? It turns out not even Mark Zuckerberg's sister understands them. That story next. Our STARTING POINT team is headed in. Look at them. Big show coming up.


VELSHI: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Today's team Ron Brownstein, editorial director at "National Journal," Will Cain, analyst for "The Blaze," and Roland Martin, we're keeping you an available spot for him.


VELSHI: Roland has been dieting. You can't even see him.

If you've ever been confused by Facebook's privacy settings, you are not alone. Even Mark Zuckerberg's sister might be after a private family photo she posted on Facebook went public. She is the former marketing director of Facebook and she posted this photo of her family. That's her. There we go. It includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, someone who wasn't supposed to see it saw it because she was friends with someone else who was tagged in it and it was re- tweeted in the aftermath. An angry response that included this line, "It's not about privacy settings, it's about human decency."

BROWNSTEIN: Talk about six degrees of separation. You had the chain of events there.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Someone who saw someone whose friend saw it who posted it? Welcome to the internet.

BROWNSTEIN: The increasing reality is you're assuming that anything that can be seen will be seen.

VELSHI: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: And both company policy and government policy are way behind what the privacy issues that are being raised.

VELSHI: I like Randi a lot and I think the stories that she was confused about whether or not that was the right privacy setting. I am too, from time to time.

CHO: I'm always confused by how Facebook works. I can barely post.

CAIN: I've got to be honest, I think I might be the youngest at this table.

CHO: Oh!

CAIN: I'm just saying. I am not well versed in Facebook privacy settings. You really know I only want so many people to see this.

CHO: It's so confusing. I always think that you have to post the photo and then you can see but there's all this tagging going on that's all confusing.

CAIN: How about this. It's a truism that everyone has accepted. You put it on the Internet, it's not there for everyone.

BROWNSTEIN: It's a moving target because everyone is living more in public than ever before but yet they have certain expectations about how far that extends.

CHO: Ron, I'm not listening to you because I can't believe he said he's the youngest.

BROWNSTEIN: You point out you're the youngest without evidence?

CAIN: Can I say something? I'm a truth teller.

VELSHI: I'm way younger than Will Cain. Coming up ahead on STARTING POINT -- I'm 27.

Are army teachers in schools the right way to prevent another tragedy like Newtown? One state is seriously considering the move this morning. We'll tell you about that. And Tim Tebow firing back, furious about people calling him a bad teammate. Hear what he has to say after being snubbed for the starting quarterback job.


VELSHI: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Those are my socks.


VELSHI: You know what, those are morning socks. They compete very closely with Roland's tie. I don't know if you can see Roland Martin's tie. He has a beautiful tie on and an entire bird in his pocket.