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Chicago Sees 500 Homicides in 2012; Fears over Fiscal Cliff; Consumer Reports Best Value Cars; Training Teachers to Handle Guns; Wintry Weather Continues

Aired December 28, 2012 - 09:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, just four days until we go over the so-called fiscal cliff. Why that deadline could hit unemployed Americans hard.

Training teachers to defend themselves and their students. Hundreds of educators attend a free gun class in Utah. It's the latest response to the Newtown school massacre that's attracting a lot of attention this morning.

Thousands of dockworkers could put the U.S. economy at risk if they go on strike on Sunday. We'll take you inside the crisis some are calling the container cliff.

And SeaWorld taking its water act all the way to Wall Street. Why investors could soon own a peace of Shamu.

NEWSROOM starts right now.

Good morning. I'm Victor Blackwell. Carol has the morning off.

With the nation still reeling from the shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, and engaged in a national debate on gun control, Chicago suffered a grim milestone last night. A man was killed in a shooting on Chicago's dangerous West Side. This scene marks Chicago's 500th homicide this year alone. That's up more than 50 from last year.

Now when we're researching this story this morning, one statistic really jumped out at us. In the past five years, 270 children have been killed by gun violence in Chicago. On top of that, there have been dozens of other people injured.

CNN's Ted Rowlands rode along with two Chicago police officers earlier this year to get a firsthand look at what it's like on the streets of Chicago. Here is his report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a couple of places I want to check out.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a Friday night on the streets of Chicago, in the Englewood neighborhood. Joe Patterson and Leo Schmidt have been cops here for 26 years. LEO SCHMITZ, COMMANDER OF 007 ENGLEWOOD DISTRICT: As we go around these blocks, what you do is you scan everything and when they see that you're a policeman, if they're doing something wrong or got a gun, they start moving away or running.

ROWLANDS: As we ride along there's near constant reports of shots fired over the radio.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got a person with a gun --

ROWLANDS: A call comes in that gets their attention.

SCHMITZ: Sixty-four to Loomis, shots fired, that's one block away from the police station.

ROWLANDS: It's also near a park where, in the morning, there's a community event planned.

SCHMITZ: Someone with a gun there, we got people over there setting up.

ROWLANDS: When we arrived there's no sign of the person with the gun and there's no time to linger. We leave as quickly as we arrive because there's another call just a few blocks away.

SCHMITZ: A man with a gun on 6444 Bishop.

ROWLANDS: Several officers are there when we arrive. There's a man in custody and this gun which was found in the house.

SCHMITZ: We're still working so -- but that's the name of the game and that's how we stop the next shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We expected to make much greater gains by this point. This idea of "not in my backyard" is not OK. We have to make the entire city safe.

ROWLANDS: McCarthy's plan which he's confident will work includes holding gang members in custody, taking back specific street corners where drugs are sold and using gang information to predict and stop retribution killings, but he says he needs more help from the community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Law enforcement is not going to solve the gang problem in Chicago. Law enforcement is not going to solve the gun problem in Chicago. Law enforcement is not going to fix the educational system or the poverty rate or any of those other things.

SCHMITZ: Yes, get close to home now, it's starting to get a little late, boys.

ROWLANDS: One thing we noticed on our ride along was the amount of children on the streets after dark.

SCHMITZ: You guys about to go in the house, right?

We got to get them home. That's where the parents can help us a lot.

JOE PATTERSON, CHIEF OF PATROL: Quite frankly we need the parents to step up a little bit more and take ownership sincerely of their children and raise them a little bit better.

SCHMITZ: Stay here.

ROWLANDS: At one point they pull over two men driving a car with illegal tailpipes.

SCHMITZ: You got a license.

ROWLANDS: They approach with caution and get them out. They end up being clean, no gang tattoos, just two young men out trying to have a good time. The men may feel like they're being harassed, Leo and Joe say it's a part of the job.

SCHMITZ: Overall, we do a good job as a police department and our numbers, although they might have bubbled up a little bit this year, you don't know, by the end of the year we might have that taken care of.

ROWLANDS: But that's easier said than done and there's more work to be done in every way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shots were just fired.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Chicago.


BLACKWELL: Well, coming up in the next hour of the NEWSROOM, I'll talk with Reverend Jesse Jackson about the ongoing problem of gun violence in Chicago and the important part of the conversation, ways to solve it.

Yesterday on this show Carol Costello interviewed the president of the NRA, David Keene.


DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NRA: I'll tell you who I'd like to have indicted and prosecuted, the people in Chicago, the criminals in Chicago, who made that one of the most violent cities in America. You know, in Chicago there's less chance that you'll be -- that you'll be prosecuted under federal firearms laws than in almost any major city in this country and that's a crime.


BLACKWELL: Reverend Jackson knows that city very well so of course we'll get his response to that. Again that's coming up in about 90 minutes.

Shifting gears now, by now you've heard all about the finger-pointing over the fiscal cliff. It's happening all day, both sides blame each other for the lack of progress. And today, top congressional leaders will head to the White House for a meeting with President Obama. They're trying to strike a deal with just four days to go.

But getting lost in the rhetoric are everyday Americans like my next guest. She says Washington needs to know how important the fiscal cliff is to those who are out of work, specifically to the 2 million Americans who will lose their federal unemployment benefits an average of about $300 a week if no deal is reached.

Karen Duckett is one of those people. She joins me now from Washington. Karen, good morning.


BLACKWELL: So you were laid off a year ago. Let's start here. Just tell us your story.

DUCKETT: Well, yes, I was laid off a year ago around this time in December. And I received employment so I've been trying to look for a job which has been very difficult, on the Internet every day. I also tried to start my own small business in the same field, janitorial services, which the whole thing of not having any money has caused a great hardship because I'm unable now to finance my business as well or get a small business loan because I don't have a job.

BLACKWELL: Well, $300 --


I just want to jump in here, I apologize for cutting you off. $300 a week doesn't get you very far to the point of financing a business. How much did this cover of just your everyday expenses, of living and taking care of your grocery bill, and all that you have to pay for?

DUCKETT: Well, in actuality, it doesn't. It doesn't even cover my entire rent. We have to juggle to pay the rent, to buy food, and maybe one month pay the electric bill and the next month not. You know, it doesn't help to pay for everything.

BLACKWELL: When you say "we" are you raising children as well?

DUCKETT: Yes, my grandson, my 14-year-old grandson.

BLACKWELL: And how do you explain this to him?

DUCKETT: Well, he understands. You know, and he constantly says grandma, don't worry. It's going to be all right. It's going to be all right. You know, I have worked my entire life for over 30 years, I have never felt such hardship as I have trying to find a job this year.

BLACKWELL: Now he's telling you it's going to be all right. We're watching what's happening on Capitol Hill this back and forth over the fiscal cliff. Do you believe it's going to be all right? DUCKETT: Well, you know, I have to have faith. I have to believe that the Senators in Congress, people understand that these are real people who are unemployed that, you know, they're making decisions on people's lives. It's just not a number. It's not just two million people. There are two million families and even those people who have not found a job that doesn't even report to the unemployment that they do not have a job, so it's many people unemployed and jobs are very hard to come by.

BLACKWELL: Karen, I'm going to have on some leadership, members of the leadership from Washington in a moment, and I want to you just speak to them. What do you want them to know before this meeting at the White House today? Just tell them your appeal to come to some kind of deal so that your benefits don't run out.

DUCKETT: You want me to talk to them now?

BLACKWELL: Yes, just right. Just tell me what you would say to them.

DUCKETT: I'm sorry. I would ask them to please, come together and make a decision, a decision is needed, put all the personal, personalities aside and step up and make a decision. It's not that difficult to make a decision to make sure that millions of Americans have food to put on their table and to be able to pay their rent, until they're able to find employment. It is very important.

BLACKWELL: I'm sure you're getting a lot of amens from around the country right now.

Karen Duckett, thank you very much for sharing your story with us.

DUCKETT: Thank you for letting me be here.


Tributes are just pouring in this morning for General Norman Schwarzkopf. Stormin' Norman, as he was known. He died yesterday. He became a household name in the '90s as he led America to victory as commander of coalition forces during the first Gulf War. Schwarzkopf was 78.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be back at work next week. She's been at home for three weeks. You remember this. She's recovering from the stomach flu. That's when she fainted and suffered a concussion. Well, Clinton has promised to testify next month before Congress on the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Former President H.W. Bush, he's in intensive care -- still in intensive care this morning. The 88-year-old is being treated for an elevated fever. Doctors were initially treating Bush for bronchitis and a cough when he was first hospitalized last month. His family says they are confident that he'll be released soon.

Ford living up to its "go further" tag line. Over the next two years the automaker says it will spend $773 million to expand six manufacturing plants in southeastern Michigan. The investment will add more than 2300 jobs in the state and it's part of Ford's pledge in October to add 12,000 jobs and invest more -- more than $6 billion in the U.S. by 2015.

And sticking with our auto theme "Consumer Reports" is out with its list of best value cars.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange and ready to ride. Alison, good morning.


BLACKWELL: Which car came out on top this year?

KOSIK: OK. The top spot this year goes to, drum roll, please, there you go, the Toyota Prius. Would you believe? This is what "Consumer Reports" found. And what it did is it divided this list of the best value cars by what's known as type of vehicle. So the Prius wound up coming out not -- just on top in the small hatchback category but also as the best value among all 2013 model year cars.

Now to figure out these rankings, what the magazine did was take into account how much it costs to own one, how the car performed, how reliable it is, and "Consumer Reports" estimates a Prius costs just 49 cents a mile to own. That's less than half the cost of the average car. And if you've got kids here's another Toyota for you. The Camry Hybrid, that topped the family sedan category.

Now "Consumer Reports" says it's not just comfortable and roomy, it also gets 38 miles per gallon. And if you're looking for something a little sexier the Lexus RX350, that is the best value large or luxury SUV, according to "Consumer Reports," and despite -- that's of course despite the fact that it's a little lackluster in how it drives, it did, however, Victor, do pretty well in the magazines performance tests -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Some good news for Toyota. They need it now.

KOSIK: They do.

BLACKWELL: But yes, the Lexus, for folks who are looking for something, I like the way you said that, a little sexier.


BLACKWELL: All right. Alison Kosik --

KOSIK: No more minivans.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Teacher locked in the classroom, there's nothing I can do. It's not true. There's tons of things you can do and we just articulated a whole bunch of them.


BLACKWELL: Teaching teachers to fight back in the classroom. Hundreds turn out in Utah for a free lesson on guns, exploring their options for a worst case scenario.


BLACKWELL: Let's check top stories now.

Russia may be emerging as more of a player in efforts to end the Syrian civil war. Russia's foreign minister held talks on Syria with his Egyptian counterpart today. Russia is also reaching out to a Syrian opposition leader to hold the meeting.

The Florida man known as the "Dinosaur Smuggler" is facing 17 years in prison. Eric Prokopi pleaded guilty to illegally buying and selling whole or partial dinosaur skeletons and slipping them through U.S. Customs. Sentencing is scheduled for April. The remains are being returned to Mongolia.

And here's a New Year's resolution for drivers in Chicago, use the L, because starting January 1st, the city will have the most expensive parking meter rates in North America. How expensive? Six dollars and fifty cents per one hour in the loop. It will be the fifth year, rather, in a row that the city's meter rates have gone up.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School got a lot of teachers thinking, what would they do if they found themselves in that same situation and a debate has exploded over whether arming educators is the answer.

This is Utah, hundreds of people attended a free gun training class especially tailored to teachers and other school employees. Some of them already are sold on this idea. Others just want to learn more and maybe give themselves the option.

Joining us now is David Burnell, CEO of OpsGear. He cosponsored the class with the Utah Shooting Sports Council. And Cori Sorensen, a fourth grade teacher who attended the class.

Good to have both of you. I want to start with David. David, what did you teach in this class?

DAVID BURNELL, CEO, OPSGEAR INC.: The class is broken into two parts. The first part is called mass violence solutions, and these are alternatives to being murdered in a classroom. And we break it down into three categories, we talk about run, hide, fight, and breaking contact from the bad guy and barricading and we talk about the last resort you have to fight.

And the fight piece we break it down into proximity tools such as tasers, pepper spray, where you have to be close to the bad guy. Then we talk about firearms, which gives you a standoff defensive capability, and most of the teachers there were very eager to learn about that option.

BLACKWELL: Cori, tell us why you took this class?

CORI SORENSEN, 4TH GRADE TEACHER: I took this class to gain more knowledge, as well as to find more options that educators have in the classroom to be able to protect the children that they're in charge of.

BLACKWELL: Do you currently own a gun?


BLACKWELL: And are you in favor of being able to carry this gun in class? Do you think your colleagues should also carry guns in class?

SORENSEN: I'm grateful for the choice and the option and the right that I have to make that decision whether I want to carry in the classroom or not carry. And I think also there are some people who desire to carry and some people who don't. And I believe that those that do desire to carry a concealed weapon in the classroom, that they are trained to do so.

BLACKWELL: Do you think that -- who should be a part of this conversation? Because there's been a lot of discussion from the teachers unions and from parents who send their school, who should be making the decision on if teachers should be able to carry in class. Do you think that parents should have some role in deciding if you carry a gun?

SORENSEN: You know, I believe that in Utah we have that, the right to carry, and I'm grateful for that right. I believe that parents have that right as well, if they wanted to carry concealed, but I'm grateful that I have that choice. So I believe that, you know, each individual person's right to choose.

BLACKWELL: Well, let's bring in the National Education Association president and the American Federation of Teachers. They issued joint statement, we're putting it up on the screen now. And here's part of it, "Guns have no place in our schools, period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees."

David, what do you say to people opposed to the idea of putting more guns into educational facilities?

BURNELL: Well, I think we would all agree as parents that guns in schools especially by felons and by mass murderers is a bad idea.

BLACKWELL: Many parents say any guns in school is a bad idea.

BURNELL: I understand they would say that and a lot of that comes from a lack of education on the safe ownership and responsible deployment of a firearm. There's education that goes along with that responsibility and we provided that yesterday, the first parts of that. There needs to be follow-on education.

Is it right to arm every teacher? Not every teacher wants to be armed. So, of course not. Is it right to give those an option that want that? I think it's a lot better than putting your hands in front of your face and taking a round in your skull is in the Connecticut school system and having the children murdered after that takes place. It's a much better option.


BURNELL: -- the teachers are terrified.

BLACKWELL: Do you think an armed teacher could have stopped this man with the bushmaster?

BURNELL: It's a matter of good shot placement. Good shot placement would have definitely stopped that bad guy.

Here's the other piece. It's not just about that. Bad guys when they're on a killing spree need to have a disruptor, or needs to be something to disrupt their behavior. Several recent shootings and shootings from the past when somebody challenged the bad guy, either they run of and kill themselves or barricade themselves in the place where they started the assault and SWAT can come in, contain the area, deal with the threat.

In the absence of a disruptor, you're at the will of the man with the gun.


BLACKWELL: I have one more question. Go ahead, just I have one more question for Cori.

BURNELL: We believe and why we sponsored it, the OpsGear and the Utah Shooting Sports Council, we believe that the individual has the right to defend themselves. Our bad guys in this country have tremendous rights, they even have a Miranda act that tells them what their rights are, yet our teachers are confronted with violent crimes --

BLACKWELL: Before we get to reading someone their Miranda rights, I want to get into -- we have very limited time.

Cori, my question for to you wrap up is -- aside from when there is a bad guy in the classroom, you are a woman of a small stature and when I was in high school I was a big dude, I'm 6'2", 220. If there's someone in your classroom, you teach fourth grade, but a teacher like you who has a gun in the classroom and they want it, how are you going to stop them from getting it? That's a concern some people have.

SORENSEN: How am I going to stop who from getting it? Sorry.

BLACKWELL: If you carry it in your school and you have a gun.


BLACKWELL: There is a student who is in maybe the 11th grade and wants to get to a gun they know is in the classroom or believe is in the classroom, how do you stop them from getting it? Can you stop them from doing that?

SORENSEN: Yes, I've taken, you know, first of all it's going to be on my person at all times and second of all I've taken numerous self- defense classes. I've been in shoot houses and so yes, I would be able to. I know I have the techniques and I'm very confident in being able to take somebody of a large stature, larger stature than I down if I need to.

BLACKWELL: David Burnell, Cori Sorensen, this debate will continue. I thank you for being part of it.

SORENSEN: Thank you.

BURNELL: Thank you for your time.

BLACKWELL: Some are calling with the container cliff, thousands of dockworkers from Maine to Texas are threatening to go on strike on Sunday. We'll tell you why it could cost you and the economy a lot of money.


BLACKWELL: Finally, some relief from that winter storm that crossed the country this week, the record-breaking snow, high winds, tornadoes, you remember this, maybe you were out in it, caused cancellations of thousands of flights.

The storm is blamed for at least 10 deaths. Some lingering snowfall is happening right now in the Northeast and people from Arkansas to Tennessee are seeing freezing rain.

Let's go now to meteorologist Bonnie Schneider. Bonnie, it is a mess out there.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is, Victor, and unfortunately, while one storm exits, another one comes in. This one is bringing freezing rain to the mid-South. The same region that sought heavy snow on Christmas Day, we're watching for the freezing rain to continue throughout the afternoon, you can see some heavy rain in Louisiana.

We actually have some thunderstorms rolling through and that's also impacting Mississippi as well. But it's really the freezing rain I'm most concerned with, because as that water hits any area, if we zoom in, the temperatures are teetering right around the freezing mark. So it's definitely cold across Little Rock and Oklahoma City.

In the Northeast, cold air has filtered in behind the exiting system. So now we have temperatures right below freezing in New York City.

Let's look at the storm system as it works its way across the East for the weekend. This is going to be a big snowmaker for areas into Ohio on top of what we've already seen.

And we're watching as we go through the weekend to see even more snow across areas of Upstate New York, Pennsylvania. It looks New York City will only see a little bit of snow, maybe one to three inches. When you talk about snow cover, (AUDIO GAP) impacted with some sort of white on the ground at this time.

Look at this, 65 percent of the lower 48 with snow and how does that compare to last year? Only 48 percent, that was at the peak of winter and we're still in December.

So, Victor, I think we have ways to go and looking at a snowy start to the winter season.

BLACKWELL: And we'll get ready for it. Bonnie, thanks.


BLACKWELL: One of the nation's biggest craft stores Hobby Lobby, is facing up to a fine of $1 million a day. It's refusing to follow some of the rules in the affordable health care law.