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Fiscal Cliff Faceoff; Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Dead at 78; Training Teachers to Fight Back

Aired December 28, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Crunch time for the fiscal cliff. The key players to meet at the White House with just four days left until the deadline.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: They called him Stormin' Norman. America remembering General Norman Schwarzkopf, who led America victory in the First Gulf War.

CHO: And have gun, will teach. Hundreds of educators get a hands-on lesson in firearms. Controversial proposal.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. Five a.m. in the East. I'm Alina Cho.

Good morning.

GRIFFIN: I'm Drew Griffin. John and Zoraida are off.

It is the last Friday of 2012. I've just had that pointed out to us. So, happy Friday, everybody.

Up first, one final desperate attempt to dodge that fiscal cliff, just four days left before we go over the edge, triggering tax hikes, spending cuts that could send the nation, some say, back into recession.

The president summoning congressional leaders to the White House for last-ditch talks. They will meet today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, with the full House not expected to return to work until Sunday. It will be gang of six gathering, the president, Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the Democrat side, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell representing the Republicans, with the hefty chunk of your take-home pay on the line.

White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is live from Washington. And, Brianna, is anybody optimistic that a deal could be done perhaps today around a table?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I will tell you the optimism is sort of sinking. So, it's unclear, but it appears at this point that the optimism is taking a dive. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he doesn't se how it can get done by January 1st. We heard from President Obama before he left from his vacation that he was optimistic. Logistically, the White House will tell you, it's still possible. But when you listen to what you're hearing some of these congressional leaders say, there's a whole lot of posturing for trying to deliver blame to the other side if we do go over the cliff.

Take a listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Republicans aren't about to write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We are here in Washington working, while the members of the House of Representatives are out watching movies, watching their kids play soccer, and basketball, and doing all kinds of things. They should be here.


KEILAR: Now, House Speaker John Boehner is saying that the Senate needs to just take up a House passed bill that has already passed the House that would extend rates for all Americans, to either take it up in whole or to amend it. I will tell you, I think the expectation in the Senate is that that what is going to happen, that they would take up that bill and change it and obviously adjust that tax rate threshold.

But if we do go over the cliff, there is this still possibility and, obviously, all sides are preparing for this, that there would be a lot of pressure in the days following from the markets, from consumers, just American public opinion, and that's part of the reason why they're posturing, because they would still likely be acting come the New Year, having do something retroactively.

I will tell you, talking to some Republicans, Drew, there is this concern that even though going over the cliff would allow them to not technically be voting to raise taxes, instead just voting to reinstate a tax cut, that then it sort of President Obama's tax cut, and so he gets credit for that.

GRIFFIN: Brianna, do you have any sense of what is going to happen around that table today? Who called the meeting if there's an agenda? Or are they going to sit around and stare at each other until one of them blinks?

KEILAR: We don't have a sense. I'm pretty sure that we will be getting a sense. This is supposed to take place at 3:00 p.m. at the White House -- the vice president, president, as well as the four top congressional leaders. We don't know what's going to be said. I think we'll probably likely be hearing from some camps afterwards.

GRIFFIN: All right. Brianna Keilar, thanks a lot.

And if you are wondering what a trip down the fiscal cliff might mean for your paycheck, for your 401(k), look no further than yesterday's Dow. Look at that. At the opening bell, a dive of more than 1 percent. Investors finding little hope for the fiscal cliff compromise on Capitol Hill. But when word came down two sides might be meeting, reversal of fortune. The Dow rebounding in a positive territory for a while before finishing slightly lower.

CHO: The nation this morning remembering the American general credited with orchestrating one of the most lopsided military victories in modern history.

General Norman Schwarzkopf died yesterday in Florida. He was 78 years old, and remembered by many from briefings like this one here, a media savvy general taking the lead during the First Gulf War. The whole campaign covered blast by blast on live television.

The White House saying this about the general last night. "Our prayers are with the Schwarzkopf family who tonight can know his legacy will endure in a nation that is more secure because of his patriotic service."

Senator John McCain on Twitter calling the general one of the great American heroes, "We thank him for his service."

Stormin' Norman, as he was called, was a big man who left a big legacy.

With us this morning to talk about that legacy is another general with a super cool nickname, General James "Spider" Marks joining us from Virginia via Skype.

Spider, good morning to you.

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.) (via Skype): Good morning.

CHO: You know, Stormin' Norman is what I remember about General Norman Schwarzkopf, a name he certainly earned. You know, a "TIME" magazine correspondent once called him a man with a John Wayne swagger and a growl like a grizzly. Is that how you remember him?

MARKS: This truly was a 20th century American military hero. General Schwarzkopf was a bigger than life man. His nickname personified all of that. It was a label, hero is a label that he would protest openly. He was a very humble man.

He was -- what he did and when you think about what he was asked to do, you keep it in context. The Army had gone through this incredible turmoil post-Vietnam. We had redefined ourselves. I was a young lieutenant during those period -- during that period. Our Army doctrine grew, and it emerged. And it was validated by General Schwarzkopf in the deserts of Kuwait when he ousted Saddam's military.

I mean, this was -- he was the significant man at an incredibly significant time for our military. He did it magnificently.

Certainly, he was not without his detractors. I mean, Stormin' Norman is not because he was a gentleman. He was a gentleman with a volcanic temper. But the beauty of that was you knew where you stood with this guy. He was a magnificent soldier who truly, truly loved those soldiers that served for him.

So, it's a great loss for our nation.

CHO: It most certainly is. It was quite a shock when I heard about it last night. It certainly took me back to the First Gulf War. We need to remind some viewers who may be too young to remember the First Gulf War.

You know, Operation Desert Storm, really, the first heavily televised war. It was really how CNN was born, right? We all remember General Schwarzkopf in those daily briefings. He really changed America's perception of war, didn't he?

MARKS: Well, he did. He truly understood -- he was a modern commander who understood the power of the media, in that unlike Vietnam where we did not have the support of the American population, in Desert Storm, we did. And the build up of the forces, we were open in terms of our communications with the population.

The nation that we serve is made up of hundreds of millions of people, and we've got to communicate with them, and that is our constituency. And he did that so exceptionally well.

And at the end of the day, he delivered. Six weeks of an air campaign and then 100 hours -- remember, it was 100 hours, that's it, for us to oust, defeat Saddam's military in Kuwait and return right, full governance back to the citizens of Kuwait. Quite amazing.

CHO: You know, his father once said the day -- told him, he said, the day I was born, that boy is going to West Point. I mean, it was literally a job he was born to do. And, boy, did he do it well. The nation is remembering him today.

Thank you for helping us do that, General Spider Marks -- via Skype from Virginia. Happy holidays to you.

MARKS: And you as well. Happy holidays.

GRIFFIN: Former President George H.W. Bush has a message for his admirers around the world. He's not going anywhere. In a message to supporters Thursday, Mr. Bush's chief of staff, Jean Becker, said the 41st president's condition is not dire. Becker says Mr. Bush has every intention of staying put and that we can, quote, "put the harps back in the closet," unquote.

The 88-year-old Mr. Bush is in the intensive care unit of a Houston hospital where he's receiving treatment for an elevated fever.

CHO: Still has his sense of human.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a conversional bill banning U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children. The decision, of course, raising tensions between the two countries, seen for retaliation for a new law in the U.S. that seeks to punish Russians accused of human rights violations.

The new adoption ban will take effect on January 1st, that's really right away, and it would halt all new adoptions and end those already in progress. Really incredible. A lot of families in the process of adopting children in Russia, you know --


GRIFFIN: Those poor kids.

CHO: All right. We want to move on to the weather now.

Of course, lots of snow, and wind, and hail everywhere across the United States and the powerful winter storm that's brought record- breaking snow and spun off dangerous -- it's still not over yet. Ten deaths now blamed on the storm. More than 2,400 flights have been canceled. It could dump more snow on New England and Upstate New York today. Oh, boy, they don't need that.

Bonnie Schneider in the CNN extreme weather center with a look at the forecast. Hey, Bonnie. Good morning.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Alina. The storm that we've been talking about is working its way to extreme northeastern New England. So, now, it's hitting Canada fairly hard. Quebec is getting more snow on top of what they've already received.

I mentioned yesterday that cold air would come in behind the system. It sure has. Scranton this morning is at 26 degrees. You're below freezing in New York City at 31. And just to let you know, it's not over yet.

A brand new storm system set up these winter weather advisories for Pennsylvania and into New York, Washington, D.C., and the mountains of Virginia. You can see also Ohio slammed again after so much snow from the first system.

So the way it's going to play out, Saturday into Sunday, is this system is likely going to bring heavier snow to areas of northern Pennsylvania in terms of snowfall totals. It's not going to be as big of a snowmaker or a blizzard maker from what we saw last time, but it is going to produce some strong snowfall through central Connecticut and into Rhode Island.

So, New England, you know winters can be long. Winter isn't officially here -- is officially here, we are looking at definitely a slamming start to the season.

Across the Southeast, temperatures are also very cold. We have not warmed up in Atlanta. We're at 31 degrees. The moisture coming into the South, though, will come in at a time where temperatures are likely to be milder. So, we are not looking at snow accumulation in the South. If that were to happen, you know, it would be a shutdown around here.

CHO: Thirty-one degrees in Atlanta, Bonnie? Unbelievable. SCHNEIDER: And it's windy.

CHO: Oh, gosh. All right. Thank you so much.

GRIFFIN: Well, reading, writing, and marksmanship. Coming up, we're going to take a look inside classrooms where teachers are learning how to handle guns.

CHO: Plus, Dr. McDreamy to the rescue?


CHO: Not in the O.R. TV Dr. Patrick Dempsey steps in to try to save hundreds of people their jobs. You're going to be surprised at how he's trying to do this. We'll tell you.


GRIFFIN: Since the Newtown massacre, teachers across the country have been asking themselves, what would I do? Gun advocates in Salt Lake City suburb tried to help teachers there answer that question with free gun training and self-defense classes during holiday break.

Here is Alex Cabrero of our affiliate KSL.


ALEX CABRERO, KSL REPORTER (voice-over): Stephen Pratt has never had a gun permit. Lately, though, he's wanted one.

STEPHEN PRATT, 3RD GRADE TEACHER: With the recent tragedy in Connecticut, I realized it's time for me to act on that.

CABRERO: Pratt is a third grade teacher at Westville Elementary in Alpine. His students are about the same age as those who died in Connecticut.

PRATT: I just worried a little bit, you know, what would I do as a teacher? How would I protect myself if you're being fired upon?

CABRERO: He isn't the only one asking himself those questions. Hundreds of teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, janitors, anyone involved in a school came to the Maverick Center in West Valley. This class called the mass violence response training class was designed to teach them how to fight back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's important to have protection because if you don't have it, I feel like we're sitting ducks.

CABRERO: The class wasn't just about guns and protecting yourself with a gun. But guns were a big part of it.


CABRERO: Clark Aposhian is a well-known shooting instructor in Utah. He helped teach the class providing the basics for teachers on what to do and how do it.

APOSHIAN: We're not going to get the guns out of the criminals' hands, so let's put some guns in the good guys' hands.

CABRERO: Aposhian also says the Connecticut shootings have changed a lot of perceptions.

APOSHIAN: It's kind of been that agreement that, you know what, criminals are supposed to have hands off the schools. Everywhere else, it's been kind of a free-for-all. But, my gosh, you mess with our school and kids, that's another thing.

CABRERO: David Burnell, the CEO of OPSGEAR, a tactical company that trains police officers, says guns may not be for everyone, and he doesn't expect every teacher here to get a permit. He says it's all about responsibility.

DAVID BURNELL, CEO, OPSGEAR: We're going to tell these people, and help them understand where their moral code and where their value system is. And until they discover that, they're not prepared to carry a firearm.

CABRERO: Of course, some have already decided.

PRATT: I would like to be able to protect my children in case something like that happened.


GRIFFIN: That was Alex Cabrero of our affiliate KSL out in Salt Lake City.

Utah's board of education had this to say about the training, "We urge caution and thoughtful consideration. Schools in Utah have developed emergency plans to handle such situations. The board encourages all Utah schools to review their emergency plans working with law enforcement agencies, with the safety of students in all situations as the primary concern."

Well, coming up on "STARTING POINT," Ali Velshi will talk with Clark Aposhian, the gun trainer you just saw, and Kasey Hansen, a special education teacher who took that class.

CHO: Looking forward to that.

The NRA is now saying schools should decide for themselves how to protect their children. Here's what NRA president David Keene told our Carol Costello yesterday.


DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NRA: When Wayne LaPierre spoke about a week ago, he suggested that what has to happen and what should happen in every school district, administrators, teachers, parents, should sit down and ask what's needed to protect the children in that school. Some of them will want police officers there. Others of them will want private security guards. There may be some places where they want volunteers to do it.

We're willing to work with everybody on those questions.


COSTELLO: It's a much softer stance than just one week ago.

Here's what the NRA's executive V.P. said back then.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NRA: I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.


CHO: At the time, Wayne LaPierre said armed officers were the only way to prevent another massacre like the one that happened in Newtown.

GRIFFIN: It's 19 minutes after the hour. Now, let's get you up-to- date.

President Obama summoning congressional leaders to the White House, 3:00 this afternoon is the date for one final fiscal cliff showdown. Just four days left to get this deal done or massive tax hikes and spending cuts are going to kick in.

CHO: The U.S. embassy clearing out of an African nation this morning. Deteriorating security in the Central African Republic has forced the U.S. State Department to temporarily suspend operations there. The U.S. ambassador, his diplomatic team and some private Americans are now out of the capital Bangui. The country's president has asked France and the United States for help to stop rebels that threaten his rule.

GRIFFIN: It's not clear who will replace Lisa Jackson as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Jackson announced yesterday she's stepping down in January after the president's State of the Union Address. The EPA created new standards for air pollution from coal power plants on her watch.

CHO: Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey throwing his hat into the ring for John Kerry's Senate seat. It's expected to be vacated if Kerry becomes Secretary of State. A special election would be held early this summer. Markey, a 66-year-old Democrat, is the first prominent candidate to declare for the race. I'm sure he'll be followed by many more.

GRIFFIN: You bet.

GRIFFIN: Mom and pop shops across the country bracing for a labor fight that could cripple businesses. More on the key workers that could walk off the job coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHO: Twenty-four minutes after the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START for Friday morning.

Minding your business this morning. The impending fiscal cliff creating plenty of jitters on Wall Street despite the fact that congressional leaders are meeting with the president today to try to hammer out a last-minute deal. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 futures all pointing lower this hour, signaling a potential selloff at the opening bell.

GRIFFIN: Not just the fiscal cliff with the potential threat to the economy, thousands of dockworkers from Maine to Texas could go on strike within days if their union can't reach a deal with major shipping companies. These are the workers who move all kinds of goods from the nation's ports to the stores.


JONATHAN GOLD, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: Everybody from your mom and pop retailer to your farmer, to the trucking company who has to go in and pick up the containers at the ports. So, this is going to be felt not just at the local economy at the port, but nationwide for everybody else who relies on these ports to move their commerce.


GRIFFIN: One port official says East and Gulf Coast ports handle about $55 billion worth of cargo a month. So a strike could have a major effect on the retail business.

Land lines not going the way of the VCR just yet. A new study shows older Americans are slow to get rid of landlines and go entirely mobile. The centers for disease control asked 20,000 households about trends throughout the year. The study found about 52 percent use cell phones for all of their call calls, but that's less than 2 percent increase from previous years.

Younger people using cell phone exclusively in record numbers. The older generation is a lot slower to make a switch.

CHO: Patrick Dempsey might play a doctor on television but he's doing some economic CPR in real life. The "Grey's Anatomy" star leading a group of investors trying to rescue the bankrupt Tully's coffee shop chain in Seattle. They're hoping to save about 500 jobs.

The TV show is set in Seattle. Dempsey says he wants to give back to the city and play a bigger role in the community.

How about that? Good for him.

GRIFFIN: A lot of competition out there in Seattle, though, for coffee shops.

CHO: That's right.

GRIFFIN: Yes. Coming up, spy games between Americans and North Koreans and how one move caught the U.S. completely off guard.

CHO: Plus, the Florida teens who took a page out of Bruce Springsteen's playbook, taking the stage to help after hurricane Sandy. We're going to them live.

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us anytime on your desktop or your mobile phone. Just go to