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Severe Fly Strain Hitting Right Now; Colorado Theater Shooting Hearing; Gun Violence Showdown; Biden Looking to Curb Gun Violence; AIG Considers Suing Over Bailout

Aired January 9, 2013 - 09:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hallelujah is what I'm trying to say. I agree with that. Thank you, guys. Nice to have you. I love that.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.


Happening now in the NEWSROOM, condition critical. Hospitals take emergency measures to deal with a severe strain of flu and overflow of patients.

Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shoot him again, shoot him. Oh, no.


COSTELLO: Moments of terror. A hero mother on the phone with her husband, while a burglar hunts down her family. Hear the 911 tape as she hides in the attic with her 9-year-old twins.

Breaking his silence, Lance Armstrong agreeing to sit down with Oprah Winfrey. The downfall and the doping accusations. Will we hear a confession from the once cycling great?

And he climbed all the way to the top of a storm-soaked roller coaster just to plant an American flag. Wait until you hear why he did it and what happened to him.

NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning to you. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm Carol Costello. We begin with a story that might be in your home, whether you know it or not. It's the outbreak of the flu, and this year it is exceptionally early and unusually rampant.

At least 43 states reporting widespread cases and hospitals are now starting to feel the strain. In Chicago, jam-packed emergency rooms are telling ambulances to go elsewhere. Our affiliate there WLS reports that at least six hospitals were forced to divert the arrivals because their ERs were overflowing with flu patients. The numbers suggest this could be the worst flu season in a decade.

In Allentown, Pennsylvania, there's little doubt, Lehigh Valley Hospital pitched a tent to treat all the milder cases of flu. They can't cram all the patients into the emergency room. And if you think you're safe because you've had the vaccine, think again.


CHERYL PALM, NURSE, LEHIGH VALLEY HEALTH NETWORK: I came to work today and as the day went on I felt progressively worse. This is the worst, this is the worst, yes, and I did get the flu shot and some of our other patients, too, that are testing positive did get the flu shot.


COSTELLO: The flu is spreading so fast so quickly that many schools in the central United States have had to close down, from Michigan to Tennessee, ailing teachers and bus drivers have left schools short- staffed, but this year's strain, severe strain, is more than just an inconvenience. It can be downright dangerous.

Across the country, the flu is being blamed for the deaths of at least 18 children. The government doesn't keep track of adult deaths blamed on the flu. More than 2200 people have been sickened by the bug. So sick they've been admitted to the hospital.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us by phone from Louisville, Texas. That's just outside of Dallas.

Elizabeth, we have you on the phone because we know you're working on a flu story about kids. Give us a preview.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. It's just a terrible story, Carol, of a completely healthy 17-year-old boy who got the flu, you know, kids get the flu, it happens, but it did not -- he got very sick very quickly and unfortunately, he ended up passing away. And this is what sometimes happens with kids. Kids can look completely fine, and in less than 24 hours, or about 24 hours later, that child is on a respirator in the intensive care unit.

And a lot of these kids are just completely healthy kids with no underlying health problems and we don't know why most kids are OK with the flu. They're sick for a little while and they get better. But some of them die, we just don't know why.

COSTELLO: OK. Is it too late to get any kind of flu vaccine to protect our kids, to protect ourselves?

COHEN: It isn't too late. And that's one of two things that I'm going to tell parents to do, to be empowered parents. This is so crucial. One, get your child the flu shot. You know, we heard that people are still getting the flu with the flu shot and that's absolutely true, that does happen but it decreases the chance that you or your child are going to get the flu if you get a flu shot. It is not too late. You can still get it. The second thing, and this one's harder, when your child has the flu, be really vigilant, subtle changes can mean that your child is going to be one of the ones that crashes. If your child is very, very lethargic, for example, but doesn't want to drink anything, doesn't want to do anything except sleep, that is a sign that perhaps your child taken it especially into a scary time.

COSTELLO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much. You can see more about the dangers of the flu and how it can kill even a healthy teenager, that's tonight at 6:00 p.m. on "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer.

We're also learning new details this morning on the planning behind that Colorado theater shooting that killed 12 people last year. As day three of James Holmes' preliminary hearing begin this morning, investigators say the accused gunman and former college student started shopping for guns more than two months before the July 20th shooting.

Nearly 6300 rounds of ammunition, four guns, and two canisters of tear gas were all purchased online or in stores and Holmes passed all appropriate background checks. He passed them all.

Casey Wian joins us now from outside the courthouse in Centennial, Colorado.

Casey, the 911 tapes were played in court yesterday and to say they were emotional is an understatement.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Carol, there were 41 911 calls made the night of the shooting. Prosecution played two of them in court yesterday. The first one they played was the very first 911 call that was made. It only lasted for 27 seconds. It was very difficult to hear what the 911 operator was saying, what the person who made the call from inside that theater was saying, but unmistakable, the sound of more than 30 gunshots within 27 seconds.

Hearing that tape, family members in the courtroom became very emotional. Here's what the father of one victim had to say about that experience of listening to that call.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was awful. I mean, just any one of those shots could have been the one that killed Alex and if it wasn't, it hurt somebody else or it killed, you know, one of the other people who we've become friends with. So it was horrific.


WIAN: The second 911 call that was played lasted much longer, four minutes. It was made by a 13-year-old girl, also from inside the theater. It was also very difficult to hear much of what was being said, because of the chaos, the screaming, the shouting, the crying.

The little girl was trying to communicate with the 911 operator because two, she was there with two cousins, both of them had been shot. The 911 operator was trying to get her to perform CPR on her young cousin, who ended up dying. The little girl couldn't understand what the 911 operator had to say.

After four agonizing minutes, the little girl finally told the operator that the police were there, and he said, stay with the police, and she said thank you. That call then ended, very dramatic moment for those families of the victims in the courtroom yesterday, Carol.

COSTELLO: Casey Wian reporting live for us this morning.

From tense 911 calls in Aurora to town halls across America, Americans are making their voices heard on the issue of gun control.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For you to sit there and try to limit and encourage people to limit our Constitution is just appalling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a gun owner and a hunter, I don't think they do us any good. I think it's a cloud over our heads and I don't think they should be on our communities and I don't think they should be on our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know I'm going to get booed but when I listen to the leadership of the NRA saying we need more guns in the schools, I could vomit.


COSTELLO: This meeting was in the city of Napa, California, wine country. Many residents at the meeting called for better access to mental health care as well.

As you just saw, the debate over gun violence reaches far and wide in this country from town halls all the way to the White House. Vice President Joe Biden's gun violence task force meeting face-to-face this week with the National Rifle Association, the NRA, the vice president's team also going to sit down with top executives in the entertainment industry and the video game industry.

Retail giant Wal-Mart was also invited but Wal-Mart is not going to show up. In a statement Wal-Mart said, quote, "We were invited to attend the meeting on Thursday, and we had scheduling conflicts. We're going to continue to stay engaged in this topic going forward."

CNN reached out to Wal-Mart this morning, and it said, not attending the meeting, "should not be interpreted as a slight or a, quote. "diss."

CNN's Christine Romans asked Wal-Mart if they would release their sales figures for the AR-15 rifle. Wal-Mart declined. Now with a confirmed reports they're the world's largest retailer of guns and ammunition, even though they had $444 billion in total sales last year alone.

Christine Romans joins us now.

So -- I don't know, it's mind boggling that no one from Wal-Mart would bother to go to this meeting and that they won't release their sales figures on guns. Why? What's the reason behind that?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: So let me take the second part of that first. They don't release their product breakouts for any individual category. They will not release how many guns or how much ammo they sell every year but it's very clear, Carol, they are a world leader in selling everything, so industry analysts say they are likely the largest seller of guns and ammunition in the country.

Now that's why Wal-Mart is a stakeholder in this discussion about -- and conversation going forward about gun control. Now in terms of why they're not at the meeting today at the Vice President's office, Wal- Mart spokesman telling me they talked to the president and the vice president's office, the staff earlier this week. They had monthly meetings that -- have been (INAUDIBLE) that have been scheduled for months, that this invitation from the White House came just a few days ago and so because of scheduling issues they wouldn't be able to have anybody there but they had already talked to the vice president's office.

They say to make too much of not -- of not being at this meeting would be blowing the story out of proportion, but I'll tell you, Washington insiders like Jen Psaki, the president's former traveling press secretary, Ryan Lizza, longtime Washington hand, columnist at the "New Yorker," writer at the "New Yorker," both say when you have something of this magnitude, the visuals of who is on the attendance list and who is there, people who follow Washington say they think that somebody from Wal-Mart should be there. There should be one person there even though --

COSTELLO: OK. Well, let's just parse this out -- let's parse this out further, Christine. So Wal-Mart says it has previous commitments, so only one person can attend this meeting? And it's not like it was a surprise this meeting was coming up, right? If they've been talking to the White House they knew exactly when the task force -- task force meetings were scheduled. So come on.

ROMANS: I really pushed them on this. I really pushed David Tobar. And as you said, we don't need to be there. We already talked to them this week. I also pointed out, look, this is a conversation. It's a conversation between all different kinds of opinions about guns in America and gun violence in America. It's not necessarily just talking one way with the vice president's office. It's also hearing what these other groups have to say but he said, David Tobar of Wal- Mart, said look, we had a scheduling conflict, our executives are in Bentonville for monthly meetings, scheduled for months. We won't have anybody there. We already talked to the vice president's office about it earlier this week.

COSTELLO: Did they release how many TVs they sell at Christmastime?

ROMANS: No. But you know what's interesting? They will not break out these product categories and they tell me it's for competitive reasons. You know? They don't want their competitors to know exactly what kind of volume they do.

I can look at their sales -- I can look at how much their overall sales are last year, it was $444 billion. I mean, they're the biggest seller, Carol, of everything in the world. They're the largest private retailer in the world. You know, 2.2 million employees. I mean, Wal-Mart is a big behemoth. That's why it is a stakeholder in this because it is a very, very big seller of guns and ammunition in America.

COSTELLO: Christine Romans is live in New York this morning.

Dan Lothian, he's at the White House today.

So, Dan, what's going to be accomplished at these meetings today?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a chance for the vice president and his team to sit down with these various groups, the victims groups, gun safety organizations, the NRA tomorrow, entertainment groups, those in the video industry -- video game industry, to get their ideas about preventing gun violence in the future.

Already they are pushing Congress to act on things that can get done now, such as ,you know, reinstatement of that ban on assault weapons, closing in on some of those loopholes, those background checked loopholes, and in addition limiting the high capacity clips, magazine clips.

Those are things that the administration says, you know, lawmakers can move on very quickly but they believe that there are other options out there, good options that can also be put on the table, turned into policy proposals. That can prevent gun violence in the future and of course the president has tasked this group with coming up with those proposals by the end of the month -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Dan Lothian reporting live from the White House this morning.

More than two months after Superstorm Sandy hit the northeast there are so many families still struggling to survive. Sheila and Dominic Traina are a good example. This New York couple lost their home. We've been bringing you their story since Sandy hit back in October. Get this, as they fight with their insurance company, Allstate, they've learned their damaged home is now part of a new television ad for Allstate. Not surprising the Trainas are upset.

Allstate tells the "New York Post" they will remove the family's home from the ad and I forgot to mention this very important detail, Allstate did not pay this family's claim because they say the damage was caused by storm surge and not the storm itself.

Robert Griffin III going under the knife this morning. ESPN reporting the Washington Redskins physician and famed orthopedist Dr. James Andrews is operating on the team's franchise quarterback. RG3 is having total reconstructive surgery on his knee, re-injured during Sunday's playoff game, and is expected to recover in time, at least we hope so, for the 2013 season.

ESPN now apologizing for Brent Musburger's remarks about Katherine Webb during the BCS title game Monday. Webb, as you well know by now, is the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. Musburger gushed over Webb's beauty in a shot of her from the stands. ESPN tweeted this statement, quote, "We always try to capture interesting storylines and the relationship between an Auburn grad who is Miss Alabama and the current Alabama quarterback certainly met that test. However, we apologize that the commentary in this instance went too far and Brent understands that," end quote.

They say politics shouldn't be a popularity contest but oh man, if it were, Congress would not be doing so hot right now. According to the Public Policy Polling Group, when Americans were asked their opinions of the United States' Congress, they tended to have a more favorable opinion of, oh, root canals, the rock band Nickel Back, Genghis Khan and cockroaches. All of those got more favorable opinions than Congress.

Don't worry though, the lawmakers on the Hill actually managed to edge out a few, shall we say, unpopular things. The survey found Congress was more popular that telemarketers, Lindsay Lohan, North Korea and the Ebola virus. They have that.

Oprah Winfrey lands the first TV interview with Lance Armstrong since he lost his Tour de France titles. Will she be the one who finally gets to the bottom of the cheating scandal?


COSTELLO: Eighteen minutes past the hour. Checking our top stories now:

A White House official tells CNN all U.S. troops could leave Afghanistan by the end of next year. That's one possibility that will depend on whether Afghan security forces are fully trained and whether Afghanistan gives legal cover to any U.S. troops after the NATO mission ends. Other possibility was for 6,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops to remain after 2014. A final decision could be months away.

In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, a Vermont town is looking to ban assault weapons. Burlington town leaders are considering changing the charter to eliminate assault rifles and high capacity magazines. Voters in the state legislator would still need to weigh in before all of that could become law.

For the first time, one of our nation's most prominent churches will begin holding same-sex weddings. This year, the ceremonies will be permitted inside Washington's National Cathedral. The church is Episcopalian, a domination that allows each bishop to decide whether to allow same-sex weddings in their church. The bishop of D.C.'s Episcopal diocese decided to allow the weddings which are legal in the nation's capital and nearby state of Maryland. If Lance Armstrong admits to doping, it could be Oprah Winfrey to gets the confession out of him. Armstrong had repeatedly denied the accusations. The queen of talk has landed the first TV interview with Armstrong since he was stripped of his Tour de France titles. It airs next Thursday night on Oprah's TV network.

Diet drinks may satisfy your sweet tooth but new research finds people who drink at least four cans of soda a day are at much as 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression. Scientists who studied more than 260,000 people said their findings don't show that diet drinks cause depression, only that there is a link between the two.

And if you're one of about 5 million people who still get a paper check for Social Security or other federal benefits, you have until March 1st to sign up to have your money deposited into a bank or debit card account. Paper payments won't stop March 1st but the government will start hounding you if you miss the deadline, to sign up go to That's


COSTELLO: AIG, you, me, all of us bail out the troubled insurance giant to the tune of $182 billion. We saved AIG and it seemed grateful, it even went the extra mile and released a thank you video.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've repaid every dollar America lent us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything plus a profit of more than $22 billion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, America.


COSTELLO: What happened next? AIG paid its executives massive bonuses. And today, AIG might join a lawsuit over the terms of the bailout, because the deal that saved its bottom line cheated shareholders.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Seriously, yes. Thanks for nothing, right? So, the former CEO of AIG, his name is Hank Greenberg. He's actually spearheading this lawsuit against the U.S. Now, Greenberg's lawsuit is alleging that the company's value was diluted when the New York Federal Reserve bailed out the company in 2008. Now, Greenberg is saying AIG was forced into it. He wants $25 billion in compensation from the government.

Now, the New York fed pointed out to "The financial Times" that AIG did have a choice, listen, take the bailout or go bankrupt. That was really the choice that was there but that would have been catastrophic for the economy, which was already in bad shape and getting worse.

Now, Star International, that's the company controlled by Hank Greenberg. It owns about a 9 percent stake in AIG and it gives it the power to force AIG to consider this suit. AIG's current CEO, Robert Benmosche issued a statement saying AIG has paid back its debt to America with a profit and we mean it when we say thank you to the American people.

At the same time, the board of directors has fiduciary and legal obligations to the company and its shareholders to consider the demands served on us, and responds in a fair, appropriate and timely manner. OK. While the board meeting is happening right now, Carol, to decide whether AIG will join this lawsuit they will decide by the end of the month what they are going to do -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I know you'll keep us posted. Alison Kosik live at the New York Stock Exchange.

Actually, very near you, Alison, there's a breaking news story going on in New York City. There's been a ferry accident at Pier 11 down by Wall Street. The ferry ran into a dock, 12 to 15 people are now injured, according to our affiliate there. One person suffered a head injury.

As you can see, people are getting taken of the ferry on stretchers. Emergency crews are on the scene. Don't know why that ferry crashed into that dock, because it must have been a massive collision for all those people to get hurt because that's one big boat.

When we know more about the breaking news story, of course, we'll keep you posted.


COSTELLO: Now is your chance to talk back on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning: why the secrecy surrounding guns?

All of the major players on the gun issue, including the NRA, are showing up at the task force meeting with Vice President Joe Biden today, except for Walmart, a major gun retailer. It seems they're busy.

Walmart told us, "We take the sale of firearms very seriously and are committed to the responsible sale of firearms. We were invited to attend the meeting Thursday and we had scheduling conflicts."

Walmart insists they're not dissing the White House. They say they're open to conversations on the topic, yet when we tried to talk to Walmart about how many guns they sell, no dice, they won't tell us. Why? They say they don't release product sales information for competitive reasons.

There's one thing we do know, most gun owners do not like publicity. We learned this after "New York's Journal News" was blasted for publishing lists of gun owners in the area. Gun right advocates pounced.


ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE SOCIAL & POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Producing list of gun permit owners, I want them from Manhattan. I want to know how much rich liberals with their bodyguards have gun permits.


COSTELLO: All righty, Ann Coulter says the snarky Web site Their headline says it all, quote, "Here's a list of all the a-holes who own guns in New York City, 446 pages worth."

Critics say publicly naming gun owners is a dangerous thing to do, which invites criminals into your home or outs police officers and FBI agencies or FBI agents rather. Maybe that's understandable.

But there seems to be a cult of secrecy about gun ownership in America. The NRA successfully lobbied to have it included in Obamacare a provision that prevents doctors from asking patients if they own a gun, and the NRA also opposes a national gun database.

What's the big deal? Why not say how many guns you sell? Or allow law enforcement to create a list of registered gun owners.

Talk back question today: why the secrecy surrounding guns?,, or you can tweet me @carolCNN.

I'll be back.