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Saturday Mail Service To End In August; Celebrities Join Gun Control Fight; Town Celebrates Ethan's Birthday; PETA Slams Beyonce; Boy Scouts Delay Decision On Gays

Aired February 6, 2013 - 13:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: That's awesome. All right, you can learn more about it, it's an amazing discovery, on

All right. So, what does comedian Chris Rock, singer Tony Bennett and a gun wielding actress have in common? They are in D.C. demanding a plan to fight gun violence.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of nights will keep the Postal Service from delivering your mail or will it? They've got some changes now to delivery service.

And while the government is talking military spending cuts, the military is expected to extend benefits to same sex partners. Is this actually going to be Panetta's legacy?

Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. I want to get right to it. Now, starting August 5th, letters, other first class mail will no longer be delivered on Saturdays. Yes. You're still going to get your packages. The U.S. Postal Service announced this change this morning saying it's going to save $2 billion a year. But the agency's financial problems really go a lot deeper than that. The Postal Service lost $16 billion last year, could go broke next month. Today, the postmaster general urged Congress to come up with a way to save more, cut more.


PATRICK DONAHOE, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE: A typical large organization would have either cash on hand or quick borrowing ability, two months worth of cash to cover their operating costs. In October, at one point this year, the Postal Service had less than four days of cash on hand. That's a very scary situation. And it is no situation that a business should be in.


MALVEAUX: All right. So, most folks agree with the decision to actually cut service for Saturday. In a poll last year, 63 percent said it was a smart way to save money here. Athena Jones is joining us from Washington. And you know -- I mean, a lot of people look at this and say there is a lot of waste already, that a company, a private business would have gone out of business a long time ago.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly. That's what the Postal Service is arguing. And they believe that current language and current legislation will allow them to do this. The big question here is really whether that's the case. They've said up until now that they need Congressional approval to make these changes, because it's a quasi independent service but it requires some help from the government.

And so, the Congress passed a law in 2006 that required the Postal Service to prefund health care benefits for future retirees, this is the kind of requirement that most companies don't have to deal with. And as a result, they've lost all of this money. They were -- they had a -- defaulted on a total of $11 billion in loans to the U.S. Treasury last year. They exhausted a line of credit from the U.S. Treasury. And so, they are really in bad shape. They believe this will help them get back on track. But, of course, Congress so far has yet to act, even though people from both parties and both sides of the aisle have been working on this. Let's listen to what Congressman -- House Speaker John Boehner had to say about this.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: But I understand where the postal commission is coming from. They are in charge with running the post office. But yet, the Congress, in its wisdom, has tied their hands every which way in order for them to actually run the post office in a -- in a revenue neutral way. And so Congress needs to act. There is no question about that. And I hope that we'll act soon.


JONES: And so, that's the question, how soon will they act? Again, this is a question that came up numerous times during the press conference and in our interview afterwards which is to say if they don't need Congress's approval to make this change, why didn't they make it much sooner? It seems to be an effort on the Postal Service's part to try to force some action in Congress, make sure that they can come to a resolution that they have been working on, but hopefully come to resolution in the next few weeks before the current budget resolution expires -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Athena, the union, the postal union, how -- what role do they play in all of this?

JONES: Well, they are not happy about this. Of course, this is going to affect postal workers. We know that package delivery will continue on Saturdays. They say that post offices that are open on Saturdays will continue to be open. But still, this is going to ultimately affect worker -- members of the union. They say that this is going to weaken the mail system further. They've already had a series of cuts. They've closed post offices in places. They've cut hours. They've raised stamp prices. All of this trying to cut costs. The postal workers union says this is going to worsen the entire system and push them closer to privatization which is not what they want to see. They want to see Congress act -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Athena, thanks. A lot of people weighing in on this about whether or not you get Saturday mail delivery. You've got this from Niki, who says the USPS is discontinuing mail service on Saturdays. I'll have to throw my junk mail out Monday through Friday then. This from Joseph, USPS not delivering on Saturday starting August, hopefully this saves them from closing, hash tag money pit. And Ashley says, USPS cutting Saturday delivery starting August, two days you don't have to walk to the mail box. And check out this cartoon. This is from "The Pittsburgh Tribune" review. Its editorial cartoonist Randy Bish. You can see it right there. It says, U.S. first class forever, ah, except Saturdays. Thank you, Randy. You can follow him on Twitter at Bish Tunes as well.

And the gun fight goes to Hollywood today, and Hollywood actually taking it to Washington. You've got celebrities, including Chris Rock, singer Tony Bennett, joining other advocates essentially for tighter gun control. They are calling on Congress to act. They are affiliated with a Web site that is called demand a plan. It's a group behind this PSA. Check it out.



CHRIS ROCK, ACTOR: As a human being.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the children of Sandy Hook.


AMANDA PETE, ACTRESS: No more lists of names.


MALVEAUX: So, this Web site is calling for some of the same proposals that are backed by the president, including a ban on assault weapons. I want to bring in Joe Johns here. And you were at the news conference, and I know this is a big draw when there are celebrities in town in Washington, people usually pay more attention. So, you know, what did Chris Rock and all of the others have to say about it? Why are they -- why are they into this?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: It was quite an all star cast, Suzanne, but not for a Hollywood movie this time. Chris Rock, Tony Bennett, you mentioned, Anna Deavere Smith, Amanda Pete, all at the U.S. Capitol at a news conference headed up by the group started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg known as mayors against illegal guns. Listen to this.


TONY BENNETT, SINGER: I still haven't gotten over Connecticut. I'd like the assault weapons go to war not in our own country. And I'd like assault weapons eliminated.

CHRIS ROCK, ACTOR: I'm just here to support the president of the United States. The president of the United States is, you know, our boss. But he's also -- you know, the president and the first lady are kind of like the mom and the dad of the country. And when your dad says something, you listen. And when you don't, it usually bites you in the ass later on.


JOHNS: I know. You see a lot of --

MALVEAUX: OK. Colorful language there. That's all right. He's not a politician. That's OK.

JOHNS: Yes, that's right. I mean, you see a lot of stars at the capitol, as you know, Suzanne, but it was really surprising to see that many people in one place. It sort of shows you the draw of Michael Bloomberg and his group.

MALVEAUX: Yes, so Chris Rock says something like that. A lot of people, they take pictures, they get autographs, where does this go? Are people listening? Are they -- you know, is anybody moved by what they are saying today?

JOHNS: Yes, the point of these things is to use star power of the artist to put pressure on Congress, in this case to pass new gun laws. At the same time, it's really increasing the visibility of the organization. Now, what they are looking for is, among other things, improving background checks on gun purchases, passing the recent proposal to make gun trafficking a crime. Also promoting those other proposals to get high capacity magazines off the streets and ban semiautomatic firearms. So, all of that goes into this package. And as you said, the big question is, is it going to move any votes on Capitol Hill? A lot of times maybe not.

MALVEAUX: Yes. And, Joe, what was the reaction when people saw Chris Rock and others walking through, Tony Bennett walking through the Capitol grounds today?

JOHNS: Well, you know, people were a little bit jaded. I know at least I am when I see these folks. You know they are there for an issue. The question is how well do they know the issue? Some of them seem pretty familiar with it. Anna Deavere Smith, who, of course, has played a lot of roles out of Washington, D.C., she seemed very engaged and had a lot of information there. I talked to Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and he said they basically just want to show there's a broad coalition that cuts across all demographics. And by the way, it wasn't just movie stars at this news conference, they had a children's trauma surgeon, Episcopal priest, and the daughter of Robert Kennedy and the son of Martin Luther King, of course both of their fathers had been killed -- assassinated with guns.

MALVEAUX: Yes, very impressive group. And, obviously, Anna Deavere Smith is actually going to be talking with us later this hour, so we'll get her take on how things went this afternoon. Joe, thank you, appreciate it.

The little boy who was kidnapped and held captive in an underground bunker for a week, well now he has a reason to celebrate. That's right. It's his birthday today. He turns six. Folks in his hometown Midland City, they are just happy that he's safe. And they've signed this happy birthday card for him, a pretty big card there. The principal at Ethan's elementary school, he tells us that more than 1,200 cards have come in for him, this is, like, across the country. And the town, Ethan's town, they plan to hold a really big birthday party to show they're just happy that he survived, that he's around and he's doing OK. And people are even raising some money online to send he and his family to Disneyworld.

Investigators say that they found two bombs planted inside that bunker where FBI agents rescued Ethan from the kidnapper, Jimmy Lee Dykes. The boy, Ethan, he was reunited with his mom at the hospital. That happened just yesterday, and he is now back home.

Well, the Boy Scouts are now delaying their vote on ending a ban on gay members. We're going to hear from both sides.

And then actress Ashley Judd considering a run for the Senate. She's already under attack now by a conservative Super PAC. And Beyonce getting slammed PETA. Why the animal rights organization has a problem now with her Super Bowl outfit. This is the CNN NEWSROOM. It's happening now.


MALVEAUX: In Saudi Arabia, a secret American drone base no longer a secret. Both "The New York Times" and "The Washington post" disclosed this base exists, saying that questions about the drone program are probably going to come up during this week's confirmation hearings for John Brennan as CIA director. Brennan used to actually run the CIA station in Saudi Arabia.

Well, the Boy Scout motto is to be prepared, right? Well, it turns out the group was not prepared to decide the issue of allowing gay scouts and troop leaders. The vote was expected today, but now the Boy Scouts of America says it needs more time to get more input, so that vote is going to take place now in May. Well, today, the group Texas Values held a scouting rally against lifting the ban. The Boy Scouts are getting pressure now from all sides including religious leaders who oppose any change.


FRANK PAGE, PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: It is about intolerance toward a private group who holds to biblical moralities Which does reveal righteousness and unrighteousness. it's about a systemic attempt to hurt, to change a private organization, that holds to certain beliefs. That's what this is about. It is about discrimination and intolerance toward those who hold a biblical morality. And it's a sad day when we, they cannot express their beliefs and hold to them.


MALVEAUX: I want to continue the conversation with James Dale, he was expelled from the Boy Scouts for being gay. And also Dan Simon who is in Salt Lake City at the so-called ground zero when opponents are gathered for lifting the ban.

James, I want to start off with you, talk about your experience. And what do you think of today's decision now, that they are delaying the decision? Do you think that's a good thing, that they will take some time, some thought in this, and what they do next?

JAMES DALE, EX-BOY SCOUT: It is certainly disappointing the scouts didn't end the toxic policy of discriminating against gay children today, but I hope that in the three months they are taking they do it the right way and top down end the ban. Because it will not go away.

MALVEAUX: What do you hope comes out of this delay, if you will? Do you hope that more voices will be a part of this debate? Do you think it means there are more people thinking this is an issue of discrimination, we should really open this up and allow gay members as well?

DALE: Yes. I think the President of the United States was loud and clear on Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday, speaking against the Boy Scouts' brand of discrimination. As honorary chief scout executive, I think his opinion and point of view should be well heard. I think that the members have spoken, 21 percent of the Boy Scouts' membership has left the organization since the Boy Scouts victory in the United States Supreme Court. I think they need to make themselves relevant. And the only way to be relevant today is about not discriminating. And that's a top down policy.

When they said that they had to overturn New Jersey's law against discrimination in my case, that was a top down decision. So likewise, if you're going to end the ban, it needs to come from the top. You can't kick the can down the road and force individual troops to decide the morality of a 13 year-old child make him have to struggle with a decision if I come out as gay, my scout troop will kick me out. No child should have to face that type of discrimination.

MALVEAUX: James, it might be a surprise to you, when I was a girl, I was a Boy Scout. I was part of a local troop, troop 610 in Columbia, Maryland. It was part of an experiment to see if girls could become Eagle Scouts. I know you became an Eagle Scout. This is something that happened and one of the best experiences to be part of all of this. Why do you suppose that local chapters of the scouts like mine had no problem with having girls join the scout troop, and yet, there are some Boy Scouts, troops, that don't allow gays?

DALE: Unfortunately, I think the Boy Scouts of America have been co- opted by the right wing, and people with very small minds, and are living in the 1950's, the values of the Boy Scouts have to remain true, but they should be relevant to today's times. And that is what we have seen over the past 13 years. We have seen people walking away from the Boy Scouts, people leaving them in droves, sponsors, funders, members, adult volunteers. I would hope the Boy Scouts over the next three months make themselves relevant and be welcoming to young children and not be excluding young children. Hopefully they can take a page from the Girl Scouts who don't discriminate at all.

MALVEAUX: Girl scouts don't discriminate and with the troop in Columbia, they allowed us to participate as well. Thank you.

I want to bring in Dan Simon to talk about whether or not we think this is an issue of discrimination or morality. You talked to folks there who think this is a morality issue and not discrimination.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Suzanne, we are at the Boy Scout headquarters here in Salt Lake City. It's important to point out that scouting is very important to this community. There are more Boy Scouts in this area than any other part of the United States. And they are very pleased by this decision. They thought things were moving too fast here. The bottom line is that they view this issue through the prism of the Mormon Church. And the church views same sex relationships, of course, as sinful. I did speak to a father, also a Boy Scout leader, and I asked him a very pointed question about those who would argue that they are on the wrong side of history as relates to this debate. Take a look.


ERIC MONTAGUE, SCOUT LEADER: It has nothing to do with gay rights. This issue is not a gay rights issue. It's a gender attraction issue. And it's also a politics issue. As a local scout leader, I don't need to worry about gay rights, that shouldn't be my role. It shouldn't be what I do. And to push that decision upon me is not the best way to go.


SIMON: Folks like him say that if you allow gays to serve in the Boy Scouts, that it will literally destroy scouting. That's their position on this. They also believe that you could see a significant number of boys leave the scouts at the urging of their parents, of course. And you might see religious groups like the Mormon Church end their backing of Boy Scouts. So that's why they feel so strongly about this debate, why passions run so deeply, that really they see this through the eyes of the Mormon Church, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Dan. This debate will continue for at least months to come before they make a decision. Thank you very much. James Dale as well for weighing in on all of this.

And another story, a price to be paid for coming clean, after years of playing dirty. How Lance Armstrong could face a criminal lawsuit for lying.


MALVEAUX: Could soon be pay up time for Lance Armstrong, Armstrong has admitted he was doping, when he won seven Tour de France cycling championships. Well, now the sports insurance company that paid him millions of dollars in bonus money for his wins may file a suit as early as today. The price tag $12 million.


JEFFREY TILLOTSON, ATTORNEY FOR SCA PROMOTIONS: We've made our demand for the return of the money we paid him for winning the Tour de France races, where the titles were stripped. Mr. Armstrong and his legal team have not complied with that demand, and have publicly said he will not return prize money. So we are left with little choice but to institute legal proceedings, which my client plans on doing.


MALVEAUX: I want to bring in Dave Zirin, he's a sports editor for "The Nation" magazine joining us from Washington. David, what do you think, the insurance company, they have a real case, do they have a shot at winning?

DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, "THE NATION": Absolutely they have a case and shot at winning. One reason is that they are not alone. It's not just the insurance company, it's the U.S. postal service, it's a local sponsor in Dallas, you are talking about Lance Armstrong, who has a reputed $100 million fortune and different companies are lining up to figure out how much of that they can get back. The idea that Lance Armstrong, who was once the platinum gold standard for an athlete endorsing your product is now someone who they can make the case retroactively, actually tarnishes the brand of their product. So this is the thing that a lot of us were asking when Armstrong went so public with Oprah Winfrey. In a way, it was putting a big neon sign on his back saying come and get me.

MALVEAUX: Wow and so they are coming to get him, and he might not even be off the hook for criminal charges. Right? That's a possibility. Right?

ZIRIN: Yes. This news is absolutely burning up the sports world right now. The news that Lance Armstrong might be facing years in federal prison, not for doping, not for trafficking steroids or anything like that. But for obstruction of justice, for the whole -- what has been called euphemistically bullying, as in preventing people from testifying, trying to get them not to testify against him.

This was another thing that was said when he went on TV with Oprah. He was cagey with Oprah, only admitting any sort of drug use before 2005. And for a lot of us, we said okay, 2005. But for legal observers, it was okay, he is saying 2005 because of the statute of limitations, which just ran out. So he can't be prosecuted for trafficking. So they can't get him for that. What they are saying, what about if he even talked to one witness who testified under oath to the United States anti-doping agency, which is a federal agency. So you are swearing under oath to tell the truth. And if he is telling them to perjure themselves in that context, they can go after him. Once again going on Oprah, it's like he is daring federal authorities to do that. That is why you also have a controversy in the attorney general's offices in the United States. Because the California AG a year ago, a man names Andre Barratti (ph) he said he wasn't going to prosecute Lance Armstrong. The federal government has now said they are looking into that. And one person high up in the justice department said, very huffily to a news service, he said Andre Barratti (ph) does not speak for the federal government.

MALVEAUX: You are all over that, David. We will follow that and see if there are criminal charges that happen and how this plays out. David, thank you very much.

And we are also following the story that people are still talking about. This is when the power went out during the Super Bowl. It came as a shock to a lot of us that were watching, but not to some other folks. Months before Sunday's blackout, the private electricity company that serves the Superdome and upgraded its network, but a newly released memo written in October shows that even after the upgrade, the company was concerned about the reliability of service from the connection point at the dome.

MALVEAUZ: What do comedian Chris Rock, singer Tony Bennett and gun wielding actors (ph) have in common? They are in D.C. today demanding to fight gun violence. Joining us is actress Anna Deavere Smith, will talk about why they are there.



ANNA DEVEARE CMITH, ARTIST IN RESIDENCE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: We have two choices, either we will arm school officials and transform walls of learning into fortresses. Or we are going to keep our classrooms places that are full of openness, imagination, and joy and safety. We can do the latter option if we have the will to act. Congress must now act on a sensible plan to keep assault weapons out of our neighborhoods, out of our schools, and guns out of the hands of dangerous and compromised people.