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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Rare and Dangerous Meteor Shower in Russia; Carnival Passengers Grateful to Reach Land; Love Letters from LBJ; Harvey Weinstein Talks "Escape from Planet Earth"

Aired February 15, 2013 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BRAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everyone. We have some spectacular new pictures of a rare and frankly dangerous meteor shower raining down on Southern Russia this morning. This happened in the Ural mountain region. Witnesses reported hearing and feeling a powerful past followed by bright burning objects calling from the sky. Five hundred people were injured and nearly two dozen had to be treated at hospitals, mostly from broken glass. The buildings shook, car alarms went off, and cell phone service all interrupted.

That's some big news overnight. There was other big news, of course, with the cruise ship Triumph finally reaching shore. Brooke Baldwin in Mobile, Alabama. Hey, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm hoping as we speak, John Berman, that a lot of people are safe and sound and finally got that fresh, hot shower they were so yearning for after they got off this cruise ship here, Triumph, right around 1:30 a.m. local time. Thousands of those passengers, they're now either sleeping or en route back home after enduring what was a grueling and, if I may, gross process of being pulled into shore on board this cruise ship.

Earlier this morning, I talked to some of the passengers who said it, you know, really it was the exhaustion from what they went through these last five days. It's finally settling in today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETHANY NUTT, TRIUMPH PASSENGER: You know, up there, we were pumped with anxiety, because we're getting off, we're getting off. Now it's like we're back to reality and it's just hitting, that exhaustion, the tiredness, the realization what just happened. So it's all -- I don't know, it just feels like we were on there for months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: She said it felt like months because, for the past five days, they had to endure some pretty horrific conditions.

Forgive me if you're eating breakfast but they are describing the urine-soaked carpets, the dwindling food supplies, the power, rooms that apparently smelled so bad people had to pull the mattresses and pull the sheets into the decks and the hallways just to get away from the stench. The cruise line, let's be clear, they're owning up to what happened and offering compensation.

This is what the Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERRY CAHILL, CEO, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: I know the conditions on board were very poor. I know it was very difficult. And I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests to that. We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Part of the compensation package from Carnival is hotel rooms for the night. Some of those passengers, they are waking up either here in Mobile, some of them waking up in New Orleans as they're making their way back home, wherever home may be.

Brian Todd is live for us this morning in New Orleans having talked to some of these people. And I imagine -- I love the pictures of them kissing dry land -- they are elated to be off this boat.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are just so grateful to be here, Brooke. Some of them are in shell-shock exhaustion, others are just giddy with relief, all of them very grateful to be on dry land. These buses have been rolling in here all morning from Mobile, Alabama; some of them are rolling back out now.

Some of these passengers electing just to stay for a couple of hours just to get cleaned up, then heading back on the buses to go to either New Orleans, to the airport here, or to Texas straight on the buses, back to Galveston where they left their cars.

For some of them, the emotion what have they went through is setting in now and one of those people is a passenger named Maria Morales. I spoke to her a short time ago and it was really just then that the enormity of what happened was just setting in. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIA MORALES, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: We were just drifting. We were just out there, and now that I realize it, it's like oh my god, you know, I can't believe that we were just there, just at the mercy of the wind, wherever it wanted to take us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now others were telling some of the stories you just relayed, Brooke, of the bad conditions, the sewage and the feces all over the place. But others are saying that there were some altercations on board when people were hoarding food, when people were competing with each other for just outlets to charge their phones and things like that. There were fights that broke out on board. But all of them, almost to a person, said that members of the crew did a great job in trying to mitigate a lot of that, trying to keep order on the vessel, trying to get food and water to everybody who needed it and trying to keep the place clean, although that was almost impossible. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Brian Todd, thank you. I want to pass along some news we have just confirmed here at CNN.

So as if being sort of stranded on this cruise ship for five days wasn't bad enough, one of these motor coaches, these buss that Carnival apparently rented to get these passengers either to New Orleans or Texas, it broke down. It broke down just about 35 miles west of us here in Mobile, and so apparently they had to sit there on the roads for about an hour and a half before finally getting to New Orleans. Whoo!

Let's talk about the conditions with two passengers who have been through a similar ordeal. They are Lenora Chavez and David Zambrano. They went on the Carnival Splendor together. This was back in 2010. Remember that? Engine fire, ship lost power, had to be towed back to port -- very similar here to the Carnival Triumph.

So Lenore (sic) and David, good morning to you.

LENORA CHAVEZ, PASSENGER ABOARD CARNIVAL SPLENDOR: Good morning.

BALDWIN: Remind us al of the nitty gritty details that you two had to endure back in 2010. I remember I interviewed you back then.

DAVID ZAMBRANO, PASSENGER ABOARD CARNIVAL SPLENDOR: Yes, yes, we remember. It's exactly the same thing. It's like looking in a mirror. We were just actually talking about that, how it's the exact same scenario -- engine fire, no food, people hoarding food, you know, fighting just to get the only outlet on the ship, just to use your phone. It was just the same thing.

CHAVEZ: And the problems with the restroom, having to go to the bathroom and not knowing where to go. And just hearing the news about this cruise ship, which he and I were saying, wow, that's an upgrade, they get to use bags. We didn't have bags so it was terrible, the conditions on that ship.

BALDWIN: The infamous red bags.

CHAVEZ: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: So even these red bags we're talking about (ph), that's sort of the one big difference. I mean, does it appear that Carnival learned anything from 2010 to today?

ZAMBRANO: I don't think so. I think it sounds a lot like the same thing that we heard when we were on the ship. At the end, when we were first getting ready to get off, I remember the CEO came on board and was apologizing to everybody, stood in the lobby, shook everybody's hand. He shook my hand and we talked a little bit and a lot of the sound bites he was saying were the same thing that he's saying now.

CHAVEZ: Yes, it's like deja vu.

BALDWIN: I wanted to ask you, because this is something that boggles, I think, a lot of people's minds, because similar to your cruise, Carnival offering these made (ph) goods, right? So they're giving them 500 bucks, reimbursing for expenses on the cruise, giving them the refund, sending them home, giving them a free cruise. They offered you similar made (ph) goods in 2010. You took the free cruise after everything you went through. Why'd do you it and how was it?

CHAVEZ: Well, I wanted to do it because that was my first time ever being on a ship, and what a terrible experience! So I wanted to try and have the full experience, so we said let's try again. And boarding that ship, we felt anxiety and we went around through the whole ship, replaying the whole thing in our mind.

ZAMBRANO: It was really interesting because they actually put us in the room right next to the room where we actually were the first time, and on the same floor, one room over, and like she said, we went through the ship and just kept looking at everything, saying, well, this is where this happened, this is where this happened.

And but we were so determined just to go on our trip -- we wanted to go to the Mexican Riviera and we didn't get the chance to, so this was our time, so we took it.

CHAVEZ: But we won't go again.

BALDWIN: Lenora Chavez and David Zambrano. You do want to go again or you don't?

CHAVEZ: No, we will not. After hearing this, no.

BALDWIN: You will not, OK. They're finished with cruising. It sounds like a lot of people we've talked to here in Mobile, they're finished with cruising as well. Though it's a fairly bulletproof industry, as one P.R. executive was telling me yesterday.

Thanks to both of you so much. John Berman, sending it back to you in New York.

BERMAN: All right, thank you so much, Brooke. That's the discussion everyone is having today.

Meanwhile, in the age of social media, almost nothing goes unreported. And that's the case with this Carnival nightmare. Christine Romans has the details on how this all played out online.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And it did. I mean, the pictures started flooding in, John, almost immediately: Twitter, Facebook, CNN's iReport. And we heard the horror stories, and there are many of them. On Twitter, there were hashtags: #stillwaiting, #wanttobehome.

But there are many positive and even light-hearted pictures, too. Here are some of our favorites of the tent city on the deck. Passengers clamoring for fresh air, building a makeshift shelter; in the background, supplies being dropped off. You can see this big wide shot - there you go - look at that tent city there. Those infamous red bags, another image shared on social media, used for waste. This posting on this, quote, "Our balcony outhouse, excited for working toilets."

And eager to say good-bye to the ship: "RIP Triumph".

But many passengers kept their sense of humor. One passenger was looking for everyone's guilty pleasure: chocolate. Another remembering that it was Valentine's Day, making a heart out of life vests and shooting out that picture to the world.

What was so interesting to me about this, too, was that for a long time they couldn't get cell reception so we knew there'd be these spurts of communication from inside of the ship, and a lot of the people, the first thing they did, was uploaded their pictures and their little videos.

Also watching your money now. This morning on Wall Street, stock futures indicate a lower open, concerns about the economy keeping the Dow from reaching its all-time high. But Burger King shares are up 6 percent in premarket trading. That's a big move for one morning. The company's quarterly earnings almost doubled, but it's not because they're selling more burgers; it's because they're cutting expenses.

Airbus is ditching plans to use lithium ion batteries in its new A-350 plane. The lithium ion battery is, of course, is the one that was used in Boeing's Dreamliners, all those Dreamliners that are now grounded after a series of electrical issues. Investigators still, John, have not figured out the primary cause of that problem, but Airbus is not taking any chances. So more on the Dreamliner drama there.

BERMAN: Crazy. All right, there's a lot of other news going on this morning right now. If that meteor shower in Russia we told you about isn't enough, there is an asteroid headed to earth at this hour.

No worries on this one, though. Scientists are sure, they say, that this one will not hit us. The 150-foot-wide space rock known as 2012- DA-14 is expected to come within 17,000 miles of our planet this afternoon. The space rock will not be visible to the naked eye; the best chance to see it with a telescope. That's going to come at 2:44 Eastern Time this afternoon when the asteroid passes over the Indian Ocean traveling pretty fast: 18,000 miles per hour over.

Mandatory budget cuts set to kick in March 1st would force the State Department to slash spending by more than $2 billion this year; that's according to new Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry sending a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee warning that sequestration will hurt America's ability to protect our citizens overseas, as well as thousands of diplomats serving abroad. A city mayor losing nearly $1 billion, $1 billion, at a casino. Federal prosecutors say former San Diego mayor Maureen O'Connor is now destitute after gambling in California and Las Vegas. O'Connor admitted to losing millions of dollars that her late husband Jack-in- the-Box founder, Robert Peterson, earmarked for charity. The 66-year- old O'Connor agreed to pay $2 million in restitution and she will undergo counseling.

Just after Valentine's Day, love letters from LBJ. His presidential library has released the ones he wrote to a very young woman named Claudia Taylor back in 1934. In one letter, the young Johnson pops the question. Miss Taylor, now known better as Lady Bird, eventually said yes, of course. She had to think about it, though. They'd met online a few days before that. You can see the whole collection online.

ROMANS: They met online? They didn't meet online!

BERMAN: No, I was kidding. They're really romantic; these are really, really romantic letters worth checking, worth looking at. Really good stuff from LBJ.

So he's made a string of movies that are a hit in the box office and are very, very big at award shows. Now mogul Harvey Weinstein has a movie called "Escape from Planet Earth". He's joining us with a preview next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So it is Oscar season and the man who really seems like he's in charge of the Oscars, Harvey Weinstein, he's been picking great films for a long, long time and he can promote them and sell them like no one else. His new film opening today is an animated sci-fi adventure featuring these funny aliens they are trapped on earth. It's called "Escape from Planet Earth". It features the voices of Brendan Fraser, Ricky Gervais, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Alba, and many, many others.

Here is a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't do this. I know my rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hi there, roomie. Hey are you finished with the toilet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Huh? Eww.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So joining us now is producer Harvey Weinstein. You made a lot of movies, but this is the first animated film you've ever made.

HARVEY WEINSTEIN, PRODUCER, "ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH": I've acquired a couple of animated movies like "Hoodwinked", but this is the first that I made from beginning to end, developing the script, working in the studio, you know. And it is -- I've got to tell you, it's not easy. This is two and a half years of my life.

BERMAN: You like it. Why did you that?

WEINSTEIN: I did it for the challenge, you know, because I see what John Lasseter and what Jeffrey Katzenberg does. Both of those guys are friends of mine and I have new respect for them.

But I had one great opportunity. The aliens are trapped in this prison. The American general is taking advantage of them, and I just said, guys, why don't we just tweak all these guys and say that the aliens did not -- that the aliens invented computer generation and not John Lasseter? It's in there with a grumpy picture of John. Then also we tweaked -- we tweaked the guys, Eric Schmidt and Larry and Sergei, my pals from Google, we said they didn't invent that either. And I tweaked Zuckerberg at Facebook, and said that social networking was invented by the aliens. It's probably true.

ROMANS: Are the aliens better to deal with on a set than real actors?

WEINSTEIN: Yes, I thought in this case they were, and they are -- you know, a little bit more, you know, I mean, Zuckerberg -- Mark Zuckerberg and, you know, those guys from Google. The aliens just, they do their work and they don't complain.

BERMAN: If you're going after Zuckerberg and the Google guys, you really are as brave as they say.

WEINSTEIN: I am brave as they say. And I think all of those guys have a good sense of humor. But it's a movie for kids. There's inside jokes for the parents. As the -- as the father of four daughters, that was my real motivation. I have daughters from 17 to two and a half. I wanted to make a movie where my girls could see the movie. It's hard to get the girls to go to "Kill Bill" or "Django." You know, they see it anyhow.

BERMAN: Well speaking of "Django", "Django" one of the two films you have this year up for the best picture Oscar, along with "Silver Linings Playbook". You were known for promoting your films. Do you have a favorite?

WEINSTEIN: I can't have any favorites. But I will say that I think Quentin Tarantino has written the best screenplay of the year; he won the Golden Globe, he won the BAFTA. "Silver Linings" Jen Lawrence -- Bob De Niro hasn't won an Oscar in 32 years. So, you know, there are just some great opportunities on our films.

But all of the movies are good this year -- "Lincoln", "Argo."

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Jennifer Lawrence, when she won the Golden Globe, Jennifer Lawrence made a pretty funny joke about you. She thanked you for killing whoever you had to kill to help her win the Golden Globe. How did you get this reputation? WEINSTEIN: Because every year at the Golden Globes, each one of those actors or actresses try to top what they say. So when Meryl Streep said, you know, we were told to thank our agent and God, whatever, which is what they tell them to say at the Golden Globes. She said, "I'd like to thank Kevin Huvane, my agent, and Harvey Weinstein," referencing God.

Four hours later, God -- me -- was sitting in a morning talk show with the dog from "The Artist" relieving himself on my leg on national television. I don't think I was God and I proved it to the world that I definitely wasn't, but they love it. They have this, you know, each one tops each other and makes these terrible jokes about me. I'm a good sportsman; I don't care.

BERMAN: You won the last -- you won the last two Best Pictures though, "The Artist" and, you know, and of course what am I forgetting?

WEINSTEIN: "King's Speech".

BERMAN: "The King's Speech."

WEINSTEIN: And if "Silver Linings" wins this year, it will be a great upset in Oscar history.

BERMAN: And I see one other thing in your film --

WEINSTEIN: And Ben Affleck and George Clooney, I gave Ben his first movie with "Good Will Hunting" and George Clooney's first film --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: That's exactly what I want to ask you about Ben Affleck.

WEINSTEIN: And I never should have hired either of them. I regret that decision.

BERMAN: The most interesting thing, I think, happening this Oscar season is with "Argo" and Ben Affleck -- snubbed for Best Director -- but "Argo" sweeping up all the awards. Is there a silver lining -- no pun intended here -- here for Ben Affleck not being nominated for Best Director?

WEINSTEIN: You know, he made a hell of a great movie and George Clooney and Grant Heseloff are hell of a great producers. You know, if they win I couldn't be more proud of those guys. But they'll probably, you know, have to come in second again.

BERMAN: But how does a snub like that happen for Best Director?

WEINSTEIN: I have no idea. I mean, that each -- each group votes for the group, but it's turned out to be, it's turned out to be, you know, it's brought great emphasis to a fantastic movie, which "Argo" is. There's no question about it. And "Lincoln" is a great movie.

ROMANS: There's a good crop of movies this year. WEINSTEIN: "Pi" is a great movie.

ROMANS: All of them are really good.

WEINSTEIN: Yes, too many good movies, what a mistake.

BERMAN: It's fantastic. All right, Harvey Weinstein.

WEINSTEIN: "Escape from Planet Earth".

BERMAN: It's great to see you.

WEINSTEIN: Next year's Oscar winner.

ROMANS: There you go.

WEINSTEIN: What do you think?

ROMANS: I don't know, I have to see it first.

WEINSTEIN: OK.

BERMAN: Hopefully you can help us all win Oscars, so that's why we're watching this movie.

WEINSTEIN: I can put your voices in "Escape from Planet Earth 2".

BERMAN: We have a deal, thank you very much.

WEINSTEIN: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: Deal, I just made a partnership right there. It's like on Sundance right here on the CNN set.

We'll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, you're looking at live pictures from a parking lot in Galveston, Texas; those buses filled with passengers from the Carnival cruise ship Triumph. They are finally arriving back in the parking lot where they parked their cars in long-term parking before boarding the ship.

The only thing is it's several days later and a lot fewer showers after they originally suspected. Those people finally getting back to Galveston, finally getting back to their cars where they will be driving home soon and our best wishes to all of them after all they've been through.

The other three big stories we're following this morning, a spectacular and dangerous meteor shower in Russia, injuring at least 500 people. Most of the injuries caused by broken glass.

And as if that is not enough there is an asteroid heading toward earth at this hour. Scientists say the 150-foot wide space rock will not hit us. It will come within about 17,000 miles of our planet this afternoon -- no threat. It will not be visible to the naked eye. The best chance to see it with a telescope around 2:44 Eastern Time.

And then there's this new images of Blade Runner Olympian Oscar Pistorius breaking down in a South African courtroom today. We just learned he will be charged with premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend model Reeva Steenkamp. He says is he going to fight this charge. Bail hearing for Pistorius has been postponed until next Tuesday. He will remain in custody until then.

We will have continuing coverage of all these very, very big stories right here on CNN today. STARTING POINT is back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Thanks for joining us on this busy morning. Coming up Monday, Oscar- nominated actress Quvenzhane Wallis; the star of "Community" and "Mad Men" Alison Brie; and former Congressmembers Mary Bono Mack and Connie Mack for "Politics to the Max".

Meanwhile, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.