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Storms Hit Midwest; Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Reportedly in Poor Health; Winter Storm on the Way; Possible U.N. Deal to Punish North Korea; Interview with Rep. Ed Royce; Teacher Suspended for Alleged Threat;

Aired March 5, 2013 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, a late winter storm. Right now, snow is falling in the Midwest and making its way toward Chicago and the nation's capital. We'll track that storm this morning with our live team coverage.

Then, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, is in a delicate condition this morning. His health taking a turn for the worst. We'll bring you live to Karakas with an update.

And the Dow is getting closer and closer to an all-time high. Could we see history made today on Wall Street?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Martha Stewart in hot water this morning. Why a deal with JCPenney has her in court with Macy's.

And a teacher under investigation accused of writing this threat on the chalkboard. The guns are loaded, care to try me? Talking about a sick joke here or serious danger?

O'BRIEN: Teacher, serious danger.

Packed show for you this morning. We're going to be talking with actress, Daryl Hannah, as she joins our panel. And actor, Matthew Fox, is with us.

And high school basketball star, Khalil Edney, who's buzzer beater shot caught the nation's attention. We showed that to you yesterday. He is here today to talk to us about it live.

It's Tuesday, March 5th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT, millions of folks in the Midwest right now who are already bracing for or dealing with several inches of snow, it's all thanks to a powerful winter system that's make its way east towards the nation's capital. It's dumped already inches of ice and snow on major metropolitan areas from the Dakotas to Indiana. Minneapolis, where it's still snowing right now, got 3.9 inches overnight. Milwaukee can expect two to five inches, Indianapolis looking at three to five inches today, Chicago bracing for four to eight inches, some people are saying even more there.

This morning we're talking with Jennifer Delgado. She's live in Chicago which is expecting to see the biggest snowfall of the season. Shannon Travis is in Virginia where preps are under way for that storm. Karen Maginnis is monitoring the storm from the CNN weather center. So Jennifer, let's begin with you. How's it looking?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're not seeing any snow. I've seen maybe a flurry of two. As we go through the morning, we'll start to see that snow picking up and it's going to be heavy at times. We're talking six to eight inches. Some locations potentially ten inch inches.

Right now we're on the magnificent mile. They're already getting things prepared. You can see cars are moving along nice and smoothly because nothing is on the ground just yet. But as I said, as we get to mid-morning, we'll start to see that picking up and it's going to get heavier in the evening. We're expecting wind gusts up to about 30 miles per hour, so at times that is going to cause some blowing snow that's going to reduce the visibility.

And Soledad, it's plenty cold here right now. It feels like 20 degrees. And I've been in Atlanta too long because this just feels positively brutal. We do have a winter storm warning in place until midnight tonight. I've been talking to you about snowstorms way too long. I used to get jealous because everybody's out there.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you'll never say that again. It's nice in Atlanta right now.

DELGADO: It's nice in Atlanta, but I also want to point out to you a lot of cancellations out of O'Hare and midway and that's going to have a ripple effect, with travelers going to the mid-Atlantic because tomorrow we're talking about wind as well. I think we're going to Shannon next.

O'BRIEN: A big mess. One it's through with Chicago, the storm is going to move east ward to Washington, D.C. as early as tonight. The nation's capital and the surrounding areas too could see up to nine inches of snow by some predictions. The D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, is getting ready for it. They will be deploying 4,000 trucks and snowplows. Shannon Travis is there with us. That's a lot of trucks and snowplows.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. We see some of them here right now. There's a real concern about the potential for this wet and heavy back breaking snow that could weigh down on tree limbs and potentially down some power lines. Obviously another concern is stranded motorists on roadways.

So we came here to the supersized salt facility right here. I want to show you one of the domes containing some of the salt. You can see it almost extends to the very top of this dome. They tell me about 6,000 tons of salt here alone. I've been playing with it a little bit. Basically what you expect to see on your sidewalks or streets or what have you. This particular facility is actually on 495 on the capital beltway. You can see it in the distance there.

Where the precipitation for this storm is actually starting to form is just to the south of that. Just a little quick on the process for how these dump trucks will be getting the salt. It's basically a front- loader that will be coming in this way in this direction. They'll come over here, scoop up some of the salt and put them in a truck like this. These trucks they tell me can hold about 11 tons of salt actually, so that process will play out throughout day. V-DOT, the Virginia department of transportation tells me that they'll be ready and will put trucks in place to salt some of these roads.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Shannon. Be careful out there.

Let's get right to Colorado's interstate 70. They were able to reopen after severe weather made a huge mess. Blizzard like conditions near some popular ski resorts have caused two massive pile-ups, including a 30 car wreck. Let's get right to Karen Maginnis. She's in the severe weather center in Atlanta with the forecast. Hey, Karen.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Soledad. This is actually two pieces of energy coming together, and they will form off the mid- Atlantic coast. But in the meantime, that broad swath of snowfall from Minneapolis to Chicago to Indianapolis to Washington, D.C., that much is fairly certain. It's beyond that point in time that we're wondering, what will the storm system do?

Well, as we go into late this afternoon, Chicago, yes, we can expect some delays there, Chicago and midway. Then for Washington, D.C., coming up for tomorrow, school closures, probably a given, between four and eight inches, certainly possible. But it's after that time that we're really not sure what's going to happen with this storm system. To the west of Washington, D.C., could see up to a foot of snowfall. Already about a foot at devil's lake in North Dakota. So you think that's North Dakota.

But across the mid-Atlantic as the storm system gathers some more strength, is it going to pull out into the Atlantic or move up towards the northeast and New England coast? Well, right now, it looks like there may be at least a glancing blow for places like New York city. You could see snow, a rain-snow mix and heavy coastal flooding. We'll watch that, another aspect to this storm.

O'BRIEN: Karen Maginnis watching it all for us this morning. Thank you, Karen.

Some new developments unfolding in Venezuela right now where the health of the president Hugo Chavez has taken a turn for the worst. Shasta Darlington is live in Venezuela for us. Shasta, good morning.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. That's right. We had a remarkably blunt announcement from the information minister telling Venezuelans that their president is suffering a new severe infection and that his health is very delicate, remarkably blunt and bleak language.

For some Venezuelans it doesn't come as a surprise. That's because Hugo Chavez hasn't been seen or heard in public for almost three months now. Remember back in December, he went to Cuba to undergo cancer surgery. There were some proof of life photos that came from his hospital bed. But ever since he's been back in Venezuela, two weeks now, they haven't heard from him or seen him. In some ways, this seems like the preparation on the part of the government to let Venezuelans know they shouldn't be necessarily expecting the best. Maybe they should be preparing for a death or the possibility that Chavez won't be able to assume his responsibilities.

That would mean new elections. But don't expect a big change in relations with the U.S. The man set to step in and win those elections is his vice president.

O'BRIEN: It is interesting, the framing of this sounds so dire, which is so unusual that it sounds like chair basically warning everybody that they are expecting that he is going to die. Shasta Darlington for us this morning. Thank you, Shasta.

Let's get right to John. He's got an update on some other stories making news.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. This just in to CNN, the Sistine Chapel just about seven minutes ago closed to the public to prepare for the Conclave to elect a new Pope. The cardinals are meeting again this morning and we may learn as early as today when that Conclave will begin. Before that happens, an American cardinal who was in Rome to help choose an expo is addressing the child sex abuse scandal directly. Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, said the next pontiff must commit to, quote, "zero tolerance."

A Dominican woman who claims she was paid to have sex with Senator Robert Mendez of New Jersey now insists she made the whole story up. According to court documents, the 23-year-old woman says she never even met the Democratic senator. But "The Daily Caller," which first broke this story of the scandal, says reports on the story now are getting their escorts mixed up. "The Daily Caller" claims the Dominican woman is not one of the two prostitutes they originally interviewed for their expose last fall. We'll try to sort this out in a live report in our next hour on STARTING POINT. Good luck to us on that.

The charges getting even more severe, 12 former Florida A&M university students now face manslaughter charges for the 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion Jr. Ten of them had been previously charged with felony hazing resulting in death. They were notified yesterday that their charges were upgraded to manslaughter. They face a maximum 15-year sentence if convicted.

Now for something you don't hear every day. There has been a drone sighting over Brooklyn. This happened yesterday afternoon. Listen to the control tower in New York's JFK airport to report of seeing an unmanned aircraft during his approach to the runway. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a drone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What altitude did you see that aircraft?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Caution, report of a drone on about a five-mile final by the track that you're following.


BERMAN: The FAA now confirms it is now investigating that drone sighting.

So a new vantage point of that giant deadly sinkhole near Tampa. Demolition crews exposing what's left of the room after a sinkhole opened up under 37-year-old Jeff Bush's hole. He is presumed dead after that hole swallowed him up. His brother says he still wants crews to find him.


JEFF BUSH, SINKHOLE VICTIM'S BROTHER: The ground was still stable right there. Why couldn't he -- you've got that long arm. Have somebody hanging from that arm, trying to dig my brother out or something.


BERMAN: A second sinkhole just three miles away has that neighborhood on edge. There was no structural damage to homes, though a fence dividing two homes was damaged. And the family who lives there now wants to move.

O'BRIEN: No joke about that, right? Wow.

Well, 38 points, if the Dow can gain more than that, today we'll have a new record high closing high. Christine Romans has our indications this morning that it could happen.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: This is what you call spitting distance to record highs. The S&P and the Dow both almost there, and futures are higher this morning. So if history is a guide, looks like you could see a record very, very soon here.

What's driving things overall is the idea that growth is going to accelerate in the first quarter. Also companies are sitting on an awful lot of cash. And the Fed is still propping up the market overall. The housing market is recovering even as we're look at forced spending cuts, it could take a little bit of a bite out of the economy. The S&P 500 is up 38 percent from the October 2011 low. Sam Stovall, who tracks these things over at S&P Capital, he says be a little careful because once you get record highs, you often see a pullback after that. So that's a good reminder here to make sure you've rebalanced from this big run and that you are not too exposed to stocks if you're really, really close to retirement.

O'BRIEN: Christine Romans reporting for us.

Coming up next, the U.N. Security Council could soon issue new sanctions against North Korea over its recent nuclear test. Will that be enough to keep that nation under control? We'll take a look. Congressman Ed Royce will be my guest straight ahead.

Then the domestic diva and Macy's are now locked in this ugly legal battle over J.C. Penney. We're live outside the courthouse where Martha Stewart is expected to arrive this morning for court. That's coming up.


O'BRIEN: This morning, a possible deal at the United Nations to punish North Korea for its third nuclear test. Both the U.S. And China have apparently signed off on the proposal.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): It follows that really bizarre trip to North Korea over the weekend, where the former basketball star Dennis Rodman became basically BFFs with the dictator, Kim Jong-un, and said that Kim just wanted President Obama to pick up the phone and prevent more. The White House press secretary Jay Carney says North Korea shouldn't be expecting that call any time soon.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The United States has direct channels of communications with the DPRK, and instead of spending money on celebrity sporting events to entertain the elites of that country, the North Korean regime should focus on the well-being of its own people, who have been starved, imprisoned and denied their human rights.


O'BRIEN: Congressman Ed Royce is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's a Republican from California.

It's nice to have you with us, sir. Let's start -- let's not start with Dennis Rodman. Let's hold off on that craziness for just a moment, if we can. But I want to ask you about the U.N. sanctions and the draft resolution that's going to be examined at this closed door Security Council meeting.

What exactly are the details, do you think, of that, that should be in that?

REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIF.: Well, because the sanctions have the input of China, they are not quite as strong as we'd like to see.

One of the approaches we would like to see on the committee is a duplication of what was done in 2005, when we caught North Korea counterfeiting $100 U.S. bank notes. ANd what we did at that time was to sanction the bank that did it. And that was the bank, Banco Delta Asia (ph) that had been used for the hard currency for the regime.

We found that by doing that we cut off the ability of North Korea to move forward on their -- on paying the generals, on their weapons program, on obtaining some of the things they needed for their ICBM program. So I think that would be the type of approach we should use now that they've done their third nuclear test. They're miniaturizing their bomb, and they have a three-stage ICBM that can hit the United States.

So given the comments about their intent, I think it's time that at least we curtail the ability of those financial institutions that would do business with the United States; we tell them, no, we're freezing the assets in North Korea.

You're not going to be a part of building up that weapons program, because that's what the foreign exchange is used for. That's what the hard currency is used for, is to build up that weapons program.

O'BRIEN: So at the same time that's happening, what do you make of this Dennis Rodman trip to North Korea and really the wining and dining that's going on at the highest levels?

ROYCE: Well, it's not out of character for the Kim family. If you look at the idiosyncrasies of his father and even his grandfather, that dynasty is given to preoccupation with -- for the -- for his father, his father captured a movie actor and an actress because he wanted to be a director.

The son here, he is interested in basketball, so he pays out, I guess, a certain amount of money in order to try to pursue that interest.

But what's unusual is, in the meantime, so many people are in these concentration camps.

And for a society with a population it has to have as many people hilled and doing forced labor for the regime, to have as many people starving -- I talked to the senior propaganda minister who defected, who told me 1.9 million people were starved in the rural areas because they considered them the no-go areas, the areas where there wasn't support for the regime.

Now that's a real cruel way to run a country. And that's the past history.

O'BRIEN: OK. So then let me ask you a question. There are some people who -- we were -- I think it's fair to say kind of mocking Dennis Rodman's entire trip.

There are some who said, listen, mock all you want, but here you have an American who's gotten into North Korea, who's sitting down with a North Korean leader. That's one take on it.

And then other people have said, listen, ultimately, is there some good that could potentially come out of his trip there?

And I'll tell you honestly, I was kind of a naysayer in that, but I'd like to put that question to you.

ROYCE: Well, I'm just thinking about Kim Jong-un and comparing him to his own father, Kim Jong-il. The father had this preoccupation with movies. And you might say that watching all those Western movies might change his behavior and his attitude toward the rest of the world, the outside world.

Instead, as I indicated, he goes out and kidnaps an actress and kidnaps an actor. And it is the most bizarre story you'd ever want to read about. He directs the movie, but at the end of the day, did it change his behavior? No, unfortunately, it did not change his behavior just because he was preoccupied with Western film.

And so I'm not sure that this in any way is going to change the grandson of the man who launched the Korean War, cost the lives of 50,000 Americans and over a million Koreans by launching that war.

This dynasty is composed of individuals who are pretty hard-edged. They might have their hobbies, but at the end of the day, they also have their objective of getting that nuclear weapon, and that's something that we should try to deter through these sanctions.

Congressman Ed Royce, Republican from California. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for your time. Appreciate it.

Ahead this morning, here is a guy who has been teaching for 30 years.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): No major problems or anything on his record. So what was he thinking about when he wrote this apparently on the classroom chalkboard to his students? "The guns are loaded! Care to try me?" We'll explain this crazy story coming up next.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our team this morning, actress and producer Daryl Hannah is with us. We're going to talk a little bit about her new movie which is called "Greedy Lying Bastards."

Ooh, I'm in.


O'BRIEN: We'll talk about that a little bit later this morning.

Christopher John Farley is the senior editorial director of Digital Features at "The Wall Street Journal". CNN contributor Roland Martin is going to be joining us in a little bit as well; we're waiting on him.

OK. Here's kind of a crazy story this morning. A teacher in Indiana has been suspended from his job while authorities investigate what appear to be threats against his own students that were written on a chalkboard.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): The school superintendent confirms that the teacher at Edison Junior Senior High School wrote this.

A. You are idiots, exclamation point.

B. The guns are loaded, exclamation point.

C. Care to try me? I guess he was giving them a multiple choice option there.

The teacher who has worked at the school for almost 30 years and now is on paid leave during an investigation.

CHRIS JOHN FARLEY, SENIOR EDITOR, WSJ'S SPEAKEASY BLOG: It's sad, I mean, it's a tough job. I don't know what happened here, what happened to him, his students. But, you know, it's sad to see that kind of thing written in the classroom. There's so much talk about guns and school safety. Obviously people are going to be extra sensitive to things like this.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We talk a lot about students and these zero tolerance policies around the schools. I mean, the same has to apply to teachers here, whether it was a joke -- who knows what was going on there. It's not the kind of thing you can write on a board.

O'BRIEN: They said that they took it seriously and immediately ordered the business teacher off the property.

But you know, like my -- I have a sixth grader and I was just sort of thinking, what would my reaction be if that happened at her school? You know, you --



O'BRIEN: Yes, that person would have to be out. Like that's just bizarre.

HANNAH: It is just so -- it -- you -- first of all, you don't encourage students by calling them idiots and (inaudible) --

O'BRIEN: Yes, starting there. Before we get to the guns, let's talk about the idiot part.

HANNAH: It just doesn't help their self-esteem. It doesn't help them grow and prosper. But then it's absolutely unacceptable to threaten kids in any way, shape or form. And that is an obvious threat.

O'BRIEN: They basically kicked him out. He won't be in school today or tomorrow -- no big shocker there -- and he is under investigation. It'll be interesting to see where that ends up.

We're going to take a short break. But still ahead this morning, tragedy in a small town to tell you about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN (voice-over): A 12-year-old boy dies more than a month after he was attacked by bullies at school. We'll update you on what's happening there with Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who will be our guest. And he's got a new proposal he wants to talk about.

Then Senator Menendez strongly denies those allegations that linked him to prostitutes. This morning, new evidence supports him. And we'll talk about that case.

Then Martha Stewart, back in court this morning; why crossing Macy's could cost her big-time. All ahead. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.