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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

More Problems for Carnival; Senator Reverses Gay Marriage Position; Pope Francis Breaking the Rules; TSA Director Won't Back Down

Aired March 15, 2013 - 05:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Trouble at sea. Yet another Carnival cruise liner less than ship shape. That's at least the second in the past two days.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Then, a stunner -- a staunch conservative coming out for gay marriage, with a deeply personal revelation. It's a CNN exclusive.

ROMANS: Rampage and a pickup. Take a look at this. A truck driver on a dangerous wrecking spree in a parking lot. Oh, my.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START this Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans. Zoraida is off. John co-hosts "STARTING POINT" a little later on.

CHO: And good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. It is Friday, March 15th, 5:00 a.m. in the East. And let's get started.

We begin with this, for the third time in a month and the second time just this week, a Carnival cruise ship is in trouble at sea this morning.

Right now, the Carnival Legend is experiencing propulsion problems in the Caribbean and can't fail at full speed. So it is skipping a stop in Grand Cayman and limping straight home to Tampa.

Now, just a day before, Wednesday, power problems on the Carnival Dream, at a port in St. Maarten. Passengers stuck on board for hours with reports of -- yes, again, toilets overflowing.

Cristina Puig is in Miami for us.

Cristina, good morning.

Of course, these two ongoing incidents come just a month after that engine room fire in the Carnival Triumph that left 4,200 people stranded for days. Of course, we all know about that nightmare.

Tell us about what's happening right now.

CRISTINA PUIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to all of you.

Today, the Carnival passengers on the Dream are waiting in St. Maarten to be transferred back before their trip also got short. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PUIG (voice-over): For some passengers, it was a cruise that didn't live up to their dreams. And to some of us, their complaints sounded a note of deja vu -- clogged toilets, interruptions to elevator service, power outages. It was the same cruise line, Carnival, but a different ship than the one that left passengers at sea for several days with no air conditioning, and unsanitary living conditions.

But the problems on the cruise liner Dream were nowhere near as nightmarish as those aboard the Triumph just a month ago.

KRIS ANDERSON, DREAM PASSENGER (via telephone): Our toilets weren't working and when I pressed it, the water rose up. Like you would at home, if your toilet was clogged, the water would start to rise up to the top of the bowl.

PUIG: The Carnival says the Dream, with 4,300 passengers, got stuck in port at the Caribbean resort island of St. Maarten, when the backup emergency generator malfunctioned during a routine inspection.

The company issued a statement saying, "At no time did the ship lose power and the ship's propulsion systems and primary power source was not impacted." The statement also said, "All guests are safe and comfortable with only periodic interruptions to elevators and rest room services for a few hours."

ANDERSON: They thought it was something minor, ended up being something more complicated, which is why we're still here. As far as the power outages go -- I mean, I didn't notice it personally.

PUIG: The latest aborted voyage comes on the heels of the debacle involving Carnival's Triumph cruise liner that spent five days adrift at sea, attracting worldwide attention as passengers posted picture after picture of the unsanitary and altogether unpleasant conditions on the ship.

CHRISTOPHER MULLER, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: This is a management problem. They're doing something wrong with maintenance. Carnival has so many working ships that to say that the fleet is in distress is maybe a little bit broad. But, clearly, something is not working right.

PUIG: Ironically, just one day before Dream's problems, Carnival had announced it was conducting a comprehensive review of its entire fleet. The cruise line was quick to offer its Dream guests a refund for the three days the cruise was cut short, and 50 percent off a future cruise.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PUIG: Now when the Triumph became disabled last month three of its sister ships came to its aid, and those are the Legend, the Dream, and the Elation. And since then, the three of them have also had issues. Just on Thursday, it was the Legend. Wednesday, the Dream. And Saturday the Elation, while last month was the Triumph. CHO: Cristina, I feel like I went to bed talking about the Dream and woke up hearing about the Legend. I mean, there have been so many, it's been confusing.

And I guess the $64,000 question is, what's going on here? I mean, what's to blame? Is this an old fleet? Lack of maintenance? What is Carnival saying about this?

PUIG: Well, like you said, we went to sleep dreaming about this and it's really becoming quite a nightmare. We do have an official statement from carnival this morning.

And it goes as the following, "We have comprehensive maintenance programs in place that meet or exceed all regulatory standards and requirements. Immediately after Carnival Triumph arrived safely in Mobile, we assembled an expert team from across the company, as well as outside experts in the areas of fire, marine, technical, and electrical systems to complete a fleet-wide assessment in the areas of fire prevention, detection, and suppression, engine and power redundancies and emergency power generation and services."

That's what Carnival is telling us this morning.

CHO: Cristina Puig live for us in Miami -- Cristina, thank you very much.

So, what recourse do all these disappointed passengers have? Well, at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time at "STARTING POINT", John Berman and Brooke Baldwin will be joined by maritime lawyer Jack Hickey. He specializes in cruise line liability.

ROMANS: A CNN exclusive this morning. Senator Rob Portman, a staunch conservative who was on a short list to be Mitt Romney's running mate, announcing he's reversing his position on gay marriage.

CNN's Dana Bash landing the only television interview with Portman. The Ohio Republican revealing his decision just one month before the Supreme Court hears arguments on the issue, and two years after learning his own son, Will, was gay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: My son came to Jane, my wife and I, told us that he was gay, and that it was not a choice, and that, you know, that's just part of who he is and he's been that way ever since he could remember. And that launched an interesting process for me, which was kind of rethinking my position. You know, talking to my pastor and other religious leaders, and going through the process of, at the end, changing my position on the issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: At 7:00 Eastern on "STARTING POINT," Dana Bash joins John Berman and Brooke with more of her explosive television interview with Senator Rob Portman. On Wall Street, history in the making: the Dow defying gravity at a record high. Looks like there could be an 11th straight win if all things hold. If that happens, it would be the best -- the Dow's best rally in 21 years.

And it isn't just the Dow. The S&P 500 which for many mutual funds, many of them track that if you've got a 401(k), the stock portion of your 401(k) most likely looks like the S&P 500. It's within two points of its record high.

One analyst says it's like water torture, with both bulls and bears. Bulls are worrying the momentum could slow, bears were spook by the gravity-defying rally. But certainly, certainly an amazing run, and it looks like futures are higher.

CHO: That's one way to put it.

ROMANS: Right.

CHO: All right. Now to the latest in a new era for the Catholic Church, the papacy of Francis. In about an hour, Pope Francis meets with the College of Cardinals, the very group that elected him. But this meeting will include all of the cardinals, including the ones who are over 80, and were not involved in the conclave.

During his first mass yesterday, the new pontiff hinted at the church's struggles and delivered a strong message to the cardinals: reject worldliness, be true to the gospel message, and rebuild the church on a strong foundation. Or it will come down like sand castles on the beach.

ROMANS: I want to talk a bit more about Pope Francis' first days as holy father with someone who knows him personally, Father Thomas Rosica, deputy spokesperson to the Vatican, joins us now from Rome.

Good morning, sir.

FATHER THOMAS ROSICA, VATICAN DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON: Good morning to you from Rome. Nice to be with you again.

ROMANS: It looks beautiful behind you. Just simply beautiful. I know there's been so much excitement in the city, and really among many Catholics around the world.

Tell us a little bit more about what we expect from the first days here of the Holy Father. We know that he is certainly broken from tradition on so many different fronts, really portraying himself as humble, someone who is of the people. It's certainly a new task for a pope.

Tell me more about that.

ROSICA: What we're seeing is the continuation of what Cardinal Bergoglio did in Buenos Aires in Argentina, his home diocese. He was a pastor there, very close to the people. And he's continued that. He's simply changed the color of his robes right now, and the world is paying attention to every move, every word, every gesture.

Those of us who were used to him in Buenos Aires are not at all surprised with this. But I can tell you that it does send some jolt through the system here which is so deeply rooted in tradition, and beautiful ceremonies and following the book.

And Pope Francis is telling us, the book is very important, but there's even something more important -- be faithful, be close to the people, smile, and take things as they come.

ROMANS: Tell me what kind of a leader you think you'll be and what his priorities will be in terms of leadership within the Catholic Church. Of course, are the issues facing the bureaucracy of the church and the Vatican, there are also issues facing the masses, especially here in the United States, who would like to see -- they would like to see more done on the issue of -- well, an issue that has faced the church with problems of priests and children.

What do you think he will say or do on that front, if anything?

ROSICA: You know, there are -- it seems that the media has continuously brought up three or four issues, but they're missing the biggest part of why Cardinal Bergoglio was elected pope.

First of all, the cardinals know someone who is a model of holiness. They chose someone who has a real passion for evangelization and the new evangelization which is more than just a buzzword. This is what the church is all about. It's about taking the gospel to the people.

They chose someone who has an extraordinary record for compassion, for relating to people not just those within the Catholic Church, those who are good Catholics, but especially those on the fringes, the poor, the destitute, the disenfranchised, those living in irregular relationships, those who have suffered, those who have brought suffering upon themselves. That's why they chose this man. But this man is deeply rooted in tradition.

So, to say that the pope has been elected to widen the church, or to address particular agendas of different countries is missing the point.

The pope is elected because he's the pastor of a world church. First of all, he has to embody holiness, to preach Jesus Christ unabashedly, to call a saint a saint as he did in that homily yesterday, a seven- minute homily, not from a text, in which he talked about what this means to be a leader in the church today, to be founded on Jesus Christ, to build together, to journey together and also, not to be afraid to speak about that.

And if we don't do that, with Jesus in mind, carrying the cross, we do really build sand castles.

ROMANS: All right, thank you so much. Deputy Vatican spokesman, nice to see you this morning. Thank you, sir.

CHO: First on CNN, a Libyan source says a man suspected of being involved in the September 11th attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi is being held in Libya. The suspect has reportedly been interviewed by the FBI face-to-face in the presence of Libyan authorities. Two sources tell us the man's name is Faraj al-Shibli. One says he was detained within the past two days and had recently returned from a trip to Pakistan.

ROMANS: Frightening moments in Miami as a JumboTron comes crashing down, critically injuring two workers. They were helping to set up for a downtown music festival when the huge screen fell as they were hoisting it up on the stage. The festival is still on track to begin this afternoon.

CHO: And more amazing video to show you this morning. A man is under arrest after going on a parking lot rampage outside a Home Depot store in Riverdale, Utah. Take a look at this. Police say the suspect made the same gesture at officers before running down a row of storage sheds.

They arrested Dave Arby (ph) him and found two handguns and three rifles all loaded inside that truck.

That's not all. Before the camera started rolling he allegedly struck a stop sign and then a light pole.

ROMANS: All right. He's one man against a whole tide of criticism. Watch the head of the TSA defend his decision to allow small knives on airplanes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: The director of the TSA refusing to back down from his controversial decision to allow passengers to carry small plane knives on planes. John Pistole says he won't reverse that decision despite the fact that entire airline industry is against him.

Here's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The head of the Transportation Security Administration, John Pistole, was sticking to his message on Capitol Hill. He's taken harsh criticism on his decision on March 5th allowing small knives on planes, while the limit on liquids you can carry on a plane remains in effect.

Pistole was on the Hill restating his position.

JOHN PISTOLE, ADMINISTRATOR, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: That a small pocketknife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft. An improvised explosive device will. And we know from internal covert testing, searching for these items which will not blow up an aircraft can distract our security officers from focusing on the components of an IED.

JOHNS: To underscore the idea that people need to focus on a threat that could blow up a plane, Pistole even played an old video of the detonation of a chemical explosive called PETN. TSA says this is the real danger.

But Pistole has not been able to tamp down the uproar.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), MISSISSIPPI: This is a big deal and I'm trying to figure out how this could not be perceived as something potentially dangerous to the people on planes.

JOHNS: Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee wants TSA to rethink this.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: You need to stop this now. These cause bleeding. These cause injury. These can cause a terrible tragedy. And I don't want to take it to the next length. It can possibly cause someone to lose their life.

PISTOLE: The fact is, there are so many objects already on flights that can cause the type of harm you're talking about.

JOHNS: Three airlines and the flight attendants association don't think it's a good idea either.

SARAH NELSON, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS INTERNATIONAL: We have to help de-escalate conflicts on board. Sometimes we even have to ask passengers to help us contain those conflicts. If you introduce a weapon into the scenario, it is not helpful at all.

JOHNS (on camera): There's also legislation. Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts has a bill to keep knives off of planes. But people we spoke with in the law enforcement community said TSA's got it right. That you don't allow your agency to spend all its time looking for knives when the bad guys are trying to bring bombs onto planes.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: Nineteen minutes after the hour. Let's get you up to date on the top stories.

Yet another Carnival cruise liner having trouble at sea. This morning, the Carnival Legend is dealing with propulsion problems in the Caribbean and cannot sail at full speed so it's cutting out a stop in Grand Cayman and heading straight home to Tampa. Just two days ago, passengers on the Carnival Dream got stuck at a port in St. Maarten because of' generator failure. They are being flown home, as well.

ROMANS: A stunning reversal on the gay marriage issue by Ohio Senator Rob Portman. The staunch conservative in an exclusive television interview with CNN's Dana Bash says he now supports gay marriage, after finding out two years ago his son, Will, is gay.

CHO: We have some new developments out of North Korea this morning. Its state-run news agency claims that someone is attacking the country's Internet servers every single day and trying to stir up trouble. It is pointing fingers, naturally, at the U.S. and South Korea, but won't say exactly what damage has been done. The North has been under a lot of international pressure since its third nuclear test earlier this year.

ROMANS: Day two of the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC getting under way outside D.C. Donald Trump kicks things off in just over three hours. NRA chief Wayne LaPierre speaks later this morning and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will introduce Mitt Romney this afternoon. This will be Romney's first major speech since the election.

Newt Gingrich is a featured speaker tomorrow, but we're talking to him today. He's going to join us on "STARTING POINT" in the 8:00 Eastern hour. Gingrich said he doesn't know what the purpose of CPAC is anymore.

CHO: You never know what Newt Gingrich is going to say. That's why he's such a great guest.

You may not know it by looking at them but some of your friends and neighbors, they just be hiding a secret. They became millionaires and it just happened. We'll explain, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Good morning. Are you with us for a Friday? Welcome back to EARLY START at 25 minutes after the hour.

Minding your business -- the Dow is just unstoppable.

ROMANS: It looks that way, right? Blue chips riding a 10-day winning streak. Today could be number 11. Records every day.

Futures are pointing higher today. And if that happens, it will be the best rally since 1992, the longest winning streak since 1992. A lot of this is due to signs of an improving -- slowly improving economy. Yesterday, we got a report showing weekly jobless claims fell.

And this isn't just the Dow. The S&P 500, a much broader index with 500 different stocks instead of 30 in the Dow, is within two points of its record high. And, of course, the Fed keeps pumping money into the economy every single month, $85 billion worth of money so there are all of these things lined up to push the Dow higher.

Because of the rally, there are a lot more millionaires in this country right now. Spectrem Group, it's a wealth research firm, says nearly 400,000 new millionaires were mentioned last year. Tally them up and there are 8.9 households of net worth over $1 million.

It's pretty close to a record high. So what's the secret? How did they get there?

Well, Spectrem says these are people who buy stocks. They stayed in the market during the recession when less wealthy investors, people quite frankly in financial turmoil, had to bail out. And remember, Warren Buffett always says be greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy. Clearly 400,000 new millionaires minted in the United States over the last year in large part because of the stock market rally.

All right. A scathing Senate report blames JPMorgan Chase for ignoring signs that led to a nearly $6 billion trading loss. The Senate conducted a nine-month investigation. Remember this? The so- called "London whale", a bad trade that led to huge losses for JPMorgan. Report said JPMorgan, quote, "ignored limits on risk taking, dodged oversight and misinformed the public."

Lawmakers also blame regulators for missing warning signs. As for JPMorgan, the company says it has acknowledged significant mistakes and our senior management acted in good faith and never had any intent to mislead anyone.

Clearly, Jamie Dimon, someone who runs JPMorgan, has long been a critic I think of more government, more restrictions on the bank.

CHO: Right.

ROMANS: So, clearly, many senators said look, you can't be publicly saying don't regulate us more and then you have a huge, huge trading loss right under your nose. It doesn't look good.

CHO: All right. Coming up, sparks fly as the Tea Party newbie ruffles the veteran senator. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm not a sixth grader. Senator, I've been on this committee for 20 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Dianne Feinstein -- we will have more from that exchange, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)