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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Landslide in Washington Affects Some Housing; Nelson Mandela Hospitalized; White House Weighs in on Same-Sex Marriage; Interview with Roberta Kaplan; Are "Healthy" Restaurant Meals Really Healthy?

Aired March 28, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It is Thursday, March 28th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our starting point is a massive landslide that left one community in Washington state living on the edge, literally. Developing story for you this morning, one home has been destroyed. More than a dozen others are in danger. Look at these pictures, 33 homes in all were evacuated originally. It happened overnight, and 15 of them are, in fact, safe and they have given the owners permission to return.

All this unfolding right now in the hillside community of Coupeville in Washington. Dan Simon is there for us this morning. Dan, good morning.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Let me explain where we are. As you can imagine, a lot of the neighborhood has been sealed off by yellow tape. This was obviously very unnerving for residents. You had nearly three dozen homes under evacuation or in an area where the road literally crumbled away and they couldn't access their homes. They, too, also had to be evacuated. I want you to listen now to a couple of neighbors who describe the situation as it was happening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT HOLMES, WHIDBEY ISLAND RESIDENT: It was pretty scary. I got out there with a flashlight and then just kept hearing a rumbling and watching more and more of it fall in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The portion of it was always eroding, but that much of it? No. No. I mean, I lost 50 -- over 50 percent of my yard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON: Well, the concern now is that this land is still not stable, that you could have more of this hillside literally vanish away. At this point, though, about 15 homes have been rendered safe, so some residents can return. But of course, you still have many residents who are still under an evacuation order. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Dan Simon for us this morning. Thank you, Dan. Appreciate that update. Can we so pop up the pictures again? You can see the distance between the edge and someone's backyard. That is just an incredible picture to see how big that is.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Isn't it crazy? And then you have to wonder, what do you do if you live in one of the houses that's been spared but the land is disappearing before your very eyes. Are you nervous about going back?

O'BRIEN: Why do you think it is we're seeing so many stories of landslides, mudslides, sinkholes?

BERMAN: I think that's the question so many people are asking right now.

O'BRIEN: Is it just more coverage or something is actually happening.

I want to get to the Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin. He's been dealing with the aftermath, which is very unstable right now. Nice to have you with us, sir. We appreciate your time. What are you able to tell the folks who are coming back in and those who are t not able to come back in? What's the situation right now?

ED HARTIN, FIRE AND RESCUE CHIEF, CENTRAL WHIDBEY ISLAND: As we gave a briefing to the community last night, all but three of the homes above this slide, we've allowed the residents back in. As we've advised them, it's still an active slide. The ground is still moving. But based on a preliminary geotechnical investigation, recommendations from the engineer is we can allow these folks back into their homes.

Two of the homes above the slide are still significantly at risk. We kept all of the homes below the slide evacuated last night. And three of those are significantly at risk. Those homes at risk will be evaluated further today by the county engineer and building official and geotechnical engineer to determine whether or not the occupants will be allowed back in to retrieve their possessions or whether they will be excluded from entry at all or whether they -- some of them may be safe enough for the residents to return.

O'BRIEN: I was going to ask you for those folks who it looks like their homes are just too close and are not safe, will they be able to grab their possessions? One would have to imagine they would want to do that.

Let me ask you a question about this area. Is this typical? Is this something that you've seen in other parts of this island or is this something that you have not seen before?

HARTIN: No, this is fairly common, although This is much larger than the typical slides that we encounter. An area from Bush point on the south of the island to about two miles north of here is an active slide area. Particularly in the springtime as we've had rains here throughout the winter and so forth, we do encounter slides. Oftentimes they're fairly small and just require public works to clear the road. In other cases they do impact on homes.

O'BRIEN: Ed Hardin joining us. Thank you for being with us this morning. We thank you appreciate it.

Also new this morning, the former South African president Nelson Mandela rushed to the hospital. The 94-year-old antiapartheid leader is battling another lung infection. Robyn Curnow is following developments for us this morning. She's in Johannesburg. Good morning, Robyn.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, good morning. This is worrying for many South Africans. This hospitalization is different, Soledad, because the last four times he's been in hospital over the past two years. The government here has sought to sort of calm people down.

This time they issued a statement saying he was taken to hospital just before midnight on Wednesday night, indicating, of course, he was rushed to hospital. They say he's suffering from that recurring lung infection. As we all know, a 94-year-old man dealing with a lung infection is obviously cause for concern. What kind of lung infection is it? It could be as simple as having breathing difficulties or pneumonia. So a huge sense of concern here in South Africa.

And I just want to also point out, I understand from sources close to Mandela that in recent weeks his doctors have been very worried about him picking up an infection, and they've been tight and closed about people coming to visit him at his home here in Johannesburg because of the change of seasons. It's autumn here and the days have been very hot and the nights and mornings have been very cold, and they've been very worried about the change of temperature, perhaps bringing about some sort of infection.

So I do know that the doctors have been concerned. In fact, they've kept him in his bedroom in his home and he wasn't allowed to be taken down stairs and just remember this bedroom is a high care facility essentially and he's surrounded 24 hours by medical staff.

Robyn, when I was in South Africa in December people talk about Mandela daily, consistently. Consistently he's in the national dialogue all the time about what's happening currently in politics. How are people reacting to this news now that it sounds much more serious than previous hospitalizations?

CURNOW: You know, I think there is a sense for many south Africans, they are quite pragmatic. They know at some stage he is going to have to die. And they are aware of that. They are quite open about it. And I think they realize that all that he did, the frailer he gets, the more and more common these hospitalizations are becoming, and I think there is this deep resignation, this deep sadness, a lot of people saying, are we going to pray for him? I think there is at the basic just a deep sense, also a gratitude for this man who really did change the fortunes of this country.

O'BRIEN: Robyn Curnow is in Johannesburg for us. Thank you, appreciate it.

In South Africa, just in to CNN, a judge is relaxing bail conditions in track star Oscar Pistorius' murder case. The judge ruling that Pistorius' attorney can hang on to his passport and that Pistorius can travel if he wants to and needs to compete abroad. He has to give a week's notice. He has to submit his itinerary. The judge saying that Pistorius is not a flight risk.

Now, Pistorius is denying that he planned the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his home. He says he shot her after he confused her for an intruder.

There's new developments in the escalating war of words, if you will, between North Korea and the United States. John has a look at that this morning and other top stories.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. New this morning, after weeks of escalating war rhetoric, the U.S. military has announced it is sending two B-2 stealth bombers to South Korea to take part in annual military exercises. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also spoke with South Korea's defense minister about boosting its anti-missile defense systems.

Happening right now, police outside every bank in Cyprus as they reopen for the first time since March 16th. That's when a tough European Union bailout plan was announced that included taxing bank deposits. The news caused a run on ATMs as people scrambled to get their money back before the government could tax it. Now the plan has changed since then. There are some lines at banks this morning. So far it seems everything is remaining calm.

New developments this morning in the death of Colorado's prison chief. A young woman is under arrest accused of buying the gun that was used to kill Tom Clements who was shot to death at his home last week. Investigators say the 22-year-old Stevie Marie Vigil give the gun to Evan Eble, who is believed to have pulled the trigger. He was a convicted felon who could not legally buy a weapon.

New this morning, the "Connecticut Post" says documents that will be released this morning in the Newtown shooting will show evidence was taken from gunman Adam Lanza's home and car. Those documents concerning the massacre and Sandy Hook Elementary School will be outed in just about two hours from now. Authorities say much of this evidence is already known but there may be some new details. Victims' families were briefed last night.

New to a new controversy in the Trayvon Martin case stemming from tweets by the brother of his alleged killer George Zimmerman. Robert Zimmerman Jr. is now apologizing. In one tweet he compares Trayvon Martin to one of the two suspects in the shooting of a Georgia baby. He wrote this, "Facebook pics of 13 month old Antonio Santiago's alleged killer and Trayvon Martin side by side is #uncanny." Both teens are seen making obscene gestures. The caption over that says "A picture speaks 1,000 words."

Another tweet, "liberal media should ask if what these two black teens did to a woman and a baby is the reason why people think blacks might be risky." So Zimmerman now admits the Twitter was probably not the best forum to express himself. He did that in the exclusive interview with CNN's Piers Morgan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S BROTHER: I don't think Twitter is the place to make points about what you recall a year ago, because the recollections that I have or that we have as a family specifically are very different from what can be portrayed in 140 characters. I realize those were controversial and offensive and I did publicly apologize for them. I don't think it was the right thing to do that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: "Not the right thing to do that way," interesting. Zimmerman says he was trying to make the point that he thinks the media has been dishonest in its portrayal of Trayvon Martin.

Last story right now, the Heat is off. LeBron James, Miami Heat losing last night to the Chicago Bulls, 101-97, snapping a remarkable 27-game winning streak. Heat will not reach 28. It leaves the Heat six victories short of an all-time record held by the 71-72 Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James had 32 points. This is the first time Miami has lost since February 1st. That's a really long time.

O'BRIEN: Always next year.

BERMAN: They have a new streak, one.

O'BRIEN: Yes, see.

BERMAN: Losing streak.

O'BRIEN: That's terrible. We can start again. Trust me. They're going to make the street. That's sad news, though. I was so sure they could do it.

BERMAN: I'm sorry.

O'BRIEN: No, you're not.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, she represented the plaintiff, Edie Windsor arguing against the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court. What does she think the justices will decide? We're going to talk to Roberta Kaplan up next. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT. The nation's highest court heard arguments yesterday over the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA.

Many say this morning that the definition of marriage is a union between one man and one woman and could be on shaky ground mostly because it denies married gay and lesbian couples the same benefits provided for married straight couples.

The president weighed in on the court battle. CNN's Brianna Keilar has more for us this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On day two of Supreme Court debate over same-sex marriage, President Obama said this to Spanish language network Univision.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it was appropriate for the courts -- for the court to weigh in on this issue. Obviously public opinion has shifted dramatically just over the last several years. And my hope is, is that we will come to the place where everybody, you know, is treated fairly and treated the same.

KEILAR (voice-over): Eighty-three-year-old Edie Windsor challenged the Defense of Marriage Act after her wife died and the IRS hit her with a tax bill because she wasn't considered a surviving spouse.

EDIE WINDSOR, SURVIVING SPOUSE: I think it was great. I think it went beautifully. We were very respected, and I think -- I think it's going to be good.

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR (voice-over): In the argument over the Defense of Marriage Act, Chief Justice John Roberts sharply criticized Obama for calling the federal marriage law unconstitutional but continuing to enforce it.

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT: I don't see why he doesn't have the courage of his convictions and execute not only the statute but do it consistent with his view of the Constitution rather than saying, oh, we'll wait till the Supreme Court tells us we have no choice.

KEILAR (voice-over): Roberts' irritation came as the White House straddles a complicated position on the 1996 law that denies federal benefits to legally married gay couples. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration has a responsibility to enforce all federal laws, even those it disagrees with.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. That is a position, broadly speaking, that a lot of Republicans agree with. It's not unprecedented for an administration to take that position.

KEILAR (voice-over): During arguments on Wednesday, a majority of the justices appeared to express skepticism about the constitutionality of the law, which was passed under President Clinton two decades ago. And the court's swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, said this was a matter for the states to decide.

JUSTICE ANTHONY KENNEDY, SUPREME COURT: You are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now Clinton did sign DOMA but he recently reversed himself and is now calling on the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional. And Soledad, that's what everyone was buzzing about, all the Supreme Court watchers yesterday, was that five of those justices did ask very pointed questions that made it seem as though they might agree.

O'BRIEN: Brianna Keilar for us this morning. She's at the White House. Thanks, Brianna. Appreciate it.

Let's get right to Roberta Kaplan. She's representing Edie Windsor, argued against the Defense of Marriage Act in the Supreme Court yesterday.

So give me a sense -- and nice to have you with us this morning -- what was the atmosphere in the court like from your perspective, arguing this case? You heard what Brianna just had to say about those pointed questions. How did that feel to you?

ROBERTA KAPLAN, ATTORNEY FOR EDIE WINDSOR: Well, there were really no surprises from our perspective in the court yesterday, Soledad. The justices were very well prepared. It's their job to ask tough questions and they did. And I hope very much that they were satisfied with our answers.

O'BRIEN: I don't feel like you're giving me a sense of how you think it's going to go, then. Did you feel that you did well enough to sway them or do you really not know?

KAPLAN: I'm going to quote my client, Edie Windsor, who you just heard from on your broadcast, and say that it was a good day.

O'BRIEN: Hmm. OK. So here's a little bit of an exchange that I want to play for everybody. It took place between you and Justice Roberts, talking a little bit about the political environment around all of this. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: You don't doubt that the lobby supporting the enactment of same-sex marriage laws in different states is politically powerful, do you?

KAPLAN: With respect to that categorization of the term for purposes of (inaudible), yes, I would, Your Honor. I don't --

ROBERTS: Really?

KAPLAN: Yes.

ROBERTS: As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: What did you think of what he was asking you there?

KAPLAN: Yes, one of the issues in this case has always been it's a factor for constitution analysis, whether or not a certain group has what's called political power. And it's certainly an argument that was made very much by the other side of this case. So we expected the question.

I think the discussion between myself and Chief Justice Roberts was about what is the source for the -- that very much of a change in understanding about who gay couples are, what their relationships are, and the fact that they're really no different than the relationships of straight couples.

And so the discussion we were having is whether that's just political power or, as I was suggesting, that it was about a change in the moral understanding of who gay people are and what their relationships are really like.

O'BRIEN: So Peter Baker in "The New York Times" says that, in and of itself, could be a problem, right, because if there is this momentum for gay rights in the world, it could limit any momentum legally speaking. And that, you know, if it looks like the democratic process, if you will, is playing out, what do you think about that?

KAPLAN: Yes, I don't agree with that and I don't think it will. My client, Edie Windsor, is 83 years old. We believe that she is owed a refund from the United States government for a tax that she had to pay contrary to the United States Constitution.

She doesn't frankly have time to wait for the political process to work its way out. She will be 84 in June. And I think both the court and everyone else realizes that she's entitled to get a ruling on her claim, which two courts below agreed with her on.

O'BRIEN: Roberta Kaplan, argued against DOMA in the Supreme Court yesterday. Nice to have you with us. We appreciate your time. Thank you.

KAPLAN: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, they're bad at their job and they love it. A study shows the low performers are the happiest people at work. Of course they are. We've got details ahead.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, "Mind Your Business," this morning, stock futures mixed right now, the Dow up just a fraction. Should be a light day as we approach the three- day holiday weekend. But, remember, we're going to have -- in about an hour, we're going to have a read on GDP in this country. So closely watch for that data to see if there's any direction for stocks on that.

New thank goodness, low performing workers, they're the happiest people in the office.

O'BRIEN: I love this story.

ROMANS: Research firm Leadership IQ finds that 42 percent of companies, the office rock stars are unhappy. They're less motivated, less engaged, they don't enjoy work as much as the people who are the lower, the middle performers. That suggests that many companies aren't holding employees accountable for their work. They're allowing the worst to just coast by.

And according to this research it also finds that the top performers are doing two and three jobs so they're just trying to get ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: -- want to get something done, give to it a busy person.

ROMANS: And apparently the people who don't get anything done are very happy.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Now you know why I have a big smile on my face every day.

O'BRIEN: Oh, there's a moral in there somewhere, a search about how you can find happiness at work.

ROMANS: It puts the blame on bosses, by the way, bosses who just don't -- who just leave their top performers alone and spend all their time, you know, trying to make people happy who aren't adding to the bottom line.

O'BRIEN: Right. Makes perfect sense.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, the brother of the man who killed Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, is now apologizing for a controversial tweet that he sent. We're going to get both sides in the reaction, Zimmerman's attorney and the lawyer for the Martin family will both join us live coming up next.

And then restaurants have added lots of healthy options for kids, but are those meals still up to par? A medical team will take a look at that.

And then one sneaky little bandit, video of a toddler who can already pick locks. The future is a little scary for this kid. You're watching STARTING POINT. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Our team this morning, Ron Brownstein is back, he's CNN's senior political analyst, also editorial director at "National Journal."

And Abby Huntsman is with us, she's a host on "HuffPost Live." Nice to have you with us this morning --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: -- appreciate it.

We begin this half hour with a pretty stunning study about kids' meals at restaurants. The calorie count is absolutely staggering, even at restaurants that have so-called healthy meals on the menu. Let's get right to CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Hey, Elizabeth. Good morning.

ELIZABETH COHEN, SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Soledad. Soledad, this report from the Center of Science in the Public Interest really lays it out there, scathing, on the restaurant industry. They say that 91 percent of these 50 big restaurants they looked at, 91 percent don't follow the kids' nutritional guidelines set out by the National Restaurant Association.

So let's take a look at some of the meals that they dislike the most.

For example, take a look at this meal from Chili's. You've got pizza, fries and a chocolate milk, 1,120 calories. That's more than twice as much as some kids are supposed to get in one meal. So in one meal they're getting twice as much as they're supposed to get in an average meal.

And so let's take a look now at this one. This is from Dairy Queen.