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Washington State Landslide Threatening Homes; Nelson Mandela Hospitalized; Washing of the Feet; Supreme Court Hears Arguments on DOMA; "Breaking Bad" Script Still Missing, Suspect Under Arrest; Chicago Teachers Protesting School Closings

Aired March 28, 2013 - 08:00   ET


RUTH BADER GINSBURG, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: -- the full marriage and then the sort of skim-milk marriage.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin is here to break down the arguments for us.

And then, swallowed alive. A sinkhole opens up right beneath a man in China. It's all captured on video.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my goodness. Why? We're going to talk about that.

It's March 28th. STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Ron Brownstein is back. He's CNN senior political analyst and editorial director at "National Journal".

And Abby Huntsman is back too. She's host on "Huff Post Live."

Nice to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: Gosh, this -- really, it feels like the sinkhole/landslide story getting out of control. I wonder why?

BROWNSTEIN: It's an epidemic.

O'BRIEN: It almost feels that way. You hate to use that word, right? But it feels that way, because we're talking about that. That's our STARTING POINT.

And this landslide in Washington state has left a dozen homes at risk of flipping right into Puget Sound. It's a nail-biting morning in the hillside community of Whidbey Island in Washington. One home is already been destroyed. Many more are threatened. Nearly three dozen homes had to be evacuated yesterday. And overnight, 15 of them determined to be safe.

I mean, look at those pictures. Look how close the home is and the -- the backyard really is to falling right off the cliff. It's all happening and unfolding of Coupeville, Washington. And that's 50 miles north of Seattle.

It's where our Dan Simon is reporting 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 this neighborhood had been sealed off. You see a lot of yellow tape like you see behind me. We are standing in somebody's driveway. In about 100 yards behind me is where part of this landslide occurred.

The concern today is that more of this hillside could crumble. But they feel like they have a grip on the situation. They think they know what they are dealing with. Right now, they're really looking at two houses that they believe are sort of in, quote-unquote, "imminent danger" of crumbling.

But right now, as many as 36 residents have been evacuated, and, of course, crews keeping an eye on the situation. They're not really quite sure why this occurred, perhaps because the ground was saturated with water from the winter, but they didn't have rain in recent days.

So, still a misery in terms of why this occurred. Of course, the geologists are going to be coming out today and inspecting -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Dan Simon for us -- thank you, Dan. These pictures are amazing.

So, let's get to what exactly causes landslides.

And, you know, as Ron says, is it an epidemic? Because it's in a way, from the reports, Jennifer Delgado, it certainly sounds like we hear more about those landslides and sinkholes.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know, we're really just more aware of this. And, Soledad, we can see landslides and even as you mentioned, sinkholes popping up really anywhere around the world. But -- and the Pacific Northwest, this is not an uncommon thing. Keep in mind, this area gets a lot of rainfall.

Now, we want to zoom in and show a bit -- the location of the landslide. Again, this is Whidbey. And here's what it looked like before we had the landslide that happens. Now, keep in mind, you can see vegetation, as well as the terrain, just kind of holding things up.

But when you get periods of heavy rainfall, maybe rapid snow melt, eventually, gravity is going to take its toll, and the ground gives way, and we've seen a collapse. And it basically went all across the roadway. But you can also see how far along this cliff is. Now, when we talk about landslides, keep in mind, it's not just talking about weather, when we talk about rain and snow, we can also see these being triggered by earthquakes. And here is a very interesting feature we want to point out to you for Whidbey. There is actually a so-called localized fault line that set up there and it's called the Whidbey Island fault line.

So, there could be a possibility that the ground was weakened because of this fault line so nearby.

So, it's really very fascinating. A lot of people are just more aware, of course, what happened with Florida, and the sinkhole. But they can pop up anywhere around the world.

O'BRIEN: Fascinating and honestly -- you know, fascinating, if you are a meteorologist, right? And terrifying for everybody else.

DELGADO: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Jennifer Delgado -- thanks, Jennifer. We appreciate it.

DELGADO: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to John Berman who's got a look at some of the other stories that are making news this morning.

BERMAN: Thank you, Soledad.

After weeks of escalating war rhetoric from North Korea, the U.S. military has announced its 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-defense missile systems.

In less than one hour, we'll be getting update on the Sandy Hook School shooting. Prosecutors in Connecticut will release new information on the Newtown massacre at 9:00 Eastern Time. State police say much of what is contained in the documents being made this morning is already known, but state police do say there may be some new details. The families of the victims were briefed on the new release last night.

President Obama expected to see an immigration reform bill on the floor of the Senate in April. He talked about the legislation yesterday during interviews with Spanish language broadcast networks and said the Senate bill is focusing on what he calls key points.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT FO THE UNITED STATES: They are paying attention to border security. They are creating a pathway for people to earn their citizenship. They are improving the legal immigration.


BERMAN: The president also says he is planning to visit Mexico and Costa Rica during the first week of May to discuss trade issues and border security.

We have two big stories developing this morning out of South Africa.

Some success for the "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius and his defense team. A judge just relax the track star's bail conditions in his murder ruling that he will be allowed to travel.

Also, another big story, former South African President Nelson Mandela rushed to the hospital a few hours ago, battling what we're told is another lung infection.

Our Robyn Curnow is following both stories for us live from Johannesburg this morning.

Good morning, Robyn.


Let's start I think with Nelson Mandela. We understand. He is still in hospital, we don't know which one. What is key and I think important about this latest hospitalization of the former South African president is that the government has issued a statement saying that he was taken to hospital just before midnight Wednesday, essentially admitting that he was rushed to hospital.

Previous hospitalizations had statements saying these are routine tests, trying to calm people down. They say also that he's suffering from a recurring lung infection, whether that means it's bronchitis or pneumonia, either way, medical experts tell us he would probably be having trouble breathing.

Now, I must also stress, I have been speaking to sources over the past few weeks and I understand that Mandela's doctors have been concerned that he would pick up an infection, because it's -- it's change of season here, of course, in South Africa. It's going from summer into autumn. Very hot days and then the temperature plummets and, of course, they felt that was vulnerable. That he was vulnerable to picking up infection.

So, they kept him in his bedroom, which is a high care facility essentially in his home here in Johannesburg and they have limited visitors. But, of course, despite those precautions, it seems that he has picked up something and this lung infection is serious enough to warrant him rushing him to the hospital literally in the middle of the night.

BERMAN: There does seem to be a heightened of level of concern this morning, Robyn.

Now, what can you tell us about the Oscar Pistorius case? A new level of bail now.

CURNOW: Absolutely. Just, you know, one more step in the saga, isn't it?

Now, Oscar Pistorius' lawyers went to the high court here in South Africa looking for his bail conditions to be basically made more lenient, and the judge -- basically agreed with them, they said he could travel overseas, if he wanted to. So, basically his passport could be handed back to him.

Also, that he could go back to his home, the crime scene essentially and also they said that it's not necessary for him to report to a police station. So, Oscar Pistorius now essentially can come and go as he pleases, obviously within sort of a certain framework. Very much good news, no doubt, for Oscar Pistorius and his legal team.

BERMAN: Much more lenient, no doubt, for Oscar Pistorius.

Robyn Curnow in Johannesburg, our thanks to you.

Moving on now. We have some terrifying video. It shows a moment a security guard in China was really just swallowed up by a massive sinkhole. The 25-year-old man can be seen very briefly in the foreground.

He was walking with an umbrella in the rain before the ground just opens up underneath him. Chinese media reports that the sinkhole is 52 feet deep, 52 feet deep, 16 feet wide. They say that heavy rainfall may have been a factor in the formation. People living in the area also say there have been tremors from a construction site nearby.

O'BRIEN: What happened to him?

BERMAN: I assume he got him out.

O'BRIEN: Fifty-two feet. Can you imagine falling off the sidewalk 52 feet now?

BROWNSTEIN: Anything that happens on the planet now that is not videoed?

O'BRIEN: It's crazy.

BROWNSTEIN: It's amazing.

O'BRIEN: So, today is Holy Thursday, of course. And the newly elected Pope Francis is going to celebrate with mass and perform a tradition that dates back to the time of Jesus. But even with this ancient ritual, he's kind of choosing his own path yet again -- washing the feet of prisoners at a youth detention center.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is live in Rome to talk a little bit about the significance of this mass and the significance of what he is choosing to do.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, it is significant, Soledad. Normally, the pope washes the feet of 12 retired priests. In this case, it will be at Casal del Marmo, a juvenile detention center, where he will wash the feet of 12 inmates. And we understand that out 50 inmates in this prison, most of them, in fact, are not Italian. There are some from Egypt, Somalia, Tunisia, and other parts of Europe.

And there's a very high probability that many of those participating in the mass are not even Catholic. So it's certainly the latest in a series of moves by Pope Francis to show he's going to do things his way. He's moved out of the papal apartment. He's living in a simple residence. He doesn't take his limousine. Rather, the bus. So, this is a pope doing it his own way -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: He's coming back, right, to the basic message of Jesus, right? Simplify, and deal with the poor and those who are without. I mean, I just think it's so stunning to hear that.

BROWNSTEIN: Especially in the U.S. The church in recent years has really been known more for social conservatism. And he is bringing back kind of a social gospel side.

O'BRIEN: Ben Wedeman -- thank you, Ben, for the report. That's amazing.

I want to see the roll (ph) on that -- I want to see the video from that. Wouldn't that be amazing?

Anyway, still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, the nation's highest court heard arguments concerning the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. That was yesterday. So, how do we think the justices are going to react?

CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin is going to join us next.

And then taking the fight to the streets. Teachers and parents protest the closing of more than 50 public schools in Chicago. Who's going to win in that? We're going to talk to the school system's CEO and also president of the city's teachers union.

You're watching STARTING POINT and we are back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

This morning, we're trying to read between the lines on which way the Supreme Court is leaning on same-sex marriage. Yesterday, the court heard arguments about DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act. It's a federal law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.



CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: You don't doubt that the lobby supporting the enactment of same-sex marriage laws in states is politically powerful, do you?

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

RUTH BADER GINSBURG, U.S. SUPREME COURT: It's not a question of additional benefits. I mean, they touch every aspect of life.

You are saying, no, states said two kinds of marriage: the full marriage, and then the sort of skim-milk marriage.


O'BRIEN: I want to break it down with Jeff Toobin. He's CNN senior legal analyst and he's in Washington, D.C., this morning.

Hey, Jeff, nice to talk to you.


O'BRIEN: So can you tell from the debate that was going back and forth which way the court might be leaning on this?

TOOBIN: Well, Soledad, as you may know, I am the world's foremost authority on incorrect predictions.


O'BRIEN: I have been there for some of those with you, yes.

TOOBIN: Yes. So I want to offer that appropriate caveat.

But it certainly did seem that there were five votes to overturn DOMA. There were different theories. Four of the justices, the four Democratic appointees, Ruth Ginsberg, Steven Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan seemed to pretty much agree that this was a discriminatory law and had to be struck down for that reason.

The fifth vote, Anthony Kennedy, had a different theory. He said repeatedly it appeared to him -- he didn't commit himself -- but he certainly suggested it appeared to him that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, was a violation of states' rights, that it interfered with an area of law, marriage, which has been traditionally been allowed only to be regulated by the states.

And he thought it was unconstitutional for that reason. You put them together, though, it means the end of DOMA.

O'BRIEN: OK. So everybody is watching, of course, Justice Kennedy, because he's considered to be the decider on this whole thing. Here is a little bit of what -- excuse me -- what he had to say. And I want to get a sense of -- if you feel like you can interpret from what he says here how he is going to rule. Listen.


JUSTICE ANTHONY KENNEDY, SUPREME COURT: The federal government is intertwined with the citizens' daily life. You are at real risk of running into conflict what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: So his focus was states' rights, states' power. How do you interpret that?

TOOBIN: Well, that's a big theme of his jurisprudence for many years. And the way I interpret that, he made that comment and other similar comments, was that DOMA was unconstitutional because it attempted to tell states what to do in an area that the Constitution reserved to state power.

So in that -- for that reason, it would be unconstitutional. It's a different theory, but it still leads to the end of DOMA if he joins with the four liberals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, Jeffrey, that's got to be a little chilling for gay rights advocates to hear Justice Kennedy making that argument because it implied that he would be very reluctant to establish in the other case or any future case a nationwide constitutional right to gay marriage that would override decisions in the states, wouldn't it?

TOOBIN: Well, that is -- that is, I think, one lesson of the two cases back to back, is that the court really did seem very reluctant to get involved in the California -- in the California Proposition 8 matter, that the -- that at least, for the time being, they were inclined to let states decide same-sex marriage on their own, that they were certainly not ready to impose a 50-state solution in the way that there was a 50-state solution to stopping racial intermarriage in 1967 in the case of Loving versus Virginia.

So in that respect, leaving it up to the states, good for DOMA if you support same-sex marriage. Not so good on Proposition 8.

O'BRIEN: Everybody keeps trying to interpret what they're going to rule (inaudible) --

TOOBIN: End of June.

O'BRIEN: Couple of months, right.

TOOBIN: That's (inaudible).

O'BRIEN: Jeff Toobin for us this morning, thank you, Jeff. Appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, so a woman loses her camera on vacation six years ago. It just turned up on a beach 6,000 miles away. That story is trending and there are others as well. We'll take a look at that straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Here's a look at stories that are trending this morning.

Some football traditionalists like Mr. John Berman are unhappy with this. But the Miami Dolphins have changed their team logo. Here's a look at the old logo -- that's on the left, the new logo on the right -- features you'll notice, no helmet on the dolphin, a little color change to reflect the team's original aqua and orange color scheme.

The Dolphins officially unveil their new logo -- sorry, John -- April 25th at the start of the NFL draft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't the league talking about more player safety? Aren't they in court defending the (inaudible) --


O'BRIEN: The Dolphins. (Inaudible) the Dolphin people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. OK. That sends a wrong message.


O'BRIEN: A pretty incredible story. Six years ago Lindsay Scalan (ph) lost her camera. She was on a nighttime dive in Hawaii. Now halfway across the globe, a man found it on the shores of Taiwan, made it his mission to return the camera to her. It was covered in barnacles, but apparently the memory card was still intact.



O'BRIEN: These are pictures of her vacation from six years ago, 6,000 miles later. Now she's able to relive her Hawaiian vacation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sure it wasn't Jack and Sawyer who found it? Or any (inaudible)?

O'BRIEN: And we told you about this yesterday, that "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston had a top-secret script -- like really, literally, top secret script from one of the final episodes. It was stolen; a thief broke into his car near where the series is shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Well, now a suspect under arrest and police are releasing Cranston's 9-1-1 call to police.


BRYAN CRANSTON, ACTOR: I need to report a breaking and entering into my automobile.

They broke my passenger window.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I get your name, please, sir?

CRANSTON: It's Bryan -- B-R-Y-A-N Cranston, C-R-A-N-S-T-O-N.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): OK. So here's the bad part in all of this, is the script is still missing. And that script, of course, could have major spoilers. (Inaudible). The series returns to AMC this summer for its final eight episodes. No, that's a really big, big deal.


O'BRIEN: And I wonder if just someone broke into his car and just took whatever and now they have the script. Or if they (inaudible) --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would someone steal a script?

O'BRIEN: Well, it's shooting in a park near where they are shooting the series, the final episodes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking of final episode, Sunday, final episode of "Walking Dead," just pointing it out (inaudible) finale. (Inaudible) just saying.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- on eBay sometime very soon. They're going to sell it for a hefty price.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wonder if they might have to change it?

O'BRIEN: I was thinking the same thing. Might have to if it really gets out.

So still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, protesters marching through the streets of Chicago. They're trying to keep more than 50 public schools open there. But why are the schools even closing? We're going to talk this morning to the school system's CEO and the president of the city's teachers' union. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT. Anger in the streets of Chicago, where hundreds of public school teachers and their supporters literally shut down the center of the city last night. They are angry about the school district's consolidation plan that's going to close 54 schools by the end of the year.

Pamela Brown is with us this morning and she has more on the protests and those plans as well.

Nice to have you. Good morning.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, a very heated issue here on the heels of a contentious strike that shut down schools for more than a week. Teachers and parents angry about the consolidation plan are once again at odds with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The demonstration was non-violent, but more than 100 protesters were escorted away by police.


BROWN (voice-over): Hundreds of teachers, parents and students took the streets of the Windy City by storm Wednesday afternoon. Dozens cited for civil disobedience, showing their fierce opposition to mass school closures, parents and school employees say the cuts will impact some of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to protect our children and save our schools.

BROWN (voice-over): Protesters held signs, saying, "Keep your hands off our schools," and "School closings equal one-term mayor," while many teachers wore red in a showing of solidarity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was at a school that's safe, but I feel like none of them are safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They should give the resources to the current schools, to the neighborhood schools, to the real public schools.

BROWN (voice-over): Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems unwilling to negotiate, and the district says closing the 54 underenrolled schools, the largest school consolidation in U.S. history, is necessary to deal with the looming $1 billion budget gap.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Having been a product of the civil rights movement and having done exactly as the people are doing today, I get it. It's a part of the democratic process and I respect it.

BROWN (voice-over): School closures are nothing new, but they are increasingly seen as a politically charged issue, revolving around race and poverty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think this is a message that we will not be moved, from the old Negro spiritual.