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U.S. Finalizing Options for Syria; Wildfire Threatens Water, Power Supply; Obamacare Won't Hurt Starbucks Workers; Miley Cyrus Soars on Social Media; More Child-Free Zones on Planes

Aired August 27, 2013 - 09:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Happening now in the NEWSROOM, attack talk.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm totally convinced, not for the first time -- remember, not for the first time -- Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: There must be accountability.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I believe we should use maximum -- have maximum use of cruise missiles.

COSTELLO: Obama orders a report justifying a strike as Assad tells America, you will fail.

Also, Yosemite tinderbox. Firefighters replace tourists as thousands race to save an American treasure.


COSTELLO: This morning, condition critical. And new concerns for the largest trees on earth, California's beautiful sequoias. Have they met their match?

Plus, extreme heat shutting down schools in the Midwest. Temperatures soaring well above 100.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just really hot and it's just hard because we're sweating and all that, stuff like that.

COSTELLO: Classes cancelled, practice postponed. Relief not coming at least until the weekend.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Good morning. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello.

We begin in Syria and late developments on the possibility of U.S. military strikes. Just minutes ago, we learned that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC the United States is ready to go if President Obama orders an attack on Syria.

And that's not the only new development. Within the last hour, we've learned of a U.S. intelligence report that's about to go public. As early as today, we may learn what the decision makers now know about the apparent chemical weapons attacks and who is behind them.

In the meantime, United Nations inspectors are stopped in their tracks today in Syria. They have left for a second day of examining suspected attack sites that were turned back because of security concerns.

Syria's government blames that violence on the rebels, but in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry says there is little doubt that it was indeed the Assad regime that gassed its own people.

By all appearances the United States and its allies are building the case for military action.


KERRY: As a father, I can't get the image out of my head of a man who held up this dead child, wailing, while chaos swirled around him. The images of entire families dead in their beds without a drop of blood or even a visible wound. Bodies contorting in spasms, human suffering that we can never ignore or forget.


COSTELLO: Syria's president is warning Washington about military action, though. Bashar al-Assad told a Russian newspaper, quote, "Failure awaits the United States, as in all previous wars it has unleashed." End quote.

And war-weary Americans also oppose military intervention. This Reuters/ Ipsos poll taken last week, as the first reports emerged of chemical attacks, shows fewer than 1 in 10 Americans support military action.

To give you perspective, consider this. According to Real Clear Politics the average of polls over the last five weeks shows Congress getting a 15 percent approval rating. That's nearly double the support for intervention in Syria.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is at the Pentagon.

It's a tough one, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Carol, but we're learning now from a U.S. official that we may get proof or what the U.S. says is proof that Syria did conduct a chemical weapons attack.

The U.S. official telling us that as soon as later today we will receive an intelligence report. And that report will contain not only evidence of intercepted communications among Syrian military officials, but as he terms it, forensic evidence, as well, building the case for the U.S. to go forward without any mandate from the United Nations.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Within days, President Obama's National Security Team will present him with its final detailed options and the administration is already making the case for taking action against Syria.

KERRY: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people.

LAWRENCE: Secretary of State John Kerry accused the Assad regime of gassing its own people and called it --

KERRY: Moral obscenity.

LAWRENCE: If the president gives the order, a senior defense official says four Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea could execute a mission within hours. U.S. and British submarines are also likely nearby, all armed with cruise missiles.

The extremely accurate Tomahawks can be fired from 500 miles away, with an ability to change course in midflight. The potential targets include the delivery systems that can be used to launch weapons, militia training camps being run by Bashar al-Assad, and most importantly the Syrian government's command and control centers.

The options are not designed to overthrow Assad's government, but send a message and deter any further use of chemical weapons, President Obama's red line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And any time you throw down a diplomatic gauntlet, your words have repercussions.


LAWRENCE: And in some ways, the president is under pressure to back up his own ultimatum. Now the U.S. has ruled out ground troops and a no-fly zone, but even a limited strike does carry dangers because, although Assad may back down, he may not and there's no way to tell what happens if he retaliates and things start to escalate -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Chris Lawrence reporting live at the Pentagon this morning.

An already scary scene in California, a wildfire at Yosemite National Park is still growing. It's also coming dangerously close to a reservoir that supplies San Francisco with water. That fire could soon threaten hydroelectric generators that help keep the lights on in the bay area.

Some 3700 firefighters on the scene now, two dozen aircraft dropping water and retardant. A big worry, are the giant sequoia trees, which could go up in flames.

More than 179,000 acres have already burned. Just look at that car hood. The fire is so intense, it melted.

Nick Valencia live from Yosemite this morning.

Good morning, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Some good news this morning, containment is up just 5 percent from yesterday. It's up to about 20 percent, but a problem here is the thick smoke just up until a little while ago. We had to use masks to breathe and that for us is a constant reminder the wildfire is still raging.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Huge plumes of smoke fill the sky as the Rim Fire continues to rage nearly out of control. Firefighters made small progress on Monday, saying the fire is still less than a quarter contained, but the dangerous inferno is still rated to have extreme growth potential. As massive flames ignite rows of trees and dry brush.

The fire inched near Yosemite National Park, growing to an area now roughly the size of Chicago. More than two dozen aircraft are being used to fight the fire, the steep terrain making it nearly impossible to access some of the forest by land.

Campgrounds now turned into ashes, this car completely charred. But the flames are still miles from one of the biggest Yosemite landmarks, Yosemite Valley, home of the half dome, a rock formation that attracts thousands of tourists every year.

LEE BENTLEY, U.S. FORREST SERVICE: Visitors are through here by the thousands going into the north entrance of the park. This year that's not going to happen.

VALENCIA: The fire also threatens a reservoir that supplies both water and power sources for San Francisco.

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: Remove all the ash and loose debris out of the water and the water gets contaminated, that's bad.

VALENCIA: As well as several rows of towering sequoias, some of the oldest living things on the planet.

Groveland, California, is looking more like a ghost town. The owner of this bar says it's peak season leading into labor day. But with the highway closed into Yosemite, she says her business in growth land is down a staggering 98 percent.

CARINA LOH, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: Everybody who lives here and owns businesses here is terrified.

VALENCIA: The economic impact yet to be seen, but businesses and residents are grateful for the 3700 firefighters risking their lives to try and contain the inferno.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VALENCIA: And, Carol, for all the fire personnel that are here, it's incredible that there's only been two injuries reported, those were minor injuries, but just take a look at what they're dealing with.

This used to be a forest, it looks a lot more like a moonscape. This fire clearly came through here, tore through these trees. And we're seeing a lot of these types of situations all throughout the forest. The concern right now is that this could spread even further into the Yosemite National Park -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I hope not. Nick Valencia reporting live from Yosemite this morning.

Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz is going down the road less traveled. He will not, repeat not, use Obamacare as an excuse to lower benefits for his workers. Those were his words.

As you may know, UPS is cutting benefits to employee spouses because of the high cost of Obamacare. Other companies either adjusting or thinking of making changes include Forever 21, Fat Burger, and, perhaps Delta.

Delta says healthcare will cost it an extra $100 million next year, although Delta did not specifically cite Obama care as a reason.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange with more on Starbucks' decision.

Good morning, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. So yes, we are seeing lately more and more employers stepping forward, saying they're going to cut hours and benefits or maybe talking about cutting because what they're doing is they're crunching the numbers and they're realizing hey, this is going to cost them more to run their businesses, a lot more.

Even though, you have to remember, the -- this health care law doesn't kick in until 2015, so many people are saying, look, these companies are using it as an excuse, they don't need to cut so early. But the thing is, many companies are bringing this to the limelight in hopes that some changes could be made before the law goes into effect.

OK, fast forward to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, telling Reuters he's not going to use the law to cut benefits for workers and spouses. Kind of interesting, because back in July Starbucks said it's worried about the global economy hitting its bottom line. You look at its earnings, missing expectations, it cut its outlook for how business is going to be in the future, but you have to remember, Starbucks, yes, it's a billion dollar company making almost $1.5 billion last year.

Now the one thing, Carol, that's causing these other businesses to talk about cutting back on benefits is this worry of needing to pass along those higher costs to their customers, something they really don't want to do. But you also have to remember Starbucks is no stranger to raising prices. It just raised prices in June, in fact, Starbuck's has incrementally raised prices, little by little, for the past four years in a row. You know, on complicated drinks in 2010 and 2012 in the northeast and sun belt states.

So what you may be seeing happening here, Carol, is that Starbucks is kind of balancing out the higher cost of the health care plan by raising prices -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So why -- why is Howard Schultz taking this chance, for lack of a better word, and other companies are not?

KOSIK: Well, you know, he's got a good record for being involved in social issues, very much so. I mean, you think about, he sold bracelets a few years ago to fund loans for small businesses. You know, he's also gotten involved in gun control -- in the gun control debate after Newtown.

He does -- he sort of is the fact of a really good PR machine for Starbucks and Starbucks is very smart, because when they raise their prices, you don't really notice it that much because 1 percent is not -- it's not really that much. That's just actually one of the most substantial increases that they've made. They make these penny incremental increases on their drinks so you really don't notice it, but these prices have been going up for years on Starbucks' drinks, but no one is sort of up in arms over that because you know, you really don't notice it.

COSTELLO: Interesting. Alison Kosik, thanks so much.

It is back to school for many students across the country, but a late summer heat wave is forcing many schools in the Midwest to shut their doors early and cancel sports practices. On Monday it felt like 110 degrees in Iowa. At least seven states this morning are under heat advisories and warnings.

CNN's Indra Petersons joins us live now to talk more about that.

Good morning, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. Hardly what you think of when you think of back to school, right? I mean, these temperatures, they are soaring out. Look how many people are affected in the Midwest. We're talking pretty much all of Iowa, Minnesota, even stretching all the way to Wisconsin, even back to the Dakotas and Nebraska.

So a lot of heat. And it's not a dry heat. We're adding in that humidity factor. You mentioned yes, the heat indexes making it feel like 105 to 110 degrees.

Here's what the temperatures are without even taking that into consideration. So on its own, Des Moines, 103 degrees today. That is 20 degrees above average. Ninety-six in Minneapolis, Minnesota, unbelievable. Look at the 90s out towards St. Louis and Chicago. So of course the question on everyone's mind, well, is this heat going to last? Unfortunately as I take you in through tomorrow, not seeing a change there, still about 15 to 20 degrees above average, even in through Thursday, we are dealing with this heat. And unfortunately, it's not about the hot temperatures, but how long you have to deal with the heat. That's what we're concerned with.

COSTELLO: All right. Indra Petersons, thanks so much.

Miley Cyrus, still talking about Miley Cyrus. Teddy bears, nude colored underwear and twerking with Robin Thicke. Yes, everybody is still talking about Sunday night show's stopping moment at the MTV Video Music Award.

By now you've seen the outrageous performance by Miley Cyrus. Well, two days later her R-rated performance still has people buzzing and the funny men of late night are poking fun at something -- well, I especially noticed. Miley has a really long tongue.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Nothing funny about it, this little-known affliction here. Take a look.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day is a struggle and every day you pray for things to get easier, but now there's help. If you're one of the millions of Americans who suffer from restless tongue syndrome, there's a wide range of treatments that might be right for you. Consult your physician today so we never have to see this again.

A message from the restless tongue syndrome institute.

JAY LENO, HOST, "TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Miley Cyrus getting a lot of criticism today for what many people are calling her raunchy performance last night at the awards show.

Remember the good old days when the most embarrassing things a member of the Cyrus family would shake was their mullet? Remember those days?



COSTELLO: That's ridiculous. Well, get this, though, the jaw- dropping performance set a record on Twitter, sparking more than 300,000 tweets per minute and Miley Cyrus herself boasted about that.

CNN's Nischelle Turner joins us live with more.

Good morning, Nischelle.


You know, from me, it was that tongue and that foam finger, too. It just did not make for a good combination. But you were talking about this Twitter response and the response from celebrities have been the same response that you and I had, Carol, but thanks to Twitter we can share a few of their thought with you.

So, here's one from James Van Der Beek. Took this as a teaching moment. He said, "Things I learned watching the VMAs 2013, there's nothing you can do with a foam finger that you can't air on MTV."

Actress Nia Vardalos is now apparently scared Miley is coming to her house, because she tweeted, "Got to go, Miley's at my door waving that giant finger and twerking my dog."

Bill Maher thought the VMAs resembled something else. Here's what he said. He said, "Watching VMAs, haven't been in the strip club in awhile, but good to see nothing's changed."

And this my favorite, actor Max Greenfield was feeling for Miley's dad. He simply said, "Billy Ray Sighrus."

COSTELLO: That's terrific.

TURNER: That's my favorite.

COSTELLO: Isn't Robin Thicke's mother commenting, too?

TURNER: Yes, Robin Thicke's mother is commenting. Billy Ray Cyrus isn't saying a lot, although he is scheduled to be on Piers Morgan tonight. So, it will be interesting to hear what he has to say.

But yes, Gloria Laurie, who is Robin Thicke's mother did talk to OMG Insider and she reacted in how you would expect a mother to react when seeing a lady gyrate on her son. Here's what she said, "I don't understand what she's trying to do. I think she's misbegotten in this attempt of hers. And I think it was not beneficial. I didn't get what here point was. It was so over the top as to almost be a parody of itself."

That's a good point, Carol, I never thought of that. Maybe she was just spoofing us all. Maybe the joke's on us.

COSTELLO: I hope so, because that would at least mean a little thought went into it.

TURNER: Yes, well, Miley did tweet about this, and she responded a little bit and it seemed almost like she was bragging or boastful, because she tweeted out, "Smilers! My VMA performance had 306,000 tweets per minute. That's more than the blackout or Super Bowl! #fact."

There's a couple #facts I could say, but I'm going to toss it back to you.

COSTELLO: Nischelle Turner, thanks so much.

TURNER: All right.


COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM -- coach, business, first class, and now, could it be child-free flying?

Plus, George Zimmerman wants his money back. Three hundred grand in lawyers fees. Should Florida taxpayers foot the bill?

And golden girls of comedy, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, the Globes, 20 million viewers can't be wrong. Please, please come back.

NEWSROOM is back after a break.



COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 21 minutes past the hour, George Zimmerman's attorneys plan to ask the state of Florida for at least $200,000 to cover court-related costs. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder and because of that, Florida law says he can, indeed, recover some expenses in the case.

A Massachusetts driver in big, big trouble after driving into a convenience store and fleeing the scene. Witnesses describe hearing the crash.


DAMON MCCAARON, RESIDENT: Heard a loud crash and some squealing tires, and I knew something was amiss. So I ran out to my front yard to see a pickup truck entering and exiting the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not a single bottle broken here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nope, we lucked out big time. The alcohol fairy was with us today.


COSTELLO: It's always good to have the alcohol fairy on your side, isn't it? Police tracked the suspect by following the trail of debris his truck left behind on the road.

Remember the stunning picture from the aircraft showing earth from Saturn? Yes, we are the tiny dot there. Nearly a billion miles away. Knowing our planet would be part of an interplanetary photo shoot back on July 19th, NASA asked us to take pictures of ourselves waving back.

The result, a mosaic of earth made up from pictures of more than 1,400 people around the globe saying hello together to our distant neighbor. That's pretty darn cool. Love that.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: don't like getting stuck next to babies and kids when you fly? Had your fill of kicked seats and temper tantrums? Well, you're in luck. One airline is offering adult-only zones for an extra fee, of course. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: All right. Here's the million-dollar question: would you pay extra for your next airline ticket if you did not have to sit next to a little baby? Seriously, no more crying babies, screaming toddlers, or kicked seats. It's possible on one airline, at least.

CNN business anchor Christine Romans live in New York to tell us which one.

Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's not a million dollar question, it's a $15 question. Carol, would you pay $15 so you would not have to hear this on an airline?



ROMANS: I love that baby. Carol, I love that baby, but I think I would pay $15 not to hear that sound when you're going up or down. And that guy. Toddlers, your ratings are falling as we speak because I've bombed you with all these crying children.

Look, the CEO of this airline called Scoot Air, the discount affiliate of Singapore Airlines said that for 15 bucks, you can get a no-cry zone, a no-kid zone. Seats are $15 extra, more leg room and young children are, quote, "some place else."

The CEO says no offense to young fliers or families. There's plenty of room in the upper parts of the plane, but we're going to have a little area where you're not going to be kicked by a toddler and not going to have a screaming at least right next to you.

You know, Scoot, Carol, not the first airline to do this. This is an Asian Airlines. There was a no-kid zone in Malaysia Airline that banned infants in first class at one point. There are child-free zones in coach class in that airline.

Also, AirAsia X has the first seven rows of coach called a quiet zone, putting the families way to the back. There you go. It's happened before. Here it is, $15, Carol, small price to pay.

COSTELLO: OK. We're talking about Asian Airlines. What about airlines in the United States, would they ever consider this?

ROMANS: You know, I'm sure they have considered this because they consider all kinds of ways to raise revenue, but it's more unlikely here.

I talked to Rick Seaney of Fare Compare say he doesn't see the big carriers doing this here. They are getting money in other ways and they are getting a lot of money in fees that are lucrative, punitive, he says, when you look at the change fees, Carol, to change your flight at the last minute or if you miss your flight, $200 a ticket now. Have you noticed this? It has jumped up quietly to major airlines, to $200 a ticket.

So, that's where they are really focused on revenue in the U.S. Now I wouldn't rule it out. Look, they are always looking for new ways to raise money, but most people I talked to this morning don't see it imminent here, not yet.

COSTELLO: Can't they just do it because it would make some of their passengers happy and not to make extra money? Oh, excuse me.

ROMANS: I'm going to quote Chris Cuomo, he and I would both like to pay $15 not to sit with our own children.


ROMANS: That's awful, but I understand it.

Christine Romans, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: thousands of firefighters, dozens of aircraft battling a fire that threatens giant sequoias and could actually harm San Francisco's water and power supplies.