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U.S. Allies Inching Toward Strikes; Syrian Activists Claim Cyber Attack; Wildfire at Yosemite Grows; Teen's Shocking Win at U.S. Open; No-Interest Transfers are Back; Tesla's Electric Appeal

Aired August 28, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM crisis in Syria.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The security situation isn't safe.


COSTELLO: Breaking overnight, pressure building.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: there must be a response.


COSTELLO: Inspectors on the ground.

Vice President Biden saying there's no doubt chemical weapons were used.

Also, hot spot: the rim fire racing deeper into Yosemite this morning. Helicopters swooping in, firefighters struggling to save the oldest trees on the planet.

Plus, charged. Tesla is tops. Fueled by electricity, the sedan passing Porsche, outrunning Jaguar. Get in the driver seat. We're taking a test drive.

NEWSROOM starts now.


COSTELLO: Yes, that's going to cost you to get into that Tesla, $71,000. We'll talk more about that later.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Carol Costello. We begin this morning, of course, focusing on Syria. U.S. military preps ramp up, U.N. inspection teams span out, not that it seems to matter. Even as inspectors collect evidence of chemical attacks, Vice President Joe Biden says there is no evidence that Syria's regime gassed its own people.

Key U.S. allies are echoing calls for military action and some reports suggest the countdown to U.S. strikes could now be mere hours.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is at his post at the Pentagon.

Good morning, Chris.


Well, yes, the military is ready, but U.S. officials say there is still work to be done behind the scenes. That includes making sure allies have the authorization they need. Making calls to key members of Congress and declassifying some of the proof. The details of which may surprise you.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): The latest warning to Syria comes directly from the White House.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable.

LAWRENCE: Another sign to expect action, U.S. officials all but telling U.N. inspectors, get out of the way.

MARIE HARF, DEPUTY STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: And it is clear the security situation isn't safe for the team in Syria.

LAWRENCE: The Defense secretary told the BBC U.S. ships are positioned, preparations complete.


LAWRENCE: And a Defense official tells CNN if the president chooses the most limited option, it could be over in two to three days.

Cruise missiles could target Syria's weapons launchers and command- and-control facilities, but that's it.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The options that we are considering are not about regime change.

LAWRENCE: And that, some say, could backfire on the White House.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It may give Bashar al-Assad a propaganda advantage by saying he was able to resist the United States attacks.

LAWRENCE: The administration continues to accuse Bashar al-Assad of gassing his own people.

BIDEN: There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons.

LAWRENCE: But so far they've offered no hard evidence.

CARNEY: The intelligence community is working on an assessment.

LAWRENCE: U.S. officials tell CNN that assessment includes forensic evidence that chemical weapons were used, satellite images of activity at chemical weapons depots, and intercepted communications of Syrian forces.


LAWRENCE: Now sources told me they had intercepted calls between Syria and military commanders, but the Web site foreign policy has additional details reporting that it was a panic call from the Ministry of Defense. An official there calling one of the leaders of the chemical weapons unit asking him and demanding answers for a nerve gas attack that had just killed civilians.

And, Carol, if these details are true, it raises all kinds of questions as to who exactly ordered this attack. And also it underscores the need for the Obama administration to bring some hard evidence forward because with the memory of the lead up to the war in Iraq still fresh in a lot of Americans minds, simply saying, trust us, he did it, will not be enough.

COSTELLO: I think you're right on that count. Chris Lawrence reporting live from the Pentagon this morning.

Syria, of course, is vowing to retaliate for any military attack and this morning some pro-Syrian activists say they are behind the cyber attack on an iconic American newspaper. Since mid-afternoon yesterday hackers have managed to cripple the "New York Times" Web site. The Syrian Electronic Army is apparently taking credit, as it has in past attacks on the Web sites of CNN and other organizations.

Christine Romans, the host of CNN's "YOUR MONEY", joins us now from New York with more on that.

Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: Good morning, Carol. Well, the "New York Times" Web site was down for hours, shut down for hours, taken down by a malicious attack. And here's what it looked like, Carol. A group called the SEA or the Syrian Electronic Army taking credit. It's a pro-Assad group that often targets U.S. media. It also claimed to hit Twitter.

Now the "Times" says it's working to fix it and says -- it confirms it was attacked by an outside source. It all comes just as the top story is the expected Western response to chemical attacks in Syria.

Now that response, roiling world markets, worst day for stocks since June. Yesterday, Carol, the Dow was down more than 170 points. Investors rushed out of stocks and into the perceived safety of government bonds and gold.

And you know what, oil prices also jumped on expectations of a military strike in Syria. Now, Syria, Carol, oil moving, right? It's not a major oil producer. International sanctions have slowed the -- slowed the flow of oil out of Syria, but its location makes it so incredibly important for oil transport. It has neighbors, very powerful, and important neighbors, particularly right here that many people don't want to see this particular -- this particular crisis get any worse.

Oil prices at an 18-month high yesterday, above 1$109 a barrel.

Carol, they're moving higher again this morning. That will mean higher gas prices for you if this crisis persists -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. We'll check back. Christine Romans, thanks so much.

Fires burning, homes destroyed, and it's not getting any better at Yosemite National Park. That massive wildfire has already burned 288 square miles. Flames have reached the shore of a key reservoir for San Francisco's water supply and the fire has now forced officials to shut down some of the hydroelectric generators that provide power to the bay area. One hundred eleven structures have burned, 4500 more are threatened.

Casey Wian is outside Yosemite National Park.

Good morning, Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. You can see this road behind me. It's Highway 120. It's one of the entrances leading into Yosemite National Park. This road on a normal day like this would be crowded with tourists, especially leading up to this holiday weekend. But right now the road is closed. Everything but emergency vehicles.

That's because they're using this road to build some protection against this fire that continues to spread and threaten Yosemite National Park.

One of the good things, though, that we've seen so far this morning is you can look around and there is actually some visibility. Yesterday morning you couldn't see more than 75 to 100 yards in many places. The smoke was so thick, the inversion layer was so thick. Not quite as bad as we're getting ready for dawn this morning.

We're able to see 200, 300 yards off to my right here. And so that's going to help firefighters in their firefighting effort. That battle, though, continues to be very, very difficult. We went up into one of these hot spots yesterday and we saw trees that these firefighters call snags. They have been burned and damaged but they haven't fallen yet.

We saw those trees starting to fall. They were very near us, they're very loud, very dangerous. And that's something that firefighters continually need to be on the lookout for. Twenty percent containment right now which doesn't sound like a lot. But firefighters say that they're actually happy with the progress they've made in slowing the progression of the fire -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And that's good news. We'll look at the glass half full this morning.

Casey Wian reporting live from Yosemite National Park.

Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech and the historic March on Washington.

You're looking at live pictures from the MLK Memorial from the National Mall where a huge celebration is getting under way, starting with an interfaith prayer service at a nearby church and later today President Obama will speak, along with Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Oprah Winfrey and relatives of MLK will also speak.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended the march back in 1963. The event helped push Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

We'll take you back there in just a minute.

If you go on the U.S. Open Web site to check out the player bios, you'll see no photos, no details, whatsoever about Victoria Duval. But they're going to have to update that link because Duval has -- Duval is a new star.

The 17-year-old shocked the sports world by beating Sam Stosur in the first round of the open. How improbable was this three-set victory? Former Open champ Stosur is ranked 11th on the women's tour, Duval ranked 296.

Andy Scholes joins me now.

She has an incredible backstory.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Yes, she definitely does, Carol. You know, she's only 17, she's already now got a win in a grand slam event and like you said the backstory incredible.

She was born in Florida, but she grew up in Haiti. And when she was 7 years old she was involved in an armed robbery. She was held at gunpoint for hours. Now she got out of that OK but her parents said, enough of this, we're moving back to the United States. But in 2010 her dad was -- who was a doctor. He was in Haiti during that massive earthquake. He was buried under rubble for hours. He had crushed vertebrae, crushed ribs, punctured lungs. He got out of that OK.

He was in attendance last night to watch his 17-year-old daughter get her first big win of her career. And what a great moment for both of them. And, as I said, she's only 17 years old and you can definitely tell that she's still a kid by her post-game interview. Take a listen.


VICTORIA DUVAL, 17-YEAR-OLD TENNIS PRO: I'm very goofy off the court. I'm very much of a child at heart. On the court, you have to be a warrior. You know, off the court, I think it's important to have fun and be a good role model for other people.


SCHOLES: She sounds like --

COSTELLO: She's such a sweetie.

SCHOLES: Yes, she sounds like a sweet kid, but very mature, as well. And she got some congratulatory tweets from Lil' Wayne, Amare Stoudemire. But they couldn't tweet at her, Carol, because Victoria said I'm not on Twitter. And the reporter said, why not? She said, well, I'm not famous. But that's changed now, right? She's going to have to sign up for Twitter.

COSTELLO: I hope the rest of the tournament goes equally well for her.

Andy, thank you so much.

SCHOLES: You're welcome.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Happening now in NEWSROOM, two words, free money. Credit cards flooding your mailbox with new offers. Zero interest. Oh, but there's a catch.

Plus, the future is now. The car that can drive itself. Nissan breaking out, saying it will have an autonomous car on the road in six years. Find out how much it will cost.

And Wal-Mart offering benefits for same-sex domestic partners. The largest gay rights group calling it historic.

NEWSROOM back after a break.



COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 15 minutes past the hour. Convicted Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan had just three words for the jury panel that will decide if he gets the death penalty. He said, the defense rests.

During his sentencing hearing, Hasan, who's acting as his own attorney, did not call any witnesses and did not present any evidence. He also didn't explain why he mounted no defense at his trial.

Hasan was convicted of killing 13 people and wounding 32 others in the 2009 attack.

The family of a Florida teenager now suing the city of Miami Beach and its police department. CNN affiliate WSVN reports relatives of Israel Hernandez are claiming police used excessive force. Cops say they chased Hernandez earlier this month after they saw him spraying graffiti, then they shocked him with a taser.

Hernandez died a short time later. City and police officials had no immediate comment.

Mosquitoes in Florida may be spreading -- dengue fever, an extremely rare disease in the United States. Health officials say eight people have been infected. There's no vaccine and officials warn it can be hard to treat.

Dengue fever can cause high fever, rashes, joint and muscle pain and even death. Officials are now urging people in Florida to wear mosquito repellent.

A messy, soggy start to the first week of classes at Michigan State University. The campus is partly flooded this morning. Two to three inches fell in an hour and a half and many roads closed in East Lansing. Police are warning drivers to be extra careful.

Some credit card companies are pitching a new offer that sounds too good to be true. Chase, Discover, Citi and others will let you transfer your debt from another credit card to their credit card with zero percent interest, for as long as two years. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

CNN's Alison Kosik joins us now from New York Stock Exchange.

I feel like, you know, back in the '90s.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's when these deals came fast and furious. And they're coming fast and furious again. You know, figures just when Americans are getting their debt under control and they have a handle on it, banks are right along aside of them, you know, dangling that catnip.

According to "Wall Street Journal", the offers to transfer money from credit card to credit card at no interest are making a comeback. So, let's say you have, what, $2,000 in credit card debt at Citi. So, Chase, let's say, will let you transfer it over to one of their credit cards without paying any of the interest you would be paying with Citi.

The catch is, of course, there is always a catch, in most cases, there's a transfer fee. Usually, about 3 percent of your existing balance to move it over. So that means on $2,000 debt, you're looking at a $60 charge. And there's like a second catch to this, too, because the no-interest promotion is just for your existing balance. The hope is that you'll begin racking up interest on new charges.

So, if you have a tendency to pull out the plastic more than you'd really like, at the end of two years, you could leave with more debt at an even higher rate than you had with your previous lender.

So, you've got to be careful, Carol. COSTELLO: OK. So, two questions. First, why are the banks doing this now? Is it because people aren't using their credit cards as much as they used to? And secondly, I remember doing this in the '90s. I'd transfer my balance and it affected my credit report.

KOSIK: Yes, so, for the first question you're seeing that lots of Americans have really paid down their debt. They're not carrying as much debt. So, that means they're not paying interest and banks aren't making money off of that. That's why they're offering these new deals.

And, you know, of course, with any credit report, if you take out too many credit cards, yes, that's going to hit your credit score, of course. And then you look at the banks. Banks have historically not done a good job of getting these transfer customers to actually use the cards for new purchases.

You're also at the same time seeing customers get smarter because what you're seeing is they, typically, the customers just want to take advantage of the no-interest promotion and then they don't want to use the card at all. So, you're also seeing customers wise up and kind of play the system, as well, to their benefit -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I like when I hear that customers are wising up. I love it.

Alison Kosik, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: it's one of the most expensive cars on the market. It's also a bestseller. Is Tesla's Model S really worth 100 grand, though?


COSTELLO: Move over, Google. Nissan says it plans to have affordable self-driving cars on the road in seven years. The company didn't give an exact price tag, but said it wanted the difference between a traditional luxury car and a self driving luxury car, to be about a thousand bucks. Nissan also said that it plans to have the ability to go driverless across all its car models within 10 to 12 years. Wow.

The electric car usually brings to mind a Toyota Prius or a Nissan Leaf, not the kind of car that turns heads when it rolls into a parking lot. But the Tesla Model S is now California's third top selling luxury car, beating out Porsche and Jaguar. And it starts at $60,000. If you want all the upgrades, that could kick up the price tag to 100 grand.

What will that get you? Well, let me tell you, it will get you a concert hall sound system, windshield wipers with defrosters, heated windshield wiper fluid and heated side view mirrors.

But $100,000, you can buy a house with that kind of money. Wow. So, what am I missing here?

Here to help me find out, Peter Valdes-Dapena is a senior writer for and a car aficionado.

Good morning, Peter.


COSTELLO: A hundred thousand -- is it worth $100,000, of Tesla, with all the upgrades?

VALDES-DAPENA: Absolutely. I mean, look, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes sells cars for $100,000. Nobody bats an eye about that. But anybody who spent a lot of time in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S, which I have, I don't know anybody that would question that price for that car. The performance is absolutely on par with luxury cars from German, British and Japanese automakers.

There's even more functionality. You don't have an engine. That whole hood space is for luggage. You can put luggage in there. They're seating for seven. Two kids in rear facing back seats in the back and have room leftover for luggage there, too.

So, you have functionality, comfort, the performance of the car is absolutely amazing. I've never been in a car when you're going 65 on the highway and you step on the gas and it just takes off like a rocket.

COSTELLO: We're watching you drive one right now and it is a beautiful car. I don't know, I can't imagine, I would blink an eye, but I suppose if I was a gazillionaire I would not blink an eye. Are people -- people who buy these cars, is it their primary car? The plug-in things are not available in parts of the city.

VALDES-DAPENA: You know, if you talk to people at Nissan, who sell the Nissan Leaf, which has a much shorter range than this car. The Nissan Leaf can only go about 80 miles where Tesla can go about 300, people often buy an electric car thinking it's going to be their second car. What they realize though is that it actually becomes their primary car because most people don't drive more than 40 miles a day. So, you can easily drive your car, charge it overnight and be ready to go the next day.

So, a car like this could easily be someone's primary automobile, especially this one where you have a range of 300 miles. I could go all the way from Washington, D.C., to boston without a problem. They're building more charging stations around the country. And they're building more. I imagine, most people probably will have a second car, but I think more and more electric cars like this one are going to become primary vehicles.

COSTELLO: Interesting. If only I had 100 grand to spare.

Peter Valdes-Dapena, thank you so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: Walmart says it will extend health benefits to domestic partners of its employees. Some are calling this historic, but not everyone is cheering that decision. We'll tell you why. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Happening now in the NEWSROOM: crisis in Syria. Inspectors on the ground a report on chemical weapons coming soon. So, why the rush to attack?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon on the national mall in Washington, where the celebration is getting under way, 50 years after Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Guess what, he didn't write that iconic speech alone. We're going to speak with one of the writers who helped him do it, coming up.

COSTELLO: And the play of the morning. Nine tackles and an amazing play by a New Jersey high schooler. Wow.

NEWSROOM continues now.


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

As the U.S. inches closer to a possible strike against Syria, we're learning more about the Obama administration's efforts to boost international support. More than 80 world leaders and officials from Canada to Turkey to Russia all getting the call from key members of the White House. You can see on this graphic their names. They include Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and defense secretary Chuck Hagel. And these calls all took place in just the last seven days since the alleged chemical attack that Syrian rebels say killed more than 1,300 people.

It comes as Britain prepares to send a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council later today that condemns the violence and approves the violence to protect Syrian civilians. Also, today, U.N. inspectors continue their search for evidence of chemical weapons. Evidence a special U.N. envoy to Syrian has not been presented. That envoy noting that international law requires the U.N. Security Council to approve any military action.