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U.S. Allies Inching Toward Strikes; Wildfire at Yosemite Grows; Sentencing Nears for Fort Hood Shooter; Pro-Assad Group Claims "New York Times" Hacking; Today: 50 Years Since "I Have A Dream"; Wal-Mart Promises More "Made In USA"; More Americans Living Alone

Aired August 28, 2013 - 10:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, Bashar Al- Assad, the former eye doctor, who has the world on edge.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not my nature to threaten anyone. I'm a very quiet person.


COSTELLO: Is Syria's leader a master of deception? Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember very vividly telling my brother, she's -- she's trouble.


COSTELLO: James DiMaggio's sister opens up saying that Hannah Anderson is not so innocent and her brother is not a killer.

And Wal-Mart's made in America pledge, $50 billion over ten years. The problem, there may not be anywhere near enough money. The second hour of NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello. We begin this hour focusing on Syria. U.S. military preps ramp up. U.N. inspection teams fan out, not that it seems to matter. Even as inspectors collect evidence of chemical weapons attacks, Vice President Joe Biden says there's no doubt 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 near hours. So let's head to Syria's capital of Damascus and Frederik Pleitgen.

Fred, I just got this in and I'm going to read it off my e-mail, apparently Syria's prime minister came out an hour ago on state television and said western nations are fabricating scenarios and coming up with false alibis to justify military intervention in Syria. It seems like Syria's feeling the heat.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are feeling the heat and they certainly are remaining defiant. I also read that statement just now by the prime minister, Mr. Alhalki saying that he believes that the U.S. is fabricating, quote, "evidence" to try and intervene in Syria. That's something that we've heard from several Syrian officials over the past couple of days.

We were talking to the information ministry yesterday and he also said that he feels that the U.S. does not have any proof or at least has not yet presented any proof to the world and he challenged the Obama administration to present that proof and then make a case for it. One of the things that the Syrian government keeps saying is that they believe that the U.N. weapons inspectors, who are, of course, on the ground at this point that they should be able to complete their work.

That they should continue to collect evidence, file their report and then and only then should someone come to any conclusions. However, the Syrian government also remains defiant. The line that we're hearing out of Damascus from leaders here is if the United States decides to attack Syria, Syria will retaliate. However, so far they haven't said how exactly they plan to do that -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Frederik, I just talked to Senator Casey a short time ago and he said that the United States should not wait for U.N. weapons inspectors to finish their report because evidence has already been destroyed. What are the U.N. weapons inspectors saying about that?

PLEITGEN: Well, the U.N. weapons inspectors have already said that they have found valuable clues on the ground. I mean, they visited two sites, one in the southwest of Damascus and then today one in the northeast of Damascus, and said that they have already gotten valuable clues that some of that could point to the use of chemical weapons. They said they gathered samples. That they also talked to a lot of witnesses on the ground, that they talked to a lot of doctors on the ground.

But there is no doubt and this is something that the U.N. has been saying as well, the longer all of this drags on, the less likely it is that any sort of conclusive evidence will be found. We saw yesterday the U.N. weapons inspectors were not able to go out because of security concerns and they call that a lost day because obviously that, again, is going to eat at the clock. The U.S. says the fact that there's still so much shelling going on in the suburbs of Damascus also could do something to diminish the evidence that is still on the ground there. So certainly time is definitely an important factor and that's something that the administration has been pointing out as well -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Frederik Pleitgen reporting live from Damascus, Syria this morning. Thanks so much.

It's not getting any better at Yosemite National Park. A massive wildfire is still growing. Dozens of homes have been destroyed. The rim fire has already burned almost 300 square miles and today the flames reached the shore of a key reservoir for San Francisco's water supply. The fire has also forced officials to shut down some of the hydroelectric generators that provide power to the bay area. One hundred eleven structures have burned, 4,500 more are threatened.

Casey Wian is outside of Yosemite National Park. Tell us more, Casey. Good morning.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Well, the smoke is not as thick this morning as it has been in previous days and so that gives us an opportunity to show you some of the devastation that this fire has really caused in this area. We're up to 187,000 acres that have burned. Those are the numbers that just came out from fire officials overnight, 293 square miles.

The good news, the containment figure is now up to 23 percent. It was 20 percent yesterday. May not sound like a lot, but it means they are making progress. They have now had nearly 4,200 firefighters battling these blazes and the biggest concern they have right now is in the several remaining hot spots where trees like these are still in danger of falling and firefighters really need to be careful as they are battling flames that some of these trees that have been damaged don't fall down on them.

Also, another area of concern, the main part of the fire is inaccessible by vehicle, inaccessible by foot. They are having to rely on helicopters and aircraft dropping fire retardant on the main part of the blaze for now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Casey Wian reporting live from outside of Yosemite National Park.

Happening now, closing arguments in the sentencing phase of the Fort Hood shooting trial. A military jury will then decide whether Major Nidal Hasan dies by lethal injection or spends the rest of his life in prison. Hasan was convicted Friday of killing 13 people and wounding 32 others. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Kaleen, Texas with more. Good morning, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Well, the proceedings are just getting under way here in Fort Hood. The jury will hear instructions from the judge and then prosecutors and perhaps Nidal Hasan might make closing arguments. However, Nidal Hasan yesterday passed up on the opportunity to speak directly to the jury during the sentencing testimony phase. He refused to give closing arguments last week before the jury reached its verdict.

He has only really spoken at length in the opening statements where he said the evidence in this case would clearly show that he was the shooter in the Fort Hood massacre and then he went on to talk about how he was on the wrong side of the war in Afghanistan and he switched sides and that was his motive in this situation.

So we will wait to see what Nidal Hasan has in store or if he makes any comments at all at some point today although at this point, it doesn't really seem like that's the case. Obviously many people who think that Nidal Hasan is dead set on trying to get himself the death penalty so he can be seen as a martyr in carrying these attacks on the 13 soldiers that were killed and more than 30 others that were wounded.

And then at some point today it's very possible the jury could come back with its verdict and, Carol, as you mentioned, it will either be life in prison or the death penalty -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Ed Lavandera, live in Kaleen, Texas this morning.

Checking our top stories at 8 minutes past, the "New York Times" web site is still down this morning some 19 hours after a cyber attack. A Syrian activist group that supports the embattled Assad regime says it hacked the site. The Syrian Electronic Army has also taken credit for past attacks on the web sites of CNN and other news organizations.

A State Department envoy heads to North Korea this week hoping to win freedom for Kenneth Bay. The U.S. citizen has been detained since November. He was found guilty in April for trying to topple the North Korean government. Bay's sister says he's a tour company owner who went to North Korea for work. She also says Bay is suffering from numerous health problems.

A virus is likely to blame for killing hundreds of dolphins along the east coast, according to government experts. The virus is similar to measles in humans and distemper in dogs. Right now experts say there is no way to stop it from spreading.

Right now, events are underway for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech and the historic March on Washington. You're looking live pictures of the MLK Memorial from the National Mall where President Obama will be speaking a little later this afternoon.

But the event is more than just a tribute to the progress made by the civil rights movement. It's also a reminder that there is work to be done still. CNN's Don Lemon is in Washington covering it all. Good morning, Don.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. It got really loud a few seconds ago because Shirley Caesar is practicing. This event is really evolving here at the National Mall on Washington. We weren't sure exactly how many dignitaries and singers were going to show up. We heard Leann Rimes earlier. We heard Heather Hedley earlier.

There are going to be a number of people who are speaking including Oprah Winfrey, including two former presidents and of course, the president of the United States. Caroline Kennedy we were told as well will be here just to name a few and of course, John Lewis, the only living speaker from 50 years ago. He's going to speak as well today. It's going to be a great day. A little bit of rain, but we're all ready for it. A little bit of rain never hurt anybody -- Carol.

COSTELLO: That is true. Not at all. It sounds exciting. Thanks so much, Don. We'll get back to you. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 14 minutes past the hour, a messy, soggy start to the first week of classes at Michigan State University. The campus is partially flooded this morning. Two to three inches of rain fell in an hour and a half. Many roads are closed in East Lansing. Police are warning drivers to be extra careful.

Mosquitoes in Florida may be spreading dengue fever an extremely rare disease in the United States. Health officials say eight people have been affected. There's no vaccine and officials warn it can be hard to treat. Dengue fever can cause a high fever, rashes, muscle joint pain and even death. Officials are urging people in Florida to wear mosquito repellent.

The family of a Florida teenager is now suing the city of Miami Beach and its police department. CNN affiliate WSVN reports of relatives of Israel Hernandez are claiming police used excessive force. Cops say they chased Hernandez earlier this month after they saw him spraying graffiti. They then shocked him with a taser. Hernandez died a short time later. City and police officials had no immediate comment.

Made in the USA, it is something Wal-Mart says it is passionate about. That's why it's committed $50 billion over ten years to buy more goods made right here in the United States. It will, of course, sell those goods in its stores. Not only that, Wal-Mart is spearheading an effort to bring together retailers, suppliers and government officials to figure out how to make even more goods in America. That effort has garnered praise from the U.S. Commerce Department to CEOs across the country.

Joining us now from Wal-Mart Headquarters is Michelle Gloeckler, who is the senior vice president and general merchandise manager. Good morning.


COSTELLO: I'm good. Thanks for being with us, Michelle. So what made in America products does Wal-Mart plan to sell?

GLOECKLER: Wal-Mart plans to sell a whole host of made in American products. In fact, we already sell two-thirds of all of the merchandise that we receive that are made here in the U.S. The effort, which you mentioned is about $50 billion commitment over the next ten years to source an additional products made here in the U.S. and that's across 1,300 different categories.

COSTELLO: What products are we talking about, clothing? Is it groceries? I mean, what are they?

GLOECKLER: Well, certainly we are a very large grocer and a lot of those products are in fact made here in the U.S., but it's really beyond that. Across 1,300 different categories and it could be anything from plastics to towels to -- you know, last week we made a couple really big announcements in partnership with some of our key suppliers around light bulbs, televisions, locks and different hardware things. So it's really a broad array of categories, Carol.

COSTELLO: So do you have a percentage of goods that are made in America in your stores right now?

GLOECKLER: Sure. Two-thirds of what we receive in goods are already made here in America. So this $50 billion commitment is over and above what we are already selling here in the U.S., which means we're going to have to collaborate with our manufacturers and suppliers who actually make some changes. And the time is right for that because the economics are changing with rising wages, rising fuel prices, very dependable energy here in the U.S. many of our suppliers tell us that this is a tipping point and it is time to really consider U.S. manufacturing.

COSTELLO: Yes, because it's getting more expensive to bring goods in from overseas, right? So that's the idea here?


COSTELLO: A question for you, though. Wal-Mart started a similar program in the 1990s and it fizzled because Wal-Mart could not get enough low priced items here in the U.S., but the economy is worse today, especially for low-income Americans. So how does Wal-Mart stop the program from fizzling again?

GLOECKLER: Well, really, when you think about it, the broad array of products that we can sell across, you know, low-price quality products, that's even more important to have the most efficient sourcing plan and when we can make products closer to home, that's actually better for the whole array of goods and for customers.

COSTELLO: I think everybody agrees with that. Everybody does agree with that, but you still have that problem that your customers, many of whom are low income and are hurting already, I mean, still products being made here in the United States will still cost more than products made overseas despite rising prices.

GLOECKLER: That's not always the case and we're working with our suppliers. In fact, last week, if you think about what we did, we bought over 300 suppliers and governors together to talk about the opportunity for manufacturing here in the U.S. and there's so much efficiency available there, producing products closer to home. Even the low-priced goods can be more efficient when you take a lot of the additional cost of freight and lead time out of the system. So this works not only for low-priced goods, but all the way through our very expanded offering and assortment.

COSTELLO: OK, something else that critics say. Critics say that while $50 billion is a lot of money, it's actually not to Wal-Mart because you're talking about $50 billion over ten years. And here's the thing, Wal-Mart's global sales last quarter, $116 billion, that includes sales just to the United States' $68 billion. On that, the company made a $4.1 billion profit, all of that in just three months. If you put it another way, it would take Wal-Mart just 42 days to bring in $50 billion. Christine Romans, our business anchor has long reported on Wal-Mart. She said $50 billion every year might move the needle. This does not.

GLOECKLER: Well, we certainly think that this can be bigger and one of the reasons we partnered last week with the National Retail Federation is to show how this effort can be even bigger than just Wal-Mart by including other retailers in that. So we're leading this and we're working with our manufacturers and suppliers as well as the U.S. government to enable and really facilitate and speed this up and we do believe that it can be bigger than $50 billion. But that's a great place to start and last week was an outstanding start for us.

COSTELLO: OK, you said it was a great place to start. Does that mean that Wal-Mart will think of maybe doubling the money? Doubling that $50 billion or make it $50 billion a year?

GLOECKLER: Well, I think what we need to do is make sure that we're conscious of the lead time that it takes to do this because manufacturing can be complicated, which is why the commitment is over ten years. I sat in meetings last week between some of our manufacturers and some of our state representatives and I can assure you that progress is being made. They are talking about specific sites. They are talking about dates. They are talking about number of workers and that's fantastic for the U.S. economy.

COSTELLO: Michelle Gloeckler, thank you for being with me this morning. I appreciate it.

GLOECKLER: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: You're welcome. Of course, there are some critics to Wal- Mart's plan. In 20 minutes we'll talk to an expert who says it's just a PR move. That won't do much for jobs just yet, but you heard Michelle. You can decide for yourself.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, the simple joys of living alone. Dishes in the sink and TV as loud as you like. More and more Americans know what that is like. Details of a brand-new report next.


COSTELLO: More and more Americans are living the dream. That would be the dream of living alone. New census data shows that a quarter of Americans now live by themselves even though it's more expensive if they had roommates. Alison Kosik is following the story from the New York Stock Exchange. We're a nation of loners.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Alone together, that's what we are, Carol. You know, you look at this report and you realize, you know, some of this goes back to our own life choices, right. More people are actually choosing to live alone. It's their choice. As they put off getting married, it also means, they are living the single life a lot longer. Also, you've got factoring into this a lot of people are living longer and living healthier.

You're seeing elderly people staying in their own homes instead of assisted living and nursing homes. Then, believe it or not, technology is factoring into this as well. They found that technology actually helped drive this change because social media keeps us all connected. Who knows, living alone doesn't feel as lonely. But that's sad if you rely on Facebook as your companion.

So as of last year, the numbers are this, 27 percent of households were made up of people living alone. Compare that to 17 percent in 1970 -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So what about all of those boomerang kids that moved in with their parents? I mean, they need company.

KOSIK: That's a good point. That did happen, the boomerang kids moving in with their parents. It's still happening. A lot of kids out of college moved home to save money to look for a job. So, yes, everybody still has company. They are all still living together. But here's the thing. Even as many young adults still live with their parents, single people are still starting their own households and that trend goes back to 1970.

It shows there's a big shift to having smaller households now. People are having fewer kids and many people are saving up money and buying a place of their own even if they are not married. They are not necessarily going the traditional route. They are sort of making their own way -- Carol.

COSTELLO: We've come a long way, baby. Alison Kosik, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, he appears meek and mild, but experts on Syria say that unassuming facade hides Bashar Al-Assad's ruthless appetite. We'll take a deeper look at the leader who is now in Washington's crosshairs.