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British P.M. Talks Syria Military Options; Many Fast-Food Workers on Strike Today; Inspectors in Syria; Wal-Mart Pledge Strikes a Chord

Aired August 29, 2013 - 09:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, cautious aggression, the crisis in Syria and the way for proof. Is there a rush for, quote, "slam dunk evidence"?

Plus -





CROWD: A living (ph) wage.


COSTELLO: Pay and promise. Minimum wage workers hitting the streets in 58 American cities. Millions of stories, but one cause, a paycheck they can live on.

And our interview with Wal-Mart's senior vice president really got you going. My FaceBook page was on fire. Christine Romans stops by to talks truths and paychecks.

NEWSROOM continues now.

Good morning. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello.

After delays, sniper fire and security concerns, U.N. weapon inspectors are set to leave Syria on Saturday, one day early. But before then, the team will try to finish up inspections outside of Damascus and confirm that, indeed, a chemical weapons attack was launched last week. Their work comes as the Associated Press reports that there are doubts about the link between the attack and the Assad regime. Multiple U.S. officials, though, saying the intelligence gathered so far is, quote, "not a slam dunk."

I'm joined now by a man who knows all too well what the U.N. team is facing. He is Jorn Siljeholm and he worked as a weapons inspector in Iraq.

Good morning, sir. JORN SILJEHOLM, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Hi. Good morning.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much for joining us.

From what you've seen, is it a slam dunk that the Assad regime carried out this attack?

SILJEHOLM: Well, I think the weapons, this mandate was essentially to define whether it was used chemical weapons or not. And so far, that's what their charging (ph) (INAUDIBLE), that's kind of their auditing objective. I wouldn't say anything in that regard. I would just say, I would see the evidence that chemical weapons have been used and from there on we have to infer to other sources.

COSTELLO: So, the U.N. -- critics say that the U.N. inspection team can't possibly gather evidence because evidence has been either destroyed or deliberately moved because it took them so long to get into that suburb of Damascus.

SILJEHOLM: Well, that's a hard call. I would say, you know, you have direct and indirect evidence. But bottom line is that by doing multiple evidence and forensic proof testing, you will find direct and indirect data that will lead you to both, whether weapons have been used and whether -- what kinds of sources that might have been behind. But, it's -- one thing, which is fairly clear, is that you can prove pretty easily, if you don't have too much of a delay, whether the weapons have been used. But there's a very big and different story to go from there to infer what are the sources of use.

COSTELLO: In a PBS interview, President Obama offered this reason for the administration's belief that the Assad regime is behind this attack. Let's listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government, in fact, carried these out. And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences.


COSTELLO: So, the president saying that the evidence that rockets were used to deliver these chemical weapons. I mean, is that enough evidence to pin this on the Assad regime?

SILJEHOLM: Well, I think we are back to something that is pretty much in parallel with Iraq in 2003. Well, you have substances. You have indicators. But to go from, let's say, the knife to the perpetrator of the violence or the evil act is a different story. We are looking for the knife here and when you have to find the knife, you have a different - very different kind of investigation to go from there and beyond.

COSTELLO: Is it possible that President Assad wasn't directly responsible, but supporters of his were and had access to these chemical weapons?

SILJEHOLM: Can you repeat the question, please?

COSTELLO: Let's say that supporters of President Assad had access to these chemical weapons and Assad didn't really order the attack, is that possible?

SILJEHOLM: Well, it is possible. As long as the weaponry is around, then the question is, well, you find the weapons, you find, let's say, the use or the consequence of the weapon, but you're still back to who were the perpetrators? And as far as the mandates were from the U.N. is that they're looking for what other weapons have been used. And there is - it's a hard call to go from there to the source of use but, you know, it's possible. But that's an inference which is a different story.

COSTELLO: Should the United States wait for U.N. inspectors to finish their investigation and to file a final report?

SILJEHOLM: Well, that's politics and that's not really the mandate of the weapons inspectors. But building a parallel to Iraq, what we wanted in that case was to pretty much finish up the inspections before -- well, in March, particularly, when war was pending. And, well, there was some results from there on, which we saw was basically conclusive in the sense that there were no weapon -- robust weapons program in Iraq. I would not go from there and then back to this and say it's a clear parallel, but you've got to be very careful about going from the weapon itself to the use - to the users of say the ones that were behind the use of these.

COSTELLO: Former U.N. weapons inspector Jorn Siljeholm, thank you so much for joining me this morning. I appreciate it.

Checking our top stories at 37 minutes past the hour.

Some encouraging news on the wildfire in Yosemite National Park. Officials say they will be able to contain it in less than two weeks. The blaze has burned 301 square miles and cost California almost $40 million. Lower temperatures, higher humidity and lighter winds are helping firefighters make progress.

It is still too hot in parts of the Midwest. Twenty-seven schools in Minneapolis are closed until Tuesday. Those schools have no air conditioning. Officials became concerned about the health of the students and teachers. Many of them had to, you know, take class outside to cool off.

And our interview on Wednesday with a Wal-Mart senior executive lit up my FaceBook page. We got hundreds of comments from supporters of the company's pledge to stock more goods made in the USA and we also got hundreds of comments from critics of the plan. A quick sample of what we saw.

One man wrote, "I'll believe it when I see it." Another chimed in with the sarcastic, "uh-huh. Here's me not holding my breath." Another took a more ambivalent stance saying, "I just hope the prices don't go up. I don't care where the crap is made - I just want it cheap." One woman was a little more hopeful writing, "it's about time."

Some of that discussion also struck a chord with Christine Romans, our business guru. She joins us live from New York.

Thanks, Christine, for coming on the show.


I mean what really struck a chord with me is that you've got Wal-Mart that, for years, had had low cost, low price. That was its mission. And you saw it really put pressure on its suppliers to have the lowest cost possible, the lowest price possible for Wal-Mart consumers. And that caused a lot of those suppliers to turn around and choose overseas manufacturers or move production overseas so they could meet those demands from Wal-Mart.

So now you have Wal-Mart saying, we see that there's sort of a turn here that maybe manufacturing could be done a little cheaper again in the United States and we are encouraging that trend. And for some people, especially critics of Wal-Mart, it's kind of rich that Wal- Mart helped move so much of that production and manufacturing overseas and now saying they're pledging $50 billion over 10 years to increase sourcing for U.S.-made goods.

Let's listen to a little bit of what that executive vice president said and then talk a little bit on the other side.


MICHELLE GLOECKLER, WAL-MART SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT: 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 to 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.


ROMANS: Now, Wal-Mart should be a real leader in this, Carol. It has a position to be a real leader and to make it happen. One of those FaceBook comments said "I won't hold my breath." You know, 1992, I think, in the early '90s they had a "buy America" push at Wal-Mart that kind of fizzled. You really want to see them follow through on it this time. If it's good -- make a good business for themselves and you could start to see more money in the pockets of American customers, right, who shop at Wal-Mart, and then it could be good for everyone. Wal-Mart really does need to be a leader on this and follow through.

COSTELLO: I wanted to ask you about this, because I asked her what specific -- what products made in the USA will be sold in Wal-Mart stores? She mentioned food in addition to other items. I was very intrigued by food because you've got to make food in America, right?

ROMANS: Right. So that helps them push these numbers, right, because you've got - they've gotten into the grocery store business. They are now the supermarket leader in the United States. Anything domestically produced then helps their domestic numbers, right? But they have pledged to do this over a lot of different categories and they need to do that. All the categories, quite frankly. Very -- apparel, foot wear, these kind of things over the years have really been moved to low-cost labor markets.

There's also sort of high-end goods. You know, you've Motorola in there -- Google and Motorola now making this Moto-x, they're making it in Texas, going to add, I think, $4 to the cost of making it. Will customers pay more for stuff, Carol?


ROMANS: Will customers pay more? Some of those people on your FaceBook page very clearly said we want cheap. If it's not cheap enough, we're just not going to buy it. So America chases cheap. Wal-Mart provides cheap goods. How do you break that cycle so you have good-paying jobs where people have money in their pocket and they'll pay a little bit more for something so that you're racing up, not racing down?

COSTELLO: Got to have a little bit more money in your pocket not to buy cheap.

ROMANS: Everybody does. Everybody does.

COSTELLO: I know. Christine Romans, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, today we could see the biggest nationwide walkout of fast food workers yet. They're demanding, guess what, $15 an hour. About as much as many skilled workers make.



COSTELLO: The British prime minister, David Cameron, is now speaking to parliament about Syria and what action it might take on the subject of chemical warfare in Syria. The interesting part about this is Britain's parliament was actually called back from vacation to have this conversation. Let's listen to a bit of it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why he has refused to publish the full attorney general advice. Why did he instead just publish a half -- one and half summary of it especially at a time when so many legal experts are saying without explicit U.N. Security Council reinforcement that simply is not legal under international law?

DAVID CAMERON, BRITAIN'S PRIME MINISTER: Well there has been a long- standing convention backed by attorney generals of all parties and of all governments not to publish any legal advice at all. Now this government has changed that and with the Libya conflict, which we published a summary of the legal advice and with this issue we published a very clear summary of the legal advice and I would urge all honorable and right honorable members to read it.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I am, of course, deeply mindful of the lessons of previous conflicts. I'm going to make some progress and then I'll take a huge number of interventions. I am deeply mindful of the lessons of previous conflicts and in particular the deep concerns in the country caused by what went wrong with the Iraq conflict in 2003.

But this is not like Iraq. What we are seeing in Syria is fundamentally different. We are not invading a country. We're not searching for chemical or biological weapons. The case for ultimately -- and I say ultimately because there would have to be another vote in this house -- the case for ultimately supporting action is not based on a specific piece or pieces of intelligence. The fact the Syrian government has and has used chemical weapons is beyond doubt. The fact that the most recent attack took place is not seriously doubted. The Syrian government has said it took place, even the Iranian president said that it took place. And the evidence that the Syrian regime has used these weapons in the early hours of the 21st of August is right in front of our eyes.

We have multiple eyewitness accounts of chemical-filled rockets being used against opposition-controlled areas. We have thousands of social media reports and at least 95 different videos, horrific videos, documenting the evidence.

But the differences with 2003 and the situation with Iraq go wider. Then Europe was divided over what should be done. Now Europe is united in the views that we should not let this chemical weapons use stand. Then NATO was divided. Today NATO has made a very clear statement that those who are responsible should be held accountable.

Back in 2003, the Arab League was opposed to action, now they are calling for it. They've issued a statement holding the Syrian regime fully responsible and asking the international community to overcome internal disagreements and to take action against those who committed this crime. I give way to my right honorable friend.


COSTELLO: All right, we see David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain making his case to maybe take military action against Syria, making his case before the British parliament. The British parliament called back from vacation to have this kind of debate, unlike here in the United States because Congress has not been called back from its summer break to discuss this although some lawmakers actually want that to happen.

President Obama, instead, is in the White House this morning and is making a series of phone calls to members of Congress to discuss the situation in Syria to decide what the United States is to do.

Coming up in the next hour of NEWSROOM, we're going to be talking to Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent who knows everything about Congress. We'll ask her about all of this and is it possible that Congress may be called back from vacation? Is it worth it? We'll pose those questions to Dana Bash. Also coming up at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, Michael Crowley from "Time" magazine. He's going to talk about President Obama and his changing stance on waging war or taking military action. It should be very interesting.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Today factory workers in more than 50 cities are walking off the job.

Today's strikes could be the biggest yet. All year the protests have been gaining steam. Workers want the federal minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour to put them on par with more skilled workers like some health technicians for example make $15 an hour, sales reps makes $15 an hour, receptionists, and department managers at retail stores, they also make $15 an hour.

Joining us is Angelo Amador from the National Restaurant Association. He is the vice president of labor and work force policy. Good morning Angelo.


COSTELLO: Ok so we'll just hit it right off the bat should -- do these workers have a point? Should they make more money?

AMADOR: I mean we need to look at the economy. I'm so glad that you invited me today to talk about an industry that is creating jobs at a faster rate than the economy as a whole. So actually you know as we're coming from -- coming out of the recession we should be looking at ways of creating more jobs and increasing the economy and growing the economy, not adding more burdens to small businesses.

COSTELLO: Well, if you put it this way, though, you know, if you pay so many workers such low wage, those workers aren't going to be able to afford to buy anything. Certainly they're not going to be able to afford to go out and eat dinner, right? So why not pay them a little more and grow the economy that way?

AMADOR: Well first of all, the percentage of workers in the restaurant industry making minimum wage is about five percent. So we're not talking about a great deal of number of works.

But you know again, you know it's an industry of opportunity and those jobs that do pay minimum wage are entry levels. I don't think you can be 60 years old and work with no high school diploma and get a job a department manager at retail. So you got to start somewhere and make your way up.

I mean I was just talking to somebody who started as a driver making minimum wage, and now owns 25 stores.

COSTELLO: Now, I do understand that. But you know times are changing. There are not many manufacturing jobs available anymore. And the fact is that more and more people are making such jobs a lifetime career. They are because they have to. There are no other jobs available.

AMADOR: And I understand. I cannot, you know, talk about one individual's particular circumstances. But again, you know, we got to look at the job itself and the requirements for the job. The point is that you can make a career out of -- in the industry. Most people come out of minimum wage in a very short amount of time. It's an entry-level kind of --

COSTELLO: Really do you think most people come out of those jobs quickly and find something --


AMADOR: Oh yes.

COSTELLO: You really think so? Because they say they don't. They say they're not. They say they're trying to raise families on $9 an hour and they can't do it. So what are they just -- not trying?

AMADOR: No. If it wasn't the case, if it wasn't the case it wouldn't be five percent. I mean again, the number of workers making minimum wage in the restaurant industry is five percent. But again, you know, the point is that we're creating opportunity, we're creating opportunity for everybody. And I think is -- you cannot just pay wages based on a person's needs. You got to pay wages based on what the economy's willing to bear and the business model.

And again, you know we are very high worker intensive with very low profit margins. And you know, it's -- those are the jobs. But again, nine out of ten managers are --

COSTELLO: I think, Angelo, I know -- I think Angelo that some might disagree. If you take -- if you take a look at a company like McDonald's, they have high profit margins. So why not share?

AMADOR: You know, if you look at the restaurant industry, they look at the big brand names. They're going after big brand names. But when you look at it, nine out of ten restaurants are either independent or franchisees. So while the name might be well recognized at the door, who is behind it might be just a small business.

COSTELLO: Understand. Angelo Amador from the National Restaurant Association -- thanks so much for being with us this morning.

AMADOR: Thanks for the invitation.

COSTELLO: Here is what's all new with the next hour of the NEWSROOM the woman by Bashar al-Assad's side born in England, profiled in "Vogue" and at one time an advocate for human rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ASMA AL-ASSAD, BASHAR AL-ASSAD'S WIFE: Think about when you put your children to bed at night because it's something I think about on a daily basis to put your children to bed at night and you expect to see them in the morning.


COSTELLO: Who is Asma al-Assad and will she stand by her man?

Also, George Zimmerman's wife -- not so happy with her man right now. She opens up about the trial and the threats and the damage George Zimmerman did to her own self-esteem.

Plus --

The new way Ford's trying to win over customers. Specialized racing stripes, hood wraps, and wheel rims. All made to look like bacon. That's all new in the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Happening in the NEWSROOM, President Obama talking about U.S. military action in Syria.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Limited, tailored approach, not getting drawn in. Not a repetition of Iraq.


COSTELLO: Very clear on what the United States will not do, less clear on what the United States will do. Plus --




COSTELLO: Fast-food fiasco and nationwide strike happening now workers saying they need to make a living wage.

George Zimmerman's wife living like a gypsy in a 20-foot trailer in the woods also she and her husband could stay safe.