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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Will U.S. Go It Alone; Weather Outlook; Bracing for Impact; Unhappy Meal; It's Money Time

Aired August 30, 2013 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: A better wage.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And a new warning this morning about the deadly dangers of Tylenol.

HARLOW: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Poppy Harlow.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira. It is Friday, and aren't we glad of that, August 30th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

HARLOW: And up first, will the United States go it alone when it comes to a potential military strike in Syria? It may have to. Now that Britain has opted out, America's staunchest ally voting against military action. Prime Minister David Cameron may not like it, but accepted the vote by parliament saying the people have spoken. It comes as President Obama briefs congressional leaders on Syria and U.S. intelligence suggests the Assad regime was preparing for a massive chemical attack. Here's our Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN is told top Obama officials insisted to lawmakers on the Thursday night conference call, they have no doubt Bashar Assad's regime in Syria was behind deadly chemical attacks there. Secretaries of state, defense and others back that up by revealing to lawmakers that the U.S. intercepted communications from a high-level Syrian official which clearly indicates they were responsible for these weapons. That according to Congressman Eliot Engel, who participated in the call.

Though Obama officials insisted no decisions have been made on military action against Syria, CNN is also told they privately made clear to lawmakers that chemical weapons in Syria is such a threat, the U.S. could engage with or without support from critical allies like Great Britain.

One key GOP senator, Bob Corker, emerged from briefings Thursday announcing support for what he called "surgical, proportional military strikes given the strong evidence of the Assad regime's continued use of chemical warfare." Democratic Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez reaffirmed his support too, says, "a decisive and consequential U.S. response is justified and warranted." Others argue the president still has to come before Congress and the American people before he acts. REP. HOWARD "BUCK" MCKEON, (R) CALIFORNIA: It's up to the president to sell this to the American people and pass it (ph).

BASH: Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PEREIRA: All right, we have Fred Pleitgen in Libya or Lebanon, rather. He's in Beirut this morning.

HARLOW: Yes.

PEREIRA: And we're going to get some developments from him from the Syrian - about the Syrian capital, how things are standing right now. We'll get to him a little later in our broadcast.

HARLOW: Yes, he's been in Syria doing incredible reporting through all this.

PEREIRA: Really incredible.

HARLOW: So we'll bring you the latest from Fred live as soon as we have him.

Meantime, a new report in "The Washington Post" sheds some light on just how much bang the United States is getting for its so-called spying bucks. The report says that Washington will spend, get this, more than $52 billion this year on intelligence, going to things like paying CIA agents and other analysts. But it also says that the United States still has some blind spots in the world, like Pakistan. Spies, of course, don't know much about how secure things are in Pakistan. North Korea, another one. Its missiles and even its leaders are mysteries still, this report says. "The Post" used information from NSA leaker Edward Snowden for this latest report.

PEREIRA: Well, some progress. Slowly but surely crews are making progress fighting that enormous wildfire that's in and around Yosemite National Park. Favorable weather conditions have actually helped them keep the fire burning deeper into the park and encroaching on some of those really popular tourist areas.

Let's give you an update. The fire has burned so far nearly 200,000 acres. It's at 32 percent containment right now. And this is a really shocking figure, I think, to many. Officials are estimating the cost to date to fight one of the largest fire in California's history, $47 million. This is a concern because there have been so many other fires. It's been a bad fire season.

HARLOW: Yes.

PEREIRA: It was predicted early on this year that this year would be a bad fire season. And it's turning out just to be so.

HARLOW: It's been horrific and it's interesting this fire, and I want to bring Indra Petersons in to talk about it, but this fire seems like it has just taken so long to even get to 30 percent containment. PEREIRA: Yes.

HARLOW: So the weather, we what to know what factor that has.

Indra, what can you tell us.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I mean it's hard to believe, when you guys talk about how big this fire is -

HARLOW: Yes.

PETERSONS: It's literally larger than New York City. So that puts it in perspective. And I actually put up here the top five fires here. If you want to see, notice, it's now the top five for California. The biggest on still Cedar Fire, everyone remembers, about a decade ago in San Diego.

But speaking of the weather, it's actually good. So that's the one thing that's helping them. Again, it is the steep terrain in the area. The numbers look good out there. The winds, only about five to 10 miles per hour. Seventy-seven degrees is their high. Some hints for moisture in the afternoon producing a possible thunderstorm. But even that pretty low, again, it's just this terrain. It is so steep in the area. It's so difficult for firefighters to get in there and combat those flames. So, unfortunately, they're still dealing with that.

In the Midwest is actually - we're still seeing that heat today. I mean look at these temperatures. We're actually seeing the heat spread even farther south. Oklahoma City, 10 degrees above normal. But Des Moines today expected to break a record, 18 degrees above normal.

Want to take you forward in time. Relief is in the forecast. You can see by tomorrow, temperatures starting to go down as the cold front makes its way through. But Saturday in through Sunday is when you're really going to see that big change and see those temperatures go back to where we'd like to see them. We'll see a lot more 70s and 80s in that forecast.

Unfortunately, that cold front is good news for them as far as temperatures. But for a lot of us, as we go through Labor Day weekend, it does. And we're going to watch a series of cold front moves through the area and that's going to mean some chances for rain. So by Sunday especially in through Monday, that's Labor Day, we're going to watch those two cold fronts merge and see a lot of rain and all the way in the northeast, all the way into the mid-Atlantic as well. So, rain.

HARLOW: All right. Well, it's been a nice week.

PETERSONS: Exactly. I like that attitude.

PEREIRA: (INAUDIBLE). It's Labor Day weekend.

HARLOW: I know.

PEREIRA: A lot of people are taking it off and want to -

HARLOW: But Indra was -

PETERSONS: I'm going with Poppy on this one.

PEREIRA: You're not going to help me out?

PETERSONS: Sorry.

HARLOW: Indra was telling me earlier, you've got to just make the best of it. Make the best of it.

PEREIRA: That's true. She's very positive.

PETERSONS: Thank you.

PEREIRA: All right, we want to turn back to our top story of Syria, a crisis there as the world waits for President Obama to react. The Syrians, however, now claiming that they have proof that the rebels were behind the chemical weapons attack. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is monitoring developments for us in the Syrian capital. He is live in Beirut this morning.

We want to find out what you're hearing about this.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was apparently the defense minister of Syria, Michaela, and he was in a phone call with the defense minister of Iran where he said that they had evidence that apparently rebels had unleashed chemical gases in the suburbs of Damascus. Of course, this is completely contrary to what the U.S. is saying and also what many others are saying as well where they say that it was in fact the Syrian government that's behind all this. But the Syrian regime is now saying that it was the rebels who did all of this. Also, with a very strong statement, Bashar al-Assad came out himself as well late yesterday saying that if the Syrians are attacked, that they would retaliate with any means that they have.

I want to tell you a little bit about the mood in Damascus as well because I'm hearing from a lot of people there that there are many people who are nervous, they're buying additional food, they're making sure that they're stocked up. A lot of people have actually come over here to Lebanon. It's not like it's a big exodus or something, but there are many people who are saying we're going to playing it safe, we're going to bring our families out of the country and wait and see if America strikes.

And also, the regime is sending a lot of people, sort of propaganda people, out on the ground in Damascus waving Syrian flags, honking their horns, making the people prepared for what they believe could be an American attack.

Michaela.

PEREIRA: Hey, are you getting any word on how the U.S. is reacting to this claim from Syria that it was actually the rebels?

PLEITGEN: Well, not so far. And it sort of comes out of left field, doesn't it? I mean so far the U.S. is saying that all of their evidence, all of the evidence that Washington has, points to the fact that this was a regime chemical attack that happened there. Of course the big question is going to be, what are the U.S. weapons inspectors going to find out? And today is actually their last day gathering evidence on the ground. They're going to go to the eastern suburbs of Damascus, again, gather evidence and they're leaving tomorrow morning and then they want to brief the U.N. secretary-general as fast as possible.

And then we'll probably hear, or possibly hear, what sort of chemical agent was used in that alleged attack and that could give conclusions as to who might have done this. Could this have been something that only a military could make or is this something that could be homemade as well, Michaela.

PEREIRA: They will piece together what they find there in Damascus. Fred Pleitgen, we appreciate that. Thank you so very much.

Vice President Joe Biden announcing two White House executive orders on gun control. The first will curb the import of military surplus weapons. The other closing a loophole that allows individuals barred from purchasing certain weapons to do so legally by registering them to a trust or corporation without a background check. The NRA, of course, responding by saying, if the Obama administration is serious about reducing gun violence, it should spend more time prosecuting criminals for gun crimes.

HARLOW: Meantime, the Justice Department announcing that it will not challenge state laws in Colorado and Washington allowing people to grow, use and buy marijuana. The ruling gives state officials a green light, pretty much, to regulate marijuana use on their own, not on a federal level. Now, this could set the stage for even more states to make pot legal. The feds will now focus their attention, they say, on distribution of marijuana to minors, also on preventing revenues from going to various criminal enterprises. A big move there.

PEREIRA: A big story here.

HARLOW: Yes.

PEREIRA: The NFL agreeing to settle a lawsuit with thousands of former players over concussion related brain injuries. The league setting aside $765 million. Most of it is compensation for retired players who suffered brain injuries and for the families of those who died. They're also going to put money towards base line medical exams and much needed research.

HARLOW: And a new warning added to the bottle caps of Tylenol. You're going to be seeing this soon. Manufacturer Johnson & Johnson will warn of the risk of taking too much Tylenol. Overdoses of acetaminophen, that's the main drug in Tylenol, has been the leading cause of sudden liver failure in the United States for more than a decade now. Five hundred people die a year from taking too much acetaminophen. The warning labels will be in stores in October.

PEREIRA: Well, her dream of winning the U.S. Open is over for this year, at least. Seventeen-year-old Victoria Duval, no doubt, is still the darling of this year's tournament. The young American lost in straight sets last night to Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia. You'll recall that Duval scored a massive upset in her first round match beating the 2011 Open champion, but it was really a bit of heartbreak for her because I know she had sights set on much higher.

HARLOW: You got to meet her.

PEREIRA: I did. I got to meet the whole family.

HARLOW: Was she just a joy?

PEREIRA: She's a delight.

HARLOW: Yes.

PEREIRA: She describes herself as a goofy girl. She's 17 years old and she's having a whole lot of fun. And when you have fun at your job --

HARLOW: That's the best thing.

PEREIRA: Well, come on, look at us.

HARLOW: She's got many years ahead. Many years ahead.

PEREIRA: She really does. And hopefully many U.S. Opens ahead, too.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. Very cool.

All right, well, coming up, folks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do work hard and they only pay us $7.35 and that's not right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Thousands of fast food workers on strike. Their fight for a better way of life.

PEREIRA: And ahead, how a couple of kittens shut down New York's subway service for hours. We'll have that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Prosecutors in the Aaron Hernandez case say a cousin of the former NFL star could be the key witness against him, but Tanya Singleton is refusing to talk. She is sitting in jail on a contempt charge, even though she's been offered immunity. Authorities say she may have received a firsthand account of that murder that Hernandez is charged with from one of his alleged accomplice. Hernandez is scheduled to be arraigned on murder and weapons charges next week.

HARLOW: Meantime, new charges in the Boston bombing case. A classmate of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev indicted on two counts for lying to investigators. Police say this man, 19-year-old Robel Phillipos, and two others went into the suspect's dormitory just days after the bombing. They're accused of removing a laptop and a backpack. Information police say that Phillipos hid from them. He faces up to eight years in prison on each count.

PEREIRA: Months before his death, Michael Jackson apparently begged for the drug that would eventually kill him. That's according to a nurse practitioner who testified in the Jackson family's wrongful death case against concert promoter AEG Live. Cherlyn Lee says she warned Jackson against using the powerful anesthetic, Propofol. Just months later, his family alleges Dr. Conrad Murray was brought in by AEG. Murray, as you know, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Michael Jackson's death.

HARLOW: And a lawyer for Army Private Bradley Manning says he is doing well at the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth. That's in Kansas. David Coombs says he spoke Wednesday with his client who now prefers to be called Chelsea Manning. He says that Manning has already made some new friends at the prison. Manning's attorney also said that he will soon travel to Leavenworth to meet with the prison's medical staff in hopes that they will allow his client to receive hormone therapy.

PEREIRA: Investigators still trying to figure out exactly what caused an oil rig explosion in Texas earlier this week. Officials say workers were drilling on the rig near Victoria, Texas, when something went horribly wrong and it burst into flames. Fortunately, all of the workers managed to make it to safety.

HARLOW: Fast food nation slowing a bit. Thousands of employees from the major chains walk off the job in a nationwide protest. It's part of a growing campaign for better pay in their industry. CNN's Erin McPike spoke to some of the demonstrators who are asking, can I get a living wage with that?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we want?

CROWD: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do we want it?

CROWD: Now.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fast food workers took to the streets this morning to strike in dozens of cities, from Hartford, Connecticut, to Memphis, Tennessee, and all the way to Berkeley, California.

CROWD: Fighting (ph) for more money.

MCPIKE: More than the federal minimum wage many of them earn, $7.35 an hour, which works out to about $15,000 a year for those who can clock 40-hour workweeks. CHARLES EDEN, (INAUDIBLE) WORKER: And it's just like really stress. It was like a really hard job. And we really do work hard. And they only pay us $7.35 and that's not right.

MCPIKE: So Charles and his co-workers want to form a union. They're asking $15 an hour to flip burgers and take your lunch money.

CROWD: (INAUDIBLE), wait a minute, let me put something (INAUDIBLE).

MCPIKE (on camera): The National Restaurant Association says paying workers more could mean that you pay more for your Big Mac. They also say that only 5 percent of workers earn the minimum wage and those are mostly teenagers and part timers.

ANGELO AMADOR, NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION: As we're coming from - coming out of the recession, we should be looking at way of creating more jobs and increasing the economy, growing the economy, not adding more burdens to small businesses.

MCPIKE: And the Conservative Employment Policies Institute argues higher wages would lead to fewer jobs for humans. Then again, fast food companies are turning profits. McDonald's pocketed $5.5 billion last year that it turned over to its shareholders, not the small business owners who run the franchises or the workers who staff them.

Erin McPike, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PEREIRA: Yes. We were talking - Poppy and I were talking -

HARLOW: Just talking about that.

PEREIRA: About the importance of getting support for those folks.

HARLOW: Of this discussion.

PEREIRA: Yes, absolutely.

HARLOW: Yes.

PEREIRA: All right, moving on. We want to talk about something that New Yorkers are used to seeing a lot on the subway tracks.

HARLOW: Michaela's never seen a rat yet.

PEREIRA: I'm traumatized by the prospect of seeing a r-a-t on the subway tracks.

HARLOW: These are ready.

PEREIRA: These are much cuter, what was spotted. Two kittens were spotted on a Brooklyn station on Thursday. In fact, they shut down subway service for nearly two hours as transit workers searched for those little felines. And, boy, that did not sit well with some of the travelers. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a waste of money. They could have been doing something else. It's a waste of money. But that's the MTA for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: The kittens, you'll be happy to know, were eventually found and they were rescued from the tracks.

HARLOW: Oh.

PEREIRA: And I also learned another thing, that people that ride the subways frequently are called what?

HARLOW: Strap hangers.

PEREIRA: It's because of the strap you hang on to?

HARLOW: Apparently, but there are no straps on the trains anymore.

PEREIRA: Not any more. This West Coast girl has so much to learn.

HARLOW: So much to learn.

PEREIRA: Teach me, Poppy.

HARLOW: Coming up.

PEREIRA: Teach me.

HARLOW: We'll go find a rat in the subway after the show.

PEREIRA: No thank you.

HARLOW: OK.

All right, coming up, investigators fighting over Foursquare. Why your mobile check-ins are worth big bucks. Money time is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Good morning, New York City. Man, you know summer is ending when it's black outside still at this hour. No sunrise for you yet, but --

PEREIRA: But she's resolute. Look at her standing there strong.

HARLOW: Yes, Lady Liberty. Good morning, New York City. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

PEREIRA: It is money time. Let's count our pennies with Christine Romans. She is here.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST, CNN'S "YOUR MONEY": Good morning.

HARLOW: Good morning.

PEREIRA: Hopefully some good news on this Friday.

ROMANS: You had a little tease about, you know -

HARLOW: Foursquare.

ROMANS: Foursquare, right?

PEREIRA: Yes.

ROMANS: You know, and location, location, location. Big tech companies want - they want location services.

HARLOW: Totally.

ROMANS: And we were watching very closely all the reports about Foursquare and who they were talking to this morning. A really interesting report from Bloomberg that Microsoft is considering an investment in Foursquare. Has been discussing it with them for some time.

PEREIRA: Oooh.

HARLOW: Wow.

ROMANS: They're in the late stages of talks. But unclear if something's really going to happen.

But last week I told you about Google. How Google and Foursquare might make sense. So, we'll just watch that space.

PEREIRA: All right.

ROMANS: We'll watch that space. Location, like in real estate, politics and in tech, I guess, location's important.

Watching stock futures this morning. They are higher after two days up now for the Dow. Stronger news on the economy in hopes that a Syria strike might be delayed. That - all of that together boosting investor sentiment. The major markets following the Dow up, all closing higher. And again, futures higher this morning. So maybe you'll have a strong close to the week.

General Electric getting out of the retail lending business. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that GE is preparing to spin off one of its most important financial assets. The Unit at GE issues store credit cards for 55 million Americans. So this is one of those business stories that you have right there in your own pocket this morning. GE's U.S. consumer finance business earned $2.2 billion last year. That unit accounts for about 50 billion of the 274 billion loans outstanding by GE Capital. An IPO for the consumer finance business could come as early as next year.

Now, if you think the next iPhone will boost Apple stock, have you been buying Apple because you think you're bullish on the iPhone? I want to show you some stats here. Apple is expected to announce the newest iPhone at a September 10th event. It may initially boost the stock, the gains might be short lived. Why? In five of the past six years, Apple stock has ultimately been lower a month after the new iPhone was released.

PEREIRA: This is interesting.

ROMANS: One analyst tells CNN Money that there's a lot of hoopla with Apple, but soon after the news comes out, there isn't much reason to be excited. Well, they call it, buy on the rumors, sell on the news.

HARLOW: Yes.

ROMANS: That's one of those old things in Wall Street, right, that you buy it up and then when something actually happens, now people will start to take the profits.

PEREIRA: Interesting.

HARLOW: And some of the changes are sort of arguably incremental at this point.

PEREIRA: Yes.

ROMANS: Absolutely. I'm going to be anxious to see if there's this fingerprint technology.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: That's what I want to see happen in that iPhone. But we'll see.

PEREIRA: September 10th on my calendar.

ROMANS: And, listen another - I know.

And another big - another big story we're following.

HARLOW: Yes.

ROMANS: So you've heard of the fast food protests yesterday.

PEREIRA: Yes.

ROMANS: But there's also a living wage bill expected to reach the desk today of Washington, D.C.'s mayor, Vincent Gray. That legislation would force the retailers, the big box stores, occupying more than 75,000 square feet, or their parent companies that gross $1 billion or more, they would have to pay their employees a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour. The current rate in D.C. is $8.25. And as you know, you know, thousands of fast food employees hit the streets. Sixty cities to strike, aiming to boost their hourly pay to $15 from the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.

I think you're at the beginning of this discussion about the minimum wage. HARLOW: We were just talking about that.

ROMANS: You're just at the beginning because so many people - look, these jobs for many people - for some were always a career, but for many people they were a steppingstone to something else.

HARLOW: Yes.

ROMANS: There's not a lot else out there and so you've got 20 -- the average age of a fast food worker, 29. You've got people paying off student loans who are working at big box retailers. There is going to be more discussion about this and we'll have to talk about it. Does it mean higher pay for what we buy? Does it mean maybe a push to automate and you start to lose some of those jobs?

PEREIRA: Well, it's important -

ROMANS: We're at the beginning of this conversation.

PEREIRA: If you're trying to support a family, it's near impossible to survive on that amount.

HARLOW: And as we were talking about too, it's also about self-esteem and confidence and being able to provide.

PEREIRA: Yes, this sure is.

HARLOW: It's an important discussion and it's all unfolding right now.

PEREIRA: Yes.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

PEREIRA: All right, Christine Romans, thanks so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

PEREIRA: We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Striking Syria. Will President Obama launch an attack without the support of one of his closest allies?