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Amazon Raises Free Shipping Minimum to $35; Hard Times for Grambling Football; Tackling World Hunger; Interview with Howard Graham Buffett

Aired October 23, 2013 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The Obama White House once again reeling from a self-inflicted wound. The latest embarrassment comes on the heels of the bungled Obamacare Web site. A national security official is out of work for Twitter attacks on Republicans and even his fellow Obama insiders.

Jofi Joseph is booted from his job as the director for the National Security Council. He tweeted his insults under an alias including this shot at President Obama's senior advisor and trusted friend.

Quote, "I'm a fan of Obama. But his continuing reliance and dependence upon a vacuous cipher like Valerie Jarrett concerns me," end quote. Ouch.

CNN political contributor Will Cain joins us from New York and here in Atlanta HLN contributor and Hiram College professor Jason Johnson. Welcome to both of you.



COSTELLO: My biggest problem with this is why it took them two years to figure out who was the anonymous Twitter -- Jason.

JOHNSON: Yes, that disturbs me. It's like we found Osama faster. This guy is in the building tweeting. He has to be on his phone. But -- but really firing him over this. We had to see more of the tweets. And I think when you see the tweets it's kind of inappropriate. Some of it can be perceived as sexual harassment. So I can understand him being fired. But the Obama administration is very thin skinned and they have a very bad reputation with going after whistle-blowers.

COSTELLO: OK, you want to hear more tweets? Well I'm going to read more tweets for you two. OK, here is another one. "So when will someone do us the favor of getting rid of Sarah Palin and the rest of her white trash family? What utter useless garbage."

And another anonymous tweet from this guy, "Was Huma Abedin wearing beer goggles the night she met Anthony Wiener?" These are really inappropriate, Will. CAIN: Yes, I mean I actually like the point about the fact it took them two years to find this guy. I guess that should make us feel better about the whole NSA scandal. Maybe it's not quite as pervasive and insightful (ph) as we thought it was.

Look I disagree with Jason. From the -- from the text, from the tweets we've seen here, the guy deserves to be fired. It's not about -- you know when you see scandals like this, when you see issues like this come up, people often invoke censorship and the First Amendment. That has nothing to do with your relationship with your employer. If you say things that embarrass your employer, prepare to be fired. This guy deserves to go.

There is a larger story which Jason began to touch on there. And that is the Obama administration's thin skin, we can call it or he mentioned the record prosecution of leaks. There's a consistency in the Obama administration of going after people who embarrass the administration but not those who take shots or cover for the administration.

COSTELLO: And Will really does have a point. Because I felt it first hand when I was you know reporting on the presidential race. I mean President Obama's people can be quite nasty. They don't like you to say anything bad about their boss and they're not afraid to use whatever means they have at hand to stop you from doing that including threatening your job.

JOHNSON: Yes. This is not quite a Valerie playing link you know -- you know weak but this is still really bad. And I -- I think it reflects very poorly on the Obama administration. They claim they were going to be open-minded, they claim that they like whistle- blowers and they really, really don't.

The issue that I have with this guy, and why like I said I think he should be fired is at a certain point you cannot say things as part of the administration that are that inappropriate. Let alone the fact that he may have been eventually leaking about the inner workings of the National Security Council. So --

COSTELLO: That would have been really bad.

JOHNSON: -- yes that's what I'm saying. You can't trust where this guy was going to go. So they were right to fire him and I still think they're thin-skinned.

COSTELLO: Will it's interesting I'm going to read his apology to you Will, this is his apology. "It's been a privilege to serve in this administration and I deeply regret violating the trust and confidence placed in me. What started out as an intended parody account of D.C. culture, developed over time into a series of inappropriate and mean- spirited comments. I bear complete responsibility for this affair and I sincerely apologize."

But that happens to a lot of us on Twitter right. It starts out to be funny and then it turns really bad. We can't help ourselves. CAIN: Welcome to the world of Twitter. Right welcome to the world of Twitter where snark and anonymity collide into this wonderful soup of awfulness. To be honest that's my opinion.

But again, the larger -- if you had a theme to your show today, Carol, at least over the last 15 minutes when I saw your interview with Sheila Jackson Lee, the theme is accountability, right. We have a continuing -- we're having a continuing conversation about accountability. And what we would like to see is the consistency in accountability.

Will Kathleen Sebelius be held accountable for her failure? Should she be and I don't know that she should. But how about (inaudible) with the IRS or Hillary Clinton revolving around Benghazi.

We would like to see consistency when it comes to accountability from the Obama administration.

COSTELLO: Well you know I just interviewed Congresswoman Jackson Lee who said --

CAIN: I heard it.

COSTELLO: -- should Kathleen Sebelius should stay in her job? And I asked her, well, someone should take the blame for what happened. And there was I just don't understand that.

JOHNSON: Yes it's really disturbing to see how much the Democrats and unfortunately I have to say this and the Republicans as well, no one is taking the responsibility right. The Democrats all want -- they want to cling to the Affordable Care Act no matter what kind of idiotic mistakes have been demonstrated in the roll-out and the Republicans are still obsessed with overturning the whole thing rather than fixing it. So it seems like neither side really wants to be responsible about how to actually fix policy for the American people. It's -- it's a shame this is a legitimate instance of a (inaudible) -- a pox on both houses.

CAIN: If I could just say quickly, Carol, I think there's an over fixation on Kathleen Sebelius right now I think on her firing. Two points first of all, she will not be fired. And that for two reasons, one because you could not get a replacement to the Senate confirmation process; you probably couldn't find anybody who wants the job by the way.


CAIN: And second, that line that the Obama administration didn't know about its flaws and Kathleen Sebelius did not make him aware is simply unbelievable. President Obama knows the status of his signature legislation.

But finally, she shouldn't be fired. I don't think she should -- she's being held to an impossible standard. The problem with Obamacare here comes my ideology was the idea, not the execution. Nobody could have pulled this off. Rearranging one-fifth of the American economy with a Web site ready set pop to go she could never have succeeded.

COSTELLO: Well I don't know about that. I'm more hopeful. Because you know we do -- I'm not going to get into that. Because you're right we'll just argue about the same things and we don't want to do that right now. Will Cain and Jason Johnson thank you both. I appreciate it.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

CAIN: Thanks.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Amazon wants you to cough up the cash for that free shipping. A new change that's pinching pocketbooks right before Christmas.


COSTELLO: Checking our "Top Stories" at 41 minutes past the hour.

A 24-year-old math teacher has been found dead in woods behind Danvers High School near Boston Massachusetts. All schools in Danvers are closed while the homicide investigation continues. The teacher has been identified as Colleen Ritzer. Police say a 14-year-old boy is in custody in relation to this case.

These are live pictures from Columbus, Ohio where a man who confessed in a video to killing a man while drunk driving is now being sentenced. Matthew Cordle faces a maximum to eight and half years in prison in that video Cordle begged others not to drink and drive and said he would take full responsibility for his actions.

He told the judge he didn't remember the night because he blacked out after too much drinking.

Prince George has officially been christened inside the chapel of St. James Palace. We won't see official pictures of the ceremony until tomorrow. This is the video of the royal family arriving. The son of Prince William and Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge will have seven -- count them seven -- godparents, among them Prince William's cousin, Zara Phillips Tindall.

Just in time for the holiday crunch, Amazon says you are going to have to buy more if you want free shipping. Wouldn't you just know it? Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange. Good morning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Carol. So yes $25 that was the norm for ten years, that's the minimum that you had to pay on Amazon to get that free shipping.

Well now guess what you have to spend $35 on stuff from Amazon before you can get that free shipping. This begins immediately but Amazon seems pretty strategic in this. It's not the highest. You look at Staples it requires you to spend $45 before that free shipping kicks in. Wal-Mart, Target, you have to spend $50. But Best Buy still has free shipping if you spend $25. So it got us to wonder why is Amazon doing this all of a sudden, well it's a way for Amazon to boost its revenue, but it could also be a way to push people into Amazon Prime. That is a subscription service on Amazon that gives you free shipping all the time but of course you have to pay that $79 subscription fee.

However the price hike could end up alienating customers because free shipping is a huge draw for many shoppers. Amazon actually figured out that 30 percent of its North American sales are because people forget that free shipping -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right Alison Kosik reporting live. Thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM a great football program falls on hard time. Grambling players and their boycotts with problems on campus -- well, they're not over.


COSTELLO: Grambling State football has been a prestige program among historically black colleges and universities. Under legendary head coach, Eddie Robinson, the Tigers won more than 400 games and sent more than 200 players into pro football, including Super Bowl MVP quarterback Doug Williams.

But this is not Eddie Robinson's school right now. Nor was it Doug Williams who was fired as head coach this season.

CNN's Alina Machado has more for you.


ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They boycotted a game and made national headlines. But members of the Grambling State football team say they have no regrets.

NAQUAN SMITH, GRAMBLING STATE UNIVERSITY PLAYER: There are many problems that exist. And if no one says anything, nothing will become of our institution.

MACHADO: On Monday Naquan Smith, surrounded by his teammates, said the team will take the field this Saturday against Texas Southern, a week after refusing to play Jackson State.

SMITH: We did not quit on our university.

MACADO: This Twitter account belonging to the Tigers safety shows several pictures of moldy walls and ceilings, broken equipment and flooring -- their caption, "See Our Struggle". The tweets seem to highlight some of the problems detailed in this grievance letter sent to university administrators by the players.

The letter lists a series of concerns about the state of the university's football program. It also cites the firing of head coach, Doug Williams after just two games this season. EMMETT GILL, STUDENT ATHLETES HUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT: The conditions within the Grambling State University athletic department specifically football are pretty dire.

MACHADO: Emmett Gill says he toured the university's weight room Tuesday afternoon and saw first hand some of the problems noted by the student athletes.

GILL: The gap between the haves and the have-nots is certainly exacerbated by a lot of the budget cuts that we're facing and higher education.

MACHADO: According to university spokesperson, Will Sutton, Grambling State has seen a 57 percent drop in state funding in recent years. The school has millions of dollars in deferred maintenance. So many buildings and facilities are either closed or in dire need of repairs. Sutton says this is the first time they've asked athletics to contribute to the bottom line including a $75,000 cut in the football program.

The university meanwhile could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines for forfeiting last Saturday's game. It's unclear if the football players will be punished but Gill says players from the bigger programs should take note.

GILL: I think that student athletes in the SEC, the ACC, the PAC-12 should take notice that when it comes to standing up for student athletes right, Grambling State University is ranked number one.


MACHADO: In a new development this morning, Jackson State University posted on its Web site -- that's the school that was suppose to play Grambling last week. They're saying they're going to be pursuing legal action to recover some the losses.

Carol, they say the losses to the university and the city could be in the millions for that forfeited game.

COSTELLO: It's just so unusual because usually universities football programs bring in all this money or that's what we always hear, right? But in this case, no.

MACHADO: That is correct. And Jackson State in their statement said that these issues are not unusual or not something that are new to the program that they've heard about. That they're well documented. We'll just have to wait to see what happens.

COSTELLO: Not every school is Ohio State, right.

MACHADO: Correct.

COSTELLO: Right. Alina Machado, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Poppy Harlow sits down with billionaire Warren Buffett and his family. Taking on quite a challenge too -- we'll tell you what it is when we come back.


COSTELLO: Billionaire Warren Buffett is backing his son's mission to end world hunger. Howard Buffett, a farmer and philanthropist has seen the ravages of malnourishment first hand. He's armed with $3 billion from his legendary father to do something about it and they're detailing it all in a new book called "Forty Chances".

Poppy Harlow joins us now. Poppy tell us more.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, when you look at the numbers it's astonishing -- 842 million people in this world do not have enough to eat. So that is the mission, the crisis that Warren Buffett's son Howard Buffett has taken up. He's a farmer. He farms 1,500 acres in Illinois. And he thinks that teaching people how to farm better is a big, big part of the solution. He's trying to solve this crisis along with his son. So we sat down with all three generations of Buffetts.


HARLOW: Your goal is to feed the world, frankly.

HOWARD GRAHAM BUFFETT, AUTHOR "FORTY CHANCES": That's kind of a big goal. But I think -- it's a goal to shoot for.

HARLOW: Howard Buffett and his son think the best way to fight hunger is to learn how to farm better.

H. BUFFETT: Yes, when you think about that there's tens of millions of farmers that can't feed their families, you know, that's just wrong. You don't have the infrastructure. You don't have the political leadership. You have corruption. You don't have the governance, you need to do it. The huge part is you don't have the knowledge and you don't have a way to distribute the knowledge.

HARLOW: Howard's father, legendary investor, Warren Buffett has given billions to their cause.

Is the return on the investment coming through?

WARREN BUFFETT, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: On my 82nd birthday I doubled the commitment. I wouldn't have done that unless I felt terrifically about what they're doing. They're tackling tough things. They could go out and, you know, have a hospital wing or do something with a library or something like that. They are tackling real problems.

HARLOW: Much of their work is in conflict zones like in Africa and Afghanistan detailed in their new book, "Forty Chances".

H. BUFFETT: What we've learned is that you can't wait for the conflict to end. So one of the most important things you can do is find the small or large, but find the investments that you can make at the time that things are not stable and they'll lead to stability. HOWARD WARREN BUFFETT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: We spent over a year in a specific community in western Afghanistan working with the farmers understanding exactly what it is that they need and what their hopes were. And over time we were able to provide them with the linkages that they were missing so that they could grow better crops. They could get those crops to market. They could have more income and economic stability for what they needed for their families and their community. And that they would have the long-term infrastructure to do it for generations to come.

HARLOW: Howard watched and learned from his famous father.

H.G. BUFFETT: I remember all these things, conversations and watch how he thought and how he analyzed. What were the things that were important in a decision? I learned some of that. I mean I learned that it is much better to make a decision quickly and -- I mean, a well informed decision quickly, than not make a decision.

HARLOW: But he credits his mother most of all.

H.G. BUFFETT: I don't think I would have made those choices -- the choices that we make today in a lot of what we do if I hadn't had her influence.

W. BUFFETT: He got his values from his mother, no question about that.

HARLOW: Another influence, public school.

W. BUFFETT: They saw America as most Americans see America. Rather than from some rarefied perch I want my children to understand the world they live in through the eyes of the people of that world and the fact that they've got some money to do good thinks, it's great. But they'll do them better if they -- they've lived in the world rather than looked at the world.

H.W. BUFFETT: I have a grandfather who has -- armed with his principles and determination -- grown what is one of the world's largest fortunes and turned it into one of history's greatest gifts; in doing that empowered my father to change the world with that. And both have been a true testament to what an individual can accomplish in one lifetime.


HARLOW: That's for sure. And let's hope they keep paying it forward, Carol, generation to generation. I will say that although a lot of their work is in Africa, Afghanistan, they're spending about 50 percent of the foundations -- billions right here in the United States where we still have more than 48 million people that are food insecure. They don't know where their next is coming from.

So very interesting read and that rare opportunity to sit down with all three generations.

COSTELLO: Yes. And I was just curious, it's a wonderful story. I'm glad they're doing wonderful things but I have to ask you about Obamacare. Does Warren Buffett support it?

HARLOW: He does. We know he's Democrat -- a huge supporter of President Obama. But given the fiasco of the roll-out of the enrollment and everything, I asked him yesterday when we sat down about that as well. Does he think it's worth it given all the divisiveness -- the political divisiveness that it has caused and will continue to cause? He said he does think that it is worth it. It's not perfect but he said we've had devices in for decades and decades. And we will move forward with it.

He supports it but he did note what a fiasco frankly, the roll-out has been.

COSTELLO: Can't ignore that. It is a fiasco -- that is, the exchanges.

Poppy Harlow, many thanks. Checking other top stories at 59 minutes past, for the second time in a week the police have taken a girl from a Roma family, this time in Ireland. -- striking similarity to the case in Greece where police are searching for the parents of this girl, Maria, after she was found with a Roma family who look absolutely nothing like here.

Those two people are charged with abduction.

More Americans than ever now support legalizing marijuana. Take a look at the latest Gallup Poll: 58 percent of you believe pot should be made legal-- first time there's ever been a clear majority, just 39 percent say marijuana should remain illegal. Support for legalizing pot surging 10 points since last November with the biggest increase among independent voters.

That will do it for me. Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Blood in a school bathroom, and a teacher's body found in the woods. Police on the scene in Danvers, Massachusetts right now, where every public school in town, in that district is now shut down.

Also this hour, it turns out a mystery tweeter that's been tormenting people in Washington, those officials in the government for over 2 1/2 years is in fact a White House insider. A high level national security council -- if you can believe it.

Now exposed, embarrassed and officially out of a job.