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Black Friday Madness; Obamacare Deadline Looms; Former Assistants Accused of Embezzlement; Massive Explosion

Aired November 29, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JASON CARROLL, CNN ANCHOR: Ready, set, shop. Anxious crowds lining up for hours to reap the rewards of Friday. The deals, the steals and all the chaotic ordeals.

ROSA FLORES, CNN ANCHOR: And the clock is clicking. The deadline to fix the Obamacare Web site is just hours away. Will the administration roll out a victory or have to concede a defeat?

CARROLL: A massive pipeline explosion overnight sending shockwaves to a small Big West town. We will have the latest.

FLORES: Good morning. And welcome to early start. We are excited that you are here with us! I'm Rosa Flores.

CARROLL: And I'm Jason Carroll. Happy Black Friday to all of you. It's 5:00 a.m. on the East Coast, this 29th day of November.

We hope you enjoyed your family, friends, football and all of the food.

I wonder if you have like a post-turkey hangover. I'm pretty good actually.

FLORES: No, I'm feeling pretty good this morning. I don't know about you.

CARROLL: I'm all right.

FLORES: Other than the sleeping.

CARROLL: Yes, I didn't get my sleep, but still happy to be here. That's for sure.

FLORES: That is for sure.

Well, now that you've napped and wrapped all the leftovers, it's time to put your shopping shoes on. Black Friday is in full swing. The National Retail Federation says 33 million Americans will grab their checkbooks, dust off those credit cards and head over to the stores today to do a little swipy, swipy.

In fact, bargain hunting has already begun.

Now, Zain Asher is live from the heart of Manhattan and she's inside Macy's in Herald Square. Zain, I wish I have would given you my credit card! You could have done some shopping for me.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Rosa, yes. We are seeing a steady stream of customers here on the ground floor in Macy's. But I'm told the real mayhem, the real chaos is upstairs in women's clothing. Completely understandable.

You know, this is the first time ever in Macy's history that they've actually been open on Thanksgiving night. Yesterday, they opened at 8:00. I'm told that 15,000 people are waiting right outside to bust down those doors to come in for those deals.

When you talk to customers inside Macy's, I'm getting a bit of mixed reviews. Some people saying, yes, they are ready for those coupons. They came in, they got great deals.

Other people saying, you know, we're a little disappointed. We didn't get as many great deals as we had anticipated. We wish we stayed at home and shop online instead.

I'm actually joined by two young shoppers, Mariana and Ana. Thank you so much for joining us.

This is your first time shopping on Black Friday. How has it been so far?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been a bit unexpected. I thought that there were going to be a lot more people, like, I was expecting to see people getting trampled and just rushing through. But I didn't see too many people so I thought it was a regular shopping day.

ASHER: And you started pretty earlier, you started at midnight, right? So, any sleep at all last night?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I have not had any sleep at all. No.

ASHER: What is it like in terms of deals? What are you seeing in terms of deals here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this particular store, I didn't see that many deals. Maybe on pants. I saw a lot but not too many deals. I thought I was going to be seeing a lot more.

ASHER: What is your plan for the rest of the weekend? Are you doing more shopping? Are you going to go online now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm probably going to go online but also go back to JCPenney.

ASHER: Why JCPenney?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, maybe not just JCPenney, but like the actual mall that's in there, because I saw a shoe store that has like buy one, get one free. And (INAUDIBLE) are having like a lot of great sales, so I will probably just go do that. ASHER: Thank you so much, guys.

Yes. So, we are anticipating the store actually getting busier. Macy's actually hired 3,000 seasonal workers for Black Friday. But one piece of advice if you're out hunting for deals it's important you do not put getting a bargain or getting a deal ahead of your own safety -- Rosa and Jason.

FLORES: That's great advice, let me tell you. Thank you so much, Zain. We appreciate it.

CARROLL: All right. Shoppers may be seeing more than bargains today. Protesters are planned at more than 1,500 Wal-Mart stores across the country. Wal-Mart workers are hoping to use Black Friday to draw attention to what they describe as low wages and retaliation against employees who criticize the company.

Protesters expect better turnout than last Black Friday when hundreds walked off the job in 46 states. Groups advocating for Walmart workers saying they made $7 billion in profits. They want more full- time jobs and minimum $25,000 a year salaries for those who seek it.

Meanwhile, some store owners and customers are unhappy about Thanksgiving become so commercialized. In New Hampshire, for example, the owner of a Sears hometown store refused to open on the holiday.

Holly Cassiano says the deals are the same on Friday, so there is no reason to rush it.


HOLLY CASSIANO, SEARS HOMETOWN STORE OWNER: Just bypass this and say that the dollar figure is more important than us being with our families, it's unacceptable.


CARROLL: And customers at the store are showing their support for her. Some sent flowers and cards.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of people that have young kids. They don't need to be working. Even though they need the money, they need to be home with their family.


CARROLL: Cassiano is following company rules this morning, opening up at 6:00 a.m.

And coming up at 7:00, in the 7:00 hour, Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon joins us. And we'll ask him about Black Friday shopping and those worker protests.

FLORES: And we knew this was coming. For some the chance to get a jump on the Black Friday madness, of course, turned ugly.

The spirit of the holiday disappeared if these shoppers in West Palm Beach, Florida. The doors barely opened and they were at each other's throats.

But a different story in New York City. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was barely a memory when the doors of the flagship store were open. Ecstatic shoppers stormed in hungry for bargains.

And at Toys "R" Us, it was good cheer. The spirit of Thanksgiving energized the throngs when the doors opened. But patience certainly was a virtue on Black Thursday. Long lines the order of the day, of course, scenes like this one in South Florida played out over and over again across the country. So if you're not one for lines or crowds, a convenient alternative may be Cyber Monday when retailers are said to offer steep discounts online.

CARROLL: And 3.5 million people got what they came for on Thanksgiving Day. They got to see those big helium heroes fly at the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. They flew a little lower than normal because of the gusty winds but they did fly. That's what's important for those who came out.

And no one really seemed to care that they were flying so low except for a couple of minor collisions with a few branches and few scrapes on the pavement. All of the balloons made it to the finish line in one piece. I was out there.

FLORES: And you survived! You're in one piece, too, Jason.

CARROLL: In one piece. And, you know, the crowds were really happy to see, you know, the balloons out there. A little lower than usually but at least they were there.

FLORES: I was ecstatic. I was out there. You know, of course, we are talking Black Friday. We're talking Black Friday shoppers and they can take a lot. We want to check on the weather for them to see how they are doing.

So, Jennifer, how's it going to be?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: They are braver than I am because I would not be out there in the cold.

CARROLL: I wouldn't neither. I'm like you.

GRAY: It is a cold, cold morning for a lot of the country. We're seeing temperatures in the teens and 20s up in the North. And down in the South, 30s and 40s, but the big story still in the northeast. It's still very cold.

Look at Boston this morning, 32 degrees. You are 15 degrees below normal. Atlanta, you will be at 59 degrees for today and that is your normal temperature. Yesterday, you had your coldest Thanksgiving in 100 years, started out at 22 degrees yesterday morning so a lot of you folks will be happy about that. As we go into Saturday, temperatures slowly start to warm, especially around the South. We'll be around 55 degrees in Memphis. By Sunday, 44 in Cincinnati and Chicago still cold, 37 degrees and 44 in the Northeast.

That storm system has pushed well offshore and most of the country enjoying high pressure. Not every day you get a radar with basically nothing on it, the entire country very, very quiet. A lot of sunshine for most of the country, not much rain out there, guys, but it is just going to be cold, especially here in the north.

FLORES: But good weather for shopping.

CARROLL: Yes, nothing on the radar. That is actually a good thing, right?

GRAY: Nothing at all.

CARROLL: Love it. All right. Thanks very much, Jennifer.

The Obama administration very own deadline to fix the Web site is tomorrow. The White House is promising smoother sailing on the site for most people as opposed to that hair pulling experience from the October 1st launch. Earlier this week, there was another setback for small businesses. They will not be able to enroll online for another year.

FLORES: And, of course, the million dollar question -- can the Web site hack it? White House officials are afraid a big spike in traffic could cause problems and sources in the insurance industry tell CNN there's no way the site can be completely fixed by tomorrow.

One government official has already tried to temper expectations saying, November 30th isn't some magical date and that the site will still have issues.

CARROLL: But it's not all Obamacare all the time. At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this weekend, there's some festive stuff going on, too. The White House Christmas tree arrives today. It's an 18-foot Douglas Fir from Pennsylvania. That's headed for the blue room. Last year, you remember, it was a 19-foor Fraser Fir from North Carolina.

FLORES: More secrets exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. CBC News in Canada reporting the American spy agency conducted widespread surveillance during the G-8 and G-20 summits three years ago in Toronto. And that the Canadian government was aware of it and helped even coordinator it.

The documents don't say if the NSA was targeting any specific world leaders. U.S. State Department officials are not commenting about these latest revelations.

CARROLL: And another act of defiance and disputed air space over the East China Sea. Several Chinese fighter jets conducted an air control over. Both Japan and China claim the territory belong to them. Both countries, along with the United States, have conducted missions in that air space over the last few days.

FLORES: Iran is taking the first tangible steps to abide by the nuclear agreement if reached with the West last weekend. They are inviting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit a heavy water production plant on December 8th. A reactor under construction is on the same site. Heavy water is used in some reactors to control nuclear activity.

CARROLL: And here is an interesting story. What a difference one letter makes. Jawon Johnson is an 18-year-old college freshman from Baltimore. He is home this morning with his family after spending a horrifying four nights in a jail in a case of mistaken identity.

Apparently, he shares the same name and a similar birthday of a wanted man, Jawan Johnson. The West Virginia student's nightmare began when he was pulled over for making an illegal U-turn.


JAWON JOHNSON, WEST VIRGINIA STATE UNIVERSITY FRESHMAN: I told them that the picture wasn't me. They continued and insisted on that it was me.


CARROLL: It was only when he was brought to federal court in Baltimore that his fingerprints were run and prosecutors realized they had the wrong person. No word yet if he plans on taking any legal action.

FLORES: And we are following some breaking news from overnight. A spectacular explosion near Houstonia, Missouri.

Just look at these pictures, a 30-inch natural gas pipeline exploding outside a compressor station at the Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company. The fire is now out and there were no injuries. The cause of the blast is still under investigation.

CARROLL: And the comet Ison may have come too close to the sun. NASA scientists are analyzing images right now to confirm that comet's fate. Ison comes from the farthest of the solar system and space watchers were hoping it might be able to sling shot around the sun so its tail would be visible to the naked eye next month.

But right now, it's feared the comet may have plunged directly into the sun, with no evidence of anything emerging on the other side, and a huge sign --

FLORES: We are so sad about this.

CARROLL: I really wanted to see that. But, you know, we'll see.

FLORES: You'd rather see that than shopping?

CARROLL: I would rather see that than shop -- I would rather be sleeping! (LAUGHTER)

CARROLL: I'm just kidding. Just kidding.

FLORES: And coming up, they call it the knockout game. Teens trying to take out strangers with a single sucker punch and it may have happened this time again in New York.

CARROLL: And the U.K. riveted to the case of two former assistants charged with embezzling a fortune from celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. We'll take you there live to London when EARLY START continues.


CARROLL: Sixteen minutes after the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

New York City police investigating another possible knockout case. A 23-year-old man in the Bronx sucker punched in the head as you walked down the street on Wednesday. Two other men then beat him when he was on the ground and then all three took off running without taking a dime. The victim is expected to recover.

Police are trying to confirm if the attack is a part of a nationwide trend, where teens attempt to render strangers unconscious with a single punch.

FLORES: It's a court case that's gripping the U.K. Two former personal assistants to a celebrity chef Nigella Lawson and her ex- husband Charles Saatchi accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the couple. We have already heard allegations of rampant drug use leveled against Lawson.

Let's get the latest from the court proceedings from Max Foster live from London this morning.

And, Max, this celeb is not even sued but she's tangled in this mess!

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's meant to be a fraud trial. So, two personal assistants accused of putting money on Charles Saatchi's company credit cards, eventually racking up to more than a million dollars. We are hearing from the accounts of yesterday for Charles Saatchi, he is back in court again today, saying at one point they were hug more than a hundred thousand dollars a month on credit cards to fund a lavish lifestyle of first class travel hotel and luxury shopping. And that's the core of this case.

But the defense is arguing that Nigella Lawson was aware of this spending. So, it wasn't a fraud, it was knowing spending, and that she was trying to hide her drug habit from Saatchi. Charles Saatchi, himself, was quoted earlier in the trial in an e-mail accusing Nigella Lawson of pretty much the same thing, of hiding her drug habit from him and being aware of the spending.

He is due to appear later on today so we will hear in his own words what he thinks of all this. The defense pretty unhappy saying this is mint to be a fraud trial and that, in fact, is an opportunity for these two very famous people to argue in a situation where they can't be accused of libel, so they want it thrown out already.

So, it's a fraud trial. But actually, it's exposing a very difficult relationship between these two.

FLORES: Max Foster in London, thank you so much.

CARROLL: And officials in Japan are investigation two small explosions outside an air base in Tokyo. It happened last night. Authorities they were caused by an improvised device. Investigators found two metal tubes and a timing mechanism at the scene. No word yet on who is responsible. Thankfully, no injuries were reported.

FLORES: And sometimes, you just have to ask why. A clumsy crook sure made things early for south Florida police on Thanksgiving Day. Hear this -- that's Johnny Love trying to hold up a gas station. The very calm clerk handed over the cash, even suggesting the thief double bag the bills! He then suggested Love pick up some beers to go along with all of the loot and the gunman agreed, not knowing the clerk had already pressed a silent alarm.

Now, Love left the store so overloaded, he dropped all of the beer and the bag of cash! Plenty of time, of course, for the cops to pull up and slap on a pair of handcuffs.

Now, do you want to say career change for this crook?

CARROLL: He needs to get a job! Forget a career. He needs to get a job! Get a job for crying out loud.

All right. Coming up, pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes and pigskin, three big NFL contests on Thanksgiving Day, and if all that turkey knocked you out early, Mr. Real Nail-Biter last night. That is for sure. We will have it all for you coming up on "The Bleacher Report."


CARROLL: Thanksgiving Day was packed full of NFL action. The biggest challenge was staying awake to watch all of the games.

Andy Scholes joins us with more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Happy Black Friday to you, buddy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Happy Black Friday to you, guys, as well.

Good morning. I was doing really well yesterday up until about halftime of that first game. That's when the food coma got the best of me, but they were great games to watch all day yesterday.

In the night cap, the Ravens hosting the Steelers. There were some controversy in this one. Third quarter ,Jacoby Jones breaks free on the kickoff return but the Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin gets in his way on the field! Tomlin was looking the other way watching the JumboTron. The refs could have given Jones a touchdown but they didn't even throw a flag on the play.

It could have cost the Ravens the win. The Steelers, they have one last chance to tie this game late but Ben Roethlisberger's pass on the two-point conversion goes incomplete. The Ravens do get the win 22- 20.

The Lions' record nine-game Thanksgiving losing streak is now over. Detroit dominated the Packers winning 40-10. The Packers offense was awful yesterday, they gain just 126 yards in the game. And the Lions and Ndamukong Suh, he was in his best behavior, not stomping or kicking from him this year, even (INAUDIBLE) gently for safety in the third quarter.

In the afternoon matchup, Dallas Cowboys came from behind to beat the Raiders, 31 to 24. Running back DeMarco Morris scored a career high, three touchdowns. This was the first time since 1999 both the Cowboys and the Lions won on Thanksgiving Day.

In the lineup section on today, you can see Texas Tech perfectly executed punt against Texas last night. Ryan Erxleben, he's going to fake it and 51 yards for the touchdown. This was the punter running the ball. This is also the Red Raiders' longest running player this season. But it was also their only bright spot in the game. The Longhorns did go on to win this one easily 41-16.

All right. The NBA has fined Jason Kidd $50,000 for appearing to intentionally spill his drink late in Wednesday loss to the Lakers. Check it out, if you look closely, it looks like Kidd appears to tell Tyshawn Taylor, "hit me." Then he spills his drink on the court. That let him draw up one last play while the ball boys had to clean up the mess. It's pretty clear, but now, he's paying for it.

And, hey, guys, it didn't work any way. The Lakers still won that game but quick thinking by Jason Kidd in the moment but, as I say, he is paying $50,000 for it now.

FLORES: I said, to give a shout-out to my Longhorns out there.

CARROLL: Hook 'em!

FLORES: Hook 'em Horns, that's right.

Thank you so much, Andy Scholes.

Now, the top headlines and everything you need to know for your day coming up right after the break.


FLORES: Thirty-three million Americans prepare to shop until they drop on this black Friday! The bargain hunting madness has already begun and it's getting a little manic out there.

CARROLL: And a big deadline for the Obamacare Web site. Will it work by this weekend? The White House trying to lower expectations this morning. FLORES: And more NSA secrets exposed. Did the agency spy on the G-8 and G-20 Summits in Toronto in 2010 and did the Canadian government allow it?

CARROLL: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Jason Carroll.

FLORES: And I'm Rosa Flores. Thank you so much for joining us. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

CARROLL: It is now time to break out the bargain hunting shoes. The Black Friday is in full swing. National Retail Federation says 33 million Americans will grab their checkbooks, dust of their credit cards.